Articles by " Jan"
20 Apr
Posted in: Poems
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Where the Walls are Kind

I leave tomorrow morning for back-to-back visits with two of my teachers, Mirabai Bush and Lila Kate Wheeler — no agenda really, just a gesture of respect…plus a chance to hang out with some very cool people! I won’t be posting again until after I get back, so check back on Monday, April 30.

In the mean time, I leave you with this:

The Work of Happiness
by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall–
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind. 

19 Apr
Posted in: Talks
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I was listening to a talk by Ajahn Sucitto last night and was so struck by what he said about our sense of self and what it does to us that I just had to get up and write it down. Here it is (slightly edited for readability):

“We have so learned to BE our selves and to DO things, that it can be hard to just sit with ourselves in a sense of sympathy — rather than criticizing or constantly having a plan to change things — but just be present with oneself in a sympathetic state. This fundamental quality of a sympathetic resonance with what’s experienced comes from a certain depth of realization, when the citta [heart/mind] is clear enough, not so driven, not so impacted with ‘ego-hood.’

“The self image tends to block that. Because the self image is making us more concrete and less resonant, more prepared and less open, more strategized and less intuitive, more competent and less caring.”


It’s a very rich talk. The quote above starts at about the 10 minute mark, but it’s really worth your time to listen all the way through. Click here.

18 Apr
Posted in: Books
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And So On…

More from Turning the Wheel of Truth by Ajahn Sucitto:

“When something new arises in your life, if it’s pleasant and wished for, there is happiness — and then comes the need to sustain that happiness or the wish not to be parted from it. When something beautiful to behold arises, how long can you continue to be thrilled by it? A few minutes? Can you make it through an hour before it starts to pall? How about a day, let alone a year?

“Of course, we live with many options. If we get bored with looking at a painting, we read something; when that becomes boring, we go for a walk, perhaps visit a friend and go out for dinner together, then watch a movie. If this routine gets tedious, we might attempt to regress into our past life, pursue astral travel, then write a book about it…and so on.

“The pattern is that each new arising, or ‘birth’ if you like, is experienced as unfulfilling. In this process of ongoing need, we keep moving from this to that without ever getting to the root of the process.

“Another aspect of this need is the need to fix things, or to fix ourselves — to make conflict or pain go away. By this I mean an instinctive response rather than a measured approach of understanding what is possible to fix and what dukkha has to be accommodated right now. Then there’s the need to know, to have it all figured out. That gets us moving too.

“This continued movement is an unenlightened being’s response to dukkha. That movement is what is meant by samsara, the wandering on.

“According to the Buddha, this process doesn’t even stop with death — it’s like the habit transfers almost genetically to a new consciousness and body. But even within this life, we can see all these ‘births’ as the same habit taking different forms…

“Our habits prescribe the way we relate to others, and of course they model our own future. This habitual activity is kamma. Its key feature is that its effects don’t die away when the action is completed; it actually changes how we will perceive things and act — it molds our identity. That is, through habitually forming tendencies, our mind gets into and deepens its ruts, and that affects how it works and how it intends….

“If we develop and foster thieving intentions, covetous ‘mental action,’ then we see life and people in terms of what we can get out of them. You know the saying: ‘A thief notices a saint’s pockets.’ On the other hand, if we foster harmlessness and compassion, we see the world very differently….

“Each birth is aimed at getting what is pleasing, getting away from what we don’t like, and finding fulfillment. Birth, therefore, involves a lot of stressful reaching out, holding on, jealousy, possessiveness, and defensiveness. And those same old instincts crop up again in different scenarios.

“Birth is pretty deluding: it always looks like a fresh thing until we’ve learned to look at that shadowy feeling in our heart — the same old compulsive drives, needs, holding on….suffering.

“And in the blur of these drives and needs, the mind that goes through birth, aging, and death assumes ‘that is what I am’. And so it tries to create a self to get out of there or to not be there. But all these creations are more ‘births,’ and more unsatisfactoriness. Frustrating, isn’t it?”


Whew! Good thing that’s not the end of the story. Stay tuned.

