As winter acquiesces to springtime in the mountains,
light peals back the darkness of morning
earlier and earlier,
and stays later and later
Like a dinner party invitee,
The Light is akin to that dude who
awkwardly and unexpectedly arrives
way ahead of the appointed time of the soiree.
after all the food is gone and the dishes are put away,
and the roar of the fire is down to its flickering embers,
The Light is that last lingering guest,
begging the host to question:
What the heck is this guy still doing here?
I used to think it would be terribly status quo to do the same thing day in and day out – some present day torture resulting in a robotic, sad life void of meaning and vigor. But now, with aging eyes and dharmic direction, I see great freedom and joy in creating a daily rhythm, ordinary and relatively unchanging. Of course, our motivation must be well applied and properly set (otherwise a routine can become dry and numbing).
I’ve been thinking about my own simple daily routines lately and how they offer me nourishment and support throughout the day. My alarm is set to wake me up at 5:03am (yep, not 5:00, 5:03) Monday through Saturday (Sundays are my days to sleep in). Oftentimes, however, I wake up before my alarm goes off. After I get up I make some tea and drink slowly as I read by book light in the living room for 20-30 minutes (currently I am reading a book called Meeting Faith, Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun). I then set a timer, sing the morning chant (you can give a listen to my recording here http://openway.org/content/morning-chant), and practice sitting meditation for 20 minutes in the quiet stillness of the darkened early morning. I finish my sitting meditation with three prostrations to the earth, in which I offer a different gratitude with each one, followed by one final standing bow in which I say to myself:
“In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today, may I be useful, may I be kind.”
Thin curved branches topped with new golden mustard shoots
announce spring’s reappearance,
splendid as mountain’s dawn ricocheting on pine bristled rocky spines
echoing to the valley floor spread below –
Breathing in I am alighted by the warmth of the sun
Breathing out I smile to the beauty of nature enveloping me –
And is not everything nature really?
Yes, the earth and sky and waters of course,
the fruits of their labor, their rich colors and sweet fragrance,
but also the glistening web of wires strung from pole to pole coursing with
electricity and information,
brick and mortar buildings,
asphalt and gravel,
big rigs, smoke stacks, metal grain bins, and water treatment plants –
Nothing can be separated from nature,
nothing discarded in the name of connection –
Everything we have created
has come from, and will go back to,
this one sacred and most amazing planet
In an attempt to get a little more movement into my days I’ve recently started taking walks. And to add a mindfulness practice element to these walks I’ve taken to using them as an opportunity to get in touch with gratitude. I’ve found that infusing gratitude into my walks also helps me to feel more inspired to get out and do it. It feels less exercise and chore like when I’m intentionally looking around to connect and appreciate my surroundings.
Yesterday I walked to the river, which runs through town. One of the bike paths is just two blocks away and goes all the way to the river, about a 30-40 minute walk from where I live. So I hopped on the bike path and away I went, iPod in tow.
We just had our local Montana Open Way Sanghas annual spring retreat which started Thursday May 1st in the evening and ended on Sunday May 4th in the early afternoon. Our retreat was held once again at the beautiful Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp in Lakeside, MT, which sits right on the Flathead Lake. Dharma teacher Michael Ciborski led our retreat, of which 48 people were in attendance. If you’re interested in listening to the dharma talks he gave during the retreat please go to: http://openway.org/audio
Our Montana Open Way Sanghas consist of four sanghas in three different cities in western Montana: Open Way and Be Here Now in Missoula, Flowing Mountains in Helena, and Open Sky in Kalispell. We are all Thich Nhat Hanh based sanghas with strong communities in our respective locations that join together for two annual retreats a year, mindfulness days, council meetings, and other events throughout the year. I feel very fortunate and grateful to be part of such a vibrant mindfulness community here in big sky country.
Tomorrow night is the start of our local bi-annual Open Way Sanghas mindfulness retreat in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Dharma teacher Michael Ciborski is our visiting teacher who will be leading the retreat. He has been leading retreats here in Montana once a year for the last few years. And this year for the first time he ventured here with his wife Fern and their youngest child Fiana who is two-years old.
To offer a wonderful practice opportunity to the greater Missoula community I helped put together a public talk tonight entitled: Nourishing the Scared in Each Other where Michael spoke on the topics of mindfulness, deep breathing, and coming back home to the present moment. It was a beautiful spring evening here in the mountains, the sky was a crisp blue and the sun shone down into the valley with radiance and delicate warmth. Here in the rocky mountains of western Montana, where the chill of winter’s embrace dog ear’s more calendar months than it skips, it can often be difficult to wrangle people indoors when the sun starts to color in the landscape. But tonight we managed to fill a room in the Continuing Education Building on the campus of the University of Montana with 50 people – and considering we were up against the International Wildlife Film Festival I think we had a great sized crowd.
Michael opened up the talk guiding us in some breathing exercises and then went on to speak about how our breath can put us in touch with what’s actually happening in the here and now (as opposed to getting carried away by our stories or worries…). He said that it’s important to develop a strong muscle of returning home, by which he is referring to the present moment. Our true home is in the present moment, it is the only moment where we are truly alive! We cannot reside in the past, for it has already happened, and we cannot reside in the future, for it has not yet come to be. Right here and right now, this is it!
He spoke about a three-point system (so to speak):
Stop – Connect – Engage
To stop means to stop running, stop worrying, stop the anxiety, sorrow, fear and other strong habit energies that inhibit our ability to come home to ourselves in the present moment and serve no skillful means on the path of transformation. To connect means to become one with. And to engage is to embrace and love deeply.
I wrote down a quote from Michael as he was talking that I really appreciated:
“We have tremendous power in the little moments of our life.”
This insight needs to be more than an intellectual comprehension. This teaching is a deep, rich, and beautiful practice that we need to put into action as a collective community in order to foster our connection to ourselves, our environment, and one another. Indeed it is only in the small moments of life that transformation is possible. With mindfulness, every act we do is an opportunity to come back home.
After I saw my thirteen year-old out the door this morning on his walk to school I did a few minutes of sitting meditation embraced in a warm spring sun beam shining in through my bedroom window. I felt my posture stable and relaxed soaking up the sun as my lips curved to form a gentle smile.
After my meditation I headed out to do some childcare for some friends of mine. They have a five-year old boy and a recently turned 2-year old girl. Before I was injured and contracted a nerve disease which qualified me for disability a few years ago I was a nanny and before that I worked in pre-schools and day cares. I love hanging out with kids. They have much wisdom and much to teach.
I spent my day making up silly songs about underwear falling down (to the tune of London Bridge), since the 5-year old, like many boys his age, enjoys toilet humor, negotiating healthy snacks and a proper lunch to kids who would rather eat popsicles and pizza for every meal, playing frisbee with suction cups in hand (an idea sparked by the five-year old), and trying to convince the 2-year old that bugs were not bad. I also fielded many 5-year old budding questions such as, “Why do you wear the same clothes everyday?” and in response to my bowing in gratitude to my plate of food at lunch, “What are you doing?”
Indeed I have been wearing the same clothes everyday now since November. I have two pairs of the exact same style and color of dark brown pants and about five or six of the exact same style and color moss green shirt. I commended him for his awareness and explained how I enjoy the simplicity of having only one outfit. He seemed to understand and then asked me how many pairs of shoes I owned, to which I answered, “I have three pairs of shoes. These ones I’m wearing (my crocs which I wear most often), my snow boots, and a pair of motorcycle boots (which I only wear when I’m on my bike of course).”
