The Dharma of Conflict

I am currently working with what feels like a sea of disharmony in regards to my inter-personal relationships, and also in some larger contexts as well. And through this challenging time I am learning a lot about myself. I’m also learning a lot about conflict and how there are different types of conflict and different ways to approach it, work with it, and transform it depending on the situation and the person with who I am experiencing disharmony with.

As I’ve been intentionally working on dismantling what I call my mode of “over-caretaking” for the past 2-years, I feel as though the turbulent waters I am swimming in are very much related to this work as sort of a next-leg-of-the-journey sort of deal – a leveling up into advanced practice, if you will. In short, my brand of “over-caretaking” involves trying to meet people where they’re at to the detriment of my own truth, needs, and/or well-being. It involves me trying to go above and beyond what makes reasonable and good sense in order to alleviate or manage other people’s feelings of upset or discomfort. While I am very much interested in remaining sensitive and tuned in to people’s needs in order to be of skillful support, I am working on finding a balance to ensure that I am able to do so without compromising my own needs. It’s been a fruitful practice – and I am very much still in the learning process.

I’m coming to understand how very many different ways conflict can show up and manifest – which also means there are many different ways in which to work with it. There is no one right or particular way to be in relationship with conflict. Some conflicts will never be fully resolved or come to a place of complete closure. Some conflicts are terribly difficult to untangle because the other person involved is unable or unwilling to participate in engaging in open dialog. Some conflicts will fade over time while others can linger for years. Some conflicts point to a need for direct and honest communication and others point to a need to distance one self from certain individuals in an act of self-care. Some conflicts require silence and personal reflection before speaking and others require using our voice in the moment. Some conflicts can be tended to and resolved all on our own and others need to be worked through directly with the other person we’re in disharmony with.

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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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Truthful & Loving Speech

The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumors nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.

To read the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, which are the foundation of the Order of Interbeing, click here

I’ve been reading the Ninth Mindfulness Training every day for the past week, as part of a ongoing practice I’ve been doing with a friend of mine. And in rare form, I don’t feel as though I have much to say in added commentary in regards to this training. What I can say is this: I am committed to embodying this training as much as I possible can, for the sake of all beings (myself included). And, I’m a work in progress for sure.

Non-Attachment

In Buddhism, we have teachings centered around non-attachment. But how do we apply this and make sense of it as laypeople – with romantic partners and close friends and kids and family and pet people?

And aren’t we also encouraged – neigh urged – in our particular mindfulness tradition, to take refuge in the sangha? To lean on and lean into our people for love and support, care and connection?

How do we reconcile this paradox?

I think I figured it out. Ready?

I think what it comes down to is that it’s not that we need to love, depend, and rely on our people any less than we are – it’s not that we need to un-attach from them, necessarily. It’s that we need to simultaneously love and depend and rely on our own self too. We need to enjoy and revel in our own company, just as much as we enjoy and revel in the company of our closest people.

Perhaps non-attachment, then, refers to our ability to keep good company with our own self, right alongside of giving mad love to those we adore and cherish when we’re in their company.

On Being Happily Married

 

As a self-declared happily married woman in a monogamous relationship, I feel as though I’m rather akin to a unicorn sometimes: fictitious, and overly dramatized with glitter and sparkle (metaphorically speaking, that is) to the point of making it impossible not to deem it ridiculously absurd. I’m not at all like a unicorn, however, when it comes to my coolness factor. Unicorns are everywhere nowadays in the merch realm, whereas happily married people don’t really market well. We’re just not hip and fashionable in the same way.

But, as happy people in general are in short supply, and you can’t throw a dead cat without hitting a cynic, I awoke this morning called by my pen to write some thoughts out on a topic that feels both radical and terribly un-interesting to the mainstream at the same time. Unlike the mythical unicorn, I’m here to tell you that I exist.

And I exist not in a trite, pie-in-the-sky sort of way but in a this-is-for-real sort of way. I love my husband. I’ve loved my husband long enough that I can’t clearly recall a time when our lives were not intertwined. We’ve been together over half of my life. Born in the same year, I was 19 and he was 20 when we met; 20 and 21 when we married. And in a week from now, we’ll celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary.

I’d like to convey two things that I’ve found to be important in our love journey thus far. And by important, I mean crucial to our surthrival. (Notice I just coined a new word there: surthrival, which combines the words ‘survival’ and ‘thrive’.)

One: We’re genuinely kind to each other. And two: We’re both diligent in our own commitment to ongoing personal growth work.

