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Mindfulness Practice

I’m grateful today for mindfulness practice. The simplest definition of mindfulness that I can share after six months of in-depth study on the subject is: mind training. So that ‘mindfulness practice’ becomes ‘mind training practice.’ It’s still and always practice. You never get there, because of impermanence: ‘there’ is no fixed point, ever. It’s always changing, along with everything else including your means of locomotion to get there, the companions you meet along the way, your own fitness for the journey. 

Most of us invest five minutes to an hour or more each day in our physical fitness, whether simply brushing our teeth and running hot water over our faces, or more: a weight training workout or a run, or a swim, or a yoga class three times a week, or or or… and a hot shower afterward. How many of us devote ten minutes a day to mental hygiene? I’ve always spent more time each day on introspection than I ever have on dental hygiene. The difference is, now I’m actually training my mind, instead of simply riding it. (Like a horse, right, cowgirls?) I also floss more often.

A key component of mindfulness practice is breath. Of course, breath is a key component of everything. We’re spending a lot of time practicing awareness of breath this weekend in our class retreat, but more about breath another time. Immersed in a weekend intensive, each exploring our own way of being across the four domains of body, mind, emotions, and spirit, the domain of spirit especially resonates with me today. This domain is comprised of one’s sense of purpose, one’s sense of worth, and one’s sense of connection, or belonging. Today, I’ve been examining these three aspects of my way of being whilst teetering on the brink of a yawning pit of existential angst. It’s fascinating. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice!

I’m grateful, too, for deer butts, their shining signal in the woods that lets me know they’re there well before I get close enough to spook them, so I can walk softly and pass close by, ‘bearing in mind (another component of mindfulness) their proximity, their spooky prey nature.

Compassionate Presence

Grateful every day for living here.

Yesterday was challenging for me, as I know it was for many people. The domestic terror attack on the US Capitol shook up a lot of Americans, even some who had been sleeping as the groundwork for it was laid by the president and his enablers. But it wasn’t the event itself, or even the government’s and media’s whitewashing of the egregious double-standard of law enforcement response when compared to crackdowns on Black Lives Matter peaceful demonstrations across the country last year. It was one word that undid me: Proud.

Like many meditators these days, I participate in a virtual meditation group, or sangha, that meets over the phone every weekday morning. I’m grateful for those who were there with me in the beginning more than four years ago, and for those who have joined since, grateful for our commitment to balancing our own minds, and trying to bring balance into the world with our daily practices of stability, kindness, and insight. Our teacher brings great skills to leading us in contemplation day after day, and has a remarkable capacity to respond to the needs of the group in the moment. Some mornings we do checkins, some mornings we jump straight into meditation. Some days checkins can be lengthy, and some mornings we do the ‘two-word checkin’, which is what she asked for yesterday, in light of events in DC.

Those two words yesterday morning from a dozen people included longing for safety, numb, hopeful, upset, startled, grateful, disappointed, anger, disbelief, and proud. The last word was spoken by the only Trump supporter in the group. I spent the whole meditation trying to figure out a positive interpretation of that word, and I couldn’t do it. I was gobsmacked by the idea that anyone could be proud of what transpired at the Capitol yesterday. I spent the rest of the day turning it over and over in my mind and heart, discussing it with a few friends: maybe she was proud of the Capitol police for not escalating the violence? maybe she was proud of… what? else? could she possibly have meant?

I exercised mindfulness skills in directing my attention elsewhere, but I still couldn’t shake the icky feeling that someone I know was proud of the white nationalist terrorists who attacked, looted, and contaminated the Capitol in an effort to subvert constitutional order.

I walked the dogs to the top of the driveway, where our neighbor has hung a Trump flag, and on the way back it struck me, Maybe he is also proud of the white nationalist assault on our nation’s capital… This sinking feeling was amplified this morning when I read that 45% of republicans approve of this terrorist act; but yesterday, I continued to try to redirect my attention, looking for gratitude, making Pad Thai for lunch, digging under snow to find a few feeble tips of green onion, which tasted extra sweet.

… and baking focaccia crackers for the first time. I’m grateful for the magic of YEAST! I’m grateful for fresh rosemary growing in a pot in the sunroom. I’m grateful there are recipes for anything and everything online.

As more clarity comes from the professionals who are unpacking what actually happened at the Capitol Wednesday, I’m grateful for the alert congressional staffers who whisked the certified electoral college votes to safety, precluding even more chaos if they had been burned or stolen by the Republican terrorists. I am now not so grateful to the Capitol police, some or many of whom appear to have abetted the attackers; though I’m still grateful that there were undoubtedly some or many who tried to do their job well in a terrible situation. I’m grateful to R. Hubbell for calling out the truth with this cogent assessment:

The relevant differences are that those who attacked the Capitol are
         White.         Republicans.         Future voters for Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Rubio, et al.
         … The media are normalizing terrorism by refusing to call it by name.

He goes on to call out the Department of Justice, the ‘Problem Solvers’ Caucus, congressional Republicans, and others, for the same thing, normalizing white supremacist terrorism by refusing to call it by name, when ‘terrorist’ is routinely applied to people of color in more benign protests.

Yesterday, our meditation teacher responded to our two-word checkins with a meditation called “Seeing Truth Clearly.” Cynthia Wilcox rose to the occasion in a way that I can only aspire to at this point in my mindfulness studies. I’m inexpressibly grateful to have reconnected with this high school classmate, ten years ago around our common interest in Buddhism, through the (qualified) magic of Facebook. Grateful for her wisdom and generosity of spirit, for how she can hold the same confusion I have with far more compassionate presence, which incidentally was the meditation she brought to us today. I invite you to set aside about 25 minutes sometime, settle comfortably into a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, and follow one of these meditations. Maybe both. Make some time for mental health the same way you do for physical health, and cultivate balance, clarity, understanding, and compassion for yourself and all beings.

Seeing Truth Clearly
Compassionate Presence

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Top left on my ‘bulletin board’ wall of meaningful images, a postcard of the Dalai Lama I’ve carried with me since I got it in 1988. Also an image of the Buddha by Mary Hockenberry. (And yes, that’s a signed card from Jack Hanna, another longtime ‘hero’ I got to meet a few years ago.)

His Holiness fled his country the year that I was born. For as long as I can remember, I have been paying attention to his journey in exile in news reports, and later reading his teachings, and later still following them. Buddhism is less a religion than a philosophy that encourages one to examine for oneself to discern the truth of the teachings. I’m grateful for the Dalai Lama, for his teachings, even for the fact that his forced exile enabled him to bring the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism out into the wide world at large. I’m grateful I got to sit in the audience one year when he spoke at the Boulder Theater.

Because the Dalai Lama had been a beneficent force in the back of my mind for most of my life, I leapt at the opportunity last spring to partake in an online retreat exploring The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I’m grateful for that opportunity and for Dawn who shared it with me. I’m grateful for the teacher of that retreat, John Bruna with the Way of Compassion Dharma Center in Carbondale, and for his wife Laura, whose curiosity prompted her to ask about the thickness of my house walls which she could see behind me on the Zoom screen. (Grateful for Zoom, and all the connection it has enabled during this year of social distance.)

I’m grateful that Laura’s spark of interest led me to become her student in the Mindful Life Program, and for all the goodness that has flowed from that choice into my life this year, as I pursue a Mindfulness Teacher Training course that will result in my ability to share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practice as a certified teacher. I’ll be bona fide!

I’m grateful that I’m spending the first weekend of this new and hopeful year in another online retreat with John and Laura, as we explore the possibility of “Bringing our Innate Goodness into the New Year.” I’m grateful to be learning to be a better friend to myself as I reflect on good things I’ve said and done in the past year, and learning to shush the harsh voice of my inner critic who harps that it’s never enough. It’s a helpful skill to cultivate, being your own best friend.