Saturday, February 28, 2009

Feb. 28, 2009 Gratitude: Community

It's the last day of February already. Already the year is flying by.

I'm grateful this evening for the day I spent in my community. I went out for a walk led by my friend and Sebastopol City Councilman, Guy Wilson. Guy grew up in Palo Alto, the same as me. He lived about a mile from where I lived, and was only one year ahead of me in school. But Guy and I didn't meet until we were both living here in Sebastopol.

We talked during the walk and then over tea for another 90 minutes or so. Conversation ranged from city politics to travel to our adult offsprung.

Then on the way home I saw friends having tea at our town's other tea shop, Many Rivers Books and Tea and stopped in for a shorter conversation there.

Stopping by the post office on the way home, I ran into another friend, Craig Price, for yet another extended conversastion, this one mostly about Africa. I didn't get home until 3 PM after almost 6 hours of nonstop social interaction.

Luckily, I didn't have anything too pressing to do today, nothing that couldn't just as well wait until tomorrow, so I was able to enjoy every minute of my serial conversations.

I really am grateful to live in an actual community where I can go out for a walk that I thought would be finished well before lunch and return home in the mid afternoon full of unplanned social time in town.

It's going to rain all day tomorrow, so I'll have time to "catch up."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Feb. 27, 2009 Gratitude:

This evening I'm grateful for:

Making the effort to turn the mind towards gratitude.

Singing with other teachers in the makeshift recording studio set up in the library after school.

My conversations with Andrew and Dave Tarca after the recordings were made.

Conversation over dinner with my wife about, well, so many things.

Lots of talk today, lots of connection... connection is one of the basic human needs.

My effort to keep computer time less than time spent outdoors in nature and/or exercising. I think I made it today.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Feb. 26, 2009 Gratitude:

Front yard blossoms

This evening I feel grateful for:

The Non-violent Communication class I'm taking with Sarah, and our little celebratory dessert and conversation we have afterwords at the Starlight Wine Bar. We have a wonderful time on Thursdays!

My student teacher, Amanda Brice, for enhancing my classroom by bringing in a writing center.

Kindergarten student Jack B. for learning how to ride a bike today. It always feels great, somehow, to be the one who witnesses this rite of passage in a student's life. I put a 12 second video clip of this on my other blog.

Laguna Farm, our CSA which feeds me not only the best possible produce, but also provides something to feed the soul: COMMUNITY.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feb. 25, 2009 Gratitude:

Quince blossom

This evening I am grateful for:

Every act of kindness--

Great or small,
Near or far,
Known or unknown,
Ordinary or extraordinary.

For Pandora Radio (What's that? Click: Pandora)
(I'm listening to it right now.)

A fine dinner out in Bodega Bay with Sarah, to celebrate... I can't say what yet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Feb. 24, 2009: Miscellaneous

This evening, I feel grateful for so many things. These three appeared first, so first come, first served:

  • The Sutra Salon book club group. We're reading the Flower Ornament Scripture and all of us seem to have been touched by its exuberant beauty!
  • While I was at the meeting Sarah went to the local grocer and came home with everything that was on the list and something that wasn't, namely a pint of ice cream, Ben and Jerry's Phish Food, to be precise. If ice cream can taste better than Phish Food, I can't imagine how. (It's so rich two teaspoons are plenty!)
  • Miguel, at school this morning telling me that I had appeared in his happy dream last night. He told me I was singing my song, Deeply Beautiful, with a voice loud and clear with everyone singing along. Knowing that you appear in your students dreams singing is very reassuring, let me tell you.

Feb. 23 Gratitude: My Body

This day, my gratitude is for my body. It's a good guide to how things are really feeling. It also puts up with a good deal of mindlessness and disregard on my mind's part. (My mind is so demanding of attention compared to my long-suffering, comparatively neglected body.)

In any event,

  • I went to the gym today after school.
  • I went square dancing with Sarah.
  • I got to be early.

