The Guest House

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This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

Integrating Head & Heart Part II

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Continued from Part I

Smiling at Stress

Our first events were in Boston, where we convened as an entire group. The day before the Harvard University event we had a number of decisions to make, and the full community of fifteen-plus monastic and lay friends gathered around a large wooden table. I had become more familiar with the working styles of the group and was looking forward to an unfiltered view of how a four-fold community (monks, nuns, lay men, lay women) makes decisions.

Coming from the corporate world, I was accustomed to a top-down, fast-paced, heavily structured decision-making progress. The monastic community operates bottom-up, in a very organic and non-hierarchical way. The meeting opened with Continue reading Integrating Head & Heart Part II

Integrating Head & Heart Part I

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I was asked to write an extended article about the Wake Up tour for the Mindfulness Bell magazine…what began as a simple reflection grew into a story of how I found my way from the corporate world to the mindfulness realm. This article was also published in the Shambhala SunSpace


Integrating Head & Heart Part I

A year ago I was sitting at a cafe in Ann Arbor, enjoying breakfast with a beloved professor from university. When I was in school he taught a course entitled Psychology of Consciousness, which was one my first introductions to mindfulness practice. Peace Is Every Step happened to be required reading, and after I finished the course I wondered why this material wasn’t taught in every classroom.

That day, I had gone to the professor seeking guidance. Continue reading Integrating Head & Heart Part I

Deepening my (piano) practice

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When I was a youngster my parents signed me up for piano lessons, and then a few years later it was boring and I wanted to quit.

My parents were clever, they told me: “If you can find one adult who stopped playing the piano when they were a child and is glad they did, you can stop taking lessons and we’ll never mention it again”

How easy! (I thought). I cornered the first old guy I could find, Continue reading Deepening my (piano) practice

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

Thank you

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“Autumn is the eternal corrective. It is ripeness and color and a time of maturity; but it is also breadth, and depth, and distance. What man can stand with autumn on a hilltop and fail to see the span of his world and the meaning of the rolling hills that reach to the far horizon?” -Hal Borland

A benefit of experiencing four seasons is that each time of year carries its own distinct mood. The transition from autumn to winter is a contemplative one, a time of acceptance towards the cold days to come and a reflection on the final colors of autumn. Thanksgiving accentuates this time well, and provides a natural space for expressing gratitude.

I have many things to be thankful for this season, and they are summed up in a song by Native American singer-songwriter Joe Reilly, called “Thank you” Continue reading Thank you

Wake Up!

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I’ve spent some time in the last year thinking through what I wanted my life to look like. This culminated recently with an aspiration to immerse myself within mindfulness practice and teaching, without quite knowing how I was going to do so. Well, the universe has responded, and I’d like to share its latest manifestation.

I recently finished a 3-week university tour with a cheerful group of monks, nuns and lay friends (see above for proof!) The monastics are students of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most respected and well-known Zen masters alive today. We visited almost a dozen schools on the east coast, putting on free ‘mindfulness workshops’ which included instructions on various meditations (sitting, walking, eating) as well as panel discussions and Q&A sessions. The events were well-attended and in total we shared space with over 1,000 young adults. Living, working and traveling with monastics outside a retreat setting was an incredible experience, and allowed me to learn each day. A few big takeaways: Continue reading Wake Up!

The Art of Conscious Living

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This poem is from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s first book Full Catastrophe Living. The book serves as a detailed introduction to mindfulness, and is placed in the context of healthcare and healing. Published in 1990, it helped lay the groundwork for mindfulness in the US, particularly from a scientific end. I’d like to share one quote from the book that resonated deeply, on the art of conscious living:

“You can’t sail straight into the wind, and if you only know how to sail with the wind at your back, you will only go where the wind blows you. But if you know how to use the wind’s energy and are patient, you can sometimes get where you want to go. You can still be in control.

If you hope to make use of the force of your own problems to propel you in this way, you will have to be tuned in, just as the sailor is tuned in to feel the boat, the water, the wind, and his or her course. You will have to learn how to handle yourself under all kinds of stressful conditions, not just when the weather is sunny and the wind blowing exactly the way you want it to.

We all accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor, and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go of the rest.

Training, practice, and a lot of firsthand experience in all sorts of weather are required to develop such skills so that they work for you when you need them. Developing skill in facing and effectively handling the various ‘weather conditions’ in your life is what we mean by the art of conscious living.”