Joy is a Process


Friendly Goldfish. Photo by Celia


“Happiness is available. Please help yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

 ~ Anne Frank

“Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is

asleep upon your bed.”

~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


Dear Friends,

I’m recognizing the real need for joy in my life. This joy is not exuberance or dependent upon someone else, or even upon the sunshine, or external conditions. What I am describing is the quiet joy that is existing even when there is so much suffering in the news, pain in the body, and those in the world, who act in dangerous and harmful ways. This joy is not always obvious. It lives in the mundane and small moments of every day.

There is always a degree of joy when we stay present to ourselves and do not abandon ourselves. There is joy when we bring the intention of caring to our difficulties. We may see joy against the backdrop of suffering and we may find joy in our willingness to be present for our pain. When we are short on joy, we look for something to help us bolster ourselves and may take refuge in unwholesome coping mechanisms to try to escape from our pain. As Insight teacher Jill Shephard says, “being with pain won’t kill you but running from pain will.” We have the most drug addicted, overweight, depressed civilization in the history of the world and despite our technology, medicine, and conveniences, there is a big deficit of joy. To my thinking, developing the habit of noticing joy is a better coping mechanism than opiates.

For most of my life, I believed that some people had joy, and some had bad luck. I believed that joy needed to find me, I shouldn’t have to look for it or try to manufacture it. That seemed artificial and contrived, putting a smiley face on a terrible disaster and pretending that everything was fine when it wasn’t. But joy does not deny pain. Nor is it a suppression of our true feelings. Joy is present even in the moments that feel so difficult. Joy is in the small things, in noticing the dust motes floating in a shaft of sunshine, in the birds that cling to the side of trees and wear no shoes even in the coldest months. Joy is there in the easy breath I take without aid from a ventilator or an inhaler. Joy is present in the plate of food, warm from the stove, abundant and savory, obtained without sacrifice. Joy is made of noticing the softness and ok-ness in the exact moment where things may be very unpleasant. Joy can come even in death when we witness the release from pain. Sometimes joy is a bright flash at the moment when the pain abates, the joy of the shifting experience that needs the pain as a backdrop. It’s not like a muse or sudden inspiration that falls upon the lucky ones, joy is a process and a training.

My thinking about joy has changed. Dharma teacher Chas DiCapua talks about the joy that gives perspective to suffering and helps to balance it and create equanimity. Chas speaks about cultivating joy the same way we do any wholesome mind state that’s arisen, we become aware of it. We know it as it is happening by staying present with our experience. It is one of the seven factors of awakening the Buddha described: mindfulness, inquiry, joy, energy, calm, concentration, and equanimity. These seven factors co-create conditions for awakening. We need the joy to provide us with energy and equanimity. If there is only struggle and suffering, we can find ourselves overwhelmed and listless, swallowed by the vastness of what is wrong in the world.

There are people in pain and reduced circumstances who are very joyful and seem to find the goodness in every moment. This tendency may be because of conditioning, but it demonstrates the ability of the mind to seek and find. When we stop and give permission to see the beautiful and the good, even in a painful moment, we are able to directly experience it.  When we train in turning towards the joy in our life, we create the solid foundation that gives us the strength to turn towards the difficult. Joy is here to be found, and it’s important to experience joy, even when there’s suffering, especially when there’s suffering.

May we all trust our light,



Mindful by Mary Oliver

Every day

I see or I hear


that more or less


kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle


in the haystack

of light.

It is what I was born for –

to look, to listen,


to lose myself

inside this soft world –

to instruct myself

over and over


in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,


the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant –

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,


the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help


but grow wise

with such teachings

as these –

the untrimmable light


of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?


A Net Big Enough to Hold it All

View from the top, Mount Diabolo, CA

View from the top, Mount Diabolo, CA, Photo Barbara Richardson

“Defense doesn’t ensure survival; it ensures isolation.”

 ~Christina Feldman

“The voice of caring and understanding must be separate from the voice of ambition”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Whatever you are doing, be aware of it.” ~Dipa Ma

 “Compassion and intention ask us to change the lens of how we hold the first noble truth of suffering.”  ~Christina Feldman

Dear Friends,

I was heartbroken and despairing this week as I heard of more young victims gunned down because of hatred and unrelenting suffering. Wednesday’s school shooting brought home the reminder that all life is impermanent and fragile. The attack is also direct karmic fruit of the US government’s delusion and greed enacted through continued support of gun proliferation that includes easy access to assault-style weapons.

Bhikkhu Bhodi writes in The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering (1999), “The Buddha mentions five specific kinds of livelihood which bring harm to others and are therefore to be avoided: dealing in weapons, in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), in meat production and butchery, in poisons, and in intoxicants (AN 5:177).” We may be tempted to think that we are not contributing to the problem of weapons. We may believe wholeheartedly in non-violent solutions, be continuous objectors, or work for peace. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that “Right Livelihood is a collective matter.” No one is exempt from societal shared karma.

In the book Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism, Thay writes about the global proliferation of arms, “the responsibility for this situation does not lie solely with the workers in the arms industry. All of us—politicians, economists, and consumers—share the responsibility for the death and destruction caused by these weapons. We do not see clearly enough, we do not speak out and we do not organize enough national debates on this huge problem” (p. 46). As a person who has taken vows to practice Right Speech and live in peace, how do I work with my helplessness and outrage to unseat the powerful gun lobby that has endangered my and my children’s right to be safe at school and at public gatherings? How do we, as engaged practitioners, take steps to act from compassion and not from rage and retaliation?

After much contemplation and meditation, I come to one conclusion which is to make the net of intention big enough to carry our whole lives. When we hold the intention to be peace, to be compassion, that is what is able to hold all our personal suffering and the place where we can remember the inheritance we want to create. Intention is the main ingredient in karma. The Buddha said “Intention, I tell you is kamma [karma]. Having intended, one performs an action, through body, speech, or mind.” Karma means action and is manifested by our ability to create our own heaven or hell through repeated thought and accumulated reactive patterns.

This ability to create happiness or suffering in our lives is not mysterious nor remote. In neuroscience, it is simply neuroplasticity, or Hebb’s law, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” When we practice thinking and acting in particular ways, we create neural pathways and synapses that become stronger and more powerful. These often-repeated pathways determine our reality at this very moment. Contemplating something unkind, we may not realize, but we already have tension or discomfort in the body. Our stomach may be tight, jaw clenched, we may feel somehow not right, certainly not loving or kind. When we remember our intention to be compassion and peace (or whatever words feel right to you) we can add this too. This moment of hurt and revenge becomes the object of our practice.

We can throw the net of our intention over big emotions, our fear, our outrage, our helplessness. There is nothing that is outside of the intention to show up with compassion, care, and presence. This week you may like to try access your intentions and keep them as the center of all volitional acts. Sitting in meditation, when the body and mind are still, you may ask, “what is the legacy I want to leave on this Earth? What is my deepest wish to transmit during this lifetime?” When you touch on the quality that you wish to embody, the invitation is to carry it into every area of your life. There is nothing to get rid of when we practice expanding the lens of our heart wide enough to hold all our thoughts, words, and deeds with presence and care. Our life is truly our practice. There is no sorrow or joy bigger than the heart’s capacity for caring.

May we all trust our light,


we are already what we want to become

We Are the Buddha’s Hands


Heartleaf, photo by Celia


“The object of your practice should first of all be yourself. Your love for the other, your ability to love another person, depends on your ability to love yourself.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

“Searching all directions with one’s awareness,

one finds no one dearer than oneself.

In the same way, others are dear to themselves.

So one should not hurt others if one loves oneself.”

~ The Buddha, from the Udana

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”



Dear Friends,

If you’ve entered a grocery store on the last two weeks you may have been assailed by red and pink hearts, balloons with sweet saying and isles of candy and cards that will communicate our most earnest regard and care. We call this showing our love. Whether a plush card or box of truffles will get that job done is uncertain. But I do know that there is a universal desire and need for love in our lives. Infants who do not experience caretaking connection or love, do not thrive. As human beings, we are designed to live in collectives and share this natural impulse to love and care. In our nuclear family system living in a tech world, we often are separated from our relations; we move for work or school and can feel disconnected and estranged from the love and acceptance of community and family. We can get out of the habit of loving others and of loving ourselves.

Loving ourselves may seem anathema to Buddhist practice, but it is an essential ingredient in our ability to connect with the care and desire to alleviate suffering in the world—this includes our own suffering as well. Loving ourselves is not outside of the realm of our practice. As we look deeply, we can see that this self we inhabit is not so fixed and permanent. Beginning its time on Earth, we began as two cells, then four. Now we are big people with histories and identities.

As adults, we tend to parcel out our love to those who are worthy, and innocent. Those who bring suffering on themselves and others are more difficult to love. That is for sure. But aren’t we those people too? Don’t we make mistakes and cause ourselves to suffer? Are we the ones who are thinking the repetitive thoughts that cause doubt and anxiety? Are we carrying our own internal critic who reminds us that we are not qualified to meet the challenges of our lives? For some of us, we may be our own worst enemy.

One way to practice with this habit is by shifting our view from interior to exterior and practicing regarding ourselves with care. This exercise is designed to help us connect with the potential for loving and care that is always within but gets clouded over by comparing and judging mind.

Caring Hands Practice: Begin by looking at your hands. Study the palms and the backs of your hands. See the length of the fingers, the span of your reach, the breadth of the palm. Notice the skin of the hands and the markings of age, strength, or resiliency. Consider some of the skills these hands have: do the play an instrument, cook, care for animals, heal? How have these hands brought love to your life and others?

Looking at your hands, can you see your mother and father in your hands, your grandparents? Do some of their talents and traits continue through these hands? Consider your lineage, your great grandparents and beyond; think of all the talents and skills that have been transmitted to you. The DNA and genetic material of generations are available to you right now in your own hands. Recognizing all the qualities that live in your hands, some beneficial and some not. Ask yourself what you want to manifest in the world through your hands? What do you want the legacy of your hands to be?

Choose a relative who was a figure of kindness and care. It could be one you never knew, a great-grandmother for example. Choose a self-care activity this week and allow the hands of this relative to participate. Have your great grandmother’s hands wash your face, or allow your great, great-grandfather you never knew, to brush your hair, or make you breakfast. How would this ancestor treat you, the unknown grandchild of their child? Access their tenderness and reverence as you do this one task. Explore what it feels like to infuse the intention of love and service in your hands as they take care of you. What does receiving loving touch feel like? Is it different from how you usually care for yourself? This valentine’s day spend some moments practicing love for one who is often overlooked and needs our love and care as much as anyone else—ourselves.

May we all trust our light,



Love After Love

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

~Derek Walcott

The Hardest Part is Stopping

Winter sky

Winter Sky, photo by Celia


“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” ~ Zen proverb

“The first exercise is very simple, but the power, the result, can be very great. The exercise is simply to identify the in-breath as in-breath and the out-breath as the out-breath. When you breathe in, you know that this is your in-breath. When you breathe out, you are mindful that this is your out-breath. Just recognize: this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath. Very simple, very easy. In order to recognize your in-breath as in-breath, you have to bring your mind home to yourself.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“We could learn to stop when the sun goes down and when the sun comes up. We could learn to listen to the wind; we could learn to notice that it’s raining or snowing or hailing or calm. We could reconnect with the weather that is ourselves, and we could realize that it’s sad. The sadder it is, and the vaster it is, the more our heart opens. We can stop thinking that good practice is when it’s smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it’s rough and dark. If we can hold it all in our hearts, then we can make a proper cup of tea.” ~ Pema Chodron


Dear Friends,

We are a busy people. For many of us, our lives include a careful navigation of time, running from one project to another, aware that we don’t get pulled into too much work, stray into too much family time, or take a detour into too much time for ourselves. And beneath all this disciplined steering there is a mighty effort that wills us to keep dodging obstacles that will send us sprawling in the midst of so many obligations. Even writing about it is tiring. For many of us, we want to have a meditation or mindfulness practice, but it’s one more thing to fit into our packed schedule and meditation won’t pay the tuition bill or drive us to the doctor’s office on time.

I was on retreat over New Year’s and a young woman asked Insight meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein a question about how to continue her practice when she returned home. He instructed her to do one thing. “Get in your meditation posture every day.” And do it without planning to sit for a half hour or even ten minutes, just get in your meditation place and sit. He explained that it isn’t meditation that is difficult, it’s “disengaging,” That is the hardest thing for most of us. We believe that we will find peace, fulfillment, and contentment when we are finished with whatever we are doing. For most of us, finishing one task leads directly into the next. There never is empty space waiting to be filled. When we do this one thing, getting into position, we have done the hardest thing—we’ve stopped.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that we arrange our lives in order of our priorities. When meditation and practice are central to our lives, we organize our lives to support our practice. And in turn, the practice supports our life. The allotment of time we give to our practice is directly proportional to the benefits we receive and the importance we place on our spiritual growth. Even if we do not have time for extended sitting or walking practice, we can learn to stop and come home to ourselves during our day. We can practice taking small sips of mindfulness throughout the day, tuning into the body walking, the temperature of the water and glide of soap as we wash our hands. We can notice the degree of tension and relaxation in the body, listen to the sounds coming and going around us, and simply choose to stop right where we are and breathe.

Our breath can be one of the most powerful and consistent ways to practice while we work, drive, and engage. Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “We have to learn the art of stopping – stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness, the strong emotions that rule us. When an emotion rushes through us like a storm, we have no peace. We turn on the TV and then we turn it off. We pick up a book and then we put it down. How can we stop this state of agitation? How can we stop our fear, despair, anger, and craving? We can stop by practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful smiling, and deep looking in order to understand. When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy.” When we put this teaching into practice, we are doing what Joseph Goldstein advised, we are disengaging. Even off the cushion, we can stop. Stopping is the hardest part—always. The rest is just that, rest.

May we all trust our light,


I have arrived


Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation