Passing it On 2009

Passing it On 2009



Let Silence be the Art of Practice by Gerry Sarnat

Ahah! This is the seventh day of retreat in noble silence.

An early Dalai Lama favored the feeblest of horses. While neigh-sayers thought steeds could barely saunter, could never be taught to soar, not worth the ATP, the Bodhisattva of Compassion bet the opposite. After all, wouldn’t the swiftest glean little from training? My hack mindfulness is quenched only at breakfast. There and there alone am I nimble, no unicorn shadow wrangling, no need to be shown the whip.

Unkarmic to make eye contact with other renunciates, I gaze at my bowl of delights, steamy millet with treasure sprinkled on top. One sun-ripened raspberry crown — kingly generosity so others might feast. A single queenly raisin. Two stately almonds, so subtle, so smooth, as my incisors tease each into divine halves. A spoonful of granola cascades from the castle into a moat of milk. A dollop of honey sweetens my domain, a smattering of orange rind compote seeps through the whiteness to unite the realm.

Bring on more heavenly fruits! A finely honed knife cuts bits of flawless pear, ripe apple. “What flair!” I muse again on my internist’s hobbyhorse — until opposite at the table, a real blade wizard pathologist performs amputory miracles carving mango. Old enough to no longer inhabit a low maintenance body, there’s added benefit to this fare: the far reaches of my network of tubes and holes will soon be prune-lubricated. My flesh machine mashes grapefruit eighths into its fuel pipe on the way to the furnace on the way to becoming me.

I do not crave as much now, am better gauging my appetite. Lesson learned by sixth breakfast: less is more. Every meal I want less, rare second helpings, hardly anything left in my dish. But the banana I’ve been eyeing turns out to be wooden, flavorless, desiccating. What to do? Accept the offering with open heart, untainted taste buds? Reach beyond pleasure to sustenance? Ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows? Take the gracious green crescent booty as is — or judge, put it aside? Some days eaten, today not. ‘What will the others think?’ asks my comparing brain, ‘of the rest of my poorly camouflaged waste? Can I slip it into the compost bucket on the sly?’

I am royally grateful for attendant windfalls; that green tea may ward off cardiovascular disease. Throughout this gastronomic procession, my fingertips linger on the mug’s warmth, my cheeks bathe in its fragrance — which almost allows me to forget yesterday’s guilt-ridden nightmare. A horseless knight traipses in, swinging a stinking incense-burner, it’s miasma enveloping him, a plague victim punished by God at his job building character again.

Not to complain, but such overwhelming sensations given free rein — then sneaking a pen to scrawl it all down on napkins — get confusing. Didn’t I take vows not to write this week? I am the last person in the dining hall. The dishwashers wait on my utensils to finish up, just as I will theirs during my work meditation. Something inside shouts out tomorrow’s Inquiring Mind headline: IGNOBLE YOGI EXPOSED COMPOSING!

Imperial gong signaling next sitting, blinders on, bit back in, this bad actor (screenplay stuffed in pants) jockeys to the starting gate, hopes not to lag down the homestretch. Our thoroughbred dharma teacher quoting Rumi seems to horse-whisper directly in my ear: “Words no matter how humble seeming, are really a kind of bragging. Let silence be the art of your practice.”



Anxiety Attacks and Mindfulness by Jim Bronson

I teach Intro to Meditation classes for the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA. The people who show up for the intro classes usually find us through three means, which have a lot to do with their being unique personality types and often in some distress; through the web after googling something like “pain management”, through the advice of a friend or colleague who cares but doesn’t know what to say or do about their distress, or through the urging of a therapist.

This evening a tall dark fellow arrived late and breezed in just as I was talking about how meditation is simple to do, just hard to remember to do it. He introduced himself in a somewhat British accent as being from Singapore where he represented a high technology company. With big eyes he told about encountering anxiety attacks a year back such that he would have to cancel business trips and shutter himself into his apartment for days at a time. Through googling he had found our meditation center, not far from the world headquarters for his company, and was hoping for some relief from the anxiety attacks.

By the end of the class, after experiencing three short periods of just sitting and noticing what comes up, he seemed more relaxed and I noticed that he stayed after the class for our center’s usual evening sitting and talk. I didn’t think any more about him for 7 or 8 months. Then he showed up again, this time at a Beginner’s Practice Course I co-taught at the center. This time he talked in the past tense about anxiety attacks and said he still could not figure out what had helped him, but they had diminished to where he no longer had to put off business trips. He appeared periodically at our center for a while until I noticed a news article saying that his company had been bought by a larger competitor. Now, I imagine him somewhere sitting and noticing what comes up.



Someone is Dying by Kaveri Patel

That someone is me.

Not a 6 month to one year prognosis from a terminal illness, but a
letting go of all I have ever known.

I used to believe that fear would save me. Worry just enough, and
maybe even sprinkle just a little extra anxiety to convince myself I
can control future events.

I know nothing. Except for this moment. Beginner’s Mind, my mind is
like an empty page. The words cannot be written, the colors cannot

be painted until the moment arrives.

And when it does, I will know who to be, what to say, what to do. I
am on the right path. I wish to let go of all my preconceived
notions of what will happen. The only thing I wish to hold onto is
trust in this practice.

Good bye old mind. I do not hate you. I do not wish for you to die
sooner than you must. You brought me here. I will collect ashes
from your pyre, let them scatter with the wind and float on the

You will join the earth, as I am born again.



In the Pines by Kari Prager

The trees are always green here.
My glance dances from branch to branch.
Sunlight’s broken shards lay a mosaic
on forest floor. I came here to be alone
but I am not. The understory
rumbles with the munching of beetles,
the millipede’s tiny feet prance
over pine needles slowly turning
to mulch, smelling of tomorrow.
Deeper, earthworms tunnel blindly
through the podsol, turning the
earth with earnest diligence,

This place is a comfort. I lean against
the scratchy trunk of a lodgepole pine.
The melancholy that brought me here
sloughs off, nibbled away by busy
legions of ants, trudging back with
countless morsels for their queen.
I don’t fear death here. If it
came to me, strangely comforting,
no regret would outlast it. I can play
with such musings while I know
for now the pulse of blood is strong.

Perhaps will come a time when,
undiscovered, I’d be but a bag
of skin covering whitening bones
that once held me up against the pull
of the earth. I can’t say why,
but it comforts me that the forest
would turn me into something
written in a language scratched by
foraging partridges under the deadfall.

Nothing can harm me once
this beautiful life joins something
common to every creature in this place.