Thursday, August 31, 2006


Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do to help.

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

A Grateful Death

Linda Cole sent me this marvelous passage from the writings of Henri Nouwen:
When we think about death, we often think about what will happen to us after we have died. But it is more important to think about what will happen to those we leave behind. The way we die has a deep and lasting effect on those who stay alive. It will be easier for our family and friends to remember us with joy and peace if we have said a grateful good-bye than if we die with bitter and disillusioned hearts.

The greatest gift we can offer our families and friends is the gift of gratitude. Gratitude sets them free to continue their lives without bitterness or self-recrimination.
What a beautiful reflection on the place of gratitude at the end of life. The way we will be able to practice gratitude then is to practice it now. Let us all commit to giving this wonderful gift to those we leave behind.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Stuart Maxwell
(used with permission)

Still more on gratitude

I found an article this morning entitled "Try a gratitude meditation to reduce anxiety and depression". Here's part of what it says:
It is easy to get caught up in the comparison game. Competition is a big part of Western culture. We want to have the most and the biggest of everything. Unfortunately, there is always someone else who makes more money, has a bigger house and a better job.

Irrationally, we compare ourselves to those we think have more than we do and we lose every time. We frequently focus on one aspect of their success and we exaggerate it while diminishing the importance of our own achievements. I talk to very successful fathers and mothers who are depressed because they don't have the things their neighbors do.

Comparison thinking results in a depressed mood and anxiety, as well as feelings of guilt and disappointment. It stems from organizing our thoughts in a results-based manner. Our fantasy is that an increase in production will lead to an increase in happiness. In reality, as our production increases, we raise our expectations of what we feel will make us happy.

An effective alternative is to develop an attitude of gratitude. This type of thinking focuses us on what we already have and deepens our love and appreciation for our loved ones and our purpose in life. It results in contentment and a deep inner peace.

To develop the mental muscles required to obtain a higher state of inner peace, commit to five minutes of gratitude meditation every morning. Find a quiet place and concentrate on a mental list of four or five people or things that you are grateful for. It might sound like this. "I am grateful for my loving husband, my beautiful children, my health, my home and a job I enjoy."

As you name each gift, visualize it as vividly as you can for as long as possible. Be aware of how you feel and give thanks. If you do this daily, you will find that your love for others will deepen and inner peace will develop.

Your confidence in yourself will grow stronger and others' success will not take anything away from your own contentment. You will feel happy when others succeed instead of resentful. Research has suggested that people who do this have less depression and anxiety.
I like the recommendation that we visualize each gift. I also think the commitment to five minutes a day is a good one. I would also remind everybody to exercise gratitude for things like being able to walk, being able to see, having the intelligence to understand this exercise and the like. Otherwise, it's easy to get into self-pity if we don't have a spouse or children or a job we enjoy.

There's always something to give thanks for. Look for those things. And really cultivate an appreciation for them.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Let's not say we've arrived!

All [meditation methods] take work. There is no easy or royal road to the goal we seek. Further, there is no end to the search; there is no position from which we can say, "Now I have arrived, I can stop working."

-- Lawrence LeShan

Managing stress

This morning I found an article entitled "Simple stress busters: 10 ways to take control and feel better fast." It will not surprise you to know that one of the ten ways listed is meditation. Here's what the article has to say about it:
Meditation is the process of learning how to focus one's awareness. Studies have linked meditation to lowered blood pressure, decreased heart and respiratory rate and increased blood flow -- all signs of relaxation. Mindful meditation, which involves focusing fully on what is happening in the present, "allows you to choose what you pay attention to, which is very powerful," says Dr. Howard Schubiner, director of the Mind-Body Medicine Center at St. John Providence Hospital in Southfield. "It helps you not be a prisoner to your thoughts. You feel it, you observe it, and then you choose how to respond." Theresa Randolph of Mount Clemens practices the techniques she learned during a recent meditation class.

"You feel balanced, you feel in control, you feel in charge," she says. "If you can accomplish that, sit down and only think about one thing, you don't feel like the whole world is controlling you. Sometimes you get running so much you lose track of yourself. Meditation gives you a chance to regroup."

Try to practice meditation daily, even if it's just for a few minutes. Focus on your breath, on a phrase or word repeated silently, or on a visualized image; when your mind wanders, gently bring it back to whatever you were focusing on and continue.
You might want to click through and check out the other stress busters. They're all good!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

Becoming human

The greatest human quest is to know what one must do in order to become a human being.

--Immanuel Kant

Letting go

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

This morning I found a marvelous poem by Rilke. The image is powerfully evocative and compelling, I think:

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully
more like a king, further and further on.
-Translated by Robert Bly

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Remembering Russ Bennett

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The Rev. Russell Bennett (1937-2006)

It is with great sadness that I share with you the news that my friend and colleague, The Rev. Russell Bennett, died today at 4:00 a.m. after a long illness. Russ was very supportive of me throughout the years; he invited me to preach several times at Fellowship Church and to lead their parish retreat twice. He was truly a delight to work with and I will miss him very much. Here's what Hope Unitarian Church said of Russ when awarding him their Religious Liberty Award on April 30, 2005:
Russ Bennett is a Tulsa Treasure. As the Minister Emeritus of Tulsa’s Fellowship Congregational Church (which he served for 36 years), he exemplifies the qualities of leadership: Honesty, Vision, Forward Looking and Competent. He has used those qualities to work for the least among us. By doing so he has become one of the greatest among us. He is a man – as one writer observed – who “stood with the African Americans when the KKK demonstrated, he stood with the Jews when their cemetery was vandalized, he stood with the Muslims at our Senator’s office after September 11, he stood with African American police officers in the law suit against the city of Tulsa . . . he stood with Native Americans trying to abolish a demeaning mascot.” His life stands as a reminder of what Captain Bill Mcdonald, one of the legendary Texas Rangers, once said: “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-coming.” Russ Bennett is such a man. He is also one of the gentlest of souls. His soft spokeness is a constant reminder that those with whom we disagree are our brothers and sisters. Always standing up for what he believes, he supports that most basic of freedoms, freedom of religion. Through word and deed he has promoted and defended Religious Freedom for all.

As it happens, I marched beside Russ in that demonstration with the Tulsa Muslims mentioned above. We were the only two Christian ministers present which I thought was shameful. Russ was very active in Tulsa Interfaith Alliance and truly believed in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. He was an inspirational example of humily and compassion and will be greatly missed. I'm honored to have known him.

May he rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him.

More on gratefulness

From the book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer:

What brings fulfillment is gratefulness, the simple response of our heart to this life in all its fullness.

--Brother David Steindl-Rast

Saturday, August 26, 2006

More from Peace Pilgrim

As you know, Peace Pilgrim is somone who walked for peace - without possessions, without money. She depended on the kindness of people who would give her food and shelter for the duration of her twenty-eight year pilgrimage. In her remarks about attaining inner peace she talks about the importance of relinquishments. Here's part of what she said:
Now the last: the relinquishment of all negative feelings. I want to mention just one negative feeling which the nicest people still experience, and that negative feeling is worry. Worry is not concern which would motivate you to do everything possible in a situation. Worry is a useless mulling over of things we cannot change. Let me mention just one technique. Seldom do you worry about the present moment; it's usually all right. If you worry, you agonize over the past which you should have forgotten long ago, or you're apprehensive over the future which hasn't even come yet. We tend to skim right over the present time. Since this is the only moment that one can live, if you don't live it you never really get around to living at all. If you do live this present moment, you tend not to worry. For me, every moment is a new opportunity to be of service.

One last comment about negative feelings which helped me very much at one time and has helped others. No outward thing - nothing, nobody from without - can hurt me inside, psychologically. I recognized that I could only be hurt psychologically by my own wrong actions, which I have control over; by my own wrong reactions - they are tricky but I have control over them, too; or by my own inaction in some situations, like the present world situation, that needs actions from me. When I recognized all this, how free I felt! And I just stopped hurting myself. Now someone could do the meanest thing to me and I would feel deep compassion for this out-of-harmony person, this psychologically sick person who is capable of doing mean things. I certainly would not hurt myself by a wrong reaction of bitterness or anger. You have complete control over whether or not you will be hurt psychologically, and any time you want to, you can stop hurting yourself.
I don't know why negative feelings are so addictive but I do know that this addiction is one worth breaking. We do this not by judging our feelings but by accepting them, choosing not to give them energy and then by letting them go. I love how Peace Pilgrim talks about her decision to stop hurting herself. We can do that too.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Ellie Finlay

The power of thought

It's been a while since I've posted anything by Peace Pilgrim and so I'm delighted today to bring you something she said about the power of thought:
Are you a slave to your self-centered nature, or does your divine nature guide your life? Do you know that every moment of your life you're creating through thought? You create your own inner condition; you're helping create the conditions around you.
If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a defeatist or negative thought. Since we create through thought, we need to concentrate very strongly on positive thoughts. If you think you can't do something, you can't. But if you think you can, you may be surprised to discover that you can. It is important that our thoughts be constantly for the best that could happen in a situation -- for the good things we would like to see happen.
While I'm at it, I'd like to share something she said about Christianity:
Many people profess Christianity. Very few live it -- almost none. And when you live it people may think you're crazy. It has been truthfully said that the world is equally shocked by one who repudiates Christianity and by one who practices it.

I believe Jesus would accept me because I do what he told people to do. This doesn't mean, though, that all who call themselves Christian would accept me. Of course I love and appreciate Jesus and I wish Christians would learn to obey his commandments. It would be a most wonderful world.
Yes, indeed. It would be a most wonderful world.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What it means to be a seeker

I have a lot of respect for the teacher and writer Lama Surya Das. Here's a passage from his book, Awakening to the Sacred:
Seekers want to understand and explore themselves as well as the universe with all its mysteries, both known and unknowable. In their hearts, seekers believe that the universe makes sense and their lives have meaning. They believe not only that truth exists, but that it can indeed be found, and experienced.

When I was young, and even more foolish than I am today, I believed that one had to travel far and wide in order to seek truth, divine reality, or whatever you call it. I believed that truth would most likely be found in the world's so-called sacred places. Yet the fact is that truth is everywhere; it knows no religious, cultural, temporal, or ethnic bounds. Truth is the perfect circle. Its center is everywhere; its circumference stretches into infinite space. The land on which we stand is sacred, no matter where we stand.
So, no, you don't have to make a pilgrimage to India or Tibet or Canterbury to find the sacred. You can make a pilgrimage within. The important thing is to begin and not to give up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Important observation

Gregory the Great

This is from a letter to Augustine of Canterbury:

Those who would climb to a lofty height must go by steps, not leaps.

So let us be patient with ourselves but never give up!

Wednesday life form blogging

Humpback whale sighting
Photo by Bill Miller


Charlotte Joko Beck is, in my opinion, one of the most outstanding meditation teachers writing today. Here is something she said about enlightenment:

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that. But to talk about it is of little use.

The practice has to be done by each individual. There is no substitute. We can read about it until we are a thousand years old and it won't do a thing for us. We all have to practice, and we have to practice with all of our might for the rest of our lives.
Yes, enlightenment is the absence of something. It's the absence of striving, of competition, of the demand to gratify the ego. It's a profound "okayness" with oneself, a joyful letting go, an unconditional acceptance of what is. So let's keep practicing with all of our might. It's worth it!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Taking refuge in the community

We need support from one another. Ram Dass speaks to that in the following paragraph from The Only Dance There Is:
Thus, when you define yourself as a seeker after sensual gratification then you surround yourself with other people who are seekers after sensual gratification. When you define yourself as an intellectual you often surround yourself with intellectuals. When you define yourself as a seeker after consciousness, you start to surround yourself with other seekers after consciousness, because in that phase being around such people really gives you a kind of environmental support.
When it comes to your inner work and your spiritual development, who you hang out with matters. This is why coming to meditation class is so helpful. We break out of our isolation that way and connect with other people who care about developing mindfulness and becoming aware. But even if you're in an area where coming to class is not an option, you can connect with the community of practitioners by knowing deeply that others on the path to awakening are supporting you on a spiritual plane. And you can know that you are supporting them as well.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

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Mendenhall Glacier
Photo by Bill Miller

Moments in flow

A very wonderful book on meditation, one that has become a classic, is Journey of Awakening: A Meditator's Guidebook by Ram Dass. Here's his very lovely description of what pure awareness is like:
There have been moments in your life when you were pure awareness. No concepts, no thoughts like "I am aware" or "That is a tree" or "Now I am meditating." Just pure awareness. Openness. A spacious quality in your existence. Perhaps it happened as you sat on a river bank and the sound of the river flowed through you. Or as you walked on the beach when, the sound of the ocean washed away your thinking mind until all that remained was the walking, the feeling of your feet on the sand, the sound of the surf, the warmth of the sun on your head and shoulders, the breeze on your check, the sound of the seagull in the distance.

For that moment your image of yourself was lost in the gestalt, in the totality of the moment. You were not clinging to anything. You were not holding on to the experience. It was flowing--through you, around you, by you, in you. At that moment you were the experience. You were the flow. There was no demarcation between you-sun-ocean-sand. You had transcended the separation that thought creates. You were the moment in all its fullness.

Everyone has had such experiences. These moments are ones in which we have "lost ourselves," or been "taken out of ourselves," or "forgotten ourselves." They are moments in flow.

It is in these moments of your life that there is no longer separation. There is peace, harmony, tranquility, the joy of being part of the process. In these moments the universe appears fresh; it is seen through innocent eyes. It all begins anew.
Meditation helps us dispose ourselves to moments like this - so that they aren't relegated to just happening by chance. We can't force this experience but we can train ourselves to let go of the usual obstacles to it. Let yourself remember when this has happened to you. Then commit yourself to being open to it now and to train your mind to dispose yourself toward this awareness as a regular practice.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Healing old wounds

Today I picked up 1,001 Meditations by Mike George again and I found two visualizations that really go together and that can be very valuable for inner work. Here's the first one:
Many of the emotional wounds that we carry around were inflicted when we were children. One way to heal such wounds is to comfort the child within. Imagine a child standing before you. Gazing down at the child, you realize that it's you when you were small. Kneel down beside the child and introduce yourself. Encourage them to come toward you. If they are willing, hold them close to your heart in a warm embrace. Reassure the child that they are safe in your arms and that you will always be there to protect them from harm.
And the other visualization is an exercise in re-parenting:
Visualize the perfect parents. What qualities would they display? Take time to refine and build your vision each day for a week. When your vision is complete, introduce yourself to your imaginary parents and begin to cultivate a loving relationship.
Inner re-parenting is much more effective and reliable than the common approach of looking for a surrogate parent. It's really an exercise in self-coaching. We train ourselves to tell ourselves what a good parent would say - and that displaces the often critical, condemning voice with which we may have habitually spoken to ourselves. And, of course, this process will help us in our relationships with other people - especially children and young people - because we will truly choose what we want to say to them instead of reflexively saying the things that were once said to us.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Appreciation of ordinary things

Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted – a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.

-- Rabbi Harold Kushner

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Henry on the futon
Photo by Ellie Finlay

Letting go

This is from the book, Glimpse After Glimpse:

Although we have been made to believe that if we let go we will end up with nothing, life reveals just the opposite: that letting go is the real path to freedom.

-- Sogyal Rinpoche

Thursday, August 17, 2006


This moring I found the transcript of a conversation between Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker. I really recommend that you click through and read the whole thing. It's very illuminating and inspiring. But the passage I want to quote here has to do with Pema Chödrön's response to a question about why we end up working on the same issues over and over again even when we think we've made a lot of progress on staying open and letting go. I really like her reply:
That's how life keeps us honest. The inspiration that comes from feeling the openness seems so important, but on the other hand, I'm sure it would eventually turn into some kind of spiritual pride or arrogance. So life has this miraculous ability to smack you in the face with a real humdinger just when you're going over the edge in terms of thinking you've accomplished something. That humbles you; it's some kind of natural balancing that keeps you human. At the same time the sense of joy does get stronger and stronger.
I often find myself reminding people to let go of their attachment to an idealized self. Setbacks actually help us do that if we don't use them as occasions to beat ourselves up. Setbacks can also help us cultivate genuine empathy with others but most of all they will help us avoid spiritual pride if we accept them without judgment.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Ann Callaway

Idiot compassion

I want to share with you some more from Pema Chödrön's teachings - this time on something called "idiot compassion". This is the sort of behavior that you tell yourself is compassionate but actually it hurts either you or the person you believe you are helping. Here's what she has to say about it:
Idiot compassion is a great expression, which was actually coined by Trungpa Rinpoche. It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it's whats called enabling. It's the general tendency to give people what they want because you can't bear to see them suffering. Basically, you're not giving them what they need. You're trying to get away from your feeling of I can't bear to see them suffering. In other words, you're doing it for yourself. You're not really doing it for them.

