Browsing Category "Books"
11 Apr
Posted in: Activism, Books
By    Comments Off on Carry What’s Beautiful into the Troubled World

Carry What’s Beautiful into the Troubled World

[Sorry for not posting yesterday. I had to spend more time than expected with plumbers. Oh, the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of a nearly 100-year-old house!]

Now for today:
The May-August issue of Spirit Rock News just arrived and it includes a great article by Jack Kornfield, adapted from his new book, No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom and Joy Right Where You Are.

Here’s a sample:
To find freedom amid challenging times, we have to start where we are. How do we manage our own bodies? If our limbic system is activated into fight, flight, or freeze mode, we lose ourselves in survival consciousness. The reptilian brain takes charge, and the neocortex is limited to rehashing the past. Tidal waves of worries swamp our thoughts about what lies ahead. In difficult times, these tides of angst and fear can flow back and forth. We wonder, are things getting worse or are they simply getting uncovered? And how can we respond?

“Just start there. Tune into your heart. That is where love, wisdom, grace, and compassion reside. With loving attention, feel into what matters most to you. Yes, there are anxious thoughts, and there is grief and trauma, but don’t let your heart be colonized by fear. Take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart. Go out and look at the sky. Breathe in and open yourself to the vastness of space. Sense the seasons turning, the rise and fall of dynasties and eras. Breathe out and dwell in loving awareness. Practice equanimity and steadiness. Learn from the trees. Become the still point in the center of it all…

We are in the midst of something vaster than any of our social and political dynamics. We are in the midst of the evolution of humanity. And we each have a role to play in this….

“Like the Tao, let yourself be still until the moment for right action. Be strategic. Make yourself a zone of peace. With the courage to be true to your heart, you can act…

Remember, change always starts with a small number of people. In 1787, Thomas Carlson and eleven other men started a thirty-year campaign to finally force the English parliament to outlaw slavery. In 1848, Elizabeth Lady Stanton and four other women met in upstate New York to begin the seventy-year suffrage movement that led to women’s right to vote. When you are strong in yourself, you can act with courage, dedication, and directness. When you become strategic, you join with others, choose the most important problems, and bring the most creative solution. You know what is needed. The most powerful nation on Earth must foster a vision of peace and cooperation, not spread weapons of war. The richest nation on Earth must provide health care for its children, its families. The most productive nation on Earth must combine trade with justice, sustainable development, and protection for the environment.

You can contribute. You have your heart, your voice, and your spirit. Be strategic and strong. Remember how Barbara Widener started Grandmothers for Peace. Sometimes it takes only a little loving awareness at the right moment. You can do it….

“You know the right direction….

Do not just shake your head and frown when you read the news. Do not be fooled into believing that you cannot change things. As Thomas Jefferson says, ‘One person with courage is a majority.’ You can make a difference.

“And remember, a person with courage never needs weapons, but they may need bail…

“Your family is all of humanity, all the animals, all beings on Earth. Your family includes Greens, Libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, and all the in-betweens. Include them all in your heart.

Live with gratitude. The times ask for a change of consciousness — a shift from the fearful, separate consciousness, the consciousness of us versus them, to the consciousness of connection and interdependence. You are already part of this shift. Now each of you, in your own way, is invited to find a freedom of spirit no matter what happens and to carry what’s beautiful into the troubled world.

(click here to read the article in full)

27 Jan
Posted in: Books, Retreats, Travel
By    Comments Off on You Already Know

You Already Know

I will not be posting again until after I get back from the 2-month retreat at Spirit Rock. The retreat ends on Mar 25th, but it will take me a while to get my “land legs” back. Check again on April 3.

In the mean time, I leave you (as is my custom) with a selection from my favorite guide book for travelers, Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino.

Cities & Eyes 5

When you have forded the river, when you have crossed the mountain pass, you suddenly find before you the city of Moriana, its alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine, its villas all of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim beneath the medusa-shaped chandeliers.

If this is not your first journey, you already know that cities like this have an obverse: you have only to walk in a semicircle and you will come into view of Moriana’s hidden face, an expanse of rusting sheet metal, sackcloth, planks bristling with spikes, pipes black with soot, piles of tin, blind walls with fading signs, frames of staved-in straw chairs, ropes good only for hanging oneself from a rotten beam.

From one part to the other, the city seems to continue, in perspective, multiplying its repertory of images: but instead it has no thickness, it consists only of a face and an obverse, like a sheet of paper, with a figure on either side, which can neither be separated nor look at each other. 

12 Jan
Posted in: Books
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Can’t Put It Down

Last week I posted that I was starting to read Oxherding Tale by Charles Johnson. I had been reluctant to read it at first because as much as I was impressed and inspired by Johnson when he came to the CDL training retreat last fall, I wasn’t sure that I was really up for reading a “slave narrative,” no matter how intriguing the premise:

“One night in the antebellum South, a slave owner and his African-American butler stay up to all hours until, too drunk to face their wives, they switch places in each other’s beds. The result is a hilarious imbroglio and an offspring — Andrew Hawkins, whose life becomes Oxherding Tale.

Through sexual escapades, picaresque adventures, and philosophical inquiry, Hawkins navigates white and black worlds and comments wryly on human nature along the way. Told with pure genius, Oxherding Tale is a deliciously funny, bitterly ironic account of slavery, racism, and the human spirit; and it reveals the author as a great talent with even greater humanity.”

Anyway, I went ahead and started to read…and now I can’t put it down!

This is not “just” a slave narrative. As I posted earlier, it’s also based on the Zen Oxherding Pictures, which are a metaphor for the search for enlightenment, liberation — FREEDOM (thus, the “slave” narrative!)

I am loving this book. And I would love to discuss it with dharma practitioners.

I leave for a 2-month retreat on Jan 28, returning Mar 25. When I get  back, I’m going to pick a night for anyone who’s read the book to come to my house to discuss it. It’ll be in April. If you’re interested….read the book! (And send me an email here, if you want me to notify you of the date.)

3 Jan
Posted in: Books
By    1 Comment

What I’m Reading Next

Last night at our KM Dharma Book Group, we started talking about what we’d like to read next. One of the titles I mentioned is Oxherding Tale, by Charles Johnson, which is (as he describes in the introduction) “a slave narrative that in its progress parallels the Ten Oxherding Pictures depicting a young man who believes he has lost his ox (a Chinese symbol for the self), searches for and finds it, then–in the final, startling panels–the ox (self) disappears, leaving only the young man who returns to the village ‘with bliss-bestowing hands.'”


The book begins begins like this:
Long ago my father and I were servants at Cripplegate, a cotton plantation in South Carolina. That distant place, the world of my childhood, is ruin now, mere parable, but what history I have begins there in an unrecorded accident before the Civil War, late one evening when my father, George Hawkins, still worked in the Big House, watched over his owner’s interests, and often drank with his Master–that was Jonathan Polkinghorne–on the front porch after a heavy meal. It was a warm night. An autumn night of fine-spun moonlight blurred first by Madeira, then home-brewed beer as they played Rummy, their feet propped on the knife-whittled porch rail, the dark two-story house behind them, creaking sometimes in the wind. My father had finished his chores early, for he was (he says) the best butler in the country, and took great pride in his position, but he wasn’t eager to go home. He stayed clear of his cabin when my stepmother played host for the Ladies Prayer Circle. They were strange, George thought. Those women were harmless enough by themselves, when sewing or cleaning, but together their collective prayers has a mysterious power that filled his whitewashed cabin with presences–Shades, he called them, because they moved furniture in the cabin, destroyed the laws of physics, which George swore by, and drove him outside to sleep in the shed. (Not that my father knew a whole lot about physics, being a slave, but George knew sorcery when he saw it, and he kept his distance.)


I’m not sure this is the right book for the KM group. But I’m going for it!

15 Dec
Posted in: Books, Groups, Practice
By    Comments Off on To Pass from Entanglement to Peace

To Pass from Entanglement to Peace

The topic for tonight’s “Let’s Talk” Dharma Discussion is Wise Intention, which doesn’t get a lot of “air time” at drop-in meditation groups, probably because what it means is to cultivate the intention to practice Lovingkindness, Compassion, and Renunciation. Just mentioning the word “Renunciation” is often enough to send people heading for the exit! (Mentally, if not physically.)

