Embodying a whisk

“Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel “Who am I?”  Sri Bramananda Saraswati’s translation for Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

From “Uji” by Dogen

An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being three heads and eight arms.
For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body.
For the time being a staff or whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.
For the time being the earth and sky.

For the time being a staff or a whisk. Both are tools, both belong to different traditional jobs or offices in a temple: the staff for the zen meditation master, the whisk for the tenzo (the cook in zen temples).

The following bolded lines are from Dogen’s Tenzo Kyokun (Instruction for the Tenzo). Translations from Moon in a Dewdrop.

rice “Watch for sand when you examine the rice. Watch for rice when you throw away the sand.”
Can you imagine this task set before you? Two bowls – one filled with the raw rice, another for the rice after examining, and the floor below you for the discarded sand.  Bringing practice into this task is two-fold – both carefully cleaning the rice of sand before considering it clean, and carefully examining the sand before you consider it dirt.

Paying attention not only to the action of the task – the arising of the task, but also to the end – the falling away of the task.  Dogen’s teaching urges us to stay with it – all the way to the end.  In asana this might mean watching equally how we enter, as well as exit a pose – so we don’t wind up with a sequence of starting pose after pose without ever really completing them.  Or in the kitchen, so we don’t wind up with a lot of clean rice without ever really checking to see if we missed any.  Or we spend an entire day moving from one event, task, need, person to the next, without taking any time to pause and be present as it comes to the end. Perhaps, if we did take that time, we might even notice the pause between them – just like the pause at the end of the exhale.

“Do not be careful about one thing and careless about another.”
How can we stay with the beginning and end of a pose? The beginning and end of a breath? The beginning and end of a commute? The beginning and end of a sensation or mood?  We all have areas where we take time to be careful all the way through, and we all have areas where that is not the case.  What are yours? What is one thing, today, you could apply this practice to and see what happens?

“When preparing the vegetables and the soup ingredients to be cooked, do not discuss the quantity or quality of these materials which have been obtained from the monastery officers; just prepare them with sincerity. Most of all you should avoid getting upset or complaining about the quantity of the food materials.”

What would like look like in your office? In your home?

 “Since ancient times this position has been held by accomplished monks who have way-seeking mind, or by senior disciples with an aspiration for enlightenment. This is so because the position requires wholehearted practice.”
How hard is it to do anything whole-heartedly?  For me, this is especially challenging with cooking – it’s so easy to drift off to another task mid-boil, get lost in commentary about completely unrelated topics mid-chop, or get into a mood that makes me less approachable to those I love. Even while writing this dharma, I was making coffee and planning out my words instead of just emptying the grinds.

In B.K.S Iyengar’s translations of “satya” (honesty), he suggests that if every cell of your being is not on board with what you’re saying – it’s not satya.  I like that for a definition of whole-hearted activity – every cell of your being is present and dedicated to this moment.  And also, there’s a mood of whole-heartedness that goes along with that definition.  Without that whole-hearted mood – our movements can become mechanical.

whisk “If there is sincerity in your cooking and associated activities, whatever you do will be an act of nourishing the sacred body”
Sincerity is the quality of being free from pretense…free from trying to make what’s happening anything other than what it is, right now, in this moment.

Sincere, whole-hearted, all the way through from beginning to end practice – this is how we embody a whisk.

Golden Buddhas

“Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel “Who am I?”  Sri Bramananda Saraswati’s translation for Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

From “Uji” by Dogen

An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being three heads and eight arms.
For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body.
For the time being a staff or whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.
For the time being the earth and sky.

