Thursday, July 31, 2014

Junk Food

"A Thing of Beauty"
-in my garden-

On September 11, 2001 I sat in front of my TV set and watched in horror as the Twin Towers collapsed to the ground. Throughout that day and for much of the following week the media coverage was incessant - an endless barrage of pictures, stories and interviews on the TV, the newspapers, the radio, death and destruction, fear of the terror that may lie ahead, and in our house we tuned into it all. The TV was on all day long and so was the radio. We read all the stories and listened intently to all the interviews, it was almost as if we couldn't get enough information to help us process the meaning of this new era of terror that seemed to have dawned.

A few days into our constant diet of 9/11 coverage, my wife became ill - severe headaches, stomach and skin problems, and so she went to see her doctor. After running some standard tests, the doctor asked about how much TV she had been watching over the past few days, whereupon upon he  immediately diagnosed her condition: "You have been eating too much junk food, it's poisoning your system."  He wasn't talking about too many Big Macs or Pop Tarts, he was referring to the constant and almost addictive consumption of words and pictures of terror that had flooded the media. Our doctor went on to say that he had seen these same symptoms in a number of his patients over the past week and so he prescribed "taking a break from all the 9/11 stories, turn off the TV for a few days, listen to some soothing music or read a good book." My wife followed the "doctor's orders" and she felt a lot better.

Yesterday as I did my normal treadmill exercise at the local gym, I was watching a 24 hour news station- children blown up in Gaza, families waling in distress, followed by a story about decaying bodies still remaining on a field in Ukraine where the airline had been shot down, followed by a story about the Ebola virus in Africa and the likelihood of its spread to America.  And then, after these stories were told, they were told again and then again- more pictures, more interviews, more commentary.

As I walked on the treadmill and watched the news, I noticed I wasn't actually feeling so great, maybe too much exercise, and it was at that moment that I recalled what our doctor told my wife a few years back: "You have been eating too much junk food, it's poisoning  your system." I had been watching that TV for almost an hour, consuming horrific images and terrifying stories - 24 hours of news always available.  It was poisoning my spirit, even making me physically ill, so I pulled the plug on CNN.

I certainly don't plan on getting rid of my TV, no plans for turning off the evening news or canceling my subscription to the New York Times, but my junk food experience yesterday did give me pause about the kinds of words, images and sounds that I consume every day. Of course I want to be informed, to be aware of what is happening in the world, but I don't need to feed myself with the constant diet of junk food and terror that is so often and so readily offered up and laid on the plate of my everyday life.

When I came home from the gym yesterday, I felt like I needed to eat some healthier "soul food." So I tuned in some soothing music on my iPad, sat in my garden and drank in the simple beauty of a single flower, remembering what Keats famously said:

A thing of beauty lasts forever;
its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.

As I see it, a lot of us probably need to watch what we eat nowadays, making sure that "things of beauty" are always on the menu.













  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Places

"Wilderness"
-the view from my front door-

In his newly published book, Unruly Places, travel author Alistair Bonnett talks about the impact "place" has on the way people see themselves and how they understand their worlds. The physical, geographic location, the place in which we make our home, where we go to sleep at night and wake up again the next day, forms us and fashions us. 

We often hear the expression, "you are what you eat," so also "you are where you live." Our geography seeps into our bones - into our minds and into our hearts. In his book, Bonnett observes:

Place is a protean and fundamental aspect of what it means to be a human being.
We are a place-making and place-loving species.

This all makes so much sense to me.  I often hear people talk about being a "city person" or a "country person," and I get that. I've lived in both settings and I literally "became" something of those places where I lived.   

When I was younger I lived on a farm in a very rural setting. Although that was years ago, I can still smell the hay in the barn and hear the sound of the animals - the sight of newly planted crops springing up from the fertile earth in growing season still nurtures me to this very day. When I lived in the country, I became a "country person, " a lover of all creatures great and small, a lover of the earth and it's bounty, and to this very day something of the country still remains with me -- deep in my bones.

I also have lived in cities, most recently in Los Angeles, perhaps the most diverse city on the planet. Every day, wherever I went, I was constantly immersed in a sea of differences, different languages, different colored faces, different cultures. Every day I walked amid the rich and the famous, the Hollywood glitterati living in Beverly Hills' mansions right alongside the homeless and destitute begging for food and living in boxes on the streets. Living in a city made me into a "city person," relishing and embracing the beauty of the rainbow of differences woven into the fabric of humanity,  keenly aware of the plight of the poor and needy.  Something of the city still remains with me -- deep in my bones.  

But now I live in a desert and I have become a "desert person."  The place in which I live is forming me and fashioning me. I see myself and I see the world through a desert lens, and I have even come to see "God" through desert eyes. I am becoming the desert. 

In some sense the desert is perhaps the most "honest" place I have ever lived.  The desert wilderness portrays life as it really is. The desert is a place where there are no street signs, not even any well-paved streets to help one plot a course. Instead, the desert is a wild, fiercely beautiful place, untamed, vast, and uncontrollable - and for the most part so is "life." 

The paradox of being a desert person is that while the space is void and empty, a sometimes terrifying place over which I have no control, it is also a place in which I feel a constant sense of tender belonging. The desert has heightened my sense of intimacy with the people who walk through life with me, my spouse and family, friends and neighbors, even strangers whom I have never met- all fellow travelers on the wilderness way. 

But above all, in the midst of this fiercely empty space there is always an abundant sense of  Presence- an abiding Holy Presence," -- "God" always at the center of the emptiness. I am becoming the place in which I live- it is seeping deep into my bones. 

Lots of people nowadays spend the majority of their time sitting in front of a computer every day, living in a world of cyberspace. But none us actually "lives" in cyberspace, we live in a real-life, actual physical place. Summertime is a good season to pull the plug on the computer (at least for a while) and go sit in our "places," learning the lessons they all have to teach.







Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Really Busy

"Alone"
-Sunset at the Desert Retreat House-

There was an article yesterday in the New York Times about how overscheduled and overextended most people are in their everyday lives nowadays.

Ask people how they are today and the stock answer is 'super busy,' 'crazy busy,' or 'insanely busy.'
Nobody is just 'fine' anymore.

This struck me as being so very true in my own experience. People are always telling me about how really busy they are, even in the summer vacation season people are really busy, even out here in a desert, my neighbors tell me how really busy they are.

Kids may be off from school but they aren't just hanging idly around, they are all attending summer camps or taking swimming lessons or studying violin, and the adults are also really busy at work or in the home - engaging in projects, making plans, sending emails.

And even when people go on vacation they rush to the nearest computer to browse the web or play a game or watch a movie or send a text- everyone is always really, really busy - "insanely busy."

The article in the Times reported a recent study conducted by a group of psychologists and neuroscientists who discovered some surprising facts about just how uncomfortable most people are being "idle" - left alone with their thoughts. In fact people in this study were so uncomfortable that after about 6 minutes of being left alone in a room with nothing to do, they willingly administered  electric shocks to themselves as the price for being set free, allowed to leave the room and go back into a world of constant activity.  

The scientists concluded that people are so fearful of being left alone with their thoughts because there they come face to face with their own depression, problems and worries, so they will do anything to avoid being alone and introspective. 

I actually  think "insane" or "crazy" are probably good words to describe this kind of chaotic addiction   to constant activity, leading to all sorts of physical, mental and spiritual "unhealth." 

Doctors tell us that when people are unwilling to face their own "demons" ( sadness or fears, addictions or frustrations in life),  those "demons"  take control, causing any number of physical problems like rashes or stomach ailments  - a person who is "insanely busy" all day long often finds it hard to get to sleep at night.

Scientists also tell us that it is during the times when we are alone and idle that we tend to be most imaginative and most creative. I don't know anyone who has ever written a poem or book or come up with a great idea while suffocating in a quagmire of "really busy, crazy busy" days. 

Personally, I have designated at least two times in my own daily routine for some moments of quiet "mindful mediation"- when the sun rises and then again as it sets.

Actually I sometimes resist using the phrase "mindful meditation" because some people may think that this daily meditation practice involves some sort of high level of spiritual training demanding some highly developed  skills- maybe that's why I like the Zen description  of "mindful meditation:"

sitting and staring.

In the morning, and then again in the evening, I sit in my garden or on the patio and I deliberately do nothing--I sit and stare. I try to clear my mind of thoughts, awake in the present moment.  This is not a time for "busily" planning the day ahead or thinking about the day that has past.  But of course,  from time to time, a thought will enter my mind, perhaps a concern, a frustration, something that is bothering me. And when this does happen, I simply acknowledge it and let it go.

My designated period of "sitting and staring" is one of the richest, fullest and most important times of my entire day.

I don't know of anyone who can't spend a few minutes of every day pulling the plug on all the crazy busyness. The summer season may be a good time to "get into the swing of it" - do-nothing, sit and stare!


  








Monday, July 28, 2014

Separate not Separated

"Bubbling Fountain"
-in my meditation garden-

I find that when it comes to talking about the spirituality of "the self" I often get very bogged down in the language.  The contemplative, mystical traditions of all the various major world religions pretty much agree that there is a difference between "self" and "ego," and I often turn to Buddhism to help me distinguish between the two.

Buddhists teach that the "idea" of an isolated, separated individual ego is nothing more than an illusion, a human construct  - it doesn't exist.  The "true self" is a relationship- a complex web of relationship with everyone and everything that is. 

This is all well and good, but as a friend of mine recently pointed out, while we may not be separated we are separate. Human beings aren't all a massive "blob" thinking with one mind or living in one body. We are separate individuals. So this is exactly the point at which I often get bogged down - How is it that I am a separate individual and at the same time not isolated or separated from the complex web of humanity? 

Yesterday I had one of those wonderful moments of clarity, a flash of insight about my separate, not separated self.  It came in the form of a few simple sentences, an elegant metaphor and wise teaching that I found in a recent article by the well-known American Buddhist teacher, Lama Surya Das:

We're like bubbles in the sea.
When the bubble merges with the sea, it realizes that it's never been apart.
It's H20 all the way.
So you don't have to slay your ego; 
you just have to see through your separateness.
You can have a healthy sense of self without being an egoist.

Every morning as I sit quietly in my meditation garden I can hear the gentle song of a gurgling fountain. This morning as I listen to and gaze at my fountain, it takes on a whole new significance for me. It has become a metaphor of my "self."

I am a tiny little bubble that has popped up from the water and yet I am also part of the water. In fact I am the water, but I am also unique and different and separated. 

I look at those tiny bubbles in that fountain and notice that almost as quickly as they appear they suddenly disappear and merge with the water once again.  So it will be with "me," when after this brief time of life I also will merge back into the "ocean of being" from which I first emerged and "realize that I have never been apart."   

This is such a powerful metaphor for me. As I sit here and think about it, I can barely take it in.  

I think of how minuscule one little bubble is compared to the body of a vast ocean spanning thousands of miles and yet that tiny bubble is not only part of the ocean,  it is composed of the stuff of the ocean - it is "H20 all the way."  So it is with "me," an insignificant little bubble and at the same time something vast and cosmic

This metaphor is also powerful for me because it teaches me something about who and what "God" is all about. "God"- not some distant deity in the heavenly realms;  rather, "God" is the "One in whom we live and move and have our being. " "God" is the ocean from whom each bubble springs up;  and we don't just swim in the ocean, we are the ocean, and we return to the ocean. As I think about it, I can barely take it in. 

This morning as I listen to the song of my fountain and watch those tiny bubbles pop up and fade way, I am overwhelmed by the beauty and the mystery of it all. So, I sit in the silence and utter a simple:  

Amen!















Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Power of No

"The Buddha"
-in my meditation garden-

A statue of the Buddha sits under an olive tree in my meditation garden - peaceful, serene, calm and at rest. Yesterday as I browsed through the newest edition of the monthly Buddhist magazine,  Shambhala Sun, I was quite surprised to find a series of articles about the "Angry Buddha," including a picture of a Buddha who was anything but calm and serene - his fist raised in protest, nostrils flaring, teeth bared.  I actually found these articles to be extremely enlightening for me.

I usually think of anger as being a barrier on the path of the spiritual journey, but in his article, On the Enlightened Power of No, Buddhist author Melvin McLeod makes an insightful distinction between anger that leads to destructive aggression and anger that leads to enlightened wisdom. 

Anger is energy. When this energy is used to defend and assert a self-important ego, the energy turns into aggression "against" others,  and this is the kind of anger that blocks the path to enlightenment. But that very same energy can also be used to wake up compassion on behalf of others - the energy of this kind of anger motivates us to stand up, raise a fist, bare our teeth,  and say "NO" to all that is self-indulgent and unjust. 

In its awakened form, anger brings good to the world. 
It is the energy that inspires great movements for freedom and social justice.
It helps us to be honest about our own foibles 
and to show a loved one how they are damaging themselves.
It is a vital part of every spiritual path,  
for before we can say yes to enlightenment
we must say no to self centeredness, injustice and aggression.  

As I read this article about the angry Buddha, I immediately thought about Jesus who is also often pictured as meek, mild and serene- surrounded by little children and gently holding little lambs. But there were also times when Jesus was consumed with a holy fury. He went into the temple and turned over the table of moneychangers who had perverted "his Father's house." He angrily lashed out and raised his voice against the temple authorities who said long prayers, sat in judgement over sinners, and showed no compassion for the needy, calling them all "a bunch of hypocrites" - "blind fools." Many times, Jesus was an advocate who angrily raised his voice on behalf of those who had no voice. 

I have often thought that there is too much anger in the world today, and in one sense that's true; but in another sense maybe there isn't enough anger. There is far too much aggression used "against" others, but perhaps far too little anger exhibited on behalf of others. 

A few weeks ago, some very "angry" protesters stood in the streets of Murrieta, California and prevented busloads of frightened immigrant children and families from entering their nice little town. The protesters shook their fists and raised their voices at these teary-eyed kids, telling them that they were not welcome, yelling for them to "Go Home!" It took a lot of energy to muster up that much  aggression. I wonder what would have happened if all that energy had instead been used to awaken compassion. 

I wonder what would have happened if the people on those streets would have turned their energy into an anger that boldly said "no" to selfishness and injustice. I wonder what would have happened if instead of hoarding their possessions and closing their doors, those people would have opened their arms and invited those children to get off the buses and come into their homes and into their community- setting a place for them to sit in dignity at the table of life?  

Had that happened, I think we would all be living in a better world today. 




Saturday, July 26, 2014

Proceed With Caution

"Unexplored"

A few days ago I watched a movie about the life of Cesar Chavez. Many people may hardly even know who he was and yet this one single life literally changed the world. 

People today often refer to California as the "Left Coast" - a place where liberal and socially conscious Democrats live. But back in the 1960's, Mexican farm workers were virtually the slaves of the rich and largely "White" farm owners and growers in California - the farms of California looked much like the plantations of the "Deep South." Cesar Chavez decided to do something about it. 

He began with a a handful of people, a seed that blossomed into a massive grassroots movement - assertive but always non-violent marches, strikes, prayer vigils, hunger strikes - and farm-worker slaves became human beings worthy of respect. Chavez died in 1993, but to this very day he is held up as an iconic "folk Saint" especially among Mexican Americans. 

When I watched the movie about Chavez' life, I was struck by how bold he had to be and how much sacrifice it took for this movement to have any effect on a society held hostage by a greedy, powerful majority culture. Chavez boldly stood in opposition to the "powers that be."  He had to take constant risks, was often abused and even physically assaulted, but in the end the world took notice of the grave injustices suffered by the farm workers here in California, and conditions vastly improved and the cause of justice and peace took one step forward.

A question comes to my mind. Where are the trailblazers in the cause of justice in our own day?  Where in the world of the 21st century can I find another Cesar Chavez, a Martin Luther King, a Mahatma Gandhi, a Nelson Mandela?  And as I ask the question, I don't actually come up with any answers.

I have this image of "road signs"posted along the path of life today that read:  "Proceed with Caution."  Politicians and leaders wait to see "which way the wind is blowing" before taking a position, getting elected and being liked by others seem to be the only goals - maintain the status quo and "don't rock the boat."   

But it's not just the leaders and the politicians who obey those "Proceed with Caution" signs.   Many people nowadays live as if they are trying to get elected. They lead their everyday lives with one primary goal in mind - to be "liked" by others.   

Lots of people today lead timid careful lives. The economy is shrinking, the world is a nasty place racked with war and threats of terror,  so we "circle the wagons," lock the doors, preserve what we have and hope that the bad things happening to other people won't happen to us. 

Meanwhile wars rage on, the strong dominate the weak, people on the margins are left standing on the outside looking in and we spiral down a slippery slope that leads to an abyss.  

As I see it,  we need many more people like Cesar Chavez to take a stand today. In fact, perhaps we all need to become something of a Cesar Chavez in the way we lead our lives. The"Proceed with Caution" road sign always points us to a dead end.

I have a compass on my desk, and on it, a little plaque containing the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path,
and leave a trail 




Friday, July 25, 2014

Right and Wrong

"Interdependence"
-along a wilderness trail-

I saw a news story yesterday showing an "all to familiar" scene in a Gaza hospital - people crying out in pain, dying and dead children held in the arms of distraught, grieving parents. An emergency room doctor who was being interviewed in the midst of all the carnage cried out in exasperation: "This has got to stop, it is immoral." 

The doctor's use of the word "immoral" really struck me. I rarely hear that word used anywhere nowadays -  bombings, violence, war, destruction are hardly ever described in terms of "morality."  I might possibly expect a priest, a rabbi or an Imam to use a word like "immoral" when referring to a war and the ravages of war but it was surprising to hear a doctor use such a word as he stood in the midst of all that pain and suffering.

Most people think that "talk" about morality and ethics, right and wrong belongs within the realm of religion.  Religious people learn about right and wrong from their teachers in churches, temples and mosques. But if you are not religious or if you work everyday in the secular world- in a hospital or in a business, a law firm, a bank, a politician's office, you don't usually (if ever) talk or think in terms of morality, what is "right" and what is "wrong."  

When I heard that doctor yesterday, I immediately went back and reread portions of the Dalai Lama's wonderful book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. In the book, His Holiness makes a very convincing argument for removing conversations about ethics and morality away from the realm of religion and into the realm of everyday secular life, suggesting that every human being (religious or non religious, believer or non-believer) shares a common humanity and so we are all have a moral  responsibility for maintaining and nurturing and fostering this shared humanity:

Fortunately, there is now a reasonably substantial body of evidence in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and other fields suggesting that, even from the most rigorous scientific perspective, unselfishness and concern for others are not only in our own interests but, in a sense, innate to our biological nature…interdependence is a key feature of human reality including our biological reality as social animals.

As human beings we can survive and thrive only in an environment of concern, affection and warmheartedness -- or in a single word, compassion. The essence of compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being.  

