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On Sovereignty

The definition on dictionary.com for the word sovereignty is as follows:

  • the quality or state of being sovereign, or of having supreme power or authority.
  • the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royal rank or position; royalty.
  • supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.

However, in regards to sovereignty as it pertains to a quality we can develop and strengthen in our daily life, which can help to bolster our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, this textbook definition is not so helpful.

For my purposes, I would define it as: the state of relaxing with solidity and ease, into all the parts of who we are.

My husband Mike and I are slated to give a joint talk at our meditation group, Be Here Now, tomorrow night. The title and topic of our talk is: cultivating sovereignty. Aware that this word is not common in our collective vernacular (here in the U.S anyway), we will start off by sharing each of our own working definitions that we’ve come up with. His is as follows: freedom and liberation from being governed by unskillful habit energies.

Sovereignty involves being able to carry our true home with us everywhere we go. While we will of course still experience difficult situations and the full gamut of human emotions, when the quality of sovereignty is strong within us, we will be able to maintain our calm and clear center, without getting uprooted by the winds that blow around us.

Sovereignty is akin to a tree. A tree trunk is upright, solid, and grounded (solidity). Its branches, however, go with the flow and bend in the wind and its leaves change, shed, and regrow with the turning of seasons (ease).

After offering my working definition, I plan on giving a couple of personal examples (see below) of how this quality has shown up for me in the last few months, to hopefully help give some context and illustrate how sovereignty can be a beneficial quality to invest our time and energy into. I mean, it’s all fine and well to teach about cultivating certain qualities and states of being, but I think it’s important to also speak to the why as well. Whether I want to speak about cultivating mindfulness, joy, a sitting meditation practice, sovereignty, or any other number of things, it’s good to offer at least a brief reference as to the potential benefits that watering these seeds can have on our everyday lives.

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A Teaching Moment

It was deceivingly chilly outside the other day, when we went for a walk. Still, I dressed them in a warm-enough outer layer and hats that covered their ears. Half-way down the block, though, the allure of a late-October stroll to the park amid a blue sky and sunny day was masked by whipping winds, which carried winter’s slow approach on its breath. Suddenly, the delight of traipsing through colorful and crispy leaf piles was replaced by great discomfort. Scrunched up faces of disapproval and whining quickly ensued.

“It’s cold, let’s go home!!” said the 4-year-old.

“Eeehaaaaaaoohhh,” said the 2-year-old – or something to that affect.

I did briefly consider their input. I even glanced in the direction of the warm house we could return to, before determining that what we had here before us was an opportunity. This was a teaching moment.

I made some minor adjustments before we proceeded, one of which was to redirect our destination. The others involved putting the 2-year-old in the empty stroller I had carted along and showing both boys how to tuck their frigid fingers up into the sleeves of their sweaters, like turtle heads retreating into their shell. Lastly, and most important, I shook off my own feelings of cold displeasure, buoyed my attitude, and re-calibrated my compass in the direction of adventure. For good measure, I reminded my fellow travel companions that we were heading to the place we intended on going after visiting the park, which would afford them the chance to pick out a treat in which to enjoy after lunch.

The two-year-old was appeased enough to stop his caterwauling, once he was nestled in the stroller. The four-year-old, however, was decidedly unconvinced that anything other than returning home was in his best interest. Since he really didn’t have any other viable options, though, he reluctantly trudged alongside of us. Through his continued pleas to turn back and complaints of how cold it was, I made out-loud observations about the Halloween decorations on display at the houses we passed by and the beauty of the day. It wasn’t that I was trying to dismiss him or tune him out, I just wasn’t adding fuel to his detrimental utterings by listening intently – which, I might add, also helps with not getting personally swept up in the falderal of children’s un-skilled (and fleeting) reactions. After all, young ones are constantly learning from the words and behaviors of the adults that surround them. So, if I were to become as eq!”ually dis-satisfied with the coldness as he was, it would be teaching him to stay in that mode, instead of learning how to transition out of it. It’s worth mentioning that regardless of what’s going on, the level of our happiness depends almost solely on our attitude. We are presented with an active choice in every moment in regards to how we respond to whatever it is that’s happening.

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Spiritual vs Secular Mindfulness

Yesterday, I finished an online course offered through PESI by Dr. Christopher Willard, a licensed psychotherapist, educational consultant, and author, entitled: Mindfulness Certificate Course for Treating Kids and Teens: Interventions for ADHD, Anxiety, Trauma, Emotional Regulation and More

The course consisted of 9 modules, totaling in at around 18 hours worth of class time. To learn more about Dr. Willard: http://drchristopherwillard.com/

This class spurred in me a deeper consideration of determining for myself what the differences and pros/cons are in regards to developing mindfulness in a spiritual capacity, verses a secular one. Some people question whether it is even wise at all to separate the two: mindfulness and spirituality. Perhaps these folks are concerned about watering down the potency of mindfulness and losing its true spirit and intention. Or perhaps, like me, they might wonder how a person can teach mindfulness if they themselves do not have their own practice in which to draw experience and stability from.

So, is there a right and wrong way to offer mindfulness? Is there a point when it can become too secular?

As our local Dharma teacher says, and I very much appreciate, the classic Zen answer to any question is: It depends.

Has there ever been – and will there ever be – just ONE way in which to do ANY particular thing ALL the time? I think not.

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Pilot Project: 8-minute video talks

For a long while now, I’ve been thinking about starting up a podcast. Then I began to see short mindfulness related talks via video from a couple of teachers whom I really enjoy and it got me to thinking about doing videos instead. I’ve decided that this will be an 8-week pilot project to sort of feel it out and determine from there how I might like to proceed with things. My hope is to offer inspiration, benefit, and tools for other mindfulness practitioners to make use of in their own day-to-day lives, in practical ways which can provide support and nourishment.

Here are the first two! A new talk will be uploaded each Sunday on a different topic for the next 6-weeks on my Youtube channel at: MontanaMusicalNomad

 

 

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Will Meditation Change My Life?

Spurred by the feature article in the current May 2017 edition of Lion’s Roar magazine, entitled How to Meditate Like the Buddha, which highlights eleven leading Buddhist teachers answers to common questions, I thought I would try my hand at answering one of the questions that were posed. Here goes:

Q: Will Meditating Change My Life?

A: (in my own words)

Yes. And no. (Classic Zen response, right?)

In the sense that meditation has the capacity to open new mental pathways, expand our perspective, and deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, yes, meditation has the very real potential to change our lives in a variety of beneficial ways. To be clear, though, it will only change our lives to the degree in which we actively, diligently, and appropriately practice it.

However, meditation will not change anything in the Being Human department. We will continue to interface with everything related to our human manifestation, regardless of how much cushion time we log: aging, illness, death, sorrow, loss, anger, standing in line FOREVER at the grocery store, tax season, paying bills, challenging co-workers, world politics, and so on.

While the physical happenings around us won’t change, what CAN change is our relationship to them – our inner experience and attitude, the way in which we interact mentally and emotionally with those physical happenings. Developing a meditation practice allows us to create spaciousness, stillness, and quietude in the otherwise extremely full, cluttered, and chaotic atmosphere of our mind’s landscape. And from this creation of space, we have the opportunity to respond with more ease, understanding, and compassion in our everyday lives – which changes everything.

 

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Nirvana

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In any other context, aside from when referring to the band Nirvana (which I love), I don’t care for the word nirvana. Years of false societal conditioning have led me to paint this highly ridiculous concept of what nirvana means. When I come across the word nirvana, I imagine this pie-in-the-sky, ephemeral land where nothing bad ever happens, that one either enters after they die or when they become enlightened (which is another word I don’t care for). I imagine nirvana to be some kind of other-worldly place, where unicorns trot around and there’s never a cloud in the sky.

In actuality, nirvana means: the extinction of notions.

I’ve been working on this topic of nirvana for a teaching based talk that I am giving tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, which will be a joint talk with my husband Mike. He and I have been offering these joint talks now, once a year, since 2014. They afford us the opportunity to collaborate on Buddhist based teachings, which is something we’re invested in together as a couple. I find it especially enjoyable to work together with him given that he and I have different strong suits in how we think about, approach, and incorporate the practice into our lives. From a Buddhist psychology perspective, Mike is more skilled at approaching things from the ultimate dimension, whereas I am more skilled at approaching from the historical dimension. As both are equally important, our ability to join forces then has the potential to speak on a variety of levels to a wider variety of people. In short, the ultimate dimension is often referred to as being like the ocean (or the undercurrent which guides and propels life), with the historical dimension being like the waves (which is us, on an individual level) – while we are each a wave, we are also the ocean, comprised of the same water (or life force/energy) which connects us all.

(UPDATED POST: Here’s a link to the audio file from this talk that Mike & I gave on Monday evening, October 17th. http://www.openway.org/content/joint-talk-nirvana-mike-nicole)

When I think of what nirvana actually means, the extinction of notions, it helps me to connect more with this word when I come across it, instead of shirking away from it as some fictitious concept. However, we want to be careful not to get caught in the form of this teaching. Meaning, it would not be a wise goal to set for ourselves to become completely free of all notions, stories, judgments, and thoughts at some undisclosed time in the far off future. This isn’t realistic. Instead, we must use our own intelligence and discernment process to find ways of enfolding the teaching of nirvana into our everyday life, moment by moment.

How do we do this? How do we incorporate nirvana as a practice? What came up for me around this was to explain nirvana as follows:

Nirvana is an action based on the culmination of mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

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Cultivating Connection & Joy

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I’m currently in the process of teaching a weekly class series I’ve entitled Being Here Now through our local adult learning center.  Next week we’ll be focusing on the teaching of cultivating connection and joy.  So I’m using this blog post as an opportunity to help prepare my talk and flesh out some ideas.  I actually gave this talk yesterday but wanted to post these notes all the same, in case they prove useful to anyone.

Here’s what I wound up saying (roughly):

Over the past three weeks we’ve talked about what mindfulness is, practiced sitting and walking meditation together, discussed the logistics and importance of deep breathing, and last week we had a guided deep relaxation.  As I mentioned last week all of what we’ve been going over are tools that we can use to help create some spaciousness in our lives and learn how to start slowing down.  If we have a want to live more connected in the present moment with ease we need to first learn how to slow down, at least a little bit – and we need tools in order to do that.  Once we start slowing down and are able to interrupt the state of auto pilot we often find ourselves operating on we can then use that opening of space to practice cultivating the art of joy.

We can use the analogy of a garden.  All of us have our own garden full of the same kinds of seeds.  Seeds of happiness, joy, ease, contentment, patience, understanding, love, and so on – and also seeds of anger, anxiety, loneliness, sorrow, impatience, regret, stress, and so on.  And there is a wealth of influences we have that determine what seeds get watered within us: the people around us, the media we consume, conversations we have, the types of food we eat, our daily environment, etc.  If we find that we are often overwhelmed with anxiety, stress, difficult emotions, busyness, or find that we are often irritated or frustrated by seemingly small things on an ongoing basis it may be an indication that our seeds of joy need to be watered and strengthened so that the fruits of joy can grow and flourish in our everyday lives.  While on one hand it is largely the people, places, and things outside of us that affect which of our seeds gets watered on the other hand it’s our responsibility to determine where and how to invest our energy and with whom to spend our time.  We are the gardeners of the seeds inherit to us and it’s up to us to figure out what’s being watered beneficially and what’s being watered that maybe isn’t very helpful to us.

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