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Love in the Face of Fear

March 12, 2017

‘Building Peace’ by Yasmeen via

I haven’t written about the political climate lately because I really don’t know what to say. There is too much. It’s not necessarily about feeling overwhelmed. I don’t actually. I’m paying attention. I have an opinion. But there is a difference between paying attention, having a stance, and knowing what to say about it – all of it.

Mostly I just want to ask people to be kind. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really not. Everyone thinks they are kind. Everyone thinks they are the good guy. No one thinks they’re the villain. And even when we know we’re being unkind to each other we think “they deserve it” or some variant thereof. Of course, we’re always kind, except when the “other guy” is being an asshole.

Last week Dr. Michael Jerryson came to our campus to talk about religions and violence. He wasn’t arguing that some religions are more violent than others. He didn’t try to paint violent people as deviant or mentally ill or evil. Rather, he pointed out that when any human being perceives a threat to their survival, their family, their nation, or a threat to whatever they hold good and sacred, they may respond with violence. Evil acts are done by ordinary people.

I think he’s right. I think we’re seeing a lot of that right now.

A lot of people in this country believe they are under threat. They believe their enemies are trying to destroy everything they hold dear. The problem is, they’re not wrong.

But here is the distinction – some people are being attacked and others are just being opposed. The problem is we can’t always tell the difference.

I oppose white supremacy because white supremacists attack and kill people of color and enforce oppressive laws that threaten and limit the survival of people of color. I want white supremacists to be arrested and jailed for hate crimes. I want society as a whole to so loudly, publicly, and repeatedly denounce white supremacy that they can’t say a word in public without being shouted down, can’t write a single line of fake news that anyone would click on or read, can’t suggest a single law without being being thrown out of legislative committee, and can’t mistreat a single POC customer without being fired on the spot. But I don’t want to kill them.

Likewise with sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, the greedy and corrupt. I oppose them. I will do everything I can to stop their behavior and denounce their views. But I don’t want to kill them, even when they want to kill me.

According to Dr. Jerryson, people become more prone to violence when they enter a mindset he calls a ‘sacred emergency.’ They perceive whatever they hold dear to be sacred, righteous, and ultimately good. Whoever opposes them is, therefore, evil. Their mind begins to interpret all opposition as a literal attack, a threat not only to their existence, but to the existence of the sacred, the good.

It’s like flipping a switch. Normal moral behavior can be suspended in such a state of emergency. Violence and self-sacrifice are justified because the person in the sacred emergency is “at war.” You’ll hear this rhetoric from white supremacists. They believe they’re at war.

More frightening, however, is that you’ll also hear this rhetoric from people in the White House right now. They believe they’re at war – against Muslims and Jews, people of color, immigrants, feminists, liberals and social progressives. They’ve mistaken opposition for attack. They see an opponent as an enemy. They fear loosing because they believe it means annihilation.

Because they believe they’re at war, they can justify almost anything, even a literal war. Honestly, I am most afraid of this possibility. We’re not there yet, but in the meantime, they’re doing plenty of damage with executive orders, harmful laws, and overuse of police powers. I am afraid, though mostly on behalf of more vulnerable brothers and sisters who are, literally, being attacked.

Fear is a very hard thing to fight. The people in the White House today are afraid. The people who voted for them are afraid – of loosing jobs, of loosing ways of life, of living in a country they don’t recognize anymore – mostly they are afraid of change, which is a very human thing. They have suffered in their lives, as have we all, and have willingly grasped a mis-attribution of the cause of their suffering. They are afraid, they are angry, and reaching out for every bit of control and power they can find.

The struggle is to prevent myself from doing the same. I am afraid, but I try so hard not to be angry. Some days I fail. I want things to change so badly. I want the power to change it, but I don’t want that power to come at the expense of others less fortunate or more vulnerable than I.

