Monday, December 23, 2013


Last night, my family and I were sitting around the table with our close friends at a small “posada” (Christmas party) in their home, and the subject of corruption came up in connection with the new energy reform that was just passed by the congress here in Mexico. Monetary exploitation is a hot button issue because it is evident throughout all levels of society, especially so with the politicians and labor unions.  Citizens expect it.  They’re always looking for the “bite” or the “take”.  They see it with the police for a common traffic citation, and they hear about it in the news when a politician gets away with millions, frequently without going to prison.  Although the conversations people have between family members and close friends are frequently charged with remarks about how terrible corruption is, its collateral damage, and ways to stop it with force, it's quite likely that little is mentioned about when and where it begins.
Such a discussion, not only in family homes but throughout Mexican society, is seriously needed.  It would help us to recognize that corruption begins in childhood.  Children emulate what they see, what they are taught, and what they are forced to carry out.  For example, Michael Ventura, a social commentator, said it so wisely, “When our children see you owned, then they are not your children anymore, they are the children of what owns you.”  Thus, it follows that if parents are owned by lies and corruption, then their progeny become the children of lies and corruption, like the boy with the weapon in the photo above.
However, if parents became even more aware of the roots of such dishonesty, they would have a better chance to institute its prevention at home and to ask societal leaders for help at local schools and religious institutions.  There are quite a number of measures at our disposal.  The first one is unconditional, parental love, such as the tenderness we see between the mother and child while nursing.  Another is kindness or friendliness that is performed without any expectation of something in return.  Also, compassion that is taught and carried out, sometimes quite firmly when it is necessary to stop harmful actions.  And the new mindfulness programs that are just beginning in schools in the U.S., especially where children and adolescents are in danger, bring about marvelous change.  Most of all, these means of preventing harm show our children that the strengths of unconditional love, kindness without expectation, integrity, and faith in our deepest nature, are their security blanket.  They are what they can resource within themselves in difficult and stressful situations.
Yes, serious and informed conversations are needed about the roots of corruption.  They help us to see how it begins and what to do about it with children and adolescents.  Even though we’ll find corruption’s origins with parents owned by such dishonesty, we’ll see that it also comes from other sources, i.e. peers at school, ruthless elements of society, and violence on television.  We must recognize that our children deserve an opportunity to live as freely and securely as possible within society, especially one where mothers and fathers use the wisdom of loving kindness and unconditional love as the principal forces for preventing corruption from taking hold.  When this is the case, we see results like the boy happily smiling in the photo above.  As parents, we just have to decide what we want for our children and make it so.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Americans, in particular, like to speak of freedom; especially, that of the individual.  Of course, others in the world, i.e., citizens in China, Afganistan, or Saudi Arabia, wonder what they’re talking about.  Even Americans look at the question of freedom quizzically, particularly when they are loaded down with responsibilities and bringing in one or more paychecks that don’t equal or exceed the cost of living.  In fact, if we really examine the most important aspect of freedom, we might see that it has much to do with “when.”  This issue lies within our responses to the three questions Joseph Goldstein refers to in his book, One Dharma, which, if we’re wise, we start answering before we’re lying in our deathbeds.

The first question is, “What are you holding onto most?” Does it have to do with your family, your lovers, your memories, your projects at work, or something else?  Usually, we don’t really know what we’re clinging to until we put ourselves in a space where it’s possible to contemplate the issue; otherwise, what we think of offhand may be misleading.  We really need to give this question some time.  Working in this way we discover the hidden issues we latch onto at a subconscious level, and we soon understand how we’ve besieged and imprisoned ourselves throughout a good deal of our lifetime.  Confronting these matters head on via meditation, contemplation, or even talking them through with a trusted confidant allows us the opportunity to view these attachments with equanimity.  The result develops into an ever-flowering state of personal freedom that not only has a beneficial effect on oneself but those closest to us.

The second question is, “What would you have wanted to accomplish in your life?” Does it have to do with family, career, or personal endeavors?  Do you find that you harbor regrets, deep sorrow, jealousy, envy, or much more?  Are hopes and expectations involved?  If so, are they yours or have you disappointed someone? Whatever they are, you need to bring them out into the open or peace may never happen.  Focus, contemplation, meditative perseverance, and other methods can put these issues in the light of equanimity, giving you a chance for a level of freedom you’ve probably never experienced.

