Can Anger be Love?

hidden bench

 Cliffside, Barre, MA, photo by Celia

 “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

All quotes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Dear friends,

On the eve of Martin Luther King Day, we collectively celebrate the life that included a fierce commitment to compassion and dignity for all people. We also recognize that Dr. King was leading people to a social revolution in a society unwilling to recognize justice and equality. Dr. King brought the eyes of the world to see the unlivable reality of being black in a white world. He did this without firing a single bullet, but through non-violent action which removes hatred from our hearts. That was the teaching of love Dr. King brought to an America incapable of receiving his message without fear. His murder and death are part of the American legacy of violence, continued fear, and discrimination against people of color. This Monday we have a collective reminder of the promise of the beloved community, where all people are considered, and an opportunity to mourn Dr. King’s dream that is still beyond the reach of our American reality.

Dr. King understood that aggression and violence lead to more violence. Violence may serve as a justification to oppressors to continue their domination and persecutions and violence and aggression continue the fire of hatred. This is the fire that can only be quenched through a radically different approach. We’ve seen the power dynamics of warring countries. Conflicts can last for generations with one side oppressing the other, then shifting power so the other becomes the oppressor. This is a continuous cycle of ignorance and violence without end.

The Buddha’s words always categorize anger as unwholesome, consistently associated with hatred and ill-will and always an obstacle to spiritual progress. Bhikkhu Bhodi told me that anger is a “wrong motivation” and Buddhist teacher and activist Donald Rothberg states when anger and hatred are at the base of intention, the resulting action and kamma will be harmful to self and others. We know from our own experience that when we act in anger—we are at a deficit and the best part of our brain is unavailable due to the increased amount of cortisol and adrenalin, starving off the full engagement of our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for compassion, wisdom, and can discern consequence.

While unchecked anger is without question dangerous to our relationships and clear thinking, anger does have a place in our emotional life. This single interpretation of anger as a vehicle for actions rooted in hatred, vengeance, and the desire to harm another may not be the whole story. The Dalai Lama and Donald Rothberg consider the terms “afflictive emotions,” “ill will or hatred,” to be more accurate translations for the Pali word “kodha” which is commonly listed as anger. An action rooted in hatred is always harmful–but anger can serve us.

When we understand the usefulness of anger, we can see it as energy and information. The Western view of anger is more nuanced, ranging from outright retaliatory rage to a feeling of moral grievance at the ill-treatment of the weak. Rothberg writes that anger in the ancient Greek world and in the West is seen “as an appropriate response to what is socially inappropriate, immoral, or unjust.” Anger can be used as the fuel for action in social justice actions. In the struggle for India’s independence, the US Civil Rights movement, and Catholic worker movement, anger does not result in ill-will but catalyzed marginalized groups to act with non-violence and seek to liberate both the oppressors and the oppressed.

Anger sends the clear message that something is wrong and needs our attention and can be the sustenance to create an organization that uses civil disobedience to save lives. Anger at injustice may be what love feels like. Looking at the intention beneath the action there is the desire to protect and defend life and to change what is intolerable to live with. When we know how to be with anger, not to allow it to bring us into hatred, or cause pain, but when we can hold our anger with care and understanding, we can use it as the fuel for change.

In the Dhammapada, a poetic interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching from Francis Story reads, “Not by hating hatred ceases. In this world of tooth and claw; Love alone from hate releases —This is the Eternal Law.” (Dhp Verse 5). This same idea is expressed by Dr. King when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It was the commitment to love without exception that made revolutionaries like the Buddha, Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela create revolutions that change not only the power structure but also free the oppressors from the continuous damage of perpetuating hate and discrimination. Guided by wisdom and non-preferential love, we can make wise choices towards loving others—even those who perpetuate the cycle of abuse and hatred. Treating our anger with respect and consideration, we can use the information to act with fierce compassion, just as Dr. King taught—because we are not free until all of us are free.

May we all trust our light,


one buddha is not enough









Opening the Channels to Life

buddha cliff

Buddha Cliff, Photo by Celia

 “If I were to tell you that your life is already perfect, whole, and complete just as it is, you would think I was crazy. Nobody believes his or her life is perfect. And yet there is something within each of us that basically knows we are boundless, limitless.”

“As long as you’re capable of becoming annoyed, you can be sure something will annoy you.”

“Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.”

 ~ All quotes from Charlotte Joko Beck, Zen Master

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year. I wish you much delight and ease as you continue caring for yourselves and others in 2019. For the past four years, I’ve taken time off from my life during the busyness of the holidays to disengage from the pattern of my regular life and spend time on retreat in silence, listening to myself.

Retreat is a precious gift we can give to ourselves, a time of giving permission to slow down and to pay attention to things we normally don’t notice. We can take our time to chew each mouthful off food and reflect on our great good fortune to have food, especially when it is made with care and skill. During retreat, we can let go of plans and allow ourselves to be surprised and delighted by the weather since we have nowhere to go and nothing to do. And we do not have to have an opinion about the weather.

