Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sneezing Dhamma

From Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Today I have a cold. It’s not a terrible, debilitating one, when one can’t get up because there’s no fuel in the tank, and it obviously isn’t preventing me from doing stuff such as working on my computer. Yet, it is unpleasant. In Buddhist terms, it’s revealing that life is dukkha, (unsatisfactory, imperfect, suffering). This isn’t an excuse to wallow in my own little corner of self-pity, however, bemoaning my fate and cursing the gods for this affliction. As well as being an example of dukkha, it is also impermanent (anicca) by its very nature; it will not last.
Ajahn Sumedho has commented that having a cold can be an opportunity for reflection, for developing some wisdom. As he’s said, colds happen to us as a result of being born as a human, and that contemplating thus is reflecting on the way things are (Dhamma). Such a consideration is not a judgment, nor is it blaming anyone for giving one a cold – it’s not taking it personally.
Luang Por Sumedho has made an insightful observation here, that current experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is a chance to awaken to reality, to Dhamma. So, as I sit here with the usual symptoms of the common cold, reflecting how it’s part and parcel of being human, I’m becoming awake to the fact that every time I sneeze, it’s an opportunity to consider the Dhamma, rather than simply complaining about it. Achoo!

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Treasure

by Peter Clothier
The Buddha Diaries
(Cardozo picked this one out for me, going through the Buddha Diaries archives... It was first posted February 20, 2007.)

I broke a treasure this morning. My daily routine is to come upstairs after my morning meditation (our bedroom, in this house, is on the lower level) and make a pot of tea to bring down for us both to enjoy in bed as we watch the morning news. This morning, in the process of assembling things on the tray, I reached for the sweetener and knocked its container off the shelf to the floor. The container in question was the smallest in a set of three ceramic "Made in Japan" cannisters--a gift, Ellie reminded me later--from a friend who had been a house guest in our home at a difficult moment in her life. We have a whole collection of these things, accumulated during our swap-meet days, but this one was of a particularly attractive, post-deco design and had been much used and loved.

I was feeling a bit sad and guilty, then, when I broke the news to Ellie. I could take the event, I suppose, as an object-lesson in non-attachment: no matter how much we treasure them, things come and go in our lives and it's best not to attach too much significance to their arrival--or their loss. This was a small thing, indeed. There are much bigger, much more important things we are called upon to relinquish--up to and including the very bodies in which we spend our lives!--so I can't feel too sorry for myself over the loss of what is clearly no more than a trinket, no matter how beautiful we thought it. It's important, though, to take note of that twinge of sadness and regret over something so small, and realize how easily we do become attached.

My choice, though, is to look at it also from another point of view. What caused the loss was a moment of inattention on my part--a lapse that only became significant when its result became apparent. There's something bigger at stake here. In the course of my morning sit, I had become more than usually aware of extra weight I carry around with me with a discomfort that I am normally able to ignore. I know that this, too, is just another result of inattention, the mindless consumption of unneeded food and drink for no better reason than emotional consolation. Since I have been thinking a good deal about karma these past few days, in both conscious and, I'm sure, unconscious ways, I began to see plausible connections between past actions and my present predicament.

The uncomfortable truth is that I do not need to explore my past lives--if such there were--to find examples of the kind of unskillful, harm-producing actions that could result in my need for emotional comfort today. No need, here, for personal confessions. The nature of those past actions matters less than the realization that they could have resulted in those things about myself that I find less than appealing today and would like to change. To wit, for one, that extra weight I carry around with me to my discomfort and to the detriment of my health.

The realization, of course, is a good deal easier than the choice to become more mindful, more attentive to what I put into my body. Wisdom is cheap. Those things I love, to which I have become attached--my extra glass of wine, my pre-dinner snacks, my post-dinner desserts--seem to mean more to me than health and balance in my life. The good news is that this is not one of those things that can't be changed, that can be addressed only with equanimity. But I guess that's the bad news, too, because it makes it my responsibility to change. It's not that I don't know what's good for me. No. It's that I persist in making choices for the bad. As countless others have discovered before me, there is no diet in the world that can adequately solve this dilemma for me. There are only quick, all-too-ephemeral fixes that create the illusion of a solution. It's the inner work that needs to be done, and that's the hard part.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


from Lori

Choice. It seems like such a simple word...and yet how many times have we made the wrong one?

My husband and I just had a really crazy holiday season. You see, I work in film as an Art Director and he works as a Journalist for a London based News Agency. Two important points you'll see later, as we started off the holidays in rather good spirits until the impact of those two worlds came crashing down on us. Firstly, anyone who works in the film industry right now KNOWS the impact of the writer's strike. While I support them 100% --along with everyone else I know in the business--we are all taking a personal financial loss right now because of it, as there isn't any work, as productions have literally stopped (especially as I am a Union member). Add to that my husband works for a company that pays once a month (normal practice in Europe)...on the 24th to be exact. So while our spirits were high for a great holiday season, our pocket book had been stretched to the limit. Suffice to say, my unemployment benefits and his once a month pay leads to pretty tight life right now, but we're surviving...until there was a mix up with his pay in December (long story short, two people thought the other was wiring the money in the accounting dept.--a problem that could of been easily remedied in any other month then December with an email or call--except in December they shut down the office for the last two weeks of the month!) Imagine our surprise at this new development when we realized what had happened. In a matter of a week our holiday spirit turned from joy to annoyance realizing where that left us. Unfortunately, we suddenly found ourselves in quite a bad head space, only to be made worse when we realized that nothing could be remedied until after the new year. Merry Christmas indeed!

When we regaled our new situation to family and friends, we were quite surprised by the response. Firstly every single person that we told offered to loan us money to get us through the season. We did not take the offers, but it was really quite nice to realize how many people cared about us and wanted to make our holiday better. I would like to point out that when this happened we told people out of shock and bewilderment at how our holiday had changed, there was no other agenda, so having the out pouring of care and wanting to help we suddenly realized that our holiday was better this year then any other year previous, THAT was what the holiday spirit was all about! Secondly, I am also a painter and previous to this happening, I had been in negotiations for two months on the sale of one of my works with a friend; suddenly he purchased the work without knowing the situation. One door closes, another opens, as it were...It is not often that we get such a lesson.

So how does choice come into all of this? When we realized how we really were blessed with the holiday spirit, we made a conscious CHOICE to make sure that we kept that wonderful feeling going. We decided that EVERYDAY we would look for something GOOD that happened...just one good thing (that is not much)! I know it seems so trite and yet that one good thing has had an amazing transformation on our lives. Everyday something good happens! We even laugh at the end of the day as we sum up that goodness. All because we made the choice to look for something good in our daily life. Try it, challenge yourself to acknowledge one good thing a day...suddenly things don't seem so bad when you add them up! Choose goodness.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Metta in the Classroom

From Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Sometimes you have to be tough in the classroom. When the kids are getting over-excited and jumping around, screaming at the top of their voices, pussyfooting about with nice gentle words just won’t calm them down. They’ll learn nothing. Pretty much every lesson I have to raise my voice well above its usual volume to get heard at some point, often several times in a lesson! But at other times, an openness to what’s beneath the surface can mean an entirely different approach.

Today, while teaching primary students (aged five to six years), I had to instruct them to color the pictures in their workbooks more beautifully, as some of them were rushing it somewhat and producing pretty ugly work! One such student is a lad that’s particularly prone to losing focus and getting sidetracked (what five year old isn’t like this to some degree or another?). I told him to color more carefully, and moved on to the next student, accessing their writing and coloring. A few moments later, the young boy mentioned above was furiously rubbing away at his workbook with his erasure, tears rolling down his face, and almost growling. I wondered what to do: shouting at him to behave was an option, so was ignoring him, but he seemed nearly out of control and was clearly of concern to his neighboring classmates.

I stayed open, clearing the mind of any prejudgments as to what was going on. The kids around him tried to explain what was up with him, but my Thai isn’t good enough to understand the nuances of five year old babbling in Siamese (or Lao!). I could see he was really upset, so I took the softly, softly approach, gently patting him on the shoulder and saying, “Mai pen rai, look, mai pen rai,” which in English is, “Never mind, child, never mind.” I could see that he was frustrated that his efforts at coloring hadn’t gone so well, and the pencil marks had spread well beyond the confines of the images he was trying to color. Picking up one of his pencils, I colored the parts that he’d missed, creating a (slightly) more attractive image, and told him that it was okay and that he could still make a beautiful picture. This calmed him down, and I left him to it as other children were demanding my attention by this point. Looking back, I could see that the lad was now happily coloring with renewed enthusiasm, and not a tear in sight.

Sometimes you have to be tough in the classroom. That’s for sure. But at other times, a little metta (loving-kindness) will suffice, defusing a volatile situation and creating an atmosphere more conducive to a young mind’s growth. (It also leaves a warm, ‘fuzzy’ feeling in the heart that says, “Ah, that was nice!”)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Studying Happiness

From Will at

Over ten years ago, I went on a two week meditation retreat on the subject of metta – the basic positive emotion talked about in Buddhism. For the first few days, I sat there in silent meditation hating every moment of it, gritting my teeth, trying to crank out this positive emotion, getting frustrated with myself for my failure, cursing the whole business. This metta I was supposed to be feeling and wasn’t seemed heavy, a kind of burden or a duty. I struggled with it for days on end. Then, towards the end of the first week, something changed. I went into the meditation hall, sat on those accursed cushions, and took a deep breath. “What do I want most?” I asked myself.