But here’s what Bhikkhu Bodhi has to say in his excellent little book, The Noble Eightfold Path:
Desire is to be abandoned not because it is morally evil but because it is the root of suffering. Thus renunciation, turning away from craving and its drive for gratification, becomes the key to happiness, to freedom from the hold of attachment.

“…To move from desire to renunciation is not, as might be imagined, to move from happiness to grief, from abundance to destitution. It is to pass from gross, entangling pleasures to an exalted happiness and peace, from a condition of servitude to one of self-mastery. Desire ultimately breeds fear and sorrow, but renunciation gives fearlessness and joy

“When we methodically contemplate the dangers of desire and the benefits of renunciation, gradually we steer our mind away from the domination of desire….

“Real renunciation is not a matter of compelling ourselves to give up things still inwardly cherished, but of changing our perspective on them so that they no longer bind us. When we understand the nature of desire, when we investigate it closely with keen attention, desire falls away by itself, without need for struggle.”


People always want to talk about giving up chocolate when the topic of Renunciation comes up, but I don’t think it’s about giving up something delightful because someone says it’s not “good for you.” What I’ve found instead that it’s about letting the shackles fall away when you realize that what you’ve been doing (thinking, saying,…OK, eating, etc) is not really working for you!!!

5 Dec
Posted in: Books
By    Comments Off on Joy to the World

Joy to the World


I’ve just started reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, which documents a week-long conversation (actually a love fest!) between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond TuTu. It’s delightful. And Inspiring. And Encouraging. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Here’s a sample from the Introduction:

“The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop are two of the great spiritual master of our time, but they are also moral leaders who transcend their own traditions and speak always from a concern for humanity as a whole. Their courage and resilience and dogged hope in humanity inspire millions as they refuse to give in to the fashionable cynicism that risks engulfing us. Their joy is clearly not easy or superficial but one burnished by the fire of adversity, oppression, and struggle. The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop remind us that joy is in fact our birthright and even more fundamental than happiness.

“‘Joy,’ as the Archbishop said during the week, ‘is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.’ This state of mind–and heart–is much closer to both the Dalai Lama’s and the Archbishop’s understanding of what animates our lives and what ultimately leads to a life of satisfaction and meaning.

“The dialogues were about what the Dalai Lama has called the very ‘purpose of life’–the goal of avoiding suffering and discovering happiness. They share their hard-won wisdom of how we can transform joy from an ephemeral state into an enduring trait, from a fleeting feeling into a lasting way of being.”


It’s in bookstores now. Why wait till Christmas!

26 Oct
Posted in: Books
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Not So Comfortable

not-quite-comfortableAs I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve started to expand a bit beyond my cultural comfort zone by reading more books by African-American authors. I am sad to admit that in the past I thought books by these authors — particularly books about the experience of being black in this country — had nothing to do with me. As if the everyday privileges I enjoy as a result of being white…including the privilege of remaining blissfully unaware of those privileges…were not given to me at the expense of others who are excluded from those privileges. (In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, pull up a chair and read this: The Case for Reparations.)

So I was delighted to hear yesterday that a black American, Paul Beatty, has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel, The Sellout. It’s definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I’m going for it. Here’s the opening paragraph:

This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I’ve never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store. Never boarded a crowed bus or subway car, sat in a seat reserved for the elderly, pulled out my gigantic penis and masturbated to satisfaction with a perverted, yet somehow crestfallen, look on my face. But here I am, in the cavernous chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, my car illegally and somewhat ironically parked on Constitution Avenue, my hands cuffed and crossed behind my back, my right to remain silent long since waived and said goodbye to as I sit in a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.

25 Oct
Posted in: Books, Groups
By    Comments Off on No Thanks, I’ll Pass

No Thanks, I’ll Pass

sisyphus-1Our KM group met last night to discuss the chapter on Renunciation in Joseph Goldstein’s Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening. The word “renunciation” has a lot of negative connotations, but in this case we’re not talking about depriving ourselves of joy and comfort and pleasure. We’re finding peace and ease by releasing ourselves from the “addiction” of habitual patterns.

Joseph talks about “the wisdom of no, when we recognize that some things are not skillful, not helpful, not leading to happiness. At those times,” he writes,”we can practice saying, ‘No thanks, I’ll pass.'”

But we are often so used to our habits — even our painful, stress-causing habits — that we forget they can be changed.

I like Stephen Mitchell’s take in Parables and Portraits:

“We tend to think of Sisyphus as a tragic hero, condemned by the gods to shoulder his rock sweatily up the mountain, again and again, forever. 

“The truth is that Sisyphus is in love with the rock. He cherishes every roughness and every ounce of it. He talks to it. Sings to it. It has become the mysterious Other. He even dreams of it as he sleepwalks upward. Life is unimaginable without it, looming always above him like a huge gray moon.

“He doesn’t realize that at any moment he is permitted to step aside, let the rock hurdle to the bottom, and go home.

“Tragedy is the inertial force of the mind.”

13 Oct
Posted in: Books, Talks
By    Comments Off on Joseph’s “True Confession”

Joseph’s “True Confession”


I was listening to one of Joseph’s talks — Creating a Concept of Self — when I was surprised (and delighted) to hear him “confess” to a fondness for mystery novels (a fondness that I share)….and then to hear him close his talk with this passage from a distinctly unusual source of dharma wisdom — the detective novel, Bangkok Tattooby John Burnet:

“You see, dear readers, speaking frankly and without any intention to offend, you are a ramshackle collection of coincidences held together by a desperate and irrational clinging.

“There is no center at all. Everything depends on everything else. Your body depends on the environment. Your thoughts depend on whatever junk floats in from the media. Your emotions are largely from the reptilian end of your DNA. Your intellect is a chemical computer that can’t add up a zillionth as fast as a pocket calculator. And even your best side is a superficial piece of social programming that will fall apart just as soon as your spouse leaves with the kids and the money in your joint account, or the economy starts to fail and you get the sack, or you get conscripted into some idiot’s war.

“To name the amorphous morass of self-pity, vanity and despair: “self”, is not only the height of hubris, it is also proof — if any were needed — that we are above all a delusional species. We are in a trance from birth to death. Prick the balloon and what do you get? Emptiness.

“Take two steps in the divine art of Buddhist meditation and you will find yourself on a planet you no longer recognize. Those needs and fears you thought were the very bones of your being turn out to be no more than bugs in your software.”

7 Oct
Posted in: Books, CDL
By    Comments Off on This Too Needs to Be Heard

This Too Needs to Be Heard

Woman with her fingers in her ears

As part of the Community Dharma Leader (CDL) program and the awareness to my own cultural blindness it has opened in me, I’ve started reading more books, articles, newspaper stories, etc. about racism and the experience of being black in this country — Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, for example.

Frankly, it’s been difficult. And painful. And upsetting. But also rewarding.

Then just when I thought I was really being open to the “other,” even congratulating myself on my willingness to listen, to hear the suffering, to see my own contribution to that suffering — I hit the wall at an even more challenging level of habitual “other-ing” in Arlie Hoschschild’s highly acclaimed: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, subtitled “A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide.”

This is one book I really, REALLY did not want to read.

But I know that this too needs to be heard.

So I’ve started in. (Thankfully, the writing is beautiful.)

Here’s a quote from the prelude:
“We, on both sides, wrongly image that empathy with the ‘other’ side brings an end to clearheaded analysis when, in truth, it’s on the other side of that bridge that the most important analysis can begin.

“The English language doesn’t give us many words to describe the feeling of reaching out to someone from another world, and of having that interest welcomed. Something of its own kind, mutual, is created. What a gift.

“Gratitude, awe, appreciation; for me, all those words apply and I don’t know which to use. But I think we need a special word, and should hold a place of honor for it, so as to restore what might be a missing key on the English-speaking world’s cultural piano. Our polarization, and the increasing reality that we simply don’t know each other, makes it too easy to settle for dislike and contempt.”