Sunday, November 14, 2010

A bodhisattva lives in Brooklyn

May I be a protector to those without protection,
A leader for those who journey,
And a boat, a bridge, a passage
For those desiring the further shore.

May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.
May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.

-- Shantideva

"The marketplace is where we need to be."
-- Enkyo Roshi O'Hara on the bodhisattva path

Actions of bodhisattva as observed one Saturday with Mary (an amended list)

-- welcoming hug
-- offering food, specially vegetarian for me, and drink
-- joking with the guys who work in the coffee shop and the place where she buys her Times and lottery tickets
-- good-natured patience as we wait for the shuttle bus because the subway station is closed
-- thanking the shuttle bus driver (let's shorten the list -- thanking anyone who provides any service, a sincere thank you, complete with eye contact)
-- walking across the Brooklyn Bridge an staying out of the bike lane
-- delighting in the couple who ballroom dance to the street musician's music
-- buying soft socks for Niece Christine, whose feet are always cold
-- staying up til 2:15 a.m. talking to Niece Christine, who is a bodhisattva for another list (she's a middle school special-ed teacher in Bed-Stuy)
-- napping
-- caring for two formerly feral cats whose malformed intestines mean extra work
-- accepting with grace and good humor that the 7:30 showing of The Social Network is sold out, throwing out the plan for the evening
-- listening
-- still listening
-- putting an arm around me
-- talking
-- appreciating and being in this moment, this day, this life.

Mary doesn't know what a bodhisattva is. We're talking about it -- I went to Roshi O'Hara's talk Friday night -- when she sees the soft socks in the window of a dollar store and thinks of Christine.
"That's the act of a bodhisattva," I tell her, to act from a place of compassion with no thought of return. To see everyone's needs as equal to your own. To SEE everyone, from the the homeless guys to the waitress to an old friend, with the same tenderness.
She laughs. OK, she says.
Mary hasn't taken a formal vow but the bodhisattva intention is there: to bring happiness and benefit to all beings, to save them from the meanness of the world, to help them be their best selves (thereby avoiding accumulating bad karma).
Mary is a bodhisattva. In Brooklyn. For real.

the bliss body

"This background radiation of love is present when we practice mindfulness and move from the stories into the energy of the body. It is what the Buddha called sambhogakaya -- the bliss body. We can connect to that bliss in any moment we give ourselves permission to do so. However, this permission cannot take the form of an "I want." It's an allowing not a doing. It's not a desire, goal or objective. It's what we find when we wake up to the shining presence of this moment."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

don't think

"It's too much hard work to do some things for effect. I'm just doing things because I want to do them. Not even because I want to do them, but because I am doing them. I'm not doing them thinking about how I look doing them. People who don't create anything think like that. 'What do I look like doing this?' Well, you look like a fucking idiot, actually. I'm not looking at my own reflection doing this this -- I'm actually doing it." Elvis Costello

Thursday, November 4, 2010

from Bill Moyers

“It’s OK if it’s impossible; it’s OK! Now I’m going to speak to you as
organizers. Listen carefully. The object is not to win. That’s not the
objective. The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide
not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then
nothing will be done, and when you’re on your death bed,... you’re gonna
say, “I wish I had done something" But if you go and do the right thing
NOW, and you do it long enough, “good things will happen—something’s
gonna happen.”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How soon should this body be a corpse?

Society has a duty to protect people from being harmed, but has no right to exact revenge. Whether it is murder or legal execution, any killing is simply wrong. Neutralizing and preventing harm does not require vengeance and retaliation.

Matthieu Ricard on forgiveness

Robert Chender, who’s co-teaching the Intro to Buddhism class, suggested this week that we check out a video on the Huffington Post of Mathieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk with a delightful French accent, talking about forgiveness.