#1 applies especially to me, as I used to be the queen of being passive aggressive. I spent the first few years of our marriage being routinely unkind to my husband. It took me a long while to see the reality of how I could be a real bitch. And I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy coming to terms with this part of myself. No one wants to admit they’re a jerk. And without some kind of reflective practice to help us learn the skills to see ourselves clearly, few of us will break free of this cycle of meanness too, by the way. Collectively, we’ve learned all sorts of creative, sure-fire ways to armor ourselves up with excuses, reasonings, and justifications for our crappy behavior and treatment of others, especially our closest person. Looking deeper it becomes clear: we treat others how we treat our own selves internally. So there’s that.

What’s important to mention about #2 is that it takes two to tango. And by tango I mean form a life together. My husband and I have gone through some rough times – and our last rough time, about 8 years ago, was such that we wondered for the first time ever whether or not we’d make it. During such times, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as a difficulty being only one person’s responsibility to tend to. It’s never just one of us causing harm or hardship, no matter what’s going on. It takes both of us to co-create the environment and landscape we find ourselves amid. In order for us to take good care of one another as part of a couple in a life-partnership, we see clearly that we must learn and practice to take good care of our own self as individuals. If either one of us weren’t committed to ongoing and continual personal growth work, our marriage wouldn’t be successful. Knowing how to stay on our own side of the fence and take responsibility and ownership for how we’re showing up and engaging in the relationship is critical to our well-being as husband and wife.

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Interbeing, part 3

It’s one thing to say We’re all in the together or We’re all interconnected or We are not separate from one another, and a whole other thing to truly understand, actively engage in, and PRACTICE enfolding the truth of our interbeing nature into our daily lives.

If we don’t learn, investigate, and actively use the tools given to us in the fluid art of cultivating mindfulness, we run the very high risk of getting caught in theory, intellect, and notions. It’s super easy to read about mindfulness. It’s super easy to call ourselves a practitioner or a Buddhist or whatever label that tickles our fancy (spiritual, seeker…). It’s even easy to say we understand what the heck mindfulness is, when in actuality we have no freakin idea and are doing little to nothing in the taking action department.

There are a lot of things that sound good in the context of our practice tradition (by which I’m referring to the Plum Village tradition based in the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh). Here are a few examples: mindfulness, interbeing, letting go, compassion, true love, ease, joy, liberation, transformation. These sound great right?! What lovey concepts! Ah. But they are NOT concepts in the realm of our tradition. As practitioners we must work to dislodge these and other teachings from being mere concepts/ideas that sound nice and turn them into workable, actionable turnings of body, speech, and mind.

What does it mean to look with the eyes of interbeing, as our practice encourages us to do? A big part has to do with our becoming observers of our physical, mental, and emotional landscape – and then eventually moving from observer to a dutiful and faithful guard of the Four Kinds of Nutriments that fuel and propel us: edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. In order to look through the lens of interbeing we must be able to look clearly and accurately inwards, at our own selves. We cannot do the work of connecting deeply with others and dissipating our divisions of separation if we’ve not learned how to properly get in touch and grow familiar with our own person.

The Buddha said that everything needs food in order to survive. Nothing can survive without nourishment/food. In order to develop our ability to engage with the world from a place of interbeing, we must be firmly in touch with what input we’re allowing to enter through our body and mind and the heart of our experience. As two of the nutriments in particular can often pose some confusion (volition & consciousness), I would like to offer my own spin:

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On Sexual Energy

True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

True Love is the third of the five mindfulness trainings as part of the Plum Village tradition led by our root teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been hearing – both directly and indirectly – from more and more sangha members, an increasing inquiry centered around how to date. And more appropriately: how to date well and skillfully, as a mindfulness practitioner.

When I first started hearing these ponderings from folks, I thought to myself: I have no freakin idea. And furthermore: I’m not sure I can ever offer anything on this particular topic, given that I’ve been married since I was 20-years-old. Isn’t is rather like the old adage to never get a haircut from a bald barber? Who wants dating advice from a seasoned married woman who’s dating history consists solely of being really poor at it from age 15-19?

But as is often the case for me, things have been percolating. I’m a s..l..o..w percolator. I often need time to digest and absorb things, in order to figure out how best to approach situations.

Oftentimes I’ll rotate a particular matter back and forth between the front burner and the back burner of my conscious thought process – and then at times I move the matter onto a whole other backup stove I have located in some other room, where it’s still simmering but more removed from my mental sight. Depending on the matter at hand, this might happen for weeks or months at a time before I feel as though I’ve landed on some insight or clarity into the subject.

Last week, on my way home from the market, some ideas starting taking shape as to what I might have to offer on the topic of dating. An insight arose: in between the lines of people wondering how to date well, is an underground inquiry about how to properly work with sexual energy. What people are really wondering about is how to engage in having sexual relations, especially outside of a long-term committed relationship and/or when true love is not part of the deal.

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