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I've come to the conclusion that I'm a compulsive eater. Somewhere along the line, hunger uncoupled itself from my eating behavior. I eat for any other reason: boredom, stress and just because it tastes good. It's not that the choices of what I eat are bad (usually...there are the mini chocolate bars in the snack closet at work), but once I stop eating I find it very difficult to stop. This is of course a current curse of our culture as well. So, I know I'm not alone here.

Recently, I had the good fortune to meet a woman named Ellen Glovsky. She is a registered dietician and expert in teaching Motivational Interviewing (a counseling method oriented toward helping people make behavioral change). She is also a big proponent of a Health At Every Size approach to diet. I hired her to come in to do a training for our staff on MI and at the end of the day I bought the book she edited, Wellness Not Weight. It was a real eye opener.

The scientist in me was drawn to the explanations of the enormous amount of research demonstrating that traditional approaches to diet don't work. The social observer in me was drawn to the historical perspectives of how our culture's approach to weight and diet developed. The Buddhist in me was drawn to part of the solution - mindful eating (a.k.a. Intuitive Eating).

I'm sure that many of you, like myself, have gone through the Jon Kabat Zinn observe the raisin before eating it mindful eating exercise. While it was interesting, I can't truly imagine making a practice of being so sensor ill tuned into my food as I eat it, particularly as I would rather be mindful of my family at dinner time. This mindful eating was different, however. This mindful eating asks us to tune into the cues our body is giving us in the present moment to guide when, what and how much we eat. 

As I've observed my behaviors over the past couple of weeks and tried to observe my body cues, this has turned out to be harder than the raisin exercise. The irony is, the more I try to think about whether or not my body wants food and what it wants, the more I think about food. The more I think about food, the more I want to eat. It's a conundrum. Clearly, the key is going to be the ability to apply Don't Know Mind or even No Mind to the situation. But how? 

Fortunately, I have a couple of private sessions coming up with Ellen to help me with this. In the meantime...raisins! Mmmmmmmmm!


[Disclaimer: no I have not received any free goods or services (or raisins) in exchange for this post.] 
Photo: WikiCommons - Cary Bass

 
 
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I’m sitting in my comfy chair at the Dancing Bear Guest House in Shelburn Falls, Massachusetts. This is the same bed and breakfast where I came with my husband several years ago to write The Average Buddhist Explores the Dharma. It’s a perfect writer’s retreat. My perch is covered with warm velour and has an extraordinary view of a pink and blue stained glass window. At lunchtime, I can walk ten minutes to the historic town center and work for a while at Mocha Maya’s the local coffee shop that rivals Starbucks for the quality of it’s latte. For lunch I’m known to stick to one of the locally baked blueberry muffins on display there.

As I struggle to conquer the first draft of my latest science fiction manuscript - always the most difficult and psychologically challenging part of any project - I am bothered by doubt over whether there is room in the current entertainment narrative for a story about hope. You see, as much as I enjoy stories of the struggle to conquer oppression, the current deluge of dystopias has become its own hegemony. Oppression seems to be winning. It makes me wonder if anyone wants to read about friendship and camaraderie any more? Is anyone willing to believe that life is hard sometimes, but doable with the help of family and friends?

Am I alone or are there other people out there who want to read stories about compassion, trust and love? The question is distracting me enough that I have been compelled to interrupt myself to write this post. There’s a major shenpa invasion going on here and it all started with a television spoiler. 

Ordinarily spoilers don’t bother me all that much. Even though I have advance knowledge of some plot point or other, I love a good story. The fun part is finding out how they get there. To date, there have been only two exceptions to that rule. 

