Matchbox Buddhas

I meditate for 30 minutes every morning. Well, most mornings. Though I’m not religious, I’ve created a short ceremony for the beginning of my practice, a pre-sitting ritual that helps me settle into a groove. I drag my cushions out from under the bed, start a timer, and light a votive candle on the small altar I’ve created on top of a bookcase.

I’m fond of fire, verging on borderline pyromaniac. Lighting a match provides a moment of focus. All senses are involved: the feel of the wooden match gripped between thumb and index finger; the sound of the match scratching against the side of the box; the Tada! sound of the spark igniting, which sounds like a one-second rain shower; the smell of sulphur and burning wood; the sight of the white-orange flame rising upward; the faint taste of smoke on the tongue.

A small act to pay attention to.

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Consume Less Buddhism

My New Year’s resolution is to consume less Buddhism in 2020. Rather than slashing calories or signing up for a spin class, my intention is to reduce my intake of all things Buddhist: to read fewer books, limit the number of podcasts I listen to, and, except for my simple timer, avoid meditation apps. For years I’ve gorged on all of the aforementioned. I’m a not a glutton in other areas of my life, in fact, I’m a skinny minimalist. Continue reading Consume Less Buddhism

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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Revolving Door Meditation: Where Rather Than When

The red-coated man was waving across Main Street. It took me a moment to realize he was waving at me, and another to remember who he was. When I did, I waved back enthusiastically. It’s been over a decade, I thought. I was running late and didn’t have time to cross the street to say hello. Hopefully my smile conveyed how much his remembering meant to me.

Most meditation books suggest setting aside a specific time each day to meditate—clearly good advice. I meditate every morning. The alarm rings, I get out of bed, drink a cup of coffee, and sit my butt on the cushion. Except on the days when I don’t.

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