Archive | July 2013



“This willingness to change our mind should make it possible to live each day meaningfully, which is the difference between just being alive and living. We would do at least one thing each day, which either entails spiritual growth for ourselves or helpfulness and consideration for others, preferably both. If we add one meaningful day to the next, we wind up with a meaningful life.” Ayya Khema, To Be Seen Here and Now


I have always found willingness to be the solution to pretty much any problem. I made it through school by being willing to keep taking classes until I was finished and being willing to do all the assignments contained therein.

Growing up, I saw my brothers quit jobs because they weren’t “putting up with that s—t.” I’ve quit jobs due to stress and not being willing to compromise my ethics, I admit.

Going to business school taught me that “putting up with s—t” is part of being a manager. Anyone unwilling to do so is simply not management material. I’m not saying that keeping incompetent employees is a responsibility that just hast to be borne. I’m saying that “putting out fires” is part of being a manager: disputes between employees, firing incompetent employees, and basically making all the hard decisions. Real thinking and planning should go into managing. Too often, they don’t and everyone suffers because management is not doing its job. Managers need to be willing to get down and dirty with their subordinates, sharing the menial tasks and simply doing whatever needs to be done. Respect is earned; it cannot be demanded. To think otherwise is naked pride at its worst and is not taken seriously by quality employees.

“Willingness to change our mind” means the ability to have our map of reality updated as demanded. Things change. If we don’t pay attention, we will be left behind. When employees see that management is ignoring reality, the better employees will sneak around and look at Monster or Career Builder. They see the writing on the wall and respond accordingly.

Being helpful is not just good Buddhist doctrine; it is also good business sense. Employees will treat customers the way they feel treated by management. Every action needs to be measured by the yardstick of “How does this help others or myself?” The reason this question is so important for business reasons is because ultimately a company is in business to provide a product or service to human beings. Customers define quality; managers don’t. Managers can only help to add value to a product (perceived by the customer, that is) or not add value. It is the manager’s job to support employees to give the customer the absolute best product or service possible. If a particular action or behavior does not add to the customer’s evaluation of value, abandon it, regardless of corporate culture. If the corporate culture supports non-value-added activity, customers will eventually abandon the company for one whose understanding of value more closely matches their own.

We all need to be willing to see things from the viewpoints of the people who determine our ability to create and maintain a livelihood. Who is your customer? What do they value? What do you need to be willing to do differently to adjust to changing markets? Making customers happy is highly satisfying and part of any meaningful career.


“The four pathways to power start out with chandha-samadhi. Chandha is intention, and can be wholesome, unwholesome or neutral. The second pathway is “concentration of energy,” (viriya-samadhi)….  The next pathway to power is “concentration of consciousness,” (citta-samadhi) or one-pointedness of concentration…. When intention and energy come together in a powerful way coupled with willpower, meditative concentration can result can change an ordinary worldling to a noble one, which is the goal of our practice….The fourth pathway is the “concentration of investigation….None of the pathways, however, only apply to meditation. While they benefit us greatly in the context of   meditation, they are useful and practicable in all other moments of our lives.” Ayya Khema from To Be Seen Here and Now


Everyone wants power, but how does one get it? One word is the answer: concentration. Concentration of attention, energy, and investigation are the path to power. It has to be one’s intention to not let one’s precious resources be wasted. Concentration is like taking the light of your attention and putting it through a magnifying glass. Think of the kid killing ants using a magnifying glass.

Christians, in the past, recognized this as well. I have read many texts from the church fathers and they have a word for the opposite of concentration: dissipation. I love that word. “Dissipation” gives me the image of heat leaking through a hole in one’s housing insulation. They were on guard against all forms of dissipation/waste: energy, time, and even sexual. They exhibited a level of self-control I have not personally seen in Christians in my lifetime.

We live in a world that rewards dissipation. I have deactivated my facebook account to see how things go. It is such a waste of time that it boggles my mind. People want me to play stupid games, join their causes, and see what they are having for lunch. It is such a colossal waste of time. The problem is this: this is the primary means some people use to communicate. Imagine not having a phone; facebook would be your primary means of contact with friends and family.

After 9/11, Americans were encouraged to spend money, just to keep the economy going. Bush even sent everyone money. I know we sent some of it to my stepdaughter and her family in the form of an Applebee’s gift certificate. Bush made it sound un-patriotic to pay off one’s debts. Encouraging people to spend money that should be saved or used to pay off debt is not patriotic; it is moronic.

How do you train your attention? Meditation is one way. Also, try controlling your eye movements. Don’t let your eyes roam all over. If your eyes are tired from staring at a screen, stare out a window at an object far away to give them a rest. You will find your mind going deeper into whatever you look at. Focus creates depth of personality. Superficiality is allowing one’s attention to flit around like a bored socialite.

Another way of concentrating one’s power is to ask if something is worthy of attention or money. If the question has to be asked, the answer is generally “No.”

Dissipation is our cultural default; to live a concentrated life is to swim upstream against all cultural currents. It’s even un-patriotic.



What is to be renounced?

 “So there is a great discipline in renunciation as the foundation of zen. I think it is very much an inward matter. At first, I think the primary element of the renunciation is in our attention. That is the mind road and it’s not much use. So there is a renunciation that needs to happen there where we don’t follow that well-worn groove in the mind. That the mind when it is doing that is not lively. It is not immediate and vivid… And it’s rather shocking when we begin zazen to see how many of those received ideas we just have and how much we just run our lives by them and make major decisions by them. In zen we let go of those opinions. An opinion and ninety cents will get you a cup of coffee. So we let them go. And then you can see that in renunciation there is an act of courage because we have to let them go without knowing what will take their place.” JOHN TARRANT ROSHI, December 5, 1992

Every religion has some form of renunciation for its more serious practitioners. Usually it involves letting go of sensual pleasures: sex, overeating, greed, etc. However, a person can let go off all sensual pleasures and still be an egomaniac—I’ve seen it. No worthwhile transformation has taken place. The dysfunctional personality remains intact, perhaps even enhanced.

Zen is different. In Zen, you are renouncing all habitual mind patterns, what makes you you. This is what I always wanted: to be different. Much of psychotherapy is a self-improvement or coping project. God knows I’ve needed it and am grateful for it, but I’ve also wanted more. More of what? Less of me. Perhaps I was seeking self-annihilation. Eliminating the habitual mind patterns leaves you with naked awareness. You can still think, if you want to. You can make better decisions than ever because your vision is crystal clear. You are un-training yourself from everything your parents, teachers, authority figures, advertisers, peers, and marketers have ingrained into you.

It is disorienting to realize just how much others have tried to manipulate one’s behavior. Then one becomes the careful consumer, ever-picky regarding what one allows into one’s field of attention. If you’ve ever found yourself humming a song you heard three days ago, you understand the power of the media.

I have found that I accumulate stuff because I feel I am “supposed to,” as opposed to being honest about what I want and what is useful to me.  When I let go of some external expectation of me, I can easily shed of any and all objects connected to that expectation. However, if I let go of the object before I let go of the expectation, I replace the object at warp speed and think, “How did that happen?” Everything outside is a manifestation of what is inside. The reason Zen monks can live a radically outwardly simple life is because they have taken the time and energy to simplify their inner world.

Most things that get renounced are easily seen as worthless: TV, partying, drinking, smoking, etc. Giving up one’s opinions is personality-ending. I’m not there yet, but I no longer invest my emotions into most of the things I see or hear anymore. The major reason I don’t invest myself into those things is because they are always changing. It would be getting back on the emotional roller coaster. No thanks. I have had obsessive tendencies in the past, so I am not inclined to head down that road again. I don’t want to be that easily manipulated.


John Tarrant, Roshi
delivered during sesshin December 4, 1992 Camp Cazadero, California

“How can you struggle to be in harmony? It’s like the old instruction to be spontaneous or the instruction to relax makes you tense. So that effort is really all directed to transcending yourself, to going beyond all efforts so that everything is natural.”

Buddhism is fabulous at expressing and living irony. How can you struggle to relax? The way Roshi Tarrant is referring to is the Tao, which is all about harmony with nature and humility. To some degree, as far as I can tell, Buddhism is about getting out of one’s own way, something I have been told to do by virtually everyone in my life. “You think too much,” I’ve been told, and they are probably right.

So it’s about noticing everything, seeing what needs to be done, and finding the most harmonious way to go about it.

Going with the flow is easier said than done, of course. My radiator sprung a leak. Suddenly, I wasn’t taking Barry anywhere. He is totally dependent on me and I am equally dependent on my car. We went to the garage together, dropped it off, and got a ride home from an employee. No Biggby coffee shop, as is routine for us, the next day. Instead, we had to wait for the garage to finish with my vehicle.

My way of “going with the flow” was to take a nap after lunch, making the most out of a not-so-great situation. Is that the essence of “going with the flow,” finding ways to make the best of bad situations? Resistance is pointless. Sometimes, I suspect “harmony” is nothing other than resignation. There has to be a more positive take on harmony, but that’s the best I’ve got for now.

Jhanas and Mental Excavation

I found another blog:

“As your meditation sessions increase in length — especially over the magic one-hour mark — you’ll notice that the level of samadhi increases to such intensity that the mind no longer lapses back into aimless activity. When this happens, you are at the point of transitioning into the third jhana… which is the topic for another article. Just know, however, that the transition between second and third jhana is symbolized by the Dark Night of the Soul. What this means is, the intensifying levels of jhana/samadhi (meditative absorption) begin to dig, dig, dig into the deeper parts of your being, exposing those aspects of your life that have gone unexamined and are likely fueling negative manifestations in your daily life.”

I don’t know why it struck me, but this part of the post hits me on many levels. It reminds me of hoarding: the deeper one goes into a hoarder’s piles, the older the stuff being uncovered. It also is so deeply psychological: when the never-ending mental tumult of modern life slows down to a pace that can actually be observed, the older layers become more obvious. As you deal with previously repressed emotions, the underneath layer becomes visible.

I am not at the place of meditating for an hour at a shot. What I have had is decades of psychotherapy. There is little that gets brought to the surface anymore that makes me think “Where the heck did that come from?” Over the years, I have learned to stop many thoughts mid-stream. I have been questioning my thoughts most of my life. I believe this has given me some advantage over traditional meditators. That could just be my ego talking.

Lately, I’ve been having progressively longer periods of internal silence, something I always wanted as a Christian. And I’ve been having sudden insights, connecting the dots in my life in a way that has never occurred before. I’ve come to see that this is my new way of living: quiet and comprehending. It feels like some critical mass has been reached and now there is less difficulty reaching states I could only hope for years ago.

I’ve noticed a pattern regarding my getting physically organized and cleaner: first I buy supplies, then I don’t want to touch anything for maybe a month or two, then I feel a gradual urge to do something (unsure of what exactly), and finally I look around and say to myself, “What could I start on right now?” At that point, I am unstoppable. I don’t know if I am simply going from one extreme to another or if this is just the natural process for me.

Once the psychological layer is dealt with, I feel a freedom and notice things I never saw before. It seems obvious to clean things I never even noticed were dirty. But if I try to de-clutter without dealing with the necessary issues, stuff piles back up quickly. The outside comes quickly once the inside is simple. When my thoughts are integrated and aligned, there is no outward struggle with neatness. But it happens in chunks, an uneven process. I can see the progress and where I still need to make progress.

First deal with the inner and then the outward comes easily and completely naturally.

Mental Untidiness

The Power of Mindfulness
An Inquiry into the Scope of Bare Attention
and the Principal Sources of its Strength

by Nyanaponika Thera, 1986, Buddhist Publication Society


“It is the daily little negligence in thoughts, words and deeds going on for many years of our life (and as the Buddha teaches, for many existences), that is chiefly responsible for the untidiness and confusion we find in our minds. This negligence creates the trouble and allows it to continue. Thus the old Buddhist teachers have said: ‘Negligence produces a lot of dirt. As in a house, so in the mind, only a very little dirt collects in a day or two, but if it goes on for many years, it will grow into a vast heap of refuse.’”

When one lets go of nothing physically, it’s called “hoarding.” When one lets go of nothing psychologically, it is like living with a village in our head. Everyone’s opinions, expectations, and demands echo in our minds. Add on our own dreams, desires, intuitions, and failures, and what do you have? Chaos.

I have found it difficult to organize my house without dealing with the emotional attachments (dreams, desires, etc.) symbolized by the objects. My physical environment is simply the outward manifestation of my inner world.

We all know people that sound today like they did twenty years ago. They have let go of nothing. Their opinions remain the same. Their emotional growth has stagnated.

The image in Zen is that of a mirror. Our mind is to be like a mirror, perfectly polished, reflecting accurately the world presented to it. We are to Keep our mirror clean by dealing forthrightly with every situation in our lives, giving ourselves completely to reality, as opposed to feeding our delusions. No leftovers or dregs should remain. We use just what we need. Simplicity is a psychological necessity, not a faddish ideal of he-who-owns-the-least-wins. Sanity depends on it.

Stable and Homeless

Living a Life of Vow

By Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Shambhala Sun, May 2003.

“This “leaving home”—what is that? Sometimes it is called the homeless life. In Japan, a person entering the homeless life in this ceremony would be called an unsui, “cloud water”—one who moves from place to place as necessary without obstruction, without attachment, like a cloud; and one who fits into whatever situation arises without resistance, like water.One thing it means is to find your home wherever you are. To realize that wherever you are is home; not to be seeking for some special place, to be making some cozy nest, but to find yourself at home wherever you are and in whatever circumstances you may be. To put aside the worldly concerns of looking for material comfort, and instead to cultivate mental comfort, comfort of the spirit and mind and heart. This being at home wherever you are means being comfortable wherever you are. Not having to have some special place or special things to make you comfortable. Right here in this very body in this very place as-it-is, to be at home. That’s one way we can think about what is this homeless life.”


This is part of what I like about Zen: the stability it emphasizes is internal, not external. The world is always changing. Everything comes and goes. Comfort doesn’t come from getting everything you want in its perfect place and then struggling to statically hold it all in place. It comes from being one with whatever exists around you at this moment, from being whole.


I have lived my entire life in Michigan. It has all been very stable. I needed that in my younger years. Now I have the skills I’ve always wanted and am on the verge of a new life. My desire now is for my life to be portable. I want to be able to go where I am needed. I am no longer concerned with “finding myself.”


“Resistance is futile.” I think that comes from a sci-fi movie. However, I have found that if I put myself in good situations, I don’t need to resist much. It’s all about taking care of times, seasons, and occasions. If you take responsibility for the situations you put yourself in, many conflicts are prevented. Why deal with a problem when you can simply avoid it in the first place?


The world desperately needs stable people, but too often it defines stability externally, like how many years you have lived in the same place. Because it has no ability to tell internally stable people from the pack, it is easily fooled by hucksters. It is sad.