This all makes such great sense to me. 

"Morality"viewed through the lens of religion often sounds very judgmental - "Do good and avoid evil in order to please God. Follow a certain moral code of conduct or expect to be punished by a Higher Power."  But if we understand "moral responsibility" as "doing the right thing in order to survive and thrive as human beings in this world," then viewing some behaviors as right or wrong,  moral or immoral is not a judgment but rather a pathway to well-being and deeper peace. 

The Dalai Lama suggests that compassion is a moral responsibility for every human being. We are all bound by a universal moral code: to embrace "kindness, patience, tolerance forgiveness and generosity," and to turn away from "greed, malice, hatred and bigotry." 

It was very refreshing for me to hear a doctor label the carnage of war as "immoral." When a banker or a lawyer, a politician, or even a general on a battlefield are able to look at the world through the lens of compassion and determine what is right and what is wrong, we may yet have a chance to survive and to thrive as a human race.  













Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hatreds Do Not Cease By Hating

"Barbs, Brambles, and Beauty"
-in my desert garden-

Yesterday a condemned murderer was executed by lethal injection in an Arizona prison, but the execution didn't go according to plan. The condemned man was writhing in pain and gasping for breath for almost two hours before he finally died. One of the witnesses who viewed the execution called it "cruel and usual punishment." 

While many people were horrified at what happened in that Arizona death chamber yesterday, just as many other people were actually happy the man died in that fashion. The social media was flooded by vengeful responses, and some of the relatives of the victims who were murdered by this man confessed that they took pleasure in witnessing the suffering of this 2-hour long execution, claiming that this violent murderer got what he deserved. 

As I read about this story yesterday I had a flash of insight into what Jesus meant when he told his disciples:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.

The Buddha also taught: 

Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love;
this is an eternal truth.
Overcome anger by love. Overcome evil by good.

At first these teachings might seem like pious platitudes -- a path impossible to follow by real-life people in everyday life. 

If my wife were killed by some deranged murderer, I certainly wouldn't love the person who did this. I would be filled with rage and anger and I might likely want to lash out in revenge, maybe find a gun and get him back for what he did, hope that he might suffer miserably in a 2-hour long execution where he would writhe in pain and gasp for breath..  

And yet the truth is that when I want to murder the murderer, I become a murderer myself. 

I have no doubt in my mind that the man who was executed yesterday committed a horrible crime. I also believe that the people who took such pleasure in this man's agony and suffering became just as hateful as the man who was executed.  

You don't have to go very far nowadays to see example after example of the hatred that enflames the human heart; and yet every time violence is met with violence in return, it all only gets worse - the sea of hatred deepens and swells threatening to pull us all down into the pits of destruction.

So I don't think Jesus' teaching about loving our enemies or the Buddha's teaching about overcoming anger by love are even close to being pious platitudes. They teach "eternal truths," and offer practical advice for real life everyday living - advice that, in the end, may yet save us from destroying ourselves







Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Watching Over Us?

"Abiding Presence"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

I had lunch with some friends yesterday, and as I was leaving the restaurant, crossing the street, a motorcycle came speeding by and missed hitting me by about an inch or so. The motorcycle was moving so fast and it was so close that I almost fell over at the rush of air that passed by me - the driver never even looked back to see if I was ok.  If I had left the restaurant and crossed onto that street one second earlier, I would either be in a hospital or a morgue today.

When I told someone about what happened to me yesterday, he immediately said "Well, I guess God must like you - He must have been watching over you." I thought to myself,  "I don't think so." In fact I don't believe that "God" had anything at all to do with what happened in that close encounter with a speeding motorcycle.

I suppose there are lots of people who think of God as a person sitting up in some sort of heavenly control room where He watches over all the "goings-on" in the world, taking special care of the people He particularly favors.

But if this is true, then I guess those 298 people who were killed last week when a missile blew their plane out of the sky must not have been on God's "A" list. Or how about those other people who may have been hit by a motorcycle someplace else in the world yesterday and were killed or maimed. Did God not "like" them? Was God not watching over them?

I just do not believe that "God" is some sort of Almighty Person in the heavens who watches over anyone or controls any of the events of everyday life - favoring some people while ignoring or punishing others. As I see it, life just happens and for the most part not one of us has any control at all over any of it.

I just happened to linger a few seconds more in that restaurant at lunch yesterday so I didn't get hit by the motorcycle. Some people got on a Malaysian Airliner and others didn't and the plane was shot down. None of these events occurred in accordance with some grand divine master plan for the world or because a divine power was making it all happen, watching over some people and ignoring others - these things just happened.

And yet, having said all this, I don't at all believe that life is just random chaos, a meaningless series of hapless coincidences.  I see "meaning" in everything that happens because I believe that "God" is an energy of universal love, abiding in and flowing through everything and everyone that "is."

As I see it, "God" wasn't watching over me and protecting me yesterday,  "God" was in the midst of all the stuff that happened-- abiding with me and also with that motorcyclist who never looked back.  "God," an abiding Holy Presence with me in my survival, and also a Presence who would  have been with me had I been hit and with me had I been killed.

"God" - a Holy Presence who abided with all those souls on that plane as they fell to their deaths in the skies over Ukraine,  and "God" abiding with those fighters who shot the plane down.  

"God" is love and love abides even if you don't want it.  No matter what, God abides.  And so whatever "happens" has meaning.

Author and spiritual director Eckhart Tolle puts it this way:

Love is not selective, just as the light of the sun is not selective.
It does not make one person special. It is not exclusive.
Exclusivity is not the love of God but the "love" of ego. 

And so another day has dawned for me in my life.  Without a hint of worry over what happened to me the day before or fear of what might come to pass this day, I embrace the moment.

"God" abides! 













Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mindfulness at a Stop Light

"Present Moment Wonderful Moment"
-my meditation garden-

There is a little coffee table in my office on which I keep a Buddhist-style "gong"- a "bell of mindfulness," to be struck with a mallet as a signal for beginning a period of quiet meditation. The sound of the bell resonates throughout the room calling me to clear my mind and pay attention to the present moment.

The other day I was reminded of the fact that a period of daily meditation is certainly a great way to begin the day, but the morning meditation is also a "practice" for living mindfully throughout the rest of the day in the ordinary routine of daily life. 

