Friday, December 30, 2011

What we talk about when we talk about worldly winds

What we talk about when we talk about worldly winds

There's a great story by Raymond Carver, called "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love".  Recently, in the New Yorker, there was a story by Nathan Englander called "What We Talk About When We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank".  Someday I'd like to write, "What we talk about when we talk about worldly winds".  Not today, today is for reflection.

The 8 worldly winds are:  pleasure and pain, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, gain and loss.

I'm reading Vajragupta's Sailing The Worldly Winds, just finished the first few chapters.  To my knowledge the first kindle edition from Windhorse.  Unfortunately I didn't do the urban retreat, they read the book then.

So he asks about my response to some questions in exercises at the end of the chapters, and I thought I'd reflect here on them.  My preceptor is on solitary and my other closest spiritual friend is out of town.  Others are busy.  I prefer to speak this stuff in person, but I'm a little isolated--a worldly wind of sorts.  

One week I'm in contact with a lot of people who are supportive (because they too are on the journey), there's more than usual sangha activity, or I'm on retreat.  And then I'm not around anyone at all.  (I like solitude, but not isolation from spiritual friends.)  Part of the spiritual life is making conditions more conducive to deepening the spiritual life, by hanging around sangha more, developing spiritual friendships, simplifying life, having more free time and less responsibilities to practice (meditation, reflection, Dharma study, friendship, altruism).  It demands great creativity in this distracted and distracting society in New York City.  

For a long time I had a kind of rugged individualism, I was willfully meditating every day, plowing through books.  I couldn't keep that up.  I just don't think the conditions are supportive enough.  Having children is a topic for another day, but children make non-work time full of another kind of labor of love.  There's will power plus making conditions more supportive, so will power isn't needed as much, or can go to more and more refined things.  Just like you realize in meditation, some things you fight and some you just happen.  Learning how to work to improve things is a subtle and complicated art, but it takes clarity and confidence in the teachings.

After the winds of more supportive and less supportive environment for the spiritual practice, the next thoughts about worldly winds are about love life and work life, both which can make one soar to the hights and depths.  (I'm working on an essay about the Dharma and divorce.  And one on my last retreat.)

I think about my worldly wind triggers.  I think I covet my personal time.  When I don't feel like I've had enough, I get bitchy, like that's going to change things.  I notice I can suck it up for a weekend, but often at some point I break.  In some small way, maybe, but there's a point where I just say, "f&$% it," and I lose my discipline.  I tell a story about my experience of parenting.  I feel a great responsibility to give what I didn't get, which is a presence.  My mother came home from work distracted, focused on making dinner, then watching TV.  My step father was curious and alive because he meditates, and exerted a positive influence.  He ultimately led me to trying meditation, which led to the Buddhist path. I want my kids to have a present and alive parent--which I have to tell you is not easy for me.  I want to retreat into a book or computer or something.  I find when they do things I don't like, it's like my mind gets jammed and I can't think.  Thinking around my children is very hard.  And yet somehow on the journey I can improve.

So when my children have hours of homework to do, even though they're in first and second grade, I freak out sometimes.  My parents didn't really help me much with my homework, and I didn't have as much homework as they give now.  I have a really undertow of resistance to my children having so much homework.  Even though I was a teacher, and I'm committed to being the what my children need, and they need help with homework, even so, I find myself checking out at times, and just getting so wazzed out that I'm not helping them with their homework.

The lokadhammas should really be translated "worldly conditions", which I think properly puts the emphasis on conditionality, but "worldly winds" put a kind of emphasis on how things blow back and forth.  I always think about that Zen story when I think about the worldly winds.

Vajragupta provides antidotes to the worldly winds.  Praise and Blame is transcended by truthfulness.  Fame and infamy is transcended by individuality, integration.  Gain and Loss is transcended by generosity.  Mindfulness is the antidote for pleasure and pain.  He references Vidyamala's book (which I want to read) and Breathworks.

I learned from Marsha Linehan, what you need to do with pain is to face the pain.  I've always felt ambivalent about gently leading my patients towards their pain, out of the theory that it will be helpful.  I say theory, because how would you prove that.  

The test is in people's experience, and everyone is different.  In the end, even if someone suffers pain in remembering, it's never quite like when it happened, and if someone's there to process it with them, then that is really profoundly intimate and healing.  In my clinical experience, for what ever worth that is, what ever proof that is.  

Freud used to talk about science of psychoanalysis.  I prefer the art, though I don't really like to indulge in dualities.  I'm expressing a personal preference.  That's why I'm not into evidence based practice.  To ratify common sense and clinical experience with "science" is a waste of time.  Like science proving how healthy meditation is.  Sorry, doesn't need to be proven.  I mean, go ahead and prove that if you want.  And I'm sure I could really learn from evidence based practice of psychotherapy.  I think people who like books and not supervision favor evidence based practice more.  I've just never had a book required or given to me that was evidence based practice.  I'm sure I'd love that too actually  But I digress.

Vajragupta asks in the reflection exercises, how could you fight being blown about by the worldly winds (after he's provided his antidotes)?  I really do think mindfulness is the solution.  I once had a friend suggest that suffering was a trigger to look for more mindfulness.  

Generosity is also a solution.  We can get so caught up in ourselves, and spin our wheels.  Doing something for others is less ambigous if you're a little sensitive to exploring what someone else might need.  Now there are all kinds of questions about helping people, and I was thinking about that the other day when I lent a patient Living Poor, a Peace Corps account of living in Ecuador.  He gives nails to one guy to help him out in business, and the next day his brother shows up.  "I want nails too."  When you give someone something you're susceptible to sibling transference.  "I want some too, it's not fair!"  When you give someone something, you create expectations.  Now that's not fatal, I'm not saying dont' be generous.  But we've got Chogyam Trumpa's concept of idiot compassion.  And this just goes to show that there's no formulaic solution except being present and mindful, no easy answers. True generosity is a complicated and deep thing.

So what's the antidote to the frazzled, overwhelmed, irritability I get after not having a little free time with myself?  What's the dharma door's opportunity?  My friend has always told me, I made this life.  I chose this profession that absorbs my whole being so much, that I'm often exhausted after work.  Then I chose to have children.  It's a huge responsibility that people rarely grasp.  Once they're here, you can't change your mind to it's a decision that colors the rest of your life.  The urge to reproduce is perhaps too unexamined in most people.  I was older, and thought a lot about it.  But my friend reminds me that I was a little ambivalent about it.

Some Buddhist friends don't want to have children, because it's a huge time suck, or they just see through the urge to reproduce.  I think it has been helpful to me to clarify things and grow up in a kind of way.  I would never wish away my children.  But I have to admit that it's taken time from my meditation practice, and when my will was weak, given me a built in excuse for taking my foot off the accelerator.  Other worldly winds can become intensified in that context.

So there are some of my rambles around reflections on the worldly winds.  While Vajragupta goes on about the bodhyangas, you'll just have to read that part of the book to get that.  While we need to tidy ourselves up, we also have to develop a vision of where we're going.  I like the spiritual journey, I think it provides the best suggestions in developing a vision.

(btw, found this interesting bit by Subhuti on the lokadhammas (you have to listen for a while, or go to section 5).  Also Vajragupta has a talk from the Urban Retreat)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Right speech video?

File this in idiots who try and get spiritual.  Well, that's kind of harsh.  I like it when the person who presents himself as out of control and caught up in modernity dabbles in ancient wisdom to try and enhance their life.  Why not.  I like to make fun of myself at times.  I like the yoga teacher too, she's got a completely different personality, yet she's willing to engage with him in this video.  I think his 4 things are from the 10 precepts of Buddhism, the 4 right speech precepts.

Gregory Burdulis TEDxBoulder Video

I like the calm and pace of his presentation, it's not jam packed, he's really simplified the story to the important things.  I find it so interesting that he's entering the world with what he's gotten from the monastery, the cave and the hermitage.  Advertising no less.  I watched commercials yesterday during the Knicks season opener.  One comercial copied the drawing I recently saw in video about the high price of materialism.  I saw Charles Barkley, who claimed not to be a role model, encourage me to join weight watchers because he is a role model.  Advertising can co-opt any message and twist it into materialism.  It's insidious.  Bringing mindfulness to a big advertising agency is a nobel cause, but can that transcend the whole project?  The whole project is to sell something.  Feels like mind pollution to me, clutter.  I wish I could have back the space in my mind that has selling jingles.  More mindfulness in selling?  That could go both ways.  I hope what they uncover is more compassion as wel, but personally I don't think it's just mindfulness.  There's also the cultivation of positive emotion.  I feel like ethical and spiritual development is important too.  Hopefully he can uncover some of that, there.  I'd like to hear about that tension.  I'd like an update on what he's learned after he's done it for a while.  Anyway, an interesting video.  He's a brave man in a way, going into the belly of the beast.  Good luck.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


David Bowie

I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test

(Turn and face the strain)
Don't want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strain)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through

(Turn and face the strain)
Don't tell t hem to grow up and out of it
(Turn and face the strain)
Where's your shame
You've left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can't trace time

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace I'm going through

(Turn and face the strain)
Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers
(Turn and face the strain)
Pretty soon you're gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can't trace time


I remember the first time I heard this song.  I was over at a friend's house, he was older and had a bunch of older siblings.  Lots of cool music.  That's probably like 30 years ago.  It came out in '71, so it's 40+ years old.

