Thursday, November 01, 2007

Today's intention - November 1, 2007

Today, I will be. I will simply experience what is and refrain from judgment. I will be...and observe all else fall away.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A little bit of insight...brings a little bit of calm

From Tricycle Magazine's "The Daily Dharma"

October 29, 2007

Our Minds are Used to Thinking

Our minds are used to thinking, but when we want to become calm and peaceful that is exactly what we have to stop doing. It is easier said than done, because the mind will continue to do what it is used to doing. There is another reason why it finds it difficult to refrain from its habits: thinking is the only ego support we have while we are meditating, and particularly when we keep noble silence. "I think, therefore I am." Western philosophy accepts that as an absolute. Actually it is a relative truth, which all of us experience.

When we are thinking, we know that we are here; when there is no chattering in the mind, we believe we lose control. . . Our first difficulty is that although we would like to become peaceful and calm and have no thoughts, our mind does not want to obey. . . So instead of trying over and over again to become calm we can use whatever arises to gain some insight. A little bit of insight brings a little bit of calm, and a little bit of calm brings a little bit of insight.

- Ayya Khema, When the Iron Eagle Flies

from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Being the Space Within for Our Millions of Moments

Do you ever feel trapped by your mind...that you are what you think, and that there seems to be just no way to shut off the stream of non-stop repetitive, sometimes obsessive, maybe even harmful thinking? Is nighttime sleep the only way you can escape your mind?

If you feel this way, I encourage you to read "The Power of Now," as well as the companion book "Practicing the Power of Now," by Eckhart Tolle.

I read these books a few years ago, and every once in a while I find myself browsing through them to re-absorb some truths . The brightest gem is that the best way to calm the mind...train the to stop thinking about the past or the future and learn to abide in the present moment.

O.K., easier said that done. But if you read Tolle, or better yet listen to him (which I had the occasion to do -- in person -- this past weekend in New York City), it is the only rationale thing to do. And in this case, the rationale way feels good.

As Tolle says, there is no past and there is no future. These are just words that we've invented to explain the phenomenon of time. The only thing that is real and tangible is the present moment, which is always slipping away.

When we allow ourselves to be immersed in the present moment -- pleasant or unpleasant -- we truly embrace life. There is no thought to the past, and none given to the future. After all, isn't the future just our projections of our hopes and our fears?

Listening to Tolle, I thought of a truly wonderful moment in my past that I had the good fortune to be aware of as it was happening: holding a sleeping infant on my chest.

It was my nephew, and as I sat there on the couch, the house perfectly still, I listened to his short breaths and smelled his clean hair. I had a blanket around us both. My brain stopped thinking and I started feeling. I realized that this was a moment where I wasn't required to make a judgment. I didn't need to wish it was better, or that I wanted to be somewhere else.

All I needed to do was be. All I need to do was experience what was happening.

It's a great memory of a single moment that I'll always treasure. Tolle's point is that all our moments, whether we're at work or at home holding a baby, can be like this.

But it takes work. First, we must realize that we are not our thoughts or our personal histories. How can we be if these things are constantly in flux? Instead, our real true self is the great quiet, the stillness that resides in us all. It's a formless entity that is part of the universe, and which we all share. It is God for some. And we can only begin to find that through cultivation of stillness -- rather than relying on our thinking.

Meditation, especially the practice of Vipassana, is a great way to get to know our true selves. During practice we focus on the sensations and feelings of the in and out breaths. How does it make our body feel? Where does it interact with our body?

We acknowledge distracting thoughts but release our attachment to them -- in order to return 'home' to our breath. Vipassana helps me build the discipline to trust my inner wisdom rather than my busy, chattering mind.

This past weekend, Tolle offered another powerful and on-the-spot way to cultivate the present and to remain there, despite distractions, negativity, or any circumstances that may come our way during our day. Tolle suggested that we say internally: "Can you be the space that encounters this?" Can you be the space that calmly observes something purely for what it is -- without projecting our fear or judgments onto the situation?

When I first heard that expression, I envisioned creating a ring of space between me and anything that I might encounter -- let's say a negative, critical judgment that my mind manufactures about myself or another. But then I realized that that space is me already, not something that I must create.

This space is fluid and formless...but not empty. It is the highest knowledge, the sacred of the universe, the wisdom beyond what the world knows. It resides in me and in you. It resides in all of us.

Abiding in that space and witnessing our millions of moments allows us to observe without prejudice, make wise decisions, to act with kindness and compassion to ourselves and others.

But best of all, abiding in the space, the true identity inside us, allows us to be in each and every moment. It is the best gift that I can give to myself.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why I fly my flag

Flags. I see so many of them these days.

Americans like to hang their flag. For decoration, out of feelings of pride, and for some, I suspect, blind patriotism (my country -- right or wrong).

I hang my flag when I feel patriotic, but that doesn't happen much these days -- considering who we've got as president and his abuses of power and disregard for the waste of human life each day in the war in Iraq.

I hang my flag when I see our constitution working the way it was designed, chiefly, limiting the powers of government when it steps over the line of abuse. I hang it when I remember someone who fought and died in defense of human rights.

I hang it when I see a Muslim man praying in the street of a very "American" village, almost exclusively Christian, a place where people sometimes ignorantly equate Islam with terrorism. Recently, in my town, I saw a man prostrate himself in the street, facing Mecca. Perhaps he was afraid, but he did it.

It made me feel patriotic and so I hung my flag. Read the full story about what happened in my Waking Up column on United Press International.

By the way, what makes you feel patriotic about your country?

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Space Between our Fingers

From Tricycle Magazine's Daily Dharma: July 7, 2007

Looking At Our Hands
Peace is a natural mind-state in every one of us. Peace has been there since the day we were born and it is going to be there until the day we die. It is our greatest gift; so why do we think we have no peace of mind?

Experiencing peace is like looking at our hands. Usually, we see only the fingers--not the spaces in between.

In a similar manner, when we look at the mind, we are aware of the active states, such as our running thoughts and the one-thousand-and-one feelings that are associated with them, but we tend to overlook the intervals of peace between them.

If one were to be unhappy or sad every minute of the twenty-four hour day, what would happen to us? I guess we would all be in the mad house! --Thynn Thynn

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

This Fleeting Moment

A sensation appears, and liking or disliking begins.

This fleeting moment, if we are unaware of it, is repeated and intensified into craving and aversion, becoming a strong emotion that eventually overpowers the conscious mind.

We become caught up in the emotion, and all our better judgment is swept aside. The result is that we find ourselves engaged in unwholesome speech and action, harming ourselves and others. We create misery for ourselves, suffering now and in the future, because of one moment of blind reaction.

But if we are aware at the point where the process of reaction begins--that is, if we are aware of the sensation--we can choose not to allow any reaction to occur or to intensify. . . in those moments the mind is free. Perhaps at first these may be only a few moments in a meditation period, and the rest of the time the mind remains submerged in the old habit of reaction to sensations, the old round of craving, aversion, and misery.

But with repeated practice those few brief moments will become seconds, will become minutes, until finally the old habit of reaction is broken, and the mind remains continuously at peace. This is how suffering can be stopped.
-- from Tricycle magazine's Daily Dharma, June 26, 2007

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ella the Master Communicator

Sometimes toddlers don't talk. While other children around them are trying out new words and simple sentences, they remain silent.

Personally, I don't think that matters much to the kids who aren't talking. But it worries the adults who love them and who anxiously want to see them grow.

Ella is a two-year-old girl who has been diagnosed with Apraxia of Speech, in which the brain's "talk" command signals get garbled on their way to the muscles in the mouth, palate, and tongue.

But Ella is nonetheless eloquent in her own right. She's learning American Sign Language and is undergoing speech rehab and other forms of therapy. In the meantime, all you need is a few moments in her presence to hear her language of love...and sharing. She does it with hugs, smiles, dancing.

And a reverent bow.

