Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Every Path Has Some Puddles

Recently it struck me that I've been spending a lot of time splashing around in them, which tends to make them deeper – and sloppier. Struggle too much and one can become stuck! I've been stuck for some time now. How is it possible to get stuck? They're only puddles. Well, my mind can transform a simple puddle into a raging river or quicksand or a bottomless pit.

Note to self: It's never a good idea to let Mara lead the way. You'll find yourself stuck in the mud every time!

Things I've Learned About Puddles

  • They're only puddles. Don't make it personal.

  • It is possible to drown, even in a shallow puddle, without mindfulness.

  • It is in the perception, not the puddle, that danger is found.

  • If you slip and fall, get up carefully.

  • If there are no puddles, you're on the wrong path.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Election Results

The recent political extravaganza here in the US was something to behold, no doubt about it. And when it came to peoples hot buttons, might say it was a target rich environment. We are human, after all. Views and opinions abound. Some that we may not even be aware of tend to emerge at times like these. It was like a huge kamma generating machine, with Mara at the controls. There's a visual, huh?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


There was a very popular video game in the early 80's called Frogger. The object of the game was to get frogs to their homes one by one. The frogs had to cross a busy road and then navigate a river filled with an assortment of hazards.

Life, it seems, can be much like an arcade game. I recently managed to get caught up in what might be described as a mental Frogger marathon! Ajahn Pasanno calls this being trapped in the moving mind. Just like the game of Frogger, no matter how good you think you are, eventually...Splat!!

A couple of weeks ago I was awakened in the middle of the night with chest pain and eventually wound up in the hospital. After a dizzying array of tests, it was determined that the pain I had experienced was the result of stress. Stress? What stress?? I'm not stressed! As the doctor was telling me that my diet sucked, I drink too much coffee, I am, after all, not 25 anymore, I had just gone through a hectic summer ending with the loss of my mind was busy ticking off a long list of all the things I should be doing instead of lying in a hospital bed feeling foolish.

We are taught as young children not to run out into traffic. The danger is pretty easy to explain and to understand. The traffic found in the mind is another story! Without mindfulness we suddenly dart out, blind to the danger. It's really quite amazing. Even as we study and practice the teachings of the Buddha, there are those times when it's as if we've not learned a thing. Trapped in the moving mind. How easy it is to step right back into it.

I'm Lost, But I'm Really Movin'
a Dhamma Teaching by Ajahn Pasanno

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's Been Awhile...

This summer has been a time of many challenges for me. Each day, it seems, brought me face to face with yet another example of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self - the three characteristics of existence. Rather than feeling depressed or sad, I have been nourished by a deepening faith in the Dhamma and invigorated by a strengthened commitment to this practice.

I hope to be posting here a bit more frequently in the near future. That's the plan anyway. But we all know what can happen to plans. I would also like to catch up on some of the wonderful posts of good friends on their sites. I've only had time to take a glance until now.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Back Home Temporarily

I wanted to check in while I have a chance. I spent most of July between my home and my mother's, which is a 1200 mile round trip. She is critically ill with renal failure and will likely enter hospice soon. I will be going back to care for her as soon as I can wrap things up at home. Until then she is in very good hands with a wonderful medical team and my dear brother.

Thanks to everyone for your concern and kind words. I have been catching up with your blogs and, as always, find inspiration and encouragement in this practice from your posts.

September 8 - Shortly after this post I returned, for the last time, to my mother's bedside. She died a week later.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Seeing Things As They Are

Meeting The Divine Messengers

by Bhikkhu Bodhi

The traditional legend of the Buddha's quest for enlightenment tells us that throughout his youth and early manhood Prince Siddhattha, the Bodhisatta, lived in complete ignorance of the most elementary facts of human life. His father, anxious to protect his sensitive son from exposure to suffering, kept him an unwitting captive of nescience. Incarcerated in the splendor of his palace, amply supplied with sensual pleasures and surrounded by merry friends, the prince did not entertain even the faintest suspicion that life could offer anything other than an endless succession of amusements and festivities. It was only on that fateful day in his twenty-ninth year, when curiosity led him out beyond the palace walls, that he encountered the four "divine messengers" that were to change his destiny. The first three were the old man, the sick man, and the corpse, which taught him the shocking truths of old age, illness, and death; the fourth was a wandering ascetic, who revealed to him the existence of a path whereby all suffering can be fully transcended.

