If you’d told me twenty years ago that Norman Fischer – Zen master, author, poet, regular guy extraordinaire – was giving the commencement speech at Stanford about the need to live a life of spiritual practice, I’d have said, “You’re dreaming.” And this is the year it actually happened, 2014. Our year - we are alive and awake, right now!*
Skillfully, humorously, he led up to asking the graduates, “Who are you, really? Why were you born? When this short human journey is over, where are you going? Why, and how, does any of this exist? What is the purpose of it, anyway?” And then said:
“Not even your Nobel prize-winning professors know the answers to these questions. None of us knows the answers. All we know is that we are here for a while before we are gone, and that we are here together. The only thing that makes sense and is completely real is love. Love is the only answer….but how do you love? How do you make love real in your life?”
Norman had the courage to make a pitch for regular and committed spiritual practice to navigate the good and the tragic times that come to us. Whether cultivating [...]
I love the outdoors, from damselflies and crickets, to the deep blue of twilight, to the roar of pounding surf. Nestled with a deep sense of belonging among Earth’s teeming life, I know our Earth is ill and calling out for our loving attention. As you or I would tend to an ill child or an ailing parent, I turn with a loving heart to protect our Earth as best as I can, as an individual and as a member of widening circles of relationship, with my mindfulness practice as my guide.
On September 21st, I participated in the People’s Climate March in New York. The march and associated events were incredibly heartening. Marchers from around the globe revealed a vast and growing network of concerned citizenry engaging in the call to individual and collective action. Time and again throughout the week’s events, I heard people talk about their transformation from grief and isolation to being part of a caring community willing to bear witness and respond compassionately.
The rapid climate changes exhort us to live with uncertainty consciously. I arrived home with far more questions than I had brought. How can we effectively address the institutionalization of greed, aversion and delusion hampering [...]
One day in 1976 I accompanied my teacher Kobun Chino Roshi to his weekly evening Dharma talk at the Santa Cruz Zen Center. Afterwards, we drove towards Monterey and Tassajara, the monastery he and Suzuki Roshi had founded. The restaurant we stopped at looked a little dicey, and Kobun said, “It’s OK, we can go anywhere.” When I finished my grilled cheese sandwich, he looked around and said, “This is a kind of strange place. Too strange.” We left.
It’s true that mindfulness can go anywhere. When you begin to practice mindfulness, you’re taking a deep dive into the sea of discursive thinking and constant commentary that you may think of as your inner life. Then as you enter other dimensions of your inner world, your awareness can be filled with wonders: marvelous stories and scary emotions, a teeming variety of images and imagination swimming into consciousness from the vast ocean of emptiness. You discover that mindfulness is not enhanced by connecting with that which is good, and it’s not destroyed or diminished in any way by being aware of that which is not so good. Being mindful of the chaotic racing mind is just as beneficial as being mindful of [...]
In preparation for Lama Surya Das’s visit, I stopped yesterday at Trader Joe’s. I was waiting quietly as a mom and her small daughter came into the big elevator going to the parking lot. The girl climbed on to the back of their shopping cart, her little feet on the lower basket, leaning back, hands hanging on, ready to ride — something you’ve probably done countless times as a child.
Suddenly I was that girl. It was not a memory, just the melting away of thought and individual identity into simple presence, standing there. The scuffed walls of the dark elevator, the shopping carts and grocery bag, her red Tshirt, were vivid and bright as we began our stately glide up to the second floor. The space around us became us, sacred and still. Silent, radiant, loving awareness is all there was — is all there is when we’re truly mindful.
Tears welled up, tears of gratitude for the practices that unlock our innate natural ability to belong to life in this way. This is your birthright, your pabhassara citta, a clear, luminous heart. My deepest wish is for all beings to know this! How can we not cherish and take care [...]
Wonderful update received from Plum Village about Thich Nhat Hanh:
Thây is feeling much better. Instead of using the bell to call his attendant, he’s now using his own voice to holler if anyone was free to drink tea with him. His voice carries energy and joy…His bodyaches and fatigue have improved significantly. His daily activity is essentially back to normal…He’s sending his gratitude to all who have been concerned about his health.
We can learn from his community’s response to Thây’s illness. Last week they asked us to practice mindful sitting and walking and to send our love and compassionate energy his way. They knew what needed to be done to avoid anxiety and fear. When we’re present with life just as it is, resting our hearts in loving awareness of what’s actually happening — even in the face of adversity — we’re doing something so good and important on our path!
Mindfulness helps us steady our hearts and calm our minds, so when we encounter physical or emotional troubles, we can meet them with some measure of patience, stability and confidence. You may have already faced unexpected challenges that arrived in your life.
Patience is my least favorite quality to practice; it doesn’t come [...]