This time away, I had the opportunity to re-connect with the beauty of the forest, the green starbursts of mosses and streams flowing under thin glazings of ice. What I noticed was that my attention became wider. I could sit and listen to the rain and the wind, or go outside at night and look at the stars. In stillness and quiet, with an unhurried mind, the gifts of the universe are available to us.

Thinking about the sensitivity and receptivity while on retreat contrasted with daily worldly life, the difference is clear. On retreat, we are invested in being and in the world we are invested in doing. To my mind, it’s like a sea sponge—a filter feeder whose pores are open to all the nutrient-rich content of the ocean. At our most still, we are the same as the filter feeders, all channels open to experience without discrimination. As we return to our working lives where we have projects, responsibilities, and deadlines we close off some of our attention from what is unimportant to achieving our goals. Gradually without awareness, we can close all channels of attention until there is only one channel we are filtering all experience through, the story of me and mine. To each sensation, each sound, taste, and sight, we constantly ask—how is this for me; how does this affect my bottom line; is this helping me with my agenda? We become like a sea sponge with only one aperture unable to be adequately nourished, unable to take in what won’t benefit our status or wellbeing. We forget to enjoy the life that is constantly swirling around us and we forget that we too are part of this flow of arising and passing.

Sound meditation is a wonderful way to create a bigger mind and experience the constant arising and passing of phenomena. Noticing the beginning of sounds, the ending, the way sounds overlap creating interplay and texture is a sure way to access some of our closed channels of attention and nourish the reality of Interbeing. What is also wonderful about sound meditation, is that it includes everything, the traffic, the neighbors’ loud TV, or your colleague typing in the next room. Sound meditation is portable and makes room for all the experiences that are happening right now—and it can soothe the judging mind that uses the label “irritating.”

If you like, right now, stop and listen without grasping onto the sounds, just allowing them to come to you without preference. Notice how the body reacts to listening. Do the shoulders get tighter with certain sounds, or soften and release with different sounds? There is no right way to hear—it is solely your unique human privilege right now. If your hearing is compromised—you can use your eyes—soften the focus and notice color or form, use the sense door of contact and direct your attention to the experience of contact on the skin. How does the skin on the hands feel in contact with the air, or the skin of the arms covered with clothing?

This week you may like to use your sense doors to nourish yourself in ways often overlooked. Taking in the uniqueness of this moment—knowing that there will never be another moment just like this one we can fully receive the gift of the present moment.

May we all trust our light,







Home to Ourselves for the Holidays


Paperwhites, photo by Celia

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” ~David Whyte

 “I have gone forth,

but not in search of sensual pleasures.

Seeing the danger in sensual pleasures

— and renunciation as rest —

    I go to strive.

            That’s where my heart delights.”

~ The Buddha, “Pabbaja Sutta: The Going Forth”, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.)

“The more difficulties you have, in fact, the greater opportunity there is to let them transform you. The difficult things provoke all your irritations and bring your habitual patterns to the surface. And that becomes the moment of truth. You have the choice to launch into the lousy habitual patterns you already have, or to stay with the rawness and discomfort of the situation and let it transform you, on the spot.” ~ Pema Chödrön


Dear Friends,

It’s busy out there. We are shopping, hosting, checking Amazon Wishlists, buying Secret Santa gifts for the office, traveling to be with relatives, making New Year’s plans, and let us not forget there’s always some last minute shopping. There’s overwhelm and preparations for the hosts and tremendous longing for those who are unable to be with their families. There’s also isolation and sadness for those who are not part of the dominant Christian culture or are alone on holidays. December is both the busiest and loneliest time of the year.

More than a dozen years ago, I read about a simple holiday practice of making gifts for the wild animals. The author made peanut butter pinecone bird feeders for the chickadees and the squirrels and scattered dried corn for the deer in his yard on Christmas day. These simple gifts for those whose opinions won’t get us a promotion or be able to reciprocate in kind really touched me. This man was able to detach from the loud voices of the commercial world, to listen to the quieter voice of his own deepest intentions and honor his own kindness, inclusivity, and unrequited giving. That is my message today, a heartfelt encouragement for us all to take some time to stop and listen deeply to what our lives are calling out for.

This was the choice the Buddha made. Born into a life of privilege and power, he recognized that pleasures and comfort were not enough. His life needed to become simpler to find the truth. So he left. The Buddha must have been deeply discontent and unable to participate in a life that was so unsatisfactory. Instead of burying his heartsickness and living out his life comfortably as the pampered son of a tribal leader, he listened deeply to his own sense of responsibility for his own salvation and wellbeing. We know his journey ended with enlightenment and his teachings on the end of suffering have set free countless numbers of humans. For most of us, taking off from our lives, leaving our children and spouses to begin our spiritual quest raises issues about honoring our agreements and our compassion for others, not to mention our financial responsibilities and subsistence. As lay people with families and jobs, we can remember that there are many ways to come back to ourselves, to our true intentions and stay in our role as parent, partner, and householder.