I was creating a playlist for my kids on spotify and they have Shrek soundtracks, and I listened to that version and the David Bowie version.

I'm struck by the phrase "But never leave the stream/Of warm impermanence".

That's great, "warm impermanence"  Amazing.

Kuan Yin Mantra

Just been googling Kuan Yin Mantra


 This is different than this one, which is a downloadable mp3:

 my button is not working on my phone, at the moment, but here's an app:

 There's a song by Lisa Thiel: Kuan Yin's Mantra I

 Her own bio says: "Lisa Thiel is a visionary artist and ceremonial singer whose healing song prayers and chants are among the most popular in the women’s spiritual movement today.Originally a holistic healing professional in Los Angeles, California, Lisa began creating her music as an expression of and as a vehicle for her own process of personal growth and transformation. Her spiritual path led her to study many of the world’s spiritual traditions and her teachers were yogis, shamans, Tibetan lamas and wise women of the Goddess tradition."

 And there's even more far out wacky seeming stuff about Kuan Yin, but here's some internet wandering I had today.

Friday, December 16, 2011

David R. Loy Quote

p.130 of Money, Sex, War Karma:
"The modern world can keep many of us alive longer and sometimes makes death less physically painful, but it has no answer to the groundlessness that plagues us individually and collectively, for nothing in the world can fill up the bottomless hole at our core."

Also later he writes:
"We need an alternative to 'there's no alternative'."

Friday, December 09, 2011

Guest Blog

With the new blogger interface, I can see how many hits I get to a page.  So it looks like guest blogs get the most hits.  Anyone want to guest blog?  What's your spiritual journey?  Any points about Buddhism, Buddhist culture, Buddhism in America, Buddhist music, Buddhist fiction, feminism and Buddhism, Buddhism and vegetarianism, Buddhism and sex, the Triratna Buddhist Community, Buddhism in New York City, Buddhism and parenting, Buddhism and psychotherapy?  Guest book reviews (no free books sorry, unless you want to come over and look at my book shelf)?

It's not about getting the most hits, to be sure.  I like my humble little blog that could.  It's yours too, though, please consider guest blogging.

Materialism video

I found this video profound.  I want to cultivate intrinsic values and community, move away from materialism.  I've got small children and it's hard not to want to buy them what they want for xmas.  One of my patient's says she bought a whole lot of little things when they were small.  They liked bulk.  Instead of trying to hit a home run, I'm going to try a bunch of bunt singles.  Is that materialistic of me?

More Loy quotes

The following quotes are from his chapter, "What is wrong with sex?" in the recent book by David R. Loy:

"The liberation of sexual preference means that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals can come out of the closet leading to an important reduction in collective social dukkha." (p. 65-66)

I like the notion of collective social dukkha.

"Buddhism is unique among the major religions in not being pro-natalist.  There is no doctrinal encouragement that we should have lots of children, which is another aspect of the Dharma to appreciate, given our overpopulation of the world." (p. 66)

Supposedly we just hit 7 billion people.

"Our culture is saturated with sexuality, not only because sex is commodified in every possible way (being indispensable for grabbing our attention) but also because preoccupation with sexual gratification helps to fill up the void left by the collapse of any larger meaning."

David Loy quote

"We are punished not for our our "sins" but by them. We become the kind of person who does that sorts of thing." David Loy in Money Sex War Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution, in the Chapter "How To Drive Your Karma".

This quote captures the subtle and more sophisticated approach to spirituality that I really appreciate. I wasn't wild about the first few essays in this book, but I really enjoyed the chapter on Nagarjuna, and this one on Karma. He does a good job of putting these ideas into a modern context, with a sense of the past.

Buddhism needs to be critically reinvented in the west. On the one hand, we need to understand not the just the literal sayings, but really go deep into the context of why things were said and extract the principles. We need to update these things into our modern existence and cultures, with a critical eye to our own present contexts, without being too trapped in that either. The further along we are on both these very deep areas, the better we can understand what the Buddha was getting at, and what that means for our present circumstances. Sangharakshita is really excellent at that, but there's no final draft and we have our own responsibility to advance our understandings. It is no small task, but in my opinion the "best game in town". Our personality determines whether we're going to be more academic or more of a faith follower, and how those two are mixed.

Literalism and lack of depth, superficiality and vagueness is a plague, a virus, a malaise in me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Just started reading Patience by Allan Lokos. He wrote the book because one of his friends said, "Just about every mistake I have ever made and every unkind word I have ever spoken might bave been avoided if I had been more patient." He felt that was true of him. Is that true of you?

I picked up the book because at one point the feedback I got was that I needed to cultivate more patience. I find it an interesting topic, though I'm a bit wary about picking up books by people I don't know.

