Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pro- Procrastination

"Procrastination isn't the problem. It's the solution. So procrastinate now. Don't put it off."

—Ellen DeGeneres

I love epigrams like this.

Another is ee cummings, "Think twice before you think."

Such epigrams amuse me because so much of our human activity seems concerned with undoing some earlier doing.

We get so busy fixing our mistakes and that we make unforeseen new mistakes to fix later. It occurs to me that the most helpful thing to do in many situations is to sit back, take stock, and take a baby step in what you think is the direction to go. Of course, my mind is running pleasantly down this channel because my wife wants to clean out the garage—a task we've avoided for a couple of years—by Monday.

Probably best to get out of my pajamas and get my work clothes on.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


This is something young children know——until they're given an education.

Later on, lucky ones may learn again——from spiritual teachers, poets, or whatever——the nowness they knew before they got to kindergarten.

What a clock looks like to a young child.

"Forever is composed of nows."

—Emily Dickenson

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Blessings, 2010

My holiday blessing to all readers of Mindful Heart and everyone else, inclusive of all life—

May kindness and caring wash through me, through my loved ones, and through the whole web of life;
May wisdom and compassion wash through me, through my loved ones, and through the whole web of life;
May gratitude and serenity wash through me, through my loved ones, and through the whole web of life—

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cry Easily

A poem-gift from Rumi. At Christmas, keeping our grief glistening can help us connect with our loved ones—those closest to us.

The tender heart at the center of our sentience wants us to attend to its hurting. Desire for caring/healing/wholeness connects us to each other and to all life.

The web of life is love. 

Attending to our tender hearts with love can transform the hurting energy into the joy we wish to feel (and cannot buy) at Christmas.

Rumi says it most eloquently and succinctly.
Cry Easily

Keep your intelligence white-hot
and your grief glistening
so your life will stay fresh.
Cry easily like a little baby.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

I was particularly taken with winter solstice 2010 because on that night a spectacular lunar eclipse coincided with the solstice.

Here in my corner of California the clouds parted just enough to have peeks at the moon as the earth’s shadow fell on La Luna. Then, as if by magic, just the eclipse became complete, the clouds almost disappeared. As spectacular meteor flashed from east to west across the dark and starry sky.

In moments like that, Earth/Moon/Sun’s splendor are so obvious. Small wonder that people have celebrated the winter solstice for many thousands of years.

Here’s a splendid photo taken by amateur astronomer Bob Johnson and shared on his blog Black Holes and Astro stuff.

[Click Photo to enlarge]

It just made me want to sing!

I’m not the first to observe that many of our familiar Christmas holiday customs are actually adaptations of winter solstice celebrations which came before the Christian era.

Here at Mindful Heart I’d like to offer a lovely response to that comparatively recent history. My friend, Sandy Eastoak has borrowed the melody of a familiar Christmas Carol and offers us these words celebrating the winter solstice. We sang it at our meeting Tuesday night.

O Flourish All Ye Gentle Folk
(sung to the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”)
by Sandy Eastoak

O, flourish all ye gentle folk, let nothing you dismay,
Remember that the sun returned to us on solstice day,
To save us all from winter’s cold and hunger’s cruel way—
O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O, tidings of comfort and joy.

O, deepen all ye seeking truth, let nothing you impede,
Remember that the winter’s dark can nourish winter’s seed,
Silent changes grow within and to compassion lead—
O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O, tidings of comfort and joy.

O, celebrate ye thankful folk, let nothing you delay,
The miracle of light and dark renews us every day,
Winter, spring,summer, fall all year the seasons play—
O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O, tidings of comfort and joy.

Be trustful all ye gracious folk, enjoy the season’s peace
Renewal of the earth’s sweet green for eons will not cease
Each winter time our hearts can rest our burdens all release—
O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O, tidings of comfort and joy.

Rejoice now all ye gentle folk be patient come what may
Remember that the sun returns each winter solstice day
That passing through the darkest time we find our brightest way—
O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O, tidings of comfort and joy.


I think one of the best things about this season is it is an excuse for us to sing with folks we know informally, spontaneously, without shame or any need to explain.

And, allow me to pass along Ruth Mowry’s  blessing—

Let’s warm up together like birds on a bough
And remember the year we’ve shared until now
Our flights have been wild, our songs wide and clear
May we scout, soar and sing
Even freer next year!

Link to Ruth Mowry’s blog, synch-ro-ni-zing

Link to Bob’s interesting blog: Blackholes and Astrostuff

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What We Can Give?

At this time of year, it can be helpful to remember that giving can mean more than exchanging holiday material gifts.

What else can we give to each other?

In the Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings, Thich Nhat Hahn identifies six aspects of giving.

We can give our:

PRESENCE: spending time with people

STABILITY: being loving and calm, without harboring anger, stress, sadness

MATERIAL GIFTS: within one's means, to those who are impoverished

FRESHNESS: wholeness, beginning anew, offering forgiveness

UNDERSTANDING: wisdom; offering support and reassurance to the ill and dying, so they do not feel alone

SPACIOUSNESS: non-clinging, practicing equanimity by tempering our demands of people.

"When we give these things, they grow in abundance in ourselves, and this can be applied globally as well."
Thich Nhat Hanh

Wishing all of you abundant riches as described above!

(Thanks to my good friend, Debra Birkinshaw who gave me this reminder to pass along here!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Singing and Dancing

The Society of Friends will meet Tuesday night to close out our discussion of Jack Kornfield's compilation of basic Buddhist teachings called The Teachings of the Buddha. Among the passages we'll discuss is this sublime expression by Hakuin in the Song of Zazen:

Effect and cause are the same;
the Way is neither two or three.
With form that is no form,
going and coming, we are never astray;
with thought that is no-thought,
even singing and dancing are the voice of the Law.

How boundless and free is the sky of Awareness!
How bright the full moon of wisdom!
Nirvana is right here, before our eyes;
this very place is the Lotus Land;
this very body, the Buddha.

Excerpt from The Song of Zazen by Hakuin Zenji
adapted from the translation by Robert Aitken

I feel very fortunate to have a live-and-in person group to explore Buddhist teachings, and also very fortunate to have this wider audience through blogging.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I saw recently a movie called “Earthlings” by Shaun Monson. I learned of it from blog pal, Sabio Lantz at Triangulations.

This movie was very difficult for me to watch. Some scenes were so painful that I turned my eyes away. But I’ve come to know that suffering arises, as the Buddha taught, from ignorance. If watching this movie would dispel some of my ignorance and empower me relieve some small bit of the suffering in this world, then, painful as it might be to watch—and it was very painful to watch, I must make myself see it.

I am almost sixty years old, and I felt my naïveté evaporate as I watched this movie. It is only about an hour and a half long but felt, without question, like the longest movie I’ve ever seen.

This movie disabused me of some of my delusion about animals as they encounter humans, a delusion I have a hand in perpetuating. As a kindergarten teacher I often paint fairy tale picture about animal husbandry practices in the America today, a fairy tale which suggests the norm in America is something resembling the  Arable’s family farm in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. (My son reminds me that in some parts of the world, as in Togo, West Africa, where he just spent two years in the Peace Corps, people follow more humane animal husbandry practices.)

This movie, Earthlings, takes an unflinching—and horrifying—look at how it really is in America and other parts of the “developed” world. We allow our animals to be treated—I’m sorry, but “tortured” is the apt and accurate word here—in order to fulfill, at minimal economic cost, our desires for pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and “scientific” research.

So, if you’re interested here’s a link to the movie’s website. You can watch it there or see the trailer:  EARTHLINGS.

Here's the trailer. Warning: Don't watch it unless you're prepared to see a disturbing side of reality (and contemplating becoming a vegetarian).

Make the Connection.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wean Yourself

One of my teachers usefully pointed out to me that my “scientific” skepticism about the existence of otherworldly realms was, essentially, fashionable.

Across the broad sweep of human experience, an enormous chorus of mystics and wisdom seekers have encouraged us to look beyond the evidence available through the “five” senses—beyond even what we can perceive aided by powerful tools like radio telescopes and electron microscopes.

I join that chorus. A meditation practice is one place to begin a search for what lies outside ordinary perception.

Here, listen to Rumi—


little by little wean yourself.
this is the gist of what i have to say.

from an embryo, whose nourishment comes in blood
move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,’to a searcher for wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game.

think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
you might say, the world outside is vast and intricate.
there are wheat fields and mountain passes
and orchards in bloom.

at night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.

you ask the embryo, why stay cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed?

listen to the answer:

there is no “other world.”
i only know what i have experienced.
you must be hallucinating.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Mute Muse, an Etheree*

kwan yin who
stands wordlessly
in the entry way
of my house, sentry fey
spirit of lovingkindness
like her, my muse is mute, guarded
as i make love, sing, dance, cook, paint, walk
eschewing idle chatter, needless talk

*Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree poem starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, until the last line of ten syllables for an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s an uncomplicated, unpretentious form of poetry that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm a Fungi. I mean a Fun Guy.

Each day the web of life becomes more sacred and more amazing to me.

I’m convinced that the lowly fungus may be not only the largest, but perhaps also among the oldest and most intelligent life form on Earth.

Here, from Wiki:

“Is this the largest organism in the world? This 2,400-acre (9.7 km2) site in eastern Oregon had a contiguous growth of mycelium before logging roads cut through it. Estimated at 1,665 football fields in size and 2,200 years old, this one fungus has killed the forest above it several times over, and in so doing has built deeper soil layers that allow the growth of ever-larger stands of trees. Mushroom-forming forest fungi are unique in that their mycelial mats can achieve such massive proportions.”

—Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running

Under our feet in the forest are vast mats of fungi forming fecund soil in ever deeper layers. This soil grows trees. Trees produce food and oxygen for parasitic animal life—our kin—that fascinate us so. Is it not accurate to call animals parasites?

What do the fungi know? I suspect they know a great deal. I know that fungi can undo some of the toxins and compounds that our chemical engineers concoct and render them useful to life again. According to Wiki:

“One of the primary roles of fungi in an ecosystem is to decompose organic compounds. Petroleum products and pesticides that can be contaminants of soil are organic molecules. Therefore, fungi should have potential to remove such pollutants from the soil environment, a process known as bioremediation.”

Though I haven’t experimented personally, others report learning things from eating psilocybin mushrooms. According to Wikipedia, again,

“61% of subjects reported a "complete mystical experience" after their psilocybin session, while only 13% reported such an outcome after their experience with methylphenidate [Riralin]. Two months after taking psilocybin, 79% of the participants reported moderately to greatly increased life satisfaction and sense of well-being.”

Is the fungal genetic code vastly larger than our own? I don’t think anyone knows, but I suspect that it is.

(We know that trees have more genes than humans, a lot more. See my post, “Why I Listen to Trees.”)

Are fungi our truest Mother? Are trees her dendrites?

Here’s a poem my friend Sandy shared at our Meeting:


how long ago
is the voice you hear
stopping in silence
among their big
weights rising

how thousand
the breathing years
& years
the damp rolling
off their trunks

misty cloud
in the light
of a millionth
green moss

how old the fingers
that weave
the bark
red gray ridges
swirling & fraying
higher higher

how vast the hands
that cup the
sheltering needles
into sky & hold
through merciful
breezes & violent

miles & miles of clouds
racing the globe
drop their stories
in the web of
sky spidering
green always

the redwoods
drop the stories
from far away
with the wet needle
drip of close
close fog

mingle them with
billions whispered
under their shade
told by tender tracking
roots conversing
with mycelium acres

tiny human
when silent
among the fire resistant
trunks attended by
fern & lichen & sorrel
you can hear the forever
of past joking with

the simple
call of jay or
fugue of raven
flash of bolete or
shimmer of tan oak
in the skittering

becomes significant
as the first ever

eloquent as the
very last word

a salvation
unto itself
& all our

—sandy eastoak

Let me give Rumi the last word here:

Love is not condescending, never that,
nor books, nor any marking on paper,
nor what people say of each other.

Love is a tree
with branches reaching into eternity
and roots set deep in eternity,
and no trunk.

Have you seen it? The mind cannot.
Your desiring cannot.

The longing you feel for this love
comes from inside you.

When you become the Friend,
your longing will be as the man in the ocean
who holds to a piece of wood.

Eventually, wood, man, and ocean
become one swaying being,
Shams Tabriz, the secret of God.


sandy eastoak



Saturday, December 11, 2010


 More about our meeting of the Society of Friends on November 30:

The mala I use
Friend Christian shared information about the “Mala” a Buddhist rosary with 108 beads. He reviewed traditional ways to use the Mala, how to hold it between the fingers, how to advance from one bead to another, not crossing over the larger “Guru” bead which marks the beginning and end of the sequence.

Christian talked about the significance of the number 108, especially as it relates to Buddhism. He shared this array of 108 defilements which must be overcome to achieve enlightenment.

(Several of us remarked that we had some work to do in regard to this list!)

The number 108 is, elegantly enough, the product of 1 to the first power times 2 to the second power time three to the third power, that is, 1 times 4 times 27 = 108

Christian shared how 108 refers to the number of defilements to overcome. It derives from the following:

The three sense experiences times the six senses  3 X 6 = 18

The three sense experiences are:

The six senses are
(Buddhism regards the consciousness as the sixth sense—it is consciousness that senses thought objects like loyality.)

Aversion to or Craving for these experiences: 2 X 18 = 36

Past, Present, and Future incidents of the aversion/craving: 3 X 36 =108

On a more practical level, 108 slow breaths (about 5 breaths per minute) takes just about 20 minutes. You can "count" your breath and use the mala to “time” a meditation period without need of any watch or timepiece. This “clock” ticks to the movement of the breath.

He also talked about about how this number appears in other religious traditions in Asia. He stated that the Catholic rosary has 54 beads on it, half of the 108 on the mala.

There are additional links he pointed us to. They are here:

The Significance of 108

The 108 Defilements in Buddhism

The Number 108 in Buddhism

Wikipedia on Mala

More on our meeting in coming posts.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kindness Miracle

We sat in meditation on that quiet, cold, night. The warm, dimly-lit living room cuddled us. The kitchen's refrigerator shut itself off just as the start-of-meditation bell ebbed into the void.

So near silence—I could hear everyone breathing.

We provided each other shelter.

