My friend Pauline was trying Zentangles—doodling exercises that promise to pull your concentration into drawing in a way that frees the rest of your mind to come up with creative ideas. Since I’d been stuck in a creative block for months, I decided to follow her lead.
As I waited for my workbook to show up, I thought about how creative longtime practitioners of Buddhism tend to be.
I’m sitting cross-legged on a downtown sidewalk. My five year-old son is in my lap and for 10 minutes the little guy is completely focused and very still; we’re watching and listening with curious eyes and ears to an unusual music performance.
When I was little, my family lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. Every summer day, without fail, my mother would load my little sisters and me into her blue Nash Rambler and head to the municipal swimming pool. We’d always get there early enough to mark our turf with a combination of old towels, sunblock, and toys. By noon the pool was so crammed with kids that I had bruises from all the kicks, elbowings, and thuds from my sisters trying to learn how to swim underwater with their eyes closed.
Two months before my 38th birthday, I was offered the job of my lifetime: joining the marketing and management consulting staff of a large, well-regarded international consulting group.
A recent issue of Business Week has stuck in my mind. The cover story is “The Case for Optimism,” and it is full of inspiring stories and studies showing that optimism works. Students of Zen Buddhism and those knowledgeable with the way our mind functions might be saying “duh” to this. And serious Zen students may find a chat about inspired optimism a bit lame and Pollyanna-ish. Yet our very society and life success is dependent on inspiration and optimism — the fuel of all things good.
While in high school, Jaimal Yogis ran away to sea in search of good surfing and lasting spiritual truths. (“Note to Mom and Dad: I am somewhere in the world, and I will call you when I get there.”) In his new book, Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea (Wisdom Publications), Yogis recounts in short, candid chapters, the waves, experiences, and insights that ignited and sustain his ongoing investigation of the way of Zen. Here, Yogis talks about the resonance between surf and spirit.
I’d like to think that I am extremely mindful. My new mega-pants tell a different story.
In this, his final work, American senior Zen Roshi Robert Aitken lovingly ties together two threads, Zen practice and haiku.
In the fall of 1999, my family and I were traveling on board a commercial airliner out of Memphis, Tennessee, when the cabin filled with smoke and the plane suddenly dropped right out of the sky.
The lake-effect snow was lovely yesterday afternoon as we began a new year with our four-hour meditation. We had ten people, maybe seven at the end. We stayed long enough afterward to make some headway in Shelley’s warm spinach dip, and by the time we were ready to leave Bill had shoveled individual paths to each of our cars!
I have four poems for you to start the new year. The first two are by long time Buddhist practitioners:
Jim Harrison describes his practice of Zen not as a religion but as an attitude toward life. (His After Ikkyu and Other Poems, 1996, is directly Zen inspired. His work owes a lot also to American-English traditions of nature-writing (Saving Daylight, 2006). The short poem below is from In Search of Small Gods (Copper Canyon Press, 2009). In it he writes of the natural world: many of his small gods are dogs, fish and birds:
Poet No. 7
We must be bareback riders. The gods
abhor halters and stirrups, even a horse
blanket to protect our asses is forbidden.
Finally, our legs must grow into the horse
because we were never meant to get off.