Posted in Zen Buddhism

Common Senses

In Zen, we talk a lot about what’s happening in the present moment. What do we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch right now?

In Buddhism, there are six sense doors: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Everything that we experience comes in to our awareness through one of these doors. Let’s leave off the mind for now, and deal with our physical senses. These are the same five we’re taught in Elementary School in the West.

When we pay attention to our senses, it gives the “drunken monkey mind” less chance to wander into ruminations of the past or fantasies about the future. It may still tend to judge, however. “What a beautiful color!” “Ew! People actually eat this?!” Just bring the attention back to the sensory experience itself, releasing likes and dislikes.

The Buddha taught to follow the breath as a focus of meditation. The breath is great for two reasons. First, it’s always with us. No special equipment required. We don’t have to light a candle, put on special clothes, sit a certain way, or even sit down at all. Second, the breath is always moving. The motion gives us something to pay attention to.

Using the sense door of touch, we can tune in to where we feel the breath in the body. Is it in the chest? The stomach? Is there a sensation on the upper lip or nostrils as the breath moves past? Is the temperature of the air different on the inhalation and the exhalation? Using our sense of hearing, is there a sound when we breathe? Can we smell anything? There’s a lot going on with the breath.

Any time we need to quickly refocus our attention, we can come back to the breath. While waiting in the 15 Item or Less line behind the woman with 22 items, we can just breathe. While stopped at a red light when running late, we can just breathe. Even when being yelled at by a boss or a child, we can take a single, mindful breath.

But don’t forget all the other senses. The yelling boss is waiting for a reply, and you don’t have time to count to ten? Notice the color of his shirt, anchoring yourself in the present moment, and then answer. Be more aware as you move through your day. Pay attention to the world around you, rather than daydreaming.

Focusing on our sensory awareness in this way helps to quiet the mind. Less thinking results in less craving, and therefor less suffering.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself. And tell me what you… “think.”

~ Rev. Jăbō


Posted in Zen Buddhism

Lessons from Cancer

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason – unless that reason is Karma. I also don’t believe that situations are put in our path in order to teach us something. I do believe, however, that we can learn from the situations that arise in our lives if we choose to.

It’s coming up on two years since my breast cancer diagnosis. I’m currently disease-free and almost done with my reconstruction. I’ve shifted gears from identifying as a cancer patient to a cancer survivor.

And yet, I’ve noticed that I still use cancer as an excuse whenever it suits me. True, I still have some residual fatigue. True, I still have some memory loss from chemo. But these issues don’t have to keep me from living my life to the fullest, unless I let them.

So, in an effort to turn the page on that chapter of my life, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  1. I learned how to meditate during cancer treatment. No matter how awful I felt, I found time to get it done. Now that I’m well, I have a much more robust meditation practice that I did before.
  2. I learned who my true friends are, or at least who was emotionally mature enough to stand by me in the face of fear. And I made new friends.
  3. I learned that I needed to take better care of my body, and I started learning how to do that. It remains an ongoing process.
  4. I learned how to ask for help without embarrassment and how to accept it without guilt.
  5. I learned, on the deepest possible level, that life is fleeting.
  6. I learned how not to over-commit myself.
  7. I learned how to say “no” to things I really don’t want to do, and to say it graciously and without remorse.
  8. I learned how to politely avoid people who drain me or give off negative energy.
  9. I learned that it’s not enough to have priorities unless I also live them.
  10. I learned what being grateful really means.

May all beings benefit.

~ Jabo



Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

The Stream of Power and Wisdom

Place yourself into the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into your life.  Then, without effort, you are impelled to truth and to perfect contentment.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love Emerson’s suggestion.  There are many ways to place oneself into the stream.  Yesterday, I did so while painting the inside of a house.  Most days, I do so through meditation.  And I am deeply content.  Even while waiting for insurance authorization of my radiation treatments.  Even while bone weary from painting.  When I remember that I’m in the stream, as a Zen Buddhist monk once said to me, “I don’t get disturbed.”

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

My Current Daily Practice

My spiritual practice has taken many forms over the years.  One thing I’ve learned is that the line between “spiritual” practice and other practices is purely imaginary.  Here are the things I’m doing now which I consider parts of my spiritual journey:

  • Sitting and enjoying a cup of green tea while reading inspiring works.  My tea is part of my new cancer-prevention regimen, so is also part of my physical practice or self-care.
  • Reading inspirational literature (while enjoying my green tea.)  I spend about 20-30 minutes reading from a variety of daily readers in several different traditions.  Five of them are Buddhist.  Seven of them are not.  This practice also helps to keep me mentally sharp.
  • Giving myself an all-over Reiki treatment.  Reiki is a Japanese energy technique used for relaxation and healing.  I spend about 15 minutes on this.  Reiki, like my tea, also falls under the category of physical health.
  • Meditating.  Yes, I do a traditional sit-and-still-the-mind practice.  I’m currently doing 40-45 minutes per day.  I’m participating in the Winter Feast for the Soul, which I highly recommend, even starting “late.”  Of all the meditations offered, I’m doing the Tibetan one, which includes some chanting.

It all adds up to 90 minutes per day.  I could never do it if I saw these things as tasks or chores.  Luckily, I enjoy each part of my routine, even mindfully brewing my tea.  And it sure beats watching television.  At the end of my life, I may wish that I had meditated more, but I doubt I’ll wish that I had watched more television.

Posted in Week in Review

Keeping Score

There is a story of the Buddha telling his disciples about the proper use of a raft.  Use it to cross the river, then let it go.  The very raft that saved your life while crossing the river will now be a burden if you try to carry it across dry land.

It can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between skillful means and unskillful means.  My meditation practice is a case in point.  For a while, I was writing down my daily practice: what type of meditation I did and for how long.  Then at the end of each week, I published it here.  Initially, the record keeping was helpful.  But somewhere along the line, I started worrying about what I would enter on this blog.  Would I have meditated enough?  Would I have done things that were interesting?  Would my readership be impressed?

Eventually I decided to stop keeping score, because my ego had become too invested.  “Spiritual Materialism,” Chogyam Trungpa called it.  My focus had become having an impressive meditation record, rather than the meditation itself.  The next time my Zen Center does a Repentance Ritual, I will be “repenting of my non-existent spiritual attainments.”

In that spirit, I let go of my record keeping.  I may return to it in the future if would be a skillful activity. After all – when you come to another river, you can always build another raft.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

The Solo Householder Retreat

What I learned:

  • Get family out of the house.
  • Get pets out of the house, or practice fluid acceptance as your schedule changes.
  • Turn off the phone.  Let people know beforehand that you won’t be available.
  • Turn off the computer.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Plan meals.  Do the shopping ahead of time.  Try to “fix” rather than “cook.”  Remember to be mindful when preparing food.  Don’t try anything new for the first time; stick to what you know is good for you.
  • Do chores before the start of the retreat.  Get the laundry and shopping done for the week to come so it’s not a distraction.  You’ll have enough to think about.  Trust me.
  • Don’t bother to check the mail.
  • Stay indoors or in enclosed outdoor areas as much as possible.  Avoid people.
  • If you do encounter others, like neighbors, let your practice be compassion.  They probably won’t understand noble silence, and you won’t want to be rude.
  • Make a schedule long before you start.  Then use it as a guideline, not a rulebook.
  • Forgive yourself when you get off track.  Then get back on track.
  • Experiment.  Now is a good opportunity to try varying your meditation practice or sitting position.
  • Be realistic.  You will need time to transition from one activity to another.
  • Consider whether you will exercise.  Exercising may increase your energy more than you wish, but you may feel off balance if you skip a regular session.  Listen to your inner wisdom.  You can always change your mind.
  • You may fall asleep.  If that happens, engage in nap practice!
  • Allow an hour or two after the end of the retreat before planning interactions with others.  Give yourself time to ease back up to speed.

May all beings benefit!

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

“Going” on Retreat

I completed my at-home retreat.  This was my first “solo” retreat – though with all the animals at home, I never felt alone.  I didn’t end up seeing my friend on Saturday, but I did have to dog sit for a different friend who is recovering from major surgery.  Her dog doesn’t like one of my dogs, and major drama ensued.  While my retreat experience wasn’t fully restful, I got to be of service to both dog and owner, and that was good practice, too.

