Gratitude in Difficulty

Here’s another passage from Morning Pages–a practice that I fell out of with a recent work schedule shift, but I’m making every effort to get writing regularly again. I just finished one of my Morning Pages journals, and in the first pages of the new one, I dedicated the efforts to gratitude, as it was the day after Thanksgiving. While I do not want to limit my Morning Pages and their creative openness, I’m taking a meditation on gratitude as a general inspiration for this journal, and this is the second entry with that spirit.


Look! Two days in a row! I’ll get back into this. Well, as I look at these pages, I think on gratitude. Perhaps, a general intention for morning pages is wrong, but I won’t let it guide my writing beyond a general mindset.

It’s hard to feel gratitude sometimes. Your mind can be compressed to a few square inches of mental space where it walks the same grounds of complaints and anxiety again and again. The trick is not to get trapped here and think that those thoughts are the mind. Getting beyond the focus on these gets the mind loose into its true nature–openness.

For instance, this morning, I can’t find my keys–which is a serious annoyance for me. I also have a headache and body pains. I’m hungry. I’m tired. As I focus on these other grievances come out and multiply. A legion.

However, if I take a moment, breathe, and relax into just being here–writing in this particular now–the thoughts slip past.

Here is one of the greatest gifts of mindfulness–setting the mind see and not confusing it with the thoughts that come and go.

Such openness allows the spacious embrace of gratitude to come in every moment, even when you have a headache. 🙂


Right after I finished writing this entry, I read this passage:

It doesn’t matter what comes up. You don’t have to analyze anything when you are meditating. You can simply maintain your dignified posture and pay attention to your breath. The technique is that you look at the thoughts as they arise and say to yourself, “thinking.” Whatever goes through your mind is purely thinking, not mystical experience. Label it thinking and come back to your breath.

So you are there. You are thinking.You don’t try to get away from your thoughts, but you don’t stick with them or encourage them either. Thought patterns are just ripples on the surface of the pond. They come and they go. They merge into each other, and you take the attitude that they are not a big deal.

Bodily aches and pains and physical irritations also come and go. They may seem more problematic than your thoughts. But in meditation practice you regard physical sensations as also thought patterns. Label them thinking. Aches, pains, pins and needles–all thinking. This keeps everything simple and straightforward, so that you can appreciate everything as port of one natural process.

–Chögyam Trungpa, Mindfulness in Action, pp. 22-23.

May this inspire you to find gratitude even in difficult days. May you see that your thoughts are not your mind.



On Friendship: Views of a Philosopher and of a Zen Priest

At times, I have been dismayed at how readily others are called friends. In this post, I’ve taken passages from Aristotle and Katagiri Roshi to examine what deep friendship is. Aristotle shows us that there is only one complete friendship–one that is an equal and mutual giving that comes from the desire to better the excellence, the good, in another; while Katagiri shows that while we walk alone through life, we can encounter true friends who show us wisdom and noble action. Katagiri tells us how to recognize them when we encounter them and how to act toward such true friends. On some level, these two expositions are dramatically different, but on some level they are the same. Katagiri emphasizes how one could be a friend for the universe with the example of the Buddha in mind. This goes much beyond the rarefied virtue of those magnanimous souls that, rare indeed, can share this equality of virtue enhancement a la Aristotle, yet is it not true that such a friend, the true friend in line with the example of the Buddha, seeks to uphold the best in all that exists, the basic goodness that underlies every sentient being, taking pleasure in this simple act of goodness for its own sake? Both indicate that this friendship is rare, but it is also clear that this is what friendship really is: sharing a deeper truth with someone who brings it out in you as well.


So there are three species of friendship, equal in number to the kinds of things that are loved; for in accordance with each, there is a reciprocal loving which one is not unaware of, and those who love one another wish for good things for one another in the same sense in which they love. So those who love one another for what is useful do not love one another for themselves, but insofar as something good comes to them from one another. And it is similar with those who love on account of pleasure, since they are fond of charming people not for being people of a certain sort, but because they are pleasing to themselves. So those who love for what is useful have a liking based on what is good for themselves, and those who love for pleasure have a liking based on what is pleasant to themselves, and the other person is loved not for what he is, but insofar as he is useful or pleasant. Therefore, these are friendships of an incidental kind, since it is not insofar as the one loved is the very person he is that he is loved, but insofar as he provides, in the one case, something good, or in the other case, pleasure. Hence, such friendships are easily dissolved, when the people themselves do not stay the way they were, for when the others are no longer pleasant or useful they stop loving them. And what is useful does not stay the same, but becomes something different at a different time. So when that through which they were friends has departed, the friendship is dissolved, since the friendship was a consequence of that.