This is too vague. A dozen times I’ve started a specific list of things to oppose, things to support, causes to give money to, politicians and policies to denounce. There’s just too much to say about it all, but others are saying it if you know where to look.

So I’m just going to do this. I’m going to keep opposing attacks on others. I’m going to continue to be an advocate on social media. I’m going to keep giving to causes that protect others from attack. I’m going to vote. I’m going to speak out in public when I see someone being attacked. I can’t promise I’ll put my body in harms way to protect another. I wish I could, but I just don’t know that about myself yet. So I’m going to do what I know I can do. I’m going to educate. I’m going to love in the face of fear.

Spiritual Formation of the Bodhisattva

February 19, 2017

‘Estatuas en Hasedera’ by Carlos Alejo via

Around the 8th century CE, a monk at Nalanda, one of the largest Buddhist monasteries and universities to ever exist, composed a text called the Bodhicaryāvatāra or The Way of the Bodhisattva. It’s actually a great story. Basically, all the monks had become convinced that he was a lazy do-nothing, so they challenged him to give a public lecture. They expected him to embarrass himself. Instead, Śāntideva expounded what is now considered on of the greatest works of Buddhist literature.

Whether the story is true or apocryphal, the Bodhicaryāvatāra has been used for hundreds of years to guide the spiritual formation of aspiring bodhisattvas. According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a “being intent on enlightenment.” Pema Chödrön calls them “spiritual warriors who long to alleviate suffering, their own and that of others.” In other words, a bodhisattva practices in the path of the buddhas, to obtain enlightenment and liberate beings from suffering.

That sounds like a tall order. Especially when one considers the great mythic figures like Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, with a thousand ears and a thousand eyes to hear and see the suffering of the world and a thousand hands and feet with which to reach out and help them all. Or like Ksitigarbha who vowed to aid suffering beings trapped in the hell realms until such realms were entirely emptied.  That sounds like a lot. One might think “So when we talk of bodhisattvas, we’re not really talking about me, right?”

Śāntideva was speaking about aspiring bodhisattvas just like you and I. In fact, he was speaking for himself, from his first-person very human experience, and speaking to his very human audience of fellow monks, not without some tongue-in-cheek, too boot. He laid out a clear path for how a normal person becomes a bodhisattva in this very lifetime. Of course, the story then asserts that after expounding this clear path he floated away into the sky, so make of that what you will.

I have recently completed my first thorough review of the Bodhicaryāvatāra with an eye towards its implications for my practice as a Buddhist chaplain. My conclusion is that this is a rich text entirely applicable to our lives and work today, especially in relation to the spiritual formation of Buddhists on the path of the bodhisattva.

Spiritual formation, briefly defined, is how one’s spiritual practice or religious beliefs inform one’s everyday life and work. Formation is an ongoing developmental process related to how we see ourselves as persons and how that changing self-perception informs our thoughts, speech, and actions throughout our lives. Spiritual relates to questions of ultimate concern, that is, what is most important in this life and/or the next. For a practicing Buddhist, ultimate concerns tend to relate to liberation from suffering in this life and/or the next through following the path of the buddhas to enlightenment. (Of course, many practicing Buddhists have much more mundane ultimate concerns such as making a living and raising a family. These are laudable as stages in the path and not to be denigrated.)

As a professional chaplain, spiritual formation relates to several clinical pastoral education (CPE) outcomes (ACPE Outcomes 311.1, 312.1, and 312.9) and standards of professional practice (APC Standards TPC1 and IDC1-4). Chaplains are expected to pursue their own spiritual formation consciously and proactively throughout their lives. In other words, on the path towards developing Right View, we need to start by figuring out just what is our view? And how does that inform what we do?

Śāntideva starts in exactly the same place in the Bodhicaryāvatāra. He begins by examining how one forms the intention to become a bodhisattva. This concern accounts for almost a fifth of all the verses in the Bodhicaryāvatāra. It is especially prominent in  chapters 2 and 10, and is also found in every single chapter within the work. What characterizes the intention of the aspiring bodhisattva?