This charming story, which has nurtured the faith of Buddhists through the centuries, enshrines at its heart a profound psychological truth. In the language of myth it speaks to us, not merely of events that may have taken place centuries ago, but of a process of awakening through which each of us must pass if the Dhamma is to come to life within ourselves. Beneath the symbolic veneer of the ancient legend we can see that Prince Siddhattha's youthful sojourn in the palace was not so different from the way in which most of us today pass our entire lives — often, sadly, until it is too late to strike out in a new direction. Our homes may not be royal palaces, and the wealth at our disposal may not approach anywhere near that of a North Indian rajah, but we share with the young Prince Siddhattha a blissful (and often willful) oblivion to stark realities that are constantly thrusting themselves on our attention. If the Dhamma is to be more than the bland, humdrum background of a comfortable life, if it is to become the inspiring, sometimes grating voice that steers us on to the great path of awakening, we ourselves must emulate the Bodhisatta in his process of maturation. We must join him on that journey outside the palace walls — the walls of our own self-assuring preconceptions — and see for ourselves the divine messengers we so often miss because our eyes are fixed on "more important things," i.e., on our mundane preoccupations and goals.

The Buddha says that there are few who are stirred by things that are truly stirring, compared to those people, far more numerous, who are not so stirred. The spurs to awakening press in on us from all sides, yet too often, instead of acknowledging them, we respond simply by putting on another layer of clothes to protect ourselves from their sting. This statement is not disproved even by the recent deluge of discussion and literature on aging, life-threatening illnesses, and alternative approaches to death and dying. For open and honest awareness is still not sufficient for the divine messengers to get their message across. In order for them to convey their message, the message that can goad us on to the path to liberation, something more is needed. We must confront aging, illness, and death, not simply as inescapable realities with which we must somehow cope at the practical level, but as envoys from the beyond, from the far shore, disclosing new dimensions of meaning.

This disclosure takes place at two levels. First, to become divine messengers, the facts of aging, illness, and death must jolt us into an awareness of the fragile, precarious nature of our normal day-to-day lives. They must impress upon our minds the radical deficiency that runs through all our worldly concerns, extending to conditioned existence in its totality. Thereby they become windows opening upon the first noble truth, the noble truth of suffering, which the Buddha says comprises not only birth, aging, illness, and death, not only sorrow, grief, pain, and misery, but all the "five aggregates of clinging" that make up our being-in-the-world.

When we meet the divine messengers at this level, they become catalysts that can induce in us a profound internal transformation. We realize that because we are frail and inescapably mortal we must make drastic changes in our existential priorities and personal values. Instead of letting our lives be consumed by transient trivia, by things that are here today and gone tomorrow, we must give weight to "what really counts," to aims and actions that will exert a lasting influence upon our long-range destinies — upon our final destiny in this life, and upon our ultimate direction in the cycle of repeated birth and death.

Before such a revaluation takes place, we generally live in a condition that the Buddha describes by the term pamada, negligence or heedlessness. Imagining ourselves immortal, and the world our personal playground, we devote our energies to the accumulation of wealth, the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, the achievement of status, the quest for fame and renown. The remedy for heedlessness is the very same quality that was aroused in the Bodhisatta when he met the divine messengers in the streets of Kapilavatthu. This quality, called in Pali samvega, is a sense of urgency, an inner commotion or shock which does not allow us to rest content with our habitual adjustment to the world. Instead it drives us on, out of our cozy palaces and into unfamiliar jungles, to work out with diligence an authentic solution to our existential plight.

It is at this point that the second function of the divine messengers comes to prominence. For aging, sickness, and death are not only emblems of the unsatisfactory nature of mundane existence but pointers to a deeper reality that lies beyond. In the traditional legend the old man, the sick man, and the corpse are gods in disguise; they have been sent down to earth from the highest heaven to awaken the Bodhisatta to his momentous mission, and once they have delivered their message they resume their celestial forms. The final word of the Dhamma is not surrender, not an injunction to resign ourselves stoically to old age, sickness, and death. This is the preliminary message, the announcement that our house is ablaze. The final message is other: an ebullient cry that there is a place of safety, an open field beyond the flames, and a clear exit sign pointing the way of escape.

If in this process of awakening we must meet old age, sickness, and death face to face, that is because the place of safety can be reached only by honest confrontation with the stark truths about human existence. We cannot reach safety by pretending that the flames that engulf our home are nothing but bouquets of flowers: we must see them as they are, as real flames. When, however, we do look at the divine messengers squarely, without embarrassment or fear, we will find that their faces undergo an unexpected metamorphosis. Before our eyes, by subtle degrees, they change into another face — the face of the Buddha, with its serene smile of triumph over the army of Mara, over the demons of Desire and Death. The divine messengers point to what lies beyond the transient, to a dimension of reality where there is no more aging, no more sickness, and no more death. This is the goal and final destination of the Buddhist path — Nibbana, the Unaging, the Unailing, the Deathless. It is to direct us there that the divine messengers have appeared in our midst, and the good news of deliverance is their message.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stormy Sunset

My mother is 85 years old and, until very recently, had been in pretty good health. Especially for one at such an advanced age. On May 28 she was still driving (yikes!) and happily pursuing her favorite pastime – shopping. She has lived alone since my father died about 25 years ago, and has thoroughly enjoyed being in control of her life. “Calling the shots” is extremely important to her. All of them! It is this absolute need to be in control, to have it her way, that is now her greatest source of suffering.

On May 29 she went into the hospital for a planned pacemaker replacement. All went well and she was to return home in about a week. But, as Ajahn Chah frequently taught, “it's all unsure”. With all discharge planning complete, she became ill, spiked a high fever and began to hallucinate. My brother phoned me with this news and I arrived the next day. She had developed an infection and was now in very serious condition. She was transferred to a larger hospital a short distance away. While in the ICU there, a superb team of doctors and nurses managed to successfully fight the infection. Once again it appeared that she would soon be able to return home.

As she made steady and even dramatic improvement medically, her mental and emotional state took an equally dramatic decline as she grew impatient, angry, demanding and even abusive to those caring for her. She is angry and fearful, not really at the prospect of death, but at the very idea of not being in control. I have seen her react to not getting her way numerous time over the years. It is never pleasant. In this case, in an effort to retain that all important control, she is refusing to participate in her own care. It is a challenging situation for all concerned. Not unlike the challenges faced by countless people and their loved ones the world over.

I have tried to see this through the lens of Dhamma. The aging, sickness and death which we all face sooner or later is serious business. It is a subject that I reflect on frequently. There is nothing I can do to alter the course that my mother has chosen to follow. She is competent and mentally intact, at least by traditionally accepted standards, and free to make these choices that are harming her both physically and mentally in this life and beyond. She has unknowingly given me a most valuable and unforgettable lesson on the urgent importance of a deep and committed practice.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Still Processing - To Be Continued

I've just returned from an unexpected and difficult trip to see my mother. I am still processing the experience and will attempt to write more later. How grateful I am to the Buddha and his teachings. While I was away my only internet access was through my phone, so I was able to read the reflections of my dear Dhamma friends. A true gift.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cake Anyone?

A couple of weeks ago I was watching my granddaughter eat a piece of cake, so naturally I thought of Ajahn Brahm! What?? :-) Coincidentally the topic of cake and Ajahn Brahm has been popping up in a couple of places that I visit on the web as well. For anyone who hasn't heard one of his Dhamma talks on the different types of Buddhism, here is my favorite. In it he explains, as only he can, that the various schools, traditions and sects can be compared to different flavors of icing on the same cake. I first heard this talk a few years ago, and it quickly helped to ease those pesky questions about which was "right" or "better", and yes even, "which one is authentic?".

Back to my granddaughter for a moment. Here's the thing - she only wants the icing! So when I said I was watching her eat a piece of cake, that wasn't really accurate. She was actually eating icing that happened to be on a piece of cake. She's always only been interested in the icing. Serious sweet tooth that one! All the color and sprinkles and creamy sweetness! Mmmmm. It's all so very enticing, especially for a 9 year old. She asks for cake but never eats any of it. It's all about the icing! As far as she's concerned, cake is something that holds icing, nothing more. Plus, she's smart enough to know that if she asked for a bowl of icing and a spoon the answer would be no. Over the years she's missed out on some really good cake!

To wrap this up, my natural inclination when it comes to cake is yellow cake with a bit of chocolate butter cream icing. I'm also quite content with just the cake if there isn't any icing available. It's delicious just the way it is. If you'd ever like to offer me a taste of cake with a bit of your favorite icing that would be lovely. And you're always welcome to have a taste of mine.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Half Way Point

After a rather rocky start to my retreat it is, well, what it is. There have been many distractions, both internal and external. Of course they're all internal when you get right down to it. Focus is illusive. Strangely that seems okay. I'm not sure if it's acceptance or just plain laziness. Being with whatever comes along without running too far with it is the best I can do. But it feels a lot more like apathy than equanimity.

Friday, May 30, 2008


I have spent the better part of the last few days chasing flies. Thankfully this spectacle was not captured on video or audio - especially audio! My language has been a bit crude, even for me. My ability to formulate an endless array of possible loopholes, exemptions and exclusions to the first precept has been impressive! These critters have given me quite a workout, physically and mentally. So what led up to this invasion? (I've never actually seen this many house flies in one place-certainly not MY place!)

It started several weeks ago when my husband took down a large section of the backyard fence that was damaged in a storm and needs to be replaced. (This is starting to sound like that story about a butterfly flapping it's wings in Africa and...) Anyway, to keep our dogs from getting out, he built a temporary fenced in area adjacent to the back door. To be blunt, that created the conditions for a lot of uh, dog poop to be concentrated in a relatively small area. Fast forward to Monday, which was my son's birthday and also Memorial Day. We opened the pool, fired up the grill and had a great family get together. Lots of food, lots of spills, lots of people leaving the door open... Yeah, the flies couldn't resist a temporary change in diet and discovered there was plenty of food to check out just around the corner, so they went for it.

How can one actually become angry at a fly? I mean REALLY angry! These things are incredibly difficult to catch for one thing! Much easier to whack them with a rolled up magazine, or better yet a nice fly swatter. I don't own a fly swatter, but I did roll up a newspaper. Yes I did. And I swore like a sailor and threatened to use it. My threats fell on deaf ears. Can flies hear? It was around this time that I realized how glad I was that there was no one around to witness this whole thing.

It was time for some "lying down" meditation. What came to mind was Ajahn Chah talking about how when we are about to do something wrong we tend to look around to make sure nobody will see. But we often don't consider that WE will see. All the more important to understand this teaching when what we may be thinking of doing would be seen as absolutely the right thing to do by most other people. In fact NOT doing it would be considered, well, a bit crazy!

I learned that it's impossible to catch a fly, let alone dozens of them, when angry or frustrated. I learned that with a calm and focused mind, compassionate heart and patience, it's not that hard to round up a bunch of rowdy intruders and show them the door. A much better result for all concerned than what I had first considered, though briefly!

As Sunday and the start of my retreat fast approaches, I can't help but wonder what the challenges will be that are sure to pop up along the way. And will I be able to see them for what they are, opportunities to strengthen this practice, and not obstacles that get in my way.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Turning Down, Tuning In

In other words it's time for a tune-up. Turning down the mental volume and tuning in to the heart is so easy to forget as we get wrapped up in the day to day hustle and bustle that we latch on to. To step back from some of the stuff of household life, even for a short time, requires careful planning to avoid stepping on other peoples emotional toes as much as possible. Abundant opportunities for developing the Brahma-viharas there. It's all practice, especially the challenging parts.

Last winter Gary over at Forest Wisdom (soon to be found at Buddha Place) did a self retreat and I decided to join him, though a tad late. I found it to be extremely helpful and realize that, much like physical exercise, at least some of the benefit fades over time if not maintained. I also remember that knowing someone else was making the effort as well was a great help, especially in getting through the rough spots. So I invite anyone who visits here to join me if you're able.

I'm planning on the first week in June for my tune-up/retreat. I've a few details to wrap up and some commitments to attend to. Trying to tie up as many loose ends as reasonably possible while remaining open to the inevitable situations that routinely present themselves in an active and sometimes unpredictable household is kind of a warm up exercise in patience and equinimity.

