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8 Apr
Posted in: Books, Practice
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Pure Enjoyment

floating-umbrella-4Just before going on retreat, one of my Dharma Buddies (thanks Carolyn!) turned me on to Ajahn Sucitto’s lovely new little book: Samadhi is Pure Enjoyment (available as a free download here.)

Samadhi is the Pali word often translated as “concentration,” but better understood as “unification” or “collectedness of mind”. Or in Sucitto’s words: “pure enjoyment!”

I read the whole book in the plane on my way to Spirit Rock (it’s a small book) and Sucitto’s words tied in perfectly with the instructions we were given: to relax, to be curious and kind, and to enjoy the process.

Here’s how Sucitto’s puts it: “When [mindfulness] is fully established, awareness can settle into the experience of the peaceful heart. This is the enjoyment of samādhi.

“I think of ‘enjoyment’ as ‘receiving joy’; and samādhi as the art of refined enjoyment. It is the careful collecting of oneself to the joy of the present moment. Joyfulness means there’s no fear, no tension, no ought to. There isn’t anything we have to do about it. So there is stillness. It’s just this.”

That has been my experience.

But don’t believe me. Try it and see for yourself!

26 Feb
Posted in: Books, Travel
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Not Only the City

TheklaI leave tomorrow morning for a month-long retreat at Spirit Rock. I get back in the wee hours of Easter morning, then one of my brothers and his family will arrive for a short visit, so I don’t expect to post again until April 4. In the mean time, I leave you with this selection from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, the “travel guide” I always consult before embarking on a journey:

Cities & The Sky: 3

Those who arrive at Thekla can see little of the city, beyond the plank fences, the sackcloth screens, the scaffoldings, the metal armatures, the wooden catwalks hanging from ropes or supported by sawhorses, the ladders, the trestles. If you ask, “Why is Thekla’s construction taking such a long time?” the inhabitants continue hoisting sacks, lowering leaded strings, moving long brushes up and down, as they answer, “So that its destruction cannot begin.” And if asked whether they fear that, once the scaffoldings are removed, the city may begin to crumble and fall to pieces, they add hastily, in a whisper, “Not only the city.”

If, dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts his eye to a crack in the fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, scaffoldings that embrace other scaffoldings, beams that prop up other beams. “What meaning does your construction have?” he asks. “What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?”

“We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now,” they answer.

Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. “There is the blueprint,” they say. 

9 Feb
Posted in: Books, Practice
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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.

5 Feb
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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.” 

25 Jan
Posted in: Books, Sunday Sangha
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Will This Lead to Happiness?

desire-and-thenAt yesterday’s Sunday Sangha, Thomas kicked off a lively discussion about the nature of desire and the “hallucination of perception” that getting what we want will make us happy. He offered this passage from Joseph Goldstein’s Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening:

“Sensual desires arise from the fundamental misperception that they will actually bring about a lasting happiness–something that, given their impermanence, is not possible. In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Anna’s lover comes to this realization:

‘Vronsky, meanwhile, in spite of the complete realization of what he had so long desired, was not perfectly happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desires gave him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the mistake men make in picturing to themselves happiness as the realization of their desires.'”  (The mistake women make too, I might add.)

8 Jan
Posted in: Books
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Going There

I love to read. I love to visit other places, other lives, other minds(!) through books…but I’m very choosy about what I read….meaning that I only want to read something that’s well written (in my opinion) and something that will take me to a place I’ve never been to before, but it also has to be a place I’d LIKE to be taken to. (No books about the horrors of war or anything about Hitler’s Germany, please.)

Over the holidays, I spent a delicious week reading all four of the novels in Elena Ferrante’s “Naples” series (even better than a trip to Italy!) plus The Door, by Magda Szabo (which took me to some kind of crazy/fascinating place in the middle of a completely unique relationship between a Hungarian writer and her formidable/unforgettable housekeeper).

But now I’m ready to push the boundary of what I’d normally read. After Ferrante and Szabo, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, which was uncomfortable–but necessary–because, I believe, as a white woman, of an upper-middle-class background, living in St. Louis, worlds away (but less than 10 miles from) Ferguson, MO….his is a voice I need to hear.

So I listened. I can’t say that I enjoyed it. Or that I don’t take issue with some of what he had to say and the way he said it. But it was good to go there.

And to other places like that.

So now I’m reading One of Us, by Asne Seierstad, the account of Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway. I’m not doing it just because it’s uncomfortable. But because, as the title suggests, I think it’s important to go beyond the security of “that’s a bad guy over there, who must be insane, who certainly has nothing in common with me, certainly noting in common with my experience of reasonable rage against the things I think–the things I KNOW–are WRONG.”


I feel a little queasy.

But I’ll keep going.

Stay tuned.

30 Dec
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Alive, Alive Oh!

Today is my birthday.

I’m going to spend some time speaking Italian with my Dearly Beloved Tutor, Benedetto, and of course I’ll sit, and snuggle the cats, and eat chocolate cake with vanilla AND coffee ice cream, plus other similar celebratory activities….including lounging on the couch and reading for hours at a time…oh the luxurious sweetness of that!

In honor of the day I’ll mostly be reading: Alive, Alive, Oh!: And Other Things That Matter, by Diana Athill, her most recent book, written at the age of 97!

Here’s a sample:
“About halfway through my seventies I stopped thinking of myself as a sexual being, and after a short period of shock at that fact, found it very restful. To be able to like, even to love, a man without wanting to go to bed with him turned out to be a new sort of freedom. This realization was extraordinary. It was like coming out onto a high plateau, into clean, fresh air, far above the ant-like bustle going on down below me. It was almost like becoming another sort of creature.

“Well, I had in fact become another sort of creature: I had become an Old Woman! And to my surprise, I don’t regret it. In the course of the ninety-seven years through which I have lived, I have collected many more images of beautiful places and things than I realized, and now it seems as though they are jostling to float into my mind.

“For example: because (I suppose) it will soon be May, I have just caught the scent of bluebells in my room.  Once a booksellers’ conference took me and some colleagues to Yorkshire, near Fountain’s Abbey. An energetic colleague said to me, ‘Let’s get the hotel to call us at 5 o’clock tomorrow morning, so that we can nip out and have a good look at the Abbey before the day beings.’

“Never an early riser, I was at first appalled, then felt ashamed of myself and agreed, so we did it, and the Abbey was indeed very lovely, standing there in the silent and delicate mistiness of an early morning in May; but even more magical was the nearby woodland sloping down to the river, carpeted with bluebells which were responding to the rising sun by releasing a great wave of scent — a wave more powerful than I’d known their flowers could possibly produce. The little new leaves on the branches above them were that first green, which looks as though made by light, and which will be gone in a day or two, and blackbirds had just started to sing.

“Those few minutes in the wood were so piercingly beautiful that I ought not to be surprised at their still being with me.”



I am 65 today. Not exactly an Old Woman, but not that far from it. I take heart in reading these beautiful, clear, funny, honest, smart sentences….written by a woman who began her writing career at the age of 70!

I’m not done yet. In fact, I’m just gettin’ started.  

23 Dec
Posted in: Books, Practice, Retreats
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Expansive, Unlimited

Here’s another quote from the collection we were given at the Exploring the Nature of Awareness retreat I just attended. We were encouraged to continue our practice at home by reading, re-reading, and reflecting on one of the quotes each day.

For today I chose this one, from Intuitive Awareness, by Ajahn Sumedho:

“With intuitive awareness we are taking our refuge in awakeness, which is expansive, unlimited. Thought and mental conception create boundaries. The body is a boundary; emotional habits are boundaries; language is a boundary; words expressing feelings are also boundaries. That which transcends all of this, we begin to recognize through awakening.

“Even if what I’m saying sounds like rubbish to you, be aware of that. Open to the fact that you don’t like what I’m saying. It’s like this. It’s not that you have to like it: it’s starting from the way it is rather than you having to figure out what I’m trying to say.”

22 Dec
Posted in: Books, Retreats
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It’s Like This

At the retreat I just returned from, the focus was on turning our attention from whatever thoughts/sensations/emotions we are experiencing and noticing, instead, the presence of awareness itself. We were given a handout with quotes from various teachers on the nature of awareness and were encouraged to continue our practice at home by taking one of these quotes each day and reflecting on them.

Here’s the quote I’m using today, from Intuitive Awareness, by Ajahn Sumedho:


Awareness is your refuge:
Awareness of the changingness of feelings,
of attitudes, of moods, of material change
and emotional change.
Stay with that, because it’s a refuge that is

It’s not something that changes.

It’s a refuge that you can trust in.

This refuge is not something that you create.
It’s not a creation. It’s not an ideal.
It’s very practical and very simple, but
easily overlooked or not noticed.

When you’re mindful,
you’re beginning to notice:

It’s like this. 


4 Dec
Posted in: Books, Travel
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And Yet….

Once again my days are filling up. I leave for retreat on Wednesday, Dec 9 and won’t be back until the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, Dec 18. There is much to be done between now and Wed, so today will be my last post until after I get back…so check back again on Monday, Dec 21.

In the mean time, I leave you with this selection from my always-to-be-consulted-before-traveling guide book: Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino.

Hidden Cities 2

In Raissa, life is not happy. People wring their hands as they walk in the streets, curse the crying children, lean on the railings over the river and press their fists to their temples. In the morning you wake from one bad dream and another begins. At the workbenches where, every moment, you hit your finger with a hammer or prick it with a needle, or over the columns of figures all awry in the ledgers of merchants and bankers, or at the rows of empty glasses on the zinc counters of the wineshops, the bent heads at least conceal the general grim gaze. Inside the houses it is worse, and you do not have to enter to learn this: in the summer the windows resound with quarrels and broken dishes.

And yet, in Raissa, at every moment there is a child in a window who laughs seeing a dog that has jumped on a shed to bite into a piece of polenta dropped by a stonemason who has shouted from the top of the scaffolding, “Darling, let me dip into it,” to a young serving-maid who holds up a dish of ragout under the pergola, happy to serve it to the umbrella-maker who is celebrating a successful transaction, a white lace parasol bought to display at the races by a great lady in love with an officer who has smiled at her taking the last jump, happy man, and still happier his horse, flying over the obstacles, seeing a francolin flying in the sky, happy bird freed from its cage by a painter happy at having painted it feather by feather, speckled with red and yellow in the illumination of that page in the volume where the philosopher says: “Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence.”