Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two events in July: Workshop and Book Launch Party

Two upcoming events at Nalandabodhi New York!
64 Fulton Street, Suite 400
New York, New York 10038
(Use buzzer 4 for entry)
Close to the 2, 3, A, C, 4 and 5 Trains

SAVE THE DATES AND PRE-REGISTER NOW


BOOK LAUNCH PARTY AND READING

Friday, July 11th  •  7pm to 9pm
FREE!

Join the Nalandabodhi community for its monthly Friday Soirée celebrating the launch of Dennis Hunter’s new book, You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. The evening will include a reading from the book, discussion, and a chance to socialize and enjoy drinks and food with NBNY members and friends.

There is no charge for the Friday Soirée and you are encouraged to bring friends and family.

Books will be available for purchase at the event. Click here if you would like to order the book ahead of time.


BUDDHA BODY, BUDDHA MIND
A Daytime Workshop with Dennis Hunter Based on You Are Buddha

Saturday, July 12th  •  10:30am to 4:30pm (lunch break from 12:30 to 2:30)
$40 Preregistration  •  $50 at Door  •  Includes both morning and afternoon sessions
(No one is turned away for lack of funds – Work Study opportunities are available. Contact Nalandabodhi for more information.)

We are all looking for greater meaning and wisdom in our lives. The problem is that we search for these things outside ourselves. The most profound teachings of the Buddha say that the wisdom we search for doesn’t come from outside. It is already within us — it is our very nature. You Are Buddha is a practical guide to discovering this innate wisdom and living a happier, more meaningful life.

This two-part workshop will draw upon teachings from You Are Buddha that focus on becoming more deeply embodied and mindful, working with thoughts and emotions, understanding the nature of mind, and being more authentically yourself. The workshop will include talks, guided meditations, and discussion. Space is limited, so preregister now.

Preregister here for the Saturday workshop.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

YOU ARE BUDDHA

We are all looking for greater meaning and wisdom in our lives. The problem is that we search for these things outside ourselves. The most profound teachings of the Buddha say that the wisdom we search for doesn’t come from outside. It is already within us — it is our very nature. You Are Buddha is a practical guide to discovering this innate wisdom and living a happier, more meaningful life.


"Combining insight into the spiritual path with engaging personal anecdotes, You Are Buddha introduces Buddhist practices and philosophy to support whatever path you're on."
— Susan Piver, Founder, The Open Heart Project, New York Times best-selling author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart

"You Are Buddha speaks about the nature of our mind and the spiritual path in a very fresh and personal way, making profound insights and practices readily accessible. By looking at ancient wisdom teachings through a contemporary lens and sharing his own rich experiences on the path, Dennis Hunter offers an approach to the Buddhist teachings that can be employed by readers of all kinds of backgrounds. There is no need to label oneself a Buddhist to benefit from this book and discover the basic nature that we all share."
— Khenpo Karl Brunnhölzl, author of The Heart Attack Sutra and The Center of the Sunlit Sky

"Starting from the most profound understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, You Are Buddha offers an elegant and practical guide to bringing these insights into your daily life. The presentations of meditation practice, and working with negative thoughts and emotions, are especially valuable. Because this book is grounded in Dennis Hunter’s own deep personal experience and his extensive practice of meditation, it brings a very contemporary perspective to these classical teachings." 
 — Andy Karr, author of Contemplating Reality: A Pracititioner’s Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and co-author of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes


DISTRIBUTION DETAILS

INDIVIDUALS:
U.S. paperback available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble
European paperback available from Amazon Europe (U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy)
Also available in paperback at the CreateSpace store

Available at Amazon for Kindle readers and apps
Available for iBooks at the iTunes store
Available at Barnes and Noble for Nook e-readers
Available for all e-book readers at SmashWords


BOOKSTORES, LIBRARIES AND INSTITUTIONS:
The book is available through Ingram and other industry-standard ordering systems. Bookstores or libraries can also order the book with reseller/institutional discounts with a free Createspace Direct account.