And my body is happy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Feb. 22 Gratitude: Rain

This evening I feel grateful for:

Rain. 50mm fell in our backyard in the last 24 hours. We need it so badly that it feels like the most wonderful gift imaginable.

Reading. I finished Bill Bryson's memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. At one point I laughed so hard I dropped the book and had to deliberately catch my breath. Next, I began reading the book suggested for my Awakening Joy class, How We Choose to be Happy by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks. Rainy day reading

Writing. I finished a piece as a Guest Blogger on the I.N.K. blog. I published it but it has not shown up on their website yet. It should be up there Monday. It was fun to write. Kindergarten teachers, take note.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Feb. 21 Gratitude: Company of Friends

We had a couple of friends over for dinner tonight, Clay and Nancy, and we shared an evening filled with wide ranging conversation over wholesome food.

The dishes are washed.
It's raining so hard now that
Haydn's hard to hear.

Cinquain: Matt. 5:44

A Cinquain is a five line poem.

A much-used form follows a format of 22 syllables arranged thus:

First Line: 2 syllables
Second Line 4 syllables
Third Line 6 syllales
Fourth Line: 8 syllables
Fifth line: 2 syllables

Here's one for you inspired by a bumper sticker I see now and then:

Matt. 5:44
(Look it up)

When Lord
Jesus said, "Love
Your Enemies," I think
He probably meant to say, "Don't
Kill them."

Gratitude Feb. 20, 2009: Sunrise, Sunset

This post comes in on Saturday morning, twelve hours behind schedule.

Last night I went with the Mayor to a party to honor our retiring City Manager, Dave Brennan. He's done a wonderful job for our city. A large gathering of former city officials came to wish him well in his golden years.

I was thinking about the Gratitude blog and snapped a photo at sunrise and at sunset from our east facing living room window:

The view at dawn, February 20, 2009

Same view at dusk, about 11 hours later.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gratitude Feb. 19, 2009

This evening I'm grateful for:

the Non-violent Communication class that Sarah and I are taking...

the Starlight Cafe in Sebastopol, where we had dessert after...

and for the practice of gratitude.

Feb. 17 Gratitude: My Friend, David Schwartz

Tonight I am grateful for my friend, David Schwartz. He's a children's book author. He asked me to take his place as a guest blogger on a popular blog. I've been working on it and feeling glad to have been asked.

It's funny, I think, that it's so pleasing to be asked to do someone a favor, to help someone out.

I guess it's the need we all have to be needed.

As a teacher, one of the best and most reliable ways to help a student who needs you is to ask them to do something for you...pick up the floor, put up the chairs, wash the tables. It's the best thing in the world to be needed and helpful.

I think that's how we get teenagers so angry. We don't let them help.


Leaves Falling

I wish I understood the beauty
in leaves falling.

To whom
are we beautiful
as we go?

-David Ignatow

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feb. 17 Gratitude: Society of Friends

Tonight I am, again, grateful to have had the Society of Friends over for meditation, tea, and discussion of the Dharma. It's the highlight of my week.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Feb. 16 Gratitude

This evening's gratitudes:

A long walk (in the rain, as it turned out) with Sarah;

Streams really running, for the first time this season, in Northern California;

Green soup featuring bokchoi served with a side of steamed sweet potato slices;

A long effort at writing about DIBELS for another blog

The music of William Lawes.

Bob Brown Haiku

I draw boats in ink
right under your very nose,
still you keep swimming.

--Bob Brown

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Feb. 15 Gratitude

This evening I am grateful for 6 things:

  • Rain, enough rain, finally, to begin to run in creeks and streams—the first real rain of the rainy season, two months overdue;
  • Books to read by the cozy fireplace as it rains hard outside;
  • A computer and the internet to link me to friends around the world;
  • A widget that displays a constantly updated realtime image of the earth as it would appear from the moon;
  • My wife for her company, and my adult children for their wonderfulness;
  • Tea to warm the body and waken the mind.