The last question is, “What is of most value to you in these dying moments?” Personally, this enquiry is something I keep coming back to time and time again.  The answer continues to be “presence accompanied by feelings of loving kindness and compassion.”  If I were to die in this moment, that’s what I’d want to experience, staying conscious without a trace of fear throughout the entire process.  I wouldn’t want to let any tinge of that emotion throw me into clinging to anything, such as loved ones or objects that would distract me from having a successful and peaceful death.  Finding out what we value most is something we have to experience for ourselves; otherwise, we won’t be sure of what it is and peace may never come, even with our last dying breath.

In conclusion, I’m confident that the answers to these questions are particularly important for leading us into realizing a previously unfound level of personal freedom.  Such an experience comes about through equanimity; meeting our attachments head on and through nonattachment letting them go by simply not holding on, not grasping at them.  We are still aware of their presence, but we view them in an awareness that no longer distracts us.  They simply come up as thoughts, feelings, or images and pass away.  They’re impermanent.  This is the generosity of compassion and loving kindness in action.  It’s surrender.  Much easier said than done, isn’t it?  Possible?  Absolutely!  Of course, the real question remains, “Do we want to wait until our deathbed to deal with these issues, or do we wish to set ourselves free now?”

Friday, October 25, 2013


Early on in life we find ourselves hanging on to difficult childhood relationships, feelings of guilt and shame as a result of something we’ve done, disappointments in our failure to get the grades for which we’ve strived so hard in school, and so much more.  Letting go of what is harmful to us is something we haven’t often experienced or learned to do.  We’re frequently taught in society to keep on striving rather than to recognize when we need to disconnect before we hurt ourselves mentally and physically.  However, when we truly realize the value of surrender, it’s a practice that becomes a lifelong undertaking.

For example, experience has shown me that it has an amazing range of qualities.  I’ve sensed a presence while surrendering and recognized that it had always been there, as if it were waiting for the moment in which I would wake up and wise up.  Also, going along patiently and without distraction, there is a feeling of deep inner peace quite unlike that I’ve felt, for instance, as a result of a solution to a problem.  There is, in addition, the existence of compassion and loving kindness in this path, for they show themselves quite clearly.  Moreover, there is an awareness of clarity in that if I contemplate something intensely, it reveals its nature.  

The process also involves the intuitive understanding that surrender is a very moral thing to do.  There is a drive to continue letting go, a will to persist in renouncing without regret.  I’ve felt it and given in even more. As Chogyam Trungpa so rightly tells us, giving up hopes and expectations will march us into disappointment. However, their relinquishment has caused me to come out stronger in the long run, for surrendering them was so appropriate.  It was kind of like an alcoholic or drug addict who had finally admitted his or her addiction and had begun to work towards a new and brighter future.

Besides every foregoing experience, this work has also shown me the difficulty in surrendering the obstacles in the path of this practice.  For example, letting go of pride for the things for which I’ve worked so hard to achieve, sometimes quite begrudgingly.  Going hand in hand with these feelings for long time achievements is the surrender of egotism in daily activities.  Another is releasing the aggression I´ve felt towards other living beings, ideas, political positions, and more.  This includes the letting go of apathy. 

As I’ve continued to review my life in search of more to surrender, I’ve found times of self-pity and released them.  Although I’ve not felt jealousy in a long while, if it were to arise, I would let it go as if it were a hot rock.  Recalling the times I’ve felt hate and anger has uncovered the fears lying beneath them.  Looking at the situations in which I’ve felt sloth or laziness has helped me to uncover and let go of the shame hidden there.  Since this process is hard work, there is almost no excitation unless it’s involved in something I’m contemplating.  Finally, I’ve felt no harm in the process of surrender because I’ve released what had the ability to injure.

Surrender, in my case, is a work in progress, one that I’m sure will continue even through the last moments I have on this planet.  It seems there’s an unlimited number of things to let go of, but it gets easier.  Also, I’ve found that as I’ve continued this endeavor, my will to relinquish has become stronger, for it allows me to accept life as it is.  Truly, there is strength in surrender.  In fact, the more I let go, the more present I become.

Friday, June 28, 2013


While we most often hear of meditation practice resulting in reduced pain and mental stress, increased compassion and loving kindness, and other benefits, it’s less frequently mentioned as a way to resolve phobias.  However, that’s my experience with a fear of the dark I’ve had since early childhood.  It’s interesting to note that the more consistently I practice vipassana, the more fearless I find myself in unlit rooms and outside at night.  Now I’m interested to try it as a way of coping with a life-long phobia of looking up at the tops of high buildings and towers during the daylight hours.  Along the way, I've also learned that maintaining equanimity when confronting a phobia head on is without doubt one of the most important factors in its resolution.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


When we begin to practice meditation, we are often told that it’s important to dedicate an area in our home for that purpose.  The instructions also say it should be quiet and not used for other activities.  At first, the significance of these guidelines may not be readily apparent, but that changes over time, especially with practice.  Transitions in a person’s meditation space may occur in many different ways; however, I can only tell you what has happened in ours.         

