relaxed effort

let’s live like nomads

I love Buddhist humor. I especially love the way many Buddhist meditation masters find humorous ways to show us how uptight we can get. Back in ancient times, before kids, my wife and I took a long cross-country RV trip. We ate very frugally on the road, with Katina making amazing meals, but we did have the ritual of eating breakfast on Sunday mornings in a local diner. One Sunday morning, in one of the Virginias I think, a dog-eared menu had a message prominently on display on the very top, as if it were their motto: If you don’t

simple, clear and delicious

Our simple practice of sustaining mindful attention on the most ordinary happenings in our everyday life, can bring this feeling of really being alive.  We meditate for many different reasons. Often, our original motivations morph as we move forward on this path. It’s juicy to reflect on why we keep this up. Maybe we meditate for stress relief, maybe to lower our blood pressure, feel less anxious, or just to feel better physically. Or perhaps existentially.  an existential motivation I think this last wrinkle is what set the Buddha on the path of meditation some 2600 years ago. When asked

have your self a foolish little Christmas

Ram Dass encouraged us to embrace our foolish selves rather than try to fix them. I heard the news as I was driving home from work this past Tuesday morning. Ram Dass was dead.  Maybe I will remember this drive home like I still remember that bleak winter day in late November in 1963. I was seven years old that morning our 2nd grade teacher told us that JFK had been shot. I flash on the Beatles singing “I heard the news today, Oh, boy…” be here now Ram Dass made a huge impact on my life back in 1972,

a peaceful, uneasy feeling

I feel that I should be above it all, but mostly I’m not. I struggle with my emotions. Meditation helps a lot, but sometimes I am just plain sad or overcome by all that is untenable in the world, borrowing a line from Brother Steindl-Rast. I feel that I should be above it all, but mostly I’m not. Reading lines from ancient Zen lore, ones that say meditation is about discovering “the happiness not based on conditions,” doesn’t help much. I just get more depressed! Some folks find happiness in the smallest acts: watching a sunset, or getting their errands

I wish I could have given him the moon

Good poems, for me, are often potent teachings on how to live this precious life we are given. Over the years I have been moved to tears reading poems.  There is one poet in particular I keep coming back to, the Japanese poet Ryōkan Taigu, who lived from 1758–1831. Ryokan, as a Google search tells me, was a quiet and eccentric Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. He is remembered for his poetry and calligraphy, which present the essence of Zen life.  Here is Ryokan musing about the premise of true poetry: Who says

just as you are

You can’t push the river, the Zen masters of old would say. And wow, how I have tried—reading, studying the Dharma, going on retreats, even fasting from time to time. And it’s still little ol’ me, unenlightened and pooped out from so much effort! I’ve often reflected on the line from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who, addressing his Zen meditation students in the 1960’s, once remarked:  Each of you is perfect just the way you are … and you can use a little improvement. So, OK, I can handle each statement separately just fine, but when combined into one sentence, I

suffering is natural

One of my teachers, Michele McDonald-Smith, once recounted that a 92 year old relative of hers, on being informed by her doctor of a terminal cancer diagnosis, became upset and implored “Why me?” As a species we seem to have solidified a very real revulsion for the inevitable, as well as toward the smaller slights along the way. We hide death like some grand failing; we distract ourselves into oblivion as if to avoid taking our predicament seriously.  Another of my early teachers, Sharon Salzberg, tells the story about a friend of hers who had to explain to her four-year-old

just try your best

Meditation is not easy, I get it. There are aches and pains in the body, the mind gets restless, and the breath fades in and out of awareness. Sometimes, mostly out. But, as Hawaii-born retired Sumo grand-master Akebono would say to reporters after winning yet another match, “I just try my best.” That’s all we ask. Try your best. Just show up on the cushion, again and again. If you just keep showing up, the magic starts to happen – but it helps a lot to show up in the right way. We can all dutifully drag ourselves to the

savor the resistance

Do we feel we are missing out on some better, or more spiritual, experience by being stuck with a mountain of laundry, a sink overflowing with dishes, or a yard full of leaves to rake? Karen Maezen Miller, in a piece in Lion’s Roar, describes the domestic practices of ancient Zen masters as intimate daily life transformations. Following in their steps she reflects: In the fall, the broad canopy of giant sycamores in my backyard turns faintly yellow and the leaves sail down. A part of every autumn day finds me fuming at the sight of falling leaves. Then, I

