From the BlogMeet Ron


Dear friends,

It’s been raining a lot here in Honolulu since we spoke last week. There is something unspeakably beautiful about listening to the rain. Not just hearing the rain, in the background of our important lives, but actually listening to it. 

As Thomas Merton explains:

What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone,
in the forest, at night, cherished by this
wonderful, unintelligible,
perfectly innocent speech,
the most comforting speech in the world,
the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges,
and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!
Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.
It will talk as long as it wants, this rain.
As long as it talks I am going to listen.

I don’t have to leisure to abide in the forest at night cherishing this“wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech” — but I don’t have to. It speaks to me just the same in my busy life.

Listening in this way, with our precious mindfulness, is intimacy, is tenderness, is transformative – because it allows us to leave our self, and taste something very special. A connection with our self beyond our “self” which defies rational explanation, but which is deeply satisfying and rejuvenative.

Let’s allow Rumi to explain:

I come to you without me, come to me without you.
Self is the thorn in the sole of the soul.
Merge with others,
If you stay in self, you are a grain, you are a drop,
If you merge with others, you are an ocean, you are a mine.


An interviewer once asked Mother Teresa what she says to God when she prays. “I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I just listen. “ Then the interviewer asked what God says to her. “He doesn’t say anything,” she said. “He just listens. And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”

Deep listening, in silence, even if no words are spoken, is intimate. Like Mother Teresa we can’t explain this intimacy our mindfulness practice reveals.
We simply live it.

Sadly, we’ve created a culture in which a lot is being said and shared (often via social media) but very few are actually paying attention and listening to each other. I’ve seen two people apparently carrying on a conversation, sitting at a coffee shop, while both had smartphone earbuds in both ears.

This is a real problem. People simply need to be heard from time to time. So we end up paying a therapist to really listen to what we have to say. 

The inability, or unwillingness, to truly listen to another happens because we are so self-absorbed – our own thoughts a just more important than what the other is saying. We casually allow ourselves to daydream, re-hash old stuff or anticipate some future event, effectively losing the connection with the other.

We don’t listen because we’ve lost touch with the present moment.

True listening requires us to care and feel for another. Folks often hear the other through a filter – how does what s/he is saying relate to me? What do I say next so I can score some points? 

They often interrupt because they have jumped to conclusions, or just don’t care about what you are saying. 

Mindful, heartfelt listening allows us to practice what in Buddhism are called the paramis or spiritual perfections, such as renunciation of the ego’s agenda, giving of oneself, diligence, patience, acceptance, honesty, loving-kindness, compassion and equanimity.

As the well-known American born Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu has said:

The paramis or perfections provide a highly useful framework for guiding Dharma practice in daily life. Any activity or relationship approached wisely with the primary purpose of developing the perfections in a balanced way becomes part of the practice.

Authentic listening allows us to cultivate the paramis – and to be open-minded, mindfully grounded in the present moment, and to genuinely care what the other has to say. 

Like Mother Teresa said — we can’t explain this intimacy deep listening cultivates; our mindfulness practice simply reveals it.

So let’s start with authentic listening today – it is the foundation of all wise, compassionate action.

And our world right now is starving for wise, compassionate action.

Aloha, Tom, Katina and the kids


Dear friends,

It’s clear from the State of the Union address two nights ago, here in the USA, and from the many editorials written about it in the press, that we are living in a divided nation, with distrust, fear, and animosity at alarming levels. 

Many of us feel disappointment and are afraid; while others are elated and confident. One of the great challenges we face is dealing with these emotions. Our meditative path encourages us to get intimate with these emotions, rather than push them away, but how (and why?)

Traditional Buddhist practice offers us two alchemical processes so powerful some call them refuges of the heart: loving-kindness and compassion.

As meditative practices, not simply as ideals. 

These simple practices bring about a kind of alchemy that transforms parts of ourselves being we may be keeping at a distance into aspects of our being we welcome in to our heart and tend to, like a garden.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has a wonderful line:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

Loving-kindness meditation allows us to see what’s truly good in all people and see everyone as closer to ourselves than we ever imagined. As the Dalai Lama says, everyone just want happiness and want doesn’t suffering.

Compassion sees what is difficult for others, and wishes for its release.

Loving-kindness begins with ourselves. As we begin to accept ourselves more, we have more room for the people around us. 

As we are friendlier to ourselves, we began living in a friendlier world.

We imbue in the mind simple phrases such as:

May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be at ease.

As we engage in these powerful meditative practices, we realize deep down we are not trying to create artificial mental states, but rather, we are bearing witness and trusting that these qualities of great love and great compassion are already within us.

We begin to shift from separateness, isolation and a propensity to disregard the Other Side, whichever that side is for you (which causes us to contract inside) to recognizing the truth that another’s person’s life has a lot more to do with our own own than we may presently realize.

A healing line from Rumi:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

I have gained much from reading the contemporary Franciscan author Fr. Richard Rohr, especially his wonderful book “Everything Belongs:” 

‘Your task is to find the good, the true, and the beautiful in everything, even and most especially the problematic. The bad is never strong enough to counteract the good … Within contemplation you must learn to trust your Vital Center over all the passing jerks and snags of emotions and obsessive thinking … You can achieve a peace that nothing else can give you, and that no one can take from you (John 14:27).

…The only way we ourselves can refuse to jump onto the train of life is by any negative game of exclusion or unlove—even of ourselves … Exclusion might be described as the core sin. Don’t waste any time rejecting, excluding, eliminating, or punishing anyone or anything else. Everything belongs, including you.”

And here is the alchemy: when we mindfully tend to our hearts to what may be difficult right now, regardless of which side you feel you are on – fear, disappointment, confusion – a kind of tenderness arises. 

But unless we allow ourselves to feel that tenderness, there won’t be a compassionate response to it. 

