2 Oct
2017
Posted in: Poems
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All Your Days

Yesterday afternoon, my friend Aaron and his long-time companion Bryan were married. In celebration of which I offer: 

A Blessing for Wedding
by Jane Hirshfield

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you love has died or someone you never met has died
Today when someone you love had been born or someone you will not meet has been born
Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness
Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired
Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow
Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace
Today, let day and dark bless you
With binding of seed and rind bless you
With snow-chill and lavender bless you
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

29 Sep
2017
Posted in: Teachers
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Love. Everyone.

This has been an extraordinary week. Not only did I get to meet with my primary dharma teacher, Phillip Moffitt, on Monday, but I also got to spend some very sweet videophone time yesterday with my very first dharma teacher, Mirabai Bush. (That’s her, in the photo above, with Ram Dass.) So for today I offer these words from Mirabai’s (and Ram Dass’s) first–and primary–dharma teacher, Neem Karoli Baba:

Love everyone, serve everyone, feed everyone.

28 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books
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Waves of Possibility

Another passage today from Phillip Moffitt’s new book, Awakening Through the Nine Bodies:

“Experiencing the Spiritual Body is like feeling the underlying power of the ocean. In some places the ocean is calm; in others it is rough. At times you can feel the effect of the wind on the ocean and the undertow of waves breaking onto the shore.

“Imagine what it would be like if you could feel all of the different qualities of the ocean at one time as un-manifest energetic waves of possibility.

“In the same way, in accessing the Spiritual Body, you can feel the ‘ocean of potential’ in the mind, which can manifest as thoughts, emotions, words, and actions. The Spiritual Body is an energetic sense of possibility that is un-manifest, yet it can be felt directly and intuited…

“Once you have experienced the Spiritual Body, you have the insight that what arises in the mind in any moment is determined either by the causes and conditions that characterize that particular moment and your mental habits or by mindful cultivation of deliberate intention.

“This is why we practice meditation — to be able to have choice about what actually arises from this vast potential.”

27 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books, Teachers
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Thank You, Phillip

OK. I can see how it might seem a little extreme to fly all the way to California for a chance to meet with Phillip Moffitt, but:

It. Was. Worth. It.

Thank you, Phillip. That’s about all I want to say, except to post this passage from Phillip’s new book, Awakening Through the Nine Bodies: Explorations in Consciousness.

“Sometimes you may have experiences during meditation that are confusing, alarming, intoxicating, or captivating. When such experiences occur, you may become stuck or fixated on the experience as you try to understand it, or make it happen again, or make it go away, or prevent it from happening again.

“Many of these seemingly mysterious and exceptional experiences can be examined and understood utilizing the Nine Bodies map. Additionally, the perspective of the Nine Bodies creates a container for your intense meditation experiences that normalizes them and breaks your fascination or your fear of them.

“Once you have some means for normalizing an exceptional experience, you can move forward in your insight practice. Likewise, in doing jhana (concentration) practice or even concentration metta (loving-kindness) practice in the Theravada tradition, very powerful experiences can occur, which these teachings can help put in perspective.”

23 Sep
2017
Posted in: Books, Dharma Friends, Travel
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What Opens Before Me

Sorry for not posting yesterday, but there was a lot going on, both internally and externally (as they say).

And now I won’t be posting again until Wednesday because I’m flying to San Francisco tomorrow to meet with my teacher, Phillip Moffitt, and to visit with my dear, sweet, wonderful, and so amazingly generous (!!!) dharma friends, Maggie and Tony, who are not only picking me up at the airport and hosting me at their house, but are also driving me all the way to Phillip’s office in Tiburon and back. (I love you guys!)

So now, in keeping with my pre-flight ritual of reflecting on the nature of travel as I am about to embark, I offer this selection from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino:

Cities & Desire 1

There are two ways of describing the city of Dorothea: you can say that four aluminum towers rise from its walls flanking seven gates with spring-operated drawbridges that span the moat whose water feeds four green canals which cross the city, dividing it into nine quarters, each with three hundred houses and seven hundred chimneys.

And bearing in mind that the nubile girts of each quarter marry youths of other quarters and their parents exchange the goods that each family holds in monopoly–bergamot, sturgeon roe, astrolabes, amethysts–you can then work from these facts until you learn everything you wish about the city in the past, present, and future.

Or else you can say, like the camel driver who took me there: “I arrived here in my first youth, one morning, many people were hurrying along the streets toward the market, the women had fine teeth and looked you straight in the eye, three soldiers on a platform played the trumpet, and all around wheels turned and colored banners fluttered in the wind.

“Before then I had known only the desert and the caravan routes. In the years that followed, my eyes returned to contemplate the desert expanses and the caravan routes; but now I know this path is only one of the many that opened before me on that morning in Dorothea.”   

21 Sep
2017
Posted in: Chanting
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Blessings

I was feeling the need for something peaceful and deeply soothing last night, so I listened to this lovely 15-minute recording of Thanissara and Kittisaro opening a retreat at IMS several years ago with the traditional chants of Blessing and Protection (Partita).

Thanissara begins the chanting (as she explains on the tape) by calling on all wholesome forces, both internal and external, including all the angelic beings that are said to help and guide practitioners — spirits of the earth, of the mountains, the oceans, of wind, and of fire — to bear witness and to bless and support us in the awakening process. Then Kittisaro joins her, and the chant transitions into recitations of core teachings of the Buddha — Reflections on the Triple Gem, the teaching on Loving Kindness, and various accounts of the Buddha as he overcame challenges through the power of truth and kindness and insight.

I turned out the lights, lay on the bed, and let the sounds pour over me. It was just what I needed. The chants are in Pali, so of course most of the words don’t have any actual meaning for me, but the tones and the rhythm and the repetition — and who knows, maybe something more — really touched me.

I felt drenched in blessings.

20 Sep
2017
Posted in: Poems
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If This Is It

The Universe as Primal Scream
by Tracy K. Smith

5pm on the nose. They open their mouths
And it rolls out: high, shrill and metallic.
First the boy, then his sister. Occasionally,
They both let loose at once, and I think
Of putting on my shoes to go up and see
Whether it is merely an experiment
Their parents have been conducting
Upon the good crystal, which must surely
Lie shattered to dust on the floor.

Maybe the mother is still proud
Of the four pink lungs she nursed
To such might. Perhaps, if they hit
The magic decibel, the whole building
Will lift-off, and we’ll ride to glory
Like Elijah. If this is it–if this is what
Their cries are cocked toward–let the sky
Pass from blue, to red, to molten gold,
To black. Let the heaven we inherit approach.

Whether it is our dead in Old Testament robes,
Or a door opening onto the roiling infinity of space.
Whether it will bend down to greet us like a father,
Or swallow us like a furnace. I’m ready
To meet what refuses to let us keep anything
For long. What teases us with blessings,
Bends us with grief. Wizard, thief, the great
Wind rushing to knock our mirrors to the floor,
To sweep our short lives clean. How mean

Our racket seems beside it. My stereo on shuffle.
The neighbor chopping onions through the wall.
All of it just a hiccough against what may never
Come for us. And the kids upstairs still at it,
Screaming like the Dawn of Man, as if something
They have no name for has begun to insist
Upon being born.

***

I read the newspapers and I feel just like those kids.

19 Sep
2017
Posted in: Retreats
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Beginning Again

The annual 3-month retreat has just started at IMS (Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA) and so, once again, I am “attending” — vicariously — by listening to the dharma talks that are given every night and which are (mostly) available to the public on DharmaSeed.

My favorite talk so far is the first one, given by Guy Armstrong, which is a terrific overview of the Buddha’s teachings — Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, Meditation Training (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration), Satipatthana Sutta, Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness of Breathing, Insight, Liberation — each teaching opening up and containing within it the next…as Guy says, “like a set of those Russian nesting dolls!”

He starts with a beautifully simple definition of Mindfulness: Understanding what you are experiencing in the present moment.

And then gives some wonderfully simple (and telling) instructions: When your mind wanders — which it will — and then when it comes back — which it will — ask yourself: While I was “gone,” did I feel more peaceful, more contented, more settled, more happy?

It’s a great talk for beginners…and an even better one for the rest of us, who are always encouraged to beginning again. Click here to listen.

18 Sep
2017
Posted in: Activism, Racism, Social Justice
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Peace is the Way

This is one of the (many) boarded-up windows of the shops and restaurants in the Loop that were smashed on Saturday night, after the peaceful protests officially ended and the acts of anger, frustration and violence began. It’s depressing to see such senseless destruction, but uplifting to see that so many of the repairs are painted with messages like this one.

***

Note: One of my nephews-in-law is a cop (white), who lives in St. Louis and who was injured (not seriously) during the protests on Friday night.

Another nephew-in-law is a physician (who was born in India), who also lives in St. Louis and who, every day, must negotiate the very real danger of being a person of color in this country. This is my family.

It is also the HUMAN family.

We are all suffering. We must find a way to live with each other, without doing harm to each other. Violence only leads to more violence. Peace is the only way.

15 Sep
2017
Posted in: Retreats
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Spring is Coming in November

Spring Washam, who teaches at Spirit Rock (and lots of other fabulous places) will be coming to St. Louis to lead a non-residential retreat November 10-12. I sat a retreat with Spring several years ago when she taught with Jack Kornfield in Yucca Valley and she was AWESOME.

Do not miss this opportunity!

The retreat will be held at the Forest Park Visitor Center staring on Friday night with a talk you can attend for just $5! It then continues all-day Saturday and ends Sunday morning. The theme of the retreat is: Love is the Answer and it will focus on Metta meditation practice.

You can come for Friday night only or just for Saturday-and-Sunday, or for both Friday night and Saturday-and-Sunday. The full weekend cost is $60. Scholarships are available. Click here for more information or to register.   

***

The Buddha once said, “We can look the whole world over and find no one more deserving of our love and kindness than ourselves.”

Metta practice protects the mind from falling into habitual patterns of reactivity that undermine our sincerest intentions to be happy. Also referred to as a mind liberating practice, it can awaken powerful healing energies that brighten and lift the mind to increasing levels of joy and clarity. Our greatest and most challenging task on the spiritual path is to learn to love and accept ourselves in every moment. Self-hatred, inner aggression and self-criticism are rooted in a mind that is confused and suffering. When we really love and honor ourselves there are no more questions.

This is an excellent weekend retreat for all those who feel energetically stuck in the past and are unable to break free and move forward. In this retreat we will focus on Metta practice, self-compassion and forgiveness in order to let go. 

***

The venue and cost structure of this retreat is an experiment for Mid America Dharma. We’re trying to reach a broader, more diverse audience and especially hoping to connect with folks who are new to meditation or who’ve never been on a retreat before. So bring your friends!

I’ll be there. I hope you will too.