Welcome to Mondo Samu - Questions and Answers about my self-work.

Mondō: "questions and answers"; a recorded collection of dialogues between a pupil and teacher.
Samu: Work service; meditation in work.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mindfulness Is Easy In Paradise!

Y'know, some days it's just easier to be present in every moment.  It helps tremendously when you're in paradise! 
Elbow Beach, Bermuda, at Sunrise

I started this week out in Bermuda, and had a truly great time.  It was a beautiful place to be, and it made my mindfulness very easy indeed.  

Mindfulness is being fully present in every moment.  Sometimes, it can be very easy to do but for most of us there is effort involved.  I practice a lot of mindful walking, as any regular readers of this blog will know, and that makes it pretty easy.  It's even easier if you are in a nice place like a park.  The prettier the nature or surroundings, for me, the easier it is to be very mindful and grateful for all of the incredible elements that make up my life.

So being in Bermuda, surrounded by beauty at literally EVERY turn makes it about as easy as it can possibly be!  Here's a few scenes from my week of mindful moments in Bermuda:

I'll probably write several more posts about, or related to, Bermuda this week as I was struck by many things there.  However, I have started several of those posts and found them challenging so far.  We'll see what comes, but for now I wanted to share this one thing I took home from Bermuda with me:

The amazing ocean views from Elbow Beach are no more incredible than the rich life at the park near my house.  Sure the beach is more striking to the eye, but when you really focus on being mindful and present, you find that they aren't any different.  In fact, they are the very same.  They are both made up of the exact same elements, and are both brimming with diverse life and incredible beauty.  The things that make them both beautiful are the exact same, and the rest is a matter of perception.

Ponder that for a bit, the next time you are at your local park or neighborhood enjoying a mindful walk.  If you are truly mindful, it will be every bit as wonderful as that beach was.  That's the true power of mindfulness.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

"I Feel Right Comfortable Sittin Right Here"

Man, I am having a great week with regard to my meditation practice! 

I have been reading Brad Warner's books recently (reviews to follow soon) and I have been wanting to start sitting zazen.  Until now, I have been doing all my various meditations in the style I learned from several Thich Nhat Hanh books.  I guess I would characterize it as Breathing Meditation, not knowing if Thay has a certain tradition he promotes.  If he does, it hasn't been evident to me so far.  In fact he seems to purposely advocate "whatever works" from what I have seen, being more interested in helping the masses live mindfully than to have them following a particular path.

Anyhow, I currently do 30 minutes of sitting meditation in the mornings, 3 miles of walking meditation in the evenings and any time I feel like it, I use the same style to just do very brief micro-meditations using Thay's "Breathing In, Breathing Out" style thoughts.

So, recently I decided to start devoting my morning sitting practice to trying zazen.  This has been fantastic so far!  Mind you, I've only done it for four days so far, but the effects have been profound.  First off, the unexpected side effect is that the loss of my morning sitting "breathing" meditation has made my walking meditations significantly more rewarding.  Because I miss the time in the mornings, I am relishing the time in the evenings all the more, plus I think the evening mindfulness is being heightened, in some way I can't quite put my finger on yet, by the zazen.

As for the zazen sitting I'm doing in the morning, it's been extremely interesting so far.  I had been considering this for some time, but wasn't crazy about some of the stuff I read about the Soto and Rinzai Zen traditions with regard to all the protocol involved.  Reading Brad Warner's books is making me realize that I could participate in zazen, and even in Soto Zen, without SO much tradition (although a good bit of it is necessary regardless). 

Nothing that has happened for me this week has been earth-shattering, but it's definitely been beneficial.  First off, and perhaps most exciting for me has been posture.  Until now, I've had ongoing issues attaining a posture that was comfortable.  I did ok, but would not go so far as to call it comfortable.  I had heard Brad Warner talk about the posture (and I am paraphrasing here) being almost like "stacking" your meat and bones up or something along those lines.  It made sense to me, and I made an effort when I started the week to reach a better posture with that in mind.  Immediately, perhaps through dumb luck, I found a posture that I kind of just fell in to that first morning.  I knew I was on to something when I had not slouched after ten minutes, and at a certain point I had the sense that I felt like a high-rise building that moves in the wind but doesn't topple.  Very solidly grounded at the bottom, but flexible at the top.  It's hard to explain, but for lack of a better way to explain it, I'll just say I felt extremely balanced.  I stayed that way for the remainder of my sit and all of them since!  Reading what I've written it kind of sounds very minor, but I was extremely happy about this.  Additionally, my posture seems to have eliminated my leg discomfort at the same time.  Either way, I'm happy about it!

The other development is, of course, just the zazen itself.  I had also heard Brad Warner say that the thing he doesn't like about meditation in which you focus on your breathing is that it works in driving away other thoughts, but now you are just focused on one thought.  You've introduced a thought to get rid of thought, so you've added to the predicament.

With this in mind, I sat zazen and let the thoughts come and go as they pleased and it has been entertaining, and interesting to say the least.  Perhaps most importantly though, it has improved markedly just since Monday.

I'm really actively trying to participate in some group meditation both when I travel and locally as well.  My hope is to build on what I'm doing at home, but also to share with others and help them and myself improve the practice.

I leave you with a picture from my mindful walking in my neighborhood last night.  It was a beautiful evening, and I was fortunate to be walking at sunset.

Warm Regards,

PS - The Lyric that comprises the title of this post is from a song called "Lazy Man" by Brighter Shade.  John Driskell Hopkins was the singer and writer of that song before he was in his current little band, the Zac Brown Band.  GREAT music, check it out if you get a chance.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

WANT: Thich Nhat Hanh's new book "Peace Is Every Breath"

I'm very excited today, because I just bought the book - released today - "Peace Is Every Breath" by Thich Nhat Hanh!
Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives

It was just released and is the followup book to "Peace Is Every Step" which is one of my very favorites by the good master!

I just wanted to let you know it was out, give you some links to get your copy and let you know that I'll have a review of it in due time!

Breathing In, I can't wait to read it!
Breathing Out, I will start it tonight! ;-)


I'm Positive That Negativity Sucks!

Man, I had a great weekend!  It sped by, as they tend to do, but it was great.  There wasn't anything special about it.  No big exciting fun.  Just lots and lots of little moments that were great.  Friday night, I had an excellent walk.  Saturday morning I spent time with a friend and my daughter, then more time with another friend and both our kids.  Had a nice lazy day around the house the middle part of Saturday.  Home alone for a few hours to read and relax.  Nice evening.  Sunday I hung out with my brother for a few hours, then more home alone time.  Sunday evening I took a great walk in the park at dusk.  The whole thing was just nice.  Here's a pic from the park.

Now, by this time you might be wondering what the title of this post has to do with the great weekend I had.  Well, here it is.

Friday night, I also had a lengthy phone conversation with a friend who was being extremely negative and complaining about everything, and they actually irritated me which is rare.  Saturday, another friend made a couple of sideways stabs at me online with some holier than thou attitude and crap.  I had a few minor disagreements with a couple of family members.  One of my favorite authors posted some blog stuff that was real negative.  As I said, he's a favorite of mine, and he's a cool guy, but his books and posts can sometimes come across as really negative.  And a bunch of other little minor annoying stuff happened that was a drag as well.

But come Monday morning, when I got to work and people asked me how my weekend was, I told everyone how GREAT my weekend was, and none of those crappy things came to mind at all.  This is generally how I live life.  I'm USUALLY a happy person with low stress.  I simply don't care about, or am not bothered by, most of lifes little annoying bitches and moans.  I'm not perfect, and I do my own share of negative business, but the majority of the time, my outlook is pretty happy and positive.

I was reading some stuff about Buddhism and negativity, and found a great quote by the Dalai Lama saying "...is an action influenced by anger not very likely to cause more negativity?"

That makes a lot of sense, right?  I mean, if I let all those little things get to me, and lashed out (more angrily than the polite lashing out that I did) at my friend who was being so negative, or if I pointed out to my "holier than thou" friend that his negative attack was worse for his Karma than the thing he perceives me to be guilty of, or if I just hauled off and pimp-slapped some of the people who pissed me off...no good would come of it.

Instead, I am happy to say that - with the exception of being slightly annoyed or perhaps even tickled by these things - most of this stuff doesn't even come up on my radar.  The more annoying things do, but even they are quickly forgotten.  As always, it is mindfulness that helps me with this.  Having a mindful hang-out with my brother or friends, some mindful walking in the park or my favorite of all - mindful breakfast with my daughter, just makes those negative things so unimportant that I mostly forget about them.  It's a great thing.

So, why write about them?  Am I being negative by just talking about these things at all?  Probably.  But I decided to write this post in the hopes that someone, ANYone, out there might read this and take a pause to think about whether they are sniping at their friends, or snapping at their loved ones or just taking pot shots at their acquaintances.  We all do it at some point or another.  And if they find that they are, maybe take a minute to reflect on why we feel we need to do this, then take a few more moments to be mindful.

Not only will this mindfulness possibly prevent them from being hateful or hurtful to others, but more than likely it will probably make them happier in their own lives which is probably the source of the trouble to start with.

