Mindfulness and the Bodhisattva

In Mahayana Buddhism (practiced in Tibet, China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia), a bodhisattva is someone who intends to become awake in order to liberate others. While most of us wake up wondering, “What can I do to make myself happy?”, the bodhisattva begins each day wondering what he or she can do to make others happy.

To do so, they don’t sink into self-hood (or ego), which they recognize as a false creation of the mind. It’s a state of “me-ness” that goes against the natural condition of oneness. Trying to hold the self apart and protected causes tension and pain. When threatened, the “me” gets angry. Observing “me’s who present more successful façades causes envy.

I was sure that this “me” obstacle would disqualify me for even baby bodhisattva status. Like many people working on spiritual awareness, I was always bumping into a stubborn ego. In the midst of wondering, I came across this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“A bodhisattva doesn’t have to be perfect. Anyone who is aware of what is happening and who tries to wake up other people is a bodhisattva. We are all bodhisattvas, doing our best.”

That opened new possibilities. I recognized that being mindful of my habitual negative (ego-driven) thoughts ultimately means accepting them instead of trying to bury them. The way to selflessness is not around the troublesome self but through it.

Developing deeper self-esteem satisfies the need for attention of an entity I have come to see as a lonely and generally unhappy three-year-old who built an ego to clothe her naked needs.

Self-acceptance provides a better wardrobe. The warmly dressed and deeply loved child who has assumed ego form can retreat to become the inner child who supports one’s joy, creativity, and faith. With that foundation, it becomes possible to turn one’s attention to the needs of others.

When we clear out space to accept ourselves as we are, we learn to accept others as they are. That kind of acceptance teaches us kindness and generosity.

We can say, “Just like me, this person suffers, feels guilty, has made mistakes, and wants to experience love.” Every time we recognize ourselves in another, we expand our capacity for mindful compassion.

This is surely the path of a bodhisattva.

Mindfulness Matters

This is not a political blog, but, in the aftermath of the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I have decided that I have to speak out here.

Several years ago, a state trooper pulled my car over because he didn’t like the way I paused before pulling onto the highway (which, by the way, was not illegal). He asked to see my driver’s license.

My bag was on the back seat of the car, and I could only reach it by getting out of the car. I opened the door. (This was a BIG mistake.)

The cop pulled a gun on me.

I am a small-sized, white senior citizen woman. If I’d been a young black man, I probably wouldn’t have survived the incident. As it was, I believed (and believe) that a cop who pulled a gun on a little old lady could go further. The wrong move on my part could have been fatal.

Doing my best to be calm and mindful (and still, very still), I said,” Officer, if you want to see my driver’s license, I have to get it out of my purse, which is in the back seat.”

The danger switch in his brain suddenly turned off. He asked me why I took so long to get onto the highway, and I explained that the habitually heavy traffic on that part of the road made it necessary. He looked at my driver’s license; he told me I could go. I drove very carefully.

“First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.”

This line begins a famous poem by Pastor Martin Neimoller about the cowardly behavior of German intellectuals after Hitler’s rise to power. In the poem they take the trade unionists and the Jews. It ends:

“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The message of the poem fully applies to the present. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer, in a recent dissent in Utah vs. Strieff ( a Fourth Amendment case regarding whether an otherwise illegal police stop could be justified by an outstanding arrest warrant) describes those regularly targeted by the police as “the canaries in the coal mines, whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.”

Girls and women know they may be sexually harassed, molested, raped, or otherwise attacked for being female. In 2013 more than 1600 women were killed by men. (That’s reported deaths.) The Orlando massacre represented the greatest number of LGBTQ people killed in one incident but not the first.

Neimoller and Sotomayer point out that as long as any group can be violently targeted, no one is ultimately safe. To me, this means that when you stand up for the rights of others, you stand up for your own rights.

This is true not only politically but spiritually. Many religions share the theme that to relieve suffering is a spiritual obligation. Buddhism teaches us that all of life is interconnected.

This means that even if we can’t directly experience the suffering caused by a particular injustice, we share it. When we acknowledge that sharing, we are moved to relieve the suffering. This is not white or male or heterosexual guilt, it’s the understanding that what happens to one happens to all.

What action stems from that awareness? I’m seeing that question asked more and more on social media lately. I’ve seen some answers, too. For me the only answer is a question.

That question is: “What does love ask me to do?” Everyone must find their own answers, and those answers can only be discovered through mindfulness.

For tomorrow, Monday, July 11, my answer is to attend a march and rally in Springfield, MA to protest the recent killings.

If you find an answer or answers to direct your life, please let me know by posting.

Orlando, Mindfulness, and Love

Since Sunday, June 12, a day that will be remembered and memorialized for a very long time, I’ve followed links to remarks by famous people, videos of vigils, and countless other sources. Although I began in a state of despair, my intention was to find hope. Before long, I recognized a personal and collective shift to understanding and the determination that those who were murdered shall not have died in vain.

I saw signs of hope in the global LGBTQ refusal to allow the tragedy and the community to become pawns in right-wing anti-Muslim hate campaigns. I saw that community shelter and defend its Muslim members. In these acts, I saw deep mindfulness of what’s really important. And I saw leaders in the Muslim community express their solidarity with the gay community.

The Greatest of These is Love

Constantly, whether the speaker was Staceyann Chin, a black Jamaican lesbian, or Stephen Colbert, TV superstar, this message was raised: the murders were directed against a community that claims the right to love. When you are attacked for expressing that right, the only response is to love more.

Stephen Colbert said, “Love is a verb. To love is to act.”

Staceyann Chin said, “I DARE you to love.”

Love is Remembering

My first awareness of the tragedy came after I’d spent a weekend at a Quaker retreat. During that retreat, I heard this statement:

“When we’re afraid, we’ve forgotten who we are, and we’ve forgotten who God is.”

The Opposite of Love Isn’t Hatred; It’s Fear

Without this awareness, this mindfulness, we are in danger of hating the haters. Fear that the unknown is life-threatening transforms into hatred, which in turn gives rise to the urge to fight back in what is perceived as self defense.

When we realize that we harbor our own fears, we open the door to compassion. We recognize that it takes courage to expand our boundaries and become open to people who seem not like ourselves, whose ways of living seem to threaten our fragile security about how we live.

Until we can make the brave decision to no longer allow fear to dominate us, we can neither love or truly live.

Those who will not learn will go the way of the dinosaurs. Deep down inside, they know this, but fear turns their vision outward and convinces them that if they could only eradicate what threatens them, they’d feel safe. If we reach instead, for love, it will tell us that we’re already safe.

And so, much as I love the statement I heard at the retreat, I feel the need to add to it.

“When we’re afraid, we’ve forgotten who we are, and we’ve forgotten who God is. And we’ve forgotten to let the power of love direct and move us.”

We must remember—in the names of the dead and of the living.


Staceyann Chin’s speech

Stephen Colbert’s remarks

The Gift of Being Different

Robert May, a Canadian man, was facing the worst Christmas of his life. Sitting in a small, drafty apartment, with his wife dying of cancer, and his four-year-old daughter crying on his lap, he faced her question: Why couldn’t her mother come home? Why wasn’t she like other mothers?

Bob’s life had always been difficult. As a child, he’d been frequently bullied by other boys. He’d been too small to compete in sports. He was often called terrible names. He was always different. He never seemed to fit in.

After completing college, he found his life greatly improved. He got a job as a copywriter for the T Eaton Stores. He married a woman named Evelyn, and they had a little girl. His brief period of happiness, though, ended with Evelyn’s cancer, which took away their savings.

Now he and his little daughter lived in a two-room apartment in a poor area of Toronto. His wife died days before Christmas in 1938. He couldn’t afford a present for his little girl, but he was determined to give her something. So he made a story book, his autobiography in disguised form.

This was the story of a reindeer who was laughed at by all the other reindeer for his big shiny nose.

Bob finished the story in time to give it to his daughter on Christmas Day.

The general manager of the store where he worked heard about the storybook and gave Bob a nominal fee to buy the rights to print it. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was distributed to children visiting Santa Clause in the T. Eaton stores. By 1946 they’d distributed more than 6 million copies.

