the body is the teacher

musings on the wisdom of incarnation

Courage of the Moment

Any moment that does not require courage is a moment we are not truly living. To face the present moment directly, fearlessly, in all its fullness just as it is: that is incarnation.

Of course, in one sense incarnation is inevitable and unavoidable. Embodiment is our reality, whether or not we accept that fact. We can only seek to reject this reality through the insistence of delusion, through a persistent commitment to ignorance. Yet in another sense, realizing incarnation is an intentional act, an act of the will. We face this basic, foundational reality as it is. And in doing so we reveal our essential nature.


No Vishy-Vashy

One of my qigong teacher’s favorite words of advice is “No wishy-washy,” which, in his German-Indian accent comes out as “No vishy-vashy.” At the end of each qigong session, as each of us stands breathing quietly with our hands folded over our tan t’ien (our center or core), he scans the room, making eye contact with each of us while wagging a resolute index finger finger and kindly exhorting us to speak and act in a way that embodies forthrightness, directness, and honesty, while at the same time being imbued with compassion and love. “No vishy-vashy,” he reminds us.

Reflecting on this principle has revealed to me just how often I get tangled up in vishy-vashiness. I see how often I approach conversations and situations as a constantly evolving field test, of the kind that the Army or Navy might concoct to train soldiers. I analyze the situation and imagine multiple options for responding and the likely effects of each. And then, after selecting a course of action I may indulge in a round of second- or even third-guessing — either simultaneously or after the fact. This kind of scenario analysis can sometimes take a considerable amount of time, during which I end up just being silent. (Hopefully I at least remember to smile.)

This doesn’t mean that my goal is to be tactical or strategic; usually my purpose is simply to be kind — optimally kind, in fact. And I think there is some value in being somewhat circumspect: surely it is better to temporarily annoy someone with awkward silence than to say or do something unskillful that may result in anger, confusion, resentment, or blame.

Yet, as my teacher reminds me, “No vishy-vashy” (wag, wag, wag). True communication comes from the heart, from our core being. That is the way to be truly kind, truly loving. That is the way to be truly responsive to life as it unfolds in each moment.

Drive All Blames Into One

The first substantive slogan that we must confront is “Drive all blames into one.” The “one” into which we are to drive all blames is ego. Other beings are not to blame. Circumstances are not to blame. Only ego is to blame.

Looking deeply, we can see that the cause of all conflict is ego. It is ego that makes beings selfish, fearful, and greedy. It is ego that causes them to misguidedly seek their own pleasure at the expense of the suffering of others. It is ego that causes them to believe that they are alone, unloved, unworthy, destitute, hopeless. It is ego that causes them to suffer and to render them incapable of caring for and transforming their suffering instead of compounding their suffering and others’ suffering by lashing out. Ego lies at the core of all anger, hatred, aggression, anxiety, and despair. It is the root of all evil. Continue reading “Drive All Blames Into One”

Lojong: An Introduction

For over a thousand years monks in Tibet have been developing and following a set of aphorisms or “slogans” for training the mind. A core set of 60 slogans is attributed originally to Dipakara Srijnana (982-1054), commonly known as Atisha, a monk who founded the Kadam School in Tibet. Atisha transmitted the slogans to his disciple Dromtrönpa, who transmitted them to his disciples, down to Geshe Chekawa (1101-1175), who compiled them in a written collection titled Seven-Point Mind Training. This text was passed down over the centuries, with numerous scholars writing various commentaries to accompany, explain, and amplify the root slogans.

Although lojong mind training is an ancient practice, and the slogans themselves are over 900 years old, you may be surprised to find how relevant they are for our everyday lives today. “Lojong” literally means “mind training,” with the sense of indoctrination. But we can perhaps think of this practice, within the context of our mechanistic, scientific culture, as a sort of reprogramming of the mind. We now know that ordinarily most of the activity in our brains and the other systems of our bodies connected with the brain function automatically, with little or no input from our conscious minds. Most of the time we operate on autopilot, so to speak. Or to use a computer analogy, there is a basic operating system in our minds full of various programs that are constantly running in the background, taking care of 90% or more of our actions, attitudes, behaviors, habits – and often what we perceive of as conscious choices and decisions. Continue reading “Lojong: An Introduction”


Everything is impermanent, constantly changing. But it is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not. Impermanence is a great blessing. Thanks to impermanence, we can transform suffering into joy, samsara into nirvana. We can convert this mind away from creating, perpetuating, and preserving ego toward cultivation of love and peace. That can be done. It is a miracle, but it can be done. It simply requires letting go of everything, including everyone and everything we love, everything we fear, everything we desire, and everything we hope for. It means letting go of myself and my life completely. It means seeing that all things are born completely new in each moment.

Have Courage and Be Kind

Kindness is the way we give up our private, individual world and extend ourselves to others. Accepting our broken, aching hearts is the starting point for the courage we need to do this.

Seventh Grade

There was a first kiss,
clumsy teeth clacking
in the stairway of the First Baptist Church sunday school annex
and I think I cut my lower lip on your braces.

I remember thinking I should maybe feel something more,
something different, something about you in the very least.

But what I mostly felt was a sense of accomplishment.
Something interesting had happened
and now I had a secret.

I suppose it’s fitting
that my first clumsy lurch
toward sex
was in the basement of a church.


The key to a Japanese garden, I’m told,
is to start first with the bones.
Heavy boulders, buried like cresting ships,
languorously emerging from waves of earth and moss.

Next the gnarled trees, shaped and trained,
coaxed to bow and twist and point in harmonious convolutions.
And bushes, clipped to look like living rocks,
maybe a bamboo sozu to taunt the deer.

So here I am again,
ankle deep in mud
trying to pry impossible holes from the ground.
Damn these plants
for not fitting in this earth
each spade thrust into the soil
turns up a constellation of rocks and gravel.

As I gently place the grasses into makeshift graves
I have to tease out the strands
and hold them in my palm,
each one like grasping tresses of your hair grown cold.

My hands hurt, my back is bowed in a weary arch,
there are plenty of rocks still hidden in the soil
everywhere I didn’t dig.

But it’s there home, after all,
and I always knew this was going to be a rock garden.

The Body Is the Teacher

The body is the teacher.

I am the student.

The mind is the space where the teacher and the student meet.

You are not the body. You are not the mind. Mind is just empty space. It is like a large room. It can seem spacious, calm, and open; or it may seem tight, confined, and cluttered. We can fill up all the space of the mind, or we can declutter and open it up. But whether filled or unfilled, it is just space. We like to think of the mind as a mechanism of control, as a center and originating point of action. But if we look deeply we see that it is just empty space.

We think we know the body. We think we can comprehend it. We think that we can lay hold of it, own it. Typically, we start out believing that we are the body. We may make no distinction between I/me and the body. Or we consider the body to be our servant or slave, or like a dumb animal that we simply control and use as we see fit.

Of course, these are ways that we can relate with the body. The body allows us to ignore it, neglect it, and abuse it. But there is another way we can relate with the body. We can see the body as a kind, wise, and patient teacher. We can cultivate an attitude of reverence, gratitude, and devotion toward the body. Continue reading “The Body Is the Teacher”

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