The Grievous Follies

How many breaths have I trapped short and shallow, 
side-stepping this moment that will never come again?

How many days have I cursed cloud cover, 
not praising the light of day and the miracle of waking to see it?

How many bites of food have crossed my lips without thanking
those who labored over it so I may so easily ease my hunger?

How many mornings have I bemoaned my body,
not praising it for being so diligent, powerful, and pain-free?

How many times have I taken you for granted,
picking at small grievances instead of relishing in your gaze?

How many days have I forgotten how to be happy, how to sing,
how to wonder at the beauty in this precious world?

How might I correct my days?
How might I remedy my ways?

Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me
May I be grateful, grateful, grateful

Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me
May I be grateful, grateful, grateful

contemplation ideas

Act as though you have the winning ticket

Are you ruminating over what could have been had you turned left instead of right? What could have been had you kept the guy or girl, made the move, or quit the job? 

But hypothetical grasses are always greener—you don’t know how these other choices might have turned out. And besides, you’ve already had such an exceeding deal of good luck: food in your belly, the ability to read this blog, and the time to fritter away doing so. It probably doesn’t matter what you choose—any route you go down you can probably still sit around and gawk at what a wondrous life you live. 

So make a new choice:

Act as if everything up to this moment has been absolutely perfect, and that now you have the perfect hand to play. Because how do you know that all your fumbles and misfortunes were not winking parts in some grand perfection?

How would you act if this very moment, this very self, and this very situation were your winning ticket?

How would you act if the game has not been lost—no!—and you have everything you need to be the hero of your own life, en route to slay the dragon and win your dreams?

How would you act if the very situation you find yourself in now is the first chapter of the best part of your life?

contemplation the truth about life

The Secret to Dancing

I discovered the secret to dancing one night. I had been looking forward to dancing all day as I stared out my office window, click click clicking away at the keyboard. Finally I arrived at the dance. But… it wasn’t right. The music just wasn’t good. And I discovered my feet tired, my mood melancholy. I figured I might as well go home and call it a night.

But then… I let myself, just for a moment, suspend my complaints and criticisms, and look to see if I could find anything pleasing in that moment. At first my mind resisted, reeling like a car transmission forced to shift several gears. But my eyes caught on a string of lights. “Oh, pretty,” I thought. Then my eyes noticed the burnt orange of a man’s shirt (so nice, and so unusual, that color). Then I noticed a tiny pleasure in the way I moved my leg to the right, and the left, in rhythm to the beat. And appreciation into appreciation cascaded until I found myself moving in a trance of delight.

Had the music shifted, or was it just me? Whereas at first I wanted to go home, that game of attention brought me to the most transcendentally joyous evening. 

Since then I’ve noticed that the secret to dancing is the secret to a lot of things. I came to call it “giving love to the altar of the moment”—a micro-ritual to notice what is good in the immediate moment, and keep noticing, and keep noticing. Every moment has a gift to give and if we can leave it sacraments of our loving attention, I believe doors open to very exquisite moments.

What can you appreciate in this moment? 

books Buddhism contemplation

What Thich Nhat Hanh Taught Me

I used to know for certain there was a living buddha in the world. Then Thich Nhat Hanh passed away.

But in his writing, he was clear that he would not die. He told a story of how a student had prepared a place for his remains. He laughed and said he would not be in this place. He would be with us in our mindful breaths, in the peace of the cloud.

I used to think I had a peculiar relationship with Thich Nhat Hanh, that I was especially touched by him. When he passed away, I discovered that very many people love him just as I do. When they speak about him, I know their love is the same as mine. It’s very beautiful, finding the same love that’s in your heart in someone else’s.

In Buddhism there’s talk about taking refuge in the Buddha, but Thich Nhat Hanh the buddha pointed to this current-breath-right-now as the place of refuge.

He said something I’ll never forget. He said that if he found meditation to be arduous, he wouldn’t do it. He meditates because he finds it enjoyable. He likes to sit with his breath.

From that, I meditated in a new way. I gave up the self-bludgeoning trying. I breathed and listened for peace.

Ah, there it is.

Last night his words taught me something else. He said we can be free while living our lives, doing good in the world, and tending to what needs to be done. We can be free if we are breathing mindfully in the present moment. We don’t have to be captives of our circumstance, always waiting for some outer situation to change. If we are present with the breath, we are free. ☁️

If you’re interested in knowing Thich Nhat Hanh, I really loved his books The Art of Communicating and The Art of Living.

contemplation favorite posts the truth about life

Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Younger Self,

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news

You’re not a special snowflake. You’re not especially pretty, or smart, or talented.

You could take this news in stride, but American society has convinced you that you need to be special, extraordinary. Yet the odds of being extraordinary are slim to none, and the dice have not rolled in your favor. Your ancestors’ gifts to you were merely to ensure survival: a chronic fear of everything, a preoccupation with what others think, and a nagging self-concern that buzzes around your thoughts like a trapped mosquito.

You’re also not brave. You prefer to live in your cozy mental assumptions than interact with the world to discover how it really is. 

For example: 

You decide (without asking) that Jordan from geometry class is not interested in going to a movie with you. In your beauty magazine logic, you decide that he would ask you out, if only you were thinner. So you dedicate most of your waking hours to achieving a thigh gap, never questioning whether this is a worthwhile goal. Your thighs eventually stand apart. He doesn’t ask you out.

But your biggest issue is not that you think the best way to woo someone is through silent starvation. No, here’s the rub: the universe is chaos. It’s immune to your affirmations. It will not rearrange itself to suit your fancy.

Your hard-won thigh gap gives way to entropy.

The good news

It turns out the beauty magazines were mistaken. Millions of years of evolution have ensured some opposite-sex members of your species will be attracted to your fleshy, fertile-looking body. Unlike your female ancestors, your poor judgment about who to mate with won’t haunt you. Your fear of everything, which ensured your ancestors lived to reproduce, now ensures you remember to take your birth control. First your ancestors were freed from hunting and gathering and then farming; now you’ve been freed from church and children.

So while you may not be extraordinary, this world and the time you were born into are. While your ancestors didn’t gift you with remarkable wit or beauty, they did suffer through disease, birth, genocide, poverty, and war to grant you a body so that you may stand, now, on this spinning rock.

Maybe you shouldn’t be so concerned about your thighs.

It turns out society is mistaken, too. You don’t need to be extraordinary. You don’t need to be lauded by thousands to feel loved; you’ll be content with a handful of genuine friendships. Nor do you need fame or fortune to feel fulfilled; just helping one other person will suffice. 

The world is far bigger and weirder than what you’ve seen on TV. Those ideas of better and worse are all made up, and you can author your own. For example: that the pinnacle of beauty is luscious, ample thighs.

And while you may ultimately be average, in the 21st century that entails being extraordinary. You can summon any piece of humanity’s knowledge by typing the right words into a search box. You can sit in a big metal bird and chomp bubblegum while flying over mountain ranges that armies once died trying to pass. There’s so much for you to see and learn and do. 

So please, don’t waste your time worrying that you don’t measure up to some societal ideal. Be glad for the lucky shoes you stand in. Walk those shoes out past your fears, past your self-concern, and right out the front door.

The world awaits, and you’re every bit good enough for it. 



The value of €10

Someone on the street asked me for change. He hadn’t had a coffee yet, he explained. As a fellow caffeine addict, I empathized. On a whim, I gave him a ten.

The man blinked in surprise. I could see him trying to figure out what to do.

“I’ll buy you a coffee,” he said.

I pointed out I already held a coffee in my hand.

“I’ll think of you,” he said.

The ten meant a lot to him. But it meant a lot to me to be able to help someone, at least for a morning. He got some food, I got some meaning. This sense of contribution would hold me over, at least for part of the day. And I knew no matter how my day turned out, this would be the most meaningful experience in it.

I thought about all the times I told people “sorry, no” when they asked for change. I could have been having this experience. How much would it cost me to have this experience every day?

Oh yeah, €3,650.

I thought what I could buy for €3,650 that would be better than having this experience 365 times.

I couldn’t think of anything.

I’m not sure when it became the norm to tell people no when they ask for money, walking past hungry people in our rush to make our nice lives perfect.

Don’t we have enough money to feed someone, at least for one morning?