the grace of awareness


From Transformative Love to Taking Ourselves As the Object of Love, Sangha’s inquiry and discernment came full circle in 2018. During our final practices in December, we reflected on our year of learning together, naming what we felt inspired to rededicate ourselves to individually and what we collectively felt drawn to study in the season ahead.

The thread weaving through our experiences and aspirations was the celebration of awareness and the desire to diligently cultivate it where it was absent and to nourish it where it was blooming.

For me, the lessons of the Fall had brought me into a deep exploration of Grace. I kept returning to a phrase that my cousin had shared with me a year or more earlier, “You don’t have worry about rationing that which God has already set apart for you.” I didn’t know the full context of the sermon she had taken this note from, but it suddenly sprouted up in a conversation with another good spiritual friend. So I immediately reached out to my cousin who then shared a link to her pastor’s sermon, Grace: How To Be What You Can’t Earn (to view the full sermon, start at the 51:00 mark).

After watching the video, my curiosity deepened with the realization that, beyond saying grace over a meal, I didn’t have a fully-developed understanding of Grace, as is taught from a Christian perspective. In my practice of Buddhism, I have never encountered a sutra or dharma talk about this particular concept. Which is not surprising, for how would a non-theistic religion articulate the notion of Grace being bestowed through one’s relationship with God?

Still I was compelled to follow my curiosity, which is always leading me toward an embodied understanding and practice of my questions.

I turned to the Bible’s Hebrew roots and learned that Grace is derived from Chanan, meaning an encampment, a refuge, a dwelling place (here’s a second translation I read). In this I had found a thread of connection for dharma practitioners:

Just as the brahmiviharas — compassionsympathetic joyloving-kindness and equanimity — are divine abodes or dwelling places, I clearly recognized Grace as a divine abode. I now understood what the Christian teachings I’d explored meant by the explanation that Grace couldn’t be earned. It is an organic emanation of our relationship to awareness in the same way as it is an emanation of Christians’ relationship to God.

We dwell in Grace whenever we dwell in awareness.
It is a sacred space of being, of trusting, of resting.

Magically, within two weeks of sharing my contemplation with Sangha, a good spiritual friend spoke a prayer over me for deep restoration and referenced a scripture that has become yet another golden thread in my growing tapestry. One particular translation— “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” — inspired my personal season of contemplation and has become the mantra Sangha returns to in our collective study of The Grace of Awareness.

This guiding contemplation for 2019 invites us to enter into (or renew) a relationship with awareness by establishing ourselves in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

It begins with the observation of the body, wherein the breath awakens our clear understanding of its suchness (functions, positions, activities, impermanence). It moves through observation of feelings, of mind/mental formations, and of perceptions/dharmas.

To fully live into The Grace of Awareness, we are moving with an intentional pace of steadiness and ease directed by the unforced rhythm of breath!


  • The Sutra on Mindful Breathing [.pdf]— from the Taisho Tripitaka 803 translated by Thich Nhat Hanh. Revised for Gender Inclusive Language by Tara Scott-Miller (3 Jewels Yoga).
  • Embodied Meditation— a guided practice from The Sutra on Mindful Breathing recorded by Tara Scott-Miller (3 Jewels Yoga).

on the dharma shelf | october 2017

Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed — Paulo Freire

“No, my hope is necessary. But it is not enough. Alone it does not win but without it my struggle will be weak and wobbly. We need critical hope like a fish needs unpolluted water.”

The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture — Kevin Quashie

“Resistance may be deeply resonant with black culture and history, but it is not sufficient for describing the totality of black humanity.

In humanity, quiet is our dignity. This quiet is represented by our interior…In its magnificence, quiet is an invitation to consider black cultural identity from somewhere other than the conceptual places that we have come to accept as definitive of and singular to black culture—not the “hip personality” exposed to and performed for the world, but the interior aliveness, the reservoir of human complexity that is deep inside…

It is this exploration, this reach toward the inner life, that an aesthetic of quiet makes possible; and it is this that is the path to a sweet freedom: a black expressiveness without publicness as its forbearer, a black subject in the undisputed dignity of its humanity.”

As a contemplative and empath who has a heart for justice, liberation and healing, this excerpt from Kevin Quashie’s book rings loud and true for me!

Don’t mistake someone’s deep-soul need (or preference or disposition) for quiet/silence as passivity or inaction. In my practice, the opposite of active is not passive. It is receptive.

Some of us need to time to cut through the noise in order to thoroughly digest and reflect on the energy and information we receive. So I value and facilitate processes of discernment and self-inquiry that help us transform “silence into language and action” (in the words of the powerhouse Audre Lorde). From this place of quiet introspection, we can cull insight, clarity and resilience to move from personal healing and transformation toward skillful action.

on the dharma shelf | september 2017

IMG_20170907_141332_556.jpgwhen you value interfaith learning and being spiritually multilingual:

bearing witness | on the delusion of colorblindness

Open ya eyes wide and see the truth of the skin I’m in. #TakeItAllIn

As a Dharma practitioner, I have cultivated Sangha on the sacred grounds of the Satipatthana Sutta (the Four Establishments of Mindfulness) and, in our gatherings, turn us again and again and again back to this foundational practice that teaches us to listen deeply,

see clearly,

and “remain established in the observation of the body in the body, diligent, with clear understanding, mindful, having abandoned every craving and every distaste for this life” [Majjhima Nikaya 10, as translated in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Transformation + Healing]. So too with the observation of feelings, thoughts/mental states and perceptions of whatever is in our field of awareness as we engage the world around us.

It is a spiritual discipline to help us acknowledge, take care of, and free ourselves from our attachments (what we cling to) and aversions (what we avoid). It is a spiritual practice that fosters discernment, accountability, transformation and healing.

Our skillful understanding of how connected we all are — the principle of interdependence — does not negate or override the commitment we make to:
Show Up, Notice, Pay Attention, Be Present, Hold Space, Cultivate Silence, Listen Deeply, Bear Witness.

We own our actions (thoughts, words + deeds). We are responsible for seeing and perceiving ourselves and one another clearly and in our wholeness. Skillful Understanding supports Skillful Thinking and Skillful Action.

To avoid seeing race/ethnicity is to cling to delusion. It is neither an act of compassion or generosity and not only hinders authentic connection but flat-out undermines our capacity for justice, liberation and transformative healing.

the eightfold path: skillful effort, skillful mindfulness + skillful concentration

Sangha committed several months to the study of how we “live into community” and the purpose of gathering as spiritual friends to build our capacity for skillfulness and resilience. To that end, we’ve contemplated the Eightfold Path as a set of embodied practices that help us develop wisdom, ethical action, and various faculties that support our meditation.

The Eightfold Path is the fourth of the 4 Noble Truths:

There is Suffering.
There are Causes of Suffering (craving/attachment).
There is an End of Suffering.
The Noble Path is the End of Suffering.

Our journey on the Noble Eightfold Path winds up with three mental faculties — Skillful Effort, Skillful Mindfulness, and Skillful Concentration. With the development of our ability to regulate, shape, and direct the movements of our mind, we harness the power to cultivate and refine the first five “liberating” actions — our understanding, thinking, speech, action, livelihood — that help free us from cycles of suffering and discontent.

Skillful Effort refers to the quality of the energy we apply to our actions (both in meditation and in the world). Are we struggling, feeling sluggish, practicing half-heartedly and part-time, or wrestling with self-defeating patterns of doubt and worry that we’re not getting it right? Are we striving, approaching our practice ambitiously and overzealously, or straining ourselves with self-limiting habits of perfectionism or a goal-oriented mission for self-improvement?

Are we applying skillful understanding of how our brains and bodies function and of the conditions that create fluctuations in our energy so that we can be flexible, patient and gentle? Are we approaching our meditation practice and spiritual development with diligence — lovingly, compassionately, wholeheartedly, consistently, and creatively?

I highlight diligence here because in my study and practice of the 5 Spiritual Faculties, I discovered that, at its root (latin: diligere), it meanslove, take delight in.” Whereas in common usage, we erroneously associate diligence with painstaking, rigorous or arduous work. So this re-claiming and re-imagining of how we use our energy resonates deeply with me. It feels more aligned with the quality of skillfulness, where we take care with how we apply ourselves — balancing the amount of stimulus and ease based on the conditions present — so that we are not creating habit energies of pursuit, ambition, craving, clinging or avoidance, resistance and aversion. And when those do arise, we are able to (re)examine them, readjust and transform them without criticizing or condemning ourselves.

Skillful Mindfulness may seem at first glance like a redundant term because we generally associate mindfulness with being a beneficial or at least “neutral” ability to pay attention. However, as we learn to pay attention to what is arising in body, heart, and mind, there is a possibility of our awareness taking a hue of criticism or hyper-vigilance that becomes unskillful. We lose the quality of ease, non-attachment, and non-judgment when we begin to ruminate or fixate on sensations, thoughts, emotions, perspectives.

Thus, cultivating the energy of skillfulness within our mindfulness is an invitation to ground ourselves in The Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The Buddhist discourse “Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness” (Satipatthana Sutta) details this thorough and measured process of liberating ourselves by abiding with full awareness of body and breath, feelings, mental states, and objects/qualities of the mind:

“A practitioner remains established in observation of the body in the body, diligent, with clear understanding, mindful, having abandoned every craving and every distaste for this life.

…remains established in observation of the feelings in the feelings, diligent, with clear understanding, mindful, having abandoned every craving and every distaste for this life.

…remains established in observation of the mind in the mind, diligent, with clear understanding, mindful, having abandoned every craving and every distaste for this life

…remains established in observation of the objects of mind in the objects of mind, diligent, with clear understanding, mindful, having abandoned every craving and every distaste for this life.”

 — from Transformation + Healing by Thich Nhat Hanh

Skillful Concentration is  understood as the mental capacity to merge skillful effort with skillful mindfulness to direct our attention toward a single-point of focus in our meditation practice. For example, we can cultivate steady focus on our breathing, by chanting a mantra, counting malas, gazing at a yantra or into candlelight.

