living dharma

Don’t just do something, stand there
November 9, 2017, 11:56 am
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A reflection on nourishment
September 23, 2017, 12:00 pm
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Sights and sounds
September 19, 2017, 1:23 pm
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This isn’t a Dharma reflection per se (although it is a dharma reflection).¬†But it is/was nourishing in every way. I was on Malcolm Island last week with a dear friend; up the British Columbia coast a good ways. Playing banjo. Staring into the middle distance, in one of the world’s majestically beautiful spots. Have a look and a listen and I hope you will feel nourished too. We all need every bit of nourishment we can find.


More & more, less & less, better & better
September 3, 2017, 6:43 pm
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And – here is the next in a series of reflections on this being human.

Paying attention with intention
August 13, 2017, 5:29 pm
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Here’s the first of what may be many video/audio reflections on this being human.

Please let me know how this lands for you and – if it does – what you might like to see and hear more about. And, as always, thanks for paying attention!

Wealth & bright lines of energy
July 20, 2017, 6:06 pm
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For a number of years I’ve been half joking that my investment strategy is to follow bright lines of energy. Ha! It’s actually not a joke at all, it’s pretty true. Looked at through one lens, the returns have been quietly spectacular. Looked at through another lens, it’s disaster all the way down (riffing on turtles all the way down).

I suppose the brightest line of energy I have ever encountered is the plainspoken wisdom and keen, kind take on the human condition woven through the original teaching of the Buddha and then the skillful transmission of that wisdom over the last 2600+ years. My first meeting with such things was so powerful – such a bright line of energy – that I stepped completely off the track I had been on in order to devote myself entirely to this new one, this being human and not going crazy in the process. I’ve written a lot about time in monasteries etc. and won’t repeat all that here. But, just to say, it was that first engagement with a luminous bright line of energy that sent me on the path.

So, what do I mean by bright lines of energy? I mean that which resonates deeply. That place where some strong sense of inner alignment sings out with an intense, undeniable yes. That place where anxiety isn’t, because you are no longer ignoring whatever your own powerful inner voice has been telling you with startling clarity and consistency for a very long time.

My own experience with this following bright lines of energy approach to life is that it is almost always inconvenient when measured against all that we are supposed to be doing. All the shoulds that come through our family culture, epigenetics and the roar of a globalized monoculture (youth worshipping, disposable, materialistic, medicated, emotionally immature etc.) that can so easily pick us up, carry us along and grind us into the most common, unconscious dust. If we are not very careful.

Our materialist culture tells us, not so surprisingly, that material wealth is the most important thing of all. For those of us with little to no material wealth, we’re perpetually wrong-footed when we live somewhere in the dominant culture.

One (obvious) thing I’ve noticed over the last several years of noticing things is that it takes a tremendous amount of focus and energy to get really good at something. So, to get good at material wealth, you have to really put in the hours and years. For many, the vast majority of one’s life is devoted to material concerns and amassing wealth if at all possible.

Similarly, to be ease in your own skin, to not suffer from anxiety, to reconcile with your family (if that is called for) and be in peaceful relationship with those most important to you, to be well and active in your body, to have a refined understanding of how the world came to be as it is, to be truly available for people as they move through their dying, to have a rich and growing spiritual life, to have a healthy relationship with healthy food, to not be addicted to anything, to be un-medicated – doing all of that well, increasingly well…it turns out that all takes a great deal of time, a great deal of practice.

Yes, there is livelihood to be looked after. Finding a meaningful way to care for ourselves, where we make a contribution to the greater good and make a living, but not a killing. And, of course, in this late stage time of capitalism, amidst the destructive pressures of neoliberalism and globalization – it is no small thing just to make a living, to live with right livelihood, as a Buddhist would say.

Some years ago someone asked the Dalai Lama what the essence of his practice is, why he practices. And his immediate answer was “to prepare for death”. After which he laughed uproariously and beamed, being the Dalai Lama and all (I’ve only been in his presence once – wow, so very lovely). Many people misunderstand Buddhism and think that it is dark and nihilistic because of the attention suffering receives in Buddhist teaching and practice. But that is truly a fundamental misunderstanding. The focus on suffering is about seeing where it comes from, taking it apart, transcending it and living with more and more freedom. So that when death comes, whenever that is, there are no regrets – there has been a life well lived. A life of inner wealth, one that pays little attention to material wealth.