EVERYONE:
Come join the open Facebook group YOU ARE BUDDHA for news, reviews, information about readings, workshops and book-related events, discussions, and more! 

WORLDWIDE:
You Are Buddha is available in various editions (paperback and/or e-book) not only in the U.S. but also in Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, India, and Australia! Check your specific country's Amazon page to see which editions are available where you live.

STAY IN TOUCH:
Email me at onehumanjourney@gmail.com if you have any questions about the book, would like to request a review copy, or would like to schedule a reading, workshop or book-related event. 

Click here if you would like to subscribe to my email newsletter.

All the best to you.
Dennis

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Why the Buddha Laughs


Buddhism often gets a bad rap for being pessimistic or taking life too seriously, especially with its famous teachings on suffering, impermanence and emptiness.

But the reality is quite the opposite. Those who have developed any genuine realization of the teachings of Buddhism are often among the most joyful and happy people you could ever meet. Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk who is famous for, among other things, undergoing extensive brain scans and laboratory testing while in meditative states, has been branded by neuroscientists as "the happiest person alive."

There is a particularly baffling slogan in the Lojong teachings in Tibetan Buddhism, which says: "Always maintain only a joyful mind." That sounds like a tall order! Always?!! Only?!! I often feel lucky if I can experience a truly joyful mind for just a few intervals throughout the day.

But that constant, all-pervasive joyful mind is exactly what many realized Buddhist teachers manifest. When I picture the Dalai Lama, the image that comes to mind is one of him smiling and laughing and literally beaming positive energy to everyone around him, which he seems to do 365 days a year.
The 16th Karmapa

My own teacher, the very learned scholar Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, frequently laughs and plays with childlike joy, and constantly seeks ways to make his students drop all of their serious trips and do the same. When you spend time with a realized teacher like Dzogchen Ponlop, you never know how or when he's going to sneak up and pull the rug out from under you—maybe figuratively, or maybe literally. That's part of his job as a teacher. Many of the most direct and personal teachings I've received from him were designed to puncture whatever bubble of excessive seriousness in which I happened to be floating and to make me stop, see the absurdity of my own habitual patterns, drop it all, and just smile, relax, and laugh at myself.

"Since everything is but an illusion, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one might as well burst out laughing!"
—Longchenpa, 14th-century Tibetan meditation master

Laughter is medicine for the heart, mind and body. It lowers blood pressure, dispels self-pity and depression, triggers neurochemical reactions that increase feelings of well-being, and strengthens our positive feelings of connection with other beings. It creates a sense of openness and space that wasn't there before, and an open mind leads to new possibilities.

Taking ourselves very seriously, on the other hand, is most often a recipe for unhappiness. The more we invest our attention in all of our personal dramas and our inflated sense of self-importance—the storm that rotates around the illusory center of I, I, I, me, me, me, mine, mine, mine—the more miserable and isolated we become. It's an ancient habit, a dysfunctional skill we've been developing since before we were born. But each time we drop the overly serious trance of selfing and open to a mind of spontaneous joyfulness, we reconnect with our deeper nature and shed a piece of the baggage of the small, tragic self.

"Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing."
—Frida Kahlo

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Meaning of Yoga

I spend a lot of time these days around yogis and yoginis. My partner is a yoga teacher. Most of my friends do yoga. I have a yoga practice myself. I even co-teach workshops on yoga and meditation with Adrian Molina.

What Adrian and I aspire to do with our yoga and meditation workshops is to rejoin two things that (at least from my point of view) were never really meant to be separated in the first place.

The way yoga is often taught these days is primarily as a physical practice, a fitness routine, a series of postures designed to strengthen and lengthen and relax the body. And then once the body is nice and relaxed, and you lie there in savasana for a minute or two, the class is over.

Because of my years of training in Buddhist meditation, I tend to approach things from the other side of the fence. I love a good, challenging, physical yoga practice. But I regard the physical part of yogic training as merely a prelude, a method of preparing the body for meditation practice. I'm always somewhat amazed to see people go through all the trouble of learning to twist themselves like pretzels and balance on their elbows, and then roll up their mats and leave before the main course is served.

