My Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki once wrote a calligraphy, in English, that read, “Do not say too late.” He gave this to Yvonne, one of his main disciples, who had it on the wall in her living room for her whole life. I saw it there for years whenever I visited her. I’m not sure why he wrote the calligraphy, or if it had any direct relevance to something that was going on in Yvonne’s life. Maybe she had told Suzuki about something that she felt was too late to change, and he wrote the scroll in response. But it was such an unusual … Read More
My Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki like to use the phrase “Things as it is.” Sometimes one of us students would gently correct him, thinking he didn’t understand English grammar, and say, “You know, Suzuki Roshi, in English the correct way to say that is ‘things as they are.” He would thank us and try that out, saying “Things as they are” a few times. But it was clear this didn’t sound right to him, and soon he was back to saying “Things as it is.” This may not have been grammatical in English, but to his ear it was correct from the standpoint … Read More
My close friend Peter has a theory about what he calls “gold nugget people.” These are people of wisdom, people who know things—important things—who live anonymously and invisibly in their communities, known only to those who pay attention and need to know. They are, Peter says, like gold nuggets you might find glistening in the bottom of a rushing stream—easy to miss unless you know what to look for and where to look.
Human communities have always had gold nugget people. Sometimes they have a role as “medicine men,” shamans, or elders; sometimes they just live their lives, watching how others live theirs … Read More
Recently I wrote an article entitled “Fear is Your Friend,” in which I explained the ways that fear, though an unpleasant emotion, is actually trying to help us by alerting us to a possible threat or danger. In this article I want to further that discussion by using the technique called “deep mind reflection” that I developed in my most recent book Every Breath, New Chances: How to Age with Honor and Dignity. A deep mind reflection is simple method of turning inward to invoke our faculty of intuition. Intuition is the part of our mind that holds our wisest and most … Read More
Fear is a fundamental feature of all living beings, including us. Our bodies are deeply wired for fear, as well they should be. No living creature can survive for long without a threat-identification system that is quick, primitive, and powerful. In the old days, when we were primate-like creatures foraging for food on the savannah, fear alerted us to the presence of predators or other dangers to life and limb. Today in the modern world fear is often more abstract and indirect. We can become afraid from something we see on TV, read on social media, or hear from friends. Covid has made everyone afraid, even … Read More
In my book Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Guide to Growing Older and Wiser, I propose a practice that I developed and have used myself called “The Gratitude Walk.” Especially in these trying times, when our minds are filled with anxiety and negative thoughts, this simple practice can do wonders to lift your mood. I recommend it especially for men, who may not be inclined, as they exercise outdoors, to use that time to improve their mood or their sensitivity to their surroundings.
I first discovered this practice when I was recovering from a life-threatening illness, and was just beginning to … Read More
In the Buddhist tradition we have a text called the Metta Sutta, or loving kindness scripture. In my own Buddhist teaching, I developed a short prayer based on this text, that goes like this:
May each of us be filled with loving kindness;
May each of us be free from suffering;
May each of us be happy and at peace.
This short saying seems to have resonated in the larger Buddhist world; other Buddhist groups have picked it up and are using it. It has also been criticized, usually by people not too familiar with the Buddhist way of … Read More
It’s on everyone’s mind these days, everywhere. It’s inescapable, it influences everything we do our say. Few issues—not perhaps since World War II—have been so all-encompassing and potent. The Covid pandemic, in the space of less than two years, has transformed the world, in every country and continent, in every individual human mind and family. Even if Covid finally subsides–through the efficacy of miraculous vaccines, new anti-viral medicines, and the natural ebb and flow of the virus itself—its aftermath will reverberate for years, if not decades. School children have lost months and years of irreplaceable educational opportunity. Grieving families will … Read More
One day after a Saturday lecture, my Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki opened the floor to questions. This was in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. I was in my early twenties at the time, working as an anti-war activist by day, and learning about Buddhist meditation at Suzuki’s temple on weekends. I raised my hand and asked the question that was troubling me and so many of us in the room. “Suzuki Roshi,” I said, “What is war?”
He pointed to the goza mat in front of him, a six-by-three foot thin bamboo mat on which two people … Read More
Much has been written about men’s relationships with their own fathers, and how that has affected their attitudes and behaviors. Less discussed is a man’s relationship with his grandfather, perhaps because these days most boys do not live in extended family households and grandfathers are less present in a growing boy’s life. I happen to believe, though, that in traditional communities grandfathers have played an important role in guiding and socializing young men, and that their absence as an influence is a loss for healthy male development and society generally. In my latest book Every Breath, New Chances: How To … Read More