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Restoring Balance

 

I wear a green shirt and brown pants every day that calls for me to leave the house and mingle with the weather and/or the people, which is to say, most days. My lounge-about/sleepwear, however, is slightly more varied, with purples and whites and grays. I have hoodies in brown and green but in the early mornings when I rise, perhaps in solidarity with the color of sky when I wake, it’s the black hoodie that makes the most sense to me to wear.

Yesterday morning, I grabbed a green hoodie because it was there and easy. I put it on, zipped it up, and set to making my tea and boiling my eggs, as though I hadn’t just monkeyed with the normal order of things.

I sat down at the table, next to a bobbing candle flame atop a beeswax base, and read the first few crisp pages of a new book I acquired the evening prior. But something wasn’t quite right. Like entering your house to discover a light left on that you knew you turned off, something was amiss. I knew straight away what it was: the green hoodie.

I got up and replaced it with the black one. Balance was restored.

Now, some might deem this an attachment I would do well to work on or an OCD moment I should tend to with greater skill. And if it weren’t for the fact that I was operating with self-connection in a spirit of befriending, verses that of compulsion and anxiety, I would readily agree. But I used my intelligence and made a conscious choice, and that makes a world of difference.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) is often instructing us to use our own intelligence when it comes to the use of the teachings and practice tools. This means that we would do well not to think that any one course of action can be applicable in all situations. This means that we must come to understand that to actualize the full breadth and spirit of the practice, we must be able to tune into our present moment experience and ascertain what’s called for, from our own perspective and knowledge, with clarity and ease. As our local dharma teacher Rowan says, and I just love: The classic Zen answer to any question is “it depends!” And it really does. The practice is not static or fixed in place. It’s alive, like the relationships we have with our dearest beloved.

My morning routine of communion with the greaterness that occupies space and time and joins us all miraculously together, is not something I find wise to mess around with. And if a black hoodie helps me in this process, then…shoot, I’m good with that.

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The Zen of Motorcycling

My new bike: Crow Rider (2009 Kawasaki Vulcan, 500)

 

We can read social media posts, online accounts, manuals, books, and anthologies all about motorcycles.

We can buy all the proper and fancy gear and gadgetry.

We can hang out with bikers; learn the culture; adopt the lingo; rally the biker spirit within.

We can become a MC enthusiast, going so far as to adorn our daily 4-tire vehicle with a bumper sticker that reads: “My other car is a motorcycle,” so everyone is sure to know.

We can even have a bike and trick it out with bells and whistles and state-of-the-art this and eye-catching that.

But none of this can teach us how to ride.

To learn, we have to get on the bike and cruise around.

We have to get comfortable wielding it to and fro; experience the subtleties; navigate turns and winding roads; practice how to stop at red lights without lurching around like a bucking bronco.

We can only know what it is to breathe in the fragrant tangle of pine trees or a freshly cultivated field of hay while going 70-mph on a bike by doing it. There is no other proper substitute aside from bearing direct witness.

And then to gain skill, we have to keep riding.

We have to keep lacing up our boots, firing up the engine, ratcheting on our helmet, and taking to the road.

 

 

 

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Balance

Practice to let your feelings be as they are,

verses fighting or suppressing them –

but practice also not to let them run the show.

Balance.

 

Practice to stay in touch with the woes and ills on the global front,

verses averting your eyes and ears and heart –

but practice also to stay in touch with the joys, beauty, and goodness that abound.

Balance.

 

Practice to care well for yourself,

verses losing yourself in dispersion –

but practice also to extend outwards to others.

To loved ones and the underprivileged alike.

Balance.

 

 

 

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Five Remembrances

This morning, during my sitting meditation session, I devoted my practice to connecting with the Five Remembrances. The original Five Remembrances come from a Buddhist sutra, for which the English translation is entitled: Subjects for Contemplation. The above translation, of which I’m most familiar with, is from my root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.

According to Wikipedia, which I think is well said: According to this discourse, contemplation of these facts leads to the abandonment of destructive attachments and actions and to the cultivation of factors necessary for awakening.

If feelings of sorrow, overwhelm, upset, or aversion arise upon reading the Five Remembrances, it indicates that only a surface level view is being encountered. If we think these are a downer, we have not yet penetrated them deeply enough to benefit from the levels of insight from which they manifest.

As a collective assembly of people, we are societally groomed to avoid these inherent realities as being part of our human experience. In doing so, we are limiting our ability to be – and stay – in conscious contact and communication with the preciousness of life. We take things, people, places, experiences, and life itself, for granted.

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Masks

Last night, I attended our First Friday art walk downtown, where a plethora of coffee shops, stores, and offices host showings of local artists work, which takes place on the first Friday of every month. One installment especially stood out to me at the Dana Gallery, where a series of masks were on display that had been made by young people of all ages residing at the Watson’s Children’s Shelter here in town. Accompanying each mask was a one-line description and the age and gender of the person who’d crafted it. Here are the ones I jotted down on location:

“My masks show that people only see part of who I really am. If people saw all of me they wouldn’t want to be friends with me.”         13-year-old girl

“My mask is a unicorn, crying rainbows.” 9-year-old girl

“My mask is wearing a mask. It says you can’t trust people even if they say you can.” 14-year-old boy

“My mask is crying rainbows because I’m supposed to be happy, but I’m sad.” 4-year-old boy

“My mask only covers my eyes. I don’t think people should cover up who they are.” 12-year-old girl

“My mask is a superhero. I wish I had superhero powers so I could protect people.” 10-year-old boy

“I don’t want to talk about my mask.” 3-year-old girl

“My mask has blood on it. And the black is meth and drugs.” 9-year-old boy

I thought the premise of these masks paired well with a meme I came across yesterday on twitter (pictured above).

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This is it!?!

On Saturday morning, I watched the first 15-minutes of a talk by Sr. Thệ Nghiêm at Deer Park Monastery, given on September 15, 2017 (see Youtube link below). She spoke about something I’ve both experienced personally and spoken about in a talk I gave 3-4 years ago. At Deer Park Monastery, in southern California, behind the alter of orchids in the big meditation hall, sits a circular wooden sign that says: This is it. When I first encountered this calligraphy of Thay’s, I misunderstood its teaching and took it as a glib proclamation, as in: This is it, I guess. Whatever. Sigh.

As you likely imagine, this is not what it means. Back in the day, I knew I wasn’t viewing it as intended, I simply hadn’t developed my own insight about it’s intent just yet. Understanding unfolds over time, with practice in cultivating diligence and deep looking. Words/teachings can only take us so far. They can show us a new path to venture down, but we have to be the ones to move our feet and actualize the fruits of what it has to offer.

This is it is an invitation to look more deeply into every facet and fissure of our lives, really. To see life as ever-flowing, ever-changing, and ever-amazing. To understand the depths of This is it, means to see clearly that this moment – whatever moment we find ourselves amid – IS it, truly. This present moment is the foundation for the next present moment, and it’s up to us to sculpt it in the best way possible. To turn our lives into a living art form.

One of the main root teachings I receive nourishment of, by staying apprised of both local and world news, is in regards to the nature of life and death. In short: there are a lot of ways to live and there are a lot of ways to die. The more I learn and deepen my understanding of this truth – this nature of reality – the more it opens me to the preciousness of life, and the myriad of possibilities that exist.

This is it! is more than a teaching. It’s a way of living.

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Two Broken Down Cars

…two broken down cars, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I just found out that sometimes both your car AND your husband’s car are dead in the water at the same time. Yeah. It’s not great.

What I’ve thankfully learned over the years in having a mindfulness practice, is that a good practitioner isn’t someone who never experiences stress or inner afflictions. A good practitioner is someone who’s diligent and is able to use the tools of the practice in order to not have the stress, or whatever affliction is at hand, running the show. If stress were a theater actor, a good practitioner understands that it will sometimes have a part in the play, but they’ll know how to not cast it as the main character.

As new practitioners, it can be easy to think that to live a spiritual life means we have to hide certain parts of our self or cover over certain difficult emotions. But this is not the case – doing this is called spiritual white-washing.

Mindfulness isn’t about getting anywhere else or doing anything different – it’s about directly experiencing things just as they are, and keeping our wits about us in the process. With diligence, over time, our mindfulness practice has the capacity to create a strong foundation in affording us the ability to stay well-grounded in the midst of, say, having 2 cars that are broken down. To see the stress associated with whatever’s going on and to also not lose sight of the bigger picture.

So, while it’s rather stressful having our household’s two vehicles be DOA, it could be worse! I mean, really. We could be on fire.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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