When you get clear on this kind of thing, setting good boundaries and so forth, you know that if someone is violent, for instance, and is being violent towards you —to use that as the example— it's not the compassionate thing to keep allowing that to happen, allowing someone to keep being able to feed their violence and their aggression. So of course, they're going to freak out and be extremely upset. And it will be quite difficult for you to go through the process of actually leaving the situation. But that's the compassionate thing to do.

It's the compassionate thing to do for yourself, because you're part of that dynamic, and before you always stayed. So now you're going to do something frightening, groundless, and quite different. But it's the compassionate thing to do for yourself, rather than stay in a demeaning, destructive, abusive relationship.

And it's the most compassionate thing you can do for them too. They will certainly not thank you for it, and they will certainly not be glad. They'll go through a lot. But if there's any chance for them to wake up or start to work on their side of the problem, their abusive behavior or whatever it might be, that's the only chance, is for you to actually draw the line and get out of there.
I think idiot compassion stems from a kind of spiritual laziness. We do the easy thing rather than the hard thing and then we delude ourselves by believing we are helping. I think it is safe to say that idiot compassion always involves some kind of boundary eroision.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


This is from Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer:

From experience we know that whenever we are truly awake and alive, we are also truly grateful.

--David Steindl-Rast

Still more on happiness

A very wonderful book that we use at the Center in the Saturday morning Karma Kagyu class is The Essence of Buddhism by Traleg Kyabgon. Here's a powerful passage on happiness and spiritual practice:
Spiritual practice is about being, or becoming, a different person; having a different experience of our own being. It has scarcely anything to do with what we have in terms of job, family, and so forth. This does not mean that we should reject our family in order to be spiritual, or that we should stop working and live in the jungle in order to be spiritual. Even the happiness that we may feel in the jungle will turn into unhappiness when the mosquitoes and the snakes start biting! Real happiness has to come from within, from having a greater understanding of ourselves. As our inner struggles and conflicts gradually lessen and we become more integrated, we gain a sense of peace. We will not stop having problems in life, because many problems come from the external world. However, the inner sense of integration enables us to deal with whatever arises in our life. This is the kind of thing we have to work with on the path of preparation.

We begin to realize where the real source of happiness lies, and this makes us keen to pursue the path. If we are not convinced, if we are not looking forward to our destination, the journey cannot take place.
What kind of conviction is he talking about here? Well, that we actually can become a different person, that the meditative principles really do work - no matter what. And I think the point that he makes - that we will not stop having problems in life - is an important one. Our problems don't magically disappear but, through our spiritual practice, we develop the skills to work with them effectively.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

Photo by Bill Miller

The journey

When you are on a journey, it is certainly helpful to know where you are going…but don't forget: the only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment.

-- Eckhart Tolle


I want to bring you another passage from the commencement address by Sylvia Boorstein that I posted yesterday. This paragraph is from the very beginning of her speech and it's about the importance of happiness:
One of my meditation teachers used to end each of our interviews actually, I'd have my hand on the door ready to leave, and she'd say to me, "Remember, Sylvia, be happy," and I'd go out and I actually for a long time thought it was a salutation, like "have a good day" or something that you say just in a routine kind of a way, and it took me a long time to realize that it was an instruction, "Be happy," and not only that it was an instruction but that it was a wisdom transmission, that happiness was a possibility. I understand that happiness to mean the happiness of a mind that's alert, that's awake to the amazing potential of being a person in a life, with a mind that's opened, that sees everything that's going on, that sees my own life drama and the drama of life, and realizes what an amazing possibility this is, and with a heart that's open, the heart that responds naturally as hearts do, in compassion, in connection with friendliness, with love, with consolation when it needs to, that that's the happiness of life, a mind that's awake, a heart that's engaged...
So, you see, happiness is not about getting what we want. It's about keeping our heart open. And that is something we can all choose to do - no matter what our outward circumstances happen to be.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


The insights of insight meditation are intuitive, not conceptual. Intuitive in this sense does not mean some kind of vague feeling about something; rather, it means clearly, directly seeing and experiencing how things really are.

