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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness
This always makes me smile – so many reasons (I need this reminder – and I am thankful for it)
Sometimes my quiet time surprises me – like when I observe what arises in the silence and realize that I’m attached to the feelings that are standing before me – up in my face as if to say “What about this Bitch?!”. And then that’s where it ends. No enlightenment. No “letting go”. No “moving on”. No flow. Just “here I am”. Me and my feeling – going nowhere fast.
I like what Sharon writes below about living in a world where we still speak out; we take action – but not without also paying attention to ourselves, listening from a place of acceptance and nonjudgment about our own feelings. Because unless I do this first, how can I ever be in a place to acknowledge someone else with all their varied feelings and perspectives?
If I cannot acknowledge and accept the darker side of myself and am always in a rush to change it “quickly” without listening to it – then I’m doomed to rush others and not accept where they are. I’ll never listen to them.
Kindness and Understanding begin at home. Cultivating a compassionate listening ear begins with the Self. There is no sense in speaking out unless you can also listen to yourself first. Why bother even trying to listen to another without doing this step, cause you’ll never even hear them.
- Sharon Salzberg writes:Mindfulness enables us to cultivate a different quality of attention, one where we relate to what we see before us not just as an echo of the past, or a foreshadowing of the future, but more as it is right now.
Making the effort to truly see someone doesn’t mean we never respond or react or take very strong action. . .
We can and do attempt to restore a failing marriage, protest loud cell phones in public places, or try, with everything in us, to rectify Injustice.
But we can do it from a place that allows people to be as textured as they are, and that admits our feelings to be as varied and flowing as they are. A place open to surprises. A place that listens. . .
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”
Thus, the transformation of sociological and psychological structures must take place initially in our own minds. . . (this is) the blueprint for revolutionary change, first in the individual, then in the community of which he or she is a part. . .if we truly hope to address the root cause of social suffering -Charles Johnson
Taming the Monkey
The biggest hindrance to (mindfulness) is constant intrusive thoughts.
This is normal for everyone and from the beginning you should expect it. The nature of our mind is to think, and it is childish to imagine that we can simply turn that process off when we wish to.
Our minds have been almost completely out of control for most of our life.
Recognizing this can help us to be practical and patient—it may take us some time and a lot of skillful practice to tame the crazy “monkey mind.”
Human Nature – so complex. . . especially the personality/mind. This translation by Sogyal Rinpoche really spoke to me recently and I have gone back to it several times (along with an article about the dangers of meditation – these two writings are a good balance – so I ‘ll publish the other one next time) For now enjoy this analogy.
Rest in Natural Great Peace
When I meditate, I am always inspired by this poem by Nyoshul Khenpo:
Rest in natural great peace
This exhausted mind
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thought,
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace.
Above all, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible. Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature. Think of your ordinary emotional, thought-ridden self as a block of ice or a slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation. Let peace work on you and enable you to gather your scattered mind into the mindfulness of Calm Abiding, and awaken in you the awareness and insight of Clear Seeing. And you will find all your negativity disarmed, your aggression dissolved, and your confusion evaporating slowly like mist into the vast and stainless sky of your absolute nature.
–Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (HarperSanFrancisco)
Just reflecting on my stream of thoughts this morning
When I take the time to focus on my breathing, I begin to pay attention.
When I pay attention it often leads me to being mindful of myself and my surroundings.
When I am mindful of my perceptions and surroundings I become less attached.
When I am less attached to my perceptions and judgments, I often see that I have more choices in my life.
When I have choices I tend to be more open and receptive to things as they are.
When I experience openness, compassion arises within me.
When I allow compassion to arise, I move beyond myself.
When I move beyond myself, I am resting in Grace
The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it. If you try to change it, you will ruin it. If you try to hold it, you will lose it. (from Tao Quotes)
Such great words for me. This captures a snapshot of my place of “letting go” .
Sitting still and going beyond mind – touching the place of grace – this void is almost always sweet for me (even if the process of getting there appears bitter sometimes).
In some ways this is the easy part.
Easy in that, I get wrapped up in my day to day shit. I do my stress over paperwork at the office, client issues, talking story with friends, car repairs, medical bills, traffic, the news . . .blah blah blah. Sitting lets everything just be.
It is the other practice, when I am not sitting, that is more difficult (although less so than 10 years ago – yay for discipline – and the gifts of compassion and kindness in my life).
This other practice is “mindfulness”. It is a moment to moment “letting go” and letting things be as they are – as I engage with my perception of things as they arise. Being with the paperwork, issues, friends, traffic, etc – and less so than with my perception, less attached to my judgments of these things. It is a breath that softens the hard and tight places within me. It is the wonderful insignificance in what “I think”.
I call this place in my life – Grace.
And for this I am thankful.
I came across this and it felt right, so I thought I’d share it; enjoy – John
A Post written by Leo Babauta.
Just for a moment.
Listen to the world around you. Feel your breath coming in and going out. Listen to your thoughts. See the details of your surroundings.
Be at peace with being still.
In this modern world, activity and movement are the default modes, if not with our bodies then at least with our minds, with our attention. We rush around all day, doing things, talking, emailing, sending and reading messages, clicking from browser tab to the next, one link to the next.
We are always on, always connected, always thinking, always talking. There is no time for stillness — and sitting in front of a frenetic computer all day, and then in front of the hyperactive television, doesn’t count as stillness.
This comes at a cost: we lose that time for contemplation, for observing and listening. We lose peace.
And worse yet: all the rushing around is often counterproductive. I know, in our society action is all-important — inaction is seen as lazy and passive and unproductive. However, sometimes too much action is worse than no action at all. You can run around crazily, all sound and fury, but get nothing done. Or you can get a lot done — but nothing important. Or you can hurt things with your actions, make things worse than if you’d stayed still.
And when we are forced to be still — because we’re in line for something, or waiting at a doctor’s appointment, or on a bus or train — we often get antsy, and need to find something to do. Some of us will have our mobile devices, others will have a notebook or folder with things to do or read, others will fidget. Being still isn’t something we’re used to.
Take a moment to think about how you spend your days — at work, after work, getting ready for work, evenings and weekends. Are you constantly rushing around? Are you constantly reading and answering messages, checking on the news and the latest stream of information? Are you always trying to Get Lots of Things Done, ticking off tasks from your list like a machine, rushing through your schedule?
Is this how you want to spend your life?
If so, peace be with you. If not, take a moment to be still. Don’t think about what you have to do, or what you’ve done already. Just be in the moment.
Then after a minute or two of doing that, contemplate your life, and how you’d like it to be. See your life with less movement, less doing, less rushing. See it with more stillness, more contemplation, more peace.
Then be that vision.
It’s pretty simple, actually: all you have to do is sit still for a little bit each day. Once you’ve gotten used to that, try doing less each day. Breathe when you feel yourself moving too fast. Slow down. Be present. Find happiness now, in this moment, instead of waiting for it.
Savor the stillness. It’s a treasure, and it’s available to us, always.
From the Tao Te Ching:
It is not wise to dash about.
Shortening the breath causes much stress.
Use too much energy, and
You will soon be exhausted.
That is not the Natural Way.
Whatever works against this Way
Will not last long.
“Life is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope -—a slight change, and all patterns alter.” –Sharon Salzberg
There are so many meanings that can be drawn from the above statement, I should probably let it go at that (but I won’t *wink).
When I allow my mind to shift in the direction of unconscious thought or action, my life and all its pattern go one way and when I am mindful, my life and all it’s patterns form a different picture.
Each person, every thing I come in contact with changes the pattern – but not as much as the letting go in my own heart and mind . . .
Have a great one luv,
Sitting, Concentrated, Focused, Calm, Dispassionate
(based on Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, by Arnie Kozak, Ph.D.)
It takes mindfulness to see the choice.
i sit my ass down
mind won’t take a seat, just walks
guess i’ll babysit
Someone asked me about why I practice meditative processes such as sitting and mindfulness when things in life don’t really change, don’t get better or worse – that to live is always having to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly. His question reminded me of Albert Camus’ take on the Myth of Sisyphus where Sisyphus pushes a boulder up the mountain only to have it role back down in which he begins the task again. The ability to embrace the absurdity of life as it is, according to Camus – allows a sense of freedom (btw, I am not an existentialist – I just find value in some of its teaching)
Camus is interested in Sisyphus’ thoughts when marching down the mountain, to start anew. This is the truly tragic moment, when the hero becomes conscious of his wretched condition. He does not have hope, but “[t]here is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” Acknowledging the truth will conquer it; Sisyphus, just like the absurd man, keeps pushing. Camus claims that when Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task and the certainty of his fate, he is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation and to reach a state of contented acceptance. Camus concludes that “all is well,” indeed, that “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” (taken from Wikipedia)
Meditation practice for me has in its beginnings an acceptance of the absurd, which is at the same time a “letting go”. It is being present with the boulder as I push it up the hill or aware of my thoughts and feeling as I watch it roll back down. Not dwelling on past walks up the mountain or future walks down. I don’t see certain forms of existentialism as pessimisstic; I find their views kind of honest and refreshing and a nice counter balance to pollyana optimism (although there are time I embrace the latter too).
Daily – I am NOT present. I get lost. I resist against the task of the boulder. So I meditate. Here is a passage from Thubten Chodron, from Taming the Mind (Snow Lion) that explains the task of meditation for me . . .
The Value of the Present Moment
Recognizing that past turmoil and future rhapsodies are projections of our mind prevents us from getting stuck in them. Just as the face in the mirror is not a real face, the objects of our memories and daydreams are likewise unreal. They are not happening now; they are simply mental images flickering in the mind.
Reflecting on the value of our precious human life also minimizes our habit of ruminating. Our wondrous potential becomes clear, and the rarity and value of the present opportunity shines forth. Who wants to ruminate about the past and future when we can do so much good and progress spiritually in the present.
Ever get lost in the rules?
Hope you enjoy this passage . . .
Seung Sahn would say, “When you eat, just eat. When you read the newspaper, just read the newspaper. Don’t do anything other than what you are doing.”
One day a student saw him reading the newspaper while he was eating. The student asked if this did not contradict his teaching. Seung Sahn said, “When you eat and read the newspaper, just eat and read the newspaper.”
–From Essential Zen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Tensho David Schneide
I’m still throwing around the concepts of “being” and “action” like two tennis players in my head that keep smacking the ball of reality into each other’s court.
Today’s post by Christopher Titmuss, from An Awakened Life has been a great volly between 2 experieced and qualified concepts.
Knowledge and theories about wisdom are like carrying books on the back of a donkey. We may carry around many ideas of worthwhile changes that we would like to make in our life.
To evolve, we must put those ideas into practice or they will become a weight for us. We need to look into every area of our daily existence. It would be a pity to live an unexamined life and only rely upon external voices of authority and our inner conditioning to tell us what matters and what to do with our life.
For consciousness to evolve, we must commit ourselves to living a conscious life. To know ourselves, to go deep into ourselves, awakens the mind.
–Christopher Titmuss, from An Awakened Life
a thought arises
down the rabbit trail again
breathe in, breathe out – here
One compassionate word, action, or thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring him joy.
One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation.
One action can save a person’s life or help him take advantage of a rare opportunity.
One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions. With compassion in our heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle.
–Thich Nhat Hanh, from Teachings on Love (Parallax Press)
Another reason I sit and breath – it cultivates a new way of dealing with self criticism; the following is from a post by Brian Johnson. Hope you have a great day re-framing your inner critic. It kinda reminds me of my responses when I was an adolescent and hadn’t built up a lot permanent “shoulds” yet and let shit roll off my back (well except the response to criticism #1 below – I may believe it, but it’s worded too damn “lala” for me, I’m too cynical)
And Samuel Goldwyn’s quote is fuck’n brilliant – pointing to the difference between being either caught up in OR being in denial. That fine balance of just being
Ah, the inner critic.As the Buddha says, “More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm.”
How true is that?!? How’s your internal dialogue? Are you even aware of just how much you criticize yourself? It’s pretty crazy when we really start to notice what’s going on up there in our minds!!
And, of course, we face a barrage of criticism from the outside world. In her brilliant book, The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobsen spends an entire chapter walking us through the criticisms commonly thrown at gifted adults and provides some alternative responses.
CRITICISM #8: “Can’t You Just Stick with One Thing?”
NEW RESPONSE: “No, Probably Not.”
CRITICISM #10: “Why Don’t You Slow Down?”
NEW RESPONSE: “Going Fast Is Normal for Me.”
CRITICISM #1: “Who Do You Think You Are?”
NEW RESPONSE: “A Humble Everyday Genius Called to Serve.”
“The most dangerous of our prejudices reign in ourselves against ourselves. To dissolve them is a creative act.” ~ Hugo von Hofsmannsthal
“Don’t pay any attention to the critics-don’t even ignore them.” ~ Samuel Goldwyn
It is easy to be swept away by some overwhelming feeling, so it’s helpful to remember that any stressful feeling is like a compassionate alarm clock that says, “You’re caught in the dream”
~ Byron Katie from Loving What Is
I like the way Byron put that. For me it’s another way of saying “This is a reason I sit, this is one reason I meditate”.
To wake up.
To wake up in a posture of compassion.
To remain mindful of what’s going on within me and therefore better equipped to be mindful of what’s going on around me.
Waking up means taking the necessary time to examine myself (especially the parts I don’t want to examine) Byron points to this when he calls them “stressful” and “overwhelming” feelings.
Waking up means taking the time to deepen compassion for yourself and towards the world around you.
Waking up means then letting go of all of that and just “Being”.
(it’s a developmental process – and so I sit – not as regularly as I’d like, but oh when I do – that compassionate nature which exists in all of us, begins to strengthen and deepen)
It’s important to point out that I am not a Buddhist – although many of my quotes are Zen in nature.
I am attracted to spiritual concepts – to be more specific – Spiritual Concepts that have a Grounding – Not just arbitrary new age-y, woo woo, positive thinking that throws around a bunch of Love and Fear quotes (although most of those ideas have scratched the surface of Truth – it’s just that there’s no depth there for me, and I’ve seen too many people spin out of control or transcend till they come crashing down to earth or act like zombies who deny anything or any feeling that is “unpleasant” )
Buddhism is more like a philosophy for me that requires a bit of action, a bit of discipline – while also touching on the concepts of psychotherapy and being one path up the mountain of spirit (carved solidly into the mountainside for sure footing)
It means sitting with something rather than letting the something move me into an unconscious action.
It means, Waking Up and Getting My Ass out of Bed – so to speak.
It is why I am attracted to the Tao, the Writings of Ken Wilber, Sri Aurabindo, Joseph Campbell and even Hollywood films like Star Wars and the Matrix (with many writings and movies in-between).
Sometimes I wake up slowly and stretch.
Sometimes I wake up, jump outta bed and have a relieving piss
Sometimes I wake up and really examine my dream
And other times I am half asleep as I get up and go about my day – in need of becoming fully awake.
Give yourself a break.
That doesn’t mean to say that you should drive to the closest bar and have lots to drink or go to a movie. Just enjoy the day, your normal existence. Allow yourself to sit in your home or take a drive into the mountains. Park your car somewhere; just sit; just be.
It sounds very simplistic. But you begin to pick up on clouds,
sunshine, and weather;
your chatter with your grandmother and your grandfather, your own mother, your own father.
You begin to pick up on a lot of things.
Just let them pass like the chatter of a brook as it hits the rocks. We have to give ourselves some time to be.
–Chogyam Trungpa, Ocean of Dharma (Shambhala Publications)
In one his movies, the comedian W.C. Fields walks into a bank and up to the teller’s window. The teller asks, “Can you identify yourself?” Fields says, “Of course. Do you have a mirror?” When presented with one, Fields immediately states, “Yup, that’s me!”It’s meant as a joke, but it carries a ring of truth. Who among us can say they really know themselves, without illusions, beyond the face in the mirror, their name-rank-and-serial-number role in the world, their personas, defense mechanisms, and self-deceptions?
Do we distinguish between when we are being authentic and inauthentic?
