excerpt new book bringing meditation to life

Many people think that meditation is about stopping our thoughts or having a blank mind, but this is simply not possible. Our mind is of the nature to generate thoughts. Meditation is about learning not to get swept away by our thoughts.

Initially, the technique of counting our breaths from one to ten, then back again, can be helpful. Count “one” for the first cycle of breath (the first in-breath and out- breath), then “two” for the next cycle, and so on. When you notice that your mind has wandered off, simply begin counting again from one.

The point of this technique is not to master getting to ten and then back to one, nor do we count this way to block out our thoughts. Counting this way simply helps us to notice when we get swept away by our thoughts and lose contact with our breath. This will happen, sometimes very quickly. When it does, we just return our attention to our breath and count “one.”

Meditation gives us the opportunity to develop a new kind of relationship to our thinking. We learn to be the observer of our thoughts, without attaching to them or rejecting them. We start to notice that thoughts and feelings are not so solid, real, or lasting: they arise, they have a certain life cycle, and then they pass away. If I am concentrated on my breath, then all things are present. My thoughts are here, my feelings are here. I am just not drawn as deeply into them, and I am not controlled by them.

horses tell you the truth
by Paolo di Paolo, Canada

Yes, taking care of horses is a good working meditation for sure! Horses always tell the truth and remind me of what mental state I am in. If I am rushed or anxious, they can definitely sense that energy. And they can sense when I relax, too. I have a sanctuary of sorts on a farm with 7 donkeys, 7 ponies, and 3 full sized horses. Each day I do the same chores with some modifications if someone needs special care. The horses rely on me being there, doing the same chores at the same time every day. They rely on me paying close attention to details, to clean up after them and to get their meals, supplements, and medications right (for those on meds). I cannot make a mistake or miss an important cue or a horse could get sick and injured.

Since horses are prey animals, they tend to hide their discomfort or illness., So, I have to pay attention all the time - rain, snow, heat, dark or light. The rhythm and importance of the chores puts me in mind of meditative work - there are no shortcuts, as the horses rely on me doing my chores well. My heart breaks sometimes when I see horse owners not caring for their animals. Then I try to figure out how to respectfully talk with them about their animals’ needs so that I will be heard and their horse can get what he/she needs.

poem generous light
by Mitch Manning

Mitch Manning is the author of a book of poems, city of water (Arrowsmith, 2019). He’s taught poetry in central China and his poems have been read in Basra, southern Iraq as part of the Boston to Basra Project. He teaches in the English and Labor Studies programs at UMass Boston. More info can be found at

Generous Light, Gloucester

Red cockscomb and rainbow dahlias

Behind the sea widow’s stone memorial,

Under the golden owl at dusk

The purple sky and moon,

On the magic man’s porch

Those who built the zendo

And the phenomenologists meet

Where ‘within remains within’

In the eternal song of poems

The utmost mantras that continue

In vibration beyond their own energetic makings

All comes together in the fading radiance

Of what summer was, and is now,

The sky, a painting hung above

Rotational earth and motorcycle drone,

A magical time at the intersection

Of all our living, remembering, being

Actualizing, still

becoming a monk

Questions and responses with Claude AnShin Thomas

Question: How was your transition from a soldier to a monk? Was it difficult?

Answer: What I can tell you is that it was not intentional. I didn’t just decide to become a monk. Right up until the last moment before getting ordained I kept some reservations in my mind. In the end, I said to myself that I will enter into this path not half-heartedly or conveniently, but to see what is going to be revealed to me. And if what is going to be revealed to me doesn’t work or make any sense to me or doesn’t support me, then I will stop. My ideas of what it means to be a monk have changed over the years. And: it is also true that I am still a soldier. I don’t serve in the military but I am still a soldier.

Question: Would you please say something about how to deal with frequently recurring feelings of insecurity and inadequacy?

Answer: I’m not a psychologist. My experience from living a disciplined spiritual practice is that if these feelings are frequent and recurring, then I am still allowing them to define me.  Then I need to ask the question: how am I identified with these feelings and how does this identity protect me from actually being responsible for my life and for the interactions I have with the people around me?

Question: I find it often difficult to decide if it is time to act or if it is time to wait. What helps you to make that decision?

Answer: I trust. I just trust. I make a decision, and I see what happens. Also, I am aware that to not make a decision is also making a decision. So, I just trust. If I take an action and if things don’t go as smoothly as I would like them, then this becomes a learning opportunity. I remind myself that I am of the nature to make mistakes. From those mistakes I learn and I develop. I simply have to look at and have to constantly be conscious of my motivations behind the decisions that I make. Often I don’t understand those motivations until I make a decision, take an action (or not) and then see how it unfolds. Also, I pay attention to that still, small voice that we call intuition.

Question: What is your understanding of this term “Right Livelihood” within the Noble Eightfold Path?

Answer: My understanding of right livelihood  has changed over time. Essentially, what I always look at is: how can I use what I have received to benefit all humankind and all existence? For example, when I look at the properties that are the Magnolia Zen Center, I look at how the structures serve this practice and serve the individuals who come here. I make every effort to care for the structures as I would care for the people who live in them and as I would care for myself. When I care for myself, I care for others and I care for the entirety of existence.
     What are my essential motives with what I have received? I need to understand that what I have received has not so much to do with me. Yes, it does, but not so much. It has more to do with how that what has been given to me can serve others and all existence. If you ask me another time, I might have a different response. But this is what shows itself regarding right livelihood right now.

Question: Would you please talk about punishment. Is there room for it whenever there is no harm intended and does it really correct people?

Answer: I will tell you: If I stand in front of you with a club or a knife or a gun or a belt or a whip or a harsh word delivered with intensity and I tell you to jump, you will ask me how high. The threat of punishment seems to work but does it really? What I know is that violence is not a solution. Because even if it seems it work, it doesn’t really work. I can frighten you, I can intimidate you, and it appears that I can get you to do what I want you to do. But violence is not a solution because it only leads to more violence. Violence only gets more violence; anger only gets more anger; hatred only gets hatred. Also, I have to remember that just because I think there is no harm intended doesn’t mean there isn’t harm delivered. 
     I can remember there was a time in my life where I was really lost. I was lost in all of the conditioning I inherited, and I didn’t know that. Whenever I felt out of control, I would then project blame onto the external world. I would say that it was the external world that was out of control and that I needed to control that. All in the effort to not feel uncomfortable. I can remember grabbing a person, pushing them up against a wall and then with my fist hitting the wall right beside their head. I could tell myself that they deserved that. I could tell myself that what I was doing was ok because I didn’t really hit them. But the consequences of my action were deep and powerful. There is nothing I can do to change what was. Sometimes I have deep regret for these kinds of actions. But what I can do is stop doing such behaviors. Hitting is never a solution, include hitting children.
     My parents used corporal punishment. I would get spanked, they used a belt, brush, wooden spoon to slap and punch me. After every such occasion the parent who did that would always say to me that they did that to teach me a lesson because they loved me. What did that teach me about love? That love equals violence. My son has never been struck by me. I have never spoken to him in anger. And yet he has suffered. Not so much because of what I have done but the fact that I was absent for quite a period of time in his life.
     I cannot change what was, but I can change what is in me. As I am, the world becomes. As I heal, I heal for all past generations. The problem is never external. It is always with self. Even though it appears to be external, how I respond to it, that is the point. And it is necessary that I want to do things different. When I feel powerless in a circumstance, I need to ask myself: what can I do? That is a question I need support with in such circumstances.

veterans profie: felipe mukan rojas, chile

1. What year/how old were you when you joined the military?
I joined the Chilean military school (4 years of studying) in 1988 when I was 16 years old. In the two first year I studied in school plus some military trainings. The last two years the military studies as well as the training increased, for example military technology, horse riding, martial arts, ballistic and so on.

2. Why did you enlist in your branch of service?
I chose the infantry branch after 4 years in the military school because it was for me the most interesting area. After 5 years as an instructor of infantry, I studied (1 year and a half) in the Army Aviation Brigade, in order to become a pilot because I wanted to change myself and to do something different. To be in high altitudes was not easy for me, so I was looking for a challenge.

3. How many years did you serve and what unit/units?
Military School 4 years

Infantry School 6 months

Infantry Regiment (Pudeto) in Punta Arenas 3 years

Regiment in Puerto Natales 2 years

Army Aviation Brigade 18 years

4. Which practice forms (sitting, walking, working, eating, or Deep Listening and Mindful speech) have been important and supportive in your daily life?
The most important practice for me has been the sitting meditation even though I know all of them are different forms of practice sitting challenged me a lot, sometime because of some physical problems of my knees or back, however, at the same time this pain helped me to correct my posture. I feel that when my posture is correct, I can improve my life.

5. What drew you to Zen practice?
It was an internal voice that said many times: “Everything that you are doing is fantastic but you need to see inside of yourself.” - that is why I needed a teacher and follow teachings. For me this meant that I am coming back to my inner home.

6. How does Zen Practice influence your daily life?
From the beginning it was a wonderful experience. And little by little I was able to realize that Zen practice needs time and that my ordinary life was the practice. My military life became every day more difficult because that environment put (unintentionally) obstacles in my Zen path, for example the food was generally without any vegetarian options. That meant that during the last 8 years of my military career, especially in training times in the desert, often I just ate apples and bread. It was similar on the military base. The formal practice (sitting meditation) was complicated because often I spent time in the middle of the desert in large group of people, and I had to find a way to sit in silence. Also, it was not easy to get days off in order to attend a retreat. So, it was a hard period but now everything is different. Over all those years, without always consciously noticing, practice has been influencing all aspects of my life, such a new way of living, different eating, different friends (sangha), different holidays, and different residence, because I´m not in the army anymore and I can focus in my practice more than before.

7. What does it mean to you to be a part of this practice community?
It been a great help and support for me in times of hopelessness. I can write that it is my (spiritual) family. I received a Dharma name. I feel all of my fellow practitioners are my dharma brothers and sisters.

8. Who is/was the most inspirational person in your life and why?
It is difficult to mention only one because I have received much influence by many in different parts of my life. AnShin is one of them because I am able to identify with him in many aspects of life: first, he was a soldier, and he was part of the Aviation Unit; second, he used to practice martial arts and the most important thing is that he took a risk and changed everything in his life. It has been a long journey for him to learn to live with the suffering that is part of a war. Now he is a Zen monk and that is for me an example of courage. He helps me to understand that it is a privilege to live differently.

9. What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be architect or a psychiatrist but my dream was always to enter to a martial arts school in China and live there. So, I used to watch the kung-fu TV series and everything regarding the themes of master, teacher, and discipline.

10. What one word would you use to describe your Zen practice?