To read more about Ella, check out this commentary I wrote for UPI and published by the website -- for their May 2007 newsletter.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Emptiness is Really Full of Substance

Emptiness is filled with good stuff.

The Buddhists are always talking about the wonder of "emptiness." This is a central tenet in their belief system -- and it means that all things in the universe -- a person, a place, an event, an idea -- are without their own, distinct identities. The substance of whatever it is -- animate or inanimate -- has been influenced and created by eons of previous causes. People, objects share common matter. Ideas, philosophies are made up of a world of shared thought -- undying through the ages.

But what implications does emptiness have for the world? What's the reward for taking this philosophy to heart?

Well, for one, if we all share the same elements physically -- and our minds are enriched by a living pool of thought that's continually finding new ways to express itself -- what's the point of dividing ourselves with distinctions and judgments. And hey, some of those identities we give ourselves and others are pretty harsh; aren't they?

Sound interesting? For more, check out my United Press International interview with the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, a very cool spiritual leader of the Shambhala tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. (One reason why he's cool is because he meditates while he runs.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What to do with Words Award - April 19, 2007

Fran is a good friend from my meditation circle. With her infectious smile and kind eyes, she exudes good will. And she's very sensitive.

Fran gets the "What to do with Words Award" today for an email she sent around earlier this week. Her spirit was crushed by the suffering at Va Tech, and she reached out to urge us to spread some love around -- suggesting we offer a kind smile to a stranger. It's a counter-move, a love strategy against hate.

Since she sent that message to a few of us, others in the group have passed it on to still more. I'd like to think it'll make its way around the world.

This phrase from Fran's email particularly struck me: "It is time for all of us to start showing the compassion we all have inside, to all our fellow human beings. I refuse to believe that the world is full of hate and violence."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

WMD - Working Man's Dharma - 4-17-07

I think that I can do a very valuable service to myself and others if, during the course of a day, I notice what arises inside me.

To notice fear arising is a tremendous accomplishment. It's significant because, to notice and name it, halts -- even for a few moments -- its hijacking of sweet reason...our naturally divine and kind nature.

I can hold fear and observe it, as it arises. I can feel it in my guts, my nerve endings. Then I don't have to be fear. It is no longer my identity. My fear becomes simply what it is -- an emotion.

And in that instant of objective viewing, I divorce it from... the argument...threat... or hostility of some person I am fearful of. And the argument, threat or hostility of some person remains simply those things, and nothing more.

How much more equipped am I then to begin making peace?

Monday, April 16, 2007

WMD - Working Man's Dharma

Today, I begin sharing WMD -- working man's dharma, as in lesson or teaching.

To share a teaching, spread the have to admit a few things:

- that you know some things
- what you learned you got from someone else

So let me start off doing that. I do know some things, certainly not every-thing. And I've come to know them from everybody around me -- family, teachers, friends, writers. They are people who have passed their truth and knowledge onto me.

So, I'd like to return the favor. Please consider what I have to offer.

WMD for Monday, April 16:

Today, my intention, my very hopeful intention -- is to experience all that happens to me without holding onto judgment of them. I want to simply hear what others have to say. May I see. May I feel. May I encounter life and resist attaching a label to the experience, a label that lasts, a label that can't be peeled off.

May I allow myself the pure emotional experience of liking or disliking something that I encounter -- a Dogwood tree breaking the rainy gloom with pink buds... or a uncaring remark lobbed at me by someone. May I feel the joy arise in my body when I see new life come to a tree. And may I know, too, the dejection of a hurtful remark.

But may I remember to let pleasure and pain pass on to where they belong. May I see the wisdom in letting my thoughts and desires and disappointments arise and slip back into the universe.

May I know them, and when it is time, may I let them go.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Thoreau's Journal - Listening

What is Thoreau talking about in the following diary passage?