The bodhisattva will not tame the mind or achieve wisdom unless she cultivates a pure intention to do so for the sake of all beings. A selfish intention, that is, one that clings to the notion of “I,” is the very antithesis of wisdom and arises from a mind overrun by sensual desires. Śāntideva, therefore, encourages the bodhisattva to develop bodhicitta, or the awakened mind/heart.

Those who wish to crush the many sorrows of existence,
Who wish to quell the pain of living beings,
Who wish to have experience of a myriad joys
Should never turn away from bodhichitta.

In both cases, the first part of the word, bodhi, comes from the same root as the word buddha, the “awakened” one, so it is the same kind of awakening for both. Citta is commonly translated as “mind,” but also connotes “thought,” “attention,” “desire,” “intention,” and “aim,” leading Francis Brassard, author of The Concept of Bodhicitta in Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra, to describe bodhicitta was the “will of enlightenment.”

The great bodhisattvas, through countless rebirths, are motivated by māhakaruṇā or “great compassion.” Any motivation aside from compassion simply will not work for the purposes of enlightenment. Having a good intention, in this sense, is the only way to achieve an ultimately good result. Therefore, verses on the formation of proper intention are commonly accompanied by an exploration of the fruition of the Buddhist path in complete, total enlightenment and liberation from suffering, also known as nirvāna.

With joy I celebrate the virtue that relieves all beings
From the sorrows of the states of loss,
Exulting in the happy states enjoyed
By those who yet are suffering.

Only a purely altruistic motivation can abandon the “I” delusion and realize all phenomena as empty – ultimate wisdom. Likewise, good intention involves the fate of other beings, so intention is related to how one should regard those other beings, as either equal to or more important than oneself, and treat them accordingly. Through study, meditation, and our work as a chaplain, we begin to apprehend the relationship between prajñā, śūnyatā, and nirvāna.

Understanding begins with intention. Chapter 2 of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, which is called “Confession of Sins” or “Offering and Purification,” is about forming a strong intention to become a bodhisattva for the sake of all beings. According to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the purpose of the entire text is “to further his [Śāntideva’s] own spiritual practice and that of those who are at the same stage as himself.” In other words, Śāntideva explores the aspiring bodhisattva’s purpose from a first-person perspective, an ordinary human perspective. His Holiness elaborates:

Driven by the desire to help beings, one thinks, For their sake, I must attain enlightenment! Such a thought forms the entrance to the Mahāyāna. Bodhichitta [sic] then, is a double wish: to attain enlightenment in itself, and to do so for the sake of all beings.

Chapters 3 and 4 continue to build on the intention of the aspiring bodhisattva while also introducing the various virtues the bodhisattva will perfect along her path. Chapters 5 through 9 are dedicated to those virtues. Chapter 8 focuses on the development of meditative concentration as a necessary prerequisite for the exploration of wisdom in chapter 9. Chapter 10 forms the final dedication of the book and contains of of the most poetic recapitulations of the bodhisattva’s intention.

And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.

This intention forms the root of our practice. We should train gradually to build a stable foundation. According to His Holiness, we need to start with a “clear, overall view of the path,” so we know when we’re making progress, then practice regularly to profoundly change our minds through long sessions of meditation. Later these changes carry off the cushion into our daily lives. We then start accumulating good merit. We then reach the “path of connection with its four stages of warmth, climax, endurance, and supreme realization.” Then we move onto the path of seeing and gain wisdom and eventually Buddhahood, helping countless others along the way. This path begins with the will to walk it.

Anxiety Lies

February 14, 2017

‘Anxiety’ by katieg93 via

My dog is lying on the floor in the sunshine. I stretch out one slipper-clad foot beneath my desk. I can just touch his back with my toe. He cracks one dark eye open, but doesn’t move. He knows this is just his person procrastinating, not a genuine invitation to play.

