Monthly Archives: October 2016

You Are Not Your Armor

wabi sabi BuddhaWe are not our armor. We are not the protective layer that covers up our essential goodness.

Yesterday I wrote about a huge clay Buddha in Thailand. For centuries it had sat in various temples, moved around as people saw fit. One day, stories differ as to why, the enormous clay Buddha cracked open. It cracked open enough that the monks tending it looked inside and were astonished to find, not the hollow space they expected, but a statue of luminous gold.

Jack Kornfield tells this story to illustrate the Buddhist core belief in “Buddha nature” – the inherent nobility and goodness shining inside of every woman, man, and child.

This idea of Buddha nature isn’t only a tenet of Eastern religion, philosophy, and psychology. It’s not only expounded by those with a background in Eastern methods, such as Thomas Merton.

This idea is all over the place in Western religious and psychological thought, in various disguises.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English Victorian poet and Jesuit priest, described our real, true selves as an “Immortal Diamond.”

Franciscan priest and prolific author Richard Rohr uses the term “True Self.”

Life coach and Harvard-trained sociologist Martha Beck talks about our Essential Self and our Core of Peace.

Psychologist James Hollis uses the terms “Self” (with a capital “S”) and “soul.”

Rumi says, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Oh, phooey. Rumi’s Eastern.

Our armor, the clay covering our hearts of shining light, is not the problem. The problem is when we’re confused and we believe our clay coverings are WHO WE ARE, and we strive to protect that armor.

That armor, that clay, is useful. This part of ourselves, the inevitable accretion of daily living, is variously called our small “s” self, our false self, our social self, our ego, and I’m sure there are many more labels. This part of ourselves is necessary because it keeps us safe, sometimes, and it helps us be smart.

But it isn’t US. We suffer when we think that it is.

We suffer when we try to live our lives from our armored surfaces of clay, rather than from our luminous shiny good hearts.

We Shine Like the Sun

wabi sabi BuddhaThere was once a large ancient Buddha, made of clay and plaster, resting in an old temple in Sukotai, Thailand. Over time, this Buddha found its way to a minor temple in Bangkok, but it was so big it was housed in a shed covered only by a tin roof. Eventually, a larger building was constructed to house this Buddha. When the Buddha was being moved to its new home, the plaster cracked. Inside the plaster and clay, which had covered the Buddha for centuries, the people found a statue of solid gold. Speculation is that during the time of war with neighboring Burma, monks covered the gold Buddha with clay to protect it.

Over time, the people forgot that their Buddha was in fact made of gold.

Jack Kornfield tells this story in The Wise Heart, his book about Buddhist psychology. He uses the story of the clay Buddha that’s discovered to be precious gold to illustrate this core idea of “Buddha nature.” He says, “The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility. Just as the people of Sokutai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our Buddha nature.”

Dr. Kornfield refers to American monk and mystic Thomas Merton’s experience, one ordinary March day in 1958, as an example of a Western mind experiencing Buddha nature. In Merton’s words: “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed …. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

I notice that Merton takes many words to describe what Buddhists can do in two. This Buddhist starting point and core belief – humans are fundamentally good and shiny – is a radical, revelatory experience for Merton.

I disagree with Thomas Merton. I want us to go around telling each other that we’re shining like the sun. Let’s treat ourselves and each other like the light- and life-filled beings we are.

Journaling is a Revolutionary Act: 10 Ways to Journal

Found on @IHAVECAT

Found on @IHAVECAT, Tamar Aslanian’s blog

I owe Donald Trump a debt of gratitude.

Sisters, after the events of the last week, I understand that journaling is so much more than a feel-good activity. Journaling is an act of revolution.

My original intro to this post was blah blah blah – journaling is good for you and here’s why… The fall is such a perfect time to journal, what with cool days and long nights and evenings by the fireside… Many studies (google “journaling and mental health”) support journaling’s positive effect on anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments…

All these things are true, and they’re way less relevant than this: We must know how beautiful, precious, and priceless we are. We must know how freaking IMPORTANT and NECESSARY we are, so we can more powerfully express and defend ourselves.

I believe it’s imperative that we find our voice. We must know what we think, feel, and want in order to stand up and resist the sorts of all-too-prevalent attitudes we saw on such glaring display in Trump’s “pussy” video. Journaling is, for many of us, a valuable tool in our self-knowledge tool kit.

