Opening To This Moment

Rocky Shore

Rocky Shore. Photo by Celia

“If, by forsaking a limited ease, he would see an abundance of ease,

the enlightened man would forsake the limited ease for the sake

of the abundant.”

~ Dhammapada 29

“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”

~ Elvis Presley

“Seek no intimacy with the beloved and also not with the unloved, for not to see the beloved and to see the unloved, both are painful.”

“Therefore hold nothing dear, for separation from the dear is painful. There are no bonds for those who have nothing beloved or unloved.”

~ Dhammapada 201-211

Dear Friends,

I am spending some time this week on a small island eight miles off the coast in the Atlantic ocean. Day-trippers come, people on boats, families, wedding parties—it’s busy and bustling with expectations of beach days, good waves, and summer memories. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to note the wanting mind, my own and others around me. This is a fundamental practice for releasing ourselves from the bondage of our thoughts through seeing wanting and not wanting, the two sides of tanha, often translated as craving.

It is more common to think of craving regarding something we ingest, some delicious food or drink. We don’t often think of craving as not-wanting. But not-wanting can be as painful as wanting. We crave peace and quiet and are irritated and dismayed with the unwanted noise and crowds. We crave the perfect weather for our vacation week—and take the rain as a personal affront. We may long for in-depth conversations that re-establish long-ignored connections and feel frustrated when we don’t feel understood or listened to. We may crave the smell of wild beach roses and a breeze to cool us. While there is nothing unwholesome about having a preference or enjoying our experience, the problems begin when we attach our happiness to the fulfillment of this wanting, especially if it is something beyond our control.

When our happiness rests on the fulfillment of our wishes by another or any external conditions we are as the Buddha describes “fettered.” True freedom allows us to chose our own internal weather and returns our own self-authority despite external conditions. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha is quoted as saying:

“Encircled with craving, people hop round and around like a rabbit caught in a snare.

Tied with fetters and bonds they go on to suffering, again and again, for long.”

The snare is the desiring mind that moves towards and away from what it wants and doesn’t want. All this chasing of perfection, in reality, is exhausting and unfulfilling work and even if we do crack the code and find the perfect moment, the perfect breeze, the most delicious food, the just right person to share it with—it doesn’t last. Something always keeps changing.

So how do we get free? The first step is to notice with a gentle mind this phenomenon that we have in common with all living beings, wanting ease. When we can offer ourselves compassion and understand our desires as strategies to keep us safe, cared for, or viewed in a certain way we give ourselves the opportunity to be present with what is actually unfolding right in front of us. Showing up, fully present at this moment can delight us in ways we never imagined. When we loosen our grip on our desires, sometimes we find that there is beauty and perfection enough—without the struggle. When we release the control around how things should be, we can experience trusting our abilities to meet the demands of our realities.

A benefit of trusting ourselves is that we may find some unexpected delights when we let go of our programmed agenda. Today we saw seals floating out by the North light, the complex mosaics of the rocks in tidal pools, and there was an adorable yellow warbler ruffled by the waves. This island is still hot and humid, still full of vacationers with big expectations and expensive flip flops, but there is also a choice. The question I am asking is, “is it enough?” Is this ocean enough for me to find beauty? Is this person I am with delightful enough? Do we have enough value, enough time, enough life? The more I consider this, the question changes and becomes, “Can I be enough for this moment?” Because this moment with all its complexity and interwoven conditions is already enough. This moment keeps offering me innumerable opportunities and possibilities, but only if my mind is open to let in the possible.

May we all trust our light,


Be free where you are

Simplicity, Renunciation, and Lessons From the Toad at the Front Door

Humble toad

My teacher of simplicity, the humble toad

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” ~ Will Rogers

 “Order your soul. Reduce your wants.” ~Saint Augustine

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” ~ Isaac Newton

“We can travel a long way and do many things, but our deepest happiness is not born from accumulating new experiences. It is born from letting go of what is unnecessary, and knowing ourselves to be always at home.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

 “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” Lin Yutang

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”~ William Morris

Dear Friends,

August brings “Back to School” signs and the reminder that for some of us, life will change dramatically in a few weeks. August can signal the bittersweet end of leisure and the beginning of back to school, work, and the serious task of preparing for the winter. My family is moving house this month and we are working diligently to reduce our possessions and pack them up. I am filled with the desire for the simplicity of the monastic life where one’s possessions amount to three robes and a begging bowl. I’ve had to face the reality that the dozens of single socks I’ve held onto for the last six years, hoping to one day reunite with their long lost mates will forever remain unpaired. I was astonished at the number of writing implements we own and dismayed by the tangled skeins of electrical chargers and adapters that belong to defunct technology or broken toys, a result of planned obsolesce.

Life is feeling complicated with mortgage applications, escrow, and all the legal stuff of home selling and buying. A few weeks ago, I participated in a group meditation where we were asked to find what felt complex and what felt simple, right this moment. The complex was a cracked boiler expansion tank and the simple was being here, present in this breathing body that feels contact with the cushions beneath me, and the sounds that come to my ear. This awareness of simplicity in the midst of complexity requires renunciation. The renunciation of the planning, worrying mind. The world offers complexity everywhere we turn, on the news, in our political structure, and our economics. It’s easy to live in complexity. It’s much harder and takes intentional action to live simplicity.

My best teacher of simplicity this summer has been a toad who lives behind the pile of chair cushion on my front stoop. Shifting the cushions I heard a soft chirp and saw a palm-sized toad situated between two cushions. This shaded nook was the toad’s home during the day. I came back days later and peeked. The toad was still there… and nothing else. There was no bedding, no straw, or bits of food, nothing, but the toad resting in the coolness. This image stayed with me for days, the toad that needed nothing, except to stay cool during the heat of the day. This being that trusted that each night there would be adequate food, enough insects to feed on and during the day there would be a space to find safety and shade. This toad had no pockets for possessions and lived in absolute trust and accord with the natural order.

We humans manipulate so much in our environments we forget that we too must live in accord with the natural order. We cannot escape from our biological and environmental realities. We all must reckon with how we live on this earth and the true price of complexity. This week you may like to explore mindfulness of simplicity and complexity and ask, how much do I really need to be ok? What can I let go of? Maybe it’s the growing stash of takeout soy sauce packets or striving for a job with a bigger paycheck and lots more responsibility and hours. What does living simply on the earth look like for you?

This inquiry can deepen to include the perception of the body and emotions. We can ask, what feels complex right now? Where does complexity live in the body and how does it feel emotionally? And then, what is simple right now? What is the body/mind experience of finding simplicity? What would it feel like to live a day in simplicity? For simplicity requires diligent renunciation of the habits of proliferation, greed, acquisition, and the habit of fear. All of which our culture tells us will keep us safe and well, but what is our lived experience of complexity? Does it really make us happier and more peaceful? At each moment we do have the ability to choose where to place our mind and whether we want to live simply or not.

I know my life will include complexity. It is inescapable, but my teacher, that modest toad on the front stoop, reminds me that life can look different. Even when the tasks at hand are complex, touching into the always available presence of body and mind awareness is simple, but not easy.

May we all trust our light,