17 Apr
Posted in: Books
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Everyone knows the feeling of lack or loss or conflict in their lives: this is what the Buddha called dukkha, often translated as “suffering,” but covering a whole range of meanings and nuances. At times, we feel it as a sense of need, or a dissatisfaction that can vary from mild weariness to utter despair.

“…It is a feeling characterized by a sense that things are ‘out of balance.’ Even if we are physically well and mentally skilled, we can feel disappointed that life isn’t offering us enough, or that we’re not making enough of it or doing enough, or that there’s not enough time, space, freedom….

“Then there’s the sense of ‘too much‘ — feeling overwhelmed, not having enough space, time, and ease. In both cases there’s a continual sense of subtle or gross stress.

“Just reflect upon your activities and pursuits: notice that they involve a constant effort to change or cope with what is disagreeable, or to stimulate well-being. This striving is universal.

“It is worthwhile considering that, however altruistic our actions are, the feeling of unsatisfactoriness is the same. This feeling is what the Buddha pointed out as the dukkha that we can resolve.

Dukkha is characteristic of objective physical reality, with its disease and death. However, as a noble truth, the term points to something different. It means the subjective sense of stress that isn’t bound to physical reality.

“Sometimes having little is fine or even peaceful in its simplicity; at other times we can feel devastated that there’s a stain on the dining room tablecloth…

“The Buddha is not implying that life is miserable; most things have a mixture of pleasure and pain and neutrality in them. It’s just that human experience is characterized by a constant restless quality of disquiet. It’s like a shadow….

“The Buddha taught dukkha, but also the cessation of dukkha. The particulars of unpleasant circumstances can come to an end or be brought to an end, even if problems then surface in other areas. And the way of meeting conflict and problems can be compassionate, calm, and peaceful in itself. So accepting that life has its dark, problematic side needn’t be depressing.

“Most fruitfully, the kind of suffering that is the mental reaction to a situation, even on an instinctive plane, can be completely abolished. With the ending of that kind of suffering, the mind is clearer and wiser and more capable of effecting positive change in the world of ever-changing circumstances.”

— Ajahn Sucitto, from Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary of the Buddha’s First Teaching.

16 Apr
Posted in: Poems
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We Hold These Truths….

by Tracy K. Smith

He has
………….sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our 
He has plundered our–

……………..ravaged our–

…………………….destroyed the lives of our….

taking away our–

………………………….abolishing our most valuable–

and altering fundamentally the Forms of our–

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for
Redress in the most humble terms:

…………………………….Our repeated
Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.

We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration
and settlement here.

…………………………….–taken Captive
…………………………………..on the high Seas
……………………………………………………………… bear



“Declaration” is an erasure poem drawn from the text of the Declaration of Independence.

13 Apr
Posted in: Poems
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Now More Than Ever

No Going Back
by Wendell Berry

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

12 Apr
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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The “And” Practice

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of dharma talks that Phillip Moffitt has given at the Marin Sangha because there he’s primarily focused on Dharma Practice in Daily Life (as opposed to most of the talks from Spirit Rock, which are usually in a retreat setting).

At the beginning of the one I listened to last night (Exploring the Many Dimensions of Metta), Phillip took comments from the sangha members about their experience using the Metta phrases. One woman said that her favorite phrase was: May you be at peace. She said she often repeats it to herself as she goes about her day. And then just recently, while she was on her way to the office, someone darted out in front of her car and she blurted out: Oh you asshole! But then right after that, she found herself thinking: May you be at peace.

(Everyone laughed.)

Phillip said, “That’s what I call the ‘And… Practice.’ It’s like: I’m so mad…. or It’s so unfair… then you add the ‘and….

“The ‘And… Practice’ is what connects you back to a wholesome state when you’ve moved to an unwholesome state of mind. You’re already having the unwholesome mind state, so you accept that, and then the ‘and…’ is your intention to go back to the wholesome state. Maybe you go back and maybe you don’t, but that’s your intention. The practice connects you back to your deepest intention.”


I love that!

I don’t think I’ve ever heard it explained quite like that before. I’ve heard of using “and” instead of “but” in conversation, as a way of being inclusive and to keep from being argumentative, but never as a way to re-connect with a deeper intention.

I’m going to try it.


The whole talk is a terrific, by the way. Click here to listen.

11 Apr
Posted in: Retreats
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You’ve Got to Play to Win

The Forest Refuge (which I mentioned in yesterday’s post) has just announced its schedule of teachers for 2019 and I see that Ajahn Sucitto will be teaching the month of May. Because he’s such a popular teacher (rightly so), admission will be by lottery.

I’ve applied three years in a row and I’ve never gotten in. (There are 30 beds at the Forest Refuge. The wait list alone is usually well over 100.)

Guy and Sally Armstrong will also be teaching at the Forest Refuge next year. Their retreat is the month of June. It’s also admission by lottery.

It would be AWESOME to attend those retreats back-to-back. But I’d have to “win” the lottery — twice!

What the heck.

I’m going for it!


Want to join me? Applications for Ajahn Sucitto’s May 2019 retreat are due June 5, 2018. Applications for Guy and Sally Armstrong’s June 2019 retreat are due July 25, 2018. Click here for more information.

10 Apr
Posted in: Books, Retreats
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If You Practice Deeply…

Later this month I’ll be spending a few days with my mentor, Lila Kate Wheeler, and I’m getting ready by reading one of the books she edited: The State of Mind Called Beautiful, a collection of talks given by Sayadaw U Panditata at the Forest Refuge (pictured above, where I sat a 5-week retreat at the beginning of this year).

Here’s an excerpt from the book, which I offer with the hope of encouraging you go on retreat!!!

“Only by practicing the Buddha’s teachings and training (Dhamma Vinaya) can one fulfill the intent of the Buddha’s compassion. To gain the benefits of Dhamma Vinaya, the Buddhist texts offer the following four guidelines:

  1. Associate with a person who is knowledgeable and can teach the Dhamma.
  2. Hear the correct teachings.
  3. Engage wise attention, which means directing one’s life wisely, as well as maintaining upright behavior in all circumstances.
  4. Practice well in accordance with the Dhamma Vinaya.

“These days many people are not well versed in Buddhist literature; they do not apply the teachings correctly. Such people will slip from the correct path. If you’re careful to fulfill these four requirements, your contact with the Dhamma Vinaya will be worthwhile. If you don’t fulfill them, beware, for you could be wasting an amazing opportunity — a human life.

“Meditation practice leads us to gain insight, the eye of wisdom that understands what the Buddha understood and what he was trying to teach.

Attending intensive meditation retreats fosters maximum depth of practice and exposes you to the guidance of qualified teachers. Retreats, then, support the first, third, and fourth guidelines above.

“On retreat, internal and external purity are easier to achieve than in everyday life. Both of these forms of purity are indispensable for anyone who wants to develop insight…

If you are at all able to set aside time for a retreat, of course you must encourage yourself to choose that option, even if it means giving up something else, like a vacation. And once you have entered an intensive practice period, please, please, do not waste the opportunity in distraction and laziness. Retreat time is precious. You never know when, or whether, you can come back again!

“If you practice deeply you may encounter the experience of nibbana, genuine knowledge of the Dhamma, and the Four Noble Truths.

Mediation practice is the one and only way to gain and experience this. There is no other way.”

9 Apr
Posted in: Books, Groups
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Beneath the Surface Glitter

The KM Book Study group meets tonight to continue our discussion of In the Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. We’re on Chapter 6: Deepening One’s Perspective on the World.

Here’s an excerpt:
“To follow the Buddha in the direction he wants to lead us, we have to learn to see beneath the surface glitter of pleasure, position, and power that usually enthralls us, and at the same time, to learn to see through the deceptive distortions of perception, thought, and views that habitually cloak our vision.

“Ordinarily, we represent things to ourselves through the refractory prism of subjective biases. These biases are shaped by our craving and attachments, which they in turn reinforce. We see things that we want to see; we blot out things that threaten or disturb us, that shake our complacency, that throw into question our comforting assumptions.

To undo this process involves a commitment to truth that is often unsettling, but in the long run proves exhilarating and liberating.”


Let’s dive in!