Do we know what we really feel about things, what our true values and priorities are, what lies below the surface of consciousness, and what makes us tick?
- Lama Surya Das, from The Big Questions (Rodale)
Here’s to finding out who you really are in the quiet moments.
After a busy and fun holiday weekend, I am in need of some quiet moments – no tv, no internet, no phone, no family and no friends.
I think a walking meditation on the beach is called for tonight, before I even return home from work.
The sound of water & sand, wind, my heartbeat and my breath – Observing my thoughts arise and then watching them fall away, like the water receding and coming to shore again.
Stripped away and back to me.
About 20 minutes should do it – the rest of the night won’t be the same. The rest of my life won’t be the same.
Yeah, it’s time to prioritize.
With Hands Open and Receptive,
Milarepa: “When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.”
It is humbling and satisfying to realize the thoughts that run through my head – often at speed of light (especially when I turn inward) are not that important.
The only attention they deserve, is to be observed as they pass – not followed. My ego thinks they’re priceless and in need of chasing.
There is something very freeing about not chasing . . .
Here’s to Freedom
Still re-reading ”Turning The Mind Into An Ally” by Sakyong Mipham. I am so touched by his words. There is a strength in the concept of creating an alliance, especially when I am in need of softening. Frustration and Anxiety often appear as though they are in opposition to my mind (which usually leads to restless nights) and then I become hard and inflexible, which does not leave room to foster compassion or love. If I do not form an alliance with my mind, how can I form an alliance with the world around me? To most of you reading this – this is nothing new, I just appreciate his wording:
“. . . through peaceful abiding, we can create an alliance that allows us to actually use our mind, rather than be used by it. This is a practice anyone can do. Although it has its roots in Buddhism, it is a complement to any spiritual tradition.
If we want to undo our bewilderment and suffering and be of benefit to others and the planet, we’re going to have to be responsible for learning what our mind is and how it works, no matter what beliefs we hold. Once we see how our mind works, we see how our life works too. That changes us.
… the more we understand about ourselves and how the mind works, the more the mind can work “
During the small time it took to post this, I was paying attention to typing, thinking about what I was going to have for breakfast, what I was going to wear to work, and if one of my coworkers was going to make trouble for my staff:
Ahhh my untamed mind.
Here is a quote from Sakyong Mipham who wrote one of my favorite books, “Turning the Mind into an Ally“:
“In looking for my mind, I discovered that it seems to be in many different places. Sometimes it is drinking a glass of water, remembering swimming in the summer, feeling the breeze. In this contemplation I observed that the self is more elusive than I thought.”
Just some observations of being consumed with a fever “on and off” for the last 14 days:
I love to escape -
get lost in a DVD in order to forget how I am feeling
or use food to self nurture
I am very resistant to being ill
It’s difficult to focus on normal routine things when sick
It’s easy to be aware of other areas when you just go with the illness and stop resisting
There’s a fine line between focusing on health and accepting what is
Dreams are crazy during a fever
I am very aware of my body
I am very aware of taste
Fresh food is a gift and a miracle
Acheyness and being grumpy are a natural pairing for me
I am very aware of breathing
Breathwork is easier when I’m well
Cool showers are a tactile delight (and I tend to rush through them when healthy)
Wow, I’m really not that aware when I’m not sick
I’m really not missing all that much when I don’t access the internet
I spend too much time on the internet when I’m healthy
People on tv are really consumed with Chris Brown, Rhianna and Octomom
“Match Game” reruns make me laugh (and feel better)
I miss my dog
My neighbor can be very loud
I’m sensitive to light and sound
My home gets messy fast when I don’t have energy to clean
Laundry piles up quick when you sweat a lot
I don’t like a messy or dirty house much
I have a very compassionate doctor
I have some very compassionate coworkers
I suck at slowing down and taking rest when my body tells me to
My mother is horrible at masking her concern/fears and it’s sweet to listen to her try to sound cheerful
I take a good night’s sleep for granted, way to often
I have a love/hate relationship with antibiotics
It’s hard to let go of work issues
I look forward to being well again
I miss exercising
Walking is never a chore when I’m healthy
I’m happy it’s raining and cool
What happens when Zen crosses the path of HIV AIDS and Death and Dying?
If you wanna know, read this interview from Poz.com to find out.
I was humbled and impressed by Chodo’s experience – will you be?
(It’s a lengthier read than any other post I’ve had on here – but I think it’s well worth the read)
Zen and the Virus
by Oriol R. Gutierrez Jr.
Wellness is the concept of getting and staying healthy by taking care of your body and your mind. Taking your meds, getting regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet and meditating can all help you achieve wellness. For many HIV-positive people, wellness also involves taking care of your spirit through faith.
Robert (Chodo) Campbell credits his Buddhist faith as a major contributor to his wellness. Originally from the United Kingdom, Chodo (his Buddhist name) was baptized in the Church of England, but religion was not a part of his upbringing. Growing up gay and dealing with abuse impacted him—and his beliefs—profoundly.
Chodo launched his career as an art director in fashion and photography in London. He moved to New York City to open a branch office for his employer in 1983, the year Chodo believes he became HIV positive. He owned his own creative services company by 1988, the year he was diagnosed with HIV. All the while, he immersed himself in the gay party scene until drugs and alcohol took over his life.
Years after getting sober, in 1993 he started practicing Buddhism. He joined the Village Zendo, a Buddhist community with many gay practitioners. In 2002, he began studying formally to become a Buddhist monk. He was ordained in 2005.
Today, Chodo is the co-founder and co-executive director of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care along with Koshin Paley Ellison, a Buddhist monk who also is Chodo’s husband. Honoring Buddhist principles, the center seeks to transform suffering through a chaplaincy program, educational retreats and other outreach.
Chodo also works with the Robert Mapplethorpe Residential Treatment Facility, which provides assisted living for people with HIV/AIDS. Total wellness is the overall goal of all his work.
I visited with Chodo at the Village Zendo, which is located in downtown Manhattan. As an HIV-positive person on my own journey to wellness, I was inspired by his energy and his insights. I also was challenged when he guided me through a hands-on introduction to Zen meditation. Visit poz.com/video to watch Chodo show me—and you—the basics of meditation.
How does Buddhism inform your perspective on wellness?
In Buddhism, we talk about [how] the only thing that we really have is this moment. And in [each new] moment, I have an opportunity to take care of myself, to notice my body, to notice my environment, to be aware of everything.
If I’m totally aware, I’ll notice when I’m not feeling well. I’ll notice when something’s off with my diet, with my bowel movements, my thoughts, my [level of] anxiety, my temperament. I have an opportunity, through my meditation practice, to just keep coming back to the moment, [to understand] what’s going on right now [with my whole being].
How does meditation help improve wellness?
Meditation [helps] to bring us to that place of stillness. When we’re in that place of stillness, we’re in a much better position to notice what is out of whack, what is off kilter. We can’t do that unless we’re paying full attention to ourselves.
We talk about the mind and body being one thing—there’s no separation. If we take care of the mind, we’re taking care of the body. If we take care of the body, we’re taking care of the mind.
I [want] the last word [on my health] to be mine; I want that to come from a place that is calm and centered and true. The only way I can get to my true essence is through meditation.
How do you integrate the advice of doctors and other health care providers in your plan for wellness?
I’ve been HIV positive now for 26 years. When I was first diagnosed, my doctor at the time recommended that I go on a drug called AZT. My [CD4] cells were very low, and I said I really didn’t want to go on AZT.
We were hearing so much about its side effects [like how it affected bone marrow], and people were dying. I said, “I don’t want to do that.” My doctor said, “Given where your numbers and your blood work are, you’re looking at 24 months to live.”
Then, AIDS was still a very new disease. We still didn’t know enough about it, but I knew I didn’t want to take an experimental drug.
My doctors never have the last word on my health. I also use my therapist, and my Buddhist teacher, to help inform me. I take all the information, process it and come from a place—not only of intellectual understanding—but [also] a place of real deep intuition.
What’s kept me healthy for the last 26 years is to not believe that the doctor—or anyone else—has the last word [on my health].
How do you apply your perspective on wellness to the day-to-day task of taking care of yourself?
I’m not anything other than a human being with my faults, my pathology, my fears. There are moments when I do forget to take care of myself. In my [Buddhist] practice, we talk about how we can separate from ourselves. When I separate [from myself], I can neglect what’s going on in me. I can not pay attention to my bad mood or I can not pay attention to how tired and exhausted I get because I’m constantly running.
As a caregiver and as a person that trains people to give care to others, one would think my first duty to myself would be to take care of myself, but in fact it’s difficult. My meditation practice is a way that I can be reminded [to be healthy]. [Daily] I can bring myself back to a cushion to remind myself that I need to take care of Chodo.
Speaking of taking care of Chodo, you already have overcome many hurdles in your life. How has learning to overcome them supported your sense of well-being?
I arrived at Buddhism through sobriety. I had been sober for five years and was actually not doing well. Though I was sober—I had no impulse to drink or to go back to [using] cocaine—I was feeling spiritually bankrupt. I met a Buddhist monk during one of my therapy supervisions, and she guided me to the practice.
I had real difficulties in coming to terms with my whole life prior to getting clean and sober. It was very painful. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t want to look at, and I was actually still living in it as though it were happening, as though the trauma was still happening for me.
Through my Buddhist practice, I realized that I could be in a place of knowing that yes, traumas did take place, abuse did take place, my addictions did rule my life for many years—and yet I could change that.
I think the very first time I sat on a meditation cushion was the first time in my life that I actually stopped running—both physically and mentally. I was able to listen to the constant chatter in my mind, the constant negative thoughts, the constant craziness that seemed to run my life.
It was really difficult for me during the first year—coming back to the cushion, just sitting there. I was told to sit with whatever came up—whatever anger, whatever sadness, whatever fears, whatever joy—to just sit with the feelings, to not attach the story, to simply experience them.
My stories had kept me from my peace, my true center. After 15 years, I still have those stories, but now they’re not running the show quite so much.
Could you explain further what you mean by “stories”?
We have the actual event that took place. Then there’s our interpretation of the event and the “story” we build around it. The “story” is something that we continue to carry.
[For instance,] the event has happened. [He taps the table loudly.] That’s the event. Next week, [you may tell yourself a story that starts] with, “Oh my God, when he tapped that table, it made me jump. I can’t stand it, it makes me so frightened.” You will then continue to live out of that story, so it becomes bigger. [Your remembrance is] no longer the event, it’s the story.
If I’m an adult living in the story of what happened to me when I was 5 years old, it’s not really serving me. It’s not to make the 5-year-old’s event any less important or traumatic, but [Buddhist meditation] gives me an opportunity to move away from that. I’m not going to live in that trauma anymore.
In addition to Buddhism, what else has helped you get to a place of wellness?
I’ve had many years of psychotherapy, and I’m still in psychotherapy. I don’t think there’s ever going to be an end to my psychotherapy. Just as in my Buddhist practice, my story, my life, is always evolving. I started in therapy when I was 34 years old, and I got sober a year later. I’ve been sober for 22 years.
Support groups for people who have gone through similar traumas, whether it’s sexual abuse, drug abuse or other events or traumas, are important.
I could not have worked [successfully through] the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous without my therapy. My therapy is enhanced by my Buddhist practice, and my Buddhist practice is informed by my therapy. It all works in tandem; I don’t separate any of them out. I need them all.
Assisting people who are going through the process of dying is part of your daily practice. Why is it important for you to do that work?
Many people who come through alcoholism or drug abuse will tell you that suddenly they feel alive. For many years, they had felt dead or anesthetized.
I anesthetized myself for years with drugs and alcohol. When I got sober, I felt alive. On some level, I [had already] experienced death. More importantly, I experienced a rebirth because I felt for the first time that I was actually alive.
I had no idea what I was going to do with this new life that I had found. In Buddhism, we talk a lot about service to others, which is something I had never really done in my life.
I started volunteering in a hospice, and it was one of those light-bulb moments. For me, it’s very profound work. It’s a great honor to be with anyone that is dying. It reminds me constantly how fragile life is, how fragile we all are. It keeps my life real for me.
How is wellness connected with death and dying?
You can’t live a whole life without embracing the fact that you’re going to die. We live in this world of denial. We live in a culture that doesn’t face death. We live in a society that pushes death to the side. We put our aged in nursing homes; we don’t speak about [diseases like] cancer or HIV/AIDS.
You’re born, you’re going to die. To live in denial of that is deprivation, which is not wellness. It’s not wholeness. It’s not looking at our life span as a whole. We’re not looking at the decline of our health, whether it’s through AIDS or any kind of disease, or just through the natural aging process. [Life is] inevitably going to bring you to the point of death.
Your New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care also plans to provide end-of-life care. Can you elaborate on that?
>From my volunteer experience in hospices, I went on to train as a hospital chaplain. My partner [Koshin], who’s also a Buddhist practitioner, felt that there was a real need for Buddhist practitioners in the field of health care, especially hospice care.
We co-created the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care and a program that trains caregivers from a Buddhist perspective. It’s a contemplative perspective. We now have 65 students.
They’re from all walks of life. They’re hospice workers, doctors and nurses, retired school teachers, ministers. They either want to enhance the work they do through contemplative practice, or they just want to experience a different way of doing it.
It’s really important to us that people, whether they’re sick or dying, are allowed to be treated with dignity, respect and have a spiritual experience [in the final days and moments of] their lives.
Our idea is to create a building that will house end-of-life suites and studio apartments. It’s not so much hospice, [but rather] it’s end-of-life care. The hospice component will be [handled by] a third party brought in for certain treatments. [Our place will be] a place where people can come and begin that journey toward the end of their life.
On your website there’s a wonderful short documentary titled “Center for Contemplative Care: A Film” that features a woman named Rose Tisnado. Can you tell us about her?
I met Rose through another Buddhist practitioner who was a great friend of hers. Rose was given six months to live. She had been diagnosed with cancer, and she was very scared.
Rose heard about my work through our mutual friend. She wanted to meet me to see if we could work together just in doing meditation practice to bring her to a place of calmness.
When I first met Rose, I was immediately struck by her life force. Even though, at that point, we thought she had only six months to live, she was very much alive. She was very clear that she didn’t want to do chemotherapy, she was ready to go toward the end of her life, but she needed to be in a very different place [emotionally and spiritually].
She wanted to be calmer; she wanted to understand what [death was] going to be like. There was fear around the actual journey toward death. In my work with Rose and many other people, we recognize that [when you’re dying] there’s no time for bullshit. There’s no time to not speak truthfully.
Many people have issues that are unresolved. They don’t feel they can speak about [them] with their families, their spouses, their partners. In our work, we create a wonderful space for people to open up to who they really are. It’s not always pretty. Not everybody dies a great death. But Rose was willing to go to those places where her demons lived.
We had many conversations about her lifestyle and about her fears about the people that perhaps she had not been so kind to in her life. We did some very intense meditations on dying, what it would be like, the dissolution of the body.
There’s a meditation that we do in our practice, “The Nine Contemplations,” about what’s it going to be like when you die. Nothing’s going to stop that, not your friends or your money.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’m lucky enough to still be living with HIV after 26 years. There’s no judgment on my part; each of us lives our lives how we see fit. I’m not saying that the way I live my life is the only way to do it.
[My life] could have gone any way with my drug addiction, with the choices I made. I could easily have wound up in a residence [for people dying from AIDS], but [thanks to facing my past and changing how I lived my life] I didn’t.
If a person chooses to place his or her life entirely in the hands of the medical profession, then that’s his or her way. We each find our own way. There’s no right way, there’s no wrong way. There’s just the way that each of us chooses to do it.
Visit zencare.org to watch “Center for Contemplative Care: A Film.”
Co-dependence – I recognize this quality surprisingly often; it’s one of those qualities that’s easy for me to see. I am thankful that it is less prominent in my own interactions as my personal evolution progresses.
What I tend to come across is a misunderstanding of self love. There is either a selfishness with no humility, no regard for another or a displacement of caring onto another, with little regard for ones own needs. In fact, I come across couples (and have been such a couple) who embody each of these qualities – polarized ends of the spectrum. Void of a middle way and primarily meeting the needs of ego.
When I am practicing mindful awareness there is a self care that addresses more than my egoic needs - It’s a befriending of the “good, the bad and the ugly”. A true self respect
Here is a teaching by Sharon Salzberg with a quote by the Buddha and Walt Whitman.
I hope it continues to foster your own self compassion, as it has mine.
The practice of metta (lovingkindness), uncovering the force of love that can uproot fear, anger, and guilt, begins with befriending ourselves. The foundation of metta practice is to know how to be our own friend. According to the Buddha, “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” How few of us embrace ourselves in this way! With metta practice we uncover the possibility of truly respecting ourselves. We discover, as Walt Whitman put it, “I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness.”
–Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness
I’ve written before that when I pay attention there are certain themes that reoccur.
Yesterday’s post by Pema Chodron spoke of the rain as just allowing, a gentleness and softening of the hard earth.
While this concept embraces many things – one is a sense of self compassion and releasing. Not so much of trying, but of allowing. And for me this is such an important lesson – my background (especially my German post-modern upbringing) places a great emphasis on “trying and doing”, so these reminders are valuable to my being.
Today I came across on ad in the mail for Shambhala Sun in which Thich Nhat Hanh speaks on mindfulness and also uses the analogy of water, not struggling and no effort. It also reminds me of one of my favorite songs – U2′s “One”
I have often been asked, “How does mindfulness bring happiness?”
Our Emotions and Perceptions are like seeds in the garden of our minds – and mindfulness is like cool water. When we water the seeds of joy in ourselves, they grow and flower without effort. This is one of the simplest and most wonderful of miracles.
When you nourish yourself and others in this way, you see that all things – this piece of paper, the air you are breathing, you and I – are deeply interconnected. This is the truth of interdependence. No one can be one’s self alone. We have to inter-be to be.
When I am out with my camera I am 99.9% of the time in the moment.
The lens helps me to focus, be present and observe my surroundings . What a great way to practice; I have so much to be thankful for. Why do I forget that? Oh yeah, cause I’m a damn human on the path to enlightenment – no more or less an asshole than the rest of the planet.
With my camera, I slow down, my breathing becomes more integrated, I begin to notice the subtleties and I feel more centered. I definitely feel more connected to my surroundings.
The trick is that I don’t go out to photograph anything in particular. I just go for a hike, a walk, a ride in the car, etc. There is no preconceived idea of what needs to be done – there is just an openess to explore the world around me. There is no particular subject matter that is assigned, just an observing mind. No prejudgement regarding the subject, the lighting, the composition. Just a willingness to pay attention and discover.
Here’s a few of today’s results:
I am thankful for my ego. Having had the circumstances in life that allowed the development of a healthy sense of “self”, is the very reason I can look beyond that self. Developing a healthy ego is a gift, allowing me to function in what often seems to be a crazy world with all its normal stressors and joys. And like all steps in development this evolution serves a purpose and foundation for the next level. I would not be able to see that there is something beyond my ego if it were not developed in the first place – the same way I would not be able to think in abstract terms had I not first learned to think concretely. I would be a mess (ok, more of a mess) if I could only think in concrete terms – I would be so limited in life. I’d also be limited if all I understood about the self was merely egoic in nature. The journey towards “beyond self” begins with first knowing the self. It is why I breathe, it is why I cultivate mindfulness, it is why I understand the profound power of compassion. So today anyway, I give thanks for my ego.
The following are the words of John Snelling, from Elements of Buddhism. May it move you towards your own enlightening. With open hands, John
There are certain themes that reoccur (not just recently – but over long periods of my life):
One theme is the unfamiliar perspective of non-judgement – “not already knowing” the answer – when something is presented to me.
One is about being a compassionate and kind container to hold uncomfortable thoughts and emotions as they arise.
One is how I touch the Witness behind the ego – the greater self who watches the “John” as he plays at life.
Yeah, these replay themselves a lot in my life.
I like how Jack writes about these things – enjoy . . .
“Mindfulness is a directed attention to what is actually here before we have all our judgments and ideas about what is right and wrong and what is good and bad. Mindfulness means paying attention and seeing things clearly without reaction.
From there we can respond in wise ways rather than be caught in our habitual patterns.”When we take the one seat on our meditation cushion we become our own monastery. We create the compassionate space that allows for the arising of all things: sorrows, loneliness, shame, desire, regret, frustration, happiness.
Spiritual transformation is a profound process that doesn’t happen by accident. We need a repeated discipline, a genuine training, in order to let go of our old habits of mind and to find and sustain a new way of seeing.
To mature on the spiritual path we need to commit ourselves in a systematic way. My teacher Achaan Chah described this commitment as “taking the one seat.” He said,”Just go into the room and put one chair in the center. Take the seat in the center of the room, open the doors and the windows and see who comes to visit. You will witness all kinds of scenes and actors, all kinds of temptations and stories, everything imaginable. Your only job is to stay in your seat. You will see it all arise and pass, and out of this, wisdom and understanding will come.”
–Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart
There’s an old Zen story: a student said to Master Ichu, “Please write for me something of great wisdom.” Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: “Attention.” The student said, “Is that all?” The master wrote, “Attention Attention.”…
For “attention” we could substitute the word “awareness.” Attention or awareness is the secret of life and the heart of practice….[E]very moment in life is absolute itself. That’s all there is. There is nothing other than this present moment; there is no past, there is no future; there is nothing but this. So when we don’t pay attention to every little this, we miss the whole thing. And the contents of this can be anything. This can be straightening our sitting mats, chopping an onion, visiting one we don’t want to visit. It doesn’t matter what the contents of the moment are; each moment is absolute. That’s all there is, and all there ever will be. If we could totally pay attention, we would never be upset. If we’re upset, it’s axiomatic that we’re not paying attention.If we miss not just ONE moment, but ONE moment after another, we’re in trouble.
–Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special: Living Zen
Oh very young
What will you leave us this time
You’re only dancing on this earth
For a short while
And though your dreams may toss
And turn you now.
They will vanish away -
Like your Daddy’s best jeans
Denim blue fading up to the sky
And though you want him to last forever
You know he never will
(You know he never will)
And the patches
Make the goodbye harder still.
Oh very young
What will you leave us this time
There’ll never be a better chance
To change your mind
And if you want this world
To see (a better day)
Will you carry
The words of love with you
Will you ride
The great white bird into heaven
And though you want to last forever
You know you never will
(You know you never will)
And the goodbye
Makes the journey harder still.
Oh very young
What will you leave us this time
You’re only dancing on this earth
For a short while
Oh very young
What will you leave us this time.
And enjoyments, loved ones and friends cannot follow after.
But wherever beings are, wherever they go,
The results of their behavior follow after them like a shadow.
The more I take time to sit, the more I make time to do my QiGong, the more I take time to pay attention to the activties in everyday moments – like when I am eating a piece of food and turn my attention to this activity, rather than wander off in my head or in front of the TV as I shovel food in my mouth - the more I relax into who I am beyond my ego.
Slowing down, emptying out and paying attention have some wonderful side effects (lowering blood pressure, destressing, muscles becoming less tense, etc.). An often overlooked benefit however, is a wide-openness in relationship with the self. Sounds great, huh? (ok, now I’m chuckling – or is it snickering?)
You see, I do not subscribe to a romantasized view of enlightment (or love) so at first this openness may not exactly seem like a benefit. Because just as with any relationship we have that grows deeper, the relationship with the self as it opens, brings to the surface all the dark stuff, all the shit, all the obstacles – anxieties, triggers, the raw-ness, the mistrust that comes from being in love and getting closer. It’s honesty – a being honest with who you are in an integrated wholeness. I take me as I am, not just the enlightened stuff, warts and all (or is it “ego” and all?)
Sticking with it – like a committment I’d have with any other love relationship – and being sure to treat myself with kindness, compassion and honesty allows me to be the container that can hold these areas as they arise.
So while we may all believe we need to love ourselves more, I am reminded what real love entails. It means being with the shit. Not ignoring it or reacting to it. This is true with the others I love as well as myself. And lets face it, if that type of development were easy we’d all be in enlightened relationships . . .
So I continue to sit
(and watch the Stuart Davis show on the web – I like how he integrates the shadow and I usually always laugh – especially the show on “The Secret”)
Cause it’s what I need more of in my life and I figure why not share; I’m probably not the only one.
Sometimes letting go however, is not about sitting and being empty it’s about re-framing a thought or refocusing attention, trying a new behavior or holding a new idea. A change in perspective from an old habit to a new (and if that ain’t mindfulness, I don’t know what is).
The following is by Tony Robbins. It’s amusing to me that I like to make fun of him at times, yet always find wisdom in what he has to say. He’s like the jester in my court (I am king of my world after all) and he always brings some form of wisdom no matter how silly I think it is. Which reminds me – go to the link on the side of this page “Zen – the possible way” and check out the Montey Python skit/post. I’ve been going back to it regularly. It’s a great post
Tony’s words also helped me be a more evolved observer of my own thoughts – since I love the definition he gives for thinking. A simple piece of wisdom. As I examine my own “monkey mind” I am able to better smile at the self. You know, generate a little self compassion regarding my own anxiety.
Enjoy . . .
Thinking is really just a series of questions and answers we pose to ourselves. We’re constantly asking and answering. Asking and answering. Asking and answering.Yah? Now, if we believe that we’re constantly asking and answering questions, it begs the question (pun intended): “What kind of questions are we asking ourselves?!” Simple examples: You’re having a rough day. Didn’t work out when you said you would. Boss is being a jerk. Traffic sucks. Whatever. What do you ask yourself?
“Grrrrr…Why can’t I ever do what I say I’m going to do?!?!” vs. “Hmmm…I wonder, how can I make better commitments and have fun following through with them?!?”
“Why is my boss being such a jerk again?” vs. “I know I’m always reading that life is our class-room, so…How can I learn from this situation and have fun while I’m doing it?”
“Why is there always soooo much traffic?!?!” vs. “Wow. I wonder how much conscious breath work I can get done on my way to work today?!? Lucky me. There’s traffic!”
ok – that “lucky me. there’s traffic” part was a bit much – but all in all, some great words, yeah?
From, –Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart
(Jack basically says it all, no need for much comment, so throw me a bone – I’m a novice at sitting)
For some, [the] task of coming back a thousand or ten thousand times in meditation may seem boring or even of questionable importance. But how many times have we gone away from the reality of our life?–perhaps a million or ten million times! If we wish to awaken, we have to find our way back here with our full being, our full attention. . .
In this way, meditation is very much like training a puppy. You put the puppy down and say, “Stay.” Does the puppy listen? It gets up and runs away. You sit the puppy back down again. “Stay.” And the puppy runs away over and over again. Sometimes the puppy jumps up, runs over and pees in the corner, or makes some other mess. Our minds are much the same as the puppy, only they create even bigger messes. In training the mind, or the puppy, we have to start over and over again.
On November 8th and 18th I had posted an eloquent saying I came across:
“Open your hand and let the dead wood drop”
It is still a wonderful picture. It is a wonderful Practice .
Just opening my hand and letting go relaxes my body (my shoulders drop), I breathe and usually I smile.
It’s addictive – just observing my hand opening and closing.
It’s like open hands = an opening of my heart. There is a befriending of the moment.
(Probably because there is much I hold on to ; I return to myself as I do this, this simple movement. I practice it from time to time in my office at work. It’s a great one minute meditation. My yellow sticky note on my computer reminding me, says “open your hand”)
In practicing Qigong this morning, I was noticing my open hands. Noticing how they follow the energy, how they don’t try. There is no try, just do.
Here are a few words that follow in this vein, written better than I could have:
–Amadeus Sole-Leris, Tranquility & Insight
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.
–Eckhart Tolle , The Power of Now
I am often asked by friends and clients what the difference is between the “sacrifice” that comes with loving another and that line you can cross where it becomes codependent - Or when is the act of making a boundary not really self care at all but just plain selfishness.
I have no easy answer. I still struggle with this at times myself. I do know that the more mindful and centered I am, the better I am at self care and care for others. I have been called selfish when I was in fact just making a boundary and I have been called caring when I was in fact feeding my ego’s need for approval by helping someone (not true altruism). Bottom line for me is, if I decide to slow down and “pay attention” I can usually discern the difference, or at the very least be open to hearing feedback from trusted friends/teachers.
Sure there are days where I choose to not learn, stay overwhelmed and generally just not give a fuck. But at least I know that’s what I’m doing now. It’s not as unconscious a behavior as it has been in the past. Awareness has its benefits, even without immediate change in behavior.
Below is another Daily Dharma from Tricycle Magazine that puts caring and co-dependence into a good perspective and explains it way better than I can. See you on the Middle Way:
Supporting Right Livelihood
The most important step in building support for right livelihood is giving back more than you get. It’s not really a matter of keeping track in some kind of ledger book. It’s more a function of the attitude that you adopt in caring for yourself and those around you. People tend to mirror the way they are treated. If you show an interest in helping and sharing, those around you will start helping you and sharing more with you. If you empathize with other people’s situations, they tend to empathize more with yours. . . . The key is to be active about it. Look for opportunities to cooperate. With a proactive attitude of supporting others, you will seldom experience a shortage of support from others.
A simple caution is in order, however, when it comes to giving to others. . . . Give more than you get, but not more than you’ve got.
– Claude Whitmyer, Mindfulness and Meaningful Work
from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book
Tags: Barak Obama, conservation, Elephant Journal, energy crisis, George Bush, Jimmy Carter, karma, Middle East, mindfulness, Plain Dealer, Presidents, Ronald Reagan, Solar Energy Research Institute, solar panels, solar power, Stephen Koff, SUV, sweeping oil-reduction reforms
Still think your vote doesn’t count? The first presidential election I was ever able to vote in, made a difference. I thought President Carter was a country farmer with little wisdom; I believed Ronald Reagan was an amazing leader/communicator. History has since proven me dead wrong. But at the time I helped vote “image” into office. Soon we returned to our gas guzzling cars; energy conservation was an illusion of the past. AIDS was not mentioned for years as thousands died. My vote counted. (Well at least my karma did not involve voting for Bush)
Here is an article from the Elephant Journal regarding former president Carter and current president elect Barak Obama (and yes, the great communicator too). I never new there were solar panels at the White House at one time! Of course they were dismatled . . . (I wonder where we would be now with about 30 years dedicated to this original direction?). Just part of our Karma (that is, reaping the effects of what we sow – so be careful who you’re angry with – if you haven’t examined the part you played in our current outcome).
Photo via whitehousemuseum.org
In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, President Elect Barack Obama said that he plans to coordinate an evaluation with the Chief Usher of the White House to see how energy is used in the White House. I can only imagine the number of light bulbs in all of the rooms of that place!
For starters, Obama plans on keeping the lights off in rooms that aren’t being used. I’m feeling like a youngin’ since, for many, Obama’s statements are inspiring recollections of Jimmy Carter’s days and his installation of solar panels on the roof of the White House—something I hadn’t even known he’d done. They were taken down during Reagan’s administration (why?), but check out this article for a nice synopsis of Carter’s energy initiatives. I think it’s an important time to look at where we’ve been, to see where we are going.
Our friends over at Eco Times also posted an excellent article today that reminded me of the limitations of some renewables and how we have to keep this energy debate open and balanced.
Was Jimmy Carter right?
Published Sat, 10/01/2005 – 07:00
by Stephen Koff
Washington- President Bush is telling Americans to go easy on energy, use carpools and “curtail nonessential travel” – an unusual moment for an administration that used to say it could meet growing energy demand by expanding supply, not consuming less.
But this is not a Jimmy Carter, turn- down-the-thermostat, late-1970s moment.
Carter wore a cardigan when asking Americans to bear a little discomfort in a time of severe oil price increases. Last Monday, Bush rode in a motorcade – two limousines, three utility vans, six SUVs and a medical truck – to the climate-controlled Department of Energy, where he appeared in a suit and tie behind a podium.
Symbols aside, the former oilman who occupies the White House today shares a problem that plagued Carter, a former peanut farmer and naval nuclear engineer: How to solve an energy crunch in a nation utterly dependent on fossil fuel?
Conservation is only a tiny part of Bush’s answer, although on Monday, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman will lay out what his office calls a comprehensive, national conservation campaign in the face of rising winter energy costs.
In the past, Bush focused on promoting new nuclear power plants, better use of coal, new shipments of liquefied natural gas and further exploration of oil and gas in Alaska.
Bush’s energy problems stem largely from growing worldwide demand for limited supplies of oil and natural gas. The situation has grown worse because of the war in Iraq and, recently, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which knocked out rigs in the Gulf Coast and hampered refineries.
Carter faced a crisis from a combination of economic problems, failed policies of his predecessors and, finally, an Iranian revolution that cut access to some Middle Eastern oil.
Carter met the problems by starting sweeping oil-reduction reforms, including creation of the Cabinet-level Department of Energy.
He began spending millions of dollars researching alternative sources for electrical power, including solar power. He got utilities to cut their use of oil for electricity and ramp up their use of natural gas or coal.
“Up until Carter, we were getting about 20 percent of our electricity from oil generation,” said Jay Hakes, director of the Energy Information Administration under Carter and an authority on modern presidents and oil. “And post-Carter, it went down to about 3 percent.”
Carter insisted that U.S. automakers build more fuel-efficient cars, with a goal of 27.5 miles per gallon over the following decade – a requirement passed under Gerald Ford but put into force by Carter.
He offered incentives for getting oil from shale, creating a boom initially in the Rockies – and a bust when it failed to be cost-effective. He offered deductions for using solar water heaters in homes and commercial buildings.
“People in the upper-income bracket were always looking for tax cuts. They were going to build a house anyhow, so they were saying, ‘Well let’s look at this solar stuff and see what we can do,’ ” said Marc Giaccardo, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who at the time was an Albuquerque architect.
Carter even had solar collec tors installed on the White House grounds to heat the executive residence’s water.
Then Carter lost re-election to Ronald Reagan in 1980. The so lar panels at the White House eventually came down – and Reagan and his aides gutted the solar research program.
“In June or July of 1981, on the bleakest day of my professional life, they descended on the Solar Energy Research Institute, fired about half of our staff and all of our contractors, including two people who went on to win Nobel prizes in other fields, and reduced our $130 million budget by $100 million,” recalls Denis Hayes, the founder of Earth Day, who had been hired by Carter to spearhead the solar initiative.
Reagan and Congress stopped aggressively pushing new auto efficiency standards, acceding to Detroit’s desire to leave them at Carter-era levels. They let the solar tax benefit expire, and the nascent solar industry went belly- up.
It was time to let the markets work their magic and stop all this government tinkering, Reagan and conservatives said.
Bad stuff? A recipe for the fix we’re in today?
A number of environmentalists and conservationists say so.
Although the corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards already were saving 3 million barrels a day, “they could be saving us a further 3 million or 4 million barrels a day” if they had been ramped up, says Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club’s global-warming project.
That would be enough to compensate for Katrina or for disruptions in supply from Venezuela and Nigeria in the last year or so, Becker says. “We could be saving more oil than we now import from the Persian Gulf had the government acted to raise the fuel economy.”
Every president since Carter has refused or been obstructed by Congress – which is lobbied by automakers and unions that fear losing jobs. When Americans want sheer size, they buy American, but when they want fuel efficiency, they tend to buy Japanese.
Meantime the nation began its love affair with sport utility vehicles, which are classified as light trucks, not automobiles, and have a lower standard of 20.7 miles to the gallon. That’s scheduled to go up to 22.2 miles per gallon by 2007. In August, Bush announced a plan to raise it to 23.5 miles by 2010, but critics call that inadequate – and some moderate Republicans agree.
New York Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert introduced legislation in September that would require a 33 mile-per-gallon average for cars and SUVs in the next decade. While anything is possible, a majority in his party has previously rejected these measures.
Meantime, the solar energy industry is hopeful – not because of anything that occurred in the White House after Carter, but because the 2005 energy bill, signed by Bush, will give up to $2,000 in tax credits for anyone installing solar energy in a home. The credits begin next January, although they will be available for only two years unless Congress extends them.
Solar-energy champions say such a boost was needed 20 years ago, as the Carter tax credits were expiring. “The solar water heating industry instantly went from a billion-dollar industry to an industry that now installs, in the U.S., about 6,000 solar hot water heaters a year,” said Noah Kaye, spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Had Reagan not squashed it, the research that Carter started could have triggered a substantial shift to solar, wind power and other renewable forms of energy – possibly providing as much as 25 percent of the nation’s electricity supply, says Hayes, the Carter solar expert.
“We were all aware of what in theory could happen by the year 2000, and it occasionally comes back and haunts us,” Hayes said.
That is all hypothetical, of course, because the theories never got a chance to run their course.
Yet solid data exist on what happened after the free market- loving Reagan chopped Carter’s programs to shreds.
Oil prices dropped and stayed relatively stabile for two decades. Motorists were thrilled.
Oil prices plunged in the early ’80s after the Iranian crisis ended; after a worldwide recession sapped productivity (a less productive economy uses less fuel); and — especially — after Reagan eliminated price controls. The controls, limiting how high the cost of fossil fuel could go, had been in place since Richard Nixon used them in an effort to rein in inflation and dampen consumer prices during the Arab oil embargo. Carter started to eliminate them but never finished.
While the controls kept a lid on prices, they also prevented oil companies from earning enough to make them want to reinvest in more exploration and production. “When there’s a shortage of supply and you put in price controls, it makes the matter worse because it decreases incentives to produce more,” Hakes said. “And it decreases the incentives for drivers to cut back.”
Reagan couldn’t wait to fix that problem. “He signed the order the day he came in,” said Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.
Soon prices began reflecting the laws of supply and demand. World affairs, be they labor strife in Venezuela, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait or the threat of higher prices from Middle Eastern countries, could drive prices higher. But renewed drilling in Texas, the new pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope, good relations with foreign producers like Saudi Arabia and occasional siphoning of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (a Ford administration invention created for emergencies) tempered most crises.
In fact, the price of petroleum got so low at one point, after the Saudis flooded the market in 1986, that some Texas oilmen went broke. Not that drivers minded.
Home heating oil and natural gas prices followed similar patterns. And with inexpensive and seemingly abundant energy, who needed solar? It was cheaper and more reliable to power a home with electricity from the local utility than to gamble that a $20,000 investment in solar panels might eventually pay off.
“I’m not sure it’s a benefit to anybody to push a technology that’s not economically viable,” said Rayola Dougher, manager of energy market issues for the American Petroleum Institute, the big oil trade group.
But if supply interacts so closely with demand in a free market, ultimately benefiting consumers by driving down prices, then the opposite must also occur: High energy costs will make consumers choose to drive less or trade in their gas guzzlers. High electricity bills will make alternatives like solar power more appealing. Americans will conserve, adapting to the market. Which brings us back to 2005 — and to gasoline prices that have hovered near $3 a gallon for several weeks.
“Price is having an effect,” said William O’Keefe, chief executive of the George C. Marshall Institute, a science policy think tank, and a former American Petroleum Institute executive. “There is a shift within the auto market — people are buying more crossover vehicles, they’re looking at the smaller SUVs that get higher miles per gallon.”
Higher prices are also “providing incentives to look at alternative fuels, and we are using more alternative fuels all the time,” says Dougher. “In fact, the biggest producer of solar energy today is an oil company, BP, in terms of solar panels.”
It bears noting, some energy authorities say, that the free markets embraced by the oil companies aren’t entirely free. Billions of federal dollars flow to the oil, gas and electric utility industries through tax credits, depreciation rules, research grants, insurance guarantees and even direct government expenditures. And yet, some in those industries say that federal taxes should not have subsidized a speculative industry such as solar power in the Carter White House.
This is not lost on Hayes, Carter’s solar guru.
“For the industry that has gained by far the most subsidies and tax advantages from the federal government ever in American history to talk about the free market is slightly ironic,” he says.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org, 216-999-4212
© 2005 The Plain Dealer
© 2005 cleveland.com All Rights Reserved.
I am not a Buddhist, despite most of these blogs. The teachings of Buddhism however, have a significant psychological and philosophical influence in my life for which I am most grateful – it is a most auspicious teacher and has been since childhood (In my Christian upbringing I was always attracted to the book of “Job”; he was my favorite old testament character along with “Joseph” and the most meditative Buddhist in Judaism, while Joseph was the most mindful). I posted below 2 excerpts from this weeks Tricycle’s Daily Dharma and a quote from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book”. For me the are about the paradox of embracing in order to “let go” (the latter of which is a theme in my recent blogs). I hope they offer you as much insight as they have me:
We are in actual fact reborn every moment with new thoughts and feelings, and we bring with us the karma that we made in the past moments. If we were angry a moment ago, we are not going to feel good immediately. If we were loving a moment ago, we would be feeling fine now. Thus we live moment to moment with the results of our karma.
Every morning, particularly, can be seen as a rebirth. The day is young, we are full of energy and have a whole day ahead of us. Every moment we get older and are tired enough in the evening to fall asleep and die a small death. All we can do then is toss and turn in bed, and our whole mind is dreamy and foggy. Everyday can be regarded as a whole lifespan, since we can only live one day at a time; the past is gone and the future may or may not come; only this rebirth, this day, this moment, is important.
–Ayya Khema, When the Iron Eagle Flies
The mirror of death
According to the wisdom of Buddha, we can actually use our lives to prepare for death. We do not have to wait for the painful death of someone close to us or the shock of terminal illness to force us into looking at our lives. Nor are we condemned to go out empty-handed at death to meet the unknown. We can begin, here and now, to find meaning in our lives. We can make of every moment an opportunity to change and to prepare–wholeheartedly, precisely, and with peace of mind–for death and eternity. In the Buddhist approach, life and death are seen as one whole, where death is the beginning of another chapter of life. Death is a mirror in which the entire meaning of life is reflected.
–Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Each Morning we are born again.
What we do today is what matters most
But why do I desire 2 days? *smirk*. If you ever had one day like this I know you get it. I am thankful to every “thing” that has pointed me in this direction. Deep Joy
Better than a hundred years
110. Better than a hundred years lived in vice, without contemplation, is one single day of life lived in virtue and in deep concentration.
111. Better than a hundred years lived in ignorance, without contemplation, is one single day of life lived in wisdom and in deep concentration.
112. Better than a hundred years lived in idleness and in weakness is one single day of life lived with courage and powerful striving.
113. Better than a hundred years not considering how all things rise and pass away is one single day of life if one considers how all things rise and pass away.
114. Better than a hundred years not seeing one’s own immoertality is one single day if one sees one’s own immortality.
115. Better than a hundred years not seeing the Path supreme is one single day of life if one sees the Path supreme.
– The Dhammapada, trans. by Juan Mascaro
I consider myself a novice, no make that a pre-novice, when it comes to sitting practice.
I am not very disciplined when it comes to sitting. Both my mind and body are acclimated towards moving.
I am neither proud nor humiliated by that fact. That is just the way it is. It is the current me as I appear in the now.
I like what sitting does for me. It benefits so many areas of my life: peace, calm, energy, wisdom, letting go, better sleep, increased compassion, kindness, better prioritizing, etc. I just don’t always make time for it because that initial breaking through mind is uncomfortable. And most of my life is dedicated to being comfortable.
Recently I rediscovered some practices that make sitting easier. Certain forms of breathing that engage kinesthetic movement help me. Like Thich Nhat Hahn’s walking meditation, “I breathe in, I move my right foot. I breath out, I move my left foot.” Only taking a step with each breath. (Even doing 10 breaths this way changes everything)
The most effective for me however, is a simple and uncomplicated Qi Gong or Tai Chi movement. For some reason there is nothing more effective for me than engaging my body:
in a specific stance
through specific (and uncomplicated) hand and arm movements (again, I’m a novice, this isn’t about a big routine)
through simple breathing
and through the movement of unseen energy (Qi)
Nothing quiets my mind quicker.
Increases awareness by letting both thoughts and body tension fall away.
Connects me to the Heavens and Earth
Allows whatever remains to appear less threatening (ah, there’s that comfort level-thing again)
Transitions me into sitting. (the mindfulness and the meditation have already begun with the movements)
Here is a passage that reminded me of why the above is so important:
It is not merely enthusiasm that erodes when practice declines. Your body and mind can go out of tune. You are no longer a vessel of insight. The cardinal can sing; the wind can move the ironwood trees delicately; a child can ask a wise question–and where is your center? How can you respond? It is time to put yourself back in tune, to be ready for experiences that make life fulfilling. Take up the advice for beginners. Put your zazen pad somewhere between your bathroom and your kitchen. Sit down there in the morning after you use the bathroom and before you cook breakfast. You are sitting with everyone in the world. If you sit only briefly, you will have at least settled your day.
-Robert Aitken, Encouraging Words
BTW (I follow a practice similar to this video “Bone Marrow Cleanse” – so easy to learn, you can quickly get the moves down and no longer have need to follow the video, and just follow your own rhythm:
So I’m reading today’s Tricycle quote and have a total brain fart. I mean I go completely blank after reading the word “equanimity”. If I am paying attention, this going blank usually means something – whether it’s that I need more sleep, I’m over worked, or that the essence of the the word is speaking to my unconscious mind. Doesn’t matter, point is – it’s about paying attention, a little mindfulness – make time for more sleep or cut back on work or look deeper into the meaning of the word.
(BTW, here’s the on-line definition of the word: equa·nim·ity (ek′wə nim′ə tē, ē′kwə-) noun, the quality of remaining calm and undisturbed; evenness of mind or temper; composure Etymology: L aequanimitas < aequanimis < aequus, even, plain + animus, the mind: see animal.)
After reading the passage again it was definitely the latter. Here’s the passage; you can read why it spoke to me after, if you’re interested.
The near enemies are qualities that arise in the mind and masquerade as genuine spiritual realization, when in fact they are only an imitation, serving to separate us from true feeling rather than connecting us to it. . . .
The near enemy of loving-kindness is attachment. . . . At first, attachment may feel like love, but as it grows it becomes more clearly the opposite, characterized by clinging, controlling and fear.
The near enemy of compassion is pity, and this also separates us. Pity feels sorry for “that poor person over here,” as if he were somehow different from us. . . .
The near enemy of sympathetic joy (the joy in the happiness of others) is comparison, which looks to see if we have more of, the same as, or less than another. . . .
The near enemy of equanimity is indifference. True equanimity is balance in the midst of experience, whereas indifference is withdrawal and not caring, based on fear. . . .
If we do not recognize and understand the near enemies, they will deaden our spiritual practice. The compartments they make cannot shield us for long from the pain and unpredictability of life, but they will surely stifle the joy and open connectedness of true relationships.
- Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart
Yeah, this touched a nerve. You see I haven’t always been good at confrontation. It throws me at times, takes me out of my center (I mean have you met my dad? lmao). So I can be avoidant. I can fight a good fight. I can usually win an argument. My desire however, is to really be at peace - while remaining in – and continuing with – the conflict (whether the conflict is with myself or projected onto another). And I gotta say, I’ve come far along in this journey.
I have also seen this trait in many self proclaimed “peace loving” spiritual teachers. They claim equanimity but are really just conflict-avoidant (and because I also have tendencies in this direction, these teachers tend to really get on my nerves and push my buttons. In other words, they bug the shit outta me, lol). What’s funny is I can handle the narcissistic grandiose spiritual teacher who will usually never avoid conflict. Cause with them, what you see it what you get.
This is much more deceptive; it is a masquerade. It is the near enemy to spiritual growth.
Well, now that I’ve analyzed it, haha – maybe I can sit with it. Chances are indifference is disguised as equanimity somewhere in my life. I’m just not sure where yet, I don’t see it . . . but I bet my friends can tell me; I usually keep them close *wink*