A Couple Lessons From My Research Career

I spent five years in the nineties as part of research teams studying how to improve drug and alcohol treatment. My job was to manage and clean the data, and to do statistical analysis

In my first job after university, I worked on a team that examined “proximal outcomes” for recovery, both for twelve step programs and cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea was, each modality of treatment program suggests various activities for people to do if they want to get sober – but which of these many activities are actually most effective in helping people to stay clean?

Details

A Different Drummer: Friedrich Nietzsche and Morality

Sigmund Freud evidently believed that Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche had a more “penetrating self-knowledge” than any other human being has ever had. If Freud’s analysis is accurate, perhaps it explains why Nietzsche’s written output so closely reflects aspect of the human psyche; like our minds, his philosophy is powerful but occasionally difficult to untangle, given apparent contradictions and complications. From among the strands of his thought, however, emerge coherent patterns. For example, although the ideas involved are convoluted, Nietzsche repeatedly asserted that a morality rooted in notions of good and evil originated in weakness, is destructive, and is arbitrary. Instead of morality, Nietzsche affirmed a value system that was based on embracing the worldly, the paradoxical, and the “evil” of noble strength and joyous independence.

Details

A History Of Circling

“Circling” is a powerfully liberating and connecting authentic relating practice that has been exponentially growing in popularity, worldwide. As circling has reached wider, people have gotten interested in its roots and history. As a part of an epic Facebook discussion thread on the subject, I wrote a post to clarify my memories of the beginning days of Circling and its evolution since then. I especially focused my writings on the early relationships between some of the major founding figures.

Details

Attending The Burning Man Festival and Living in a Zen Monastery: Compare and Contrast

Both of Burning Man and a Zen monastery are roller coaster rides – intensely blissful one moment, then an hour later dropped down into the depths of the pit, and then all blissful and clear again five minutes later.

Buy, at Burning Man, you have many radically new experiences every day. At the monastary, many of the days are as much like the last one as is humanly possible.

Details

Bamboo In The Wind

I think that most people who pick up spiritual practice are looking for more peace and stillness; we want our movements, thinking, and speaking to be easeful, unforced, non-compulsive, and perhaps even almost effortless. A common image in Zen poetry is of bamboo swaying in the wind. One explanation for this is that bamboo swaying in the wind moves – but it moves in an unforced and easy way.

Details

Book Report: “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

A straight up masterpiece. This book is filled with deep, true, authentic Buddhist wisdom, and yet is written in an easy, extraordinarily clear Americanized vernacular. It is a comprehensive introduction for mindfulness meditation practice, filled with clear instructions for the path. The book challenges the reader to go deep and to practice properly, but it also has a simple, patient, humorous, kind, smiling vibe to it. It covers a wide ground, and yet touches on each subject in depth.

Details

Book Review: “I Am That”, by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

If you want to understand “enlightenment” not just as a concept, but actually learn how it feels to disidentify with yourself as a finite human being, and to instead experience yourself as an expressive action of the entire universe, then this may be the perfect book for you. Nisargadatta’s teachings are relentlessly confrontational and cosmically mind-blowing. If you are ready for them, the words in this book can take every belief (and perceptual) system that you have, and blow them out of the water, stretching you wider than you could have conceived possible. Some times in reading it, I have felt that this book is IT, the end point of the whole journey.

Details

Book Review: “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, by Stephen Covey

“Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” is a deceptively basic-seeming book that will actually will reward the reader with as much depth as they are willing to seek from it. Some themes in the book are developing a sense of purpose and intentionality in life, cultivating self-discipline and ethical behavior, and ways to create social networks that work (which, in the end, comes down to love). A big theme in the book is taking on practices and self-cultivations in the service of self-improvement.

Details

Book Review: “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, by Shunryu Suzuki

“Zen Mind, Begnner’s Mind” is mystical and otherworldly yet also day-to-day ordinary, it is philosophical and technical yet also beautifully poetic and literary, it is challenging and demands your best yet is also gentle and patient, it is traditional yet also modern, it is serious and sincere yet also light-hearted and easy, it is simple yet also deep, it is Japanese yet also American.

