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Right &…Regular? (part 2 of 2)

Image credit: I copied this from a talk I watched on Youtube by Sister Dieu Nghiem; she included this chart on a whiteboard. 

In continuance of the thread I started in part 1 of this post topic, I wanted to share a little bit more about right and regular.

Sister Dieu Nghiem mapped out this chart (image above) in a talk she gave back in October at Plum Village. Simply put, this chart represents the equation of what it means to have and develop right diligence. Right diligence involves: not watering the unwholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, stopping to water the unwholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation (or active state of mind), watering the wholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, and continuing to water the wholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation.

So, what then is regular diligence? Let’s say that someone has been meditating for a long time – we’ll say 5 years. And for those 5 years, they’ve been sitting every single day in the morning for 20-minutes. This equates to this person having sat a total of 36,500 minutes in meditation. However, despite the fact that they’ve been diligent in sitting every day for 20-minutes, they don’t really feel as though they’ve benefited very much at all from their practice (and neither do their loved ones, by the way). They are still just as restless, agitated, stressed out, overwhelmed at work, and short-tempered with their partner as they were when they were driven to starting a daily habit of meditation in the first place, 5 years ago. Yes, this person has been diligent in sitting but we couldn’t – and shouldn’t – consider this to be right diligence because it hasn’t increased this person’s ability to transform and heal.

As a recap from part 1: I recently watched a talk by Sister Dieu Nghiem on Youtube and she described wholesome habit energies as leading us in the direction of transformation and healing and unwholesome habit energies as that which leads us in the direction of suffering. And I think this explanation applies here, with the word wholesome equating to the word right. So we could say that right stands in accordance with a thought/word/action that propels us in the direction of transformation and healing.

In the Discourse on Youth and Happiness, it states:

Beings produce wrong perceptions concerning objects of desire. That is why they are caught in desire. Because they do not know what desire really is.

For our purposes here, I would translate this as there being an important difference between regular desire and right desire. In consulting with my old pal dictionary.com, desire is defined as such: to wish or long for; crave; want. In our current and modern time, I would define regular desire as incorporating the energetic components of craving, grasping, and attachment and right desire as incorporating such things as being realistically driven by determined will and being governed and propelled into action by a sovereign foundation rooted in solidity and ease. I regard right desire as enfolding the premise of what this meme offers, which I recently shared in a post a few days ago and is serving as my newly held encouraging anthem:

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Right &…Regular? (part 1 of 2)

Lately, I’ve been Dharmically churning around the usage of the word right, as it pertains to the Eightfold Path and also the nature of our Buddhist practice based teachings in general. The Eightfold Path (listed in the image above) consists of: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

But this word right can also apply to other facets of our practice as well – and simply life in general. I am coming to understand more and more how necessary it is to discern the differences between, for instance, such things as: desire & right desire; joyfulness & right joyfulness; individuality & right individuality; generosity & right generosity; technology & right technology; media & right media; friendships & right friendships; sexuality & right sexuality; and even practice & right practice.

First thing’s first, though. We must come to properly understand what the word right means and refers to, as our western minds often automatically insert the word wrong to counterbalance the inclusion of the word right, which is not only the improper conclusion to draw but also a potentially detrimental and harmful one at that. When we get caught up in the right & wrong game, it rarely – if ever – benefits our situation.

Let’s say we keep the word right in the mix, which honestly I’m wondering if that’s the most helpful thing to do when offering these teachings to our new and budding generation of young mindfulness practitioners. But let’s say we keep it in active use. What does right in this context of practice mean? Right for what? I recently watched a talk by Sister Dieu Nghiem on Youtube and she described wholesome habit energies as leading us in the direction of transformation and healing and unwholesome habit energies as that which leads us in the direction of suffering. And I think this explanation applies here, with the word wholesome equating to the word right. So we could say that right stands in accordance with a thought/word/action that propels us in the direction of transformation and healing.

But if we keep the word right, what do we call its counterpart? What do we call it when we’re moving in the direction that leads us towards creating and causing more suffering, for our self and/or others? Using the words right and unwholesome doesn’t seem quite fitting. What about right and regular? I’m not sure this is quite the ticket either, though I do feel it’s getting much closer to a more approachable and less misunderstood way of fleshing out these teachings.

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More On Why I Practice

Were it not for my engaged practice of mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, I’d be flailing around like so many others I see, chasing after the next heightened experience; the next joint or drink; the next exciting romance or sexcapade; the next party or music festival or wild time – whatever it took to remind me that I was alive and everything didn’t suck.

An unchecked reality will do this. An untended to self-landscape will yield these results. A life unguided by ongoing skill-building and connection will amount to dis-ease and a never-quenched longing for something…more – or at the very least: something else.

Gratefully, I am afforded skills, tools, resources, encouragement, support, and teachers that show me how to take responsibility for my well-being; how to work with my mind; and how to actively cultivate present moment resting, grounding, and appreciating. With the practice, I am given the opportunity to learn how to stop seeking after transcendental moments, forever stuck in the false view that happiness equates to some kind of fantastical euphoria only possible in the some other realm of consciousness, or when I’ve found a way to magically start living without having to do such things as wash the dishes, take the trash out, pay the bills, and clean up the bodily functions of my aging cat (which when I’m lucky means the litter box).

The practice shows me how to be a human being and how to live life well. It teaches me how to not loathe Mondays; how not to live the whole of my week just looking forward to the weekends; how not to hinge my happiness on my next vacation or my next big accomplishment; how not to live in constant need of validation, praise, and acceptance from others. The practice gives me permission, over and over again, to step into and be just who I am, no strings attached.

If we don’t take it upon ourselves to learn how to be a human being amid both the complexities and ordinariness of daily life, we are bound to keep looking/searching/grasping/pleading for the next quick fix to elevate our gaze from the depravity we’ve created, only to discover that the quick fix merely serves to grow more pain.

To be clear, it’s not that there’s anything at all wrong with looking forward to such things as unearthing my motorcycle come springtime, for example. It’s a matter of learning how to be accepting and present with what’s going on in the here and now, with whatever it is that’s happening, at the same time.

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This morning, I watched part of a talk given by Sister Dieu Nghiem in late October at Plum Village as part of the 3-month winter retreat, where there was a focus on the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.

Some notes I took from the Sister’s talk:

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings have to do with how we live our daily lives; how we live in the world; how we respond to issues and the world with our thinking, our attitude, and our view. These trainings help us to see very clearly the impact of our thinking, speaking, and actions on our environment, on the world, and on the way we live together.

The more I study these Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings the more my heart rejoices, because I see a way out. I see a way that can lead to healing and transformation – not just for myself but the whole of humanity, and that lifts my spirit and gives me a lot of joy.

The mindfulness trainings give us an ethical way of life. Every training uses an ethical action based on non-duality; that happiness is not an individual matter. (She explains that an ethical action is one that benefits everyone.)

Thay says that the practice is not just to lead us to live mindfully but also to live joyfully.

I really enjoyed the portion of the talk I listened to. The Sister explains beautifully what this path of practice is all about.

Here is the talk, if you’re interested:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4z-jnnpLVQ&index=27&list=WL&t=1766s

 

 

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I WAS Built for Routine

I just came across this meme on Twitter. Gosh, I just love following Tiny Buddha.

With this quote, however, I was left thinking: Yes! I totally agree…except for the first part about not being built for routine.

Routine works super well for me. I am an extremely regimented person and find great comfort, support, and nourishment in upholding my daily habits, schedule, and regular constitutions.

Last weekend, I was watching a Dharma talk on Youtube given by Sister Tu Nghiem in the Plum Village tradition. She said:

“The lifestyle that Thay created for us at Plum Village involves balancing four aspects of our daily life: mindfulness practices, study, service to the community, and play – and I’ve added relaxation, and maybe that’s a way of playing also.”

