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

Day in the life: Deer Park 4/4

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Continue from Part 3

4:45pm After walking meditation we enter the big hall for a 30 minute afternoon sit. The flavor of the afternoon sitting is different from the morning; for me it feels lighter…like a cool breeze circulating through the various recesses of my mind.

A friend once told me it took him many years before his daily sitting meditation transformed into just sitting to sit. If I examine my own experience of meditation (sitting, eating, walking), it has followed a non-linear progression that I’d guess some others have gone through as well. Continue reading Day in the life: Deer Park 4/4

Day in the life: Deer Park 3/4

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Continued from Part 2

12:00pm Everyone begins lunch together and eats for 20 minutes in silence, after which the bell is invited to wash your dishes, get seconds and/or converse with those around you.

When I first arrived, the fact that we were socially obligated to sit for 20 minutes before getting up felt like a chore. What if I was done earlier? After a few weeks, I began to realize the wisdom inherent in such an arrangement.

I recalled a year ago, when I attempted to adopt a consistent mindful eating practice. I was in my apartment in Chicago, and I’d make myself a nice lunch and resolve to eat it undisturbed, savoring every bite. More often than not, however, there was something else that desperately yearned for my attention. I could return that phone call to Kevin I’d been meaning to get to…A trailer for that movie Peter told me about…That promising article Brad sent which I had skimmed. If I didn’t crack and indulge in the second activity, then I oftentimes thought about it repeatedly. The meal had finished and I felt like I only really enjoyed a few bites of it.

While eating at the monastery, all of those distractions are gone. No one has a cell phone, laptop or newspaper out. All you do there is eat. Revolutionary, I know! Continue reading Day in the life: Deer Park 3/4

Day in the life: Deer Park 2/4

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Continued from Part 1

7:30am While in the breakfast line I see a blueberry scone at the end of the table – my eyes light up! I ate scones as a child, and am rediscovering how the potent combination of a dry scone and heaps of strawberry jelly can result in deep satisfaction.

After finding a seat at a large round table I take time to reflect on this meal. Breakfast is held in silence, building upon the energy of concentration cultivated in the meditation hall and providing an opportunity to focus attention on one thing: eating.

Over the last six months I have continuously refined my meal gatha and have now settled on a series of lines which, at present, captures the essence of what I want to remember before, during, and after, eating: Continue reading Day in the life: Deer Park 2/4

Day in the life: Deer Park 1/4

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I was provided the good fortune of spending the majority of this past summer at Deer Park Monastery in southern California. It was an opportunity for immersion; for building bridges and releasing my shells.

I learned much during this time, and in the next four posts I will aspire to communicate the essence of my experience by sharing a “Day in the life” from my time there. I find this style of writing to settle nicely between telling a story and sharing takeaways. The Plum Village day in the life has been the most viewed post on this blog, so either people are accidentally finding their way here by searching for Plum Village, or it’s a writing style people appreciate. Or maybe it’s both! :)


5:25am Alarm. Continue reading Day in the life: Deer Park 1/4

Day in the life: Plum Village 2/2

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Continued from Part 1

1:30pm: I grab my table tennis paddle from the residence and make my way to the open field. On my arrival a look of amusement appears on my friend’s face: “Oh you brought your own paddle…you must be really good huh?” I feel some pride swell up, the game begins. We have some good volleys, although I am winning most of the points. Pride creeps in again as I am feeling superior, and then I remember some of semi-pros I’ve played who wiped the table with me. I loosen up and continue having fun. Near the end I can tell the opponent is frustrated, and he starts missing serves. I make a suggestion to take a breath, and that ‘each point is a new game’; he smiles and serve again. There is one monk at a nearby hamlet who is recognized as the best player in Plum Village. When I first met him he said “I heard you’re good, I want to learn from you.” I was struck by such an attitude; the top guy saying that he wanted to learn! I then recognized the obvious truth that such an attitude is the only way he’s going to get better. Pride can be dangerous if you don’t know how to transform it. My friend and I finish our game and he thanks me, mentioning how growing up with brothers everything was a competition, and that he’s working on this competitive habit. Here we have space to examine those influential relationships, most often springing from the roots of our parents and siblings. I smile. Continue reading Day in the life: Plum Village 2/2

Day in the life: Plum Village 1/2

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I’ve made it to about the halfway point of my three months living at a monastery, and had the idea to do a ‘day-in-the-life’, as an interesting way to communicate what I was up to. A monastery is out of the ordinary for many people, and thus may be difficult to conceptualize what an extended stay might entail. Plum Village isn’t your typical monastery, but then again, is there a typical monastery? So with that in mind, I will present part 1 of “A day in the life at Plum Village.” It should be noted that this is both no single day and yet somehow captures a bit of every day. I hope it brings you nourishment to you.

5:15am. Doorbell alarm sounds. Eyes open. Above me reads a gatha (short themed poem/meditation) taped to the wood of the bunk-bed above me. I recite it silently to myself, a breath for each line:

Waking up, I smile
A brand new day is before me
I vow to live fully in each moment
And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion

As I say the last word I slow my speech so that the ‘nnnn’ fades away and I feel my lips once again touch. I place my feet on the cold floor, take a full breath, and put on a few more layers before going outside.

5:20am. I’m out the door and on the way to the meditation hall, a short 3 minute walk. It rained last night, so I step around mud puddles, as I make my way towards the small lampposts lighting the way. It takes a minute but I realize I’m walking faster than I need to. Why am I rushing? I slow my pace; it feels nice. Continue reading Day in the life: Plum Village 1/2

Who’s driving your bus?

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A couple summers ago I was in Nepal riding a bus. It was a day long trip in a well-worn vehicle (this was no Greyhound), and we began our journey at dawn. This particular ride got off to a slow start, as every 20 minutes the driver would pull over, shut off the engine, walk outside to converse with others, and then slowly make his way back to the driver’s seat. Then he would pull over again, shut off the engine again, walk outside to converse with others again, and then slowly make his way back to the driver’s seat, again. Then he would pull over yet again, shut off the engine yet…get the idea? Yea, so did I!
Continue reading Who’s driving your bus?