The comment above struck me. I work at a newspaper in Connecticut, and aside from the election, the biggest story in the state is the trial of Steven Hayes, one of two men charged in the horrific torture and murder of a woman and her two daughters. (The husband and father was beaten and tied up in the basement but escaped). Hayes never denied taking part, but prosecutors wouldn’t agree to life in prison – in large part because the survivor is determined that Hayes and his co-defendant should be put to death by the state. A jury convicted Hayes after a trial that detailed the unbearably awful things that happened. The same jury now is considering whether to sentence him to death. Under Connecticut law, jurors considering the death penalty weigh mitigating and aggravating factors.

Just as an individual can fall prey to hatred, so can a whole society. MR

In a recent poll, 76 percent of Connecticut residents say they support the death penalty for Hayes – 10 percentage points more than support the death penalty itself.

A human being is not basically bad, but can easily become so. Our real enemy is therefore not the person who has fallen prey to hatred but hatred itself. MR

If hatred is the enemy, then what about those who are doing the hating? People I consider reasonable and compassionate see no gray here – he should died for what he did. Carrying out the death penalty in Connecticut takes a long time; there are mandatory appeals built into the process. If he wants to die, maybe keeping him alive is a worse punishment.

From a Buddhist point of view, the basic goodness of a human being remains deep within, even if he or she deviates into a very malevolent person. The simile given is that of a piece of gold that remains unchanged even when buried in filth. There is always a possibility of cleansing the filth. This does not amount to ignoring the base quality of the filth but to knowing that it can be removed and that the gold within it can shine again.

Hayes wants to die. He didn’t want his public defenders to argue against the death penalty. He’s tried to commit suicide. He became ill with what his lawyer described as seizures the day crime scene photos were shown in court. Does that show remorse? Is that evidence that he’s changed?

On Friday, the front-page headline on the trial story said: Show Me Your Soul is Worth Saving.

It referred to a letter Hayes’ brother had written in April after Steven Hayes tried to kill himself in prison with an overdose of prescription drugs. "If you don't want to cause us pain, allow what has to unfold without hindrance," his brother wrote, adding that he had "no respect" for Steven's self-professed wish to die.

"The process in front of you and the ensuing punishment is where you will find redemption, nowhere else," the brother wrote. "I have been told that every soul is worth saving, no matter what the actions. Show me your soul is worth saving, and I'll do what I have the capacities to do."

How does one show that one’s soul is worth saving?

I believe that every sentient being is worth saving, that every person is basically good. But is this true when their actions are so bad?

I may be almost alone in not wanting to flip the switch on Steven Hayes. I don’t approve, accept, or understand what he did. But I believe that somewhere inside the shriveled sad man who sits in court, there is a basic goodness that got buried so deep he can’t find it. I wouldn’t expect him to act from that place, but I can’t find it in my heart to want him dead. I don’t think it will bring the peace his victims’ family seeks. Hatred only breeds hatred. His death won’t diminish their pain.

In short, contemplating the horror of other's crimes should enhance in one's own mind a boundless love and compassion for all beings, rather than hatred of a few. MR

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Book of Hours

(The Book of Hours) (1899-1903)

  • Extinguish my sight, and I can still see you;
    plug up my ears, and I can still hear;
    even without feet I can walk toward you,
    and without mouth I can still implore.
    Break off my arms, and I will hold you
    with my heart as if it were a hand;
    strangle my heart, and my brain will still throb;
    and should you set fire to my brain,
    I still can carry you with my blood.
Rainer Maria Rilke
I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough
  • to make every hour holy.
    I am too small in the world, and yet not tiny enough
    just to stand before you like a thing,
    dark and shrewd.
    I want my will, and I want to be with my will
    as it moves towards deed;
    and in those quiet, somehow hesitating times,
    when something is approaching,
    I want to be with those who are wise
    or else alone.

    In Celebration of Me (1909)

  • I am so afraid of people's words.
    They describe so distinctly everything:
    And this they call dog and that they call house,
    here the start and there the end.