It was a little over five years ago, when my wife and I moved into the house you see above, which is located in the countryside near Santa Cruz Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala, Mexico.  We’d built it from the ground up, and after years of renting we were really enthusiastic about finally moving into our own home.  Even though we’d always had a room or a space dedicated for meditation in our rental houses, we knew that we’d be moving on in few years.  This time, however, we’d constructed the meditation room you see on top of our home with the notion that we’d likely use it for that purpose for the rest of our lives.  Quite happily, that’s the way it’s been.

From the day we moved in, we began meditating in that space from one to three hours a day, including some longer periods for short retreats.  Just as in the rental homes, with continued use the space began to pick up the vibrations similar to what we’d experienced in halls used for group meditation.  Being accustomed to those feelings, we enjoyed the sensations of spending time in this dedicated area.  Friends who came to meditate with us voluntarily said they felt a considerable difference there compared to the other rooms in our home.  Then about six weeks ago the environment of the room changed.

At first, I noticed the room had taken on an added presence of being.  It seemed to have become not only a place of meditation but also a place of refuge or sanctuary.  Now, it’s in my thoughts more often than ever before, and I feel an urge to go there more frequently and for longer periods of time.  Sitting periods have also increased as well as the comfort I feel in doing them.  The information presented in the writings and spoken words of well-known teachers make more sense now than ever before.

Several weeks after I’d experienced this transition, I asked my wife if she’d felt anything similar.  She said that she had and that it occurred at about the same time I’d noticed it.  I was happy to hear this confirmation because it meant I wasn’t imagining something that wasn’t there.

Since that time, I’ve done some research on the subject.  Interestingly, I’ve found little that goes much beyond saying that it’s important to reserve such a place in our homes.  However, many years ago, when I was helping with a 10 day vipassana retreat led by one of S.R. Goenka’s teachers, Arthur Nichols, in a large room in a Catholic retreat setting in Tepotzlan, Mexico, I heard him say, after about three days, that it was finally beginning to feel like a meditation space.  Somehow, I’ve never forgotten his observation nor my sense of the change in that environment.

While I’ve used the words refuge and sanctuary to describe our meditation room, I don’t mean to infer that it’s a place gone to out of fear.  Rather, it’s a space in which to take a break from conventional living and contemplate the real source of refuge, just as it states in the Dhammapada 188-192.  Practicing in such a place is as Sarah Fletcher, Quiet Mind Meditation, states, “it is like sitting with an old friend, imbuing our meditation with a special sense of reverence.”  I’ve also found that our space definitely helps to draw my awareness inward and get closer to what’s in my heart.  As time goes on, the area becomes more precious, taking on an ever increasing aura of sacredness.

Like I’ve stated above, I can only tell you what has happened in our meditation room.  We built it a little over five years ago, began using it daily, noticed a shift in its presence about six weeks ago, and now it’s so much more than what it was in the beginning.  What I experience there encourages me to keep on sharing through my blogs.  The feelings of tranquility and refuge I associate with that space accompany me throughout daily life.  I highly recommend that whoever reads this article would set aside a place for meditation or just being quiet.  Or if someone already has an area like this, then to know that continued practice may help it to change into a very precious, even sacred, area of his or her home.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Setting Ourselves Free

The wisdom in the stories of people with near death experiences often speaks of seeing their lives reviewed.  They realize what they’ve done well and what they need to change.  Many of them live long enough to make it happen.  Likewise, we hear of leaders and teams reviewing their efforts, taking the “lessons learned” from the past and making productive changes—thus, staying in business, remaining essential, or in some cases alive.  Hearing this, why wouldn’t we want to do the same with our personal lives?  And where would we start?

A good place to begin is “letting go of regret.”  Commencing this review, processing it from as early as we can remember and ending it where we are now significantly lightens our load of negative baggage.  Quite a large number of health professionals speak and publish on this subject; however, some of us may wonder how profoundly they’ve done this work for themselves.  Beyond theory, how aware are they of the intimate details of the tasks to be carried out from a first-hand perspective?  The road of letting go of regret, perhaps, may not be as frequently traveled as some may think; otherwise, why would they repeatedly confront the same troubling issues they thought they’d let go of long ago?  The truth is, it’s the well traveled road that picks up the wisdom along the way that essentially completes this important task. 

