Embracing Change

“Put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward.”

These words are from Zen teacher Dogen Zenji who lived in Japan during the 13th century. I mentioned this “backwards step” to a friend recently and he replied, “but be careful; don’t take it when you are standing at the edge of a cliff.”

We laughed, and in thinking more about his comment, the problem, when it comes to change, is that we always think we are standing at the edge of a cliff, though, of course, we rarely are. Letting go of the known, familiar and comfortable is difficult. What we don’t know feels dangerous. This, I think, is why we hold on so tightly to what we have and know, even if it is not serving us. This must be where the expression “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” comes from; reinforcing the idea that change is always bad.

A simple model of change that I find to be useful, for myself and in the teaching that I do, is a three step approach:
1) Letting go of what is either gone or needs to be let go of
2) Being in a place where we don’t know.
3) New openings and new beginnings

Letting go – This is what Dogen Zenji was referring to as the backwards step, at least in part. Sometimes this happens to us beyond our choice – people leave us, people die, property is destroyed or any number of changes happen beyond our choice. We can also choose to make changes – letting go of routines and habits, changing course in relationships or with work.

Not knowing – Most of us want to skip this step. I do. I’d rather be comfortable and know then uncomfortable and not know. Many times we don’t have a choice. Yet, how valuable, though painful it can be to stay in this place of not knowing. Another wonderful expression from the Zen tradition proclaims that “not knowing is most intimate.”

New openings – Often beyond our planning and our control, new possibilities, new openings, and new beginnings emerge. This may take time, or not. The process may be painful or joyful.

I find myself asking the question, What do I need to let go of?; in my routines, my relationship, and my work. Just asking this question helps make room for change and growth.

A great place to begin is with the question – What do you need to let go of?

Day Of Mindfulness/Weekly Sabbath

When my two children were in elementary school, a weekly day of doing less was an important part of our family ritual. We borrowed some ideas from the Jewish Sabbath as well as Buddhist Day of Mindfulness practices. At the heart of our day we had three simple rules that we applied from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday evening:

Rule #1: There was no spending money.
Rule #2: There was no watching television.
Rule #3: We did something together as a family.

These three guidelines produced significant results in the quality of those twenty-four hours. What a relief to not buy anything, not have the television on, and spend time simply enjoying each other’s presence. My wife and I talked more with our two children; we read books, told stories, played games, went for walks, and shared meals. The biggest benefit of this structured break was that, for a day, the pace of our lives slowed down and our family connections increased.

One of my favorite parts of this ritual was the formal ending. We observed the Jewish tradition of looking for the first three stars to become visible on Saturday evening, signaling that Sabbath was over. It was fun and exciting for the four of us to stand on our deck together, seeing who could find the three stars as the sun faded and nighttime slowly emerged. Of course, since we live in Marin County, dense fog sometimes forced us to use our imaginations.

How Do We Decide? Perched On Top Of a 100 Foot Pole

To go to war or not to go to war? To act or to wait and see? Women’s rights or the rights of the unborn? Collaborate or challenge? Step forward or step back?

What is our real motivation? How do we decide? Where do we stand?

There is a story, a koan in Zen: “How do you step from the top of a 100 foot pole?”

I was thinking of a New York Times book review I read some time ago about the life of Alfred Kinsey, the famous sex research scientist. His research and books regarding the trends and variety of sexual practices were groundbreaking at the time. The review described the book as an exposé, highlighting the paradox and the alleged gap between Kinsey the person, contrasted with the public image of being a completely detached, non-involved, non-emotional scientist. The book describes Mr. Kinsey as a human being whose emotions were messy and whose personal life was colorful and erratic. The book points to the animal side, or the range of uncontrolled emotions and instincts; in contrast to the more scientific or spiritual side of human beings. The point of the book is in some way the scientific or spiritual is not real or solid, in comparison to the fact of our animal side.

Animal side, spiritual side; in what ways are they connected or opposed? Native American cultures and shaman traditions and many wisdom traditions have well-developed ways of integrating the so-called animal and spiritual sides. Each of us, particularly we as westerners, steeped in the scientific tradition, when we hear these words, has our own spin, history, opinions, conditioning. It is easy to get caught by these words and ideas, to think and believe, and fight wars over these ideas and distinctions.

