Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cold, Long Night Moon

Cold, Long Night Moon

Since I began wearing necklaces to remind me of the moon's phases [Moon Time], I am more aware of, interested in, and thankful for the moon in particular——and our natural world in general.
    In their wisdom, Native Americans named the full moons. Here, pinched from the Farmer's Almanac website and lightly edited by me, is an East Coast view of Native American Moon names.

    Full Moon Names and Their Meanings

    Full Moon names date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States. The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full Moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred. There was some variation in the Moon names, but in general, the same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior. European settlers followed that custom and created some of their own names. Since the lunar month is only 29 days long on the average, the full Moon dates shift from year to year. Here is the Farmers Almanac's list of the full Moon names.

    • Full Wolf Moon - January Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Thus, the name for January's full Moon. Sometimes it was also referred to as the Old Moon, or the Moon After Yule. Some called it the Full Snow Moon, but most tribes applied that name to the next Moon.

    • Full Snow Moon - February Since the heaviest snow usually falls during this month, native tribes of the north and east most often called February's full Moon the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes also referred to this Moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since harsh weather conditions in their areas made hunting very difficult.

    • Full Robin Moon - March As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this Moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter; or the Full Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. To the settlers, it was also known as the Lenten Moon, and was considered to be the last full Moon of winter.

    • Full Egg Moon - April Other names for this month's celestial body include the the Sprouting Grass Moon, and among coastal tribes the Full Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

    • Full Flower Moon - May In most areas, flowers are abundant everywhere during this time. Thus, the name of this Moon. Other names include the Full Corn Planting Moon, or the Milk Moon.

    • Full Strawberry Moon - June This name was universal to every Algonquin tribe. However, in Europe they called it the Rose Moon. Also because the relatively short season for harvesting strawberries comes each year during the month of June . . . so the full Moon that occurs during that month was christened for the strawberry!

    • The Full Buck Moon - July July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, for the reason that thunderstorms are most frequent during this time. Another name for this month's Moon was the Full Hay Moon.

    • Full Sturgeon Moon - August The fishing tribes are given credit for the naming of this Moon, since sturgeon, a large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water, were most readily caught during this month. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because, as the Moon rises, it appears reddish through any sultry haze. It was also called the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.

    • Full Corn Moon - September This full moon's name is attributed to Native Americans because it marked when corn was supposed to be harvested. Most often, the September full moon is actually the Harvest Moon.

    • Full Harvest Moon - October This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. At the peak of harvest, farmers can work late into the night by the light of this Moon. Usually the full Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the Moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice the chief Indian staples are now ready for gathering.

    • Full Beaver Moon - November This was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. It is sometimes also referred to as the Frosty Moon.

    • The Full Cold Moon; or the Full Long Nights Moon - December During this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and nights are at their longest and darkest. It is also sometimes called the Moon before Yule. The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long, and because the Moon is above the horizon for a long time. The midwinter full Moon has a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite a low Sun.

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    Every Loving Thought is True

    One of the members of our group, Marc, shared this last night at our meeting. I wanted to share it here. It is from "A Course in Miracles," which is said to be a channeled text, supposedly dictated by the voice of Jesus. It has quite a following. The voice is male-centered—lots of "brother" but not a single "sister" for example and no female pronouns. It contains some blindingly bright, compassionate, and forgiving passages. This is from Chapter 12, "The Holy Spirit's Curriculum," in the first section, which is entitled, "The Judgment of the Holy Spirit." 
    "There is but one interpretation of motivation that makes any sense....  Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for help and healing, regardless of the form it takes.
    . . .
    Only appreciation is an appropriate response. . . . Gratitude is due for both loving thoughts and appeals for help, for both are capable of bringing love into your awareness if you perceive them truly. And all your sense of strain comes from your attempts not to do just this."

    Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for help and healing. Wow. Thanks for sharing, Marc!

    Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    Do Bugs Have Buddha Nature?

    Shunryu Suzuki said,

    "If you are not a Buddhist, you think there are Buddhists and non-Buddhists, but if you are a Buddhist you realize everyone's a Buddhist—even the bugs."

    I've enjoyed the sentiment of inclusiveness in that quote.

    Today I find Suzuki's remark a little Buddhocentric. (Is "Buddhocentric" a word?) Whatever: we can say bugs are sentient beings, yes they are. Bugs have "Buddha nature" and so do all the bacteria that live inside bugs' digestive systems.

    Plants have have sentience so deep and so powerful and so profound that their multiple intelligences are barely discernible to any but the most spiritually connected humans. Plants have "Buddha nature" too. Not to mention fungi.

    I've come to feel that all of life—from the mitochondria in cells to blue whales to the daffodils awakening outside my front door—all life is deeply and irrevocably interrelated. All life is sentient. All life is sacred. Even stuff we think of as not living is sentient: rocks, water, air. I think rocks know when they're hot or cold. Water freezes when it gets cold; evaporates quickly on hot days. Sentient.

    We can say this or that has Buddha nature. Better yet, we give the Buddha some time off. I don't think he wants to lay claim or put his name on wisdom that is self evident to anyone willing to look closely and feel deeply about anything and everything alive.

    Monday, December 28, 2009

    Society of Friends Winter Schedule

    Good friends, 
    Below is the schedule for Winter, 2010. I'm posting it, online, for easy future reference. I'll bring a paper copy to the coming meetings.

    See many of you tomorrow at Sue's for our fifth Tuesday Friends Meeting.  Please bring a poem or other item related to Dharma that you'd like to share. 
    Society of Friends of the Buddha

    Reading/Discussion Schedule for Winter, 2010

    January 5, 2010
    • Radiant Presence (from the Dhammapada)
    • Bahiya (from the Udana)
    • Sutra on Full Awareness Breathing (from TNH)

    January 19, 2010
    • The Heart (from the Anguttara Nikaya—Numerical Discourses)
    • The Abandoning of Sorrow (from the Majjihma Nikaya—Middle-Length Discourses)
    • Parable of the Lute (from the Anguttara Nikaya—Numerical Discourses)

    February 2, 2010
    • Inclination of the Mind (from the Majjihma Nikaya—Middle-Length Discourses)
    • Inner Peace (from the Sutta Nipata)
    • Abandoning All Hindrances (from the Digha Nikaya—Long Discourses)

    February 16, 2010
    • Soma and Mara (from the Samyutta Nikaya—Connected Discourses)
    • Songs of the Nuns (from the Therigatha)
    • Look Within (from the Dhammapada)

    March 2, 2010
    • The Sharpest Sword (from Paul Carus)
    • Bamboo Acrobats (from the Samyutta Nikaya—Connected Discourses)
    • Blessing Chant (from the Pattanumodana)

    March 16, 2010
    • The Parable of the Raft (from the Majjihma Nikaya—Middle-Length Discourses)
    • The Kalamas’s Dilemma (from the Anguttara Nikaya—Numerical Discourses)
    • Patience (from the Dhammapada Atthakatha)

    March 30. 2010
    • Friends Meeting!

    Saturday, December 26, 2009

    Start with Yourself

    Start with yourself. And go from there.

    Friday, December 25, 2009

    Christmas Presence

    Christmas presents?
    How did Christmas get to be about stuff?

    For me, Christmas is about sowing some Santa-spirit.

    Christmas is about cultivating generosity—about stretching my Grinch heart just a little bit bigger.

    And then keeping it stretched out and open and not letting it shrink back.

    Christmas presence.

    Remember this verse from kindergarten?

    It's excerpted from How the Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss:

    Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
    Was singing! Without any presents at all!
    He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
    IT CAME!
    Somehow or other, it came just the same!

    It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
    It came without packages, boxes or bags!
    And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
    Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
    "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
    "Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
    And what happened then...? Who-ville they say
    That the Grinch's small heart
    Grew three sizes that day!

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    Wag More, Bark Less

    A bumper sticker I'm seeing around town says,

    "Wag More. Bark Less."

    I like it. Don't you think we'd all be happier if we took a page out of the Golden Retriever playbook and regarded everyone we meet as a long-lost friend?

    The older I get, the more I try to erase the threshold of friendship, treating everyone I meet as my buddy——even the bug who found his way into my living room by clinging to the Christmas tree.

    Sure, I know there are some people who won't like it when we walk up and nuzzle them, but they're just not our friends yet. Badgers don't like Golden Retrievers. The world wouldn't be very interesting if they did. That's okay.

    Badgers are badgers. They'll come around. Someday.

    Meanwhile, there's a Yellow Labrador just round the corner!

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Six Perfections

    First, a disclaimer: I'm not a perfectionist.

    In fact, I'm slightly allergic to the whole idea of perfection.

    A wise first grader once told me, "Only God is perfect!"

    I agree with that kid—well, I agree in those fleeting moments when I believe in God. In regard to God, I'm among those who must endure having both great faith and great doubt. I have great faith that God's real, and great doubt in my ability to fully understand or even believe, sometimes, in that reality.

    I accept my imperfections because they make me human: imperfect and okay, just like everyone else.

    Ah, to continue...

    As the solstice passed, I was playing the Native American flute in my meditation room. I was trying to contemplate the Seven Factors of Awakening, as a misty rain fell outside the open window. And what did my mind do? Why, what minds are so good at: getting distracted. My mind started down the path of another thought-complex: the "Six Perfections," another list from that trusty source, Buddhism. (Buddhism has lots of lists for minds like mine.)

    The "Perfections" or "Paramitas" as they are called in Sanskrit, arise in another tradition of Buddhism, the Mahayanas, mainly. They are:

    1. Generosity: Dāna paramita (giving of oneself)
    2. Ethical Behavior: Śīla paramita (virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct)
    3. Patience: Kṣānti (kshanti) paramita  (patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance)
    4. Energy: Vīrya paramita (energy, diligence, vigor, effort)
    5. Concentration: Dhyāna paramita (one-pointed concentration, contemplation)
    6. Wisdom: Prajñā paramita : (wisdom, insight)

    I cultivate these six qualities in my ordinary lay life. Let me describe two examples:

    Remembering Generosity while shopping at Fircrest Market has prompted me to pick up extra cans of food—good food, the kind I would want to eat if I were in need—and drop it in the Redwood Empire Food Bank bin outside the store. Donating food like this always feels better than giving in to that inner voice that would have me "just skip it this time." (Yes, I have heeded that voice, too, and I know how crummy it feels to be stingy.)

    Remembering Patience helps me find joy where I would have overlooked it while waiting in lines at the post office, bank, or grocery store. There are always interesting people to watch while standing in line. And, if I know the clerk (as I usually do) I can think of a funny story to tell or think of a question to ask about how life is going for him or her.

    I'm not posting this list of the Six Perfections the day after posting on the Seven Factors of Awakening to suggest that one list or the other is the best. Either list could support a lifetime of contemplation and cultivation. Having been exposed to many traditions of Buddhism—not to mention Christianity—I am presented with many worthy objects of mind to contemplate. Sometimes, it feels like too many!

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    9:47 Pacific Standard Time

    Winter in the Sierras
    Photo by Ian Parker

    The winter solstice will arrive at 9:47 tomorrow morning here in California between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the easternmost waters of the Pacific Ocean.

    I like to re-affirm my deepest intentions at the solstices and equinoxes. For me, these occasions are like quarterly New Year's resolution sessions occurring in Mother Earth time.

    As for me, I plan to renew my intention to cultivate the seven factors of awakening—seven factors that the Buddha is said to have taught some 2500 years ago, and are still worth pondering today. (I often think of the Buddha as one of the world's greatest teachers. Not many of us have people thinking about our teachings for 25 centuries; ordinary teachers like me are happy if our students remember what we've taught for 25 seconds!)

    In any event, those seven factors of enlightenment, in case you're wondering what I'm seeking to cultivate are:

    • Mindfulness (sati) i.e. to be aware and mindful in all activities and movements both physical and mental
    • Investigation (dhamma vicaya) into the nature of the world and of the teachings of Buddha
    • Energy (viriya)
    • Joy  (piti)
    • Ease (passaddhi) of both body and mind
    • Concentration (samadhi)
    • Equanimity (upekkha), to be able to face life in all its vicissitudes with calm of mind and tranquillity, without disturbance.

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    An Inborn Sense of Wonder

    Barbra Stephens over at the blog Honorable Mention featured a quotation from Rachel Carson the other day that really rings true and has been reverberating in my heart since I read it:

    "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." —Rachel Carson

    In the comments section of her blog, I wrote the reciprocal idea which is equally true:

    "If an adult is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one child who can share it, rediscovering with her the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in."

    I feel extremely fortunate to have had hundreds of children kindle my inborn sense of wonder. After all these years, my joy, excitement, and appreciation of the mystery of this wonderful world is fairly blazing away....

    If you don't have a child (or two or three) in your life, I recommend that you find a place in your heart (and calendar) and fill it.

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    The Child We Always Are

    Having taught (mostly) kindergarten in the same school for 29 years, I've had the privilege to see many children grow into adults. This continuity of experience has been of great benefit. It's taught me to see, value, and listen to the child in me and in everyone I meet whether an infant or a great grandparent.

    It's just as Leo Rosten, says:

    “You can understand and relate to most people better if you look at them—no matter how old or impressive they may be—as if they are children. For most of us never really grow up or mature all that much—we simply grow taller. O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are."
    —Leo Rosten

    (Credit goes to Barbra Stephens over at Honorable Mention for this quote.)

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Brian Malow's Geek Humor: A Virus Walks into a Bar...

    I was amused by these jokes....

    Maybe you will enjoy them, too---

    Sunday, November 22, 2009


     A 70 year-old wooden 110 keelboat sailing in Tomales Bay out of Inverness Yacht Club

    Two quotes have been rattling around in my head of late. The first is by E.B. White, my favorite American essayist who shared my obsession with sailing:

    "If a man must be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most. A small sailing craft is not only beautiful, it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble." -- E.B. White

    The second passage, this one by Joseph Campbell, points at something I suspect is true:

    People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life...I think that what we're really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on a purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive. --Joseph Campbell

    The experience of being fully alive is available everywhere, of course. For me, it is readily accessible while sailing a boat moving in the confluence of flowing wind and water.

    There's nothing obviously meaningful about sailing; it's simply exhilarating beyond measure.

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    The Charter for Compassion

    We talked about this Charter of Compassion at the last Society of Friends of the Buddha meeting.  

    It's a fine document, worth more than a passing thought, and deserving of consideration as a guiding light for our thoughts, speech, and actions in this world.

    Here is what it says:

    The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

    It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

    We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

    We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

    And here is a video saying the same thing:

    And a link to the website so you can affirm the charter (as I have done) along with the thousands of others who've already done so. Link.

    May you be well. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be at ease.

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    Moon Time

    Playing the Native American flute as part of my morning meditation practice has subtly heightened my awareness of the natural world. It's as if Native American wisdom seeps in to my heart with the music that comes through me.

    The music I make impelled me to order a couple of pendants, one of a wolf howling at the moon and the other of a snarling grizzly bear. I'm not the sort of guy who goes for talismans or jewelry...but.... something's shifted.

     I wear the howling wolf from the first quarter moon until the last quarter moon, the approximately two-week period when the moon is half full and more than half full.

    When the moon is less than half full I wear the grizzly bear pendant around my neck. The bear's energy feels right in the dark nights. I'll start wearing the grizzly pendant tomorrow and keep it on for the next two weeks as the sun shines on the backside of the moon, the side we never see.

    For two weeks the moon will take its turn being closer to the sun than the earth.
    There is something about being in moon time that helps me feel grounded to the earth. It's a non-clock cyclic time that the rest of life, fungi, plants, and animals alike live in. It's a lovely and beautiful realm.

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    American Beauty

    I am a media hermit. I don't have a TV. I haven't read a newspaper regularly since the Christian Science Monitor stopped printing its paper.

    I seldom listen to the radio. NPR doesn't work for me, because the range of debate on war is so limited. On NPR they never, never, never ask IF we should go to war; NPR debates HOW war should be waged. That's not a debate, that's a tactical discussion. Notice they often do human interest profiles of soldiers and others in military service. Can you remember one such story on an antiwar protester? I cannot. But I don't listen that much. Friends tell me that NPR seems "liberal" socially— it interviews gay activists or pro-life spokespeople—but on defense issues NPR is relentlessly pro-war, as if NPR really stands for National Pentagon Radio.

    No TV, radio, or newspaper news. Like I said. I'm a media hermit.

    That said, I'll watch an occasional movie.

    But when it comes to movies, I'm very picky. I tend to choose documentaries recommended to me by Netflix, about two or three each month, viewed on my computer, since I don't have a TV. I don't have the patience to watch most Hollywood movies: romantic comedies are too predictable; thrillers are too violent; dramas are generally too depressing; stand-up comedy too course.

    This would explain why until recently I hadn't seen American Beauty, a 1999 movie that won 5 Academy Awards, (Best Actor for Kevin Spacey, Best Screenplay for Alan Ball, Best Cinematography for Hunt Conrad, Best Director for Sam Mendes, and Best Picture for producers Cohen and Jinks).

    American Beauty is the exception that proves my anti-Hollywood rule. Here is a Hollywood movie that I enjoyed. I liked the directing and cinematography, especially the long-attention-span scenes. (I'm no fan of jumpy camerawork; I like to look at a scene far longer than most movies permit.) I liked the music. I liked the lighting. I liked the acting.

    I particularly liked the screenplay by Alan Ball. It was good all the way through, but hit its high point in the final voice over that concludes the movie. The feeling Lester Burnham describes at the end about beauty flowing like rain and feeling gratitude in every moment?

    Call me a lucky guy, but I feel gratitude like that regularly as a kindergarten teacher.

    I do, yes, I do.

    I'd always heard your entire  life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all. It stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves from the maple trees that lined our street. Or my grandmother's hands and the way her skin seemed like paper. And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird. And Janey, and Janey. And Carolyn.

    I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst and then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it.  And and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry, you will someday.

    You Tube clip:

    I guess if I could make one change to the movie I wouldn't kill off my main character at the end. My high school creative writing teacher counseled his budding novelists and screenwriters to resist that temptation. I think it was good advice.

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Dispelling Despair

    I often feel overwhelmed by the news, especially the dire news about global warming and climate change.

    Today was a day of protests aimed at raising awareness on this issue. This International Day of Climate Action was sponsored by website is here:

    Sebastopol friends held up somber signs downtown for passing motorists to know about how we've passed the threshold of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the level beyond which civilization-threatening global warming is believed to be inevitable. Somehow, if I had joined them, my feelings of despair would have deepened.

    On this day of 350 protests, I joined with my local Green Sangha this morning to transform a front yard into an edible landscape.

    We dug out weeds, spread mulch, and planted edibles. We soon transformed what had once been an ordinary front yard into a bee-friendly organic garden that will soon yield an abundance locally grown food. We believe the yard will produce too much for the householders to eat, thus prompting sharing of the earth's bounty with neighbors.

    An ancillary benefit was the fact that 25 people donated their labor without any expectation of ordinary compensation or trade. As I was weeding, it seemed strange that I was brought up to believe we should each own our own private property— "my home is my castle," as my dad's generation put it—and maintain our private domains ourselves or hire someone to do the maintenance. It's so much more fun to give away your labor with like-minded folks.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Bush (no relation; I asked) who is a male kindergarten teacher at Sonoma Day School. Men teaching kindergarten are an endangered species, and it's always exciting me meet a comrade. I enjoyed the companionship of old sangha friends, the pleasure of meeting new people, and the wholesome effects of light exercise in the service of communities both human and ecological.

    Giving away my labor definitely brightened my day and dispelled the despair.

    Sunday, October 18, 2009


    My mother died on this day 13 years ago.  I woke up this morning before dawn—spontaneously—at the exact time she passed over. For an hour I lay awake thinking of her, her death, and the difficult weeks and months that followed. I thought of the many more people who have died in these thirteen years. My mom was the first of our parents to die. We didn't know it then, but within 7 years the remaining three of our parents would be buried. In that same interval I lost my first Buddhist teacher, Kobun Chino Otogawa, and my closest mentor in education, Don Ryckman. Lots of difficult loss. At breakfast I talked with Sarah about all this; she said I was sounding depressed, that I should do something to get out of my funk.

    I went sailing today on my little sailboat on my favorite body of water, Tomales Bay. No activity I know...well no activity that can be discussed in polite company—and I'm still old-fashioned enough to prefer polite company—is so completely engrossing for me as is sailing a small boat on open water.

    Here's a picture of my father and mother taken on their wedding day on August 24, 1948.

    Just before he passed away, the Buddha said to his disciples, "Only my physical body will pass away. My Dharma body [Dharmakaya] will remain with you."

    By dying, my mother taught me the meaning of this teaching very clearly. Her body's gone. But important parts of my mother's energy live on in me and in my brothers and sisters. She's still here with me in countless ways. She gave me the gift of music, a gift for which I am deeply grateful. Each time I hear Bach's Italian Sonata or "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" I think of my mom; she used to play both of these Bach compositions on her baby grand piano when I was a little boy.

    Mom was by no means perfect; she transmitted much of the suffering she endured. That's been part of her teaching, too. When I first heard the Buddha's Noble Truths, the First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering, rang loudly throughout my mind and body with undeniable and convincing veracity. Thanks to my mother and father, I was receptive soil for the Buddha's seeds of wisdom.

    As the years have passed I've grown more and more forgiving of Mom's shortcomings. I've grown more appreciative of the simple fact she brought us, my brothers and sisters and me, into this world and got us through childhood.

    So here's to you mom!

    May you be safe, happy, and loving wherever you are.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    Appreciating Yourself

    Have you ever met—in real life or online—someone who has very similar interests to your own?

    Thanks to blogging, I've met someone like that, and I'm sure we'd like each other. His name is Alden Smith. We're the same age. Like me, he loves sailing, kayaking, and bicycling. He's invested his career educating young children. And he's interested in philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. When I found Alden's blog it felt like I'd found someone who's living almost the same life as mine, just in a different part of the world. Alden lives in New Zealand; I live in California.

    Perhaps some day, Alden and I will have the opportunity to meet in real life. It would be quite a thrill.

    But here's an odd thing to contemplate: I don't particularly appreciate in me the very same qualities I would so readily and naturally appreciate when I find them in someone else.

    Isn't that odd?

    I think it's a good exercise in self-appreciation to realize that you would really like yourself if you had the chance to make your acquaintance as a friend.

    Take a minute and imagine that you could meet someone so very much like you.

    Wouldn't you like them a whole lot? Yes, you would. So, give that gift to yourself: like yourself for being you.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Our Meeting Tonight

    We had a great meeting tonight talking about the Dharma.

    We talked about birth, death, suffering, the end of suffering. Sounds dour. But I almost hurt from laughing so much. What a meeting! the end of the meeting we were talking about health care and healthcare "reform" and I told folks about this video clip and they asked that I post it up here on MindfulHeart to share.

    I take requests. So here you go!

    Share it with your friends.

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    Cemetery Walk

    Our local historical society puts on a Cemetery Walk every October. It's their main fund-raising event of the year and they sell out all the tickets for each of the eight performances they offer.

    The evening begins with a simple, but satisfying meal in the community room of St. Stephen's Church, near the cemetery. We enjoyed soup, salad, bread, cheese, and sliced meats. After our meal, a costumed guide (our neighbor, Susan Nestor) led us on a short walk to the cemetery. We found our way in the failing twilight with the help of lumieres and flashlights.

    As we walked through the cemetery we stopped to see a half dozen short vignettes about the people buried beneath our feet. Although we're less than a month from Halloween, there was nothing spooky or macabre about these vignettes. They were short historical dramas which brought to life the stories of people who lived in Sebastopol before our time.

    After the alfresco six-act play, we repaired to Luther Burbank's restored Gold Ridge cottage for a dessert of warm apple cobbler and hot tea.

    Sarah and I had a wonderful evening Friday.

    Part Four: Wise Meditation and Wise Concentration

    Here is the fourth and final post on the Buddha's Eight Fold Path encompassing the final two aspects of the Buddha's recommended path to reduce if not entirely escape suffering.

    The oldest Buddhist texts, the Nikayas, contain other lists very similar to this list of eight. Other lists may include a different number of elements or sometimes the same elements will be arranged in a different order. The last two items are sometimes listed with concentration in the seventh place and meditation in the eighth.

