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Squirrel Meditation

Our campsite on the Flathead Lake

This past weekend (Aug 2-5) we had our sangha summer campout with our meditation community Be Here Now – it was our 6th annual! We’ve been using the same campground each summer: Big Arm State Park on the Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. For the past 3 years, we’ve been managing to reserve their one and only group site, which wonderfully allows us to be all together in one spot AND right on the water! So great!!

Each campout is a nice social/community building/relaxing hang-time on the lake opportunity for our sangha. It allows us to be joyfuly together, whilst revelling in the lake, each others company, and the practice of having nowhere to go and nothing to do. We spend our time: reading, floating/paddling/swimming, conversing, laughing, playing games, drinking tea/coffee, sharing community meals, napping, and hanging out around the fire at night. Given that we had a smaller group than usual, and Saturday afternoon was a bit blustery, we even took a field trip this year during our campout: cherry picking!

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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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Runneth Over

I was reading the Fourteen Mindfulness trainings on Saturday morning and I guess this guy wanted to see what all the fuss was about :)

 

My cup runneth over with inspiration, information, and heartbreak for the people. I’m rather at a loss of how to reign it all in to fashion this post. Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with a wealth of different people and topics that have given rise to a myriad of emotions, thoughts, and ideas.

Today marks the last day of our local 10-day 15th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. During the span of the festival, I saw films highlighting a number of issues, including: domestic violence, the oppression of our LGBTQ community, Native land rights, coal mining and mountain top removal in West Virginia, and the plight of orangutans and loss of forested habitat.

As a representative of our Buddhist sangha and active participant in our local interfaith community, I also attended a couple of events with a retired Evangelical pastor who was brought to town by both our local Christian faith communities and the Sierra Club: Pastor Tri Robinson. Tri Robinson is a conservative, Republican, evangelical, pastor-rancher that is adamant that evangelical Christians should be working to address the climate crisis as part of their Christian calling. I attended the first U.S premier of the film showing of Cowboy and Preacher on Friday night, for which Tri was the focal subject. And last night my husband and I attended his keynote address on the university campus entitled: Creation Care and the Christian Church. Both events were simply fantastic and provided a great deal of nourishment and inspiration to me as a spiritual leader motivated strongly to help support others and care well for our planet.

And then there’s the issue of what’s been happening in the wake of the school shooting that took place in Florida recently. My 18-year-old stepson’s high school was the target of a number of threats this past week. As parents, we were alerted via email and recorded phone messages about each instance and kept well informed. On Thursday, I received an email stating that the school was on lock-down, due to a threat posed to the student body. And while, for better or worse – and probably for both – I didn’t regard the threats as being of a serious nature that would actually give rise to actual harm being inflicted, my heart broke for my stepson and the other students, teachers, and staff who were having to weather and situate themselves amid that atmosphere, however hollow and empty the threats might have been.

Over the past week, too, I met with a few different close friends and sangha members, some of whom were seeking support with a particular matter. I had the chance to experience the vulnerability of a few individuals in trusting me with their stories and struggles, which is a privilege and honor that humbles me deeply.

Yesterday, as part of my Mindful Morning Saturday routine, I watched a Dharma talk given on February 12th by Brother Phap Man, a monk in the Plum Village tradition who resides at Blue Cliff Monastery. His talk – which I watched in two sessions and finished this morning – was entitled: Healing Ourselves, Healing Our World, and focused on matters of racial discrimination, sexism, white privilege, and detrimental cultural biases.

I met with two hospice patients. I spent a day nannying for two young boys. I worked to pull together logistics for our upcoming spring family retreat, for which I serve as co-director, in charge of registration and also putting together and running the kids programming. I met with a good friend who’s offered to be my sound guy in the venue for my upcoming scary new adventure of having a CD release party and solo spoken word performance. And there’s more, too.

So much happens in the span of one week’s time. And some weeks, like this past one, involve a bit more than usual, in the realm of sensory input.

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Posted by on February 25, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Allowing Others To Be As They Are

This is me crafting a response to a friend that I thought might prove helpful to post here as well. Recently, a friend approached me inquiring about how I was able to manage the ability to stop trying to control my husband. She had spoken to my husband, Mike, and learned that one of the components in his journey of getting clean and sober 5 years ago, while simultaneously healing from a long bout of depression, involved the work I was doing on myself, centered around, among other things, letting go of being so controlling.

With the crucial support of Alanon (a 12-step group aimed at helping people who have loved ones struggling with addiction), I was able to learn a key element in regards to how to cultivate my own sense of deep-rooted joy and happiness, which was to detach from Mike with love. Detaching with love was an alien concept at first. I was clumsy around it and fumbled with it for a while as I tried to understand what it meant, in a real-life application sort of way. But I slowly started to figure it out, using a slightly adapted version of the Serenity Prayer as a guiding principle along the way (see my own re-worded iteration above).

It is my opinion that most of us do not really and truly know that we are not in the position to change other people. I think we have an intellectual grasp that we cannot change others, but when it comes down to it, we think we’re right and others are wrong on a routine basis. And as long as we think our way of doing things is the right way –  maybe even the ONLY way – then we will continue to try to assert control over others, especially those closest to us, in an effort to get them to change.

5 years ago, the work I was doing on myself could be summed up with this statement: I was learning how to take responsibility for the quality of my own well-being. One of the biggest pieces of doing this work involved coming to see how much I heaped the quality of my well-being onto Mike. How oftentimes my mood depended on his. How I allowed his actions to affect my attitude and outlook. I came to see that as long as my mood, disposition, attitude, and outlook relied on his, I was powerless. If I was needing him to be a certain way in order for me to be a certain way, I was going to be miserable, and stay that way.

I’ll take the issue of cleanliness, as an easy and workable example. I am someone who greatly appreciates, and on some level really needs, a sense of spacial orderliness and cleanliness. However, one look through the window into his truck cab, and you would clearly see that my husband could care less about such things. I spent years and years being the sort of wife who mastered the common and destructive patterns of being passive-aggressive: huffing and puffing my way around him picking up dishes and dirty clothes, stomping around on my way to take out the trash or mow the lawn, and washing dishes or cleaning the house with the manic energy of the Tasmanian Devil. And, of course, no master passive-aggressive would be complete without having their own well-cultivated Tone of Voice, indicating to those that know them best to Watch the F*** Out. I remember my mom’s Tone of Voice while growing up. Like mother like daughter.

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Posted by on October 27, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Mindful Morning Saturdays

 

I was inspired by the new Thich Nhat Hanh film “Walk With Me” and made this video montage of a practice I call Mindful Morning Saturdays, which I do on Saturday mornings from 5-8am. Music by Ballake Sissoko; ending chant by Michael Ciborski.

Developing a spiritual component in our life

allows us to become both full and empty at the same time.

Full of connection with everything and everyone else –

and empty of a separate self,

the “I” that stands in our way of growth,

transformation,

and freedom.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2017 in video

 

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Sovereignty

The best definition I found for the word “sovereignty” is stated in the image above: autonomous; free from external control. I’ve been resonating with this word over the past year and find that my personal sovereignty is developing and deepening along with my mindfulness practice, as they seem to go hand-in-hand.

I’m finding that the state of sovereignty is much like the state of joy in that when I talk about it people inquire further, not knowing how to develop such qualities of being. So, this is my first attempt at trying to put into words what this particular characteristic is about, from my own experience that is.

Sovereignty, in regards to oneself, is about having a strong and unwavering sense of self-reliance, internal direction, and self-assurance (in a humble and well-grounded fashion) – it’s about taking and claiming full and total responsibility for one’s own quality of life and state of being. To summarize, sovereignty is about being at home with yourself wherever you go, regardless of outer circumstances. And this is the crux of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness tradition: to come back home to ourselves in the here and now, with joy and ease, so that we can then be of service and benefit to others.

Developing our own sovereignty is not about disconnecting from others or regarding ourselves as superior or becoming a “lone wolf.” It’s about being able to depend and trust in our capacity to generate joyfulness and solidity no matter where we are or who we’re with – to befriend and keep good company with our own selves and emanate that outwards, un-tethered from the clutches of self-consciousness, self-judgement, and self-doubt. It’s a state born from mindfulness, concentration, insight, and diligent practice.

I’ve often mentioned my interest in breaking down mindfulness/Buddhist-based teachings in order to make them more palatable and practical so that they might become more applicable to a wider demographic of people, especially those who are looking for more straight-forward “how-to” guidance. So with that in mind, what are some actions we can take to actually practice the development of sovereignty? Let’s see what I can come up with:

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Posted by on September 21, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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