We can start small and take a five-minute break to listen. Listening to ourselves is a way to remember who we are and what is going to set us free. We can begin with mindfulness of the body/mind. How are we feeling today? What’s the territory of my mind—what emotions are visiting and how am I really? We can ask if we are aligned with our heart’s intentions.  How are we living our deepest desires today?  Have we dropped our aspirations to spend today in the present moment and unconsciously consented to exchange our peace and ease for irritation and exhaustion in the form of a completed shopping list and a clean house? We can ask the poet David Whyte’s question, “What brings me alive right now?” What do we want our lives to be made of?

At this time of year, we can remember that all moments contain choice. We can pause and consider what we consenting to in each encounter and each moment. Remembering that returning to our inner wisdom and stillness is available for us even in this season of doing and getting. That’s my wish for us all as we turn towards a new year, that we may deepen our trust in our own goodness and learn to listen to our truest desires.

Wishing you joy and happiness for the new year.

May we all trust our light,



To Reconcile Means to Trust

Winter Stream

Winter Stream. Photo by Rick Errichetti

“The wounded child is there and we don’t even know she is there.

The wounded child in us is a reality, but we can’t see her.

That inability to see it is a kind of ignorance. This child has been severely wounded.

She or he really needs us to return.

Instead, we turn away.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh from Reconciliation

“It’s a cause of growth in the Dhamma and Vinaya of the noble ones when, seeing a

transgression as such, one makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma

and exercises restraint in the future.”

Digha Nikaya verse 2

“The people around us, our family and friends, may also have a severely

wounded child inside. If we’ve managed to help ourselves, we can also help them.

When we’ve healed ourselves, our relationships with others become much easier.

There’s more peace and more love in us.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, from Reconciliation

Dear Friends,

The holiday season brings lots of opportunities for families to connect and be together. For some of us, these celebrations are a real celebration, joyful occasions where we renew our connection with our families experience support, trust, and feel at home again with those we are closely linked to. And then, there is the dark side of the holiday, when old habits appear, people say things and react uncovering old wounds or creating new ones. We may leave the holiday table feeling bruised and battered and running for shelter instead of experiencing a safe refuge where we encounter care and consideration.

There is no standardization in how families react to hurt feelings and disappointment. Some minimize or ignore, some have a blowup and engage in simultaneous loud and energetic opinions. Some decide who is at fault and who to punish, while some distance, not trusting that there are welcome and respect. Individuals may stay away and try to keep safe from afar. It can be painful to have division and discord in our families especially at this time of year when there is a cultural expectation about what a happy welcoming family is.

Our expectations can make these situations much worse. These are the “shoulds” we insert in our judgments; my daughter should call because I am the parent. We should get along because we are family. My parents should apologize because they are wrong. He shouldn’t say/ do/think that. She should…fill in the blank. We believe that families are supposed to get along without conflict and when they don’t, we experience a loss. This loss of an ideal can hurt as much as the actual words and actions of family members. There is an often unconscious belief that if we try harder or were a better person, or they were a better person, we would stop feeling hurt and angry and there would be a magical spontaneous healing and understanding.

I recall being on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh when a son asked about staying connected to his father who spoke with anger and refused to listen to him. Each conversation ended in a fight and hurt. Thây recommended that the son stop communicating with his father and care for his own suffering. He needed to listen to the part of himself that was hurt and discouraged, to hear the longing for trust, respect, and care for his own loss and sadness. Only then would he could be able to engage with his father without reacting from the place of rawness and quick reactivity.

In Buddhism, there is the opportunity to do lots of violence to the self through spiritual-bypass. This is a rush to get over our hurt, because –if we are good Buddhists, we know this world, including all spoken words and even our solid appearance of a self, are in the ultimate reality a chimera and have the consistency of a soap bubble. That is an often convenient mindset to escape the nitty-gritty and humbling work of looking at our own words, deeds, and intentions. We all exist in the historical dimension and when we use the teachings as an escape route from admitting our culpability or to not take responsibility for how we hurt another, we are abiding in ignorance.

Forgiveness and reconciliation and two different things. Tibetan nun Thubten Chodron says that one cannot truly forgive until they fully understand the depth of hurt they have suffered. This doesn’t mean to dive into self-righteous recounting and blaming but is a call to do the work of sitting with the difficult feelings with empathy, tenderness, and pure understanding that we are all sensitive beings who desire love, trust, and consideration. We cannot forgive until we have cared for the parts of the self who are hurt. A rush to forgive and reconcile before one has the time and space to meet their own needs results in a veneer of friendliness that tears apart quickly at the slightest offense. True forgiveness requires patience and the willingness to care for the self before extending ourselves to another who has hurt us.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes a beautiful article about forgiveness and reconciliation for the sangha and in our own lives that outlines some of the stages in this process. He writes, “[r]econciliation — patisaraniya-kamma — means a return to amicability, and that requires more than forgiveness. It requires the reestablishing of trust. If I deny responsibility for my actions, or maintain that I did no wrong, there’s no way we can be reconciled. Similarly, if I insist that your feelings don’t matter, or that you have no right to hold me to your standards of right and wrong, you won’t trust me not to hurt you again. To regain your trust, I have to show my respect for you and for our mutual standards of what is and is not acceptable behavior; to admit that I hurt you and that I was wrong to do so; and to promise to exercise restraint in the future.” Reestablishing trust is at the root of reconciliation. There can be no friendship, no connection, or willingness to be near someone we do not trust. And we know that trust takes time to build.

Social scientist Dr. Breneʹ Brown describes building trust as adding marbles to a jar. Each time we encounter another and experience safety when we share what is dear to us, we add a marble to the jar. When the jar is full of these small moments, we have a foundation of trust. When we do not feel safe with another person, when there are unkind words or actions, there is no trust and the marbles spill out of the jar. Building trust means we are sensitive to the needs of another and their feelings and it takes time. Rebuilding relationships does not coincide with a calendar date, as much as we may feel pressure to do so.

This holiday season, no matter what side of the table you find yourself are on—the one who feels hurt and unheard, or the one who acted and spoke with good intentions, but was unskillful and is experiencing the consequence of unmindful speech, please start at the beginning. As Thay would say, come home to yourself and make your own home a safe place. Take the time to listen to that hurt in you—and the part of yourself that needs your own care, compassion, and nurture. Remember that healing is non-linear and doesn’t go in a straight line. True forgiveness and reconciliation happen when there is enough self-care to heal the willingness to trust again.

May we all trust our light,


When Another Person makes you suffer...




I Choose Both

Snow in Hanover, ME

Snow falling in Bethel, ME. Photo by Karen Swanson

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“A human being is a deciding being.”

                                                            ~All quotes Viktor E. Frankl


Dear Friends,

Have you ever experienced a feeling of dissonance despite the fact that you are doing what you should, taking the best course of action for your job or as a parent, and yet, there was a scratchy feeling of unrest and anxiety? I am paying attention to this feeling and what I am unearthing is the effect of hidden mixed motivation. Often there are more than one motivators at play in our lives. We usually go with the ones that show us in the best light, make us look unselfish or generous. Our choices often stem from our conditioning and wanting to be seen as good. This evaluation of good and bad motivations can keep our deeper desires and needs hiding from ourselves and result in subtle and not so subtle feelings of distraction and anxiety.

One of the biggest and most concealed drivers of our actions is to be seen in a certain way. We want to do the right thing—to be the generous one, the saintly one. We certainly don’t want to be the selfish lazy one, the one who just wants pleasure and their own comfort. This desire to be seen in a certain way is one of the three hungers the Buddha spoke about, the hunger of becoming. We want to become something specific in a conditioned setting. This hidden desire for a way of being can cause great conflict when we do not have the honesty to confront our desires directly.

In Buddhist forums, I’ve heard folks confess that they really want ease, recognition, or comfort and are surprised how that desire is driving them. There is an unspoken evaluation of “bad” attached to wanting a life free from suffering, with ease, and enjoyment. It’s much more acceptable to speak about service and the Bodhisattva ideal of liberating all beings instead of disclosing the truth of feeling irritated when caring for sick parents or acknowledging how much research and upheaval it creates cooking for a child with a gluten allergy. We may carefully attend to the sick parent and create delicious gluten-free meals for our kid, but when we have an unacknowledged conflict in our intentions, it blocks our spacious generous heart and creates resentment and a limited capacity.

The first step in opening to allow true generosity is removing the dualistic and discriminative label of good and bad to our motivations. Visiting our ill parents, or moving in to care for an elderly parent can conflict with our need for autonomy, for spaciousness, ease, and enjoyment. When we label these desires as selfish and bad, we don’t want to own them or be associated with them. Dropping the conditioned judgment and looking beyond the labels we can give ourselves the understanding that, of course—we, just like all beings, desire to create our own lives. All beings long to be in charge of themselves. At the same time we desire our freedom, we may want to honor our commitments and care for the people we love. However, when our ability to create our own lives is not supported, that lack of understanding blocks the ability to open-heartedly attend to another intention.

When we are able to regard all of our desires and motivators as benevolent—even the ones that in the past have incorporated the unskillful tactics of greed or anger, we can acknowledge them without shame or turning away. Recognizing and allowing all of our motivations takes the first steps towards accepting the whole of our humanity with compassion. If we allow all of our desires to be seen with the same valuation we step into a new way of relating to our choices—they become conscious and the methods for caring for ourselves and others become more creative and varied.

When I know I desire some rest and fun after a hectic week AND I also want to help my friend with the herniated disc pack up her kitchen because I value her friendship and want to make life better for her, allowing both those things to have equal weight gives me relief. If I believe that helping my friend is more holy, generous, and pure than caring for myself, I will create conflict through an involuntary act of self-abandonment. If I do not see the whole of my motivations and I chose to stay home and take a nap and watch a movie, I will have guilt at my choice because I continue to see one as more evolved and better than the other.

The simple practice of looking deeply and honestly gives us the freedom to choose. Knowing what we are needing and legalizing our humanity gives great relief. Recognizing the validity of wanting ease, joy, and to be seen in a certain way is already a freedom that gives us more choice. When we accept our mixed motivations without judgment we can make choices that nourish all of our desires, clearly, without punishing others for needing help and without becoming martyrs. When we act from a place of clarity, we choose the seeds we want to water and how we want to live, authentically, and with equal compassion for self and others.  

This week you may want to use the guidance of the emotions to alert you to when you are operating from conflict. Looking honestly without judgment can give you the freedom to choose to follow one path of action because that value creates a more beautiful life. Recognizing our choice point that gets buried beneath the “should’ and the “have to” creates a life that includes both autonomy and compassion. When we wake up to the choices we make in each moment we are no longer a passive victim. We can recognize our responsibility and our capacity to create lives in accord with our deepest intentions.

May we all trust our light,


Mindfulness is a source of happiness


Celebrate Everyday

Daffodil head 2

Daffodil head. Photo by Celia

“Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”  ~Hafez

“Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will.” ~Pema Chodron

“Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.” ~Rumi

“This is your celebration.” ~Kool and the Gang

Dear Friends,

Now that Thanksgiving is over, Americans, once again, are plunged into the vortex of consumption. We can shop all night and day and contribute to the important fourth-quarter earnings that keep our fiscal world spinning. Gift giving is linked to celebration in our culture and comes to us as virtuous consumption, distilled from religious traditions. Our holiday shopping buoys the weighty dictates of capitalism and the Consumer Confidence Index. Maybe it’s my imagination, but holiday marketing this year seems earlier and more unapologetically fierce than ever. While I appreciate cultivating generosity, the obvious commercial manipulation to make us want what we don’t need and can’t afford seems such a poor substitute for what we are really longing for.

All the marketing in the world can’t make us believe that we will truly be happy when we get the just right thing. We know that that new computer or cell phone won’t really be the catalyst for connecting with others or make us less lonely. We know that our new weave won’t guarantee that others accept us for who we are or bring us someone to love us for our authentic self. I am looking at what we are really searching for during our hours trolling through Amazon Wishlists checking off the gifts we are obliged to buy. What do we want to celebrate? Not stuff, not momentary happiness.

I believe we are all looking to go deeper and to celebrate the gifts we have already been given. When we recognize the abundance in our lives, we can celebrate every day. There’s a celebration in seeing the generosity of the Earth, the beauty of kindness in others and in ourselves, the delight in someone who makes music, sings or creates beautiful food. That may sound naïve and impossible, but when we consider what Interbeing is—the knowledge that all rely on each other to support our lives much more than we know, we can celebrate what we have already been freely given.

Dance in the kitchen and celebrate that you can still dance despite the pain in your knees and your 1980’s dance moves. Celebrate that you can feed your friends and those you don’t know. Celebrate that you have a quarter to give away to the woman sitting by the subway and that you have laundry to be washed. Celebrate the good in others and in yourself. Our feelings are worth celebrating, the happiness and sadness that let us be fully present to experience life and this body we have on loan—that allows us to engage in the process of being a human on Earth and the energy of life that enables us to wake up each day.

Celebrate when a spontaneous thought of generosity appears, the wish to help, the desire to see a world free from violence and inconsideration. Allow someone else’s point of view to matter as much as our own and celebrate dropping our judgment to find out what happened to make them speak with hatred. Find the celebration in the sweet sharpness of the pomegranate seeds that we did not have to tend, but grew healthy and fertile without our worry. Knowing what causes suffering…that first drink, eating all the cheesecake, texting that person who is not good for us, and we don’t do it—that’s a celebration. In our grief, we can celebrate that we have a friend we trust to understand. There are celebrations waiting for us everywhere we look. Where is your celebration hiding today? Celebrating this life is the realization of our interbeing. We don’t do it alone. Get a little retro with this video and start the party early. Let happiness be your default mode.

