Articles by " Jan"
16 Feb
Posted in: Poems
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Extravagant Gesture

gestureI’m not quite sure why this poem speaks to me today. But it does. So I offer it to you. This is not an extravagant gesture, I know, but generous I hope, and not wasted.

Wasteful Gesture Only Not
by Tony Hoagland

Ruth visits her mother’s grave in the California hills.
She knows her mother isn’t there but the rectangle of grass
marks off the place where the memories are kept,

like a library book named Dorothy.
Some of the chapters might be: Dorothy:
Better Bird-Watcher Than Cook; 

Dorothy, Wife and Atheist;
Passionate Recycler Dorothy, Here Lies But Not.
In the summer hills, where the tall tough grass

reminds you of persistence
and the endless wind
reminds you of indifference,

Ruth brings batches of white roses,
extravagant gesture not entirely wasteful
because as soon as she is gone she knows
the deer come out of the woods to eat them.

What was made for the eye
goes into the mouth,
thinks Ruth to herself as she drives away,
and in bed when she tries to remember her mother,

she drifts instead to the roses,
and when she thinks about the roses she
sees instead the deer chewing them–

the pale petals of the roses in the dark
warm bellies of the sleeping deer–
that’s what going to sleep is like.

15 Feb
Posted in: Retreats, Teachers
By    Comments Off on A Bunch of Crazy Kids

A Bunch of Crazy Kids

just-kidsForty years ago a group of kids in their 20’s — Sharon Salzberg, Joseph GoldsteinJack Kornfield and a few others — having studied/practiced Buddhist meditation in Thailand and India — had the crazy idea of opening a meditation retreat center in the US.

The Insight Meditation Society (IMS) website tells the story like this: “On hearing of a Catholic novitiate for sale in Barre, Massachusetts, they came to take a look. As they traveled through the picturesque New England town, its motto, displayed on the town common, came into view: Tranquil and Alert. This seemed a fitting sign and captured the spirit of meditation. Generous friends and supporters provided enough funds to purchase the property, priced at $150,000. And on February 14, 1976, a small band of teachers and staff opened the center.”

As Sharon likes to say, “For the first 20 years or so, IMS was run without any adult supervision.” Joseph adds, “There were many ups and downs, but somehow, with the help of many people, 40 years later we’re really in a good place.”

Click here for a great little video celebrating IMS’ 40th Birthday. Click here for more information and to see photos of these “kids” and the center they built, over the past four decades.

Happy Birthday, IMS!

12 Feb
Posted in: Art
By    Comments Off on I Love You Guys!

I Love You Guys!

VintageLoveTo all you Citizens of Dharma Town…by which I mean anyone who has ever read DharmaTown Times, or checked out the Neighborhood Sitting Groups, stopped in at Cinema Nibbana for a preview of Coming Attractions, pulled up a seat at Cafe Sangha, browsed through the offerings at Dharma Town Library or visited any of our other fine local establishments….. I just want to say: I love you guys!!!!

11 Feb
Posted in: Poems, Talks
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In the Garden

in-the-gardenI’ll be sitting the March month-long retreat at Spirit Rock and have been “getting into the groove” by listening to talks from the February month-long retreat going on right now. The talk I listened to last night was particularly lovely. It was given by Guy Armstrong and the title is The Power of Lovingkindness. In it, he quotes this poem by Shams of Tabriz:

I, You, He, She, We….
In the garden of mystic lovers,
These are not true distinctions.

10 Feb
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on Thank the Steady Effort

Thank the Steady Effort

steady-effortFor today:

How Rarely I Have Stopped to Thank the Steady Effort
by Jane Hirshfield

A person speaking
pauses, lets in
a little silence-portion with the words.
It is like an hour.
Any hour. This one.
Something happens, much does not.
Or as always, everything happens:
the standing walls keep standing with their whole attention.
A noisy crow call lowers and lifts its branch,
the crow scent enters the leaves, enters the bark,
like stirred-in honey gone into the tea.
How rarely I have stopped to thank
the steady effort of the world to stay the world.
To thank the furnish of green
and the abandon of yellow. The ancient Sumerians
called the beloved ‘Honey’, as we do.
Said also, ‘Borrowed bread is not returned.’
Like them, we pay love’s tax to bees,
we go on arranging the old notes in different orders.
Desire inside ACAGGAT.
Forgiveness in GTACTT.
In a world of space and time, arrangement matters.
An hour has no front or back,
except to those whose eyes face forward,
whose tears blur thought and stars.
Five genes, in a certain arrangement,
will spend this life unrooted, grazing.
It has to do with how the animal body comes into being,
the same whether ant or camel.
What then does such unfolded code understand,
if it finds in its mouth the word important
the thing that can be carried, or the thing that cannot,
or the way they keep trading places,
grief and gladness, the comic, the glum, the dead, the living.
Last night, the big Sumerian moon
clambered into the house empty-handed
and left empty-handed,
not thief, not lover, not tortoise, just looking around,
shuffling its soft, blind slippers over the floor.
This felt, to me, important, and so I looked back with both hands
open, palms unblinking.
What caused the fire, we ask, meaning,
lightning, wiring, matches.
How precisely and unbidden
oxygen slips itself into, between those thick words.

9 Feb
Posted in: Books, Practice
By    Comments Off on Yay Bliss! Yay Rapture!

Yay Bliss! Yay Rapture!

its-so-sparkelyNext week the Monday night KM Book Group will be talking about Rapture. (It’s chapter 28 in Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening by Joseph Goldstein). “Rapture” is the traditional translation of the Pali word “piti,” which can also be translated as “happiness,” “joy,” “delight,” and “pleasurable or rapt interest.” It’s one of the mental factors that lead to awakening (along with mindfulness, investigation, energy, calm, concentration, and equanimity.)

Joseph writes that one of the ways we can strengthen this quality of mind is to reflect on our commitment to not cause harm (“sila” in Pali). This is often referred to as the Bliss of Blamelessness and it usually means following the Five Precepts, which are traditionally translated as:

(1) I undertake the training to avoid the killing of beings
(2) I undertake the training to avoid taking things that are not given
(3) I undertake the training to avoid sexual misconduct
(4) I undertake the training to refrain from false speech
(5) I undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness

When I was in the Dedicated Practitioner Program, we were asked to re-write these precepts in our own words. Here’s my version:

(1) For my own peace of mind and for the peace of others, I will practice compassion by not killing or intentionally harming any living being
(2) For my own contentment and for the contentment of others, I will practice generosity by not taking what is not freely given
(3) For my own well-being and for the well-being of others, I will practice lovingkindness by not engaging in sexuality that is harmful
(4) For my own happiness and for the happiness of others, I will practice honesty and goodwill by not speaking in ways that are false, harsh, divisive or mindless
(5) For my own safety and for the safety of others, I will practice restraint by not clouding my mind with intoxicants


I take these precepts every morning. Sometimes I just say them without thinking. But mostly I really mean what I’m saying and I’ve found that it’s had a much bigger-than-expected effect on how I live in the world. And I have to admit…reflecting on that change in my life is kind of blissful.

8 Feb
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on Instead, Stand Still and Listen

Instead, Stand Still and Listen

garden-partyI can’t seem to get enough Tony Hoagland these days. Like this excerpt from Social Life:

What I like about trees is how
they do not talk about the failure of their parents
and what I like about grasses is that
they are not grasses in recovery

and what I like about the flowers is
that they are not flowers in need of
empowerment or validation. They sway

upon their thorny stems
as if whatever was about to happen next tonight
was sure to be completely interesting–

the moon rising like an ivory tusk,
a few sextillion molecules of skunk
strolling through the air
to mingle with the aura of a honeysuckle bush,

and when they bump together in my nose,
I want to raise my head and sing,
I’m a child in paradise again
when you touch me like that, baby,

but instead, I stand still and listen
to the breeze streaming through the upper story of a tree
and the hum of insects in the field,
letting everything else have a word,

and then another word–
because silence is always good manners
and often a clever thing to say
when you are at a party.

5 Feb
Posted in: Books
By    Comments Off on What Kind of Happiness?

What Kind of Happiness?

singing_in_the_rainIn Dancing with Life, Phillip Moffitt writes about the difference between:
(1) Happiness that arises when things are going the way you want them to
(2) Happiness that comes when your mind is joyful and at ease, no matter what’s going on
(3) The unbounded joy you feel when your mind has ceased all clinging

“It is easy to recognize the first kind of happiness; you know full well how much you like it when conditions in your life are just as you wish them to be….

“The second kind of happiness is experienced on those occasions when you are temporarily in such a good mood, or so centered, or so quiet, or so appreciative that when you encounter an unpleasant person at work or a frustrating situation at home, you aren’t overwhelmed. Life isn’t the way you would prefer it to be, but you feel just fine right now and you are not being defined by unpleasant conditions… I characterize this second kind of happiness as being centered in a state of mind that is happy….”

Of course both these kinds of happiness are temporary. Which is why we often feel stress and discomfort, even when things are going our way. But there’s a 3rd kind of happiness, which is the ultimate aim of our practice.

Phillip writes, “The well-being that arises when you begin going through the various stages of nibbana is not subject to conditions or to the state of your mind. You can be having a lousy time and your mind not be in an exalted state, yet the mind is unruffled. This is a mind that is liberated. There is nothing temporary about it. This third kind of well-being is independent of any external or internal factors…

“The esteemed Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Jumnian refers to this state as ‘happy happy.’ Such a moment of well-being gives you the sense of what is possible and provides faith and inspiration for your practice. Sometimes it can happen to you on a long meditation retreat, or it can follow a life-threatening illness, accident, or a near-death experience in your life, or it can arise out of a spontaneous full relaxation into the ‘sacred now’, without your having a clue as to why it occurred. 

“The common factor in moments of realized well-being is a surrender of the ego into being present with what is without resistance, followed by a shift in perception that is too mysterious to describe. The result is a sense of well-being that is incomparable, unsurpassable, and far beyond anything else you have known.” 

4 Feb
Posted in: Poems
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What to Bring Home

All went well yesterday with mom’s cataract surgery. Her memory of it this morning was a little crazy….first she said she’d been awake the whole time, then she said they kept her waiting under a blanket for “hours” (the whole procedure took 45 minutes), then she said she didn’t think they’d done anything at all….but still she was in great spirits, delighted and amazed at all the things she can see!!!


For today:

My Memory
by Jane Hirshfield

Like the small soaps and shampoos
a traveler brings home
then won’t use,
you, memory,
almost weightless
this morning inside me.

2 Feb
Posted in: Practice
By    Comments Off on Might As Well Celebrate

Might As Well Celebrate

might-as-well-celebrateEvery morning I recite these Five Reflections:

I am of the nature to grow old; there’s no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health; there’s no way to escape having ill health.

I am of the nature to die; there’s no way to escape death.

All that I have and everyone I love are of the nature to change; there’s no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings; I can not escape the consequences of my actions; my actions are the womb from which I am born; whatever I may do, for good or for ill, of that I will fall heir. 


I won’t be posting tomorrow because I’ll be taking my mom to have cataract surgery. That’s us in the photo above, taken in 2008, at Fitz’s, where we went to celebrate my birthday. I was 58 and had orange hair back then; she was 79 and remembered birthdays. Things change.