Love and Death

If you think it’s possible that you or someone you know might die someday, consider reading this book.

Forrest Church’s Love and Death.

In spite of what the title may lead you to think, this book is more about how to live and love well. It’s about his courage to face that which we most want to turn away from—death—and how facing death helps one live well.

“ help ensure a good exit, one thing is fully within our power. We can take care of unfinished business. We can make peace with ourselves, reconcile, where possible with our loved ones, and free ourselves to say yes to the cosmos, to embrace our lives and deaths, to make peace with God.”

I first learned of Church when I heard him interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. I was impressed by his equanimity, his acceptance, (dare I say cheerfulness?) in spite of his situation: being in his late 50s and faced with the news that he had malignant cancer.

How does one live so that this news does not cause trauma? In this book, Church shares his wisdom. He offers many gems, of which I’ll share three. He advises:

Want what you have.

Be who you are.

Do what you can.

The book is more than the story of his illness, though it is that, too, told with courage. He offers advice on how to visit someone in the hospital—advice informed by his experience as the patient.

He urges us, above, all to sow the seeds of love in our lives. Here, I’ll quote a bit from the introduction:

"Death is not life’s goal, only life’s terminus. The goal is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for. This is where love comes into the picture. The one thing that can’t be taken from us, even by death, is the love we give away before we go.

Today I turn to the dual theme of love and death with a new sense of urgency. On February 4, 2008 I informed the members and friends of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City whose destiny and mine have been linked for so many years, that my esophageal cancer, first diagnosed and treated in the fall of 2006, had returned with a vengeance and that my time remaining was likely to be numbered in months, not years. “I won’t predict how my body will hold up during the course of treatment,” I wrote, “but I can tell you what I hope to do. Though all of our stories end in the middle, with ongoing business piled high, I should like to end my story, if I may, by summing up my thoughts on love and death in a book that might bring as much comfort to others as you have brought to me.”

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Feb. 14 Gratitude: My Wife

On Valentine's Day what I am most grateful for is my wife, Sarah. She's been my companion, my confidant, my partner, my trusted adviser, and the skillful mother of my two now adult children.
She's influenced my life in so many ways that I simply cannot imagine what my life might otherwise have been like had I not met her in the fall of 1970.

But I did meet her. My life became entwined with hers, and I'm very grateful for that.

Taking Refuge: Being an Adult in Spriritual Practice

One’s relationship to marriage can serve as a metaphor for one’s relationship to spiritual practice.

Not so long ago, many marriages were arranged. Divorce was unthinkable. You got married and stayed married. Similarly, in past generations one’s spiritual path was both durable and mainly choiceless. If you were born Catholic, you stayed Catholic.

In modern times serial relationships (if not outright promiscuity), both marital and spiritual, have been more common.

Personally, I’ve been far more faithful maritally than spiritually. I’ve been married for 35 years. Sarah and I have been together since 1971, 38 years.

Spiritually, I’ve played the field.

I was born into a family that practiced Christianity. We followed a trajectory that began as Southern Baptists and traveled leftwards through mainstream Protestant Churches, and ended by the time I went to college, just outside the Christian realm. We were Unitarians. My mother died as an Episcopalian, my father as a Catholic. The grand tour of Christianity. I honor these Christian roots and still admire the teachings of Jesus, particularly his Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Book of Matthew. It was, in fact, that teaching that lit the fire under me.

At 18 I fledged. I ventured first into Friends Meetings (Quakers) but soon found nourishment in Buddhism. Buddhism is a vast realm with as much range as Christianity. Part of what attracted me to Buddhism was the very fact that it was exotic. I saw amazing commitment to spiritual practice there. I felt that, paradoxically, I’d get closer to understanding Jesus's Sermon on the Mount by becoming a Buddhist than by staying a Christian. (I no longer feel that way, but I did then.)