May we all trust our light,


Dont ignore suffering

Being Compassion Wherever We Go

Snow Clouds

Snowclouds. Photo by Celia

“The Buddha told Ananda, ‘You still listen to the Dharma with the conditioned mind, and so the Dharma becomes conditioned as well, and you do not obtain the Dharma-nature. It is like when someone points his finger at the moon to show it to someone else. Guided by the finger, that person should see the moon. If he looks at the finger instead and mistakes it for the moon, he loses not only the moon but the finger also. Why? It is because he mistakes the pointing finger for the bright moon.'” ~Shurangam Sutta

“The teaching is like a raft that carries you to the other shore. The raft is needed, but the raft is not the other shore. An intelligent person would not carry the raft around on his head after making it across to the other shore. Bhikkhus, my teaching is the raft which can help you cross to the other shore beyond birth and death. Use the raft to cross to the other shore, but don’t hang onto it as your property. Do not become caught in the teaching. You must be able to let it go.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh from Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha

“We have to continue to learn. We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh


Dear Friends,

In our lives, we have lots of training. Some of us were taught the forms of practice in our root religious traditions. We may have gone to classes to become good Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Buddhists. We may go on retreats to learn techniques of meditation or do mindfulness training, yoga training, or some form of wellness practice. In all these endeavors there’s a point of integration when we take the practice off the cushion or the mat and we bring it into our lives. I’ve heard this described as the way we learn to dance. At first, we count steps and follow the outline, but after repeated practice, the body learns what to do and we can respond to the changing music with grace and ability. In the same way, our practice gets into our bones and we learn to respond skillfully to what is happening.

 In the Buddhist tradition siilabbata-paraamaasa, “grasping at precepts & practices,” is one of the five lower fetters from the list of the ten that binds us to Samsara, the repeating habits of causing suffering for ourselves. This means getting bound up in the appearance of doing things right and believing that fulfilling one’s obligations is equivalent to practicing real compassion and wise action. So, what does it mean to be devoted to our spiritual progress and practice but not attached to form? This means making our practice our own.

What does an integrated practice look like? Our lives are unique and as Jack Kornfield reminds us, in the eons of human development, there has never been this person on the planet who is you. We are all unique and have our own individual history and life situation and that life situation is constantly changing. When we believe that we satisfy our intentions for compassion and growth through our forms of practice, we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration when the outside conditions of life don’t support us in fulfilling our goals. And we miss the opportunities to bring these practices to the relational world.

So, we may wake up and your dog is sick, and we have to call out of work and take her to the emergency vet and we don’t get to sit and meditate, or the pipes freeze and burst in the bathroom and we have to give up our weekend retreat to find a plumber and a carpenter to make repairs. We may be very diligent at saying our compassion phrases and blessing the strangers in the grocery store, but when our elderly neighbor needs a ride to the drug store, we don’t want to sacrifice our Qigong time and drive her. In our lives, we are called upon to be the embodiment of our training and our fundamental desire to wake up and alleviate suffering in the world.

Being unattached to forms and rituals may include the need to forgive ourselves for not doing what we want and doing what is necessary. The karma-phala, the karmic fruit of practice is apparent in our quality of heart in the moments when we are called upon to respond. Do we begrudge the time spent buying our kid winter boots because we have more spiritual projects to attend to, or can we carry our intention to befriend ourselves into that project as well? The practice of compassionate presence and non-abandoning ourselves becomes wedded to our being and we can practice mindfulness of the body, of our emotions, and compassionate care of ourselves and others, no matter what is happening.

With holidays coming and the demands of family and society ramping up, I encourage us all to practice some forgiveness and realism regarding our practice. Maybe this means letting go of our consistent meditation streak on the Insight Timer app or giving ourselves understanding when we only have time for three breaths to center ourselves before sleep. But be realistic, can we make time for our formal practice? Is it supporting what we do in our lives? If doing the practice creates more pain—that’s a signal that we need to change the plan. Practice is a crucial support for developing our own stillness and insight AND how do we make it our own? I’d love to hear some of the many ways your kindness is manifesting in the world. Drop a line, if you have time.

May we all trust our light,


The way out is the way in

I am Thankful for my Friends

Purple orchids

Purple Moth Orchids. Photo by Celia

Friendship is the most constant, the most enduring the most basic part of love.

~Ed Cunningham

The friend who is a helpmate,

the friend in happiness and woe,

the friend who gives good counsel,

the friend who sympathises too  —

these four as friends the wise behold

and cherish them devotedly

as does a mother her own child.

~Digha Nikaya 31

Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.


It’s good to see Noble Ones.

Happy their company  —  always.

Through not seeing fools

constantly, constantly one would be happy.

 ~Dhammapada, Verse 206

Dear Friends,

It’s a cold night in Connecticut and we had snow flurries yesterday while parts of California are burning and folks are losing their house and lives. I am imagining that anyone in that position is struggling with grief and fear, dislocation, despair, and longing for physical safety. I hope those who are losing homes and neighbors have good friends who can comfort them and let them know they are not alone. We are not born to be solitary beings. We all do better with support and community and the kindness of friends can help make tragedy more bearable when we are met with compassion.

Friendships according to the Buddha are not only a way to make life more enjoyable, but are an essential ingredient in waking up. It’s recorded in the Upaddaha Sutta when Ananda asked the Buddha if good spiritual friends are half the holy life, the Buddha replied “Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life” (Upaddha Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.). The Buddha repeatedly counseled his followers to seek Kalyanamittata [good friendships]. While friendships with those who are not interested in waking up can lead us off the path, friendships with those who are wise and have an evolved spiritual practice can guide and be a support for us.

