Camera Pointing at the Moon

I’d been staring at screens and books all day and had to get out of the house, to feel my body moving and my gaze unbounded. The sun had set an hour ago; the full moon was just rising. Leaving the dishes unwashed, I got myself out the door.

After days of cold rain, the weather had changed and the night air had a sensuous feel—teasing amounts of warmth and moisture. Sweater weather. The leaves had begun to fall in earnest, fresh piles waiting to be kicked or walked through. People were outside enjoying themselves, reveling in the mild evening. Continue reading Camera Pointing at the Moon

Approaching William James

I may have been procrastinating when I biked to William James’s grave.

I’ve been a fan ever since I read Varieties of Religious Experiences as an undergraduate. Recently, I’d checked out James’ psychology textbook. Not the monumental, two-volume, 1200-page Principles of Psychology published in 1890 that established James as the Father of American Psychology, but the lesser, 400-page Psychology: The Briefer Course, an 1892 abridgement of Principles. James’s students referred to the big volumes as James and the shorter book as Jimmy.

I’d read the long introduction to Briefer Course and was about to start the main text when the idea to visit William James’s grave popped into my head. The weekend before I’d meant to bike but had read instead. Why is it always easier to do something other than what you’re supposed to be doing? Continue reading Approaching William James

Concert for One

Though it was the first day of fall, the lunchtime sun in the plaza pushed the temperature over 90. Luckily, the shipping container was air-conditioned.

I’d come for a Concert for One, not knowing what to expect. The concerts were the brainchild of Rayna Yun Chou, a violist who, along with many of her fellow classical musicians, felt isolated from the audiences for whom she played. To remedy the situation, she created one-on-one concerts at which one musician plays for one person for one minute. Chou staged the first concerts in her native Taiwan. Now she was collaborating with Celebrity Series of Boston.

The shipping container, painted an impossible-to-miss yellow, was next to a tandoori food truck and across from two pro-gun activists, who sat at a table with a sign that read “I’M PRO CHOICE. PICK YOUR GUN.” above drawings of a handgun, an automatic rifle, and a shotgun. Continue reading Concert for One

The Old Woman on the Steps

I didn’t know the old woman, and, because it was years ago, she’s likely dead by now.

I’d seen her a number of times, sitting alone on the steps in front of her house in our run-down section of Cambridge. She scowled constantly, as if she disapproved of everyone walking by on the sidewalk.

Portuguese and Italian immigrants once occupied most of the neighborhood. Statues of the Virgin Mary still blessed a few concrete yards. The houses, mostly one and two-families with vinyl siding, were close together, nearly touching. Continue reading The Old Woman on the Steps

Meditating with My Father’s Friends

For years I’d been meaning to attend the Friday meditation class at my father’s retirement community.

When my parents moved to Piper Shores in 2001, meditation was not on the schedule. They were in their mid-70s, and everyone assumed my father, a workaholic with heart problems, would be the first to go. When my mother died of ovarian cancer a few years later, the order of events seemed incorrect. My father was alone in a way he never expected to be. I visited every month, driving the hundred miles to Maine on Saturday mornings and leaving Sunday afternoons.

While there, I meditated in the guestroom. Sometimes I’d tell my father what I was doing, other times I just closed the door. After several years, a sign saying Quiet Room appeared on a door near the dining room. . . Continue reading on Killing the Buddha site.


Title photo courtesy of Anne Worner via Flickr. 

Meditating with Trees

I’d been meaning to get to the Arboretum to enjoy the trees. To watch the leaves fall and swirl and drift their way down to the ground. And here it was, November, and somehow, though I’d left my job in June, I wasn’t finding the hours of free time I’d imagined. There were still so many tasks to accomplish, appointments to keep, new jobs to consider.

On election night I stayed up late with friends and slept late the next day. I slept past the time I usually meditate, which threw off my morning. It was a warm sunny day—likely one of the last of the season. I meant to get outside by 11:00, then noon, but wasted hours doing chores.

At 1:30, I finally made it out the door. The 281-acre Arnold Arboretum may be the best place in Boston to get a nourishing dose of nature. The park is a 20-minute drive from my house when there’s no traffic, over an hour when there is. My intention was to spend a lazy afternoon in the park, but I had to rush to get there so I could rush to get home so I wouldn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic. By the time I reached the Arboretum, my shadow was long on the ground.

Continue reading Meditating with Trees

Return to the Zen Center

After almost 30 years, it was time to go back.

I had visited the Cambridge Zen Center once in the 1980s, back when meditation was considered an odd thing to do. Back before Oprah and Kobe Bryant and corporate CEOs were doing it. I had read the few Zen books that were available in bookstores—The Three Pillars of Zen;  Zen Flesh, Zen Bones; and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

I had just arrived in Cambridge and was eager to meet an in-the-flesh Buddhist who would teach me how to meditate. When I heard there was a Zen center nearby, I made plans to visit. My teacher, I imagined, would be an elderly Japanese monk with a shaved head. He would exude both wisdom and humor.

Continue reading Return to the Zen Center

13 Ways of Meditating with a Blue Jay

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I notice a nest on the beam that separates my porch from my neighbor’s porch. A nest of loosely woven twigs.

Spring was cold. The maple branches that brush our second-story porches have just leafed out. My neighbor is away for the summer. From inside, I watch the robins bobbing for worms in the yard below. Screeching jays bully the smaller birds off the feeder.

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The sight of the nest makes me happy, then concerned that my presence may scare away the mother. How long does it take eggs to hatch? Chicks to learn to fly? Weeks? Months? I don’t want to relinquish the porch, but if eggs are laid, I hope they hatch. Continue reading 13 Ways of Meditating with a Blue Jay

Did the Six-Week Retreat Make a Difference?

For years, I’d wanted to do a long retreat And finally, after months of preparation, I found myself making my single bed in a dorm room behind the meditation hall. The six-week retreat was three times longer than anything I’d done before, so I’d hoped the benefits would be three-fold.

Things did happen of course: short periods of strong concentration; one episode in which sensations came so fast I felt dizzy; and a couple of days of calm. But nothing transcendent. Nothing mind-altering. The daytime skies were a waning blue. At night, I saw the stars, which I could never see in the city.

Packing up to leave, I wondered if I’d gotten an adequate return on my investment, both of time and money. Not that I expected to, but, of course, I did. I made a note to take stock six months later, so here I am at the keyboard.

Continue reading Did the Six-Week Retreat Make a Difference?