Bells are used in many cultures around the world to help people come together, to create harmony within oneself and harmony with others. In many Asian countries, every family has at least one small bell in their home. You can use any kind of bell that makes a sound you enjoy. Use the sound of that bell as a reminder to breathe, to quiet your mind, to come home to your body, and to take care of yourself. In Buddhism, the sound of the bell is considered to be the voice of the Buddha. Stop talking. Stop thinking. Come back to your breathing. Listen with all your being.

This way of listening allows peace and joy to penetrate every cell of your body. You listen not only with your ears, not only with your intellect; you invite all the cells in your body to join in listening to the bell. . . .

Prepare yourself each time to listen and to receive the sound of the bell. Instead of “striking” the bell, “invite” the bell to sound. Look at the bell as a friend, an enlightened being that helps you wake up and come home to yourself. If you wish, you can set the bell on a small cushion—just like any other bodhisattva doing sitting meditation.

As you listen to the bell, practice breathing in and releasing all the tension that’s built up, releasing the habit of your body, and especially your mind, to run. Although you may be sitting down, very often you are still running within. The bell is a welcome opportunity for you to go back to yourself, enjoy your in-breath and out-breath in such a way that you can release the tension and come to a full stop. The bell, and your response to it, helps stop the runaway train of thoughts and emotions racing through you all throughout the day and night.

From Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, HarperOne/HarperCollins Publishers, 2015. Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most celebrated and beloved Zen masters of our time.


Consider the great care and attention with which painter Georgia O’Keeffe observed the tiniest details of her subjects. O’Keeffe gave an incredible amount of focus to each flower she painted, and her soulful depictions led her audience to see flowers in a completely new light. The painter explained,

In a way—nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small—we haven’t time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it, no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself—I’ll paint what I see—what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it—I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

This impulse to record and create meaning of the little details and moments of life—as O’Keeffe said, 
“to paint what I see”—is arguably the birthplace of art, and it starts with being awake to the moments of our lives as they are passing. It begins, in other words, with mindfulness.

From Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. Reprinted with permission of Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. © 2015 by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire. Scott Barry Kaufman is a psychology professor and author. Carolyn Gregoire is a senior writer at the Huffington Post.


Imagine you are in a boat, floating in a thick fog. Through the mist, you barely make out the form of another boat, and you realize it is advancing toward you on a collision course.

“Stop!” you shout. “I’m here!”

The boat continues. “Stop! Please! Hey!”

The boat continues to advance. You become angry, upset, anxious. “Dammit, don’t you see there’s someone here!” You can’t believe the idiocy of the captain of the other boat; his obliviousness; her lack of regard for you. Yet just as the boat is about to collide, you realize it is empty.

Maybe give that story a moment to settle.

Human beings get hurt by other human beings. This is what happens sometimes. There is also a narrative, however, about how this transpires: This person is a jerk, is a Republican, is a Democrat, is a liar, is a self-involved narcissistic idiot. Fill in the blank.

What is really happening, though, is that countless causes and conditions have brought this person and you together—and none of them really is you or the other person. Take a look at this sometime; you can be as judgmental as you like. My coworker is acting this way because of her dysfunctional family system. I am acting this way because I am hungry. You don’t have to be right (in fact, you probably won’t be)—the point is to see, directly, that there’s no one there guiding the other boat. There is just the boat, being pushed by currents. Empty phenomena, rolling on, says the dharma.

From The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path, © 2015 Metratonics, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Ben Yehuda Press. Jay Michaelson, Ph.D., is a rabbi, meditation teacher, LGBT activist, and political commentator.


I only know two people who can do the “lotus” position, my 100-pound Vietnamese Zen master buddy and a hyperactive fifth-grader who seems like he’s made out of rubber. Unless you work for Cirque du Soleil, forget the lotus position. Many an American knee has been ruined trying. If you’re old, fat, or arthritic (like me), there’s nothing wrong with meditating in a straight-backed chair (La-Z-Boys don’t count), or on a park bench, or on a convenient stump. Most younger and more limber meditators sit Indian-style on a nice fat cushion of some sort, something just high enough to elevate the butt, prevent knee strain, and keep their legs from falling asleep too quickly. If you do sit Indian-style, though, try to have your ankles uncrossed, one in front of the other. Old, fat, arthritic guys who still want to sit cross-legged need something a bit higher and a whole lot more stable. My personal favorite meditation seat is made for and marketed to turkey hunters. It’s a black aluminum frame that folds out to about five inches tall, topped with a square, three-inch-thick waterproof cushion rendered in Mossy Oak camouflage. It even has a shoulder strap for easy transport.

From Buddhism for Dudes: A Jarhead’s 
Field Guide to Mindfulness, 2015. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications, Gerry Stribling is an author and former Marine who studies in the Theravada Buddhist tradition.


Mr. Sei lived in a small village with his horse. Because he had a horse, Mr. Sei was one of the wealthiest villagers. His neighbors would tell him how lucky he was to have that horse. Now he could plow a much larger field, have a much larger income, and take much better care of his family. But Mr. Sei was a wise man. He didn’t say anything; he just nodded his head.

One day the horse ran away. Then Mr. Sei’s neighbors told him how unlucky he was that his horse had run away. Mr. Sei said nothing. Not commenting, he just nodded his head in acknowledgment of the situation.

Then the horse returned—followed by a second horse. Mr. Sei’s neighbors then told him how lucky he was that his horse had run away because now he had two horses. Again Mr. Sei said nothing and simply nodded his head, acknowledging the state of things.

Meanwhile, his son was plowing the field with the second horse, and he had an accident and broke his leg. The neighbors told Mr. Sei how unlucky he was to have that second horse because his son had broken his leg and couldn’t help in the fields.

Then a war broke out in the province and the lords conscripted all the young men to fight. But Mr. Sei’s son had a broken leg and couldn’t go to battle. So the neighbors told Mr. Sei how lucky he was that his son had broken his leg. . . .

And so it goes. We have so many ideas about how things should or could be. The truth is that we never know how things will turn out. True freedom is being able to make the best of things as they are.

From An American Zen Life. Reprinted with permission of the author. Gerry Shishin Wick is a Soto Zen roshi and author. He is the founder and spiritual leader of Great Mountain Zen Center in Berthoud, Colorado.

“KarmaToons” by Lama Surya Das and Judi Ricci


Certainly it’s today, with the coming

Light crowning the tops of trees

It’s certainly this sentence, used

To refer to this previous tableau

It’s in states of mind, like “capture”

Or “release” or their embodiments

Of course, annihilation—the pattern

Of knowing you’ll one day disappear

Or the thought just completed

Or a happier one previous to that

Say joy, or subtle exhaustion

Or verge or its becoming

Or the self—

It’s mostly open fiction

“Eternal Return of the Same” from Nearer to Never, Excelsior Editions, 2015. www.suny R. S. Mason lives in upstate New York. This is his debut book of poetry.


Living by vow, silently sitting

Sixty-three years

Plum blossoms begin to bloom

The jeweled mirror reflects truth

as it is.

—Dainin Katagiri Roshi (written a few weeks before his death)

Vows are the forces that weave together the fabric of your life and all of life. Without vows, without purposeful action, life would cease to exist. Vows are not a mysterious, rare, or arcane activity. Once you learn about vows, you see and hear them everywhere. . . . Headlines often call our attention to accomplishments impelled by vows: “Woman with one leg out to conquer Everest.” “Six-year-old boy’s dream brings water to half a million people.” “Muslim man saves Jewish shoppers from Islamic gunman.” Look around—vows are everywhere. They manifest as the book in your hands, the food in your refrigerator, the chair you are sitting on, the shelter over your head. Someone made each of these things, and that someone had to have a vow, a goal, a clear intention, in order to make it. Without vows, innovation and progress would not occur—there would have been no spearheads chipped from obsidian, no written languages, no solar panels, and there will be no future treatment for dementia.

When you begin to look at life through the lens of vows, you are touched not only by the dedication of human beings to form an aspiration to grow, change, and overcome obstacles but also by their unselfish efforts to dedicate themselves to a larger beneficial purpose, even to an end they will not live to see manifest. Is this not the highest form of a unique human ability—the ability to form and carry out a vow? Zen masters often speak of the vows that are the fuel for their lives. Soen Roshi, while standing before the grave of Hakuin Zenji (a brilliant Zen master who had lived two centuries before him), was moved to compose this haiku:

Endless is my vow

under the azure sky

boundless autumn.

Both Katagiri Roshi and Soen Roshi were writing about a vow without end, a vow that had been transmitted from master to disciple from the time of the Buddha down to the present, for over twenty-five hundred years of autumns. It is a primary and powerful vow, the vow to awaken to our essential nature, which is boundless and timeless, and then to help others also to awaken.

From The Vow-Powered Life: A Simple Method for Living with Purpose © 2015 by Jan Chozen Bays. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications, Jan Chozen Bays, MD, is the cofounder and co-abbot of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. She also teaches at Zen Community of Oregon in Portland.

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