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Tag Archives: Order of Interbeing

On Being A Tourist, Comparing Ourselves to Others, and Some Other Stuff

On Thursday, I strolled about on a Main Street in a town I’d previously only visited by driving on through and was wonderfully reminded of how much I enjoy being a tourist, even if it’s in a place situated just 2 hours north of home, which it is – and I am.

It’s worth mentioning, as a point of clarity, that I most enjoy being a lone tourist. As in: not saddled by anyone else’s agenda or having to negotiate with another human’s dynamic experience. This also includes not being terribly interested in getting led around on a local’s points of interest tour. Though, sometimes I do prefer that. It depends on where I am, both physically and spiritually.

As I meandered through downtown Kalispell, I came across a plethora of posters with my name displayed as: Headlining Poet Nicole Dunn. It was a rather exhilarating/peculiar/other-worldly experience – especially given that I’ve had very little to do with putting this particular event together and not done all the organizing/advertising/designing/postering myself, as is customary. And, hence, this is the reason I’ve come here: to teach a poetry workshop and regale an audience who’ve never heard of me with a one-hour set of spoken word.

In my Main Street/downtown walkabout, I ducked into some local shops and took my time poking around. Upon exiting a particularly delightful store with an assortment of uncommon wares, I had a total of 3 new items in the bag I’d brought along to cart my zafu (meditation cushion) in, to a meditation group I would be attending a little while later, which was located in the downtown area, a 10-minute walk from where I was staying. The three items were as follows: a pair of colorful socks with narwhals and scuba diving rhinos, to give as a gift to a friend with an upcoming birthday; a pair of colorful socks with sloths hanging from palm trees with gold gangster medallions a dangle from their necks (for personal use); and a novelty note pad with post it’s stating NAILED IT, at the top, followed by a list of options you can choose between for how you deemed whoever you’re giving the note to “nailed it.” And at the bottom of every note, it says: GOOD FOR YOU, PAL. Once I got in the spirit of thinking about all the possibilities that existed for using the NAILED IT notes, I couldn’t not get it.

I arrived Thursday afternoon to the house of a friend of mine who is away on a trip, along with her husband. So not only do I have the house to myself, but I was left to feel a bit nervous when I rolled into town, having never been to their place before. What if I had jotted down her address wrong and wound up situating myself in someone else’s house who also happened to leave their door key under the mat, which is not an uncommon practice? Would there be other telltale signs (pictures on display with no one I recognized; decor and nick-knacks that told a very different story of the friend I thought I knew…) that I had made a ghastly mistake before the residents – who were assuredly not well-acquainted with me – made their way back home to find me there with my feet up, sipping tea? Thankfully, crises was immediately averted when, in looking for the best place to park, I drove around back through the alleyway and saw their last names scribed on a wooden plank atop the garage door. Found it for sure! Whew!

Switching…sort of.

We all have ways in which we compare ourselves to others and come up short. My ways take shape through people who are either artful/masterful at baking or cooking or at tending a garden. As in: so-and-so can bake amazing bread or craft complex meals with an arsenal of liquids in bottles that I would have no idea what to do with – like raspberry balsamic vinegar, avocado oil, and cooking sherry. Maybe I should be a better cook or learn how to bake bread from scratch. Or: so-and-so has a bustling garden filled with wonderfully greening leaves in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sigh. That’s what people do, isn’t it? Garden. I really should be more into gardening.

The wildly entertaining and hilarious part is that we took out our garden plot a year ago – allowing the backyard grass to reclaim its swath of ground – and it was the best decision ever! It’s soooo nice not to have the neglected garden plot we installed years ago sneering at me to become a gardener. The pressure is off and it’s glorious! I’m the sort who loves the idea of gardening more than the actual act of gardening. It’s rather like how you might be super into a romantic interest but then once you get to know them more you’re all like: I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m the sort who would revel in watching a garden grow and equally delight in its bounty of edible content, as long as someone else tended to all of its needs along the way.

So, the thing is, I don’t want to be a gardener of things and I have no desire to be a masterful baker or chef, either. And yet, I STILL compare myself to people who are! How peculiar! We are a strange and complicated people folk.

I mean, there’s only so much time in the day, is what I’m saying. And I choose to fill my time with other things. Gardening and fashioning together gourmet meals and baking artisan bread simply aren’t high on my list of priorities. I think we have a very ingrained, very detrimental, collective mindset that we should be able to do, like, everything. We set the bar so incredibly high that we’d need superhero powers to even get close to reaching it.

It’s been extremely liberating for me to do the work of cultivating a deep and penetrating understanding of how everything I do with my time is a choice. And with this work, I’ve been able to accept and embrace my limitations of time and energy and interest in things. It’s allowed me to set realistic goals and drop the bar down to a level that doesn’t taunt me and hold me slave to ridiculous notions of how a life can NEVER by ANYONE under NO CIRCUMSTANCES be led.

So, I’m learning how to befriend the non-gardener in myself; the non-gourmet chef; the non-master-baker. To stop the powerfully common tendency to compare myself to others and come up short. It’s such an incredible drain and waste of my precious time.

 

 

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Creating Balance

I gave a talk at the Open Sky Sangha in Kalispell, Montana last night, Thursday June 14th. (Open Sky is one of the sister groups of my home sangha Be Here Now.) Below is what I wrote out ahead of time, to help me prepare for the talk. If you’d prefer to listen to the audio recording, vs. reading it, you can venture here:

http://www.openway.org/content/creating-balance-practice-talk-nicole-dunn

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Title: Creating Balance

Subtitle: Cultivating self-care while also staying active and engaged in the world

Last month, for the week leading up to and including Memorial Day weekend, I went on a solo sojourn and stayed in the Mission Lookout Tower, which is just outside of Swan Lake. So, for 5 nights and 6 days, I situated myself 40-feet up off the ground in a 15X15 glass nest perch in the pines, with a 2-3 foot wide wrap-around deck, which afforded me sweeping views of the Swan Range to the east and the Mission mountains to the west.

I reserved this recent solo stay at Mission Lookout back in November, because I knew that come mid-late May, I’d be in need of some time of restoration and refueling of my energy tanks – and boy was I right! Prior to heading to the tower, my energy was sorely waning and I was feeling over-extended and organizationally meetinged-out. I recorded my debut spoken word album and had a release party and performance in March; I was one of the directors of our statewide spring retreat in April; and was in charge of our big annual community yard sale fundraiser at our mindfulness center in Missoula two weeks after the retreat – on top of working part time as a nanny, being a weekly hospice volunteer, taking care of my family household, having a regular writing regiment, and so on. And this isn’t anything special or unique – we all have a myriad of things that we tend to on an ongoing basis.

No matter how glad we may be to invest our energy into all the different things that we do, there comes a time that in order to continue doing those things, we will need to find, create, and make important the art of resting and self-care, lest we become completely and utterly exhausted and kaput. So, developing a relationship with cultivating our own sense of balance between being active in the world and learning how to rest and replenish is not just something nice to do, it’s vitally important to our ability to continue beautifully into the future – to keep actively practicing in our spiritual mindfulness tradition and in all of the endeavors we participate in: work, school, family life, social life, home upkeep, traveling, volunteering, recreation, hobbies/interests, etc. We extend ourselves out and about in so many ways and we can liken ourselves to a car: our gas tank can only take us so far before we need to refuel. If we have more energy going out than that which is coming in, we will find ourselves eventually broken down and stranded on the side of the road. And this is a position that is all too commonplace in our culture. We are a nation of doers. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

The hitch in the giddy-up is that we are not well-acquainted with how to ongoingly restore ourselves. We don’t prioritize – alongside of: work, family, friends, and so on – the practices of stopping, resting, nourishing, and healing.

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Soaking Wet & Still Smiling

Last night, my husband and I went to see Bon Iver at our local still newish outdoor amphitheater, located just outside of town in Bonner, Montana. It rained the whole…entire…time. Did I mention it was at an outdoor amphitheater? The last time I was that wet with my clothes on, I had volunteered at a mud run event and then chose to walk the course when my shift was over. I’d gotten moderately muddied up while traversing the course but my grand finale soaking-through came when swimming across a relatively deep muddy water pit at the end.

In comparing these two soaking-wet-with-clothes-on experiences, a notable distinction is that for one of them it was my choice and for the other it totally wasn’t. One was outside of my control. And that makes a HUGE difference, by the way. In terms of how we approach and energetically receive an experience, control has everything to do with it.

We arrived to the venue early. With grass seats and never having been to the amphitheater before, we wanted to stake out a good spot and do our best to ensure prime viewing. This meant, however, that we were soaked through well-before the concert was even set to start. In this semi-arid part of the country, it’s not often that we get a rain that lasts for hours on end without pause. But that’s sure what happened last night! The rain increased and decreased in heftiness and vigor, but it rained truly the whole time we were there. For three hours, we sat holed up in our Crazy Creek chairs atop small mats, raincoats, and blue tarp, slowly becoming more saturated as time went on. I read it was a sold out show. And with a capacity of 4,000, it meant we were in good company.

Since umbrellas weren’t allowed (as they would obstruct the view of those behind you), I enjoyed seeing what creative solutions people came up with to shield themselves from the wet weather. We were like a sea of huddled masses, ghosts, lagoon creatures, and woodland survivalists in our assortment of blankets, ponchos, rain gear, plastic sheeting, and cloaks. It was comforting, and somehow made the experience more tolerable, to feel the friendly camaraderie of being in it together, wrapped up in rain-shielding materials.

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Waiting is the Hardest Part

Last night, I participated in an interfaith concert event called Tangible Hope, which was put together by the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC). Every year we have an interfaith summit event, but this was the first year is was turned into a concert at the Wilma Theater.

It was a wonderfully diverse concert, starting with bagpipes and ending with a Christian rock band, with a hand bell ensemble, community choir, and local singer/songwriter sandwiched in between. Included in the mix were also a couple of speakers and two storytellers, which is where I came in.

After weeks of preparation and a workshop session with our local storytelling pro Marc Moss, who runs Tell Us Something here in Missoula, here’s what I came up with along the topic theme of Tangible Hope:

In the fall of 2002, when I was 23 years old, I started a weekly meditation group called Be Here Now, based in the Buddhist tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. And for the first 8-years, I was the sole facilitator of the group. Flash-forward to present day, we are now over 15 years old and have grown from a small meditation group into an active, vibrant, and relatively large sangha. And in Buddhism, the word sangha means: spiritual community. In our tradition, sangha is one of the most important and highly emphasized components that we are called to develop and strengthen in our daily lives. Sangha is an action verb; and it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels us in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood. And for me, when I practice to fully embody the spirit of sangha, I’m also able to encounter it wherever I go.

As an example: I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport. I had just spent 4-weeks on a retreat at Deer Park monastery, which is based in our tradition located in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different: LAX. And as I was standing in that security line a wonderful insight arose, which was that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha friends and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment filled with grumpy strangers; I felt as though I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another – from my monastery sangha to my air traveling sangha. This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me because I carry it with me and I actively create it.

Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that sangha is more than a community, it’s a deep spiritual practice. So, it involves relationship building, spending time together, learning how to communicate and negotiate with various personalities and ways of doing things – it involves interacting with everyone around us in a way that promotes love and connection. And oftentimes the work of sangha building, of community and relationship building, is not easy. I’m reminded of our very first Be Here Now council meeting, which took place in November of 2010. There were 7 of us in attendance and it was the first time we were delving into the group becoming more of a collective endeavor, vs. just me holding down the fort. People shared a wealth of feedback and input mostly centered around all the changes they wanted to see have made; things we weren’t doing that we should be doing, things we were doing that we shouldn’t be doing, format adjustments, and so on. And what I recall most about this first meeting is getting home afterwards and breaking down crying. I was so overwhelmed, wondering how we would be able to incorporate everyone’s ideas and changes they wanted to see made and I was filled with worry that the simplicity and loveliness of our group was going to be lost. So, while it took some time to adjust and find our way together as a council and we had some growing pains, it was also the most beneficial thing we could’ve done to help ensure the health and vibrancy and stability of our group. So while it’s often challenging to do this work of sangha building, it’s also incredibly important that we do it.

And I’m so very grateful to be part of a tradition that ushers us in this direction and that we have the great fortune to be partners with the MIC in this regard, so that we can extend our capacity for sangha building outwards to include our interfaith sangha, which then ripples out to include our citywide Missoula sangha, our statewide Montana sangha, our nationwide American sangha, and our global worldwide sangha. Because the good news is: we’re all in this together, truly, there is no separation. And for this reality – and the opportunity that we have to be part of this interfaith collaborative – I am filled with joy and appreciation, because it’s this work that will allow us to continue beautifully into the future.

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Tell Me How It Is

Speak to me of what makes your eyes spark to life. Speak to me about the heart of your experience. Speak not in fragrant poetic verse, unless there is authenticity in so doing.

Don’t put a spin on things to help soften the blow of your inner strife. I want you to tell me like it is; what it means to be you in your own skin. I am not interested in meeting a version of you – one you gussy up for company: muted, fake, and dull. I don’t want to meet you in passing, sharing only pleasantries and hollow sentiments.

This may sound strange. It may even scare you off, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I want to absorb you fully and consume you. I want to dissolve the separation we think exists between us and become one being – all of us, in this together.

 

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Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day dear friends!

I wanted to share an interview talk that Thay gave in December of 2011 at Plum Village (link below). He offers a lovely and powerful teaching about care, stewardship, and connection to the Earth in this interview. Watching this video, allowing it to penetrate into our hearts and minds, is perhaps the very best way I can think of to celebrate Earth Day this year.

The video is 27:39 in length and I would highly recommend watching it in its entirety.

From the video:

“Not to cut the tree, not to pollute the water, that is not enough. I think all activists have to adopt a spiritual practice in order to help them suffer less, to nourish the happiness in them, and to handle the suffering in them so that they will be effective in trying to help the world, the people. With anger and frustration, you cannot do much, you might make the situation worse…The healing of the people should go together with the healing of the Earth…”

“Our century should be a century of spirituality, whether we can survive or not depends on it.”
Earth-day
 
 

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Interfaith Work & Sangha Building

I’m currently reaching maximum saturation levels in terms of my usage of time spent on writing projects, events planning, managing meetings and gatherings, and attending a variety of other functions. I’m in the boat right now of practicing to say no when it comes to the question as to whether or not to take something else on – AND it’s going well, too, I might add.

Factoring into all the many lovely things I’ve chosen to do with my time is to: tell a story on stage at the Wilma Theater here in town on May 5th, as part of an interfaith concert and celebration event called Tangible Hope, submit an article to be considered for publication in the Mindfulness Bell for their sangha building issue (slated to come out in the fall), and write a short piece for the Community of Faith section in our local newspaper (for their May 12th edition).

Is interfaith work and sangha building different? Ultimately, no, I think not. When I look and engage through the lens of sangha building, I see clearly that sangha exists wherever I go. It’s all around me. Whether in the setting of my home sangha of Be Here Now or my larger Plum Village family, or my growing relationships and partnerships with local pastors and interfaith members as part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC), which I serve to represent our communities of Be Here Now and Open Way with, sangha is an action verb; it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels me in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood.

From the story I plan on telling as part of the Tangible Hope concert event:

I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport – I had just spent a month on a retreat at a monastery in our tradition in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different. As I was standing in the security line, I had the wonderful insight that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment with grumpy strangers; I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another: from my monastery sangha into my air traveling sangha! This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me – I carry it with me and I actively create it.

If we are truly invested in building sangha – aka spiritual community – then we must practice to envelop it fully into our lives and not relegate it to just our own beloved circles consisting of those whom we share most closely and are most comfortable with. The true spirit of sangha building must be all inclusive; this is the only way we can serve as agents of change in the world and continue beautifully into the future.

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