The answer was one that Aristotle would have recognised. Happiness. Then it became clear to me. Metta was the most obvious and straightforward thing in the world. It was really astonishingly simple. Of course I wanted to experience positive emotions. What, after all, could be better? What more satisfying way of spending one’s time than bringing into being the thing that, when it came down to it, I cherished most. And not just for myself, because that made no sense at all. Happiness could not be hoarded or grasped on to as a possession. I wanted happiness not for myself, but for all. And as soon as this became clear, I experienced it. Happiness. Positive emotion. Well-wishing. Relief.

Of course I forget these things. Sometimes I find myself entangled in webs of my own making, webs of ill will and frustration and gloom. But it is for this reason that I find reflecting and studying happiness so valuable. It is for this reason that I still on some mornings sit down practice metta meditation. And it is for this reason that I am looking forward, so very much, to the explorations and investigations of the following few weeks.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Rain Brings Joy

Child's Play
From Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Today, my wife and I received a good measure of wisdom from our son Big and his cousins Pecko and Naen. Having planned to go out to the local park with the kids, the weather did what it does so well here in Thailand; it suddenly began pouring down with rain. All our plans of going to the park and playing in the cool early evening were dashed in the rain.
The children weren’t distraught by this turn of events, however. They didn’t complain or mope around the house, bemoaning the rainy season. They ran out into it and started splashing around having a real fun time. This is typical of Thai kids, who like their adult counterparts, love to have fun (สนุก ‘sanuk’).
What a joy to watch them running around in the rain, taking impromptu showers under the house’s water overflows, and throwing water at each other as if it were Thai New Year! (In April, during the traditional New Year festivities, Thais chuck water at everyone, bar royals and monks.)
My wife Paew commented how uncluttered the kids’ minds were with concerns over spoilt plans, and how living in the moment helped them to make the most out of their circumstances. There’s a lesson here for all of us adults who identify with our preferences and plans, suffering when things don’t go our way.
Utilizing the kids’ enthusiastic attitude to the wet weather, Paew got them to clean the front yard as part of their child’s play. Big, Pecko and Naen didn’t appear to mind this at all, happily washing and brushing the ground in the same joyous manner that they’d being playing moments before. It was lovely to watch their enthusiasm, while getting the yard cleaned at the same time. Later, we rewarded them with ice creams for their not-so-hard work.

Anger Tortures

From Khengsiong
at Goodwill 101

I was meditating with a group of people. Someone walked in, making quite a bit of noise. I lost my focus, and was irritated. "This is disturbing! Who's this guy?" I thought.

Then, I recalled something I read many years ago: Do not torture yourself for the wrongdoings of others.

Yes, that is right! Why should I torture myself? Quietly, I told myself to forgive that person and re-focused on my brea

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Wounded Heart

Here's another beautiful GWIS from Bill Harryman at Integral Options Cafe. We have his permission to republish it here:

Opening a Wounded Heart

About two and half years ago, I received a card in the mail from an ex-girlfriend, the first woman I had ever really loved. We had spent six intense and challenging years together beginning in college -- when I was 23 and she was 19. At the time the card came, I wasn't prepared to open my heart to that period of my life, the pain seemed to intense to welcome back into my consciousness. I blogged about it at the time.

Even then, after all the time that had passed, I still blamed her for hurting me and couldn't really accept that she probably wasn't the same person she was when we were together (just as I am not the same person, either). Even more, however, I blamed myself for all the ways I hurt her and broke her young and tender heart.

But blame is destructive. Neither of us intended to hurt the other. We were young, wounded, and simply did the best we could at the time -- and no matter how much we wish it otherwise, it happened. It can't be undone. And there was nothing, in retrospect, that we could have done differently.

Looking back now, I think the experience, as painful and filled with regrets as it was, propelled each of us to become better, healthier people. This is one of those dharma gifts that comes wrapped in shit. So often in life, the painful experiences are the ones that help us grow, that force us beneath the wounding to discover the true compassionate nature of who we are -- if we are willing to face the pain.

Last week, I decided to reconnect with her, initially just to request a poetry submission for Elegant Thorn Review. She recently completed her master's degree in writing and has had a chapbook published. One of the things we shared was poetry, and I always knew she would become a successful poet.