The first was knowing in advance in exactly which episode the Tenth Doctor would regenerate in Doctor Who. I dreaded that episode thoroughly, but was compelled forward by the momentum of the story. My husband laughed at me as I surrounded myself with stuffed animals and a warm fuzzy blanket. When the time finally came, there was no getting around it. I cried. Those darn script writers and their final line. That darn David Tennant for being such a brilliant actor: “I don’t want to go.” Waaaaahhhhhh…<sniff>

Now I’m facing down my second dreaded spoiler, the final episode of The Glades. I didn’t know about this series when it was on the air. Netflix suggested it to me when I finished up The Finder, a heartwarming story about a man who is compelled to solve mysteries by finding lost items. I’d known all along there was only one season, since I knew one of the stars, Michael Clarke Duncan, had passed away. I didn't know how The Glades would go out.

In the three and a half seasons of The Glades I’ve watched so far I have come to appreciate how truly different this narrative is from the depressing zeitgeist of our time. Yes, the necessary plot ingredients are all present. Every episode introduces a compelling mystery to be solved. The main character, Detective Jim Longworth, is supported by a motley Scooby gang made up of the chief medical examiner, the police division chief and a plucky semi-official intern. Detective Longworth is of course somewhat rogue, but he gets the job done. So no one gets in his way. He’s cocky, but somehow everyone likes him anyway. The Glades is everything you’d expect from a contemporary police dramady. 

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The difference that makes this show stand out is the relationship between Jim Longworth and the lead female character, Callie Cargill. She is a nurse who at the beginning of the series is trying to take care of her teenage son and put herself through medical school while her husband is in prison for armed robbery. Okay, you already know the convict husband is jettisoned and Jim and Callie end up together. That’s not even worth calling a spoiler in this genre. But oh how they get there!

It took a while for even me to recognize it at first, but the development of the relationship between Jim and Callie is the healthiest and most partnership-driven I’ve ever seen come out of Hollywood. Yes, they have misunderstandings. Yes, they have stupid fights. The same is true for Callie and her son. Eventually though, each time they manage to find the courage to be honest with one another. In so doing, they created an intimacy that was upliftingly authentic.

As a person who loves romance, I have been turned off by the deluge of Fifty Shades wannabes. Hollywood doesn’t do much better spitting out story after story of relationships based on three days of intense circumstance most of which involve some set of major lies. In themselves, these stories are fine. It’s the lack of any alternative narrative that is discouraging. 

In contrast, Callie and Jim got to know each other over the course of several years. They faced both personal and professional challenges. They experienced both elation and doubt in the ability of their relationship to survive, but they became gradually stronger together than they were apart. Furthermore, the show managed to present Jim Longworth as a tough and competent cop while also allowing him to be the kind of intimate partner any woman could envy. 

Back to my spoiler. 

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Here it is 2015. Mr. Grey, a twisted control-freak predator got a movie and Jim Longworth got shot. That’s right. Shot. 

The fourth season ender was Jim and Callie’s wedding. I’m to understand that Jim had secretly bought a house for a wedding gift. He is there before the wedding to take care of some final details at which point he’s shot. Apparently, we don’t even know why. Shortly after the episode aired, A&E announced they were canceling the show. Even though the episode generated extraordinary ratings, rather than building on their momentum, A&E canned it without even allowing the producers a chance to give Callie and Jim their well-deserved happy ending.

Yes, it’s only television, but I’m really angry. Furious in fact. There was one show, just one among the muck that’s shoveled onto screens every year that portrayed a healthy, loving couple making it work despite the odds. There was just one show where the man could be both archetypically guy-like and a supportive intimate partner at the same time. Well, we can't allow that. So they shot him. #jimandcalliedeservebetter! 

Seriously. I want a real ending to this show a real happy ending where Jim doesn’t end up a vegetable or paraplegic from his injuries. If the show has to end, fine. Even M.A.S.H. had a final season. But give the viewers the gift of closure; the gift of story where investing in a deep, intimate relationship is worth it in the end. Give us just one story where allowing the characters to be vulnerable to one another doesn’t leave them bereft. Please! It’s only been a couple of years, A&E. The actors haven’t changed much. Give us a real finale you can be proud of as a network. Jim and Callie deserve better and so do we.

 
 
Last Thursday, it finally happened. I was hacked. It started with the notice from my internet service provider that there was malware on the Average Buddhist site and that they had shut down my whole account. Six days of back and forth with technical support and it's finally gone. Gone too is the WordPress architecture. It seems that keeping up with the precautions necessary for using an Open Source system is beyond what I have the time resources for. So I begin again.

The most obvious buddhist message in this debacle is that of the Impermanence of all things. It's what I thought of first, but as I rebuild No Ground is what really stands out for me. Why? I'm not one of those millions of people out there who uses weak passwords or who shares passwords between sites. My user names are also quite diverse. It never occurred to me that the software I was using would have backdoors open to any hacker or bot that happened by. Despite everything I try to do to protect myself (or my things or my blog or my family and friends), there will be things that happen anyway. There is no way to be in control of all of our outcomes. There is No Ground to cling to in that regard.

In No Ground though we can have experiences we might not have, like the generous support of some folks from the Facebook group who helped me understand how to retrieve the bulk of my posts from the internet ether. I had the opportunity to be grateful. Retrieving the posts gave me a change to skim them again and revisit the thoughts of Average Buddhist past.

In honor of the relaunching of the blog, I am re-posting Average Buddhist's very first blog post, which is about the most inspirational person I have had the good fortune of meeting - Arthur Lessac. I'll work on repopulating the archives over time. I hope you enjoy this new beginning.
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When You Walk, Do You Feel Like You're Dancing?
(Original post date: 4/15/11)

It’s funny that the first post in a blog about Buddhism isn’t going to talk about Buddhism at all. I’m not going to talk about how much I love Pema Chödrön or expound on my insights into life. Instead, I’m going to honor the spirit of a man who recently passed away and who was for me one of the most inspirational people I have come into direct contact with – Arthur Lessac.

For those of you who don’t know of him, he is one of the great voice/movement/expression teachers of our time. And “our time” is expansive in this sense. Arthur Lessac died at age 101, only a few days after teaching an extensive course in Croatia.

Arthur Lessac (see URL below)


I met Arthur Lessac last year (2010) at a course with speech-language pathologists and singing teachers (of which I am both). One hundred years old at the time, he bench pressed a 200 pound man, led us in movement and dance exercises and spoke in a voice as clear and strong as anyone I’ve known. He exuded a joy in the exploration of life that was both genuine and inspiring.

Walking to work this morning, I thought about him and remembered how he used to encourage us all to walk as if we are dancing. Energy (NRG) will carry you in a way you wouldn’t expect. I thought about his demonstration of that last year and some clips of him in memorium that I watched yesterday. So, I started to dance to work, copying his bouncing and circular arm and leg motions and I was instantly consumed by joy.

This was the most intensely genuine emotional experience I have had in quite some time. It was akin to my experience in sitting meditation with a Zen group, when they asked us all to turn around and face the wall – WHITE. That was it. Today; JOY. That was it.

So, that is why I decided to write about everyday Buddhism. See you soon!

To learn more about Arthur Lessac’s work, visit: http://lessacinstitute.org
(link updated 1/28/15)


 

July 05th, 2012

07/05/2012

 
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One of the better posts to come out of theAmerican Buddhist blog recently was this post about busyness. Whitaker’s discussion centers around an article I also read and cross-posted to the Facebook community. It was called The ‘Busy Trap’from the New York Times. In Whitaker’s blog post he refers to the many things he has floating around in the space of to-do, that there are things in the forefront and things on the back burner. He reflects on how lost these things can get over time – as well as in time.

There is certainly something to be gleaned from an examination of the relative importance of the things that take up our lives. It is too easy to get pulled into trivialities that in the end have no meaning for us. The world tries to require a trivial focus from us. Deciding to opt out of those time and energy sucking vortices can have its consequences. The NY Times article takes that perspective and brings us the time-honored word of warning that we may be missing out on MORE IMPORTANT THINGS (emphasis mine).

Yes, time-honored, but how true is is really?

When I look at the churning waves of things I do each day, week, month, year how judgmental should I really be? After all, what is it I should be doing instead? Yes, yes, philosophers may argue there is just as much “value” in staring at the ceiling as there is in writing a business report – or a blog post for that matter. But it really depends on your definition of the word value. If we all took hours at a time to stare at the ceiling and contemplate the meaning of life, as a community we would lose some of the greatest creative masterpieces and advancements that actually have made our lives better than the lives of the cave people. That those creative masterpieces and advancements come part and parcel with a lot of chum is irrelevant.

My favorite quote from Whitaker’s blog post was the following:

Yes, life is too short to be busy. But sometimes  it’s also too short to say no to busyness

That our lives are filled – sometimes to the brim – is not always a bad thing. Placing judgments on the way in which we or others spend the time we have on this planet is the height of dualistic thinking “a is bad; b is good” and does nothing but increase our suffering and that of the people around us through our constant second-guessing of whether or not we are making the best and highest use of our time. If we are busy, if we are not, we still must be. Some day we won’t be. That will be that. 


 
 
I’ve been rereading the Dhammapada again. This time, the translation by Ananda Maitreya published by Parallax Press 1995.

The following verse struck me in the first chapter:

Reciting a small portion of the scriptures,
But putting it diligently into practice;
Letting go of passion, aggression, and confusion;
Revering the truth with a clear mind;
And not clinging to anything, here or hereafter;
Brings the harvest of the holy life.
- Chapter 1: Twins; Verse 20

Sometimes I get to be a little bit of a “teachings junkie.” I collect books and audio recordings of Buddhist teachings faster than I can listen to or read them. Ironically, this provokes no small amount of dukkha. I am driven by the need to understand, but also some fear that I will miss a crucial teaching that will make the difference between me being a “real” practicing Buddhist and just another Buddhist-inspired-spiritualish person.

My Type A personality and its concomitant drive to excel at everything must be to blame (I might also mention that I’m a first-born child…). By golly, if I’ma gonna be a Buddhist, I’ma gonna do it right! It’s kind of stupid. After all, any one principle takes a long time to master. Any one principle, if mastered with reduce dukkha.

I was coaching someone in making personal change today when this principle popped up again. An important rule to know in terms of making lasting personal change is that focusing on changing one thing at a time results in far greater success than trying to change multiple things at once. We spent some time deciding what she should choose to focus on. I’m beginning to think that taking a similar approach to Buddhist teachings might lead to a deeper ability to appreciate their meaning and allow me to incorporate their lessons into my daily life with a greater degree of success.

Now I just have to decide where to start. What is your favorite teaching? If you could only choose one to focus on for a month, what would you choose?

 
 
PictureFrom IGN.com
A few months ago, I walked into the back room of my studio and found one of my singing teachers wiling away the time between students playing a game of Osmos on her iPad. I’d never seen this game before. For those who don’t know, Osmos is a game where your character is a small blue ball of shimmering light. You control the ball as it floats through space getting bigger when it absorbs other light or getting smaller as you a) use too much energy to move the ball; b) get energy siphoned off by other balls of light. There are different objectives for each of the levels.

Watching the ball float across the screen and seeing her use minimal controlled movements to direct it looked so serene. I thought, “This is the perfect video game for a Buddhist.” so, I decided to try it.

I don’t have an iPad, but the game was available for iPhone. So, I downloaded it. I realized quickly that I had a strong temptation to push the ball too move too quickly. As a result, I kept bumping into the outer wall or into objects larger than me, which sucks your energy dry – “Lifeform Terminated”. Well, geez.

With some concentration and meditation breathing, I managed to slow down though that came at the price of a certain amount of stress. Nonetheless, I felt it was a healthy stress, since the feeling of the need to make the ball move more quickly was the same as I feel at times when I get that rushed feeling in meditation.

Progressing through the levels, the goals became more challenging – as one would expect. In the field of play, there started to be placed objects that had an gravitational impact on orbit. A handy green line or red line keeps the player informed as to whether they are in a safe orbit or one that will result in getting sucked into the gravitational well of the object. I kept – scratch that, keep – crashing and burning – “Lifeform Terminated”.

Over the course of a few games, I moved from productive stress to downright shenpa. So, I went back to my teacher (who as an aside is also Buddhist) and said, “I’m not finding this to be very relaxing or meditative any more.” She smirked and said, “I don’t think that’s the point.”

Facepalm.

Today, I was listening to “Bodhisattva Mind” by Pema Chodron. In this set of teachings, she is working through Shantideva’s chapter on Vigilance or Awareness. From this she pulled a concept that resonated with me. To paraphrase: whatever your external circumstances, nothing can cause you as much suffering as your own mind.

I’ve been having to do some work lately with my own mind in regard to trying to turn off my fight-or-flight mechanism, which has been stuck in the “on” position. As a part of that work, I’ve learned that the thoughts I have that cause dukkha and the physical feelings of pain I experience from those thoughts are somewhat independent of one another. I’ve also definitely noticed an attention effect. For example, when I am with a patient or a student, the suffering diminishes. While I am writing this post, the suffering diminishes. While visiting my parent yesterday for Fathers Day, the suffering diminishes.

Basically, anything that forces my consciousness to move outward from myself diminishes my suffering. However, the minute my mind is left to its own devices, it starts an inward spiral, much like my energy Lifeform in Osmos and I eventually emotionally crash and burn.

PictureFrom: ign.com
Progressing through the levels, the goals became more challenging – as one would expect. In the field of play, there started to be placed objects that had an gravitational impact on orbit. A handy green line or red line keeps the player informed as to whether they are in a safe orbit or one that will result in getting sucked into the gravitational well of the object. I kept – scratch that, keep – crashing and burning – “Lifeform Terminated”.

Over the course of a few games, I moved from productive stress to downright shenpa. So, I went back to my teacher (who as an aside is also Buddhist) and said, “I’m not finding this to be very relaxing or meditative any more.” She smirked and said, “I don’t think that’s the point.”

Facepalm.

Today, I was listening to “Bodhisattva Mind” by Pema Chodron. In this set of teachings, she is working through Shantideva’s chapter on Vigilance or Awareness. From this she pulled a concept that resonated with me. To paraphrase: whatever your external circumstances, nothing can cause you as much suffering as your own mind.

I’ve been having to do some work lately with my own mind in regard to trying to turn off my fight-or-flight mechanism, which has been stuck in the “on” position. As a part of that work, I’ve learned that the thoughts I have that cause dukkha and the physical feelings of pain I experience from those thoughts are somewhat independent of one another. I’ve also definitely noticed an attention effect. For example, when I am with a patient or a student, the suffering diminishes. While I am writing this post, the suffering diminishes. While visiting my parent yesterday for Fathers Day, the suffering diminishes.

Basically, anything that forces my consciousness to move outward from myself diminishes my suffering. However, the minute my mind is left to its own devices, it starts an inward spiral, much like my energy Lifeform in Osmos and I eventually emotionally crash and burn.

PictureFrom ign.com
I have long noted this phenomenon in my personal struggles with anxiety and depression. I’ve said many times that the state of being depressed is the most self-involved state I ever find myself in. Much like being in a gravity well though it is extremely difficult to pull out of it.

I’m not yet sure how to implement this information on an every day basis. There certainly is a temptation to just fill my life with busy-ness and then I’ll never have to be inward focused. I know that’s a cheat however and it can never provide long-term relief from suffering. At this time though I feel this realization at least gives me a new perspective and potential for a new angle to work on this from. And who knows, maybe it will even improve my Osmos game!





 

What Is Awake

06/04/2012

 
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As many of you know from my Facebook post last week, my father had a cardiac arrest. The cause was the typical culprit of coronary artery disease. He was exercising and his heart wasn’t getting enough oxygen. So, it just quit. My mother was in the house and was able to call 911. The Police defibrillated him. At the hospital, they put him into a drug-induced coma and implemented a therapeutic hypothermia protocol. (Good layperson description: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218111823.htm) After 24 hours in a hypothermic state, they began to allow him to warm up and reduced the sedation. Then began the wait.
During this whole event, I found my brain divided into three equal parts A) the speech-language pathologist with neurorehab experience; B) the daughter; C) the practicing Buddhist. These three lovely ladies have had different reactions to everything that followed. There are many perspectives I could discuss, but the first thing I want to toss around is the question of “what is awake” and the reality of anatman (no self).

Being fully awake to the world is what we strive for as Buddhists. Buddha itself merely means Awakened One. Outside of existential debates we can get into in terms of recognizing emptiness and no ground, most of us take our ability to recognize the alternation between the state of being awake or not awake for granted. Yes we recognize the existence of a fundamental nature called clear mind but we wrap it up in our ability to discern clear mind and our ability to consciously manipulate our relationship to it. When consciousness-severing injury is involved, however, these distinctions become less clear.

Waking from a coma is not like it is in the television. Instead of waking suddenly with clear eyes and coiffed hair, one must struggle toward consciousness through a jungle of mental fuzz and messed up physiology. There are in fact various stages of consciousness that are described in the medical literature to help clinicians respond appropriately. Consciousness is not merely an on or off thing.

The first attempt at what the doctors termed a “sedation vacation” did not go well. My father became agitated and his body started fighting the ventilator instead of taking over his own breathing. We decided to leave a family member in the room for the next attempt and I was elected.

For about an hour, there was no change. Then I noticed some tension in his shoulders every time the automatic bed changed position. I talked him through relaxing his shoulders each time (Awake? Not awake? Don’t know).

Then he started moving his arms and shifting his head side to side. I continued talking to him. Occasionally, he reached his arm toward me. (Awake? Not awake? Don’t know.)

He opened his eyes. I can’t say he was looking at me per se, but he definitely didn’t have his eyes rolled back in his head. His eyes opened a few times and closed. (Awake? Not awake? Don’t know.)

The respiratory rate on the ventilator increased and the breaths became less metered. He was breathing over the ventilator support. (Awake? Not awake? Don’t know.)

Eventually, he became uncomfortable. They re-sedated him in order to get a good night’s sleep.

I planned to go to work the next day. I figured he would wake to the same state and maybe rise to the level of being able to be extubated before I could see him in the afternoon. Then I got the call from my sister – “He’s awake. He’s talking.” Okay. Cancel clients. Rush over. Sure enough there he is, eyes open conversant and answering questions on Who Want’s to Be A Millionaire - correctly. Ummmmm…okay. Awake! But…

He asked what happened to him. The clinician in me stepped forward and frankly explained the situation. He looked incredulous. Then we all talked some more. Then he asked us again – what happened? Oh dear. I explained again. And again. And again. (Awake? Not awake? Don’t know.)

It was clear that he was not forming new memories. The clinician in me recognized this is a normal part of the process, but she also knew there was no way of telling if the situation would get better. My dad was able to discuss the development of the nation’s cellular network and posit his predictions for bandwidth and functionality, but he couldn’t remember that my brother had stepped out of the room and come back. (Awake? Not awake? Don’t know.)

The clinician in me was thrilled to see he was having no trouble with word retrieval or formulation of sentences, that he could retrieve old memories and use logic to interpret and discuss information he was familiar with. The clinician was also thrilled to see him respond to abstract language and humor without a processing delay. But his brain was still dumping new information it was given.

The Buddhist in me kicked in saying: Boy, talk about living in the now!  The daughter glared at the Buddhist and the clinician sent them both to separate corners of the room to cool down.