Sue shared this poem by Mary Oliver:

In the Storm

Some black ducks
were shrugged up
on the shore.
It was snowing

hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,

five inches long
with beaks like wire,
flew in,
snowflakes on their backs,

and settled
in a row
behind the ducks --
whose backs were also

covered with snow --
so close
they were all but touching,
they were all but under

the roof of the duck's tails,
so the wind, pretty much,
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless,

for maybe an hour,
then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away

out over the water
which was still raging.
But, somehow,
they came back

and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
let them
crouch there, and live.

If someone you didn't know
told you this,
as I am telling you this,
would you believe it?

Belief isn't always easy.
But this much I have learned --
if not enough else --
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn't a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness --

as now and again
some rare person has suggested --
is a miracle.
As surely it is.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Tuesday evening I carpooled with friends up to the wooded hillside where Marc lives. The cold, quiet woods were damp with recent rains—a perfect setting for the warmth we would feel inside his home. We shared twenty minutes of meditation, food, fellowship, wisdom and beauty—expressed in poetry and homespun song.

In the next few days here at Mindful Heart, I hope to share with this wider audience a little of the magic we felt that evening.

I recited this poem by Hafiz:


the small man

builds cages for everyone 



while the sage

who has to duck his head

when the moon is low

keeps dropping keys all night long

for the




—hafiz translated by Daniel Ladinsky

More information about this great Sufi poet can be found here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reconciliation and Harmony

Less than a month ago my wife was reelected by a landslide to the Sebastopol City Council.

What is most remarkable about her service to our town is her ability to talk usefully with people from across the spectrum of views in our community. She's a mediator by profession and in her avocational work in local politics she finds ways to bring people together, people who had previously found themselves in conflict.

Her list of endorsers included people who are not on speaking terms with each other.

Anyway, George over on Transit Notes (thanks George!!) featured a movie called Harmony today. It's about HRH The Prince of Wales and his dedication to restoring the natural world and supporting sustainable agriculture. I was particularly drawn to the parts of the movie near the end when it talked about the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia Canada. Efforts to bring people together who had once opposed one another have borne some fruit. I have come to learn that the portrayal of their reconciliation may be a bit rosier in the movie than it is on the ground, but still, efforts to bring people together to work on environmental restoration need to be highlighted and celebrated.

I found this short movie to be uplifting and inspiring—worth the 45 minutes or so it takes to watch it.

Here's the trailer:

Harmony Movie Trailer from Balcony Films on Vimeo.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our Wholesome World

Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking brings us close to the actual existing world and its wholesomeness.   —Gary Snyder

To Snyder’s recipe I would recommend a few more ways to engage in our actual existing world: grow some of your own food, travel along your preferred path to discover what’s extraordinary about our “ordinary” world whether through a meditation, yoga, or prayer practice; be a member of a family; have friends; cultivate at least one outlet to express joy (whether through singing, dancing, painting, sculpting, photography, cooking, sewing, knitting, woodcraft, storytelling, poetry, etc.); and get acquainted with your dreams.

What do you find that brings you into wholesome connection with the actual existing world?

Thanksgiving dinner with Ted—home after two years in Togo, West Africa

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Feeling Grateful

Perhaps Thanksgiving is many people's favorite holiday—-it is my favorite holiday—because feeling grateful makes me happy. Today I intend to be mindful of my myriad blessings. Among them are you, my blog friends.

May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be well this Thanksgiving Day.

And if you are lucky enough to share this day with loved ones, may you enjoy their company fully. And if you feast, I hope you join me in trying to bear in mind that health is a blessing too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's a grace flavored by the spirit of gratitude:

With every morsel of food
The whole world sustains me.
With every breath of air
The whole world sustains me.
I now accept these gifts
With gratitude and attention.
May I use this sustenance
To benefit of all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Stopped

I just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals. I was surprised to learn how damage we do to the earth when we eat animals.

My wife and I have tried to reduce our ecological footprint for decades, particularly our contribution to greenhouse gases, and I thought we were doing well enough. We seldom use the furnace in our small house because our furnace burns natural gas and uses a big electric fan. On cold nights we wear sweaters and leave the thermostat set to off. On really cold days, we sit by our faux gas-fired fireplace in the living room.

We don’t drive much—the connection between driving and CO2 has been clear for a long time.
Years ago my wife moved her office to town so she could walk to work and save about 160 commute kilometers per week.  For many years I commuted to work on a bicycle 28 kilometers round trip. I’ve grown a bit old for bicycle commuting, so I carpool to achieve a similar reduction in greenhouse gases. On vacation we don’t travel nearly as much as we would if our consciences could be untroubled by the damage jet travel does to the climate.

I’ve eaten comparatively little meat or animal products, but I’ve not been strictly vegetarian for the past year or so. Under the influence of books like the Omnivore’s Dilemma and the Vegetarian Myth I’ve relaxed my vegetarian vows and included some sustainably grown organic local meat and dairy in my diet. I have been least troubled when I know the personally the farmer who raised the animals.

But now that I’ve just finished reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I can see the dawning of a new vegetarian era in my life. Foer cites a statistic I didn’t know before: enterprises involved in raising animal-based foods are responsible for putting more—about 40% more—greenhouse gases into our atmosphere than all sectors of transportation combined. (I do wonder: do these statistics count the transportation of animal foods in both columns?)

If these numbers are accurate, then it is clear that by becoming vegetarian I will do more to reduce my personal impact on the climate than I would by eschewing all transportation!

Reducing my toll on the environment would be enough motivation for me. But there’s also my interest in doing something to reduce the suffering of our cousin creatures, the fish, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows who—there is no other word for it—are tortured on factory farms. Almost all of these animals are subjected to this new, and meticulously hidden regime.

Foer’s book takes a compassionate but unflinching look at how animals in factory farms are subjected to conditions that turn this eater’s stomach inside out. The author explores the moral implications of the cruel and indefensible treatment of animals in the factory farming system that has sprung up in America’s sadly under-regulated market economy. He takes his readers on several thought experiments, such as contemplating the practice of eating dogs. 

Foer took me on a journey I’m glad to have taken.

In regard to eating animals today, Foer states:

“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?

I have my answer.

I stopped.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Story of Stuff

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to hear Annie Leonard give the keynote address at the Leadership Institute’s 2010 awards ceremony.

Annie is the person behind the web video called “The Story of Stuff.” It has been viewed more than 12 million times since it came out in 2007. 

I had thought Annie might deliver a depressing talk. Her talk, like her movie, made four points. As expected, I did find first three points depressing. Luckily, Annie’s talk emphasized her final point, an encouraging and energizing one.

I’ve been aware of the first three points she makes for some time:

1. We are trashing the planet
2. We are trashing each other.
3. We’re not even having fun.

Annie’s final point brings her message home.

4. Solutions abound.

Taking action in myriad efforts to stop trashing the planet and stop trashing each other is what is required of us.  Luckily, it’s fun to act positively.

She's not suggesting we all go out and buy Priuses. Prius envy is part of the problem. We cannot consume our way out of our mess.

Conservation and restoration are closer to the mark. Taking action individually and with others. Maybe you or someone you know will run for Mayor of your town. Maybe you’ll start a backyard garden. Maybe you’ll organize a community walks program or a dine-out program. Maybe you’ll carpool to work. Maybe you'll become a vegetarian. Maybe you'll shop locally, and buy your organic veggies in your farmer's market. Maybe you'll join a CSA. Maybe you’ll make homemade music with friends and neighbors. I can report from personal experience that all of the above are spirit lifters. Or you might do any of a thousand other things to connect with friends and lighten our load on the ecosphere.  

It sure beats being a consumer.

If you haven't already seen The Story of Stuff, and you think getting our consumer economy back on track is our most important national agenda, I commend this movie to you. It''ll take less time to watch than a quarter of football.

For more information about Annie Leonard and to see her other videos, visit THE STORY OF STUFF.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Science of Happiness Video

My alma mater produced this video about the science of happiness. In my kindergarten, I value happiness quite prominently. It's in my top three "rules" of operation.

Anyway, here's the video:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I Listen to Trees

Poplar Trees
It just stands to reason that higher forms of life are more complex than “lower” forms of life.

One way to guess the intelligence and complexity of an organism is to look at how many genes it has in its genome. It just stands to reason that simple forms of life don’t need as many genes and more complex forms.

For example, the virus that causes mononucleosis has a measly 80 genes (sorry for the pun, but measles are viruses, too).

A fruit fly has 13,379 genes, fewer than a round worm which has approximately 21,000 genes.

A mouse has about 23,000 genes.

We humans have approximately 25,000 genes. I think that puts us pretty near the top of the animal kingdom. I don’t know about whales and dolphins. Maybe we better not find out.

What about plants?

Rice has about 28,000 genes.

A cottonwood tree? 45,000 genes.

That’s why I listen to trees.

They might have something worthwhile to say to us....

More about the mononucleosis virus: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

More about the fruit fly: Drosophila melanogaster
More about human genes: Here

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Printing Ink

The Printing Ink Company made this short video about how printing ink is made. The ink is so beautiful that I started salivating. I'm not kidding!

It's less than 9 minutes long and reminds me of a Mr. Roger's field trip in his neighborhood. Only better.

The soundtrack is luscious, too. It's Alfred Brendel's Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major Op.73 - "Emperor" - 2. Adagio un poco mosso

If you need a pleasant break today, I suggest that you put on your headphones (or plug in some good speakers to your computer) set the video to full screen, and enjoy the show.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bay Tree

On our tree walk Saturday we saw again a most remarkable tree, a bay laurel tree that is the second largest in all of bay laurels growing now in California. This one grows in the backyard of a most unassuming house on a most unassuming street in Sebastopol.

A story is associated with this particular tree.  I'll tell in this sonnet, below.

bay tree lived wild almost her whole life—
making shade, music, and medicine
for elk, coyote, raccoon, and Pomo,
years pass, city street, house, backyard fence
family moves in, dissolves, sells house with tree,

childcare provider buys house opens
daycare home—each noon young children wander
outdoors to have lunch, in her shade
deep now she’s the biggest bay for miles
children don’t notice a leaf flutters to earth

one friday—at noon—she drops a heavy
limb just exactly where children eat their lunch
she’s never dropped one before. the children
are away—did bay tree know this?


Learn the alchemy true human beings know.
The moment you accept what troubles
you've been given, the door will open.

Welcome difficulty, as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the Friend.

Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover
and then are taken off.

That undressing,
and the naked body underneath,
is the sweetness that comes after grief.


Sunday, October 31, 2010


I would rather feel compassion
than know the meaning of it.
— Thomas Aquinas

Note to Saint Thomas:
I'm with you about preferring the feeling of compassion to knowing its meaning, but I'd like to entertain the possibility of not having to choose between feeling and knowing compassion.

I believe that with some intention, determination, and effort, we might be able to both feel and know compassion quite deeply——and reap rich rewards for our efforts.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Gentle Roots

I joined a Sebastopol Walk today with about twenty of our friendly community townsfolk. We ambled around town under a dark gray late October sky all morning looking at and learning about notable trees in our town. We saw many venerable trees. It was led by Geoffrey Skinner, his wife and fellow walkers who chipped in their knowledge.

We've all seen sidewalks lifted and buckled by roots growing under them. We might think that all trees aggressively grab the earth. But that's not so.

Lynn Deedler explained to us that the Coastal Redwood, Sequoia Sempervirens, has a gentle (but very long-lasting) grasp on earth.

We looked at the base of this Coastal Redwood tree.

It has grown gently around the concrete curb that was poured too near its feet.

For more information about the tall, wise, and long-lived Coastal Redwoods visit Here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Two Kinds of Intelligence

Midway Geyser Basin Grand Prismatic Yellowstone National Park

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always
more marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of your chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it does not move from outside to inside
through the conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

—Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Meditation Techniques

In our group we read about meditation techniques.

I know of no technique more effective than cultivating loving-kindness.

Cultivating loving-kindness is simple. All that's required is to persistently wish all life everywhere be safe and well and calm. Again and again and again.

Eventually all this wishing begins to have its effect and the world begins to become happier and more beautiful.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Good vs. Evil

At our last meeting of the Society of Friends of the Buddha, one of my friends expressed his frustration when an excerpt from the Lankavatara Sutra seemed to say that everything is Enlightenment:

“When people attain Enlightenment in this sense, it means that everything is Enlightenment in itself as it is.”

“How,” my friend wanted to know, “is it possible that everything is Enlightenment. Is torture Enlightenment? Was bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki Enlightenment? Was the Holocaust Enlightenment? How can Evil with a capital “E” be Enlightenment?”

My first response is to join him in wondering about this. None of the things he mentioned seems particularly enlightened to me.

Yet I’ve come to learn in 30 plus years of studying Buddhism to suspend my initial difficulties with Buddhist teachings. Too many times I’ve grown older, and wiser. Eventually I see wisdom that wasn’t apparent at first glance.

Shunryu Suzuki once said, 

"If it's not paradoxical, it's not true."

Is it possible that evil is not Enlightenment and evil  is Enlightenment?

Perhaps so.

The Lankavatara Sutra says that in some ultimate sense, there is a unity of all things, of all events, of all actions—and that unity is Enlightenment. This sutra may be describing ultimate reality, not our ordinary everyday reality.

I hold the paradoxical thought that good and evil both exist and don’t exist at the same time. In everyday reality (where I spend most of my time) good is good and evil is evil.

However in a more rarified state of awareness, the opposite is equally and simultaneously true:  The world cannot really exist when good is purely good and evil is purely evil.

Taoists might point out that good and evil co-arise. We cannot know evil if we do not know good; we cannot know good if we do not know evil. Good and evil not only co-arise—they are two aspects of a same oneness that is neither good nor evil, but both good and evil and neither good nor evil.

In ordinary day-to-day reality, as a practical matter, we must nurture good as we resist evil.

To skillfully oppose evil here in this ordinary, everyday world, it is necessary to know something about evil—in any guise it might appear. We must have some “sympathy for the devil.” We must not be so taken by our ideas of good and evil that we fail to see the co-arising of good and evil. As we get to know “the devil” better, we can learn to effectively (and playfully) outfox and outmaneuver him.

Unless we accord evil its due respect, evil can make us crazy—either as we fervently oppose it, or as we fall under its seduction, or as we lose our bearings in apathy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Vapor Waves

here sky falls to earth
waves of vapor wash us well
we live inside sky

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Brave and Forgiving

We had a great time Thursday night at Vicki Reno's home. The Sebtown Ukesters played some old-timey favorite songs like "Five Foot Two," "Hey Good Lookin'" and "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." The audience sang along when they knew the words to the songs.

I could see on some of their faces the desire to join the strumming. Some in the audience signed up to join the Sebtown Ukesters. And of course, they will be warmly welcomed.

There's safety in numbers, and all you need is a wee bit of courage together with the ability to forgive your own and other people's goofy mistakes as we learn to play with each other. (Am I sounding like a kindergarten teacher here?)

We learn to be more brave and more forgiving. No one gets hurt, everyone gets happy. It's great.

My wife, Sebastopol Mayor Sarah Gurney, made a speech about her vision for Sebastopol and the many many contributions she's made to our community over the past three decades.

There was time to chat before and after the singing and speeching.  Folks stayed, sipping wine and gobbling the best chocolate chip cookies we ever tasted—really!—until about 9:30 PM.

The Hansen Lane neighbors who came to our event enjoyed being together. They met people who will become new friends. They started planning their first ever block parties and progressive dinners.The Sebastopol community spirit grows ever more happy, more harmonious.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dealing with Wicked Witches

A young child visited his grandparents and saw for the first time the Wizard of Oz.

His memories of the wicked witch scared him so that he could not sleep at bedtime. Grandpa and Grandma tried to assure the little boy that the witch was not real, but the boy could not be convinced. 

They opened the closet in the bedroom to show him that no witch was hiding there, but the boy could not fall asleep. They opened all the closets throughout the house and looked under all the beds and behind all the curtains.

“There is no witch in this house!” they told him.

“I’m know the witch will come and get me,” the grandson said.

Grandma looked closely in her grandson’s eyes and saw his terror. She could see: the witch was real to her grandson. She went to the kitchen, got a plastic cup and filled it with water.

“When the witch comes,” she told him, “throw this water at her.”

She put the cup on his nightstand.

The boy smiled, exhaled, and fell asleep.

A nod to Ellen Handler Spitz for this story.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Potent Mood Lifter

I was playing my ukulele this morning as my wife departed for a day of door-to-door re-election campaigning.

She said, “That is such a happy instrument! I love that ukulele!”

I love my uke, too. It is a potent mood lifter.

When I feel the least bit blue, I grab a ukulele, tune it, strum, and sing out. By some divine magic the ukulele lifts up my spirits and also the spirits of everyone within earshot, even bugs.

Last weekend one of my ukebuds and I carpooled down to San Francisco to add our voices to an immense chorus of ukesters aiming happily to sing our place into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest group of ukulele players ever assembled.

We met many new ukulele friends, all of them happy, and none of them, as far as I could tell, a whole lot better than us——a little bit above beginner.

We saw the movie “The Mighty Uke” and strummed together and sang. Here’s a picture of me taken by Andy Andrews who is one of the “stars” of the movie and of the ukulele movement. 

Alas, the world record remains unbroken, but we went home happier than we came. Ukuleles do that.

The ukulele was born more than 140 years ago in the Kingdom of Hawaii as it fell into the strengthening clutches of the U.S. Empire. The ukulele surely helped the Hawaiians cope with depression.

Now the ukulele is born again, growing in popularity as steeply as the United States descends in its manufacturing sector—weaponry of mass destruction excepted. (I, for one, am deeply ashamed to say this, but we Americans can’t crow about our health care system, our public transportation system, our care for the homeless, or our public education, but we got some really fancy weapons of mass destruction, and we've used them before.)

As we languish in our moribund empire, the ukulele’s resurgent popularity is surely an echo of its original birth in Hawaii.

We better sing some songs about peace!

Here’s one of my uke buds singing a classic uke tune.

Here’s a link to a story about our Adventure in San Francisco

Thursday, September 30, 2010




D    Diversion


There's more HERE

Saturday, September 25, 2010

To Perla Batalla

I count among my circle of Sebastopol friends more than a half dozen poets: Gwynn, Jim, Karl, Sandy, Raphael, Nancy, Larry, Richard and more. We get together from time to time to share what we've written.

Here's one Richard wrote after attending a music festival.

to perla batalla, formerly backup singer to leonard cohen

perla speaks of the church of leonard
kindhearted praise for the master 
then sings the cohen poems in a voice
as clear as the rim of a flower touched by dew
as clear as a call of love in the forest
as clear as the fallen tree giving back 
its essence to the family 
passionate beyond the gates of forgiveness

perla sings honestly 
the heart
perla sings with a heart so big
that the flowers the trees the people 
know with certainty
it is the church of perla
it is the church of us

—Richard Nichols

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Living in Community

Happiness is... living in community.

Of course many things can make us happy. Simply looking up can help. Or smiling. Or singing. Or dancing. Or painting. Or visiting a friend or relative. Or helping a neighbor.

Today, though, I want to mention living in community, for it seems to me we Americans are hungry for social connections that expand our circle of acquaintances and friendships.

We yearn for community, don't we?

I can attest to how good living in community feels. I’ve had two weekends full.

 Last weekend I spent Saturday at the Wine Country Ukulele Festival with my uke friends from Sebastopol.

