Thursday, December 20, 2012

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Two weeks ago I installed a new application on my Android phone call the Mindfulness Bell.  I set the bell to radiate its soft ring every half hour throughout the day.  “Ding!” goes the bell right as I type this very sentence.  Upon the sound of the bell, you are to stop wherever you are, just breathe, and just be.  This exercise is intended to bring you back to a mindful, awakened state no matter where you are and what you are doing.
As with some of my other mindfulness practices, the bell felt uncomfortable and I was a bit embarrassed about it at the beginning.  I toyed with how loud to make the bell ring on my phone when I first installed the application.  How can I make the bell loud enough to catch my attention, yet not disturb anyone else while at work?   My hearing isn’t what it used to be.  What if my phone is in my purse?   I ended up settling on a ring loud enough for me to hear and others that are interacting with me. 
The bell noticeably rang during meetings, grocery shopping, yelling at my kids, getting ready for work, watching TV, meditating, talking with friends, at holiday parties, etc.  It has gone off while I have been everything from happy to sleepy to piss off. 
My employees are now even getting into the bell.   After a few days of the bell ringing, I decided to explain the bell to my employees.  To my surprise, during meetings everyone hears the bell, stops talking, smiles, and continues with the discussion.  Sometimes it even makes people laugh.  No harm in that! 
To think a simple bell on my phone can bring me back to the present moment…mindfully.  Hmmm, maybe I should set it for every 10 minutes!

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Confession

One day when I was 4 years old, my mother informed me that I was going to receive a special birthday present, a baby. Funny, I do not remember asking for a baby.  Umm, hey there, did I say I wanted a baby?  However, I remember everyone getting =excited, so I guess I became excited too.  Several months later, my birthday rolled around.  No baby.  I was disappointed—or so my mother said I was.
Nine days later, a baby girl was finally born.  Everyone was excited and coming over to visit. Even the Diamond’s from next door came over to see the new baby.  “Oh, she is so cute!” they said.  Funny, Mrs. Diamond never came over to our house, yet she came over for the baby.  I used to sit next to our adjoining fence and eat strawberries from stray plants that spread from her yard to ours—she saw me every day and never said hello.   Anyway, back to THE baby. 
My room was not even my room anymore—I had to share it with THE baby.   Now all of the attention was on her, not me.  So I went to my room, shut the door and sat on the floor pouting.  There the white baby crib sat, my old bed, against the inner wall of our bedroom.  Over the crib hung a mobile of various types of stuffed birds—my old mobile.  I stood on my tiptoes, stretching to reach one of the birds.  It was a difficult reach, but on my third try I managed to grab one of the birds and pulled it off of the mobile.  I could feel the anger and jealousy filling my little body. I always wanted to know what made the birds’ spongy inside.  Then, I proceeded to cut the bird with my paper scissors.  I still remember the sandy, sawdust like material coming out of the bird and spilling on the light green and white shag carpeting.  Very cool!  All of a sudden I realized how much trouble I was going to be in, so I quickly cleaned up the mess and hid the evidence.  I think it took a few weeks for someone to notice the missing bird and, to this day, I do not remember ever getting in trouble. 
Now 40 years later, my baby sister can push my buttons like no other and I feel like that 4 year old little girl wanting to cut up her birds at times.  At the same time, she has become one of my best friends in this world.  My sister has decided recently to start studying up on Buddhism.  I am so happy for her, but it is a struggle not to fall into the mode of being the bossy big sister.  I need to allow her to find her own way, down her own path.  All the same, I know it will be both fun and a challenge to begin practicing together.
May you be happy baby sister.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dharma Talk: Bringing Meditation into Everyday Life

The following is a dharma talk I delivered on Sunday, November 11, 2012.

My kids and I enjoy going out weekly for Chinese food.  I always look forward to the end of the meal when the fortune cookie comes.  I am delighted when once in a while I actually receive a fortune cookie providing a little insight into life.  Several weeks ago my fortune said, “People in your surroundings will be more cooperative than usual.”  I immediately became aware of a familiar, unpleasant sensation of anxiety and stress in my body.   I could feel a tight feeling in my chest, my breathing became shallow and I could feel a knot in the pit of my stomach.  I thought if only this could come true.  If only people could really be cooperative.  I was going through a very tough and emotional time with several people in my life causing me suffering.  The stress of this situation combined with other expected life changes was leaving me feeling exhausted.  Healthy habits such as setting aside time to meditate seemed impossible to work into the busyness of my life.  Sometimes the act of sitting made me feel like I would jump out of my skin.  As a result, my Buddhist practice was feeling more and more out of reach. 
During trying times, it is sometimes good idea to take a step back and remember why we started practicing Buddhism and meditation in the first place.  Many of us seek Buddhism and start meditating as a way to relieve our suffering and possibly to reduce stress in our lives. Many of us came here to find solace during times of crisis and great sadness.  Some of us are looking for some type of life change.  We are all seekers in one way or another.  When I listened to one of Janet’s dharma talks for the first time the words resonated with me.  Buddhism felt good, right and a logical choice.  Finally, some practical advice I can put into action!  And, for an organized list maker like me, there are even steps!  Like many of us, I quickly learned all was not as easy as it seemed.  It is easy to become so caught up in the drama in life that we forget and struggle to connect with the inner Buddha that is in all of us.  We become consumed with thoughts of “if only.”  If only people would just cooperate. If only things were different.   
This week we are finishing the final chapter of the book Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hahn.  Thich Nhat Hahn, as known as Thay, has written a very practice guide for dealing with life’s natural ebb and flow.  His style is gentle and to approach all that we do in a meditative way.  Be present, smile and be compassionate to yourself and others.  In this chapter, he describes the Sanskrit term samadhi or concentration through the practice of stopping the invasion of feelings and thoughts which deplete our strength in meditation.  I was curious and did a little more research on the term samadhi.  Internet sources say that samadhi is a term used in yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism to describe the meditative process meaning to “become one.”   Samadhi in this context refers to the processes or steps to intensify and achieve the highest level of meditation.  The steps may different within the different Buddhist traditions.
As beginners to meditation, samadhi is best understood as a feeling of joy, peace and overall well-being.  For example, have you ever lost track of time while doing something you really enjoy and felt good doing?  This is a form of samadhi.  The highest level of samadhi is described as a state where there is no concept of time.  There is no concept of the ego or self.  It is an ultimate state where you are at one with the universe.   Some describe this state as being so incredible that you will not want to leave it.  For beginners, we start with the basics.  One of our basic practices in meditation is to focus on the sensation of breathing.  Should we become distracted with a thought or feeling, we let it naturally arise, without pushing it away or grasping a hold.  We stop and bring our attention back to our breath.  We do this over and over again.  This is the first practice taught to strengthen our meditation.  We may never reach the highest state of samadhi; however, through regular meditation practice, we can become more aware of what is really going on in our bodies, our minds and the world around us.  Much like working out at the gym, you practice daily, and you become much stronger building your mental strength and in turn, strengthening your concentration muscle.  
Thay describes many ways to bring a meditation practice into your life.  The most basic way is sitting meditation and creating a space to go to and sit in peace without distractions.  He uses an analogy of a child doing his homework.  He has to stop chewing gum or watching TV to be able to pay full attention to his homework.  However, my kids would tell you this is not true.  When I started meditating, I had visions of creating a very Zen like room, hardwood floors, meditation cushion and flowing curtains.   I think all of you have seen this picture in a magazine.  However, my house is small, so my meditation space consisted of sitting on the edge of my bed, lighting a candle on my bedside table and trying to ignore the sounds of Leo my parrot in the background.  This was like learning to ride a bike on a rocky path, but it was my best attempt at creating a peaceful atmosphere and space at my house.  Over time, I purchased a comfortable cushion and meditate on the floor.  I am comfortable sitting on the floor.  This may or may not work for you.  As part of my meditation, I slowly place my Buddha in front of me, light a candle, and wrap my mala beads around my wrist.  Feel more connected with the feel of the beads in my hand.  By the way, Leo the parrot has since found a new home.  The point is to find how to create a space you can go to regularly that suits your lifestyle and provides you a sense of peace.  In the book, Thay suggests going to this special place should you become agitated, step away and go sit.  This statement made me laugh because it is obvious he has never experienced having a small child, when even sitting on the toilet is not a private task.  Or, maybe sitting makes you want to jump out of your skin.  We are not monks in a monastery and do not always have the luxury of going to a special place and sit in peace. 
When we cannot sit, this is when other informal types of meditation can be useful alternatives to sitting.  Step away and try walking meditation.  On nice days, maybe go to a local park and eat your lunch in silence, followed by some walking meditation.  Be present, listening to the sounds of the birds chirping, feeling the wind, sun on your skin, and slowly lifting each foot feeling the earth beneath each step.  Try eating meditation or drinking tea in a meditative way.   Thich Nhat Hahn describes the process of spending 2 hours drinking a single cup of tea.  I don’t know about 2 hours---how about starting with 15 minutes?  Smell the tea, feel the warmth of the cup, really taste the tea and be completely present with only the experience of drinking the tea.  Maybe meditate while doing a routine task like standing in line at the grocery store, washing dishes, standing at a copier or brushing your teeth.  Try sky gazing—look at the clouds or the stars.  The point is to stop, concentrate and be fully present.  If you have children, have them participate with you.  Create the space and peace to put us in touch with our inner Buddha and get us in touch with our true self, our body, and what is really going on in the world around us. 
Not too long ago, a wise person named Janet said to me, “Meditation is like a pot simmering on the stove.  Let the pot sit and it will eventually boil.  Keep removing the pot and placing back on the stove, it will continue to simmer.”  I will add to this, take the pot off the stove long enough, it will go cold.  The foundation of our Buddhist practice is strengthened by creating a regular meditation practice.  Build strength, then, just maybe we can find that place of inner peace rather than becoming stressed, overwhelmed and hooked when life isn’t panning out like we want it too.  When we start to head down the path of “If only” we can stop, create space and allow our experiences to naturally arise and float by like a cloud in the sky.   We can remember and choose to respond mindfully and skillfully by letting the experience pass, without holding too tight to what we are feeling or pushing it down and away.  We can see through our story to connect with our inner Buddha realizing that things are not always as they appear.  We can drop the story all together to see the truth and the natural perfection in things as they really are. 
I will end this Dharma talk with a poem. 
Free and Easy - A Spontaneous Vajra Song
by Lama Gendun Rinpoche
Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower,
but is already present, in open relaxation and letting go.

Don't strain yourself,
there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises
in the body-mind
Has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with,
And become attached to it,
Passing Judgment upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves
without changing or manipulating anything
and notice how everything
vanishes and reappears, magically,
Again and again, time without end.

Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it.
It's like a vivid rainbow which you pursue
without ever catching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.

Although peace and happiness
do not exist as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.

Don't believe in the reality
of good and bad experiences;
they are today's passing weather,
like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax
this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there -
open, inviting and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness, this
freedom and natural ease.
Don't search any further
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.

Nothing to do or undo,
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
And nothing missing.

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Things can be magnified when we are experiencing emotional or physical pain--much like the passenger side mirror on the car.  Look at the pain too close and it is often distorted.  This is especially the case if you are suffering because of unskillful actions or behavior of another person. See the situation as it really is, really see it and feel it, and the truth will be revealed.
Tibetan Infinite Knot
The Infinite Knot, one of the eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism, represents the endless cycle of life from birth to death, dark to light and everything in between.  This symbol is a reminder that life will naturally ebb and flow. We can take comfort that we are all interconnected and no one is alone in their suffering.  All is connected to karma.  You reap what you sow.  Act with good intentions and bring love, peace and harmony into your life.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Looking for Peace? Just Breathe

"Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Dwelling in this present moment
I know it is a wonderful moment"--Thich Nhat Hahn

No matter where you go
What you do
How tough life becomes
There is always the breathe

Fill your lungs and breathe deeply
Realize it all is okay as it is
Only this moment matters
Just breathe
Find your peace
Be free
Be peace

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Oops! I Forgot Something...

I now know for a fact that meditation has changed my life for the better.  What better way to find out than to experiment and stop meditating regularly for a month or so?

Um, maybe not such a good idea…

The impact to my overall feeling of well being, my stress level and how I interacted with others has been very noticeable over the last few weeks. There have been times I sit mindlessly in front of the TV feeling anxious, not sleeping, overeating, and feeling completely sorry for myself.  As a past time, I find myself reflecting on trivial problems, events and things that someone said that upset me… so many things upset me.  Sometimes I for "fun" I contact friends and family members to talk with them about it all.  Talking about the same problem over and over helps, right?  My expensive meditation cushion has been suffocating under a heaped of laundry that I have not been motivated to wash.  There have been days I want to go hide under a rock.  I am sure there are days the people I interact with probably wished I would.  I have been in an official FUNK.

Everything has been magnified, and everything has been about ME. 

Frustrating that it is so easy to drift into old habits.  What triggers us to throw out good habits when times get tough?  Why do we not take the time to take care of ourselves and do good for ourselves during times of stress or when we are so busy?  Think of all of the time I wasted because I was not meditating.  It is during the rough times we need meditation the most.  I do not dare judge myself for my unskillful ways.  This is how we grow, learn and change. 

I am happy to report that I am back meditating again.  Getting back on track has not been easy.  There are moments of sitting where I think I will literally jump out of my skin and sometimes I anticipate meditating longer than the actual meditation.  I have noticed over the past few days the veil of uncertainty is becoming thinner and thinner.  I am starting to feel at peace.

My meditation practice is my little contribution to make the world a better place…at least for me and those I interact with on a regular basis.  Meditation allows us to reach that deep place within and interact everyday with compassion, kindness and wisdom in all that we do.  Something not to forget.

May you be happy! <3

Friday, July 13, 2012

Project Me

It was January 2011.  A brand new year, my father just passed away and I ended a long relationship with a man that was going absolutely nowhere.  I was not happy, I felt angry and incomplete.  I hit a brick wall with nowhere else to go.  There was only one recourse; I had to change to better myself.  I made a clear commitment to not to jump back into dating.  I did not set any time limits and I did not know how I was going to do all of this.  I just knew if I continued down the same path of doing things the same way, I would most definitely end up in the same place--unhappy. 

As a single mom I could not think of the last time I made an effort to really do something for myself.   I manage large projects all of the time at work, giving all my energy and soul to the projects, why not do the same for myself?  Off I went on my special journey.  I started the biggest project of my life, a project all about me.

Like most projects I manage, I started by establishing a mission statement and 3 high level objectives.

The mission statement was kept very simple.  Love.  This one word was presented to me at the beginning of the year at a bowl burning ceremony.  My biggest challenge was that I was calling off dating, so how in the world was I to find love in my life?  I continued anyway into the vast unknown. 

The objectives were as follows:
1.      I want to develop new friendships.
2.      I want a life with a sense of purpose and substance.  Specifically, I want my life to be more than about my career or about being a mom.
3.      I want to feel happy.

Reading through the list left me feeling instantly overwhelmed, so I took each objective one by one and came up with one clear small task I could complete in a short amount of time.  Example of my first baby steps…

1.      I want to develop new friendships.
o Sign-up for a Happy Hour with a Meetup group.
2.      I want a life with a sense of purpose and substance.  Specifically, I want my life to be more than about my career and being a mom.
o Attend volunteer orientation at a local animal shelter.
3.      I want to be happy and love my life.
o Meditate for a set amount of time each day and attend regular Buddhist dharma talks. 

As I completed each task, I documented what I did and quickly added another task to follow under each objective.  I started volunteering regularly and gradually raised my hand to take on some large volunteer project during the year.  I developed a regular meditation practice and found a wonderful sangha, spiritual friends, to support my Buddhist practice.  I not only attended regular Meetup events and met some great people, but I became a Meetup organizer.  Most importantly, I noticed my happiness was bringing happiness into other lives and my own.  People close to me were commenting on changes they were observing in my behavior, my attitude.  I started feeling renewed.

Over and over again I added to my task list.  Slowly, my children started taking my lead and developing similar interests through volunteering and participating in different activities.  To my surprise, all of our hearts were opening.  My life was changing and I found a true inner love as a result. My project was a success.

Here I sit over one year later and I have reached a bit of a crossroad.  I have continued building upon the three original objectives, but I am feeling restless and feel the need to take this to another level.

Phase II—Project Me 

My new mission statement was presented to me in January 2012--“Freedom”.  A single word again, but a big word.  Freedom is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.; and, the power to determine action without restraint, personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery.”

1.       Find ways to be more kind to yourself.
2.       Find way to be more kind to others.
3.       Get organized in your life.

I have some work to do.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Monkey Mind

I have nothing to write about.  Absolutely nothing. Funny, when I meditate this is exactly my goal--to sit and simply do nothing.  Yet, staring at this empty page is giving me anxiety.  Why?

Nothing to write about, but my mind has a full "to do" list that spans from now through next Sunday evening.  Actually, this is the problem.  They call it Monkey Mind.  My mind is racing so I cannot write. I am getting caught up in the worry and anticipation of what is next rather than what is now. 

This is why we practice. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Power of Relics

The Maitreya Project--Heart Shrine Relic Tour came to my home town in late 2011.  I was responsible for coordinating volunteers to perform various duties during the tour such as guarding the relics, assisting visitors to bathe the baby Buddha and receive a blessing.  This ended up to be a much bigger job than expected since it required coordinating the activities of approximately 60 volunteers over an entire weekend.

I have to admit that I did not understand what a relic even was prior to the tour.  I volunteered as an opportunity to get to know fellow sangha members and give back to a place that has been good to me. 

A relic is a religious object.  In the case of the Heart Shrine Relic Tour, the relics included personal items of the Dalia Lama himself, blood relics of various Buddhist spiritual masters, and those of the Buddhas.  When the bodies were cremated, crystals popped up in their ashes like popcorn. The crystals are put on display in different containers—these are the relics.

Many Buddhist believe the relics hold a special power or energy which transmit blessings or spiritual energy directly to all visitors.  I have to admit to being pretty skeptical of the power and energy of the relics at the beginning.  I never considered myself religious and rituals all seemed like a bunch of hocus pocus to me. 

The nuns in charge of the tour helped coordinate the setup.  The chapel was sealed off when they removed the relics to place them in the display case.  They even suited up with gloves and wore surgical masks.  A large table was set up with display cases which would hold the relics.  Displayed in the center of the table were golden Maitreya statues of various sizes.  The volunteers were allowed to place personal Buddhas on the table so they could absorb energy from the relics.  I added my little brass Buddha to the display table just for grins.  Who was I to turn down the possibility of obtaining some good juju!

Over the weekend, I watch visitors from all walks of life enter the chapel where the relics were displayed.  Some were like me and did not know what the in heck they were looking at. There were others that became mesmerized by the so called power of the relics.  There was a Korean man and woman I watch perform prostrations in front of the relics.  There were even visitors which returned for a second visit and blessing over the course of the weekend.  Some cried.  Many bowed before the relics.

There was one couple from a neighboring state that stayed for the entire length of the tour.  The woman claimed to be able to feel and transmit the power of the relics from her body.  I watched when she approached the relics.  As she rang tiny bells that were on display by the relics, her eyes began to flutter and roll back in her head.  

Each visitor was touched in a unique way.  Eventually, even I was touched.

On the last day of the tour, I found myself sobbing out of nowhere and left the chapel to gain composure.  They were happy tears like the kind that come when watching the end to a lovely movie.  I was overwhelmed with the energy, compassion, kindness and love in the room.  To top it off, the thought that I was able to put skills to use that I use every day in the corporate world to help support this wonderful experience made me beam from my heart outward. 

Do the relics really transmit energy?  I think there are people that believe they do.  For me, the wonderful transformative energy was coming from the visitors of the relics, and the powerful energy from my sangha who worked together to help create the experience for others.

The tiny brass Buddha that sat with the relics is now sitting on my fireplace mantel.  Our family is convinced the little Buddha is radiating love, kindness and compassion into our home.  

This is the true power of the relics. 

May you be happy.

"The aim of Maitreya Project is to bring long-term social and economic benefit to millions of people in northern India and sustained spiritual benefit to the world community."  For information on the Maitreya Project and Heart Shrine Relic Tour go to

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Picture This!

I was out browsing technical blogs today for a solution and this picture caught my attention.  I am not sure what this particular picture had to do with the subject matter of RSS feeds.  Maybe they were trying to incorporate mindfulness into their message? 

I love the message in this picture.  For me, it serves as a reminder to keep balance, slow down and breathe!  This is easily forgotten as we move so fast through our busy lives.  Many of us rush through our day, wishing the day will come to an end or wishing it was the weekend.  Why wish your life away? 

If the woman in the picture were not balanced and peaceful, she would possibly slip and fall off the horse into the water.  Think about this as you are rushing through your day.  You may be surprise how productive you can be if you are present and slow down your pace. 

I don’t have a horse, but I think I will do a little walking meditation and sitting with my dog after work today.  I am sure she will greatly appreciate it too.  Then again, why wait until later to bring peace and mindfulness into life?  No moment like the present! 

What does this picture say to you? 

May you be happy!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Million Dollar Question

Saturday night was a lovely evening so I headed with my kids to a popular part of town for dinner and a little shopping.  We were walking from the parking garage when we heard a very jazzy rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" played by a trio of street musicians.  It was the type of evening and street music that makes you put a little strut in your step.  Even my teenage son was smiling and dancing around a little.

After a few minutes, we continued our walk down the street towards the restaurant.  In front of a book store sat a homeless man on the ground with a sign that said, "Need Money and Work."  We quickened our steps using care to ignore and not make eye contact with him.  I could hear the man say "God bless you," as we passed. 

As we approached the restaurant we could hear drums.  There sat on the curb was another street musician.  He was a scruffy young man who was in dire need of a good shower and some Right Guard.  There he was playing drums on upside down paint containers of different sizes for the crowd of onlookers.  So talented, but panhandling just the same.  I started thinking of how the homeless and poor people were encroaching on this beautiful part of our city.  Such a sad problem.  Yet, here the dirty young man sat playing an amazing drum solo on simple paint containers. 

A sweet looking older couple stood next to me and I smiled at the woman and nodded.  I said, "He is really good."  She agreed with a nod and sweet grandma like smile.  She then handed me what looked like money.  "It is a million dollars!" the old woman said.  "Make sure to read it.  It has an important message on the back!" she said in her smiley grandma voice.  I laughed and graciously accepted the million dollar bill knowing good and well there would be some bible verse on the back, but that was okay. She was so sweet and kind. 

My kids and I headed inside the Italian restaurant where I learned there was a 30 minute wait for a table.  No worries.  It was such a nice evening and we were in no hurry.  To kill the time, I examined the million dollar bill I shoved into my jeans pocket a few minutes earlier.  The front with a picture of President Hayes and on the back there was very tiny print that my 40 plus year old eyes struggled to read.  I held the bill out at an arms length and squinted my eyes into little slits to read the tiny print.  It said the following.

The million dollar question.  Will you go to Heaven when you die?  Here's a quick test.  Have you ever told a lie, have you ever stolen anything, or God's name in vain?  Jesus said, "Who looks at a woman in lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart."  Have you looked with lust?  Will you be guilty on judgement day?  If you have done those things, God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart.  The bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell. 

I failed the test.  I certainly cannot say I have never told a lie and I am pretty sure I said "Oh My God" or "God D___-It!" at least twice that day.  To top it off, I do not believe Jesus is Lord and I have several gay and lesbian friends which I am sure would be covered in more questions on the back if there were room.  How could this sweet little old lady be so narrow minded?  If there is a Heaven, what kind of place does not accept everyone with differences, flaws and all?  There I sat on this perfect evening with a judgmental message in hand! 

Reading this message made me think of an old Twilight Zone.  It was one of the classic episodes where an old man and his dog arrived to the gates of Heaven.  The gate keeper told him he was welcome to enter, but there are no dogs allowed.  The old man decides that any place that would not allow his loyal hunting dog is no place he wanted to be.  Later he finds to out it was not Heaven at all.  It was Hell in disguise.  Heaven was little bit further down the road and the pearly gates openly allowed his dog.

As I thought more about the message on the million dollar bill, I realized something very important.  I was being as judgmental as the seemingly sweet old lady passing out the million dollar bills. Why should the homeless not be allowed in this part of town?  Should they be banned from this area since it lowers the property values and makes me feel uncomfortable?  I volunteer monthly in a soup kitchen, but cannot be courteous enough to acknowledge a homeless man as I pass him on the street?  My  appearance and economic status does not make me better, more important, more special or more worthy to be here. I was even judging the old lady for being judgmental. 

Fortunately, we do not need to believe the words on the back of the million dollar bill.  It is okay to be different.  If someone does a wrong deed, we can believe in second, third and as many chances as needed.  There is no reason to believe anyone will spend eternity in Hell.  However, we can build our own Hell on earth by having preconceived ideas and passing of judgement on others. I realize at times I have create walls with my opinions--my own personal prison cell of sorts. The good news, it is never too late to start in the next moment to show more love, kindness, compassion and tolerance for those that do not act, think or believe the same as we do.  It is key to remember all beings are interconnected.  It should not matter if you are straight/gay/lesbian, Democrate/Republican, pro-choice/pro-life, poor/wealthy, Muslim/Christian--you get the idea. Look for the good in all beings and you will find it. This is what being open minded is really all about. 

I end this blog post with metta practice.

To myself, may I be happy in all ways.
To you my reader, may you be happy in all ways.

To the old lady, may you be happy in all ways.
To the homeless man I ignored on the street, may you be happy in all ways.

To all beings, may you be happy in all ways.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Things

There I was laid out like a corpse on the floor at the end of yoga class.  Shavasana is the meditation at the end of yoga which ironically means “corpse pose”.  My fingers feel the spongy yoga mat underneath me.  The feeling of being grounded, safe, and secure—I love you yoga mat.  There I lay while my dad was in the hospital dying of complications with bladder cancer and Alzheimer’s disease—just waiting.  Over the last week the entire family was paused waiting for him to pass.  I followed the instructors guide to focus on my breath—relax and breathe—be strong—hold your breath because this is going to hurt.  All of a sudden, he was there in my head.  His voice said “Tiny, it will be okay.”  “Ding, ding, ding,” the chimes of the bell brought me back quickly.  I noticed tears streaming down my cheeks.  He is leaving.  Please don’t end the meditation so soon!  I need to go back!  I received a call from my sister one hour later.  He was gone.