When we experience doubt or the pain in our lives seems too heavy for us alone, we can borrow the skillful qualities of others. We can find strength and renew our confidence in our own goodness and capability through the examples of others. When we see someone do something we would like to do, we learn how to do it ourselves. The more we are witness to kind speech, thoughtful generosity, or patience, the more realistic living those virtues becomes. The Buddha tells us the one who wants to have a peaceful and calm life will spend their time with the “young or old, who are advanced in virtue. He [She] talks with them, engages them in discussions. He [She]emulates consummate conviction in those who are consummate in conviction, consummate virtue in those who are consummate in virtue, consummate generosity in those who are consummate in generosity, and consummate discernment in those who are consummate in discernment. This is called admirable friendship” (Dighajanu Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.) Emulating friends we admire is a way to catch the contagion of goodness and faith in our own ability. Our wise friendships are not limited by time and space; we can use the example of Mother Theresa’s steadfast compassion and humility when we feel wearied by so much suffering around us, or Nelson Mandela’s nonviolence and patience when we witness injustice and unfairness, or in the face of personal attack or prejudice, borrow the equanimity of the Buddha who did not hate or condemn his cousin Devadatta, although he tried to assassinate the Buddha killed three times. Making a place in our lives for those we admire and see as wise, gives us the courage to be bravely true to our most cherished intentions.

The Buddha warns of friendships with those who engage in bad habits, of drinking, gambling, gossip, lying, harsh speech, sexual misconduct, who are lazy and do not seek any transformation, are ungenerous or give gifts without care or believe that they make a difference. Hanging around with this crew will likely not advance your path towards enlightenment and most likely add some heavy karmic load to your luggage. But for those who are capable of discernment and knowing what true friendship is, they are able to find others, “who are endowed with conviction, conscience, concern; who are learned, with aroused persistence, unmuddled mindfulness, & good discernment” (Dighajanu Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.).

The Buddha was called a physician who cured suffering and a teacher, but he also thought of himself as a worthy friend for his followers to rely on. It is the Buddha’s commitment to friendship and the compassion for his followers that created the conditions to end their suffering. He tells Ananda that “It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that beings subject to birth have gained release from birth, … from aging, …release from death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair” (Upaddha Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.). The body of the Buddha is no longer in this realm, but the energy of the Buddha’s friendship lives on in the sangha, the community that supports and guides us as we all travel together.

As I write this I am thinking of all the opportunities for care and togetherness we have in this lifetime. The physical presence of the sangha who encourages us with their kind eyes and gentle speech, examples of those who have gone before and show us the way to walk with strength and conviction, and the wise teachers we include in our lives who demonstrate kindness, generosity, and fearlessness.

May we all trust our light,


joyfully together




Resting in Not Knowing

snail and terrier

Sami meets Snail. Photo by Barbara Richardson

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” ~Socrates

“Meditation is not to escape from society but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do to help.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

The reason this letter is later than usual is that I felt confused. There are so many conflicting and troubling news items swirling around, so much tension in the US on the eve of mid-term elections and the 24-hour news cycle that keeps feeding fear and speculation about the future. Much of me wants to hide out and remove myself from the growing divisiveness in the political process through some pleasant distraction. Paying attention to what is going on in me, I recognized that this tension is driven by the desire to know how things will be and imagine that this knowledge will keep me safe. I wanted clarity before I began to write and what came through as truth is that I don’t know. I am 100 percent certain that I do not know what will happen. Just writing that helps my nervous system relax.

This is part of the Buddhist practice of “Don’t know mind.” There is a release and clarity when we stop trying to grasp what is unknowable. We cannot know the future. Each day, I hear pundits talking about what will happen if interest rates rise, if a different political party is elected, if there is a spike in oil rates, if house prices rise and fall, if the stock market leaps or plummets. There is an endless stream of “what if,” thinking. The only thing that is certain is that the future is unpredictable, fluid, and the law of impermanence applies to it all. When I allow myself to fall into future speculation around the construct of me as a small individual self, this is called papañca (Pali). Papañca is described as mental proliferation. We’ve all had that experience of picking up a particular worry or concern and twisting it about in our minds, turning it to view the best case scenario, then the worst, and all possibilities in between. In the words of the Greek philosopher Seneca, “There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!” Even when we do anticipate misfortune, we anticipate something. We expend lots of energy and time defending against or preparing to engage in what we think will happen. This habit of leaning into the future not only takes us out of the present moment, vigilance also activates a stress response in the body, which robs us of our wisdom.