Details

Book Review: “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie

Some general themes of the book “Codependent No More” are cultivating boundaries, a healthy sense of separation, solid self-respect, saying “no”, paying attention to one’s own business, and being able to strong and brave in walking one’s path. It’s also about finding balance and general emotional health, and cultivating the ability to love and care for others for real (in a way that isn’t draining).

Details

Buddhist Practices For Dealing With Addictions

In Buddhism, it is taught that, ultimately, liberation comes though insight. It’s difficult for me to explain what “insight” means in this context, but I suppose in simple terms you could call it, seeing existence as it truly is. The traditional teaching, though, is that deep insight usually requires a concentrated focused mind, and that developing concentration usually requires a foundation of ethical behavior.

Details

Committing To Living In Monasteries And To Traveling To Asia

Going to university in Santa Cruz, though, I got all into psychospiritual growth – Buddhist meditation, psychology and therapy, hatha yoga, twelve step programs, communication skills and processing, Joseph Campbell and Ram Dass, holotropic breathwork, sweat lodges, encounter groups, men’s circles – and workshops, endless workshops. Exploring, deepening, and expanding the psyche felt more real and more compelling to me than making art or music. In this world, where there’s politics people, travel people, money-making people, creative people, hipster people, sports people – I found that I am a psychospirtual growth person.

Details

Dance Floor Meditation

With the “Who am I?” part of the mantra, I dissolved whatever felt solid in me. I noticed all the definitions of self that my mind kept coming up with – some of them superior to the people around me, some inferior to the people around me, many neither. As my defining mind did its thing, I felt the heaviness tired constrainedness of those definitions – “I’m this kind of person, and that fact means that”. As they came up and I got caught by them, I kept asking “Who am I?” – i.e, “who is the I that believes this?”, “is this definition of self who *I* am?”.

Details

Dating, Sexuality, and Buddhist Teachings

I once read a book on sex that suggested that healthy sex has at least three aspects: respect, honesty, and consent. Within that framework, the book suggested, do whatever your dirty li’l minds come up with. That definition made a positive impression on me. And now, years later, having developed in my Buddhist practice, I like those three as good guidelines for a basic foundation of “right sexuality” that fits with the modern world that I live in.

Details

Experiencing India

People warned me before I got to India. They said: traffic is insane, Indians drive along constantly honking, everything is dirty, cows wander on the streets, men pee along city streets, people throw trash down anywhere and everywhere, it’s such a mix of people and cultires, it’s the land of extremes. They said, it’s an assault on the senses – a barrage of colors, beauty and ugliness, words, music, sounds, smells. Not much works efficiently, logically, predictably. People told me: nothing can prepare you. So, I took all their words to heart, and was ready for too much.

Details

Hooking Up

  I have read that there is scientific-evolutionary-biological evidence that homo sapiens were not meant to be completely monogamous. For example, they’ve found that only a small percentage of sperm actually are able to impregnate an egg; the function of more than half of sperm is actually to destroy any other males’ seed that may…

Details

India Travels: The Ancient Ghats of Varanasi and the Dhamekh Stupa in Saranath

Varanasi (formerly known as “Benares”) is situated along the banks of the Ganges river, in North India. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, older than most of the major world religions, and the oldest in India. Mark Twain apparently said, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. Wikipedia also says that it is the holiest city in the Hindu and Jain religions, is the spiritual capital of India, and is often referred to as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, “the city of learning”, and “the oldest living city on earth”.

Details

India Travels: The Bodhi Tree, The Sri Ramana Ashram, and the Arunachaleswarar Temple

My last night in North India, after three weeks there, was an emotional one. I was in Bodhgaya, a town best known as the spot where Buddha yes THE Buddha attained full liberation/enlightenment, after he sat all night under a tree in the middle of the open field. Modern Bodhgaya is no longer that serene, 2,500 years later. Instead, it has paved streets full of the typical busy Indian overwhelm that I have become familiar with – jostling noisy crowds of people vehicles and cows, people constantly coming up wanting me to buy something, crumbly buildings and homes, and even snaggle-toothed beggars wearing dirty rags and holding outstretched hands (which is actually a rare sight for me in India).

