Tag Archive | Robert Baker Aitken Roshi

Stories

Jizo 23At heart, I am a storyteller. I love the English language, whether spoken or written, though my particular passion is playing with written words. I’ve written a couple of books and co-written a couple more; I earn my living through mastery of a highly technical and precise form of writing that has little room for creativity and often feels like assembling a verbal puzzle. I get a lot of enjoyment from crafting a well-turned phrase.

Stories are a wonderful way to learn, teach, and share. Some truths penetrate the heart easier when they are clothed in fiction; a lesson may face less resistance when presented through a well-told story. I spent my childhood unashamedly in love with books and can still be enthralled by a good author who knows the craft.

Mary McCarthy wrote, “We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour; in other words, we are the hero of our own story.” As an inveterate storyteller, I occasionally catch myself doing something akin to narrating my own life through internal dialogue. There is always a danger that I will sensationalize, catastrophize, romanticize, or otherwise subconsciously alter my own experience in order to make a “better” story. Mindfulness practice reminds me to remain in the unvarnished present moment, accepting and embracing what actually is rather than trying to recast it into something else. Continue reading

Nourishing

Jizo 29After what felt like an interminable winter, spring arrived with an explosion of sunshine, blossoms, green grass, and birdsong. I’ve been delighting in the change, fully aware of how much better I feel inside when the world outside appears bountiful and generous. Nature seems now to have so much to go around – an explosion of light and loveliness – that I am inspired to openness as well. I feel more expansive when the natural world is positively tripping over itself to unfold.

This past weekend I attended a three-day mindfulness retreat by the Chesapeake Bay. The location was glorious and I was nourished by the supportive community of practitioners who joyfully sat, walked, cooked, and cleaned together in mostly silence. Settling into silence actually turned out to be much easier than coming out of it. After several days of eating and walking slowly, listening and watching mindfully, being aware of everything going on around and within me, the return to normal conversation and the speed of regular life has been exhausting. I am adjusting with earlier-than-usual bedtimes.

One of my favorite parts of the retreat experience was mindfully and silently walking with the rest of the retreatants along the shoreline at low tide. I was drawn to the trees that grew sideways out towards the water, their root systems almost entirely exposed as the cliff they’d originally been embedded into had largely eroded away. They were such improbable trees – their roots twisted among rocks, their trunks stretched long and low over the shore, somehow managing to survive with almost no soil and certainly too much water. If I had seen them a month earlier, I would certainly have thought they were dead. And yet spring has arrived and even these improbable trees are responding with bud and bloom. It was a remarkable affirmation of life despite desperate circumstances.

In The Mind of Clover: Essays in Buddhist Ethics, Robert Aitken (Robert Baker Aitken Roshi) has a fascinating footnote in the middle of a discussion of the Three Pure Precepts (Renounce all evil; Practice all good; Save the many beings.) He writes: Continue reading

Commitments

Jizo 15I recently finished two books on the subject of precepts: Thich Nhat Hanh’s For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings (revised 1998 edition, Parallax Press, now out of print/revised into The Mindfulness Survival Kit) and Robert Aitken’s The Mind of Clover: Essays in Buddhist Ethics. I’ve been thinking about precepts a lot over the last several weeks and wanted to start my blogging on the subject with a discussion of why I think precepts in general are so valuable. I’ll be using the term “commitment” to encompass the world of precepts, vows, mindfulness trainings, and other less formally transmitted injunctions to moral conduct.

Some people feel that commitments are confining; I find them to be freeing. Commitments focus the mind so that it’s not scattered to distraction. To quote Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche from The Path of Individual Liberation: The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Volume One, “Discipline may seem complicated, but it is actually very simple – it is what binds your life together. Without discipline, life is made up of successive indulgences and confusions based on aggression, passion, and ignorance.” Interestingly, that statement rings true in modern psychological studies relating to a phenomenon called decision fatigue. Continue reading