Saturday, February 01, 2014

I am still here!

Signed up today for Sharon Salzberg's 28 day meditation challenge and noticed the drumroll of bloggers. Just out of curiosity and the astonishing ability to remember an 8 year old password I moseyed on over. What a surprise to find out: I AM STILL HERE!

Ain't that the truth. Life happens. Plans change. And yet...still it's always the present moment!

I rounded the corner on a half century of breathing in and breathing out a few years ago. Zendad's health spiraled downhill in the grip of a chronic debilitating neurological disease and our vow to remain each other's sustenance didn't survive in a story that may or may not be appropriate to divulge online....just to be respectful of his privacy.   Zenchild has morphed into the most lovely, bright human being I could ever have hoped she'd become and being a mom continues to be the thing I am most grateful for.

So somethings change and somethings seem to endure. I continue to take refuge in the buddha, dharma, and the sangha and its proven to be a mighty shelter. Everyday I count myself as one of the luckiest people ever.

I can feel the welcome back. I'm here and I'm still aspiring...

Authentic Kindness of the Heart

Saturday, July 22, 2006

We awaken together

Whew! Just in from a week long retreat given by the monastics from the Green Mountain Dharma Center and Maple Forest Monastery in Vermont who practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. The retreat took place on a beautiful college campus in Massachusetts and neither the near scorching heat nor the non-airconditioned dorms could dampen our enthusiasm or group spirit. The numbers were small, a few dozen adults and nearly as many children it seemed, so it was possible to really connect in dharma discussion groups and in the abundant leisure time as well.

One day of the retreat was called "Lazy Day", a day set aside for our choice of spiritual pursuit such as sitting meditation, spiritual reading, walking meditation, volleyball, frisbee, capture the flag, or just hanging out on the lawn! Zenkid, my 13 year old daughter and roommate, and I decided to stay pretty much in the rhythm of the other days. I got up at the usual time for early sitting then planned to spend most of the day reflecting and writing. ZK arose early as well and headed to the pond where the teens had been meditating. I asked her to just let me know when she changed locations.

Some of the adults later reported feeling a little lost with free time on their hands and apparently ZK had the same issue...I had just sunken into some lovely silence when I heard the brrrr, brrrr of my cell phone vibrating. Text message: "At pond. Ground is wet. Mosquitoes. Going to med hall." I answer, "Ground will be dry later. Ok". I take a deep breathe and start to settle in. Thirty minutes later, brrrr brrrr. "At med hall. No one is here. Where is everyone?"
I peck back, "It's early. Meditate anyway." And so it continued even as each of us changed locations. "In chapel. Bad smell", "Don't like soccer", "What should I wear to rose ceremony", "Where are my sweats"... No joke, I counted. Twelve messages.

So it felt like I spent my lazy day in little segments reminding myself that she was doing what I had asked her to do and acknowledging that children can just be plain inconvenient. We met up for silent dinner and on our walk back to the dorm she told me, "I've been thinking about this all day and I've decided to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings (the 5 Precepts)." I tried to feign nonchalance and commented brightly, "Oh really?" but I had to turn my head slightly to the side to hide the tears welling up in my eyes. All I could think of was the pink bookmark I'd purchased the day before. It quotes Thich Nhat Hanh:

I walk for you.
You smile for me.
We awaken together.

ZK has a dharma name now: Loving Compassion of the Heart, chosen for her by her long adored Brother Phap B. I stood off to the side as the young monk who is only perhaps twice her age and possibly twice her height explained that he chose her name to be like his which also includes Compassion of the Heart, because she is his "continuation".
More looking out windows, holding back tears. I'm so grateful we awaken together.

Authentic Kindness of the Heart

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


It all started in 1960, the year I was born. That's when my troubles began....

LOL! It's good to be back to my little blog after a self-imposed foray into less enjoyable writing as I smashed all the written requirements for a graduate course into 3 months. I wonder just how amused the prof was to receive my last paper emailed at 3:01 am on June 29 for a June 30 deadline. Apparently I have no shame.

