Thursday, April 26, 2012

Refined action

     “Refined action … from the start … lies in peace & harmony. … Wherever you may be, your life is sustained and supported by the whole universe. The main purpose of human life is to maintain this sanctuary [universe]. It is not to climb a ladder to develop your own personal life.
     If you see refined action or nirvana or enlightenment, or even the aspiration for enlightenment, in terms of time or progress, your understanding is not correct. These four are without beginning or end. They are like a circle, where the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning.
     … refined action comes neither from your effort nor from someone else’s. If your effort were not supported by the universe as a whole, you could not make any real effort at all. Pure, refined action makes no distinction between self and others. Trees, birds, and all other beings are completely harmonized in this sanctuary of the whole. This is our life.” 

     Katagiri D. “You have to say something. Manifesting Zen insight.” Shambhala, Boston, 1998. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Short- vs Long-term Happiness

     IF most of us consistently chose wisely, in favor of long- over short-term happiness, the human race would have evolved spiritually at a remarkable pace - we may all have been fully enlightened LONG AGO. But most of us remain stuck in our rut for long periods of time (lifetimes?). 
     David Hawkins suggests visualizing an enlightened being eg the Buddha or Jesus, in the room with you, whenever choosing between something that can bring short-term gratification ("ego amusement") VS long-term peace and contentment.
     We make these choices constantly. Each one of these choices DIRECTS our individual life, as well as the life of the universe. Every thought, word and act, might be small, but "the butterfly effect" of an individual, multiplied by billions of people ...

David R. Hawkins MD, PhD - 2005 interview (55min)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"... and all manner of things shall be well"

"All shall be well, 
and all shall be well, 
and all manner of things shall be well."             Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416) English Christian mystic
     “So long as one is merely on the surface of things, they are always imperfect, unsatisfactory, incomplete. Penetrate into the substance and everything is perfect, complete, whole.”
        Kapleau P. “The Zen of Living and Dying. A Practical and Spiritual Guide.” Shambhala, Boston, 1998.

Photo: Dr Andy

Monday, April 23, 2012

Behavior, behaviour, behavior, behaviour ...

     Namaste implies an awareness of one's own and everyone else's perfection - Buddhanature.

     "I am that" gets far less attention, but is equally important - accepting one's own and everyone else's imperfection - human nature. Wabi Sabi. We all have much to be humble about.

     Respected teachers have said that there is no such thing as an enlightened state, only enlightened behavior. The process of integrating one's spiritual experiences into daily life is considered to be a life-long process.

     "You are perfect as you are. Try harder!"

Photo: fstop

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Time to Prioritize Quality of Life - Moment-to-Moment

     "Time poverty", the feeling of being squeezed for time can give rise to frantic busy-ness. We seem to be competing for who can squeeze most into 24 hours. Quantity seems to be everything -  who prioritizes quality? - who provides the essential time & attitude for quality? 
     A cynical bumper sticker on a Corvette stated: "The one who dies with the most toys wins." Does the one who dies having cranked out the most widgets "win"?

     The sense of time running out gives rise to chronic fight/flight reaction. And in fact our time IS running out - we have a finite number of years, days, breaths. But attempting to outrun death by racing madly through life is a nightmare, not quality living. Quality & quantity are inversely proportional. Wouldn't you rather slowly savor a fine moderate-sized meal, than set a record for the most hot dogs inhaled in 15 minutes?

     Patients often ask physicians: "Does THIS mean I'm going to die?"
     Honest answer: "YES - OF COURSE YOU'RE GOING TO DIE! - But if you fully embrace your mortality, you can actually start living."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Real good for free

"There is no place to seek the mind:
it is like the footprints of the birds in the sky ..."                                    Zenrin Kushu

Fish in water - "not one, not two."
"The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences..."                            Sengstan   

Joni Mitchell performing "Real Good for Free"

Friday, April 20, 2012

Psychospiritual Technologies

     "It seems like our culture is totally asleep. Hidden behind conventional rituals of religion, is a contemplative core constituted of a technology, a mind-training set of practices for cultivating the same states of mind that the founders of the major religions had realized. This spiritual technology is accompanied by road maps, psychologies and philosophies which describe the worldviews, insights and discoveries that emerged as one did these practices. These traditions contain a gold mine, a reservoir of human kinds deepest accumulated wisdom.
     For the first time in history, we have all the world's spiritual traditions available to us, all of the contemplative practices, plus a psychology (transpersonal psychology) that recognizes altered states of consciousness and transpersonal developmental stages. So that for the first time in the West we have a psychology that is adequate to an understanding of the great spiritual traditions and doesn't reduce them to pathology or some problematic status. Now there's a way of understanding these spiritual traditions as psychospiritual technologies producing altered and higher states of consciousness, for cultivating postconventional, transpersonal developmental stages, and for cultivating the great virtues - love, compassion, wisdom, empathy, which the great traditions have held as ideals across the millenia."                                       Roger Walsh

Roger Walsh MD, PhD - keynote address

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Existential psychotherapy and Mindfulness

     'Existential,' in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, implies that the main focus of interest is our existence - the fact that we are, and are aware of our living. The core issue of life is life itself - being - what are you doing with the fact that you're alive? The goals of this therapy are to help be in tune with what the client is experiencing, in the moment, and to feed it back in such a way, that s/he may have more choicefulness. The therapist tries to reflect back what is implicit and very much present, but which the client can't see - the implicit in concert with the explicit. 
     Buddhism's basic koans: "What is this?" and "Who am I?"; observer-self / basic sanity; Zen masters' mirroring technique ....

James Bugental interview

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


     "To love solitude and to seek it does not mean constantly traveling from one geographical possibility to another. A man becomes solitary at the moment when, no matter what may be his external surroundings, he is suddenly aware of his own inalienable solitude and sees that he will never be anything but solitary. From that moment, solitude is not potential - it is actual."           Thomas Merton

     Then there's interbeing - Indra's net.

     Then there's the senior Zen teacher who on being asked how far she'd travel to be in the presence of an enlightened master responded: "I wouldn't walk across the room."

     Then there's the Buddha's final instructions: "Work hard to gain your own salvation."

     "Not one, not two."

Photo: Colin Bates

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Koan for those over 50

     In our current culture, we have little respect for the old among us. We try to hide them away in a retirement home as soon as their earning/spending power declines. Our consumer society has much more in common with factory farming than we like to admit. Humans as laying hens - when egg laying slows down, hens quickly turn into pet food. Keep the lines running!

     In an earlier time, when the old were still venerated as wise, young monks hid an old Zen monk's farming implements. They did this out of kindness and concern, so he would not have to do his share of the heavy manual labor at the monastery. The old monk then refused to eat. He said "no work, no food." The young monks relented, allowing him to do his share of the labor, and he resumed eating.

     The old monk's lesson is not at all the same as today's morbid fear of retirement / death. The old monk was giving 100% of himself - burning his candle completely in true Zen fashion. 

     How can I give 100% AND walk the middle way?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pitfalls of spirituality

     Wise advice on the promises & pitfalls of spirituality, from Bob Frager PhD, founding president of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Developmental traps

     "transconventional psychotechnology ... is a kind of religion that is not centered on faith and belief, but rather on practice, on cultivating and training the mind. Authentic spiritual traditions, practices, or disciplines are psychotechnologies designed to train, tame, transform & transcend the mind."                                Roger Walsh MD, PhD

Roger Walsh Keynote Address 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Meaning hidden behind words

     Marshall Rosenberg, founder of "nonviolent communication", said that the only thing anyone really means to say is 'please don't hurt me.' Consider this as a koan, an 'open question' to mull over for a few decades.

     Often patients, seeing a dentist for the first time, assume a belligerent attitude. At first this is confusing to dentists, but we come to realize that these folks are simply AFRAID - in "fight/flight" mode. Though easy to misinterpret, they're just saying: 'please don't hurt me.'

     How many times have we misread another's fearful plea as a threat, and reacted inappropriately?

Marshall Rosenberg PhD on Nonviolent Communication (~10min)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Returning Home

     “Who we are and what we do to one another is shaped most deeply by how we know the other. Knowing in isolation or illusory objectivity creates distance from the other and this makes violence easier to imagine and justify. On the other hand, understanding or heartfulness builds connections and closes the distance between the self and other. Understanding serves as the centerpoint, the axis, of an education that turns the tide of radical disconnection. Character involves the development of wholeness, a self undivided, which includes the integration of the knowing heart.”
       Hart T. "From information to transformation. Education for the evolution of consciousness." Peter Lang Publishing, NY, 2009. 

Photo: David A. Lovas

Thursday, April 12, 2012


     "Walls not only keep others out, but keep us in. Yet, we can afford to tear down those walls only if we are willing to surrender to a sense of connectedness deep within ourselves. There is a way in which we create our own reality. Our own inner dynamics are played out in the people and situations that constellate around us. When we come to a place of openness and connectedness within ourselves, our reality without becomes more open and connected. Trust begins to emerge – trust in ourselves and trust in the universe. This is not naivete, but an undefensive posture toward life. It is surrendering to the journey that is uniquely ours.” 

        Woodman M, Dickson E. “Dancing in the flames. The Dark Goddess in the transformation of consciousness.” Alfred A Knopf, Toronto, 1996.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


     "the true Dharma (truth) is not dependent on words or what is written in the scriptures. It's outside the scriptures, outside our conditioned or dualistic efforts of mind. It's outside of what we think it is but not outside ourselves."

       Kwong J. No beginning, no end. The intimate heart of Zen. Harmony Books, NY, 2003.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shedding old skin

     "Accepting things as they are is a loss. Being in the moment is a loss. We are losing every moment of our lives. What are we losing? We are losing our self-centeredness, our self-clinging, our ideas, our conditioning.

     Usually we want to avoid loss at all costs. We are conditioned to seek only gain, to be happy and to try to satisfy all our desires. Even though we understand intellectually that loss is the very mud in our lives that the lotus needs in order to bloom ... "

       Kwong J. No beginning, no end. The intimate heart of Zen. Harmony Books, NY, 2003.

Detail of a front yard in Montreal, 2009

Monday, April 9, 2012

Anxiety - avoid or approach?

     Anxiety, instead of a symptom to be removed, is a gateway to the meaning of life - to be explored. Pathologizing anxiety, or trying to run away from it, is not always constructive. 
     Human knowledge of our inevitable death gives us normal anxiety. Ezra Bayda describes the felt sense of aliveness as "the anxious quiver of being."
     Anxiety is a stimulus toward creativity and courage.  Existential awareness tells us to get the most out of these years that we are alive. "Genuine growth comes from confronting the pain of existence rather than escaping into banal pleasures or shallow, positive thinking. Genuine joy can emerge from an appreciation of life's agonies."

Rollo May, existential psychologist, being interviewed

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Spirit of wonderment

     "'Chasing after or rejecting things only leads to despair,' he thought. 'How can I find the wisdom that transcends the limitations of these two approaches?'
     That the Buddha's question led to his awakening is a significant part of his story, and we should take note of it. ... we access our greatest intelligence through engaging our life with the spirit of wonderment, not through seeking absolute conclusions."
        Mattis-Namgyel E. The power of an open question. The Buddha's path to freedom. Shambhala, Boston, 2011.

Shauna Shapiro PhD interview Nov 2011

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Yeh, yeh - I get it"

     "Those who say they know, don't."            Buddhist saying

      Some intellectual grasp of Buddhism is easy. But we don't really get it, until we ARE it. And becoming it - living an integrated, congruent life - is a lifelong transformational process - not merely comprehending an idea. Those who are well on their way, may not even be consciously aware of the extent of their own transformation - are fish aware of water?

     On the other hand, even long-time meditators retain plenty of "rough edges." A great deal of humility, honesty, patience and perseverance is required to see ourselves objectively - without a "halo effect". Our family and loved ones are the ones most acutely aware of our remaining foibles.

     “... the development of the genuine individual, who can embody and express the larger dimensions of being in his or her person. ... integrate our spiritual realization into the whole fabric of our personal life and waking up to our ultimate spiritual nature, ... to grow up – to ripen into a mature, fully developed person.” 
     Welwood J. “Toward a psychology of awakening. Buddhism, psychotherapy, and the path of personal and spiritual transformation.” Shambhala, Boston, 2002.

     And then there's the small matter of the Bodhisattva vow ...

Bob Frager PhD 2012 interview

Friday, April 6, 2012

Perception and "the Gaining Mind"

     "When a thief sees a saint, all he sees are his pockets." Sufi saying

     “one’s understanding of the self, the world, and others, when fully perfected, leads to actions whose moral qualities are commensurate with the level and depth of insight or ‘vision’ of one’s mind. That is, the greater one’s intellectual penetration into the fundamental nature of reality, the greater the virtuosity of one’s actions. In short, moral action is the fruit of intellectual insight … the Buddha and Socrates seem to share the view that lack of vision or insight in the realms of epistemology and metaphysics leads inevitably to failure in the moral sphere.”   
       Laumakis SJ. An introduction to Buddhist philosophy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 2008. 

     Now I can look at you in peace; I don't eat you anymore.”              Franz Kafka

Photo Source:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Not one, not two

     "Everything is perfect, but there is always room for improvement."               Suzuki Roshi

     "We should never ignore or deny our weaknesses, or tell ourselves we don't have to work on becoming better or stronger. But we should also, and simultaneously, see right through it all to the perfect one inside. We must put on our bifocals and see both parts of ourselves because together, both parts of ourselves constitute the full truth about ourselves."
        Alter RM, Alter J. “How Long Till My Soul Gets It Right?: 100 Doorways on the Journey to Happiness.” Regan Books, 2001. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Coming back home

     Some of us have no conscious awareness of how thoroughly disconnected we are from our bodies. A "blind spot" is like that - completely invisible to the affected individual. The first hints may be pain and stiffness  noticed during even brief periods of sitting meditation. The sitting doesn't cause it, it only provides the setting for better awareness. Awareness is the doorway to allow us to come back home in many ways, including re-inhabiting our own bodies.

     "It's also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that's sitting right here and now ... with its aches and its pleasures ... is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive."       Pema Chodron, "Food for Throught" section of the Halifax Chronicle Herald newspaper, Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Grandmotherly love

     We all have a deep sense of what is needed in this world - each of us acutely feels this need. We can't externalize this. It's useless to wait for this to come to us. We ourselves have the personal responsibility to provide what is needed. We ourselves are the source and must provide unconditional love for all.
     What I need, I must become the source for. I provide without thought of return-on-investment, then there is abundance and egocentric "needy me" becomes loving action. Beyond the illusion of gain and loss, love is.

Photo: Giovanni De Caro

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mind-Heart-Body unity

     For the legendary originator of method acting, Constantin Stanislavski, “rather than being limited to isolated movement, physical actions incorporate the intention by which they are fueled, their purposes, as well as the surrounding circumstances of their manifestation. In short, physical actions encompass all of the emotional and intellectual materials associated with them. In this way, Stanislavski works to overcome the tendency we have in the West to sever the externally active physical body from its interior life of thinking and feeling. His system highlights the inseparability of inner and outer bodily being, and the critical nature of that relationship in authentic enactment.”

       Ladkin D, Taylor SS. Enacting the 'true self': Towards a theory of embodied authentic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly 2010; 21(1): 64-74.

Photo: Koen De Houwer

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fear of Abandonment, of Being Alone

     “The human fear of being alone is the human infant’s fear that all warmth, nurturance, sustenance, safety, and love will suddenly leave it forever and it will, literally, die. The sudden sinking, hollow dread that grips {your} stomach … is the fear of that abandoned infant who, left loveless, will die.”

        Alter RM, Alter J. “How Long Till My Soul Gets It Right?: 100 Doorways on the Journey to Happiness.” Regan Books, 2001.