Articles by " Jan"
14 Dec
Posted in: Practice
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All conditioned things are impermanent,
Their nature is to arise and pass away.
To live in harmony with this truth
Brings true happiness.

For almost two years now, as part of my evening ritual, I have chanted these line (in Pali and in English) every night before going to bed. I find them soothing. Especially now, since my dear, sweet, affectionate, 15-year-old cat….Ruby…is very, very near her death.





(image from “A Whole World,” by Coupire and Louchard)

13 Dec
Posted in: Books, Practice
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What Am I Supposed to Do?

More from Kamma and the End of Kamma, by Ajahn Sucitto:

“Meditation is a deeply transformative activity. This may sound strange, as meditation doesn’t look that active: it ofter centers on sitting still, and within that, in silence. And as for doing anything with the mind….all that apparently entails is a few seemingly inconsequential things like bringing attention onto the sensations associated with breathing; or, maybe witnessing thoughts as they pass through. Meditation doesn’t seem to be a very significant process at all.

“Beginners ask: ‘What am I supposed to do with my mind to make it better…what should I think about?‘ In fact, one point about meditation is that it’s about moderating that ‘doing’ energy; and consequently being more receptive.

“The teaching is that the more we moderate our energy in this way, the more we’re going to arrive at a resultant brightness, confidence and clarity. Then restlessness, worry, and impulses to distort ourselves don’t arise.

“And because of this, meditation can generate far-reaching effects in our life: we get to enjoy and value stillness and simplicity, and that inclines us towards wanting less and letting go.

“Meditation centers around two functions. The first is a kind of healing, a tonic. It’s called ‘calming’ (samatha); the settling and easing of the bodily and mental energies. The second function is ‘insight’ (vipassana), which is more a matter of looking into the body/mind that has become calm, taking in how things really are.

“The two functions work together: as you settle down, your attention gets clearer, and as you see things more clearly, there’s less agitation, confusion or things to fix. And where the two processes conclude is in guiding the mind–or rather the moods, attitudes and memories that get us going–to a place of resolution.

“Meditation is about action that leads to the end of action.”

12 Dec
Posted in: Groups, Practice
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May All Beings….

Tonight at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, I plan to offer instructions on the practice of Metta meditation. Metta is a Pali word that is often translated as “loving-kindness”….a word that, to my ear, sounds stilted and “saintly” (and therefore disconnected from my everyday life.) But the root word of “metta” is the same as the word for “friend,” so I prefer the more colloquial translations, which are “friendliness” and “goodwill.”

Here are the Buddha’s words on the practice of Goodwill (Metta Sutta SN 1.8):

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who seeks 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 being 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 upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this mindfulness.
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. 

(translation by Amaravati Sangha, image from “Offering,” by Danielle and Olivier Follmi)

11 Dec
Posted in: Groups
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Happy Dharma “Dancers”

The Monday night “Dancing with Life” KM group met last night and had our picture taken. We are: Leslie, Jan, Scott, Lucy, Nadine, Christy and Thomas. (Abby and Lois were not present.)

We’ve been meeting every-other week for almost a year, reading and discussing the book so deeply that we’re just now studying the Second Noble Truth…which is less than half-way through!

Some of the key passages we discussed last night were from Chapter 10, in the section titled: The Fruits of Nonclinging.” Especially this part:

“The Buddha’s instruction to abandon clinging translates into caring without demanding, loving without imposing conditions, and moving toward your goal without attachment to outcome.

“Approaching your goals with this attitude or state of mind allows you to care, to interact and take action in your job, in your relationships, and in the greater world and still have a calm, clear mind and a peaceful, loving heart.

“To whatever extent you can act with this spiritual maturity, you have crossed over. Your life is based on being in the moment rather than on the outcome of that moment.” 

As you can see, we are enjoying the process!

(Thanks, Cindy, for taking this photo.)

10 Dec
Posted in: Books
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In preparation for walking the Camino de Santiago, I naturally started….reading! (And, OK, I’ve been walking a bit, too.) It was the title of the article in yesterday’s New York Times that got me going: Paths of Enlightenment. The article turned out to be a book review of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane, which I immediately downloaded and started to read. It was not a mistake. The writing is gorgeous. The walks he describes are inspirations. And the reflections that are the result of those walks are their own special of journey.

Here’s a sample:

“I followed the field path east-south-east towards a long chalk hilltop, visible as a whaleback in the darkness. Northwards was the glow of the city, and the red blip of aircraft warning lights from towers and cranes. Dry snow squeaked underfoot. A fox crossed the field to my west at a trot. The moonlight was so bright that everything cast a crisp moon-shadow: black on white, stark as woodcut. Wands of dogwood made zebra-hide of the path; hawthorn threw a lattice. The trees were frilled with snow, which lay to the depth of an inch or more on branches and twigs. The snow caused everything to exceed itself and the moonlight caused everything to double itself.”

But even more than the beautiful use of language and the evocative descriptions, I am drawn his thoughts on the profound effect of place:

“As I envision it, landscape projects into us not like a jetty or peninsula, finite and bounded in its volume and reach, but instead as a kind of sunlight, flickering un-mappable in its plays yet often quickening and illuminating….For some time now it has seemed to me that the two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else? And then, vainly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?

(image from The Maddonni Tarot)

7 Dec
Posted in: Practice
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Every Day

I’m still doing my One-A-Day practice (reading one sutta every day…starting with the Middle Length Discourses) and I’m actually enjoying it! OK, it’s not like reading short stories by Alice Munro (my all-time favorite), but it’s not nearly as dry and arcane as I had imagined. The translation is quite readable (thank you Bhikkhu Bodhi) and some of the suttas are even slyly humorous.

I just finished  #25, titled: “The Bait.” It goes like this:

Bhikkhus, a deer-trapper does not lay down bait for a deer herd intending thus: ‘May the deer herd enjoy this bait that I have laid down and so be long-lived and handsome and endure for a long time.’

A deer-herder lays down bait for a deer herd intending thus: ‘The deer herd will eat food unwarily by going right in amongst the bait that I have laid down; by so doing they will become intoxicated; when they are intoxicated, they will fall into negligence; when they are negligent, I can do with them as I like on account of this bait.’

You’ll notice a certain repetitiveness, but other than that, it moves right along. Check it out!

(image from “A Whole World,” by Couprie and Louchard)


6 Dec
Posted in: Practice, Sangha at Large
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Living the Question

Last night at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, I used another of the meditations from Kamma and the End of Kamma, by Ajahn Sucitto. It’s a reflective practice of “dropping” a question into the mind when it’s in a meditative state….not so much to get an answer, but rather to find a deeper way to live the question.

Here are the instructions:
Establish a supportive bodily presence: a sense of uprightness, an axis that centers around the spine. Connect to the ground beneath and the space above and around the body. Acknowledge sitting within a space, taking the time and space that you need to settle in.

As you settle, let your eyes gently close. Attune to the bodily sense through feeling the breathing: first in the abdomen, allowing the breath to descend through the soft tissues…feel the flexing of the breath mirrored by the effortless release and firming of the abdomen in respiration.

As you come to a sense of balance, bring to mind a current situation in your life. It may well be the case that if you ask yourself: “What’s important for me now?” or “What am I dealing with now?” a meaningful scenario will come to mind. It could be about something at work, or to do with your close friends or family, your well-being or your future. Just get the overall impression of that, without going into the full story….Try to catch and distill the emotive sense: burdened, eager, agitated, or whatever.

As it becomes distinct, feel the energy, the movement of that (even if you can’t quite put it into words). Keep triggering that affect by bringing the scenario to mind until you feel you have the tone of that.

Then contemplate that affect in terms of the body. Notice whether, for example, you feel a flush in your face or around your heart, or a tightening in your abdomen, or a subtle tension in your hands or jaw or around your eyes….Whatever it is, create an attentive space around the experience: can you be with this for a little while?

Let the awareness of the “being with” fully feel the tone of that experience. It may settle into an image–such as a bright stream, or something dark and heavy, or something twisted and stuck. Ask yourself: “What does this look (or feel) like, right now?”

Then, as you settle with it for a few seconds, bring up the question: “What does this need?” or “What does this want to do?”

Follow with attention anything that happens to that sense of reaching out, or sinking back or tension. Notice if other parts of your body are affected….Be with the enlarged experience, noticing any changes in the emotive sense.

Carefully repeat this with that aspect of your world until you feel that something has shifted in your response, or that has given you a key to deeper understanding.

Return through the body: the central structure and the softer tissues wrapped around that, the skin around that, the space around all that. Slowly open your eyes, attuning to the space, and the sense  of the place that you’re sitting in.

(image from my DPP buddy, Tony Siciliano, taken at Zion National Park)


5 Dec
Posted in: Talks
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We are Music

Last night I listened to Jack Kornfield‘s most recent talk from his regular Monday Night meetings at Spirit Rock. All of Jack’s talks are inspiring, but this one in particular, I found mesmerizing. The title is “Karma & the Power of Intention.” You can listen to it on dharmaseed here.

Jack talks about karma as the pattern of cause and effect that governs the universe. He talks about the way this patterns of experience happen and quotes the Buddha as saying:

If a man plays upon a lute, the musical notes do not appear from a storehouse of hidden notes. And when he stops, they do not return to any place else. They arise from certain conditions–the body of the lute, the strings, the training and exertion of the player. And when those causes and conditions change, the notes cease, leaving no trace. In the same way, the elements of being–physical and mental–arise according to conditions, and then cease. 

This is the way that the patterns we experience become manifest.

(image from “A Whole World,” by Couprie and Louchard)

4 Dec
Posted in: Science
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How to Have a Happy Brain

While I was away on retreat in November, Mirabai Bush (my beloved teacher, Founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and key adviser to Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” curriculum) conducted a webinar with well-known neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson, Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

They discussed Dr. Davidson’s current research on meditation as it relates to happiness, neuroplasticity, the potential for meditation to affect gene expression, and its effect on our ability to recover from negative emotions. It was part in a series of free, monthly webinars called “Working with Mindfulness.”

You can watch it here on YouTube.


3 Dec
Posted in: Homework
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So Many Worlds

Buddhist Cosmology is also one of the topics of this month’s DPP homework, and let me just say….it’s pretty crazy! One of our readings is an article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu with a chart describing the 31 Planes of Existence. I consider myself dubious-but-open on this subject, but as metaphors for states of mind, they could be quite helpful. And from a literary point of view, I think they’re fascinating.

Here’s the list:

The Immaterial World
There are 4 levels here…(1) Neither-peception-nor-non-perception, (2) Nothingness, (3) Infinite Consciousness, (4) Infinite Space. (The inhabitants of these realms are possessed entirely of mind!)

The Fine-Material World
There are 16 levels here…(1) Peerless Devas, (2) Clear-sighted Devas, (3) Beautiful Devas, (4) Untroubled Devas, (5) Devas not Falling Away, (6) Unconscious Beings (only body present, no mind), (7) Very Fruitful Devas, (8) Devas of Refulgent Glory, (9) Devas of Unbounded Glory, (10) Devas of Limited Glory, (11) Devas of Streaming Radiance, (12) Devas of Unbounded Radiance, (13) Devas of Limited Radiance, (14) Great Brahmas, (13) Ministers of Brahma, (15) Retinue of Brahma

The Sensuous World
There are 7 levels here….(1) Devas Wielding Power over the Creation of Others, (2) Devas Delighting in Creation, (3) Contented Devas, (4) Yama Devas (who live in the air, free of all difficulties), (5) The Thirty-three Gods (many of whom live in mansions in the air), (6) Devas of the Four Great Kings (celestial musicians and various tree spirits, analogous to the goblins, trolls and fairies of Western literature, (7) Human Beings…which is where we are…for now!

States of Deprivation
There are 4 realms here…(1) Titans (or Angry Gods, who are engaged in relentless conflict with each other), (2) Hungry Ghosts (unhappy spirits who wander hopelessly searching in vain for sensual fulfillment), (3) Animals, (4) Hell (not some place you’d want to land…but at least it’s not eternal)

(image from “The Buddha Tarot” by Robert M. Place)