My gleeful 13 you was even more delighted when my husband made the observation that my academic style hadn't changed much in 20 years. Oh, I retorted, but now I really am too busy for words. Twenty years ago I just thought I was. My voice trailed off as a tiny idea about habit energy arose in my mind. Indeed it had occurred to me that this was indeed a case of "Different decade, same behavior" along with the realization that there are just some kinds of discomfort with which I am quite comfortable. In fact it turns out that many other parts of my life are marked by thriving on a bit of adrenaline - having to pare down priorities, think quick, work fast. It's not so admirable but I noticed that when I received my grade in the mail, I had a distinct feeling, not of accomplishment or pride so much as of winning. This kind of stuff insinuates itself into my life and even starts to become part of who I think I am. Don Quixote tilting at windmills-at best. Suffering, causes of suffering, clinging to suffering. Groan.

Cut to Buddhanet Audio. I am listening to Pasada, from the Edinburgh Buddhist Centre, reading a translation of the Heart Sutra that is new to me. I am struck by how tiny differences in the translation open the door to new understanding. For instance, this translation talks about Avalokita being indifferent to any kind of personal attainment rather than "there is no attainment". It refers to the bodhisattvas "dwelling without thought covering" which seems to me to be a great image of what my usual translation calls "obstacles of mind". It goes on to say that because of this reliance on perfect understanding the bodhisattvas "overcome what can upset" ie. illusion and says that one should know prajnaparamita as the great mantra, the "allayer of suffering, in truth. For what could go wrong?" All this to contemplate and I've only gotten to the second of 14 mp3 files. You can hear it at Warning- You will fall in love with Pasada's voice.

So I am taking another time out...actually going on family retreat for a week with the monks and nuns from the Green Mountain Dharma Center and Maple Grove Monastery in Vermont. I'd like to take some time to see how "what can upset" is in fact, illusion and consider how I can loosen my grasp a little without feeling like I'm losing, or I'm not me anymore, or that there is a solid me to hang on to. I'm up for a little less suffering and know that with a bit of courage, and support from the sangha, it is entirely possible. I know this thanks to all of you who keep practicing and sharing your practice, even when I'm "on leave".

Thanks for your faithfulness.

Authentic Kindness of the Heart

Monday, May 08, 2006

More lessons

At our sangha yesterday we were discussing the 11th of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings as interpreted by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is about right livelihood and responsibility as a consumer and as a citizen.

It spurred me to revisit an issue that arose from our recent trip to Manhattan. Zenchild had her huge mane of hair cut at a fancy salon's training school. She flounced into the waiting room and announced "We HAVE to go to Canal Street to buy pocketbooks...all the stylists say so!" So off we went the next morning to this incredible row of stores some only three sided entities, laden with bags, watches, jewelry,and sunglasses. Zenchild was buzzing gaily from vendor to vendor and before long we were being ushered into secret back rooms and even a basement labyrinth of yet more "designer replicas" or "knockoffs". Even I, a Birkenstock wearing, sensible bag toting mom, fell victim and purchased a fake Vuitton. Ok, a fake Prada too. Almost all the vendors were Asian and I'd guess English was a second language for the vast majority.

When we arrived home, my Dad, a retired city cop, reprimanded me
for buying good which are illegal to sell, by illegal immigrants, and which possibly fund other illegal activities, maybe even involving children.(He knows how to get my attention.) Oh jeepers, I thought...all that just buying a pocketbook! How could I be so naive? I'm not usually on the wrong side of the law!

Then a friend of mine offered her idea that the knockoff business is allowed to continue because it is a tourist attraction. She contends that if I can get into the back rooms so can any police officer and the whole thing could be shut down in a minute. I'm not sure if that was a argument for or against or just a comment on my non-threatening looks!

Then zenchild offered her observation. She noted that each little store appeared to be operated by a mom and a dad and as it was school vacation week, there were a lot of children around too. She said "Since these people are 'illegal' they probably can't get a job in a regular business and they have children they need to buy food for.." And it made me think about what kind of risks I'd be willing to take if it meant a better life for my children. Maybe a lot.

So what does this have to do with the 11th mindfulness training...quite a lot I guess. Things are just never as black and white as I think they are, or as I'd hope they could be. But the mindfulness trainings are just that, trainings in being mindful. I may not have any answers but I am sure thinking about it.

