Until recently I have not understood or had a clear sense about what it meant to cultivate equanimity.  In looking up the definition online I came across the all mighty wikipedia’s two cents: Equanimity is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. The virtue and value of equanimity is extolled and advocated by a number of major religions and ancient philosophies.

It turns out I should’ve looked up the darn word years ago because after reading the definition I can understand what it means right away.  Big words oftentimes confuse me.  So now here I am traveling on the path of mindfulness and zen based practice of which I’ve been on for some 10 years or so and this elusive, or rather seemingly elusive, teaching grows alongside my steps in, also seemingly, sudden thickets.

It seems to me that with consistent, diligent practice certain teachings start coming about effortlessly.  Of course much effort has actually gone on along the path but much like when you work hard cultivating good soil  on a patch of earth for a time nature then is supported in taking care of the rest.


In basic terms equanimity is the practice of letting go.  It is being able to rest in the moment just as it is – to lay our worries and anxiety down.  Experience has shown me that when I wait for life to come together or get better or for happiness to arise in the future I continue to travel down an illusory path of non-harmony.  The practice of thinking that happiness is possible only when certain conditions arise and line up in a specific way is not only detrimental to my well being it is on every level imaginable simply not true.

Happiness rooted in circumstances outside of myself, such as a certain job, certain relationship, more money, a better car, more stuff etc., is a fast burning fuel.  Once the high of obtaining such things wears off I am left once again craving the next best thing to happen.  Equanimity teaches us that it is possible to be content and at ease in the here and now despite the happenings going on around us.  When a storm sweeps in through the forest if we were to look at the tops of the trees we would see the thin branches and leaves blowing about tumultuously but when we look down to its base we see it is rooted very solidly in the earth.  With practice we can become more and more like the trunk of a large tree, unwavering and firmly grounded in equanimity.

I used to confuse equanimity with a lack of care or emotion.  But I see now more clearly that it is a matter of developing a different relationship to life and its unfolding.  With the practice of cultivating equanimity our energy is given the opportunity to transform from creating drama to creating dharma in any situation and with every person we encounter.

As Is


I have been traversing deeper into a great teaching lately which I’ll call: As Is.  This teachings is about practicing to be with the moment just as it is.  When we are able to do so we not only cultivate mindfulness in the process but what I am coming to learn is that we also save precious energy, create stamina and are better able to cope with stress .  Not needing the present moment to be anything other than what it is, even if it’s not what we expected or wanted, is a profound practice and is even beneficial for our time usage, health and well being.

It is easy to understand that our physical bodies need rest to function properly.  But it is perhaps not so easy to understand that the mind also needs rest to perform optimally.  When I am constantly internally judging, blaming, worrying, stressing, regretting, complaining, and cursing at people, places, things and myself my mind is not at all restful.  I see clearly that the root of all of these agitated mental states lies in wanting the moment to be other than what it is.  To be with the moment just as it is means to lay down our worry and strife and if we are able to do that our situation changes right away.  We can liken it to carrying a heavy stone.  After carrying a large stone for some ways when we put it down our body is so grateful for the relief of weight and it is the same for our minds.  Things like judgements, worry, stress, and negativity are heavy burdens to carry around.  It is impossible for our minds to rest if we are continually bound up in these mental processes.

When I am able to meet the present moment on its own terms I am also practicing letting go, embracing impermanence, going with the flow and joy.  And as I’m now finding out I am also practicing to alleviate stress and anxiety and conserve energy.  An incredible amount of energy is expended when I am caught in wanting the present moment to be different.  I am only just starting to really understand this and it is proving very refreshing and freeing!

The teaching of As Is applies to every aspect of our daily lives, not just the easy, comfortable, good stuff.  This practice goes to the heart of everything that happens, has happened and will ever happen.  We have a choice when it comes to how we engage with ourselves, our surroundings, and the events that unfold.  It is easy oftentimes to think that life just happens to us and we bob around like a cork on the waves of the ocean unable to affect our situation.  And while we don’t have much sway over what the turbulent tides may bring our way we do have a choice as to what vessel we weather the storm in.

The mind and body are connected.  When we take good care of the mind we also take good care of the body and when we take good care for the body we also take good care of the mind.  When I am caught in mental tension my body also becomes strained and tense, my breathing becomes shallow, and physical pains arise and heighten.  When I am caught in turmoil it means that I am fighting against the flow of the moment.  When I practice to embrace the present moment I practice to embrace life.  The difference between embracing life and fighting against it is the difference between a life met with a scowl and one met with a smile.

I think that while the statement I’m about to say is generally understood on an intellectual level I don’t think we as a collective understand it on a heart level: Life consists of unpleasantness.  Most of us would benefit from  broadening our perspectives.  It is easy to get caught in thinking that our troubles are unique and we have it worse than anyone – that our lives suck and what happens to us isn’t “supposed” to happen.  The western mindset is very self-centered.  Let us practice to get out of our own way and lay down our unskillful habitual tendencies to be a victim of what is in actuality the lifestyle we’ve created for ourselves.  When unpleasant occurrences roll in with the tides of life the teaching of As Is shows us that we have a choice as to whether we get caught in the storm or dress for the weather.



Week 8 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 8 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013


Reflection Questions

1) Why are you a meditator?  What brought you to meditation?

I meditate to learn the art of being a human being.  My journey of practice began with the book Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The book made great sense to me and then meditating also simply spoke to me as making sense.  There was no real ah-ha moment but there was an of-course moment involved, as in “of course I’ll learn to meditate, why the heck not?”

2) What does “waking up” mean to you?  What do you most need to wake up to?

Waking up means to engage with life in the present moment.  What am I doing right now?  What am I thinking right now?  Where am I right now?  Who am I with right now?  Often our minds and bodies are not connected.  While we are physically doing one thing our minds are off doing something else.  Oftentimes we are not in the very here and now with what we’re doing.  So when we start to practice waking up we become more and more aware of what we’re doing while we’re doing it.  We then begin to wake up to the here and now, our true home.

The teachings are like an ocean.  Over time my understanding sinks deeper and deeper.  Over time my relationship to a teaching can transform from head to heart – intellectual to spiritual.  I can see that the teaching on ‘not two’ is a pool I will be swimming in for some time.  Not two refers to the illusion that separateness exists.  We are commonly under the impression that I am me and you are you and we are separate from one another.  We also commonly believe that the good things that happen are a part of life but the bad things are not supposed to happen, that they are separate from life’s unfolding.  Not two means that we are not separate from each other and that the so called good things cannot exist without the so called bad things.  We interare.  This is a rich, deep teaching and one that I will continue to practice with long into my days.

3) What are some of the events, situations, people who have been teachers for me?

Thay is my beloved teacher and has taught me more than I ever thought possible.  As I shared in one of the previous weeks of this online retreat my nerve disease has been one of my biggest teachers.  I also have someone in my life who is extremely difficult to communicate and work with who provides me with more opportunities than often I would care for to look deeply into my own reactions and responses to challenging encounters.

This question is a tough one as I feel it is similar to asking me who my musical influences are in my own songs.   As is the case with my music it would be impossible to remove any artist that I’ve ever listened to from the category of influences.  One artist leads to another who leads to another and so on.  In the spirit of interconnection every artist from Alvin and the Chipmunks to New Kids on the Block to Led Zepplin and Ani Difranco to the Grateful Dead and Eminem are in the mix.  It is the same for my teachers.  It would be impossible to remove any friend, acquaintance, mentor, family member or situation, place, event, or happening from my realm of teachers.  Everything and everyone I have ever encountered has made me who I am right now.  Without any of those conditions I would not be who I am.  Still, I can pick out the larger elements on my path of practice like the few I mention above.

4) What was your first encounter with the Dharma?  What woke up in you?

My first encounter was the book Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.  As I wrote above the book simply made sense to me.  It was like returning home to myself on a path I had never traveled on but seemed very familiar and comforting.  Before that book I don’t recall ever thinking about the present moment.  What woke up for me was the realization that I wasn’t awake.  The first step in any kind of transformation is to first realize that there is something to be transformed.  For example if I am addicted to sugar (which I am) the first step is to know that I am addicted to sugar.  Just as the first step in waking up is to see that we are sleep walking through life.

Week 7 – Online Winter Retreat

Week 7 – Online winter retreat, presented by Deer Park Monastery.  To follow along copy and paste this in your browser, there are talks, questions and readings posted every week: http://deerparkmonastery.org/teachings/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013/the-ten-gates-online-course-winter-2012-2013


My notes from Brother Phap Hai’s talk:

There is no way home, home is the way.

“I walk for you,” Thay.

The 4 great buddhist archetypes (to cultivate in our own mind of bodhicitta): Manjushri: great understanding, Samantabhadra: great action, Avalokiteshvara: great compassion, Khistigarba: great vow.

The 6 crossings over (paramitas): generosity (material, dharma, non-fear), mindfulness trainings (three cumulative pure precepts: refraining from harmful actions of body, speech and mind, cultivating wholesome seeds in self and others, benefit all beings), inclusiveness (open heart, present with conditions as they are – to be patient with anyone regardless of their situation), diligence, meditation (quality of mind that embraces all and excludes none – our meditation is our daily life, not just on the cushion), and insight (seeing things as they really all – the mother of all the buddhas).  The paramitas are the petals of a flower – when we cultivate one we cultivate the others.  We can chose to make them the framework of our raft.

Reflection Questions

1) Do I notice any “flower” moments this week?  What are some situations where I am called to a deeper understanding, a widening of my heart?

As described in the talk offered by Brother Phap Hai a flower moment is one where the true nature of something is revealed.  I noticed many flower moments this week.  I am currently visiting my family on the east coast where I was born and raised.  In the past when I’ve come home to visit it has been a little stressful trying to see as many people as possible in a short amount of time, always feeling like I’m not spending enough time with this person or that person, getting swept away by the fast paced culture here, and getting wrapped up in my stories and judgements of a myriad of things.  This visit has been different.  I feel much more relaxed.  I’ve been practicing deeply to simply go with the flow, to release my judgements and to embrace.  Embrace myself, my surroundings (whatever they are), my family and all of the energies that are floating, whizzing or rocketing around.  Seeing my old stomping grounds as a beautiful and deep part of myself has helped to transform the relationship I have with this area, which up until now was quite strained.

I am called to a deeper understanding and widening of the heart when it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone.  I very much enjoy seeing the transformation of a once awkward or challenging situation into a comfortable one with joy and ease.

2) Reflecting on the paramitas – which one(s) are most present for me in my practice and daily life at this time?

Inclusiveness is alive for me right now and has been in the past week.  Being with situations as they are, being with people as they are.  One of the great fruits of the practice is the cultivation of ease and comfort in a variety of situations.  And I’ve been enjoying seeing this process unfold.

3) Take some time, just as mentioned in the podcast to reflect concretely on the interconnectedness of the paramitas and how they manifest themselves in your practice.. e.g. How is generosity a part of the mindfulness trainings, how is inclusiveness part of the trainings etc, until you have looked at all of them and their different manifestations. This is a really interesting reflection and you are going to discover many aspects to your practice and motivation that you hadn’t touched until now!  Enjoy!

4) What does compassion mean to me? How does compassion manifest in my life?

Compassion is how I relate to others in a way that expresses my care, understanding and support.  I practice to stay in touch with both the joys and suffering that exist, to look at things deeply and keep an open mind.  Compassion is cultivated through my mindfulness and meditation practice and manifests through my relationships to both myself and my surroundings.

5) In the Discourse on the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, what does “to suffer with all beings” mean to me?

To me this means to stay in touch with suffering, to not turn away from it.  It means to practice looking deeply to see the causes and conditions of suffering and to embrace it fully as a part of life.  It also means to offer support and care to those who suffer, to help show them how to transform their suffering to become light and free and joyful.

Suggested Practices

Create space and time this week for walking meditation. Space set aside, and also a natural practice of embodied walking as you move through your day. Notice times and spaces where you feel relaxed and unhurried, and situations where you feel rushed and “pressed.”

Comfort Zone


Our comfort zones are oftentimes quite small – a portable bubble we carry around with us.  So small in fact that we limit ourselves greatly to only what is familiar and comfortable.  In doing so we also limit our capacity for handling difficult emotions, people, and situations so that when something arises of a challenging nature we don’t know how to deal with it in a healthy and productive manner.

It is easy to think that life should be A, B, and C but definitely not D, E, and F.  When we separate our lives into the categories of yes and no we are cultivating and maintaing our small zones of comfort.  For example, joy is in the yes category of life along with friends, good food, love, comfort, and all of our likes and enjoyments.  Suffering is in the no category of life along with awkwardness, discomfort, anger, sorrow, jealousy, loneliness, our dislikes and anything else that is even semi un-pleasant.

We put great limits on ourselves in a multitude of ways.  When we can begin to unite our yes and no categories into one category called life we can start cultivating balance and unification.  Life is A, B and C and it is also D, E, and F.  All of what we put into the no category is also a part of life.  This is an important practice.

When we limit ourselves to only A, B, and C (the yes stuff) our capacity to skillfully encounter the D, E, and F (the no stuff) is significantly reduced.  When we can practice to embrace all of the letters of life our comfort zones expand and we can be more at ease in a variety of places.

We can be creatures of habit to a fault.  Let us step out of our bubble of complacency to see that we are the only condition holding ourselves back from fully engaging with life.  Let’s hitch that comfort zone bubble up to a big ol’ tractor and run it through the beautifully muddy fields of life and see what happens.

Blue Cliff Monastery

Blue Cliff Monastery Dharma Hall

Blue Cliff Monastery Dharma Hall

Today I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a day of mindfulness at Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) monastery and practice center in Pine Bush, New York called Blue Cliff Monastery.  The monastery hosts two days of mindfulness each week on Thursdays and Sundays and they are open and free to attend.  My mom and I drove up from the suburbs of Philadelphia, about 2 1/2 hours away.  It was so lovely to be able to add this venture into my east coast trip of visiting family and friends and I was grateful that my mom wanted to come with me.

We arrived around 9:00am this morning with blue skies overhead and crisp snow underfoot.  The picture above shows the dharma hall where the sitting meditation and other programs take place.  The words I have arrived, I am home (displayed on the rock in the picture) is a deep practice in this tradition.  It is a call to bring us back to the here and now.  Our true home, the only moment we can be truly alive, is in the here and now.  These words are a reminder.  Like a good friend reaching out their hand to hold ours.

Dharma Hall

Dharma Hall

The fragrant smell of cedar, which lined the walls, greeted us upon opening the door to the dharma hall.  It was a beautiful space.  Around 9:30am we watched a dharma talk by Thay.  Here are some notes I took (with some paraphrasing involved):

We must learn how to handle our restlessness.  We abuse our bodies and it causes restlessness in our body and mind.  We cannot wait for others to come and make us more peaceful.  Sitting meditation is the peace – if you cannot sit with peace this is not yet sitting.  We have to remove the idea that sitting is hard labor.  Sitting is an art.  The breath connects the body and mind.  Sitting meditation is very precious.  We need to learn to sit and do nothing.  Many people don’t know how to rest.  Even when on vacation you may come home more exhausted and worn out because you do not yet know how to rest.  If we sit for one hour and our minds are thinking, grasping, planning or worrying then this is restlessness, it is not restful.  If we can sit in peace we sit for our mother and our father, our ancestors, our lineage and our country.  

In the beginning we can imitate others but then we don’t need to do that anymore.  

Gathas (short mindfulness verses) are an anchor.  They can help us to not drift away (from the here and now).  Like a boat has an anchor to help it not be swept away by the waves of the ocean.  Gathas for walking meditation: Each step is a miracle, Each step is nourishing, Each step is healing, Each step is freedom.  

Main alter in the dharma hall

Main alter in the dharma hall

After the talk we had a short break and then reconvened for outdoor walking meditation.  There were only about 7 or 8 of us laypeople there (meaning folks who were not monastics: monk and nuns) and maybe 15 or 20 monastics for the talk and 10 or 12 for the outdoor walking so it was a nice small group.  For the walk we were led through the surrounding winter woods.  The hard melting snow lent itself to uneven and slippery steps.  With the slow cadence of walking meditation it was fairly easy to get proper footing as we wove around trees, rhododendrons, and little cricks.  From time to time we would stop and breathe and take in the beautiful scenery.  The walk was in silence and I very much enjoyed the fact that each step took great care and mindfulness naturally because of the snow and ice.  One of my favorite moments on the walk was when at a particular resting point some of the monastics proceeded to throw snowballs back and forth at each other :)  A good reminder that silliness and playfulness are important parts of the practice.

Walking meditation

Walking meditation

After the outdoor walking we had a delicious vegetarian lunch served in the dining hall.  We ate in silence, which I very much enjoy.  To have the space, time and quiet to connect deeply with the food in front of me is of great benefit to my practice.  In my rice, tofu, and vegetables I looked deeply to see the sun, earth, clouds, farmers, workers, transportation, gasoline, roads, stores, and cooks within the food.  It is easy to eat our meals quickly without much thought of gratitude for the conditions that brought the food to our plate.  When I can eat my meal with respect to the path its traveled I am practicing to have reverence for life and to not be swept away by my selfish and greedy states of mind.


Once we finished eating there was an hour or so break before we wrapped up the day with a dharma sharing circle with the other laypeople.  During the break we walked the grounds a bit and visited the monastery bookshop where my mom bought me a winter hat knitted by one of the sisters (nuns) and a Thich Nhat Hanh comic book for my 13 year old step-son :)

Thich Nhat Hanh comic book.  Check out peaceisthewayfilms.com for more info.

Thich Nhat Hanh comic book. Check out peaceisthewayfilms.com for more info.

There were 7 of us for the dharma sharing circle.  We shared silence and most everyone spoke about their practice and what was going on for them in their daily lives – it was quite nice.  Afterwards I spoke a little bit with another OI member (Order of Interbeing) and then we took off back towards home.  It was lovely to be able to spend time in one of the monasteries on a more intimate and personal level.  The other two Thich Nhat Hanh monasteries I’ve visited were with 900-1,200 other people on large retreats.  All of the brothers and sisters (monks & nuns) were very warm and friendly.  It was an easy place to visit and enter into the flow of mindfulness and community.  I feel so fortunate to have received this opportunity.  To bask in the glow of I have arrived, I am home with our in breath and out breath is also to practice stopping and resting.  To practice stopping and resting is to practice taking good care of ourselves.  And to take good care of ourselves is to take good care of those around us.  We do not need to go to a monastery to practice.  We can practice in the very here and now, wherever we are, whomever we’re with.


Have Mindfulness, Will Travel


Boarding the plane from Detroit to Philly

Yesterday I flew on a magical metal machine called an airplane where I was transported from my home state of Montana to my native born Pennsylvania.  I got in to Philly last night.

I enjoy bringing my friend mindfulness with me on travels.  Practicing joy and smiling in airports, dancing to my music on the way to board a connecting flight, going with the flow of whatever comes my way instead of getting all bent out of shape, and laughing to myself about the state of mainstream affairs.  We, humans that is, are all terribly amusing really.

Mindfulness is a friend that likes to travel.  It doesn’t like to collect dust sitting on a shelf or only be pulled out on special occasions.  Mindfulness likes getting right into the everyday places, routines, relationships and mental activities that fill our lives.  Our lives are like outlined pictures in a coloring book and mindfulness is what we color the lines in with.  Sure the pictures are still pictures without coloring them in but they tend to be flat and not nearly as interesting.

Tuesday January 8th

5:30am.  The runway is still shrouded in darkness with single points of light in red, blue, gold and white flanking the winding paths.  Our 5 gate airport is sleepy.  I bought a banana for $1.00 at the coffee stand.  I have no checked bags and sit cross legged at the departure gate, breath easing in and out.  I can see the day of travel sprawled out in front of me.  It’s going to be a good day.

9:25am.  I’m typing here at 30,000 feet.  An empty seat between me and my row mate aboard a Delta 757.  After a rushed dash though the Salt Lake airport and a few minutes to stretch I’m in the air once again, now on my way to Detroit.  I was excited to learn aboard my first flight that Delta now offers in flight Wi-Fi, once we climb above 10,000 feet.  I read the very simply instructions on the card in the seat pocket in front of me and prepared to blog from high above the clouds on this longer and better lit flight.  What the card failed to spell out in any clear way is that it costs money.  $5.00 for one hour.  However, you can shop on certain select sites for free and you can also read a few headlines in entrainment news.  Yes, it is free to shop for a bunch of stuff you probably really don’t need and read about who’s having who’s baby and who cheated on what celebrity but one must pay a tidy sum of $5.00 for any real news, current events or other substantial online interaction.  I think our societal priorities are askew.

At the Detroit airport

At the Detroit airport

I am now snacking on .42 ounces of peanuts handed to me along with an advertisement laden napkin.  .42 ounces of peanuts is approximately 15 full peanuts.  I am able to cup them all in one hand and pop them into my mouth.  What, per say, is the napkin for?  I refuse the complimentary drinks out of principle unless they give me a full can because I would rather parch myself slightly then to receive a tiny plastic cup containing 3 swigs of carbonated beverage only to send the cup bound for the landfill in under 5 minutes.  And I will note here that I have never been refused a full can of pop aboard an airplane.  Which means I really told you all of that to get you thinking.

Interestingly enough I was just fine and dandy waking up at 4:30am, paying $1.00 for a banana, walking briskly though the Salt Lake airport, boarding this plane, getting hit in the head with a piece of luggage someone was putting in the overhead bin, and having someone’s backside in my face while other people shuffled into their seats but when a nearby passenger began talking to her seat mate frustration welled up within me.  The surroundings didn’t factor in at all to reduce her volume.  Despite the fact that it was quite quiet in the cabin there she was talking incessantly about nothing really at levels that lent to everyone now knowing all about her.  I don’t get the sense that the lady next to her is a traveling companion and so I felt sorry for her caught in the web of words continuously tumbling out of her and I was thankful for not having 24B as my assigned seat.  As soon as I was able to put my music on I was hurriedly tucking earbuds securely in place.  She has since quieted down, distracted by some Richard Gere movie dangling down from the aisle ceiling.  I find myself often struggling with people who ramble, who talk and talk and seldom listen, seemingly wrapped up in their own selfish worldview.  And I am also aware that I don’t know what their situation is.  That despite my shallow perceptions I could be entirely mistaken.


I have two words – bacon pillow

While soaring about the clouds I feel it fitting, and time well spent, to talk about my love of the skymall magazine, which is complimentary in fight reading material showcasing an array of disjointed items for purchase.  You can go from an 11 X14 framed piece on page 3 entitled: The Rules of the Man Cave for 49.99 with such words of wisdom as: Whatever happens in the man cave stays in the man cave and I will judge what is food and what is junk food to Litter Kwitter on page 39, the three step system to potty train your cat.  We can then flip to page 81 to read about igrow, the space age looking helmet that can have you realizing the benefit’s of the world’s most advanced laser hair rejuvenation system – fuller looking hair in three weeks, guaranteed!  All for only $695.00!  And on page 86 you can finally purchase that bacon pillow you were always looking for!  AND right next to that a mounted squirrel head!  An embarrassment of riches I would say.  Skymall is chock full of practical and attractive items interspersed with peculiar items and super overpriced crazy who in their right mind would buy this gadgets.  I love Skymall because it doesn’t make sense to me.  In the land of long faced travelers, tiny plastic cups, and $3 bags of m & m’s this haphazard magazine awaits every air traveler, calling to jiggle us out of our complacency.  And while on some level the long faces and the tiny cups and the expensive candy also don’t make sense to me Skymall magazine doesn’t make sense in a much more enjoyable and less understandable manner.