But the complete sort of friendship is that between people who are good and are alike in virtue, since they wish for good things for one another in the same way insofar as they are good, and they are good in themselves. And those who wish for good things for their friends for their own sake are friends most of all, since they are that for themselves and not incidentally; so the friendship of these people lasts as long as they are good, and virtue is enduring. And each of them is good simply and good for his friend, since good people are both good simply and beneficial to one another. And they are similarly pleasant since the good are pleasant both simply and to one another, for to each person, actions that are his own and such as his own are according to his pleasure, while the actions of the good are the same or similar. And it is reasonable that such friendship is lasting, for all those things that ought to belong to friends are joined together in it. For every friendship is for something good or for pleasure, either simply or for the one who loves, and is from some sort of similarity, and in this sort all the things mentioned are present on account of themselves, since in this sort the people are alike, and all the rest of it; and what is good simply is also pleasant simply, and these things most of all are loved, and so the loving and the friendship among these people is the most intense and best.

But such friendships are likely to be rare for such people are few. Also, there is an additional need of time and intimate acquaintance, for according to the common saying, it is not possible for people to know one another until they use up the proverbial amount of salt together, and so it is not possible for them to accept one another before that, or to be friends until each shows himself to each as lovable and as trusted. Those who quickly make gestures of friendship toward one another want to be friends, but are not unless they are also lovable and know this, since wishing for friendship comes about as something quick, but friendship does not.

Affection seems like a feeling, but friendship seems like an active condition, for affection is no less present for inanimate things, but loving in return involves choice, and choice comes from an active condition. And people wish for good things for those they love for those others’ own sake, not as a result of feeling but as a result of an active condition. And by loving the friend, they love what is good for themselves, for when a good person becomes a friend, he becomes good for the one to whom he is a friend. So each of them loves what is good for himself, and also gives back an equal amount in return in wishing as well as in what is pleasant; for it is said that “friendship is equal relationship,” and this belongs most of all to the friendship of the good.

–Selections from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII, Chapters 3 & 5, translator: Joe Sachs

The Buddha also taught that if you come across a true friend–one who is noble, fearless, thoughtful, and wise–then walk with that friend in peace. If you find such a friend, you can walk together for life. But don’t be too eager to find such a friend. If you become greedy for such a friend, you will be disappointed, and you will not be able to live in peace and harmony with others.

Learning to live alone also means that, whatever the situation, you have to live quietly. All you have to do is just walk, step-by-step. It’s not so easy, but it’s very important for us. And if we are not too greedy, the good friend will appear.

In ancient times in India, people would look to find such a good friend meditating in the forest. If they found such a person, they would sit with him. This is how it was with Buddha. As people began to gather around him, he called them shravakas, which means “listeners.” The relationship between the Buddha and those who came to listen to his teaching was not like that of a boss and an employee or a parent and child. It was more like that of a master and an apprentice. If you go to see and listen to such a wise friend, you are not a student, exactly; you are just a listener. The idea of being called a student came about in a later age.

At the time of the Buddha, there were four castes of people, and depending on caste, there were many formal rules for how people should address one another. But the Buddha was beyond classifying or discriminating among people. He used the same kind, gentle, and polite form of expression to address everyone, no matter what the station. He only said, “Welcome.” That’s it. People didn’t go through any particular ceremony that certified them as followers of the Buddha. They just received this simple greeting. This is the origin of the sangha.

In Sanskrit the term sangha literally means “group.” It was used to refer to religious groups as well as political groups. When the Buddha visited different regions, the people would gather together to listen to his teaching and to practice together. Then, after he left, they would settle into small groups or take up traveling.

Today, how do we find a wise friend? I don’t know. There is no particular pattern. But even though you might not find a good friend in the world, still you can find a good friend in the example of the Buddha. And if you do come across such a friend, walk with him. Just remember, if this person is a good friend for you, he is also a good friend for others, so don’t attach too strongly to him.

You can feel something from such persons as you walk with them. And remember, though they are human beings living now, through them you can meet the Buddha. And through the Buddha, you can see such a good, pure friend.

–Dainin Katagiri, You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight, pp. 54-55.

May this set of thoughts give you insight into friendship and how to act as a friend. May you aspire to being a noble, fearless, thoughtful and wise friend who takes pleasure in the good of others rather than the incidental connection of usefulness or mundane pleasure.

Facing the Blank Page–The Unfolding of Tao

Here’s another interesting set of thoughts from my Morning Pages. It speaks to creativity, wu wei, and insight around our interdependent arising with everything.

Eating brunch–well, soon to be. It’s been a couple days, journal. I hope that this day is beautiful for all sentient beings out there and that those going through the wakes of storms and disasters suffer not at the misfortunes of the world’s changes.

Anyway, I don’t know what to write about again. That’s the first time I’ve said that in a while. Isn’t that wonderful: the thrill and anxiety of the blank page? What will come out? Who knows! As long as one resides in this appreciative, open view, it’s truly a joy to face the blank page. Then it becomes an act of faith in the process, a creative lightning bolt of positivity, and an easy flow along with the unfolding of what is in this moment. That’s right (write? 🙂 )–it’s an action of wu wei. Mastery is only important insofar as to have the skill to flow along without resistance.

So the question is not: what do “I” create (i.e. what do “I” as masterful agent do?)? Rather, it is a letting be of the creative process.

My thoughts and easy smile seem at odds with the liveliness of the little cafe right now, but that just invites me to smile wider. How many creative moments will unfold today as I go through the ebb and flow of deeds and feelings? How many people’s lives will I come into contact with, even just in passing as two apparent egos passing in the night? Such moments of pause are truly a wonder–if thoughts about consumption, desires, aversions, etc. don’t pull you away from the thought experiment.

Stop. Contemplate: how many myriad lives are in this room with me right now? Don’t stop at the obvious–you and other people. There are bacteria, insects, dust mites! Billions of little specks of life pop in and out of existence around and inside of you all the time. They come and go–emptiness manifested and reformed to another manifestation. This is Tao–the 10,000 things and the mother of the 10,000 things. On a larger level, there are 100s, 1,000s, 1,000,000s of people in your city, state, country, and 1,000,000,000s around the world. Then, there are countless planets, stars, galaxies. Don’t worry about your little passing desires. Stop and see your unfolding in this miracle, and hold this insight in your engagement with all of the unfolding. One mind–no separation.


“It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung forth into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings. But not in this sense–that you are a part, a piece, of an eternal, infinite being, an aspect or modification of it, as in Spinoza’s pantheism. For we should have the same baffling question: which part, which aspect are you? What, objectively, differentiates it from the others? No, but inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you–and all other conscious beings as such–are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but it is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in a single glance. ”

The universe implies the organism, and each single organism implies the universe–only the “single glance” of our spotlight, narrowed attention, which has been taught to confuse its glimpses with separate “things” must somehow be opened to the full vision, which Schrödinger goes on to suggest:

“Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘some day’: now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you thousands of times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”

–From Alan Watts’ The Book pp. 98-99; Quoted sections herein originally from: Erwin Schrödinger’s My View of the World pp. 21-22.

May this help you see beyond you as an island, an ego amidst all–controlling creativity as a forceful act of “I”, “me”, and “mine”.


The Tile/Mirror Paradox

Here’s another unexpectedly delightful swim through deep waters in a set of Morning Pages. I added the last paragraph to pull out that one missing piece (due to the page-length restriction of the original writing), but it’s otherwise just a free flow of thoughts (with one quote I really wanted). Enjoy!

No expectations. Can you let go of them? This moment is rife with possibility, with intricacy, with intensity. Can you experience it without mental filters of what it should be?

Sounds easy enough: right? It isn’t. We are always already running with “should”, concepts, and fantasies. They are the norm so much that we do not even realize their constant operation and that there is an alternative to it.

Yet we are also always already living right in the middle of enlightenment. It’s all around us. We’re part of it–no separation, but we have to stop and see it.

“When Baso told his teacher that he sat in zazen because he wanted to become a buddha, his teacher immediately picked up a tile and began to polish it.
–“How can your polishing make that tile a mirror?” asked Baso.
–“How can your zazen make you a buddha?” asked his teacher.””
–Dainin Katagiri, from You Have to Say Something

This zen parable lights the way. The point is not that zazen is pointless. Rather, zazen is the only point. It is the actualization of the fundamental point. It is enlightenment itself–yet it does not make us buddhas. How so?

What is the difference between the tile and a mirror? What is the difference between a person and a buddha? This much is clear: one does not become the other–as though some alchemical transformation of lead to gold, two fundamentally different elements. If zazen does not make one into a buddha, what does it do?

Is it “doing” anything–this practice of just this, just sitting? –What does a buddha “do” for that matter? Is he some great transcendental subject that obtains the knowledge of the ultimate Object–the Universe, Life, Death, Suffering, Happiness? If we think of it this way, we will labor on, polishing, polishing, polishing, not realizing that we can never make that tile into a mirror.

Yet this zen paradox is more subtle and more elaborate than that. We see the need to polish the tile, deluded into thinking it will become a mirror. What we don’t recognize is that we are already a mirror. The action, the not-doing, the wu wei is seeing this and reflecting the light as one process–no separation, just enlightenment, contained as it might be with the rim of confusion and delusion (as Dogen would tell us–enlightened ones still live in delusion). The point is that we need to see that we are dusty, unreflecting mirrors already. Then the question is no longer–how do I become a mirror as a tile (an impossible task), rather what is shining enlightenment? It is prajna; it is compassion. It is right here, right now–everywhere, always. Then, the path is just sitting with this. It is precisely: not polishing.


May this elucidate practice as not doing.
May All be happy.
May All be healthy.
May All be at peace.
May All live with ease.