-- Joseph Goldstein

Sylvia Boorstein is a meditation teacher whom I admire very much. Today I just happened to stumble upon the transcript of a commencement address she gave at Stanford University last year. In it she speaks of three wisdoms. It's the third I want to share with you here:
And the third thing, again, is the recognition that no one does anything alone, that is, all causes and conditions. It relieves me personally of worrying too much about praise or blame. If I do something good, I think to myself, well, great, this is my teacher's and my parents' and my whole life speaking through me at this moment and acting through me, and I am very, very grateful for all of my teachers and all the people that make me who I am today, and I figure I share the merit with them. They're part of it. And when I don't do so well, when I don't do as well as I wish, I can also distribute the dismay and say this is not my fault. All of my committee did not show up in exactly the right proportions today, but they will another time, so thank you, committee, and we carry on. I don't have to carry the whole burden myself. I'm part of the committee but I'm not the whole committee. That's a great piece of awareness. That's what's supposed to happen from paying attention.
What she's talking about is connectedness, isn't she? You know, I observe such terrible suffering when people get caught up in blaming themselves. There is equal suffering, interestingly enough, in the attachment to self-praise because we can't triumph all the time, can we? Wouldn't it be more skillful to realize that it's not all about the individual? My successes aren't all about me and neither are my failures. John Donne said it best: "No man is an island, entire of itself..." We are all profoundly connected.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Stress and the ego

Well, they cause suffering, don't they? Here's a description of how that works from an article by Pema Chödrön:
It's as if you had vast, unlimited space —complete openness, total freedom, complete liberation —and the habit of the human race is to always, out of fear, grasp onto little parts of it. And that is called ego and ego is grasping on to the content of our thoughts. That is also the root of suffering, because there is something in narrowing it down which inherently causes us a lot of pain because it is then that we are always in a relationship of wanting or not wanting. We are always in a struggle with other people, with situations, even with our own being. That's what we call stress. That's what we experience as continual, on-going stress. Even in the most healthy, unneurotic of us, there's some kind of slight or very profound anxiety of some kind, some kind of uneasiness or dissatisfaction.
Then she explains the choice between alleviating our suffering or choosing to prolong it:
But what is always accessible to us in any moment as our birthright is actually the completely open and vast nature of our mind. And what we call ego is narrowing it down and grasping on to small parts, which is our personal experience is saying, "I want this and I don't want that," "I like this and I don't like that." We are grasping onto our limited thinking instead of staying with what's really possible for us.
Finally she sums up mindfulness:
It also isn't getting rid of thoughts so much as letting thoughts play in the vast space of which we are a part, if we could only realize it.
"If we could only realize it." We can train ourselves to begin to realize it by meditating and by letting go of ego-grasping. Even if at first we can only do this in small ways, those small ways will help us develop the skills we need for letting go of stronger, more deeply entrenched attachments. The important thing to remember is commitment and perseverence. Never give up and liberation is yours!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

The problem with perfectionism

In the January 2004 issue of O Magazine, Sharon Salzberg takes a look at skillful ways of dealing with our own failures and imperfections. Here are several quotes from that article:
By prizing heartfulness above faultlessness, we may reap more from our effort because we're more likely to be changed by it.
If we fall, we don't need self-recrimination or blame or anger - we need a reawakening of our intention and a willingness to recommit, to be whole-hearted once again.
Often we can achieve an even better result when we stumble yet are willing to start over, when we don't give up after a mistake, when something doesn't come easily but we throw ourselves into trying, when we're not afraid to appear less than perfectly polished.
We learn and grow and are transformed not so much by what we do but by why and how we do it.

Remember, perfectionism is really a form of pride. Let's all have the humility to let go of the need to be perfect because if we're able to forgive ourselves we can more easily forgive others.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

True happiness

The happiness of one's own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one's own happiness, the happiness of others.

--Paramhansa Yogananda

Metta Sutra

The Teaching on Lovingkindness:

This is what should be done
By those who are skilled in goodness,
And who know the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways,
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born—
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upward to the skies,
And downward to the depths;
Outward and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

-- The Buddha

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Santa Fe lizard
Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Questions answered

Cynthia Burgess sent me a web page yesterday from the Oprah web site on which noted meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg answered some typical questions about meditation. I thought I'd reproduce three of the questions and answers here:
What do I do when my thoughts just won't stop?