    I worry about their mockery with words,
    they know everything, what will be, what was;
    no mountain is still miraculous;
    and their house and yard lead right up to God.

    I want to warn and object: Let the things be!
    I enjoy listening to the sound they are making.
    But you always touch: and they hush and stand still.
    That's how you kill.

    • Translated by Annemarie S. Kidder

    Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Friday, September 3, 2010


you will know that I do and do not love you

just as life is of two minds,

a word is one wing of silence,

and fire is half made of ice.

I love you just so I can begin to love you,

to begin anew at the infinite

and to be able never to stop loving you;

For these reasons I do not love you yet.

I do and do not love you as if I held

in my hands the keys to every happiness

and an uncertain unhappy fate.

My love has two lifetimes to love you.

That's how I can love you when I don't,

and still love you when I do.

-- Rafael Campo

Sunday, August 29, 2010

gift from my protector demon

piritual and Healing Properties of Rose Quartz:Rose quartz is an excellent heart-healing gemstone. It is a nature remedy that can be used for treating any issue that needs emotional healing. Rose quartz is a pink-colored crystal that carries a very gentle and soothing energy and gives comfort to anyone whose heart has been wounded.

Remedy Benefits of Rose Quartz:
  • Encourages self love
  • Heals emotional body
  • Eases heartache
  • Relieves loneliness
  • Releases repressed hurts
  • Promotes forgiveness
  • Offers inner peace

Saturday, August 21, 2010

ephemeral bubbles

Just as fog is dispelled by the strength of the sun and is dispelled no other way, preconception is cleared by the strength of realization. There's no other way of clearing preconceptions. Experience them as baseless dreams. Experience them as ephemeral bubbles. Experience them as insubstantial rainbows. Experience them as indivisible space.

- Milarepa, "Drinking the Mountain Stream"

salutation to the ever-new (gentle) dawn

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth;
The glory of action;
The splendor of achievement;

For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday
a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

keeeping quiet


Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), "Keeping Quiet"
Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid)
Jonathan Cape, London, 1972, pp.27-29
(original Estravagario, Editorial Losada, Buenos Aires, 1958)"

lessons from my child

Things I've learned at hippie camp:
- you can train your hair off shampoo
- everything you love will eventually rip and smell like mildew, but it is all still lovable
- people can sit in a room and stargaze while it's raining
- things are better when you act crazy
...- never eat a pickled hotdog of unknown origin that's been sitting in the hole in the ceiling upholstery of a hot van
- sometimes the people in charge have absolutely no idea what's going on
- 40 sixteen-year-olds can fit in a 15'x15' room

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

don't push

The late and notable Bay Area teacher Kondañña Kapke, founder of Insight Bodhi-work, had three maxims in working with his clients: 'Don't push, just use the weight of your own body...''Don't diagnose, just be aware...' and 'Don't try to fix, but don't turn away...'

Friday, April 9, 2010

if it breathes it can become enlightened

Buddha nature is in all living things—if it breathes, it can become
enlightened. Maybe you can see it already in the faces of the people
around you, in your environment, in yourself

Monday, March 22, 2010

see yourself in others

All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?

- Dhammapada 129-130

Thursday, March 11, 2010

kindness poem

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

—Naomi Shihab Nye from Words Under Words: Selected Poems an

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


by Frank O'Hara

Light clarity avocado salad in the morning
after all the terrible things I do how amazing it is
to find forgiveness and love, not even forgiveness
since what is done is done and forgiveness isn't love
and love is love nothing can ever go wrong
though things can get irritating boring and dispensable
(in the imagination) but not really for love
though a block away you feel distant the mere presence
changes everything like a chemical dropped on a paper
and all thoughts disappear in a strange quiet excitement
I am sure of nothing but this, intensified by breathing

Saturday, February 27, 2010

make yourself your refuge

Make yourself your island,

make yourself your refuge;
there is no other refuge.
Make Dhamma your island,
make Dhamma your refuge;
there is no other refuge.