There is consciousness and what we call consciousness. As humans there are all of these attributions we make in regard to consciousness; things we think of as fundamental to it which in fact are not. Language, the ability to analyze our surroundings, memory. These things are actually merely a manifestation of the skandhas (http://buddhism.about.com/od/whatistheself/a/skandhasnoself.htm). Observing my father being stripped every skandha but form placed me in intimate contact with the reality of anatman (no self). That is probably why most people are so frightened to be with their family and friends in these circumstances. There is no avoiding the truth. We have no inherent self that transcends what happens to our form (the body). Anything truly substantial is beyond that and having not been enlightened yet, it is very difficult to see that as anything but pessimistic.

My father has started forming a few new memories now, but it is still sketchy. There is no way to know how his progress will play out, but it seems the worst has passed. In maintaining my daily practice throughout this process, I have reached a point where I can feel my ability to have such close proximity to the fundamental reality of anatman was a blessing. Nonetheless, I am still rejoicing that it appears my trip to anatman was merely a complementary tour – for now.


 
 
PictureBrookdale Cemetary Dedham, Ma Photo by Fred Levinson
I have a habit of wandering graveyards when I’m upset. It calms me and helps put problems in perspective. Life is short and ends too soon for most of our liking. The worries and anger that consume us now will be wiped away in the decay of time.

Far from being upsetting to me, graveyards are serene. When it comes to its residents, the struggle is over. Depending on your belief, dukkha has either ceased or transitioned to another form. In either case it has become divorced from the person who used to be, whose body now decays underground. Theirs is a past history and many more will join them in the ground in the future. So, humbled I can better focus on the present moment.


When there is some kind of problem, a graveyard also represents the collective wisdom of the life experiences of those who are interred there – kind of like a collective ancestral shrine. I can turn to any random headstone and say, “Okay, T CRANE, what would you do?” Perhaps I’ll receive insight as an answer.

Usually, it’s just silence, though. T CRANE comes back with, “Darned if I know. Figure it out for yourself.” Thanks, Dude. They put fresh flowers on your grave for that gem?

PictureGlobe Spots: Photo by Bo Løvschall
When I first learned about Tibetan charnel ground practice, I thought ewwwww! Then I thought, hmmmm… For those who don’t know, the charnel ground is a place high in the mountains where the dead are brought to be offered to the vultures. I am told they can be messy places where scattered human remains can be found randomly lying around with a smell that is less than daisy fresh. This practice came about largely because of the frozen temperatures in the highest communities in Tibet. Digging holes in the ground for burials is not an option most of the year.

There is a wonderful pictorial review of a “sky burial” here (Warning: parents review pictures before showing to your children)

The more I thought about it, I recognized that practicing in a charnel ground is really only an extension of my current practice in graveyards. The single addition is the potentially jarring presence of a disarticulated hand or eyeball to bring one back to the present moment like a visual gong. Living in America, of course, the opportunity for charnel ground practice is limited.

PictureSkeletons from Herculaneum; Photo Barbara Wilson Arboleda
I’ve written previously about my reflections of A Day in Pompeii (as of this writing in Cincinnati). In one corner of the exhibit, I was brought to a startled standstill. There were two large sections of street strewn with skeletons piled on one another. This composition of human carnage was not from Pompeii, but from its nearby neighbor Herculaneum.

According to the descriptions of the artifacts, Herculaneum was somewhat closer to Mount Vesuvius and the first pyroclastic flows reached Herculaneum before reaching Pompeii. Apparently, great blasts of accelerated hot air rushed through Herculaneum, incinerating the flesh from the bodies of all in their path. The result was a sobering tableau of instant annihilation.


PictureHerculaneum Skeletons; Photo Barbara Wilson Arboleda
Flash of Bodhiccita. I think this is the closest I have come to charnel ground practice. In it resides the reflection of every human catastrophe that has been and each that is to come. Meditation on this simple fact of our fragility individually and even as a group commands me to stop my moaning and just get on with life in the present moment.