Time Spent, Saved, and Wasted

We talked today about what the Stoic philosopher Seneca (Roman who lived during the 1st Century AD) thought about how to enjoy life fully and not live life “sliding through a trance of expectancy, always vacating the present moment in order to lurch toward the next–a kind of living death…” the words of the essay’s author, Maria Popova.

We had a really good conversation, with everyone contributing their own little meditation on spending time with those we love and those we may have a little trouble with.

Here’s the whole article:

Naming Our Emotions

The talk today kicked off from an article originally from the Harvard Business School, which explored a more nuanced way of labeling our emotions in order to better understand our reactivity. I found this to be an interesting counterpoint to some types of Buddhist practice, where one is taught to label or note an emotion in the most general terms, and then get back to the object of the meditation, usually watching the breath.

It’s easier to understand what I’m getting at if you take a gander at the HBS article:


I will be talking more about the noting practice of Mahasi Sayadaw in the upcoming course, Imagining Freedom (starting tomorrow), but you can also take a look at articles and books by Jason Siff. You can check out this interview with Jason:

Love is a Skill

Alvin Toffler, who wrote “Future Shock”, said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” What we talked about today was learning to question and possibly unlearn our belief system that tells us that our unhappiness is the result of personal failings. Read about it further in this great article:

Compare these thoughts on happiness and optimism to Ayya Khema’s article on Lovingkindness. She offers a different approach to doing “metta” practice which at least some of our group found very appealing. The article comes with her text version of a guided Lovingkindness meditation. I will prepare a recording of this version for you in the near future.

Heart of the Prajnaparamita Sutra

I read The Heart Sutta to the class today because I wanted people to know the way I was introduced to Buddhism: reciting a Mahayana Buddhist text in a Theravada group, and being completely baffled by this famous sutta (or sutra, it means a discourse or text or….it may also refer to a cigarette in Hindi College lingo). The Heart Sutta is one of the most well known text in Buddhism. I read it to the group and asked them to just see how they reacted to it. It was a complete mystery to me when I first heard it. See what you think of it.

This is a translation by the famous Zen teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh , who later wrote another and supposedly more accurate translation which you can find on the web. Our Tri-State Dharma Sunday sitting group likes this one. We meet on Sundays at 9:30, chant the Refuges, sit for a half hour, doing walking meditation for 20 minutes, and then site again for 30 minutes, finishing with this:

The Bodhisattva Avalokita, while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding, shed light on the five skandhas and found them equally empty. After this penetration, he overcame all pain.

“Listen, Shariputra, form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

“Hear, Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are neither produced nor destroyed, neither defiled nor immaculate, neither increasing nor decreasing. Therefore, in emptiness there is neither form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor mental formations, nor consciousness; no eye, or ear, or nose, or tongue, or body, or mind, no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realms of elements (from eyes to mind-consciousness); no interdependent origins and no extinction of them (from ignorance to old age and death); no suffering, no origination of suffering, no extinction of suffering, no path; no understanding, no attainment.

“Because there is no attainment, the bodhisattvas, supported by the Perfection of Understanding, find no obstacles for their minds. Having no obstacles, they overcome fear, liberating themselves forever from illusion and realizing perfect Nirvana. All Buddhas in the past, present, and future, thanks to this Perfect Understanding, arrive at full, right, and universal Enlightenment.

“Therefore, one should know that Perfect Understanding is a great mantra, is the highest mantra, is the unequalled mantra, the destroyer of all suffering, the incorruptible truth. A mantra of Prajnaparamita should therefore be proclaimed.

This is the mantra: “Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.”

(gone, gone, completely gone to the other shore…well said.”)

We Got Gratitude!

Today we discussed the Buddhist concept of generosity, gratitude and the various interpretations of what goes into a “Dana” talk. I thought it was good to let people voice their opinions about what constitutes appreciation for the teachings and also discuss how we respond to requests for donations to the teachers and others. How does our conditioning toward money effect our reactions to requests for donations? How does guilt effect us? It’s all grist for the mill that’s called Mindfulness!

