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Buddhism is a contact sport. I fight with cushions.
Updated: 22 hours 21 min ago

Say Maybe to That Dress

February 28, 2015 - 3:38pm

Unless you’ve been dwelling in a cave, you’ve been experience the global fascination with The Dress.

Thursday night before bed, I showed the photo of the dress to my poor, long suffering husband (he’s used to being subjected to a barrage of cute animal videos, deep philosophical ruminations, State of the Union Addresses on the current behaviour of our two pugs and a myriad of other complaints, quirky thoughts or passing fancies).

“It’s white and gold. How are people saying it’s black and blue?” I huffed to him while sticking my ipad in his tired face.

“It’s black and blue” he grumbled.

Then I became carried off in my frustration at #teamblackandblue and tried to demonstrate how I was seeing things correctly and he was mistaken.

Ego trippin’.

Yesterday my social media feed was filled with debate, tweets, posts, likes, memes. The news concocted in-depth studies on the nature of vision, perception – everything under the sun that could make for a story to continue “Dressgate.”

It was while watching the late night news that I saw it. What I had perceived with my own two eyes SHIFTED. The dress became black and blue.

I’d take a black and blue dress over a white and gold one any day. So it blew the whole argument on how my preferences could be behind wanting to see a white and gold dress.

Now this dress is giving me much to think about from a Buddhist context.

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Always Chasin’

February 19, 2015 - 7:09pm

Funny how that thing we call samsara works. There’s always something better just over there. Just out of reach. Close. Then so far. Oh. It’s back. Damm. I don’t want it anymore and there’s something new. Razzle dazzle. Super shiny. I hate the old and want the new thing. Lost the new thing. Stuck craving that new thing again only to have an even newer, better thing enter my thoughts.

Repeat again. It’s quite cyclical as we all know

At least we semi-quasi-still-not-yet-enlightened, shit-stained, yet spotless Buddhas-in-training know this is part of the gig of being human.

But does that help us feel better about it all? We have taken the red pill after all.

I was thinking about this recently after a chat with a spiritual friend who mentioned how fortunate I am to have a bunch of helpful strategies and terms in my ‘toolbox’ to help me better understand and navigate the world. Yes. I do feel quite lucky at times for this. What used to be filled before with hopes of pacifying pain with drugs, alcohol, love, food, <insert anything in this space that would offer some fleeting feeling of okay-ness> is now filled with understanding my motivations, the motivations of others and a deeper level of what’s at play. That step back to examine before reacting. I do suppose that is quite helpful and has served me well.

Then I wondered, what kind of life I would have had, had Buddhism not entered my life when it did. Not to get all “Sliding Doors” over here but I sometimes find myself indulging in thoughts to what my life would have been like had I not had the karmic Dharmic seeds blow through my life and take root.

Funny how life turns out.

May we all be free from suffering.

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Random Linkage: Warm Hearts Edition

January 26, 2015 - 4:44pm

Sending over a little patch of sunlight your way given that much of the East Coast is about to be covered in snow Do stay safe and if you are so inclined, please donate to a local food bank to help lighten the load.

It’s quiet around these parts. Doing a lot of self care and self work. Had a little bit of nice sangha/study news that made my day and am also looking forward to a teacher who is traveling to Montreal to teach a course I’ve been quite interested in. All in all, things are chip chip cheery. So much so that I haven’t yet dug out my new SAD-busting lamp to see if that could help fight the winter blues.

Onwards to some linky goodness. What’s been hiding in my tabs and in the crevices of my RSS reader?

  • For those of you who like me, complain about the weather, this piece in The Lion’s Roar by Pico Iyer will resonate.
  • “Decency Is the Absence of Strategy” appeared in the Shambhala Times Community News Magazine and appears as part of their efforts to work with conflict that arises within their sangha. One of the things I really appreciate about the Shambhala community is their high level of organization and their aspiration to work with each other. I look forward to read more posts as a means to help in my own development, both on and off the cushion.
  • Recovery 2.0’s latest online conference is just around the corner. Be sure to register if you are interested in recovery.
  • Imagine my joy when I read this article (Best personal hashtag for my situation is #marriednokidstwopugs. Hojun Laura Jackson – I want to be a part of your girl gang who are gathering to contemplate these issues of birth and non birth
  • Last but not leastly, one of the raddest guys out there, Miguel Chen had an article titled “Why Punk & Buddhism Beats “Us Vs. Them” featured on The Lion’s Roar. Fingers crossed we’ll see more from him in the future.

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What I Read: “The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender”

January 15, 2015 - 5:39pm

This book by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is essential reading for all Buddhists. Essential.

It is an honest account which examines the injustices of racism, sexism and gender-based oppression from the standpoint of a Buddhist who has experienced each throughout her life. I believe that all sanghas need to read this book in order to truly examine what it means to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment. Many personal anecdotes are cited within its pages and I was left feeling quite uncomfortable by many parts of the book where I was left feeling so terribly sad after reading about the injustices faced by Zenju throughout her life.

It’s a rare book sadly, as the Buddhist bookshelves are not stocked up with books that cover the topics of race, sexuality and gender (as much as we truly need them). These aren’t topics commonly addressed within our sanghas either, given that we may feel unnecessary discomfort in bringing them up. Our failure to do so prevents us from developing as individuals and as a community. It is quite harmful and limites our potential.

The book offers a call for tenderness in the face of this oppression. Tenderness in exploring the pain and suffering present with such divisiveness and hatred. Sure anger has it’s place, but the author asserts that true change comes from tenderness.

“The Way of Tenderness” isn’t written with just one audience in mind, rather takes into account academics, activists, those who are spiritually-minded and those who are both marginalized and privileged. It’s an accessible, honest and passionate read.

Much of the book speaks to the concept of labels and identity and whether, beyond the Buddhist belief that these are to be transcended, they are actually helpful in order for awakening. The suffering caused from facing the challenges and discrimination inherent having been born in a body deemed ‘not normal’ or ‘displaying tendencies or desires outside of the norm’ are ideal tools for awakening according to Zenju. One needs to study the self in order to discover this very tenderness that she believes is so vital to help with transcendence and liberation. By exploring hatred, we come to know peace.

How can a path to spiritual liberation possibly unfold if we turn away from the realities that particular embodiments bring? To confront hatred with spirituality is to confront the way we view race, sexuality, gender, or whatever form of embodiment we are as living beings. To provide a meaningful path to spiritual liberation, spirituality must acknowledge the body and the denigration of certain types of bodies in the world. We cannot close our eyes to these phenomenon if we really want to be awake and aware.

“The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender” is a vital read. I only hope that more books, communities, teachers and students begin the dialogue around the issues which Zenju addresses within this book. This is where we will start to see true change emerge and our sanghas and our selves can be fertile ground for the love, compassion and tenderness that the world so desperately needs – regardless of our perceived differences.

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New Book: Dhamma Aboard Evolution

January 13, 2015 - 3:19pm

I want to share some information on a free downloadable book that you may be interested in from well-known US Fulbright & Canadian Scholar Prof. Suwanda H J Sugunasiri.

Titled “Dhamma Aboard Evolution- The Breakthrough Research on the Aggan?n?a Sutta,” this book features research that demonstrates that this sutta is not ‘satire’ or ‘parody’ as characterized by many Western scholars, but rather one which outlines the Universe, and the evolution of human society.

Here’s the abstract which provides even more detail:

Dhamma Aboard Evolution seeks to establish that segment # 10-16 of the Aggañña Sutta of the D?gha Nik?ya is no ‘satire’ or ‘parody’, as seen by scholars. Drawing upon Cosmology, Darwinism , Psychology (e.g., Freud, Piaget) and Linguistics, it paints a historically and scientifically accurate picture of Devolution and Evolution, going beyond the Big Bang, in which sentient beings emerge, defilements from craving to passion in tow, nourished by an evolving plant life. Compatible with Western Science, the breakthrough comes when âbhassara Beings are taken to be Photons, taking ‘âbhassara’ in a literal etymological sense of ‘Hither-come-shining-arrow’. Accurate as the picture may be, the Buddha’s point, however, is that knowledge of the Dhamma overrides it all, explaining the title. Resolved in the study are a ‘Chronological Paradox’ relating to ‘lingua’ appearing in Beings before ‘linga’ and a ‘Spiritual Paradox’ of Jh?nic level âbhassara Beings indulging in sex. Among other topics treated are the Vedic Creation Myth, the intended audience and the structure of the total Sutta – not J?taka but the Beast fable of Pañcatantra fame. The Appendix shows the Buddha as Originator of this Story Within Story literary genre. Going beyond the Sutta is an invitation to an ‘Academically Engaged Buddhism’, taking ‘Trust in the Buddha’ as a methodological imperative, just as Trust in God was for Western Science from the Greek times up until Einstein.

Visit this link to download the book.

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Random Linkage : Progressive Visionary Edition | Full Contact Enlightenment

January 12, 2015 - 9:20am

Well I’m officially an oldster. Yesterday I got a pair of progressive lenses plopped onto my face and am now settling into my new life of adjusting my head around like a small, quizzical owl-woman. As tempting as my old glasses are to reach out to, I’m going to stick it out and see how this month of stumbling around and noggin-reorienting goes for me before doing so. Patience. Discipline. I’m lifting my head and peering down as I type this.

So while I can still make out the words on this screen here at Full Contact Enlightenment, here are a few things that I want to share with you:

  • Sweeping Zen, the delightful, informative and comprehensive site featuring the who’s who of Zen has put a call out for financial help with their server costs. If you can spare a bit of change, please do toss it over their way on their Go Fund Me page in order to help them continue to deliver the Dharma.
  • I really enjoyed this piece by Eric Traub titled “The Precision That Creates Movement” which covers Nicholas Vreeland aka the Monk With the Camera.
  • Teachers Not Gurus- Where do you stand?
  • Here’s a clip from Ponlop Rinpoche that I wanted to share. How are you doing with integrating spirituality into your life?

  • Now for some self promotion and a call for help. As you know (because I keep hooting on about it) –  I have a book coming out with the fine folks at SUMERU Books. We’re getting soooo close to having the final piece compiled and are now in need of a name. Drop over to the SUMERU website for a bit of information and a special offer for any wordsmiths up for the challenge of naming this book.
  • I’m a bit of a productivity nerd and started reading a new book. Now imagine my surprise when I find this little illustration staring back at me. Overall I’m really into the book (and the little bit on mindfulness and enhanced productivity) and it’s giving me lots of great ideas for embarking on GTD – Getting Things Done. It might be the post New Year’s haze of wanting to set resolutions I’ll stick to.

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The Dharma Bum Documentary

December 28, 2014 - 11:37am

Many thanks to Ian Lawton who sent along some information on a film that he’s seeking funding for on dana.io.

The documentary, The Dharma Bum claims that a “freethinking atheist alcoholic Irish hobo” is the first Western Buddhist monk, thus shattering the belief that it’s a polite, quiet and meek person who wears this crown. Beyond this, the contribution of this wild man to challenge colonialism and his dedication to activism are also worth celebrating.

“A migrant worker from Dublin, Dhammaloka was an autodidact, atheist and temperance campaigner who became known throughout colonial Asia as an implacable critic of Christian missionaries and a tireless transnational organizer of Asian Buddhists from Burma to Japan and from Singapore to Siam.”

THE DHARMA BUM | DANA.IO

As a former angry drunken Irish lass who too has discovered Buddhism, this film has a special place in my heart! Please help Ian out in his wish to tell this story. Drop by the dana.io website to drop a few coins in the coffers.

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Checking out Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before”

December 26, 2014 - 1:59pm

I admit to being a Gretchen Rubin fangirl. I’ve read her previous book, “The Happiness Project” and liked it quite a bit. She’s like an investigative journalist for topics relating to human nature that she finds both interesting and challenging (coincidentally these are topics that I’m into as well). Before you say “pffft” and pass her books off as mindless self-help pap, rest assured that she delivers much more than superficial platitudes about how to be better or do things better. Her books offer practical advice without being preachy or judgmental. She goes behind the scenes to ask the foundational questions, and supports her discoveries with research and short case studies on the experiences of others. This book is an analytical and well-researched piece of work that goes beyond the superficial examination that is commonly found in other books on the same topic.

Her latest release, “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives” tackles the question of how people change and is focused upon the sticky topic of habits (building, forming, breaking).

I was extremely curious about this book given that I need help both in establishing and maintaining habits. I struggle with discipline and focus. I’ve been known to start a zillion projects only to let them fall by the wayside. I find it hard to complete what I begin. Sometimes my ambition goes beyond the time I have available to commit. I’m often overwhelmed and disappointed when I become unsure of how to begin a project or wrap one up. Yes. I am a former project manager! Yes. I have some bad habits and seek to cultivate some good ones.

Beyond my former career path, these tendencies spill out into my personal life slash Buddhist life. I’m a lazy practitioner who falls off the wagon on occasion. I see how much of a positive impact practice has on both my life and the lives of those around me, yet there’s always something that seems more pressing, more interesting – and then I’m taken away. So many distractions. Oh this life of a householder!

I read Gretchen’s book in the hopes that I would discover some new strategies to apply to my challenges with habit-building. I appreciated that her recommendations are just for one style of personality type, but rather she starts off by asking a series of questions for the reader to identify their tendencies towards how they work, live, develop and maintain (or don’t develop and maintain) habits.

This book had quite a bit to offer Buddhist readers. From speaking of the need for self-control and discipline, to its focus on cultivating self knowledge in order to examine how one acts, what makes one tick and one’s tendencies. Quite a bit of this is indeed related to how one perceives the world. Gretchen sees this and suggests that there’s more than one way to look at habits and form strategies to help us build good ones. She suggests many lifehacks and techniques that can be relied upon to both get things done, eliminate the excess and cultivate new habits. Guidance as to how to get started both breaking and building habits that work for different personality types is explored heartily within this book. It also shines a flashlight on the crafty ways that we try to get our of our habits, as well as how we mess up or get off track once we’ve started with a new habit.

Interestingly enough, Gretchen wants to create the habit of meditation in her life. A decent part of the book is dedicated to how she began to cultivate a sitting practice and to remain on the cushion.

“Better than Before” offers readers workable solutions on how to build habits into their lives. There’s really something for everyone in here – whether you need to introduce a bit more exercise in your life, up your healthy eating game or for some of us (ahem), become more diligent meditation practitioners.

While somewhat related to this post, I want to share this video via the brilliant website Brainpickings which speaks to procrastination – one of my big, bad habits.

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Even Buddhists get the Blues

November 30, 2014 - 2:09pm

Buddha Statue from WestWindHomeGarden’s Etsy Shop

It’s my belief that we Buddhists are quite a fortunate lot. We’re used to sitting (and sitting, and sitting, and sitting again) with our deep murky minds and examining our fears, desires, habits, tendencies and for lack of a better description “the dark side” (and conversely, “the light side”).

Don’t we sound lucky?

Maybe I’m romanticizing things here, but I think that all of this inquiry into suffering, bodily decay and all of the juicy stuff helps position us to know when we’re a bit off kilter and shaky. It helps when we know ourselves to better see when we are in need of some help.

For a while I’ve been off. Heavy stuff has been going on in my life and as usual I’ve practiced avoidance. Thankfully I haven’t gone towards old (and more destructive) patterns of escaping. My avoidance is much more gentle now, Like a comfortable old sweater, I pull on old episodes of Seinfeld. I try to fill my time with things that comfort me. I make myself busy. I read a lot of self-help books. I read so many books to allow me to become a self-certified expert on disease, death, palliative care, depression, anxiety, yoga, french verbs, competitive eating, climate change…anything to escape.No subject is off limits when it comes to helping me feel less antsy.

You get the picture.

I avoid my cushion because I don’t want to face what’s hurting.I avoid facing it head on off the cushion as well.

I put on the stiff upper lip and carry on.

The pain remains. The confusion stays.

I sometimes feel like a failed Buddhist at times for not being better at this life stuff. I mean, I’ve been practicing for years here. Shouldn’t I be better at getting this impermanence business? Shouldn’t I see how samsara pulls me in? Shouldn’t I be sitting more? Shouldn’t I be more – sigh- mindful about all of this?

Newman is my Mara. Come indulge in some fine laughtracks. I’ll make you feel OK for a little while.

And then a little light shines in. Awareness that these habits aren’t serving me very well.

I can’t say enough about the power of a good therapist. I wish I would have continued working with mine back when I first went to see her when I started to feel cracks in my foundation. Ah regret. You’re a fine emotion too. I feel you too old friend. Well, it’s time to live in the present. I’m back in therapy and doing the work. I’m trying to find that gentle spot between being too slack with myself and cuddling up with Kramer and a glass of merlot or running off to a retreat in snowy Vermont. I’m trying both as the Middle Way approach and putting my therapist’s suggestions into practice. More mindfulness and compassion practices. Taking time to breathe (how often I forget). Trying to release my grip on my ever-present need to have control over it all. Being with what is. Practicing. On and off the cushion. Facing my fears.

I think almost every time I write about a book on this blog, I say the familiar, “Isn’t is awesome when a book crosses your path at the exact moment that you needed it?” I’ve been reading two meaningful books lately which have really been helpful at this time.

The first is Mark Epstein’s “The Trauma of Everyday Life” and it is all that I needed to read and more. Transforming all of the sads that I’ve been feeling into something workable and positive gets a “Hell Yeah” fist pump out of me. The book gets into the often left out story of the loss of the Buddha’s mother and how this may have impacted his life.

The second book that I’ve only started reading now is Tara Brach’s “Radical Acceptance.” Friends. Why did you not recommend this book to me earlier? I am now a complete fangirl for her writing and it’s just what I needed to bury my head in.

It’s funny how when I hear about other Buddhist practitioners who have worked with their own challenges (like Epstein and Brach) and realize that I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that they’re somehow immune to suffering or have become therapist-enlightened enough to not have experienced it or gotten over it. Similarly, when I read about teachers such as Pema Chodron or Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche confessing to having panic attacks, feeling overwhelmed or in essence – being human, I’m strangely comforted in knowing I’m not alone. If these rockstars have been confronted with stinking thinking – then I’m no different. Blessed equanimity!

And you’re not alone either. If you are a Buddhist with the blues, seek help if you need it. We need all the healthy bodhisattvas we can get out there doing the work.

Oh and coincidentally, I just read this article titled, “Emotional Health is the new Sexy” on Elephant Journal and wanted to share it with you.

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Gen X – Becoming an Oldster

November 20, 2014 - 4:20pm

Raise your hand if you’re starting to feel your age. If you can lift you arm.

Time’s really marching on. We Buddhists are aware of this on a “we hear, contemplate and study this kind of thing all the time” but when it really hits you – ooof.

There’s a guy that goes to many of the heavier music shows and this guy is righteous. He has a long ZZ Top-esque beard that is as white as snow  and he wears obscure band t-shirts on his skinny rocker frame. He’s into it all. He’s not going through the neuroses that I’ve seen people go through when they hit their mid-life crisis and worry about what people think of them. Whether they’re too old for Manic Panic tinged hair. For skirts that are above the knee. Any of the rules that generations hear and then berate themselves over.

Dude just rocks out and doesn’t give a flip.

I read this Salon article recently and maybe it’s the wannabe sociologist in me but I get fascinated by how others are viewing this life transition. Are we aging in the same way as our parents? Are our values and priorities the same? Easier? Harder? Just different?

I buy up a lot of books and read a lot of studies on my generation because it’s a weird generation. Maybe it’s just me that has that feeling of it being weird or maybe it’s a generational thing that we’re all feeling because we’re Gen X-ers and well *shrugs shoulders.*

From the Salon article I mentioned above, “If you think this is typical Gen X whining, you are probably a boomer.”

Speaking of my generation…. I watched this lovely short film on Dharma Punx NYC’s Josh Korda and think you should check it out.

What do you think of being a Gen X-er? A Gen- X Buddhist? How are you navigating your new old agedness? Does it make you want to start a band? Pick up your skateboard again?

 

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How do the Buddhist Teachings Become a Lifestyle?

November 13, 2014 - 6:01am

Here’s a great video from Tyler Dewar that speaks quite nicely to the non-proselytizing nature of Buddhism. I always liked this aspect of the tradition.

It’s funny how when I speak to being a Buddhist (when it comes up), people expect me to try and convert them. There’s a fear in their eyes that I’m going to get them to twist into a lotus-legged pretzel, do some kind of phlegmey nose breathing exercises and then try to engage them in some greasy, tantric sex as I thrust with a howling deep throat singing eruption of nyan-cat proportions.

Sadly nope. None of that happens.

It’s all pretty chill. You choose your own path friend and I wish you love, peace, blessings and freedom from suffering.

No hard sell there.

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Random Linkage: November Rain Edition

November 11, 2014 - 9:52am

Polar vortex season is just around the corner and another Canadian winter to grit my teeth through is licking at my Vans.

Not a fan. Yes I know. Equanimity. Yes. There’s likely a sermon about some wise ass who got hit with a boot (it’s beyond sandal weather, so take that Tilopa) for disparaging the weather. Sorry. I’m doing my best. A Buddhist Work in Progress.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a linkage list. Here’s what’s hit my radar as interesting, irritating, passionate, aggressive or neutral. Enjoy!

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