Search This Blog

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Between Breaths

When people ask me what they can do to get a "taste of zen" I suggest that they take a few minutes and concentrate on what happens when they breathe. Specifically, that moment between exhale and inhale. There, in that tiny moment, is the hitch in time when there is no air left to sustain us and our body desperately needs take in oxygen. What exists in that space between breaths? Everything is there! It is THE moment when life and death meet. If you don't take in another breath you die. It is that simple. What does that moment hold for you and what does it mean for you? What do you observe and experience when you put yourself fully in just that moment? Do you think of the past or the future? Do any of the things that make you mad, happy, sad, annoyed, joyful show up? I don't think they will. All that will show up is the need, in that split second, to take in another breath in order to keep living. When you take the time to be with just that life and death moment then just how much does all the rest of it matter? Do all those little things that seemed so important, so much life and death still seem to be there or, do they fade away to be replaced by just the moment of the need to breathe?

Friday, April 29, 2011


Today, just carry this with you and observe how it affects your day:

For the rain drop
Joy is entering the river

Ghalib, A Sufi

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


There are three periods of time we refer to: past, present, future. We have a habit of talking about all three as if they each exist in any given moment; as if they are are all one at the same time. We try to pull the past forward and the yank the future back into the present trying to re-shape all three around what exactly? The past no longer exists, it has ceased to be and there is nothing we can do to change or re-align those events. The future has yet to arrive and it is contingent upon causes and conditions that likewise have yet to arrive. As a result, there is nothing we can do until all those things come into being in the future. That leaves us with just this moment and all the things that happen to make this moment what it is. When we are busy pulling and yanking at the past and the future we too often miss what we have now, at this moment, and before we know it, this moment has faded into the past and we start all over again. It is very hard to let go of the past and not worry about what happens next. It may be the hardest thing we try to do. Living fully present in this moment is our challenge and our gift---to ourselves and ultimately to others.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Success is a a word we hear all too often.  It has become a goal unto itself. We chase this and that,  run here and there looking for success.  If success were really out there why the chase?  Why the pursuit?  If it were within reach wouldn't we have found it and then find peace and stillness with it?  It seems that most of us haven't found it, or we are not sure what it is or what it looks like for us so we run and chase and tire.  Chinese philosopher Guanzi has some advice for us in our pursuit of success:
Don't run in the place of horses
or you'll exhaust your strength
don't fly in the place of birds
or you'll wear out your wings.
Don't act before others
so you can observe their examples.
If you stir, you lose your position
be calm, and you'll spontaneously succeed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Anger is an earthquake

I delivered a Dharma talk yesterday and wanted to share just a part of it here.
Our anger is like an earthquake. It begins to build just like the tectonic plates of the earth that push and push until they finally erupt.  Anger is just like that. Whatever it is inside of us that pushes against itself finds a release all too often in anger. And, when it does, just like an earthquake, it leaves behind destruction and devastation that takes a long time to rebuild.  The rebuilding is also often hampered by the shame, remorse, and regret we feel that rumble around in us like aftershocks causing more harm and devastation.  Here's an exercise I have been using with my own anger.  When I feel the pressure starting to build instead of focusing on keeping the anger at bay, I try to substitute compassion, love, and kindness in its place.  I do this by just repeating those three words to myself; "compassion . . . kindness . . . love . . .". I just repeat the words (nothing more than this) and even the smallest annoyance starts to fade and a new way of seeing the situation comes into view.  It may not work for you, but try it and see what happens.  What have you got to lose?  Your anger?  Maybe!

Monday, April 11, 2011


Last week we focused on gratitude. This week let's take a look at our clinging---our grasping at things or for people, places, and ideas.  The Buddha teaches us that it is our relentless craving, clinging, and grasping that is at the root of our dissatisfaction with life.  Everything that causes us pain and distress comes from this drive to hold on and make the things, the people, the places, and the ideas remain as they are or as we want them to be---forever.  We forget that they won't.  Everything starts to end the moment it comes into existence.  Each and every moment rises and fades in an instant.  Nothing is permanent.  If we can understand this and really take it in, then we are on our way to ending our pain and distress.  It is not easy to experience.  It is contrary to everything our ego wants.  Yet, if we truly want to be free of our pain, distress, and sorrow we must come to grips with the impermanence of everything.  So today, focus on just one person, place, thing, or idea and let yourself go with the notion that whatever you choose to focus on cannot last forever; it is when it is and then it is gone.  What choices will then you make about that person, place, thing, or idea?  What choices do make with regard to yourself?  Remember, all you ever have is "just this" and nothing more.  That is today's truth---"just this".

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Inner Gratitude

We work hard to send our gratitude and generosity out into the world. It is our practice. But, every once in awhile we should turn those energies inward.  Today, instead of looking out, look in---into yourself.  What is it about you that you are thankful for?  Where is an area where you should be generous to yourself?  This is not a selfish exercise.  It is an exercise in the truth.  When we take the time to look inside with gratitude and generosity what do we experience?  You may find things are missing, there are longings, there are regrets and there are also powerful places of energy, peace, and stillness.  They are all true in their own way.  Don't dwell on the difficult pieces or the easy pieces.  Instead, be thankful for them all and treat yourself with kindness. Until we do, we are not putting our full gratitude and generosity into the world. Let's make this our gratitude practice for today.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


No matter what you faith tradition might be, virtue is always a fundamental area of cultivation. They are cultivated as an antidote for our misguided intentions and actions. What the specific virtues for cultivation might be vary from faith to faith, but at their core the virtues serve as an impetus for a moral and ethical life free from the suffering caused by anger, greed, and delusion. How does one practice all the virtues together?  Buddhaghosa, in his 'The Path of Purification" (Visuddhimagga) provides a simple, direct way to do this.  He tells us, in essence, that regardless of what we confront, whether it be praise or blame, if we can remain unshaken, rooted firmly in what we know is right, then we become virtuous---our lives come from a place of purity; a purity of intent and action.  He says:
Just as a solid massive rock
Remains unshaken by the wind
So too, in the face of blame and praise
The wise remain unmovable

Today, as we work on gratitude, let us sit solidly with it and have our intentions and actions emanate from our rock solid base of generosity, compassion and loving-kindness.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Recollecting Generosity

One of the Six Recollections taught in the Vishuddhimagga is that of generosity.  In Chapter VII .107 we are taught that, "one should naturally be devoted to generosity and the constant practice of giving and sharing".  When we are mindful of generosity we free ourselves from our tendency to avarice and greed.  In giving, we  are practicing a fundamental virtue that brings us closer to the cessation of suffering caused by our cravings and we release others from the suffering caused by their unmet needs. So today, as we think of gratitude, let us also think about one way that we can be generous to someone today. It is one of our best practices.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Let's make this week a week of mindful gratitude. Each day let us give thanks for just one thing, no matter how big or small.  It might be a thank you to someone important to us, or a thank you for the first signs of Spring (especially for those of us who live in the snow belt!).  It is in gratitude that generosity, morality, and truth can manifest.  So, let's take time each day this week to be mindfully thankful at least once each day.  What are you thankful for today?  If it is a person---have you told them? How do you think they felt when you did?  How did you feel? Better, I bet.  I'll remind all of us again tomorrow.