Mar 02

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Me

Happiness, the End of Suffering, and Recovery

Forty-six. That’s not so old – young in fact. He and I are both 46, with young children, and in a long term relationship. We both got sober very young and then maintained that sobriety for many years. Mr. Hoffman made it 23-years, and I’m about to reach my 25th year. This is where the story diverges into disbelief, tragedy, and sadness. Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead from a drug overdose in his own house and a needle in his arm.

How does this happen? Why am I still here and he’s dead? These are the questions on my mind today.

What is clear to me is that success, fame, and fortune do not equal happiness and recovery. Further, many men and women in their forties die everyday. Many probably die from alcohol or drugs. We can’t really blame the heroin, though it is gnarly and deadly, because we know that the drug is just a symptom of a deeper suffering, a deeper sadness, and an inability to cope with reality.

Here’s what I know about happiness, the end of suffering, and recovery. Continue reading

Sep 18

Mindfulness, Technology, Education, and Parenting

You might assume I was in my element at a conference dealing with mindfulness and technology – you assumed correctly! It was a blast to sit and use my iPad and iPhone during this mindfulness conference in Mountain View just a stones throw from Google. The Wisdom 2.0 Youth conference is an offshoot of the previously held Wisdom 2.0 conference. The subtitle for the conference was How Do We Raise Children in a Hyper-Connected World? For Parents, Educators, Teachers, and Concerned Citizens. The lineup of speakers included folks from Google, Twitter, and leaders from the mindfulness in education field, all skillfully put together by Soren Gordhamer.

I’ve been to many conferences – mostly technology and/or library related. I have also been to many retreats and led mindfulness activities – mostly Buddhist in nature. This conference was unique for me because it dealt with mindfulness from a purely secular perspective and aligns itself very easily with the applied ethics theme/effort that Thich Nhat Hanh has been exploring the past couple of years. Though I arrived a little uncertain, because of my experience as a practitioner and educator, I was not disappointed with the presentations and panels. I now have a better understanding of what has occurred in bringing mindfulness into schools and what challenges these leaders experienced.

What follows are my notes and thoughts from a handful of the presentations.

Continue reading

Jun 04

All Movies for All Ages

Is there an age appropriateness for film and media? Should we let kids see any movie out there? It seems that some parents seem to think it’s ok and others are horrified at the idea. In a recent Facebook discussion, a parent with young children posted an article When Can I Watch Indiana Jones with my Kids? — it certainly generated a lively discussion and got me to thinking about the topic.

I’m a parent of two children – ages seven and eleven. We all enjoy media and I’m definitely a fan of film. As a child, I was not allowed film or television until my teen years or just before my teen years. And though it was difficult for me, I was in elementary school when Star Wars came out in 1977, reflecting back I don’t feel like I missed much and it provided a different type of upbringing than most other kids.

I firmly believe that we should not legislate how parents raise their children. I don’t believe in the Motion Picture Association’s (voluntary) ratings system. And as a librarian, I definitely don’t believe in censorship because what you think is inappropriate may not be inappropriate for everyone. Parents need to determine the best method to expose their children to books, movies, music, sexuality, etc. Personally, I’m appalled when I see kids in movies with strong violence or significant profanity or sex. For example, the Dark Knight was a great film but I wouldn’t want my kids to see it yet but it would be cool if my 11-year old would watch Star Wars with me. The graphicness, the energy, etc. of a movie from 1977 versus a film from 2008 seem very different to me. This is my opinion, my judgement, and I should be able to make this decision for my children.

Some would argue that by exposing children to violence, sex, and profanity that we are helping them to grow-up and be stronger adults. Ultimately, I believe in letting children be children. There’s nothing wrong with protecting them from the horrors of the world for a while. Children will be adults in no time and the innocence of childhood is a real jewel.

My kids watch movies on Netflix and have seen a handful movies in the theater. My 11-year old has no interest in seeing movies in the theatre because of the sensory overload, but he’ll watch some (very few) at home. This is a case where what might be appropriate for your kid is definitely not for my kid. We’ve stuck to pretty tame and family orientated films, though I’ve tried to get them to watch Star Wars (they aren’t interested). I’m fine with that.