Here’s the article from Thanissaro Bhikkhu that I quoted from:

No Strings Attached https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/Head&HeartTogether/Section0005.html

And this beautiful article just fell into my lap and fit the discussion for today perfectly.

Our New Chess Champion Has a Home

Try a little tenderness

We got together today and talked a bit about the retreat that I just finished teaching. I was struck by how grateful the retreatants were for the quiet of the retreat setting, and their obvious relief to have this time for themselves. I don’t think people need to depend on a retreat to be quiet; you can take some quiet time that is just for yourself, and that can be a real act of self-compassion. The group talked about the problems our society has with anxiety; this has reached epidemic proportions. One way to relieve anxiety is to pay attention to the happy moments in life, since we have a “negativity bias” and tend to focus on the negative rather than positive. I read a great poem by Billy Collins called “Shoveling Snow with Buddha” which you can read here:

Life Skills

A picture of our cottage from today. We think there is about 2 feet of snow. That’s the posterior of our friend’s dog, Nixie, who came to check out if all is well, and it is!

We talked about a bunch of things pretty much all over the map! Our main philosophical topic of discussion centered around how to approach some basic life problems, especially: 1) recognizing that we need to stop taking things personally, 2) we can be more flexible and open to changing our minds and our beliefs, and 3) we can take more chances in life without knowing what the results will be. Here’s a great article I highly recommend:

I also told the group about my upcoming online class. It’s called: “Imagining Freedom: Explorations of a Meditative Life.” I will offer it from April 15-May 20. The live classes will be on Monday evenings from 7pm-8:30 pm and of course the sessions will be recorded.

The Benefits of Allowing Anger

I joined the group from Alamogordo, NM, not a place I’d recommend, other than having beautiful places like White Sands National Monument close by. I’m out of the bad weather, but many of you are having a bad time with the storms, and I hope you all stay safe.

Today I brought up the idea of anger, which is one of the hindrances, as something to sit with gently, rather than immediately try to get rid of it. I offered two instances of anger that arose in me in the past day. One came about when I read this article in the New Yorker about people with diabetes struggling with the rising costs of insulin:

Living with Type 1 Diabetes When You Can’t Afford Insulin


When I observed the anger that arose from this story, I saw that anger was not an adequate term to describe what I was feeling. There was compassion and frustration and sadness. And I saw it wasn’t a problem to deal with these emotions and thoughts because they led me to recognize that I could go beyond those feelings to clearer thinking about the problem and real solutions.

The other anger episode was completely personal and ephemeral, but that didn’t make it less potent. We were in a hotel where there was construction and even though I specifically said I wanted to be away from the noise there was drilling next door all day long and then a large family moved into that room and there was all sorts of yelling and carrying on! The feeling that arose was anger, but looking at it I felt helpless, out of control, frustrated and tired. I allowed it to play out. I also understood that that anger didn’t define me, and I was able to work out a solution, which was to get my room changed!

In both cases we can see that, if left unexamined but just pushed away in meditation as being “bad” we’d never get to the heart of what we’re experiencing.

Finally, and totally off that subject, I would like to send love, praise and thanks to all the significant others (partners, beloved animals, children…anyone) who allow us (more or less) our meditation time on Sunday afternoon. Thanks always go to my spouse, Ken, who today waited patiently for the end of our sitting before we continued our road trip. The quintessential representative of this dog-loving group is long-standing attendee Joey Davis, Mary’s pet, who many of you’ve probably seen on screen.

Here’s a picture I did of him:

Control, or….

Today I visited the group live from Silver City, New Mexico and we had a big, online group! I want to welcome our new meditators and I’ll do a proper introduction for everyone once I’m back home with good WiFi. We talked about the idea of gently controlling our meditation practice as compared to letting things take their course. Both approaches can lead to calm and insights, but it’s good watch your choices.

Even though we didn’t discuss this article, I thought it might be useful to read. Don’t take your quiet time for granted!