There is a dissertation proposal draft to finish, two loads of clean laundry to fold and put away, a sink of dishes to wash, several bags of bottles to take to the recycling center, homework to grade, and emails to write that I’ve procrastinated since Friday. It’s now Sunday.

There are healthier ways to procrastinate. I could meditate or exercise or take the dog to the park.

Mostly I want to go back to sleep. I want to dream. I want to binge watch television or binge read novels. I want to hide in my house and not talk to anyone at all for at least three days.

The funny part is that I know exactly what this is. I teach it to my students. Procrastination is an emotion-based coping tactic when an action-based coping tactic is necessary. It is a way of attempting to deal with anxiety, stress, sadness, or other negative feelings through the active use of distraction.

It is more effective to target the source of the anxiety by working on my dissertation proposal, for example, until it is done and I feel good about it and have less reason for anxiety. Except that I know when it is done I will still have anxiety.

I am waiting, in limbo, caught between having turned in my qualifying exams and the meeting that will tell me if they are actually any good – if I passed. And in my addled brain, those are the options. Either they are very, very good and I passed or they are absolutely worthless and I didn’t pass. Which is silly, of course.

I don’t believe my work is worthless, even if it’s not sufficient. Whatever they tell me tomorrow, I’ll learn from and improve what I’ve done. I might spend a little time sobbing in the ladies’ room, first, but then I’ll pick myself up and start writing again. I’ve done it before. I can do it again.

Procrastination feels bad because underneath that “I don’t wanna!” feeling all that anxiety is lurking. We don’t want to face it, but it’s there and it’s not going away. Procrastination feels bad because we compound that anxiety by making ourselves more likely to fail by selecting the wrong coping strategy, and we know it. Procrastination feels bad because it neglects behaviors that would actually make us feel better. And finally, procrastination feels bad because we feel helpless to prevent it. We feel like we’re not in control and feeling lack of control sucks.

So on Sunday, I spent about ten minutes sitting in my office, staring at my computer and poking the dog with my toe. Then I started writing again. I started with what was going through my mind just then. Nothing fancy, just what I was thinking right then.

I wrote this about procrastination and, in so doing, put all my anxieties out there in the open and then refuted them. They’re not silly, they’re just anxieties, same as everyone else’s. They’re normal.

When I can see anxiety as normal, it somehow isn’t as scary. I start to remember exactly what to do with it. So I started writing and wrote this, then I got up and washed the dishes. I took the dog to the park. I folded laundry while listening to a favorite podcast. And I felt a little better after that.

Anxiety lies. It tells us we won’t feel any better until the source of our anxiety is resolved. In my case, until I hear the outcome of my exams. It locks us into a state of limbo, but we have the key.

We can’t live in that state of limbo forever. I mean that literally; we can’t. Our bodies can’t handle that level of chronic anxiety. They seek to get out. Sometimes we get out through procrastination and distraction. Some people drink or engage in other destructive behaviors.

We can also get out of limbo in other ways, like laundry and dog walking and writing about why we’re anxious. We don’t even have to get very far out. We make a little progress and our mood gets better and suddenly limbo is a much bigger place than we thought it was.

After I walked the dog and did the laundry, I had lunch and watched some West Wing. (I’m in desperate need of a fictional government that actually cares about me these days.) I spent time with my partner, which always makes me feel better in ways I can’t even explain. I graded some papers and that helped me feel like I’d accomplished something worthwhile.

Then I sat down and finished my dissertation proposal draft. I’m sure it still has room for improvement. Almost everything does. But I’m happy with it and I sent it off to my advisor for feedback.

I’m as prepared as I can be for my meeting tomorrow. Yesterday, I got up on time. I meditated. I ate healthy and exercised. I went to work and I made progress on projects. I tried to help other people. I came home on time. I snuggled with my sweetheart. I cuddled my critters. I went to bed on time. I slept well. These are all the things procrastination wants to prevent me from doing, all the things anxiety tells me won’t help. They helped. Anxiety lies.