    I have found that concentration aids meditation. Without the ability to concentrate, my meditation can get pretty scattered. So lists that place concentration before meditation makes sense to me.

    But I list them here as they're often seen with meditation in spot #7. The nice thing about ordering them with meditation before concentration is that you get a handy mnemonic device to help you remember the third through seventh parts of the 8FP.

    The mnemonic device? SALEM.

    S for Speech
    A for Action
    L for Livelihood
    E for Effort, and
    M for Meditation

    When I was beginning on the path, it was very helpful for me to having a memory aid to help me bring to mind the various branches of the 8FP. So, with that in mind, I share it with you.

    VII  Wise Meditation

    What is Wise Meditation?

    It is the release of all clinging.
    It is awakening to the deathless and unborn.
    This is Wise Meditation.

    (Commentary: What is meant by the "deathless" and "unborn" could fill volumes. Perhaps a good place to begin would be to try to awaken fully to this eternally present, present moment, NOW.)

    VIII   Wise Concentration

    What is Wise Concentration?

    It is the cultivation of onepointedness of mind.
    It is the overcoming of the scattered mind.
    This is Wise Concentration.

    (Commentary: A highly concentrated mind is very peaceful. There can be an seductive/addictive quality to concentration and because of that possibility it is helpful to have a teacher guide you through deeper states of concentration.)

    Saturday, October 3, 2009

    Part Three: Wise Livelihood and Wise Effort

    This post unpacks slightly what is meant by the fifth and sixth parts of the Noble Eight Fold Path.

    V. Wise Livelihood

    What is Wise Livelihood?

    It is abstaining from earning one's living by harming others.
    It is the earning of one's living in a way that brings no harm.
    This is Wise Livelihood.

    (Commentary: I ran across this idea when still in high school and it figured strongly in my choosing a career in education. I have always known that being a teacher would require leading a much more materially modest existence, but I had faith that a wise livelihood would have rewards that would compensate me immaterially. From my perspective now nearer to the end of my career, I feel glad to have heeded the Buddha's suggestion.)

    VI Wise Effort

    What is Wise Effort?

    It is the effort to restrain defilements.
    It is the effort to abandon defilements.
    It is the effort to develop wholesome states.
    It is the effort to maintain wholesome states.

    This is Wise Effort.

    (Commentary: Like Wise Speech, Wise Effort is one of the aspects of the 8FP that serves well as an entry point into Buddhist practice. Wise Effort is simple. Everyone gets it, even kindergartners. If more beginner Buddhists were to start down this aspect of the path here instead of on somewhere else—think meditation—the benefits of walking the path would appear reliably.)

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Part 2 Wise Speech and Wise Action

    III Wise Speech

    What is Wise Speech?

    It is abstaining from false speech.
    It is abstaining from deceptive speech.
    It is abstaining from harmful speech.
    It is abstaining from slanderous speech.
    It is abstaining from harsh speech.
    It is abstaining from idle chatter.

    It is the cultivation of truthful speech.
    It is the cultivation of helpful speech.
    It is the cultivation of speech on the Dharma.
    This is Wise Speech.

    (My commentary: Members of my group will be quite familiar with this list. We recite these lines as we move out of our meditation period and into our check-in confabulations. The practice of Wise Speech is the third step of eight, ahead of meditation and concentration. Now I am aware that this list is not heirarchical, but still, it's high on the list. Speech occupies an interesting place in our lives. It's a window into our thoughts and it's a form of action that feels somehow less consequential than physical action, even though, that's really debatable. Practicing Wise Speech as outlined above can be extremely challenging, especially when starting out. It's a great place to begin Buddhist practice, maybe even better than meditation, at first. Even after years of practice, I know that I occasionally violate the final prohibitions on idle chatter and harsh speech.)

    IV Contemplation on Wise Action

    And what is Wise Action?

    It is abstaining from taking life.
    It is abstaining from stealing.
    It is abstaining from sexual misconduct.
    It is supporting the Dharma.
    This is Wise Action.

    (My commentary: This is a very short list of the ethical precepts of Buddhism. Many lists for lay practitioners include prohibitions on using intoxicants and lying. The latter is already covered in Part III, Wise Speech. As to the former, intoxicants: here in the heart of California's wine country, the prohibition on intoxicants can be troublesome for many people interested in Buddhism. One interpretation is to allow consumption of alcohol, but not to the point of clouding one's mind. The problem is that once you've had even one small glass of Syrah it's hard to see the mind clouding. I go through periods of complete abstinence, but I'm not currently in one now.)

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Unpacking the Fourth Noble Truth, Part One: Wise View and Wise Intention

    (Note: Members of the Society of Friends of the Buddha are the intended audience for the next four posts of Mindful Heart. MindfulHeart blogspot readers are, however, welcome to read and comment as always.)

    The Fourth Noble Truth of the Buddha describes a way to increase happiness. To become happier, the Buddha would suggest you walk along the Eight Fold Path.

    The Eight-Fold Path consists, logically enough, of Eight Steps:

    1. Wise View
    2. Wise Intention
    3. Wise Speech
    4. Wise Action
    5. Wise Livelihood
    6. Wise Effort
    7. Wise Mindfulness, and
    8. Wise Concentration
    Countless books have been written about this subject. To thoroughly understand what is meant by the Eight-Fold Path could take ordinary people like me decades, nay, lifetimes of dedicated study.
    We're going to just scratch the surface of these teachings at our next Society of Friends meeting at my house. So, to help prime the pump for this discussion next Tuesday, I would like to offer a series of four posts with just a little more information about the Eight Fold Path.

    I.  Wise View:

    And what is Wise View?

    It is the understanding of suffering.
    It is the understanding of the origin of suffering.
    It is the understanding of the cessation of suffering.
    It is the understanding of the path that leads to the cessation of all sorrow and the awakening to the deathless.
    It is the understanding of Interdependent Transformation.
    It is the understanding of the deathless and unborn.
    This is Wise View.

    II. Wise Intention

    And what is Wise Intention?

    It is the intention of renunciation.
    It is the intention of good will.
    It is the intention of harmlessness.
    This is Wise Intention.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Shameless Ham

    I admit it. I'm a shameless ham.

    I guess it's okay--I'm a kindergarten teacher.

    More confessions: I added the applause.