While I am getting better at embracing the moment and living in the "now" in many aspects of my everyday life, the one area where I fail miserably is when I get into a car. I am a very impatient driver and my impatience is particularly manifested when I have to stop at a red light and wait for it to turn green. 

For some reason or other there seems to be an awful lot of stop lights on the streets of the various residential communities out here where I live. I never remember there being this many "red lights" in any of the other places where I have lived (not even in a city as big as Los Angeles). Out here in the desert communities you can barely go a few blocks without having to stop and wait as a light turns red.

The other day as I waited at a stop light for what seemed to be an unbearably long period of time, I found myself muttering under my breath, squirming and complaining, itching to "lay on the gas," when I suddenly realized how far away my stressful impatience was taking me from living mindfully in the moment. 

As I reflected on my "stop light" impatience, I was immediately reminded of something I had read a few years ago in the Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Present Moment Wonderful Moment. Master Hanh talks about learning how to "embrace the moment" while driving a car  - specifically suggesting that a "red light"can be as much of a bell of mindfulness as a meditation gong:

When we see a red light or a stop sign we can smile at it and thank it because it is helping us return to the present moment. The red light is a bell of mindfulness. We may have thought of it as an enemy preventing us from achieving our goal. But now we know the red light is a friend helping us to resist rushing and calling us to return to the present moment where we can meet life with joy and peace. 

The other day, as I re-read this teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh, I felt as if he were speaking to me directly. So I decided I would embrace a new discipline and turn those many dreaded stop lights in my community into helpful "bells of mindfulness." 

As the light turns red, I stop and wait, aware of my breath, and instead of grumbling I utter some phrases I have memorized, also suggested by Master Hanh

In - Out - Deep - Slow;
Calm - Ease - Smile - Release;
Present  Moment - Wonderful Moment

Waiting at a stop light is not all that different from sitting in my meditation garden in the morning.

Lots of people tell me that they don't have time to quietly meditate or pray every day but almost everyone has to stop and wait at red lights. 






  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pregnant Silence

"Calm at Sunset"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

It's always pretty quiet out here in the desert where I live; but at this time of the year the quiet turns into  silence - sometimes profound silence.  With triple digit daytime temperatures, it's too hot for tourists to visit - just a few if any hikers, no bicycles, not even the sound of passing cars for the most part. 

Last night I realized that there is one particular time of day when the silence becomes more pronounced than ever. Just after the sun sets when the afternoon winds subside, and there is a total calm in the air, the birds go to sleep for the night, there is a hint of stars in the desert sky, the silence is so profound that it almost borders on being frightening. 

There was a time in my life where I would have done almost anything to avoid silence - I was so afraid of it.  I needed constant sounds to make me feel comfortable. I would walk into a room and rush to turn on a radio, a stereo, a TV set.  And I always needed words, always swimming in an ocean of words so that my mind could be constantly occupied, fooling myself into believing that I had answers and that I was in control.  

But now I embrace the silence. The silence at sunset on a summer's night in the desert is so very "pregnant" for me - so filled with an abundant sense of Presence. The silence of the desert calls me to a precipice where I lose my footing and tumble into a chasm - pulled off my perch in that comfortable world of glib words and quick answers, where with utter abandon I fall into the arms of "God." 

Last night as the sun set and I entered into that zone of pregnant silence, I was well aware that there was a ringing in my ears. When I first moved out here I would hear that sound of ringing in my ears and thought something was wrong with me, so I went to have my hearing tested and discovered that my hearing was just fine and that people often hear a ringing sound in a place like a desert where the only sound is silence. 

As the sun went down last night I remembered something I had read in the poet Richard Rodriguez' book, Darling:A Spiritual Autobiography.  In an effort to be more deeply in touch with his own Christian roots, Rodriguez made a trip to the Holy Land and one day he wound up deep inside the stark Judean wilderness just outside of Gaza accompanied by his Bedoin guide, Haim: 

Abruptly Haim tells me to stop.
'Listen! The desert has a silence like no other,' he says.
'Do you hear the ringing in your ear? It is the bell of existence.'

When I first read this passage I totally "got it." This is exactly what I hear in the pregnant silence of a calm desert at sunset. I hear the sound of existence. I am "at one with" all that exists and the sound that rings in my ear is the bell of life.

As I see it, you don't have to live in a desert to hear the sound of a pregnant silence. There is way too much noise in the ordinary world of everyday living -too many loud sounds and way too many words. But anyone can turn off the iTunes, shut off the TV, close down all the words, and walk into a quiet room, find a bench in a local park, maybe even sit in a silent church or temple and

 "Listen!"

Listen for the bell of existence ringing in your ear.  
















Sunday, July 20, 2014

When I Was a Child

"Sunday Morning"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

Yesterday, our local NPR station featured a very humorous and also insightful story about a young, well-educated woman in her late 20's who told a rather embarrassing story, admitting that it was only very recently that she learned unicorns aren't real. As a child she was fascinated by the pictures of unicorns in her story books -beautiful majestic creatures with a long horn projecting out of their foreheads, romping around in the middle of a forest someplace. 

As this young woman grew up, for some reason or other, she never challenged her childhood ideas that unicorns were real-life animals.  She graduated from college and worked professionally, but somehow in the back of her mind she continued to believe that unicorns were real. 

One evening, this young woman was with some friends at a party and the conversation got around to a discussion about animals that were "endangered species," whereupon this young woman casually interjected, "Do you think unicorns are an endangered species - is there any risk that they might become extinct some day?" 

The group suddenly fell silent -some nervous laughter, and then everyone stared at her in dismay as they realized she wasn't trying to be funny. "You do know unicorns aren't real, don't you?" asked one of her friends. As she told the story on the radio yesterday, that young woman confessed that this was one of the most embarrassing moments of her life. 

As I listened to this entertaining story yesterday, I had a flash of insight about believing in unicorns and belief in "God."

Growing up as a child I had a very active imagination and I "firmly" believed in all the wonderful legendary  childhood myths, and my parents did their best to keep me believing.  I was convinced there was a tooth fairy; and when I lost a tooth I would faithfully put my tooth under my pillow at bedtime, and wake up the next day to find a few coins in its place.  I would rush into the living room to find an Easter basket full of chocolate eggs and jellybeans believing that the "Easter Bunny" had worked her magic once again. And, of course, on Christmas morning, I'd see all the presents under the tree - "Santa had remembered me, I must have been a good boy."

