You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Zen Diary’ category.

… Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” (Emphasis added.)

Mt 9: 28, 29

+ + +

Here Jesus is speaking to two blind men who approached Him.  They wanted to see.  He asked if they believed.

What if a good and contented life were as simple as believing and, in believing, seeing – seeing the world anew, seeing more completely, seeing what you have missed for so long … seeing with the eyes of faith, and living in the Spirit?

Imagine if your lack of belief made your life more confusing, less coherent, less settled, less joyful, less happy, more conflicted, more lost, more wasteful, and more difficult.

What a waste to have shunned belief in favor of unbelief and all the discord that it piles on a person, relationships, a family, a community, a nation.

Such a simple proposition, so easily ignored and at such great a cost.

This Christmas season renew your experience of The Christmas Carol.  Ask yourself: Do I believe?

Believe and your life will conform to the faith you have been given.


Footnote: CNN had a panel assembled to “discuss” the Trump victory.  It was quite obvious that those assembled are from the We-Know-Better-Than-The-Peasants Brigade.

David Gergan (a/k/a David Gurgle) was especially haughty and “superior.”  He of Harvard (where but there or Yale) was beside himself, just incredulous that people voted “for him” (Donald J. Trump).  The arrogance is staggering.  The absence of humility stunning.

Makes one think we have wasted a whole-lotta-moolah on college education and have much too much room for “experts” who so resemble macaws.

And yes, I have three advanced degrees – so I am not without some bona fides in raising this issue.

Mr. Gergan has been out of the work force for some time.  Can we make that official?

Learn to be silent.  Let your quiet mind listen and absorb.


+ + +

Quiet can teach, if we are willing to let it.  So, too, can stillness – our own stillness.

Have you ever looked at trees?  Really looked that them?  Sat and looked at them?

But for the wind in their leaves – they are silent, and they are still.  But they are growing and contributing to our fresh air and shading us from sun and high winds.

We are not much like trees, at least in our habits.  We move around a lot, are endlessly in motion – running from one task to another in a non-stop and exhausting frenzy.  We cannot imagine being without doing, and confuse the two – thinking being is doing.  Motion is an addiction for us.  Exhaustion follows, stress too – and agitation and unhappiness – then the drink, or the pill, or the destructive diversion – an affair, perpetual unhappiness and the like.

Not too smart, is it.

The more we do, the less good we do.

The quality or identity of being is not in the doing, but in the being.

A tree is a tree.  Is a being a being?

Like a tree, our contribution to the world is our being.  Alas, busy as we are – we withhold our being from others and from our self.

In being we have a presence.  In doing we have a passing.

From the ancient wisdom of China we hear this:

We learn … First by reflection, which is the noblest; Second by imitation, which is the easiest; and, Third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Learn from the tree.  Is it any wonder that a tree gives itself to us as a page, a book?

Learn from the tree.


Oh you guiding night!  Oh night more kindly than the dawn!

St. John of the Cross

This is the last in a series of three consecutive reflections on the dark night of the soul.

+ + + 

St. John of the Cross knew the dark night of the soul as an experience which taught him the joys and pains of human existence, of life – all life, everyone’s life. He knew it as the experience which taught him how to address suffering and injustice, and maximize his peace and tranquility amid life’s gusts and gales and gentle breezes.

Psychotherapist Gerald G. May, M.D., shared John’s sentiments.  May, after years of working with patients, concluded that to treat suffering within a medical model neglected the fact that we are spiritual beings and that to be healthy and whole a person had to learn to integrate the circumstances he or she encountered in life, not mask, medicate, or attempt to avoid them.

Dr. May knew that suffering and pain properly encountered led to growth, understanding, strength, courage, compassion, intimate connection with others, forgiveness, balance and stability, insight, wisdom, depth of being and peace within and without.

Both John and Dr. May knew that suffering was a natural experience in life and that if addressed it invited greater freedom and full development of the human person.  In this, each saw the dark nights as vessels of hope and growth. Dr. May, in particular, saw how present day psychological and neurological insights confirmed and verified spiritual truth born in ages past.

May’s understandings of suffering and pain common in human existence led him to advise us thus: “Listen to the truth of you own life experience” especially amid the dark nights which challenge us and grow our soul.

Our True Nature is Eternal, Joyous, Selfless and Pure.

Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo

Have you noticed how the birds chirp in the cold rain of late autumn?


A Man of old once said: To make work on the outside is just being a blockhead.

Rinzai Roko, Discourses XI

The second in a series of reflections on the dark night of the soul.

+ + +

Dark nights of the soul beckon us to deep transformation, fundamental change that brings us to greater understanding, greater freedom and greater joy.

These night are, in a sense, a critical aspect of our design, how we are made to find fulfillment, contentment, peace. They are the storm that brings a bright sky, warm sun and a gentle breeze, when the birds chirp, the ducks quack and the wind speaks in the new leaves of spring trees.

