Category Archives: personal



I’ve got a couple of pieces that I’ve been working on. And is the case with postings that turn into opuses, they may or may not ever get finished. So, for the sake of trying to maintain some momentum, I’ll share something I wrote  recently for a class. The writing prompt was “Lost”.

Sitting in a chair whose history is long and poignant, my eyes gently shut. Feeling my body vibrating, parts pinging their presence, settling in. And finding the the breath. As usual, it’s a bit shallow, never quite reaching my belly. And with attention, it lengthens, deepens into the belly and through the back. And again. And again. Its pace slowing on its own. Unwinding, breath by breath. A scene starts to play out in my head. A movie I must have made in my sleep. Characters arise fully formed. Bits of dialogue. Lost.

Finding the breath again. “Start again” as one of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs advises. I wonder when Leonard Cohen is coming back to town. The man puts on a damn fine show. “Don’t dwell on what has passed away” I start to sing to myself, “or what is yet to be.”  Lost.

Coming back yet again to the breath. Finding my home in the equinimity of a quiet mind. There we go. That’s it. Damn, I’m such a good meditator. Shit. Lost again.

The pain in my lower back sidetracks the trip back to the breath. That’s OK, I can investigate that. Stupid pain. Can’t it see I’m trying to meditate. No, sense it. What is it? Tight? Sharp? Deep? Shallow? Ouch. I don’t like it and I want it to go away.  Lost.

Oh. Where did that pain go? OK, back to the breath. Feeling the coolness of the in breath right at that spot between my nose and lip, and reaching for some sensation there on the out breath. Opening once again to this moment. I really should write about this sometime. Lost.


. . . and returning


The first 24-48 hours after coming off a silent retreat can be challenging.  People move way too fast and speak too loudly. You have to cook your own meals, which are in no way as tasty or healthy as those that to which you’ve become accustomed in the dining hall. Since I’ve been home I find myself  just sitting quietly doing nothing as if  I’m still waiting for the bell to ring, calling me to the meditation hall.  And then looking around at my messy house, I realize I ain’t at Spirit Rock anymore.  And while I love being home with my critters and my comforts, I sure wish I could have a few silent sincere yogis come clean my house, cook my meals and ring a bell reminding me to meditate. Oh, and while I’m wishing, I want to adopt Sylvia Boorstein as the Jewish grandmother I never had.

This was a particularly sweet and easy retreat for me. Unlike previous retreats where it takes me a day or two to land and become accustomed to the schedule and the bed and that blasted hike back up the hill from the dining hall, I settled in rather quickly.  Since this is my third retreat there in 13 months, all that stuff that used to be new and scary is now familiar and comforting.  But, there was one new twist to this retreat, I wasn’t there alone.  One of my closest friends, Frank, decided to join me. This was his first Spirit Rock silent retreat and while I had no concerns that he could handle all the meditation, I was a bit worried how he was going to take to the silence. Me, I love love LOVE it.  I was really hoping that Frank would grow to love it too.

The focus of this retreat was on Metta (or loving-kindness for those whose Pali is a bit rusty. Some teachers even translate it as mere friendliness of heart). So for seven days, we meditated on cultivating a heart full of loving-kindness directed towards an ever expanding circle of beings.  If you are not familiar with the practice, Wikipedia has a pretty good description here.  The practice is quite beautiful and inspiring. In fact, on about the fourth day, the physical sensation of my heart expanding became so intense I thought I was possibly having a heart attack. I nearly tackled  poor Sylvia on her way out of the dharma talk, so badly was the need to be reassured that I wasn’t  dying. She assured me I wasn’t, and that what was happening was actually a good thing. (Yes, a heart full of metta, a concentrated mind and a tendency towards panic attacks makes for some interesting physical sensations.)

Some highlights of the reatreat:

  • I got to be a bell ringer! I’ve always wanted to ring the big bell that summons people to the meditation hall. And no one could accuse me of being tentative with that bell. I whacked the hell out of it. No one was going to miss the 4pm dharma talk because they couldn’t hear the bell. No, not on my watch.
  • Turkeys!! God, I love those stupid turkeys. I was actually quite concerned when I didn’t see them for the first couple of days. But when I finally saw the flock, I was so happy I almost wanted to cry (yeah, metta not just warms the heart, but apparently it supercharges the tear ducts).
  • On the sixth day, when the silence is lifted for a short period, Frank and I found each, embraced, and the first words out of our mouths were “I love you” (and I, of course, started crying).  He loved the retreat. I was filled with mudita. Plus, it was such a relief to finally be able to talk and laugh openly.  For the entire week every time our eyes met in the dining hall, we both had to suppress bursting out laughing.  Nothing was particularly funny, but I think we were like two naughty children in church who can’t help but giggle when everyone else around them is so silent and serious.
  • Coyotes! It’s hard to believe, but I think this may have been my first experience of hearing coyotes howl at the moon. When I first heard it while doing an evening walking meditation, I was transfixed.  And then when I was awoken by a pack of coyotes howling outside my window at 3am, I was in awe. But, when they woke me again at 5:30am, I thought to myself “Jesus, coyotes, it’s just the freakin’ moon. Give it a rest”.
  • When deciding which retreat to sit, there is usually at least one teacher that is the main attraction for me. In this case, it was Sylvia. But, as always, there were no duds, all the teachers add their own hearts to the mix. But, often there is a pleasant surprise, a teacher who I fall a little in love with. For this retreat, it was  Heather Martin. She didn’t  look like the typical Spirit Rock teacher, who tends to look a bit earthy, or at the very least, psychotherapist-y.  Heather looked like the prototypical middle-aged English Rose. But, she was delightfully honest, funny and very wise. I would love to sit another retreat with her.

I think that’s all I want to say about it. It’s funny, at previous retreats, my narrator seems to be ever present, and I tend to instantly translate all my experiences into stories. This time, she was notably absent, and my retreat journal, which is normally voluminous, was quite brief this time.  Which isn’t great for my writing aspirations, but I think it’s good progress towards my deeper aspiration to greet each present moment, no matter what it brings, as a friend.

May you be happy and peaceful
May you be safe and protected
May you healthy and strong
May you live with ease.



On his way out of the office yesterday, one of my staff members stuck his head in my doorway.

“Have fun at your retreat! Bye!” he said before dashing away.

Fun? Is that really the operative word for what one does at a silent meditation retreat? I decided to I simply thank him for the kind wishes rather than debate whether ‘fun’ was the correct word. As a matter of fact, a number of people had said the same thing to me as they were leaving.  Perhaps, it being so close to the holiday season, they were under the impression I was off to some kind of Buddhist version of Christmas.

I’ve worked with this group of people for the last three years so they have grown accustomed to my occasional trips to Spirit Rock to go dwell in silence for a week or so. I would say there are three basic opinions of my desire to do retreat:

  1. Slightly envious. There are a couple of people whom I consider my work sangha (aka “The Namaste Bitches” – it’s not as harsh as it sounds, it’s all in the enunciation).  When we have the luxury of time, we talk dharma, turn each other on to teachers, and generally support one another’s spiritual endeavors. When I’m debating whether or not to do a retreat, they are always firmly pro-retreat.  I think they see me as their retreat proxy. One of them has young children at home, and right now she just can’t be away for days at a time. The other is too young, cute, and gay & living in San Francisco to be spending time in silence in Marin with a bunch of mostly middle-aged straight people.  He calls me boring and I call him a slut.  But hey, we’re sangha, we can do that.
  2. “Not my cup of tea, but if it makes you happy.” I would say most of my colleagues fall into this category. They can see some appeal of spending quiet time someplace pretty, but a week in silence meditating six-to-seven hours a day, plus another two or three hours zombie walking, is not something they would choose to do for themselves.
  3. “Why don’t you go somewhere fun instead?” One of my colleagues, someone whom I now consider a good friend, really tries to be supportive and mostly holds his tongue when it comes to my spiritual quests, but still asks me, rather gently, “wouldn’t you rather travel with your partner and see someplace you’ve never seen before, and you know, maybe talk?”  He loves to travel and would someday like to find a boyfriend with whom he could go to exotic, romantic places.  I think he thinks I’m wasting a perfectly good boyfriend by insisting on going to retreats by myself rather than spending my vacation time with my beau.  The other colleague is not so gentle. When I told him I was going on retreat, he screwed up his face and said “another one? Didn’t you just do one of those last year?”   He’ll then ask how much these things cost and then tells me how much of a vacation I could get ‘somewhere fun’ for the same price. And when I tell him I happen to enjoy going on retreat, he’ll once again screw up his face, and ask “whyyyy?”   It’s at this point I tend to get really distracted because he looks so much like an ex-boyfriend of mine. That is, if my ex was gay and Asian. They have the exact same hair cut, vocal inflections and gestures.  It’s really uncanny, and a bit disturbing too.

So, tomorrow I head over to Spirit Rock for a week-long Metta retreat with Sylvia Boorstein. I’m looking forward to it. Who knows? Maybe I will have fun. But, if I can find a few moments of peace and love in my mind, that will be worth the price of admission.

Resolutions, Facebook and the comparing mind


Normally, I poo-poo New Year’s resolutions.  I stopped doing it so long ago, I’m not even sure I ever made them at all. Consciously, I’m not a big fan of setting myself up for failure (unconsciously may be a different story).  When I’m ready to make a change, I simply do it.  Maybe it lasts. Maybe it doesn’t. My meditation regime has lasted. My swimming regime, well, not so much. Same with writing. I’m good for a while and then it fades. So, why if I pledged to do something starting on January 1 would it have any different outcome than something I pledged to start on, say, April 23?

This year, however, I’m feeling like maybe I do want to make a resolution or two. Why the change of heart? Maybe because last year I  got a taste for change. I got reintroduced to my body after decades of living exclusively in my head, and my meditation practice is now an integral part of my day.  It’s been good.

The other night I was reading Sharon Salzberg’s book LovingKindness and when I got to the chapter on generosity, it became very clear to me that being more generous with my time and my resources, was something I needed to do.  And being New Years was only a few days away, I thought that it would make a dandy and worthwhile resolution.  I don’t like that feeling of constriction I get when I’m holding to something for no good reason other than it’s mine.  Which is not to say I need to be foolhardy and give away all my stuff and energy, but I think I’m mindful enough to recognize that tightness that comes when I know I could give, but out of neurosis (selfishness, fear of not having enough, ill will) I simply don’t wanna. So, my practice for this year will be to recognize that constriction, and then make a concerted effort to open up – open up my heart, open up my hand, my wallet, my home, my refrigerator, whatever.

The other intention I have for the New Year is to spend less time on that blasted Facebook. It’s insidious, really. When I’m at my computer at home, I pretty much always have a window open with Facebook up. And even though I don’t really post all that  much, I still peek, almost compulsively at my newsfeed, as if I am expecting some breaking news like election results or updates on a natural disaster.  I really need to get a grip.

Like most of us, I joined Facebook with the hope of connecting easily with old friends – the kind of friends that you’re interested enough to hear what is happening with them, but not so close that you’d make the effort to see.  And it is always a kick when I first “friend” someone  I haven’t seen in eons. I check out their pictures, their info, take a gander at their wall.  It’s a quick and safe way to get a sense of who that person has become (or at the very least who they want people to believe they have become).  Maybe we’ll exchange a message or two expressing how tickled we are to be in touch.  But then after that, the connection is pretty tenuous and voyeuristic.

What I’ve been finding lately, is that my excursions onto Facebook are simply an excuse for my comparing mind to have a field day. Oh look, there’s someone who was such a hotshot in high school and now they’re just a suburban housewife. I’m much more interesting than she is.  And there is that guy whom I barely remember, he’s smart, successful, travels a lot. God, I’m a failure.  And why does that girl have so many friends? She’s such a phony. Yet everyone buys into her Super Mom routine.  Wow, and look at my former workmate, she looks amazing!  I look like crap.”  You get the drift, right?  It’s simply not healthy.

So, I’m going to try and find a middle way with Facebook. I don’t need to drop out all together, but I’m going to limit my time. I really wish there were a plug-in that would tally the number of minutes you’re on it.  I guess I’m just going to have to do that whole mindfulness thing and just recognize when I’m checking Facebook out of boredom or some other neurotic impulse.  Hmmmm. Mindfulness and Facebook. Somehow they don’t really belong in the same sentence, do they?

The nightly ritual


I did this piece of writing recently for a class I was taking. The writing prompt was “ritual.” Since I want to get some momentum going again with my blog, I hope you don’t mind some recycled material.

She knows the sound of my car coming up the driveway. I always drive in rather slowly, vigilantly, because I never know from where in the yard she will pop out. Occasionally, mostly in the winter months, I actually have to call for her, so during those times, I wait in the car a couple of minutes to give her time to make her appearance. Then I get out to find her pacing excitedly in front of my car. I say my first line:

“Oh, there you are.”

I’ll then open up the back passenger side of the car to scoop about half a cup of Cat Chow into an old buttery spread tub.

“Do you want some dinner?” is my next line.

She doesn’t answer, but rather heads towards the corner of the driveway where I have fed her every day for the last four and a half years. Her tail is erect and she keeps looking back at me as if to say “come on, hurry!”

I pour out the cat crunchies on the pavement. I used to use a bowl, but it kept getting pushed down the embankment by the raccoons.

“Here ya go, Pretty. Here’s your dinner.” I say stating the obvious.

Over five years ago, when Pretty was just a kitten, someone had dumped her and her sister in my neighborhood. Perhaps they knew that there were feral cat feeders in the area. Or perhaps it was just convenient. All I remember were these two kittens suddenly started showing up at the bowl where I was feeding another local stray. To distinguish between the two kittens, I started calling them by their predominant traits. Pretty was named such because, well, she’s pretty – a calico torbie, with the most perfect white markings and the greenest of eyes. Her sister I called Skitty because, well, she was skittish. Skitty disappeared shortly after I captured them both to have them spayed. Pretty has stuck around, but has refused all attempts to move her into the house.

When I first put the food down, she takes a couple of bites and then circles my legs, lightly rubbing against me. When she starts eating again, I pet her soft, shiny fur.

“Who is my pretty girl? That’s a good girl, eat eat.”

She takes a few more bites, and again circles and rubs.

“Come on, sweet pea, eat eat. I’m not going to stand out here all night.”

At night, Pretty will only eat while I am watching over her. She’s a very vigilant girl, if not a wee bit paranoid, and I think she feels safer when I’m there to ward off the imagined armies of raccoons, possums, neighborhood dogs and other cats. And perhaps she is overreacting a bit, but her strategy has worked as she is still here after five years whereas other ferals have come and gone during that period.

This cycle of eating, circling and rubbing continues at least three more times (longer in nicer months). I stare up at the stars and try to imagine my mind like a big open sky. Finally, I’ll call it a night.

“I gotta go, sweetheart, Keep eating. I’ll see you in the morning.” I say as I lean down to get one more hit of her soft soft fur.

It’s been like this night after night year after year and I can think of no happier ritual to welcome myself home.

All I want for Christmas


Every year, a few weeks before Christmas, the Boyfriend asks what I want as a present.

“I honestly don’t know. There’s really nothing I need. I have enough things” I say with a slight anti-consumerist smugness.

