Monday, July 20, 2020

Right Speech

In Buddhism, there is a thing called 'Right Speech.' It's not 'right' as in correct, but 'right' as in skilful. And it's not a commandment but a suggested course of action. Since one of my greatest talents is my ability to put my foot in my mouth, I find it a useful skill to practice.

So here are some guidelines:
Refrain from lying 
Refrain from slandering
Refrain from gross, cruel, vulgar or rude speech
And refrain from speaking just to pass time - idle speech.

There are masses of teachings about this, but they all pretty much boil down to this:
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Is it true?
Will it improve on the silence?

I love the last one. It forces us to change perspective from speaker to listener.

Yet, it's a good thing they are guidelines. I still listen to gossip at times, I still speak impatiently, I still use hyperbole when I want to get a point across, I certainly say swear words. I will never be perfect, so I focus on awareness instead. 

When I catch myself speaking in a way that goes against these guidelines, I can work with it. I can see my motivations, mental habits, the emotions I'm trying to avoid. It's useful, and since I'm curious by nature, fun, to unearth new insights. And I can laugh at myself when I put my foot in my mouth again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


How's your anxiety?

I was reflecting on the idea of 'being like water,' when Bruce Lee's quote came across my desk. 'You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.'

This made it more tangible. I imagined that the borders of my body, the edges between me and the world, wherever they are, softened and I became like liquid. It triggered an automatic relax. Respite.

I used this often while walking around the trails this month. I would stop and stand for a second to let the image settle me. Granted the setting is spectacular: trees and hills and streams and lakes, and the birdsong fills the air at that time of day. But I've done the same practice in the local grocery store during senior's shopping hours when everyone seems to be on edge. I stopped and stood still for a second to let the image of 'being like water' settle me. 

As I settled, it became more clear where I was holding physical tension: That day while shopping it was neck/shoulder, lower back. But even more interesting (and sometimes more challenging), it also became clear where I was holding mental and emotional tension. And I could see how quickly my mind wanted to jump back into battle. And if I engaged, I could see how quickly my body lost that relaxed 'being like water' state.

It's a practice. 

Even better, it's a fun practice. Stuff like this works best when playful and undemanding, not attached to any idea of success or achievement. Just having fun. So when I forget what I was doing and remember a bit later, it's like, "Oh right. I was having fun. So I'll do that more."

What feels fun can work for a while or it can change day to day. A few days later when I found myself needing to relax and breathe, I tried the water thing and, meh, it was ok, but not really doing it. So, ok. I relaxed and tried something different. I took the resting, open stance I take when 'listening" to the trees - not looking for anything, just enjoying the presence of the trees. I felt immediately more relaxed. It felt fun. 

It's not just fun because it's playful. It's fun because it's a respite. 

I think we need respite. 

If like me, you have a toolbox full of ideas or things that have worked for you in the past, scan through and see which seem the most fun for today, or for the next few hours. When we live through times of high anxiety, anything that brings us back to our centre is useful. 

I have a few more ideas here on the How-To page and the Meditations page.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Bug Net Appreciated

Early walk this morning by the lakes and the mozzies were hungry. Bug net appreciated.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Unfamiliar Terrain

I took a long walk through the trees in the middle of the night last night. My headlamp lit up the drizzly mist but I could only see three or four steps ahead. A part of me wanted to cast a wider awareness to get a better idea of where I needed to go, but I couldn't. And underfoot, now that the snow has melted, the terrain has become unfamiliar. 

Unfamiliar terrain. Unable to see where the path leads. Sound familiar? 

Maybe my best bet is just to watch where I'm putting my feet, backtrack without blame or shame when I discover I've gone the wrong way, and then move on ahead as best I can.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Pandemic Patience

What do you write about during a pandemic? 

With everyone piling on the internet, there's not much left to say about self-care, routines, being careful on Zoom, getting fresh air, or helping your neighbour. 

I have no specific advice. Except maybe trust your instincts and intuitions. 

If the day feels a bit "wonky" maybe it's not the right time to hit the grocery store. Try another day when it feels smoother. This thing is so big and so different and so scary it can be easy to let logic over-ride intuition. Last Tuesday was the sensible day to go for groceries. But it was mayhem. Yesterday went smoothly and safely. We let logic over-ride intuition when we strive for some kind of grip, or control. 

For me lately, all my daily readings have emphasized loosening my grip and having faith that all is as it should be. It's a hard sell. I'm wired to plan and look for patterns, yet it's only by loosening my grip that I can get access to enough calm to be open to intuition. 

So my intentions over the next while:
  • Keep my routine of walking in the woods and meditating.
  • Double down on my patience practice. I've always been a bit too quick to react. I don't need to add to the drama when everyone is stressed out.
  • Find other resources online that build joy. Symphonies are streaming free. The Archbishop of Canterbury streamed a Mothering service last Sunday. Beautiful. And the Barred Owls are nesting again in Indiana. (This is where I would normally complain about my slow and expensive rural internet, but I'm trying to double down on my patience.)
  • Stay home unless I need to make another supply run. And when I do, trust my instincts and intuitions.
May we be safe,
May we be well,
May we be at peace,
May we be happy.

Thursday, February 27, 2020


I had a great chat with a local Pastor the other day. His church is very different from the one I am familiar with - the hymns, the liturgy, and even the way of faith. Yet he is a terrific person, eager to share his faith with more in the community.

I was mulling over my conversation with him when I came across an old article I bookmarked years ago written by a former priest turned atheist and then agnostic. About his change to agnosticism, Mark Vernon says, "How else to deal with something that lies at the heart of the human condition: uncertainty. Thus, a corresponding 'lust for certainty' characterises many of the debates currently doing the rounds." 

We humans turn to opinion and belief because we want the sense that we have things in control. In our hearts, we know we don't but we are scared, so we look for answers in science, in medicine, in cosmology, and in spirituality.

The author's agnosticism was not the "I don't know and I don't care" agnostic approach to spiritual life. He was still a spiritual person. Faith for him is about letting it be ok not to have all the answers.

I feel the same. I would rather lean into this energy of uncertainty than grasp a belief or opinion that may not feel authentic. Faith for Saint Augustine of Hippo was about "deepening the capacity to enter this cloud of unknowing, rather than opting for the shallow certainties that religion can deliver." Albert Einstein said, "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." 

Life is uncertain. The more I live my life with that in mind, the more relaxed, patient, and accepting I become. I don't call myself agnostic; my spiritual life includes different things. Yet the author has a point when he suggests that without a worldview that accepts uncertainty, "religion will become more extreme; science will become more triumphalist; and our politics increasingly based on fear."

The article is archived here.

If you read the article, have a look at some of the comments. This was written in 2006; there's nothing as horrible in the the comments as we'd see in 2020. I found it fascinating, though, to see how many used the comment section as a platform for their own opinions - the very thing he was addressing in the article. 

We really do "lust for certainty."

Monday, February 24, 2020

5 Tips for Making Ourselves Happier

These tips that have all worked for me. They aren't hard, and we can usually manage at least one each day.

• Connect each morning with the natural world. This can be done on the way to the car or to the bus or on the way to work. Quiet your mind just a little and let yourself notice that tree in the next yard, or the lake as you drive by it on the way into town. Let yourself feel a sense of wonder that we live in a world that includes such amazing things. This is easily done with delicious food, too. A moment to marvel that we live in a world that includes chocolate, well...

• Surround yourself with happy people. When we surround ourselves with complainers and worriers, we learn how to complain and worry. When we surround ourselves with happy people we learn how to be happy. Watch what they do, how they live and what they say. 

• Do a Metta (Lovingkindness) meditation every day. If you have trouble finding time, do a short version in the shower. Offering a genuine wish for all beings to be happy raises the "happy" factor in your own life. You'll find an example here.

• Practice saying something kind to somebody every day. Keep track that you do this every day. Do it especially with people you don't like. Just be sure it's authentic. It gets easier, and gives amazing results. 

• Say a Gratitude meditation at bedtime every night when you say your prayers. To fall asleep with a positive thought makes for sweet dreams and a happier awakening. You can find one on this page.