Some people have a mistaken idea that through meditation all thoughts disappear and we enter a state of blankness. There certainly are times of great tranquility when concentration is strong and we have few, if any, thoughts. But other times, we can be flooded with memories, plans, or random thinking. It's important not to blame yourself. Notice that you don't invite your thoughts. You haven't said, "At 6:15 I'd like to be ruminating about the past." Thoughts come and go without our volition, but we don't have to be ruled by them.

Can meditation help me deal with physical pain?

What you learn about pain in formal meditation can help you relate to it in your daily life. In meditation, one of the first things you may notice about pain is that when you start to feel it in one part of your body, the rest of your body tenses up. This can increase the pain. Consciously take a deep breath and relax your muscles. As you relax physically, you will discover greater ease of mind.

Can meditation help depression?

Depression has many causes. While it is important to investigate its possible biochemical basis and seek out psychotherapeutic help if necessary, meditation may also be useful. Dedicating some time to meditation is a meaningful expression of caring for yourself that can help you move through the mire of feeling unworthy of recovery. As your mind grows quieter and more spacious, you can begin to see self-defeating thought patterns for what they are, and open up to other, more positive options.
I like her point that meditation is a method of self-care. If we view it that way instead of something we "should" do then we are more likely to experience meditation as something really attractive that, in fact, we want to do.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

More on gratitude

Now isn't this the truth?

Take full account of the excellencies which you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not.

-- Marcus Aurelius

Monday, August 07, 2006

Monday meditative picture blogging

In the Louvre
Photo by Bill Miller

Staying deeply open

This is from A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield:
To open deeply, as genuine spiritual life requires, we need tremendous courage and strength, a kind of warrior spirit. But the place for this warrior strength is in the heart.
To my mind, the best way to cultivate the warrior strength of the heart is to practice tonglen - a compassion practice in which we share another's suffering on a spiritual plane. Practicing tonglen keeps us from closing down our heart and it brings us to a deep empathy. Interestingly, it also helps us with our own suffering. Most people report that doing tonglen reliably helps them feel better - no matter what kind of pain they're experiencing. Of course, it's not necessary to be in pain to practice tonglen. We can do it any time and any place. As Pema Chödrön says:
The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


The foundation of greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment, instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.

-- Eckhart Tolle

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Transform your day

I remember being very affected when I learned that the Dalai Lama had said, "My religion is kindness." What would happen if we could all say that? How different the world would be! We can all begin right now to practice such a principle - no matter what. Just start your day and say to yourself, "I will be kind today." Then do it. Here's an excerpt from an article entitled "An Unconditional Gift" that speaks to this:
The components of kindness are compassion, respect, and generosity. Put simply, kindness is the conscious act of engaging others in a positive way without asking whether those individuals deserve to be treated kindly. All living beings thrive on kindness. A single, sincere compliment can turn a person's entire world around. Holding a door or thanking someone who has held a door for you can inspire others to practice politeness and make already kind individuals feel good about their efforts. Smiling at people you meet-even those who make you feel like frowning-can turn a dreary encounter into a delightful one, for both of you. Every kind act has a positive influence on the individual who has performed said act as well as on the recipient, regardless of whether the act is acknowledged. Kindness brings about more kindness and slowly but surely takes a positive toll on humanity.
I like the point that we don't need to have our acts of kindness acknowledged for them to make a difference in someone's life. I take great consolation in knowing that every act of kindness on my part contributes to the sum of kindness in the world and that, ultimately, all humanity benefits.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday cat blogging!

