non-fiction books and articles
Highlighting 16 qualities that make a great person and lead to spiritual awakening, this is the first book to feature the life and teachings of Anagarika Munindra, the meditation master who taught so many of today's prominent dharma teachers in the West and helped start the contemporary mindfulness movement.
“An informative and inspiring guide to body-oriented approaches--from traditional Eastern disciplines to modern Western techniques.”
- Andrew Weil, M.D., “Self-Healing"
Can one of the world’s happiest countries survive the 21st century?
Honors worldwide spirituality grounded in the body and its senses.
Ethical speech is a neglected but essential aspect of spiritual practice.
Sayadaw U Tejaniya emphasizes practicing in a relaxed but continuous manner rather than forcing one's effort.
Our view of the body influences how we work with it in spiritual practices.
March 11, 2011
A peaceful Pacific at the end of the day
At 5 this morning, the phone rang. When I picked it up, I heard the concerned voice of a dear friend in Indiana. Since she's three hours later, she'd already heard about the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Asleep on the west coast, I knew nothing. She apologized for waking me so early, but wanted to be sure I would be prepared for a possible disaster, maybe at 7 am. I thanked her and put the phone down.
I noticed the lights of fishing boats out on the ocean. (I live on the coast of northern California.) "Hmm," I thought, "would they be out there if huge waves were on the way?" I couldn't go back to sleep, so I lay in bed watching my breath and thoughts that arose. I noticed no panic, only some planning: What should I take with me? I ran through possible necessities. (more…)
March 5, 2011
Although I interviewed nearly 200 people around the world for Living This Life Fully
, much to my delight, more individuals who knew Munindra keep popping up. I have the pleasure of learning new stories that reinforce what I have written about his qualities. It’s curious that I did not hear of these students when I was working on the book, but maybe that’s to my advantage. Otherwise, I would have had to interview hundreds, even thousands, more! How would I ever have completed the book? (more…)
February 3, 2011
Munindra in close contact with friends
During a hike among the redwood trees along a river, one of my friends brought up an issue she’s been wrestling with. She often feels overwhelmed by the inundation of data on the Internet and in email. I can easily sympathize. Because there's far too much to take in about environmental degradation, poverty, war, abuse of women and children, and other negativity, she finds herself simply hitting DELETE. Then she realizes, “It's so easy to blame the world, but nobody shuts down my heart except me.” How to deal with the joy of letting one’s heart open versus the disappointment at its closing? How to deal with all that’s out there trying to get our attention? (more…)
January 24, 2011
Recently, Dean Crabb a.k.a. Jagaro generously hosted a double book give-away on his blog themindfulmoment.com/. He asked readers to express what “living this life fully” means. The variety of responses left me reflecting on how differently people understand the same words. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of those who sent in an answer. A few people even expressed themselves through poetry. Although there could be only two winners, I feel that everyone is a winner, simply because each person took time to consider this concept. (more…)
January 9, 2011
I’m always grateful to be gifted with a New Year. Although I don’t party on New Year’s Eve (I don’t like to be out and about when there’s a lot of guzzling going on), each New Year’s Day has been special in its own way. During some years, my husband and I have gone with friends to watch annual bird migrations at a variety of locations. We've marveled at the dance of sandhill cranes in agricultural fields or walked through wildlife refuges where I could feel the air vibrating as thousands of birds beat their wings and formed dark clouds in a sunny sky. On other occasions, on my own in foreign countries, I've experienced vibrations of a different nature.
I vividly remember the New Year’s Day on which I recognized my life would never be the same. (more…)
December 27, 2010
Now that the longest night of the year is behind us, I am looking forward to more and more light. Although I accept and even rejoice in the changing interplay of light and dark, I definitely prefer longer days and shorter nights. But my desire is not just for more sunlight. I also want greater mindfulness to brighten how I live those days and nights.
Munindra talked about mindfulness (he often used the Pali word sati
) as “an illuminating factor” because it provides the brilliance of a lamp in shadowy places. “Where there is light, there cannot be any darkness,” he would say. “You are asked to develop mindfulness because sati
illuminates the whole mental field. As soon as things come, you see them as they are.” (more…)
December 16, 2010
I am in the middle of reading Breast Strokes: Two Friends Journal Through the Unexpected Gifts of Cancer
, by Cathy Edgett and Jane Flint. Although Cathy does not use Buddhist terms in her spare but lyrical journal entries and poems, it is clear that she understands what it means to embrace Dharma, to live this life fully even while undergoing the rigors of medical treatment for breast cancer. She faces each day trying to be as present as possible to what each moment brings: the sight of a redwood tree outside her window, Mt. Tamalpais in the distance, the fragility of the body, with its soreness, nausea, and fatigue, the soft morning light, the joy of being able to walk or share a meal, the sound of rain, the clutch of fear. As she confronts the truth of what is, she comes back again and again to “calm, steady, present, and clear.” Realizing that suffering arises when she wants things to be otherwise, she is now willing to “be with the journey, instead of wishing or willing it away.”
Cathy’s mindfulness, acceptance, equanimity, and even gratitude in so much discomfort remind me of how Munindra dealt with the vicissitudes of the ailing, aging body. (more…)
November 29, 2010
At the Thanksgiving dinner my husband and I attended last week, the hostess shared a story about one of the patients she had recently taken care of in the emergency room of a city hospital. Feeling unwell, an 80-year-old man had walked in all alone seeking medical attention. Once she looked after his needs and released him, our friend generously put him in a taxi to go back to the residents' hotel where he lives in a downtrodden part of town. Sadly, he tried to resist her kind gesture, practically pleading to stay at the hospital.
Another person at the gathering gave a similar account, this time of an 80-year-old woman who was sharing a room with his mother in a hospital in a Latin American country. Determined not to have any more blood taken from her, she refused the attending doctor, removed all the tubes that had been inserted during her stay, and walked out all alone at one in the morning. Where was her family at a time like this? No one knew.
Our friend looked at us sitting around the dining table--family and friends alike--and expressed gratitude for our being part of her life and for seeing her through a hugely challenging year. Unlike the two elderly patients, she has people who are there for her in good times and in bad.
As the Buddha said to his cousin Ananda, "This is the entire holy life, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship."
Gratitude is essential to living this life fully, to living the holy life: gratitude for the caring presence of others, gratitude for the means not only to survive but to thrive and to share our resources with others. Yet, surprisingly, thankfulness is not listed as one of the qualities or factors that lead to awakening. But that doesn't mean it's not part of the Dharma path. Deep gratitude is the wholesome motivation that underlies the manifestation of those qualities. (more…)
November 23, 2010
Because generosity is a big part of my daily experience, I’ve decided to keep writing about it. A week ago, I read the results of an experiment at an amusement park that make sense to me. Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Hass School of Business and at UC San Diego sold photos taken of passengers on a roller coaster after they completed their exciting ride. When given the choice that half of whatever they decided to pay would go to a particular charity, the passengers who chose that option generated the most profit for the photo company and the charity. My guess is that people paid more rather than less because they knew the money would be given to a worthy cause, not just fill the company’s coffers—and that felt good.
I think most people want to give. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that being generous leaves us with positive feelings, but another experiment confirms it. Social psychologist Liz Dunn found that when she gave people ten dollars and said they could keep it all for themselves or give it away, the more money people gave away, the happier they felt. Conversely, the more money people kept for themselves, the more shame they felt, which translated into higher cortisol levels. That’s a negative health indicator because cortisol has a wear-and-tear effect on the body. Isn’t instinct at play here?
I don’t think most people are aware of this link between generosity and health unless they pay close attention to how they feel and notice a cause-and-effect relationship. Sensing how wonderful I feel on both the giving and receiving ends prompts me to give whenever the opportunity arises. I like knowing that what I do, what I give, makes a difference in someone’s life. (more…)
October 5, 2010
We often hear the ancient African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." As a non-fiction author, I've come to believe that it can also take a worldwide community to write a book. Where would we all be, whether children or writers, without the generosity of others?
Generosity is a form of interconnectedness. Even a nod accompanied by "Good Morning" is a generous act. One could just as easily walk by without saying a word, without acknowledging the human being right in front of us.
Generosity is a quality of mind and heart and a physical behavior that ranks high in spiritual traditions around the world because it undermines and acts as an antidote to the "poison" of greed. The importance of this quality was reinforced when I worked on Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra
, about a meditation master and scholar who helped introduce mindfulness practice to the West, because the project took more years than I ever anticipated, even longer than getting a Ph.D.
Part of what made it keep growing were the generous gestures I experienced from others. I was privileged to receive so much from so many from almost every continent: interviews, referrals, audiotapes, DVDs, correspondence, journal notes, photos, scholarly expertise, translations, hospitality, encouragement, and more. I can't help but think that this outpouring of generosity is an echo of what Munindra taught to those who came to know him. (more…)