Monthly Archives: February 2011

What’s So Great About Now?

We are two weeks into the spring semester, and I have a brand new group of students, 105 of them, to be exact. I told them this class wasn’t going to be like their other classes, before inviting them to inwardly survey their posture.

After the inevitable adjustments and repositioning, we took a deep breath and together we sighed away our collective morning hassles. The traffic, the parking, the rush, and any trace of resistance that may have surfaced along the way. After talking about the shift that naturally follows that first round of conscious breathing, some students offered to share their experiences. One said that it brought him into a heightened state of awareness.

Exactly! Because the mind follows the breath.

Another student asked, without one ounce of sarcasm, what is so great about being here, now, when most everything sucks. A wonderful question.

I’m not sure why, but I thought of Christopher Reeve. I asked my students why it was that some people, who have problems much bigger than our own, are able to live in peace. In Reeve’s case, the tragedy he endured trumps the minor inconveniences most of us face on a daily basis, the trivialities that send us into fits of rage. Yet, he lived the rest of his life working on behalf of others with spinal cord injuries. Although he faced his shortened life as a quadriplegic, he lived it with a renewed spirit of gratitude and purpose.

Why is it that the rest of us are so easily upset and indignant over the most minor inconveniences? I pressed.

Some people see things differently, one insightful student offered.


Because everything is perception. And so, despite our universal hardships, some will suffer more than others, not because of the actual events, but because of our interpretations of these events.

It’s what the yogis and the mystics and all sages and masters have been saying for ages–look around and see into your own mind.

A Charming Enlightenment Story

Once I heard a charming story about Shiva and Parvati, and it was lingering in my mind.

I remembered the good-hearted man who only wanted to be of use, and because of his pure, humble heart, and his service to Shiva–without knowing it was the Lord himself he was helping–he achieved spiritual liberation.

Here is the short and sweet story, as I transcribed it for Spirit Voyage (it will open in a new window).

Jukai Ceremony

I went to a Jukai ceremony at the Zen temple on Saturday.

I watched as a disciple–a mature, educated man– took the ten Zen precepts. A disciple is none other than one who has taken to a discipline. It is a scary word to westerners: discipline. It conjures up vague ideas of Catholic school oppression, drudgery and repression. But discipline is none other than that which is studied and practiced by a disciple. Most simply stated, it is to be a student.

But moreover, it is to commit oneself to transformation. And from the perspective of the east, it isn’t scary at all. It’s exciting. It’s liberating. The difference is due to the different values we hold. Because we value individualism and the freedom to do what we want, anything that seems to stifle that freedom is seen as oppressive. And controlling one’s behavior in accordance with a set of vows seems to imply wimpiness. But what if self-control was seen as a sign of strength instead of weakness?

What if it was seen as the key to liberation?

His vows were my vows. To what kind of life did he commit?

Not to kill
Not to steal
Not to misuse sexuality
Not to lie
Not to intoxicate oneself
Not to speak of others’ faults
Not to praise self at the expense of others
Not to be possessive
Not to harbor anger
Not to do anything to diminish the Three Treasures

These ten vows may be broken, but it will for to him to pick up the oars and paddle again. No one will punish us when we fail. But our broken actions will serve as reminders that we have strayed from the kind of life that promotes inner peace. From a limited perspective, for example, the vow not to intoxicate oneself may be seen as restrictive, but from a wider one, it may be seen as a reminder to be present. If we’re accustomed to turning to distractions, drugs and junk TV –for, those are all “intoxicants”–as temporary panacea, we never learn to tune-in and we end up living in a constant state of dependency. Worse, we end up absent from the very life we live.