In meditation, we don’t get to choose what comes up. But we can choose to respond to it with love and compassion. 

Can we collectively do this in the weeks and months ahead, for our spiritual well-being, and the greater good?

Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids 

Image:Mahatma Gandhi-photographed by
Margaret Bourke-White, in Time Magazine.


Dear friends,

Last week we talked about how our meditation practice allows us to discover that whatever you may be feeling or experiencing does not define you. 

Bad news happens, as it will from time to time, but it doesn’t diminish your new found sense of well-being, the well of being. 

You see this sense of well-being is independent of conditions. That as your practice matures over time, it arises more frequently and in all kinds of situations. We may feel a little chagrined finding ourselves in those old emotional haunts, and can laugh at ourselves more readily. 

This marvelous discovery prompted former Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan to pen his bestselling book “Joy on Demand.” 

This week, let’s explore some implications of this discovery, specifically regarding trust, courage, compassion and the attitude of gratefulness. These qualities add richness and depth, transforming this well-being into a truly spiritual endowment.

During a talk he was giving on “grateful living”, David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk, was asked by an audience member how she could possibly feel grateful after just being laid off from her job, and feeling overwhelmed at how she can continue to care for her sick father, and help one of her kids who is in trouble with the law?

His answer is remarkable for its depth and clarity.

When I ask myself, would I feel grateful if I had just been laid off from my job–not to mention the other challenges you are facing–the answer is no. How could anyone in your position feel grateful? But gratefulness is not a feeling; gratefulness is an attitude. Even though we have a grateful attitude toward life, we may or may not feel grateful. No should applies here. Our feelings are not under our control; only our attitude is.

He went on to explain:

You feel a trust in life that overcomes fear. This trust makes your heart feel wide open and free, the very opposite of those anxious feelings that squeeze your chest until you can hardly breathe. 

Now, that deep trust in life is not a feeling but a stance that you deliberately take. It is the attitude we call courage; and courage is quite compatible with feeling afraid. Courage presupposes fear; it is the attitude of one who goes ahead in spite of fear, anxiety, and fatigue. 

A grateful person trusts enough to give life another chance, to stay open for surprises. As you stay open in grateful trust, grateful feelings will start to bud. By living the gratefulness we don’t feel, we begin to feel the gratefulness we live. This is not a quick and easy recipe, but you will find that it works.

Take a moment right now. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes. Become aware of your breath breathing itself. Notice the enough-ness of your life in this moment, full and complete lacking nothing (as they say in Zen). 

Our practice is about coming back to the present and finding the well of being that comforts us and dis-inclines us from being pulled and pushed around so much by everything that we like and everything we don’t like. 

The Buddha said we suffer because we don’t have what we want. Or we have what we want, but we’re afraid to lose it. If we judge everything by likes and dislikes, we’re always unhappy. 

But we discovered that happiness need not be based on our likes and dislikes, remember?

There is something deeper. There is something more fundamental.

Our life just as it is!

Or as Brother Steindl-Rast puts it – contentment comes from an inner knowing of the gift that is unceasingly being given to you. 

So what’s the takeaway this week? 

It’s simple: meditate, discover the happiness independent of circumstances, trust your life as it is, lean into the suffering of yourself and others with courage, and open to the flowering of gratefulness, compassion and loving-kindness for all beings everywhere.

This is our path. It’s what we signed up for.


Tom, Katina, and the kids 

New to Mindfulness Meditation?

David Gelles at the New York Times, himself a dedicated insight meditation practitioner, has put together a very helpful and well-organized introduction. Just click here:


Dear friends,
Mindfulness meditation is not just another way to fix what we feel might be broken in our lives. Maybe you struggle with low moods, motivation, or existential malaise. Maybe you feel lonely, or bored. 
Maybe you sometimes feel like Peggy Lee when she sang “Is that all there is?”
Meditation, rather, is a way of discovering that whatever you may be feeling or experiencing does not define you.
As you get better at observing you inner world in the present moment, you see this world is just made up of so much mental images, self-talk, and waves of feeling tones in your body. As you separate the sensory pieces and greet each one with kindness they simply flow through.
And this flow feels good. But more importantly you begin to realize that what you really are is unbounded joy and peace.
Bad news happens, as it will from time to time, but it doesn’t define you, your new found sense of well-being is still there.
One huge relief for me was realizing rather than striving to get rid of stress and confusion, these mental states acted as a false barrier to my very own natural calm, focus, and joy.
I was able to simply relax back into to the peace and joy that was already always there.
If you meditate to get something, some feeling or some imagined mental state, it becomes another goal, one which may lead you to judge yourself as failing or succeeding. This reinforces what classical Buddhism call “grasping and aversion” — and often leads to a scattered, anxious mind.
With time and practice, you discover an open awareness which is inherently free, peaceful and joyous. And you recognize this as a more profound and delightful “you.”
You start to appreciate the difference between pleasure and happiness. Many of us live from pleasure to pleasure, with some waiting around in between.
But the happiness you discover with meditation practice comes from deeply experiencing your core, who and what you truly are. There is no waiting around here; it’s on tap 24/7.
Practicing meditation is like holding a cross to our media frenzied, consumerist, vampire culture.
Thomas Merton said it best, I feel:
Why can’t we be content with the secret gift of happiness that is offered to us, without consulting the rest of the world? Why do we insist rather on a happiness that is approved by magazines and TV? Perhaps because we do not believe in a happiness that is given to us for nothing? We don’t think we can be happy with a happiness that has no price tag on it.
Mindfulness meditation is this “secret gift of happiness that is offered to us.”
In his bestselling book Joy On Demand Chade-Meng Tan, former software engineer and motivator at Google known for greeting celebrities who visit the Google campus, writes:
After Google director Jonathan Berent took mindfulness meditation training, he noticed a profound impact on his life. He told me, “I have found that I can at any moment take a conscious breath and access joy … A couple years ago, I would have thought this was pointless. Joy on demand? You have to be kidding me. Now it is a reality to me, and I know it’s possible at any moment.”
But let’s be clear: sadness, jealousy, anger, fear, physical and emotional pain, all of it, will still arise. We’re talking about a radically profound change in the relationship with these experiences.
And that’s 99% of the matter with the problems and troubles we inevitably face.
Be happy!
Tom, Katina, and the kids 


