When you neglect anything for a while, it’s hard to get back to it. Practice, practice daily and it works better. So here I am…showing up on the page. I love to write, but I’ve been so down on my ability to do anything. At the last meditation retreat I did in Maui, after fifteen years, I figured out the reason I keep at zen practice. Believe me, it’s not an easy one in any way. That was a good thing.

I’ve been reading a lot. Well, actually, I’ve been listening to books a lot. I almost gave up reading because I had such difficulty concentrating. I still do, but listening to audio books has made it easier. The experience is definitely different. I listened to Pico Iyer’s The Lady and the Monk. Mostly I enjoyed going through Kyoto with him. After that, I had to get the book because reading the words makes the images more vivid for me. I just finished Lit by Mary Karr which is well written. I found it hard to get through some of the bad stuff she experienced, but the insights were wonderful. Now I’m listening to Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own. He narrates it as did Mary Karr and Patti Smith and I love listening to the author read their own work. Ted Kooser reading his memoir, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, was one of my favorites. I know, my choice of reading material is all over the place. Anyway, being in touch with the books made me want to practice writing again. So here I am.

Another practice, I’m trying my hand at is drawing and painting. I’ll try anything. I want to try my hand at another form of art practice. Lots of stuff I want to do. I have a humongous collection of art supplies so there is absolutely no reason to procrastinate on this one. I even have images in my head…food, ohia trees and other native Hawaiian plants, dogs and just beautiful things in general. I listened to an interview on Public Radio where the interviewee’s goal in creating work was to give people a reason to be optimistic. It was on Serious Eats and they interviewed Phil Rosenthal. I thought that that was an fantastic goal to have given the current news climate…a perfect goal for me to have whether I write, draw or cook. Looking for the good things is the way I want to spend my life.

My best friend died last year. I still think I can just call or write her about something she would like or think was funny every day. Channeling those thoughts into art would be a way to express those things. She encouraged my writing and watercolor all the time.

So Carolyn…this is for you. I miss you every day.

A while ago, we went to an orchid show and I bought a miniature lotus. I’ve always wanted a lotus because of the symbolism used in Buddhism. The beautiful lotus grows in murky muddy water…a reminder of the possibilities. And the lotus is just stunning.

The miniature lotus grows in a water bowl about two feet in diameter and two feet deep. It needs full sun to bloom and a pretty long day. So this one bloomed just after the Spring Equinox. It blooms about a month after you notice a tiny bud coming up and only lasts a day. I go crazy with my iPhone when it’s blooming.

“No Mud, No Lotus.” Thich Nhat Hahn


This version is edited in a Beta version of Affinity on my laptop. I like the coolness of the image.


This one was edited in Camera+, my favorite iPhone camera app. I use it to shoot almost everything. Painted in Waterlogue

This is the same image using Waterlogue on the iPhone for the watercolor painting effect. 


This one is a view peering into the flower. The pod grows into a shower head. I’ll post a photo when it’s ready.

This day started badly for me…disappointment with the way a meeting went with a group I cherish. Apprehension about facing a much loved family member with fear. With the help of friends and space, things can turn around. I found this poem by Thomas Merton on the On Being blog .

“There are days when I am convinced that Heaven starts already, now, in this ordinary life, just as it is, in all its incompleteness, yet, this is where Heaven starts. See within yourself, if you can find it.
I walked through the field in front of the house, lots of swallows flying, everywhere! Some very near me. It was magical.
We are already one, yet we know it not.”

~Thomas Merton (via crashinglybeautiful)

Photo from above Hilo. I love flying above Hilo.

ParisPlumVillage-6455I spent the first week in May on a photo shoot in Paris. It was a fabulous program ending with an event at the Musee D’Orsay. Being around those Renoirs in person meant a lot to me!

My friend, Hnoi and I planned to visit Plum Village, Thich Naht Hanh’s monastery in France. We talked about it when we were on a program together in New York and somehow made our plans happen. She’s a chef, originally from Thailand and manages a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta called Daiquiri Dick’s. We’ve worked together on the same program in many parts of the world for years. Our love for food and fun is shared so we knew we would make great traveling companions. I was afraid of leaving the dogs for so long, but Kris was going to be checking in at home and a good friend from high school was going to spend a month taking care of Murphy and Maddy.

Plum Village has a week long program for visitors – from Friday to Friday. You can stay longer, but if you don’t follow their arrive/depart on Friday schedule, you need to find your own transportation from the train station at Sainte Foy La Grande to Plum Village.

