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On Solitude

Pic taken during my one-week solo stay at the Mission Lookout Tower, May 2018

 

There are at least two kinds of solitude: one we experience when we are by ourselves alone and the other we can experience when we are in the midst of others.

There is a kind of solitude, which is spoken to in the sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone, that can be carried within us wherever we go. It involves an ability to live in the present moment, free of worry, stress, anxiety, craving, and attachment.

Just because we may live alone doesn’t mean we know how to be alone. And just because we have house mates doesn’t mean we can’t cultivate the art of solitude.

It’s good to mention too, that there is a solitude born from isolation and separation and a solitude born from a deep sense of interbeing and re-connection with one self – and they are not at all the same thing. Using the Eightfold Path as a guide, we could say there is Solitude and then there is Right Solitude.

Additionally, solitude as a power or virtue is all of the following: drastically undervalued, super misunderstood, and detrimentally romanticized.

Ah, the inner stirrings of a writer on solitude.

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Posted by on January 17, 2019 in writer's life

 

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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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Seven Treasures of the Heart

Over this past weekend, I finished watching a talk by Brother Phap Hai, which he gave at Deer Park Monastery on June 21st, 2018. I watch a fair amount of Dharma talks online and I found this one in particular to be very powerful. If you’d like to check it out, click here. Side note: if you’re like me and it’s helpful to watch talks in segments, there are good stopping/pausing points in this talk at 17.40 and 31.05 (the total run time is 54.55).

From Brother Phap Hai’s talk:

“The fundamental insight of Buddhism is that if we look deeply into our lives, into our situation, with appropriate attention, then the path reveals itself naturally.”

 

Seven Treasures of the Heart

as offered by the Buddha in the Dhana Sutta

1. Confidence

2. Mindfulness trainings

3. Self-reflection

4. Concern

5. Listening

6.Generosity

7. Discernment

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Befriending

All those parts of ourselves that we don’t like – all those parts we’re self-conscious about, that we try to hide or fight or squelch or fix – befriending is always the answer.

As soon as we embark on the genuine path of befriending, the frequency of the relationship dynamic to whatever it is about ourselves that we don’t like changes right away. As Carl Rogers (co-founder of the client-centered approach to psychology) stated:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

~Carl Rogers

The pitfall that so many of us encounter in relation to inner transformational and healing work is the common predicament of trying to change, with the mindset of there being something about ourselves that’s damaged or broken or defective. We approach it from the angle of there being something wrong that needs fixing. And when we approach it from this standpoint the conditions for change and growth are extremely limited, because the ground for transformation and healing to take place is stripped and barren. What allows the ground to become fertile and ripe for transformation is the genuine act of befriending – acknowledging, accepting, and embracing ALL the parts of who we are. Only when we start to befriend ourselves can we start laying the foundation in order to build a more engaged, skillful, and well-contented life.

Befriending is always the answer. Whatever’s going on. Whether it’s something internal or external. Suffering is generated when we fight against something going on – when we want things to be different; other than as they are. To befriend is to stop struggling. To befriend is to allow things to be just as they are, to let things be. To let others be. To let ourselves be.

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In a recent class offered at Deer Park Monastery, Brother Kai Ly taught the following (which I consider to be the in-depth process of what befriending is all about):

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Posted by on February 9, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Solo Retreat, Part 1 of 3

Written on Friday June 16th, 2017

7:32pm

The idea of doing a solo retreat has been a brewing interest of mine for a little while now. Then, after going to Deer Park Monastery for three-weeks this past January, my percolating idea bubbled up with a newfound vigor. So I emailed a few well-chosen friends who I thought might have some ideas of a place to go where I could be relatively secluded, surrounded by nature, and left to my own devices.

I’ve long been wanting to stay in one of the handful of local fire towers that’ve been converted to a reservable getaway destination spot, but I soon found out that those are in high demand and already fully booked up for the season, which makes sense. (Note to self: book early for next year!)

A sangha friend generously offered me the use of her and her husband’s cabin about an hour from town, which is where I’ve landed and am currently typing from. I arrived here, amid spectacular rolling sage-covered foothills, around 4:30 this afternoon. After finding my way around the house and unpacking the car, I set to making dinner, which I intentionally kept simple: a pre-made salad and a bowl of vegetarian chili, made and sold by our local organic market The Good Food Store, which I picked up this morning.

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Posted by on June 18, 2017 in Local Retreats

 

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Mindful Morning Saturdays

In the interest of buoying my new practice of Mindful Morning Saturdays (MMS), through the art of sharing my experience in written form, this is yet another installment to help me along.

This morning I especially enjoyed reading the Discourse on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings, as part of my MMS sutra readings. The sutra starts: Wholeheartedly, day and night, disciples of the Awakened One should recite and meditate on the Eight Realizations discovered by the Great Beings. It then lists them in the order shown above and goes into short detail about each one. The concluding sentence of the sutra states: If disciples of the Buddha recite and meditate on these Eight Realizations, they will put an end to countless misunderstandings and difficulties and progress toward enlightenment, leaving behind the world of birth and death, dwelling forever in peace.

The Sixth Realization especially stood out to me. It seemed different than the other Realizations and it got my internal gears moving. Here’s the whole paragraph from the sutra:

The Sixth Realization is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and actions. When practicing generosity, bodhisattvas* consider everyone – friends and enemies alike – to be equal. They do not condemn anyone’s past wrongdoings or hate even those presently causing harm.

* Bodhisattva: Literally “enlightened being,” one committed to enlightening oneself and others so that all may be liberated from suffering.

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Daily Practice – Day 11

quotes-motivation3

Day 11 – Once again I opted to lay down for my six minutes of meditation instead of sitting.  I’ve been enjoying my daily practice and am finding it beneficial in regards to my relationship with myself – I feel more at ease even in the midst of stressful happenings and am more confident in my ability to meet the present moment on its own terms rather than my own expectations of how things should be, even when it’s challenging.  I’m also finding that I am becoming more motivated and skilled at not getting caught and stuck in my unskillful thought patterns and habit energies.  Of course there are other things at play here as well other than my daily sitting practice but I see clearly that it is of great support and benefit and for that I am grateful.  After my sitting I read the Discourse on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings, which are as follows:

“The First Realization is the awareness that the world is impermanent…The Second Realization is the awareness that more desire brings more suffering…The Third Realization is the awareness that the human mind is always searching outside itself and never feels fulfilled…The Fourth Realization is the awareness that indolence (laziness) is an obstacle to practice…The Fifth Realization is the awareness that ignorance is the cause of the endless round of birth and death…The Sixth Realization is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and actions…The Seventh Realization is the awareness that the five categories of sensual desire – money, sex, fame, overeating and oversleeping – lead to problems…The Eighth Realization is the awareness that the fire of birth and death is raging,  causing endless suffering everywhere…”

Buddhist-inspirationIn all but the Sixth Realization I see the same root which leads to the sufferings mentioned in the discourse: illusion.  Having false impressions about ourselves, other people and the world colors everything we do in body, speech and mind.  If we were able to see life clearly, unimpeded by the vast and varying array of our misperceptions, there would be no more suffering to be created.  Not only do we exist almost entirely in the realm of illusions but we cling desperately to them and don’t realize it.  We think, in fact we KNOW, that our thoughts are right, our way is right, our view is right, our perceptions are right.  When in reality our limited perspective about any given subject, person or experience is just that – very very limited, incomplete, oftentimes incorrect and bound up in our self-absorbed nature (a sea of illusion).

All of our suffering is self-manifested.  How we relate to life’s experiences and with what approach is how our world unfolds.  When we enjoy creating drama, which many of us do (and don’t know it), drama will manifest.  When we wallow in our physical ailments then a miserable life will ensue and our pain levels will only persist and increase.  When we victimize ourselves and blame others for our troubles and sorrow we live a life of anger and isolation.  When we are overly sensitive or take things too personally or seriously our comfort zone shrinks to the size of a tennis ball and everything and everyone has the potential to throw us off balance.  When we are unable to take responsibility for our own experiences in life we continue our path of suffering – generously watering the seeds of illusion as we tread.

How we view the world is how we live in it.  How we view ourselves in relationship to the present moment is the difference between whether we experience more joy and ease or more pain and suffering.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2013 in 21 Days of Sitting

 

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