When did you learn you were white (or not white) and that there was a difference?

white privilege graphicLThe Buddha tells us that perception is a function of mind that happens almost immediately after a sense contact is made. We see, hear, smell, touch, taste or think something, (in Buddhist psychology the mind is a sense gate, and what sights are to the eye or sounds to the ear, thoughts are to the mind) register it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and then form a perception of what it is, based on our past experience. Immediately following that perception come a cascade of thoughts and associations, based on our conditioning. For example, one person might hear a sound, perceive it as “bird”  and feel happy and peaceful to be living where they can hear the sound of a bird. Another person hears the same sound, perceive it as a bird migrating in November; think that it’s almost Christmas and they haven’t started shopping, and what will they get for their nephew who is obsessed with violent video games, and what’s the matter with the world that promotes violence as entertainment, and what’s the matter with my nephew, and what can I do about it. Another person hears the same sound, and remembers hearing birds the day her father left the family for good, and feels suddenly forlorn and lonely, not knowing why. Same sound, same perception, different conditioning, thoughts, emotional responses.

The Buddha also tells us that when we slow down and closely observe our experience, we see that what seemed to be solid and unchanging is actually a multiplicity of interdependent factors, which we form these into constructs, which we then agree to regard as real unto themselves. A table, for example, serves a function, but is part of a process that includes trees growing in sunlight, watered by rain, nurtured by soil made up of decomposed organic material; loggers, millers, truckers, designers, salespeople, purchasers;  all the people who raised and taught them; all the beings who grew, farmed, sold and cooked or were the food that animated those loggers, millers, designers, etc. And in time, the table too will age, break, be discarded and eventually return to the soil which grew the tree, in an endless cycle of co-arising phenomena.  But it serves us to agree that for now, it is “table” even though it arose from all of these interdependent phenomena.

Out of these ever shifting co-arising phenomena, we clump things together to form concepts which are illusions, but serve a function, so we all agree on them.

Why is a ten dollar bill worth ten times what a one dollar bill? And why will it buy a cup of coffee in a Santa Monica, but not in Shanghai? It’s value and worth is determined by agreements that were made or not made, agreements to regard an illusion as real.

The concept of “Whiteness” is just such an illusion. it has no basis in genetics.  Some “white people” have olive skin, some have pink skin, some have pale skin, or skin turned red with blood vessels. “Whiteness” is a social, political and economic construct, and its main defining characteristic is that it is not black.  President Obama has two parents; one white, one black; four grandparents; two white, two black, yet he is considered a black man because he is not white.

Last week on two separate occasions, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castille in St. Paul, Minn. were shot by police who perceived them to be a threat. Then a few days later, white police in Dallas were shot by a sniper. As I write this, similar retaliation seems to be happening in Baton Rouge.

I watched the video that Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s fiancée, recorded on her phone while her boyfriend, shot by a policeman as he reached for his wallet to get his driver’s license, was bleeding to death, and which continued to run as she was handcuffed and put into the back of a police car with her four year old daughter. https://www.facebook.com/100007611243538/videos/1690073837922975/ I tried to imagine how I might feel if my beloved were shot and killed by police at a routine traffic stop, and realized that it is inconceivable that in this country such a thing could happen to me, a white, upper middle-class woman. And that it is not only conceivable, but a routine possibility and ever present threat in the black community. Mr. Castile was pulled over by police 49 times in 13 years.

Blackness, in men, is often perceived as a threat, in a white dominant culture.

In the aftermath of the dreadful week of all the shooting between black men and white men, and devastated by watching the video of the woman watching her loved one bleed to death in front of her eyes for no reason other than delusion and perception, I began to read about white privilege, and how to be a white ally.  I wanted to share these readings with any of you who might want to learn what I’ve been learning these past few days.




This last contains links within it, which I will urge you to also click and follow if you are interested.

Lastly, John also sent this link, to a poetry slam of a white boy in Atlanta, which has gone viral:


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I believe that unless and until white people examine the concept and perception of “whiteness” and its implied and institutionalized supremacy, we will never get a different result from the escalating racial conflict and pain. It is in that belief that I am posting this.


stones seated in meditationFIVE THINGS TO DO AT THE BEGINNING OF A SIT

(With a debt of gratitude to Leigh Brasington, who suggested them.  Feel free to modify and alter to suit yourself and your practice – I know I already have.)

