Monday, March 31, 2014

One Taste

     " ... once the idea of 'me' has withered, the single 'dragon's roar' of all existence may be heard."           Yakusan

       Douglas Penick "It's for you." Shambhala Sun, May 2014

     See also:


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hidden in Plain Sight

     "... something truly golden and marvelous, can be revealed only when thoughts of self have fallen away like the autumn leaves ..."

       Henry Shukman "Tree of Wisdom." Shambhala Sun, May 2014

      A fine Zen talk by Koun Franz of Halifax: "What Are We Mastering? – March 4, 2014":

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dukkha & the Other Shore

     "Sorrow and the love of being alive are inextricable.

     ... living in conditioned existence is like 'licking the honey on the razor's edge.' "

       Douglas Penick "It's for you." Shambhala Sun, May 2014


Friday, March 28, 2014

Words that Ring True

     Life is traumatic. At some point you realize this. You can play games around it - OR - you can embrace it. Flip the whole fear / avoidance thing right around, and give it a mighty bear-hug. Quiver in fear - OR - go for it the best you can - one decent jab.

     "The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is an illusion of aliveness."

     O'Brien T. "The things they carried." Mariner Books, Boston, 1990. One real book!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kindness - Heart-Mindfulness - Nurturing

     "Mindfulness is being in wise relationship with everything."

     "What are we doing with the gardens entrusted to us?"           Jon Kabat-Zinn


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the
Indian in a white poncho lies dead
by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night
with plans and the simple breath
that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.                 Naomi Shihab Nye (1953-) 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Power, its Origin, & How to Use it

     An exceptional true story about authentic power:

     “The train clanked and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty – a few housewives with their kids in tow; some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows.

     At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into the car. He wore laborer’s clothing, and he was big, drunk, and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that the baby was unharmed. 
     Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up. 
     I was young then, some twenty years ago, and in pretty good shape. I had been putting in a solid eight hours of aikido training every day for the past three years. I liked to throw and grapple. I thought I was tough. Trouble was, my martial arts skill was untested in actual combat. As students of aikido, we were not allowed to fight. 
     ‘Aikido,’ my teacher had said again and again, ‘is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection to the universe. If you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.’ 
     I listened to his words. I tried hard. I even went so far as to cross the street to avoid the chimpara, the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations. My forebearance exalted me. I felt both tough and holy. In my heart, however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty. 
     This is it! I said to myself as I got to my feet. People are in danger. If I don’t do something fast, somebody will probably get hurt. 
     Seeing me stand up, the drunk recognized a chance to focus his rage. ‘Aha!’ he roared. ‘A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!’ 
     I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the first move. I wanted him mad, so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss. 
     ‘All right!’ he hollered. ‘You’re gonna get a lesson.’ He gathered himself for a rush at me. 
     A split second before he could move, somebody shouted, ‘Hey!’ It was earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous, lilting quality of it – as though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something and he had suddenly stumbled upon it. ‘Hey!’ 
     I wheeled to my left; the drunk spun to his right. We both stared down at a little old Japanese. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentleman, sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most welcome secret to share. 
     ‘C’mere,’ the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. ‘C’mere and talk with me.’ He waved his hand lightly. 
     The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels. ‘Why the hell should I talk to you?’ The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his socks. 
     The old man continued to beam at the laborer. ‘What’cha been drinkin’?’ he asked, his eyes sparkling with interest. ‘I’ve been drinking sake,’ the laborer bellowed back, ‘and it’s none of your business!’ Flecks of spittle spattered the old man. 
     ‘Oh, that’s wonderful,’ the old man said, ‘absolutely wonderful! You see, I love sake too. Every night me and my wife (she’s 76, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench. We watch the sun go down, and we look to see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree, and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better than I expected, though, especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening – even when it rains!’ He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling. 
     As he struggled to follow the old man’s conversation, the drunk’s face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I love persimmons too….’ His voice trailed off. 
     ‘Yes,’ said the old man, smiling, ‘and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.’ 
     ‘No,’ replied the laborer. ‘My wife died.’ Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. ‘I don’t got no wife, I don’t got no home, I don’t got no job. I’m so ashamed of myself.’ Tears rolled down his cheeks; a spasm of despair rippled through his body. 
     Now it was my turn. Standing there in my well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than he was. 
     Then the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I heard the old man cluck sympathetically. ‘My, my,’ he said, ‘that is a difficult predicament, indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it.’ 
     I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair. 
     As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it was love. I would have to practice the art with an entirely different spirit. It would be a long time before I could speak about the resolution of conflict.” 