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    My Famous Brother

    My brother, Jim, is famous worldwide for his work as an artist. He wrote and illustrated the Dinotopia series and is famous not only as a fine artist, but also as an illustrator for National Geographic and of science fiction book covers.

    Until today, he's kept it secret that he is the undisputed WORLD CHAMPION Unicycle Painter.

    If you have just a minute, take a look:

    That's my brother!

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    How to be as beautiful as a flower

    How to be as beautiful as a flower in four easy steps:

    1. Blossom by day; sleep by night.
    2. Pollinate profusely.
    3. Eat organic.
    4. If you get picked, practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Sunday Meme — Page 123

    Sarah Lulu over at her blog, Normal is a cycle on a washing machine featured this Meme today:

    1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
    2. Open the book to page 123.
    3. Find the fifth sentence.
    4. Post the next three sentences.
    5. Tag five people.

    I'm game.

    So here, from Pema Chödrön's Comfortable with Uncertainty—the book closest to me when I was reading Sarah Lulu's meme—is my contribution:

    "Begin with being willing to feel what you are going through. Be willing to have a compassionate relationship with the parts of yourself that you feel are not worthy of existing. If you are willing through meditation to be mindful not only of what feels comfortable but also of what pain feels like, if you even aspire to stay awake and open to what you're feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best you can in each moment, then something begins to change."

    And I'm not tagging anyone. You're already it.

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Lessons for the Living

    Over the summer I had the pleasure of meeting Stan Goldberg at Many Rivers Books and Tea. He glows with love and warmth.

    Stan's got cancer, serious cancer, and to deal with his cancer, he decided to get acquainted with the dying.

    Stan's written a book called Lessons for the Living about his experiences as a hospice volunteer. His book probably won't sell well. Most people seek to avoid thinking about dying and death.

    Funny, because dying is the ONE thing you can count on happening to you. Kind of important, too, don't you think? Death deserves more than suppressed thinking.

    Stan's book is a worthwhile read, a reminder that happiness and fulfillment do not come from consumerism and material wealth, as advertisers and the government officials who work for them would have you believe.

    Happiness comes, paradoxically, from coming into relationship with the murky and mucky but fertile unconscious, like a lotus blossom rooted in pond bottom mud.

    Here's Stan, speaking for himself:

    ...Hospice isn't a place—it's a state of mind, a willingness to compassionately accompany someone on their final journey, not judgmentally but as a friend who was willing to hold one's hand, cry, or just witness the end of life. As I walked that path with more than two hundred people, they became friends who led me into events that I had to face without any emotional armor. It was the first time in many years I felt authentic. These experiences reflected what's important in life more than could countless books and workshops. I watched the joy of a woman whose mouth was wired closed as she smelled a fragrant slice of apple, and I learned to accept what's possible rather than what's desired. I sat with a musician who was listening for the last time to a Grieg concerto, and I understood the beauty of things that had no words. As I played Chutes and Ladders with a child, I felt grief for the first time in my life and I cried as he told me he knew this would be our last game.

    Although every one of these people has died—these people who have taught me so much, my hospice teachers—this isn't a book about death. It's a blueprint for living. I participated in events so powerful they grabbed me and said, "Listen, this is important." When I paid attention, I felt a change. It was as if every time I left the bedside of a patient, I stepped into the crispness of a fall morning. Lucky people experience these transforming moments a few times throughout their lives. I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience these spiritual moments almost weekly for the past six years.
    In the middle of his talk, Stan played his Native American flute. He plays it for his hospice patients. The music spoke so eloquently that I decided to invite one of these flutes into my life. I play it every day, both as a part of my daily meditation practice and in kindergarten as a musical interlude before we partake of our mid-morning snack. It's a beautiful gift.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    What a Wonderful World

    When I'm in the middle of the summer I forget how much fun teaching kindergarten is. I think I forget because teaching kindergarten is both exhausting and exhilarating. In the middle of summer I remember mostly the hectic pace while I forget how rewarding it is to connect with so many people.

    When Friday rolled around, I was about as happy as Louis Armstrong sounds singing "What a Wonderful World."

    Last Friday was not a regular Friday; it was the beginning of a three-day weekend. I was extra happy. I had plans to sail on Tomales Bay with friends. Later in the weekend I had plans to work on my boat, which is fun for me. And, with three days off, there would be time to slow down and temporarily reenter summertime bliss.

    I decided to start the weekend with a Friday afternoon walk through town. During the walk I encountered four other teacher friends out and about town doing what I was doing: smiling and relishing the first long weekend of the new school term.

    I wanted to order a book, so I went to Many Rivers Books and Tea and who should be there? but a table of good friends having tea. I especially love Walter. He's in my Society of Friends group and brings his 18 year-old granddaughter to our meetings. Walter is my Rabbi/Roshi—85 years old and so full of love he glows in the dark. (He gave me a warm hug and in a sotto voice said, "I love you, man.")

    Walter was having tea with Karl, one of our most active local poets, and Mary and Charity who together or separately show up at a lot of the events Sarah and I attend as the Mayor and first man of Sebastopol. Mary is Charity's mom. I think it's sweet that you can find a mother and daughter enjoying tea together regularly most Friday afternoons.

    From left: Charity, Mary, Karl, and Walter at Many Rivers Books and Tea.

    The weekend which got off to this wonderful beginning turned out just as I had hoped. Better.

    We even got around to some autumnal chores like cleaning out the rain gutters before the winter monsoon arrives in a couple of months.

    Life is good.

    Sunday, September 6, 2009

    The Babemba Way

    My Golden State of California is having a major budget crisis this year. We've been spending a lot more than we're bringing in despite having cut deeply spending for social welfare and education. There are lots of reasons for our economic woes, but among them is the fact we incarcerate so many people that we now spend more in California on prisons than we do on state-funded higher education.

    We may think of ourselves as very with-it and advanced here in California, but I think we could learn from the so-called primitive Babemba tribe of South Africa. Jack Kornfield, in his book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace,writes about a different way of dealing with unskillful actions.

    "In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end,the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe."

    Saturday, September 5, 2009

    Musical Bodies

    I thought my Mindful Heart friends might enjoy a 59 second glimpse into my "work" life. Yes, I'll bet you will.

    Oh, yeah!

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Let Your Light Shine!

    As a kindergarten teacher, one of the first songs I teach my class is the old American spiritual, "This Little Light of Mine." It's a favorite because it affirms—musically—my faith in the transcendent qualities we each possess. Here's a quotation from Maryanne Williamson that expresses my sentiment well:

    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

    Actually, who are you not to be?

    You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

    We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

    And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

    —Marianne Williamson

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Single Payer Health Care

    Sarah and I went to a vigil in support of a Public Option for health care in the United States. As the Mayor of Sebastopol, Sarah welcomed the crowd, which favored the Public Option.

    This is not a political blog. But I must speak out in favor of a Public OPTION.

    Now, if you disagree with the idea of a public option, okay. You can opt for private medical insurance.

    "But I'll have to pay for the public option through higher taxes," you might object.

    Yeah, I know.

    But I never supported waging wars against Vietname, Iraq, or Afghanistan and I'm paying for those wars. Sometimes, when you're a member of a society you must pay for things you disagree with.

    So look here:

    Every country rations health care. America rations health care this very minute.


    We ration health care according to wealth. Not according to need.

    According to wealth.

    If you are rich enough, there is no ceiling on your health care. If you decide to employ a doctor to make your nose pretty and you can pay for it, you can employ a doctor to serve you. Never mind that in any other democracy that same doctor might have done something more urgent, perhaps treated someone—a child?—with terminal but curable cancer.

    Here in America, that rich person's pretty nose job gets to cut in line for medical services.

    Not only that. Our current system must account for more than medical need: It must also make big profits so it can pay top management their enormous salaries. And that's not all: Insurance companies must make profits so that shareholders can make money on their investments. How can insurance companies be that profitable? Come on, you know the answer: only by charging more in premiums than they pay out for services.

    Insurance companies can only make profits when they collect money for medical services they'll never provide.

    These built-in inefficiencies make Americans pay more money for less health care than any other developed country on the planet.

    Our United States health care system is unique in these ways.

    Other developed countries have made the moral choice to provide health care as a basic human right. Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states:

    Article 25.

    • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
    • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
    (Emphasis added)

    I pray that the United States takes upon itself as a moral duty the obligation to provide health care and education to all its residents. I know it would cost money. Perhaps we can find a way to save money by building fewer space-based weapons, fighter jets, and warships. If we can't, then, yes, my taxes will go up. I could live with that. But a nation that spends more on its military THAN ALL OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD COMBINED could probably afford to trim its military fat enough to do single-payer without raising taxes.

    [Has anyone wondered, as I have, how it is that our military, the one that fights to "protect" us from socialism, operates it own socialist medical system? I mean, soldiers don't get medical treatment according to their ability to pay for services, do they?]

    The moon over California September 2. Sleep tight!

    French Renaissance Mindfulness

    Mindfulness is a human quality. Because I first came across mindfulness in the writings of East Asian Zen Buddhists, I got the idea—wrongly—that Buddhists more or less coined the concept. Here's a quotation from a French Renaissance essayist, Michel de Montaigne that gives good expression to the practice of mindfulness arising in France in the 1500s:

    "When I dance, I dance, when I sleep, I sleep, yes, and when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if any thoughts drift to far-off matters for some part of the time ... I lead them back again to the walk, the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, to myself." —Michel de Montaigne
    And, needless to say, one could find countless other expressions of the practice of mindfulness in every human culture throughout all time. (And, I strongly suspect if we were able to perceive it, we would discover that the wisdom of mindfulness practice pervades all life forms.)

    The essential point is to cultivate mindfulness right here, just now.

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    This is Eden

    What follows is an excerpt from conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers that illuminates what is meant by the Navajo "Pollen Path."

    CAMPBELL: Yes, that is what I’m saying, Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t even a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. The problem with heaven is that you will be having such a good time there, you won’t even think of eternity. You’ll just have this unending delight in the beatific vision of God. But the experience of eternity right here and now, in all things, whether thought of as good or as evil, is the function of life.

    CAMPBELL: This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be, This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

    MOYERS: So the experience of God is beyond description, but we feel compelled to try to describe it?

    CAMPBELL: That’s right. Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others, The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.

    It’s a magnificent idea – an idea that appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, or has lived the life that he quite intended.

    MOYERS: And yet we all have lived a life that had a purpose. Do you believe that?

    CAMPBELL: Wait a minute. Just sheer life cannot be said to have a purpose, because look at all the different purposes it has all over the place. But each incarnation, you might say, has a potentiality, and the mission of life is to live that potentiality. How do you do it,’ My answer is, "Follow your bliss." There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam, And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss.

    MOYERS: I like the idea that it is not the destination that counts, it’s the journey.

    CAMPBELL: Yes. As Karlfried Graf Durckheim says, "When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey." The Navajo have that wonderful image of what they call the pollen path. Pollen is the life source, the pollen path is the path to the center. The Navajo say, "Oh, beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to the right of me, beauty to the left of me, beauty above me, beauty below me, I’m on the pollen path,"

    MOYERS: Eden was not, Eden will be.

    CAMPBELL: Eden is. "The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth, and men do not see it."

    MOYERS: Eden is – in this world of pain and suffering and death and violence?

    CAMPBELL: That is the way it feels, but this is it, this is Eden. When you see the kingdom spread upon the earth, the old way of living in the world is annihilated. That is the end of the world, The end of the world is not an event to come, it is an event of psychological transformation, of visionary transformation. You see not the world of solid things but a world of radiance.

    Saturday, August 29, 2009


    "The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
    -Fredrich Buechner, Wishful Thinking
    These words—which I got from Hazy Moon, thank you, Delwyn—prompted some rumination on the second Brahmavihara, Karuna, compassion.

    Buddhism identifies four Brahmaviharas. Brahmaviharas, sublime abidings, can be translated as "divine abodes." These are places where you can live—at least momentarily—as if you were among the gods.

    They are:

    Metta (Loving kindness)
    Karuna (Compassion)
    Mudita (Sympathetic Joy)
    Upekkha (Equanimity)

    Each day teaching kindergarten gives me many opportunities to experience the first three Brahmaviharas. (Equanimity is a bit more elusive in kindergarten, an environment ever so close to chaos.) They arrive in about equal measure, metta, karuna, and mudita. But I want to talk about karuna, compassion.