(Credit due to Wil Wheaton, who has written so openly about his struggles, often using the phrase “depression lies,” which I have shamelessly cribbed.)

February Path Update: On Hold

January 31, 2017

This month’s update on the Noble Eightfold Path is delayed due to QUALIFYING EXAMS WHICH ARE SLOWLY CONSUMING MY ENTIRE LIFE FORCE.


Source: PhD Comics

But, on the bright side, I should have lots and lots of posts in the coming months adapted from all the writing I am currently engaged in to the exclusions of normal human things like shopping, going to movies, and conversations using active voice sentence structures.

January Path Update: Right Mindfulness

January 1, 2017

‘My Parents Don’t Pay Attention to Me’ by Tina Leggio via

This post is part of a continuing series launched in October 2016. It is an experiment to bring the Noble Eightfold Path more deliberately into my life, to walk the Buddhist path in  21st century California.

December Update: Right Effort

I knew this one would be a strange month. I started late, holidays, family, and work obligations made any kind of regular schedule unlikely from the start. Yet, I met these goals fairly well for about two weeks mid-month and I felt better for it.

Round 1: Nail that routine. Pre-decide and stick to it, for work, relaxation, and necessary self-care.

  • Morning routine: Nailed getting up on time and putting in an hour of work; frequently skipped the meditation. That’s so like me.
  • At work routine:Took more walks, which gave me more exercise and more dedicated thinking time, which benefited my projects. Didn’t knit. Still fell a little behind each week, but didn’t sweat it due to factors beyond my control.
  • Evening routine: Pretty good, but when I say walk the dog every day, that really is every day. Not every other day, not two out of three. Every day. Did my reading. Didn’t meditate. So what else is new?
  • Saturday goals: Took this day off as planned, but now it’s January and I’m going to be working Saturdays until I finish my qualifying exams in six weeks. Then I plan to return to no work Saturdays as it’s been good for me and my relationship.
  • Sunday goals: Did good, keep it up.

What I Learned

I was really surprised that I was able to get up so early so consistently. I think I even surprised my parents, who were visiting for a week, by my pre-dawn routine. I’ve read that one’s circadian rhythm changes as one gets older. I believe it, which also makes me think it’s criminal to insist teenagers start school anytime before ten in the morning.

I don’t know why, but after all these years, I still skip the meditation. Ten minutes shouldn’t be too much to ask, right? But nope. Some days I just forget and some days I remember, but choose not to do it. It’s all the same in the end.

One thing that threw me off a little this month was reading. Over Thanksgiving I took up a series of novels on the flight to Omaha. It was a series I’d read before, so I thought I’d put it down when we returned. That was not the case.

Years ago, I gave up reading novels during the ‘school year.’ When I get into a novel I don’t get out until it’s over, homework and projects be damned. So I gave it up and confined my literary adventures to winter and summer break. During spring and fall breaks, I’d usually reread something I was familiar with, so as to let it go when I returned.

The problem this time is that I chose to reread the first novel of the seventeen book Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh. And then I just couldn’t put it down. I did manage to confine my reading to evenings, which is more than I could manage with a new book. Still, I think there were a few hours I should have spent working on my exams rather than on the world of the atevi.

It really makes me wonder about my own mind, that can leave me feeling so choice-less sometimes about the things I do. I want to meditate and make a commitment to do it, then don’t. I don’t want to read and make a commitment to avoid it, but then do. I understand exactly why Shantideva urges us to tame the mind. Now, how to do it?

January Plan: Right Mindfulness

That brings us to January and Right Mindfulness. There are about a thousand books, podcasts, YouTube videos, weekend retreats, webinars, and 8-week courses out there to teach someone about mindfulness. Some of them are even good. Some of them are just good marketing. Despite all that (or perhaps because of it), I still don’t feel like I have a good understanding of just what mindfulness is.

Years ago, I attended five weekend retreats in the Shambhala tradition based around introducing western students to shamatha meditation and the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa. They were very good and still form the basis of my meditation practice, such as it is. I wrote about each one at the time and have written about my struggles with meditation – mostly with my struggle to just plain do it. I have yet to integrate meditation into my life in any regular way, although I am recently coming to realize that it has nevertheless had a profound effect on my practice as a chaplain (more on that later).

But is meditation what the Buddha meant by Right Mindfulness? I don’t think so. I believe mindfulness and meditation are conflated due to the Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) which demonstrates how mindfulness can be used in or applied to meditation and because meditation is a good method for teaching basic mindfulness. But Right Mindfulness is mentioned in several other contexts in the Pali Canon in which it can best be understood as paying attention, but not just to anything, to the right things, including the other factors of the Eightfold Path, doing what is right and abandoning what is wrong, and mindfulness of death.

I was very mindful of my commitment to practicing the path during October, when I used a habit tracking app to monitor my progress. I was less mindful in November and December, except, of course, close before and after my blog posts. This is also because I have a task management app that reminds me to make an update about my path practice.

Naturally, when the Buddha advised us to be mindful, I don’t think he meant to get an app. But even in his time and into the present day Buddhists have used the social equivalent – rituals. The morning chant in Thai Forest Monasteries such as Wat Metta, (available online here in both audio and text) still include reminders of the Four Noble Truths, Three Refuges, Three Hallmarks of Existence, and many other factors of which basic, daily mindfulness is extremely helpful in our practice. Likewise with the evening chants, meal chants, and regularly monthly and annual ceremonies. Rituals such as these were the original app, a social and cultural mechanism for the maintenance of mindfulness of the Dharma. It works beautifully within such an intentional community.

What is the place for something like this in the layperson’s life? Especially the layperson not active in a sangha? Those questions are part of this entire experiment. The purpose of this path practice is mindfulness of the Buddhist path, in a concrete way someone can develop and follow for themselves no matter what kind of life they lead. Where can rituals, apps, and the nine-to-five job all come together?

Round 1: Daily and weekly mindfulness

  • Meditate, dammit! Ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening, five days a weeks. Track progress with a meditation app.
  • Keep a mindful journal and make at least three entries a week based only on “Where was my attention today?” Limit entries to ten minutes at a time.
  • Reflect on the mindful journal at the end of each week.
  • Continue habits established in October (except about no-work Saturdays) and daily routine established in December. Remind oneself about these comitments once a week.

Round 2: Monthly and yearly mindfulness

Round 3: Mindfulness over the lifespan

February: Right Concentration

December Path Update: Right Effort

December 6, 2016

Balance by Joris Louwes via

In October, I announced the start of an intentional practice of the Noble Eightfold Path on a rotating monthly cycle. During October, I worked on Right Action and during November, I will work on Right Livelihood. Below is my progress on last month’s path and my plan for next month.

November Report: Right Livelihood

Round 1: Live frugally, reduce harm, and give back what you can to the benefit of others.

As I did not use a goal tracking app, I am giving each goal a letter grade.

  • C: Do not waste food; eat what we have on hand and pack lunches for work at least 3 days a week. I managed about two weeks of proactive lunch packing, then tossed it out the window when life got busy. During the Thanksgiving holiday, I wasted a lot of food by buying too much before we left to visit my family and then, while I was with family, not making use of leftovers as much as I could have. I’m not used to eating the way they do anymore.
  • B+: Aside from essential groceries, do not shop during November, including for entertainment (i.e. movie rentals, new books, etc.).I did really well with this goal except for the two days we were visiting family in Omaha. One of the things I miss about my family is going shopping with my dad. So we went shopping. I bought two shirts and some gifts and we had a good time.
  • B+: Limit ‘going out’ to dates with partner or social gatherings (no hitting the drive through to avoid cooking). I had to remind myself about this during the first week of the month, but after that I did really well at NOT hitting the drive through.
  • D: Reduce reliance on disposable products. I’m not certain I made any progress here, although I tried to use fabric towels more and paper towels less.
  • C: Payoff remaining credit card balance. I made good progress at the beginning of the month. Then my car broke down. Someday, I’d like to have enough savings for things like that. ‘Nuff said.
  • A+: Put at least $500 in savings in November. Did that. Then my car broke down.
  • A: Identify and support a local charity, a global charity, and a Buddhist-based charity or project in need. In my most recent post, I identified several of each kind to support.

Overall, I would give myself a C+ for this month. I made progress, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

What I Learned

I’m actually happier when I limit my spending. I feel proud of myself, accomplished, and content. When I’m more free with my spending, while I do enjoy things I buy, I also feel a little bit anxious, worried, and discontent. These feelings are usually so subtle they’re hard to notice, but it reminds me of what Thich Nhat Hanh likes to write about the seeds we plant. I do see how they grow over time.

Poverty can cause a lot of suffering. When you’re so poor you worry if you’ll be able to buy soap or bread or have enough change to take the bus rather than walking three miles – that’s a lot of stress. It occupies your mind and lives in your body. You carry it around through your day like a bag of sand, each little worry another grain that adds up to a ton.

I think relative wealth can also cause suffering. In October, I was worrying about my wardrobe. It seems ridiculous now, but I was worrying about my appearance and where I could find a certain item that I felt would make my wardrobe complete. Those kind of anxieties also cause stress.

It seems so ridiculous now. As soon as I set my goals for November, I stopped worrying about my wardrobe by pre-deciding not to buy anything. That stress went poof. When I was poor, I wish I could have made my stress about soap go away like that. It’s not the same and it’s all still stress.

December: Right Effort

This is going to be an interesting month to work on Right Effort, with a holiday and winter recess right at the end. Academics are some of the only people I know who say “I can’t wait for the holiday. Then I can finally get some work done!” I usually try not to join them, but this year I am firmly in that camp.

I’m coming into December feeling behind. You’ll notice this post is coming out on the 6th instead of the 1st. I feel behind at work and in my personal work, my qualifying exams for my doctorate. I also feel a little ‘behind’ in my personal life, like I haven’t given my partner enough attention lately and that I’ll have to make up that deficit somewhere.

So what do I do? Just start.

I actually learned that years ago. When you feel behind, just start. When there are a hundred dishes in the sink and it feels overwhelming, just pick up the first one and wash it. Don’t commit to anything beyond that. Just start.

Then there’s usually a momentum to it. I’ve never stopped after one dish, one folded shirt, one page read or written. Sometimes, I might only get to two or three before something else intervenes, but even then I feel infinitely more accomplished and ready to come back to it later.

If you want to learn more about Right Effort, which I’ve probably written about more than any other aspect of the path, check out earlier posts here, here, and here.

Round 1: Nail that routine. Pre-decide and stick to it, for work, relaxation, and necessary self-care.

  • Morning routine:
    • Out of bed at 6:30 am
    • One hour of writing on exams from 7-8:00 am
    • Ten minutes of meditation
    • Out the door by 8:45 am
  • At work routine:
    • Start with the daily schedule on the yellow pad
    • Mid-morning walk for 15 minutes
    • Lunch in the dining hall with knitting
    • Mid-afternoon walk for 15 minutes followed by green tea
    • Complete tasks on the daily schedule or re-schedule them within the same week before leaving
  • Evening routine:
    • Take the dog to the park (every day, no excuses!)
    • Eat dinner with Colin and hang out in the living room for at least 1 hour
    • Read for exams at least 30 minutes
    • Ten minutes of meditation
    • No other work in the evenings
  • Saturdays goals
    • No work at all
    • Run errands and do chores in the morning
    • Hang out with Colin when he gets up
  • Sunday goals
    • Take the dog to the park for a double walk
    • Write at least two hours on exams

Of course, I already know this is all going to be shot to hell because I have an all weekend board meeting coming up and then my parents are visiting before Christmas and then we’re all flying up to spend the holiday with Colin’s family and then winter break. But, oh well, might as well try anyway.

