“Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower. But it is already there in relaxation and letting go.”

This from a Tara Brach talk:

“Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower. But it is already there in relaxation and letting go. Don’t strain yourself, there’s nothing to do. Let the game happen on its own, springing up and falling back, without changing anything. And all will vanish and reappear without end. Only our searching for happiness prevents us from seeing it. It is like a rainbow, which you run after without ever catching it. Although it does not exist, it has always been there and accompanies you every instant. Don’t believe in the reality of good and bad experiences. They’re like rainbows. Waiting to grasp the ungraspable you exhaust yourself in vain. As soon as you relax this grasping, space is there, open, inviting, and easeful. Nothing to do, nothing to force, nothing to want. Everything happens by itself.”

~ Lama Gendun Rinpoche

Forgiveness in the Vietnam War

The below story about forgiveness was told by Jack Kornfield in his talk, Natchiketa & the Lord of Death, starting at 38 minutes, 33 seconds.


If you go to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, there are letters people leave. There was a letter and a picture that said:

“Dear Sir, for 22 years I’ve carried your picture in my wallet. I was only 18 years old that day we faced one another on the trail in Chu Lai, Vietnam. Why you didn’t kill me, I don’t know. You stared at me so long, holding your AK-47 and yet you would not fire. Forgive me for taking your life. I was just reacting as a soldier. So many times over the years I’ve stared at this picture of you and your daughter. And each time my heart and guts burn with the pain of guilt for I have two daughters now myself, and I realize you were a brave soldier defending your homeland. And above all else, I can respect the importance that life held for you. I suppose that is why you did not fire and I am still alive. And yet now, 22 years later, it is time for me to continue my life process and release my pain and guilt. I only ask one thing: forgive me. Please forgive me.”

The man who wrote that note, Richard Luttrell, later took a trip to Hanoi. He brought the picture, found the village where the soldier’s regiment was from, went to the village, and found the son and daughter of this man that he had killed. He brought the picture back to them. He asked their forgiveness, explained what had happened, showed them pictures of his own children, and they said:

“It’s as if [our] father’s spirit was somehow reborn in this man, Richard, who came back to [us], and [we] can feel the blessing of [our] father in his return.”

It’s such a powerful thing, to be able to forgive.

Mindfulness of Pain

A dear friend created a zine, America I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down, that launched on inauguration day, 2017. I contributed the below piece. You can purchase the zine here. All proceeds go to the Equal Justice Initiative.

“Most people discover that when hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their own pain.” ~James Baldwin

I used to react to pain with hate and anger.

Now, when I feel pain, I work with it. I sit with the pain in silence, with curiosity, observing how it feels in my body, watching my mind ruminate. I tell myself, “It’s ok,” placing my hand on my heart. I hold myself as I would hold a crying child — gently, patiently, kindly, and with love. I accept the pain. With this practice, the pain softens me, creating tenderness, understanding, empathy, and compassion. With time, the pain softens, too.

“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few human and even divine ingredients can.” ~Hafiz

For me, times of pain are the times of growth.

“There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

When I observe anger or hate in others, I remind myself that they are feeling pain. The way the pain feels in their body is the same as it feels in mine. I try to hold them in the same kindness and gentleness as I hold myself. I try my best to react with understanding and kindness.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

“Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.”

~Henry Longfellow

“Each of us is leading a difficult life, and when we meet people we are seeing only a tiny part of the thinnest veneer of their complex, troubled existence. To practice anything other than kindness towards them, to treat them in any way save generously, is to quietly deny their humanity.” ~Derren Brown

Each time I feel pain, I have a choice for how to react. Each time I choose understanding and kindness, my mind and heart more naturally follow that path. This is the practice — to sit and tend the garden.

“The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?” ~Jack Kornfield

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:

Another way to get started with guided meditations is to use a meditation app. I’ve never used one. However, I’ve heard good things about Headspace.

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, Tara Brach, and Donald Rothberg, and any monastic such as Thanissara and Kittisaro.


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.

I like mindfulness of breath, using a three-part breath. First I focus on the body sensations of the inhale, then the exhale. During the pause between breaths, I focus on a body sensation, for example my feet on the floor or my butt in the chair. Usually the pause is where distraction starts, hence the focus on the body to stay focussed. This is a way to use the busy mind to stay focussed and present.

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.


[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

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.”

– 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