Photo by Frank Ford

An appropriate balance

It's important, in the meditative tradition, that we avoid indulging in black and white thinking. That kind of either/or mentality trips us up and leads to an unhealthy dualism. The reason I bring this up is because some people think that the encouragement to live "in the moment" means we should never remember the past or plan for the future. Not at all. Here's a little essay on being in the moment that expresses an appropriate balance:
Each moment of our lives is imbued with richness and magic. The passage from one second to the next is a miracle in its own right and worthy of being savored. Yet our minds tend to wander away from the present, preferring the unchangeable nature of the past or the nebulous character of the future. There is nothing inherently wrong with revisiting our personal histories or dreaming about what we hope will occur with the passage of time. To live a truly balanced life is to simultaneously embody a past, present, and future self. It is only when our ability to exist purely in the moment is lost and the joys immediately in front of us are overshadowed by the joys of the past and future that we must reestablish our connection to the present. Living in the moment empowers you to discover and appreciate what is beautiful about this unique moment in time.
Grounding yourself in the present is simply a matter of practice. Breathing and moving consciously increases your awareness of how you occupy space from moment to moment. Focusing on life's little joys and relishing everything you do will help you learn to focus wholeheartedly on the task at hand. Living in the moment means immersing yourself fully in every experience, whether positive or negative. As you learn to embrace the present in an all-encompassing way, you will come to realize that life's magnificence is a product of its moments.
Sometimes it's very important to remember the past in order to understand the present and to reflect skillfully on what is happening right now. It's important, however, not to get caught up in the past in a judging way - that is, either idealizing the past or living in regret or resentment.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Meditate for peace

I just found a wonderful article entitled Community Meditation promotes peace that's about a community in Washington State. Here's part of what it says:

South Sound's third annual Community Meditation for Global Peace begins at noon Sunday.

The 24-hour event, which will be at the Tivoli Fountain on Capitol Campus, is free, and the public is welcome to join.

"The Community Meditation is the fulfillment of a personal vision of people gathering in silence - working for peace for ourselves, our neighbors, our community and our world," said organizer Dickie Baker of Olympia.

She credits "divine inspiration" for the idea, which came to her in April 2004.

"I was walking in Point Defiance Park with a friend, and all of a sudden everything went still, everything went quiet, and I heard, 'Why not meditate for peace?' " said Baker, 52, a waitress.
Last year's event drew more than 100 people, including about 20 faith leaders, many of whom participated in the hourly reading of quotes from famous peace makers.

This year's event will be completely silent, marked only by an hourly ringing of a Tibetan singing bowl, Baker said.

Interfaith Works is sponsoring this year's event because it fits well with the organization's mission of promoting events that are inclusive of all faiths, said Kathy Erlandson, its executive director.
"The beauty of it is that you can come for five minutes or for 24 hours," Erlandson added.

I think it's a simply wonderful idea. I think I will send the article to the head of Tulsa Peace Fellowship. Who knows? Maybe it will catch on here in Oklahoma!


This is from Stillness Speaks:

To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer to the universe.

-- Eckhart Tolle

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Prepare a noble death song

Chief Tecumseh

Yesterday I received a flyer for a multi-faith program sponsored by Saint Francis Hospice and The Department of Religion of the Saint Francis Health System entitled "Easing the Pain of the Soul". The program will have a panel of speakers from all the major religions and will describe the ways "various traditions offer comfort and hope in times of terminal illness." I was very struck by the following quote included in the flyer:

Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no things, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

Chief Tecumseh
Shawnee Nation
(1768 - 1813)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sympathetic joy

Yesterday, Cynthia Burgess sent me an email called Daily Om. This particular message was about the "divine abode" known as sympathetic joy -- the capacity to rejoice and experience happiness at another's success or good fortune. Here is a excerpt from that email:
We all want to be the kind of people who are happy for others when they experience success or a cause for celebration in their lives, but it isn't always easy. Sometimes powerful, dark feelings come up at times when decorum dictates that we should be feeling the opposite. Instead of reaching out and celebrating for our loved one, we may feel the rising up of our own pain. This pain may arise because we feel jealous of our friend for having something we don't have. It may arise because our friend's success will lead to us losing them in some way. And it may arise for reasons we don't yet understand. The important thing is not to brush it under the rug, but to take it seriously and look at it; suppressing it will only make it worse. At the same time, we need to be sure to find a way to congratulate our friends and celebrate their successes as if they were our own.
Extending ourselves to celebrate the happiness of others requires a generosity of spirit that we sometimes find only in the process of doing it. So when your best friend moves to Spain with the person you had a crush on, tend to your broken heart but throw them a going away party too.

Sympathetic joy is a great antidote for resentment or envy. And we can practice it for people we just hear about - we don't necessarily have to know them personally. I recommend being intentional about this practice. Actually try to think of people for whom you can have sympathetic joy. Don't just wait for it to occur to you!