1. GRATITUDE.  spend a few moments generating gratitude.  For all that we have to be grateful for – health, life, resources, the teachings and our access to them, opportunity to practice – we all have things we can be grateful for, and it’s good to begin meditating with a grateful heart.

2. MOTIVATION.  Spend some time getting in touch with your motivation to practice.  Why are you doing this? To see deeply into the true nature of reality? To be present to each moment?  To awaken to your own true nature as boundless love?  To develop kindness and friendship towards yourself, just as you are? To life, just as it is?  To know life at it’s essence?   To achieve liberation for the benefit of all beings?  Conscious contact with a Higher Power?  Ease, peace, calm? Whatever works best for you, that can serve as a reminder, should the going get rough, or the practice stale.

3. DETERMINATION. Spend a moment rousing some resolve, some energy, some determination. To stay awake, to stay present.

4. METTA.  Include, at the outset, some time offering yourself some loving-kindness, some friendliness, some unconditional love; setting an intention to be kind to yourself regardless of what arises during your practice. If you like, you can also offer this kindness and wishing well to other beings, or all beings, as well.

5. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind.  Breathing out, I smile.”  This comes from Thich Nhat Hanh and is a good transition to the sit.  It points our attention to the breath.  Spending the initial period of a sit giving attention to the breath is a good way to calm the mind, and generate concentration.  Concentration gives rise to happiness.

Remember:  comparisons are odious.  Don’t compare this sit to any other, or even any moment in this sit to any other moment.  Or you to a projected or imagined “real” meditator.  We are not trying to “achieve” anything, or put preference on one mind-state over another.  Sure, concentration feels great, but sometimes we can’t concentrate.  If the mind is distracted, just note, “distraction” and keep going.  “Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon will be the inclination of their mind,” says the Buddha.  When we blame ourselves for what arises during our sitting period, we just reinforce the habit of self-blame and condemnation.  Just be present to the truth of the moment with kindness, and keep going.  Have fun!

Buzz Feed’s 101 Suggestions for Random Acts of Kindness

kindness1. Tweet or Facebook message a genuine compliment to three people right now.
2. Bring doughnuts (or a healthy treat, like cut-up fruit) to work.
3. While you’re out, compliment a parent on how well-behaved their child is.
4. Don’t write the angry internet comment you’re thinking of writing.
5. When everyone around you is gossiping about someone, be the one to butt in with something nice.
6. Cook a meal or do a load of laundry for a friend who just had a baby or is going through a difficult time.
7. If you walk by a car with an expired parking meter, put a quarter in it.

8. Put your phone away.
9. Hang out with the person who just moved to town.
10. Offer a homeless person your leftovers bag from the restaurant.
11. Each time you get a new piece of clothing, donate an old one.
12. Don’t interrupt when someone else is speaking. (Surprisingly few people master this.)
13. Email or write an old teacher who made a difference in your life.
14. Compliment someone to their boss.
15. Leave a nice server the biggest tip you can afford.

16. Smile at someone on the street, just because.
17. Let someone into your lane. They’re probably in a rush just like you.
18. Forgive someone, and never bring up the issue again.
19. Talk to the shy person who’s sitting by themselves at a party.
20. Leave your New York Times or Us Weekly behind for someone else to read at the coffeeshop, the doctor’s office, or on a plane.
21. Cut someone some slack.
22. Help a mother with her baby stroller.
23. Become a big brother or big sister.
24. Let the person behind you at the supermarket checkout with one or two items go ahead of you.

25. Write someone a letter. Like a real letter, on paper. And mail it!
26. Give away stuff for free on Craigslist.
27. Make a “breakup playlist” on Spotify for your friend who’s going through heartbreak.
28. Give someone a book you think they’d like.
29. Be the person who puts a tip in the tip jar at the coffeeshop. (Fewer people tip than you’d think!)
30. Bring in fun office supplies to liven up the workday for everyone.
31. When you go somewhere to get or do something, ask the people around you if you can pick up anything they need.
32. Give someone a hug.