Just a few thoughts for you on this fine Monday Tuesday (I didn't have time to post this yesterday)!  Have a good one!

Friday, February 11, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Buddha or Bust by Perry Garfinkel

I've been on a bit of a reading-rampage lately.  I read a couple of good Buddhist related books and got really in to the topic.  Next thing I knew, I've read a dozen or so.  All of them have been good, but "Buddha or Bust" by Perry Garfinkel has been one of the most enjoyable, entertaining and well rounded that I've laid eyes on.
Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness, and the Man Who Found Them All

I tend to gravitate toward the slightly off-beat books about Buddhism, and prefer a very "real-life" (for lack of a better way to say it) style of writing about Buddhism.  The books that have a little comedy, or at least the ones that try a little less to convince me that they hold the key to everlasting peace are the ones that catch my eye the most (though I have read plenty of both!).

So, while perusing the shelves after a mindful walk to the bookstore recently, I found the intriguingly titled "Buddha or Bust: In Search Of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and The Man Who Found Them All" by Perry Garfinkel and between the title and the cover art, I was immediately hooked.

I snagged the book, and read it all the way through in record time for me.  I tend to get through books slowly because I have very little time to read, but I simply couldn't put this one down!  I read it every single moment I could, and was glad I had some travel time while reading it, which allowed me more time than normal to devote to it.

What made this book such a great read for me (besides Garfinkel's excellent style which is sort of a more tame version of Bill Bryson's humor mixed with some solid journalism and a down to earth sprinkle of the "everyman") was the overall birds' eye view he gives of Buddhism.  It's very easy, when you are new to all of this stuff (as I am) to be confused by all the variations of Buddhism and even easier to find an author you like and find yourself following them down whatever path they themselves follow.  There's nothing wrong with any of that, it's just that you don't necessarily get a "big-picture" view of Buddhism, what it's about and how it got that way.

Perry Garfinkel takes you with him on his journey to trace Buddhism from it's beginnings up to today's Socially Engaged Buddhism ethics, and he does so in a very entertaining, yet educational way.  When you finish off this book, you'll find yourself a little tired from your travels, but all the wiser for it!  The best thing I took from this book is the overall sense that Buddhism has evolved in an organic way that has allowed it to survive and thrive, and that regardless of what tradition you follow, it's all really the same thing adapted to suit the needs of the people practicing it.  He does a great job of driving home the fact that the core messages of Buddhism are the same, whether you are following a strict Japanese Zen path or a western Socially Engaged Buddhism path or anywhere in between.

In a great example of his fun and relatable style, he is talking about a view of Buddhism he received from someone, and his understanding of what they told him and he says:

"Clinging to anything - hopes and dreams as well as a craving for a mocha frappuccino - causes suffering." ~ Perry Garfinkel from "Buddha or Bust"

As someone who drank 1-2 Venti Mocha Fraps per day for YEARS, up until I started this blog, I can definitely agree and empathize with this point!

Another of my favorite quotes was when he had a profound realization that all of the external things such as where he performed his meditations, the setting, his clothing, etc...none of these matter and that just doing it is all that matters!

"What came up for me was this slowly growing sense that by sitting in this manner with any group, anywhere, of any origin, there was my Sangha." ~ Perry Garfinkel from "Buddha or Bust"

This last bit, about the practice being more important than anything else, is a common theme I am running in to in my learning.  It's advice that I think is perhaps the most important to beginners.  There is a tendency to either feel you don't have the right *Insert whatever it is you don't have here* to "DO Buddhism" or meditation practice, or to feel that it's some mystical thing you can't be a part of because you don't live on another continent.  Neither of these things matters at all.  When I first started sitting in meditation, I did so for 10 minutes, and in my LaZBoy!  I increased the time but was still using the LaZBoy until a couple of months ago.  When I travel for work, I either do walking meditation only, or I meditate in a chair or sometimes I even just choose to do lying meditation in my hotel room bed!  Guess what?  It works JUST as well in all these situations!  As Perry says..."Any group, anywhere, of any origin, THERE was my Sangha!"

I truly loved "Buddha or Bust", and if you are new to Buddhism, or just exploring it's concepts, or if you're already a Buddhist and you want a fun overview of it's history, this book will not let you down.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Multitude of Mindful Moments

I just walked about a mile with just my daughter, then a half mile with her, my wife and dog, and then another mile and a half alone.  Then, when I got back, I spent about fifteen minutes walking and listening to Nguyen Anh-Huong's "Walking Meditation In Nature" from Thich Nhat Hanh's Walking Meditation CD.