These nights bring us a liberation from what is false and harmful, and the impossible burden of defining self by one’s self.  They liberate us from our fruitless habits, misconceptions, compulsions, useless and unhealthy ideas, and attachments.  They uncover wisdom and bring us to maturity.

The darkness of the dark night is dark in two ways.  First, the curtain falls on old, self-deceptive and destructive ways we have acquired and utilized.  Second, they comport hidden truths and lead us to them – requiring, of course, our leaving behind old ways of thinking, seeing, experiencing and being.

Dark nights are the dark before the dawn.

From the dark night comes meaning, eternal meaning – everlasting truth.

The passing of the dark night of the soul brings us to a certainty within Uncertainty, a confidence that all is well when we see we are within what is Good, what is Mystery.

The genius of facing the dark night relies on forsaking relief in favor of meaning. Do not medicate.  Ride the dark to its natural destination: life-giving and life changing illumination.

In the dark night, the soul, so often neglected in the material, scientific and secular world, is growing to its fullness – you are being healed, made whole, called to rest, and brought to wisdom.


There is reality even prior to heaven and earth; …

Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way.

Diao Kokushi, On Zen

This is the first in a series of short reflections on the dark nights of the soul. 

+  + +

We all have dark nights of the soul, times when we are in pain and deep confusion.  These nights disorient us in their darkness and come on not in instants, but in days – even weeks, months.  But, mind you, the darkness speaks more to what is heretofore hidden, a mystery and not what is perilous but what frees.

How can that be?

We live in a mystery, a reality that is “prior to heaven and earth” and beyond mortal existence.  In the dark night we come to that which is “prior to heaven and earth,” what is “absolutely quiet” – “yet illuminating” in time.

Dark nights confirm the Mystery and The Mysterious One.

These nights emerge in many forms.  They all come to free us from what is far short of “reality … prior to heaven and earth.”

An illustration is in order.

Many of us claim an identity that is of this earth, has a status and a function here that we believe gives us “meaning” – mortal identity.  Often this mundane identity arises from a fundamental event in life event – the loss of a loved one, a parent when we are young, a rejection, or the end to an identity that used our skills and interests and gave us work, and a self-image.

Ah, but to be defined as of this world is always to be defined as less than human. For our claim to this fleeting existence and its realm is a claim to less than we are within that which is “prior to heaven and earth.”

Dark nights are painful and recurring as each episode is designed to wrench us away from what is small and enslaving – an identity far short of who we are within The Mystery, within The Mysterious One.

Oh, when we are so visited – we resist and cling to our practiced role.  We fear not knowing and a lack of control.  This, of course, makes the dark, darker still.

In the dark night, out of despair, we may disappear into death, or intoxication, or anger and resentment, mindless accumulation, hatred, orgies of violence or endless bacchanals.

Yet dark nights are gift, come to liberate us, bring us to what is “prior to heaven and earth.”  These nights free us from a false sense that we are responsible for others, for circumstances, wrongs and calamities generated by the lost and those who consign themselves to this place but not what is “prior” and beyond.

In dark nights we are called to live, to life – life within what is here, prior and beyond – to life in the full, and peace, access to the Kingdom, The Mystery that envelops us – to more than love, to life everlasting.


… Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping … she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus … She thought it was the gardener … Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him … “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. (Emphasis added.)

Jn 20: 11, 14, 15, 16

+ + +

After Jesus death he appears to others and he is not recognized by them.  Here he appears to Mary of Magdala, one of his closest followers, someone who spent many hours and days with him.

How might one explain this?  That those who knew him might not recognize him immediately once he appeared to them after his death?

I suppose there are a number of meanings one might apply to this.

In thinking about it, I instinctively recall the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and how Jesus’ appearance changed at that time.  It seems like that is a kindred event, an experience that might tell us something valuable.

I cannot profess to have a rock-solid understanding of this.

Maybe it tells us that we are transformed into a new figuration at death.  Maybe it conveys the proposition that there is in all of us: Christ – and that having Jesus appear as the gardener is, at least metaphorically, making that point as if to say we are God’s Beloved and the Body of Christ.

It may say more than one thing.

The Buddhist say that mortal life is impermanent, but that we are in an eternal continuum – that death is not annihilating, that we do not end in death – that we cannot be destroyed by death.

Perhaps that is what we are to learn from Mary of Magdala’s experience of not recognizing Jesus whom she loved and knew very well.

Eternal life.  Is that not what we had once learned and relied upon?

Remember the question, and its answer?

Question: What happens when I die?

Answer: You will live forever with God in heaven.

Mortal life and its impermanence are overcome my this notion, this idea, this Truth and its understanding.  Death is not annihilation.  Mortal life but a part of our existence.  Take heart.  Have faith.  Live accordingly … and worry is diminished.

Live in Truth and hope is abundant.


Whatsoever is not said in all sincerity, is wrongly said.  And not to be able to rid oneself of this is only to sink deeper toward perdition.


+ + +

I sit this morning before the sun is seen listening to shakuhachi meditation music.

The shakuhachi is a simple, ancient Chinese bamboo flute brought to Japan and used by Zen Buddhist monks in their meditations.  It is difficult to play and requires its player to be attentive to their breathing.  Zen monks consider it an extension of their zazen – their sitting meditation.

The shakuhachi was played by komuso (“priests of nothingness”) as they wandered the streets of Edo seeking charitable offerings.

Those who play the shakuhachi and those who listen to it hear a breath in its sound and make us mindful of the breath that is loaned to each of us by God.

Like silence and the wind in the trees and the dark of night, listening to the breath of God in the shakuhachi draws us closer to the Divine, to the All, to the Infinite, to from where we came and where we may return.

Meditation and the sacred sound of breath in the shakuhachi bring us to The Way, their properties know no religious limit, no exclusion but what we impose on ourselves or accept as a dividing imposition.

We played the flute for you, and you did not dance …

Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Mt 11:17,28

Have a restful day.  Take time in quiet.  There God speaks to you.






The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak … in parables?”

” … This is why I speak in parables, because they look but do not see and they hear but they do not listen or understand.  Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:  You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.  Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.

Mt 13:10, 13-15

+ + +

We are a Story People.  We learn by story.  We always have and we always will.

Five centuries before Christ, Aeschylus said, “Words are the physicians of a mind diseased.”  Christ tells parables (stories) to heal us, heal our dis-eased life, heal us where we live – in the soul.

As humans we live on the surface.  Life comes at us in waves of immediate and long-term concerns.  We live in apprehension and respond, at best, in the haste of practical problem solving amid worry and fear (when we are not avoiding what is coming at us).

But, do we really see or do we just look?  Do we really listen or do we simply hear?

Problems and challenges teach us – about us and about others, about life and beyond, about peace and strife.  Yet, to learn at any depth is not our inclination.

Both hearing and sight is impaired because we think we face all that we encounter alone.  In this, we experience a daunting challenge, a task far beyond our capacity to meet by ourselves.  Yet, do we even understand that we need not face life and its challenges alone, that we are not alone?

This is what Christ is saying.  Facing life “alone” creates dis-ease.  Christ uses stories to try to get us to slow down, see and hear, and understand.

The place of religion in a culture is the place of stories that teach us to listen and to see, to understand – and acquire peace and wisdom, and good health.

A culture which has no place for religion is in grave danger, on the road to complete destruction.

In secular culture we have little tolerance for religion and for faith.  We have reduced life to the natural world and discarded the supernatural world – and seeing and hearing have become all the more difficult for us.

We are a Story People without the ear for narration and the sharpened eyesight it brings that allows us to see beyond the material realm.  Writers like Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor lament that we are captured by abstract thinking but less able to understand story.

If you want to understand the chaotic conditions we live in, simply think about the problems we encounter in a culture when Story People are unable to hear narration.

Opting for the narrow prism of the natural world to the exclusion of the supernatural world makes us both blind and deft.  Alas troubles multiple and make the simplest conversations with those we love arduous, a struggle and often “deal-breakers.”

You are so warned.


” … in a world where there is neither self nor other, the only identity is just This – which is all, which is energy, which is God by no name.”

Alan Watts, 1915-1973

+ + +

Why spiritual growth?  Why write a blog?  Why read a blog about the Spirit, about living faith in the present day and circumstances we face?

Well, because life to be lived and experienced is a continual process of formation and guidance.  We grow with others, in contact with others – and the silence and contemplation we ideally cull to gain some introspection and understanding.

Spiritual growth makes us more settled, gives us greater insight and greater calm.  And, it brings us closer to the all of All, the Divine – the unending, indivisible Divine that is All.  It is the one thing that transports us to our desired end, to God – and the happiness that this union brings the human person.

I write in the hopes of facilitating that in me and in others.  I hope that your reading this assists your spiritual growth in our present circumstances.  I suppose you could say the blog is spiritual direction or conversation with others at large – written to, at its best, stir in others the growth that gives them life in the full.

May you come to know who you are as you have been divinely made to be – the child of the Divine.

There is no worse bitterness than to reach the end of your life and realized you have not lived.

M. Scott Peck, M.D.


From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax and be peaceful. we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, and enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on earth.

Thich Nhat Hahn, Buddhist Monk

+ + +

Quiet restores us to peace, interior calm.

It is wise each day to take to the quiet.  I spend many days in relative quiet.  I begin my days in my 4th floor office at a desk situated in front of windows that open on the sky and the trees and the lake.  Sometimes I listen to the chants of monks.

Often in this time, I read and think, meditate or contemplate.  Often I pray – simple prayers for others or for our world, our nation, my family or those facing trials of one sort or another.  And, always prayers of gratitude and those seeking forgiveness.

When I go away it is usually to a secluded place – a shoreline, a forest, often in the mountains.

To take to the quiet is to take to your soul; there you meet you, and the Divine.

A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact.

Thomas Merton, Cistercian Monk



Log In

%d bloggers like this: