Posts Tagged ‘simplicity’

basket of fresh fruitThere are many variations of the prayers that the Buddhist communities use before they eat to bless their food.  This is the one we use at the Southern Palm Zen Group.  I like it a lot as it is simple and to the point.

“Earth, water, fire, air and space combine to make this food, numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that we may eat, may we be nourished so that we may nourish life.”

Thus we focus not on the “food” but the reason that we eat: to nourish our bodies and minds.  It’s really that simple.  As humans became more social beings we began to eat for pleasure and times of sharing, fun, and celebration with our families and friends. We created reasons to eat and to give thanks before the meal to show our gratitude for the food, our families, and our friends.

Brown encourages us to do a little less “picking and choosing” when it comes to food.  He says, “So instead of picking and choosing, as students of life we might at times choose to practice acceptance, gratitude, enjoyment, thanksgiving (page 145-6).” That is easy to do by always blessing your food before you eat.

I used to teach the kids in Sunday school when we had snack time to say, “Ruba dub dub thank you God for the grub.” Some of the parents did not like it but the kids loved it and it started them off on a great practice of giving thanks for the food they had been given–even if they disliked it.  It can also be a time when you can share with them that many children have no food to eat and to be grateful and happy that they have food on their table.  To value the food that they have will help them have compassion for those who have none.

Giving thanks is something we all do at Thanksgiving with our families and friends sitting around the table, but I hope you’re doing it every day not just one or two days out of the year.  You’ll be surprised how much better the food will taste, and how much less Pepto-Bismol you’ll have to take after the meal.  Regardless of who cooked it–the  worst or the best cook in your family–giving thanks will make it go down easily!

Just remember what Mary Poppins said: Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down or Uncle Joe’s chili…well maybe not Uncle Joe’s chili…but giving thanks may help!

Read Full Post »

Now that’s a silly name for this chapter when I’ve just spent the last 5 chapters talking about “how to practice Zen!”  Kaz  Tanahashi has a great chapter entitled “Guidelines for Studying the Way.” In it there is a DO NOT DO LIST for students:

imagesStudents! Do not practice buddha-dharma [teachings] for your own sake. Do not practice buddha-dharma for name and gain. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain blissful reward. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain miraculous effects.  Practice buddha-dharma solely for the sake of buddha-dharma.  This is the way (page 13). [1]

I am sure you are asking yourself then why am I practicing?  I like to think it is to follow the dharma [teachings] so beautifully shared in the four vows of Buddhism.  I really love the translation that my friends at the Wet Mountain Sangha in Pueblo, Colorado use:

The Four Boundless Vows

I vow to wake the Beings of the world
I vow to set endless heartaches to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way. [2]

Practice is neither easy nor hard it depends on how you are feeling and what you are thinking in each moment. That’s why they call it practice.  They don’t call it “done” or “finished” or “fulfilled.” As a Buddhist everything we do, every thought we think, every word we speak is “practice.”  So what are you practicing: fear, anger, and animosity or peace, love, and compassion? How about some simplicity of thoughts and words and deeds?

Our practice isn’t just sitting on a cushion with our eyes lowered in the cross-legged position or on a chair, or at the top of a mountain or by a beautiful lake or stream.  It is when we are in the midst of the chaos and noise, traffic and confusion of the “real world” that our practice comes alive through our focus, our breath, and keeping our dharma-eye on the Buddha way. Begin by realizing that we are all one: the moon, the stars, the earth and the people around us are one. When we do this it is so much easier to live the life of the Buddha through peace, love, and compassion for all beings and for our planet.  There are too many preaching it and not enough living it!  Which one are you?

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

[2] http://wetmountainsangha.org/

Read Full Post »

Teaching students about simplicity is very difficult in a world where there is no example of it in their lives.  We live in a society that is complex, busy, noisy, and filled with to-do lists and projects and school, studying, and working toward promotions and more.  And this is all happening today!

But to live a life of peace, joy, and contentment we will need to slow down, increase our ability to focus on one thing at a time, and find time to meditate and be mindful about each word, thought, and step we take.  When we accomplish this we will be living in a world that is full and complete and filled with peace, love, and compassion.  Fears and frustrations will diminish and laughter will appear in their place.

dad, grandad, boy playingWhen was the last time you heard yourself or your children or students or co-workers actually laugh with a loud squeal, saw them roll on the floor, and hold their tummy because it hurt so much from laughing?  When was the last time you laughed so hard tears rolled down your face like the picture you see here?

Below is an exercise for you to share with them to help them think about simplicity and how it appears in their lives. You may not be able to use it with very young students so you may have to revise it a little bit to show them how to work on one thing at a time and finish it before they go on to the next thing. You might illustrate that idea with two pictures, one that is a very simple picture of something i.e. a glass of milk, and the other that is a very busy and complex picture such as a table full of dishes and food with a glass of milk among the items on the table.

Script for Exercise:

Pretend that you have a magic wand and that magic wand allows you to recreate your life and yourself– to invent a new you.  I am going to give you a few minutes to meditate on a word and think about what it means to you and how it appears in your life, or doesn’t appear in your life.  The word is simplicity.  (short pause)

When I ring the bell I am going to give you several minutes to create something with the art supplies that you have gathered that will illustrate what you discovered about yourself during the meditation.  Be as creative as possible in expressing what you discovered and even what the new you, both internally and externally, can look like. Feel free to draw, write, color, express yourself in your own unique way.

Keep track of the time. Give the students 3-5 minutes, longer if they have experience meditating, before ringing the bell. After ringing the bell remind them what they are to be doing for the next 10-15 minutes.  Keep track of the time because you will want to save time for debriefing the activity.

You might even try this exercise yourself.  Reflecting on simplicity might lighten up your day and brighten up your life!  Try it I think you’ll like it…

In gassho,


Read Full Post »

Teaching with mindfulness and contemplative practices is like wearing a MASCC while at the same time creating a road map for your students and for yourself.  When we use Mindfulness, Artfulness, Simplicity, Compassion, and Connectedness (MASCC) to design our courses, prepare to teach them, and actually teach them we empower our students in many important and exciting ways.

As educators it is our responsibility to educate our students not only in the course content, but also in how to live mindfully, compassionately, and successfully in an ever changing and challenging world of war, hunger, prejudice, poverty, disease, and climate change.  The power within each of your students lies dormant until we help them discover it.  But for that to occur we must first discover it within ourselves.  We must create a MASCC for our lives and the circumstances within which we live and move and have our being.

So the first step in this process is to find a practice that resonates with your belief system and discover the power that it has to expand your life in these areas.  Chose one area at a time and focus your reading, research, attention, time, and talent in that direction. Make it fun, make it experiential, and make it an integral part of your life.  Then watch what happens with your teaching ability, your creativity, and your responses from your students, friends, and family members.

Change is not easy, but it is important. Stagnation often appears as a very slow death. So slow that we often don’t even recognize it until it is too late.  Stagnation can mean the death of a relationship, a job, your health, and more.  It hinders the growth and learning for yourself and your students.

Today’s students have sensory overload with the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more! They have trouble focusing and quieting their minds and thus it makes learning very difficult. Their attention span is short and getting shorter every day!  So if you think how and what you taught last year or two years ago or five years ago will work today think again!

mindful-games-book-coverSusan Kaiser Greenland in her book “Mindful Games” shares with her readers an exercise that I think you might like.  It is called “Drop the Monkeys (page80-81).”[1] In Buddhism we talk frequently about the Monkey Mind! Monkeys represent thoughts, sensations, distractions and emotions running around our heads throughout the day.

So what do we do with them? She has her student’s remove their power by adding them to a chain (like a necklace) filled with monkeys.  Once they’ve filled up the chain she has them dropping the chain into a barrel, letting go of them quickly and easily! Whatever you do don’t go back and take them out of that barrel!  Getting rid of the Monkeys will put you on the fast track to creating a powerful MASCC that can change your life forever!

Let me know how it goes!

In gassho,



[1] Greenland, S.K. (2016) Mindful Games. Shambhala: Boulder

Read Full Post »

Rose Robbins, my dear departed friend and teacher at Zen, wrote some powerful words in her book Cherish the Harvest: Making Enlightened Choices: A Holistic Perspective, Lessons from the Garden. “Actually, meditation can be called a search for simplicity, or a return to simplicity.  To be simple is the most difficult task in our society, or perhaps anywhere.  Yet it is essential if we are to attain peace of mind, for in reality, it is a search for significance and authenticity (p. 86).”

Today just happens to be the Labor Day holiday in America where simplicity is an oxymoron. Nothing in business or life is simple today and even though we are to be rife of labor on this particular day the stores are bustling with sales and companies are requiring their employees to go to work, even in jobs that could be closed in order to give them a day of rest and respite.

Women and men will be rushing to the grocery stores to buy those last minute items to prepare or to share at their family dinners and barbeques.  Those lucky enough to have the day off will be lining the roads rushing from home to store to friends and relatives with mustard or relish, potato or macaroni salad, and red velvet cake with icing on top in the shape of an American flag.

Or they will be rushing from store to store to catch that bargain that they really don’t need and may never wear or use, some arguing with sales clerks and other customers.  They will spend the day in chaos, use up our natural resources, put more carbon into our atmosphere, and while sitting at one of those endless traffic lights a glimmer of a thought may appear, “What the heck am I doing here?”

“On the wall of the silent retreat at the Sai Baba Ashram in India is a mural:

Before you speak consider.
Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind?
If not be silent, and listen to the quietness within (p 85).”

“To be simple” as Rose says, “is the most difficult task…”  How many of you reading this wish your lives were simpler?  If you do not take Sai Baba’s sage words to heart your life will continue to be filled with hustle and bustle and you’ll be saying as the commercial on TV does, “My life is busy, busy, busy.”   And when that life is over, as you lay in that hospice bed, what will you be thinking then?  Busy doing what?

Simplicity is a word that most Americans do not know, it is not a part of their lives in any way, shape, or form.  In fact, for some it is a “cuss word” as mom used to say.  They will say to me after a long day or week of sitting at the Zendo—you just sat for all those hours!?  You’re kidding, aren’t you?

Over the years I have tried to simplify my life in small steps, “baby steps, baby steps” as Richard Dreyfuss, the psychiatrist, would say to his neurotic patient, Bill Murray, in the 1991 movie “What About Bob?”   I went from a giant house in the suburbs, to a two bedroom condo on the beach, to a one bedroom condo on the beach, to sharing a one bedroom condo with a friend after his mother had died.  I live in one room that is filled with book cases, a computer desk, a recliner chair, and one of those wonderful hospital beds that go up and down so I can watch re-runs of old British comedies on my10 year-old TV with ease.  And I could not be happier!

In fact, my next move (when I fully retire) will be to purchase a small RV so that I can drive around the country and see all of the beautiful things in America that I have yet had the opportunity to see.

Simplicity in speech is also something I am working on daily.  Some of my friends may not think so I’m sure, but I am.  I am working to live a life as is described by Sai Baba above.  Before I speak I am practicing asking myself, “Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind?”  It goes along with the Sixth Grave Precept in Buddhism, “A disciple of Buddha does not speak of the faults of others.”  And yes, it is hard.  If you decide to try it you will find that your co-workers, friends, and family members will entice you in many and various ways to talk about others, to share gossip, and stories, and rumors and words of anger, hatred, or doubt. Or we end up doing just what the Buddha called “monkey talk.” Chatter, chatter, and chatter with no real point, or thought, or importance to the words at all.

In fact, I have gotten so bad with the “monkey talk” that I even talk to myself out loud at any time and in any place.  I actually said this to my friend just yesterday, “You know what I really love about my Bluetooth is that I can be talking to myself as I walk around and no one will know they will think I am talking to someone on the phone!.”  Now that is really pathetic, if I do say so myself!

If you are like me… instead, remind yourself that you are working, especially on this Labor Day holiday, toward living a simpler life as is sung in the Shaker hymn written by Elder Joseph, “Tis the Gift to be Simple.”

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Begin with baby steps—but begin today.  Yes, even on Labor Day! And for this I simply wish you luck…

Read Full Post »