Dear Friends,
There is a Tibetan saying popular in mindfulness circles: “If you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.”
When I remember this saying, my heart releases what it’s fixated on, and it’s almost always fixated or worrying about something.
Sylvia Boorstein once quipped that she is a “recovering worrier.” 
That’s me. And my ongoing recovery is a very bumpy ride.
My anxiety and fear about the world out there and the world in here start to thaw a little when I yield to the present, changing from overwhelm to saying yes, I can handle this.
And it starts with the little things. Watching the formation of a toothpaste stripe, putting on socks to go to work, looking for my cell phone, again.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “The little things, the little moments? They aren’t little.”
I feel fortunate to have to have discovered some years back the extraordinary teachings of the Carmelite saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She wrote of a “Little Way” to the fullness of life, a way to joy, to happiness, to peace.
And the Little Way she lived and wrote about she said is very straight and short. You access it, she says, in the present moment, in your life just as it is. 
St. Therese was a cloistered nun who lived in 19th century France,  who died a painful death at the tender age of 24, from tuberculosis. Her “Little Way” is about discovering the spiritual in the little things of ordinary life. She was inspired by Jesus’ words: “Whosoever is a little one, come to me.”
This little way is a path, she would say, of awareness and willingness, of gratitude and surrender, of confidence, and above all, of love. Mother Teresa summed up the Little Way like this: 
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
This process draws us to a deeper, caring connection with ourselves and with others. I love the way Sylvia Boorstein puts this:
“Restoring a caring connection when it is disrupted, and maintaining it when it is present, is happiness. Not leads to happiness. Is happiness. With that as my core belief, mindfulness of a caring connection is for me, the key element of spiritual practice.”
Takamaro Shigaraki, a Japanese Buddhist philosopher who died a couple of years ago, has a wonderful description of this kind of intimate connection that he writes about between a person and a flower in his book A Life of Awakening. He writes:
“When we deeply look into the thing the eye that looks becomes the thing that is seen. As we see the tulip we enter the life of the flower. Becoming one with the life of the tulip we come to know the tulip and to see the tulip. Conversely stated, the life of the tulip reaches our lives and into the deepest parts of our hearts and minds, and there we ourselves come to know that tulip’s heart and mind as well as its life and the meaning of its existence, and this way of seeing is called awakening.”
I find these moments just happen sometimes — I feel intimate with my own vulnerability, and with my blue Hydro Flask, or the dishes, my wife and kids, or the bills that just pile up.
When I deeply feel my own vulnerability and dependence on others, my heart softens, and I sense the earthy leavening of love. 
Ursula Le Guin reminds us, “Love must be remade each day, baked fresh like bread.”
Can we find moments in our life when we can yield to this simple process at the heart of our mindfulness practice? 
Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids
Image:  Diego Rivera, Mexico, 1924 “Woman Grinding Maize.” 


Dear Friends,
This year, I decided to not make any resolutions. Well, except for  maybe one. 
I resolve to just be myself.
I always felt making a set of resolutions meant needing to improve myself, be better at something, or change my body somehow.
The blogger Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui, a working, single mom who writes about minimalism and the anti-consumption movement, recently wrote: 
What if I just accept this mediocre body of mine that is neither big nor small? Just in between. And I embrace that I have no desire to work for rock hard abs or 18% body fat. And I make peace with it and decide that when I lie on my deathbed I will never regret having just been me.
Oscar Wilde once quipped: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
This year, I resolve to see how I am when I am being inauthentic. 
I resolve not to try to be someone I am not; or some fantasy I want to grow into, like an enlightened Tom 2.0.
And use mindfulness to see through the masks I make to hide behind.
There is a way to live your ordinary life in pristine peace and joy just as it is right now. This is the way of everyday mysticism, yet it’s not about any “ism” at all.

Can we find moments in our life when we can step back and reflect on this simple yet powerful insight, which lies at the heart of our mindfulness practice: to just be here, now, without pretense, free and open, relaxed and at peace?
I think an awful lot of the stuff we deal with in meditation is really about struggling with the way things are, and wanting things to be otherwise. 
I suggest a maturing practice, a deepening practice, is a more chill practice. 
Just appreciating the tastes and possibilities of relaxing. 
Meditation can turn into a kind of extreme sport, with elaborate training programs for those aspiring to the elite ranks

But what if we set aside those fantasies for a while and just chilled, relaxed?
Mary Oliver’s poem “Yellow” reminds us:
There is the heaven we enter
through institutional grace
and there are the yellow finches
bathing and singing
in the lowly puddle.
Towards the end of a piece on her blog Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui continues: 
What if I embrace my limitations and stop railing against them? Make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same. Accept that all I want is a small, slow, simple life. 
That’s’ all I want – a small, slow, simple life.
Carl Jung envisioned a major shift in understanding the spiritual path –rather than ascending a steep mountain path seeking perfection, instead we “unfold into wholeness.” 
And I would only add—the wholeness that is who we are right here and now.
We are not so much attempting to vaporize up our bad karma or destroy our demons, as it is really hard to do a decent job of this; our struggling attempts can easily leave us with more problems.
Rather, perhaps we need to chill a little and embrace life in all its realness – messy, incomplete, yet vibrantly alive.
It’s just about embracing now, without trying to improve or tweak anything. Trying to tweak things just brings more frustration
And really, the present moment is un-tweak-able. 
It’s just simply coming home again and again. No striving necessary. 
As it says in the Zhuangzi, the ancient Chinese text from the late Warring States period (476–221 BC):
“Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”
And in truly seeing this, that we are endowed with all we need, there may be a juicy-ness, a fullness, some call it a joy, in just experiencing, without grasping or rejecting, what arises in the moment completely.
This is a quiet and deep joy that, in a way, has always been there, covered over by strata of reactivity and compulsiveness which subtly rule our lives, in one form or another.
One teacher I was very fortunate to sit a retreat with early on in my practice was Munindra, a Bengali teacher who trained in Burma. One of his students, Sharon Salzberg, recounts that when Munindra was asked once why he practiced his response was,

“So I will see the tiny purple flowers by the side of the road as I walk to town each day.”

Can we practice like this?
Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids
Image:  Gunther Gerzso /  Azul-Naranja-Violeta / artist 1915-2000/  Gouache on paper
Born in Mexico to a Hungarian-German-Jewish family, Gerszo today is considered one of Latin America’s greatest painters. His earliest years were spend back and forth between Mexico and Switzerland where his uncle was a prominent art dealer and the young Gerszo remembered paintings by Bonnard and Delacroix on his bedroom walls. Gerszo first studied to be a stage set designer but turned to full-time painting upon winning an award from the Cleveland Museum of Art. His earlier work reflected a strong European influence but his more mature work from the mid-30s on, of which this is an example, showed the strong influence of Cubism and pre-Columbian art. Gerzso was a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of Mexico’s highest award for the arts. 


Dear Friends,
Someone once asked Suzuki Roshi, the pioneering Zen teacher from Japan who founded the Zen Center of San Francisco in 1969:
“Roshi, what’s the most important thing?” and he answered, “To find out what’s the most important thing.”
I think this question of how we live our life, how we actually live this life—not what we think about it, not what we say about it, but how we actually feel it, breathe it, and live it—may be the most important thing. 
For many, the New Year can be both a time of celebration and a time of reflection. Perhaps we look back on the year and think – despite my best efforts I don’t think I have changed much at all. 
Maybe we think of some troublesome habits which haven’t budged much.
Maybe we reflect on unfulfilled dreams, some loss or other, and those well-intentioned resolutions we made last year. But Rumi instructs us:
“Do not sit long with sadness my friends. When you enter a garden do you look at thorns or flowers? Spend more time with roses and jasmine.”
The Buddha talks a lot in the suttas about savoring the joy and contentment that come about from living a good life, meditating and practicing loving-kindness and compassion. 
Joy and ease and contentment truly provide the foundation of our spiritual life. 
Maybe it’s a time when we can really be honest with ourselves. 
I often reflect that mindfulness is learning to be intimate, and honest, with ourselves. When asked about the fruit of the spiritual life, the 13th century Japanese monk Dogen Zenji replied: “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.”
In his book “Liberating Intimacy,” Zen writer Peter Herschock talks about the fruit of the meditative path as intimacy. Meditation is not about me getting free or clear, but rather it’s about allowing intimacy to flow.
I will never forget the first time I read Alison Luterman’s poem “At The Corner Store” – towards the end, when she has this epiphany, where an elderly man tending a small grocery shop in a big city somewhere greets her like “a long lost daughter.”

At that moment she reflects:
my whole cockeyed life—
what a beautiful failure!—
glowed gold like a sunset after rain.
Our New Year’s reflection could be a reveling in the grand mysyery of our life, just as it is, glowing gold “like a sunset after rain.”
So I wish you the very best of this precious life.
I wish you the happiness of contentment, and the peace of the non-judgmental mind.
I wish you the joy that comes from living a life well lived. 
I wish you that special loving feeling that comes when we let go of our habitual fears and prejudices.
I wish you the space and time to pursue the meditative way.
I wish you not to make sorrow and judgment a comfortable place to rest your head.
I will leave you this year with the words of André Gide, French novelist and philosopher, who encourages us to “spend more time with roses and jasmine” as Rumi advises.
Here are André Gide’s words:
“Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, more beautiful than sorrow. To make this discovery is to embrace joy as a moral obligation.”
There you have it – our moral obligation is to find the joy and contentment the Buddha talked so much about.
May it come easily and swiftly for you, and may you savor it.
Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids


Dear Friends,
As I think about recent events here in the USA, a line keeps coming up, from a poem by Pablo Neruda: “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”
The Republicans in the House just passed a tax bill, about which the Buddhist teacher Ethan Nichtern tweeted “the biggest heist in history-a money grab for the uber wealthy.”
And the biggest tragedy for millions of children’s health insurance, to mention only one likely consequence.
Neruda was probably addressing the humanitarian and political crisis of his native Chile when he wrote that line, reminding us that at times of oppression, dehumanization cannot last.
But I think that line also describes the fruit of our mindfulness practice. With a calm mind, we live in a bigger, fresher space that accommodates everything with ease. As Jack Kornfield reminds us:
What would it feel like to love the whole kit and caboodle—to make our love bigger than our sorrows? 
When I read the Japanese poet Issa, I see cherry blossoms blooming in the dead of winter (despite it’s unlikeliness), and I feel the acute poignancy of life, with all its joys and sorrows: 
What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms. – Issa
  Mindfulness softens the contracted heart many of us experience these days. Diana Winston calls this special power of our mindfulness practice non-contention. “You release the need to struggle and oppose the present moment,” she explains.
Diana elaborates: 
If I don’t practice non-contention, I suffer, fret, struggle, complain, and basically ruin my day. If I do do it, I grieve briefly but my mind is at peace. I let go of what are merely ideas about the way things should be and open to the truth of things as they are. 
But let’s not miss one key point.
We can practice mindful non-contention while opposing this disastrous tax legislation. We can still bring out the pitchforks, but mindfully, and with loving-kindness, of course.
In fact, our opposition will be much more effective this way.
Mindfulness hastens the coming of the spring Neruda mentions. 
Our practice prompts us to question how long will I keep my heart contracted.
Which is really asking, how long will I turn my back on kindness and caring? Jack Kornfield observes that whatever blocks your love is, in the end, unreal. 
The twelfth-century Sufi philosopher El-Ghazali observed “If you can lose it in a shipwreck, it isn’t yours.” I don’t think we can easily lose this love in a shipwreck.
We just rest for a moment, being purely and simply present, awake and aware, with no agenda at all, we radically step out of our habitual comfort zones of control, manipulation, and could have-would have-should have.
Living with mindfulness and meeting each moment as it is takes practice, and a kind of courage. I’ve been told this courage is depicted symbolically as those fierce figures in Vajrayana Buddhist iconography.
In times of stress and uncertainty, we may cling to a protected place. This is a small space, where we aren’t fully ourselves, and want to control life. We like to think in this space that we aren’t vulnerable, but that’s not so.
Mindfulness mirrors our humanity. It’s just plain vulnerable to be human, to be in a body, and be intimate with others in this way.
To meet that vulnerability fully, not half-assed, that’s tenderness. 
We open little by little into the warmth and tenderness of our own essential vulnerability. It’s the birthplace of the renewable energy sources of courage, love, empathy, and compassion we all need so much these days.
And the good news is that they are already here for us, at the center of our being, just waiting for us to easefully put down our burdens.
I love the line by the poet Rilke: “Ultimately it is upon your vulnerability that you depend.”
In the spirit of the holidays let’s celebrate courage, love, empathy, and compassion.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
May your heart be light.
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.
Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids
Images:  Consuelo Mencheta, Colibri – Canelo, contemporary, Spain
| Bottom: Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women on a Beach, 1891


Dear Friends,

I am often asked why I meditate. Sometimes it’s phrased – What are you trying to accomplish by just sitting on a cushion?

Depending on who asks, I answer something like – To clearly see why I suffer, and with that understanding to cultivate peace of mind and a kind heart. 

I have personally found mindfulness practice does just that. The Buddha taught mindfulness as one part of a comprehensive life program to make this goal a lived reality for regular folks like you and I. 

This week let’s take a look at what the Buddha discovered and how it helps us live our everyday life with ever-deepening joy and connection, “the sure heart’s release” as he once put it.

After his own spiritual awakening, the Buddha distilled his understanding of our human predicament into three insights, traditionally known as the three marks of existence. 

Let’s just call them facts of life:
a) Everything is temporary; b) we habitually react to our world with resistance, felt as tension and suffering; and c) nothing solidly happens by itself, everything is contingent on causes and conditions.

Traditionally these are expressed as impermanence, suffering and non-substantiality. 

There is a certain relief I feel when I acknowledge these facts for myself. They help me appreciate what’s truly important in this fleeting world. 

They wake me up as I move through my life in a kind of daze, checking email on my phone, going from one task and one distraction to another.

Because everything is changing, a flower has poignancy. When I realize this I pause.

And because everything is evanescent, everything is precious. Our obligation is to spend this moment well, with wisdom and compassion

Because I suffer at times, “the sure heart’s release” is more appealing. 

And because everything is contingent on something else, I appreciate my interconnection and responsibility to everyone and everything.

I like Sylvia Boorstein’s line about the second fact:

“Life is like a continuous quiz show where the only question ever asked is, “How are you going to manage whatever is happening now without confusing yourself and creating suffering?”

The Korean monk Haemin Sunim, in his lovely book The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, expresses the third fact in this way:

The whole universe is contained in an apple wedge in a lunch box. Apple tree, sunlight, cloud, rain, earth, air, farmer’s sweat are all in it. Delivery truck, gas, market, money, cashier’s smile are all in it. Refrigerator, knife, cutting board, mother’s love are all in it. 

Everything in the whole universe depends on one another. 

The Buddha taught that deeply experiencing these three facts with mindfulness in our daily life brings about wisdom and compassion. 

And daily life is the best place to practice releasing needless suffering and growing in love and compassion. 

Our everyday lives serve up unending opportunities that catch us, triggering our habitual reactions of “liking and disliking.”

Mindfulness allows us to catch ourselves before life does. 

These liberating qualities develop a little at time. “Drop by drop the water pot is filled” counsels the Buddha.

That’s why we need to keep coming back to the cushion.

Katina and I are here to support you any way we can.

Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids

Images: Top Franz Marc (1880 – 1916) German painter and print-maker
| Bottom: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera “The Proposal” 1940’s


Dear Friends,

 Why is it so hard to meditate regularly? Students usually don’t ask this question in their meditation groups, fearing, perhaps, that they might be the only ones with this concern. I still struggle with having consistent, regular meditation, and I have been at this for 37 years.

But I have noticed that I don’t have any self-punitive feelings about this anymore. I find myself more and more happily present with however I find myself, just as I am.

And I have meditation to thank for this.

It’s taken a while to get over this “meditator’s guilt” as Jason Siff puts it – a kind of shame some folks feel when they have trouble meditating regularly, feeling all meditators should meditate every day. We can feel guilty that we are not meditating enough, or well enough, or not living up to some ideal that gets formed in the culture of meditation.

So folks either give up, or keep plodding away out of a sense of duty, which, unfortunately, can bring more torment than tranquility.

The issue is we find ourselves wanting to have a different experience in meditation other than the one we are having. For example, folks are often drawn to meditation out of a desire to feel better in some way.

 If we meditate with this desire to feel good, we selectively internalize that meditation is all about feeling good, calm, and peaceful.

And when we don’t feel calm or peaceful, we can get frustrated, even agitated.

Despite repeated encouragement to relax and let go of our ideas about meditation, and our fantasies of how we should feel when it works, it can take a while for this to really sink in.

Crucial to the practice is being radically OK with ourselves just as we are in the present moment. In doing so, we also let go of the notion of self-improvement.

Mindfulness meditation often starts out by working with an uncooperative and rebellious mind. You know this mind-it’s the one that spaces out, goes into la-la land, feels anxious, and wants out.

It’s the mind that opens its eyes during group meditation, looks at the clock, and says “Ugh, ten more minutes!”

Mindfulness takes us right up to the boundaries of our physical and emotional discomfort. But it allows us to be OK there, to settle down, and lose the fear.

The Burmese teacher Sayadaw U Tejaniya repeats this over and over in many different ways – being mindfully present with whatever arises, experiencing it with equanimity, acceptance, non-identification, kindness, and compassion, develops the wisdom to see things as they really are, not just as they appear to be, and with this understanding comes the end of suffering.

Folks who meditate in order to feel better often find the opposite of what they expected. But if they hang in there they find that instead of “getting” happiness or relief from stress, it’s the letting go of the wanting of happiness, or whatever, that actually liberates them from all suffering.

This is a huge turning point in their practice – the more they let go, the happier they are. They can see that ultimate liberation is the ultimate letting go of everything.

Sayadaw U Tejaniya gets the last word this week:

There is no way you can rush progress in meditation. We can only proceed steadily. But we don’t stop either. How much you do, how skillful you are, how much you are able to do, the benefits of that are already accruing, are already present. When you understand this then the greed to get more, to do better, to get a certain result, will not arise.

Wishing you well on this wonderful journey.

 Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids

This Week In The Insight Timer
Just search for Mark Williams and choose
Mindfulness of Body and Breath
A wonderful 8 minute meditation!

If the spirit moves you, please help spread the word by:

–>> sharing this email with friends who may be interested or


–>> check out our blog–>>
(Received this from a friend & want to sign up for the weekly emails?

Just reply and let me know, and I’ll add you, easy peasy)

Hope to see you tonight, Thursday December 7, 2017 — bring a friend.

Be safe, be well…

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MINDFUL MOMENTS IN MANOA (right now, it’s like this)

 right now, it’s like this

Dear Friends,

I can’t take credit for this title. It’s a phrase the senior American monk in the Thai Forest tradition, Ajahn Sumedho, often uses. It’s even found its way into the Against The Stream meditation community. 

The phrase invites us to explore what is present. It’s kind of a reality test in the moment, a checking-in with what’s truly happening. 

The phrase also has overtones that anything that’s happening, no matter what that is, in a way, radically OK. Nothing to get worked up over. Or to take personally. 

We can go easy on ourselves.

But it also hints at something deeper – that what is present doesn’t stay present for long. Right now it’s like this, but in a few moments it will be like this in another way.

We just gently turn to what is, in the moment.

Ajahn Sumedho likes to quote from the Pali texts, where the Buddha describes the goal of the spiritual path – Nibbana. 

“There is an island, an island which you cannot go beyond. It is a place of … non-possession and of non-attachment. It is the total end of suffering and distress. There are people who, in mindfulness, have realized this and are completely cooled here and now.
~ SN 1092–5 (translated by Ven. Saddhatissa)

Mindfulness recognizes the way things are in the moment, without judging, grasping or becoming elated or dejected. As we learn to trust in this way, we catch glimpses of this “island you cannot go beyond.” 

As Ajahn Sumedho’s teacher, Ajahn Chah put it: “It’s where you experience the reality of non-grasping.”

Pema Chodron explains it this way:

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. The way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth, it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include ll that arises without feeling threatened.”

It’s very simple, and direct. It can’t be manufactured or intellectualized. You have to trust you have the capacity to be fully here and now, without grasping, as things arise and pass away. 

It’s saying yes to the present moment, whatever that is. You give up rejecting and armoring the heart. It’s not saying we agree with the moment, we don’t agree with sexual assault or racial discrimination, but you say yes because whatever is happening is just life as it is.

And it’s the beginning of letting go of resentment, guilt, anger, of the whole nine yards.

It’s where we experience the “reality of non-grasping”, as Ajahn Chah says.

I will let Ajahn Sumedho have the last word:

If we look at it in this way, Nibbana is here and now. It’s not an attainment in the future. The reality is here and now. It is so very simple, but beyond description. It can’t be bestowed or even conveyed, it can only be known by each person for themselves.

May you discover the freedom, the coolness and the joy – the island of peace which you cannot go beyond.
Aloha,Tom, Katina, and the kids


Dear Friends,
Even though it’s not the end of the year yet, Thanksgiving has always been a time of reflection for me. I look back with chagrin at all my failures and aspirations. And I think about our world.
We don’t have to look too far to see how much pain we have been through so far this year with so much gun violence, acts of racial injustice, growing economic disparity, environmental calamities, the North Korean crisis.
And yet we move forward, to keep on giving and loving.
Buddhist monks begin each day with a chant of gratitude for the blessings of their life. In Tibetan Buddhism, the monks and nuns offer prayers of gratitude even for the suffering they have endured:
Grant that I might have enough suffering to awaken in the deepest wisdom and compassion.
It’s easy to take for granted our life. The Shin Buddhist monk Ho Sen’s haiku:
Another year passed.
Empty rice sacks remind me
how lucky I am
You would think Ho Sen would feel lucky and grateful if his rice sacks were full, but instead he reflects on his good fortune. The empty sacks lead him to think about all the food he has received that kept him alive. It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to be alive.
Is it possible to actually feel gratitude for our life just as it is with all of the stuff we add on this this thought, like am I missing out on any Black Friday deals?
The lovely, elder Cambodian monk, Maha Ghosananda, a witness to unthinkable atrocities in his country once said:
If we cannot be happy in spite of our difficulties, what good is our spiritual practice?
The opening paragraph of Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book, Being Peace comes to mind:
Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us all around us, everywhere, any time.
Remember, these are words from a man who watched as his country, Vietnam, being torn apart by war and as his family and friends wounded and killed by bombs, Agent Orange, and other devastations.
On this day we give thanks, can we share a little of our safety, well-being and relative privilege with others, by radiating loving-kindness to the less fortunate?
May all beings be happy, be safe, be liberated from suffering and the causes of suffering.
Have a great Thanksgiving.
Tom, Katina, and the kids
Images: Top — Frida Kahlo, Viva La Vida, 1954  
Bottom: Paul Gauguin, The Meal, also called Bananas, 1891


Dear Friends,
According to later Buddhist thought, human beings are fundamentally good. This is not just a theory, it’s an unmistakable meditative insight. One could say that meditation is the practice of directly experiencing our essential goodness, our fundamentally healthy and happy mind.

If we are fundamentally good, healthy and happy, then why don’t we feel this way all the time? In an early Buddhist scripture, the Buddha answers:

“Luminous is the mind, brightly shining is its nature, but it is colored by the attachments that visit it.”

We experience these attachments that obscure the natural radiance of the mind as the problems we encounter in our daily lives. 

The viewpoint of later Buddhist practice was not so much battling or getting rid of these “defilements” but rather shifting one’s focus to the luminous nature of the natural mind that saturates the problems themselves. 

When problems are seen in this way, as temporary and impermanent outcroppings of the luminous mind, everything feels more workable. 

Problems are not given extra oxygen by regarding them as defilements to be overcome, but rather as opportunities to look deeper into freedom space out of which they emerge and into which they dissolve. 

Meditation allows us to experience them as superficial sheaths covering this basic goodness. 

Seen this way, there is no flawed, wounded self that is stuck making one mistake after another. Everything becomes lighter.

It’s not that we are lacking in effort or discipline in our meditation practice, but rather a certain daring to trust our basic nature. We can’t huff and puff our way to this trust, it’s more like we relax a little more and see it’s always been there.

As we learn to relax and trust we begin to part the veils that keep us from our birthright – our fundamentally healthy and happy mind.

The North American author and photographer Eudora Welty wrote:

“My continuing passion is to part a curtain — that invisible veil of indifference that falls between us and that blinds us to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.”

As the veils start to come apart and are seen through, we feel each other’s human plight more profoundly.

This is the Buddhist project: to see through the “invisible veils of indifference”, relish our healthy and happy mind, shout it from the rooftops, and be kinder.

I’ll leave you this week with an excerpt from George Saunder’s speech to graduates of Syracuse University in 2013, as published in the NY Times:

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . reservedly, mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life … try to be kinder.

That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been … Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, and share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been.
I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful. 
May your day be wonderful, happy and joyous, this moment, and this one, and this one …Aloha,Tom, Katina, and the kids

Images: Top — Paul Klee, Marchen, 1929 | Bottom: Henri Matisse. Dance (II).
Just search for “Jack Kornfield” and choose his guided meditation Loving Awareness: Mindfulness of Breath & What is Present 
This is a wonderful 12 minute guided meditation as only Jack can give.


Dear Friends,

It’s been a year now since Trump was elected president. No matter what your party affiliation, this year-old administration has caused many to feel trepidation and uncertainty about the future.

In his farewell address to the nation last year, Barack Obama said “at our core we will be OK.”

Driving home from work in 7 AM Honolulu traffic, I sometimes feel myself slowly getting depressed as I listen to NPR radio, realizing that the same tragedies continue a year later: the Rohingya genocide, the melting of the arctic ice, the threat of nuclear holocaust, tax reform that just makes the wealthy wealthier and punishes the middle class.

I think about what Obama said last year—not only will we be OK, but we are, at our core, OK. I flash on the words of the 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, that T.S. Eliot borrowed for Little Gidding, and which the late Indian Jesuit Priest Anthony de Mello uses here: 

 “All mystics are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.”

This mindfulness path we are treading together, we often hear, leads to spiritual awakening – a waking up of from this sleep de Mello mentions above, which for some is one long, tedious nightmare.

I think some of the depression I feel comes from feeling helpless to do anything meaningful about what is so messed up in the world right now. I sometimes feel angry and indignant.

Robert Thurman (Uma’s father and professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University) wrote a piece in Tricycle Magazine soon after Bush beat Gore back in the year 2000 in which he wrote: 

“People are afraid that if they let go of their anger and righteousness they’re going to lose the energy they need to do something about the problem. But actually you get more strength and energy by operating from a place of love and concern. You can be just as tough, but more effectively tough. It’s like a martial art.”

I think our so-called outer work is to do something skillful, to speak meaningfully, and forcefully if necessary, but coming from a place of kindness, this “place of love and concern.” Our outer actions will have more impact because we are not coming full bore out of anger and resentment.

Thurman, again, says it perfectly:
“Hatred is so off balance. You blow your adrenals in one minute, and then you’re shaky and weak. But if you’re joyful, you’ll get an endless source of energy.” 

But how can you be joyful when things are so messed up? To be sure, this is tough work, confronting our own anger and depression. No one said finding this place of joy in the midst of the world was going to be easy.

We start with baby steps on our cushion – little by little undoing the identification with thoughts, emotions and feelings that blind us to the naturally loving and radiant essence of ourselves and others.

There will be moments when we surrender our deepest held views and opinions, and just let go and forgive.

In these moments we “summon our character” as the rapper and poet Dessa writes in her poem “Mercy” (from her book A Pound Of Steam, Rain Taxi Press) 

To forgive
is to summon your character,
red-eyed and sober
and command it to behave
against the current of your instinct,
to reach up and
take down your own flag.