A major publisher asked to buy the rights to print an updated version. The CEO of Eaton’s returned all the rights to Bob, and the book became a best seller. Bob, remarried with a growing family became wealthy.

Then his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to the story. Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, recorded it, and it was released in 1949. The song sold more records than any Christmas song but “White Christmas.”

Bob, the misfit, who in an act of love, created a gift from his heart for his little girl, found that gift returning to him again and again. And he learned that, just as Rudolph did, that being different can be a blessing.

He shared that lesson with the world. And every one of us can celebrate our differences. Thanks, Bob. Your gift continues to give.

Holly: The Bach Flower Remedy for Love

Unconditional love, the positive energy expressed by the Holly Bach Remedy, is the most natural emotion. Your animal companions know that; they express forgiveness and forgetting with every breath of their beings. Humans, however, find this more difficult. Part of our problem is that we learn early on that no one will forgive our anger.

As children, we are punished for the spontaneous expression of anger (did you ever tell your parents that you hated them?). Schools reinforce the lesson, and by the time we’re adults, we’re convinced that anger has the danger potential of volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

If anger is violent, destructive, and self-destructive, it’s usually because we’ve held it in for too long. That’s why it’s important to express.

When someone’s spent a long time being depressed, feeling and expressing anger is a giant step on the road of recovery. When we’re angry, energy is moving, and sometimes this emotion washes away blockages and resistance and leads to healing.

I believe in accepting anger, learning to handle it, and allowing it.


Pretend you have a friend, Sam, who continually talks about himself and never wants to hear about your life. You’ve known him a long time, and you think that tuning him out can preserve your friendship (and, despite this issue, you do have one). Sometimes an evening with him leaves you angry, and you may wait a while before seeing him again.

Your anger accumulates, and you tell other friends that you can hardly bear to be around Sam. Finally, after a day when everything went wrong, you have dinner with him. He begins to tell you what a terrible day he had, and you explode. You never speak to him after that, but who needs that kind of friendship?

If you’d acknowledged the anger sooner and decided to address it, could have handled the situation in a way that was less hurtful both to you and to Sam.


From the time we told our parents we hated them (or didn’t tell them but thought it), most of us have used anger to shield ourselves from our disappointment, hurt, and vulnerability.

The spirit guide, Seth (channeled by the late Jane Roberts) said that anger can bring us back to love. Have you ever had a fight with someone you loved that resulted in a tearful reconciliation and the feeling that you loved this person more than ever? Your decision not to hold onto your anger was a statement that you wanted reconciliation.

To make sure that the person doesn’t hear the anger, you need to speak the love—and strongly.


I can best deal with my anger when I realize that my main problem isn’t how others treat me but how I treat myself. When I’m cut off from the source of love, which is myself, it’s easy to find evidence in the external world that others love me imperfectly.

I also take Holly. All of us can benefit from its healing energies. In its positive state, Holly represents being in harmony with oneself and others, taking joy in the happiness of others, and being an expression of unconditional love.

Dr. Bach said: “Holly protects us from everything that is not Universal Love. Holly opens the heart and unites us with Divine Love.”

Many people bring the holly plant indoors during the Christmas season to symbolize Christ’s rebirth. We need not be Christian to honor the Holly flower as a means for resurrecting in each of us the spirit of love and divine communion, which is our birthright.

This blog post is excerpted from Bach Flower Remedies: A User-friendly Guide. You can click on the cover to the left for more information. It’s available at Amazon.

Being Mindful about Love

When I was a child, my father habitually manipulated his children to feel sorry for him. As a complementary activity, he subtly coerced us to behave in certain ways that he claimed would make him happier. The tagline was, “If you love me, you’ll . . .”

My training was that when you loved people, you did things that you didn’t necessarily want to do, things that you, in some dim but emerging awareness, knew violated your integrity and sense of self.

As an adult who learned a thing or two about psychology, I came to realize that his behavior was that of a self-proclaimed victim who used this role to dominate others. I learned to spot specimens of that type and refused to give in to their strategies.

Recently, though, someone made some classic Victim-as-Dominator moves on me on the false premise that I had wronged him. The stakes were very high. Either I gave in, or our friendship would be over.

When an acquaintance attempts to dominate you, the cost of refusal is relatively low. This, however, was someone who meant a lot to me, someone I loved and whom I thought loved me.

After a certain amount of anguish, I turned to meditation and mindful contemplation. I came to understand that for the sake of my integrity I needed to turn down the invitation to be dominated and coerced by him. To be untrue to myself for the sake of friendship would render the friendship meaningless.

My decision put my feet on high moral ground, but my heart was in tatters. I needed to heal it with something more effective than the bandage of “You did the right thing.”

I’m not a regular Bible reader, but I remembered a famous Biblical passage about love and looked it up. This verse in Corinthians 13:4-8 says as much to me about love as anything I’ve read.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

When I read it, I found my cure. I recognized that what I thought was love on his part was the familiar “I will love you if . . .” Though the relationship had had many high points, his demand had no element of love in it. It isn’t what I want to either give or receive in my life.

In the end, this experience is a gift. I’ve removed a toxic relationship from my life and received clarity. My New Year’s resolution is to shine that clear light on all of my relationships—because I want to live a life in which I experience and share love.

Have you had a positive experience in letting go of a damaging relationship? I’d love to hear about it.

Giving Thanks Mindfully

I don’t always do this, but this Thanksgiving I’m going to make a list of the many things for which I’m thankful.

Among these things are the many examples of seen of people who have risen above the limitations of prejudice and bigotry to welcome those who need who need new homes and communities and to offer support to those who have been the victims of vandalism and hatred. 7-year-old Jack Swanson is a shining example.

A Small Boy’s Generosity is Unexpectedly Rewarded.

We can also take comfort in seeing how animals don’t see themselves as separated by species.

A Cat, a Fawn, and Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I wish you a blessed day and reasons every day to feel blessed.

How to Crush Your Creativity: Put Others First

However you express your creativity, you need undisturbed time for its expression. One of the best ways to crush your creativity is to avoid setting boundaries that others will respect.

Virgina Woolf wrote at length about the importance of having a room of one’s own. With all respect, I’d take it further. You need a life of your own, one that isn’t constantly interrupted by the child who can’t find his shoes, the teenager who urgently needs a ride to the mall, and the mate who wants to know who used the last light bulb.

It seems to be a law that, whenever you go into that room of your own and close the door, everyone wants to open it. This, however, isn’t a law of nature. Unlike the law of gravity, you can change it, but it’s going to take moral fortitude, fueled by the conviction that a life of your own is important.


The key to upsetting the law of interruption is to closely examine the idea wanting time for yourself is selfish. My guide on this subject is Edward Bach, M.D., who also created the Bach Flower Remedies, designed to deal with emotional imbalances.

Many of us learned that to follow our deepest desires is to be selfish, despite Shakespeare’s observation that we’re true to ourselves we will be false to no one else. In Dr. Bach’s view selfishness consists, not in honoring our own desires, but in interfering with the desires of others.

In other words, anyone who wants to interfere with the time you’ve set aside for yourself is saying, “Don’t be selfish and do what you want. Be unselfish and do what I want (so I can be selfish).”

Your beloved family and friends don’t think of themselves as interfering. They may be upset that something seems more important to you than them. They want reassurance. They want to know that they’re LOVED.

And the truth may be that after the sixth interruption in as many minutes, you may not be overflowing with love. They’re right to be worried.

Everyone’s situation is unique, so you’ll have to figure out the particulars of how to shift the dynamics in your relational world. You may find these general guidelines helpful.

1. Believe in yourself and in your creative urges. Honor them as if you needed them to survive and thrive. You do.

2. The more you respect yourself and your creativity, the more you will automatically draw respect from others.

3. The more you insist on fulfilling your needs, the more interest you’ll have in helping others fulfill theirs.

4. To whatever extent possible, include others in your creative life. If you write paranormal fiction, ask “What’s a good name for a vampire?” If you paint, ask others to be on the lookout for compelling views in nature. Do whatever works to make them feel included rather than excluded.

5. Finally, consider this analogy. If you were a car, you wouldn’t say you’re too busy taking people to where they need to go to stop in for a checkup/tuneup, because you know a car can’t do what it has to do unless it gets serviced. Know this applies to your creative life, and communicate it to others.