He speaks of the wind and the noise of a toad. But he also reminds us of the magic that happens when we quiet the mind to observe what rises up and falls away:

"When I stand out of the wind, under the shelter of the hill beyond Clamshell, where there is not wind enough to make a noise on my person, I hear, or think that I hear, a very faint distant ring of toads, which, though I walk and walk all the afternoon, I never come nearer to." -- Henry David Thoreau, from his journal, April 5, 1860

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tara Brach on Compassion

Author Tara Brach gets the "What to do with Words Award" for April 4, 2007.

In an interview for my "Waking Up" column on United Press International, Tara talked about how tough, critical we are on ourselves and how we can replace that with compassion. It's the essence of her book, Radical Acceptance, Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha."

In our interview, Brach talked about how we cease to identify with our turmoil when we choose to stay and observe our discomfort -- rather than run from it. A new person emerges. From the article:

"The bottom line in the Buddhist teachings is that, in the moments that you stay, instead of replaying your old routines ... your whole sense of who you are shifts," notes Brach. She adds that "rather than being the fearful self or the anxious self or the self trying to get away from feeling afraid, you become the awareness that is simply being present and holding."

The sufferer becomes the space of compassion, adds Brach. To stay present and then become that presence is "the only way to wake up out of the trance of unworthiness."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The handle of my shovel

When I grip
The metal handle of my shovel
to clear the snow
It burns my Fingers. Well,
It freezes them, actually. I
Don't get what it is that happens,

Saturday, March 03, 2007

What to do with Words Award - March 3, 2007

Today, Saturday, March 3rd, the "What to do with Words Award" goes to Rebecca L. Hurst -- for this humble and moving passage in her poem, "Moment by Moment."

Rebecca and Sean Madden are based in the U.K., and they are the authors of The Mindful Living Guide blog.

It rained,
and I watched the rain.
A squirrel raided the bird-feeder.
My daughter and I had tea
together. -- from "Moment by Moment" by Rebecca L. Hurst @ The Mindful Living Guide

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What to do With Words Award - March 2, 2007

Henry David Thoreau -- 19th-century abolitionist, poet, observer of nature, proponent of the moment.

He wins the "What to do With Words Award" today, March 2nd...for his diary entry for February 26, 1840. The observations for that day include a line of simple text, five words that speak of the quiet power of life transformations. They happen gradually, and so we are unaware they are taking place. I've said too much already.

His eloquent sentence:

"Corn grows in the night." - H.D.Thoreau

Henry is very generous about other people reading his diary, thanks to his publisher, Greg. Explore.

What to do With Words Award -- March 1, 2007

Today, I'm kicking off a new feature -- a very irregularly chosen "What to do With Words Award" for the blog world's writing talents.

The first goes to Iain Manley, co-author of Old World Wandering. Iain and his travel partner Claire go about discovering Europe, and somehow they maintain the discipline to sit down fairly regularly and write about it.

I'm glad they do.

I am calling Old World Wandering a literary blog -- and then secondly a travel blog. That's my interpretation because if you can't travel to see, taste, live another culture, the next best is to read someone else's observations.

Below is a small item plucked from Iain's account of a visit to Rome. He's got plenty of observations about the Fountain of Trevi, the Pantheon and other popular sites...but the paragraph below offers a very quirky picture of his hostel.

If this were a clip from a movie, it'd be early 1950s. Black and white, of course. Behind the camera, Fellini would be yelling out directions to Giulietta Masina, Si?

The incessant “bella, bella, bella” of Miss Italy blared through a small, smoky hall in our hostel, Bella Roma. The competition lasted a week, today it was being contested entirely in bathing suits. Parades of lithe flesh were periodically interrupted for a demonstration of each participant’s talent: twirling a single hula-hoop, playing volleyball, badly, with a bemused judge and clumsy security guards, dancing in a lycra skirt, strapped on for modesty. -- Iain Manley

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I lost my iPod, my buddy who helps me get through the boredom of the treadmill and the train.

My iPod has my favorite tunes -- organized by every decade I've lived through and sub-categorized in various ways that, in my warped way of thinking, would only make sense to me.

But perhaps my iPod's been the audio equivalent to rose-colored glasses. Perhaps I've been using it to filter my 24/7. Maybe I've missed observations, opportunities, being plugged in.

Lent seems like the appropriate time to go without my personal soundtrack for life -- at least for the time being.
For more thoughts on this, please read my latest "Waking Up" column on UPI.

Do you have an iPod or other MP3 player? What do you like to use it for?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tasting Bliss

Found this wonderful teaching on a blog by William Harryman, and I thought that I'd share it. It's from the book Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships -- by John Welwood.

I feel that these words speak to the heart and meaning of the Buddhist Tonglen meditation practice, which encourages us to be with our suffering, rather than run from it.

"...there is no way to avoid loss and separation from what we love. We cannot avoid coming back again and again to the experience of being alone. No one can finally get inside our skin and share our experience -- the nuances that we alone feel, the changes that we alone are going through, the death that we alone must die. Nonetheless, loss, separation, and this fundamental aloneness are important teachers, for they force us to take up residence in the only real home we have -- the naked presence of the heart, which no external loss can destroy.

"Standing in this, our true ground, is the ultimate healing balm for the ache of separation and the wound of love. "You must fall in love with the one inside your heart," says the teacher Poonja. "Then you will see that it has always been there, but that you have wanted something else. To taste bliss, forget all other tastes and taste the wine served within." The warmth and openness at our core is the most intimate beloved who is always present, and into whose arms we can let go at last."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Great Wisdom in Short Sentences

      • The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
      • The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
Perhaps it's the ice that is covering my wee house -- courtesy of a massive snow storm that flew up the East Coast over the past few days. Perhaps that is why today I feel sharper, more focused on words and their meanings. Then again, maybe it's only my love of brevity that attracts me to the economy of wisdom of the above one-liners I found on the Mindful Living blog.

They are quotes from Atisha, an 11th century monk who turned his back on a life of luxury (like the Buddha) to become a master of the teachings of Mahayana, Hinayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.

Reading up on this guy, I found it interesting that, even after great training and studying and becoming a monk, he still yearned for the fastest and most direct means of attaining perfect enlightenment. How delightfully human! Could that be the reason for his simple--yet profound--sayings?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln

On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room cabin in the American wilderness.

From that humble beginning, he became U.S. president -- the highest office in the land. "Father Abraham," as African Americans of the time called him, emancipated slaves forever from this soil and kept the nation united. A tremendous legacy for one man.

Below is a quote from his famous dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield cemetery in November, 1863. Wise words that I hope will once again come true for us.

"...that this nation, under God shall have a new birth of freedom; and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." -- A. Lincoln, Gettysburg address

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Being the "barrenest pasture lying fallow"

Raised in America, I've been well-schooled in the "goodness" of money -- that it can make me and others happy.

But I've been lucky. Christian parents and a good education have made me aware of the dangers of swallowing this hook-line-and-sinker. Money's a tool to be used; it's not a value on which to base your life.

Today, I found this 150 year-old diary entry by Henry David Thoreau -- the conscience of America. He talks about his frustrations living as a spartan amid the materialism of the mid-nineteenth century. And, most touchingly, he considers the spiritual rewards that come from appreciating the simple, unencumbered life.

"...In the society of many men, or in the midst of what is called success, I find my life of no account, and my spirits rapidly fall. I would rather be the barrenest pasture lying fallow then cursed with the compliments of kings, than be the sulphurous and accursed desert where Babylon once stood. But when I have only a rustling oak leaf, or the faint metallic cheep of a tree sparrow, for variety in my winter walk, my life becomes continent [content?] and sweet as the kernel of a nut. I would rather hear a single shrub oak leaf at the end of a wintry glade rustle of its own accord at my approach, than receive a shipload of stars and garters from the strange kings and peoples of the earth."

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Prophet Lives in New York City

New Yorkers know Wesley Autrey by a terrible decision he made recently: He pitched himself off a subway platform and into the path of a train -- to save someone who'd fallen on the tracks.

Autrey's actions make him a prophet of compassion. That's what you are when you consider others part of yourself. The "I" and "you" are a whole -- not separate.

