Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Attention Training

Excerpt from “Living in Buddha Standard Time,” a Buddhist Geeks conversation with Lama Surya Das (October 4, 2010):

Most people have had an experience of time slowing down, maybe like in a traffic accident or while they’re falling from a height, or tumbling over beneath the waves and drowning or something. Or, if you’re in pain, a minute seems like an hour. What’s the saying? The watched pot never seems to boil. You know, while you’re waiting for the pot to boil, if you go away it boils right away. You like have to hurry back it seems. But if you sit there, watching it, it seems never to boil.

Time is so elastic, and it’s not just that it’s speeded up in this era; it could also be slowed down if we’re more aware. Maybe you’ve experienced that on some drug or something. Maybe you’ve experienced it in a dream or a vision. Time can also be very slow motion. The outer slowing down of time with slow motion film and all is just an image of how this feels internally, when you’re more aware. By sharpening you’re awareness, processing the frames of awareness like a movie frame. Every step seems to be slower, you can be very aware of lifting and moving your foot forward and shifting the weight in your abdomen and putting down the other foot and stepping on it—without walking slower, by shifting the mind, by more sharp and quick awareness. Not thinking faster, but with quicker awareness.

This is attention training. This is awareness training. This is part of samadhi or focused awareness. We can train ourselves in this way to be aware of more mind moments within one second or one minute. To be aware of the space between thoughts, not just the thoughts that we’re caught in, and so on. And to slow down a little and to be more present so we can choose how and if to respond to stimuli, not just blindly reacting. The secret of mindful anger management is creating some space between the outer stimulus and your reaction, so you can choose how and when to respond.

I think that time is very elastic, and…what did Einstein say? Time slows down so much when you’re waiting to see if you can take that first kiss from a girl. That’s Albert Einstein by the way, I’m not making it up. So he doesn’t just talk about e=mc2 and how at the speed of light all mass is fused and so on, time and space continuum and different dimensions. He was actually saying that when you are keenly present and aware and involved wholly in something, when you’re on the edge of your mental seat, time seems to slow down, like waiting to see if you can kiss that girl, when you’re young.

Museum of Unfinished Gestures

by George Bilgere, from American Life in Poetry

When I came to my mother’s house
the day after she had died
it was already a museum of her
unfinished gestures. The mysteries
from the public library, due
in two weeks. The half-eaten square
of lasagna in the fridge.

The half-burned wreckage
of her last cigarette,
and one red swallow
of wine in a lipsticked
glass beside her chair.

Finally, a blue Bic
on a couple of downs
and acrosses left blank
in the Sunday crossword,
which actually had the audacity
to look a little smug
at having, for once, won.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Driving to Kansas, November 24, 2010

What Is There Beyond Knowing
by Mary Oliver

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me? I can’t

turn in any direction
but it’s there. I don’t mean

the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s
silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning

theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;

or time that’s always rushing forward,
or standing still

in the same—what shall I say—

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass and the weeds.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Split from Our Bodies

Tara Brach, from Presence and Aliveness (Part 1), January 20, 2010 (download audio):

Our children do, more than ever, grow up in a virtual reality: video games and TV and computers and texting. Leaving the body’s very reinforced by the culture.

In spiritual-religious communities there’s a mistrust of the body. Especially where there’s a real imprint of the kind of shadow-masculine of controlling the body and not getting seduced by pleasure. You see this in the monastic communities.

Ulysses and the Sirens, John William Waterhouse (1891)

And of course we know, in this culture, there’s a mistrust of the body with pain, that pain is wrong, it’s bad, it’s to be controlled. And again, it’s totally wise and compassionate to use medication when appropriate, and we so overdo it. We’re so afraid of pain. We think that aging and death are kind of an embarrassment, an insult in some way. We anesthetize births and way over-interfere with dying.

So it’s a split. We get split from our bodies in this culture and it gets very much amplified with emotional wounding. If you really consider that the pain of our emotion lives in our bodies, when that emotional feels like too much, especially when we’re traumatized early, we have to leave. We have no other way to handle it. Emotional trauma makes us leave our bodies. The more emotional wounding there’s been, the more we’ve left our bodies. It’s pretty directly correlated.

So we push away the immediate experience of the pain in our body because we’re designed to try to anesthetize that much pain. The point, again, is not that we should avoid what comforts. It’s not even that we should stick with something that’s overwhelming.

The truth is our lives get very organized around avoiding unease and unpleasantness. It becomes important to recognize our flinch responses, our intolerance to physical discomfort or to difficult emotional weather. Because the habit is so quickly—without even be conscious of it—to leave our body and go into what I sometimes think of as the mental control tower, where we try to work things and maneuver things to feel better. We don’t stay. One of the best phrases I know, in terms of describing meditation, is learning to stay. Not in a way that’s uncompassionate. Not when it’s too much. But gradually getting the knack of noticing we’ve left, noticing we’re off in thoughts, and reconnecting with this aliveness. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Brand New Choice

Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick at Wired magazine and author, most recently, of What Technology Wants, in conversation with Vincent Horn, Buddhist Geeks: Episode 196, November 22, 2010:

what-technology I’m not big on utopias, and I think one thing that any candid appraisal of technology would have to acknowledge is that every new technology is creating nearly as many problems as it is solving. And most of the problems in our lives today are technogenic, they’ve been generated by previous technologies. It suggests very clearly that most of the problems in the future will be technogenic, created by technologies that we’ve made today. For that reason alone, it’s not utopia, and where we’re headed is not a place where there are no problems or technology solves, mends everything so that we kind of live in this state of bliss. Or, it’s not even to suggest that there’s some endpoint in evolution, or some Omega Point where we’re all headed and everything is fixed and works perfectly, or it’s, in some ways, culminated in perfection. First of all, there is no endpoint in evolution–in fact the point of it is that there is no endpoint, that it’s an open-ended process of continual flux and change and more importantly that the nature of the change itself is changing. So in that way there’s no utopia, but also part of that internal flux is the fact that problems are constantly being invented as well as solutions.

Kevin KellyHowever, saying that I do think there’s a moral dimension to technology and that comes in the fact that while it’s true that newly affected technology will create as many, rarely as many problems as solutions, it’s not neutral. I wouldn’t say that life is neutral although obviously life cannot go on without death. Death is sort of part of those two cycles. But even though for every animal that’s born there’s an animal that dies, we don’t think of life as neutral. No, we say life is good. Overall, the net effect of life is good.

More life is better, even though everything born dies, and so you say “Why isn’t that neutral?” That’s because the same thing happens in technology, when something is invented–let’s say you have a hammer. You could use that hammer to kill someone or you could use it to build something, and there is a sense that that’s just neutral. They’re just tools. You can use them for harm or good.

But in fact, the invention of that hammer actually introduces a brand new choice that we’ve never had before, and that choice, I think, tips the balance. That new choice that did not exist before, tips the balance slightly in favor of the good because there is a new choice for good or harm that had never existed before. That new choice itself is good. Even if we choose the harm in it, we have a choice we did not have before.

So, I think, it turns out that you don’t need very much more good over time to get progress. That if you use technology to create 1% more than you destroy a year, that 1% compounded over time is what we call progress.

See also: What Does Technology Want? (Radiolab, Nov. 16, 2010)

What Matters

 Flying Snow by Tony Pratt

Snow Geese
by Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
The geese
flew on,
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won't.
It doesn't matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Seeing that You Have Nothing

Blue Moon. November 20, 2010

I am dead because I lack desire,
I lack desire because I think I possess.
I think I possess because I do not try to give.
In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;
Seeing that you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are nothing:
Seeing that you are nothing, you desire to become;
In desiring to become, you begin to live.

~ René Daumal

Friday, November 19, 2010

Getting Right with Tao

A Contemporary Spin on the Tao Te Ching
by Ron Hogan


getting-right-with-tao If you are strong,
but remain sensitive,
power will flow through you.
With that power,
you'll always be right with Tao:
It's like a whole new life.

If you are idealistic,
but stay rooted in reality,
you are an example to others.
Set that example,
and you'll always be right with Tao:
There is no limit to what you can do.

If you are honorable,
but remain humble,
you will see things as they are.
If you see things as they are,
you'll always be right with Tao:
Your life will become simple,
yet full of potential.

Let Tao show you
how to get right with Tao,
so your slightest gesture
can change the world.

*     *     *     *     *


Keep your head clear.
Stay calm.
Watch as everything happens around you.

Everything reverts to its original state,
which was nothing.
And when something becomes nothing,
it gets right with Tao.

If you don't understand that,
you're going to screw up somewhere down the line.
If you figure it out, you'll always know what to do.

If you get right with Tao,
you won't be afraid to die,
because you know you will.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

For One Minute

…or just look at this pole and try to relax the impulse to define it or interpret it or decide whether or not it is beautiful. Try to notice what it feels like to see, as if you had no words for any of the forms or colors in front of you, as if the words on the paper were written in a language you never learned to read.

…or let your gaze spread gently across your entire field of vision, taking in the area immediately in front of you, the farthest distance you can observe without straining, the right and left edges of your peripheral vision, and everything in between. Take it all in at once—the whole three-dimensional volume of visual space. This is what the present looks like. This is what it feels like to see without spinning a story. This is what it feels like to see as a young child sees, simply fascinated with the seeing itself. Sixty seconds can feel like a long time. Try stringing together several intervals of four or five seconds instead. 

…or listen to what this moment sounds like without needing to know the source of the sounds or to evaluate any of them as pleasant or unpleasant. Steep in the wonder of vibrations striking tiny bones inside your ears and massaging that space where all of the internal chatter plays out, wave after wave of internal sound. There’s no need to tamp down the internal sounds that well up as you’re listening. Allow them to play out as they will, trying to be aware of the silence between the waves. Use the activity of internal sound to remind you to spread your listening out in all directions and become absorbed by it. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sitting in a Pool of Me

Excerpts from Question Your Thinking, Change The World: Quotations from Byron Katie:

questionyourthinking We’re often quite sure about what other people need to do, how they should live, and whom they should be with. We have 20/20 vision about others, but not about ourselves. When you do The Work, you see who you are by seeing who you think other people are. Eventually you come to see that everything outside you is a reflection of your own thinking. You are the storyteller, the projector of all stories, and the world is the projected image of your thoughts.

*     *     *     *     *

We only fear what we are—what we haven’t gone inside and taken a look at and met with understanding. If I think you might see me as boring, it would frighten me, because I haven’t investigated that thought. So it’s not people who frighten me, it’s me that frightens me. That’s my job, until I investigate and stop this fear for myself. The worst that can happen is that I think you think about me what I think about myself. So I am sitting in a pool of me.

*     *     *     *     *

I like to ask, “Are you breathing yourself?” No? Well, maybe you’re not thinking yourself or making decisions either. Maybe it doesn’t move until it moves, like a breath, like the wind. And you tell the story of how you are doing it, so you can keep yourself from the awareness that you are nature, flowing perfectly. Who would you be without the story that you need to make a decision?

*     *     *     *     *

No one has ever been able to control their thinking, although people may tell the story of how they have. I don’t let go of my thoughts—I meet them with understanding, then they let go of me.

*     *     *     *     *

The ego is terrified of the truth. And the truth is that the ego doesn’t exist.

We Find Beauty in Something Done Well

“The next time you pass by a jewelry shop window displaying a beautifully cut, teardrop-shaped stone, don’t be so sure it’s just your culture telling you that that sparkling jewel is beautiful. Your distant ancestors loved that shape and found beauty in the skill needed to make it—even before they could put their love into words.”

~ Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution

The Heart Goes Where the Head Takes It

"If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery, they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

~ Dan Gilbert, from "When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays," by John Tierney, New York Times, November 15, 2010

Read the whole article...

Participate in this research by using your iPhone to track your happiness.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Uninvited Ache

Excerpt from Tinkers by Paul Harding:

Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty, as your own father always said in his sermons and to you at home. And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.

Howard resented the ache in his heart. He resented that it was there every morning when he woke up, that it remained at least until he had dressed and had some hot coffee, if not until he had taken stock of the goods in his brush cart, and fed and hitched Prince Edward, if not until his rounds were done, if not until he fell asleep that night, and if his dreams were not tormented by it. He resented equally the ache and the resentment itself. He resented his resentment because it was a sign of his own limitations of spirit and humility, no matter that he understood that such was each man’s burden. He resented the ache because it was uninvited, seemed imposed, a sentence, and, despite the encouragement he gave himself each morning, it baffled him because it was there whether the day was good or bad, whether he witnessed major kindness or minor transgression, suffered sourceless grief or spontaneous joy.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

In the Moment

Mick Stevens

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sometimes It Takes Darkness

Árbol de Hierve el Agua. (San Isidro, Oaxaca, noviembre de 2010)

Sweet Darkness
by David Whyte

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

A High Resolution Emotional Radar Screen

Shinzen Young, from “A Meeting with a Pioneering Meditation Teacher,” with Tami Simon, Sounds True’s Insight at the Edge (November 2, 2010):

“Neuroscientists are aware that there is a system in the brain that they call the limbic system; it’s sometimes called the emotional brain. What I’ve attempted to do is create certain focusing exercises that will allow a person to be able to detect when their limbic system activates. So, then, well how do you go about doing this? Well, I can give you a tangible example.

Let’s say you’re listening to music and, as you listen to music, you are monitoring how your body is reacting to the music. Your body may smile if you like the music, but then at some point if there’s something you don’t like about the music, you get some other kind of sensation reaction in your body.

Or, you can listen to people talking, listen to people you agree with—politicians, philosophers, religious leaders—listen to them and then notice the impact on your body. Then, listen to people you disagree with—religious leaders, political leaders, philosophers—who have the opposite of your beliefs, then watch what happens in the body. Pay attention to that.

By monitoring your body’s reactions to sounds, especially human speech sounds or music, and then by monitoring your body’s reaction to external visual impressions, with time you can develop a sensitivity to detect the locations and flavors of sensation that are emotional in nature. It’s a training and it takes a while, but if you’re willing to do it, your whole body becomes like this high resolution emotional radar screen. So, as soon as there’s an impact from the physical world, you’re aware if there’s any emotional juice, however subtle—subtle is significant. If there is, you’re able to detect it and open up to it. If there’s not, you’re also aware of that fact.

So, by doing exercises in that way, eventually you learn to detect the subtle emotional reactions that we’re constantly having in the body that are triggered by other events. And, that’s how you go about doing it.”

Listen to the entire interview…

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Free and Happy Use of Words

“There is no right language or wrong language any more than there are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention, and circumstance are all.”

~ Stephen Fry

Like a Flame

La vista desde nuestra palapa. (San Augustinillo, Oaxaca, noviembre de 2010)

The Dream of Now
by William Stafford

When you wake to the dream of now
from night and its other dream,
you carry day out of the dark
like a flame.

When spring comes north, and flowers
unfold from earth and its even sleep,
you lift summer on with your breath
lest it be lost ever so deep.

Your life you live by the light you find
and follow it on as well as you can,
carrying through darkness wherever you go
your one little fire that will start again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it and then misapplying the wrong remedies."

~ Groucho Marx

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Swimming the Freedom

Are you jealous of the
ocean's generosity?

Why would you refuse to
give this joy to anyone?

Fish don't hold the
sacred liquid in cups!

They swim the huge
fluid freedom.