I began as a Zen practitioner with a Sensei fresh from Japan, Kobun Chino Otagawa. I dabbled in several different groups over the decades until finally settling in with Society of Friends of the Buddha, a group blending Quaker process with Buddhist content. This group is unaffiliated but in harmony with Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

Just as I decided to enter into a formal and committed marital relationship with my wife in 1974, I decided to enter a formal and committed spiritual relationship with Buddhism in 2002.

To do this as a Buddhist, one takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (spiritual community) under the guidance of a teacher.

Taking refuge as a Buddhist can sound childish, like taking comfort in a parent, as a child would.

But taking refuge as a Buddhist is exactly the opposite of that.

Taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha is making the commitment to be awake to the present moment just as it is, with eyes, ears, and heart wide open, fully aware, letting it all be just as it is. This is not easy.

I’ve found that this journey requires gumption, guts, the support of reliable teachings, a good teacher, and friends who travel the path with me.

It’s work for adults, but it’s brought me childlike wonder and joy.

Feb. 13 Gratitude: Patience

For me, the five hardest days in kindergarten are likely to be (in chronological order):

The first day of school


The day before winter holiday

Valentine's Day

The day before spring break

In any particular year, any of these days can be the hardest. It depends on the class. But all of these days involve classroom celebrations, a departure from the routines, and too much excitement.

Yesterday was a difficult day for me. I reached for patience all morning long. Seldom do I feel like my well of patience might run dry, but yesterday I could see the bottom of the well.

I had compassion for myself, saying, "This is a really tough job!!" I gave myself little minibreaks to breath deeply. Thank goodness both of my student teachers were there to make this possible. Breathing deeply allowed me to recover my compassion for my students and myself, and to find enough equanimity and guide the class through the excitement, exhilaration, and, dare I say agitation of Valentine's Day.

So, for the deliberate cultivation of patience I feel grateful. It saved me yesterday.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Feb. 12 Gratitude: Blossoms at Lunch

At lunch today at school I sat beneath the ornamental cherry trees. They've been bare since November. I hadn't been outdoors during lunch for the past few days (meetings, rain) and while I've been away, they've begun blossoming.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Feb. 11 Gratitude: Teflon and Velcro

This has been one of those days when every bit of news seems to have been discouraging. Financial meltdowns. Global warming. Bush fires in Australia set by arsonists. Conflict, endless conflict in the Middle East. Strip mining in West Virginia. California budget problems. Salmonella tainted peanut butter in the US. Salmon not spawning in the California streams. On and on.

I'm grateful to know that the human mind is built to register and retain negative information as if it were made of Velcro. Keeping track of potentially threatening things has survival value.

Simultaneously, we're built to slough off positive information as if our minds were made of Teflon. In this way our minds can remain clear enough to hold on to the next piece of negative information.


I'm grateful to know that my mind works like that: Good news, forget it. Bad news, cherish it.

Today wasn't actually a bad day. It just feels like it was a bad day.

My doctor didn't call to tell me or anyone in my immediate circle that we've got a new and serious malady. My bank didn't fail today. It rained, but didn't flood. My car started when I turned the key. I didn't get into a collision. The lights stayed on. My computer, a Macintosh, worked flawlessly all day, as it always seems to do, and I've grown accustomed to that.

I got to the gym. My wife made dinner and I did the dishes; my belly's full and the kitchen's clean. I'm about 10 minutes from brushing my teeth and going to my favorite chair by the fire to read a new book I started yesterday titled, A Guide the Good Life by philosophy professor, William B. Irvine.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Feb. 10 Gratitude: The Flower Ornament Scripture

This amazing book can make the world shine.

This evening I am grateful for :
  • the Sutra Salon, a book club I belong to
  • the Flower Ornament Scripture, the book we're reading,
  • Thomas Cleary, the scholar who translated it, and
  • Walter Blom, my good friend, who helped me "get it" that this book was addressed not to my head, but to my heart. I'm reading it aloud to myself or to my wife if she's home.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Whaa!ambulance

In our family, if you need a shoulder to cry on, you say, "I need to call the Whaambulance."

The Whaambulance is the caring attention of a loving family member.

Elizabeth called from New York today after a day when one thing after another went wrong. She wanted to know if I could be her Whaambulance. I'm grateful that I had had today off and was in a place to just listen. We talked for almost an hour.

By the end of the conversation she was feeling better and thinking about what she can be grateful for: a weekend almost 4 days long right around the corner. A weekend that long is pretty rare in medical school. I'm grateful for that, too.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Feb. 8 Gratitude: Ted's New Dog, Metta

Ted phoned tonight as he does on Sunday night with news of the week.

The happy news is that the care package I sent a month ago has arrived and that he's got a puppy dog, a gift from the village.

He named the dog Metta, after the Metta Sutta and the Metta retreat we did together last summer. This fills me with joy, gratitude, and gladness.

What's the Metta Sutta you might ask?

It's an early Buddhist teaching, part of the Sutta Nipata, and a favorite of mine. I've memorized this and recite it daily. It's a part of my daily practice. I goes like this:

The Metta Sutta

This is what should be done by those who are skilled in goodness and who know the path of peace.

Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech, humble and not conceited, contented and easily satisfied, unburdened by duties, frugal, peaceful and calm, wise and skillful, not proud or demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove. Wishing in gladness and safety: May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living things there may be, whether they be weak or strong, omitting none, the great, mighty, medium, short or small; the seen and unseen, those living near and far away, those born and to be born:

May all beings be at ease.

Let none deceive another or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.

Radiating kindness over the entire world, spreading upward to the skies and downward to the depths, outward and unbounded, freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down, free from drowsiness, one should sustain this recollection.

This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views the pure-hearted one, having clarity of understanding, being freed from all sense desires will awaken to the uncreated, unconditioned, deathless and unborn.

Catherine Ingram

I'm taking James Baraz's course Awakening Joy.

Thanks to it, I've been introduced to Catherine Ingram and her work. Here's an exerpt from one of her books. I love it, and want to share it. So, here:


"Except ye become as little children

Ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."


On the last day of one of our silent retreats a man spoke about the parting words he had heard from his girlfriend before leaving her the week before. "Now, don't you go and fall in love with someone there," she told him. The man looked around at the group of sixty and said, "How am I going to explain that I fell in love with everyone?" I assured him that his girlfriend probably wouldn't mind that as much.

One of the great gifts of my life comes from witnessing what happens in silent retreats. Participants, many of them strangers to each other, come together and, with the exception of two hour-long group sessions per day, are silent for a week. They are given no spiritual practice or instructions but are encouraged instead to rest as much as needed and to notice throughout the day the clear awareness to which no thought ever sticks.

Day by day, joyousness and surprising bursts of energy infect the participants as they feel the naturalness of being awake and sharing companionship without the stories and ego presentations that usually make up society. People will frequently describe feelings that are familiar from childhood such as waking up in the day and feeling excited for no particular reason. We refer to this as causeless joy or the pure joy of existence. It is sometimes experienced as a current that flows inside, like champagne bubbles of well-being.

The feeling of well-being emerges from our natural condition of innocence. In awakened awareness, the clear perception through which we regard the world is renewed each moment. We are no longer mentally dragging around the hardened crust of history about ourselves or having to wear the weighty armoring of self-importance.

I once spent a couple days on the island of Lanai in Hawaii at an exclusive resort that often attracts guests who are titans of industry. One day I was walking on a path down to the ocean and an older man passed me. I immediately sensed an imperious attitude in his purposeful march and his cheerless determined face that seemed carved out of stone. We looked each other in the eye, and a chill wind blew through my soul. I was reminded once again of the burden of thinking of oneself as somebody in the world, someone with power over others. I felt compassion for the man because, despite whatever wealth he had accumulated, I sensed only his impoverishment at missing what I consider the best of life. If one is not in touch with one's innocence, there is no heaven to be found, even in the most beautiful places on earth.