Sometimes we make a choice without quite knowing what will come of it. She isn't the young woman I knew -- but it turns out that she is the adult woman I always thought she might become. Maybe being married has helped her find her way, or maybe she did it through her poetry, which like mine, is always a mirror to the content of her psyche. However she found her way, I'm so glad that she is happy.

Even in the brief exchange of emails we've had, the decision to contact her has opened a deep well of grief. I didn't expect that. I thought that I had moved through those feelings in therapy a few years ago. But still the waves wash over me. What has changed, though, is that I don't feel the need to escape them -- I can sit here in the surf and let the feelings come and go with whatever natural rhythm dictates these things.

Sitting with grief has always been hard for me, but the more I do so, the more I can literally feel my heart soften, open, return to its tender nature. I didn't expect this gift to come out my decision to know her again.


From Lindsey
Lindsey in Lawrence

My hamster Harry died this evening.

Yes I know, rodents die. However, you have to understand that the only pet I've ever lost was my schnauzer Bridget and we had to put her down shortly before her 16th birthday (though I was convinced she was going to live forever).

Harry took ill a few days ago, and thanks to some extensive Googling by my boyfriend Mark, we realized he must have contracted a strain of e. coli from the broccoli he enjoyed so very very much. By the time we realized what was going on it was really too late to do anything. His death wasn't particularly pretty for either of us, as I helplessly watched him get sicker and sicker and finally succumb to the illness this evening.

It's so hard for me to watch any living being suffer, yet alone my first hamster that was a birthday present from Mark. Perhaps what is plaguing me the most about this situation is that I gave him the broccoli that wound up making him so sick. As a pet owner I was responsible for his health and well-being and I feel like I failed.

As I was cleaning out his cage, crying and bleaching the hell out of anything he could have possibly come in contact with, I realized how poorly I was dealing with the perfect example of impermanence that had been presented to me. I'm not a stranger to change- moving all through my childhood, transferring colleges, moving to Lawrence, starting grad school…etc….but my life has been blissfully untouched by death.

My "gift wrapped in shit" (or in this case wrapped in a dead hamster) is twofold. First, Harry's death has reminded me of the impermanence of life, of everything. I'm going to get old and one-day die, and the same is going to happen to my loved ones. What is important is living fully in every moment, eating every piece of delicious broccoli mindfully, loving to my full capacity.

Secondly, I need to realize that what I think is "good" or "right" for an individual might not actually be in their best interest. My intention was not to kill Harry with the broccoli, but rather to try and make things a little happier for an adorable little rodent. In this case what I thought was so good turned out to be the exact opposite. I need to approach the people (and animals) in my life with deeper understanding and compassion instead of simply seeking to make them happy in the short term.

Who knew a hamster could teach me so much?

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Gift from Illness

From William Harryman
Integral Options Cafe

Back in 2002, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Uterine cancer. Ninety percent fatal. She was 72 years old, tired, and ready to rest. She didn't want to fight it.

After I was about the age of five, she and I had not been close. She was the person who cooked, cleaned, and did laundry. Little more. For a variety of complicated reasons, I never expected anything more than that. She was my "mother," but I never really thought of her as a "real" person. The same way many children and parents never see each other as who they really are, but as the roles they play in the family dynamic.

I called her many times while she was in the hospital, since I was unable to get to where she lived. My partner at the time, Kira, also spoke with her. Somehow, during these conversations, she decided to live. And she did. The cancer was removed, the chemo and radiation worked, and she went into remission.

The realization of her impending death changed how I looked at her. I saw her as a person for the first time in my life, weird as that may sound. I thought about how she had become the person she was, the strength she must have needed to survive the life she experienced, the ways she had loved me when I didn't in any way deserve it.

She had three more years before the cancer returned and claimed her life in 2005. During that time I was gifted with the opportunity to know her, really know her, for the first time in my life. I can't imagine a better gift. Finally getting to know her changed me in profound ways. It's too bad that for so many of us, it takes a crisis to see things as they really are.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Over Christmas, my ISP flaked. For one whole day, no access to the Web! No blogging! No email! Disaster! PANIC...!

Ah, but...the gift: time NOT to write. Time to reflect. And the gift, via reflection: the understanding that I don't HAVE to write. The world doesn't end if I don't. I survive...

photo credit

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


With thanks to Khengsiong at Goodwill101

I was overwhelmed with anxiety and depression when I heard the dreaded "C" word – my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer.

I realized that, even after years of meditation, I still couldn’t cope with fear, the fear of losing my loved ones.

It also shows that the practice of meditation alone is insufficient. We still need to have Right Understanding, the understanding of anicca (impermanence) and dukkha (unsatisfactory).

Fortunately, my mom was diagnosed at the early stage of cancer, and she is recovering after undergoing a surgery to remove the tumor.