I think impatience can be good. It makes me take out the garbage, makes me make changes that were perhaps overdue.

But I think when you really know what's going on, you don't really resist reality.

I didn't know about Allan Lokos, but looks like an interesting center on the upper west side of Manhattan, at 88th and Columbus.

Anyway, interesting beginning, I'll let you know how it goes.

The Story

I've been thinking a lot about story lines I say that cause stress. Maybe this blog should be on my psychology blog, but I think this isn't incompatable with Buddhism. I think it's through meditation that I have gained insight into my stories as stories. Of course stories can be more pragmatic or skillful. We have to tell stories. I'd even go so far as to say I'm a story junkie--after a day of listening to people, I go home and read a book or watch some TV for more stories.

One story line I've dropped is "I can't handle the heat." One I'm conscious of is, "I don't take the holiday season well." December has historically be my least favorite month--the pressure I put on myself to give presents, my own laziness and overwhelmedness contributes. One person said to me that maybe I'm just selfish. OK, so I'm selfish and this holiday season of giving confronts that. My patients seem to think I'm generous. My sons do and don't, my girlfriend does and doesn't. One story line is that I'm a self only child. That's another story I have to work on.

So the holiday season presents challenging stories and demands, and I'm looking into it to see what's useful, what's not, and see if I can root out the negative stories.

Now that sounds like modern psychology, but I think Buddhism is all about the mind, and working with it, with a specific goal in mind.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

if you have a little girl, here is an excellent holiday present

I usually don't do this, but I liked this book. Here is the press release for the excellent children's book I just read:


New Children’s Book Reinterprets Ancient Zen Fable for Today’s Kids & Adults; Makes for a Beautiful and Unique Gift for the Holidays!

(LOS ANGELES) December 1, 2011 – With the holiday season around the corner, families and friends everywhere are looking for the perfect gift, especially for those adorable little children in everyone’s circle. How about something a little different, something with a lot of heart and a little Zen? “Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones™)” ($15.99, Umiya Publishing), by Sanjay Nambiar, is a gorgeous, smart, and mindful children’s book that will make a perfect addition to any holiday reading list (for kids as well as adults). In this hectic season of stress and worry, a book like “Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones)” is exactly the type of gift that can bring a family together.

Based on an ancient and beloved Zen fable, “Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones)” is about a wise girl who experiences a series of events that at first seem lucky (or unlucky) but then turn out to be quite the opposite. For each incident, was what happened good luck? Maybe. Was it bad luck? Maybe. Or, perhaps the girl simply does not get caught up in the emotion of the moment, because she can never know what that event might lead to, “good” or “bad” . . .

Just like the story itself, the book’s beautiful illustrations juxtapose modern graphics with traditional backgrounds to transpose the old into the new, thus creating an accessible context for deeply meaningful concepts.

Sanjay Nambiar, the book’s author, grew up in Carson, CA. He overcame a gang- and drug-riddled environment with the help of a closely-knit family and a focus on education. Nambiar practices meditation on a daily basis and sees extraordinary potential for happiness (and frustration) in the confluence of Western lifestyles and Eastern philosophies.

“The holidays can be filled with ups and downs, with a lot of drama that can be tough for kids – and adults – to process,” said Nambiar. “The themes in this book help us realize that we don’t need to get super sad or excited about incidents during the holidays, because those events often lead to things we couldn't even imagine at first. I hope this can inspire readers to consider the holidays in a different perspective, one that incorporates a little bit of Zen as well as a lot of fun,” he added.

“Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones)” is available at,, in e-reader formats for the Kindle and iPad, and at select bookstores and gift shops. For more information, please contact Jeannine Jacobi of Fresh PR at (310) 857-6994 or, or visit

About A Little Zen for Little Ones™
A Little Zen for Little Ones™ ( puts classic and new Zen stories in an accessible context for today’s kids (and adults!). These revered tales provide a little perspective on what’s truly important, on how personal balance and peace can manifest in everyday life. With children as central characters and narratives that reflect modern culture, A Little Zen for Little Ones™ helps us examine our values as our world becomes more complex and confusing. After all, if our children can get a little bit of Zen in their lives, perhaps they’ll grow up to be adults with a little bit of Zen as well. Wouldn’t that be great for all of us?

[end of the press release]

what I like about the book is it recast the story I like, where there's an alternation of "good" and "bad" luck that really with all the alternations turns out to be the opposite each time.

I'll update it with my children's reactions, when they read it.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Don't forget movie Crazy Wisdom

Supposedly last night was sold out, wish I could have been there. Crazy Wisdom is still playing at the Rubin. Hopefully my friend who's going today will write another guest post, maybe she'll overhear a cool comment.