The most consistent characteristic of awakened teachers and people I have met is a childlike nature. They laugh, cry, twinkle, and joke, all with a spontaneity born of freedom. Their faces are fluid and reflect a timeless sweetness, even into old age. Poonjaji, a model of dignity into his eighties, could be at times downright goofy--and we loved it. He also exhibited a free-flowing range of emotions. On my first visit to meet him I noticed that almost every day he would laugh and cry several times during gatherings with students. Sometimes his tears would come from the happiness of seeing a person release a long held burden; sometimes he would cry with someone who had suffered a loss. As with a child, feelings would pass through him and be gone as quickly as they had come, leaving no lingering mood behind.

We all love the innocence we see in children. We delight in watching them learn new things and play in wild abandon. We love to hear their questions and reflections about the world because they spring from original awareness and the brilliance that obtains. We wistfully watch them sleeping and remember that feeling of perfect peace. We delight in the company of children because they remind us of our own innocence.

But in awakened awareness, innocence is no longer the special province of children. We, too, delight in learning new things and playing in abandon; our original awareness questions and reflects in brilliance; and we, too, sleep in deep peace. Innocence is a condition not dependent on age but on attitude. It lives in continual surprise, not knowing how things are supposed to go, not needing them to go a certain way.

--Catherine Ingram

from her book Passionate Presence

When Death Comes

(Image is a self portrait by Arnold Böcklin (1827 - 1901), the 19th century artist from my brother's blog, Gurney Journey)

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular.

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

—Mary Oliver

Entering the Kingdom (for Delwyn)

Entering the Kingdom

The crows see me.
They stretch their glossy necks
In the tallest branches
Of green trees. I am
Possibly dangerous, I am
Entering the kingdom.

The dream of my life
Is to lie down by a slow river
And stare at the light in the trees—
To learn something by being nothing
A little while but the rich
Lens of attention.

But the crows puff their feathers and cry
Between me and the sun,
And I should go now.
They know me for what I am.
No dreamer,
No eater of leaves.

—Mary Oliver

Note: Ah, how wonderful to discover as we grow older and wiser that we can learn to abide for longer moments in the rich lens of attention.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Feb. 7 Gratitude Tax-equanimity

I'm grateful for having somehow found some equanimity to prepare the federal income tax records without getting upset. It took me most of the day and the evening, and it's work I have really detested in the past.

But this year, in 2009, I did it (with Sarah's help) without ruffling a feather.

I think two things contributed to this change:

1. A president I don't find so difficult to think about.

2. This gratitude blog.

Opening to the Lovely

Posts by Delwyn, Katherine, and Mary over at have brought to mind a quote at the bottom of this post.

Beauty surrounds us, if we have only the eyes to see.

The view at sunrise from our living room window this morning....

The flowering vine at our front door...

A friend who's not taking Saturday off work....

"This itself is the whole of the journey, opening your heart to that which is lovely. Because of their feeling for the lovely, beings who are afraid of birth and death, aging and decaying, are freed from their fear. This is the way you must train yourself: I will become a friend and an intimate of the lovely. To do this I must closely observe and embrace all states of mind that are good."

--a teaching of the Buddha recorded in the Samyutta Nikaya

Friday, February 6, 2009

Feb. 6 Gratitude--Sarah's Birthday

This evening we celebrate Sarah's birthday.

Flowers. Presents. Dinner at a favorite restaurant. Live theater. Home by fire. Shared happiness. And no time for blogging.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Feb. 5 Gratitude: Jerry Mander

This evening I feel grateful for having had the chance to meet Jerry Mander. He's the author of several books. He was in Sebastopol tonight to talk about his newest book, The Superferry Chronicles. It's a tale of community action taken against an anti-community project, a huge 40 mph ferry that operates now between Oahu and Maui. The ferry has proven lethal to the humpback whales and other marine life that live in the waters it navigates. It serves, too, as a prototype for military vessels coveted by the US Navy. It's quite a story!

