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Solo Retreat, Part 2 of 3

Written on Saturday June 17th, 2017

7:19pm

A few years ago, a university student, who was sitting with our sangha at the time, asked if she could do a video project of me on the topic of meditation for a journalism class she was taking. One of the questions she prompted me with on camera was to fill in the blank: Meditation is like ______. I said: Meditation is like stepping out into the first light of spring. It was simply the first thing that came to mind. Well, today has felt this way, too. It has been the loveliest of days. I feel light, refreshed, nourished, peaceful, and contented. What great fruits this practice brings!

It’s worth mentioning that while I did come up with a schedule to serve as a foundation for this weekend, I also intended on going with the flow of the day and following my intuition. Here’s what today wound up looking like:

5:30am Wake up
5:30-7:00am Sip tea, write, watch the morning sky
7:00am Sitting meditation
7:30am Sutra service
8:00am Stick exercises
8:30-9:00am Breakfast
9:15-10:30am Dharma talk video
10:30-11:15am Outdoor walking
11:30-12:15pm Yoga (using guided video)
12:15-12:45pm Picnic lunch outside
12:45-1:45pm Nap
2:00-4:00pm Sip tea, write, calligraphy, read
4:00pm Sitting meditation
4:30pm Sutra service
5:00-6:00pm Dinner
6:15-6:45pm Outdoor walking & sage picking
7:00-9:00pm Journal typing
9:00-9:30pm Read
9:30ish Bedtime

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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Local Retreats

 

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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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Reactions Matter

Just recently, my husband, teenage stepson and I traveled to see my mom and stepdad in southern Arizona over spring break. Here’s a Facebook post I crafted the day after we were set to fly out of Missoula:

Have you ever gone to the airport only to discover that your home-printed boarding passes don’t scan at the security check-point and when you go the ticket counter to have them re-printed get told that your plane has been delayed two hours, so you decide to wait rather than have the same friend who just dropped you off come back to get you, only to find that a two hour delay really means 3 1/2, and when your plane finally does come in it turns out that it was making some weird noises on the way there and has to be checked out by a mechanic who will take about an hour to drive in from town to look it over, who determines the craft is unfit for air travel and will require a second specialized mechanic who they’ll have to fly in (hopefully on a more sound jet) so your flight, which was supposed to leave at 8:00pm, gets cancelled after waiting in the airport for 5 hours? Yeah, me neither.

I had written this post as a funny commentary, but instead people clicked the tearful-faced icon under the “like” options, indicating that they were saddened on our behalf. Then, when we finally arrived in Arizona, some of my mom’s friends that we met, who had heard tale of our flight ordeal, also seemed to be mildly upset on our behalf. But the thing of it was: we weren’t negatively phased by it at all! It was other people who were bothered by our flight delay and cancellation, not us. This got me to thinking about the importance of monitoring our physical reactions to external situations that arise. It’s very easy to put our own thoughts and feelings onto other people by way of how we react when hearing certain information or news being shared. And what we don’t often realize is that our reactions can fuel unskillful results.

For example:

Katie: Gosh, I’ve had a hard day. I got a flat tire on my way to work and then I was reprimanded for something that wasn’t even my fault – and then when I got home my new puppy had made a mess of the kitchen.

Julie: Oh, that’s awful! You poor thing! What terrible news! I’m sooo sorry to hear that!

Katie: Yeah, it was a pretty bad day. I can’t wait to put it out of its misery!

There’s a common tendency, from Julie’s reaction, to not only have unskillfully validated but exacerbated Katie’s hard day, in a negative fashion. While Katie may have simply wanted to share about her hard day with a close friend, Julie’s heightened, dramatic reaction may lead to Katie feeling even worse after their interaction – as a sort of woe-is-me situation gets fostered.

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Preferences

For the past few years I’ve been replacing the idea of New Year’s resolutions, which I’ve never cared for, with the development of new mindfulness exercises. I’m currently working with a number of new mindfulness practices to incorporate into my daily and weekly routine, which started at the beginning of the year. It’s worth mentioning, however, that typically I wouldn’t encourage the cultivation of so many new practices all at once, unless a practitioner has invested time in building a strong, diligent foundation in mindfulness, as trying to take on too much too fast is an easy undertaking, and an easy undoing of our stability.

My new practices include:

– Saying a short verse to myself upon waking up each morning

– Uni-tasking while brushing my teeth (verses multi-tasking)

– Saying a personalized closing verse to myself after breakfast each morning

– Jotting down observations I make in a small notebook when I’m in my car at red lights, or in other such instances where I’m stopped and waiting (at the bank, for instance)

– Mindful Morning Saturdays, where I devote the hours of 5:00-8:00am as a concentrated time to practice mindfulness (I read passages in our chanting book, do sitting meditation and three touchings of the earth, practice the 16 Qi Gong stick exercise routine, practice mindful eating of my breakfast, and watch a portion of a Dharma talk video online)

– Paying special attention to my preferences: what they are, how they show up in my life, looking deeply into whether they are helpful or harmful

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Traveling + Mindfulness = Life is Good

Traveling without some form of mindful awareness often leads to a not-so-great time – without mindfulness, that is, an ability to  remain grounded in the present moment, it becomes super easy to get swept up in feelings of impatience, frustration, and separation. And it becomes commonplace to consider every unplanned thing that happens as an obstruction factor to our contentment. Traveling can be described many ways but unpredictable is perhaps the most apt adjective.

I’ve found the practice of mindfulness to be a great travel companion, as it helps me to stay in touch with both the small and larger picture embodied in whatever present moment I find myself in, whether it’s standing in a security line at the airport or weathering a delayed flight or experiencing an especially kick-happy dude sitting behind me on the plane.

As I’m currently visiting family in southern Arizona, along with my husband and stepson, I’m also tuning into how the practice of mindfulness supports and nourishes me when I’m away from home and my regular schedule and routine. A couple of the things I’m finding to be particularly important for me while we’re visiting family are: maintaining my early wake-up time and doing sitting meditation before everyone gets up in the morning and continuing my gratitude practice at every meal.

Waking up at my regular 5:00am enables me to enjoy some personal time and stillness before a full day of activity and human interaction begins, which offers me a strong foundation of ease and spaciousness. Here in AZ, much like at home, I enjoy slow cups of tea, read, write, and, as an added bonus here, sit outside and enjoy watching as the morning sky alights over the mountains. We’re off nestled in the hills not far from the Mexican border, with no neighbors close-by, and the only sounds I hear right now, as I sit outside and type, are my clacking keys and the twittering of birds. Having time to myself in the morning is a vital component to my daily spiritual health and wellness, whether at home or off and about.

I don’t have the luxury of not sitting in meditation everyday – that’s how crucial it is to my state of wellness. Daily sitting meditation practice gives me the energy I need to greet a fresh new day – and thank goodness for that :)

 

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Travel

 

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Home & Happy

16358333_10206152087401458_1902787074_nBe Here Now Sangha at the airport!

Mike and I returned home around midnight on Friday, January 27th, after spending three weeks on retreat at Deer Park Monastery, and were greeted at the airport by some of our sangha friends sitting on meditation cushions in front of a bell – it was such a lovely welcoming! In one instance I was feeling tired and weary from a long day and late night and in the next I was refreshed – what wonders a community can bestow! My heart filled with so much joy when I saw their smiling faces. It was the best surprise!

Yesterday, I began feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the things needing to be done. Then I practiced to recognize my feelings and embrace them with care. My next step was determining what needed the most tending to and what could wait. It’s important to me to transition slowly and not do too many things right away, or all at once.

I went to the Good Food Store (our local, natural food market) and managed to time my trip there in what is often their busiest period: around lunchtime. I stood outside by my car for a few breaths, contemplating briefly whether or not I did, in fact, have to go in there. Quickly determining that being out of food in the house wasn’t really manageable, I took a few more breaths, grounded myself in my body, and prepared to enter the store with openness and joy. All things considered, it went swimmingly, though I was quite relieved when I was done and leaving.

After being sequestered in a monastery for three weeks, external stimulus takes some getting used to. There’s an adjustment period involved. So, I’m adjusting to a new rhythm and pattern and sway.

AND, I have daily writings that I’ll now start to share that I wrote while on retreat – so get ready for lots of words and pictures!

 

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Flight Travel

airplaneflying

Part of me has always figured I’d make a good flight attendant. It’s the part of me that has to tuck her head in-between her knees for the 20 minutes prior to landing that has reservations. But other than the debilitating wave of vertigo and nausea that strikes me upon descent I’d be a shoe-in.

I love flying and I love people. It’s not that I love the flying itself. I love the flying experience. And it’s not so much that I love people individually but more that I love the experience of people.

As I’ve met only 1 or 2 others who don’t detest participating in metal-winged travel, I’d take great pride in being the flight attendant to help shift the collective pool of shared consciousness. The way I see it, we’ve been programmed to hate flying. And our hate spreads like the plague infecting everyone in our wake, thereby perpetuating and strengthening our cultural distaste.

The super good news is that hate isn’t the only thing that spreads. Positivity spreads, too. With my brass wings pin glinting in unison with my smile I’d win over one sour-puss traveler at a time, convincing them that enjoying the flight far exceeds loathing it, in the quality-of-life department.

As I made my way through the cabin handing out tiny, scratchy pillows, tiny plastic cups filled with 80% ice and 20% ginger ale, and tiny packets of peanuts, I’d throw in my cheery disposition free of charge, slyly coaxing others to rewrite a new internal story about what it means to partake in the awesomeness of flight travel.

P.S This post and yesterday’s post I borrowed from my writer’s facebook page, but many of my FB posts don’t travel here to my blog. If you’re interested in reading my daily musings please check out my page: https://www.facebook.com/InMindfulMotion/

 

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