     Dobson T. “A soft answer.” From: Nelson RF ed. “The overlook martial arts reader. Classic writings on philosophy and technique.” The Overlook Press, Woodstock NY, 1989. 
     More about the author:


Saturday, March 22, 2014

To Be "Held in Meditative Equipoise"

     "Elroy Berdahl remained quiet. ... His eyes were flat and impassive. He didn't speak. He was simply there, like the river and the late-summer sun. And yet by his presence, his mute watchfulness, he made it real. He was the true audience. He was the witness, like God, or like the gods, who look on in absolute silence as we live our lives, as we make our choices or fail to make them."

     O'Brien T. "The things they carried." Mariner Books, Boston, 1990. 

     ... Zen "teachers who are capable of sitting skillfully (and humbly) in the role of teacher, teachers who can navigate their own impulses as well as the projections of their students. One of my favorite stories is of a female student who went to Shunryu Suzuki-roshi and admitted an attraction to him — he replied with something like, “It’s OK. I have enough willpower for both of us.” When that’s real — when nothing you throw at the teacher undermines the teacher’s center of gravity — then teacher and student can really explore that dynamic to its depths."       Koun Franz


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pleasure & Externals vs Happiness & Internals

     “Pleasure depends on where you are, who you are with, what you are eating,” Mother Antonia told The Post. “Happiness is different. Happiness does not depend on where you are. I live in prison. And I have not had a day of depression in 25 years. I have been upset, angry. I have been sad. But never depressed. I have a reason for my being.”

     See also "Hedonism & Eudaimonia":

Steve McCurry

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mindfulness - a Deeper, Broader Definition

     "Mindfulness has a wealth of meanings. Mindfulness is living in the present moment, but that is really not enough. Black labs & golden retrievers - amazingly playful, friendly dogs running around - they are living in the present moment, but they don't look like they're being too mindful, literally being led around by the nose. They're very much in the present, but it's not mindfulness. So I call that quality of mind 'black lab consciousness' to distinguish it.
     So then we might say that mindfulness is the observing power of the mind - so we're really observing what's happening, as it's happening. With a black lab there isn't much observation - no stepping back & knowing what's happening. The lab seems pretty identified with what's going on. There doesn't seem to be a lot of self-reflection. The observing power of the mind has to do with stepping back & knowing that we're knowing, rather than simply knowing.
     But even that's not enough for mindfulness, because we can be observing something through a filter of various mental factors, for example the filter of desire or the filter of anger, and we're not aware of that. So we're observing what's happening, but we're not being mindful. So mindfulness is yet something else again. It's not just being in the present, it's not just observing in the present, it's observing in a particular way. It's being aware of what's arising, but without greed or attachment, without aversion or condemning, and without delusion or being identified with it.
     So that's a very particular kind of awareness. And right there it leads the understanding of mindfulness into an ethical dimension. Mindfulness is always a wholesome state of mind, because it's free of greed, and free of aversion. Mindfulness is very rich, it's not a superficial quality of mind.
     People come to retreats and have a daily practice so that mindfulness can operate throughout our daily lives. And it's a tremendous blessing - the more mindful we are, the less we suffer." Joseph Goldstein

     This & other "Buddha at the Gas Pump" interviews:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ego - What Does it Mean?

     "The definition of ego I use the most is just 'the resistance to what is.' Ego has a quality of resistance. And its base, when you get right down to the root of it, which is in your gut, the sense of self is literally like a closed fist in the gut. It's like an energetic 'no' to life. And then the energy comes up to the heart, and there it's an emotional, feeling-based protectionism, and fear. And then of course in the mind, what started out as a reflex in the gut as a contraction, becomes one's whole psychology, which is often a pushing away, and or grasping.
     Ego is the thing that's always negotiating with life. This is both what the ego is and does - ego is a verb, a movement, a happening. ... 
     When one's thought process is not about oneself, there is no ego." Adyashanti 

        This & other "Buddha at the Gas Pump" interviews:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Where Am I Now? Now? Now? Now?

     At one time, parents were advised to always ask themselves "Do I know where my children are right now?" It's also important to be aware of where my attention is at any moment in time!
     Usually, it makes most sense to be consciously aware of what's going on in the present moment around us and within our mind-body. In this mindful way, we're most likely to behave appropriately - in the best long-term interests of all concerned.
     Mindlessness of various sorts (absent mindedness, distracted, multitasking, catastrophizing, wallowing etc) is generally the shadow side of mindfulness, resulting in much wasted time, loss of productivity, passivity, errors, accidents etc.
     At specific times & places, where mindfulness is not essential, eg relaxing weekend at home, "mind wandering" can contribute to: "self-awareness, creative incubation, improvisation & evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events & experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self & others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, & reflective compassion." 
     Yes, mind wandering has potential short- & long-term personal value, under the appropriate circumstances. But the fact that people spend "up to 50% of their waking hours" at it means that much of the time it has negative consequences, and may be a form of avoidance. Open-hearted engagement, in real time, with whatever is at hand, seems to be optimal. Escape into our heads, or increasingly into our smart phones, is avoidance of what's real & what needs to be addressed. If one is intentionally relaxing in a familiar environment, then one can intentionally, productively engage in mind wandering without negative consequences.

       Scott Barry Kaufman "Mind Wandering: A New Personal Intelligence Perspective." Scientific American September 25, 2013.

Daydreamer by Leah Welch

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shifting Operating Systems from Doing to Non-doing Mode

     The default setting for most people is the "doing" mode - we "keep busy", be it working, planning, worrying, regretting, playing, daydreaming. We're always "on the go", be it physically or mentally. Were this "busyness" consistently useful, we'd be amazingly productive. But much of our "doing" is a dysfunctional attempt to avoid existential angst. 
     Through meditation practice we learn experientially that the content of our buzzy heads does not accurately reflect us, nor the world (cognitive defusion). If we sit still, let go of self-talk, and simply engage with our bodies & our external environment directly, in real time, we gradually shift operating systems. We go from a "doing" to "non-doing" mode
     • Buzzy confusion & reactivity is replaced by peace, spaciousness, & wisdom. See:
     • Stress is replaced by a sense of being centered. See:
     • The hurt child is replaced by the wise grandparent. See:

     Activity in "non-doing" mode continues, but is now directed by a much more evolved operating system (prefrontal cortex) and is therefore in service of long-term allocentric / ecocentric (rather than short-term egocentric) benefits.

     “If you sit down to meditate, even for a moment, it will be a time for non-doing. It is very important not to think that this non-doing is synonymous with doing nothing. They couldn’t be more different. Consciousness and intention matter here. In fact, they are key. 
     On the surface, it seems as if there might be two kinds of non-doing, one involving not doing any outward work, the other involving what we might call effortless activity. Ultimately we come to see that they are the same. It is the inward experience that counts here. What we frequently call formal meditation involves purposefully making a time for stopping all outward activity and cultivating stillness, with no agenda other than being fully present in each moment. Not doing anything. Perhaps such moments of non-doing are the greatest gifts one can give oneself.”
     Kabat-Zinn J. “Wherever you go, there you are. Mindfulness meditation in everyday life.” Hyperion, NY, 1994. 

Steve McCurry

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Stuckness & the Many Ways Out

     Most of us have some sense of "who I am." There are two levels to our self-concept: obvious personal qualities we & others judge to be good, bad or ugly, & a more mysterious level that's largely subconscious. Many of us are sadly resigned about, & firmly identified with (cognitive fusion) the obvious aspects: "that's who I am, & I'll never change", "can't teach old dogs new tricks." This melancholy stuckness is strangely offset by the comforting sense of being a unique individual that, in our mind, remains untouched by time. Most of us stay clear of the mysterious portion - our subconscious. Most of us have no training to intelligently & wisely investigate this part of our life. We sense its power, but our fear & ignorance turns this vital part into a paralyzing taboo.
     EVERY aspect of the above universal human tendencies is considered by Buddhist psychology (& increasingly by Western psychology) to be misguided, AND to cause suffering. Many of us remain stuck in the above predicament for life.
     An ever-increasing number of us realize that all wisdom traditions (Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc) were specifically designed to address this sad situation. All these traditions have 2 levels
          1) Basic support (dogma, rules, rituals, sense of community) for the masses who, like most of us, are also by & large avoiding the mystery.
          2) Specific guidance for an intentional journey along the well-travelled path into the heart of mystery - self-discovery, self-transcendence, & beyond. Traditionally this was, & mostly still is, restricted to monks ("mystics") doing long silent solitary retreats.
     North American Buddhism may be unique insofar as it is explicitly a path to self-discovery, self-transcendence, and beyond FOR EACH PARTICIPANT.
     Mindfulness training (MBSR) is even more easily approachable, since it is secular, starts at self-regulation ie stress-management, which naturally evolves into self-discovery, self-transcendence, & beyond FOR EACH PARTICIPANT.


Steve McCurry

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Meditation Teachers & Students - Both Responsible, Both Vulnerable

     Teachers as well as students are both "vulnerable to their unconscious longing for perfect attunement, for a merger experience in which idealizations obscure a realistic view of an actual human being. ...
     It is tempting to ignore the reality that there are two sentient beings in this dyad, and that both have psyches that make them capable of unskillful actions. Teachers, in fact, are vulnerable to the ways in which students project onto them both salvific & destructive capacities. And when a student idealizes the teacher to the point where he or she can't see the guru as human, it becomes nearly impossible for that student to take into account both the teacher's gifts and vulnerability.
     A teacher who has the maturity to be seen as a whole being - in addition to having a kind heart and a liberated mind - may invite the student to curb the idealizations and work instead toward cultivating the wisdom and agency they have been ascribing exclusively to the teacher.
     Teachers & students alike pay a price when this mutuality does not develop."

       Pilar Jennings PhD "Looking into the eyes of a master. A relational psychotherapist explores how we can see our teachers as people, both gifted and flawed." Tricycle Spring 2004

Monday, March 3, 2014

Science, Scientism & What it Means to be Human

     Right now "the arts & humanities are struggling for survival on campuses across America as they are increasingly eclipsed by the 'STEM' disciplines (science, technology, engineering, & math). ... what we are witnessing is a takeover, on the part of science, of the multiple narratives of what it means to be human - narratives that have flourished throughout Western history in religion, art, literature, and philosophy.
     Scientism* comes with its own narrative ... : 'We are not "free"; we are chemical expressions of our DNA and our neurons. We cannot will anything, because our brains do our acting for us. We are like computers or systems, and so is nature.' When this is what we think we are, we become quiescent cogs readily manipulated by societal forces. ... once scientism rewrites our story so that the things human beings care about - like love, wonder, presence, or play - are reduced to atoms, genes, or neurons, human lives become easy prey to corporate and political interests. We become 'mere functions within systems.' (We need) to wake up and recognize that this view is not scientific discovery, it is ideology. Mistaking one for the other has profound consequences, 'not just for knowledge but even more importantly for how we live.'"

     Scientism*- "an unwarrented triumphalism based on unproven premises - such as the claim that science has got the world nailed down (or soon will, anyway) that the answer to all of our human problems lies in the discovery of natural laws, or that submitting to a scientific perspective is a choiceless imperative dictated by impersonal facts."

     Linda Heuman's entire excellent interview with Curtis White, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Illinois State University, about his latest book:  
     "The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers" 
is available online: 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Evolution of Human Consciousness - Complex yet Robust Process

     Powerful critiques have been written about how Buddhist principles & practices are being misused, truncated & distorted in the name of stress-management, science, business, & other narrow purposes. Read Linda Heuman's interview with Curtis White, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Illinois State University, about his latest book: The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers. The entire excellent article is available online: 

     Shapiro's pivotal study showed that even dedicated, long-term meditators started practicing for self-regulation - to manage stress. Shapiro showed that with continued practice, a gradual shift occurred in the intention behind practicing - from self-regulation, to self-exploration, and finally self-liberation. Critics of Jon Kabat-Zinn's MBSR would do well to read this paper. Shapiro DH. A preliminary study of long-term meditators: Goals, effects, religious orientation, cognitions. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 1992; 24(1): 23-39.

     The realization of the existence of sickness, aging, constant change & death - managing the stress of existential angst - initiated Gautama's journey. He did not start with self-discovery or self-transcendence - he first tried materialism (clinging), and when that failed, he tried the other extreme, asceticism (aversion).
      Today, "relatively few arrive at Buddhist centers on the wings of psychic victory. Many people have a psychologically complex history, one influenced by trauma or loss. In this way, we practice to resolve thorny and entrenched forms of psychological pain." Pilar Jennings PhD "Looking into the eyes of a master. A relational psychotherapist explores how we can see our teachers as people, both gifted and flawed." Tricycle Spring 2004

     In our youth (not strictly in years), we can read, hear about & observe adulthood, yet no matter how "smart" we may be, we simply cannot rapidly integrate mature psycho-social-spiritual concepts into our immature being. 
     Earthly existence seems to entail direct personal multi-dimensional experiential iterative learning. Intellectual bypassing does not bring about true maturation any better than daydreaming. Yet neither is the process perfectly linear, mechanically step-wise, nor predictably dose-dependent (hours on the cushion).


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Letting Go of Business As Usual

     We're used to using different programs for different tasks on our computer - web browsers like Firefox to browse the web, word processing programs like Word to write letters, database programs like FileMaker Pro to build databases, etc.
     Likewise, we're used to "wearing different hats" for different roles in our life - we're children to our parents, employees to our boss, parents to our children, bosses to our employees, etc. Each of these roles has a different function or product. We fluidly use different software and fluidly put on different hats (express different subpersonalities) for our different roles in life. These are lateral moves, on the common, horizontal plane.
     As time goes by, new tasks come along, so our programs must to be upgraded. Likewise, our parents suddenly require elder-care, our kids become teenagers, the scope of work our company does expands and with all of these changes come new tasks, for which we need to upgrade our skills. One or a few of these challenges can be met with additional lateral moves, on the horizontal plane.
     However, when our environment changes greatly & abruptly, then we must respond with a much deeper, more profound, qualitatively different change - on the vertical plane. Sadly, many of us, including those who care for our mind-body-spirit, are only able to recognize & navigate the common horizontal plane - completely inadequate for "shipwrecks".

      “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” Albert Einstein

     "We need to change the mindsets not just the problem sets”. Jean-Lou Chameau, Dean of Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology