Positive Spin

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At the beginning of this year I made a New Year aspiration to practice with “Positive Spin.”

The basic premise of this practice is recognizing that there is a fundamental difference between the facts in any given situation and the story we tell ourselves about these facts. Typically, we tell ourselves very negative stories about the facts, and these stories can end up being a source of suffering. Practicing Positive Spin entails asking myself when facing a negative situation: “Given the facts I have, what’s the most empowering story I could tell?”

Credit where credit is due: I was inspired to take on this practice after reading an article by Tony Schwartz where he shared about “Realistic Optimism” and how it had helped him be resilient in difficult times.

When the New Year began I was eager for an opportunity to practice, and soon enough, one came along: Continue reading Positive Spin

What is the purpose of practice?

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To realize the fullness of experience.

Its pregnant nature: holding birth, beauty, wonder, awe, gratitude, happiness.


Its potential for overwhelming suffering, debilitating pain, mental anguish.


The healing that arrives with compassionate awareness, tenderness, love.


Recognizing that to be awake, the prerequisite, the mandatory command, is stopping.


Resting our attention in this very moment.


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Whenever I meet someone new and tell them I lived at a monastery, I typically receive a combination of surprise and curiosity: “Wow, that’s not something you hear everyday… what was that like?” A little while into our conversation, the topic usually arises of what it was like to leave the monastery and live in the “real world.” Even for people who’ve never touched foot in a monastery, they can intuit that the transition from a contemplative environment into a city might not be easy.

They’re right.

I have been in a unique position of transitioning in and out of contemplative settings frequently for the past four years and have become familiar with the unsettled feelings accompanying such a shift. I heard a monk once jokingly compare it to coming back from war! While we all found the comparison amusing, I think the challenges of any re-integration from a very specific way of living to another have some underlying commonalities. Continue reading Transitions

What about this moment is not enough?

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A number of years ago I made an unconventional decision: taking a sabbatical from a job as a management consultant to explore the emerging phenomenon of “mindfulness”.

To kick-start this exploration I signed up for a conference titled ‘Creating a Mindful Society’ held in New York.  The name seemed fitting enough and the conference featured some super-stars in the field of mindfulness. The keynote speaker was Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and widely considered one of the most influential people in bringing mindfulness into mainstream western life. I had recently read his first book, Full Catastrophe Living, and I resonated deeply with how he articulated mindfulness and its potential for healing our world. Through my own first-hand experience I had seen the transformative beauty of mindfulness, and I was stoked to learn there was a whole “movement” dedicated to the cause.

When I arrived at the conference I was disappointed to see only about 300 people. It seemed crystal clear to me that mindfulness was the answer to so much personal and societal suffering; why weren’t more people catching on?

Continue reading What about this moment is not enough?

Effectiveness as a Teacher

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Your effectiveness as a teacher has a direct correlation with the depth of your own personal practice -Jeremy Hunter

Many years ago I was sitting on a mountain in South Africa. It was a warm summer day in Cape Town and I was soaking in the sun on a perch overlooking the magnificent Camps Bay. I was nearing the end of a consulting project in the region and had been mulling over my next steps of a while. I resolved that day I was going to decide what I wanted to do next with my life. No small resolution, but it was time.

I asked myself three questions: “What do I enjoy doing? What am I good at? What makes a difference in the world?” In response to all three questions one word emerged: “teaching”.  I received fulfillment from helping others learn, perceived I was pretty good at, and felt a quality teacher could make a tremendous difference. Plus, both my parents were teachers so I had some ancestral momentum.

Check. Continue reading Effectiveness as a Teacher

Pain in the neck

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OW Boston

One morning I awoke with pain in my neck.

I shrugged it off, reasoning that it was likely just a short-term kink.

The next morning I awoke with a similar pain.

Again, I engaged my habitual response to discomfort and thought little of it.

This pattern continued, but after a week there was worry that something was wrong, and the worry was strong enough to call me to action.

