Saturday, August 25, 2012


Paying attention to our dreams can be so interesting and fulfilling. I've always been a noticer of the night life. Lately my dreams have been alive and electric, profound and awakening.

My best friend and I went for a girl's overnight camping trip on the Appalachian trail. It was beautiful and arduous, a very tough hike full of gorgeous views and mysterious blankets of fog. We hiked 10 miles to a sweet little valley area where we set up camp for the night. After a delicious campfire meal of tofu sausage, rice, and vegetables, sleep was not too far from our grasp. As dusk settled upon us we tucked ourselves into our cozy tent and shut our tired eyes.

I fell asleep gradually, perhaps in the most gradual way possible. I closed my eyes, quieted my mind, and listened to the sounds of the night. The chirping and beeping and whizzing and whining all around us grew louder and louder as I let it all in. The sounds of the forest grew so loud and encompassing that I felt as if they were vibrating within and through me, my self melting into the great wholeness. At some point the image of the tent above me fell away and I found myself staring into the dark night of the forest. Then I began to see a light emerging from behind and slightly above the treetops. It grew brighter and brighter, as if it were moving from the sky and descending down towards me. I watched as this light moved in and shone down, reaching and extending itself right into my belly, and I joyfully exclaimed, 'my daughter is here!'

I awoke immediatley after. I cannot tell you exactly what time it was, but I imagine it to have been somewhere around 4am. A storm had kicked up and the rain was now pelting and pounding against our tent, pools of water swirling around us as we laid wide-eyed with wonder in our refuge. Lightening was dancing everywhere in the sky but we could not pinpoint where, but only saw flashes through the veil of our tent and shuddered as the thunder rumbled around us.

An all-too-short day later, I confirm there is indeed a little light growing inside my belly. It feels different than it has ever felt before. I am scared and careful, somewhat over-vigilant, and remarkably drawn inward. I'm not glowing with elation or beaming with happiness... but this is not to say that I'm neither excited nor happy. I am both, of course. I'm just taking it all in, quietly, with some snipits of nostalgia here and there, tiny forgotten sorrows, images of dreams that have left me and new ones that have arrived.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Practicing Harmlessness

A monk recently spoke about the importance of joyous effort and the three obstacles to joyous effort: (1) laziness (2) busyness (3) self-defeating attitude/self-doubt. I thought a lot about these three obstacles and investigated how they are each at work in my own practice in both gross and subtle ways. The more I reflect on these obstacles, the more it seems to me that they, too, have roots and causes. As I looked deeper, I started to see that for my own path, the root obstacle which has been generating these three obstacles to joyous effort is purpose. Why do I practice? No really, why?

What purpose might I have that could really, truly, sustain the practice? I went through many things, even trying to get the answer boiled down to one key word, such as 'gratitude.' But nothing seemed to fit quite as perfectly as this: practicing harmlessness.

Why do I sit every day, training my mind? To be peaceful, to be free from suffering, to cultivate wisdom. Yes, all of those things! But they are not just for me, they are also for you. And you, and you, and you! If I practice only for me, I get all tangled up in self-centeredness, critical of my practice, with unreachable expectations and too much desire for attainment. When I practice in order to take the best kind of care of others that I can -- everything simply settles into place. And the peacefulness, liberation from suffering, and wisdom which the practice naturally generates will also naturally be the qualities in me which takes care of you.

I like this exchange. It is a firm foundation, and makes my effort joyous.

It also contributes in its own way to patience and compassion in the practice. Training the mind is tough work. And it takes a great deal of time. This path is a gradual one, and contrary to our basic intuition which would tell us as much, I find myself having to constantly be reminded. One day we might sit for practice and the mind just wont settle down; it thinks and thinks and thinks and thinks. It's important to immediately tell ourselves that that's okay. That's what the mind naturally does. It's been doing that for a long, long time. Much longer than you've been practicing. It's easy to be aggressive with ourselves in our practice when the mind is so restless and defiant. It's far better to wrap our heart's arms around it and say in a sweet, gentle voice, 'that's okay. just notice the breath again.' And we may have to notice the breath again a thousand times in our little 30 or 40 or 60 minute sit. It's all a part of the practice. Practicing harmlessness must first begin with ourselves. There's simply no escaping that fact.

So, my friends, may you have patience with yourself in order to have patience with others. And may you have peace and compassion within and towards yourself, so that you may have peace and compassion with and towards others.