It is 5pm on Christmas Eve in the year 2021. We are two nights away from the Winter Solstice. It is the darkest time of the year, and we are in the second year where sickness has moved around the world and destabilized all of us. It's a second Christmas where many families are forced apart, where masks are worn in supermarkets, where we remain tethered to our devices, because many of our social supports fell away in 2020 and we're not entirely sure when they'll reappear. And I find myself wanting to document a few big blessings of this year. Before our planet starts to chart its path back to the sun.
This past weekend, I did several things for the first time in 18 months. I stepped out of my normal routines. I donned a mask and moved back into the germ-filled world. And it had a profoundly healing effect on my mind's health.
Humans have just sent a rocket 126 million miles to Mars. And I have to say I laughed when I saw its first tweet upon landing. And I appreciated the way it snapped my mind out into a much bigger place, the vast space of things.
But the thing that truly impressed me this morning, as I sat in a wooden house in the forest beside the winding streams of this jewel of a planet, is the way that this elderly cat, who has seizures and advanced kidney disease and lungs that don’t work very well anymore, nonetheless dutifully wakes us up every morning.
With nothing but an incredible sense of timing and kindness in her heart, she runs back and forth over our pillows at 5am and then sits on my bedside table, sending purrs into my ears — to make sure we get up on time.
She comes and sits with me as I drink my morning tea, and we sit and put our heads close together and I help clean her fur. And the love that is the texture of her mind is as vast and full of potential as any human mind.
It fills the house. It curls around corners.
And within that love is the most amazing, potent power for peace — sitting like an exquisite reservoir just below the surface, just waiting for us to discover and harness it. If only we weren’t always so endlessly distracted by the objects outside of ourselves.
And I reflect on the teaching that the nature of every living being’s mind is Buddha nature or Buddha seed, meaning it is pure limitless potential. As formless and therefore as vast as reality itself.
If only we could crack open that potential and release its power, travel the 126 million miles inside our own hearts to the very core of reality. And find, in that moment of liberating freedom, the awakening of all.
In which I experiment with a social media cleanse, fail miserably at it, then find the teaching within it.
It is the middle of January in the year 2021.
There is a spring thaw, although of course it's an illusion and not yet spring. We're still in the middle of a deep Maine winter. It was simply a rain storm that swept in and caused the brook to flow with a spring-like energy. In a few days, that water will freeze over again.
And I don't know about you all, but I had to pull myself out of bed this morning. I sat drinking my morning tea and my mind felt rocky and rough and muddy. And mildly annoyed. I felt pushed into a corner. A bit like my elderly cat who jumped into a deep and empty bathtub early this morning and couldn't jump out again.
More specifically, my mind was attaching itself to a few minor criticisms I had heard during the workweek. It was hyper-focusing on those criticisms, and angling towards annoyance. And because we no longer leave our homes apart from essential grocery missions, and my home is now my office, those mind habits were taking on a newly exaggerated quality.
[I wrote this as a Facebook post early in the morning of June 4, 2020. Amid the protests sweeping across the United States in response to the killings of unarmed black men and women. And amid simultaneous protests in Hong Kong. I'm posting it here so that I can come back to this, and allow it to encourage me. I hope it also benefits anyone who lands here, and is looking to build paths of non-violence in their heart and in the world.]
June 4th is a day with vastly different meanings to me.
The first is trauma. June 4th is when, as an 11 year old growing up in Hong Kong, I watched on live TV the tanks rolling into Tiananmen Square. The ensuing massacre of thousands of peaceful protesters in Beijing. For every year thereafter, June 4th was/is a day when HK people wear black and stand in vast numbers, holding candles to remember the lives extinguished by violence.
In recent years, June 4 has also become a day of extraordinary hope — perhaps the greatest hope.
Today is Dharmachakra Day, a celebration of the first teachings given by Buddha 2,500 years ago, also known as "the turning of the wheel of Dharma." As the inspired Kadampa blogger Luna Kadampa has reminded me in recent days, Buddha's teachings went on to upend the caste system in India.
I was walking through Unum's vast Portland campus today when I discovered the meditation room. I've spent 16 years studying meditation and for the last decade I’ve taught a weekly meditation class as a volunteer. So I know firsthand its powerful benefits in generating peace, happiness, creativity and resilience. But I have never, never been in an office that has an area devoted to it.
So I went in — and found an ingeniously designed experience.
Today is NKT Day. It is a day to celebrate the founding of the New Kadampa Tradition, a remarkable Buddhist not-for-profit organization of which I am a part.
I know it is this day because I was just sitting in the early morning light, on this first Saturday in April, sipping tea while the sun rose over the forest floor. I had flicked to Facebook, to see the wonderful Buddhist blogger Luna Kadampa share this news in my feed (the blog she wrote does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of this day.)
In honor of this, I wanted to share this poem below, something I scrawled in my notebook one early fall day. I share these words with my hands pulled together at my heart — and the deepest of thanks to my teacher, Geshe Keslang Gyatso, for his extraordinary wisdom.
Two weeks ago, at 5:15pm the day before Thanksgiving, my husband Tim had a major accident. I don't quite have the language to explain it all. For those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you may have read the rant I posted the following morning:
Thanksgiving Day, 2017
I am grateful for the woman with the calm and kind voice on the 911 call, who told me what to do.
To the paramedics who appeared minutes later and carried Tim onto a stretcher, down rain-covered steps and into the ambulance.
To all the drivers I saw on the highway as I followed behind the flashing red and blue lights. To every single driver that pulled aside to let that ambulance pass.
I am grateful to the doctor and nurses, to that entire building full of people trained in caring for humans that we found ready and waiting to help. To that young doctor who did the MRA scan and found most of the ribs on Tim's left side broken but miraculously the lungs full, miraculously the inner organs unaffected.
I am grateful to the Family of Morins and Tyrrells who texted, called, said they’d do anything, and a global community of sangha jewels who sent Buddha’s blessings, mantras of protection.
I’m grateful to my teacher for teaching me how to sit and hold love in my heart and know that life is simply about these moments. How developing wisdom and compassion and helping those in need really is the real meaning of our lives.
And now home, with Tim by my side.
In the two weeks since, I have met my Dharma practice in a way I've never met it before. And by this I mean that my Dharma and meditation practice has come to life in a new way.
It was Sunday afternoon, 13 August 2017. The afternoon light was falling over potted plants in my living room. I had spent four days away from my phone and laptop, walking through forests with my family who were visiting from the UK. I had kayaked in the ocean and remembered what it felt like to touch water, air, land.
It was 4pm and I sat on the sofa in the now-quiet house, and flicked my iPhone awake. And there was the Facebook newsfeed. Protests of white supremacists marching in Virginia. Anger. Violence. The shock that hits you deep in your stomach. The horror of seeing humans hurt one another.
I scrolled further, switching over to news outlets and learning the facts. But then something else appeared in my Facebook feed. Something so drastically different that it astounded me.
A blog post that tries to make sense of falling planes, bombs being dropped on living beings, and our inherent capacity for peace. How do we react?
(This blog was first published on July 10, 2014. I am reposting it again today because of the recent news, and my wish to find peace in this world. I welcome your feedback below): I walked into my apartment, opened my laptop and the first story was there. Of a Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over the Ukraine. Images of a scarred landscape. Intense, manifest suffering.
I got up, put on the kettle, sat down. Felt utter panic. Put on the radio. After 30 minutes of radio, internet, and the shock in journalists voices, the tears came. And a thought kept circling my mind: my people, my people, my people. The people of my world.
Where I contemplate my meditation practice and how it aligns with daily life. Sometimes these take the form of poems.