Staying On My Side of the Fence

“When you think that someone or something other than yourself needs to change, you’re mentally out of your business.” — Byron Katie

Something I remind myself often to do is to: stay on my own side of the fence. And what I mean by this is that all I can ever do to help affect positive change in the world is to do my own work and to do it to the best of my ability, for the benefit of all beings. The work needing to be done, is always my own work to do.

I draw deeply on my spiritual practice tradition and answer the question of How can I help change the world by diligently practicing to show up in the best ways I can in body, speech, and mind. There is no world change without continual and on-going self-change.

As soon as I get caught in thinking that someone else needs to change; someone else needs to listen to me (and not vice versa); someone else needs to do something differently; someone else needs to be some other way than they are, I’ve strayed from the path of connection and understanding. This isn’t to say I am not upset and bothered by certain people or that I don’t judge certain actions to be unjust and damaging, but there is a middle ground between apathy and rage, between indifference and incensed.

When I start getting carried away with thoughts about how I think the world should be or how other people should act, I know I’ve climbed the fence and am now wandering around in someone else’s field, where I have no control or sway.

Stay on your side of the fence, Nicole or Get back over there to your side of the fence, Nicole, I say to myself. It helps me to remind myself where my sphere of influence is – and it’s never out there, it’s always – every single time – an inside job, on my side of the fence.

Fish, Birds, Fragrance, Goodness

When I think of rivers,
I think soon after of fish.
And if someone were to ask me
what kind I’d say trout.

When I think of the sky,
I think first of sun
then of moon
then of clouds
then of birds.
And if someone were to ask me
what kind I’d say crows,
my most beloved and favorite.

When I think of trees,
I flash straight away
to a great assembly of them,
a great choir of them
spanning acres and acres of land
in their brown and green attire,
rich with fragrance and teachings.
And if someone were to ask me
what kind I’d say pine.

When I think of people –
us collectively as a tribe of humans –
I think first and foremost of goodness,
and how each of us are showing up
the best way we know how.

Check Please

Without a contemplative practice – or some other regular investment of time into an action-based something that prompts a moving from head to heart; from self to other – it seems we risk falling subject to talking solely about petty, surfacey things.

With time and life and all that which pertains to the unfolding of even just one single day being precious and limited, how might I want to spend it and with who?

I don’t think it’s patience I lack when it comes to internally saying Check please! in response to a person droning on and on about mundane things (at length and in great detail), who is unavailable to listen and unable to peak interest in anyone else in the room. It’s disinterest, pure and simple. It’s a matter of valuing my gifted time.

It’s a bold and interesting thing to say but: I love people with a heart as big as the sky in sprawl over the Rocky Mountains and: I would rather not converse with a vast majority of them. My time, I think, is better well spent reading and writing poetry; on the cushion; sipping tea.

Besides, most people won’t be reached through words spoken out loud face to face – not on any level that really penetrates into the deeper well of things. We need other modes and vehicles of transport to deliver messaging that translates to something bigger than stock musings regarding the passing of time or patterns of the weather.

No one kind of tea is for everyone

… the paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions…only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.    – Carl Jung

Did you know there’s no one kind of tea that suits everyone’s fancy? Mint comes closest to being a crowd pleaser, I reckon. Still, it’s not for everyone. Nothing is.

Nothing.

There are countless ways to do life. And part of us knows this but it’s usually not a large enough percentage to equate to understanding on a deep enough level to make even a small dent in our delusions about such things.

There’s a persistent tickle whisper of a voice that serenades us, singing songs of fabled sameness to a shuttering detriment.

It’s worth us getting this one corrected.

We’re all one and We’re all the same are true only so much that it doesn’t interfere with another solid truth: the one about how we are all different.

Too often, we apply the lens of sameness in times when the lens of different-ness should be used. We get stuck in trite twirlings, insisting: This tea is sooo freakin good, you’re going to LOVE it! You HAVE HAVE HAVE to try it!! And if it turns out that said person who was supposed to love it does not, in fact, love it, well then clearly something is amiss with said person. Clearly their taste is flawed or their senses dulled from a sinus infection they don’t know they have or their pallet so under-developed they wouldn’t know good tea if it walked up to them like Bigfoot in the forest and said hello. Clearly, they are wrong.

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3 encounters that triggered my “this isn’t right” button

I came across this poster for sale at a local store in Polson, Montana on Thursday (see above).

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

What an important and lovely verse to carry with us on our path of developing values and in our tool bag of practices. Too often, we set our life up to be happy, to be content, to be full of gratitude later on, at some undisclosed date in the future. We hinge our happiness on acquiring something or someone or some experience that isn’t happening in the here and now. What if instead of tomorrow or next week or next year being the best time we can envision, it was today? Game changer.

Over the past two days, I’ve had three encounters with strangers that prompted this writing I penned this morning:

Rally kindness,
even when it’s counter-intuitive –
especially when it’s counter-intuitive.

Rally kindness when you don’t feel like it;
when a situation seemingly calls for its opposite;
when it’s hard as hell to do it.

Rally kindness,
in body, speech, mind,
and in spirit.

Rally kindness so that it becomes
the lens through which you see the world;
so that it becomes the soles of your shoes
and the air you breathe, in and out.

If we choose not to rally kindness –
and yes, it is a choice –
amid challenging times with difficult people,
we will never stand a chance
of growing a garden of love and inclusiveness,
to cover the world over.

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Mining for Gold

 

Photo by Bill McDavid

 

I know at times it feels dark and bleak

to encounter the news –

or another day, or life.

I know when you feel uncertain

it’s the best case scenario,

as the more common alternatives are

fear and anger

and hopelessness.

I know that sometimes you wonder

how things could possibly get any worse;

and then they do

and you feel broken

all over again.

________

I also know that raging beauty

and unbounded goodness

and decency exist –

not only out right for all to see

but buried like treasure in the hearts of men,

all men.

So please, dear ones,

take my hand,

and let us become miners

in search of it.

Not Giving Up

In my last post, I shared: In regards to the friendship I’m currently in heartache over, I’ve come to realize – after much processing back and forth – that there is a way for me to keep my heart open to this person while also distancing myself from them.

Shortly after writing this, I came across a well-timed article on Twitter, entitled Why You Should Never Give Up on Anybody by Lodro Rinzler. Don’t you just love when things line up?

I clicked on the link right away and set to reading the article. Here it is, if you’d like to give it a gander.

I especially appreciated this segment from the article:

In the Buddhist tradition we refer to beings willing to keep their heart open no matter what as bodhisattvas. Bodhi is a Sanskrit word which can be translated as “open” or “awake.” Sattva can be translated from Sanskrit as “being” or “warrior.” It’s a person who is incredibly brave in maintaining an open heart, no matter what comes up in their life. This experience is something we can aspire to. The Zen master Seung Sahn once said, “Being a bodhisattva means when people come, don’t cut them off; when people go, don’t cut them off.”

I was so enjoying this article – that is, until I got to the end, where Lodro shared this practice:

HOW TO NOT GIVE UP

Pema Chödron is an American Buddhist teacher who has written extensively about the pain of a broken heart and I can’t recommend her work more highly. Below I have adapted an exercise she has recommended. It starts by taking a photo of the person you are having a hard time with and displaying it prominently in your home. This may initially cause you discomfort. So much of heartbreak is staying with our discomfort.

Every time you walk by the photo look at the being you are struggling with and simply say, “I wish you the best.” If that rings hollow to you instead say, “I know you are basically good” or “You’re not a jerk all the time.” Whatever phrase you choose, make it personal, but some version of acknowledging that they are not basically evil. Do this several times a day, whenever your gaze falls on the photo. Let your heart soften over time.

 

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Think Before You Depart

Sometimes – like now – my spirit wanes around the truth I’ve captured in this sentence, from a recent spoken word piece I’ve written: “Self-absorption is the rampant plague of our time.”

Recent example:
On Wednesday night, I attended a film showing of “500 Years”, as part of the Roxy’s current month-long series honoring Native American Heritage Month.

Following the film, there was a 3-person panel set up for a Q & A session. As the film credits rolled, over half of the audience left, leaving around 25 of us to engage with the panel members. This is something I experience a lot. (I’m now remembering the Hate Crimes Forum I attended a couple of weeks ago, where by the end of the evening only 10 of us remained in a sea of empty chairs.) I find this to be a sad commentary on our ability to act on behalf of supporting others in matters when in stands to inconvenience our own lives.

I’ll tell you, in both of the cases I just mentioned, I would’ve preferred to have left, too. I was tired. I was ready for bed. But I stayed, because it was the right thing to do. I stayed because those panel members deserved my attention and my presence. They were devoting their time and energy to a cause they believed in and were passionate about. And the very least I could do was stay.

Public service message:
Think of others before you depart for yourself.

Sometimes I Forget

Sometimes I forget that we’re all – each of us – doing our best.

That we each march to our own drummer, sway to our own beat, hear the rhythm of life pulsating differently.

Sometimes I forget that there’s only so much time in a day – or a lifetime – to maneuver.

I am personally acquainted with people who’s spark comes alive through justice/support based work, such as: healing racism, translating for Spanish immigrants, volleying for animals on their way to slaughter, training underprivileged demographics in the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, de-stigmatizing mental illness, spending time with those who are in the process of dying, training women on how to navigate creating their own small business, supporting kids without active adult relationships to navigate through the court system, educating school-age boys about healthy masculinity and the subtleties of sexual violence, volunteering with local non-profits, engaging with people around policy change work, guiding early childhood development skills, and fostering opportunities for people to learn more about such matters as suicide, postpartum depression, homelessness, access to housing, global warming, and incarceration.

And I know people who’s spark comes alive through creative/self-expression based work, such as: gardening, cooking, baking, playing sports, traveling and playing music, hosting standup comedy learning sessions for women, bringing African dance into the lives of those with disabilities, organizing community poetry events, providing high school students with opportunities to craft and share their voices through the medium of written & spoken word, hiking, painting, photography, collage work, and role-playing games.

Me? My biggest most illuminating spark comes alive through sangha building. I am drawn to cultivating community through the dharma. Spiritual leadership is my highest calling. I love helping to support people, I love spending time with people. And I have a great love for and confidence in using and teaching about the tools and skills made available through mindfulness, meditation, and our Buddhist Plum Village tradition.

Creative/self-expression wise, my spark comes alive through: writing, spoken word, playing music, listening to music, dancing, solo traveling, spending time in nature, motorcycling, photography, volunteering with hospice, and working with young children.

We all have different callings. Different things that draw our attention and motivate us to action. And sometimes I forget this. Sometimes I think everyone is like me – or should be like me. And when this happens, I suffer.

Currently, I’m on a journey to find my people – those I resonate and have the most in common with. And I’m practicing to understand and embrace all those who are in my life who I don’t hold a lot in common with, but whom I cherish and value.

There’s a balance I am seeking in my interpersonal relationships right now. And it’s becoming clearer to me as of late, how often I forget certain elements of human dynamics and functioning that are crucial to remember, for the sake of my own and others quality of well-being.

The practice continues…

 

 

Kinds of Love

There are some people I only love from afar.

The way one might revel in a painting in a museum

while standing across the room.

There are others I love like

dipping in close to smell a wild rose.

Absorbing it full throttle

but only for a short burst of time.

There are some I love like movie theater popcorn:

ravenously but only once in a great while.

And then there are those I love like music and tea,

drinking them in as often as I can.