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.