There is Life After the Thesis

After chronicling my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences throughout the thesis process on this blog (formerly entitled Rites of a Thesis), it seemed odd to me to simply let the blog go just because I had turned in my thesis and graduated. I don't want to merely "shelve" my thesis nor do I want all that I got from my time at Naropa to lie dormant. I want my thesis to continue to live and breathe and become, and I would like all the teachings and experiences I had during my time at Naropa to do the same. So I am keeping the blog (changing the title), and am commiting to myself to (w)rite on as I journey forward.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Spirituality Isn't Just Found on a Mountain Top...You Can Find it at Loews

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness. ~ Dalai Lama

Last week, while shopping at Soul Scape Gift & Bookstore in Encinitas, CA, I bought a stone slab with the above quote etched into it. It is now hanging on a wall in my livingroom.

My understanding of Buddhism is that God - a Higher Power, the Universe, the Divine - exists in the this moment. The Quakers say that the God in me sees the God in you. And Michael Levin who authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish Spirituality & Mysticism explains that spirituality is really all about striving to be the best person one can be. Compassion for self and all living beings, authentic connection with all sentient beings, ecology and the environment, feeling true joy and true sorrow and everything in between are all part of what it means to be spiritual.

After attending 12-Step programs for many a year, completing a two-year Masters program at Naropa University this past June, in the midst of taking Shambhala Training (I take my Level Three training next month), and most recently attended a five-day retreat at Deerpark Monastery, I am realizing more and more how each moment offers an opportunity for spiritual growth. How each moment offers me the chance to wake up.

I have studied acting for a major part of my life. Six very important components of acting are: 1) To stay present, 2) To connect to your breath, 3) To be aware - of self, others, space, and the world, 4) To develop compassion for self, others (including your the character you're playing), and the greater world, and 5) To be of service to the playwright, the director, one's fellow actors, and to the audience, 6) To cultivate joyful discipline of one's craft and whatever supports that.

These are the lessons I have found, too, in 12-Step programs, at Naropa, and in all that I have learned so far about Buddhism. Funny that I have to keep learning these lessons over and over. That I need constant reminders (little Mindfulness Bells going off daily). That when the student really is ready the teacher/teachings appear.

While at the retreat at Deerpark, I met a woman who had attended the retreat the previous year when Thich Nhat Hahn was at the Monastery. On our second-to-last day I asked her if she was enjoying the retreat this year as much as last. She replied, "No." Oh, I thought. Wow. "Can you describe why," I asked. She said, "It's just not as spiritual this year. It's fun and everything, but It's just not very spiritual."

Not spiritual?!

I thought everything about the retreat was spiritual. The land, the sky. The silence. The smiles and laughter. The meditation. The monks and nuns. The dharma talks and discussions. Mindful everything. The connections with others.

Hmm...I thought.

That evening, as we gathered for "Family Dinner" (eating just with our dharma discussion /service groups), the woman I had talked to didn't show up. I later heard from someone that she had eaten dinner with someone else. She also didn't attend the "Be In" (a celebration of performances) that evening, our final night at the retreat.

At first I judged her (I suppose, to be honest, I still do). I thought., "She's obviously missed the point. If she thinks spirituality can only be found in a Master Teacher, and can't feel/see that spirituality is right here. It's about being present and showing up." Hmph! (said, self-righteous little ol' me).

Upon a bit more reflection, I thought, "Well, this is that woman's path. She is probably right where she is supposed to be. It's not right of me to judge her on what she says and what she thinks. We don't have to share the same point of view. We had that discussion for a reason. Perhaps more will be revealed to me and to her."

Good thoughts. Though I didn't really buy into them. "Fake it 'til you make it," though (so I've been taught).

I remember when I first started going to 12-Step meetings. I was pretty much agnostic, had never really thought that much about God one way or another (except when I was about ten and read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and the main character said her parents had said, "God is a nice idea."). I was told that I needed to find a Higher Power - a power greater than myself.

First, under the guidance of my first sponsor, I used the group as a power greater than myself. Somewhere in my first year I felt the need to believe in "God," so I conjured up some old biblical idea of the man with the long white beard and the staff - a sort of Sistine Chapel-esque type of God. That kinda worked, but after awhile it seemed like a very narrow view of the Divine.

Over the years, my idea of God changed. I don't even know what God is anymore...the Universe? A Divine Force? Anything and everything? A feeling? A sense? God is a three-letter word and it easily rolls of my tongue, but I don't know what God really is. However, the idea of being present, open and alive in every moment makes sense to me. Being kind and compassionate makes sense to me. Having a sense, of curiosity, wonder and awe makes sense to me. Feeling every emotion fully makes sense to me. That is spirituality to me.

But it took me many years to fully come to this. And, so, who am I to judge the woman at the retreat and her path?

Yesterday I went to Loews to purchase some cinder blocks for some bookshelves I was constructing for my apartment. I got one of those big dollys and bought 12 cinder blocks. Though it really took a lot of upper-body strength for me to push that dolly, when the cashier asked me if I needed help, I declined. It actually felt really good to "joyfully exert" myself physically.

However, when I got to my car, an elderly gentleman in a pick-up truck made a U-turn and parked himself right next to my car. His window was open and he said, "I'm going to help you with that."

"Oh, no. That's okay. Thank you," I said.

"No, no," said the man getting out of his truck. "I'm going to do that."

I watched as this man carefully arranged each cinder block into my trunk.

"What's your name?," I asked.


"Hi, Paul," I extended my hand. "I'm Nicky."

"Nice to meet you," he said.

"Nice to meet you," I said. "Thank you so much for your help. That was really great."

"You're welcome," he told me. "Have a nice life."

"You too," I said.

I watched him drive off in his truck. A simple encounter. An act of kindness. That man and I will probably never meet again. But for a few minutes we had a connection. Paul's act of kindness set the stage for the rest of my day. Reminding me to be kind, to smile, to be of help if needed.

No mountain top or Master Teacher required. Kindness - spirituality - can be found in the parking lot of your neighborhood Loews.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Breathing and Smiling

After a five-day retreat at Deerpark Monastery ( I am enjoying some Buddha-spaciousness. I am grateful for my time at the Monastery, to all the monks, nuns, and the entire community at the retreat. I am breathing. I am smiling. I am enjoying the moment and looking forward to what is yet to come.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jump Start

Tradition simply means that we need to end what began well and continue what is worth continuing. ~ Jose Bergamin

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility. ~ Oprah Winfrey

Here I go...