Are we really unique?

I went fishing the other day and caught a beautiful bass. Don’t worry, it’s swimming happily out there in the lake today! But the experience got me thinking about our (humans’) conceit that we are all unique, and we, as a species, are somehow more special than others.

How a Jellyfish and a Sea Slug Illuminate the Mystery of the Self

How unique are we? What is this personality? A beautiful photo essay from a photographer who went in search of his half-siblings.

A portrait of Eli.

Finally, here’s the article I promised, which relates to our over-indulgence in staying plugged in to the news, and seems to make us more unhappy:



Attention Pollution

I found 2 articles to juxtapose today: one about our decision on where to place our attention, and the other on a truly insidious way that our relationship with nature may be deteriorating: through our language.

“If you think about it, our attention is the only thing we truly own in our lives. Our possessions can go away. Our bodies can be compromised. Our relationships can fall apart. Even our memories and intellectual capacity fade away.

But the simple ability to choose what to focus on — that will always be ours.”

Smartphones Are the New Cigarettes

The Lost Words: An Illustrated Dictionary of Poetic Spells Reclaiming the Language of Nature




Does mindfulness makes us complacent?

Today’s talk revolved around a new article (based on a new book). It is a provocative article and it provoked a very lively conversation! The author is a professor of  management at the University of San Francisco and a Zen Buddhist teacher. And he asserts that:

“The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. Prophesying that its hybrid of science and meditative discipline “has the potential to ignite a universal or global renaissance”, the inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, has bigger ambitions than conquering stress. Mindfulness, he proclaims, “may actually be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years”.



We discussed the idea of discomfort, like bodily aches that go with meditation sittings, as well as the more existential feelings of lack of control in our lives.

Alan Watts (who wrote a book called “The Wisdom of Insecurity”) wrote: “Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, open-ness — an act of trust in the unknown.”

and here’s a link to a great video on our focus on money:

What Would You Do If Money Were No Object? Alan Watts on the Life of Purpose

Permanence and change

I went to my niece’s wedding last weekend in Long Island, and I was struck with the emotional rollercoaster I was subjected to: happiness, nostalgia, excitement, and wistfulness…I believe all those emotions were, for one thing, impermanent, and also: related to our yearning for permanence. Our group talked today about these feelings of nostalgia and the comfort we take in remembering the past, all the while fearing the future. Is our fear of impermanence really just another story we tell ourselves?

Enjoy this beautiful essay by Alan Lightman:

Alan Lightman on Our Yearning for Immortality and Why We Long for Permanence in a Universe of Constant Change

Hope: not a bad thing

Today we talked about hope, which tends to be a unappreciated word in Buddhist circles, because it carries the insinuation that we’re not satisfied with the here and now, or we’re looking for happiness in the future. But there’s a more nuanced way to look at hope. Not everyone in the class totally agreed with the author’s definitions, but it led to some interesting discussions:

Rebecca Solnit on Hope in Dark Times, Resisting the Defeatism of Easy Despair, and What Victory Really Means for Movements of Social Change

Also, as promised, a link to the Saturday Night Live skit which is surprisingly insightful about where one can find happiness. Plus, it’s funny. Enjoy!

Please note: There will be no sitting group next week because I will be at a wedding in Long Island!  I’ll be back to lead the sitting group on June 2.

Paying Attention

An essay on the poet Mary Oliver and paying attention. We look at the world without noticing it.  She said: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Here’s a Mary Oliver poem that they don’t read at any Buddhist retreat I’ve ever been to, but it is about paying attention:

I read the papers,
I unfold them and examine them in the sunlight.
The way the red mortars, in photographs,
arc down into the neighborhoods
like stars, the way death
combs everything into a gray rubble before
the camera moves on. What
dark part of my soul
shivers: you don’t want to know more
about this. And then: you don’t know anything
unless you do. How the sleepers
wake and run to the cellars,
how the children scream, their tongues
trying to swim away–
how the morning itself appears
like a slow white rose
while the figures climb over the bubbled thresholds,
move among the smashed cars, the streets
where the clanging ambulances won’t
stop all day–death and death, messy death–
death as history, death as a habit–
how sometimes the camera pauses while a family
counts itself, and all of them are alive,
their mouths dry caves of wordlessness
in the smudged moons of their faces,
a craziness we have so far no name for–
all this I read in the papers,
in the sunlight,
I read with my cold, sharp eyes.

~Mary Oliver, via Poetry Magazine (March 1986)

How to Fail

This was a great discussion on a subject we all could identify with: how quick we are to judge ourselves  or failures. Pema Chodron’s advice is spot on: our failures can be gifts if we change our perspective.

The article also talks about the fascinating and subtle way that getting in touch with our weaknesses, rather than closing ourselves off, is the true touchstone to living a fulfilled life. 

How to Fail

And here is the article on how we can help our minds by learning to play a musical instrument (we talked about this, too).
And, Heather, since you asked: here’s my latest pastel of a magnolia tree. I went through every permutation of failure and grudging success, to pleasure even with it’s imperfections:

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: