An excerpt

5 02 2011

I recently checked out an audiobook rendering of Jack Kornfield‘s A Path with Heart. This struck me as particularly insightful:

“Every spiritual life entails a succession of difficulties, because every ordinary life also entails a succession of difficulties–what the Buddha described as the inevitable sufferings of existence. In a spiritually-informed life, however, these inevitable difficulties can be the source of our awakening, deepening wisdom of patience, balance, and compassion. Without this perspective, we simply bear our sufferings like an ox, or like a foot soldier under a heavy load.

The basic principle of spiritual life is that our problems become the very place to discover wisdom and love. A genuine spiritual path does not avoid difficulties or mistakes, but leads us to the art of making mistakes wakefully, bringing to them the transformative power of our heart. When we set out to love–to awaken, to become free–we are inevitably confronted with our own limitations. As we look into ourselves, we see more clearly our unexamined fears, conflicts, our frailties and confusion. In this way, our life might appear as a series of mistakes. One famous Zen master actually described spiritual practice as “one mistake after another,” which is to say one opportunity after another to learn. It is from difficulties, mistakes, and errors that we actually learn. To live life is to make a succession of errors. In difficulties, we can learn the true strength of our practice. At these times, the wisdom that we’ve cultivated, and the depth of our love and forgiveness is our chief resource. To meditate, to pray, to practice at such times can be like pouring soothing balm onto the aches of our heart.”


Practice in the snow

12 01 2011

I’ve always been fascinated by the use of the word “practice” as it pertains to medicine and law. After all, who wants to be “practiced” on while under the surgeon’s knife? The word also is used to describe the repetition and refining that musicians and athletes undertake–the “daily bread” of these pursuits. And finally, and perhaps most meaningfully, the word is used in spiritual traditions, particularly Buddhism, to describe the day-to-day activities suggested by one’s faith.

Many Buddhist teachers, including the great Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, encourage us to view every activity as part of our practice. We are to bring mindfulness to everything we do, from washing the dishes to driving to talking with our spouses, children, or coworkers. When I follow this advice, I notice a tremendous difference in my perception of even the most banal things.

Take for instance this most recent snow: as I set out to shovel my driveway yesterday, I decided to do so mindfully. If we are open to it, we will notice that snow is beautiful, that it makes the world feel quiet. It is not an enemy that is relishing the chance to delay flights and frustrate commuters. It simply is, and it is up to us to accept it. How much precious energy is wasted resisting or lamenting the inevitable?

So here’s the metaphor for our lives: snow happens. It doesn’t happen often, so when it does, accept it. Shovel it, plan around it, and take the time to enjoy it. What would happen if we all thought of our entire lives as our “practice,” and recognized that every single task/encounter/object/tragedy/joy has something very powerful and important to teach us?

The simple pleasure of a cuppa

10 12 2010

We recently bought a house, and the previous owner left quite a bit of stuff behind. Much of it went to Goodwill, but some of it has stayed on and become our stuff. By far my favorite “new” item is our little teapot (and yes, it is indeed short and stout).

I’ve been an on-again/off-again tea drinker, but I have recently found a very satisfying simple pleasure in making a cup of tea for myself and the wife in our little brown teapot. And, to reinforce the message that was repeated ad infinitum during my travels in China earlier this year, the making of a satisfying tea is dependent upon steeping time. In other words, read the directions! For instance, a bag of green tea left in your cup will make the tea bitter and unpleasant. You’ll be running for honey/sugar or worse yet, pour it down the drain. But green tea, when steeped only a few minutes, is fresh and invigorating.

Better yet, get loose leaf tea–it’s fresher, bolder, and often cheaper when you factor in a serving size. It steeps more quickly and tastes more vivid.

Any way you take it, why not take a moment for you and yours to slow down, quiet down, and enjoy a cuppa tea?

Finding the time

4 05 2010

I couldn’t say it better myself, so here goes:

“Sometimes it is difficult to find time to meditate each day. But we always have time to watch TV. We always have time to go shopping. We always have time to get a snack from the refrigerator. Why is it that the 24 hours run out when it is time to meditate? When we understand the value and effect of spiritual practice, then it will become a high priority in our life, and when something is very important, we find time for it. In this way, try to set up a daily meditation practice of maybe 15 or 30 minutes in the morning. To do that, we might have to experience the “incredible sacrifice” of giving up 15 or 30 minutes of television the previous evening so we can go to bed a little earlier.

In the same way that we always find time to eat because food nourishes our body, we will find time to meditate and recite some prayers because it nourishes us spiritually. When we respect ourselves spiritually, we respect ourselves as human beings. Nourishing ourselves in that way then becomes a very important priority.”

Challenge accepted!

Click here to check out the full text of this very succinct (and only occasionally rambling) little tutorial, called “Practicing Buddhism in Daily Life.”

Practice makes practice makes practice

3 05 2010

Does it terrify you that medical doctors call their day-to-day work “practice?” For my money, I think it’s delightfully honest and humble. I find the same reassurance in Buddhist literature, where every element, from meditation to physical exercise to even the simplest task, is considered part of one’s “practice.”

As my interest in Buddhism has grown roots, I’ve been fascinated to see that there is remarkably little real abiding dogma, and that most Buddhists are far less concerned with the writings and ceremonies than with simple awareness, kindness, generosity, and simplicity.

This notion of awareness appears to reign supreme. Bringing one’s awareness to the task at hand is an incredibly powerful tool to gain peace and happiness. This essentially means paying real attention to what you’re actually doing, down to the most mundane tasks–peeling carrots, washing your face, unloading the dishwasher.

I thought this sounded terribly silly and overly simplistic when I first read about it, but the moments when I find awareness are some of the most meaningful these days… Driving to the studio last week, I found myself paying attention to the trees I was passing, and noticed the most beautiful little blossoms emerging. Walking to my car the other day, I smelled the fresh-cut grass and was transported back to summer days of my childhood. Carefully watering my tiny garden sprouts, I thought of what the food will taste like when I can harvest it.

It’s this awareness of the present moment that is the key: it empowers us, calms us, and reminds us that we have everything we need. And indeed, this moment is the only one to which we truly have access–the past is a vision, and the future is a fantasy.

Imagine the power inherent in thinking of all of your pursuits as practices. The practice of being a spouse, parent, child. The practice of being an employee, mentor, supervisor. The practice of being a friend, confidant, supporter. The practice of being a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew.

We all know, but I think too often forget, that the goal is not perfection in these pursuits. I find it refreshing, reassuring, and deeply honest to call our efforts, in whatever pursuit, a practice and, well, get back to practicing!

“Something fresh”

28 04 2010

A few autumns ago, I had the wonderful pleasure of spending a week in Bolivia for a series of concerts. It was a wonderful foray into a culture (and continent!) that I had not yet experienced. One of the most abiding lessons I learned was to savor little pauses throughout the day–our host, in quaint English, would regularly ask us to sit and have “something fresh,” meaning a glass of juice or coffee. What a pleasure to take a moment, sit, enjoy the company of one’s companions, and press pause on our usual rush-rush routine.

I try to replicate this notion of “something fresh” in my daily life, though too often I fall into the very American trap of imagining that there’s not a single second to spare, and that everything must be done now. Today I took a moment, enjoyed the sunshine, noticed the blossoming trees, smelled the fresh-cut grass, sipped my tea, and breathed. Now that’s something fresh indeed! I hope to find little moments like this in every day, and to remind myself that whatever I’m rushing towards will still be there when I get there in my own sweet time.

Al dente all the way!

3 03 2010

Well,, we’ve ruined ourselves for pasta… Wifey and I made our first batch of handmade pasta tonight, and oh my gracious was it good.  Easy to do, very simple recipe, and what delicious results!

Here’s the pasta machine, ready for action:

Here’s Wifey, cutting up the noodles (we decided to go rustic and hand-cut them instead of using the roller/cutters that came with the pasta machine):

Here’s the finished pile o’ noodles, ready for their trip to the hot tub:

Here’s the final product–we went with a simple pesto, made on the spot:

It was a beautiful meal–totally handmade and absolutely fresh and delicious. I think we’ve completely ruined ourselves for box pasta, but with the recipe being so easy and quick, why not go fresh?

By the way, the pasta machine we bought was an Atlas, and we got it off of eBay… there were many on there, and I would encourage anyone to invest in one; I’m confident ours will last forever, as it’s stainless steel and very very solid. The recipe we used is from our new favorite cookbook, Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian.”  Great book!