I also enjoyed talking to him more about why I give thanks to my food before I eat. With a really puzzled expression on his face he asked, “Do you thank your food EVERY time you eat?” to which I answered, “Yes, I do!” Unlike the having one outfit conversation it took him longer to begin understanding this concept of thanking the food. I spoke with him about how having food was a gift and that not everyone in the world had enough food to eat. Then I mentioned how the farmers had to grow the peanuts for the peanut butter and strawberries for the jelly, how the trucks had to work to transport the food to the stores, and about all the different workers involved in helping bring the food to our plates. After briefly explaining all of that he said, “OR you could just go to the store and get the food,” to which I asked, “But how does the food get there?” He thought about it for a moment and then I said, “We need the farmers and the trucks and all the people to get the food to the stores. Without all of those people we’d have no food in the stores. That’s why I like to give my thanks to the food.”
A productive day I would say! Kids have a beautiful and simply way of communicating and they are in every moment always ready to absorb and learn and grow.
Reflecting on the day the practice of present moment, wonderful moment was alive and strong. I feel gratitude coursing through me for youth, playfulness, the sun, laughter, silliness, good questions, and taking the time to stop and literally smell the blooming flowers. And now in the solitude of night under a clear dark sky I am enjoying the ease of a clean and quiet house.
Fresh pine flavors spring’s footfalls
as winter cracks and melts
in warm rhythms
pulsating like deep breaths
Undertones of blue slate and cream
mark passing clouds
in an ocean’s expanse
of mountain skies
Prairie grazers coats shed thickened fur
like soft dandelion tufts
swept in currents over the rocky divide
As a day once bright and bold
is invited to rest by dusk’s gentle hands
colors of daffodil sun rays mute to lavender
before succumbing to a delicate ink black approach
of a rounding stone moon’s curtain backdrop
Silence’s volume is turned on high
as heads lay to sleep,
drops of light spill out from sputtering celestial fires,
and what once in the heightened bustle of a single day seemed dire
now dissolves on the tongue of a quiet moment
– Nicole Dunn
Day 8 – It’s almost 10:00am here in the mountains. The sky is calm and clear and a budding spring sun is growing brighter as the day unfolds. It’s Sunday. My husband is still sleeping and my son is in his room listening to a book on tape (yes, we still have tapes and a tape player :) and working on a project. I’m sitting in the quiet of the living room looking out our north facing picture window to the mountain ash berry tree in the front yard, bare bones stark against the blue expanse of sky painted above. I just got done sitting and as I look out onto the day I shirk back.
My husband struggles with depression, which means our whole household struggles with depression. When someone in our close family has a difficulty it is not an isolated event that pertains only to their well being but to the well being of the whole family. While the winter months are not the cause of his depression it certainly gets much worse through the darker, colder time of year. It has only been in the last couple of years that I have developed more understanding about what he’s going through and how it impacts everything he does. Depression lies in his ancestry and is a deep root. Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) often talks about our inherited seeds that are passed down through many generations and how we need to be aware of and take good of them in order to transform them.
It is easy to throw words around without thinking much about their meaning or impact. Depression is one of those words that has been watered down and its meaning diluted. “Oh, I’ve had such a crappy day I’m so depressed,” or, “I can’t believe the store is out of chocolate ice cream, that is so depressing.” So in a way it makes sense that when a person is actually struggling with depression it can be challenging to identify it and understand just what that means. However in my deepening understanding I will say that I feel more powerless. I know that while I can support his path I cannot do the work for him that is necessary to strengthen his mental health and well being. And with it affecting the household as much as it does it makes it extremely difficult to not want more control over the situation.
At 33 years old I struggle with chronic pain from a nerve disease called CRPS (or RSD) that resulted from an injury I had in 2005. I’m on disability and work hard everyday to manage my physical pain. It has been a long road and still continues. With the strength of my mindfulness practice and my determination to not let my pain define me as a person I am committed to taking good care of myself. I’m the only one that can truly take care of myself. Others can of course help support my journey and my community of friends and family are vital to my overall heath and happiness but ultimately if I am not invested in my own well being and putting forth the responsibility, effort and diligence to practice self-care then transformation is not possible.
Some days his depression is like carrying around a bag of rocks everywhere I go. Today is one of those days.