Walking Meditation w/DVD & CD-ROM

While walking with my daughter, we talked about the beauty of the day.  While walking as a family, we laughed and joked and played.  While walking alone I did my usual walking meditations, and also spent some time pondering some thoughts from the book I am reading right now ("Hardcore Zen").  During the guided, slower, nature walking meditation, I spent time noticing the nature around me.  I stopped to admire the acorn caps, the twigs, the sky, the pine trees, the bare trees trunks, and most of all the leaves.  I felt the leaves of all the shrubs and trees around my yard.  Some of them dead and brittle and some as silky smooth as velvet.  I stood where my wife and I saw a barred owl sitting on our fence a couple of nights ago, and I dwelled on the wonder of that.

Just an incredible day of wonderful moments.  I thought I would share them with you, and wish for you to find the tiny wonders in your own day!

Mindfully yours,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I don't have a lot to write about this, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize a milestone.  This blog is about learning from one another, and about my self-work, and to that end I wanted to let everyone know where this path I started down seven months ago this week has led.

Seven months ago, I stepped on a scale and saw - to my utter astonishment - the numbers that FINALLY snapped me awake and made me take action.  Those numbers were 3-4-9.  I've written about this before, so I won't repeat the story, but the short version is I weighed myself before a vacation and was positively stunned to see that I essentially weighed 350 pounds!

That moment came after a number of other factors which, I guess, started with a visit to an old friend's place during which the torture he had put himself through in life culminated, during my visit, with him being rushed to the hospital in congestive heart failure.  That same weekend, one of my other dear friends showed up after no contact for 15 years and was significantly heavier than when I last saw him.  He was always rail thin, so this new obese version of him, was unsettling.  Anyhow, point is, that I decided that weekend that I needed to do something drastic about my weight, but it wasn't until a couple of months later when I stepped on that scale that things clicked in to place and I knew I needed to act fast.

On the second day of that vacation I discovered "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Living" by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung.  This book, as I have written here many times and in many ways, illuminated the path that I had started walking down.  It didn't actually make the decision for me, but it showed me the way, once I had decided, to where I wanted to be.

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life

Today, seven months later, I have lost three fourths of the weight I set out to lose in one year.  With five months still to go on my goal time frame, I have already lost SEVENTY FIVE POUNDS!  I won't go on about that much here as, around the 70 pound mark just recently, I was humbly honored to be featured on the Savor The Book Blog if you want to read about that.

I feel better, I live better, I eat better, I'm happier, my life is changed in countless ways.  My goal is 100 pounds, and then re-evaluation, and I WILL get there.  The truly interesting thing is, however, that I no longer care about that goal.  Sure, I want to achieve it.  Sure I want to be as healthy as possible, but I have already achieved the thing that matters.  I have truly, meaningfully, changed my life!  I make great choices now with regard to food, relationships, health and just my very moment to moment existence!

I do this, every moment of NOW, through MINDFULNESS.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I'm perfect or my life is perfect, but I've definitely discovered that mindfulness is the key to being truly happy.  I've written many times that if you insert mindfulness in to your life, you will do the single most important thing you can to achieve your goals, because this one act will help all the other things you want to fall in to place.  It's as though your body already knows what to do, and right from wrong, you just have to make your brain get out of the way and mindfulness will do that for you!

At any rate, I am very pleased and proud to be where I am with my journey of weight loss and life improvement and I just wanted to share these thoughts with you.  Please, PLEASE, if you are reading this and have any thoughts, doubts or fears, that you can't lose weight, know that you CAN!  My best recommendation is to start with "Savor", and implement mindfulness. The rest will take care of itself in time.  It reminds me of the ant in that classic Johnny Hart "B.C." Comic Strip, when he kicks a snowflake off a hilltop and it rolls down, picking up mass, and obliterates all the caves and he just says "E=mc2".  Your good choices are the snowflake, and mindfulness is the hill.  You are the ant making the decision to kick the snowflake.



Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fast Food Mystery Meat...DUH!

I really don't know what to write here...just watch this video from CNN today about mystery meat in fast food.  Nothing new here, but it's a great reminder that regardless of where you are with your health journey - the beginning, the middle or not even started - avoiding fast food is just about the smartest thing anyone could do for their health!

Fast Food Mystery Meat CNN Story

If you are as disgusted by this story as I was, check out my review of "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer.  It's a great place to start for a "conversation" on going vegetarian.  Doesn't try to tell you you SHOULD do it, just tries to get a conversation started.  You may not go vegetarian, but you'll most likely want to stop eating fast food, I'll tell you that!