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
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.
My joy is like spring so warm, it makes flowers bloom all over the earth,
My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans,
Please call me by my true names, so that I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
So I can see, that my joy and pain are one.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
During my junior year of college I was introduced to Led Zeppelin. I had listened to music before, but this band transformed my experience of merely listening with the ears to actually hearing with my whole body. I had their Greatest Hits CD (this was before Spotify, and even iTunes didn’t yet carry Zeppelin), and for my birthday my girlfriend at the time bought me the entire Led Zeppelin collection. Whoa; celebration day! With so much music at my fingertips, a question arose: how can I maximize my experience of listening to all this music? Continue reading Zeppelin, timing, and the desire for control
Was it you?
She asked politely.
That expression of beauty, serenading, masquerading in the form of sound?
Looking deeply, I search for an answer…
There is a piano before me.
But this piano is born of plastic, metal and wire constructed by people I’ve never heard of.
There is a sheet of music facing me.
But this music is born of genius, effort and persistence by people I’ve heard of but will likely never meet.
There is technique within me.
But this technique is born of lessons, guidance and feedback by people I’ve met but which are not me.
How can I say it’s me?
It’s more like the piano, the music and the technique played itself.
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
The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness,
discipline and effort,
and being able to truly care about other people,
and to sacrifice for them,
over and over,
-David Foster Wallace This Is Water
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
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
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
More new information has been produced in the last 30 years than in the previous 5,000 combined.
That comes from Information Anxiety…which was written in 1989.
More recently, a 2009 study released by UC San Diego stated that the average American consumes 100,000 words of information per day. This post is near 1,000 words, so that’s equivalent to reading every word of this, over 100 times, every day. I appreciate your interest in my writing but that’s a bit much! This bombardment of information (even if we enjoy most of it) has some severe implications; for many it contributes to a feeling of constantly being overloaded.
Above are some books Continue reading Too busy? Try asking 4 questions