Friday, September 30, 2011


The goal and the fruit of mindfulness practice is equanimity. It’s not a word most of us use regularly, it’s not a condition most of us experience much of the time. Equanimity means ‘calmness and composure—especially in a difficult situation.’ It comes from the Latin word, aequanimitas. The two Latin words that make aequanimatas are aequus (equal) and animus (mind or spirit). Aequanimitas suggests balance—a mind and spirit that a difficult situation doesn’t throw off balance. When we encounter difficulty, we don’t automatically tip one way or another.

Composure, a synonym for equanimity, comes from com + pose, to put together. Composure is defined as ‘the state or feeling of being calm and in control of oneself.’

Mindfulness is composing, like writing and music are. Or like gardening, putting good seed together with good earth. Mindfulness practice, bit by bit, facilitates equanimity, it cultivates it, like planting seeds. 

Sowing seeds takes work and skill, and waiting for things to grow takes patience. And patience is of course wonderfully helped by unshakable trust that, most of the time, what is sown is reaped. Imagine that--anxiety, twitchiness, social vertigo supplanted by equanimity.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Moon

R. S. Thomas was Welsh and an Anglican priest. Wales and England are full of achingly empty yet beautiful stone churches. Many of the ones in West Wales are near the ocean. Thomas's poems are full of anguish that the old faith no longer seems credible for him or most others. This poem is rare because in the middle of his anguish another voice speaks hopefully.

The Moon in Lleyn

The last quarter of the moon
of Jesus gives way
to the dark; the serpent
digests the egg. Here
on my knees in this stone
church, that is full only
of the silent congregation
of shadows and the sea's
sound, it is easy to believe
Yeats was right. Just as though
choirs had not sung, shells
have swallowed them; the tide laps
at the Bible; the bell fetches
no people to the brittle miracle
of bread. The sand is waiting
for the running back of the grains
in the wall into its blond
glass. Religion is over, and
what will emerge from the body
of the new moon, no one
can say.

But a voice sounds
in my ear. Why so fast,
mortal? These very seas
are baptized. The parish
has a saint's name time cannot
unfrock. In cities that
have outgrown their promise people
are becoming pilgrims
again, if not to this place,
then to the recreation of it
in their own spirits. You must remain
kneeling. Even as this moon
making its way through the earth's
cumbersome shadow, prayer, too,
has its phases.

My hunch as well is that the old faith is over. It's always having to get over its old self to be born again. It's not just that the serpent digests the egg, but as my friend Haidee Wilson suggests, 'the dragon begets the pearl.'

Monday, September 26, 2011


A helpful acronym for very earthy mindfulness work is RAIN. It’s useful both as a challenging version of formal meditation and an on-the-hoof practice whenever we’re strongly hooked, stuck, frustrated, angry, melancholy, anxious, envious, puffed-up, etc., etc.

RAIN stands for: Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-Identification.

R         We can practice RECOGNIZING whenever we’re hooked. The word recognize means ‘to indentify something from having encountered it before.’ It’s a great word for the way we learn to work with unhelpful, habitual responses to life. It reminds us we have the capacity to develop transforming habits of mindfulness right in the many places where we’re working with unhelpful habits of our minds.

A         We can practice ACCEPTING what’s going on with us every time we remember to. We learn to look our own experience in the face. This practice is the opposite of denial. Accepting means we do our best to be aware of exactly what’s happening without judging ourselves. ACCEPTANCE is more than gritting our teeth and bearing the unbearable. It suggests roominess, generosity, kindness, a welcoming spirit. Inhaling is a good a metaphor—the diaphragm making room for what keeps us alive.  

I           We practice INVESTIGATING the ‘stuff’ we’re noticing and welcoming. Are there bodily sensations? Where in the body do we sense it? Is it a pain? A numbness? More like cold or heat? Tightness? What about feelings? Are they pleasant (or not)? Does this particular experience come with sadness, happiness, fear, frustration, etc.? What exactly do those feelings feel like? Where in the body are they lodged? (Don’t forgot ACCEPTANCE here—with every feeling we notice we do our very best to hold it with kind attention.) And what about memories—do memories come up? What narratives surface with them? Is a story being told? What’s it about? Who seems to be telling it? Who’s listening? Is it possible to listen objectively—and kindly?