“We go around as ordinary people and move through the world, but actually we’re spectacular buddhas” – Michael Stone

Three Stories

1) “A traditional Swedish Story: Because of the Black-Dragon-04mishaps of her parents, a young princess named Aris must be betrothed to a fearful dragon. When the king and queen tell her, she becomes frightened for her life. But recovering her wits, she goes out beyond the market to seek a wise woman, who has raised twelve children and twenty-nine grandchildren, and knows the ways of dragons and men.
This wise woman tells Aris that she indeed must marry the dragon, but that there are proper ways to approach him.  She then gives instructions for the wedding night. In particular, the princess is bidden to wear ten beautiful gowns, one on top of another.
The wedding takes place. A feast is held in the palace, after which the dragon carries the princess off to his bedchamber. When the dragon advances toward his bride, she stops him, saying that she must carefully remove her wedding attire before offering her heart to him. And he too, she adds (instructed by the wise woman), must properly remove his attire. To this he willingly agrees.
Then, taking off the first gown, the princess watches as the dragon sheds his outer layer of scaly armor. Though it is painful, the dragon has done this periodically before. But then the princess removes another gown, and then another.  Each time the dragon finds he too must claw off a deeper layer of scales. By the fifth gown the dragon beings to weep copious tears at the pain. Yet the princess continues.
With each successive layer the dragon’s skin becomes more tender and his form softens. He becomes lighter and lighter.  When the princess removes her tenth gown, the dragon releases the last vestige of dragon form and emerges as a man, a fine prince whose eyes sparkle like a child’s, released at last from the ancient spell of his dragon form. Princess Aris and her new husband are then left to the pleasures of their bridal chamber, to fulfill the last advice of the wise woman with twelve children and twenty-nine grandchildren.” – From Jack Kornfield’s “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”

tall golden buddha2) Building a temple in rural Thailand, a set of monks uncovered the top of a plaster buddha statue – which turned out to be huge – 5 tons! Later, the temple moves several times, and the monks always arrange to have the large buddha statue moved as well.  The third move is into Bangkok, where they had cranes positioning the statue into place.  As it was being set up, a rope from the crane broke and the buddha crashed to the ground, and cracked.  As the monks went up to investigate the damage, they saw that inside the cracks was something shining.  The buddha was actually a gigantic golden buddha that had only been covered over with plaster.

3) When I was in high school, my parents got divorced. At the time, this was still relatively rare for where I grew up – I knew only one other person with divorced parents.  I experienced a range of sadness and disorientation that only occasionally came out in tears at the end of the school day.  My last class happened to be French, and so my French teacher, along with my friends, were the only witnesses to this.  About a year later, I was again with that same French teacher where we were given the assignment to write (in French of course) one nice thing about each person in the class. She compiled them, added her own, and gave them to us.  To this day, I remember that she called me a “steel magnolia”. To this day, it’s one of the compliments I’m most proud of.  Not for a moment during the divorce had I thought about how I was handling it, how it was perceived, or if I was being strong. I’d never thought of myself as strong in any regard. It took her words for me to see it.

Despite how much we may doubt that first quote – or have trouble wrapping our adult-view points around it – it’s true.  And all the ways in which you can, right now, easily accept and name your inner 16-foot golden body – is not it. The most spectacular ways in which it is true, are the ones we don’t easily see – the ones that require a crack, a tearing, a lifetime of effort in order to be known.  And then a further lifetime of polishing.  Tend your inner buddhas, and peer deeply into cracks for what glitters there.

Wrathful Deities

“Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel “Who am I?”  Sri Bramananda Saraswati’s translation for Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

From “Uji” by Dogen

An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being three heads and eight arms.
For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body.
For the time being a staff or whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.
For the time being the earth and sky.

wrathful deityFor the time being three heads and eight arms – the wrathful deity. The part of us that pushes back against what’s arising with ferocity, without breath, without our tools. We all have this in us. My teacher, Michael Stone, jokes that it’s called “before espresso” for him.

When are you a wrathful deity in life? When are you a wrathful, even minor, deity in asana? On the cushion? We all have this quality. It can be towards others, it can be towards ourselves. When are you a wrathful deity?

Once acknowledgement of the wrathful deity comes, we can start with softening: the jaw, the gaze – all the way to the roots of the eyes. We can relax our recently narrowed viewpoint by releasing the soft palette. Then noting the hands, allow them to rest their continual at-the-ready tension as we let go of clinging to what we expected or wanted the moment to be.  At the end of the inhale say to yourself “let”, at the end of the exhale “go”.  If you notice the words migrate to the beginning of the breath, you’ve started to tighten and over-do.

I can be a wrathful deity when I drive. But I had no idea until about three years ago when I started driving again. I had lived for the past twelve years without driving. Now I drive two hours to see my family a few times a month, I drive five hours several times a year for retreat, and once a year I drive eight hours for silent retreat. Those are one way. Now I’ve had a chance to work with it, and I’m happy to report that I’m no longer a wrathful deity when I drive, or only a very minor one…J

Here’s what I learned:

  • I needed to be in right in the middle of what brings out my wrathful deity in order to work with it. I couldn’t do it on an island in the pacific where we’re mostly bare feet (I used to live in Hawaii). I couldn’t do it in a jazz filled trolley car walking city (I used to live in New Orleans). Despite how magical both those places are, my wrathful deity just laid dormant. It’s important to remember, when we get frustrated with living in a city (or whatever frustrates you), that it’s a gift for the yogi. Don’t avoid your wrathful deity.
  • After the acknowledgement stage, I needed to figure out which tool to use, and then set it in motion prior to the triggering situation. So I’d sit in the car before pulling out of the spot, put on the right music, breathe, look around and say to myself “It’s not mine”. And keep all of that going, with a relaxed tongue and drivingroof of the mouth. With soft eyes.
  • Notice when the patterns become run-off versus actual wrathfulness. There was a point where I would realize that the wrathful thoughts that ran through my mind had nothing to do with how I actually felt. It was just mental run off. It’s important to be in tune enough with the body, breath, and thoughts to spot this. Otherwise the thoughts can trigger you back into the state. Also, our internal practice and growth deserves a nod every now and then for the progress it’s made (without attachment to results, of course)

Highest Peaks and Deepest Oceans

“Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel “Who am I?”  Sri Bramananda Saraswati’s translation for Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

From “Uji” by Dogen

An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being three heads and eight arms.
For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body.
For the time being a staff or whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.
For the time being the earth and sky.

Close your eyes. Feel the breath in your rib cage, feel the subtle expansion and contraction of the inhale and exhale.  The height of the collarbones and broadening of the skull on the inhale, the depths of the exhale down in the pelvic floor.  Our very essence is one of contraction and expansion, of highs and lows, inhales and exhales.

top of mountainFor the time being, embody fully where you are right now – the highest peak or the deepest ocean. We all know what it’s like to be in both of those places. We also all know what it’s like to either try and hold onto that space, or to feel like it will never end.  Our very heart beats out to us the message that it’s not possible, not true.  When we fully take in the first two lines of Dogen’s poem, we are listening deeply to this message. We are fully embodying right where we are, right now, in this moment.
bottom of ocean.1“In the midst of pleasure, we are anxious about when it will end. In the midst of possession, we worry about loss. Even the most beautiful birth and most gracious death come with pain, for entering and leaving the body is inherently a painful process. We know that throughout our day, experience changes from pleasant to neutral to unpleasant, and back again, ceaselessly.” Jack Kornfield

When we share our day with others, how bizarre that we often reduce it down to one word or mood. Keeping separate that which is simply in flux. Conditions come and certain parts of our day and mood arise, different conditions swell in, and things change.  The subway car fills with people and there is discomfort, it empties at the next stop and there is spaciousness, a man comes through asking for money and there is concern, we step off the car and there is cold.  Our life is more inhale and exhale than our sequential minds believe it to be.

Listen – A short excerpt from Ram Dass’s “Making Friends with Change” Podcast. I recommend listening to his reading before googling the printed version.

We extend this to our practice:

“Now, at the stage that many people I meet are at, they do their practice, their method, as “good” and as well as they can. And then they take a little time off. They say, “Well that’s been great; now what do you say we have a pizza and a beer and listen to some good music?” Now that – pizza, beer, and music – could do it for them too, except in their mind there’s a model that the “time off” has nothing to do with it.”  Ram Dass from Grist for the Mill

I don’t know about you, but I have definitely done this. And my first instinct upon coming across this passage and essentially being called out in a very specific way – was defensive. I need time off- it’s hard work to practice off the mat or cushion. But then I thought – why would I want to being doing something if that’s how I feel about it? Why would I be committing to a life time of delving deeper into something I needed to be away from.  And I saw habit thoughts around the concept of “work” – it’s something I’ll put effort into in its time, and then I need my time off from it to “relax” and really enjoy life. That’s not at all how I actually see my practice.  With that, I realized how accurate Ram Dass’s critique was – in ways I hadn’t even known.  Now I think – I just don’t want to do anything, anymore, without being as fully there as possible. Whether it’s drinking with friends, or watching Netflix, or sitting with trees, or studying with my teacher, or engaging in relationships.  It’s not separate. One is not a black or white sheep. Whether a high or a low, being fully in that space means being fully present, as fully awake as I’m capable of in that moment. And I stopped using “work” to apply to my practice, or study, or teaching, or the dharma in general.

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
if it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence is in every small contracting
and expanding,
The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

-Rumi (excerpt)


The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

postit questionsExcerpt

Villagers: “Yet this we ask ere you leave us, that you speak to us and give us of your truth. And we will give it unto our children, and they unto their children, and it shall not perish. In your aloneness you have watched with our day, and in your wakefulness you have listened to the weeping and the laughter of our sleep. Now therefore disclose us to ourselves, and tell us all that has been shown to you of that which is between birth and death.”

The Prophet: “People of Orphalese, of what can I speak save of that which is even now moving within your souls?”

Can you picture this?  A group of eager inquisitive people have their shining eyes turned toward this man.  They want to know everything about life he has to tell.  Instead, he tells them it’s all already right there inside them.  Of course he goes on to tell them, but he gives that pause, that opportunity for them to trust themselves.

thinking questionWe can do this too  – not be in such a rush.  Give space after the question. Let it roll around for a bit in your practice, in your body, in your life, like a mantra. See what arises.

Sometimes you wind up with more questions, and you begin to realize that questions might be answers.  The pause can make space for questions you hadn’t thought to ask before.

question othersCan you imagine how seductive it is for the Prophet? To be the ONE that knows what everyone else wants. The next time you’re in a position to be the ONE – perhaps at work where you hold a senior position, at home with a young family member, or with someone who recently joined the hobby you’ve been doing for years – consider giving them an opportunity to know. Resist the urge to give the answer right away.  A simple “What do you think could work?” “What would you do?” could instruct more than an answer ever could. Maybe you’ll still need to give the answer, but creating that space in invaluable.  Practice this with others, practice it with yourself.

“Instead of gathering knowledge, you should clear your mind.  If your mind is clear, true knowledge is already yours. When you listen to our teaching with a pure, clear mind, you can accept it as if you were hearing something which you already know.” Shunryu Suzuki

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Equanimity: More Than One Story

On the announcement of being one of the first professors to be fired from Harvard, Ram Dass (then Richard Alpert) was in a room with the press. He writes, “They had that look on their faces you have when you’re around a loser… And I looked around and saw that everybody believed in only one reality to this situation except me.”

One of the hallmarks of when we’re in that more awake and story2aware space is that we’re not tunnel visioned into just one way of seeing ourselves or others or a situation.  We hold space, we don’t make up our minds about what’s in front of us, we have more than one story – without needing any of them to be right or wrong.

“My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children’s books.

I was also an early writer, and when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out.  Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.

But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.

Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.”   Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The Danger of a Single Story

Books are about specifically American and British lives, and they are also specifically about Nigerian ones.  Being fired from Harvard was disgraceful, and it was also freeing. Working ourselves free from the habit of a single story cultivates the type of equanimity required to really see ourselves and others, to really be present with the moment arising in front of you.

Often we drift into a single story when we are explaining “why”, and using language like “That’s just the way it is. That’s just the way I am, she is, he is, the government is, my handstand is, my body is.” Or, like Ram Dass, when our culture has a very strong single view of a situation.  It can be hard to climb out from under that.

stories1When we notice there’s just one story in our perception, we can stop, and ask “That’s one story, what’s another one?” Who or what do you have a just one story about? Where do you feel stuck? Test run this question now, and then try it out over the next few weeks. Try it with people, try it with yourself, try it with situations. Let equanimity be your guide. When it starts to slip too far from your field of vision, check in with this question.  Save yourself from having a single story of any aspect of your life.

A New Month for Gratitude

prayer side.editedNovember is the well-recognized month of gratitude – at least for Americans – culminating in the feast of feasts – Thanksgiving.  The event itself can all too often fly by in a whirl of pies, hugs, and family traditions of relating, disagreeing, gossiping, and bonding.

December is a month filled with multiple celebrations from work places to yoga studios to friends and family. It is further filled with many more occasions that we stop and think of people we care about in our efforts to provide them with a gift befitting our intimacy and connection. Creating an environment even more, perhaps, befitting of a cultivation of gratitude.

Amazement GratitudeIMG_20141009_121912

Standing in the middle of a New York forest in fall, eyes soaking in, like sponges, the array of reds, oranges and sunlight on the leaves. Soft palette releasing, beauty without the dialogue “This is so beautiful.”

Walking to Prospect Park on a summer day. My body light, fluid, completely filled with awareness. Every cell connected. Feeling like handstand, a cartwheel, a long arching reach of my arm, or a hug from a friend all imminently possible and astounding.

At the end of one of those days, opening the door to a partner who miraculously greets you with exactly with what you need to arrive home.

Moments of amazement – however they occur for you – are moments that are precursors to gratitude. Throughout this month (year, life) as you attend gatherings and think of special people, cultivate amazement. There is always something there to be amazed by. Sometimes it just requires the intention to stop and notice, and allow gratitude to well up from there.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

– e.e. cummings

Contracting, Letting Go and Intimacy

The 8 Day Silent Meditation Retreat I went on over the summer with Michael Stone has provided many lessons .  It also provided the opening I needed to create an overdue shift in my daily practice.

Since returning from retreat, I have not played a game on my phone, I have sparingly listened to music on my ipod. When I ride the subway home into Brooklyn I might read a book or listen to a podcast. Rides into the city, I am only present. When I first got back I neither listened to music, nor a podcast.

This is not because the subway has teaching moments I want to be awake to –although it does.

This is not because reading provides me with insights – although it does.

This is not because technology cleanses are necessary – although they are from time to time.

Small-World-600x400This is because that is how I contract – it is what I specifically contract around – it’s where and how I make my world small, disconnect from others, leave the moment, and lose touch with my embodied self. All of which are pretty much the opposite of what I want to cultivate.  However and whenever we contract, this is what happens.

When I began to feel that I could listen to a podcast or music without contraction, I did so. Although I don’t listen to them nearly as much as before, and I go to them to learn, study and enjoy, not to tune out or avoid.

Clues for where you might contract:
1) When I’m deep in the mode of contracting – the discomfort is so strong that it can be almost painful not to contract, not to do that thing.
2) When I’m refreshed and nourished after a vacation, retreat, or deep workshop – I feel unattached, and that those things are not necessary.