There is a wonderful clarity to not knowing and opening to the idea that I can rely on myself to respond wisely as events unfold. There are strength and confidence in neither leaning into the past or future, but returning to center in the present moment. So, what is the best way to prepare for the unknown? Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that the future is made directly from the present. The amount of peace, clarity, and discernment I possess right now creates the next moment. We see this in the way we answer a text or email when we are triggered and get a defensive or hostile response, or in the way we take the time to meet someone’s eyes and let them know they matter and receive a smile in return. The amount of peace, happiness, or fear and resistance in my heart when I act is directly linked to my future and the conditions I create around me. This week, I invite you to come back to the present moment, to remember that preparation for the future begins with each breath as an opportunity for fear, speculation, and tension, or for stillness, insight, and wisdom. Let’s not forget the power we do possess—the choices we make for a heaven or hell in this moment.

May we all trust our light,


The country of the present moment

Putting an End to Hatred


Ginko and denim. Photo by Celia

“I entrust myself to earth,

Earth entrusts herself to me.

I entrust myself to Buddha,

Buddha entrusts herself to me.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace.


“Without being

peace, we cannot do anything for peace. If we cannot smile, we

cannot help other people to smile. If we are not peaceful, then

we cannot contribute to the peace movement.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace.


“Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.”

~Dhammapada, Verse 5, Narada Thera trans.


“We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life.”

~The Twelfth Mindfulness Training. The nuns and monks of Plum Village.


Dear Friends,

Yesterday I took refuge in the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha sharing a day of mindfulness with the Greater Hartford Sangha. I left with deep gratitude for the gift of sharing my day with a community dedicated to alleviating suffering in the world. I was so glad that I had the nourishment of the three refuges yesterday as I learned about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. I felt huge sadness and grief for the families and victims of the shooting. As I sat with these feelings, I was aware of the rage in me fed by the desire for all beings to be safe and valued. I saw my thoughts go into blame and judgment and turns towards punishment. I’ve grown up in a society that believes punishment equals justice and that punishment is a useful strategy for getting people to change their behavior. If we are a parent we know what punishment does; it teaches our children to be afraid or to be sneaky. Punishment, isolation, and shame are enculturated ways we believe we can effect social change. But how effective is punishment? The U. S. Bureau of Justice in a 2018 update reports that 5 out of 6 state prisoners were rearrested within 9 years of release. It seems that punishment is an expensive and misguided attempt to create change that ignores the basis of violence and hatred.

Buddhist scholar and monk Bhikkhu Bhodi writes that it is the root of ignorance or delusion (avijja/ Pali, avidya/ Sanskrit) that leads to suffering.  Ignorance is not a pathological condition. It is not evil or bad; it is simply a misperception. This is the ignorance that creates the mental confusion or blindness leading to separation and hatred and forgets we inter-are. It is the ignorance that creates in-group and out-group distinctions. It’s the “I making and my making” that leads us to grab hold of the disastrous strategies of greed, hatred, and violence with the mistaken belief they will keep us safe. Writing this I am grateful that I know the usefulness of anger AND extremely grateful I have entrusted myself to the care of the Dhamma which teaches me what to do with my anger so it does not need to become hatred. Anger is a powerful message that something needs our attention. Anger, just like pain, is signal to us that there is something harmful and hurtful going on and we need to take wise action to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others.

The Buddha had a profound understanding of human nature and the innate desire to protect oneself and one’s clan. He gave a teaching on five ways to put an end to hatred that tells us when someone is acting and speaking with violence and out of the delusion in a separated protected self, it is as if they have fallen severely ill, are alone in a strange place without food or medicine and shunned by all others. “And as for a person who is impure in his bodily behavior & verbal behavior, and who does not periodically experience mental clarity & calm, how should one subdue hatred for him? Just as when there is a sick man — in pain, seriously ill — traveling along a road, far from the next village & far from the last, unable to get the food he needs, unable to get the medicine he needs, unable to get a suitable assistant, unable to get anyone to take him to human habitation.…” (Aghatavinaya Sutta: Subduing Hatred). The Buddha tells us that viewing those who act with hatred and delusion through our veil of ignorance and condemnation will only enforce the belief in separation and fuel the cycle of hatred and violence. He tells us it is our task as practitioners is to pick up this ill and isolated person, provide food and medicine to help restore them to health and wholeness of body and mind and most importantly to put down our ignorance and do what feels so counter-culture—to understand that violence is a sign that someone is sick and suffering and care for the person who does harm.

This is a life-altering practice and requires some deep and honest looking at how we create a dangerous “other” and feed the cycle of violence and hatred in our own lives. Ask yourself who is it ok to hate? The KKK? Nazis? White nationalists? Terrorists? Joining together in our communities, who do we hate? When we practice hating, just like any skill, we get better at it. This week please look to see the usefulness in your anger, the beautiful desires for equality and justice that lie beneath anger and judgment and then, go deeper. See how we can act to remove what is the real danger—ignorance. On Tuesday, please take your compassion to the polls and do your best to elect those who can transcend the delusion of separation, those who remember that we all belong to each other.

May we all trust our light,


           Wrong perceptions