From the Buddhist point of view, all the elaborate asanas and pranayamic breathing techniques and bandhas of yoga are really just appetizers. The main course is sitting down and relating with your own mind. The asanas and the bandhas and the pranayama are all ways of helping you put your body into the proper state for optimal meditation to happen.

If you can stand on one leg and grasp your other leg behind your head with both hands, or balance on your hands in crow pose, well, that's awesome. Congratulations. You're a good primate. Any monkey can do those things. If you can do them and then sit down and be still and listen to the sound of silence within your own vivid awareness — well, now you've leveled up. You're a real human being, relating openly to the divine mystery of your embodied existence.

When you get deeper into the study of esoteric yoga and Buddhist tantra, you learn that there's actually a science behind all of this. Yoga as we know it is a very sophisticated system of methods for opening and aligning the channels of the "subtle" or "energetic" body so that energy can flow efficiently and be directed where the mind wants it to go.

Beginners to meditation often wonder why teachers place so much emphasis on sitting in a proper meditation posture. Same principle. It's about straightening the channels and optimizing the way subtle energies flow within the body, which has a correlative effect on the way the mind rests (or doesn't rest) in meditation.

People often say that yoga is working with the body and meditation is working with the mind. That's a useful way of thinking about it at first, but ultimately I don't think it's true. All genuine yoga involves working with the mind, and all genuine meditation involves working with the body. In fact, some of the most profound meditation techniques lead us to question our assumption that the body and the mind are really two separate things to begin with.

And that's the real meaning of yoga. "Union" is how the Sanskrit word "yoga" is often translated into English. Union. Oneness. The union or synchronization of body and mind. The rejoining or realignment of two things that were never really separate in the first place. It's the practice of awakening, here and now, to what it really means to be human.

Namaste.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Towards Open-Source Buddhism

An edited version of this article was originally published in 2011 as a guest post on the Tricycle blog. Many thanks to the editors of Tricycle for featuring it there.


These days, a lot of people are asking the question: What is Western Buddhism? Often, the inquiry seems to focus on the “Western” part. What is uniquely Western about the Buddhism we are practicing? How does it differ from traditional Asian Buddhism? How is Western culture changing Buddhism, and vice versa?

But what do we mean by “Buddhism,” anyway? We often use that word as if Buddhism were one unitary thing, when really (like everything else, and as the Buddha taught) the juggernaut of Buddhism is made up of component parts, and each of those parts is made of component parts, and so on. When we talk about Buddhism in the West, what do we mean? Zen? Theravada? Tibetan Buddhism? Nichiren? Pure Land? Shingon? Some conglomeration of all of these? Something else?

If we could put “Buddhism” under a microscope and look with great magnification at its many traditions and schools and lineages and teachers and practitioners, we might find it is webbed with arteries and capillaries, riddled with neurons and mitochondria—much the same as we are. Mysteriously, the ongoing process of becoming and unbecoming that we label as “Buddhism” happens in the general vicinity of these component parts, and seems to adhere to them—but nowhere can we pinpoint its exact location. There is no one thing that can be called “Buddhism,” just as there is no single place or culture that encompasses the entire “West.”

Buddhism as a Web
What we call Buddhism is a widely distributed network phenomenon designed to optimize the human experience. Like the Internet, it started out as someone's idea, but then spun out of control: no one person or group now owns it, and it is being modified and updated from day to day in millions of little increments, from every corner of the known world.

Where is “the Internet?” It seems to adhere somehow to the computers and networks that are part of it, but the Internet itself can't be found. Where is “Buddhism?” It seems to adhere to the people and networks that are practicing it, but the Buddhism itself can't be found. Yet both the Internet and Buddhism can be demonstrated, utilized, applied in countless ways.

If there is anything unique about “Western” Buddhism at this moment, perhaps it is that all of the world's Buddhist traditions—as culturally and doctrinally distinct from one another as a Southern Baptist is from a Russian Orthodox—have descended upon us at once. We are living now in a flux of pan-Buddhist dialogue taking place in a Western crucible, blending traditions that for two-and-a-half millennia have evolved in separate geographic and cultural regions. Buddhism's embrace of Internet technologies in the last two decades has speeded up this process enormously.