From a Buddhist view, all emotions that keep us from seeing things as they are, or emotions that unnecessarily push us out of equilibrium can be called destructive. Our practice is to become intimately familiar with our so-called animal side and spiritual side, to go beyond these labels and return to our authentic, free and un-nameable natures. This koan says that in order to do this, to be genuine, we must be willing step from the top of a pole. That is, to step outside of our usual safety, to go beyond our comfort zones.

What are you really feeling? What’s under that, and what’s under that? It is so easy to hide from our real feelings and to obscure our feelings and emotions.

This is one reason why working with a teacher and working with a community is so important. All of us, no matter how much effort we make, are not always capable of seeing clearly. We are like fish in our own tank. Little by little the water can get dirty, and since it is just a little bit each day we don’t even notice it is dirty. Then our friend or teacher comes into our space and it is so obvious – hey, the water here is pretty dirty. Even though we may be working hard each, with the intention of cleaning the water, we may not notice the subtle leaks, the ones we can’t see, that may be obvious to those around us.

Stepping off the 100 ft pole can be as simple as paying attention, truly investigating reality. It may mean really listening to ourselves and those around us. Sometimes this means inquiring deeply about our feelings and emotions. Sometimes it means being open to a friend or teacher; being willing to be open to the perceptions and perspectives of our friends and teachers.

Destructive emotions can be summarized by five negative emotions: hatred, desire, confusion, pride, and jealousy. The more you examine, the deeper you look into the source of the human mind, the more these emotions appear, and the more they fade and disappear. At the core of these destructive emotions is actually a core of clarity, and brilliance, something not in any way harmful.

These obscuring emotions can be on the surface and they can run deep, getting in the way of how we see the world, the nature of things, our view of permanence and impermanence. These emotions actually cause us to lose our freedom. Thoughts become chained in a particular way, affecting how we think, speak and act

Meditation practice is another way to work with negative emotions. Sitting practice allows us to investigate the reality of our minds, feelings and emotions, to just watch. At a subtler level we can begin to allow some space in our thinking and feelings, to undo some of our conditioning; the embedded way that our feelings and emotions are part of our bodies. We see that the emotions themselves are not the problem; it’s the attachment to the emotions, the way they take hold of us and the gaps between our emotions and what really is.

Some practices:
1) If you are feeling hatred, practice love and compassion.
2) If you feel jealousy, practice kindness and joy.
3) You go first:
If what you want from your friend or spouse is more openness, acceptance and love, then you go first. You practice being more open, accepting and loving of the other person. If you want and need more vulnerability, sharing and risk taking; then you go first – be more vulnerable, more disclosing and more risk taking. Your actions, your going first is the antidote for whatever it is you find lacking in others. You have the courage and skill to take these actions because through your meditation practice you have a taste of impermanence and a taste of emptiness, – you come to know that everything is empty of being separate.

Since our lives are so short, everything we do is quite significant. And, the fact that we are not separate from others doesn’t mean that therefore we don’t have to take things personally. Again, just the opposite. Everything is personal, everything is important.

The koan says that you step from the pole. It doesn’t say that you wait for someone else to step from the pole.

Stepping from the pole is being willing to enter new territory, to say things that are not rehearsed, not safe, not part of our conditioning. The term “beginner’s mind” is easy to mention, especially when talking about others. But what really is beginner’s mind? How do we practice beginners mind not only on our meditation cushions but in our lives – with our spouses, lovers, children, parents, co-workers.

Stepping from a 100 foot pole is to step out from behind ourselves and our habits. This doesn’t mean to step away from our pain and confusion, and our messy, unpleasant emotional life. Instead, stepping from the 100 foot pole is just the opposite – we step directly into our feelings and emotions, our motivations and condition. We step and embrace whatever is most messy and difficult. We inquire. Ask others – Is there a way that my words hurt you? Have I done anything that causes you pain? Please tell me. Please let me know how I can support and be there for you. How can I express my love and care for you?

Why is it so difficult to talk with those we love in this way? What kind of armor do we have on that prevents us from being real and disclosing? What is this treasure we are protecting, this idea that we need to keep things safe?

The case:
You who sit on the top of a hundred foot pole,
Although you have entered the Way, it is not genuine.
Take a step from the top of the pole
And the entire universe is in your eye

Goals and Intentions

The goal of our life’s effort is to reach the other shore…the true wisdom of life is that in each step of the way, the other shore is actually reached. To reach the other shore with each step of the crossing is the way of true living.
– Shunryu Suzuki, from Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind

It is important to have goals, in our work and in our lives outside of work. Goals provide a target to aim for, whether we want to reach certain revenues, develop new products, reduce disease or violence, or lose weight. Goals provide benchmarks and allow us to make appropriate and useful adjustments as we move along the path toward meeting these goals.

Whereas goals act as the “what” we want to achieve, our intentions can act as the “how.” Our intentions can clarify the spirit and attitude with which we want to pursue our goals. Goals, by definition are something in the future. An intention can be right now, in this moment. We may have a one-year or three-year or five-year goal. Our intention can begin immediately and can act as a container in which we move toward our goals.

I understand that intentions have gotten a bad name (i.e. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”) Of course, decisions we make with certain intentions may have outcomes that were not intended. We can’t hide behind our intentions. Instead we can act both boldly and with humility, learning from our mistakes, adjusting as needed.

Having goals can be powerful. Taking an idea and committing to it has weight and gives energy and meaning to our activities.

Setting intentions can also be powerful. Our intention might be to work with less stress, to live with more joy, to meet difficulties and opportunities more openly and directly. Intentions can act as a compass to keep us more alive and more focused, as we pursue our goals.

In the Shunryu Suzuki quote above he is saying that our real goal, the goal that truly matters in our lives is the goal of finding complete freedom, to live a life of responsiveness, of joy, love, and compassion; to free ourselves from small-mindedness, self-centeredness, and an ego-centric existence. This is the true goal of being a human being. Our deep intention is to live in a manner in which we are reaching our goals in each moment, without waiting. We don’t need to be attached to some outcome in the future. We make our best effort, not only to meet our goals, but to set an intention to live with freedom and compassion; right now, in this moment.

I recently led a 3-day retreat called Step Into Your Life. We began the retreat by asking everyone to write down their intention for these days together. At the end of the retreat we all checked in with what we wrote at the beginning of the retreat.

What is your intention for today, for this week, and this year?

Your Five-Year and Ten-Year Plan

I was recently celebrating my friend Darlene Cohen’s life by re-reading one of her books, Turning Suffering Inside Out. Darlene was a wonderful, brilliant, outrageous person, and long-time Zen teacher. She suffered much of her life from severe rheumatoid arthritis. She embodied her teaching through working with and learning from her difficulty, and exuded both joy and wisdom.

I often think about my plans and my future. I imagine we all do. In Darlene’s book she writes about the time in her life when she and her husband and son left residence in the San Francisco Zen Center. Darlene was a teacher for many students and also had a practice of helping people who were in physical plan. Many of her clients began to be concerned about her and asked about her financial plans and her life plans. She began to feel irresponsible, especially since she had a family, and decided that she did indeed need to develop a five-year and ten-year plan.

This task was so important that she decided to spend an entire day devoted to this exercise. (Yes, this made me laugh…) So, on this special day, a warm Spring Sunday in San Francisco, she and her husband packed yellow legal pads and pens in their backpacks and went off on a bike ride. They stopped for coffee and pastries and rode through beautiful places along the bay. Finally by late morning they were ready to take up the task at hand. They sat down in a coffee shop, got out their pads and pens, and readied themselves for the task at hand – writing their five and ten year plan. But, nothing happened. There was tremendous resistance.

Then, Darlene says, she realized that she became clear about her five and ten year plan during the bicycle ride. For the next five and ten years she would do exactly what she had done for the past five and ten years – meditate, work with her students, and continue working with clients who were in physical pain.

Darlene goes on to say that this doesn’t mean that you should ignore money and finances and financial planning. Of course we all need to take care of our financial lives. However, what she learned was to see and appreciate the life she was already living, to embrace what she loved and appreciated about her life. She did not need to sacrifice the present by worrying unnecessarily about the future.

Darlene died several weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. Now, looking back at her life, when she began to work with cancer, she didn’t have as much money as she needed to pay for alternative treatments. Her friends and students gave her money. When she moved from San Francisco she didn’t have enough money to build a meditation hall in her home. Her friends and students supported her and provided funds for this as well.

I miss my dear friend. And I’m grateful to have her spirit and her teachings of courage – the courage to work with suffering and physical pain, the courage to appreciate the gift of our lives, and the courage and wisdom to turn suffering into joy.

Less Fear. More Time

If it seems as though there is never enough time to accomplish all that we intend to do in a day, perhaps it’s all Benjamin Franklin’s fault. In 1784 he famously declared “Time is money.” His intention was to motivate people to work more and shun “idleness.” He worried about the young country’s potential to generate industry and be innovative and industrious. How the pendulum has swung!

Today, one of the more insidious anxieties of modern life is fearing a lack of time. But time is an abstract human concept. The natural world flows seamlessly, a succession of days and nights, moons and suns. The natural world changes, but there is only ever the current moment. Once people invented calendars and clocks, they could measure and divide this endless flow, and time became a thing that could be “spent,” “lost,” or “wasted,” and having a “shortage” of time became a source of stress. Now, if we have a task in front of us, we often pay more attention to the zipping-away, fleeting clock time — the hour or half hour or ten minutes we’ve allotted for finishing the task — than to the task itself. If a task takes longer than expected, if we rush and make mistakes, anxiety sets in, our breathing becomes shallower, and our sense of enjoyment and accomplishment disappears. Frequently, the more we’re distracted by trying to beat the clock, the longer tasks take to complete.

But no matter how well we manage our time, the underlying problem and fear regarding time remains. To transform our fear, we need to change the way we think about and experience time. We have to think of time as more than a ticking clock.

Relative and Absolute Time 
Relative time is clock time and psychological time. While relative time is an artificial human construct, it is a compellingly useful one. We can only plan and prioritize in the realm of relative time. Past, present, and future are essential tools for understanding, visioning, and planning. Once we’ve decided what is most important or essential to accomplish, relative time allows us to measure the future (in hours, days, or years) so we can successfully achieve it. In practice, this means reflecting on the past (how long did things take before?), weighing options (how long will it take if I do it this way or that way?), and effectively planning each day so that our time is “spent” effectively, rather than “wasted” by constantly reacting to distractions or focusing on lesser priorities.

Absolute time is the unmeasured, ongoing “now” moment of the natural world, and it is equally important. When we enter the realm of absolute time, we see and experience ourselves and the world beyond the human construct of relative time. In absolute time, there is no “time.” Instead, we become fully aware of and focused on the present moment and the activity in front of us, without regard to past or future. Paradoxically, as we become completely aware and present in absolute time, we also lose an awareness of ourselves. This is what the great thirteenth-century Japanese Zen teacher Eihei Dogen referred to when he said, “To study Buddhism is to study yourself. To study yourself is to forget yourself. To forget yourself is to awaken with everyone and everything.”

We study ourselves in order to become aware of our conditioning, which is the sum of our past experiences. To understand our conditioning is to understand how we project our past into the present and the future. For example, when I say the word sky, you form an image in your mind of the sky. You know what the sky looks like because you’ve seen it before. But your image of sky might be different from mine. More importantly, when you step outside, you might not pay any attention to the sky because you think you already know what it looks like. You’ve seen it a thousand times. However, in truth, the sky is new every moment and never the same — it is always changing, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically.

The same is true of ourselves. We think we know who we are, for we have been conditioned by our past experiences. As with relative time, for the sake of convenience, we become set or fixed about our ideas of ourselves — so that we unfold with a reassuring predictability, like the hours of a day. Within the realm of absolute time, however, these increments, these labels from the past, do not exist. Human constructs based in relative time disappear. Experiencing absolute time is to experience the world as it actually is in the moment, and doing so requires that we loosen our ideas and constructs.

When we drop our conditioning, it’s quite remarkable how the ordinary becomes extraordinary: the sky comes alive, the flowers come alive, time comes alive, and our experience comes alive. In this state of aliveness, we are more composed, more ready, and more productive. This sense of aliveness instills a fresh sense of meaning to one’s activities and relationships. It also opens up new possibilities, since we are no longer bound by our past. The result is increased focus, creativity, and productivity. And less fear.

Playing with Time
Here is a way to practice and play with time:

Each day, decide one thing that you want to accomplish during the day. Create a written list of next steps and associated dates when each of these steps will be initiated and projected completion dates.

Each day, spend some time totally unconcerned with time. You can do this by bringing your attention to your breath and your body, for a period of three breaths. Or, bring your attention to flowers or trees or the sky, seeing them as if for the first time. For part of each day, let go of your “to do” list.

Adapted from Less: Accomplishing More By Doing Less

Work As A Sacred Practice

“Don’t be a board-carrying fellow.” This expression, sometimes used in Zen, refers to a carpenter carrying a long, wide wooden board on his shoulder, blocking his view in one direction. It is an admonition about seeing the world and ourselves as ordinary and mundane without also considering the sacred, mysterious, and unfathomable aspect of our hearts, minds, and surroundings.

This expression can also help us understand that our work is not separate from our lives. One side, an important and vital side of work, involves goals, achievements, money, ambition, and developing your career. Understanding and implementing the technical and strategic aspects of your work are critical for your organization or business to fulfill its mission.

What about the other side? We are all human beings. We all bring a vast set of rich and complex experiences, skills, patterns, needs, aspirations, and emotions to our work. The other side, often more difficult to see, is the sacred aspect of your work, the way in which your work can expose and transform habits and patterns in your life while uncovering your authentic, compassionate, inner wisdom.

When you remove the board from your shoulder, a new world opens, a new way of understanding yourself, of seeing others and the true meaning of your work. Removing the board doesn’t mean turning your work into a self-help workshop. As a business owner with an M.B.A., I understand the importance of results, hiring and motivating talented people, sales and marketing, strategic planning, and cash flow management, as well as the many skills required to start, manage, and grow a business. As a human being and a Zen teacher, I also understand we all bring our full selves to work: our wishes, dreams, desires, anger, and frustration, as well as a deep yearning to find real inner peace, freedom, and happiness
One of the most famous pieces in Zen literature, read or chanted every day in Zen practice centers, is called the Heart Sutra, which in a few paragraphs describes the essential path of Zen practice. A phrase from the Heart Sutra says, “without any hindrances, no fears exist.” These hindrances are the ways in which we protect ourselves, shield our hearts, and keep ourselves closed and separate. Zen practice provides a method and discipline for identifying and loosening the ways we get in our own way. It helps us move from living and acting from fear, to living and acting with fearlessness. By searching for safety and control, and from responding out of fear, without realizing it, we sacrifice the freedom, flexibility, and connections that are our birthright.

Don’t Squander Your Power

Living our life deeply and with happiness, having time to care for our loved ones—this is another kind of success, another kind of power, and it is much more important.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

When I was in my early 20s and a young Zen student living at the San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm in Marin County, an older woman Zen teacher of mine looked me in the eyes and said, “Marc, you have a way of pissing away your power.”

I didn’t know what to make of this. I was stunned at her directness. And I was puzzled. Was this a criticism or a compliment? I felt bad, wondering why and how I was not embracing and utilizing my power. At the same time I felt encouraged because I had no idea I had any power to piss away! I thought: Where and what is the power that she sees in me, and that I don’t see? Over whom and in what context? I suspected that this statement was intended as a gift; one human being looking at another, seeing and expressing what they believe is possible in the other person. Not measuring and comparing but acknowledging an intrinsic positive quality. Perhaps at its most basic offering what she said was a compliment, but one couched in language that said ominously, “Don’t squander that gift.”

This statement has been a puzzle, a “koan” for me ever since. A koan in Zen Buddhism is a story that is used to deepen one’s understanding, to transform the way in which one experiences one’s own self and the world, generally by cutting through habits, patterns, and conventional views and attitudes. A koan doesn’t necessarily have an answer but by staying with the question it can develop understanding, uncover hidden places within one’s consciousness, and develop one’s ability for greater insight, understanding, and compassion.

In order to penetrate that rather startling statement that Zen teacher made nearly 30 years ago, I’ve had to stay with it, keep coming back to it, over and over, even when it is uncomfortable. What is my power? How do I express this power? How do I give away my power, and at what loss to me? What if giving away my power is as much a positive as a negative?
I’ve learned since that time (and I continue to learn) that there are a variety of ways that I give away my power. I give away my power:
– when I say yes and mean no
– not being honest about my feelings (acting nice, feeling angry)
– when I stop myself from reaching out to help someone in need
– when I’m not honest about what I want, and don’t want
– when I act on the fear of not being smart or competent enough
– when I do not show the best part of myself, and want to
– when I abdicate the opportunity to make tough decisions.

When we give away our power we give away our sense of belonging, rootedness and of abundance. We feel less able and less connected. Not only do we move from abundance to scarcity; our lives also shift toward greater complication and less simplicity.