The program we were working on ended on Tuesday so we were able to spend three leisurely days walking around Paris. Hnoi stayed with friends in Paris and I stayed in a small hotel in Montparnasse. We met every morning for café and croissants before beginning our exploration. It was great…we had no plans and we just wandered following our noses. We visited shops, cafés, whatever…mostly on foot and sometimes on the subway. One of our discoveries was the Montparnasse Cemetery where there were beautiful flowering trees and a slew of famous people laid to rest there. Man Ray, great photographer in the 20’s, is buried there.

Montparnasses Cemetary

Georges Francois was one of our favorite places. Stepping into this wonderful florist was like a trip back in time. It looks like a setting from long ago, but the fresh flowers everywhere made it apparent that this was not so. Everything was placed with great care…vintage mirrors, vases and bottles among the roses and hydrangea. We spoke with the ower who told us that the previous owner is a famous floral designer who still teaches classes. I looked up the place on the internet to learn more about Georges Francois( Two days later, I saw him in the front of the shop. Like a rock star groupie, I ran up to him and told him how much I loved his shop. He seemed pleased and willingly let us photograph him.
Georges Francois
Another wonderful find was a restaurant called Qualité Restaurant near the Sorbonne. It looked like a deli, but it was a restaurant and wine bar – the food and wine were fabulous. I’m not even sure what made us go in to check the place out…Hnoi and I have good noses. The dishes were simple and inventive and delicious. I’m having a difficult time describing them and giving them the credit they deserve…like a filet of fish with skin on on a pea purée. See what I mean – hard to describe? But it was delish!

On Friday morning we headed for the train station near my hotel. We travelled lightly…each with just a small rolling bag. The scenery was beautiful…many farms, green pasture, yellow flowering mustard, and adorable farm homes.

The nuns met us in a van at the Sainte Foy La Grande train station. They were so welcoming and brought some pastries to share. Smooth paved roads took us through farmland. Beautiful green fields with splashes of red orange – poppy season was beginning. The ride was around 40 minutes to Plum Village New Hamlet through the countryside was lovely in muted shades.

The hamlet was a compound of old stone buildings. Our simple room on the second floor had a little window that overlooked a courtyard. The room was furnished with two twin beds that were thick mats on wooden frames and a small shelf.

We meditated each morning, had a work practice session, walking meditation and and evening meditation. I had a picture of Plum Village with Thay (Thich Naht Hanh) walking…holding hands with children…followed by nuns and lay practitioners. He was away this week, but his presence is strongly felt. Walking meditation is slow and silent. It is so beautiful to remember to notice all the things wonderful things you forget to notice in your busy life. This week was the perfect thing for me.

Food there was fabulous. It was white asparagus season and bamboo shoots were also in abundance. The neighbor gave the nuns asparagus and they harvested bamboo shoots from the property. I never knew that vegan food could be so delicious.


There were a few other visitors staying in New Hamlet – Peter and Corradina, Lukasz and Aneta, Noortje, Rachel, Beatrice, Jude and Teresa. We got to know each other – we dined together, walked together, meditated together, and talked. In the short week that we were there we bonded in a very deep way.

Living with the nuns and our new friends, practicing joy and gratitude made being here a profound experience. They showed us kindness, patience and love. In the short week, we learned to slow down and notice. I am so grateful for the friends I made and for all I learned.

Here’s a link to my Flickr gallery:
I took all the photos with my iPhone 5.


She’s also known as Kwan Yin or Guanyin (Chinese) and Avalokitesvara (Sanskit). In Japanese, she is Kanzeon.

This is my selection for the Photo-Heart Connection for July. I photographed her with my iPhone at the end of a five day meditation. Her presence in the room I was in was a source of encouragement…she who hears the cries of the world, indeed. Meditation is hard work and my hip and back were crying.

I don’t remember what app I used to process this image, but it worked and I was very happy with the results. Color and texture work perfectly here.

This is my first Photo-Heart Connection selection. I follow Kat Sloma’s blog and really enjoy her creativity and generous spirit. You select one photo that has a strong photo-heart connection each month to share. I think it’s a great practice to go through your images and sort-of check in with yourself. The photos I take with my iPhone serve as a photo journal. I have them sorted on my hard drive in chronological order so it really gives me a feeling for where I was in heart and place at different times.

I wasn’t sure if I should post this. I learned a lot so I thought I would share.

Flowers for Mary Beth

Flowers for Mary Beth

We heard on the news that a woman was stabbed, wrapped in a piece of carpet and left in her driveway. Shocking, horrible! It was just another piece in the stream of news we hear daily…something happening outside.

