Prepare to be Amazed

“To be awake is to live in a constant state of amazement.” – Jack Kornfield, paraphrasing the Buddha

Last month I was lucky enough to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was a family event; there were eight of us ranging in age from 2 to 90. Tickets and motel were pricey but more than worth it.

We went for the new exhibit called “Tentacles,” displays of octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus.  I hope you get to see them. They absorb your attention; they are beautiful and intelligent, but I spent most of the visit watching the jellyfish instead. These creatures are so simple that they have no brain at all, but they show how wonderful life can be.

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Giving It Away

“Live for yourself, you will live in vain. Live for others, you will live again.” – Bob Marley, “Pass It On”

There is something magical about giving from the heart. When freed from worrying about compensation, people create amazing things. They make the world better in undeniable ways. They often find themselves richly rewarded in ways they couldn’t have expected or even imagined.  Here are a few such stories. For some reason, most of them involve trees.

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The Power of Nonjudgement

“The highest form of intelligence is to observe without evaluating.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti

I quote that a lot, but the meaning of it keeps growing on me. I belong to a men’s group that meets too rarely, and at one meeting I shared Krishnamurti’s quote. We were sitting outside on a sunny weekend on the nearly-deserted San Francisco State campus during spring break. I was having a lovely time.

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All is Well

A poor town in India had a night watchman. Every night he would walk through the streets singing “All is Well.”  People hearing him would feel reassured; he helped them sleep. The watchman went to bed before most people came out for the day, so few ever saw him.

This went on for years and years. Then one night, there was a robbery in the town, and the watchman said nothing. The next day the people went looking for him and discovered that the watchman was blind. – From the Bollywood movie “3 Idiots” Raj Kumari director

This deep story came to me when I most needed it. I was in crisis. Here’s the backstory and how it resolved. I hope it rings some bells for you.

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You Can Go Home Again

After 29 years, Marlon is going home. If he can figure out where and what home is. Prison “never felt like home. You have to be thinking, be aware of your surroundings and the people you are around at all times,” he says. “You really have to bob and weave in here to miss the madness.”

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Weekend in Nirvana

Why wait until you die to go to Heaven? It just might be all around you right now.  Many people claim to have gone to places of wholeness, love, and safety, where there is no fear, no separation from the rest of the universe, no birth, no death and no sense of time. Some claim they go frequently. They come back happier and more at peace.

Too good to be true?  Let’s hear what they have to say.

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Little Teachers

Can you walk into a room and have everyone there light up with smiles?  Do you make most people feel better just by your presence? Can you get them to meet your needs without telling them what those needs are?

If you can’t, what’s wrong with you? Those are basic skills most one-year old children have mastered.  That means that at one time, you and I had those skills too.

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Life and Death are Relative

As we do about once a year, Aisha and I were watching ducks in a small lake in Golden Gate Park, across the road from a stand of redwood trees. The mallards with their gorgeous green heads, the black and white buffles, and the coots with their silver feet were peacefully swimming on a beautiful Indian summer afternoon, nibbling at plants and bugs.

A strange question occurred to me. “Are these the same ducks we saw last year?” I asked. Aisha thought for a minute. “Well, they look the same,” she said. “They act the same. But I don’t know.”

You could say it was a silly question. But one person’s silly question is another person’s Zen koan. This one opened up some challenging topics about life and death.

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The Value of Being an Outsider

My friends Rose and Jeffrey are outsiders. They were born to poor but striving Chinese immigrant families. They met in college, where Jeffrey was learning engineering, and have been married for 40 years.

Sounds like a common story, but there isn’t much else typical about them…

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The Soft Survive

Lao-Tzu wrote:

Living people are soft and tender
Corpses are hard and stiff
The living grass, the trees, are soft and pliant
Dead they’re dry and brittle

So hardness and stiffness go with death
Tenderness, softness go with life

And the hard sword fails
The stiff tree is felled
The hard and great go under
The soft and weak stay up.

-Tao Te Ching Chapter 76

Is this strange idea the way the world really works? Though it’s a comforting thought for those of us who aren’t “hard and great,” it often seems the hardest of people are ruling, while the soft are ground underfoot. But lately I’ve seen that people who seem beaten down and hopeless can indeed prevail, if they are flexible and resilient.  They may suffer for years or generations, but they stay up, even triumph.

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