Ultimately, the guides for parents are nice to have but I think every parent has to try making the best decision they can on what to expose kids to in the media (a false reality, at best). Watch the movie first is a good practice. I’m not a prude, but the innocence of childhood is an important thing to protect. What do you think?

Apr 25

An Experiment: Children in School

Today is the first day of school for my 7-year old daughter.

We have two children, ages seven and ten, who have been homeschooled their entire lives. Since our older child was very young, our intention was to homeschool them for as long as it seemed feasible and right. During the last ten years, the homeschool approach to learning connected with our values, and has become a part of who we are as a family. We have built a community around this life-learning. Homeschooling provides flexibility that you can’t find in a traditional school environment. Homeschooling provides for our family to remain a tight community. Homeschooling allows the children to learn what they find interesting, at the time they are interested in the topic. Homeschooling provides a method to learning that doesn’t force learning to the most common dominator. Homeschooling doesn’t teach children how to stand in line, doesn’t rely on exhausted teachers who must follow the state “standards” for learning (not saying that my wife Leslie doesn’t get exhausted).

Though there is great joy and enrichment from homeschooling, it hasn’t been without struggle, frustration, and difficulty – both for the children and for the parents. The two learners have different needs and different styles. Perhaps it hasn’t servered both the children in the same manner due to their different personalities. Further, our son has moderate special needs and demands a great deal of focus and attention. From time to time, we sit down and assess if we are moving in the right direction; to see what is working and what isn’t working. A lot of the issues surround our son and his needs.

Ironically, our little village of Ojai has about 14 schools in the area. Most of them are private boarding schools. Last month Leslie decided to make an appointment to visit the Montessori School of Ojai. I took the day off work and went to observe the classrooms and meet the teachers. Of all the types of schools we have available, this school appears to be the most flexible with integrating different children together by grouping ages (a homeschool value), providing flexibility in how often our children attend, and having open enrollment. They also have a scholarship program to assist with the tuition. The class sizes are very small and the teachers have a long history with the school. Children can be learning at different levels in the same classroom. For example, a children could be reading “above” grade-level and writing “below” grade level and that isn’t a problem.

So our grand experiment begins today. There is about six weeks remaining in their school year and we hope this will give us a chance to experience having children in school. If it works well, then we may continue it next year. This is a significant change for us and involves a lot of letting go of ideas. It’s a great opportunity for me to practice the vows I’ve taken to be open and not attached to views. Who knows what the future may hold. Please send us your support and loving energy, both for Leslie and the children.

Next week: my son’s first day of school.

Apr 05

Soil and Rocks. Breathing and Smiling.

We’ve all been there. The endless lists, multitude of projects, work/family/volunteer seemingly colliding together. Some days we feel like the rocks and soil are simply burying us alive with the anxiety and fear. It is in times like that when breathing and smiling can really save the day, at least in the moment. Even after gaining three hours over the weekend (flying west), I still came to work this week with the awareness of responsibility and tasks.

Being out front, wanting to lead, is something I’ve always done. I can manage many tasks at one time across a wide range of areas – committees, politics, spiritual, home. It seems to be a gift because it comes naturally for me . But the gift of abundance does also must have a balance. Most of the time my life feels in balance, but there comes a time when it feels like the house of cards will fall.

My goal is to present for those around me. This means that “my tasks” sometimes get put aside for the benefit of those who work for me and those who I mentor and support. Because this goal of presence is mine, I do it with joy and awareness. The others in my life, both at home and at work, hold no responsibility for my feeling of imbalance. As a Library Director, I let the day take me with it and there must be space in the calendar to allow for flexibility. As a husband and father, I let the evening take me with it even if the “work” tasks were left incomplete. Though I don’t do this 100%, it is an intentional goal and practice. As Catherine Hakala-Ausperk wrote in Be A Great Boss, “being prepared for permanent whitewater will give you the attitude you need for that day.”

The benefits of being available are immeasurable. There are costs, of course, but I believe the benefits outweigh the costs. It is the human connection that will have a lasting impact, not completing the report or reading the background material or finalizing that budget. Those things are important too, and they will get done, but I’ve set my priority elsewhere. When imbalance arrives, which it did yesterday, then I can use the tools of my practice to keep me centered. It could mean that I close my office door and focus on checking off a few items on the task list (which I didn’t do yesterday). It could mean staying up a little later or getting up a little earlier. Finding joy in the anxiety and fear is possible. Being present, sharing with someone, writing a blog post, they all contribute to balance.

(Recently I committed to writing 250-words a day, but I missed a couple days. That’s part of the letting go too, so here’s my post now.)

Mar 31

Interdependence and Hope

The theme of ACRL 2011 is interdependence. So much comes together each day to create our life experience. Some things are very tangible, like the keynote speech by Raj Patel giving very practical information about the world economy. Other things are a little less tangible, but no less real, like my wife’s support for my professional life. I also see my own past, including fears and dreams, seeking to surface.

I have a long history of seemingly radical politics, social justice efforts, and personal action to effect change in the world. In recent years I’ve probably become less radicalized because I’ve had a difficult time connecting with other radicals – the anger, the frustration, the drama are challenging.

I also have an awareness of the apparent contradictory nature of the world I live in – comfortable life, good work, professional travel, nice clothes, extreme hunger, poverty, economic collapse, environmental disaster, etc. This is my life and perhaps I judge myself to harshly. All these elements make up my being. They are connected.

Today I feel inspired to embrace this contradiction. People are so full of kindness, generosity, and intelligence. We are also full of many challenges and personal struggles. We smoke. We drink. We swear. We stumble. And yet it doesn’t mean we can’t be kind and generous. the people I’ve interacted with today demonstrate this to me.

I’m feeling the Interbeing nature of my life from experiences today. Thank you to those who touched me today. Good people are here. Please help me to keep my eyes open.

Jan 03

Relationships, Community, and Sexual Energy

I was honored to serve on the Question & Answer panel for this year’s Holiday Retreat at Deer Park Monastery with Br. Phap Hai, Sr. Mat Nghiem, Br. Phap De, Sr. Dac Nghiem, and Dharmacharya Eileen Kiera. As a Dharmacharya in training, every opportunity given to share with an audience pushes me to deepen my own practice. This is my first time serving on a panel such as this and is a rare because the panel was composed of the four fold sangha (monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen) rather than just monastics.  I have linked just the questions and responses I gave (19-minutes), as well as to the entire session (114-minutes). I spoke primary of relationships, community, and sexual energy.

Kenley Only

Complete Session – begins with a period of silent sitting

Jun 22

Being Happy While Acknowledging Pain

In the first paragraph of Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that for a practitioner, suffering is not enough:

Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.

This Thursday evening I have been invited to lead the Still Water Sangha in Silver Spring (just outside Washington DC). After our sitting, we will explore together how we can be happy while acknowledging the pain that is in us and around us.

At the close of the annual teen retreat this week at Deer Park Monastery, I had the opportunity to talk with a 13-year old boy. He asked, “What does it mean to be happy?” He followed up with another question, “How do you be happy when a friend brings up an experience from the past that is difficult and still is painful?”

Continue reading

May 11

Cultivating the Family Garden

I am writing with a request; a request to reflect about friends and family in your life who may benefit more from the practice.

For the past 6-8 years, the monastery at Deer Park has offered two retreats in the summer – one for teens only (ages 13-17) and another for families. I have attended both these retreats and have found them very nourishing and joyful. The family retreat is particularly diverse, and brings together people from many walks of life and with a wide variety of experience with the practice. The teen retreat is less diverse, but those who attend have reported a life changing experience, and often return the following year bringing more friends. For the teen retreat, no parents are allowed and the teens camp together for the entire retreat. It really is a blast!

If you are in a sangha, I encourage you to share about these retreats in your sangha. Think about people in your life who may benefit from such a retreat, even those who are not regular practitioners, and then invite them to attend. I think teens would particularly benefit. Each year these retreats grow and they are, in my opinion, the best retreats offered by Deer Park.

In the years our family has attended the Family Retreat, I have watched my children and the children of others grow from toddlers to young children and into early teens. Wow! And now, starting in the last year or so many of these families are starting to come to Deer Park at other times during the year. It is a real community.

Though the family retreat has many children in attendance (40-50 kids!), other types of family units also attend and participate. One year, a family came together with four generations! Another time an adult son came with his mom to spend time together on the mountain

Please consider joining us this year.

Teen Camp – Rebel Buddha!
June 16 – 20

Family Retreat – Opening the Family Up
June 30 – July 4