12 Jun
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I Took Back the Socks

I went to REI the other day because I needed a new pair of shorts and I had gotten my “dividend check,” basically a store credit they send every year based on how much you’ve spent the previous year. So it was free money. Sort of.

None of the shorts I tried on really fit (always the problem), but I was there in the store, and I had the “check,” so I looked around a while and then I remembered a favorite t-shirt I’d bought there before and thought it would be nice to have another one of those. I found one I liked, in my size, so I was set. But the price of the t-shirt was a little less than the “check,” so I browsed around a bit and ended up next to a rack of very cute socks.

It’s June, so I have no real need for socks. But it won’t always be June, and I go on a lot of retreats (where socks are a significant wardrobe item), and these socks were extremely cute, and not that expensive…in fact, the t-shirt plus the socks just about equaled the “check.”

Perfect. But then….and here’s where my old spending habits kicked in…..I saw ANOTHER pair of socks. Almost as cute as the first. In fact, the more I looked, the cuter they got. And I thought, I really should just go ahead and get them both. They’re not “that expensive.” And I’m getting the first pair for “free,” and most of the other socks I have are heavy, and these are light, and the first pair would go with black pants and the second would go with tan….etc, etc, etc.

So I went home with a new t-shrit and two pairs of socks.

But then, because I’m doing this new practice of writing down every single thing I buy, every day, I took another look at those socks. Did I really want to write down that I paid $19.64 for a pair of socks that I didn’t need and couldn’t possibly wear for at least three months?


So I took them back. But just the second pair. I thought about taking everything back and keeping the store credit until I could find shorts that fit, or maybe give up on the shorts and buy something later, when there was something else that I’d really need. But I knew that the t-shirt would get a lot of wear, that it was good quality, very comfortable, a nice color, and would serve me well. I also knew that the first pair of socks were a luxury, but that I would get a lot of pleasure out of wearing them. They are kind of fashion-y and would look good with black pants, which I wear a lot, so I could wear them to work when it gets colder. And they’d be comfy — and fun — to wear on retreat. They aren’t a necessity. They’re a treat.

But not the second pair.

The second pair started feeling like a burden. The idea of not having them was starting to feel like a treat.

So I took them back.

Not from a sense of guilt, or duty, or how I “should” behave. Not from a feeling of scarcity. Or of needing to “cut back.” But from a feeling of having the power to chose what’s valuable and what’s not. It was a very liberating feeling.

A palpable sense of relief.

(image from “I Told You So,” by Daisy de Villeneuve)

11 Jun
Posted in: Books, Practice
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What It Isn’t

A friend asked me over the weekend about resources for beginning meditators and without hesitation I recommended Mindfulness in Plain English, by Bhante Gunarantana. It’s been my go-to book for a clear, easy-to-understand overview — with instructions — on how and why we practice Mindfulness Meditation. And Metta, too, because the newest edition includes a section on “The Power of Loving Friendliness.”

I did a serious purge of books about a year ago, but I kept this one. So I took it off my shelf — with the intention of sharing it with my friend — and then I noticed how there was something highlighted on just about every page, and I started reading it again. It’s even better than I remember!

I especially love the chapter on “What Meditation Isn’t.” Here’s a list:

Misconception 1: Meditation is just a relaxation technique.
Misconception 2: Meditation means going into a trance.
Misconception 3: Meditation is a mysterious practice that cannot be understood.
Misconception 4: The purpose of meditation is to become psychic.
Misconception 5: Meditation is dangerous, and a prudent person should avoid it.
Misconception 6: Meditation is for saints and sadhus, not for regular people.
Misconception 7: Meditation is running away from reality.
Misconception 8: Meditation is a great way to get high.
Misconception 9: Meditation is selfish.
Misconception 10: When you meditate, you sit around thinking lofty thoughts.
Misconception 11: A couple of weeks of meditation and all my problems will go away.

I can’t say this strongly enough: If you’re looking for a wonderfully clear and straightforward introduction on the technique of and the understanding behind mindfulness meditation, read this book!

(image: “Macavity: The Mystery Cat, from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” illustration by Edward Gorey)


8 Jun
Posted in: Money
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One of the DPP homework assignments for this month is to keep a written record of every time you spend money and to note what arises as you bring attention to your spending habits.

I’ve already been doing this since I came back from retreat with the intention to get more clarity in relation to money. And one of the first things I’ve noticed is….I spend more money than I take in! How could I have missed that? I’m sure that at some level, I already knew it. Which is why I was so fuzzy about the whole issue. I didn’t want to have to look at what is clearly an unsustainable way of living.

So now I’m waking up and I feel a little ashamed. And frightened. But also liberated! Because now I feel like I can actually do something about it. Not go on a spending diet — because we all know, diets don’t work! But I can look carefully at what my habitual spending patterns are, learn what drives them, what feeds them, and where it’s possible to break the chain. And then….little by little….I can start to form new patterns of behavior that are more in alignment with what my true values really are.

This will help me get a clearer picture of what my true financial needs really are….that sweet spot of having enough, of “sufficiency,” which Lynne Twist talks about in The Soul of MoneyAnd then I can start to think more expansively about how much time I need to “spend” in order to earn that money…and THEN I can start to answer one of yesterday’s questions: “what would have to happen for me to be able to manifest my ideal work/life situation?

(image from Q-Cards)

7 Jun
Posted in: Money, Practice
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What Would Have to Happen?

The theme for this month’s Dedicated Practitioner Program is Right Livelihood, Money and Renunciation. The homework assignment includes readings, reflections, daily life and sitting practices.

In one of the assignments, we are asked to: Reflect on your current livelihood, or how you spend the majority of your waking time. List at least three reasons for this choice, and whether or not it feels like it is a choice.


In another reflection, we are asked: What would your ideal work / life situation look like?


And most provocative of all: What would have to happen for you to be able to manifest your ideal work situation?

What, indeed.


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


6 Jun
Posted in: Practice
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All Conditioned Things

“All conditioned things are impermanent.
Their nature is to arise and pass away.
To be in harmony with this truth
Brings true happiness.”

My cat Ruby is dying. She’s about 15 years old and has been losing weight dramatically. She used to be…well…Rubenesque, but then all of a sudden (it seemed) she was looking rather svelte. But she kept losing weight and now she’s way past the super model stage.

Yesterday, when I came home from work, I could see that Ruby had been sick all over the house. I found her hiding where she always goes when she wants to be invisible. I thought she was dead. But then she opened her eyes. And she came out. She walked around. She went to the water bowl and looked at it for a while. She didn’t drink. But she didn’t seem to be in any pain or distress.

It was Metta night, so I went to sit with the group. (Which is a wonderful thing to do in circumstances like these, by the way. Thank you to all who were there.)

I was afraid that I’d come home from the group to find her dead. She had hidden herself again, but she was alive. She came out then….even went all the way downstairs, jumped up on the couch, and sat in my lap!

So it’s not over yet.

But it’s close.

What is there to do, but to say metta phrases for Ruby: May you feel safe and protected. May you be peaceful. May you be comfortable. May you live..and die…with ease. And for myself as well: May I feel safe and protected. May I be peaceful. May I be strong. May I, too, live…and die…with ease.  

(image: “Outsider Art,” Untitled, by Dwight Mackintosh)

5 Jun
Posted in: Sangha at Large
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Art in Nature, Nature in Art

The Deep Ecology KM Group recently met for a wonderfully mindful evening. Samara introduced various artists who work in deep connection with the earth (such as Andy Goldsworthy) and then led group members through their own artistic exploration of the surroundings.

The group’s next meeting will be Wednesday, June 6, at 6:45 pm, at Concordia Park (across from Kaldi’s on DeMun). Newcomers welcome! The focus will be on sensory awareness. The group will meet again on June 27 (mindful eating) and June 11 (art/nature).

For more information, contact Johannes.

(image: art installation —  made from tree branches! — on the lawn outside Washington University School of Art)



4 Jun
Posted in: Sangha at Large
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A Good Time Was Had By All

Here we are at the Cafe Sangha One-Year Birthday Party. Pictured are: Scott, Jan, Sophie, Abby, Suzanne, Jon, Abby, Scott, Nina, Jack and Rich.







Christy and Nadine are in the photo above, but you can’t see them. So here they are…with Scott.

(Cindy was also at the party, but somehow missed being in the photos.)



1 Jun
Posted in: Sangha at Large
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Calling all Dharma Friends

DharmaTown is thrilled to announce the start of a brand new KM group (Kalyana Mitta….aka “Dharma Friends). It will be called Dharma Seed KM, because the focus of the group will be to listen to and discuss selected talks available at Dharmaseed.org.

Who can come: The group is open to all, but please RSVP to Jan so we have some idea of how many people plan to attend.

Where: At the home of Cindy Brinkop in St. Louis Hills. Please contact Cindy for address and directions.

When: The first 3 meetings will be held on Monday, June 18, July 30 and August 27. Beginning on September 10, the group will meet every-other Monday.

What time: 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Format: The meeting will begin with a 20-minute sit, followed by a “check-in” time for everyone to share what’s currently going on with them. The group will then listen to a pre-selected Dharma Seed talk, which will last about an hour, followed by a discussion of about half-an-hour.

The first talk is by Tara Brach, titled “The Awakened Heart.” Future talks will be selected by the group and announced in advance by e-mail. If you would like to add your name to the e-mail list for this group, please contact Jan.

(image: Napo Tarot)




31 May
Posted in: Sangha at Large
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Just Sitting

Need a reason to get up and get out of bed on a Saturday morning? Come join “Sitting in the Park,” a newly formed meditation group that…well….sits in the park!

When: Every Saturday morning, weather permitting, from now through October.

Where: Near the Farmer’s Market in Tower Grove Park.

What time: 8:30 to 9:00 am. No dharma talk. Just sitting. (Beginners who would like instruction are invited to come at 8:15am.)


Photo: Shown here are Jan and Nina. Cindy, who leads the group, is taking the photo. 

30 May
Posted in: Books, Money
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Spending Life Energy

“Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.”

I read this in Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez, and have been thinking about it a lot. The book gives a very detailed process for discovering just how much money someone is actually getting for the job they are doing (after accounting for the actual number of hours worked and subtracting all the things they wouldn’t have to buy, if they didn’t have that job). Then it offers a structure for getting exceptional clear about where all that money (life energy) actually goes. And then it asks:

* “Are you receiving fulfillment, satisfaction and value in proportion to the life energy you spend?”

* “Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with your values and life purpose?”

* “How might this expenditure change if you didn’t have to work for a living?”

I’m only about half-way through the book, and haven’t sat down to do all the calculations, but I can already feel these questions taking root in my mind. I have a feeling they will produce significant fruit.

(image from Steampunk Tarot)