Because numbers are how Americans are taught to keep score:

  • Zazen periods: 14
  • Demons fed: 4
  • Prajna Paramita practice periods: 4
  • Chanting periods not part of other practices: 3
  • Metta meditation periods: 4
  • Neighbors I had polite conversation with while walking the dogs: 4
  • Wandering dogs I returned to their owners: 1
  • Number of 200mg ibuprofen gelcaps consumed: 9

I learned a lot about how my mind works and about the nature of mind.  I managed to avoid the major temptations of sleeping too much and turning on the computer.  I will do this sort of “householder retreat” again when the opportunity presents itself.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Roll-Your-Own Retreat Schedule

My beloved husband is going out of town next weekend.  So, I’ve decided to take Sylvia Boorstein’s advice and “don’t just do something, sit there!”  Below is my tentative schedule, based on Hubby leaving around 7 Friday and returning sometime after 2 on Sunday.

Of course, all schedules are subject to change!  I will probably be seeing a friend on Saturday afternoon; I’ll just chop out the activities I had scheduled for that window of time.

My plan is a mix of Zen and Tibetan practices.  They actually blend together better than one might think.  Tributaries of the same stream.

I’ll try to report back after I see how it actually works!


7:00 PM           Open Formal Retreat.  Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunset is at 7:40)

8:00 PM           Demon Feeding Practice

8:30 PM           Walk Dogs, Feed Dogs, Cat, Bun

9:00 PM           Evening Bell Chant

9:30 PM           Lights Out


5:30 AM          Wake Up, Walk Dogs

6:00 AM          Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunrise is at 6:15)

7:00 AM          Demon Feeding Practice

7:30 AM          Breakfast, Walk Dogs

8:30 AM          Zazen – Bowing, Chanting, 3-4 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

11:30 AM        Relax (Yoga, Shower, Read, Etc.)

12:30 PM         Lunch, Walk Dogs

1:30 PM           Relax (Read, Etc.)

2:00 PM           Zazen – 5 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

5:10 PM           Relax (Yoga, Read, Etc.), Walk Dogs

6:00 PM           Dinner

7:00 PM           Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunset is at 7:39)

8:00 PM           Demon Feeding Practice

8:30 PM           Walk Dogs, Feed Dogs, Cat, Bun

9:00 PM           Evening Bell Chant

9:30 PM           Lights Out


5:30 AM          Wake Up, Walk Dogs

6:00 AM          Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunrise is at 6:15)

7:00 AM          Demon Feeding Practice

7:30 AM          Breakfast, Walk Dogs

8:30 AM          Zazen – Bowing, Chanting, 3-4 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

11:30 AM        Relax (Yoga, Shower, Read, Etc.)

12:30 PM         Lunch, Walk Dogs

1:30 PM           Zazen

2:00 PM           Close Formal Retreat

2:01 PM           Nap.  🙂  KATZ!

Posted in Zen Buddhism

108 Bows

Last weekend, I sat a retreat at my local Zen Center. Part of the practice is performing 108 bows the first thing in the morning – full-prostration bows. I knew I wasn’t in shape for this, and I also knew better than to attempt to keep up with the man who was setting the pace. (He’s 10 years my junior and an athlete.) So I set my intention to complete the first 9, the last 9, and a set of 9 somewhere in the middle if I felt up to it. The remaining bows would be full standing bows, rather than prostrations to the floor.

Our teacher explained to us how to use the breath when bowing. The standing bows were slow and easy, the deep breaths helping me to still my already-racing mind. My breath and body moved as one. The prostrations weren’t too bad, though I’d have done them much slower had I been on my own. It reminded me of the days when I used to be a runner. It turned out to be a wonderful meditation.

Monday, however, I was sore as hell.

I knew I had to stretch to heal. So I took some ibuprofen and resolved to do 108 bows. Only 3 of them were full prostrations: the first, number 54, and the last. No problem. The standing bows gave my back a wonderful stretch, the prostrations gently unkinked the large muscles in my thighs, and I was fully present for the 30-minute experience. Not much more to be asked.

By now, I was hooked: I was working my body, mind, and soul at the same time. Tuesday I was back at it. I realized that trying to do a series of prostrations had been a mistake, so I spread them out. I got down to the floor about 13 times, roughly every 9 bows. Today, I tried for 1 prostration out of every 8 bows, did a few extra at the end because my body felt good, so the total was around 28. It only took 17 minutes, though I was unaware at the time that I was moving any faster. Most importantly, it was meditative.

I don’t know how rapidly I will “progress” in my bowing practice, and it doesn’t matter. The fact is that I’m meditating (and exercising!) daily. If I never did a full prostration, the spiritual benefit would be the same. If I get a health benefit, too, that’s a serendipitous bonus.