The very next day I bicycled down to our Community Center where my friend, Jim Corbett, was leading a celebration of Peace. I spent all of Sunday afternoon there. I sang in the Love Choir. We sang for the first hour or so. Then we had some speeches by local politicians from the Mayor of Sebastopol to our Representative in Congress.

The Lovies perform for Jim Corbett's Peace Gathering

I joined a huge drum circle playing for more than an hour a rhythmical “Bo Diddley” beat on my new ukulele, migrating by mid afternoon to a poetry circle, and ending the day listening to Ma Muse perform in the main hall.

This weekend I spent the Saturday at the Renaissance Fair supporting our local schools. What a success!

Sarah and Andrea Hagen, one of the many organizers of the Faire

Two of the throngs of entertainers who graced us with their talents.

 Sarah's first plunge. Note the boy at right pushing the plunger with his hands; he had
earlier hit a bullseye with his thrown softball, but not energetically enough to trip the mechanism.

The Faire drew an estimated 2500 people. Sarah, as Mayor of Sebastopol spent a half hour into and out of the Dunk Tank. She got plunged in many times.

Later on this afternoon we’ve got a party to go to.

So much fun! I hope you live in a community that gathers together frequently and celebrates together.

Wine Country Ukulele Festival
Love Choir
Bo Diddley
Ma Muse
Renaissance Faire

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Look Up

Bonnie over at Original Art Studio posted a piece about how looking up can make you feel better.

If you've been feeling in need of a lift zip on over: Things Are Looking Up.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 11: The Day Non Violence Was Born

I spent September 11 at the Third Annual Wine Country Ukulele Festival in St. Helena, California, carpooling the 30 mile trip with a pal from Sebtown Ukesters.

If there's a musical instrument that makes people smile, it's gotta be the uke, a four-string guitar with a happy disposition and an ego proportional to its size.

I wish I were the person my uke thinks I am.

  Music Guy Mike meets Mr. Kindergarten

Everyone at the festival seemed to have a good time. There were uke players from as far away as Italy! My pal and I met Ralph Shaw, a uke celeb from Canada, Music Guy Mike from Hawaii..

When we returned to Sebastopol we were surprised to see the American flags along Main Street that the Boy Scouts put up on holidays. I had been having so much fun, I had forgotten what day it was. Depressing memories of nine years ago began to crowd my mind.

I'd like to offer Mindful Heart readers happy information about September 11.

It was on this day in 1906 that Gandhi first applied his ideas about non violent struggle at a meeting of Indian Nationals in Johannesburg, South Africa. If you've seen the movie, Gandhi, you may remember the early scene in a large meeting hall in South Africa. Angry Indians talk about killing their white oppressors. Gandhi calms everyone by declaring that while he is willing to die in the cause of human rights, he is not willing to kill.

So it was that on September 11, 1906 Gandhi discovered the power of non violent resistance. He discovered a powerful force for good. He spent the rest of his life developing and using this idea.

May we rediscover its power and apply it to our world today and for the rest of our lives!

Today, this guy would play the ukulele!

Here's the Wiki paragraph about this day:

In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new Act compelling registration of the colony's Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg on 11 September that year, Gandhi adopted his still evolving methodology of satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or non-violent protest, for the first time, calling on his fellow Indians to defy the new law and suffer the punishments for doing so, rather than resist through violent means. The community adopted this plan, leading to a seven-year struggle in which thousands of Indians were jailed (including Gandhi), flogged, or even shot, for striking, refusing to register, burning their registration cards or engaging in other forms of non-violent resistance. While the government was successful in repressing the Indian protesters, the public outcry stemming from the harsh methods employed by the South African government in the face of peaceful Indian protesters finally forced South African General Jan Christiaan Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. Gandhi's ideas took shape and the concept of satyagraha matured during this struggle.

At Wikipedia you can find more about Gandhi.

And more about the Uke festival: Wine Country Ukulele Festival.

And as for that day nine years ago, I offer for your consideration this poem written by my poet friend, Jim Wilson: Untitled

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Great Way

“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When loves and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised.

Make the smallest distinction however and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. 

If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.”

—Seng-tsan,  Verses on the Faith Mind  
translated by Richard B. Clark

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fifth Tuesday Meeting

The Society of Friends met a Richard's lovely house on the Laguna for a delightful sharing of poetry. It was great. Richard's poetry (he writes his own) was really great. Richard, of course, is pretty modest about his poetic talents. But Marc, who used to teach poetry at the college level and has written a textbook on reading it that is still in print, loved Richard's work. So did I.

Marc shared this poem from Hafiz. I asked him to read it three times and curbed my urge to ask for more.

In the end I decided to ask him to email it to me so I could share it here.

(by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky)
Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
full moon in each eye that is
always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in
this world is
dying to


Hafiz has given all the advice anyone ever really needs. In one poem.

Marc's book is here.
Richard's poetry is here.