Breathing in for all the people who are struggling to create a better life for their families. Breathing out, food, shelter, and safety for all.
All in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

Authentic Kindness of the Heart

Being in NY

Wow, I've missed the opportunity this blog gives me to sort through my thoughts and experiences and make sense of them. Life just gets going and I've found myself torn between my meditation time and wanting to get to this blog- not to mention the regular time, writing papers, work. I've been meditating long enough to know that it needs to rate up there with eating and brushing my teeth as one of the necessities for health and happiness. It's interesting to me that getting centered and connecting with "the ultimate" in the morning makes it some much more likely that I will stay connected through the day. For someone who's not a "morning person", I've yet to make sense of that.

I took zenchild on a trip to NYC over the April vacation to celebrate her 13th birthday. I grew up in Boston but had never visited NYC amazingly. She and I met up with a friend who lives in the village that I'd met on a message board about 10 years ago and we had a grand girl-y time....admiring art and architecture, seeing a play, and doing some birthday shopping.

One thing that really struck me was the immense beauty of the city. Granted we arrived as a veritable heat wave struck and had the heady pleasure of strolling the city bathed in sun and warm breezes. So that was a lovely gift. I had expected a big, grey, frantically paced city in which it would be difficult to be mindful and what I found was so different.

I couldn't have been more thrilled by the bright lights and colors if I'd been taking in a field of poppies. Gazing out the window of the M6 bus we took down to the Staten Island Ferry felt like being dropped into the window of a kaleidoscope, swirling and turning in bright lively patterns. The sense of being a tiny little speck in a huge sea of bustling humanity didn't feel overwhelming as I might have guessed, I just felt a "part of" in a very comforting way. I practiced tonglen and did a lot of musing about interbeing. While trying on lipstick at Sephora, of course...don't want to give anyone the wrong impression here!

So the trip that started out as a gift to zenchild turned out to be a wonderful respite for me as well. It wasn't exactly a retreat but it was nonetheless a time free from regular responsibilities in which I could see and appreciate the beauty around me with new eyes...the gift of freshness I suppose. I marvel at the understanding that everything is a lesson, it's all opportunity for practice, and the means for waking up is all around us no matter where we are.

I love NY.

Authentic Kindness of the Heart

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Eyes of wisdom

It's been a very strange week. I've been propped up in my bed, distorting my mind with cold remedies and codeine cough syrup, the sound of my own wheezing morphing into the sound of children crying for help in my dreams. My subconscious. Best to leave it alone.

I take care of patients who have life threatening hematologic malignancies. The treatment is lethal if not for the rescue, the infusion of immune-system-growing stem cells. Usually the transplant itself is a success. It's the complications, infections and damage to other organ systems, that can cause the big problems. Still I love this work. I've left it many times to work in other hospitals, other specialties, but I always have stayed connected to this particular unit and currently work there full-time. I love the fight. I love being able to feel that I make a difference for people who are having some of the worst moments of their lives. I love it when people get better and go home to their parents and children. Even when it doesn't work out that way, I love it that we really really tried. All that love aside, I've brought enough bodies to the morgue over my twenty year career to sink a small ship and it's always sobering, never fun. The benefit is truly understanding that bodies are not what we are though sometimes it's hard to remember, and not always comforting.

This week, a young physician from our hospital was involved in a freak accident. A piece of scaffolding blew off the side of a building onto the roof of his car. When all was said and done, he and two constuctions workers were no longer alive. Then the nursing supervisor came by with sad news of a young man unable to be resuscitated in the emergency room, a stones throw away from away the new building under construction across the street: a state-of-the-art cardiac center.

I think that's when I started to catch my cold. Some symbolic contracture of my 4th chakra, encompassing my heart and lungs hollering, "Enough!" The cruel twist is that my most effective means of being with and transforming difficult feelings is unavailable to me when I can't meditate in my usual way! I mean liberation cannot be dependent on being able to breath through your nose, I tell my pitiful self. So it's been a matter of observe, observe, name, name....just be here, just be with.

Lying with my head on three pillows, I review what my teacher says about no birth, no death, continuation, sufficient conditions. I recall my teacher Thay's dharma talk from the last day of retreat last summer. Actually he's given a similar talk the last day of the three retreats I've been lucky enough to attend. I think he has said that it is the most important of the Buddha's teachings. In it he lights a match asking the children before him, "Where did the little flame come from?" and blowing it out, "Where did our friend flame go?" and in a short time, kids who are years away from having a drivers license are considering interdependent origination: no birth, no death, no fear. And all of us are being reminded to look deeply into the nature of our fear of non-being, so that we can transform suffering and increase our capacity to be solid, calm, and peaceful, bringing happiness to ourselves and others.

The most touching part of the talk is when he says, and I paraphrase, "If you should hear in the future that Thay has died, don't you believe it. Don't believe email, fax, telephone. My nature is the nature of no birth, no death. I will be here in you and all around you, if you have the eyes of wisdom to see." You can see it in his eyes. They are shining. He really means it. He believes it.

I decide to try to believe too. Staying, staying with my feelings, fears, with my inability to breathe at the present moment, I am grateful for my body's wisdom. I am grateful for the unplanned break from my usual tasks, time to lie in my bed and ponder. And I pray for the eyes of wisdom.

Authentic Kindness of the Heart

Friday, March 31, 2006

Some things require a second try!

this is an audio post - click to play

I am free

I have absolutely no idea what I am doing here -or what will show up where-but felt inspired by Rev. Mugo's audioblog. I loved hearing her voice. I am inspired also by the brilliant sunshine and warm winds bathing New England today. I feel like spinning circles on the lawn.

Not having any material of my own, I borrowed I Am Free, which is this years favorite of mine. I learned it from the children who attended the retreat at Stonehill College last year. I believe the store at the Deer Park Monastery sells the CD if you want to hear it in it's entirety and in better tune!

May all beings be free!

Authentic Kindness of the Heart

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Winter is dragging on in New England and Zenchild spent the entire week battling fevers to 103, just to name one of her many symptoms. It's a humbling realization that in life, in general, sometimes all our grand efforts to help are reduced to simply patting a back, sitting on the bed, fetching water. Even in the ICU, with all the wonders of technology at our command, it can be the most difficult task just to be fully present for a patient for whom the technology will not be enough. And it feels like I am not enough either until I shake off my pompous delusion of being able to make everything right and do what I can do -set my intention and be present.

This week I've been feeling tired, sun-deprived, and uninspired so I felt a tiny bit of anxiety when I was given a small assignment by my sangha leader: to speak for a few minutes on the first mindfulness training at our sangha today. This will be part of a panel discussion in preparation for a transmission ceremony to take place at the day of mindfulness we are planning for the end of April. Here's Thay's version:

"Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life."

(Sigh.) Doesn't it just make you appreciate the Ten Commandments where you could march right by "Thou shall not kill" with a quick "check" and be on the way to heaven? I notice even with this training I want to commit fully to vegetarianism and call it accomplished... my ego, it's relentless! But this training has ramifications that reach into every area of my life, with the goal of cultivating compassion and weeding out the seeds of violence even in my thoughts. It's easy it is to recognize the benefit of good intentions and wishes, as I've been noticing at home and at work this week. How is it that I can think I've got a free pass on violent thoughts and bad attitudes devoid of compassion? I realize I am called to pay attention to the effect my actions and thoughts are having out there in the world which also cause suffering for myself. It requires vigilance though as it seems I purposefully set good intentions but the less benevolent thoughts take a more insidious route into my consciousness.

So I circle back to the first words as a place to begin: "Aware of the suffering caused..." because it seems clear that the first step in eliminating causes of suffering is to become aware of them, to look deeply at my own part in perpetuating violence as I make choices everyday. Everything's on this table: what I eat, what I say, the clothes I wear, the car I drive, even the actions I don't take that support the status quo and institutionalized violence: war, poverty, prejudice. Phew! Thank goodness we are asked only make a concerted effort to head in the direction, knowing we will never reach the ideal.

In one dharma talk, Thay refers to the depiction of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, who has one thousand arms and one thousand hands. In the middle of each hand is an eye. The image is so stunning. When we have eyes in our hands, when we can see what our actions are doing, then we can have compassion. Maybe I can bring a photo to the sangha today so I don't lose my train of thought and crumple into a heap of mono-syllables when a mere 40 or so eyes turn to me...LOL.

More importantly, this morning we are baking brownies for a soup kitchen being put on by sangha members. Another example of "too little" thinks my cynical mind. Then again, who doesn't enjoy a brownie now and again and today it's what we can do. I'm going to think about those thousand arms. Those eyes. And into each brownie we will breathe the intention, "May we be aware of suffering. May we be free from suffering".

Authentic Kindness of the Heart