Earlier this year, I heard from a hardcore Vipassana practitioner living in Scotland, who had just finished sitting a Zen sesshin and was preparing to attend a Mahamudra retreat the following weekend. Bam! Just like that, intensive practice in three completely distinct Buddhist traditions—Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana—each with wildly different approaches, in the space of one week. Was there a previous time and place in history when such a broad range of Buddhist traditions was so freely available to one person, and so ripe for the picking?

Buddhism as a Melting Pot
This smorgasbord of Buddhist traditions also creates confusion—especially for the beginning student who is not firmly grounded in one tradition from the start. Beyond the obvious danger of bringing a consumer’s “shopping mentality” to spiritual practice—going from one tradition and teacher to another and always leaving them behind when they begin to provoke discomfort by challenging your ego—there is also the risk of mixing views from different traditions in an unskillful way.

Still, despite the potential confusion, to be a carrot bobbing in this Western melting pot of Buddhist traditions is to be part of a new fusion cuisine that is being consumed even as it is being cooked. If you listen to a few Buddhist Geeks podcasts, or read an entire issue of Tricycle or Buddhadharma from cover to cover, the flavor of your understanding will be at least subtly colored by teachings from other Buddhist traditions. It is unavoidable.

In my own practice, I have benefited from this kind of fusion. Although I study with a Tibetan teacher and look towards the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism as the primary lighthouse by which I navigate the waters, I have at times experienced bubbles of conceptual confusion and intellectualization that were helpfully popped by the sharp concision and no-nonsense directness of Zen teachings. At other times, exposure to the Theravadan view of the stages on the path of awakening—different in many ways from the Mahayana and Vajrayana views—has helped me view the teachings and practices in a more expansive light. I have even deepened my Buddhist path, at times, by incorporating spiritual teachings and practices from outside of Buddhism altogether. As long as I feel firmly rooted in my “native” tradition, I find this sort of cross-fertilization to be fruitful.

I now have to admit, though, that I know less than I once imagined I did what “Western Buddhism” is, or what it may become. It feels sometimes that there are as many “Western Buddhisms” taking shape among us as there are Western Buddhists who practice them. As with the emergence of Linux in the world of computers, perhaps what we are witnessing in the West today, with so much polymorphous blending of traditions, is the emergence of Open-Source Buddhism. (This moniker is, in fact, already in use on numerous websites.) Like the populist software movement from which it borrows its name, Open-Source Buddhism proposes a grassroots, do-it-yourself alternative to the old closed, proprietary operating systems. And it may yet produce new applications that were not possible within the framework of those systems.

Caveat Emptor
However, buyer beware: I have dabbled in Linux, and frankly it gives me a headache. I am, in fact, writing this on a Linux-driven machine that someone bamboozled me into buying a couple of years ago, using a simplified, Linux-for-Mom-and-Pop user interface called Ubuntu that attempts to bring open-source computing to the masses. While I adore the cultural philosophy of openness and integrity and interdependence that stands behind my computer's operating system, on a pragmatic level it often leaves much to be desired. Performing even basic actions—installing a new software program, for example—seems to demand an almost hacker-like degree of technical proficiency. There is no central help desk to turn to when something goes wrong—and something is always going wrong. Time and again, I have searched for answers to things that ought to have been simple, and in response I have been thrown into jumbled web forums where self-appointed Linux gurus “explain” the solution to my problem in a language that might as well be Martian for as much good as it does me. For two years I have been stumbling, wide-eyed, through what I regard as the Wild West of operating systems.

Open-Source Buddhism, I suspect, is much the same. Already emerging in our midst, it is full of great promise and potential—but actually using it, at this point, is not for the faint-of-heart. Its day may be coming soon, but it has not arrived just yet.

Meanwhile, in aligning yourself with any established tradition, you will trade off some of your freedom and idealism, and you will make yourself vulnerable to certain flaws that are inherent to those systems—but in return you may have a better user experience. You will have access to hands-on training, the support of peers, and expert technical support that are difficult to find in the open-source world. In the realm of computer programming, I do know people who are highly proficient at using Linux, but it must be said that they are people who first knew their way around at least one of the old, proprietary systems very, very well. They didn't start out as open-source gurus.

The lesson? Pick the tradition that resonates most with your heart and mind, and immerse yourself in it as completely as you can. Rely on a qualified teacher to help you fine-tune your machine. Work out the bugs, and eliminate the malware. Know how to use your chosen operating system thoroughly and properly. Learn how to trouble-shoot when problems arise. Then, and only then, will migrating to Open-Source Buddhism become a truly viable option.

Image: "Buddha quilt," from the Flickr photostream of artethgray.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Workshop: Yoga + Meditation

I'm excited to announce the launch of a new monthly workshop on Yoga + Meditation that I'll be co-leading with Adrian Molina of Warrior Flow. The workshop will take place on the first Friday of the month starting April 4, at the Yoga Agora studio in Astoria. See flyer below for details, or check out the Event Page on Facebook. If you use the One Human Journey mobile app, check the Events section of the app, where you can automatically add the workshop to your calendar and set up a reminder. See you there!

CLICK IMAGE TO ZOOM

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The One Human Journey Mobile App Is Here

Dear Friends,

A lot of you have been following this Web site, One Human Journey, since as far back as 2008. Thank you for all the kind feedback you've shared with me over the years about the writings I've posted here.

I'm excited to let you know that One Human Journey is now available as a mobile app for iPhone/iPad, Android phones and tablets, and Kindle Fire. And it's more than just blog posts....

One Human Journey
Powered by Conduit Mobile


Get instant access in the palm of your hand to over 150 articles, guided meditations, instructional videos (it's a short list of videos for now, but more are in the works), daily inspirational quotes and photos, information on upcoming classes and workshops, and more! Plus, get occasional notifications to alert you when there's a new article or video to check out, so you don't miss out on the good stuff.

Search for "One Human Journey" in Apple's App Store or in the Apps section of Google Play. Or go to this landing page where you can find links to the different versions of the app depending on what type of device you have:

http://cbf338ab-c125-4d02-bb12-c7984d573a27.mobapp.at/

The One Human Journey mobile app is FREE, and offers resources to inspire you and help you deepen your practice of meditation, yoga and spirituality. New content will be coming each week (daily, in fact, if you check the Facebook and Twitter sections) so the experience will keep getting better. Download it today!

Want to help me spread the word about One Human Journey and reach a wider audience? Recommend the app to your friends. Also, if you feel so inclined, please submit a review and rate the app in the App Store to help it get positive sentiment and better rankings in the Wild West shoot-out that is the world of mobile apps. Thank you!

Also coming soon from One Human Journey: a new e-book! Stay tuned….

With gratitude,
Dennis


 
Check out all the One Human Journey resources:
Web Site

Friday, February 28, 2014

Tao Te Ching Weekend at One Human Journey

It's "Tao Te Ching Weekend" on the One Human Journey Facebook page. A series of nine short contemplations will be posted over the course of the weekend, starting tonight. These posts will inspire you and offer deep insight and spiritual advice. Come follow the page and get all nine contemplations this weekend.

The Tao Te Ching is a classic text written (according to scholars) around the 4th century B.C. or (according to tradition) around the 6th century B.C. by Chinese spiritual master Lao Tzu. As the fundamental text of the Taoist philosophical and religious schools, it is one of the most widely translated works in world literature and strongly influenced both Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, among other traditions.


Come to the Facebook page and share your own thoughts on these nine short excerpts from the Tao Te Ching in the comments section.

Translation by Brian Walker. Images and layout of the text drawn from translator Brian Walker's Tao Te Ching app for iPhone and iPad. Download the app today!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

7 Tips to Establish Your Meditation Practice

Okay, so you've received some basic meditation instruction and you want to establish a regular practice. That's great! Here are seven tips to help you get your practice going — and keep it going.

1. Just Do It
Meditation can seem difficult or even impossible at times. When we sit down to be still and quiet and look at our minds, we are suddenly, shockingly aware of how busy and distracted our minds really are. For many beginners, this can be disheartening. A lot of people give up before they even begin, thinking, "Other people may be able to meditate, but not me. I just can't do this." This is sort of like someone who takes piano lessons and gives up after the first few lessons because they cannot play a Beethoven piano concerto. It's called practice for a reason. Be patient with yourself and relax. Meditation is a process of taming and training the wild mind to stay present, and that training takes time.

2. Be Consistent
Consistency and regularity of practice are the keys to unlocking the benefits of meditation in your life. This has proven true in the experience of millions of meditators in every spiritual tradition for the past several thousand years. Think of it like brushing your teeth: it's better to do it every day, for short periods of time, rather than once a week for two hours. Practice whether you feel like it or not.
 If you only meditate when you feel like it, then your ego is subtly controlling your meditation practice — and that’s missing the point. If possible, try to practice at a consistent time each day. Many people find that meditating in the morning before going to work helps them establish a better frame of mind for their day. Others prefer to practice in the evening. Some like to "bookend" their days by doing both. Experiment and find what works best for you, and then stick with it for a while.

3. Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Practice in manageable, bite-size chunks. A typical recommendation for beginners is to start with 10 minutes a day, and then over time you can gradually increase it if you feel so inclined. If you are training for a marathon, you don't suddenly run 26 miles; you do a lot of shorter runs, and you gradually build up stamina and endurance. But don't leave it all to chance. Decide in advance how long you’re going to practice, and then stick to that amount of time. Don’t change your mind and bail out in the middle of the session just because it doesn't feel good. By the same token, get up when the session is over, even if it's feeling great.

"Learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment." — Sogyal Rinpoche

4. Use a Timer
However long you practice, use a timer (stop watch, alarm clock, or kitchen timer) to time your sessions. The last thing you want to be doing while you're meditating — although it's tempting! — is peeking at the clock, wondering how much time is left in your session. There are also a number of free mobile apps you can download to time your sessions, or you can use your phone's built-in timer. I recommend the free Insight Meditation Timer app, which also includes access to many guided meditations.

5. Be Brave
Don’t be discouraged when meditation seems difficult, and don't get carried away with elation when it seems pleasant or easy. Experiences come and go like the weather in meditation, and it is our conceptual minds that label them "good" and "bad." Don’t cling to pleasant experiences, and don’t reject unpleasant experiences. Just keep practicing.

6. Find Your Space
Find a conducive space in which to meditate. It should be safe, quiet, and free from phones ringing and other preventable disturbances. But total silence is not necessary. Don’t meditate in total darkness or with light that’s too bright. If possible, you may find it helpful to create a space in your home devoted exclusively to your meditation practice. It could be just a corner of your room with a chair or a meditation cushion, and maybe some items that remind you of your spiritual goals. If circumstances make your home completely and totally unworkable as a meditation space, then you could go to practice in a church or a meditation center. If you have access to a meditation center in your area, you may find it inspirational and supportive to practice together with other people in group settings.

7. Find Your Support
As you continue to work with a meditation practice, questions and obstacles are bound to arise. If you can, it's helpful to talk about these issues with a meditation instructor or someone more experienced in the practice. It helps to have the guidance of someone who has encountered the same questions and obstacles in meditation and has worked through them. If you don't have access to support in person or by phone, there are many books and online resources that can help you identify obstacles in meditation and apply antidotes and solutions. If you're struggling with something in your meditation practice, rest assured that you're not the only one, and someone out there can help you work with it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Joining Heaven and Earth

Yesterday I went skiing for the first time in 30 years. That other time was so long ago, and so little memory remains of it, that it would probably be more telling to say that yesterday I went skiing for the first time in my life.

After taking about an hour of basic lessons with groups of children and feeling frustrated with the bunny slopes, we hit the lifts. One of the people in our group is an avid skier and a good coach, and he led us through progressively more challenging (and frankly, at times, downright terrifying) slopes.