But when I became an adult I lovingly packed away these childhood legends. They were stories to help feed my imagination and teach me something about giving gifts and celebrating life with joy.

My images of "God" were also part of my childhood legends. My parents told me stories about the "man up there."  I  even saw his picture in my books. He had a long beard, flowing white robes and lived in a beautiful palace.  

As I became an adult I also lovingly packed away these childhood images of "God." I haven't at all stopped believing in "God," but I no longer believe like I did when I was a child. 

It seems to me that, like the young woman who even into her young adult years believed that unicorns were real,  lots of people grow into adulthood, but in their minds they still carry around their childhood story book pictures of "God." I know plenty of very sophisticated professional people well into their adult years who still talk about "God" as "the man upstairs."  They have never challenged or thought much about what "Mama" first taught them. 

I know lots of other people who, when they reach adulthood,  are embarrassed by believing in a "man with flowing white robes," and so they conclude there is no God.

Saint Paul wrote:

When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child;
when I because an adult I put an end to childish ways.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mustard Seeds

"One Little Flower"
-At the Desert Retreat House"

Recently I had a conversation with someone who expressed her deep frustration at being unable to "do anything" about all the brokenness going on in the world today. She reads stories about the immigrant crisis in America, she gazes at those images of bodies and debris from a "shot-down" plane scattered across a field in the Ukraine, she hears reports about Israeli teenagers murdered and Palestinian children bombed on a beach, she steps over homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk when she goes to work,  and she laments that there is nothing she can do about any of it.

In some sense, there is a kernel of truth in my friend's frustration. After all, no one of us can "fix" the looming immigration or homeless problems, stop the war in the Ukraine, or resolve the "long-held" animosities between Palestinians and Israelis; and even if we did do something like help an immigrant family or attend a peace rally, we feel that would really be only an insignificant "drop in a bucket."

So most people just shake their heads at all the chaos and the mess, perhaps feeling sorry for those who suffer, and maybe secretly thinking, "I'm glad this isn't happening to me."

While no one of us can fix all of these problems or stop all the suffering, I actually think there is something each and every human being can do in response to all the brokenness in the world today. We don't need to just sit back and watch it all. 

Jesus taught his disciples:

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone sowed in the field;
it is the smallest of seeds,
but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.

The Buddha taught something very similar:

Do not underestimate good.
Drop by drop the water pot is filled.
Likewise, one who is wise is filled with good, gathering it little by little.

My guess is that most people severely "underestimate" the effects of what they do in everyday ordinary life - either for good or for ill.  As the Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, so wisely teaches, human beings are "interbeing." We are a complex web of interdependence, and so, any one seemingly unimportant action of any one person ultimately affects the whole complex web.   

I think about my own life:  if I  say something nasty to my spouse, lash out at the person at the cable company who is unable to fix my internet, or curse at the driver who cuts me off, I know that each and every one of these actions has a rippling effect - sending out a wave of negativity that contributes to the brokenness of a broken world.  

In similar fashion, when I forgive someone who has injured me, reconcile a broken relationship, even when I do something seemingly insignificant like thanking the cashier or giving that homeless man a little extra cash, I am, in fact,  changing the world. I am "healing" a broken world. 

I do not underestimate what even a drop of "good" can do. Every little "drop in the bucket" is filling the water pot. 

I am a tiny little mustard seed- so are we all. Every day I do my best to sew the seeds of love and mercy, forgiveness and compassion into the fields of my every day life,  and these tiny seeds grow into great shrubs that become trees. 












Friday, July 18, 2014

Triumph Over Fear

"Blossoms from the Thorns"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

I was at the gym yesterday as the "Breaking News" about Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 flooded the airwaves. Most of us pretty much stopped what we were doing and gathered around TV sets placed throughout the gym to watch the chilling story of that horrible tragedy - a passenger airplane with 298 people shot down by a "surface to air" missile. 

We watched with horror as the grisly pictures of that crash-sight were broadcast on the news report- bodies scattered everywhere over a five mile radius, mangled pieces of the airplane fuselage, luggage, toys, a travel guide. I kept imagining those people on that plane, many of whom were children and families heading out to beach vacations at Bali resorts, and then in a "flash" it all came to an end.

As we watched the "Breaking News" story, an army general was being interviewed, warning that today's advanced weaponry makes it rather easy for terrorists to shoot down planes in mid-air. As the general droned on with his doomsday scenario, an older woman standing next to me said, "We were supposed to fly into Amsterdam next week to visit our son. I think we might have to cancel that trip." 

I thought to myself, I wonder how many people all over the world are watching "Breaking News" and thinking of canceling trips? Or if they do get on a plane,  how many will travel with a sense of constant, underlying fear, a "white-knuckled" grip on their seats, wondering if they might be the next victims of a mid-air attack?

I wonder how many people travel throughout their whole life like this - every moment of every day plagued by a gnawing underlying sense of fear? We live in a world that is immersed in an ocean of terror and events like the shooting down of yesterday's plane only make it worse. 

Out of fear, people withdraw into guarded camps of isolation to protect themselves. They cancel vacation plans and get extra locks for their doors. Fear breeds a climate of distrust, and so fearful people are always "looking over their shoulder" and "waiting for the next shoe to drop." Fear dampens joy and snuffs out hope; it prevents us from living boldly and courageously.  

I suppose there are plenty of reasons to be afraid, but as I see it, something like the shooting down of a passenger airline is an opportunity to rise above the grasp of fear rather than to be pulled further down into its debilitating grip. 

In reflecting upon his many years of harsh imprisonment in a South Africa jail cell, Nelson Mandela once said:

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear,
but the triumph over it. 

The Buddha teaches that undo attachment is a cause of suffering- I find great wisdom in this teaching.  As I see it, I have very little control over what happens to me in my life. I could cancel a trip to Amsterdam and be hit by a car on the way to the store.  

So I try not to cling to my life so much. I get up every day and commit myself to do my best to live in the "now," welcoming and embracing whatever comes my way. This helps me to live with joy and to embrace my life with courage even when an airliner is blown out of the sky. 

If I was planning a vacation to Amsterdam, I sure wouldn't cancel the trip. 

Courage triumphs over fear!

  









Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ever Ancient Ever New

"Beauty"
-Sunrise at the Desert Retreat House-

I have been writing this blog for well over a year now - a daily post on the broad topic of "spirituality." Yesterday I took a look at some of my earlier posts and I was struck by the fact that nowadays I rarely if ever use the word "God" in my writing. While I talk about "God" almost every day, I rarely use the word "God"because the word gets in the way of what I want to say.  