She said that following a schedule gives them solidity and that by living with this balance they have more inner peace and freedom from stress and worry. She then referenced a Brother’s recent metaphor of how their schedule is like the spinal column – it’s the backbone providing stability and yet it is also flexible. Changes happen. And yet when changes happen, everything is held together.

I resonate very much with what she shared. Personally, I’ve experienced a number of people who seem terribly resistant to developing routines and schedules. It tends to be that these people also have trouble committing to making plans and confirming their attendance at events and gatherings. Often, they also have a habit of being chronically late to things that have a set start time. I think there are a few factors at play here. One being that they’ve deemed it uncool and/or lame to set up and maintain a schedule – and partly this is due to a perpetual immaturity that pervades our western societal landscape.

This isn’t to say everyone is built for routines and schedules and should get on board with such things. Different things work for different people and this is super important to keep in mind. There’s no one mold that works for all of us – and thank goodness for that!

I think what makes the above meme a little bit troublesome is that it implies there isn’t a way to have both realities happen simultaneously: one that involves routine AND one that involves skinny dipping and sleeping under the stars and 2am conversations that shatter your walls.

This meme is also a little judgy. There’s a subtle biting undertone to it. One can have a routine and also not be into trite conversations or working in an office. One can work in an office and sleep under the stars. And there’s nothing wrong with being content whilst working in a building. There’s all sorts of mix and match ways we can be content in this one splendid life we’ve been given. There’s no one rule book to follow that results in a happy life.

And if we’re not into fake smiles and surface small talk, that’s cool. If it’s something we’re bothered by and find to be a standard mode of operation then we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to affect change and do something about it.

I think this meme, while well intended, misses the mark and potentially waters the seed of cynicism in an already quite cynical counter culture. Because the thing is, stuffy buildings and fake smiles and routines are real. They are part of life. And ultimately, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things.

With our thoughts we make the world, and these we have the power to change at any time. It’s not what’s happening around us that causes our dissatisfaction, it’s how we regard it and relate to it.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2019 in Everyday Practice

 

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Gosh it’s easy to misunderstand things

This morning, while reading the Discourse on Happiness from our Plum Village chanting book, it clicked. After reading the second sentence: “Late at night, a deva appeared whose light and beauty made the whole Jeta Grove shine radiantly,” I came to understand what Brother Phap De meant two years ago when I was at Deer Park.

He had just finished leading us in stick exercises one morning before breakfast when he asked us, in a light and friendly tone of voice: “Who was that diva dancing the polka in the parking lot yesterday? I think they should lead us all in a dance session!”

In that moment, my internal dialog went something like this: Oh man. That was me. I didn’t really think others were watching. Do I have to declare myself now in front of all these people?! I mean, I really REALLY do not want to lead a dance session, that’s for sure.

I sheepishly raised my hand, indicating that the diva he was inquiring about was me. Then, I raced the heck out of there and headed to breakfast.

Later, I pondered the terminology he has used: diva dancing the polka and felt a mixture of confusion (as I didn’t know exactly what the polka entailed but I was certain I wasn’t doing it), slight embarrassment, and feeling affronted. Did he call me a diva? I thought to myself on many occasions after that. I’m not sure I like that term. No, I KNOW I don’t like that term. Is that how others see me?! Oh dear.

Up until this morning, I thought he meant diva (with an i), as in someone who is a prima donna, as my paperback Webster’s defines it. (Then I looked up “prima donna” to make sure I understood that word correctly – which is listed as: an extremely sensitive, vain, or undisciplined person.) But now I realize he probably meant deva (with an e!), which is described as a Celestial being or angel in the glossary in the back of our chanting book.

Upon making this discovery this morning, my internal dialog went something like this:

This changes everything!

Whew!

Thank goodness!

Brother Phap De

I’ve read the Discourse on Happiness a handful of times since Brother Phap De declared me the deva dancing the polka. But it wasn’t until just this morning that this insight arose, allowing for me to move into proper understanding.

The human experience is so incredibly fascinating, from a self-observation standpoint especially.

While it’s not worth giving it too much thought, I wonder: What changed? What allowed me to make this connection TODAY vs. some other day? I mean, I haven’t consciously thought about this instance with Brother Phap De in a long long time.

One of the guiding life sayings that I like to tell myself often is: Sometimes you don’t get to know why. Translation: This is a moment you would do well to practice just going with the flow of the river of life experience, Nicole. Stop trying to analyze things or come to some sort of neat conclusion that can fit in well with how you view the world, it’s a waste of time and energy.

Over the years since this encounter, even though I wasn’t a fan of being called a diva (with an i), I have dearly cherished this moment between us. He was genuinely interested in knowing who it had been that he had seen down in the parking lot. It was clear to me that he had been delighted in their joyful offering. And while I was mildly embarrassed that someone – especially a monk – had seen me dancing, I was also put at ease that he was able to sense my heartfelt enjoyment of dancing and appreciate it for what it was, vs. perhaps deeming it an inappropriate activity to do at a monastery (which was a back-of-the-mind concern of mine). And he was apparently so taken with my dancing that he even wanted me to instruct and lead others!

Brother Phap De passed away at age 82 (I think) in August of 2016. If memory serves, he made the “deva dancing the polka” comment in January of that same year, when Mike and I were there on retreat. It was an honor and privilege to get to know and spend time with Brother Phap De over the years that Mike and I have been visiting Deer Park, before he passed away. When I do stick exercises – which typically amounts to once a week – I think of him every time, as he was the one who would always lead them at Deer Park. Randomly during his instructions, he would prompt us all to smile – and when I lead them on our local retreats or at other times, I continue his memory and remind people of the same thing.

At the end of my stick exercise session each week, I do two standing bows in closing. The first bow is in dedication of Brother Phap De. And the second is in gratitude for the stick I use.

In conclusion:

Gosh it sure is easy to misunderstand things.

Now that I know what Brother Phap De actually meant, I am even more nourished from this encounter we shared. And now that I have been afforded the great gift of insight, it will allow me to carry forward this memory with more clarity, understanding, ease, and joy.

Sometimes – maybe even all the time – more understanding equates to more freedom. Freedom from what? you might wonder. To which the teachings in our tradition would say: Freedom from illusory notions and false views, which is ultimately what all of our suffering (large, small, or tiny) can be attributed to on a foundational level.

To read more about Brother Phap De’s life story, click here.

 

 

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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…

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Re-Envisioning the Practice

This morning, I watched a portion of a Dharma talk on YouTube, given by Brother Phap Dung in Plum Village on July 29th, 2018. It was entitled: The Power of Cutting Off and Letting Go. (Here’s the link if you’re interested.)

How timely that it happened to correspond well with the reading I’d done earlier this morning from our Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book.

Once a week, I read a different sutra from the chanting book. This morning I found myself reading the Discourse on the Dharma Seal, where it gives mention to the “three defiling qualities of mind – greed, hatred, and delusion.” Brother PD also spoke to this list in his talk, though he referred to them as the three afflictions and rephrased them a bit as: craving, anger, and ignorance.

He also spoke about the three virtues – also referred to as gauges – of a spiritual person and/or leader:

  1. Compassion
  2. Wisdom
  3. Freedom (or cutting off or cutting through)

Some things from the Brother’s talk that I scribed down while watching:

– We must re-envision our practice so that it includes all activities, not just certain ones or the ones we find pleasing; this is what Thay meant when he coined the phrase engaged Buddhism. (this is a paraphrase)

– “Be ordinary, don’t stick out. Don’t over-practice.” – Brother PD on the practice of washing the dishes

– “Buddhist practice is like medicine. It helps us, frees us, and then you don’t go holding on to it.”

– Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t met Thay and I think to myself: my life was so much easier before coming to this practice. So, you might want to go somewhere else (for spiritual practice), because in this practice tradition you have to look at things you might not want to look at. (paraphrase)

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