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Tag Archives: small self

just a breath away

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Just back from a weekend at the monastery, where I sat on a cushion or chair for hours, didn’t speak to anyone, helped in the kitchen, ate meals out of wooden bowls, chanted in English, Pali, and Japanese, woke up around 4 am and didn’t get to bed till close to 10 at night.

For the first ten hours of that I was busy daydreaming, fantasizing, fabricating, worrying, and watching my mind doing useless acrobatics. Then late at night, well past worry about stiff legs and aching back, something happened, if even for a moment. For the duration of several breaths I sank into a vivid awareness of my physical body, followed each breath into the fibre of my being, noted tense spots and soft areas, letting go – o miracle – of wandering thoughts; sank past wanting to get anywhere, greeted sensations and feelings as they passed by, fell deeper and deeper into successive waves of being-alive, witnessing nothingness while being fully awake.

I came back to “normal,” back to wandering mind and obscured awareness. That’s to be expected. Yet a full day later I remain refreshed by the realization that light resides within darkness. Nothing profound perhaps — except that for someone prone to depressive swings, welcome evidence of spaciousness residing a mere breath-length away from everyday chaos.



darn gifts

This morning, after a sweaty workout, my trainer gave to me … a festive paper bag containing what looked like a Christmas gift. Before I could say “gosh”, my thoughts went to I should have brought her a present and Maybe I’m off the hook because I live a monk’s life. My ego-centred mind reacted with a deeply ingrained habit where gifts are part of a tit-for-tat transaction.

Returning home, I found the second envelope in as many days containing an artful card hinting at Christmas wishes — without an inscription to say who’d sent either one. Could it be that someone’s teaching me about receiving expressions of kindness regardless of the sender’s identity?

Following last night’s meditation we again passed gifts to each other: little packages I’d wrapped beforehand so that neither giver nor receiver would know their contents. One person who’d been a recipient on Monday told us that she’d given hers to someone who was unable to attend. In response, the person opposite burst out: “Now I feel guilty.” Asked what that was about, he explained that he’d just imagined unwrapping his gift and now felt bad for being so selfish.

There’s a line in a Zen meal blessing that speaks of “the emptiness of the three wheels: giver, receiver, and gift.” By themselves all three are just as they are — until our conditioned minds come along to burden them with psycho-baggage.

May your gift-giving and receiving be free from add-ons.
May your heart be
filled with joy and gratitude.


pinch me! [revised]

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“I can’t believe that … .” How many times do we start a sentence that way. For me these days it’s “I can’t believe that I’m loved, that my heart is in such a state of ease.” By refusing to believe, I keep reality at bay, prevent myself from experiencing what is. It’s my ego’s defense against vulnerability. If you don’t believe, you won’t be wounded again, according to the frightened creature within. By not believing, I maintain a wall — however loosely stacked — to perpetuate a familiar sense of unworthiness. As the voice of the Inner Critic overrules what my body knows to be true, it desperately tries to protect the Lost Child, only to keep it from finding its way home.

Enter the poet:  

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvellous error! —

that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Any of this sounds familiar to you? By carefully monitoring habitual response we’re able to recognize reactivity and bring awareness to both what is and what goes on inside. Fears and old wounds must be acknowledged, even honoured, but they’re only parts of the picture. Listening to the heart and exploring the body’s sensations are ways to update the data base and expand our options.

source: Bly, R. (1983). (trans.). Times alone: selected poems by Antonio Machado (1875-1939). Wesleyan. image: