We are only as strong as the weakest among us

Imagine a family needs to walk across a river in order to get to the other side, and there is no bridge. Among the family members is five year old child. The water is up to her chin and her swimming skills are poor. What would happen in this scenario? Probably the mom, dad or a strong older sibling would pick her up and carry her, so that the whole family could make it to the other side together, alive.

Now extrapolate this story to the entire human race. We are all trying to survive in this world, but among us are some people who are struggling to make it across that virtual river of life. They may have been born poor and disadvantaged, or have suffered a debilitating injury or illness. Whatever the reason, who’s responsible for making sure we all make it as best we can, this human family of ours?

There seem to be different philosophies about this.

1. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”

This is the attitude which says, “I cannot recognize drowning when I see it, or I do not care.”

2. “Only help your own family and friends”

These folks seem to be saying, “I will only help people who I personally know, like and care about.”

3. “Help everyone”

This is the philosophy of those who see that we are all connected, who understand that if the left hand is bleeding, the right hand should put a bandage on it, or the whole body will suffer the consequences.

Have you considered where you stand and why?


Your Focus Determines Your Reality

I was in a bubble bath one night with a candle and noticed something interesting. If I focused on the bubbles, the candle was blurry, and when I focused on the candle, the bubbles were blurry. Now this might not seem like much of a revelation, until I thought about focusing a camera lens, and how you physically do something to change what the lens brings in more sharply. But where is the focus adjustment in our eyes? There is no dial for me to turn or button to press. That’s when I realized: its my mind that is doing the focusing. And just like that, the phrase “your focus determines your reality” took on an experiential meaning for me.

Bubbles In Focus

Bubbles In Focus

Candle In Focus

Candle In Focus

Katags as Emptiness

The katag — a white scarf used to give and receiving blessings in the Tibetan Buddhist culture — is a wonderful example of emptiness. In Buddhism, emptiness is an important concept. It points out that no person or object has a separate, inherent existence. We are all interdependent, connected, impermanent. Once you realize the emptiness of all things, there is no need to be attached to them in an unhealthy, clinging sort of way.

When I got my first katag, it seemed like a big deal. I ironed it, smoothed out its fringe, and thought of it as “mine.” I put it on a shelf as a decoration, and there it remains. Oh, but I had a lot to learn.

KatagThe next time I got a katag, I got a simpler one, with no fringe. I soon had the opportunity to actually “use” it, when visiting the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. I can’t remember the exact occasion, but I remember following everyone else up and leaving “my” katag on a table, as a way of honoring someone or something — again, I don’t remember exactly, all I knew was that “my” katag was no longer mine. I had given it away.

Soon after, a friend lent me “her” katag to go up and receive blessings from Rinpoche. To my surprise, this time we were not leaving the katag behind…it was being returned to us right away. I asked my friend if she wanted it back and she said no. So I took it home and wondered what I should do with it. Should I hold on to it as a memory of the person who had blessed it? Should I wash the stain off of it? Soon the answer became apparent, because there was another occasion where a katag was appropriate to bring out and offer, and once again, I gave it away.

As I continued to experience how katags are used in Tibetan Buddhism, a wonderful thing happened. I realized they belong to no one, and the blessings are shared by everyone. There is no “I” getting something in exchange for something, or giving up something to someone else. There is no “you” taking something from me or giving it back. We are all swimming in a sea of shared katags (and anything else you can imagine).

So now I always try to have a katag in my purse in case I am in a situation that calls for its use. And what is it’s use? It is a symbol. It’s the idea of showing respect for someone or something. It’s the idea of being humble and generous enough to give.  Sometimes we present them and they are put immediately around our necks. Sometimes we pile them up and leave them on the shrine or a lama’s table. Sometimes we see a pile of katags for sale and wonder if the one we gave away last time is in the pile somewhere, being recycled endlessly, like the water droplets that evaporate, turn into clouds and then rain back on us, a shower of endless, shimmering blessings.

Killing Insects…or Not

Let’s say you are averse to the idea of killing a sentient being. Like the Buddhist monk who once sent me a CD with chants on it meant to scare moths away from my bedroom. He didn’t want me to kill them, and I totally get that. I mean, that moth or fruit fly could have been my mother in a previous life, and I’ll get a karma payback for any creature I slap against the wall or flush down the toilet, right?

So I have these two carnivorous plants. This is the butterwort:


It attracts and digests fruit flies. You can see one stuck to one of its leaves. Isn’t that cute?

And here is the pitcher plant:



The pitcher plant supposedly attracts flies. I even found a moth in one of its gaping maws. (And as you can see from this photo, a little green spider with either a death wish or a really clever idea for snatching up a meal has taken up residence there.)

So my idea is that I get these plants to kill the bugs for me, then I don’t have the guilt of doing it, right? The plants are like my pets and they are simply attracting snacks to themselves via their special scents. (Though I am not above chasing fruit flies around the room with the butterwort in my hand hoping the flies will stick to it. Never works.)

What do you do for insect control in your home?