~ Rumi

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Loss and Absence of the World

Panteón General (San Miguel) de Oaxaca, 31 de octubre de 2010

Remordimiento Por Cualquier Muerte
de Jorge Luis Borges, from Poems of the Night

Libre de la memoria y de la esperanza,
ilimitado, abstracto, casi futuro,
el muerto no es un muerto:  es la muerte.
Como el Díos de los místicos
de Quien deben negarse todos los predicados,
el muerto ubicuamente ajeno
no es sino la perdición y ausencia del mundo.
Todo se lo robamos,
no le dejamos ni un color ni una sílaba:
aquí está el patio que ya no comparten sus ojos,
allí la acera donde acechó su esperanza.
Aun lo que pensamos
podría estar pensándolo él;
nos hemos repartido como ladrones
el caudal de las noches y de los días.

Remorse for Any Death
translated by W.S. Merwin

Free of memory and hope,
unlimited, abstract, almost future,
the dead body is not somebody: It is death.
Like the God of the mystics,
whom they insist has no attributes,
the dead person is no one everywhere,
is nothing but the loss and absence of the world.
We rob it of everything,
we do not leave it one color, one syllable:
Here is the yard which its eyes no longer take up,
there is the sidewalk where it waylaid its hope.
It might even be thinking
what we are thinking.
We have divided among us, like thieves,
the treasure of nights and days.

Panteón General (San Miguel) de Oaxaca, 31 de octubre de 2010

Panteón General (San Miguel) de Oaxaca, 31 de octubre de 2010

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

You Have to Know How to Wait

CasAntica, Oaxaca de Juarez, 31 de octubre de 2010

Para hablar con los muertos
de Jorge Teiller

Para hablar con los muertos
hay que elegir palabras
que ellos reconozcan tan fácilmente
como sus manos
reconocían el pelaje de sus perros en la oscuridad.
Palabras claras y tranquilas
como el agua del torrente domesticada en la copa
o las sillas ordenadas por la madre
después que se han ido los invitados.
Palabras que la noche acoja
como a los fuegos fatuos los pantanos.

Para hablar con los muertos
hay que saber esperar:
ellos son miedosos
como los primeros pasos de un niño.
Pero si tenemos paciencia
un día nos responderán
con una hoja de álamo atrapada por un espejo roto,
con una llama de súbito reanimada en la chimenea,
con un regreso oscuro de pájaros
frente a la mirada de una muchacha
que aguarda inmóvil en el umbral.

In Order to Talk with the Dead

In order to talk to the dead
you have to choose words
that they recognize as easily
as their hands
recognized the fur of their dogs in the dark.
Words clear and calm
as water of the torrent tamed in the wineglass
or chairs the mother puts in order
after the guests have left.
Words that night shelters
as marshes do their ghostly fires

In order to talk to the dead
you have to know how to wait:
they are fearful
like the first steps of a child.
But if we are patient
one day they will answer us
with a poplar leaf trapped in a broken mirror,
with a flame that suddenly revives in the fireplace,
with a dark return of birds
before the glance of a girl
who waits motionless on the threshold.

Librería Grañén Porrúa, 31 de octubre de 2010
Librería Grañén Porrúa, 31 de octubre de 2010
Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, 31 de octubre de 2010
Casa de Josefina Mendez, Teotitlán del Valle, 1 de noviembre de 2010

Monday, November 01, 2010

An Unknowable Language

Visiting the Graveyard
by Mary Oliver, from Red Bird

When I think of death
it is a bright enough city,
and every year more faces there
are familiar

but not a single one
notices me,
though I long for it,
and when they talk together,

which they do
very quietly,
it's an unknowable language—
I can catch the tone

but understand not a single word—
and when I open my eyes
there's the mysterious field, the beautiful trees.
There are the stones.

Xoxocotlan Cemetery, 31 de octubrre de 2010

Xoxocotlan Cemetery, 31 de octubrre de 2010

Xoxocotlan Cemetery, 31 de octubrre de 2010

Xoxocotlan Cemetery, 31 de octubrre de 2010