When I came back from retreat, I was in just exactly that second mode.  I realized that, in fact, the whole time I thought I had been turning up the ipod in order to maintain a pleasant state in the face of the literal ugliness of the subway – I was actually avoiding being with myself.  I knew I wanted to be present, but who can be enjoyably present with the wet matted trash on the tracks? Being present isn’t being with that external object, it’s being with you, with your body, with your breath. That’s the main focus. I tune outhad been missing that point (avoiding it?) and chose to escape with audio. After the retreat, being with my breath and body was home, and I finally could see how I had been making my world small, turning not only the world out, but myself as well.

The less you contract, the more you’re able to be with your body – to embody, moment to moment to moment your practice. You can be awake with your whole body. You become the best transmitter, physically, energetically and emotionally, of what you most hope to express.

We contract around things in our practice as well – we can contract around our injuries, our desires for the class, our fellow yogis, our balance, the breath itself.  How and when do you make your world small on the mat? How and when do you make your world small in life?  Then make it easy on yourself – the next time you’re in the second mode – reflect on this and use that time to let go AND make your world expansive, connect with others, stay in the moment, and embody your life. Letting go is only ever the first step.

Kaisen said:
Even if you obliterate your meditation seat with tireless sitting (you’re really fierce), and if your conduct is immaculate (like you know how it’s done), even if you’re eloquent dharma teaching astounds heaven and earth causing flowers to rain miraculously from the blue sky, even if you annihilate all thoughts and emotions and your body is like a dry tree, even if you never loose mindfulness though confronted by disaster, even if you die while sitting zazen and appear to have gained great realization and liberation; if you’ve not reached intimacy, it is all without value   (From Dharma Talk by Koshin)

intimacy-in-relationshipsKaisen is a dharma heir of Dogen – who was really big on intimacy. Intimacy with the breath, with the moment, with oneself. And nowadays we think also of intimacy with the sangha, with the teachings, etc.  Let go and be intimate.


dirtThis summer I had the occasion to have my hands in the dirt of two amazing places in upstate New York. Each time, the dirt was so dark and rich, smelling so amazingly fresh, that I just wanted to eat it (alright, I did actually eat it one of the times).

Everything grows out of something else. A tree stump can house not only moss or mushrooms, insect larvae and beetles, but also a whole new tree.

We all grew out of this earth. The more I practice, the more I can feel this. Although it still does take me by surprise sometimes, the default understanding of the earth is hard to shake.

Sanskrit has several different terms for earth to delineate the different kinds of relationships we have with it. English just has one (and a capital letter).  Our default understanding of it is often something that we’re ON, not OF. But if you spend enough time with a forest, you watch not only the mossy fallen trees become dirt, but the hearty standing trees themselves fall, become leaf and moss covered, break down to where they feel more like carpet under foot than wood, and eventually resemble dirt more than anything else. You feel in your bones that this too, is what happens with us.

It is not poetic to say that sitting in the forest, it feels like the stones and water are my bones and blood, or that the layers of leaves are my skin, and the trees veins to my heart.

enso“When we feel the beauty of the river, when we are one with the water, we intuitively do it in Dogen’s way. It is our true nature to do so. But if your true nature is covered by ideas of economy or efficiency, Dogen’s way makes no sense.” Shunryu Suzuki

What is Dogen’s way? To bring a bucket to a nearby river to retrieve water.  After filling up the bucket, he would dump part of it back into the river. Not to make it the right weight to carry, but to return a bit to the river. To have that connection. To take care of the river.

This is our practice – taking care of what’s around us, what’s right in front of us, what we’re in relationship with.

Below the flights of stairs, layers of pavement, sewers, and subways, deep down there is earth that needs us to take care of it.  Deep down under your partner, child, friend, there is something that needs to be taken care of.

In the wake of the Climate March, and the climate UN meetings, remember that it is not just (and perhaps, controversially, not at all) the government and regulations that will take care of the earth.  It is us, if the same number of people who attended the march committed to 10 small acts* of environmentalism, it would make a difference. If we practice, it will make a difference.  It is not necessary to try to be better, or to aid the environment as a mission – we all naturally want to do that – we just need to really practice. So really practice.

10 Small Acts of Environmentalism You can do for the Rest of Your Life:

*Never buy another roll of paper towels. Use small rags. It creates no greater water or laundry detergent use than I’ve always used to wash my regular bathing towels. (Ditto with paper napkins)
*Use a shower head that pauses the flow, or an adapter for your current shower head.
*Never buy another conventional cleaning product. Buy ones like Meyers Brand, or make your own.
*Spend time in nature regularly. Develop a relationship with a particular place in nature.
*Never buy another plastic bottle of water. Buy one of the multitude of refillable water bottles to your weight and aesthetic needs. If you plan ahead, and accept the small inconvenience, it becomes something you don’t even think about.
*Never buy another garbage bag. Use the plastic ones from grocery stores you get when you forget to bring your reusable bag/don’t have enough with you.
*Be educated about what is currently most sustainable to buy, and buy that. For example, cork yoga blocks came on the scene as a great alternative to the foam blocks.  Then everything started to be made from cork. Then cork trees began to be endangered. Now bamboo is best. Although I hear they are cutting down regular forests in some places to build bamboo ones. Don’t get bowled under by these kinds of situations. Make the best choice possible at the time you’re making it.
*Institute the old camp favorite: If it’s yellow, let it mellow…
*Never “print something for your records again”.  Create a PDF, and file it electronically.   As a yoga teacher, I have to itemize my purchases each year for taxes. I used to print all my receipts from online purchases. I don’t print a single one anymore.  Anything I do print, I print double-sided. Anything with one side that I eventually am done with, I use the other side as note paper.
*Compost and Recycle so regularly that when you’re somewhere it isn’t possible to do, it hurts a little to put it in the trash.

Mother_Earth caitlin taylor*Bonus: Be creative – what works in your life? What are other ways? How do you care for this one and precious earth?

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

samantha cross stitch

The preamble: When I was much younger, I was the proud owner of Samantha . She was a doll of the Victorian era, and as such, the make-at-home activity that came with her was a cross-stitch sampler. After much struggle (and much help from my mom), I became the doubly proud owner of a small pillow emblazoned with tiny x’s reading: Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Which I promptly gifted to my mom that Christmas.  There began the fodder for her admonishment upon my various actions of teens and twenties “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” – often with a sad downturned shake of her head.  Brutal. I hated that pillow.  I was clumsy! I was absent minded! I was young! Believe my words! I couldn’t understand her insistence.

The relevance: After 8 days of silence in community with strangers, on the morning before we were to speak again, that pillow suddenly became so clear. I got it. After a week of silent full-on interactions with others, of coordinating manual labor, meals, bathroom sharing, common area use, and many tiny other daily activities – words suddenly seemed a bit, well, unnecessary.  I had whole relationship arcs including disputes, resolutions, space and reconciliation. I deeply cared for people. I finally understood the concept of the overlay of words, and how words can be anything – but actions imbued with that much intention aren’t.

The lesson: Returning from retreat, I quickly noticed how the return of words left me using my body body_language_by_moni158-d5a4gndin relation to others in a lazy way.  The juxtaposition made it clear just how much I forgot about my body, and interacted with others from the chin up.  Of course, there is body language going on all the time at varying levels of consciousness. How to move that from being so unconscious? How to move it beyond flirting, getting a job, or detecting lying? How to make it less lazy?

It can seem like words are all we have to connect us – in fact several well respected counselors will actually tell us this. But I’d like to put forward the theory of intentional action.  And that attempting this in our regular lives allows us to be more connected to ourselves and the moment. More able to feel our feet and breath in a day. Better able to respond to situations as we might be working towards. More grounded.

For a week – can you move through your day as if you had no verbal communication (sign language or otherwise)?

“A seeker of silences am I, and what treasure have I found in silences that I may dispense with confidence?”

-Kahlil Gibran