Today is Losar, Tibetan New Year, the year of the Wood Dragon 2151.

    Below is His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s New Year message to the Tibetan people.

    The Rubin Will Close Its Physical Space and Become a ‘Museum Without Walls’ - I’m sad to see this happening. I don’t visit New York often, but when the opportunity allowed I loved spending time (long periods of) in the Rubin Museum, taking in its displays of Himalayan art. Still a central tenant of Buddhism is impermanence.

    Home alone, listening to and reading the poems of Han-Shan, Cold Mountain. Thank you Gary Snyder, Red Pine and others.

    Men ask the way to Cold Mountain
    Cold Mountain: there’s no through trail.
    In summer, ice doesn’t melt
    The rising sun blurs in swirling fog.
    How did I make it?
    My heart’s not the same as yours.
    If your heart was like mine
    You’d get it and be right here.

    I periodically return to the book One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan translated and introduced by John Stevens. Ryokan’s poems, expressions of simplicity and insight into the essence of life, calm me and help to give me perspective.

    This one touched me this morning,

    TWILIGHT - smoke rises from the village,
    A winter goose cries overhead,
    Wind blows through the mountain pines.
    Alone, carrying an empty rice bowl,
    I return along the path.

    I was happy today to find the Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center, Thubten Phuntsog Gephel Ling, about 20 minutes drive from Alcácer do Sal.

    On its grounds is the 16 meter high Tashi Gomang Stupa.

    Tashi Gomang Stupa at a Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center in Portugal

    Small Buddha statue next to a Mani stone (a piece of stone, with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hung carved on it)

    Tukdam: Remaining in Meditation At the Time of Death

    I recently watched the documentary Tukdam: Between Worlds. This explored the phenomenon in Tibetan Buddhism where experienced practitioners can remain in a state of meditation after the body has shown all physical signs of having died - no breathing, the heart has stopped. In this state the body can support itself, the skin looks healthy, there is no sign of decomposition of the body (even in the heat of India where many of the exiled Tibetan community now live), and a feeling of warmth remains around the heart. This can last for days and sometimes weeks.

    With the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, scientists have started examining those who are in this state, trying to understand what is going on. So far, they have few conclusions it seems, other than an acknowledgment that this phenomenon is happening.

    There is skepticism in some circles as to whether western science is capable of measuring anything while practitioners remain in this state. Their argument is that consciousness is not material, from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, and so is beyond the measurement of modern scientific instruments.

    Be that as it may, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appears keen that the investigations continues, even if it does take a long time to come to conclusions.

    Here is a preview of the documentary.

    March 2023 Photoblogging Challenge

    Day 10: Ritual, suggested by @drewbelf

    A daily ritual of meditation.

    A black and white photograph of my old mala (rosary) on a blanket

    An American Buddhist monk, Ajhan Sumedho, once said,

    “Suffering is wanting things other than they are.”

    My suffering today is having to return something that I bought yesterday and is not working properly.

    I hope that I can make myself understood.

    Travels through the Solo/Khumbu Region

    Last night I went back through some slides from my 1989/90 travels through Pakistan, China, Nepal & India. I have numerous slides, and they are in an ill arranged mess at the moment. As I loaded up the carousel to put into the projector, I had little idea as to what I would be looking at, even whether I would recognize the images.

    My fears of not recognizing images were unfounded. The photos were mostly from the Solo/Khumbu (Everest) region of Nepal and my first forays into India.

    This all happened towards the end of 1989, over thirty-three years ago. It was a time of great change for me. I had left home confused, lost, maybe angry, with many questions going through my head. I’m not even sure that I knew what those questions were? I just wanted some space, to get away from all that appeared to hold expectations over me and would not hear questions (or at least I did not feel comfortable going to them with questions). So, I threw a pack on my back and hit the road. This was my second trip and I felt that some pieces were beginning to fall into place, though I had fear around what I would do with those pieces once I was home. For now, I was in a safe place.

    I spent a month in the Solo/Khumbu region. Two weeks trekking in, about a week in the area, and then a week or less trekking out. The walk out is mainly downhill, and my blood was pumping with oxygen due to all the red blood cells that it had produced in the rarefied atmosphere at the roof of the world. I found it hard to leave. I felt at home there, especially once I got up in the Sherpa region, dotted as it is with signs of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Something was seeding my growing interest in this faith.

    So last night brought back happy memories for me. Memories of a sense of meaning being found, of self-discovery. Such I believe is always available to us, but there are times, such as those days for me at the end of 1989, when there is space to take time to explore, inquire, and look around. The incorporation of my discoveries into regular life were still to come, but at that moment I could take in, appreciate and start to reflect on what was beginning to emerge.

    Below is a photograph of me with the Himalayan range, including Mt Everest, in the background. Mt. Everest is on the left of the picture, the triangular peak lying slightly to the left. The photograph is an image taken from a slide projected onto a wall, and then tweaked a little.

    Currently re-reading: Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron. I come back to this book from time to time. I need to. 📚

    I’m not sure what is going on in this photo, taken in Tibet in 1995. I believe that it was taken near to Drepung Loseling Monastery and that the monastery just visible in the middle right might be Nechung Monastery, home of the Nechung Oracle. Both monasteries have been reestablished in exile in India, Nechung in Dharamsala in north India, and Drepung in the south in Kanaktaka State.

    Given that it is center stage, I think that I was trying to capture the run down tractor/cart in the middle of the photo.

    Tibetan ruins

    Another slide coming out of my evening going through old travel photos. Like yesterday’s image, this image is a photograph of a slide projected onto the wall.

    The photo was taken at Drepung Loseling monastery in Lhasa, Tibet in 1995. At the time of the Chinese invasion, Drepung was the largest monastery in the world with 10,000 monks - a small town.

    The picture shows my Buddhist teacher, Ven. Geshe Damcho Yonten (on the right), speaking with an old monk who had stayed behind in Tibet following the invasion. This was Geshe-la’s (as he was affectionately known) first and only visit back to Tibet having fled the country in 1959.

    Geshe-la with old monk

    What I am reflecting on today,

    So I’m here to tell you that the path to peace is right here, when you want to get away.

    ~ Pema Chödron, Practicing Peace In Times of War

    Currently reading: Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron. Actually I have this book on regular reruns, picking it up and reading a few pages during my meditation practice. I need to be reminded of the material in this book. I need to be reminded that as much as I might complain about the actions of others, peace starts with softening the rigidity in my own heart. 📚

    I love the expression (emphasis mine) that Thich Nhat Hanh used, in the quote below, to describe the dopamine effect that we feel when receiving a response through our devices.

    We all crave connection, and many of us try to find it through our phones or e-mail. We feel a neurochemical sweetness when someone sends us a text or an e-mail, and we feel anxious when were not with our phones or near them.

    ~ from Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise

    I find something very compelling in this quote by Mingyur Rinpoche, that we can train our minds so that ”happiness will arise naturally.”

    Our mind is very important and all our experiences of happiness and unhappiness arise in the mind. So if we can train our minds then happiness will arise naturally. This happiness is real lasting peace which you will have in the external environment as well as in your inner mind.

    ~ Mingyur Rinpoche

    Here’s a modern day paradox that has just arrived. A Christmas card from a Tibetan monastery.

    Announcing a new, old podcast

    It was early April 2017. I was sitting in an Airbnb in Portland, OR. My wife and I had returned to the city that had been our home for eight years, to sort out a storage room of our belongings, to decide what was going with us back to Maui and what we were going to sell. Behind The Thoughts  3 Border I had decided to start a podcast to help people start and build a meditation practice. It was to be called Behind The Thoughts Podcast. I had been fortunate to have a community around me when I started meditating, a community that was a source of a lot of support as I built this new habit. I felt that this probably wasn’t true for everyone, and wanted to offer something to help those who wanted to learn about and start a meditation practice. Podcasting was new to me, but I just felt like doing this.

    So here I was in the Airbnb, sitting in front of my laptop on take ”x” trying to get past the nerves and just record the first episode. Eventually, through frustration with myself that I might never get this done, I put down my first episode. It did not have to be perfect, indeed never would be as I did not have studio grade equipment for recording. My tools were, depending on where I was recording it,

    • my MacBook Air (the microphone on that)
    • my iPhone (the microphone on the accompanying headphones)
    • an application to capture the recording
    • a sound file of a meditation bell/gong
    • Apple GarageBand to string it all together
    • a service to host the podcast (Podbean at that time)

    On my way

    Once that first episode was out of the door and I got use to sticking the sound files together, I was off. Over the course of the six months I recorded forty episodes. They were recorded in all sorts of different locations, some outside, some inside. I was enjoying myself…and then it just stopped. There was no particular reason. I reached the fortieth episode and recorded no more…

    …until now.

    Thoughts of starting up again

    In May 2019 Jean MacDonald ask me in an episode of Micro Monday if I was planning to launch a podcast on Micro.blog. At the time I was and my affirmative answer has stayed with me, though I could not find the push within me to get a podcast out of the door.

    In the early months of the COVID pandemic I ran a series of meditation videos, still available on YouTube, to give people some tools to deal with the isolation of the lockdown that was happening in many parts of the world. I enjoyed putting together this unplanned series and it made me think again of my podcast that I had stopped and was now archived on Google Drive.

    New website

    Micro.blog makes it very easy to host a podcast and so the idea came to me of taking the old episodes off of Google Drive, uploading them to Micro.blog and use that as the basis for continuing the Behind The Thoughts Podcast. So over the Christmas/New Year holidays of 2020 I purchased the domain name for the hosting website and uploaded those first forty episodes. With that done I re-registered the podcast with Apple podcasts.


    With that done, on Saturday, January 9th, 2021 I recorded the forty first episode and published it. The Behind The Thoughts Podcast had officially been relaunched. The aim of the podcast is the same as before. To help people build and maintain a meditation practice. It is for anyone regardless of level or experience with meditation. The first episode includes a short guided meditation. Going forward I am expecting to offer more guided meditation sessions than in the initial forty episodes.

    The details


    • Behind The Thoughts Podcast website
    • On Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to your podcasts (if they draw from Apple’s podcast directory)

    How often?

    • My plan is for once a week. That will be the guiding frequency, but occasionally this might vary less and more often

    Material covered?

    • Building a meditation practice
    • Dealing with obstacles to meditation
    • Taking your meditation into everyday life.
    • At times informed by things that I am dealing with in my life (on the good chance that they’ll be something in there for you)

    And You?

    • If you have a question, concern or something that you would like me to cover, please get in touch

    I hope that you can join me on the podcast and the meditation journey.

    Being Interviewed by Melissa Schwartz - Video

    Melissa Schwartz of Leading Edge Parenting, where she coaches parents of highly sensitive children, recently interviewed me. Our discussion looked at the overlap between Tibetan Buddhism, particularly meditation and High Sensitivity. You can watch the complete interview below.

    I hope that you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the conversation with Melissa.

    Trust In Your Natural Wisdom

    Buddhism speaks of Buddha Nature, the fundamental nature of all beings. This is our natural, innate wisdom free from all obscurations. It is a state of simply knowing which is right now clouded by the mists of our untamed mind. In the coaching world they speak of people being naturally creative, resourceful and whole. The implication with both of these views, and others similar to them is that we have a natural, compassionate wisdom at our core, we just have to create the causes to allow that nature to grow and manifest in our lives.

    The nature, the pen on paper…why do I feel that I do so little of this - get out, walk, breathe and put pen to paper? Why do I drop into the, “stay in front of the computer and something will happen” mode? Probably out of fear. Probably in the hope that my mind will kick into action. It doesn’t, at least not as often as I would like.

    What causes me to speak of this natural wisdom? I recently went for a walk through Washington Park here in Portland. We are experiencing a beautiful early spring (a little scary as well if looked on through the lens of climate change). I’d taken my journal with me and sat at a picnic table in the afternoon sun to do some writing. I didn’t know where my writing would go, but the first words that I started jotting down were,

    Taking A Break

    I am a strong believer in taking breaks from work to allow the mind to move more freely. No longer tied into focused work, take yourself for a walk, let go of “thinking” and at times that break will be sufficient for ideas to surface as if from nowhere. My most vivid example of that was while I was working on my final project for my undergraduate degree. I was studying computer programming at the time and was sat staring at the computer until late into the night trying to figure out why the program for my project was not working. Eventually tiredness got the better of me and I went to bed. In the early hours of the morning I woke up with a start, an idea in my head (although with the benefit of hindsight I’d also call it ‘a knowing'). I switched the light on, grabbed a pen, wrote down what was in my head, turned the light off and went back to sleep. In the morning I knew with certainty that what I had scribbled on that piece of paper was the answer that I had been looking for the night before. I’m sure that many of you can speak to similar experiences.


    Nevertheless, for all of my strong beliefs in the power and importance of taking a break, I am surprised at how little I do it…and I ask myself  “why?” My musings conclude that it is fear based. If I am wanting to move something forward but the ideas are not forthcoming, my fearful mind tells me to stay put in front of the computer. Its logic is that as long as I am sitting in front of my computer results will happen. It is a flawed logic though. Out of fear you spend time online hoping to pull out of other people’s ideas the solutions that you want. At times though, space is needed.

    Sometimes in order to grow wisdom into fruition you need to read, sometimes you need to reflect.


    As I was sitting in Washington Park I was reminded of the Tibetan teaching of hearing, reflecting, and meditating. How can you meditate if you do not know or understand the subject that you are meditating on? First you must hear or read the teaching, the wisdom that you want to develop. Next you reflect on it, ironing out for yourself any doubts that you might have. The reflection can take the form of your own quiet time, discussion with others, going back for further reading for clarification. Finally, with the ideas clearer in your head, you sit and meditate on the subject, focusing those ideas into your heart and mind, starting to bring about the transformation that meditation can bring. The subsequent wisdom does not just arise from meditation alone, rather the seeds are sown by the hearing and reflecting, and later watered by the practice of meditation.

    If we are working in the online world as a solopreneur. If we are using the online world for research and searching for ideas. Perhaps even if we are spending a lot of our time in books or simply in our head - step back. Take a walk, get some perspective, find the rhythms of the natural world to calm your mind and allow the wisdom to arise from that natural resting. Don’t force the ideas to arise, don’t expect them to arise on demand. Do the ground work, do your research…and then put it down and trust in your own creativity. With time and patience your natural wisdom will arise, and quite possibly in ways that you did not expect.

    Letting Go

    Buddhism was once described to me as “the big letting go.” The Buddhist teachings can lend many angles for why that is such an apt description of Buddhist philosophy. “Letting go,” so easily said, so hard to put into action. Out of fear we strive to control and manufacture what we want to experience in life. Letting go acknowledges the need for us to sow the seeds of what we want, create the causes in our life for what we are working towards, nurture those seeds and then give them space so that they can arise within the context of what is happening in our lives.

    If the results are not coming to you, let go. Make sure that you have done the ground work and then stop forcing. This is not about giving up, it is about creating space for emergence. Where our natural wisdom allows for it, the ideas that you are looking for will arise.

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