Round 2: Re-align life and work priorities in relation to values.

Round 3: Retreat for spiritual renewal.

January: Right Mindfulness


Giving Tuesday

November 29, 2016

Dandelion by Bert Heymans via

Black Friday, no, thank you. Let’s stay home and play cards and make quilts and laugh.

Cyber Monday, meh. I’ve got to go to work.

Giving Tuesday, huh, I guess I’ve finally gotten to a stage in my life where I have money to give. I should probably support something, huh?

In fact, in this political climate, I feel it is imperative to put my money where my values are. Therefore, I’m supporting the following people and groups this Tuesday. The first two are people I know personally and gladly vouch for. The next three are organizations that I have personally benefited from for many years, without ever supporting. The last four are defenders – of civil rights, of women’s rights, of the world. Please consider supporting just a couple of these groups on this giving Tuesday. Spread the dana.

Engaged Buddhist Alliance

Three of my good friends from University of the West started this non-profit in order to bring the Buddhist teachings into prisons throughout California to increase rehabilitation and curb recidivism. They are trying to offer college-level courses in Buddhism to men and women at what Venerable De Hong calls “unnatural monasteries,” where he often teaches meditation in the desert heat. Please help them raise $1,000 to continue their work.

Compassion Without Borders

My friend, Dr. Khim Berling, a professor of Buddhism here in Southern California has been raising funds without pause to assist the victims of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. Her most recent project involves providing medical care for one of the families she has been assisting after their father was struck by a motorcycle that broke his leg. He can no longer continue working to rebuild their house. Please help Khim raise $1,500 to bring them a toilet and clean water.

Planned Parenthood

Before the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood was my only source of medical care. I received free annual exams and cancer screenings (including one biopsy) from them for four years. Although I couldn’t pay at the time, I can support them now and I hope you will too.


I have listened to NPR for over ten years without sending them a dime. I am addicted to their podcast app, especially the podcasts under humor, science, and the social sciences. As much as I paid for my college education, I think I’ve learned at least as much from NPR over the years absolutely for free. It’s time to give back.


Speaking of college, what student would ever get anywhere without Wikipedia to point the way? As I tell my own students, you can’t stop your research at Wikipedia (and for Buddha’s sake, don’t cite it!) but you sure can start there to get a great overview of something new and find better references. I have found their Buddhism portal to be comprehensive and accurate, right down to the diacritical marks. Support them through the Wikimedia Foundation and support the democratization of knowledge.

American Civil Liberties Union

I have never before felt the need to support civil rights organizations. I do now and I hope you will too. I anticipate many court battles in the years to come as the current government attempts to undermine freedom, oppress minorities and women, end freedom of religion, and exploit the natural environment for profit. Don’t let them. Support civil rights for all.


End violence against women, especially sexual assault and harassment, by supporting the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. RAINN operates help lines for victims, programs to prevent sexual violence, justice initiatives, and collects some of the best and most comprehensive data on sexual assault in America. No one deserves to be grabbed by their pussy, or any other body part. Help end it by supporting RAINN.

Southern Poverty Law Center

Continue the work of King to end hate, preach tolerance, and dispel the mechanisms of economic inequality. With the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center is going to be on the front lines of watching and fighting harmful rhetoric and legislation from the new government. Support racial harmony and equality by supporting them.

Our Children’s Trust

Again I’m supporting an organization that will fight in court to protect something we all value and depend on – the Earth and our children. This group just won an important legal victory that gained a group of children the right to sue the U.S. government to do more about climate change to protect their futures. Support their case in order to support the protection of our environment, win the war against climate change science, and show young people that they do matter.