I could keep going with this list, but this seems like a good start. I invite you to ask yourself wherein lies your own greatest power? How do you define personal power? How do you claim that power and how have you further developed it? How do you squander or “piss away” your power? Do you want to change that history or tendency? What part of sharing your power makes you feel better about yourself, makes you a more benevolent and effective leader?

Practicing Generosity

During a recent retreat I was leading, where the theme was “Accomplishing More By Doing Less” one of the participants was a recently retired physics professor, whom I’ll call Michael. For the past fifteen years Michael’s work had been his primary focus, and he generally averaged twelve-hour work days. During lunch on the second day of the three-day workshop, he asked me, “When is the theme of this workshop, how to get more done by doing less, going to become clear?” His impatience was obvious. I responded that I thought that everything we were doing in the workshop focused on ways of exploring how to do less.

When we began the next session that afternoon, I suggested to Michael and to the group that so often we can get distracted by searching for answers. Sometimes, slowing down and being generous with ourselves may create space for the right questions to emerge, often slowly, allowing us to go deeper in our lives and open doors to new ways of approaching and resolving thorny issues.

The next morning, the third and last day of the retreat, I could see tears in Michael’s eyes as he began to speak about an insight. He had come to the workshop wanting to better utilize and prioritize his time as he was leaving his busy professional life. What he came to understand, through doing less and experimenting with being generous with himself, was that what really mattered in his life at this time was healing some of the gaps in his relationships with his two grown daughters.

When you can find composure and act with clarity and resolve, right in the midst of your fears, this is a form of generosity that in Buddhism is referred to as “giving the gift of fearlessness.” I remember several years ago someone approached me after I had given a talk to an audience of several hundred people. He said that he noticed that my hands were shaking as I was speaking, yet my voice and body seemed clear and calm. I responded that this was exactly how I felt — shaky, filled with fear, and at the same time, I felt clear and calm.

Try this: Experiment with the practice of generosity. Give your attention, your caring, and your curiosity to those you live with and work with, without expecting anything in return. Take it on as an actual practice. Say yes, to yourself and to others. Notice and write about your acts of generosity as well as the generosity of others.

Adapted from LESS: Accomplishing More By Doing Less

Eyes Are Horizontal. Nose Is Vertical: Radical Simplicity

There is a story from 13th century Japan about Dogen, the founder of Zen in Japan. As a young man he had a variety of burning questions about life and death and how to live a profoundly meaningful and beneficial life. He couldn’t find anyone in all of Japan who could adequately answer his questions, so he ventured across the ocean and traveled to China, where Zen was flourishing at the time. Upon his return from China was asked:

“What did you bring back from China to Japan?”

He said, “I came back empty-handed.”

“What did you learn?”

“Not much, except gentle-heartedness.” He responded.

“And,” he added, “I learned that eyes are horizontal, nose is vertical.”

We expect that this great Zen teacher, the founder of Zen in Japan would have some profound teaching, insights, something intellectually challenging, or at least stimulating. Instead, what we get is – all I learned is 1) He came back empty handed; 2) gentle-heartedness, and 3) eyes are horizontal, nose is vertical.
Perhaps, there are some lessons here, for us, in this place and this time that we can apply to our lives, eight centuries later:

Empty handed – We are born empty-handed, and we will die empty-handed. How simple and freeing, the practice of emptying, the practice of letting go; of what we expect and of the things we think we need. Our minds want some kind of map, some assurance, we want something solid, some protection.

Letting go, to me, is the opposite of avoiding. So often we avoid what is difficult in our lives. Letting go means to face and experience the difficulties, and the joys of our lives fully and directly, without getting all worked up about outcomes. How do we make commitments, act decisively, plan, strive – all with a sense of letting go?

Gentle-heartedness – I can’t help but think of the Dalai Lama quote – “My true religion is kindness.” He could have also said – My true religion is gentle-heartedness. How can we practice gentle-heartedness in the midst of a world filled with difficulty, and violence, poverty, and great disparity? Or perhaps asked differently, how can we not practice gentle-heartedness?

Eyes are horizontal, nose is vertical – Such a simple, obvious observation. So obvious, we often miss it, don’t notice – our own eyes and nose, our own breath and body. The smile of a child. We are too busy; have much more important things to go. What if we pause, and notice, with everyone we see, everyone we meet – each person is just like us – eyes horizontal, nose vertical. What if we just appreciate these eyes, this nose, this amazing life?