33. If you spill creamer or sugar on the counter at Starbucks, wipe it up.
34. Call your grandparents. Call them!
35. Donate your old eyeglasses so someone else can use them.
36. When you’re throwing something away on the street, pick up any litter around you and put that in the trash too.
37. Write something nice on that person’s updates who posts on Facebook constantly. They’re probably lonely.
38. Sincerely compliment your boss, who probably doesn’t often get feedback from her reports.
39. Put sticky notes with positive slogans on the mirrors in restrooms.

40. Let them have the parking space.
41. Relay an overheard compliment.
42. Volunteer to read to kids at an after-school program.
43. Bring your partner coffee in bed tomorrow.
44. Try to make sure every person in a group conversation feels included.
45. Stop to talk to a homeless person.
46. Answer that email you’ve been avoiding.
47. Send anonymous flowers to the receptionist at work.
48. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
49. Donate or recycle your old laptop and electronics.

50. Write a nice comment on your friend’s blog.
51. Play board games with senior citizens at a nursing home. Sixty percent of them will never have a visitor during their stay.
52. Give someone a tissue who’s crying in the public, and offer to talk about it, but only if they want to.
53. Listen intently.
54. Babysit for a single mom for free.
55. Adopt a rescue pet.
56. Compliment someone in front of others.

57. Hold the elevator.
58. IM or email that person you’re afraid to talk to because you don’t want to “bother them.” They’re probably thinking the same thing about others!
59. Remind yourself that everyone is fighting their own struggles.
60. Leave some extra quarters in the laundry room.
61. Write your partner a list of things you love about them.
62. Put together a small herb garden for someone.
63. Empathize.

64. Say thank you to a janitor.
65. Talk to someone at work whom you have’t talked to before.
66. Frame your friend’s favorite lyric or quote and give it to them with a nice note.
67. Send dessert to another table.
68. Text someone just to say good morning or good night.
69. Help your elderly neighbor take out the trash or mow their lawn.
70. Give up your seat to someone (anyone!) on the bus or subway.

71. Tell your siblings how much you appreciate them.
72. Bring a security guard a hot cup of coffee.
73. Plant a tree.
74. Purchase some extra dog or cat food and drop it off at an animal shelter.
75. If you’re a good photographer, take photos of your friends and make them into a digital album.
76. Send mail to Danny Nickerson, a 5-year-old with an inoperable brain tumor.
77. Smile when you feel like scowling.

78. Wash someone’s car.
79. Dog or catsit for free.
80. Keep an extra umbrella at work and let someone borrow it on their way home if there’s a sudden downpour.
81. Make two lunches and give one away.
82. Reduce air pollution by carpooling.
83. Say yes at the store when the cashier asks if you want to donate $1 to whichever cause.
84. Be encouraging!

85. Help someone struggling with heavy bags.
86. Take all your change to Coinstar and donate your collection to charity.
87. Give your friend a hug, touch their arm, or pat them on the back. So many of us are starved for human touch!
88. Buy lemonade from a kid’s lemonade stand.
89. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
90. Be kind to the customer service rep on the phone. It’s not their fault.
91. Do the dishes even if it’s your roommate’s turn.

92. Print out this gift pillowbox and leave someone special something special.
93. Give someone the rest of your pack of gum.
94. Be patient.
95. Clean someone’s windshield.
96. Every night before you go to bed, think of three things you’re grateful for.
97. Make plans with that person you’ve been putting off seeing.
98. Call your mom.
99. Offer to return a shopping cart to the store for someone loading groceries in their car.
100. Have a clean-up party on the beach or at a park.
101. When you hear that negative, discouraging voice in your head, remember to leave yourself alone — you deserve kindness too


snoopythanksI once heard Werner Earhard, the founder of est, say that, if one were ever to come face to face with God and to report back on the experience, one might say, “Well, she’s radiant, and there is nothing she doesn’t know, and she can do anything – – but she’s a little bossy.”  The point being, you can always find something to complain about. And you can focus on that, or you can focus on the good. There will always be both.

This week in our group, we talked about gratitude and its benefits. People who have an “attitude of gratitude” seem to live longer, have better health, and of course, they enjoy their lives more. Negative emotions flood the body with stress hormones, which over time take their toll on all of our organs. Gratitude floods the body with endorphins and neuropeptides like oxytocin and other “feel good” hormones, reduces stress, and is therefore good for health and longevity.

Anyone can be grateful when things are going well. The harder part is learning to be grateful when things are not so good. In the midst of any difficulty, one can always find something to feel grateful for if we look for it, even if its just a breeze on our cheek, the sound of music or the sight of a bird in flight.

Worry is about the future.  Gratitude brings you back to the present moment.

In James Baraz’s course in “Awakening Joy,” he gives some suggestions for developing the gratitude muscle:


Gratitude towards ourselves is often the hardest. Instead of going over our mental “to-do” lists and seeing where we are falling short, try taking some time at night before you go to sleep to look at the day counting what you DID accomplish, or what kindness you might have shown. Let yourself feel good about the things you did right, instead of only toting up the things you did wrong or fell short on.

Take time to appreciate your sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin – as well as your lungs, heart, digestive system, endocrine system – – in short – the miracle of the body, heart and mind, and life.

And I promised to post this:

The Top Ten Ways to Become More Grateful

Adapted from Attitudes of Gratitude by M.J. Ryan

1. Focus on what’s right in your life instead of what’s wrong.

2. Take a moment to say one thing you are thankful for at dinner.

3. Say “thank you” to others as often as possible.

4. Especially when they’re annoying or frustrating you, remember why you love your

spouse, kids, and friends.

5. Don’t compare your life to others. When envy arises, ask yourself: how can I create more

in me of what I see in them?

6. Give thanks for your body. What can you appreciate about it right now?

7. When difficult things happen, ask yourself: What’s right about this? Yes, it’s awful, but if

something were right about it, what would it be?

8. Look for the hidden blessings in challenges. How have you grown?

9. Imagine that this day is the first and last of your life. How would you tryou treasure it?

10 Practice daily—a written journal, email to a gratitude partner, etc.


“Drop the Rock!”

rockTHUS I HAVE HEARD ….There is a story I’ve heard, which I will embellish slightly – because what’s the point of being a story-teller if you can’t tweak it a bit to serve your purpose – about a girl who got a rock for Christmas from her parents, instead of the Barbie Doll she wanted. She was hurt, disappointed, angry. But she decided to keep it, as a reminder of all the things she never got as a child, and how dysfunctional her family had been. Then, as she grew up, she discovered that it was actually a magic rock. Every time she had a disappointment, or got hurt, or rejected, the rock grew larger. It grew when she was frightened, it even grew when she found workarounds to deal with her fears. It grew with her successes too. She became fascinated by the rock, which carried with it the story of her life. It was cumbersome to carry around, and sometimes she was ashamed or embarrassed about how big it was, but she was also secretly proud of it, because it represented all that she’d been through. She felt it defined her so accurately that when she went on a date, or met with a therapist, she felt all she really needed to do was show them the rock, and they’d know all there was to know about her.

One day she had been invited by friends to go on a picnic. It was to be on a beautiful island, and they were going to the island by boat. But she missed the boat when it took off. (She was late, because it was difficult to carry that rock around.) They sailed without her – (the rock got a bit bigger) – and she stood on the dock watching as they sailed away. She decided to catch up with them, and she jumped into the water to swim to meet the boat. But the rock was weighing her down, and as hard as she tried to swim, she was drowning instead. Her friends on the boat called to her, “Drop the rock!” But she couldn’t. She loved that rock so. But she was drowning. “DROP THE ROCK!” they kept calling. “But it’s MY rock” she thought. “DROP THE ROCK!!!” they shouted. Finally, something caught her attention, and without meaning to, she dropped the rock. The rock quickly sank, but she found that she herself was buoyant. She swam easily to the boat, climbed in, joined her friends, and had a wonderful time at the picnic.

So often we cling to the very things that are making us unhappy – our fears, our resentments, our projections and conclusions, as if they define us, as if they are our birthright. And even though the very things we cling to are causing our suffering, we are very reluctant to “drop the rock.” As if, if we gave them up, who would we be?

Our meditation practice gives us the opportunity to answer that question. As we sit in silence, we get a chance to see our thoughts as they arise, – and pass away. Eventually, we can see the space between the thoughts. To hang out in the silence from which the thoughts arise, and to which they pass away. We see that, as compelling as our thoughts may be, and as much as we cherish and identify with them, we are more than our thoughts. We see that the “rock” that we have been carrying around with us, is actually an amalgam of streams of ever changing phenomena, a succession sensory experiences, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and emotions. Continuously arising, and continuously passing away.  What is there to hold on to, when everything is constantly changing?  We are better able to “drop the rock” – or better yet, watch it dissolve.

The Mindful Writer – An interview with Elisha Goldstein

A Mindful Writer: An Interview with Diana Gould

It’s not often that I interview someone on the mindfulness and psychotherapy blog who has put out a novel. However, Diana Gould has had a long career in film and television and in her practice with mindfulness. She currently teaches at InsightLA in Santa Monica, California and has recently released her first novel ColdwaterShe has also put out a special  Coldwater Challenge contest: Find the Mindfulness! Nestled within the pages of this noir thriller are little nuggets of mindfulness teachings. How many can you find? Make a list, give your reasons, and submit to contest@insightla.org. The winner will receive your choice of a free basics class at InsightLA or a personal consultation with Diana about dharma practice & writing or both!

Today, Diana talks to us about what inspired her to write this novel, how mindfulness integrates into the novel, the themes of destruction and redemption are applicable in our lives, and some thoughts for the times we are suffering.

Elisha: What inspired you to write Coldwater?

Diana: I had been writing for film and TV for many years.  Although literally hundreds of hours of television had been produced from scripts that I wrote, developed or produced, I rarely had the experience of seeing my true values and vision reflected on the screen.  There were always layers of corporate or collaborative intervention which either shaped, changed or discarded what I’d written.  Although I am very grateful to television for the income it provided and the skills it taught me, I longed to produce work that was creatively self-expressive in a way that TV never could be. Coldwater is that work.

I had two ideas about Coldwater before I began writing it.  The first was to tell the story of someone filled with fear and self-loathing, who made the transformation to self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, and self-esteem – a transformation I had made myself.   The other was to tell a story about someone who had always relied on drugs and alcohol to deal with fear and difficulty, who was confronted with bigger fears and worse difficulties, but had to face them clean and sober.  As someone with many friends and family members affected by the disease of addiction, who has seen the challenges of recovery at close hand, I knew this was a story that had dramatic – and heroic – potential.

Elisha: How has your mindfulness practice been integrated into the book?

Diana: This is a great question.  I feel that the years that I have spent doing mindfulness meditation helped me describe my characters at the level of body sensation, mental image, internal conversation, and to describe scenes and locations with specificity of sights, sounds, smells and touches.  In other words, the things that I notice in my own mindfulness practice gave life and veracity to the scenes and characters I was writing about.  But the writing process itself, I discovered, cannot really be done “mindfully.”  It is necessary to see and hear people places and things that are not there.  While writing, the mind goes off into imagination and story-telling – just what we bring ourselves back from doing in meditation!  I cannot be “in the now” and be writing at the same time.  However, learning to hang out and be comfortable in “don’t-know mind” is very helpful.  A lot of writing time is spent staring into space and not knowing what comes next, and learning to be okay with that.  (Actually, for me, that is the hardest challenge of writing.)

And sometimes, the answer to problems that seemed unsolvable while at the computer, will bubble up in meditation the next day.

Elisha: Your book speaks of destruction and redemption, can you tell us more how this might support the reader in their daily life?

Diana: Ethics and morality, non-harming of ourselves and others, plays a crucial part in one’s sense of well-being.  The book explores the consequences of doing harm to self and others, and offers the possibility of redemption if we take ownership and responsibility for our actions.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was struggling physically or emotionally, what thoughts might you have for them?