Just a little over a week earlier, I said my final goodbye to my dad.  It was early morning and I stopped by the hospital to visit him before I headed back home.  I knew this would be our last time together. I walked down the hall slowly thinking about what I should say to him.  What will he understand?  Will he know who I am today?  I do like not last moments.  Things like last moments of vacations and last days on a job leave me feeling a bit melancholy inside.  However, this was a last of a different caliber.  This was forever. Upon approaching his hospital room I stopped. I heard Dad pleading with the nurses about taking his medicine. In a little tiny man voice, he said with a kind plea, “You people are so nice, but please quit feeding me that soap.”  They were crushing his meds up in apple sauce and I am certain it really did taste like soap. My Dad--his worse fears coming true.  Laying in a hospital bed, frail and helpless, ending up like his mother.  Losing his coveted privacy and feeling helpless was the ultimate blow.  To have a group of people hanging over him and nagging at him, he hated this.  I would hate it too.  Here I was standing and watching him just like he looked at this mother a long time ago.  I envisioned myself someday as a tiny demented old lady punching out and biting the same nurses.  How can my dad be so kind right now?  Is this my destiny?  I decided to let him know I was there, “Dad, please just eat it so they will leave you alone!”  He looked up stunned to see me in the doorway and said “I know you!”  I replied back, “Yes, of course you know me!” and flashed him a big smile.  Of course he did—in a way beyond words.  In a way only described in "the things” we used to talk about.

My dad and I had a special bond when I was a little girl.  Between the ages of 4 and 9, we would go on walks together down the street after dinner.   We would walk slowly hand in hand and stop to look at the creek located at the end of the block.  As a middle child, I often felt lost between two siblings so this time alone with my daddy was special.  He called me Babbling Brook and  I called him Roaring River.  Roaring River would hold my hand and I would begin ask questions about the things.  “What is the hole in the wall where the door closes?” I asked. “That is called an Onionstein,” he said.  What is the little dip on my upper lip right under my nose called?” I asked.  “That is where God touched you,” he said.  “Where did the sky come from?” I asked.  “God made it,” he said.  “Where was I before I was born?” I asked.  “You were a twinkle in in your daddy's eye,” he said.  My dad would always come up with an answer and often it had something to do with that big and powerful man in the sky named God.  The man that was supposed to be everywhere.  At least that is what they told us in Sunday school.  That man we would pray to during the Jewish high holy days.  The man that must not know English since Jewish prayers were in Hebrew.  I pictured a combination of Moses, Zeus and the Wizard of Oz with a long gray haired beard with magical powers.  My toughest question, “Where do we go when we die?”  “We go to be with God,” my dad said.  Wow, God was creepy and scary! 
Those days of talking about the things were important times.  We stopped not too long after my parent divorce, but my dad and I occasionally reminisced about our talks.  It was at my dad’s funeral I realized that I had so many unanswered questions about "the things".  Things I have overlooked for too long.  Am I Jewish?  Where did my dad go?  What is God?  What makes me happy?  Am doing what I really want or what everyone else thinks I should be doing?  This may sound strange, but I found a hidden gift in my dad’s death.  It woke me up so I would seek answers to my questions.  For this, I am thankful. 

I initially started meditating and practicing Buddhism in hopes I would recreate the contact with my dad I had in yoga class. Was it all my imagination? Over time, this question has become irrelevant. The combination of meditating and practicing Buddhism stirred something up deep inside of me--my spirit. In a very short time, I have learned God is not creepy and scary as I made HER out to be when I was a little girl. God is my inner voice, my strength, my wisdom. For me, meditation is about being with God and Buddhism is a path to deepen the experience. It is about being quiet and listening to my inner voice and wisdom. Some call this process prayer. The term "God" is merely a label to describe the divine presence and energy within all of us. Where did my dad go when he died? He is part of me always. It gives me comfort to know when I really want to feel my dad's presence I can simply be quiet and really listen. In this quiet inner space lies the answer to all of "the things".

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shenpa Control

Shenpa Control Face

If anger was fire, Buddhism has been the fire department to snuff out my anger.  There have been times in my life I felt consumed by anger.  I have been quick to tell off and belittle the waiter that screwed up my order.  I used to be proud of the number of free meals I could earn by getting angry.  I even threw a VHS copy of the Wizard of Oz at a Walmart manager after standing in line for an unacceptable amount of time.  I was proud of comments that I was tough, a bitch, and even mean--don't mess with her because she will show you whose boss!  I have been literally blinded and paralized by the burning anger in my belly.  Sometimes this anger was pointed at myself.  There has been a notable change in how I respond to being angry.  Let me be clear, I am not perfect.  I have my moments I snap and yell at my kids or say something out of anger.  However, those moments are now followed by a quick observation and mental note of what I did that was unskillful.

I hope to become more and more skillful at taking notice before reacting.  Pema Chodron describes the feeling you get right before you do something unskillful as shenpa"Here is an everyday example of shenpa. Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens— that's the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we're talking about where it touches that sore place— that's a shenpa. Someone criticizes you—they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child— and, shenpa: almost co-arising."

Here are the steps I am practicing to help develop better shenpa control.
  • While passing people in the street or driving in the car, send love and kindness.  I picture a Star Trek like force field of love and kindness surrounding all of the cars I pass and I say to myself "May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be peaceful."  This also works wonders if someone cuts you off in their car.  Recite "may you be happy" in your head--mean it.  There could be a reason the person is in a hurry.  Maybe they are rushing to the hospital or maybe they are having a bad day.  Give them love and kindness.
  • If someone says something that angers you and you feel you cannot respond skillfully, immediately become silent.  Just continue to say nothing if you cannot respond skillfully.  I even had to entirely leave a situation to be able to gain control.  That was much better than responding in an unkind way.  This is a baby step to take until you can simply observe as Pema Chodron recommends.
  • Practice Tonglen meditation.  Breathe in the black smoke of whatever is making you angry or upset.  Breathe out white light.
  • If something bad happens during the day, think "Good, I got the bad thing out of the way.  Now I can move on and have a good day."  Stay positive. 
  • Actively look for people doing good.  If a waiter does a good job, tell them so or, better yet, tell their manager in front of the waiter.  What if the waiter did not do such a good job?  Show them compassion.  To my surprise, I have noticed a much better response by the waiter and their management when I am kind.  Plus, I leave knowing I did not cause anyone suffering.  Everyone makes mistakes at times.
May you be happy.

For more information on shenpa and Tonglen, see the following websites.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Special Message to My Beautiful Daughter

The other night you were listening to music and became teary eyed because everything is changing.  I have had similar thoughts.  Our little family is changing.  It seems like yesterday you were a little girl.  Always full of opinions and stubborn!  You are a lot like me, but you have a special quality of your own.
The first day you were born, I swear you could hold your head up with minimum support.  You were able to roll to your back day 2.  You were so strong, so sure of yourself, and you still are so strong.  Right or wrong, you have been my rock at times.  I remember the touch of your little hand patting my shoulder right before your dad and I got divorce.  As I sat on the bathroom floor crying, your little voice said, “Mommy, please don’t cry.  It will be okay.”  It was your little voice that my inner wisdom and strength heard loudly—it gave me strength to pull myself up and move forward.  It is important for you to know that when I look back at a time where I made a significant change, it was this moment.  This was one of the scariest and most significant times of my life.  You were right there beside me.  Over the years, I have been tough on you and pushed you to do more than you thought you could do.  It is because I knew you could do it.  I could sense a wise, old soul in your young body. 
As you head into this new chapter of life and leave for college, here are some things to remember along the way.  These are the same things I try to remember during my journey.

Really listen to your inner voice.  Never overlook it.


Enjoy now.  It is the journey along the way, not the destination that we are living for.


You will have bumps in the road filled with fear, sadness and pain along the way.  At times, you will be scared to make the next move.  Those times are special because they cause you to learn, grow and change.  Embrace them.


Do not allow what other people think or what other people do influence you.  Their opinions are just that, their opinions.  Remember only you know what is the best thing for you to do. 


“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…Do the thing you think you cannot do.” --Eleanor Roosevelt    Do not give up because of fear.  Everything I ever did that was worth while in my life was very scary in the beginning.


Take care of your body.  You must take care of yourself first, before you can take care of anyone or anything else. 


There is no such thing as luck, bad karma, or good karma.  Accomplishments take hard work and efforts to achieve.  Beware of short cuts and cutting corners--they could be booby traps in disguise. 


It is okay to act silly sometimes.  No matter how old you are, remember how to play and DANCE!


Family is important.  Always stay close with your brother.  He is most like you and you need each other.


Life is like a bank account.  Make sure you give back more than you take.  Give selflessly and do not expect or ask for anything in return.  It is not the size of the gift that matters.  Small acts of kindness count.


Be your own best friend.  Be kind and compassionate to yourself.  Laugh with yourself. 


Plan wisely for the future, but do not lose sight of the present moment. 


Learn from the past and try not to woulda, shoulda, coulda yourself.  Now is the best moment to begin again and do it differently. 


Sometimes saying nothing is best.


You can only change you, not others.  Be the example and they may (or may not) follow. 


“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”—Dalai Lama


Being alone is not necessarily bad and it is not the worse thing.  It does not mean you are lonely. It is much worse to not be alone and be desperately unhappy with who you are with.


"People are like scaffolding, when the building is complete, they go away."--Bishop T. D. Jakes Sometimes there is a need to reevaluate your friends and decide when they have served their purpose in your life. 


When you feel overwhelmed by everything you need to get done, make a list, prioritize into small tasks.  Start with the first one and work your way down the list.  This works for cleaning your room, school work and just about anything in life.


Do not neglect your spirit.  It is as important as anything else in your life.  It does not take religion to nurture your spirit.  For some, a simple walk in nature does the trick.  Do not be afraid to try different things and find what is right for you. 


Fact of life--we must earn money to support ourselves.  It is my hope you can make money doing something you are passionate about.  However, if you cannot, remember that you can fulfill your passion in other ways outside of work or somewhere within the work you do.  Do not lose sight of how you can bring a sense of purpose and passion into all that you do.


Be happy.  Money does not make you happy.  Do not look for happiness in material wealth.  Things will only make you happy briefly.  When the novelty wears off, you will be as happy as you were beforehand.  “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” –Mahatma Gandhi  


Do not EVER compromise what you know is right for you, and your beliefs for others. 

Most important…

Remember how much you are loved.  You will always be my baby. No matter where you go, how far you go, and what you do in life, I will be here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My First Dharma Talk--Wise Concentration

Today’s topic is about “Wise Concentration”.   My concentration is completely off so I felt the need to type out what to say—this does not need to be perfect.  The rock is a souvenir from my retreat which serves as a reminder that I should be kind and compassionate to myself. 

Ironically, I did not sleep well last night since I felt a cold coming on.  I ended up waking up late this morning and rushing to get out the door to make an 8:30 a.m. meeting.  Of course, Murphy’s Law, I could not find my keys.  I searched everywhere in the house, dumped my purse, and it was becoming later and later by the minute.  I was angry at myself for losing them in the first place.  I ALWAYS put my key in the same pocket in my purse. Then, I started blaming the kids.  Okay, which of the kids took them from my purse?!?   Then, I looked over at my poor little dog Sophie hiding on her bed in the corner of the kitchen—her big eyes bugging out of her head and shaky little body reminded me that I was losing it—I was out of control.  I knew what to do.  Slow down…close your eyes…breath…just be.  I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw were my keys hanging in the front door lock.

When Janet asked me to facilitate this evening, she suggested that I talk about my experience at the one week silent retreat we attended a few weeks ago.  The truth is, I am still trying to figure out what it all means and I am not sure what to share.  I did not want to make up some cutesy story.  I want you to know it was not an easy thing to do.  Instead, I will tell you the entire experience of going on retreat is described in this chapter of “Awakening the Buddha Within”.

When I first arrived at the retreat center we were late—I don’t like to be late.  We missed dinner, missed Surya’s opening discussion, and it was pouring down rain.  Janet tucked me away safely in my cottage and the week-long Noble Silence officially began. It felt weird and uncomfortable.  The cottage smelled like Pine Sol and it was cold.  The process of the 5 T’s (Taming, Training, Testing, Transforming, and Transcendence) as Lama Surya Das describes in this chapter officially began.  I crawled into the twin bed like a scared little girl at summer camp, pulled my blanket from home that smelled of fabric softener up to my nose, and fell asleep. 

The next day, I felt naked, vulnerable, raw and scared.  I wanted to leave.  If this were a play, here enters the 5 Hindrances in their full glory.

I felt out of my skin without the distractions, the responsibilities, without the worries of what to do next, no TV, no radio, no cell phone to fiddle with, no work, and no kids, and I missed my dog.  I was craving all of the stuff from my day to day. 

I was very angry at myself for using up a week of vacation that could be better spent on a sunny beach relaxing with an umbrella drink in hand.  I was resentful and jealous of the woman in front of me in meditation who had perfect curly hair and mine was in a pony tail because I forgot my hair conditioner.  I was angry at Janet Taylor because she told me that there was wi-fi and it did not work—like it was Janet’s fault?  Why did I come to the retreat with only Pema Chodron and Lama Surya Das books on my e-reader?

I was restless since I did not know what to do with my body feeling awkward and sore sitting in long meditations.  Crazy thoughts were racing through my head—I could not concentrate. 

Every time I meditated I started to fall asleep and it was not even lunch time yet.  I had nothing to do and time seemed to stop.

I started to doubt why I was there.  Will they be able to tell I am struggling more than everyone else?  Rinpoche who?  Should I be here?  All of the people seem to know so much more than me.  What is with all the people in the maroon scarves?  Janet has one too.  Must mean they are important.  How can I possibly ask a question of Lama Surya Das?  I will sound stupid. 

Instead of getting the running for the hills, I forced myself to stick with it.  I meditated, meditated, and meditated more.  Eyes open, eyes closed, chanting, walking, sky gazing, and eating meditation.  I did Tibetan Yoga, regular yoga on my own, and I started feeling the energy pumping through my body.  I started creating my own meditations to pass time like sound meditation or sunset meditation.  I cried lots of tears along the way.

Over a few days time, I began to transform.  I began journaling everyday what I was grateful for.  I began feeling the heavy weighted backpack I carry everyday full of the craving, anger, resentment, restlessness, sleepiness, and boredom becoming lighter and lighter.  I felt in my body. I felt healthy.  For the first time in my adult life, I felt my spirit running my life.  I felt free.  

I gained some wonderful insight into who I am and my meditation practice.  I realize am still learning.  On the last day of my retreat, I made the following notes to myself in my journal to carry what I learned from the retreat back with me.

“March 31, 2012

It is the last day of my retreat and I am sitting in my favorite spot by the fountain next to the Lotus Meditation building.  The wind is blowing fiercely as if it is trying to blow me back into my day to day life—reality.  However, I now know that THIS moment, with my hair wildly whipping around IS reality.  Not tomorrow, not yesterday. 

1.      Slow down in life.  Live the moments.  Be mindful and cherish them.  Be grateful.
2.      See the joy in living—smile! 
3.      Go on retreat again soon. It is necessary.
4.      Be compassionate to yourself.  Give yourself a break every now and then. You don’t have to push yourself so hard.
5.      Be silent more.  Sometimes saying nothing is best.

Things I am grateful for--Retreat Day 7:
1.      The cool wind and the fact I have so much hair to mess up.
2.      Finally seeing the desert
3.      Knowing I have my kids and my dog to go home to
4.      Janet Taylor for her influence on my life and how it has carried into my children’s lives.”

Here I am.  I have moments like I had this morning that are far cry from wise concentration.  I lost 8 pounds on retreat and, as of today, I have gained it all back.  Enlightened?  Nope.  At moments?  Possibly.  I have my flashlight to keep me on the path.

Elizabeth Lesser said in the The Seeker’s Guide, “Meditation practice is like piano scales, basketball drills, ballroom dance class. Practice requires discipline; it can be tedious; it is necessary. After you have practiced enough, you become more skilled at the art form itself. You do not practice to become a great scale player or drill champion. You practice to become a musician or athlete. Likewise, one does not practice meditation to become a great meditator. We meditate to wake up and live, to become skilled at the art of living.”