Then I’ll divert him by asking him what he wants. And he’ll usually list some boringly practical things that he does indeed need, like undershirts and socks. (You know the romance has gone out of the relationship when you ask for socks as a gift and . . . you get them!)  And then once he has named all his needs, he’ll go back to interrogating me for what I want. This year rather than my stock  response of  “world peace”, I let him know what I really wanted.

“Well, if you really want to get me something, I would love to have the new iPhone 4S” I said half-seriously.

The Boyfriend shook his head. “What is your wrong with your current iPhone? It’s perfectly good. You just got it. I don’t understand this throw-away culture. People always have to have the latest and greatest and coolest.”  I had heard this rant before so I cut him off.

“A) My phone is two and half years old and B) I’m not getting it because it’s the ‘latest and greatest’, but it’s got some features I really need.  Anyway, I don’t expect you to get me a new iPhone, I’ll take care of it myself.”  My tone told him that particular conversation was over.

I wasn’t in any hurry to get my new phone. I figured I’d just drop by the Apple Store on my way home from work sometime in the next couple of weeks and pick it up. But, then I heard that no one really had it in stock, that you had to order it and then wait for delivery.  Oh no no noooo, that is not acceptable. Suddenly I wanted that phone and I wanted it NOW. I found a website called Milo where you can look up a product and it lists where it is in stock near you.  Turns out the Best Buy nearest to my home had them in stock. A phone call confirmed the information, though the clerk said I had better get there that evening because there weren’t many left.

I hightailed it out of the office. I was on a mission.  So, of course, I hit unusually heavy traffic.  Fine, no problem. Breathe, listen to music, think of clever questions to ask Siri. When I’m on the home stretch of the 5 mph traffic, I notice a slow and rhythmic ker-thunk ker-thunk. Really? Seriously? A flat freakin’ tire? Oy!

Fortunately, there was a nice wide shoulder near the entrance to San Quentin Prison to pull over. And as luck would have it, my AAA membership had expired. I asked the nice AAA lady on the phone if  she could kindly just call the tow-truck while I take care of the renewal. Nope. Money first, help later. But, after a few minutes the tow-truck was summoned and within a half an hour I’m back on the road.

Once I arrive at Best Buy (a store I once pledged to never shop at again due to their abhorrent treatment of female customers), I see there are three clerks at three desks helping customers with mobile phone purchases. I was the only person waiting.  Soon, Siri would be mine.  Then one of the clerks walks away with his customer, never to return. The clerk at the middle desk seemed a bit, er, mentally challenged.  I don’t know how complex the transaction she was having with her customer, but it was going on when I arrived and was still going on when I left.  The third clerk had a customer buying an iPhone and every time it looked like the customer was getting ready to finish up, something else would come up – a problem with his account, a problem with his card, or he would wander off to look at accessories.  After about a half hour, finally, the third clerk became available.

Much to the relief of the line that had formed behind me, my interaction was easy breezy, and within ten minutes I walked out with my new iPhone. Merry Christmas to me!

(Oh, and I lied about “needing” some new of the new features. I merely wanted them. And yes, guilty as charged in terms of wanting it because it’s cool.)

I’m baaaaack . . . maybe


Weird. For the last two months, every evening, I’ve managed to pull a bit of writing out of my ass simply because there was someone on the other end of these interwebs who I knew was waiting for it. And it wasn’t all shit. Some of it was even worth sharing. In fact, more than once I thought to myself “self, this is pretty much a blog post.  You could revive your your moribund blog with work that you’ve already finished.”   Who knows, I still might.

So, what have I been doing for the last six months? I’ve been upping my game, I guess.  Took up swimming, started writing again, and I’ve been studying Mahamudra with yet another Buddhist teacher. The relationship with the boyfriend is back on track despite waking up one morning a couple of months ago fully convinced that we needed to break up. Work is fine. Critters are fine (and I promise I’ll write Binkles In Love, part 2 really soon).

Tonight, however, I find myself feeling rather uneasy, but I ‘spose it’s good that despite the impulse to run away from the keyboard, here I am.  I hope to be here more often.