N         We practice NON-IDENTIFICATION. All spiritual traditions recommend distinguishing between small self and big self, false self and true self, non-self and more-than-self, dying to self in order to be fully alive. NOT IDENTIFYING with our narratives, not mistaking the stories we tell about ourselves for who we truly are is a powerful way of embodying the wisdom of these traditions. DON’T INDENTIFY may sound like a command, but it’s better seen as wise, helpful, healthy practice. We DON’T CONFUSE the feelings, thoughts, memories, moods, stories or predictions about ourselves for who we most truly are.  RAIN work often exposes us to the very sticky feelings and stories we do identify and suffer with, but all the while, as we slowly grow in practical skill and gracious discernment, we’re seeing for ourselves the truer self—and the more-than-self knows and rejoices in the difference.

For a better understanding of RAIN work, read Jack Kornfield’s, The Wise Heart, p. 101 ff 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Strengthening Life

Curing is the work of experts, but strengthening the life in one another is the work of human beings. –Rachel Remen

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Deepening the capacity to listen

(While doing grief counseling in New Orleans after Katrina) I was reminded of the Christian ethicist Stanley Hauwerwas, who observed that when people are hurting, what they need is not an explanation, but a community capable of helping them to absorb their suffering, helping them to simply cope. And I thought of Herbert Anderson, a wise pastoral theologian, who said that the question in the face of suffering is not, what can we say? but what can we bear to hear?  -Gordon Peerman

Monday, September 19, 2011


Swimming, One Day in August, Mary Oliver

It is time now, I said,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.

Something had pestered me so much
I thought my heart would break.
I mean, the mechanical part.

I went down in the afternoon
to the sea
which held me, until I grew easy.

About tomorrow, who knows anything.
Except that it will be time, again,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fruit (and its Cultivation)

I've always loved picking wild fruit--black/blue/straw/huckle berries, muscadines; and love finding plums and apples still growing on old farmsteads. What luck to discover them--what joy to come back over the years and find them still bearing. 

Lots of times I've wished spiritual fruit would grow wild, but it usually only flourishes when cultivated. We call the process spiritual formation. The wonderful catalog below from Paul lists what tasty pickins come from cultivating what is most worthwhile in our lives. 

It makes for difficult and delicious work. 

Let your lives be guided by the Spirit, and then you will certainly not indulge the cravings of your lower natures.  For the cravings of the lower nature are opposed to those of the Spirit, and the cravings of the Spirit are opposed to those of the lower nature; because these are antagonistic to each other, so that you cannot do everything to which you are inclined.  But if the Spirit is leading you, you are not subject to Law.  Now you know full well the doings of our lower natures. …Enmity, strife, jealousy, outbursts of passion, intrigues, dissensions, factions, envying …and the like. And as to these I forewarn you, as I have already forewarned you, that those who are subject to such things will have no share in the Kingdom of God.  The Spirit, on the other hand, brings a harvest of love, joy, peace; patience towards others, kindness, benevolence;  faithfulness, gentleness, self-restraint.  Against such things as these there is no law. -from Paul's letter to the church at Galatia 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Freeing the Heart from Entanglement

If it were not possible to free the heart from entanglement in unhealthy states I would not teach you to do so. It is because it is possible to free yourself from entanglement in unhealthy states that I offer these teachings. -Buddha

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When life presents us challenges, remember Moses. God asked him to lead people on an adventure they didn't want to take and to convince the king who wouldn't allow them to leave to let them go.

This adventure was called Exodus, literally the 'way out.'

The way out had three choices, to be
  • On the way, where Moses chose to be
  • Not on the way (the people liked the deadly familiar better than an unknown adventure)
  • In the way, which is where the king was--because Moses' people were the king's slaves and were valued more for what they did for him than who they where for themselves
These remain core choices for all of us in our relationship to our own adventures and the adventures of others.