I find myself wonderfully infused with a wealth of fantastic sources of input over the last few days. I’ve started reading the book pictured above: You Are Now Less Dumb by David McRaney. I watched a really good talk given by an OI member in Thay’s tradition at Google on the nature of self-compassion. And I watched another talk given by someone my husband has been getting into lately, an author, speaker, and neuroscientist named Sam Harris. Three powerhouse gents, I would say. Each one taking his own slant on helping to support the human collective.

From the good to the bad to the ugly, we are each an assembly of the scattered sources of input fused together into one collection we call the self. And it’s easy to forget the importance of closely monitoring what’s coming in through our sense impressions. Because it all matters. Every single drop of it. It all makes a difference in how we show up in life – and how we continue to show up in life.

Here’s an excerpt from the book I mentioned and picture above, which I found so glorious that I read it aloud to both my husband and 18-year-old stepson on separate occasions:

You see, being smart is a much more complicated and misunderstood state than you believe. Most of the time, you are terrible at making sense of things. If it were your job, you would long since have been fired. You think you are a rational agent, slowly contemplating your life before making decisions and choices, and though you may sometimes falter, for the most part you keep it together, but that’s not the case at all. You are always under the influence of irrational reasoning. You persist in a state of deluded deliberation. You are terrible at explaining yourself to yourself, an you are unaware of the depth and breadth of your faults in this regard. You feel quite the opposite, actually. You maintain an unrealistic confidence in your own perceptions even after your limitations are revealed.

David McRaney from You are Now Less Dumb


From OI member Tim Desmond’s talk at Google, published on February 23rd, 2018:

“There’s a capacity that we can develop that allows us to stay human. To be able to stay present. To be able to care and stay connected in whatever situation we find ourselves in.”

He goes on to talk about how this capacity is that of generating mindfulness. Later, he speaks about how we must pair both qualities of compassion and equanimity together, in order to be in balance. Compassion without equanimity leads to burnout and compassion fatigue. Equanimity without compassion leads to lack of empathy and indifference. To pair both together means to say: Whatever is going on is okay, and I’m here for you.

If you’re interested in checking out Tim’s talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV9VeNE_R1g


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Diversity Trainings

The Seven Trainings in Diversity
Written by Larry Yang in “Friends on the Path”, by Thich Nhat Hanh, compiled by Jack Lawlor, published in 2002.


The practice of these trainings is an opportunity to begin the journey towards narrowing the experience of separation. As humans, we all participate in the harmful behaviors that these trainings are addressing. We all have been the perpetrator and victim, at one time or another. These trainings are for all of us, not just for any particular group or community.

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh were an invaluable inspiration and nourishment of these trainings in diversity. Thich Nhat Hanh has written: “Many of today’s problems did not exist at the time of the Buddha. Therefore, we have to look deeply together in order to develop the insights that will help us and our children find better ways to live wholesome, happy, and healing lives.” This encouragement and suggestion becomes especially important with issues of diversity.

The invitation offered is to begin by transforming a piece of oppression, rather than being intimidated by the vastness of its suffering. The concept of “practice” presents itself as an incremental and cumulative process. The practice of diversity is also such a process. The hope is that this process can invite us into taking important steps in transforming our experience with oppression in deep and meaningful way.

(This intro was shortened from one that Larry Yang wrote himself)


1. Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way – through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination – to adopt my own belief system. I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of sufferings of all beings.

2. Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the trainings to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my own. I commit to being open minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.

3. Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the work, integrity, and happiness of any human being. Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to teaching each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.

4. Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.

5. Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, in any way including economically, sexually, intellectually, or culturally. I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual age, physical, or economic differences.

6. Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conflict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using language or cognitive argument to justify my sense of rightness. I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing the Buddha nature within all beings.

7. Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as ‘other’, and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my own. I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.


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Four Sublime States of Mind

Photo by local photographer and sangha friend Bill McDavid

Photo by local photographer and sangha friend Bill McDavid – http://www.billmcdavid.com

In the book I’m currently reading entitled Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun the author speaks about the Four Sublime States of Mind.  “The Buddha often spoke about four states of mind as the four “Brahma-viharas”: the divine or god-like dwellings, the lofty and excellent abodes in which the mind reaches outwards towards the immeasurable world of living beings, embracing them all in these boundless emotions.” (from vipassana.com).  The states of mind are: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. 

“These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings. They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.” (from vipassana.com)

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Good, bad…?


Our ideas of good and bad are not factual distinctions we make.  Good and bad are subjective, fluctuating, and often illusory divisions we tend to make in order to solidify our point of view.  Lately I have been appreciating the practice of equanimity, which I’ve found to be a fruit of cultivating the art of mindfulness.  I would define equanimity as the ability to not be easily swayed by false ideas of good and bad, right and wrong.  Developing the insight of equanimity allows us to accept situations, people, and ourselves just as they are and not get caught in duality.

I’ve recently started corresponding with an old acquaintance who is currently in the county detention center.  He’s awaiting trial and wrote me a letter a few days ago.  In his letter he stated that while he sees there are two sides of him, one that seeks goodness and one who is, in his words, evil, he will probably always be on the dark side of life.  He wanted me to know what I was getting myself into before corresponding further, for the sake of my own well-being.

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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.