    Joy arises when I have the opportunity to respond to the pain or suffering of one of my students. Perhaps their pet died. Or their parents separated. Maybe a painful blister appeared on their palms after a long session on the monkey bars. Pain and suffering arise unbidden in a seemingly constant flow.

    Fortunately, our world is set up perfectly:

    When we respond to alleviate another person's suffering, our own hearts gladden in proportion to our ability to soothe the pain in person who's suffering.

    I can't explain why. It's just the way it is.

    In a future post, I hope to write about Stan Goldberg who discovered immeasurable joy in what might seem to be the least likely places: as a hospice volunteer at the side of people actively dying. Stan inspired me to take up the Native American flute which has taken me a few steps further down the pollen path.

    iWALK sebastopol

    Not long ago, in January 2008, a small group of friends that included Sarah and me decided to share our love of walking with the community. We got the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Sebastopol, and the local hospital to help publicize our first efforts. We got a total of $500 from Apple Valley Convalescent Hospital as the seed money (that's all) and off we went. Our first walks drew very few people outside our core group. But now we see lots more people and are making new friends and acquaintances on our walks.

    We offer walks on the final Saturday of each month. This month's walk attracted more than 40 walkers even though it was a scorcher.

    I got this photo of most of us at the beginning of the walk. We went into the Laguna de Santa Rosa on a property normally closed to the public.

    Early on we crossed the Laguna and spotted a Green Heron resting in the shade.

    This turtle posed for me.

    There are sweeping views in the floodplain.

    We stopped often to listen to docents from the Laguna Foundation tell us about the natural and human history of the area.

    We rested in the shade (it was 99°F) of several trees, this one a Black Walnut (Juglans nigra).

    Black walnuts, a member of the hickory family, produce nuts that run a bit smaller than the more familiar English walnut.

    Black walnuts come in a tough outer husk which produces a juice that becomes an inky greenish-black stain when exposed to air. Pomo Indians used these walnut husk-juices to dye the fibers woven into their baskets.

    Black walnuts have hardy rootstock. People figured out that the best way to grow walnuts in these parts is to graft English walnut branches on Black Walnut trees so as to get the best of both worlds: a hardy tree producing a tasty walnut.

    Someone with sharp eyes pointed out this praying mantis resting in the grass. This one knows what Mary Oliver was talking about when she mentions prayers made of grass.

    This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

    I enjoyed several conversations along the way, mostly with friends from earlier hikes. But what makes these outings such fun is the opportunity to meet new friends. I particularly enjoyed talking this morning with two women around my age, Patricia Currie, a fellow teacher who told me that she substituted for me 20 years ago at the beginning of her career as a teacher.

    I also enjoyed meeting David Peterson, a geologist, and his wife, Paula. Paula enjoyed photography, walking, and natural history so much that (to me, privately) she seemed in many ways to resemble Delwyn Tatton. (If she had talked in an Australian accent, the effect would have been complete.) I allowed myself permission to pretend that I was enjoying the pleasure of meeting and walking with my blogging buddy, Delwyn. This made me warmer and more outgoing than I normally am, and we got along splendidly. So this is one way that the friendships we develop through blogging can influence actual face-to-face new friendships in a positive way.

    Paula and me, walking in Eden.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    35 Years

    Today Sarah and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage.

    We were married not far from here on Angel Island where we could look across the sailboats in the bay at the city of San Francisco, and the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. It was a wonderful, but very simple wedding attended by family and close friends. We vowed to be loving and truthful to ourselves, to each other, and to the Earth. We've done a good job honoring those vows.

    Tonight we'll celebrate our marriage in a simple and quiet way with flowers, wine, and chocolate all made quite near our home.

    I am very grateful for the gifts our marriage has given ourselves, our children, and our community.

    Sunday, August 23, 2009

    The Art of Learning

    A quick and compelling read. I gobbled this book up one day last summer.

    My pal Bruce Gibbs loaned me a copy of The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. You may know something about Josh; he was the subject of a book and movie about a chess prodigy written by his father, Searching for Bobby Fischer. After his achievements in the world of chess, he turned his attention to Tai Chi Chuan earning the title of world champion.

    In this book Josh reflects on what is required to achieve at the highest levels. His thinking is a fertile blend of western determination and eastern mysticism. This list of the titles of his chapters suggest the flavor of the book: "Losing to Win," "The Downward Spiral," "Beginner's Mind," "Making Smaller Circles" "Using Adversity," "Slowing Down Time," "The Illusion of the Mystical," "Searching for the Zone."

    Waitzkin aptly describes what it feels like to lose oneself in the zone and merge with the activity at hand. Some passages in this book read as if written by Zen master Dogen; other passages read more like self-help books that fill bookstores these days. Waitzkin offers suggestions about how to travel into "The Zone."

    He emphasizes living in the moment. Here's Josh to speaking for himself:

    We don't live within a Hollywood screenplay where the crescendo erupts just when we want it to, and more often than not the climactic moments in our lives will follow many unclimactic normal, humdrum hours, days, weeks, or years. So how do we step up when our moment suddenly arises?

    My answer is to define the question Not only do we have to be good at waiting, we have to love it. Because waiting is not waiting, it is life. Too many of us live without fully engaging our minds, waiting for that moment when our real lives begin Years pass in boredom, but that is okay becuase when our true love comes around, or we discover our real calling, we will begin. Of course the sad truth is that if we are not present to the moment, our true love could come and go and we wouldn't even notice. And we will have become someone other than the you or I who would be able to embrace it. I believe an appreciation for simplicity, the everyday—the ability to dive deeply into the banal and discover life's hidden richness—is where success, let alone happiness, emerges.
    Finally, for any teachers who might happen to this blog, Waitzkin discusses the distinction between entity and incremental theories of intelligence. Teachers strongly influence their students, and the best ones emphaisize process, effort, and a problem solving style that welcomes setbacks as learning opportunities. Lesser teachers simply praise students, "Way to go! Awesome job! You're so smart!" They don't recognize how their well-intended feedback harms students when their efforts fall short. In this, Waitzkin echoes Alfie Kohn in regard to the corrosive influence that a teacher's praise has upon his students.