Atheists and agnostics see the word "God" and it provokes images of some sort of superman deity up in the sky controlling the fate of the world. This triggers an immediate and usually a vitriolic response. Many times I have received some pretty strident online comments: "How can you be so naive as to believe in such a fantasy?" 

If I use the word "God" with churchgoers or believers of various sorts, they often think I am talking about a "person" out there or up there apart from "me" down here - An "Almighty King, Eternal Father," and this is not at all what I mean when I talk about "God."

So that's why I rarely ever use the word anymore.

Yesterday I came across a fascinating and thought provoking observation in the social media that really spoke to me. Someone suggested that, in dialogue with atheists, agnostics, or with people who have rejected religion we might do far better to use the word "Beauty" rather than the word "God" (a word that comes with so much baggage).  

I've been thinking a lot about that little "tweet" I read yesterday - I think there is a great deal of truth in it. When we come face to face with true "Beauty," we encounter the transcendent - we enter into the experience of "God." 

 A "Beautiful" work of art, music, or a "Beautiful" poem pulls "me" out of myself - it transports me into relationship - into the transcendent.  When I encounter "Beauty" in the natural world, a thundering ocean, a mountain's majesty, I am pulled out of "me" - pulled into an experience of "Oneness." Likewise, I find "Beauty" in my relationships - the love of my spouse or my children is an encounter with a "Beauty" that transforms "me" into "us." 

In essence "Beauty" is another name for "God." 

Actually, the more I think about it, referring to "God" as "Beauty" is hardly a new innovation. Way back in the 4th century, Saint Augustine wrote a love song about "God," only he never used the word "God" in his poem, instead he called "God," Beauty!

Late have I loved You, O Beauty ever ancient ever new.
I have tasted You and now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me and now I burn  for Your embrace.

The desert where I live is a truly Beautiful place. I am immersed in "Beauty." I live and move and exist in the midst of "Beauty" every day.

Every morning I sit in my garden and watch the sun rise and when it comes up over those stone mountains that have been there over the ages, it's as if I am experiencing it all for the first time - new every morning, ever ancient and ever new. 

I sit in my garden and bask in the glowing orange light of the dawning day as my senses are filled with the fragrant smells of flowers and citrus, lavender and lime, the sound of the wind in the palms, the cooing doves and fluttering hummingbirds, water flowing in the fountain. Every morning it pulls me out of "me" 

It is "Beautiful."  It is "God."   





    









Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Leaving Home

"Untamed Wilderness"

As the immigration crisis continues to loom in the United States, I recently heard a heartbreaking story about a Mexican family forced to flee their homeland who are now being held at an American border crossing.   

The mom, dad and their three kids lived all their lives in Juarez, a crime-ridden Mexican city near the Texas border, controlled by drug cartels and plagued by violent gangs of thugs who terrorize the city streets.

This family lived a quiet life in their residential home, doing their best to go to work, attend school, go to church, go shopping, visit with their neighbors- just like any one of us might do in an everyday, ordinary life.  But somehow this family made it onto the "radar screen" of a local street gang, who barraged them with threats of violence and even death. Eventually this constant intimidation got so bad that, fearing for their lives, the family gathered up some of their belongings and in the middle of the night they snuck out of their home and made their way across the border. 

They left everything behind- home, car, possessions, their native language and customs, their jobs and schools, their friends and neighbors. And now they wait in a holding center at a border crossing with no idea of what the future may bring - hoping that they will be treated with compassion here and allowed to stay with American cousins. 

When I hear a heart-wrenching story like the one about that family from Juarez, I think about the thousands of other families who can tell the same story - people who crossed that border not because they wanted to make their fortunes in a new country "whose streets are paved with gold," but because they wanted to survive.   

I think about all the many real-life stories of real-life human beings - hundreds and thousands of immigrants who left behind all that was comforting and familiar, crossing over into this strange new land, hoping and praying that they might be welcomed and embraced with some degree of compassion.

The immigration crisis in this country is far more than a policy issue to be debated by Washington politicians, it is a humanitarian crisis and spiritual issue of enormous proportions.  A spiritual pathway always flows in the direction of compassion, and we cannot turn a blind eye or shun these fragile, vulnerable, fellow human beings who are reaching out for help. 

I have been reading a newly published book that is now making its way up the New York Times' bestseller's list. In her novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, author Cristina Henriquez tells the tender life-stories of immigrants who have come into America from Mexico and Central America. While the book is a work of fiction, the stories she tells are based on real-life people, and I think maybe this book should be required reading for every American citizen. 

In one very poignant passage in the book, a mom from Mexico expresses her fears and her hopes as she and her family settle on America soil:

Had we done the right thing by coming here? Of course I knew the answer, we did what we had to do. But we are so far away from anything familiar. Everything here - the sour air, the strange language, the muffled voices, the depth of darkness - is different. We had bundled up our old life and left it behind, and then hurtled into a new one with only a few of our things, each other and hope. Would that be enough? 

We'll be fine, I told myself, We'll be fine. I repeated it like a prayer until I finally fell asleep.

That's my prayer today also. I pray that they will all be fine, and I pledge to do what I can to make it so. 











Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Change Your Mind

"Emerging Beauty"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

After years of deadlock and discrimination, yesterday the Church of England voted to allow women to serve as bishops in the church. For the past several years, women have been welcomed as priests in the Anglican church, but a conservative and traditionalist element of church leadership had been standing firm and blocking the ordination of women as bishops - unwilling to break with a tradition of exclusion and discrimination.  They claimed that the ancient doctrine of the church forbids women from serving as bishops - for 2000 years it's been "men-only." 

Yesterday it all changed. 

I listened to a BBC radio report from London yesterday in which leaders of the Anglican church were asked how it was that the deadlock finally ended. The simple response to this question nearly "bowled me over," as one of the traditionalists who had previously stood in opposition said, "many of us surprisingly changed our minds." 

Image that, for years these guys have been lobbying against admitting women to the rank of bishops.  For years they have been vociferous and even strident in their bold opposition,  and then they "surprisingly change their minds" in the cause of inclusion. 

When I heard that interview yesterday I immediately called to mind the very first sermon Jesus ever gave as he began his public ministry. The first words out of his mouth were: "Repent and believe the good news!"  

Today we hear the word "repent," and we translate it as: "Be sorry for your offenses against God." But that's not at all what the word "repent" meant in its original language. "Repent" is far better translated as: 

Change your mind!

Even "change your mind" isn't strong enough to get at the essence of Jesus' call to "repent,"  Changing your mind involves more than changing your opinion - a change of mind is a total change of heart. The call to repent is a call to turn around completely - mind, heart, spirit.  Repent:  

Believe the good news!

The good news is that there are to be no outsiders standing on the margins looking in. Every human being has equal dignity and is worthy of equal respect, and anyone who really believes this good news will embrace the world with the wide-open arms of radical hospitality and live a life of boundless compassion. 

I think that's what happened in London yesterday when those folks "surprisingly changed their minds,"  and opened closed doors to those who were outside looking in. They repented and believed the good news.

As I think about it, the invitation to "repent and believe the good news" isn't only directed to those who follow in the path of Christ. This invitation lies at the core of any spiritual journey.

The Buddha taught that there is no place for attachments on any spiritual journey. Attachments bring suffering. There is no place for clinging to unbending ideas or rigidly adhering to doctrine, dogma or tradition on the spiritual path.   

The path of enlightenment always flows in the direction of compassion and inclusion.

And on this path, if we find that we are moving in the direction of closing doors and putting up barriers, we know we're going the wrong way, and that's when it's time to turn around: "Repent and believe the good news!" 







Monday, July 14, 2014

Wisdom Sits in Places

"Celtic knot"
-in my meditation garden-

I was fascinated by a recent article in the New York Times written by one of the paper's travel editors who suggested that summer is a good season for taking a vacation to a "thin place." 

The ancient Celtic people were probably the first to coin the phrase "thin place" - an actual geographic locale where the distance between heaven and earth collapses, a place for catching a glimpse of the transcendent. The Celts were fond of saying "heaven and earth are only three feet apart but in a thin place the distance is even shorter." An old Apache proverb says something very similar:

Wisdom sits in places

In the Times article, the author talked about some of the "thin places"he had discovered in his travels- cathedrals in Europe, a Hindu temple, a national park. He also found some very mundane places like an airport terminal to be holy ground.

As I read the article in the New York Times, I completely identified with what that travel editor was describing. I have indeed visited many "thin places" in my life- places where heaven and earth seemed to be separated by only a thin veil. 

I think about the hundreds, maybe even thousands of churches I have visited, in some cases they have been "thick places" for me, where I didn't  even come close to sensing the Divine; but the first time I entered Canterbury Cathedral in England I knew I was standing on holy ground.  I caught a glimpse of the transcendent in that space and have been back there several times - every time I walk through those doors, I find I am transformed.  

I also remember a visit to a Buddhist Monastery in South Korea. When I walked into the shrine I felt so close to the "Holy" that I literally fell to my knees. 

I have stood on the rocky cliffs of Wales overlooking the Irish Sea- it was such a thin place. A mountaintop in Maine, a beach on the Atlantic Ocean, the Grand Canyon - all have been "thin places" for me, places where I have found wisdom sitting.  

As usual I begin my day in my meditation garden here in our desert home, and I realize that I don't have to travel anywhere to find a "thin place" this summer  -  I live in one. 

Every single morning when I walk out into my garden to greet the sun, the wind rushing through the palms, a gurgling fountain,  hummingbirds everywhere, exotic cacti and desert flowers - such a thin place. 

Walking along the wilderness trails just steps away from my home, sitting in the shade of the palm trees of a nearby oasis, or even siting in my favorite chair at the local coffee shop relishing the presence of all the people surrounding me  -- these are my thin places, sacred spaces, holy places. "Heaven and earth are only three feet apart but in these places the distance is even shorter."

I think the travel editor in the Times had it right - Summer is a great season to travel out to thin places.  You may need a airplane to get you there or maybe all you have to do is walk into your own back yard. 











Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sitting and Staring

"Dawn in the Desert"
-a day of rest-

I recently read a story about how kids spend their summer vacations nowadays. Apparently today's parents are obsessed with finding ways to assure that their children will not be bored over the summer months. They arrange stints at summer camps, sign them up for little league teams, swim clubs, maybe find a tutor to help give their kids an edge in the upcoming school year. And of course, when all else fails there is always the computer and the internet to keep their kids always busy during every waking hour of every single day.

The story went on to say that parents may mean well, but it's important for their kids to feel "bored," especially during the months when they are away from school. When children feel bored they get creative- invent games, explore imaginative activities. Besides all that, kids need time to de-stress by just sitting and doing nothing -it's important for their well-being. 

As I think about it, "being bored" and "doing nothing" from time to time is just as important for adults as it is for kids.

We live in a world in which boredom is viewed as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and sitting and doing nothing is a waste of valuable time. Everyone wants to be stimulated and engaged at all times, pursuing the big thrills - seeking out the newer, the bigger, the better in life. So when they feel bored at work or at home or school or even on a day off, most people get very "antsy" and rush out to do something else, often winding up at a computer, on the internet, the social media, texting with a friend.  

Yesterday I came across an article written by someone who has been a Zen practitioner for over 30 years. He talked about his daily practice of "zazen" -doing nothing, thinking nothing, just "sitting and staring" (sometimes just staring at a blank wall).  Every day he spends deliberate time just sitting and staring. In the article he went on to say that he was recently asked if he ever gets bored when he practices "zazen." "Of course, it's boring," he said. "It's boring, boring, boring." He went on to explain that out of the boredom of "sitting and staring," a joy emerges - the joy of being alive: 

Lots of folks figure they have better things to do and better things to think about. But when I 'sit and stare' I am paying attention to my life. 

When you really take a look at your ordinary life you'll discover something truly wonderful. Our regular old pointless lives are incredibly joyful -- amazingly, astoundingly, relentlessly, mercilessly joyful.

Sunday used to be a "day of rest." It's not like that anymore. Lots of people have to work on Sundays or they use the day to catch up on chores at home or go shopping at the mall.  I'm thinking that, apart form any religious significance, maybe it would be a good idea to reclaim Sunday as a "day of rest"  -  at least one day out of the week where people might commit themselves to being bored, to do nothing, to spend some devoted time just sitting and staring.

Ordinary life is indeed "amazingly, astoundingly, relentlessly, mercilessly joyful."