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.