The first thing I did was Google “Neck Pain.” Continue reading Pain in the neck

Sitting with Thay

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Sitting with Thay


Line forms, patiently waiting

Shuffling of feet, clinking of bowls, heaps of deliciousness

Stepping outside, inhaling freshness


The sun, it shines

Entering the hall, seeing a path, straight ahead: emptiness

I’ve arrived, I’m home


Breathing in, breathing out

Opening my eyes, directly in front, I see Thay

Posture straightens, thoughts abound


Present moment, wonderful moment,

Following my breath, curiosity steadily rising, who are you?

Zen master, reading contemplations


Consuming energy, digesting freedom

Looking at Thay, I crave acknowledgment, who am I?

Be free, my friend


We turn, we bow

I stall awkwardly, hoping that perhaps, we might speak?

He passes, without words


Woman approaches, announces suffering

Asks for support, my heart opens, I am here

Deep listening, loving speech


She bows, I smile

An insight manifests; Thay isn’t gone, he’s within me

No discrimination, no discrimination


Benefits of Mindfulness

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dessert in the desert

“If you come to mindfulness just expecting benefits, sooner or later you’re going to be confused.”
-Michael Carroll

If you Google “benefits of mindfulness” you will find hundreds of recent scientific studies. There is proof of mindfulness meditation’s effectiveness at strengthening attention in schoolchildren, creating more resilient business leaders, increasing brain density of the pre-frontal cortex, improving the functioning of the immune system, and plenty more. But most seasoned mindfulness teachers will tell you that while all those benefits may be true, they are side-products of the process and not to be focused on as the “goal.”

Three years ago I was speaking on the phone to Michael Carroll, the founder of an organization which focuses on sharing mindfulness to business audiences. We were talking about a new initiative I was involved with, and while I was extolling the numerous benefits of the program he stopped me and said, “If you come to mindfulness just expecting benefits, sooner or later you’re going to be confused.”

I was admittedly confused. Continue reading Benefits of Mindfulness

Keeping the flame alive – Adventures in the Netherlands

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Home is where the heart is

Last winter in Plum Village a friend told me my name can be translated as “Fire-starter.”

At the time I had just begun my role as a Coordinator for the International Wake Up Movement. I was working alongside Buddhist monks and nuns to support young adults in practicing mindfulness and creating communities where they live. Wake Up had been growing steadily over the past few years, and many conditions came together to allow me the opportunity to dedicate my efforts to the cause.

I had been searching for a way to apply my business consulting background to support mindfulness practice, and this was it. It was a dream job – my answer to “what would you pay to do?” I saw many opportunities to contribute, to support people, to get things rolling.

But fire, when uncontrolled, can be extremely destructive. Continue reading Keeping the flame alive – Adventures in the Netherlands


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Pops & Son '96

I’d like to introduce a new feature in this space: ‘transmissions’.

These posts will each contain one or two sentences that a wise friend once personally told me. Over time these words have served as guiding principles for how I live my life, and in that way I reflect on them as wisdom which has been transmitted to me.

It is in this spirit that I’d like to transmit them to you, here, as perhaps someday they will be useful to you in your journey. To begin, some wisdom from my father:

“Early on in life I knew that I would only be famous among the people I cared about…and that was okay with me.”

A couple years ago I was in the midst of a career change, and found myself talking with my dad about fame. Recognition from others has always been important to me, and for most of my life I viewed ‘being famous’ as something to work towards.

My father shared that in his early twenties he chose to raise a family instead of going to a prestigious out-of-state college, and knew from then on he wouldn’t achieve fame in the conventional sense.

This prompted me to ask myself why I desired fame among people that I didn’t know? I reasoned that it might help provide some external assurance that what I was doing was worthwhile. But this was a flimsy excuse: fame is hardly correlated with ‘worthiness’, and besides, I had all the assurance I needed within my own experience. I was stumped. I kind of still am.

Re-defining fame this way allows me to recognize I’m actually already famous. What else is there to seek? Thanks pops; you’ll always be famous to me too.