Friday, February 22, 2013


... from The Buddha Diaries.  As you'll there in this entry, I'm beginning to think that TBD is approaching the end of its run.  It has been active since the demise of The Bush Diaries, my first blog, in 2006.  Long time readers may recall that, after a two-year run, that gently satirical journal began to wear on me: with its daily entries, it had begun to feel like waking up with Bush in bed with me every morning.  Now, after six years and more than 1800 entries, The Buddha Diaries feels almost as old as the Buddha himself.  I feel that I'm repeating myself, or at least confining myself to a single point of view, in a voice that--while still true--sounds too familiar.  It's getting to be time to open another door.  I don't know yet what lies behind it, which of course is a part of the appeal.

Should it be another blog?  In fooling around with that notion, I have discovered something that should not surprise me but nonetheless leaves me with new doubts: it is a challenge to find a blog title that is not already taken.  I want to maintain the affinity with Buddhist thought and practice, while looking for a title that's a bit less explicit in establishing that affinity.  Perhaps, I'm thinking, my long-neglected "Persist" would offer me the possibility.

"Persist: The Blog" was started with the intention of addressing some of the issues raised in the book, Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce.  It was to be about the spirit of creativity and the creative process.  With it, I hoped to create some dialogue about those issues, and met with a measure of success.  I discovered a good number of other blogs and websites that concerned themselves with those issues, along with a whole community of good people, some of whom had given the matter a good deal more attention than myself.  The blog--and the book--allowed me to communicate with a huge base of artists, writers, and others engaged in creative work, many of whom responded immediately to the title of my book.  We live in a culture that values money and celebrity, and where huge numbers of creative people go ignored because they are not obviously "commercial."  "Persist" was written out of my own experience, bringing some of the principles of Buddhist thought and practice to bear on that predicament.

So here I am, looking back at "Persist: The Blog" and wondering whether this might not be the forum--and the title--that I'm looking for.  If I do decide to move on from The Buddha Diaries, I'll need some other venue where I can "persist" in the work I do.  I risk losing a familiar part of my identity in letting that blog go; one part of my identity I'm not (yet!) prepared to risk losing is the writer.  Writing is what I have wanted to do with my life since the age of twelve.  I let go of a relatively successful academic career a quarter century ago, and have been fortunate to survive without a "job" since then.

Then, too, "persistence" applies to a much larger endeavor than creativity alone.  I persist, for example, in the discipline of a daily sit--a now fifteen-year meditation practice that continues to deepen my perception of myself and the world.  And there are areas in my life where persistence would be a useful tool in achieving other goals: like many men of my age, I have developed a greater girth than I would wish to carry around with me.  I could certainly use some persistence in shedding the extra weight.  Then, too, it is persistence that impels me not simply to read the book or see the movie, but to use what skills I have as a writer to explore their meaning and their value.  I persist, in this way as in others, in the effort to expand my consciousness and make more profound such wisdom as I have managed to acquire.

So, then, these thoughts.  I am still not sure where they will take me, but I find it helpful to test out new directions in words.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Please see my ode to the art of writing, posted today on Fiona and Kaspalita's blog, Writing Our Way Home.

Okay, here it comes--and I'm not even going to apologize for it!--the shameless self-promotion and sales pitch. First, if you're a regular, or even an occasional reader of The Buddha Diaries or Persist: The Blog, thank you. I've said it before, but never too often. I hugely appreciate your readership.

Now I'm asking for your help. "Mind Work" is off the press and copies are available. I'm not expecting a big commercial success; indeed, the financial return (if any!) is no great motivation for me. But I do want to get copies into circulation, and this is a challenge, coming from a small independent publisher. It's hard to get book stores to order copies unless real people come in, asking for it; and those many readers who might well get something important from the book will never know about it if they don't see copies on the shelves of their local bookshop.

So here's what I'm asking, as recompense for those many delightful hours you have spent immersed in The Buddha Diaries!

