Meditation: Why it Helps, Even Though it’s Not Doing Anything

Those of us who practice meditation sometimes have a hard time explaining the practice to people who don't. Basically, we just sit there, doing nothing. We forgo entertainment, and we even try not to think when we're sitting there!Why would we want to take precious time out of our busy lives, just to waste it?There are different ways to answer this question, but in a way, the answer doesn’t matter. The best thing to do is just try meditation and see if doing it makes a positive d … [Read more...]

When I Practice Not-Knowing Instead of Trying to Figure Everything Out

I'm really worried about the 100 days following January 20th. As if there weren't already enough things to worry about in my personal life and the rest of the world! My way of reacting to this kind of stress is to try to Figure Everything Out. I read, watch videos, familiarize myself with schools of thought on politics, economics, and activism. I discuss how to respond as a the leader of a religious community with leaders of other religious communities. I ask myself how I really feel about this o … [Read more...]

Calming Your Mind Buddhist-Style – A 30-Second Method for Non-Buddhists and Buddhists Alike

In recent weeks, given the political turmoil in the world, I've heard from a lot of people who are wondering how to calm their minds. It's painful and unhelpful to be caught up in anxiety, anger, reactivity, despair, fear, and worry about the future. In addition, these kinds of emotions are what Buddhists call afflictive - that is, they are self-perpetuating and suck up a lot of our energy. Stewing in anxiety, for example, generally leads to more anxiety and exhaustion, not to solutions or re … [Read more...]

Step One – Commit to Stillness, Don’t React

When we decide to study our life, when we are determined to face the truth no matter how difficult, it is very useful to cultivate a determination to sit still through it all and to not react too quickly to anything we learn. We want to build a strong base for our practice – a strong, stable, established routine of healthy, rational, moral behavior we can rely on when our life gets turned upside down. Ideally it will become second-nature for us to regularly sit zazen, spend time with Sangha, c … [Read more...]

What Zen “Acceptance” and “Non-Attachment” Really Are

The practices of acceptance and non-attachment are critical to Zen and Buddhist practice - but they are easily misunderstood.It can sound like we're being asked not to care about things, or not to try to change things for the better. Fortunately, this is not what Zen means by acceptance or non-attachment, because 1) it's impossible (or psychologically and spiritually damaging) not to care, and 2) trying to change things for the better is the bodhisattva path itself!So what does it mean … [Read more...]

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Slackin’ Off in the Summertime: Cycles of Spiritual Practice

I've come to trust the cycles of practice.I know that sometimes I'll be on fire for the Dharma - acutely aware of the impermanence of life and willing to devote time and energy to meditation and study.I also know that, at other times, I'll be caught up in enjoying my life and... well... practice? What's that again?I am a Zen priest, and when I run into members of my Zen community "out in the world," such as in the grocery store, in a restaurant, or on the street, people often feel … [Read more...]

Beyond Mindfulness: The Radical Practice of Unified Presence

I am going to present an alternative to mindfulness practice. I do this because I believe the concept of mindfulness – at least the way it is typically understood – can limit our spiritual development. It can become a dualistic trap that causes us to reject much of what we are as human beings.However, before I describe the potential pitfalls of mindfulness practice and offer a different approach that has worked for me, I want to discuss the metaphor of fingers pointing at the moon. “The moon” … [Read more...]

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Don’t Think You Understand

Don’t think you understand It. On the other hand, don’t think you don’t understand It.It? What is It, a pronoun capitalized this way? What is It, pronounced with the kind of emphasis that communicates great significance?Alternatively It is called the Great Matter, the Divine, Prajna Paramita, Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness. These are ways we refer to different aspects of It.When I write these words, what do you think to yourself?You probably think to yourself EITHER that you d … [Read more...]

10 Ways to Energize Your Meditation

Most forms of meditation, by definition, are pretty boring. If a meditation technique was entertaining or exciting, it wouldn't be meditation! Typically, in meditation you notice when your mind is wandering and then shift your awareness back to some simple meditative object like your breathing, or sound, or a repeated phrase. This is what triggers your body's relaxation response as opposed to it's stress response (which gets triggered a great deal in daily life).At the same time, meditation … [Read more...]

Enlightenment Is Real

In Buddhism we have a very useful but tricky concept called, alternatively, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Liberation or Awakening (in addition to countless other terms and phrases, like seeing your own Buddha-nature). As a practitioner or investigator of Buddhism, you probably find the concept of Enlightenment enticing, confusing, troubling or irrelevant - or some combination of those. You may believe Enlightenment is real and possible, and you work diligently at your spiritual practice inspired by … [Read more...]