Monday, October 31, 2005

This just in...

Although I'm still taking an official break from blogging here at Creative Mindfulness, I've started another blog to chronicle this year's attempt to write a semi-readable narrative during National Novel Writing Month. This is my second year doing "NaNo," and it's the first time I've tried to blog the experience. So whether you too are taking the NaNoWriMo challenge or if you simply want to watch what happens when writers face a seemingly impossible deadline, click on over to my new blog, Get It Written. I look forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

On hiatus...for now!

Yes, it's been a good long time since I've posted here at Creative Mindfulness. I initially started this blog as an experiment: I wanted to try audio-blogging, and I wanted to see if there was an audience for a more Zen-oriented site focusing on my daily practice as a Zen teacher and writer.

As it turns out, there is an audience for that sort of site, and I seem to have things to say on the topic. But as it also turns out, my life right now is busy enough maintaining one blog where I might not talk explicitly about my spiritual practice, but where it nevertheless as an implied influence.

So, I'm putting this blog on temporary hiatus. I'm calling this hiatus "temporary" because I do believe I'll return to blogging here (or at least blogging on this topic) eventually, when the wheel of life turns to a less busy place. For now, I'm busy with teaching, blogging, dog-walking, and creativity coaching. When I've settled into a comfortable balance with those endeavors--and when I'm ready to begin a more concentrated effort to publicize myself as a creativity and writing coach--I suspect I'll be back to this blog.

In the meantime, though, you can follow what I'm doing on my person blog, Hoarded Ordinaries, or my brand-new teaching blog, Doctor D's Domain. Enjoy, be well, and keep in touch.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Lessons from my dog

It's been a while since I've posted here because I've been spending a lot of energy coming and going. First I drove to Ohio to see my parents and sisters, then I flew to Washington, DC to visit my aunt, and tomorrow I'm driving to Virginia to visit by blog-bud Fred. If you are a faithful reader of my other blog, you've seen various photos from these trips.

As I mentioned, tomorrow I leave on a car-camping trip to Virginia and back. Since I'm driving, I'll be taking my dog, Reggie, with me. Reggie's a veteran traveler who's been to and from Ohio more times than I can count...and he's also gone on long road trips to Arizona and even California. Reggie travels well: he gets tail-waggingly happy at the words "car ride" and has made friends and fans at rest stops all over the country. In short, Reg is a traveling dog. If there's something going on, Reg wants to be part of the action, and if I'm going somewhere, Reg wants to come along.

What Reggie doesn't like, however, is the preparation before a trip. Reggie's something of a mama's boy, so when I'm bustling around the house packing or doing a hundred things at once, he has to follow me every step of the way lest he miss out on some of that aforementioned "action." Today as always before a big trip, I started the day with a long list of to-dos: laundry, shopping, paying bills, answering emails, packing. Now as darkness is about to fall, I still have a list of to-dos to accomplish before tomorrow's departure, so my brain has kicked into Don't Forget overdrive: the state of flurry where your brain is racing through all the things you have to do before you stop or sleep.

Just now, after getting back from the grocery store where I bought food for the next few nights' camping, I started packing the car. One by one, I carted any number of things out of the apartment, going in and out, in and out, in and out while Reggie stood on the porch and listlessly watched my comings and goings. After packing the first round of stuff in the trunk of my car, I came in the house and started rooting through things in the closet, gathering my sleeping bag, bedroll, backpack... All the while, my flurry of stuff-gathering was accompanied by that Don't Forget chorus, repeated ad infinitum.

Through this all, Reggie watched me, but he no longer followed me around like he usually does. Instead, he kept whining and pacing, trying to keep an eye on me while simultaneously trying to keep out of my way. Finally I went into my office to gather more stuff, and Reg's whining was getting louder and more frantic.

"What?" Of course I didn't expect the dog to answer, but I was at a loss for what was wrong. I'd given Reg his dinner, and he'd just had the opportunity to "do his business" outside while I was packing the car. Although some animals get stressed when they see their owners packing, Reg had watched me put his things into the car: surely by now he can recognize the steps leading up to a doggie road trip!

Finally I sat down to make an updated list of things I needed to pack...and Reg plopped on the floor with a sigh. "Finally," his body language seemed to say. "I thought you'd never give it--and me--a rest!" In all my to-do listing, I'd forgotten to take a break, and my frantic preparations were stressing out the dog. Surely now that it's night, I can quietly make a list of things to do first thing tomorrow; surely now that it's night, I can sit and rest a spell, giving Reggie the peace to do likewise.

And you know what? Now that I've sat down and made my list, I don't have nearly the number of things to do that I thought I did: it turns out my Don't Forget cantata is actually a short and sweet ditty, something I can easily (and peacefully) accomplish before we leave tomorrow.

So while I'm in Virginia, I hope you take a lesson from my dog. Hurrying only leads to stress, pacing, and lots of whining. Why not take a break (or, better yet, a nap) and let tomorrow worry about tomorrow?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Zen a go-go

Now that I'm back from a 1,400 mile road trip to visit my family in Ohio, I'm off tomorrow to visit my aunt in Washington, DC. As a result, blogging will be light until I return next Tuesday.

In the meantime, I'm grateful to practice two highly mobile pursuits: meditation and writing. Whereas a traveling musician, for instance, has to carry their instrument (quite a challenge if you play the cello or, heaven forbid, piano), a meditating writer can easily travel light. For this weekend's trip to DC, I'll carry my usual walking bag with Moleskine notebook and Waterman fountain pen, and I'll wear meditation beads on my wrist so I can do mantra practice in the airport and elsewhere.