Vernon was the temple keeper hired after Ginger left. I had been busy and traveling a lot and didn’t meet him. I heard bits and pieces of stuff about Vernon. Weird guy selling knives…had to disinfect his room…moved out of Palolo after repeatedly being asked to leave. Very ill…brain aneurysm, Crohn’s disease. I met him on the Wednesday after sesshin – July 10. There was something missing…life, heart. He extended his hand to shake mine and my reaction was to withdraw my hand. I shook his hand, but remember feeling uncomfortable about him.

I found out about his arrest in a Facebook message from a sangha sister in Maui. At first I didn’t believe it. I explored the Internet, reading articles about the crime, evidence found and reports about Mary Beth’s ex-husband being worried about her and finding her body in her driveway. How could this happen in my circle of comfort? How could we have let someone into our safe place? I trusted the sangha to be a safe place to come to…a refuge.

Now a video pan of our beloved zen center is online with an accompanying narrative about how the murder investigation has led deep into Palolo Valley. It was as if Vernon was a product of the zen center. I found myself feeling defensive. If they only knew that the main tenet of Buddhist Zen practice is one of not causing harm. The first of our precepts is not killing. Not this!

I was on the Big Island and I felt isolated from the sangha. Although our practice centers around silent meditation, things that affect the sangha are usually discussed, not swept under a carpet…no pretending, no buried feelings. The first communication I received was an email containing the official Honolulu Diamond Sangha statement to the press about Vernon’s connection with the sangha. As is the way of the Diamond Sangha, it was carefully worded without blame, without bias. It expressed sympathy for the pain Mary Beth’s family must be experiencing. So much was missing, though. Nothing like this has ever happened that I could compare it against. I felt alone, confused, angry. Should I call Michael (our teacher)? He’s being inundated with calls from the police, the press, and other sangha members, I was sure. I waited.

The next day Michael sent an email to the sangha inviting us to a meeting to talk about the trauma we were going through… individually and as a group. I’m normally not an outwardly emotional person, but I burst into tears upon receiving the email. I felt as though a hand had been extended. Until that moment, I hadn’t been aware of how deeply I was feeling-confused, angry, sad and isolated. I remember Michael saying (in another context) that we all had blood on our hands. I understood that to mean that we live in a society that kills…people, animals, the planet. I felt a very strong need to be with the sangha so I booked my ticket to Oahu.

When I arrived at the meeting, I noticed two young people that I didn’t recognize. It’s not uncommon for our sangha to include people who are not known to all members…I didn’t think much about it. I came to this meeting without an agenda. I didn’t plan to say anything. We sat in a circle on the lanai. It began with an introduction of the two visitors. His name was Phillip San Juan, the son of the murdered woman and she was, Laurin, her niece. Oh, my God! My immediate reaction was selfish, of course. How will we be able to speak freely with them here?

We began with a short period of zazen. A few of the sangha members talked about how stunned and horrified they were. Gratitude for this meeting was expressed. Phillip and Laurin listened.

Then a surprising thing happened. When Phillip spoke he spoke about love, the love that Mary Beth would have wanted to share. He was sharing it. He offered us comfort…said that she was free from the physical pain of our world. He and Laurin were acknowledging the gifts they were still receiving from her. He told us about a lei he found in his mom’s fridge. He had no idea who the lei had been intended for, but he said it was fragrant and fresh. He greeted Laurin at the airport with it. It takes a special kind of seeing to recognize the lei as a gift.

Phillip sat next to me. During the meeting he took my hand. It wasn’t because he needed me, I felt it was to comfort me. This is one amazing young man. He introduced us to Mary Beth, his mother, just by being there. They were very close, of one heart. He said she would have come to our meeting. Through him, she did.

When we asked Phillip what we could do for them, he asked that flowers be placed in Mary Beth’s driveway to make the spot of tragedy one of light. He and Laurin painted “LOVE” on a wall in the driveway in huge pink block letters. They were questioned by the security guard from the building next door about what they were doing. When the security guard realized that Phillip was Mary Beth’s son he expressed regret that he wasn’t able to do anything to save her. He was on duty the evening she was murdered and felt some how lacking. Phillip gave him a hug to make him feel better. Phillip’s presence at our meeting was just like that hug. It turned so many of us around and gave us another way of seeing.

I believe that I wasn’t the only one who came to the meeting with a bunch of stuff- anger, guilt, fear…wanting answers to questions that cannot be answered. Most of us are lucky in that we will never understand what would make someone harm another person is this horrible way, taking life. We have the soft spot that makes us civilized and gives us compassion for other beings. I can only feel gratitude that I have this refuge.

This video made me remember to live…sometimes I forget and I’m just putting in time without thinking about why I’m doing what I’m doing. My favorite quote from the video is: “You can either sit in your basement and wait or you can get out there and do some crazy stuff.”
Zach Sobiech

What inspires you to live fully?