Diana: I would very much want them to know that what seems endless is not.  That there are very concrete and specific ways of being with painful emotions and experiences that can help transform them. That very often what we think is the worst thing that could happen to us turns out to be the best.  That if we have the courage to open to the darkness and not run from it, it can contain the source of our relief.  That as Rumi has said, “the wound is where the light enters.”  That happiness is possible.  Freedom is possible. That everything we could possibly want is contained within each present moment, if we just learn how to recognize it.

Elisha: Thank you Diana!

Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Photo of Diana Gould courtesy of the author

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is author of

The Now Effect, co-author of

A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of

Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the

Mindful Solutions audio series, and the

Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join

The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments, Weekly Updates and tips and free access to a Live Monthly Online Event with Elisha Goldstein, PhD. He is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.

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Last reviewed: 3 May 2013

APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2013). A Mindful Writer: An Interview with Diana Gould. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 7, 2013, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2013/05/a-mindful-writer-an-interview-with-diana-gould/


With That Moon Language

moon over water

Admit something;

Everyone you see, you say to them,

“Love me.”


Of course you do not do this out loud;


Someone would call the cops.


Still though, think about this.

This great pull in us

to connect.


Why not become the one

who lives with a full moon in each eye

that is always saying,

with that sweet moon language,

What every other eye in this world

is dying to




Smokey the Bear Sutra

by Gary Snyder

Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago,
the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite
Void gave a Discourse to all the assembled elements
and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings,
the flying beings, and the sitting beings — even grasses,
to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a
seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning
Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

“In some future time, there will be a continent called
America. It will have great centers of power called
such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur,
Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels
such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon
The human race in that era will get into troubles all over
its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of
its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”

“The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings
of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth.
My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and
granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that
future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure
the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger:
and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”

And he showed himself in his true form of


  • A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and

  • Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless
    attachments, and flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;

  • His left paw in the Mudra of Comradely Display — indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow in the realm of the Dharma;

  • Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a
    civilization that claims to save but often destroys;

  • Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the West, symbolic of the forces that guard the Wilderness, which is the Natural State of the Dharma and the True Path of man on earth: all true paths lead through mountains —

  • With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of
    those who think things can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;

  • Round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her;

  • Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs; smashing the worms of capitalism and

  • Indicating the Task: his followers, becoming free of cars, houses, canned foods, universities, and shoes;
    master the Three Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind; and fearlessly chop down the rotten
    trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country America and then burn the leftover trash.

Wrathful but Calm. Austere but Comic. Smokey the Bear will
Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would hinder or
slander him,


Thus his great Mantra:

Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana
Sphataya hum traka ham nam


And he will protect those who love woods and rivers,
Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick
people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children:

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television,
or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR’S WAR SPELL:


And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy out
with his vajra-shovel.

  • Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands of Arizona and Nevada.

  • Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick.

  • Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature.

  • Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and beasts.

  • Will always have ripe blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.


  • thus have we heard.
  • (may be reproduced free forever)



Sometimes it seems as if stories get a bad rap in meditation circles. “You’re just telling yourself a story,” a friend will say, or “that’s just a story”- as if the bad feelings we are confiding will go away by labeling them “story,” or as if telling yourself a story is something a good meditator wouldn’t or shouldn’t do.

And yet, our lives are saturated with stories. From the moment we wake, trying to remember our dream, to reading the paper over a cup of coffee, chit-chatting with people at work, we tell and are told stories all day long. Not only do movies and TV tell us stories, so do the 30 second commercials that interrupt them. Sporting events are stories, the Olympics are filled with stories. When we meet friends for dinner, when we get home at night, we tell each other stories. Even as we experience life, we are turning it into a story. We make sense of events of our lives by weaving them into a narrative that has dramatic story structure.

In a fascinating book called “The Story-Telling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human,” Jonathan Gottschall discusses universality of story among all humans. Part of what distinguishes us from other animals, is that we tell stories. In all cultures, in all times homo sapiens have made up stories and told them. It is as if stories are embedded in our DNA.

