Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

How to Meditate While Raising Kids

Shortly after the arrival of my first child, a friend without children innocently asked how my meditation practice was going. Flustered and embarrassed, I mumbled something vague, as I bounced my baby on my chest to soothe her. Truth was, I had no energy or time to sit on a cushion, since every minute was spent on this newborn. The moment signaled to me that my meditation routine had radically changed and that, unless I had Angelina-Jolie-like levels of childcare, I’d need to thoroughly rethink how to meditate with children in the home. 

What follows is what I learned over the years combined with the pragmatic experience of countless others with children who figured out how to not only maintain meditation practice but also actually deepen it in profound ways.

Abandon all hope, ye who have children under three. If you have even one child under the age of three and you’re both at home all day, forget attempting formal, seated meditation. You get a Meditation Pass. If you have a quiet moment alone, go take a shower, exercise, nap, or watch a clip that makes you laugh. If the young one is taking an extended nap, by all means, sit on that cushion! However, toddlers have this freaky antenna that sends them a signal: “My caregiver is meditating, so now it’s time to wake up!” Parents consistently report that whenever they meditate, even if it’s at 4 a.m., the child will wake. We have no idea why, but it’s utterly maddening.

Turn quieter caregiving moments into meditation. Many infant or toddler tasks lend themselves beautifully to mindfulness meditation, if you do them intentionally. Nursing or bottle feeding, diapering, rocking the baby to sleep, bathing, strollering, walks with a carrier, and cuddling can all be done as meditations, with full attention to your senses, and touching into the breath. If the baby is on your body, you can breathe with the baby’s breaths. As with formal meditation, devices and screens are best shut down and out of sight. 

Continue reading
  11 Hits
  0 Comments
11 Hits
0 Comments

Approaching Life’s Unanswerable Questions

The work of Buddhist poet Jane Hirshfield, adored by readers worldwide, tackles some of the biggest questions we face as living beings. Addressing ecological, scientific, political, metaphysical, and artistic concerns, her poetry and essays move between scales vast and minuscule, balancing awe and mundanity, the out of the ordinary and the everyday. Her nine books of poetry include The Beauty; Given Sugar, Given Salt; and After. She’s also written two collections of essays: Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World.

Her latest book of poetry, Ledger (Knopf, March 10, 2020), looks carefully at the environmental crisis, both mourning and praising “our cataloged vanishing unfinished heaven.” I read the book after visiting Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and spending hours in an exhibition called “Evolving Planet,” which tracks the 4.6-billion-year history of the Earth and its life forms. This unfathomably long (“beyond measure,” in Hirshfield’s words) and unlikely chain of events—from the formation of the planet to the emergence of single-celled life, onwards to lichens and plants, sea creatures, and land-animals—that led to us today, at this particular moment, is astonishing to behold. And in many ways, Ledger excavates some of this inevitable yet surprising history.

I had the opportunity to speak with Hirshfield about her latest collection, and how she approaches life’s elusive questions on scales both grand and small.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to write this particular book? How did writing it differ from your experience with your previous collection, The Beauty (Knopf, 2015)? 

These have been sea-change years. Ledger’s opening poem, “Let Them Not Say,” was written in 2014 with the environmental crisis in mind. It was first published on January 17, 2017, the day of the presidential inauguration, to enormous response. Times had changed and broadened its meaning. The book’s final poems were written as the climate crisis, which I’ve written about for many years, became more fully visible. Social-justice themes also run throughout its pages. The bodhisattva vow has seeped into my pen’s ink. This isn’t particular to me. Most people I know feel this increase of urgency. The realities we see all around us require it. Even “sea-change” has taken on a new meaning.

Continue reading
  9 Hits
  0 Comments
9 Hits
0 Comments

Defining Mindfulness

This article was adapted from Sharon Salzberg’s new online course “The Whole Path.” Sharon’s curriculum covers each aspect of the Buddha’s eightfold path as she explores the role of mindfulness and meditation within the broader context of our spiritual journey. Classes begin March 23. Learn more at learn.tricycle.org.

Often, the ways we define mindfulness can be misleading. Definitions like “a quality of awareness that accepts things the way that they are” or “being aware without judging what is” are not incorrect, but they can imply passivity or complacency. But mindfulness is a dynamic relationship with what is. It doesn’t mean you never take action. It doesn’t mean you never do anything. 

When I was first practicing in India, I was living in Bodhgaya, which is the town where they say the descendant of the tree that the Buddha sat under when he became enlightened is. (That tree is right in the center of town, and it’s an extraordinary place.) We were staying outside of town in the Burmese vihara, or temple. And every once in a while, when we were walking from the Burmese temple into the center of town, we’d come upon an elephant that a wealthy landowner kept as a mark of his status. I remember so many times, people would ask one of my teachers, “Say I’m walking mindfully down the road, and I see the elephant coming toward me. Do I just mindfully notice that the elephant is coming toward me? Or do I get out of the way?” And he would say, “I would get out of the way!” 

Recently, I was teaching a meditation session that began with the instruction to listen to a sound. I’d gotten just that far—listen to sound—when somebody raised his hand and asked, “What if I hear the smoke alarm? Should I sit here mindfully knowing that the smoke alarm is going off? Or should I get up?” And I said, “I’d get up!” And I thought, Oh, this is like a new version of the elephant. 

Continue reading
  14 Hits
  0 Comments
14 Hits
0 Comments

A Gender-Diverse Sangha

Before Kevin Manders created the anthology Transcending: Trans Buddhist Voices (edited also by Elizabeth Marston and published by North Atlantic Books in October 2019), he often worried that he was the only trans Buddhist practitioner in the world. As he compiled this collection of writings by trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary Buddhists, however, he quickly learned how many other people were out there—and how isolated they were feeling. 

The anthology, which ranges in genre from academic papers to poetry, creates a sort of community of its own, with many contributors expressing similar experiences of exclusion as well as joy, all in their own voices. Some writers no longer belong to any religious institutions, Buddhist or otherwise, having been pushed out by oppression or alienation. Others find that Buddhism permits them a unique fluidity of self—and that being trans, genderqueer, or nonbinary helps them connect with teachings that they otherwise may struggle to embody. 

In the following interview, Kevin Manders discusses his inspiration for this anthology, how he hopes it will be used by sanghas, and the ways it has created a community where there was once isolation.

What first gave you the idea to compile this anthology of trans and genderqueer Buddhist voices? It’s the book I’ve wanted to read for 12 or 13 years, since I started my practice. For the first eight years, I did not know any trans, genderqueer, or nonbinary Buddhists. But I figured I couldn’t be the only one. I spent a lot of time back then doing research and finding nothing, and I realized that if I wanted to hear from other trans Buddhists, then other people did as well. That’s how it got started.

 Why is it important to hear more from these voices, and why do you think it has taken so long? I think it’s important for trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary people to hear each other’s voices, because I think many of us—speaking for myself and contributors to the book—have been feeling at tiny bit lost in parts of our practice. Particularly because of the teaching of anatta [non-self, a teaching that challenges our fixed or static ways of thinking of the self, but that often has been misconstrued to imply that a person’s experience of identity is not real]. I met a lot of trans Buddhists during the call for submissions who shared similar stories about teachers not being supportive when they came out as trans because of the teaching of non-self.

Continue reading
  17 Hits
  0 Comments
17 Hits
0 Comments

Chronic Depression and Medications

We continue our series of posts with questions and answers. In this eighth post, we hear one question.

Many of us experience chronic depression. Earlier in the retreat you talked about what is feeding that depression. For me, there is also an underlying biochemical component. Do you think I should not need medication and heal from the practice only? 

The session takes place on August 16, 2007 during the Stonehill College retreat during the U.S. Tour. The retreat theme is Mindfulness, Fearlessness, and Togetherness.

Original author: Chan Niem Hy
  21 Hits
  0 Comments
21 Hits
0 Comments