Archive | Reflections on Practice

Meditation as Science Experiment

One way we might regard the meditative process is as a kind of scientific field work. The field of study for this investigation is the terrain of our own body & mind, and our main research tool is mindfulness. Our objective in doing this investigation is to learn as much as we can about both the world within us & the world around us.

The attitude that we start with when beginning any period of research is absolutely critical. If our mind is filled with unseen assumptions & held prisoner by all that we think we know, our ability to actually open to the reality of each arising moment will be severely limited. We know so much – at least we think we do. Is there a way that we can step beyond the boundaries of all we think we know, all that we believe to be true, and perhaps find what J. Krishnamurti called “freedom from the known”?

Albert Einstein once said: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” He also said: “There are two ways to live your life. One, as though nothing is a miracle. The other as though everything is a miracle.” In my mind, the difference between these two attitudes is almost as profound as the difference between being alive & being dead.

 Catholic priest & author Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote: “The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control….

The sense of waiting, actively present to the moment, is a great description of mindfulness practice. Might we possibly adopt this kind of attitude when we sit down to meditate? Can we trust our ability to meet each moment with attitude that some teachers call: “don’t know mind”. Zen master Suzuki Roshi called this “beginner’s mind“. He once said: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

What if we were to simply settle back & trust that new things will present themselves? New things that are beyond our prediction, perhaps far beyond what we believe to be true or possible? Might we cultivate the attitude that everything is a miracle, and allow a quality of openness & perhaps even a sense of awe inform our life & everything we do – especially our meditation practice? We then have the possibility to engage in the field work of meditation with a fresh mind: a mind that is open to many possibilities & meets life with both interest & a sense of wonder.


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In Times Like This…

Going for a walk-in nature calls us to pause & listen to the whispers of our ancestors calling us to remember. I remember our beloved late teacher Thich Nhat Hanh saying,

“Do you love yourself yet? If you don’t respect yourself, it will be difficult to love & respect others or the Earth. When you’re caught in the idea that this body is you, or this mind is you, you underestimate your value. But, when you can free yourself from the notion of self & see your body & mind as a stream of being of all your ancestors, you’ll begin to treat your body & mind with more respect.”

For many of us, the Buddha’s teachings turn us inwards in a real way, where the possibility of an honest moment can be met for the first time. In this honest moment, we encounter a close relative, the element of air, through our breath & an awareness of our body contracting & expanding. In this expansion, we touch into a glimpse of liberation, as we are briefly freed from whatever story or emotions, we may have been caught in. The next moment depends on the conditions that we have set up. Perhaps a mind that is open, receptive, relaxed, and alert. Perhaps a body that is grounded & rested in congruence with this process of meditation. Setting up these conditions through practice is just the beginning of our continuous return.

Each time I take a seat on the cushion, I am called to remember my late beloved teachers & their teachers before them & their teacher before them. I can feel the ancestorial support from their lineages of wisdom. I think of all our ancestors who struggled to face themselves as I have many times. It takes courage to face oneself truthfully & to remember these moments of deep listening & peace, even in the midst of sorrow & grief to return to the cushion over & over again.

For Indigenous people, ancestors are important teachers of detachment because they have faced the great mystery of death. They are the greatest practitioners of letting go & trusting this cycle of life as the greatest teacher of impermanence. Each day, we honor our teachers who have come before us, as we take in Nature’s natural rhythm of letting go through connecting with our elemental relatives. By witnessing this nature’s flow, which remains ever so fleeting, with each drop of rain, or a gust of wind, or touch of sunshine, all transitioning immediately upon noticing.

Spring is upon us, may the seeds of your practice bloom this season.

Carol Cano is Founder & Executive Director of Braided Wisdom, a BIPOC led cross-cultural mindfulness organization. A graduate of the 2017-2020 Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Teacher Training program, she often teaches at Spirit Rock & is a core teacher & a former board member of East Bay Meditation Center. Her unique teachings are deeply grounded in Basque, Native American & Buddhist influences that braid the Dharma along with indigenous wisdom & Earth-based practices.

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Beautiful reflection on impermanence from author & journalist Kathryn Schulz

An excerpt from the book “Lost & Found” by Kathryn Schulz…

That is all we have, this moment with the world. It will not last, because nothing lasts. Entropy, mortality, extinction: the entire plan of the universe consists of losing, and no matter how much we find along the way, life amounts to a reverse savings account in which we are eventually robbed of everything. Our dreams and plans and jobs and knees and backs and memories; the keys to the house, the keys to the car, the keys to the kingdom, the kingdom itself: sooner or later, all of it drifts into the Valley of Lost Things.

Nothing about that is strange or surprising; it is the fundamental, unalterable nature of things. The astonishment is all in the being here. It is the turtle in the pond, the thought in the mind, the falling star, the stranger on Main Street… To all of this, loss, which seems only to take away, adds its own kind of necessary contribution. No matter what goes missing, the object you need or the person you love, the lessons are always the same. Disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend. Loss is a kind of external conscience, urging us to make better use of our finite days. Our crossing is a brief one, best spent bearing witness to all that we see: honoring what we find noble, tending what we know needs our care, recognizing that we are inseparably connected to all of it, including what is not yet upon us, including what is already gone. We are here to keep watch, not to keep.

Kathryn Schulz is a journalist & author. She is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where she has written about everything from the legacy of an early Muslim immigrant in Wyoming, to the radical life of a civil rights activist, to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, to brown marmorated stinkbugs. In 2016, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her article on the risk of a major earthquake & tsunami in the Pacific Northwest.

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The Gift of Living in Alignment with Impermanence

In his teachings, the Buddha again & again pointed to the importance of seeing impermanence – the changing nature of all conditioned phenomena. In a well known sutta, he stated that living just one day clearly seeing impermanence, is more important than living a hundred years without seeing impermanence . Deeply recognizing impermanence, in our own lived experience, is described as a potential doorway to liberation – the deepest peace, the unconditioned, nibbana.

Yet many of us automatically brace against this truth. Although we may recognize that seasons change, that days turn to nights, that relationships change, we often have a more difficult time opening to the fleeting nature of all phenomena, including our own bodies & our own minds. On a very deep level we often seek stability & predictability in the way we structure our lives. We may know intellectually that human bodies age, get sick, and die. Yet we often relate to life as if it was meant to last. We often feel that “something is wrong” when aging, sickness & death are happening. Sometimes we even feel that it is a personal failure when it happens to us.

One reason why it’s so hard for us to align with impermanence is that we rarely see into this truth in a deep way. For us to have liberating insights, we need to move from a conceptual knowing of impermanence , to a direct knowing of change as it’s actually happening from moment to moment. It is this type of vipassana seeing that supports a letting go of the deeper habit patterns that cause stress & unhappiness for us.

The Thai Forest master Ajahn Chan is quoted for saying that he was relating to his tea cup as if it was already broken. This may sound depressing at first. Yet, when we contemplate this teaching more deeply, we may intuit the potential freedom that it offers. What would life be like, what would each moment be like, if we deeply acknowledged that it was never meant to last? One possibility is that we would feel depressed & sad about this truth. Another possibility is that we would feel a deeper sense of awe in relationship to all of our experiences, even the difficult ones. Knowing that no moment is meant to last. Realizing that no two moments in time can ever be the same, we may feel the inherent aliveness, the “freshness” of life, as it’s unfolding from moment to moment. A deeper sense of gratitude may start to grow, as we see that because nothing is meant to last, each moment, each breath, each encounter with another being, is a precious event, that will never arise again in exactly the same way.

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2023 New Year Greeting 

A NEW YEAR… A NEW DAY… A NEW MOMENT. This is our ‘time.’ How we fill our time over the years, days and moments is the ‘story’ – the essence of our life.

So many possible questions and reflections can arise on the cusp of this time frame that so many of us on the planet share and attend to in various ways… the conclusion of one year and the arising of a ‘new year’.

“What am I grateful for?”  One of the most essential questions of our lives.

“Have I wholeheartedly loved at least a few beings?”

“Have I lived responsibly in relationship to the amazing and vast array of life forms on this
little blue dot that we all share?”

“Have I learned from what I and maybe others have deemed as my mistakes?”

“What affords/brings me the deepest sense of ease and well-being in my life?”

“What have I done to help bring joy, light and ease into the lives of other living beings?”

This is our time… this time of NOW! This is our time of incredible opportunity… our time of life… THE TIME OF OUR LIFE! We can choose to live it wisely, lovingly and compassionately.

