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.


Friday, June 28, 2013


What I want to write about here is so big and so complex, yet so simple that I don't know where to begin.  I think I'll start by saying that if you close your eyes, and sit quietly, bring your attention to your internal and away from the external...it is my hope that you will see - sooner rather than later - what I have seen.  That we are all connected, that there is no us or them, and that we are all ONE!

A beautiful human being that I am blessed to know gave me a journal.  It's one of several copies of the same journal.  Each has a piece she wrote at the beginning that explains how to utilize this journal.  It's far too involved to state the whole thing here, but her eloquent and wonderful idea boils down to having people pass these journals all over the world to friends near and far.  Each person writing a few pages on their idea of our Oneness.  Her idea is far more complex and beautiful that what I've just said, but that's the part that is important here.

So, with this in mind, I'm going to make an attempt to write my draft here, and then put it in her book and get it on it's way to another person.  I've been dodging this honor for well over a year because every time I try to think of what I want to say, my mind spirals out of control.  They say the mark of a great teacher is the capacity to express a deep teaching in a simple way, so that you understand it without an excess of explanation.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a master of this.  And so I will quote him here, and then go on to discuss the idea, thereby proving - I suppose - that I am not yet a great teacher.

No Mud, No Lotus.

When I first heard this, I loved it so much I bought the T-Shirt.  Really.

I also first understood it to mean something loosely like "You can't have good without bad."  And of course, this is exactly what it means.  But it also means far more than this.  Far more.  And nothing more.  See?  It's already beginning to spiral out of control with cryptic explanations that sound contradictory, but I assure you they are not.

A couple of years ago, after I had been practicing meditation for a year or so, I had an intellectual understanding of what you hear expressed in Buddhism as "Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form".  I understood this teaching of how there is no this, without that. How everything is in everything else, and yet it isn't.  Or how, as Thich Nhat Hanh would put it, when you look at a flower deeply you see that the flower is made up only of non-flower elements.  The flower is not a flower.  And yet it is a flower.  If you broke it down, you couldn't find the flower in the flower.  But about this time, I was walking one day for exercise, which doubled as walking meditation for me, when out of nowhere and for no particular reason I can point to, I stopped dead in my tracks staring at the sky like a dummy.

I had been struck, quite suddenly, with a deep insight or understanding BEYOND the intellectual, of what this means.  I can't even begin to explain this.  Better writers and authors than I have tried and not done a great job either.  The best I've read so far, is Brad Warner in his new book "There Is No God, And He Is Always With You."

I'll try feebly, here, to express it...but not too hard.  I simply can't.  I was walking, and practicing a nice teaching by TNH where he says to invite your ancestors (parents) to walk with you.  My Dad was a jazz musician and when I would do this, I would listen for the jazz in nature.  Not the regular sounds, the rhythmic sounds, but the irregular improvisational sounds.  The jazz.  The random dog barks.  The wind gusting.  The little kid screaming at her sibling.  Once I picked up on the music of non-music, I would invite my dad to hold my hand and walk beside me. I was listening for this biological jazz, when it hit me!

Jazz music, or actually all music, was a great way of expressing Form Is Emptiness, Emptiness Is Form.  Without the silence, notes would be noise.  Without the notes, silence would be noise.  Music is silence, silence is music!  Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.

The moment I made this connection, the rest happened.  Like some kind of Hollywood special effect, but that only my mind was aware of (not something I could actually see), it was suddenly like a ripple went out from a stone dropped in a still pool of water.  As that ring expanded away from me, so did my clarity and understanding of No Mud, No Lotus.  Of our TRUE interconnected nature.

It is my direct experience that we are all connected to each other, to everything, everywhere, all at once, infinitely.  That's the most direct way I can say it, and I couldn't  have said that without hours of discussion with my best Kalyanamitra (spiritual friend) Kayla.  Without many dharma discussions in my Sangha.  Without countless podcasts, books and study.  And most recently without Brad Warner's best book to date.

The bottom line: As I stated at the beginning, if you slow down, sit quietly, and turn your focus to your internal experience - MEDITATE - I believe you will likely arrive at this same understanding.  You will likely see sooner or later that we can not afford, as a species, to continue living our lives as if our own endeavors are the only things that matter.  As if we have unlimited resources.  As if we do not need others to help us.  As if "we" are different from "them". As if, as if, as if.

We simply must awaken to this reality of Interbeing....return to our own TRUE experience...and begin living our lives according to the most basic truth of our existence.  That we are not "WE"....we are ONE.  If we do that, there is still hope for this world, and I fully believe that we will.

I hope that at the very least, this writing - feeble as it may be - will encourage you to think about this.  Encourage you to sit, maybe meditate, and to have faith, hope and love in the true nature of life as we know it.  ONENESS.

With the deepest respect for the meaning of the word, I say to you with absolute conviction - Namaste!

I love you,

Monday, May 6, 2013

Did Nikola Tesla Eat Mindfully?

It's been a while since I felt moved to write a post on mindful eating, but this week I had a great visit with one of my favorite Sangha's and enjoyed a great reminder of the value of mindful eating WITH people, AS a Sangha (community).

As I'm coming up on the end of three years since I discovered "Savor" by Dr. Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh, mindful eating is a part of my daily life.  I'm far from perfect, and too often find myself wolfing down my lunch because I'm in a rush, or buying a sweet dessert treat when I don't even want one, but these moments are rare indeed, and only ever when I'm not being mindful.  All in all, the 110 pounds I lost has stayed off, and the lifestyle (both around food, and my Buddhist path) have stuck.  Big time.  So I'm very pleased.  I eat mindfully daily but, due to the nature of my job and life, I often eat alone.  Eating mindfully - WITH - a community of other people also observing mindful eating practice, is something I rarely get the opportunity to do.

So, this past week, I found myself once again in the fine company of the Honey Locust Sangha of Omaha, Nebraska.  When I visited them about a year or so ago, I was welcomed warmly and made friends with Mike McMahon who leads the group.  Mike was very willing and helpful to me with advice on how to run a Sangha, and my own Sangha at that time was probably brand new, or perhaps hadn't fully started up yet.  I can't recall.  True to his, and the Honey Locust Sangha's, history they welcomed me warmly in to their group.

By sheer luck I happened to be working in town the week that they had their teacher, Brother Chan Huy, with them from Canada to lead their annual retreat.  The retreat was coming up this weekend (as I write this) and during the week leading up to it they had a public Dharma talk which fell on the night I arrived in town.  That Dharma talk was wonderful, and even gave me a really great insight, or better way of understanding, Emptiness.  I'll save that, perhaps, for another post as it's not related to mindful eating.

Anyhow, on the second night I was in town the Sangha had a Pot Luck Dinner at one member's home.  They graciously invited me to join them and I was so deeply honored, I was beside myself.  Visiting a Sangha's meditation night is one thing, being invited to their private dinner with their teacher is quite another. It's this very quality that makes them so special and which makes Mike such a good example of how to facilitate a Sangha.

I arrived just in time for everyone to plate up and have a seat.  They announced that we would have a 10 minute "Noble Silence" period during which we would eat mindfully, then we would go around and share some discussion (we shared stories from a member who had recently visited and worked with an orphanage in India, stories from the travels and teachings of Brother Chan Huy and his trip to Vietnam, and they kindly asked me to share some about my own Sangha).  A timer was set, a bell invited to ring, and the mindful eating began.

I bowed, and took a moment to breathe in, and out, and check in with my body.  I sat at the end of the table, between the fireplace and the door to the outside deck.  Each was a few feet to either side of me.  A wintry mix had been falling and the deck was rapidly collecting an inch or two.  Taking stock of my body, I felt the cool left side in contrast to the toasty, wonderfully-warm, right side near the fire.  I felt my feet firmly on the floor. I gained that whole-body-at-once sense that one sometimes gets where I could feel everything all at once.  Then I brought my focus to my breathing.  I breathed in and out a few times, and raised my fork.

All of this had taken place in the space of a few moments, and already the present moment awareness was so clear and intense as to be dazzling.  I think I was the only one who brought a dish not home-made, as I was staying in a hotel and had no time or facility for cooking.  I brought a pretty nice Tabbouleh from Whole Foods, and it was good, but lacked that home-made-quality that the other dishes had.  The other dishes were each amazing!  I didn't get to try everything, but I had a spinach salad that was spectacular, some amazing asparagus with roasted potatoes, some sort of delicious tomato soup I think.  And several other items. Each of them were wonderful.

Even with the concentrated effort at slowing my body and mind down before starting, I found I was eating quickly at first.  I slowed more.  I took a bite, placed the fork down, chewed mindfully tasting the flavors of each of these dishes.  Sometimes I was aware of the overall flavor, at other times I was keenly aware of the flavors individually.  I was aware of the textures.  I was aware of all of the elements and human effort that was contained within each bite.  The ten minutes seemed to last for hours, and I mean that in a good way.  Hours of delicious awareness.

I was aware of the room.  The other practitioners eating at their various rhythms.  The sounds in the house.  The sounds from outside, though muffled by the slushy mix, were present.  My favorite part was the ever present contrast of temperatures between the left and right sides of my body due to my fortunate seat by the fire.  There was the low hiss of the fire.  The feeling of the fork in my hand and the fabric of my jeans in the absence of the fork, as I placed my hand on my knee.

All of this, and much more. And it was beautiful.  Over all of that, like the snow covering the deck outside, was a sense of deep gratitude for being invited and welcomed by this lovely Sangha, also a sense of gratitude for this practice that has so altered my life. And, over the top of even those feelings, another feeling that is more difficult to describe.  I can only best describe it as a connecting energy of some sort.  You often get this feeling when you meditate with a group, I think.  I do anyhow.  This energy is one of the many reasons, and certainly - in my mind - the primary one, which makes a true live Sangha so valuable.

There is a quality to mindfulness as a group of human beings, side by side, that creates a sort of feedback loop.  A sort of humanity fueled Tesla Coil, or Resonant Transformer, that electrifies, intensifies and transforms the energy one cultivates on one's own.

"Tesla Coil (Resonant Transformer): the near field wireless transmission of electrical energy between two coils that are tuned to resonate at the same frequency. The equipment to do this is sometimes called a resonant or resonance transformer."

I think, if you wanted to sound just a little sappy, you could label this poorly with a single word.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Every Body Needs A Second Body

Thich Nhat Hanh often talks about how a monk or nun has a second body.  Another monk or nun they are responsible for helping and keeping track of.  He says just as we must always take care of our own body, help it, love it, care for it when it needs attention....we must also have a second body in the Sangha to watch after and care for as if it were our own.  In this way the monks and nuns of plum village never have to worry that they will go unnoticed or be forgotten when they forget to take care of themselves, or when they need attention and cannot, or don't know how to, ask for it.

The first time I read this I thought "What a beautiful idea!" That's such a sweet and thoughtful thing in a Sangha.

In my own Sangha(s), particularly in the various virtual Sanghas, I quite often see people who,  for one reason or another, will lapse in to some type of shame or depression and then withdraw from the community.  In the simplest terms, it goes like this....they fall in to a depression (sometimes because of a relapse of whatever suffering they live with or just because), they stop posting to social media, they stop texting their friends, they stop chatting and so forth.  The less they chat and communicate with friends, the more they feel bad about themselves.  The more they feel bad about themselves, the more shame they heap on top of themselves.  The more shame they heap on top of themselves, the harder it is for them to re-establish communication because they are afraid of the shame and embarrassment.  Next thing you know, weeks or months have gone by and people start noticing "hey, I haven't seen so and so post in ages, I wonder if they are OK."

In the world of social media such comings and goings are so common and frequent that they aren't noticed that much.   Eventually, the person snaps out of it, if we're lucky, and they suddenly resurface. Things go back to normal.  Until the next time.

When I see these people come back, I often ask what happened.  The answer is always the same, or at least a variation on the theme.  See above.

Not suffering from depression myself, I have always had difficulty understanding it.  But I've seen it happen so often to so many of my dear friends whom I love very much, that it bothers me greatly.  I always want to help.  I want to fix it. But I can't.  The one thing I do know about depression is that there isn't much that I can do for someone who suffers from it.

I've spoken to several teachers about it, and the answer has been pretty much the same every time.  Just be there waiting for them when they return, with open arms and an open heart.  Accepting of them and of what they have gone through.  Don't try to push them to fix it....just show them that you love them and welcome them back.  When they show back up, it means that they are already fixing it.  They've already began the climb out again.  All you have to do....heck, all you CAN do....is show them through your actions that you were there for them the whole time.  Welcome them back to the world, as it is.  Allow them to return and not walk in to the arms of more shame and embarrassment.  Welcome them back to your heart, open and beaming with happiness to have them.  It may seem like inaction on your part, but it's actually the greatest action you can commit on their behalf.  Acceptance.

This is great advice, and really the only option that I know of.  But I think that there is one more thing we can do for one another in these situations,  I think that if we each have a second body, then there would be no being left behind, so to speak.  Take a look at your own Sangha and make sure everyone has a second body.

This isn't new...if you've ever dealt with recovery circles then you now that this sounds a lot like a sponsor.  If you have Joe, Sally, Bob, and Sue in your Sangha then it might look like this:

  • You look after Joe
  • Joe looks after Sally
  • Sally looks after Bob
  • Bob looks after Sue
  • Sue looks after you.  
  • When a new member comes in to the Sangha, Sue shifts to looking after that person and that person starts looking after you.  
In this way, everyone always has someone in the community who knows how they are doing that week or that day.  Knows where they are, what they are going though, how they are feeling.  It's not a difficult task, you just check in on them with a quick call or text now and then and see how they are feeling, catch up,  see how they've been.

When you do this regularly, you will kind of get a feel for whether they are having troubles or not and whether they are being open about it.  Remember that it's not your job to prevent them from having troubles, or to fix them.  It's not your job to do anything at all.  It's your privilege to care about them.  To know when they are having challenges and just be there for them so that they KNOW you are there for them.  And the greatest gift for them will be that you don't judge them for their suffering.

This won't solve the problem.  I don't know that it is a problem that can be solved,  I do know that it's a beautiful practice that can only bring about good in a community.  And it doesn't have to be limited to your Buddhist Sangha....this can be expanded to include all people.  In the end, after all, we are one big Sangha.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Quantify Your Mindful Eating with HAPIfork!

THIS has potential, in at least a few ways I can think of, to be VERY cool and useful!

Hapilabs announced their new HAPIfork device to help with Mindful Eating at CES this week.  There's nothing I like more than when technology comes to us in a way as to truly benefit us. I promise I will do my very best to review this when its available!



Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Let's go!

Hello, and Happy New Year! 2013 is upon us now, and I woke with all the hope and possibility of a new year on my mind, rather than a day, so here's my little twist on a favorite old Thich Nhat Hanh quote that accurately reflects my mood when I woke today:

“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twelve brand new months are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.” ~ TNH (sorta)

Starting off 2013, I'm beginning the last month of a four month dedicated practice session (that i started with my best bud Kayla) focused on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and using the book by Bhante Gunaratana "The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English".

October was easy for me with Mindfulness of the Body.  November was insightful with Mindfulness of Feeling Tone. In December I really got benefit from the third foundation practice, Mindfulness of Mind.  I broke with my dedicated practice only once, to practice Metta, the day that the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary became heroes in the face of tragedy and saved so many little kids lives. And today, January 1, begins the final month on the fourth foundation, Mindfulness of Dhamma!  So I'm looking forward to reading the final part of the Bhante G book and practicing with that all month.

I addition to that, Kayla's Buddha Book Club I participate in is reading Tara Brach's book Radical Acceptance.  I've read it before, and loved it.  I'll be re-reading that and participating with the group discussing it on the Facebook page.

I'm also doing some dharma study to help a friend stay on track with their studies and benefiting from  that myself as well.  Mostly I'm just supporting and discussing those teachings as a sounding board to assist them in their efforts and treating it as a foundation for my own future studies.

I rang in the new year with family at my home, and then promptly sat for 30 minutes with some of my #OMCru community.  I took refuge, and renewed my precepts, to mark the beginning of our Buddha Heart - A Yearlong Dedicated Practitioner Group.  We'll be reading the TNH classic Heart of the Buddhas Teaching and studying it together over the course of the next year, and I couldn't be more excited about that.

Lastly, I have my own ever growing stack of dharma books to read.  So while that all may sound like a lot, it's really mostly slow paced reading with lots of practice.  The goal is to study the dharma, but more so to implement it fully in to our lives off the cushion.  And I fully intend to do that as much as possible in 2013.

Please contact me if you're interested in participating in any of the above resources.  They are all full of the warmest, most helpful and friendly members.  It's a great virtual sangha.

And speaking of virtual sangha, I just want to thank all the twitter friends, Facebook friends, sangha members in all the countless Sanghas I have been privileged to visit all over this country. You all have gone from online "friends" to true meaningful friendships in both virtual and real life and I'm so very very grateful that I have that in my life.  It's been amazing to be a part of and I have seen that it is so sorely needed for so many people out there.

So, to wrap this post up, I thought I would highlight of few of my intentions that I'll be focusing on this year in various areas of my life:

New Year intentions with family:

  • Show by being.
  • Continue my healthy path.
  • Continue to teach my child compassion is the key.
  • Work on small things now that will aid long term plans. 
  • Make big effort to be more fully present with my family as my travel increases. 

New Year intentions with practice:

  • Focus it.
  • Retreat more, to...
  • Deepen it, so I can...
  • Implement it more fully and...
  • Continue working toward facilitator training.
  • Start second sangha group which is open to all.
  • Take steps toward my goal of a local dharma center.

Thank you and please have a safe, happy, and compassionate new year!