what is the way out?


I believe deeply that we are all intrinsically loving, kind and compassionate beings. But for so many of us, at some point in our lives, we were told that we were not good enough. It might have been a parent, a partner or a boss. It doesn’t matter; we often take it in and believe it, no matter how strongly we know it not to be true. It hurts. And sometimes, we protect ourselves against the pain by judging others harshly. The need to heal, to bring back balance and feel okay comes out as a need to feel better than someone else.

Imagine how freeing it would be to shift the focus from judgement back to love! To use compassion and forgiveness to feel less alone and more worthy. Can you imagine? In that moment, rather than lashing out or judging, we offer instead a kind word, a prayer, a gesture of respect — maybe even a hug. What would happen then?

And every time we are successful in turning the inclination to judge into an expression of unconditional love, our thoughts, intentions and actions become weapons of peace to help heal the world.

This is the way out.



caring for the world


Being grateful — so the latest research says — is good for us. It makes us more optimistic, energetic, resilient, peaceful and productive. We feel better about ourselves and our lives when we are grounded in gratitude.

One of the best ways to explore this path is by focusing on your own bounty. Be grateful for your eyes and your ears! Your teeth! Be grateful for the music that is in your very heart. If it is available to you, you can summon gratitude even for the parts of your body where you experience pain or discomfort. It has sometimes been through physical challenges that people have been able to recognize how much there is to be grateful for.

Also, by respecting and caring for ourselves, we are caring for the whole world. Remember: peace on earth begins with me. It is the same with harmony on earth, and health on earth. By nurturing the seeds of compassion and kindness in yourself, you are helping the universe become kinder. And by caring for ourselves unconditionally, as tenderly as a mother cares for her newborn, we are creating more love in the world.

Using mindfulness to connect to the present moment allows you to tap into the wonder of being a part of the cosmos, which invites gratitude and awe. I love this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh: “Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.”

To me, gratitude is simply awareness of that which we value and cherish. When we access gratitude, the positive in our lives is highlighted, and seeds of hope, kindness and love are thus planted.

bravery in the name of love

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Engaged Buddhism is the taking of one’s practice from the meditation cushion and out into the world. It was a path first taken 50 years ago by a small group of monks — including Thich Nhat Hanh —  who decided to leave their Vietnamese monastery and try to help bring about peace during a terrible time of war. It was an act of bravery made in the name of love.

At its core, this path is about how we are all connected — we inter-are — and how being aware of this connectedness as we live our lives can bring about greater well-being for all.

I have referred before to Thay’s illustration proving the interconnectedness of the universe by considering a piece of paper. Without rain or the sun to nurture the tree, he says, there would be no piece of paper. Without the lumberer, there would be no paper. Without bread to feed the lumberer, there would be no paper. For a piece of paper to exist, there must be clouds and time and energy and soil and the mother and father of the lumberer. In fact, to look at a piece of paper, as thin and small as it is, we can see the entire universe as part of its existence. When you understand this, you know that you are never just you, separate from everything else.

Think of this in terms of people, and it is the same thing. In order for one person to be ahead, another will be behind. It is the nature of things; there can’t be an above without a below. In order for some to be affluent, some must live in poverty. No one among us can claim a lack of responsibility. But it is not a punishment! Just like the piece of paper, we are all made of everything else. We inter-are, with sunshine and water and even those with whom we may not feel any connection.

What to do with this information? Once you absorb it, once you really take it into your heart, you know what the answer is. You can share the pain of those who are suffering and wish them well through your thoughts and deeds. You can be deeply careful with the earth. You can see the homeless person in the street and the corporate executive alike as beautiful souls, connected to you and everyone else, and each just as worthy. You can bow to him or her. Then, once you have opened your heart in this manner, you can begin to make change in a thousand small ways.

To do this, it is important to be cognizant of the problems that exist and persist in the world. Then think about your own actions, and how those actions create ripples. Everything we do has a reaction, and we can strive to create positive ripples; ripples that intentionally create peace and true kindness, benefiting the earth, other people and all living things.

This is Engaged Buddhism. This is courage in the name of love.

going home at christmas



We all have this yearning, this deep desire to be in our true home, a yearning to be safe and warm and loved.

At Christmas, we can think about Jesus, homeless in his birth, and a refugee on the run. The same is true of the Buddha, who walked away from his home of wealth and privilege when he came to the understanding that there was great suffering outside his palace walls.

What would their homes have been? They both spent their lives looking to build love and peace. Maybe these would have meant home, just as those things would mean home to many of us. What more would you want beyond peace and love? A measure of ease perhaps, and comfort. Sadly, there are many who wander, searching for that elusive thing called home.

In the Buddhist tradition, seekers find home within their own hearts, as it seems Jesus and the Buddha did. One of the last things the Buddha is said to have spoken was this: “Dear monks, practice being islands unto yourselves, knowing how to take refuge in yourselves.”

So, home is in the present moment, in a heart that is open and filled with kindness and light. In this beautiful home, there is warmth and peace and safety. We can access our heritage, our faith and hope and truth. We can find the love our mothers and grandmothers had for us. It is there!

Inside you, there is infinite love, and you only have to go home to your own heart by way of mindfulness. In fact, once you are on the path to home, you are already there.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours!



the nobility of friendship

The buddha is said to have told his student that there are five steps to finding lasting peace in one’s heart. First, one must have true intimacy with at least one good friend. The second is virtuous conduct. Third, one needs the kind of deep connection that inspires and encourages growth and practice. Fourth, diligence, energy, and enthusiasm for the good. And the fifth step is an insight into the impermanence of things.

To the cement the point, the Buddha went through the list again, this time preceding each of the other items with the first: “When there is a lovely intimacy between friends,” he began, “then virtuous conduct will follow,” and so on. In other words, friendship is a most important element in the spiritual path to peace in the heart. Everything else naturally flows from it.

your spirit



Who is in control, your ego or your spirit? While the ego can be characterized as fearful — mistrustful, dissatisfied, only interested in attaining, winning and succeeding — the spirit is just the opposite. Your spirit is incapable of feeling sorrow, pain, anger or fear, because it is eternal. It is one with the universe, and with all other spirits. It has no interest in right or wrong, conflict or threat. It is not vulnerable, but recognizes the abundance of the universe. It embodies unlimited generosity, forgiveness and gentleness. Your spirit is only capable of unconditional love, valuing peace, kindness and harmony above everything else.

This is true of everyone. Everyone’s got the ego too, always self-centered and potentially harmful. When someone’s ego causes them to take an action to which your ego objects, you can know that there is a perfect loving spirit within them too. Likewise, you can  know that your own ego — protective, worrying, impeding — may be the only thing standing between you and true happiness

Our spirits know our own true best interests.

boundless love




How well do we know our loved ones? Is it a goal of yours to understand the dreams and the struggles of the one you love? Do you know his or her heart? Do you see her, as Thomas Merton says, the way she looks through God’s eyes? If the answer is yes, then it is really no wonder that you find your loved one so completely lovable as you do. You cannot help but love someone whose heart you know. This is true whether that person is your partner, your child or, the Buddhists would say, any sentient being on earth. If you look deeply enough to see their beautiful hearts, there will be boundless love.

Try it the next time you are out on the street. Try to see the heart of a complete stranger. Imagine the way they look in the eyes of their beloved. You will be amazed.



I have a friend who is faced with an important decision. She has been going back and forth for a long time now, and can’t make up her mind.

I don’t know the answer either; only she can really know. I have asked her if a sounding board might help her on her way, but it appears that maybe the weight of this choice is just too much for her to face at all. She wishes with all her might that the decision would be made, for once and for all, allowing her to move on, but she is the only one who can decide. And so she goes through her days with a very large burden always on her shoulders.

As a last offering to my friend, I suggested meditation. She could practice clearing her mind of the chatter that was constantly messing with her. By breathing and sitting mindfully, she might be able to find some refreshment, even if just for twenty minutes.

I don’t know if she has taken my suggestion to heart, and truly, I don’t need to know. But it has been a good reminder for me too, of the importance of giving oneself the gift of mindfulness — to sit quietly, focusing on breathing or a mantra, releasing any thoughts as they come up. Or to take a walk in total awareness of your surroundings, allowing all attention to be rooted in the present. Noticing the sounds and the colors and the way one’s feet come in contact with the earth or floor. Practicing mindful concentration can feel so freeing. And dismissing the chatter? Priceless.

This can be more difficult than it sounds. The more challenging it is, however, the more helpful it can be to keep practicing! And it is so pleasant to arrive at a place of freshness and renewed vitality, such as that which a short period of lovely meditation can bring.

Mindfulness will not make your decisions for you, but from that place, you can take a look at them from a new vantage point, and perhaps the path toward the answer will come into sharper focus. There is nothing like a clear head when important thinking needs to happen.