There is a part of the left brain whose only function is to arrange the barrage of incoming stimuli into order, to make sense of things. We receive a flood of information from the environment. There is a set of neural circuits whose sole purpose is to detect order and meaning, and turn input into a coherent account.

This part of the brain, according to Gottschall, is called “The Interpreter.” Experiments have shown that this part of the brain will explain anything. If it doesn’t know, it will make it up. If it can’t find meaningful patterns, it will create one. It would rather make up a story than leave something unexplained.

In the 40’s, researchers Fritz eHider and Marianne Simmel made a short animated film, consisting of lines and geometric shapes. Look at it now:


When subjects were asked to describe what they’d seen, only 3 of 114 gave a an answer having to do with lines and shapes. The other 111 saw soap operas: doors slamming, courtship dances, damsels rescued, villains foiled.

Not only is story-telling innate, so, seemingly, is story structure. There is a universal aspect to all stories, in all cultures and times. Stories are about trouble. Something is thrown out of balance. Conflict is the underlying element to every story. Someone wants something, there is an obstacle to getting it, there is complication, crisis, outcome.

As the body breathes, the heart pumps, the blood flows – the mind tells stories. And we do it all day long. It is a part of who we are. We can no more turn it off and stop doing it than we can stop breathing or pumping blood.

The problem comes when we believe that the story is real, and not a construct, an attempt to make sense of stimuli. The soap opera we superimpose on the stimuli we experience.

Sometimes experiences in our lives are so traumatic, so searing, that they freeze into narratives. Just as a strong emotion will forever link a song with the place we were and the way we felt when once we heard it, so strong emotions will sear into place the decisions we made – about ourselves, about our worth, about life, about our ability to trust – into the narrative construct of that moment. Then when new information comes in, we process it according to the structure we decided in that moment.

Joseph Goldstein has said that at the beginning of his practice, his teacher said, “If you want to see how the mind works, sit down and watch it.”  So if we want to hear the stories we’re telling ourselves – listen.

Some of our stories are in words and dialogue, some in image and picture, some both.  Usually we cast ourselves in the role of hero, victim, rescuer, damsel, outcast – and people the other roles with the people we interact with.  But whether we be victim, hero or outcast, we are inevitably the star; the story is about us.

Whatever story we’re telling, we play them  out in the shower, as we’re driving, as we’re brushing our teeth – we’re often having the same conversations, acting out the same drama, over and over and over again.

We sit down to meditate – and there it is again.  The same story.

And not just once, either.  Over and over and over.

Not even the most die-hard, fanatical comic-con fan could stand to see the movie as many times as we run it in our heads.

Neuroscience tells us that every time we tell ourselves the same story, the neurological pathway goes deeper, and gets more ingrained, until it becomes solid, immutable truth.  This is no story, this is the way it is.

So it’s very helpful, when we’re watching our story-telling mind, to identify the story we’re telling ourselves.  Which role are we playing?  Hero, victim, rescuer, outcast?

Then, perhaps, we can step outside the story.  Maybe switch roles.  What would the story be if the other person were telling it?  What if they were the star, and I was the supporting player, instead of the other way around?

Then we can ask ourselves, is this story true?  It might be real, but is it true?  The feelings are real, the body sensations are real, the emotions are real, but is the story I’m creating from them true?  Is that a brave hero or a triangle?

The point is not to get rid of our stories, we can’t.

But to see them skillfully.  To deconstruct the construct we’ve created, back into its component parts.  Sweaty palms.  Face flushed.  Mind blank.  Sweat under arms.  Increased heartbeat.  Image of a previous time I had these sensations.  That could add up to a story of a social misfit who might as well stay home because s/he’s so socially inadequate. and no relationship has ever worked, so what’s the point of even trying to find a new one …or it could be the excitement of entering a new situation.  Same stimuli – different story.

Jack Kornfield suggests the possibility of dropping out of the story, and resting in the heart.  Let the thoughts and stories come and go.  Rest in the body, the heart, the mystery, of the thus-coming, thus-going.

Look for the intention beneath the story.  Is it to connect?  Or to isolate.  To open the heart?  Or close it.

The great mystery.

Life unfolds.

And we live happily ever after …