I've chosen Ajahn Sr. Vayama as my retreat 'leader'. It has been a long, long time since I've listened to her teachings so I'm looking forward to her wonderfully direct and gentle guidance. During this time I will commit to meditating each morning and evening, listening to a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Vayama each day, and observing the 8 precepts.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Fierce Urgency of Now

"...We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood-it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."..."

That is a very short excerpt from Rev. Martin Luther King's speech "Beyond Viet Nam". Recently Sen. Barack Obama borrowed the phrase, "the fierce urgency of now", in one of his own speeches.

These few words struck me on so many levels. First and foremost they snapped this wandering and undisciplined mind back to the importance - and urgency - of this practice. There is precious little time for meditation, even under the most fortunate circumstances in which I find myself. There are responsibilities and everyday duties and chores to be done, yes. But then what? Now comes and goes regardless of whether I choose to be aware or not, and to waste time with regret over missed opportunities would only insure further neglect.

I'm relatively certain that neither Dr. King nor Sen. Obama would have imagined that these words might serve as inspiration for a struggling Buddhist to regain her bearings on this path. I don't think either would mind.

As I was reflecting on this, I remembered something I had read in "Food for the Heart". Finishing a talk on the benefits of practice, Ajahn Chah encouraged his students not to let time roll by unused and without purpose. He ended with this Lao folk-saying:

Many rounds of merriment and pleasure have passed; soon it will be evening. Now, drunk with tears, rest and see. Before long it will be too late to finish the journey.

I know I have read this many times, but without really noticing it. When I opened the book to find this saying to share here, I went right to it.

(The entire text of Dr. King's speech can be found here.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

I broke my own rule recently and surfed the "Buddhist" channels of the web. Argh! It's pretty stormy out there.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Speechless...Sort Of

Having nothing to say can be a good thing, but it doesn't do much for a blog I suppose. Actually there is plenty to say, just not always the words to get them said properly. So I've managed to resist the urge to babble lately.

Fortunately, my friends Gary (Forest Wisdom ), Justin (Dhamma Reflections) and Tahn Manapo (Dhamma Diary) keep me inspired and on track with their consistent generosity and wisdom. All have a wonderful knack for pointing out areas that are in need of attention that I have either neglected or missed entirely. You are all greatly appreciated!

Monday, March 24, 2008


You know that little hourglass that appears on your computer screen when the processor is waiting for something and all the brain power is sucked up in the effort? (I know that's not a technical, or even very accurate description. Being a tech challenged individual that's how I understand it.)

My own hourglass has made an appearance, and has gleefully been rotating away since my last post. I can't seem to figure out what's causing this jam up. Surely nothing I chose, so who's little hourglass is this anyway? And what about the internal monitor through which I view the world. Who decides what shows up on the screen? The images just keep showing up.

What am I thinking about so hard that I've reached analysis paralysis? Well, there's Tibet, which I know next to nothing about. And I feel bad because I don't feel as bad as I think I should. Whoa! What else? The current state of my own country's political, social and economic situations. Bring on the disappointment, embarrassment and frustration. Add a bit more frustration at what seems to be the total absence of 'like minded people', as they say, in my town. And the lingering belief (hope) that they are probably here, but I just can't find them. The list goes on and on. Unlimited issues (and non-issues) jostling for position.

"The ways of this world are merely conventions of our own making.
Having established them we get lost in them and refuse to let go - clinging to our personal views and opinions.
This is samsara, endlessly flowing on without completion.
But if we truly know conventional reality, we will also know liberation.
We find completion."

Venerable Ajahn Chah

This grasping mind is a powerful force, and leads to an amazing amount of clutter! It's time to clean house.

Friday, February 22, 2008


You just never know when a new door is about to swing open. As I was reading a teaching by Ajahn Sucitto this morning I came to a word that I had never seen before. That word is atammayata, which means ’not making anything out of it’. That sounds so very simple and basic, but in this practice I learned pretty quickly that most things are anything but. It is, after all, what we spend our entire lives doing - making something out of it all.

Letting go is also much easier said than done. I know that sometimes I’ve conned myself into believing that I’ve let go of something, only to discover that all I really managed is to move it to the back burner - where it had been slowly simmering all along. It seems to me that arriving at atammayata is a pre-requisite to truly letting go. I found this teaching very powerful , and a door slowly opened..if only a crack.

Here is the teaching by Ajahn Sucitto.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Warning : "P" Word

There are few topics that can fire people up more than politics. Okay, there's religion, sex and money, but right now, here in the U.S., politics claims center stage. With each passing day the frenzied battle of opposing views and opinions grows. No, not those of the candidates. I'm talking about friends and family. I'm certainly not beyond having plenty of these myself, but hopefully they are gradually being tempered a bit through this practice. So as I observe the political debate as it intensifies among family, friends and so many of my fellow citizens, I'm also carefully watching my own reactions and impulses. What tends to fire me up? What cools me down? I’m finding this occasion to be a really wonderful opportunity to learn about myself, my views and those of others, the world around me…the Dhamma. Where do these views come from? How is it that on some issues I remain flexible, open to compromise or even neutral, yet when considering others my view remains rigid, inflexible? It seems Mara is working overtime here in the land of opportunity.

I saw a story on CNN recently about some researchers who believe that our political views are largely genetic. They came to this conclusion by interviewing many sets of identical twins. It seems that in addition to sharing the same DNA, they are also more likely to share views and opinions, including all things political. My husband is an identical twin and, if this research is correct, he and his brother are among the exceptions. While they are usually in agreement on such things as sporting events, and other trivial matters, they couldn't be more opposed in their political opinions. Not to dismiss this theory, or that family upbringing, social and regional conditioning, etc. play a role, sometimes our political inclinations simply do not seem to fit the standard profile. I believe that there is another key ingredient which is overlooked, and that is kamma.

Recently during a conversation with a dear friend, this sometimes touchy topic of political possibilities came up. She disclosed something that was, well, unexpected. There aren’t many things that surprise me anymore. But I’ve been close friends with this person for over 30 years and what surprised me was that I did not know her as well as I’d always believed. Racial prejudice was something I had never detected before, not even a hint. Over the years I've come to accept that it’s not at all unusual for me to have at least a slightly different perspective on a variety of things. I don't generally initiate discussion of politics, or other potentially volatile topics. But many people, especially now, are anxious to have such discussions. It's interesting that when folks begin a conversation, there is usually an assumption that others are of like mind. When they discover that this is not the case the tone suddenly shifts and an unseen but clearly present barrier appears. It seems unavoidable and is not at all comfortable.

It’s very easy to feel loving kindness and equanimity when I’m in that comfortable and steady groove of practice that I do sometimes manage to find. Settled on a cushion or under a tree. This other stuff is also practice, a challenging yet necessary part of it. It is a part of practice that can sting and tug at the heart. It is where I come face to face with my own shortcomings and delusions. When I read or hear, or even take part in this debate, am I doing so in accordance with the Dhamma? I’ve discovered that as I listen to others stating their position, no matter who they may be - candidates or otherwise, if I pay close attention to what arises in the mind it can be a lot like looking in a mirror. The same emotion, ego, attachment to a view, and that familiar urge to attack and defend begins to simmer within my own mind just as it does in those that I’m listening to. This is a place of learning.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Illusion of Time

I am very afraid of dentists. I would rather give birth again than to sit in a dentist's chair. One of my earliest childhood memories is of being tortured by a dentist. I can honestly say that was my first experience with real pain, and it was delivered by a total stranger. Obviously I've never been able to completely let that go. I'm not that six year old anymore, but I share her memories to this day.

A couple of weeks ago I decided a tooth that had been nagging me probably needed a filling or something. I made an appointment, gathered what courage I could, and sat in that chair. Everything would be alright soon, right? Wrong! Turns out that the tooth in question must be removed! Pulled!! Extracted!!! Enter the pounding heart, racing mind, sudden inability to draw a full breath. Panic began to squeeze me. I assumed that "Dr. Doom" (poor guy) would do the deed right then and there. Trapped like a rat! How quickly we can be transported straight to the gates of hell, if only in our mind. At any rate, I was given a temporary reprieve when they scheduled the dreaded next appointment for two weeks from then. That gift of time expires TOMORROW MORNING! But that's too soon - I'm not ready!

