Tag Archives: impermanence

Living A Better Life

The Buddha said: If we keep death in front of us, if we are aware of it, we will live better lives.

Last fall, in preparation for a session of walking meditation that our sangha hosted at a local cemetery, I fashioned together a card-sized collage of pictures of friends and family members who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. I continue to use this collage card as a bookmark in my spiral-bound notebook journal, which I write personal account entries in a few times a month. Encountering this bookmark of collaged pictures affords me the ability to practice staying in touch with the preciousness of life, by keeping death in front of me.

At the time of putting the collage together, I also saw fit to include three people who were still alive but nearing the end of their currently held life-cycle: my grandmother Claire, who’s since passed away, and my grandmother Mary and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who are both still very much alive. I included these individuals as a practice of deepening my sense of gratitude and also further developing my ever-growing understanding of impermanence.

It’s easy to think that calling to mind our loved ones that have passed away will be too painful. It’s easy to avoid connecting with the memories of our dearly departed friends and family members and to occupy our minds with a cascade of other matters. But when we develop a way to actively practice staying in relationship with those who’ve passed away – with the nature and reality of death itself – the initial pain that will likely crop up for us will have the opportunity to become transformed into a furthering opening of the heart.

At first, and for a little while, it was uncomfortable for me to look at the collage card I put together. To connect with the images and memories of so many loved ones who’ve passed away was rather startling and unsettling. But, once again, everything takes practice. Truly. Now that I’ve been encountering this card – one side collage and one side a picture of my friends David and Alison from their joint memorial service last summer – on a regular, ongoing basis, I’m finding that the discomfort has largely dissipated.

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Lion’s Roar

Each of us is sifting in a myriad of personality traits and qualities of being.
Hold each one,
however contrasting they may seem to be.
Do not pick and choose which ones
to present to the people.
Do not hide or squelch or push away
those parts you wish were other than as they are.
Hiding does you no good, my dear.
Step into the light.
Step into it all the way.
Do not tow behind you pieces which stay
in the shadows of shame.
Bring fully of yourself to the glory of being human,
from the fluidity of liquids to the hardness of bones.

Life is short and ever-changing.

Absorb these truths like the most fragrant words
offered by your most beloved.
Let them give rise to freedom.


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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:


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A Happy Person’s Response to an Un-Ideal Situation


Today’s post on my writer’s facebook page:

This is me willing my voice to be strong and dynamic come showtime. This is me doing a metaphorical shout-out to whatever mythological god is in charge of creative surges and vocal wellness, in hopes that they will anoint me with the magical powers bestowed upon them.

This is me flirting with the incredibly disturbing possibility that I will not be in top form when the time comes.

This is me coming to terms with the simple and sticky truth that despite my actions or power of will – despite how much I’ve prepared, invested in, and advertised – the reality of laryngitis could swoop in and change everything. And there wouldn’t be a thing I could do to stop it.



Today’s post on my personal facebook page:

For those of you who don’t know, I experience frequent and chronic bouts of laryngitis throughout the year. Welp. My ol’ friend has come calling again – and just in time for my big show coming up!

I’m relatively confident I will regain vocal function by Friday but I’m pulling out all the stops this weekend, including heeding the advice from my good friend Ashly: a day of vocal rest. Here’s the sign I fashioned to show Jaden & Mike when they woke up this morning (see pic above)




An email I sent tonight @ 6:19pm to my team of three friends who have wonderfully agreed to help me on the evening of my upcoming gig:

Hi team :)

Sooo, as you may know (from social media or me texting you), my ol friend laryngitis has seen fit to visit me. Hooray! Just in time for my upcoming show! :)

I read online that cortisone steroids can help so I went to the doc and got those and started taking them today. Since I still have a few days to rest up, I feel fairly confident that I’ll be up in vocal functioning by Friday but it’s really hard to know for sure. In the past, my L bouts last typically 4-7 days, but sometimes it takes over a week for me to regain proper function.

As a precaution I’d super appreciate hearing any input/feedback/ideas you might have for a plan B, in the event I’m unable to perform on Friday. Do I postpone until a later undisclosed date? Do I simply cancel altogether? Do I still hold the show but figure out something else to do? Hmm.

Thank goodness for the practice of mindfulness and being able to stay well grounded in the present moment even amid life’s unexpected twists and turns – while this is certainly not ideal and I’m REALLY hoping I can perform come Friday, I’m aware too that life is impermanent; sometimes there’s only so much we can do to affect the sway of things. The worse case scenario is canceling and that’s really not the end of the world :)


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Bright & Shiny

Over the past few months, I’ve been experiencing a re-surfacing of an old habit energy. The sort of pattern of behavior that we all have – stemming from long ago – that we thought was relegated to the past. The kind we think we had transformed and grown out of. Yeah, it’s like that.

Something I’ve come to understand is that transformation of unskillful behaviors and thought patterns is an ongoing journey. So, just because something is re-surfacing now doesn’t mean the work I’ve done in the past becomes null and void. It doesn’t mean I’ve done something wrong or even that anything needs fixing. This re-surfacing simply speaks to the nature of impermanence and how everything is always changing and shifting. Deeply rooted habit energies can go dormant for long stretches of time and then re-appear, indicating that the journey continues. It’s nothing to fret or worry about. These truths comfort me during times such as this.

What interests me about this old habit energy arising is that while some part of me know it’s groundless, another part is lured in by it. Groundless in the sense that it’s based on fictitious notions and fleeting desires – full of holes, hollow. And still…

A source of suffering is to be forever tempted and swayed by something bright and shiny and new. Something outside of our grasp and ownership, whether it’s an object, an adventure, or another lover. What is it that beckons us? The prospect of a happiness we have yet to find but hope is out there? A temporary filling up of a hole we’ve been aching to not trip and fall into? What are we looking for?! What am I looking for? Am I looking for something? Is something operating subconsciously that I’m not tuned into? Or could it be that this old habit energy simply needs more tending to, more caring for, more befriending?

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Posted by on February 10, 2018 in Everyday Practice


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Everything Dies

On our way home from the carousel yesterday, with his 4-year-old brother asleep in the car seat next to him, the soon-to-be 3-year-old I nanny for began spontaneously – and very calmly – listing aloud all of the things and people that are subject to die.

He listed individuals, inanimate objects, and really anything he could think of. While I couldn’t quite make out most of what he was saying, I did hear: “And Finn (his brother) will die. And garbage cans will die.” His list went on for a while. And ____ will die. And ____will die…

He ended by saying: “Everything…in the…WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD…will die.”

I thought it rather impressive that he saw fit to not only state this in slow fashion but also put emphasis on the words that he did.

He then added the words: “right away” to the end of his declarative finale. As in: Everything in the whole entire world will die. (pause) Right away.

I queried back in response: “Everything will die right away?”

“Right away.” he repeated.

Sensing there was something lost in translation, I rephrased and asked, “Everything will die right now?”

“No.” he said, very matter of factly.

“Do you mean that everything will die some time?” I asked.

“Yes,” he agreed, everything will die some time, Cole.”

“That’s true.” I said.

And that was that.

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Posted by on February 2, 2018 in Everyday Practice


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This is it!?!

On Saturday morning, I watched the first 15-minutes of a talk by Sr. Thệ Nghiêm at Deer Park Monastery, given on September 15, 2017 (see Youtube link below). She spoke about something I’ve both experienced personally and spoken about in a talk I gave 3-4 years ago. At Deer Park Monastery, in southern California, behind the alter of orchids in the big meditation hall, sits a circular wooden sign that says: This is it. When I first encountered this calligraphy of Thay’s, I misunderstood its teaching and took it as a glib proclamation, as in: This is it, I guess. Whatever. Sigh.

As you likely imagine, this is not what it means. Back in the day, I knew I wasn’t viewing it as intended, I simply hadn’t developed my own insight about it’s intent just yet. Understanding unfolds over time, with practice in cultivating diligence and deep looking. Words/teachings can only take us so far. They can show us a new path to venture down, but we have to be the ones to move our feet and actualize the fruits of what it has to offer.

This is it is an invitation to look more deeply into every facet and fissure of our lives, really. To see life as ever-flowing, ever-changing, and ever-amazing. To understand the depths of This is it, means to see clearly that this moment – whatever moment we find ourselves amid – IS it, truly. This present moment is the foundation for the next present moment, and it’s up to us to sculpt it in the best way possible. To turn our lives into a living art form.

One of the main root teachings I receive nourishment of, by staying apprised of both local and world news, is in regards to the nature of life and death. In short: there are a lot of ways to live and there are a lot of ways to die. The more I learn and deepen my understanding of this truth – this nature of reality – the more it opens me to the preciousness of life, and the myriad of possibilities that exist.

This is it! is more than a teaching. It’s a way of living.

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