Details

Interpersonal Meditation

Many of us with a desire to be truly emotionally close with other people eventually come to the conclusion that interpersonal relating can either be under control, safe, and artificial, or it can be raw, real, and genuine. A corollary of this is that there is no way around the anxiety that comes from being truly close with people – being intimate involves making space for a certain amount of anxiety without trying to manage it or make it go away.

Details

Joining Facebook

I noticed years ago that you can have fun cyber-interactions with folks that don’t actually seem to make a huge difference in the texture or depth of the feeling the next time I see someone in the real world. Even emails often don’t seem to really take a relationship deeper. The thing that seems to really open up and deepen relationships are real time interactions, especially if it involves something relatively intense : traveling or living together, dating cuddling or otherwise physically touching, working on a project together, being a men’s/therapy/personal growth group, or otherwise going through a fire of real life together.

Details

Karma and No-Self

A friend emailed me yesterday, and asked “If the Buddhist doctrine of anatta (which holds that the self is an illusion) is true, who is it that is accumulating karma? I’m genuinely puzzled by this, especially as it pertains to the concept of re-incarnation and the Atman (two seemingly incongruent concepts to anatta).”

My friend was asking about karma, which is the idea that we are the inheritors of the results of our actions – in other words, the idea that what we sow, we reap. A common example of karma: if we eat healthily, exercise, and get enough sleep, we will probably be relatively physically healthy, and, if we don’t, we won’t. Simple enough.]

Details

Lessons I’ve Learned From Rock Climbing

I’ve noticed that it feels unmistakably more fun and satisfying to challenge myself, to get out and go climbing, to get on some routes that are edgy and difficult for me, and then to be skillful, brave, and persevering, and do what it takes to get all the way to the top. This is, of course, similar to many other areas of life: we don’t have to take on challenges, and we don’t have to succeed at them – but it sure does seem to feel better to win than not to play.

Details

Longer Attention Span

As we know, our modern electronic internet/social networking/cell phone culture is stimulating, entertaining, and short-attention-span-ish, but accomplishments that fulfill us the most take patience, focus, and a long attention span. A quote that I just saw and like, from “The Organized Mind” by Daniel Levitin : “As already noted, the Internet has helped some of…

Details

Looking For Patterns Of Happiness And Unhappiness

Recently I did some thinking and writing about the texture of the time that I have been an adult, the ebb and flow of happiness in the twenty-five years since I graduated high school. I started listing, what were all the months and years of greatest growth, expansion, opening, and generally good things; in other words, what activities, experiences, and factors seemed to correlate with my life coming more alive. What I came up with were:

Details

Love Remains At The Heart Of Things

“What I’m about to tell you is very real – I’m telling you the truth – I’m telling you what’s really so for those people: their inability to respond, their bound-upedness, is the highest expression of love which they are able to muster. About this I know the answer: they have a capacity for love, like yours or like mine, which is absolute. The only thing bound up in their life is the expression of that capacity. So, what you’re getting is a bound expression of an absolute love for you.”

Details

Marriage, Commitment, and Trust

For most of my life, I’ve felt that a wedding ceremony should be a reflection of the fact that two people are basically “as good as married” already, and that a healthy commitment grows out of already existing intimacy and trust. But lately I’ve noticed that at least a few couples that I watched get married within two months of meeting each other, and that I doubted would last long, are still going strong years later. Sometimes, it seems, commitment creates intimacy and trust.

Details

Meditating At The Bodhi Manda Zen Center In New Mexico

Bodhi Manda monastery sits, with a bar on one side and a Catholic convent on the other, along the rural highway that runs though the villiage of Jemez Springs. The monastery is a complex of maybe seven large buildings, most of them dating back to the mid-twentieth century, back when the compound apparently served as a chill-out for misbehaving Catholic priests. The solidly constructed, venerable edifices are surrounded by a beautiful treasure trove of gardens, statues, bird feeders, ponds, creeks, and trees. When I was not hustling around being busy, it felt wonderful and peaceful to be on the grounds.

Details

Meditating At The Bodhi Zendo Monastery In India

I just finished a refreshing five-day meditation retreat the Bodhi Zendo monastery in south India. It felt wonderful, relaxing, and peaceful to be there – Bodhi Zendo is, I think, one of the most tranquil and pleasant places I have been in my life. My time there was certainly a refreshing and quiet contrast with the chaotic overwhelm that for me has often characterized traveling in India.

Details

Meditating At The Dragon Mountain Zen Temple In Colorado

Six years ago, at Tassajara, I had a delightful, far-ranging, deep conversation with an SFZC alumni priest named Steve Allen. As the conversation ended, he invited me to come practice with him and his partner Angelique at their little hermitage on the side of a mountain in Crestone, Colorado. I set an intention then to go and visit them; keeping in mind my search for a Buddhist practice that resonates with my deepest intentions, I wondered if his style of Zen might match with my own.

Details

Meditating at the Sogen-ji Zen Temple in Japan

I just spent about a week staying and practicing Buddhism at the Sōgen-ji Rinzai Zen temple and monastery in Okayama City, Japan. Sōgen-ji is known for its long-time abbot, Shodo Harada Roshi, who many people have told me is one of the few great living Zen masters. I had heard of Shodo Harada Roshi for years before my visit, since he is the longtime teacher of my teacher Ryoshin Paul Haller (the abbot of the SF Zen Center), and of Soryu Forall (the Dharma heir of my teacher Shinzen Young). Harada Roshi also apparently has written a few books and offers yearly retreats at the One Drop Zendo on Whidbey Island in Washington State near Seattle, which some of my Zen friends have apparently attended.

Details

Meditating At Wat Pah Nanachat Monastery in Thailand

I just finished a two week stay at Wat Pah Nanachat monastery, here in Thailand. Quoting Wikipedia, Wat Pah Nanachat (spelled วัดป่านานาชาติ in Thai, and meaning “International Forest Monastery”) is situated in a small forest in north-east Thailand about ten miles outside of the city of Ubon Rachathani. The eminent Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah established the monastery in 1975 to serve as a training community for the many Europeans, Americans, and other non-Thais who were pursuing study with him along traditional Thai Forest monastic lines at his famous Thai-Wat Nong Pah Pong monastery. Wat Pah Nanachat’s monks, novices and postulants include a wide range of nationalities, but the primary language of communication and instruction is English.

Details

Meditating At Wat Ram Poeng In Thailand

I just spent a few weeks at Wat Ram Poeng, a temple two miles southwest of Chiang Mai that features an English-language meditation program. Perhaps it is less accurate to say that Wat Ram Poeng “features an English-language meditation program”, and it is more accurate to say that they provide space for foreigners to meditate. Almost all of what I did during my time there was meditate by myself, eight to fourteen hours a day, inside the simple, clean, comfortable, and pleasant little room they provided me with. I alternated sitting meditation, mostly on the bed, with equal lengths of time doing walking meditation, slowly pacing back and forth the length of the room.

Details

Meditating At Wat Suan Mokkh International Meditation Hermitage In Thailand

After my retreat at Wat Pah Nanachat, I rode trains for a couple days to get to Wat Suan Mokkh International Meditation Hermitage, and sit a ten day meditation retreat there. Suan Mokkh is a meditation center located on the long narrow peninsula that extends from Bangkok south to Malaysia. Similarly to Wat Pah Nanachat and Ajahn Chah, the Suan Mokkh IMH was founded by one of the more famous twentieth century Thai Buddhist masters (in this case, Buddhadasa Bikkhu) as a place for Westerners who wanted to study with him but could not understand the language at his Thai-language monastery.

Details

Meditation Retreat at The California Vipassana Center

Two weeks ago I returned from a ten-day meditation retreat that I did over New Year’s, from December 29th 1994 to January 8th 1995. Going there was like being a monk for two weeks. or like being in a non-violent prison. The schedule was to wake up at four am, sit in meditation for two hours, eat and rest, sit for three hours, eat lunch at eleven am, rest, sit meditation for four hours, eat fruit, sit for an hour, watch a video-tape discourse on Buddhist teaching and on the theory of meditation starring the head teacher guy from Burma, sit another half hour, optionally ask any questions we had for the assistant teachers (Americans), and then go to sleep, usually at around 9:15 pm.

Details

Meditation Retreat Poem

In August 2005, I sat a ten day vipassana meditation intensive at the Tibetan Buddhist center Vajrapani, in the hills of Santa Cruz, with my teacher Gil Fronsdal. In the evening of the last of the ten days, all the meditators gathered by the center’s stupa (pictures above) for an acknowledgment ceremony that actually turned into something of a talent show. People sang songs and did some comedy, but mostly people recited impromtu poetry they had just composed about their days sitting in silence on the retreat. Today, I came across the poem I came up with that night, and wanted to share it here. For people who have been on sitting retreats, the experience may sound familiar.

Details

Mind-Expanding Classes, And Missing Meals

I took a class about “the flow of awareness”. We discussed being conscious of what goes through our minds, both what we are perceiving and what interpretations we are giving to our experience. Then I attended a class on the difference between effortless, “enlightened” non-karmic action done with the awareness that the universe is interconnected, one the one hand, and karmic action done willfully, individually, with a goal in mind, in a compulsive, striving manner, on the other.

Details

Mindful Driving

The technique that I have found most useful for meditation while driving is to simply be present and focused on the sense impressions of the act of driving – to see what is going on around us, to keep our ears open for the sounds of traffic, and to be aware of the bodily feeling of sitting in a car seat holding a steering wheel. We can developing an all-round awareness of what is to our sides and behind us as well as in front, inside our cars and outside, repeatedly releasing wandering thoughts so as to bring ourselves back to the richness of the present moment.

Details

Morality Part I: Moral Rules

A friend of mine posted on Facebook a graphic making fun of religious notions of morality as “handed down from God”. I responded: I think a lot of atheistic objections to religion are a reaction to a simple-minded concept of the Divine. Yes, many people do indeed think of Divinity as an all-powerful Man with a White Beard who has a bunch of rules, a bunch of demands, and a quick temper. But that vision does not fit with the more sublime and subtle Divinity that, for example, the deep spiritual mystics and sages throughout the millennia have talked about experiencing.

Details

Moving In To The San Francisco Zen Center City Center

A few months ago, I moved into the San Francisco Zen Center City Center, a Zen temple in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. The daily weekday schedule began for me the next day – waking up at 4:50 am, soon to begin an hour and twenty minutes of meditation (almost all of it sitting, with a little walking meditation in the middle), followed by twenty minutes of chanting, twenty minutes of temple cleaning, and then breakfast.

Details

Music And The Mind

“Melodies which run through one’s mind … may give the analyst a clue to the secret life of emotions that every once of us lives … In this inward signing, the voice of an unknown self conveys not only passing moods and impulses, but sometimes a disavowed or denied wish, a longing and a drive we do not like to otherwise admit to ourselves … Whatever secret message it carries, the incidental music accompanying our conscious thinking is never accidental” — Theodor Reik, in “The Haunting Melody: Psychoanalytic Experiences in Life and Music

Details

Not Two, Not One

The molecules on the outer edge of “you”, say the ones on the edge of the cell membranes of the cells that are on the outer edge of your eye, are just as enmeshed, electron-swapping-wise, with the molecules in the air around you as they are with the molecules further back in the cell wall. In other words, it is scientifically impossible to say where “you” end and “your environment” begins – from this perspective, it all seems to be one interconnected whole.

Details

Podcast Interview Transcript

Today’s guest is Adam Coutts, a meditation teacher and practitioner who has worked with hundreds of individuals and groups to guide them to discover the experience of meditative awareness and to customize a spiritual practice that fits their personality and into their lives. So, join us as we enjoy the power and simplicity of meditation and the profound peace and bliss that comes from learning to rest in awareness and consciousness itself.

Details

Recommendations For Yoga Intensives In India

A few folks have asked me to let them know what I find out about long long-term yoga training opportunities while here in India. I haven’t done as many yoga intensives as I fantasized I would, but I do think that I have however learned good stuff about what the yoga opportunities are here – by taking retreats, and also taking individual classes, talking to yoga teachers and students, staying at ashrams, and reading things online

Details