January 1, 2014: This is Not the Post You Are Looking For

Today is New Year’s Day. You are probably expecting someone to post the secret recipe for life. This is not the post you are looking for.

I don’t have any answers. If anything, 2013 brought me more questions. Last year was a difficult year, and this year will be more difficult still. People I love are sick. I’m going to lose some of them this year.

I continue working with groundlessness and gratitude. Groundlessness has become my code-book for life. It is my faith, if you want to call it that. Some Buddhists call groundlessness “impermanence”. That is a good word for it, though the term tends to emphasize the impermanence of our lives. Most spiritual practice, it seems to me, overemphasizes the fact of our eventual deaths. In this focus, impermanence narrows to the unpleasant surprise of our own mortality. Most spiritual practice, it seems to me, makes too big a deal of death. By focusing too much on the ultimate unpleasantness, we miss a more important truth. Our daily lives are impermanent. Our minutes and hours are in constant change. Our understandings are always confounded. Our expectations dashed.

This is not a cause for sorrow or anxiety. Despair is the wrong response. When working with groundlessness, I remind myself, I must also work with gratitude. When you have given up expectation that things should be a certain way and you are working with gratitude, you are teaching yourself to pay attention. You are letting go of an invented narrative about The Way Things Should Be and are able to notice things as they really are. Gratitude is the habit of noticing the specifics. Gratitude is about paying attention.

I am not prepared to make any New Year’s resolutions. I intend to continue working with groundlessness and gratitude. I intend for my life to develop around this one theme: pay attention.

I’m not good at paying attention. It is, for me, very much a practice. Things always go wrong. They don’t go the way I intend for them to go. I am working to remind myself that the problem isn’t with Things, the problem is with my Plan for Things. Things don’t happen the way we expect or the way we believe we need them to happen. And still, we can be grateful.

And so, as I face another year of uncertainty and almost certain losses, my wish for myself is my wish for you as well. May you be faced with every obstacle and surprised by unexpected challenges and yet remain grounded in your acceptance of groundlessness and may you grow large with gratitude for things the way they really are rather than confused and frustrated with desire for things the way they ought to be.

Find an Anchor

We spend the majority of our lives in a kind of dream, believing that things are a certain way and that patterns of events from yesterday and the day before predict how things will be today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Our sleeping selves move through this dream anesthetized with ideas of certainty and expectation.  Our dreaming minds build a compelling narrative that we have autonomous lives and that we are in complete control of these lives and can drive them around like cars wherever we like at whatever speed feels comfortable.

And then, an interruption. We are roused from our dream and realize that our lives are not predictable, that there is little certainty and the small vehicles we call lives do not really even belong to us. They are loaned and temporary, like clothes and houses and moods. We can drive them, perhaps, a short distance but, if we are paying attention, we find there is no road.

And then, our waking selves make a choice. We can close our eyes and sink back into the comfort of the dream or we can stand awake with the fact of groundlessness and take comfort from knowing that our lives do not really belong to us but are borrowed for each of us to use for the benefit of others.

And there is comfort in noticing the smallness of our selves and in the work of opening ourselves as much as possible to join with the smallness of others so that our small, shared individual lives become larger, better and more useful to the world.

And there is comfort in acknowledging the unsettledness of everything. In those moments, we can stand bravely while knowing that there is no ground. We are able to work with ourselves as we truly are. And if we can begin to practice walking with this knowledge there is comfort and strength and bravery without the need for certainty. We are awake. We are inhabiting our lives, no matter how small. We have found an anchor.


A small prayer that comes from months of working with illness, disappointment, loss and fear. And yet those months have also brought vitality, surprise, bravery, and love. Things are never what we think they are. I hope reading this brings some comfort to someone who needs it. The writing has brought some comfort to me.