1) The best thing you can do is to order a copy at your local bookstore, and give it a good mention to the people there.

2) The next best thing is to order online, through Amazon or Barnes & Noble; or directly from Parami Press.

3) You can give the book a mention in your blog; or email the link to your list of contacts, with your personal recommendation.

4) You can read the book and give it a review, or forward your recommendation to a person who might write one.

5) You can talk it up amongst friends, suggest it as a read for your book club, and so on. The buzz is enormously important.

Thank you for any and all help you can give me. It will be much appreciated. Meantime, a couple of stones...

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I'm delighted to let you know that I will soon have copies of the new book, Mind Work: Shedding Delusions on the Path to the Creative Core. Stephen Schettini, author of The Novice and the blog The Naked Monk writes that Mind Work is "a first had account of what it is to be a human being in pursuit of greater attention, clarity, and compassion." I myself tend to see it also as a practical path to the source of creativity, as the subtitle suggests.

Mind Work is already available for pre-order at Parami Press (see link on the right hand sidebar, with a spectacular cover image by the artist Gary Lang!)

I hope that you won't mind that I ask for your help in spreading the word about the publication by forwarding to like-thinking friends these links to the Facebook page and the Goodreads group we have set up to promote ongoing discussion of the ideas in both Persist and Mind Work. I’m guessing that you will share many of the specific concerns I’m bringing to the fore, and I believe that we all need to have discussions of this kind to keep the creative fire alive in today’s challenging cultural environment.

I do very much appreciate any help you might be able to give me in putting out word about Mind Work and, even more, your participation in the conversation.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


It has been a while since I posted on "Persist: The Blog." This is not because I have not, myself, been persisting. Indeed, the opposite is true. I have been working to assemble a new collection of essays, and it's now ready for publication. It will be coming out in due course with Parami Press, as did "Persist." I have just completed a rewrite of the book's preface, which I think is appropriate for these pages. It's called, like the title of the book...


Sometimes I have to get back to my yellow pad.

I do love my computer, of course. It has made my life easy in so many ways, and it has certainly opened a window to the world for me, as a writer. It has brought me a readership that I scarcely dreamed of having. It is also much more like a yellow pad than the typewriter with which I started out many years ago. That trusty old machine had the advantage of making things legible (my handwriting was not, and never has been!) But it also locked my writing in progressively from word to word, from line to line, from paragraph to paragraph. It did not accommodate change in the same way as a scratch pad. By contrast, I discovered, working on the computer I could readily wipe out a thought and substitute a new one, change a word or a phrase, go back a dozen pages once I’d found a new direction and wanted to prepare for it. It was a miracle.

Still, there are times like the moment of this writing when I need the yellow pad, times when I need the contact between pen and paper, the barely mediated flow from heart to hand, the engagement of the whole body-mind process of finding my way through the enchanting thicket of words. It has to do, as I see it, with authenticity, with absolute directness. With having no digital intermediary between the inner voice I’m listening to as I write and the one that speaks out on the page.

I was standing in a gallery the other day, gazing around at the work of Leon Kossoff, a painter now 85 years old. We share the origins of birth in Britain before World War II—though he a decade earlier than myself. I fancy that I find in his work the evidence of centuries-long traditions of British—of European—art, an historical depth that seems to echo back richly through the ages. There is something of this, some sense of same substance in his landscapes, his Gothic churches, his portraits, all of which speak to a distinctly un-American (I should perhaps say rather, these days, pre-American!) part of my heart and soul, the part that remains unalterably rooted in the English soil. Looking at Kossoff’s paintings, it’s a resonance, a recognition, a sense of common origin. There’s something in me knows whereof he speaks.

But there’s more than that. Not matter how richly textured with their impressive layers of paint, these paintings are reduced to nothing but the bare essentials. Even the palette is subdued, reductive, as though color were now dispensable. What’s left is the palpable energy, the insistently personal vision, the quiet, unmistakable mastery of the brushwork, the tactility that seems to call for the forbidden touch in order to experience it to the full, even as it tells us of the painter’s touch and speaks to us of the interface between his heart and mind, his eye, his hand, and the surface of the canvas. These manifestations of a man’s hard-earned maturity are stripped of all pretension, all desire to conform or please anyone other than their creator, all need to shine or proclaim their virtuosity. They are, in a word, authentic.

So this is what I have come to think about. The essays in this collection are, to my way of thinking, all about that stripping down and stripping away, that need to get to the core of being, in order to fulfill what it is I’m given to do with my life. For much of our early lives we are driven by the need to establish an image of who we think we are, or who we are encouraged to believe we might be in the eyes of others, or even who we think we ought to be. To this end, we work hard to assemble fabrications of the self to which we soon become attached in the sincere belief that these fabrications are indeed our selves. And there is not just one, there are many of them, intertwined, inseparable, often bringing us suffering and confusion in their conflict with each other as we act them out. We work hard at being our “selves.”

The thing is, none of them are real. Each one is provisional, a product of our imagination, our desire, our fear, our need. Each one, in what I have come to understand through the teachings of the Buddhist dharma, is its own delusion—and if I qualify that understanding, it’s because I consider myself a journeyman Buddhist, an amateur, let’s say: an escapee from the Anglican faith in which I was brought up, I do not go much for the trappings of religion, still less for the dogma that too often accompanies them. But the idea of delusions makes perfect sense to me. We live with them, for the most part, unaware of the extent to which we have become their servants. We can, however, choose to open up our eyes and recognize them and, in recognizing, free ourselves from their subtle, unsuspected tyranny. And in shedding delusions, we have the opportunity to leave behind those selves that no longer serve us and, indeed, too often stand stubbornly between us and the fulfillment of our mission on this earth. This is the path to authenticity, to the creative core.

This is what I call “mind work.” It requires nothing but the hardest things: clarity, right intention, honesty, vigilance and effort. This is what I have attempted, however inadequately, in the essays in this loosely assembled and necessarily incomplete collection. They are the result of a continuing effort to deconstruct the self—to disassemble some of its component parts and take a look at how they work, or sometimes fail to work, in the broad context of my life. I say incomplete because the task is of such a magnitude and the self such a seemingly solid entity that I do not see myself quite ever achieving the final goal: to liberate myself from the stress of holding it all together, in order to come closer to that elusive happiness of enlightened clarity and peace of mind.

The epigraph with which I introduce the collection is bound to seem quite blatantly paradoxical when all this writing is about the self. Well, my self. My selves. The words are those of my favorite Buddhist mantra: This is not me, this is not mine, this is not who I am… I return to them for understanding and guidance every time I find myself entrapped in the delusion of my identity or enchanted by my ego; whenever I attach to those possessions I imagine belong to me; or whenever the vicissitudes of life become so overwhelming that I slip unconsciously into knee-jerk response.

They are words of great resonance for me; their profound truth never fails to bring comfort and reassurance. I have only to take a few good breaths and repeat them quietly to myself, and I find that I can usually re-establish inner calm in the most adverse of circumstances, along with a reasonable sense of proportion. Hearing them, I see my attachment to self-image or possession in the light of a greater perspective, and manage to let go of some of the stress and suffering these delusions cause me. The more I become aware of them and the power they exercise, the more easily I am able to free myself from their grip. That freedom, in essence, is what I would want this book to be about.

My daily blog, “The Buddha Diaries,” sent out into the world from my home in California, is the source of most of these essays. It is not particularly a “Buddhist blog,” in that it does not attempt to promote or explicate the fundamentals of the religion. Rather, it’s a journal whose pages allow me to explore any aspect of my life and any event that occurs in it from the wise perspective afforded by a strictly lay person’s acquaintance with the teachings. Collectively, these teachings constitute what’s called the dharma, but since I want my essays to have broader and certainly a not-exclusively religious appeal, I’ll settle happily for “teachings.” In them I have found the wisest and most practical guide to the examined life that I seek, in my later years, to lead.

Monday, June 20, 2011


(Cross-posted from The Buddha Diaries)

I'm the "persistence" guy, right? I wrote a whole book of essays on the the subject. It's ironic, then, that I find myself in the persistent doldrums. I can hardly bring myself to write. I chastise myself for failing to find anything new or interesting to say. I wake in the morning without an idea in my head, and without the slightest motivation to write another post. The only thing I feel is an unforgiving sense of guilt for not being able to do myself what I have urged others to do: persist.

I was talking about this to my friend Brian at dinner the other evening. At least he helped me find a way to laugh about it. We concluded it was time to take the opposite approach. Write some essays titled "It's Not Worth It," or "Why Bother"? "Chuck It In" might be another good topic. Or "Time to Quit." There was an interesting op-ed piece in this morning's New York Times, "In Praise of Not Knowing." With so much information instantly available to us, we are suffering from a surfeit of knowledge. The author, Tim Kreider, concluded that "learning how to transform mere ignorance into mystery, simply not knowing into wonder, is a useful skill. Because it turns out that the most important things in this life--why the universe is here instead of not, what happens to us when we die, how the people we love really feel about us--are things we're never going to know."

I like that idea, and I see it as somehow related to my problem. It's like I have reached a plateau in my writing where I know what I'm doing, I kind of understand the things I talk about, and for this reason I get bored with myself, get bored with the sound of my own voice. I wish I'd just shut up. And I do toy with the idea of shutting up. Not blogging. Not writing tedious essays. Not trying to understand or explain things, even to myself. Not endlessly stroking my own ego with the imagined importance of what I have to say. Instead, I'd like to be able to "transform mere ignorance into mystery, simply not knowing into wonder." But I'm not sure how to go about it.

At our sangha this morning, after our hour's sit, talk turned to the matter of "letting go." I have two books in progress, one of which--the one I put on the back burner in order to concentrate on the newer one--is tentatively titled "This Is Not Me." The essays in this book have all to do with my interest in letting go parts of myself that are no longer particularly useful but which I cling to simply because I have so much identity wrapped up in them. Suppose I were to let go of "the writer"? A dreadful, fearsome thought. But a challenging one. I might just launch myself into the mystery, the wonder of it all...

Thursday, June 9, 2011


There are dark days, of course. How could it be otherwise? It would be absurd—even dishonest—to pretend that it were not so. I have been watching myself these past couple of weeks, slipping down from my normally quite balanced perch on the happiness scale, until ending up this morning in something of a snit. Well, actually, more of a funk. If not quite yet the slough of despond. I woke without an idea in my head. I sat down to do a little writing anyway—the words you’re reading at this moment—and looked out the window to discover that the pump in the fish pond had ceased functioning. Just one more spoke in the wheels. That’s how it goes…

I’m thinking of the John Lennon song, “Strange days, indeed.” He was onto something a little different, of course—the whole social shift that’s taking place, and the resistance to it; but somehow my mind managed to catch on to the words and give them a spin to reflect the mood I’m in. Dark days, indeed.

The last thing I need when this mood strikes is to sink into self-pity. It’s also, unfortunately, the easiest thing. But once I start feeling sorry for myself I become the passive victim of the nasty tricks that life can play on any one of us, of which the fish pond pump is only the most recent in the series. But sliding into victimhood is not only pathetic and undignified, it simply makes things worse. If I’m willing to relinquish responsibility for my own predicament, I might as well give up.

Which is the big temptation. As of this writing, I actually feel like nothing more than chucking the whole thing in. The writing, the new book, the blogs, the social and political commitment to doing what I can to leave this world a slightly better place than when I found it. I hear myself asking, what’s the use? Why waste my time putting in all this effort when it seems that no matter what I do, the difference I can make is insignificant.

This always seems like a good time to bring in the prosecuting attorney and allow him to have at me. Let him bring on his whole list of indictments. What’s the very worst he has to say about me? It’s not a bad idea to dispense with the services of the defense attorney, which just bring it down to the level of petty argument and will always seem inadequate. Better just to cop to it: “Guilty, your honor, and… ?” (An “and” is always better than a “but,” in any circumstance) This leaves me free to go through the whole list and, hopefully, purge myself and leave it all behind.

You’re lazy. Guilty as charged, and…?

You’ll never make anything of yourself. True. And…?

Self-important. Ouch, and…?

Incompetent. You never achieve what you set out to do. Yes. I get that. And…?

You’re just not as good as all those other writers. You just sit around and envy their success. Okay, and…?

No gumption... Right. And?

What happens is that sooner or later my nemesis will start foundering about, scraping around for increasingly stupid and transparently false charges. He’ll run out of the steam that got him going in the first place, and his exhaustion in itself can seem like a gratifying victory. I will have listened to the most dreadful things he can think to say about me and still come out at the end with that “and?” that puts it all into perspective. What more can be said? It has all been brought out into the open and nothing has really touched me.

All this, by the way, can be done in a half hour’s meditation.

There’s another useful antidote to self-pity. It’s called generosity. I watched an interview last night with the architect Hugh Newell Jacobson. Not having known his work before, I was impressed by its often Quaker-like simplicity, its clean, honest lines and clear spaces, the serenity of both the private homes and the public buildings he creates. There’s a kind of generosity in this work, which reaches out and offers peaceful refuge to his fellow beings. And I was impressed by the words of advice he extended at the end of the interview: the artist, he said, should “cultivate a rich heart.”

I like that idea. The rich heart is a generous heart, an expansive one that is open to both the vicissitudes of life and the needs of fellow-travelers on life’s journey. It’s a heart that breathes in the love of life, and breathes it back out into the world. It will acknowledge the dark days and stand ready to absorb their message without attachment or self-pity.

The dark days visit us, I believe, for a reason. It’s no more helpful to fight against them than to wallow in them. They offer us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. Pain, sadly, if heeded in the proper way, is the greatest of all teachers. Like it or not, it will come along; indeed, it is needed to contribute to the development of that rich heart. We will not get through life without it, and its measure is likely to increase as age approaches; but happily by then we will have been given many opportunities to meet it with patience and good grace.

It is my intention, then, that these particular dark days shall not pass in vain. It is not hard to find an act of generosity to perform, something of service not to myself but, in this case, to a friend. I will be leaving shortly to spend some time simply looking at the paintings in his current exhibition, so that I can talk to him about them when the time comes; and perhaps, in the coming days, post a few good words about them on my blog, in order to play my own small part in bringing them to the attention they deserve.

There. Feels better already.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


(Another chapter... Note: this includes/adapts some material that was included in a prior "Persist: The Blog" entry.)

No. I actually don’t do it for myself, and it saddens me when I hear an artist or a fellow writer offering this last-ditch defense.

Creativity is love-making, not masturbation. Okay, I’ll concede what most of us already know: masturbation is not without its solitary pleasures! But still, it’s no substitute for what really counts. Creation—whether of life or of art—is an act of pro-creation. Art-making involves (for all of us, and I include the female) penetration; followed (for all of us, and I include the male) by gestation and the sometimes agonizing process of giving birth. And the work does not stop there. It includes taking responsibility for the care and nurture of the resultant love-child.

That stretches the metaphor far enough, I think. I do understand where the “I do it for myself” defense comes from. We live in a society that produces artists of all kinds as plentifully as popsicles in our production-line schools, and turns them out into the world with a fine piece of parchment assuring them that they are now qualified to go forth and join the multitude of others struggling to survive.

But the reality these well-intentioned, well-trained people confront is far different from what they have been led to hope for, and the number who can expect to compete in the market place is relatively small. The rest must fend for themselves and find other motivations for pursuing their dreams, not to mention other than commercial outlets for their work. It’s not surprising that some resort to that last-ditch justification for what they do: “I do it for myself.”

Art, however, by its very nature, is an act of communication. I write in order to say something to another human being. That’s what words are for. I believe the same of paint, or musical notes, or movement, all of which are means to conveying something about ourselves or the world to another human being. I love the words that Dylan Thomas used as an introduction to his “Collected Poems,” way back in the 1950s. “These poems,” he wrote, “with all their crudities, doubts and confusions, are written for the love of man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn fool if they weren’t.” I don’t happen to believe in the God he mentions, but I do know what he means. I feel that way about my own work, and I hope that all artists feel the same about theirs.

What we do, then, requires the ear to listen and the eye to see, and these are not necessary easy to find. This, too, is work. It takes effort—the time and energy we’d much rather be expending at the computer or in the studio. But I believe this to be a part of our responsibility as creative people. Call it the spirit of generosity. It’s about caring deeply enough about what we do to feel compelled to share it. If we’re worth our salt, we make our work in passion and have a passionate need to have it speak to others.

There is reason for good cheer on this front in this day and age, in which the amazing advances in communications technology make it possible to put our work out into the world without depending on the monolithic, commercial system of galleries and publishers. Remember, not much more than twenty years ago, the days of cumbersome submission via the US Postal Service—standing in line at the Post Office to send out packages of “slides” or padded envelopes stuffed with “manuscripts”? Who could have envisioned then the marvel of the “website” where an artist can post an entire history of images for the world to see; where a writer can post poems or stories—or essays, like myself? Who would have predicted the existence of “social networks” where a few moments’ work at the keyboard can draw world-wide attention to your latest entry?

(I ran into an artist just the other day, who had the good fortune to have his new work chosen for a prominent Los Angeles exhibition space. Even so, he was worried about whether anyone would ever hear about his show—until it was reviewed at a popular arts site online—and attracted, in a single day, some 200,000 hits in 103 different countries!)

As a writer, I fell into the blogosphere a number of years ago, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, and found myself in a world of previously unimaginable possibility. I’m now the writer-publisher of three blogs, in which I manage to publish something every day of my life, attracting readers in literally every corner of the world. What more could a writer wish for? The blogosphere also offers me the opportunity to satisfy another need: the need for feedback, response, the validation of what I have to say by another human being, who has read and listened to my words—even if that person happens to disagree with me.

So there’s no excuse these days. The Internet has opened up endless possibilities for any artist willing to take advantage of them—whether to offer their work for sale or simply to broadcast their images to the world. Almost every artist I know has a website. They include not only images of their work, but also videos, resumes, statements, contact information and links to other sites. There are numerous sites where inventive, entrepreneurial spirits bundle user-friendly meeting places for artists and art buyers. And of course there are numerous online art magazines offering venues for reviews, advertisement, ongoing discussion, and the exchange of information.

I happen to believe that artists provide an act of service to their fellow humans with the work they do. Art, as I said earlier, is about communication, and yet too many of us unnecessarily choose the path of isolation. That’s where it starts, but not where it should end. The wonderful Buddhist practice of metta begins with the meditator sending wishes of goodwill and compassion in the first instance to him- or herself—and then out, in ever-widening circles, to family, friends, acquaintances, and eventually all living beings. When I find myself questioning the value of my own small contribution to the well-being of the world, I call to mind that the only thing I can really change is myself. If I want to change the world, that’s where I have to start. Art—for me, writing—is about observing, activating and realizing the change within, and putting it out into the world. It may be no more than the flutter of a butterfly’s wing, but it can create that proverbial tempest on the other side of the globe.