Our knowledge of our belovedness gets obscured by our culture, our families, our schools, and even our churches. Uncovering our essential, true, deeply loved core and living from that part of us is what the world needs. Our world craves our honest, passionate, whole, beautiful voices. Our clearly-articulated love, for ourselves and for all of creation, will heal.

One caveat: journaling is NOT helpful when we use our journal to beat ourselves up. If you’re doing this, please stop. And maybe try one of these suggestions…

Here are ten forms your journaling could take. There are so many others. If journaling makes you crazy or bores you silly, perhaps one of these will be a vehicle for knowing yourself more fully.

  1. A happiness journal. Shawn Achor, a Harvard happiness researcher, recommends five simple actions that build happiness over time:
  • List three things you’re grateful for every day. Three NEW things every day.
  • Journal for two minutes about a positive experience. (This practice rewires your brain for happiness. Our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative things, so intentionally noticing the positive builds new neural pathways.)
  • Meditate for as little as two minutes daily. Meditation will help you learn to direct your attention where it’s most helpful.
  • Perform one random act of kindness daily. Write down what you did.
  • Exercise

(I found Shawn’s research in Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge.)


  1. A nature journal. You can go easy by simply noting the weather and one or two observations. You can go hardcore, too. One of my favorite nature journaling resources is Irene Brady’s Illustrating Nature. She also has many useful blog posts about drawing and sketching nature.


  1. A sensory journal. Note at least one thing daily that you saw, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled. This is a great way to gently get in touch with your body, if you’ve lost yours. Add on number 4 to go deeper.


  1. A body journal. Four or more times during the day (set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself), take five minutes and check in with your body. Put your feet flat on the floor and take three deep breaths. Ask yourself these questions: What am I feeling emotionally? What sensations do I feel in my body? What are these emotions and sensations telling me? Can I simply allow them? We’re not trying to fix anything, we’re just noticing. After a few days, you should have a fairly good sense of what your baseline is. Body journaling is an effective way to get ahold of what you might want to bring to coaching. If you want to get fancy, note your exercise patterns and your cravings. See number 8 if you want to take this further.


  1. A morning pages journal. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends morning pages as a way to skim off the surface ramblings of your mind in order to get to the good stuff below. (Julia recommends three pages. Three pages takes me way too long, so I usually just write for 20 minutes as fast as I can, which is usually around two pages. Do what works for you.)


  1. An art journal. This can be especially useful if you’re more comfortable with words, because keeping a visual journal will help you access your right-brained intuitive non-linear wisdom. I love Daisy Yellow for instruction and inspiration.


  1. A “Pray Rain” Journal. I learned about this from Martha Beck, who learned about it from Jeannette Maw. Jeannette’s language is a little too “Law of Attraction” for my comfort, but the way Martha talks about it makes sense to me. Basically what you do is write an entry in the journal that describes your life as you want it to be. Think really big here. Shoot for the moon. I’ve used this tool to uncover what I really wanted underneath the scar tissue and the social conditioning. It’s powerful, people. And knowing what we want is the first step to actually getting it, right?


  1. A thoughts journal. Complete one awareness-wheel daily, then do inquiry on one thought that you identified using Byron Katie’s method she calls simply The Work. Call me and I’ll walk you through this, with pleasure and for free.


  1. A prayer journal. Write down the people and the needs you’re holding in prayer. This is useful for me because I always forget who it was in Facebook groups asking to be held in light, or for good vibes, or healing juju. (These are all alternative ways to ask for prayer, IMHO.) I also note my flesh and blood friends and relations whom I’m carrying in my heart, and for what. Life gets complicated and I want to remember.


  1. A Lectio Divina Journal. Use the four steps of Lectio (I go into depth about Lectio in this blog post) to meditate on a bible passage, a poem, a photo, a natural object, a memory, etc. Write down what you hear.


I don’t do all of these all the time. (Who has many hours each day to do every one of these? I don’t.) My journal is a mish-mash of all of these. I also have several journals going at once – a small notebook in my bag, a larger notebook in my backpack, and the biggest unlined sketchbook one next to my morning sit spot. And different types of journaling meet different needs and are appropriate for different seasons of life.

What’s your journaling practice? Which of these suggestions appeal? What journal type would you add to this list?