When it comes down to it, we carry our breathing, ready-to-awaken selves wherever we go, so even if we have to drum on tabletops, meditate on bus-stop benches, or scribble poems on cocktail napkins, our creative selves cannot be denied. Although every spiritual and creative pursuit requires a certain amount of "stuff"--the tools of the respective trade--sometimes it's good to travel light, paring down our list of Essentials. Given our breath and the Present Moment, what more do we really need?

Happy trails, and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Taking refuge

In today's audio-blog, I use the example of a red-eyed vireo I heard this morning as he sang from an unlikely perch: a cluster of trees behind my neighbor's suburban house. Although we, like that vireo, might feel out-of-place in a world that is hectic and chaotic, spiritual practice can be a refuge to which we return time and again: a spot of sanity we find as we follow our breath in the here and now.

Click here for more information about red-eyed vireos, including pictures and a sound clip.

this is an audio post - click to play

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Now I begin

(I'm having trouble accessing Audioblogger, so today's post is an old-fashioned written one!)

It's been two weeks since I last posted to Creative Mindfulness, and during that time I haven't spent any time on my mat and cushion. There you have it: today's big confession. While Gary was here visiting, we went hiking and sight-seeing and otherwise enjoyed one another's company; you can read accounts of two of our hikes on Gary's new hiking blog. Since Gary left, I've been playing catch-up with work I didn't do while he was visiting: the usual post-vacation catchup. So this morning when I returned to my meditation cushion and writing notebook, I did so after being away for a while.

I say this all by way of observation, not apology. As I noted in my last post, we all go through cycles and seasons in our practice, times when we can practice interspersed with times when we can't. One thing I've learned over the years is that beating yourself up for not practicing doesn't help you practice any more or any better: you only end up beaten. So what good is there in such emotional self-flagellation?

Meditation practice and creative practice aren't about beating yourself up; instead, they both are about beginning. After two weeks off the cushion and away from my writing notebook, this morning I began again: I brushed dog hair from my meditation mat, and I uncapped my pen. Truth be told, what I did this morning was no different from what any practitioner does any morning. It doesn't matter whether I practiced yesterday or the day before or the day before that: it matters that I practiced this morning, today, right now. Meditation practice and creative practice are both about what we do right now, so every moment we practice, we begin anew.

Several years ago I went on a Christian-Buddhist retreat at the Providence Zen Center, where Father Kevin Hunt talked about his daily meditation practice. Father Kevin has been a Trappist monk at Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, MA since 1953, and he's practiced Zen since 1970: in other words, he's an old pro when it comes to spiritual practice. Even with this wealth of meditation experience (or perhaps because of this wealth of meditation experience), Father Kevin insisted that spiritual practice is a process of continually beginning anew: whether you've been practicing for three days or thirty years, every moment when you begin to practice, you're starting from scratch.

In his talk, Father Kevin quoted a line from the Latin psalter from which Catholic contemplative monks recite everyday: "Nunc caepit, Domine, nunc caepit," or "Now I begin, O Lord, now I begin." How interesting that Christian monasticism contains such a pithy expression of so-called beginners' mind, an insistence that spiritual awareness happens right here, right now, the Kingdom of God being nowhere other than at hand.

If in the past you've tried to establish a spiritual or creative practice, you might have been discouraged by failure: the good habits you began dissolved into procrastination and avoidance. Even if you've for years had a solid meditation or artistic practice, maybe recently you've fallen into a slump, or perhaps circumstance has pushed you off the practice wagon. The wisdom of "Now I begin," however, suggests that there is no shame in stopping, only benefit in beginning. Whether you practiced every day last week or not at all, today--this moment--is a new beginning. Every moment is a new opportunity for practice; each page we turn is a fresh start.

The wisdom of "Now I begin" means we cannot rest on our laurels. Even if we sat a wonderful retreat last week, this morning we'll have to drag ourselves out of bed to meditate with a sleepy, wandering mind. Even if yesterday we wrote a brilliant short story, today the empty page looks at us with an attitude of "What have you done for me lately?" On the flip side, though, all our past failures and shortcomings are erased the moment we say "Now I begin." It doesn't matter how many times you've tried to practice in the past: it only matters that you begin to practice, now. When your mind wanders during meditation, you bring it back: "Now I begin." When your mind locks with writer's block, you turn to a fresh page: "Now I begin."

Yesterday's successes and failures are irrelevant: Now I begin, regardless of the past. In Zen, we have a saying: "Fall down six times, get up seven." This means it doesn't matter how many times you fail or fall; all that matters is that you always get up. Regardless of what you did or didn't do yesterday, today is a fresh start: a new moment, a clean page. Now I begin and begin and begin again: moment by moment, now and again, tomorrow and forever more.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Seasons of practice

In today's audioblog, I talk about the seasons of meditation practice. Just as Zen monks and nuns follow a seasonal cycle of intensive "tight Dharma" and more relaxed "loose Dharma," we as human creatures will have times when we won't be able to practice as much as we'd like. During "looser" times such as vacations, holidays, and periods spent with visiting friends and family, it's helpful to practice a shortened or minimalized version of our usual daily routine. If traveling monks and nuns can train themselves to meditate during those spare moments spent in planes, trains, and automobiles, surely we can practice our "time outs" on vacation, at family get-togethers, or at other schedule-challenging times.

(Speaking of vacations and holidays, my audioblogging will be light over the next week. I hope everyone has a restful Memorial Day weekend, and I'll check in when and as I can!)

this is an audio post - click to play