let’s live like nomads

I love Buddhist humor. I especially love the way many Buddhist meditation masters find humorous ways to show us how uptight we can get. Back in ancient times, before kids, my wife and I took a long cross-country RV trip. We ate very frugally on the road, with Katina making amazing meals, but we did have the ritual of eating breakfast on Sunday mornings in a local diner. One Sunday morning, in one of the Virginias I think, a dog-eared menu had a message prominently on display on the very top, as if it were their motto: If you don’t

simple, clear and delicious

Our simple practice of sustaining mindful attention on the most ordinary happenings in our everyday life, can bring this feeling of really being alive.  We meditate for many different reasons. Often, our original motivations morph as we move forward on this path. It’s juicy to reflect on why we keep this up. Maybe we meditate for stress relief, maybe to lower our blood pressure, feel less anxious, or just to feel better physically. Or perhaps existentially.  an existential motivation I think this last wrinkle is what set the Buddha on the path of meditation some 2600 years ago. When asked

have your self a foolish little Christmas

Ram Dass encouraged us to embrace our foolish selves rather than try to fix them. I heard the news as I was driving home from work this past Tuesday morning. Ram Dass was dead.  Maybe I will remember this drive home like I still remember that bleak winter day in late November in 1963. I was seven years old that morning our 2nd grade teacher told us that JFK had been shot. I flash on the Beatles singing “I heard the news today, Oh, boy…” be here now Ram Dass made a huge impact on my life back in 1972,

a peaceful, uneasy feeling

I feel that I should be above it all, but mostly I’m not. I struggle with my emotions. Meditation helps a lot, but sometimes I am just plain sad or overcome by all that is untenable in the world, borrowing a line from Brother Steindl-Rast. I feel that I should be above it all, but mostly I’m not. Reading lines from ancient Zen lore, ones that say meditation is about discovering “the happiness not based on conditions,” doesn’t help much. I just get more depressed! Some folks find happiness in the smallest acts: watching a sunset, or getting their errands

I wish I could have given him the moon

Good poems, for me, are often potent teachings on how to live this precious life we are given. Over the years I have been moved to tears reading poems.  There is one poet in particular I keep coming back to, the Japanese poet Ryōkan Taigu, who lived from 1758–1831. Ryokan, as a Google search tells me, was a quiet and eccentric Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. He is remembered for his poetry and calligraphy, which present the essence of Zen life.  Here is Ryokan musing about the premise of true poetry: Who says

just as you are

You can’t push the river, the Zen masters of old would say. And wow, how I have tried—reading, studying the Dharma, going on retreats, even fasting from time to time. And it’s still little ol’ me, unenlightened and pooped out from so much effort! I’ve often reflected on the line from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who, addressing his Zen meditation students in the 1960’s, once remarked:  Each of you is perfect just the way you are … and you can use a little improvement. So, OK, I can handle each statement separately just fine, but when combined into one sentence, I

suffering is natural

One of my teachers, Michele McDonald-Smith, once recounted that a 92 year old relative of hers, on being informed by her doctor of a terminal cancer diagnosis, became upset and implored “Why me?” As a species we seem to have solidified a very real revulsion for the inevitable, as well as toward the smaller slights along the way. We hide death like some grand failing; we distract ourselves into oblivion as if to avoid taking our predicament seriously.  Another of my early teachers, Sharon Salzberg, tells the story about a friend of hers who had to explain to her four-year-old

just try your best

Meditation is not easy, I get it. There are aches and pains in the body, the mind gets restless, and the breath fades in and out of awareness. Sometimes, mostly out. But, as Hawaii-born retired Sumo grand-master Akebono would say to reporters after winning yet another match, “I just try my best.” That’s all we ask. Try your best. Just show up on the cushion, again and again. If you just keep showing up, the magic starts to happen – but it helps a lot to show up in the right way. We can all dutifully drag ourselves to the

savor the resistance

Do we feel we are missing out on some better, or more spiritual, experience by being stuck with a mountain of laundry, a sink overflowing with dishes, or a yard full of leaves to rake? Karen Maezen Miller, in a piece in Lion’s Roar, describes the domestic practices of ancient Zen masters as intimate daily life transformations. Following in their steps she reflects: In the fall, the broad canopy of giant sycamores in my backyard turns faintly yellow and the leaves sail down. A part of every autumn day finds me fuming at the sight of falling leaves. Then, I