Dīgha Nikāya 2.165

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I am not the crazy

I am the awareness that is aware of the crazy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I went looking for answers
in the boxes
in the back corner of the basement

the ones we moved from apartment
to apartment
from house to house
without ever opening

I wanted to know
how did we get here?
how did it happen?
did you love me then?
did you want me for the next 30 years?
was it inevitable --
the walk down the path
that had been mapped out for us
or did we cut through the weeds and the brush
burrs clinging to our clothing
tangled in our hair
as we tried to reach some distant point
where something red flashed in the sun?

all I found were mouse nests,
our history chewed and chopped
into downy pieces
soft piles
of comfort.

Friday, January 22, 2010

you become buddha by doing zazen

Same with Buddhist practice. You become a Buddha by doing zazen. The moment you take the position, you are a Buddha. No need to compel yourself or those around you into transforming into whatever confused ideals you have about what Buddhists ought to be.

This compulsion to change others and ourselves into our ideals is a significant problem, and one that I don’t believe gets very much attention. It’s the outward manifestation of a very deep misunderstanding of Buddhism that actually drives a lot of what passes for Buddhism these days.

If you’re going to say you accept everything, then, dammit, accept every-fucking-thing. Not just those things you find acceptable.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things that truly need to be changed. But the things that really, seriously need changing are usually pretty obvious.
Brad Warner

Buddhism isn’t about a retreat from reality into a kinder gentler world created in your own mind. It’s about making this world a better place by seeing it for what it is and doing what you truly need to do.


so ....
my throat's tight. all of muscles are tensed, like I'm waiting to be hit. and everything's pulled in to the center to protect my heart. my eyes are wide and wary. my face is as stone-like as I can make it, smooth and unsaying. I have to think about breathing, and it's deep but it stops and waits. mentally, it feels like it takes all of my focus to keep breathing.
it is unpleasant. it has been for most of the day, ebbing and flowing, but coming back.
what do I do with it? sit with it? accept it? meet it with compassion?
my box of unskillful tools has razor blades and jameson and isolation.
my bag of skillful ones is empty.

so ....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I saw my first therapist when I was 16 after I cut my wrists. I connected really strongly tonight during meditation with the memory of sitting in his office. he wanted me to talk, of course, and I wanted him to read my journal because I didn't know how to talk. he asked me to read my journal out loud, and I couldn't do it. I just could not voice my feelings.

so the physical reaction I have now to this memory is that there's a tightness in the back of my throat and a tightness in my forehead (I thin I'm scrunching my face up), and I rock slightly back and forth.

I don't what the feeling tone is, though. it's not positive, because it hurts. but it's not really negative because I don't want it to go away. so is it neutral?

what I do is fiercely love my 16-year-old self, and hug her and tell her it's OK now and take the rusty razor blade out of her hand. I don't think anybody hugged me or touched me a the time. I don't even think we talked about it after I started therapy, where I couldn't talk about it.

I think I need to spend some more time loving this girl.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I really don't know how to assess physical sensations.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

sitting outside the door


metaphorically running

noticing all the ways I run away from my body ... well, probably not all.

woke up this morning with a headache and congestion and all the sinusy nastiness that goes along with a cold, and immediately wanted to disassociate from it, to put it on someone else. somehow the mind is not on board with exploring the sinus headache and ringing ears and general physical misery of this cold. the mind is going no, get up, get out, go to the gym, work through it, it will go away if you ignore it. ha.

tried to enjoy just lying in a warm bed but mind took off running ... gotta write this down, gotta send an e-mail, really have to clean the bathroom ...

awareness smiled.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

random thoughts about my body

random thoughts that have come up about my body since our conversation, or that I've had lately but had not previously connected:

-- I'm relatively strong (which is to say, for a woman my age). I can bench-press 60 pounds, and my muscles have definition.

-- my BMI is 19.6 and my body fat is under 18 percent, but I think I'm fat.

-- I have a high tolerance for pain, except for stomach cramps.

-- I need to have my left knee replaced at some point because the joint is fucked as the result of previous surgery, but I'm waiting until the pain is intolerable. the thing is, I don't know what intolerable pain is. it's always swollen, and sometimes it doesn't work right, but that's just what is. basically my approach to physical pain is to ignore it and keep going.

-- the two places where I can't ignore the pain sometimes are my left knee and right hip. my left knee, which is the fucked one, has places with no cartilage. if I make my leg be perfectly straight and engage the muscle on the inside of the front of my thigh, it pulls it over the place where there's no cartilage, which is sufficiently painful to stop me right there. it stops, though, when I relax that muscle. I have chronic tendonitis in my right hip and it affects the tendons that run from the hip/lower back to the knee. I can't sit in a chair for more than an hour without it becoming really painful. at work, I get up a lot and get water, pick up things off the printer, walk to talk to people. it's better if I move. meditation posture is actually more comfortable than sitting in a chair. it's the 90-degree angle that's problematic.

-- I take five prescription drugs a day and have one that I take twice a week and one that's once a week, along with five non-prescription ones. my 80-year-old mother takes two prescriptions.

-- I wore clothes a size too big until I was in my 20s. my mother disapproved of tight clothing or anything even moderately revealing, so she always got my clothes too big. I didn't realize that until my mother-in-law, who was a fashion designer, made me a dress to wear to a family wedding that actually fit. I remember the amazement of looking in the mirror as I tried on the dress and having her explain objectively the good things about my body.

-- I don't like being touched, especially by strangers. therefore, massage is not high on my list of good things. my yoga teacher occasionally makes us do partner things. not so much since I complained and broke down into a shaking sobbing mess.

-- sex, as you might guess, is ... interesting. there's a moment of nonononono, then it's OK, then I'm making grocery lists.

-- I think body issues tie in to the two compulsions that bother me most: cutting myself and buying too many clothes. the connection with cutting is pretty obvious, I suppose -- it's a way of getting back into my body or physically manifesting the emotional pain. The clothes thing is probably pretty obvious too -- they cover up my body.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

craving and aversion all in one


a weekend without panic is like ...

oh, I don't know ... a blue moon.
and really, I'm teasing the fates with that title because it's only sunday morning. it's more like a saturday without panic, which is the real achievement.
and really, it's not a saturday without panic. it's just a saturday without getting swept away by panic. but that's the achievement.
so ... notice the panic arriving. that's best done by noticing a tightness in my throat, spreading to my shoulders, and a desire to run. literally run. or jump up and down. or throw things. trying to talk myself out of it or hold it down leads to wanting to cut myself or start drinking. it's a full-body tightness where all of my energy is focused on holding myself in place, and I can't tolerate being touched or distracted because that redirects the focus and I just want to scream.
but what I did this time was notice the panic pretty early on when it was just a tightness in my throat and a restlessness in my mind. oh, it's panic, I said to myself. I am aware of it. I am not it. so I can watch it and see what happens.
the panic is a 2-year-old, overtired and maybe on a sugar high, more energy than he knows what to do with. he needs to go somewhere and run it off.
the panic is a 2-year-old at a playground, and the awareness is a compassionate stranger who sees that the panic is on the edge of being out of control and keeps a nonjudgmental, kind watch to make sure the panic doesn't get hurt with all of his running around and climbing on monkey bars or slides (it's an old-school playground with dangerous equipment). the awareness is not responsible for the panic, not a mother or babysitter or other person who is worried about how the panic's behavior reflects on her, but just a woman on a bench watching the children, and the panic in particular.
and if the panic gets hurt, she'll be there and talk to him and apply the band-aid of living-kindness and do whatever is needed to make it better.
which made it better.
next up ... what brings the panic out to play?