But the real reason I ventured into town this evening had roots extending back to a time when I had no gray hair, no kids, and no clear idea about how to live life well.

More than 30 years ago, Jerry wrote a book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. I bought the book and skimmed it. While I'm aware that other books written since then make stronger and more persuasive criticisms of television and its effect on society, Jerry's book solidified my nascent intention to banish television from my home. Jerry's book helped me renounce the tube. I've never regretted it.

I'm sometimes asked for advice for living, you know, questions like, "How did you raise two such wonderful kids?" If I think it best to answer in just two words I'll probably respond by saying,

"No television."

And I mean it quite sincerely.

I'm grateful tonight for the opportunity to shake the hand and thank in person Jerry Mander. He made a contribution to my life. Thank you, Jerry!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Feb. 4 Gratitude

I'm grateful to have met and married my wife, Sarah, who's so sensible and level-headed.

I'm grateful to have had the wit, wisdom and will to work on the marriage when it wasn't easy.

I'm grateful to cherish it to the fullest extent of my [limited] ability, helped by the daily reminder that I must be separated by illness and death from even this precious blessing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Warming the Heart

Here, offered for your consideration, is another of my daily contemplations. As with the contemplation on Kindness offered earlier, I have committed this contemplation to memory. I say it very slowly and silently to myself, allowing the feelings evoked by the words wash through my body.

I call this one "Warming the Heart." It's mostly a compilation of Thich Nhat Hahn's gathas.

It goes like this:


Warming the Heart

In each precious moment I am filled with deep gratitude.

May I recognize the seeds of joy and happiness in my heart and in the hearts of all sentient existence.

May I cultivate the seeds of joy and happiness in my heart and in the hearts of all sentient existence.

May I touch the seeds of joy and happiness in my heart and in the hearts of all sentient existence.

Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, I feel it is a wonderful moment.



I've found that the formula of recognition, cultivation, and stabilization of positive states of mind to be very helpful. At first, we may not even recognize a positive state of mind when it occurs. So, the first step is to notice positive mind states when they arise. Secondly, once we recognize positive mind states, we can begin to cultivate them. Finally, as we learn to cultivate them with some regularity, we find that our minds begin to dwell in positive states more frequently. This contemplation uses that formula (substituting the word touch for stabilization).

Garden Imagery
I guess it's because I'm a kindergarten teacher. Kindergarden. I've always liked that! I thank Froebel for that. I like imagery arising from gardens in spiritual contexts. Maybe it's my Christian roots showing (Garden of Eden). But whatever the source of my affinity for this imagery, the idea of seeds of mind states and of their cultivation really works for me. We can plant and water seeds of happiness in our lives. Or not.

Sentient Existence
This phrase is Buddhist in formulation and feel. Sentient existence the most expansive and inclusive phrase I know to extend our wish to spread and share joy and happiness widely. It also steers pretty clear of concepts of God for the benefit of agnostics. But sentient existence is heady. If you wish to substitute another phrase (perhaps "all God's creatures") please do so. The idea here, again, is to adapt and use this contemplation to incline our minds more towards happiness and joy.

Joy vs Happiness
I suppose there are many ways to distinguish one from the other. They're related and not really separate, I guess, but feel different. Here's how they distinguish themselves in my way of thinking. For me, joy is mostly other-directed: Joy concerns the gladdened feelings I get when good things happen to other people.

Happiness is mostly an internal feeling when good things happen inside.

How this Contemplation Works
I find that this contemplation comes to mind quite often. It reminds me to water seeds of happiness in whatever situation I'm in. I might snap off the radio if it plays a news report about suffering or conflict over which I have no control. I might pay more attention to the collard greens growing in the garden. I might listen more intently as a kindergartner tells me news of their morning. I might refrain from complaining about some unpleasant aspect of my job over which I have no control and instead think about a pleasant or rewarding aspect of my job. I might fill the bird feeder outside my classroom thinking about the happiness of birds getting enough to eat. This contemplation helps my heart area feel like a garden resplendent with flowers instead of a bare patch of dusty dirt.

May it bring you joy and happiness, too!

Gratitude 2/3: The Society of Friends

I am grateful—very grateful—for The Society of Friends who met here tonight to discuss Chapter 17 of the Dhammapada, Anger. I had been looking forward to this meeting for several days.

We sat around the table listening intently to each other respond to what the Buddha taught about anger.

I felt enriched, as if each person brought a bowl of jewels to share. Each person's insights into and experiences with anger enlivened, enriched, and deepened the Dharma for me.

Sangham saranam gachami!
(I take refuge in my spiritual friends!)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Gratitude 2/2

Tonight I feel grateful for my square dancing friends and my wife with whom I danced away the cares of the day. (It was 100s day at school and a bit frenetic. I came home feeling tired and grumpy.)

For the gym.

For all the friends who are coming over tomorrow night. I am really looking forward to our meeting.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kindness Contemplation

I've memorized a set of contemplations that I review each morning upon arising.

I thought I'd share some of them (the ones that are not specifically Buddhist in nature) here on the Mindful Heart blog with the hope that someone else may try them out.

They've brought me much happiness.

The first one I want to share is a contemplation on cultivating kindness. It goes like this.

Cultivating Kindness Contemplation

With every act of kindness, the way grows clearer.

With every act of caring, the way grows smoother.

We rejoice in every act of kindness—

Great or small,
Near or far,
Known or unknown,
Ordinary or extraordinary.

We rejoice in every act of caring—

Great or small,
Near or far,
Known or unknown,
Ordinary or extraordinary.

May kindness and caring
blossom within us and within all sentient existence;
May wisdom and compassion
blossom within us and within all sentient existence;
May gratitude and serenity
blossom within us and within all sentient existence;

Breath after breath,
Minute after minute,
Hour after hour,
Day after day,
Week after week,
Month after month,
Year after year,
Life after life,

As we attain the unexcelled peace, serenity, and bliss of Nirvana.

Note: This contemplation lends itself well to memorization. Once you've got it in your memory banks you can recite it at various times of day (upon arising, before retiring) and incline your mind towards kindness. I encourage you to substitute words from your own spiritual tradition so it fits for you. For example, if you're Christian you could substitute "heaven" for "Nirvana" in the last line. For "sentient existence" you could substitute "All God's creatures" and so forth.

Gratitude 2/1

I'm grateful for:

Being called to teach. Teaching is a noble calling. It is rewarding beyond words.

My sister, Martha, who brought her friends Mary and Marilyn to visit Sebastopol on Saturday.

All the many people whom I love.

My son,Ted, for calling like clockwork from Africa every Sunday night, and for all the people in Togo who are connecting with him.

And daughter, Elizabeth, who ran 4 miles in a Road Runners race and called to tell us about it.

Awakening Joy

Someone once said that had the Buddha been a better marketer he would have reframed his Four Noble Truths thus:

Original Version:

There is suffering.
Suffering has causes.
Suffering can be extinguished by interrupting its causes.
To extinguish suffering, follow The Noble 8-Fold Path.

Revised Version:

There is Incredible Joy!
Joy has causes.
The causes of Incredible Joy can be cultivated.
To cultivate Incredible Joy, follow The Noble 8-Fold Path

I don't know if this reworking of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths had anything to do with James Baraz coming up with his internet course, Awakening Joy, but I suspect it might. In any event, thousands of people have taken his course and found it useful. Oprah has featured it in her magazine. It's caught on like wildfire and given James the success and notice he deserves.

I decided to enroll my wife and me in it, as a birthday gift to her. It will bring us a lot of happiness.

Enrollment is still open as it begins in February. (Delwyn, I'm thinking about your February 1 post.)

Here's a YouTube video describing the class:

Disclaimer. I've been to several retreats with James and he's an acquaintance of mine. I know him to be a reliable guide. One of the musicians in the course is Eve Decker, a member of my "Society of Friends."