It's interesting how our perception of time is so closely related to and altered by our attraction or aversion to whatever happens to be approaching. When it's something we want or like time seems to stand still. If, on the other hand, it is something we don't want then time shifts to warp speed. We know this isn't true, but it sure feels that way.

This has been one of those situations when a particular teaching suddenly strikes a very real cord. I have read the Pabbatopama Sutta, The Simile of the Mountain, many times before. Good story, no doubt, but it remained just that. I got it but didn't get it. Not really. Out of ignorance and delusion - clinging to the memory of a memory - I have neglected to properly care for my teeth. It's just that simple. Time marches on whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. Procrastination proves to only create even more difficulty, as the clock continues to tick. Of course all of this dentist business pales when compared to what is steadily closing in on all of us. The tooth will come out, I will survive and feel foolish for having created so much unnecessary suffering for myself. And all the while the clock will continue to tick off the minutes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Training the mind to be quiet can seem to be an impossible task. It reminds me of a toddler who resists all efforts to get it to settle down. Often we can only watch until it finally runs out of steam and drops. Then we are able to gently pick it up and put it to bed. In children the "monkey mind" tends to show itself mainly by physical action, to an observer anyway. As adults, while we may appear to be calm and collected, all too often nothing could be farther from the truth. Internally there is usually way too much going on.

For some reason, this mind charged into the new year full of plans, ideas, opinions, places to go, things to do...Ooohhhh noooo! Where did this come from? Without realizing it I had been following the thing around for weeks, picking up every little thing that tickled it's fancy. Exhausting! Finally - thankfully - the momentum began to slow and that unexpected burst of erratic energy was spent. Only now can I reflect on this, while the mind is settled again. I understand that this state of relative calm and clarity is only temporary.

So, what can be learned? Can the duration, intensity, and resulting disruption be lessened in the future? What were the warning signs and how is it that I did not notice them? Or did I just dismiss them? Once I became aware of what was going on, did I apply too much pressure or not enough. The answers lie in the fact that this kind of energy is simply mind chasing after things, like an animal attracted to something shiny. When I think of it that way I can't help but just smile and nod. It is a matter of distractions that once again lured me in. Mind indulging in these things that arise. Reaching for the shiny trinkets. This is easier to see and understand now that the "monkey" is taking a break. Whether or not I will remember this lesson the next time remains to be seen.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dhamma Diary

Recently I stumbled upon a new blog that I found to be quite wonderful. It was just started by Tahn Manapo, who is a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition. He is at the Forest Hermitage with Luangpor Khemadhammo. The blog is Tahn Manapo's Homepage. "Dhamma Diary" will be updated on each observance day. I think you might find a visit well worth the time.

Monday, January 7, 2008


The holiday season has come and gone once again. I finally have all of the decorations and boxes put away, and the house pretty much back in order. From all outward appearances everything is "normal" again. A good time was had by all and I'm not any more in debt than I was before the whole thing started. Hooray!

But the busyness of the last month or so was a major distraction for me. More accurately, my initial reactions and responses were the true distractions. It was stressful. "Good" stress in many ways, but stress all the same. My daily meditation gradually became more and more abbreviated, relocated, interrupted and postponed...until finally it was just lost in the shuffle. There was a continuous stream of family and friends - and even a few strangers (to me anyway). This sort of traffic doesn't happen very often at my house. I realize that I had, over time, created a bit of a safety bubble around my practice. A comfortable and quiet time and place where I am in control of my own schedule and whims. Suddenly I was feeling very unfocused and scattered - my bubble had been breached! This was not good...

The frustration turned out to be short lived as I fortunately remembered Ajahn Chah's teaching that if we have time to breathe we have time to meditate. And so, instead of where and when and how I wanted, it was wherever, whenever and often only for the time it takes to be with a single breath. Sweet refuge in the midst of a world of distractions.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


It had been quite a while since I'd hit one of those slippery spots. You know, the mental patches of ice that we don't see in time. A brief lapse in mindfulness and, well, there you are. Upon reflection I can see that there were clear warning signs - there usually are. Often they are of a physical nature. The body picks up on hazardous conditions beginning to form and sounds an alarm. I remember hearing Ajahn Sucitto speak about this mind/body connection, but obviously the teaching had not really sunk in. I'm beginning to have a better understanding.