For the full story, see my February 5th "Waking Up" column on

Saturday, January 27, 2007

On keeping on

When you think that your walk is profitless and a failure, and you can hardly persuade yourself not to return, it is on the point of being a success, for then you are in that subdued and knocking mood to which Nature never fails to open. - Henry David Thoreau

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Searchers - 2007

There seem to [be] two kinds of searchers: those who seek to make their ego something other than it is, i.e. holy, happy, unselfish (as though you could make a fish unfish), and those who understand that all such attempts are just gesticulation and play-acting, that there is only one thing that can be done, which is to disidentify themselves with the ego, by realizing its unreality, and by becoming aware of their eternal identity with pure being. -- Fingers Pointing Toward the Moon by Wei Wu Wei

I saw this quote today from Wei Wu Wei (I have no clue who that is...but it's worth investigating) via a site that feeds me daily Buddhist wisdom and thoughts. I had three thoughts:

1. I am guilty of searching for that Mt. Everest experience (MEE) when I meditate. MEE is a feeling that doesn't come along very often, but it's a moment of supreme awareness, when I detect energy in and around me that is of another world. MEE is a glorious moment of resting in the now. (Come to think of it, perhaps MEE is very ordinary -- but unrecognizable for most of my 16 hours of daily consciousness.) This is my ego-seeking that Wei Wu Wei talks about in the above quote.

As a Catholic, I have had plenty of practice summoning up the bravery to confess. So, I confess that I search for a glorified ego. And I must also confess, it occurs to me that, by confessing this, am I not still searching for a glorified ego?

2. I am not always guilty of seeking star-status through attaining a MEE during meditation. Sometimes I can grasp some mindfulness to remember to accept what is -- as simply that, nothing more, nothing less. I'm happy to say that I can sometimes remember this as I sit in Vipassana, and then it is possible to simply be and allow. Attaining a fleeting moment of enlightenment is no more virtuous than moments of distraction...moments of bravely refocusing on breath...moments of listening...and of feeling. There is something very beautiful in acceptance of all that arises. Yes?

3. My third thought? "The Searchers," the 1956 western starring John Wayne. It's a masterpiece, and I highly recommend seeing it. I like it because of its glorious color, the majestic scenes of the western United States, the story line...and a little known fact that associates Buddy Holly with the movie. In the picture, John Wayne, in his tough, dry if to match the searing landscape...utters this line: "That'll be The Day." In a smoky movie theater in Texas sat Buddy Holly, listening. The next year, '57, "That'll be The Day" shot to No. 1 on the charts.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Doomsday Clock -- Help Turn it Back

The folks who keep the metaphorical "Doomsday Clock" recently moved the minute hand two minutes closer to midnight -- that is, the destruction of civilization. Now we've only got five minutes left. Seems that they've added global warming to our self-destruct mechanism, along with the growing nuclear threat.

When I read about this scary development, I immediately began thinking about what I'd do if I knew we really only had five minutes left to exist. I came up with a few -- and they involve sex and booze
and God.

But then I thought that I'd rather live...and it'd be better for me to take those five minutes and meditate every day.

I truly believe that if, every day, we meditate or pray or just sit still for five minutes (alright -- six, four, three, two...whatever), we could save the world.

To read how inner calmness can save the planet, and to check out what debauchery I'd engage in if a mushroom cloud was about to erupt, read my latest United Press International commentary.

Oh, and don't forget to give me your top five end-of-the-world activities!

Tick, tick, tick...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Self-love first

Are you brave enough to give your compassion when you see suffering -- like Jesus did when he saved the adulterous woman from stoning...or when he healed on the Sabbath, drawing the wrath of the high priests?

Yes, it takes bravery to step out of ourselves and help others...not just ignore their plight. And I think it takes the same kind of bravery to give compassion to ourselves when we're hurting -- because it involves taking an honest look at our emotional pain...being with it.

Please read my latest United Press International column at the link below, and let me know your views.

Self-love first

And while you're reading, here's a question to think about: When do you feel the most compassionate?