October 20, 2014


With Halloween approaching, here’s a cozy tale for bedtime from Of Darkness and Light, a book that’s been making people sleep with the light on since 1989.

October 14, 2014
Showing its back and showing its front

Two sides of a leaf Daishin brought home for me today:

I remember this from Ryokan:

Showing its back

and showing its front,

a falling maple leaf.

October 13, 2014
Columbus Day: A Celebration of Greed, Cruelty and Incompetence

With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want… Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold
- Christopher Columbus

Today the U.S. celebrates an inept navigator who thought that San Salvador was Japan and Cuba was China, and who enslaved, mutilated and murdered the natives of the lands his ineptitude took him to.

Also, it’s not true that most people thought the earth was flat in those days.

I think it’s fitting that the U.S. celebrates this, considering how this country was developed. It’s likely that the self-styled “greatest nation in the world” will be remembered by history alongside Nazi Germany.

October 13, 2014
J. David Osborne reviews Kill Your Self: Life After Ego

And finally, I’d like to talk a little about Dogo Barry Graham’s wonderful, eye-opening Kill Your Self: Life After Ego. In the spirit of a book that is all about losing the self, and working to curb suffering by muting the ego, I’m going to make this review all about me. As of late I’ve found it increasingly difficult to let go of my anger. It’s always been a problem, that I tend to see and expect the worst from people. After reading this book, I realized that, as is typically the case, it all stems from a problem with myself. Or rather, the story I tell my self about myself.

Graham uses quick, succinct aphorisms to move the book along, never dwelling on one thought or the other. I’ve always enjoyed this about zen writing, in that even whilst explaining a koan or a deep subject, the writer typically just expresses the question in the clearest way possible, once, and then dips out. After that it’s up to you. It’s something you’re supposed to think about, and the process of thinking is the solution in and of itself.

This book is packed with a-ha moments. I reflected a lot upon reading it. In particular, I enjoyed the passage about the fishing boat, in which the owner of said vessel takes his newly-painted baby out on the water on a foggy day. Another boat bumps into his, and he turns around and starts yelling, only to find the other boat empty. The boat is always empty, but we bring our stories to it, the story that goddammit this drunk motherfucker is out here not watching where he’s going or goddammit I just got this painted and of course it gets fucked up…no. These are all stories we’re making up as we go along, all stories designed to make us the protagonist of our lives, the put-upon, the only one who “gets it.” After awhile, this becomes easier than breathing. The boat is always empty, until we fill it with our own bullshit.

The book is presented in a “take-it-or-leave-it” style. It isn’t preachy. It doesn’t want you to do this or that. It just is. And it’s so refreshing. Couldn’t recommend it more.

October 12, 2014
Full of Days: new book by Bart Lessard

I’ve written before that Bart Lessard is one of my favorite contemporary writers. His latest book, Full of Days, might be his best.

Mildred Dephane is a duty nurse working graveyard shift on a hospice ward. For nine years she has slept through the daylight. But a mysterious new patient—a failing, helpless man over a hundred years old—shocks her awake as he begins to describe crimes that have gone unpunished for a lifetime.

October 12, 2014
Portrait of me by Daishin Stephenson

Portrait of me by Daishin Stephenson

(Source: daishinstephenson)

October 9, 2014
After an oppressive summer, fall has finally come to Portland. Daishin brought me this leaf yesterday. What I love most about its luminous colors is the darkness on its edges. It’s dying from the outside in.

After an oppressive summer, fall has finally come to Portland. Daishin brought me this leaf yesterday. What I love most about its luminous colors is the darkness on its edges. It’s dying from the outside in.

October 4, 2014
Useful questions about you and your breath


Try this if you’re so inclined:

Pay attention to your breath. Don’t try to control it, just be aware of it. Be aware of breathing in, and be aware of breathing out. Be aware that a time will come when you will breathe out and will not breathe in again. Something will end at that point. What is it?

What is the breath? Is it air? Is it you? Is it both? Where is it now? Where will it be when your lungs empty for the last time?

September 26, 2014
Gratitude to T.S. Eliot on his 126th birthday


T.S. Eliot was born on this day in 1882. He’s my favorite poet, but that doesn’t say enough about his impact on me. If I hadn’t read him, I don’t know that I would have found my way to Zen practice, so, as well as being one of those who made me decide to devote my life to writing as a contemplative practice, he may have saved my life. Although he died before I was born, I consider him one of my best friends.

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
     You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
     You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
     You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
     You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

September 26, 2014

Anonymous said: How do you reconcile your sex drive and your Buddhism? I love sex and consider myself a bit of a freak and a talented lover, but the constant lusting wears me thin. It occupies a lot of my time and brain space, competes for my awareness. What to do? Abstain?

If only it were as simple as abstaining. If your issue is the “constant lusting,” abstention most likely wouldn’t make any difference. I think the way to practice with this is the same way we practice with any obsessive thoughts—just notice them, without judgment. Don’t try not to have those desires, and don’t welcome them either. Just note them.

There’s nothing wrong with lusts or desires, but suffering shows up when we start believing them, when we start thinking that we need to satisfy those lusts or attain these things we desire.

In response to obsessive thoughts of "I want…", you could try sitting with this question: “Who is this that wants?”

Liked posts on Tumblr: More liked posts »