From all of us here at The Mountain Hermitage… we deeply appreciate you and send boundless gratitude for your interest, support of and participation in our various Dharma offerings.

May this ‘new year’ be filled with peace, friendship, love, good health, joy and an abiding sense of ease and well-being for you and for all your dear ones… and for all beings everywhere.

With love,

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Ajahn Sucitto on… Buddha Nature – Human Nature

When we attend to our values, we might begin by reflecting on the Buddha’s exhortation: ‘Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.’  This is not just because kindness is universal & simple, but because it focuses us directly on the quality of heart that has enabled us to survive & grow. We are born as empathic beings – we’re hard-wired for it with mirror-neurons in our brains – and our success as a species has come from being able to operate as a collective. So a focus on goodwill brings us out of the divisions of nationality, social status, and political systems to connect more directly with a value that can include others. Development of that empathic sense is an aspect of Buddhist ‘mind-cultivation’, and its aim is to develop that sense in a widening field to include all other living beings. The more inclusive the cosmos, the greater its validity. And the awakening fact is that this cultivation is also deeply enjoyable….

Our environment does not just consist of trees & whales; it’s the interwoven world of the biosphere, the economy, society and our bodies & minds. It’s all suffering from the same root problem – a short-term self-interest that supports careless attention. If you see it like this, it reduces the impotence; you see the paradigm of domination & exploitation and you address it wherever you can. Because the one right response, wherever, whenever, is to bring careful attention into the cosmos as you experience it.

What is natural, intrinsic & universal to human beings are not valuables: values issue from the mind & cannot get used up; valuables are materials that come from the Earth & are finite. Given this capacity, our responsibility has to be to develop values that will include & support as much of the cosmos as possible. Values: you name them – how about generosity, goodwill, truthfulness, reliability? It’s not difficult to access the resources of our human nature; putting them into practice takes work, but it is innately fulfilling. On a wider scale, giving value to harmony in our total environment will surely help us to strengthen & enrich our own lives. It will take us out of the sense of being an isolated, competitive self & into the harmony of being part of the cosmos.

Buddhist monk Ajahn Sucitto, currently based at Cittaviveka Monastery in Chithurst, West Sussex, has been part of a number of Theravada monasteries in Britain. The passages above are excerpted from his book “Buddha Nature, Human Nature,” which is available on-line in PDF form at no charge.


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“Be simple & easy. Take things as they come” Teachings from Anagarika Munindra

Indian Vipassana meditation teacher Anagarika Munindra (1915-2003) played a pivotal role in transmission of Buddhism from East to West. He was a significant teacher for many notable meditation teachers, including Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Dipa Ma, Kamala Masters & Surya Das. Munindra highlighted simplicity & ease. Joseph Goldstein says he must have repeated thousands of times, “Be simple & easy. Take things as they come.”

Quotes here from Munindra come from LIVING THIS LIFE FULLY, by Mirka Knaster.

“Everything is meditation in this practice, even while eating, drinking, dressing, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking. Whatever you are doing, everything should be done mindfully, dynamically, with totality, completeness, thoroughness. Then it becomes meditation, meaningful, purposeful. It is not thinking, but experiencing from moment to moment, living from moment to moment, without clinging, without condemning, without judging, without evaluating, without comparing, without selecting, without criticizing—choiceless awareness.

“Meditation is not only sitting; it is a way of living. It should be integrated with our whole life. It is actually an education in how to see, how to hear, how to smell, how to eat, how to drink, how to walk with full awareness. To develop mindfulness is the most important factor in the process of awakening.”

* * * * *

“Death I don’t mind. Every moment we are dying. Everything is impermanent. Who is dying? There is nobody dying. It is just a process. This is merely a law of nature… everything in nature is arising & vanishing. There is nothing to be afraid of. In death also, smiling you can go. Every moment we are dying. Once you are acquainted with this, then it is simple.”

* * * * *

“Unpleasant feelings are most prominent to us because, when we experience pleasant feelings, we don’t mind. But when we experience the unpleasant feeling, we don’t like it & we condemn. We have to observe it. We have to penetrate it. We have to pierce through it. We have to understand it. When you keep the mind there, then you will see that it is not static; it is a process, and afterward, it disappears. But don’t expect it to come or to go. If you expect, then you have to be aware of the expecting mind. Not clinging, not condemning, not hoping. Whatever comes up, see the thing as it is, at this moment, without liking or disliking. If you like it, you feed it with greed; if you dislike it, you feed it with hatred. Both ways, the mind is unbalanced, unhealthy, unsound. [The] object itself is neither good nor bad. It is our mind which attributes the color—it is good or it is bad. We are influenced by that & then reaction comes. Be gentle with everything that comes up. Keep the mind in a balanced state. We are following the middle path. Be fully alert.”