Looking into the seeing heart, we find that letting go of regret inevitably includes “forgiving ourselves.”  No, it isn’t just unshackling ourselves, picking ourselves up, and dusting ourselves off.  Disturbing characteristics like denial, pain, blame, and pride come up too.  Compassion is also part of the process, for as we feel the softening of our hearts and the release of suffering, we momentarily move into what some would call light, and we might experience something so much more than what we are.  It humbles us and sets us free to begin again, especially as we understood that some regrets are difficult, even shameful, and require working on over and over until they soften and fade away.

Just the idea of setting ourselves free from regret includes some real contemplation on what’s involved.  For example, what we call moral courage—the will to take on all the negativities that we’ve experienced in life, been responsible for, and developed as far back as childhood.  The list may include such things as bullying, stealing, lying, hurting others, killing and more. Each issue requires a good level of concentration, along with the perseverance and dedication to carry it out.  We start with the easy and work towards the difficult, building our power and confidence as we move along this path toward freedom.  Likewise, knowing how to detoxify ourselves from working with a lot of negativity before we begin again keeps us on track.  Ultimately, the wisdom that comes from opening every door in the process, including some that are unexpected, permits us to do a real housecleaning.  We learn that it’s best not to leave anything behind, for it might invisibly block our path later on.

In conclusion, looking at the past and letting go of regret is a major milestone in recovering our lives and allowing productive changes that help us and others.  Not to be considered lightly, it reduces our load of negativity and that of the people and creatures around us.  Once we begin, it becomes easier to do “on the spot” while we go about daily life.  We just make the decision to set ourselves free and give ourselves the will to carry it out.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


The path of freedom is multifaceted and some parts of it are difficult and seemingly never end, especially the process of letting go of what hinders us from being free.  Many of us who are walking this trail of liberation have also experienced it not to be a course of escapism but one of letting be, not holding on.  It consists of the obvious and the subtle:  (a) the people, animals, ideas, and things we know we consciously love, like, dislike, and hate; and (b) the people, animals, ideas, and things we subconsciously love, like, dislike, and hate.  Perhaps, it’s the subtle that’s the most complicated because until we discover the attachment, we don’t know it’s there at all.  For example, we can be stressed but not know why.  Letting go of the obvious and the subtle is a two-way process:   on purpose and as things come up.  

According to my good friend Hellen Newland who is a Dharma teacher:  we see the object of our attention and experience its sensation in our body;  and as we focus, we open our heart to it, accepting and letting it go into the space of warm and brilliant, sad yet vulnerable heart seeing.  Doing so, we learn things we have never realized before.  For example, living here in Mexico, I frequently see paper and plastic items thrown on the streets and roads.  Observing this litter arouses feelings of anger, disappointment, and sadness, but when I work the process of letting the refuse go, feelings of never-before-felt vulnerability arise, thus, helping me to experience a new-found clarity and strength.  Finally, the process allows us to act from the heart, a place of no good and no bad without a set outcome.  In my case, just simply pick up the paper or plastic and put it in a garbage receptacle minus the emotional attachments.

There are several things we can realize from “letting go” on the path of freedom.  First, if we wish to see its truth, then it’s best done holding no opinions for or against anything.  Second, when we let go of others, especially our family and friends, it increases their feelings of freedom and happiness. Third, we come to an empirical understanding that enhances our ability to experience a tranquil, peaceful, and fully aware death largely devoid of attachments as we leave our body.  Finally, we know we’re taking control of our lives while benefiting other living beings every day, growing ever clearer and stronger as a result.   Letting go, letting be,  and no longer holding on to the obvious and the subtle welcomes a true sense of freedom into our lives.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Looking at this photo I’m reminded of the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  What connects the old man and the birds?  Might it not be loving kindness, a state so gentle that it literally becomes one with nature, attracting creatures to come and unite within the umbrella of peace and humility?  Could it also be conveyance of great empathy?  Knowing what it is to be a living thing that must constantly seek out food in order to live, the elderly gentleman comprehends and communes.  He walks in the feet of others.  His compassion is great, and he doesn’t hesitate.  His visitors know his presence is safe and fulfilling.   The lessons shared here require not a cursory glance or two, but deep contemplation.  Looking profoundly through the eyes of real understanding, making the heartfelt connection, we begin to grasp their message of tranquility, unity, and purity.  Coupled with clarity, an appreciation of life arises, showing us that living things, even those that are aggressive and competitive, can live together in groups.  We might even wish the leaders of the world would awaken to these deep and insightful truths.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Getting To The Root Of Turmoil And Violence

When we look really hard at this world right now, especially those of us who have been around for more than 50 years, we find it to be considerably more dangerous than it ever was, riddled with violence from video games to movies to terrorism and children being slaughtered in their classrooms, coupled with personal conduct going down the toilet.  We hear a lot of talk regarding these troubles, especially school massacres, between political and community leaders, colleagues and professionals, families and friends, and students and teachers.  They want to know their root cause.  They also say they want them to stop and that we begin discussing ways to prevent the atrocities that dominate the news. Such desires for solutions inspire me to think of the possibilities that many people experience with the Buddhist practice called Lamrim.
Although this training, according to highly regarded Tibetan teachers, contains quite a number of contemplative exercises, there are three that have particular relevance for the violence and mayhem we are facing in today’s world.  Guided by a competent instructor, most people begin to realize their value within a very short time.  They center on the disadvantages of self cherishing, the advantages of cherishing others, and the exchanging of self for others.  In fact, if their results are used as the basis for discussing the problems we have in our societies, they’re particularly intriguing.  They’re profound.  They mine the depths of everything.  They bring wisdom to the table of negotiation.  It’s worthwhile to examine them in the context of three questions.      
What part does self cherishing play in this troubled world?
When we are enmeshed in self cherishing we can’t see anything but our side (“My pain, My car, My job…”), our wish to satisfy our desires (“I want, I don’t want, I wish you…”), and we are often oblivious to the fact that we may be harming others as well as ourselves (“I didn’t know, I had no idea, It’s not my problem…”). For example:
When we hear a child screaming uncontrollably in the supermarket, we may wish he would shut up to make us feel better.  If he were our child, we might even try and silence him for exactly that purpose.
Having learned that the Taliban treat their women with so much cruelty, we may experience an intense desire to destroy such men so we feel better for having cleaned the world of people like that.
When an alcoholic or drug addict experiences the need for her substance of choice, her desire soon relegates all other priorities to last place, and our misplaced hate may lash out at her to satisfy our urge to punish.
When a teenager is bullied in school, his desire to assuage the pain may turn into murder; we fear he could harm our children, and it’s possible we desire his death.
How would cherishing others lead us out of such dilemmas?
Having observed our side and the other’s, we are able to see more clearly, especially what is harmful as well as recognize the importance, the innocence of the other’s being, and begin to realize and know the way out of the failure to find peace.  For example:
Cherishing the distressed child and not his behavior, we notice that we begin to feel better, perhaps even compassionate.
Cherishing the Taliban and not their cruel behavior, we lose the intensity of our desire to destroy but not to prevent what they do; maybe we even begin to develop a wish to see them gain clarity.
Cherishing the being of the addict, we may discover that her addiction to alcohol or drugs is akin to that of cancer, and our loving kindness begins to lead us toward helping open more rehabilitation centers.
Cherishing the adolescent who murdered to relieve the pain from bullying, we may feel moved to actions that resolve what led to the death of its victims.
How does failing to exchange self with others lead us deeper into failure?
When we don’t step into the shoes of the other, we stay in our thinking and theorizing and lack the understanding of the realization of knowing.  Thus, truly cherishing the other may be impossible as well as any considerate or viable solution.  For example:
When we do not look at ourselves through the eyes of the crying, squealing child, we don’t see we are clutching our pain, trying to close our ears, not understanding what is going on in his mind, or feeling he is important.  Instead, we flee or we punish the infant or ourselves.
When we do not realize what the Taliban men are experiencing, then we don’t understand what is nourishing their ignorance or comprehend our own minds of murderous destruction that carry out such acts.
When we do not feel the inner being of the alcoholic or addict, we won’t see our fear, hate or repulsion of him or her nor understand the addiction as if it were a cancer.  It’s likely we’ll do nothing to help rehabilitate this person or others.
When we cannot trade places with the bullied teenager, then we cannot understand his pain, and we find it almost impossible to cherish his being while disparaging his deadly and suicidal actions.  We probably won’t garner enough effort to find ways to prevent such disasters or offer him the treatment he really needs.
Looking for solutions to violence using the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Lamrim, of course, may not be attractive or make sense to the majority of people in western, middle eastern, or even eastern societies.  It may be years before enough practitioners have made it into the leadership ranks whereby they influence others to listen, practice, and understand its value.  However, the three contemplations of self cherishing, cherishing others, and exchanging self for others deserve to be heard, employed, and understood. They’re not easy, but they’re not difficult once experienced and comprehended, they simplify what we see as complicated, and they open us to wisdom. Anyone who consistently uses these three exercises knows their importance to finding and implementing solutions that stop and preclude world violence.  Since it is quickly known that they offer a way out of difficulty on an individual level, why not apply them for the good of all?  Why should we permit things like thoughts, emotions, and traditions to stop us from liberating ourselves from brutality and bloodshed?  Aren’t we more intelligent than that?