Yesterday I woke up at 4:30am, had 2 layovers, arrived in Philly around 6:00pm, crawled to my mom’s house through 2 hours of city traffic and stayed up talking with my mom until around midnight.  My legs were sore from sitting and my stomach was churning around because landings are hard on my system.  The difference between a good day and a bad day is largely due to how we make up our mind.  If we want to have a bad day then we’ll have a bad day.  If I wanted to focus on how terrible it was to wake up early and have 2 layovers and sit in traffic and have an upset stomach then I would have had a long, awful day.  But I didn’t.  I woke up saying this will be a good day.  And it was.



Being consciously aware and connected to that in which gives us cause to smile and rejoice is a deep practice.      When I use the word practice I do not use it lightly, tossing it around like an empty, lifeless word.  I use the word practice much in the same way that I offer a smile, with intention.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) is fond of saying something along the lines of: we’re always practicing something.  So when we’re expending energy in being rude and snippy we’re practicing being mean.  When we’re expending energy listening to a friend who’s struggling we’re practicing kindness.  And so on.  We become masterful at what we put our time and energy into.

Oftentimes we are more fond of practicing complaining and looking at what’s wrong rather than practicing joy and gratitude and looking at what’s right.  We are more likely to practice non-gratitude and non-joy.  What we think is what we create, it’s as simple and as powerful as that.


Over the last year (2012) I’ve made a conscious effort to cultivate joy and gratitude in my life in order to help support my mental and emotional health.  After a rough summer in 2011 I surfaced from under a heavy fog of depression with a strong motivation towards self-care and well being.  My practice was to be joyful.  It may sound silly or entirely foreign, this idea of practicing joy, it did to me at first.  I was under the impression that joy just happened, that it existed outside of myself of its own free will.  But I came to see that this notion I had was an illusion, it simply wasn’t true.  If I wanted a better life, if I wanted to be happy, if I wanted to be mentally and emotionally grounded it was up to me to make that happen.

When I get stuck in thinking: if only my husband would just do this I’d be happy, if only this person treated me better I’d be happy, if only I could have better health I’d be happy, if only….. then what I am practicing is that I am not in charge of my own well being.  I am practicing giving my power away.  I am practicing that this moment, right now, is not enough.  I am practicing looking at what’s wrong.  Again, we become masterful at what we put our time and energy into.  As hard as it is to admit, I can see clearly my own capacity for becoming masterful at wallowing in self-pity.  Over the last year and half or so I have come into close relationship with the teaching that I really am in charge of my own well being.

When we learn, discover, stumble upon or run smack into the truth of how we are all in charge of our reality and how we live our lives it can be both incredibly freeing and terribly deflating at the same time.  When we have no one left but ourselves to hang our struggles on it can be frightfully sobering.  Of course our lives are sculpted by a myriad of factors including people, collective ideals, education, financial resources and so on but the constant that weaves through them all is us.  We always have a choice of how to respond to a situation.  It is easy to think that life happens to us and we react accordingly, that we have very little influence over how it unfolds.  And it is even easier to not be aware that this is our thinking.


We can easily understand what it means to practice at a skill or craft or musical instrument.  It makes sense that when learning pottery or learning the guitar it will take time and dedication to make a beautiful bowl or play a great song.  It is the same with practicing joy and gratitude.  We need a certain amount of belief that with practice will come the fruits of our time and effort.  For me, the fruits of my practice include more patience, an ability to better go with the flow of life, a greater ability to not get stuck in my negative thinking, lessened physical pain associated with my nerve disease RSD, more joy, more abundance and more gratitude!  The more I practice joy the more joy that gets created!

Once we learn how to ride a bike it is very difficult to unlearn how to ride a bike.  When we practice eating healthfully and drinking lots of water it becomes more challenging to eat crappy food and drink lots of pop.  When we practice joy and gratitude it becomes more challenging to be negative and disconnected from ourselves and the world around us.  It is the natural result of turning towards the light of our own humanity.  We don’t need to actively stop doing anything, we need to actively start doing something different and the transformation we are looking for will develop as a natural result of our actions.