To forgive is to make a snow angel out of sawdust
Beneath the bench where they are shaving down your pride.

Meditation offers us moments of grace and blessing. We just have to be open to receive them, and discover the freshness and vitality of this world free from our social media freak outs and cynicism.

I confess it has been slow going for me, like an acquired taste, bitter at first, then all the more tasty and nourishing with each bite. Joy, ease and contentment truly provide the foundation of our spiritual life.

This ultimately is joyful work.

Relish these moments of joy on and off the cushion, for the sake of all beings.

Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids


Dear Friends,
Understanding all the main teachings of Buddhism can be a challenging undertaking. I have met several people who have dedicated their entire adult lives to studying the sutras in their original languages. 
While their ability to synthesize complex topics into understandable English is impressive, I did not feel their hearts were liberated from what we all go through: everyday anxieties, fears, frustrations, and disappointments. They seemed to react to like we all do, caught in the grips of negative mind states.
On the other hand, I have met folks who were illiterate, and only heard bits and pieces of the Dharma, orally, whose hearts were free, their countenances bright and shining, and their laughter easy and infectious.
I particularly remember one forest monk in Sri Lanka, who insisted the meditative path was actually quite easy. “All you have to do,” he said, “is feel your breath, everything else happens by itself.” 
He was fond of reciting certain scriptural passage he had memorized. One of his favorites was from the Angutarra Nikaya:
“Luminous is the mind, brightly shining is its nature, but it is colored by the attachments that visit it.”
“You just have to relax and stay with the breath, and the attachments fall away” was another of his admonitions.
He lived the power and simplicity of this message. It was a relief I didn’t have keep struggling to comprehend all the complex ideas I was taught in the monastery. 
He insisted that nibbana, the ultimate freedom the Buddha talked about, was experienced here and now as ease, as loving-kindness, as joyful connection with others, and as simple mindfulness in all we do. 
Many years later I came to savor the teachings of the Thai forest monk Ajahn Cha. I had never met him, but I felt uplifted by the words that were translated into English by those who lived with him in the forest.
In particular, he spoke about this luminous mind my Sri Lankan teacher loved to talk about, calling it “the unborn nature of consciousness.” 
Here is a short passage from his teachings, describing this luminous mind:

“The original heart-mind shines like pure, clear water with the sweetest taste. To know this we must go beyond self and no-self, birth, and death. This original mind is limitless, untouchable, beyond all opposites and all creations.” 

He insisted this heart-mind is to be experienced here and now, by dropping attachment and grasping. 

The path, then, is to become acquainted with who you truly are, here and now. You are inherently open, at ease, wise, loving and compassionate. And this acquaintance only happens now, in this moment. 
I’ll leave you this week with the words of Thomas Merton, who was speaking about seeing the inherent nature of all beings:

“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their heart. The depths of their hearts where neither sin nor knowledge could reach. The core of reality. The person that each one is in the eyes of the divine. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time there would be no more need for war, for hatred, for greed, for cruelty. 
I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
May we all know this “secret beauty of the heart” and fully live from its healing depth. 
Aloha, Tom, Katina, and the kids
This week simply search in the Insight Timer for the following guided meditation,
In the Insight Timer search box enter: “Gil Fronsdal” then choose:
“Guided meditation on the breath”
This is an excellent 15 minute breath meditation; it’s all you have to do
according to the teacher I mentioned above.
If the spirit moves you, please help spread the word by:

–>> sharing this email with friends who may be interested or

–>> check out our blog–>>

(Received this from a friend & want to sign up for the weekly emails?

Just reply and let me know, and I’ll add you, easy peasy)

Hope to see you tonight, Thursday November 2, 2017 — bring a friend.

Be safe, be well…

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Dear Friends,
When asked about the fruit of the spiritual life, the 13th century Japanese monk Dogen Zenji replied: “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.”
Mindfulness allows us to intimately see a flower, or watch a sunset, or eat a mango, with nothing in between us and the experience.
Breath by breath we deepen our connection with life as it is. We are more present for the beauty and the challenges we encounter. We long for this connection, this intimacy with our life, as it connects us more authentically with others.
We discover a new dimension to life, as described by Emily Dickenson: 
“Life is so astonishing; it leaves very little time for anything else.”
But we discover on the cushion that our minds are actively judging, evaluating and comparing our ourselves and our experiences.
The judging mind, that meditators are so familiar with, takes us far away from this intimacy that Dogen highlights as the fruit of our practice. Although we long for this connection, we seem to be powerfully conditioned to judge.
We are “judging machines” as one of my teachers, Michelle Smith, once said.
Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us that 
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment.”
Consciously practicing non-judgment in meditation allows us to open up more to whatever arises, and rest deeply in the mindful presence that judging blocks out. Doing this relieves us of having to do anything in particular in the present.
We just give up grasping for more of the pleasant, resisting the unpleasant, and ignoring our life as it is.
As Larry Rosenberg puts it, by practicing non-judgment we come into the space of intimacy where we are “being with life, not just dealing with it.”
Joseph Goldstein is fond of recounting that an interviewer once asked Mother Teresa what she says to God when she prays. “I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I just listen.“ 
Then the interviewer asked what God says to her. “He doesn’t say anything,” she said. “He just listens. And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”
Deep listening, in silence, even if no words are spoken, is intimate. Like Mother Teresa we can’t explain this intimacy our mindfulness practice reveals.
We simply live it. 
Tom, Katina, and the kids
This week simply search in the Insight Timer for the following guided meditation,
In the Insight Timer search box enter: “Joseph Goldstein” then choose:
“Quiet and Connected- Mindfulness Meditation”
This is an excellent 11 minute meditation that guides you to connect
with people in a full-hearted way.