Friday, April 29, 2011

We Are With Them

Here is the conclusion of this week's series on a master teacher in Japan, Mr. Kanomori.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


When tragedy strikes a member of Mr. Kanamori's class he asks his students to help. Difficulties can connect us.

Do you have 7 minutes? Kleenex handy?

Then you're ready:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Since teachers are humans we make mistakes. Sometimes we get it wrong.

In this clip you'll see Mr. Kanamori make a bad call.

And here's the thing: he's big enough to see it.

Like him, I've make the wrong call. Like him, I've had to find the courage to admit it.

For me, at least, this makes some pretty riveting viewing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Bully's Remorse

Bullying is one of the hot issues in education these days. A master teacher will deal with meanness by going all the way to its source—the very root of the problem: the perpetrator's unresolved hurt.

Watch this video clip as Mr. Toshiro Kanamori takes his class from denial through to acknowledgment of bullying, then on to investigate the roots of the bullying in his class.

So often we find what Mr. Kanamori finds: we've been hurt and we have not grieved. We have not allowed the hurt to wash through us. We haven't received compassion from others for the injuries we've endured. So our injuries fester. And then they flare up to hurt others.

Here, in the eight minutes it takes for this video to unfold, watch as Mr. Kanamori extinguishes the flames of bullying in his class. He creates the conditions for psychological and emotional healing to take place. He's tough, but tender.

First, may I suggest that you go find some more kleenex.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Transforming Suffering into Happiness

My life's work, whether as a kindergarten teacher or a spiritual practitioner, can be understood metaphorically as growing flowers and veggies from fertile compost. What I do—as well as I possibly can—is to transform suffering into peace, joy, and happiness.

If a videographer were to visit my classroom for a year, the result would be similar to this. The video I offer to you today (part one of of five parts) is a look at a teacher in Japan whose work is exactly parallel to my own work. His focus is mine: Be Happy!

This video documents fourth grade teacher Toshiro Kanamori engaged in deep teaching practice. In this part, he helps his students touch their suffering and transform it into happiness. His students discover they are not alone: they share much. He builds community. He builds happiness.


Two notes:

1. Find 10 minutes to see it. It gets better and better as you go along; you won't want to be interrupted.

2. Have a box of kleenex handy. Your cheeks will get wet.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I’m amazed that I ever got interested in Buddhism in high school and college.  
I was scarred by a difficult childhood. Although I tried to appear confident, intelligent, and happy, a cursory glance would see right through my fa├žade. Just below the surface and almost to the core, I was anxious, insecure, and depressed.
Luckily, I had the good fortune to grow up in Palo Alto where I would occasionally see statues of The Laughing Buddha (a Chinese folkloric figure, Budai, Hotei in Japanese). 
I had read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse in high school English class. Hesse’s Buddha didn’t hold much interest for me. I thought perhaps that Hesse’s novel was somehow tangential to actual Buddhism. I had heard names like Gautama and Shakyamuni, too. Were these all the same guy? Were they all different?
I wasn’t sure. Concentration wasn’t my strong suit.
I confused Hotei for Gautama Buddha. That is akin to confusing Santa for Jesus, but I was desperate to find a way out of my depression. 
What gifts did this subtropical Santa, this Laughing Buddha offer me?
Opening the encyclopedia I saw that Buddhism’s basic teaching is the Four Noble Truths. The first two are: 
The Truth of Suffering
The Truth of the Causes of Suffering
Seeing suffering mentioned twice so early on had the effect on me of seeing images of the Crucifixion. Get me out of here! I’m suffering enough already.
My interest in Buddhism almost died right there. My reaction was probably not unusual. I know people who see Buddhism as a religion for dark and depressed people. 
A few years later, going beyond the encyclopedia, I read a pamphlet published in 1975 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation called the Miracle of Being Awake by a Vietnamese Zen monk named Thich Nhat Hahn who seemed able to enjoy life in ways that escaped me. He seemed to have some of the Laughing Buddha's wisdom in him. I began studying Buddhism in earnest there.
Thirty six years later, I’m reading another book by Thich Nhat Hahn, The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings. In Chapter Eight he suggests a reformulation of the Four Noble Truths, reworded here by yours truly. 
Begin with the benefit of Buddhist practice: Well-Being
First Noble Truth: 
Second Noble Truth: 
The Eightfold Path to Well Being
Wise View
Wise Intention
Wise Speech
Wise Action
Wise Livelihood
Wise Effort
Wise Mindfulness
Wise Concentration
Third Noble Truth: Ill-Being
Fourth Noble Truth: The Eightfold Path to Ill-Being
Wrong View
Wrong Intention
Wrong Speech
Wrong Action
Wrong Livelihood
Wrong Effort
Wrong Mindfulness
Wrong Concentration

Set forth like this, we'd see that Buddhist practices are aimed at creating happiness and well-being for us and for everyone we know. Having walked this path as well as I can, I know these teachings to be efficacious.
Perhaps if the Shakyamuni were alive today he’d see that for many of us our suffering is so intense that we are not willing to lookeven briefly—at our suffering. Perhaps he’d change the order of his Four Noble Truths along the lines Thay suggests.

Hotei, Budai

Gautama Buddha

Heart of the Buddha's Teaching

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nuclear-Powered Clothes Dryer, An Etheree

If Madison Avenue advertising agencies wrote Etherees* they might come up with something like this Etheree to promote a green alternative to automatic clothes dryers.

clothes drying
method with no
hidden fees or costs
your clothes will dance dry in
gentle breezes—fresh and pure
you use the same safe, clean power
that grandma used way back in her day
our space-based fusion reactor: The Sun.
With the nuclear power plant emergency in Japan, I feel increasing urgency to trim my energy use. Simultaneously, I feel increasing pleasure when I do my small part to shrink my carbon footprint.
Today I am taking particular pleasure in the spring breezes blowing through Sebastopol because they made it possible to give my automatic clothes dryer another day off. I used my clothesline instead. 

Leaving the car parked for one more day, we walked downtown to do our shopping. We stopped at the Sebastopol Farm Market in the Town Plaza. Our neighbor Laura Shafer set up a spot to promote her business, She promotes drying clothes in the sun.
Laura and me

As I talked with Laura, I realized that I can insinuate using clotheslines into my kindergarten curriculum. I plan to do that tomorrow. What reason is there for me or my assistant to hang up the cloth towels the kids use when they could hang them up and feel good about taking responsibility for the task? Duh! (Sometimes I wish I could teach 30 more years.)
I’d like to leave you with these facts. If you use a clothesline to dry your clothes:
You’ll save as much as $300 on your energy bills.
Your automatic dryer will last longer.
Your clothes will last longer, too. (Turn them inside out to reduce fading in the sun.)
You will enjoy the meditation of using a clothesline. (I promise you will!)
Your contribution to green house CO2 emissions will drop by as much as 700 pounds annually.
Please visit Laura’s website,
Inside-out your jeans

*Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, ending with a final line of ten syllables yielding 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 writing that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower.  Try composing one—you may like it!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Walter, My Friend

My good friend, Walter, flew away a year ago. I miss him, his laugh, his warm hugs, his great heart. This evening a group of about a dozen of his closest friends gathered at his house to recite some prayers in Hebrew (Walter was raised in the Jewish tradition), tell each other our often hilarious stories about Walter, and, of course, to feast on some of his favorite foods. A happy-sad celebration of a man who had a wide open heart.

One of the things we shared was this poem that Walter himself wrote some time ago.

Here it is:

Nature’s Way
Where are you going?
The beauty and ecstasy you are seeking
I am here
Take refuge in the warm nurturing sun
The cool fragrance of the morning dew
The soft raindrops alighting gently on my face
Hills, like huge waves covered with superb shades of green
And colors so sublime
There are no replicas
Bold blotches of deep purple
Dispersed with frosty violet heather
Adorn the mountainside
Like a mammoth patched afghan
Looming in the distance
Thin misty clouds engulf the mountain tops
Conjure up images of a dreamlike fantasy
Come. come see what mystery I have in store.
Stop!  Be still. Listen!
Listen to the whispering wind;
I am yours
All the beauty that abounds
See it, touch it, feel it within
The depths of your soul
We are one.
All the resplendence that you behold
Abides within you.
Where are you racing?
Search no more I beseech you
I am here
Surrender. Or would you blindly speed towards
Your destination without savoring
The power of my sheltering arms?
Perhaps you are not yet ready
Another time then!
When the great subterfuge of pomp and pageant
Fame and fortune spurn your fantasies
I will await you homecoming you prodigal son
And embrace your weary soul
And turn your hardened heart
Back to love.
by Walter Blum

I wrote about Walter on April 5, 2010, the day after he died. You can navigate there the old fashioned way, or just follow this link  HERE.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


“Don’t speak unless your words will improve the silence.”
For the past three days laryngitis has made it nearly impossible for me to speak. The few words that I do manage to croak out loud hurt my throat.
Despite my tender vocal chords, Sarah and I were faithful to our planned social engagements: yesterday’s group kayak outing on the Laguna de Sebastopol followed by a picnic at the Balletto winery, and today’s opening of the Sebastopol Farm Market at the town plaza. We agreed that Sarah would talk for me. She told my stories about the stress at work that spawned this malady. As she told them, I noticed how she tinted my stories just slightly, but enough so that they became her stories, not mine.
My laryngitis has reminded me of two things:

  • The great spiritual teachers are too dead to talk. Their greatness derives in no small part because they are not here to correct us when we inject into their teachings our own (mis)interpretations. Isn’t it like us to find our own retellings particularly satisfying, agreeable, and meaningful?
  • The first independent steps on my spiritual journey took me into a Quaker Meeting Hall where people worship together in silence. I have since gone on many silent spiritual retreats, mostly Buddhist, where I have come to appreciate, keenly, that the third step along the Noble Eightfold Path is Wise Speech. Wise Speech is mostly about refraining from speech.
The wordless flower sermon was one of the Buddha’s most memorable Dharma talks. Perhaps the Enlightened One simply had laryngitis that day.

The Laguna

Friday, April 1, 2011

G mail Motion

After the hijacking of my computer, I switched to gmail, the same folks that bring us Blogger.

Check out this new innovation in email: