John Muir on Nature’s Beauty

Here’s an excerpt from The Mountains of California, by John Muir. Jack Kornfield tells the story beautifully in a Dharma talk, starting at 37:51.

One of the most beautiful and exhilarating storms I ever enjoyed in the Sierra occurred in December, 1874, when I happened to be exploring one of the tributary valleys of the Yuba River. The sky and the ground and the trees had been thoroughly rain-washed and were dry again. The day was intensely pure, one of those incomparable bits of California winter, warm and balmy and full of white sparkling sunshine, redolent of all the purest influences of the spring, and at the same time enlivened with one of the most bracing wind-storms conceivable. Instead of camping out, as I usually do, I then chanced to be stopping at the house of a friend. But when the storm began to sound, I lost no time in pushing out into the woods to enjoy it. For on such occasions Nature has always something rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof.

[…]

Toward midday, after a long, tingling scramble through copses of hazel and ceanothus, I gained the summit of the highest ridge in the neighborhood; and then it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing to climb one of the trees to obtain a wider outlook and get my ear close to the Æolian music of its topmost needles. […] I made choice of the tallest of a group of Douglas Spruces that were growing close together like a tuft of grass, no one of which seemed likely to fall unless all the rest fell with it. Though comparatively young, they were about 100 feet high, and their lithe, brushy tops were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy. Being accustomed to climb trees in making botanical studies, I experienced no difficulty in reaching the top of this one, and never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobo-link on a reed.

 

In its widest sweeps my tree-top described an arc of from twenty to thirty degrees, but I felt sure of its elastic temper, having seen others of the same species still more severely tried–bent almost to the ground indeed, in heavy snows–without breaking a fiber. I was therefore safe, and free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited forest from my superb outlook. […] Now my eye roved over the piny hills and dales as over fields of waving grain, and felt the light running in ripples and broad swelling undulations across the valleys from ridge to ridge, as the shining foliage was stirred by corresponding waves of air.

[…]

The sounds of the storm corresponded gloriously with this wild exuberance of light and motion. The profound bass of the naked branches and boles booming like waterfalls; the quick, tense vibrations of the pine-needles, now rising to a shrill, whistling hiss, now falling to a silky murmur; the rustling of laurel groves in the dells, and the keen metallic click of leaf on leaf–all this was heard in easy analysis when the attention was calmly bent.

[…]

I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the music [of life] itself.

Don’t put anyone outside of your heart

From Tara Brach’s beautiful Secret Beauty Solstice Talk:

This story was told by a Unitarian minister. It happened during a family trip. Her and her husband and two children were traveling on Christmas day.

They stopped at a restaurant that was nearly empty.

Her one-year-old, Eric, was in a high chair and she heard him squeal with glee as he sang, “Hi there! Hi there! Hi there!” — these are two words he thought were one. And his face was alive with excitement.

Then she says, “I saw the source of his merriment and my eyes could not take it in all at once. A tattered rag of a coat, baggy pants, both they and the zipper lay over a spindly body, gums as bare as Eric’s, hair uncombed, unwashed, and his hands were waving in the air, flapping about on loose wrists. ‘Hi there, baby! Hi there, big boy! I see you, buster!’ My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between ‘what do we do’ and ‘poor devil.’

“Eric continued to laugh and answer, ‘Hi there! Hi there!’ Every call was echoed. This old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby. I shoved a cracker at Eric and he pulverized it on the tray. I whispered, ‘Why me?’ under my breath.

“Our meal came and the nuisance continued. Now the old bum was shouting from across the room, ‘Do you know patty cake? Attaboy! Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo!’ We ate in silence except Eric, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring applause of a skid row bum.

“Finally we had enough. Dennis went to pay the check and implored me, ‘Get Eric and meet me in the parking lot.’ I trundled Eric out of the high chair and looked towards the exit. The old man sat poised and waiting, his chair directly between me and the door. ‘Lord, just let me get out of here before he speaks to me or Eric.’ I headed towards the door.

“It soon became apparent that both the lord and Eric had other plans. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back, walking to sidestep him and any air he might be breathing. As I did so, Eric, all the while his eyes riveted to his best friend, leaned far over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s ‘pick me up’ position.

“In a split second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight, I came eye to eye with the old man. Eric was lunging for him, arms wide open. The bum’s eyes both asked and implored, ‘Would you let me hold your baby?’ There was no need for me to answer, since Eric propelled himself from my arms to the man’s.

“Suddenly, a very old man and a young baby were involved in a love relationship. Eric laid his tiny head on the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain and hard labor, gently, so gently, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back.

“I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Eric in his arms for a moment and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm, commanding voice, ‘You take care of this baby.’

“Somehow I managed, ‘I will.’ from a throat that contained a stone. He pried Eric from his chest, unwillingly, longingly, as though he were in pain.

“I held my arms open to receive my baby and again the gentleman addressed me, ‘God bless you, ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.’

“I said nothing more than a muttered, ‘Thanks.’ With Eric back in my arms, I ran for the car.

“Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Eric so tightly and why I was saying, ‘My God, my God, forgive me.’

Don’t put anyone outside of your heart. Often the story we tell ourselves about someone else is very far from the truth.

How-to Get Started with Mindfulness Meditation

The guide below is meant to be followed casually. Take your time, and let meditation enter your life at whatever pace feels right to you.

1) Do your first guided meditation.

Find a comfortable place to sit, where you won’t be distracted for a few minutes. Silence your phone. Sit comfortably. Then, follow this guided meditation. (Here’s a good text version of the meditation in case you’d rather read it before trying it.)

2) Don’t be hard on yourself when you inevitably get lost in thought or sleepy.

Being lost in thought or sleepy does not mean you’re a bad meditator. The mind does an amazing job of staying busy! And it’s natural to become sleepy when you relax. Be kind to yourself — do not judge yourself. There is no such thing as a bad meditator.

When your mind runs and you eventually notice you’ve been lost in thought, pause for a moment, be aware that you were just thinking, and kindly and gently bring your attention back to your body and breath. You can’t stop the thought or sleepiness, but you can react with kindness and love.

When you notice you’re feeling sleepy, try opening your eyes and resting your gaze on a neutral object, like the floor. If you’re still sleepy, stand up and continuing meditating, either with your eyes open or closed.

3) Try other guided meditations.

There are a wide variety of free, online guided meditations that you should experiment with. Guided meditations can be about awareness, loving kindness (metta), forgiveness, the breath, and many other topics. Experiment and see what you like.

Start with short meditations — 3-10 minutes. As you get more comfortable, experiment with longer meditations — 15, 20, 30, 45 minutes.

Below you will find my favorite guided meditation resources:

4) Experiment with different postures.

Try sitting on a couch or chair. Try sitting on a cushion or bench — your local Sangha (see below) will have these available to try for free. Try standing (this is especially helpful when you’re sleepy). Try walking meditation. And try lying down.

5) Learn the Buddhist principals behind meditation — known as the Dharma.

There are several ways to learn the Dharma. My suggestions are below:

Dharma Talks

These are talks given by Buddhist teachers. My favorites are listed below:

You can find other Dharma talks at Dharma Seed. My favorite teachers are Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, and any monastic such as Thanissara and Kittisaro.

Books

My favorite books on this topic are:

6) Experiment with unguided meditations.

Once you’re comfortable with guided meditations, experiment with unguided meditations. Start short — 5 or 10 minutes. Lengthen them as you get more comfortable. Choose whatever type of meditation feels right — open awareness, breath awareness, loving kindness, etc.

Meditation timers are very useful for unguided meditations. This is a great one. You can also use one of the many apps available on the iOS and Android marketplaces. Unfortunately I don’t have a recommendation.

You may also consider getting a singing bell to ring at the end your meditations. I’m not familiar with a good online purchase option. I bought mine at a local Tibetan store.

Also, here’s a great meditation FAQ from Tara Brach.

7) Attend a meditation/Buddhist community evening in your area — known as a Sangha.

Your area likely has at least one Buddhist community, known as a Sangha, that meets once a week in the evening. Usually during these meetings, a teacher will guide you through a 30-45 minute meditation, which is followed by a 45-60 minute Dharma talk.

Experiment with attending a nearby Sangha. Try going two or three times to start. Don’t make a judgment after just one visit — you may get unlucky and attend an off night.

The two San Francisco Sanghas I regularly attend are: San Francisco Insight and Mission Dharma.

8) Go on a multi-day, silent meditation retreat.

Your area likely has a retreat center. Google to see what’s available. Ensure the day-to-day schedule, including food and accommodations, will be comfortable for you.

Footnotes

[1] Jack’s CD collection comes with two CDs, each with three meditations. The three meditations are combined into one long audio track, making it hard to jump around between meditations. To help with this, I’ve copy-pasted the start and end of each meditation below.

Breathing Meditation:
session: 1
start: 5:17
end: 28:15

Loving Kindness (Metta):
session: 1
start: 33:47
end: 55:45

Forgiveness:
session: 1
start: 1:00:37
end: (end of session)

Working with Difficulties:
session: 2
start: 1:19
end: 11:50

Gratitude and Joy:
session: 2
start: 15:00
end: 27:25

Mind like sky
session: 2
start: 29:20
end: (end of session)

 

Two Inspiring Quotes for the Creative

“You have to recognize that every ‘out front’ maneuver you make is going to be lonely, but if you feel entirely comfortable, then you’re not far enough ahead to do any good. That warm sense of everything going well is usually the body temperature at the center of the herd.” — John Masters

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

THE MAN IN THE ARENA
– Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
– delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
– Theodore Roosevelt

And a bonus third:

“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Richard Feynman

Startup Purgatory

A friend once advised me to be careful of startup purgatory. The story below was my response to him.

Imagine two people setting out to cross a large lake, each in a small rowboat. The first sets out on a clear day with the lake surface as still and flat as a mirror; a gentle breeze and a steady current pushing the boat from behind. Each time the oars are dipped into the water the boat shoots across the lake. Rowing is easy and delightful. Quickly the rower reaches the far side of the lake. She may congratulate herself for being quite skilled.

The second rower heads out across the same lake during a great storm. Powerful winds, currents, and waves move in the direction opposite the boat. With each pull of the oars, the boat barely moves forward, only to lose most of the distance gained when the oars are raised out of the water for the next pull. After much effort she makes it to the far side of the lake. This rower may feel discouraged at her lack of skill.

Probably most people would prefer to be the first rower. However, the second rower is the one who has become stronger from the exertion and is thereby better prepared for future challenges.

From The Issue At Hand by Gil Fronsdale.