By mid-afternoon, we found ourselves on a blue trail—an intermediate course peppered with steeper hills, narrow passages, and moguls (violent little bumps in the snow that some people use to become momentarily airborne).

A Trial by Fire (and Snow) 
The situation was choiceless; we were going down that mountain one way or another, and the best way down was to follow our friend's coaching and learn to carve sharp turns back and forth from one side of the slope to the other, slowing our descent as much as possible. Along the way, there were many falls, but we picked ourselves up, shook the powdered snow out of our pants, laughed off our embarrassment, and continued. All around us, other skiers and snowboarders zipped by, narrowly avoiding crashing into us. At one point, a snowboarder came flying out of the woods through the air and wiped out directly in front of me; I leaned into a sharp turn and navigated around him by an inch or two. Later, an inexperienced skier actually did crash directly into my partner; no one was hurt, thankfully. Gradually, we learned to hold our balance and position our bodies, keep our skis apart, navigate the turns—and the most important skill of all—how to stop (even if, now and then, our stopping sometimes looked more like wiping out).

For those of you who practice yoga but don't ski, imagine doing Utkatasana (chair pose) for six straight hours, in a walk-in freezer, during a violent earthquake, all the while having to jump from one spot in the room to another (without breaking the pose, and with long, slippery, greased sticks attached to your feet) to avoid crazy people who are wildly running through the room trying to knock you over and throwing handfuls of snow in your face.

"You're walking. And you don't always realize it,
but you're always falling.
With each step you fall forward slightly.
And then catch yourself from falling.
Over and over, you're falling.
And then catching yourself from falling.
And this is how you can be walking and falling
at the same time."

- Laurie Anderson

After the harrowing ordeal of the blue trail, we returned to one of the easier green trails that we had been on earlier. But something was different this time. The blue trail had almost made me soil my pants; but I had survived it. Now, suddenly, the green beginner's trail—which had previously seemed incredibly difficult, too—was, literally, a breeze. I went down it once, and gained the confidence to let myself pick up more speed and carve wide turns back and forth. This time, I didn't fall. We went up again and came down a second time, and I picked up even more speed. I had no speedometer to measure—but I think I must have hit 40 mph. I was zipping past slower people and carving half-moons around them. Although there were moments when the speed and the bumps made me fear that I might lose control, I didn't. I stayed relaxed and in the flow. And it was exhilarating. I couldn't wait to get back on the lift and do it a third time.

By now, my regular readers may be wondering what possible relevance all of this has to my usual subjects: meditation, Buddhism, yoga and spirituality. Well, let me tell you.

Joining Heaven and Earth
Skiing is a metaphor for life. Life is not always smooth going. It can be chaotic and messy and terrifying and dangerous. It can—it does—push us out of our comfort zones and takes us to places we think we shouldn't be. Sometimes we lose control; we wipe out and get snow in our pants, or we crash head-on into another person when conflict arises. The situations that challenge us push us to learn to adapt faster. The people who irritate or threaten us challenge us to develop skillful ways of responding: less reactivity and aggression, more patience, compassion, and forgiveness.

"The bad news is: you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is: there’s no ground." 
- Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Certain Buddhist traditions speak of the principle of "joining heaven and earth." This is a lyrical and symbolic way of talking about synchronizing mind (heaven) and body (earth) in flowing, present-moment awareness. Through meditation, yoga—and yes, skiing—we can experience the freedom, contentment and relaxation that comes when mind and body are synchronized and we are fully awake to our experience as it unfolds. We stay right here, on the dot of the present moment, even—or especially—as we speed down the mountain and navigate more or less skillfully through whatever bumpy and chaotic situations life throws at us.

May we all become more skillful navigators and experience fewer crashes. When other, perhaps less skilled people crash into us, may we learn to forgive rather than escalate conflict. When the slopes become terrifying and seem impossible for us to ride, may we develop the confidence to stay present—and keep going. And when we fall—for we will fall, and spectacularly—may we always maintain our sense of humor about it.

With Adrian Molina