At my age I’m sure an “investment professional” would tell me I should have a million dollars in the bank, or so. And that I should have my mortgage paid off etc. Well. I don’t have the million. And I’ve never owned a house. So, in that sense – my mortgage is paid off! In fact, I am free of debt. Taxes paid. Credit card at zero. Line of credit at zero. And a very (very) modest cushion in the bank. While I have questioned my wisdom in not tucking away a million or two somehow in these past years, there is a great freedom in being debt-free. And there is a far greater freedom in being more at ease than I have ever been. Aware of breath and body. Fit. Strong. Meditating every day. Living vitally in my body every day, knowing that it will come to an end at some point.

So far – the returns on my investment strategy have been invaluable, life-enhancing and life-saving. For me. And they’ve been good for those around me, as I am not infrequently called into a support role for people who are suffering. I sometimes have something to give in those situations (not money, that’s for sure) because I have been developing inner resources that are about being with suffering (and not suffering too) and being okay with whatever is happening.

I suppose this all circles back to the observation about being good at one or two things and not being good at a lot of other things. I’m really good at following my breathing and finding refuge in every moment, almost every moment! And I haven’t been good at amassing material wealth (because I haven’t put energy there). I think I’ve made the right choice and, who knows, maybe there is a way that right livelihood will flow abundance my way in coming years.

The photo is from when I lived in France. Whimsical I know – but a field of sunflowers strikes me as great wealth.

Oh Canada
June 29, 2017, 8:45 am
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Many people bemusedly note that the signature Canadian phrase is “I’m sorry.” Or, “I’m sorry, eh”. And that is kind of true. We do a lot of apologizing. And apart from the nice, deferential, self effacing quality that courses through the veins of many Canadians – I think “I’m sorry” is entirely appropriate as an expression for settler culture, as many Canadians celebrate 150 years in the business of being a country on July 1.

“I’m sorry” is the right stance for a settler population that has built Canada as we know it. A nation state built on the still smouldering ashes of cultural genocide. Of course, Canada is much older than 150 years. And I would not need to go far to have someone tell me the history of this place. I live down the road from Tla’amin Nation, now a self-governing nation that concluded treaty negotiations a little more than a year ago. The Tla’amin people, and other Indigenous peoples, have lived here for thousands of years.

The toll of colonial violence continues to be felt in every First Nation community. It was not long ago that the residential school system finally came to a close; a school system and social policy that explicitly set out to “kill the Indian in the child”. The cruelty with which that policy was enacted far too often killed the child. Those that survived bear the marks of our national brutality even as they transcend the harm done to so many.

Canada is an incredibly beautiful part of the world; many different beauties in this one loose federation. And I identify as a Canadian. In part because I wouldn’t want anyone to assume I am American. But also just because I am actually Canadian. I’ve lived the majority of my life in Canada. I was born in Canada. I breathed Canadian air and played Canadian hockey on Canadian ice as a young person. I grow food in this soil and drink this water and am surrounded on all sides by Canadians. At our best, we’re fairly lovely. Funny. Communitarian. Aware of the world around us. With a quietly progressive sensibility.

But we’re often not at our best. We’re far too close to the United States. Our proximity has made us lazy and dangerous, in our political imagination. Yes, we’re less insanely violent at home and abroad than our American neighbours. Yes, we have a creaking health care system that all of us can access one way or another. No, we don’t see ourselves as the world’s police force. But our governments and their choices and the corporate players who influence our governments and their choices are, in many ways, ¬†indistinguishable from what we see, so disastrously, in the United States.

Neoliberal economic orthodoxy (remember when it was called neoconservatism?) is less rigorously enforced here than it is elsewhere. But our current government and recent governments have all been in lockstep – to one degree or another – with the intensifying global descent into inequality and planetary ecocide.

We could do so much better. We have such capacity and abundance in this country. Of all the things we suffer from, one of the most pernicious is a failure of political imagination. We don’t actually have to be more and more like the United States. Perhaps the obscenity of Donald Trump will somehow serve as a curative, and we will allow ourselves to dream and do something entirely else.

Do I love Canada? I love many places in Canada. The land. The sea. The weather. The animals. And quite a few of the people. Am I a proud Canadian? No, I’m not really. I’m grateful to live here. To live with the precarious degree of safety and well being that I now have. But I am not proud of what we are doing as a country, as a political expression of our humanity. I am not proud of how this country was founded; on violence, prejudice and cultural genocide. I am not content with our prime minister’s endless words about reconciliation with First Nations and his government’s inaction on so many urgent issues affecting Indigenous communities across the country. I’m not proud of any of that. Quite the opposite.

As I look out my window at the ocean on a sunny summer day, I’m happy to be right where I am. And I will continue to look for ways to make a contribution to the world around me so that we can heal the wounds we have inflicted and, together, step ever more freely into the fullness of our humanity.

The photo is from the cottage of family friends some years ago. They – Art and Mel Mathewson – were the best of what Canada can be.