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Category Archives: prayer

a note to my multi-tasking friends

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“There’s a lot we can do in the fast lane — we can grow and we can expand.
But we cannot deepen, and we cannot integrate our experiences, unless we slow down.” (Angeles Arrien*)

As Br. Wayne Teasdale writes, “when we deepen and find integration of our most important experiences, we also find the common ground with all other sentient beings. To enter into this depth of realization, we must slow down and make contemplation a singular priority in our lives.”

sources: Arrien, A. (1998). Signs of life. Tarcher. Teasdale, W. (2004). The mystic hour. New World Library, p. 243. *Dr. Arrien is a teacher in the year-long end-of-life care program I completed in 2006.


“for death”

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A friend writes that “I too am completely overwhelmed by the devastation in Japan. My middle son lives there and thankfully he and his girlfriend are safe. My heart aches for all those poor unfortunates.” Several zen-related blogs report on Japanese friends and teachers, all well amid the horror.

News from Japan numbs my comprehension of Nature’s relentless power and man’s loss of control over atomic powers. Opening my heart to all who suffer, I copy these words by the late John O’Donohue:

From the moment you were born,
Your death has walked beside you.
Though it seldom shows its face,
You still feel its empty touch
When fear invades your life,
Or what you love is lost
Or inner damage is incurred.

That you would gather yourself
And decide carefully
How you now can live
The live you would love
To look back on
From your deathbed.

How can we, from a place of relative safety, express gratitude and love to others. How might I reach out to someone in need and share the abundance of my being? May the horror of others’ loss be a reminder to live each moment in full awareness and appreciation. May I turn to others with kindness. May I give thanks for all that is given and taken. May all beings be free from fear.

image: REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won. text: Excerpt from “for death” in: O’Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space between us. New York: Doubleday, p. 72.

at year’s end ~ blessing by john o’donohue

The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.
Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.
The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
© Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space between us: a book of blessings. New York: Doubleday, p. 191John O’Donohue (1956-2008) was an Irish poet, Catholic scholar, and Hegelian philosopher.

what vow is this?

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Till now our fledging meditation group has stayed clear of chanting — something that’s integral to monasteries and priest-led practice centres. We’ve limited rituals to ringing a bell here and a han there; we bow as we arrive and depart, when taking and leaving our seats, and as part of tea service. During this week of rohatsu, however, we’re adding the four-line chant of the Bodhisattva Vows to our morning and evening sittings. It begins with this line:

Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.

You what? Why not end world hunger or make peace on earth while you’re at it? Outright silly, you say? Meaningless? Get real! And who are you to “free” anyone? And free from what? Delusions? Greed? Illness? Sadness? Bad habits? Arrogance? Old age? Just a few that come to mind: states I wish I could be free of. Bingo! Start right here, right now.

What keeps me from being a kind person, a happy man, a good neighbour, a forgiving brother, a generous friend? How about this for a vow: May I be free from fear, anxiety, anger, hatred, prejudice. May I accept myself as I am, warts and all. May I cut myself some slack.

That’s a start: my mantra for today. May your day go well.


deep roots

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“Look to this day, for it is life, the very breath of life. In its brief course lie all the realities of your existence; the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty. For yesterday is only a dream, and tomorrow is but a vision. But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.”

Knowing that the historical Buddha was born and raised in India, I’m becoming interested in the roots of his teachings inside Hindu texts and practices. The quote above (source unknown) remind us that the past is history, the future a mystery, and only thing real is this moment, this day. image: Aum or Om, written here in Devanagari, is a sacred syllable in the Indian religions meaning “to sound out loudly.”


a little knowledge [can be a good thing]

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Today we explored the fields of spirituality which are/were mostly unfamiliar to me. Also practiced (role-played) initial conversations with clients. Here are some notes.

Wiccan/Pagan/Native spirituality is rarely recorded but handed down as stories since the beginning of time / between listeners and elders, shamans and medicine people / based on careful observation of what happens in nature; / belief that everything is possible, even if it not yet known; / belief that everything and everyone contain an aspect of the divine; / similarities in beliefs and practices among indigenous Peoples from as far afield as Siberia, Romania, First Nations (US and Canada), South America, Australia, South-Sea Islands; / the term Wiccan from Wikhar = sacred well.

Jewish spirituality based on the understanding of ‘truth’ is evolving, progressive; / discussion and disagreement about scriptures are essential; / believers are expected to disagree with each other; / God can be wrong; solemn duty to confront God, to engage in debate.

Desert fathers and mothers (4th century AD) / once home-based Christian practices became state religion and rituals became super-sized and in the hand of select clergy, / horrified, women and men moved to the desert to live in caves, to maintain the simplicity and directness of their worship; / they were mostly illiterate, had neither certificate nor clerical robes; / some became known for their wisdom and were sought out for advice (like hermits in other traditions East and West); / when consulted by someone who’d committed a serious misdeed, one said, “I will carry 1/2 the weight of your transgressions.” [This simple sharing of burdens — as practiced to this day in 12-step and other support groups — was later institutionalized by the Church into confessions and forgiveness of sins.]

So much to learn. Main objective: to expand my awareness and appreciation of others’ beliefs and practices so that I may serve their spiritual needs.

images: (top) Native American shaman at;  (bottom) St. Anthony and St. Paul, known desert fathers.


earning merits

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Walking up the hill to Doi Suthep, a touristy Buddhist monastery high above the Thai city of Chiang Mai, I saw a woman loaded with a pile of cages holding little birds. Just then three women approached. Coins and a cage changed hands, the three moved aside, stood with hands held palms-together, chanted briefly, bowed, and … released the birds.

My guide-book told me that this road-side ritual followed a circular protocol designed to generate merits: karmic bonus points resulting from good deeds, acts, or thoughts, which carry over to later in life or the next life. By setting the birds free, the women earned merits by doing a good deed. The one renting out the birds, by making their act of generosity possible, similarly earned merits. In addition, she made her living from the earnings. The birds, meanwhile, having been in the care of the vendor since birth, returned to their cage after a short flight, ready to repeat this amazing cycle of spiritual commerce.

I was reminded of this when talking to a person who’s facing death from a steadily encroaching cancer. She expressed her reluctance to ask friends and family for support. I’ve always been independent, she told me, and would feel guilty burdening others with my troubles. “Imagine,” I suggested, “the gift you’ll be giving to people who love you: to be able to practice compassion … an opportunity to do good.”