* * * * *

“Mind by nature has no color. When it is colored with greed, we call it “greedy mind.” When anger arises, at that moment, it is called “angry mind.” If there is no mindfulness, mind is influenced by this anger. Anger has the nature to pollute the mind; it creates poison. But mind is not anger; anger is not mind. Mind is not greed; greed is not mind. Please remember this. Mind has no nature of liking or disliking. “Mind” means “knowing faculty,” “cognizing faculty.” …Mindfulness is a different thing: alertness, awareness, remembering, heedfulness. It means not to forget, just to be aware, to be mindful of what is going on. When you are asked to walk on a one-bamboo bridge over the river, you have to be so careful on every step. Once you forget, there is every possibility of falling down. If you lose your mindfulness, you will hurt yourself or kill yourself. So, in reality, mindfulness means not to forget what is going on at the present moment – in thought, in word, in deed.”

* * * * *

‘If we know how to live at this present moment, mindfully & with virtue (sila), then the next moment comes all right & we build our future. Working in this way, walking on the middle path, leads you toward liberation, total freedom from the cycle of birth & death.”


Listen to some of his recorded Dharma talks on Dharma Seed

Barre Center for Buddhist Studies interview with Mirka Knaster, author of Living this Life Fully



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A JATAKA TALE: The Baby Quail Who Could Not Fly Away

Once upon a time, the Enlightenment Being was born as a tiny quail. Although he had little feet & wings, he could not yet walk or fly. His parents worked hard bringing food to the nest, feeding him from their beaks.

In that part of the world, there were usually forest fires every year. So it happened that a fire began in that particular year. All the birds who were able, flew away at the first sign of smoke. As the fire spread, and got closer & closer to the nest of the baby quail, his parents remained with him. Finally the fire got so close, that they too had to fly away to save their lives.

All the trees, big & small, were burning & crackling with a loud noise. The little one saw that everything was being destroyed by the fire that raged out of control. He could do nothing to save himself. At that moment, his mind was overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness.

Then it occurred to him, “My parents loved me very much. Unselfishly they built a nest for me, & then fed me without greed. When the fire came, they remained with me until the last moment. All the other birds who could, had flown away a long time before.

“So great was the loving-kindness of my parents, that they stayed & risked their lives, but still they were helpless to save me. Since they could not carry me, they were forced to fly away alone. I thank them, wherever they are, for loving me so. I hope with all my heart they will be safe & well & happy.

“Now I am all alone. There is no one I can go to for help. I have wings, but I cannot fly away. I have feet, but I cannot run away. But I can still think. All I have left to use is my mind – a mind that remains pure. The only beings I have known in my short life were my parents, and my mind has been filled with loving-kindness towards them. I have done nothing unwholesome to anyone. I am filled with new-born innocent truthfulness.”

Then an amazing miracle took place. This innocent truthfulness grew & grew until it became larger than the little baby bird. The knowledge of truth spread beyond that one lifetime, and many previous births became known. One such previous birth had led to knowing a Buddha, a fully enlightened knower of Truth – one who had the power of Truth, the purity of wholesomeness, and the purpose of compassion.

Then the Great Being within the tiny baby quail thought, “May this very young innocent truthfulness be united with that ancient purity of wholesomeness & power of Truth. May all birds & other beings, who are still trapped by the fire, be saved. And may this spot be safe from fire for a million years!”

And so it was.

The moral is: Truth, wholesomeness and compassion can save the world.

The Jataka Tales is a body of literature which mainly concern previous births of Guatama Buddha in both human & animal form. In these, the future Buddha may appear as a king, an outcast, a deva, an animal – but, in whatever form, he exhibits some virtue that the tale thereby inculcates. For the Buddhist traditions, the jatakas illustrate the many lives, acts & spiritual practices which are required on the long path to Buddhahood. They also illustrate the great qualities or perfections of the Buddha & teach Buddhist moral lessons, particularly within the framework of karma & rebirth.

Interpreted from the Pali by Kurunegoda Piyatissa.

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“Making mindfulness of the body our friend”

So many of us live in our heads.  When we are caught up in the world of thoughts, emotions and fantasies, believing their content and taking them personally, we experience the corresponding suffering that they bring.

One way to support ourselves not to suffer in this arena is to remind ourselves – as it says in the Buddha’s teachings – that “there is a body, just to the extent necessary for mindfulness and clear understanding to arise.” The Buddha said that, without mindfulness of the body, there is no possibility of freedom from suffering. This doesn’t mean that freedom from suffering is in the body; it means that the mind is attending to something that is grounding, something tangible which helps us to disengage from the story in the mind that had swept us away.

Once this simple acknowledgement that “there is a body” is established, we have redirected our attention from the mental activity that we were caught in. We actually get in touch with the experience of the body, which will support a growing steadiness of mind to bring about the understanding of the changing nature of sensations and breath. The understanding following from this is that the thoughts and emotions that had caused us so much suffering prior, are also impermanent.

We are told that when the Buddha’s attendant, Ananda, was grieving the loss of his dear friend Sariputta, he described his emotions in this way: “When the noble friend Sariputta had gone, the world was plunged into darkness for me…” Then he added that after the Buddha had also passed away, “there was no friend like mindfulness directed to the body”.

This is good advice for us too.  Can we take our cue from Ananda, especially during times when we are troubled by thoughts and emotions, and make mindfulness of the body our friend?

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Interdependence Always Arising

Find a comfortable place to sit on a cushion on the floor or in a chair. Gently close your eyes & bring your attention to the direct sensorial experience of your breath for a few moments. Now visualizing or sensing an enormous jeweled net, a net of boundless proportions…letting this fill your mind & heart. This net is woven of an infinite variety of brilliant crystal gems, each with countless facets. At each point where the strings of the net meet there is a brilliant highly reflective, muti-faceted gem with each jewel reflecting within itself every other jewel in the net. At the same time its image is reflected in each of the other gems. In this vision each jewel contains all the other jewels. To look at one gem at any point is to see the reflection of all the gems at all of the points in the net…a boundless net of beginningless – endless radiating aliveness.

This practice is a metaphor for the intricately interwoven tapestry of life, with everything constantly changing & everything reflecting everything in this many hued & faceted jeweled net of life. This understanding that lies at the heart of all of the Buddha’s teaching arises from his teaching of Interdependent Co-Arising. In our growing understanding that no-thing spontaneously exists all on its own, we truly come to know that everything, including all physical & mental experience, have many, even infinite, contributing factors & conditions of causation. Within each ‘thing’ are MANY things.

This sublime teaching was clearly expressed in this verse from the Buddha.

‘This is, because that it.
This is not, because that is not.
This ceases to be, because that ceases to be.’ 

Seeing/knowing the world in this way can greatly demystify things for us, along with uniting us…bringing us together…offering us the wisdom to make ethical decisions with more skill & compassion. We are more clearly able to see the potential repercussions of what may have seemed to be harmless actions & reactions in relationship to ourselves & others. Mindful insight arises in seeing the impact that we have on others & in relationship to our environment. And, we find more patience arising in relationship to ourselves & others as we begin to more clearly understand the origin of our thoughts, emotions & actions.  We learn to sense, see & know the interdependence between our reactions & moods/emotions…between our emotions/moods & our decisions…between our decisions & our contracted resistance or greed.

A GREAT GIFT of this understanding/ insight is our growing ability to intervene in the process of reactivity. Rather than immediately, habitually reacting in ways that cause suffering for ourselves & others, our practice gives us some ‘breathing space’ between what may be a strong or subtle unpleasant experience & our habitual reaction to unpleasant experience. We might still feel angry, fearful, greedy & upset, but there is now a few second gap in our heart/mind. With our mindfulness-based insight practice this ‘gap’ increases over time to a few more seconds…allowing our agitated mind to ‘cool off’. And seeming miraculous, at least at first, we now have a broader range of choices for how to RESPOND rather than react internally & externally. It can be quite an incredible change for us when mindfulness intervenes in our habitual ‘chain of causation’ that causes suffering for ourselves & for others.  We experience a wonderful freedom with this change as it develops, deepens & matures within the whole of our life.

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