Unfortunately, the dominant conception of being an experienced  meditator is equated with being “successful” at concentrating and sitting stock-still for otherwordly periods of time. This idea is also upheld by teachers and practitioners who are fixated on being strict disciples of spiritual discourses written eons before science and technology would uncover the vast range of cognitive functioning. Lacking an understanding of neurodiversity, they promote a rigid “one size fits all brains” standard of learning.

As a homeschool educator and wife to a person living with a traumatic brain injury, I am keenly aware that favoring “concentration” as an optimal mental state and evaluative measure of progress in meditation (aka the flagstones of enlightenment) also presumes and privileges practitioners who have neurotypical development. So I’ve long been called to expand our perception and practice of concentration in order to minimize the anxiety and frustration that can arise in practitioners who have difficulty focusing. The invitation instead is to conjure the image of absorbing or being saturated with qualities we wish to embody like joy, equanimity, compassion, steadiness, nonattachment. We can then return to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and contemplate the phyiscal sensations,  emotions, thoughts, images, memories, narratives and experiences we associate with such attributes.

look deeply

The featured image is my sketch of the Four Exertions, which inform our efforts to: cultivate skillfulness by watering and maintaining what has arisen while arousing or awakening skillfulness that has not yet arisen; and to transform unskillfulness by releasing and not dwelling in unskillfulness that has arisen while guarding against and not fueling that which has not arisen.

other liberating actions of  the eightfold path

on skillful understanding + skillful thinking
on skillful speech, skillful action + skillful livelihood

the eightfold path: on skillful speech, skillful action + skillful livelihood


Sangha is studying how we “live into community” and the purpose of gathering as spiritual friends to build our capacity for skillfulness and resilience. To that end, we’re contemplating the Eightfold Path as a set of embodied practices that help us develop wisdom, ethical action, and various faculties that support our meditation.

The Eightfold Path is the fourth of the 4 Noble Truths:

There is Suffering.
There are Causes of Suffering (craving/attachment).
There is an End of Suffering.
The Noble Path is the End of Suffering.

The wisdom pair of Skillful Understanding and Skillful Thinking carries us to gates of the three ethical actions where we may examine how silence and discernment give shape and dimension to:

Skillful Speech — What we choose to say, how we choose to say it, and when we choose to say it. Speech is a form of action (the cause of karma) that is fueled by the quality of our understanding, thinking and intentions. It may be guided by factors that create a more skillful impact (the effect of karma) in the world.*

*(I use world here to encompass our daily encounters with people, places, and all manner of things.)

Skillful Action — How we choose to respond to the world as embodied in our conduct (direct/indirect; personal/interpersonal; private/public). The behaviors/activities we engage in and abstain from that reflect the quality of our understanding, thinking, and intentions.

Skillful Livelihood — I am compelled to expand livelihood beyond its common denotation as the work we do to earn a living. This is also coupled with a desire to suss out the snares of privilege and shame that arise when we narrow in on ethical employment without considering socio-cultural and economic factors that influence where and how we work. Looking deeply at the root meaning of the word itself unearths a broad view of how we cultivate our “way of life” and includes all the choices/actions we make to nourish and sustain a sense of living well (values, interests, experiences and relationships). Our livelihood then reflects and is informed by the quality of our understanding, thinking, intentions and actions.

Our contemplation draws on Audre Lorde’s essay, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action:

What is the quality and impact of our silence?
Where does our silence show up as fear or avoidance?
When can it cause harm?  When can it be a tool for healing? 

Where can it be shaped into a tool of resistance — a healthy boundary to guard against toxic communication?  A way of standing in our commitment to non-violent, compassionate action?
In what ways do we use meditation and practices of discernment as skillful means to transform silence into skillful speech and skillful action?

other liberating actions of the eightfold path

on skillful understanding + skillful thinking
on skillful effort, skillful mindfulness + skillful concentration


criteria for skillful communication


Last December, I was invited to give a presentation to fellow members of my local Facilitators Guild on the 4 Gates of Speech after referencing them in one of our monthly meetings. As I prepared, I discovered overlapping ideas across various wisdom traditions and expanded my presentation into a list of Criteria for Skillful Communication below. 

Cultivating skillful communication is more than an intellectual endeavor. It is an embodied mindfulness practice comprised of Deep Listening and Skillful Speech.

We learn to listen deeply by paying attention to our thoughts, perceptions, bodily sensations, and emotions while listening to others and while speaking. Through this process, we can discern what to say, how to say it, and when, if at all, to say it–which is the foundation for impeccable speech.

Intention: To foster understanding and compassion.

Actions: Draw upon silence in order to give full awareness to our experience in the moment and to reflect on our speech before, during, and after speaking.


Before speaking, let your words pass through these gates.

Origins in Philosophical + Wisdom Traditions

I. 3 Sieves/3 Filters ~ Attributed to multiple sources (i.e. Socrates, Quakers, poets).

Is it True?
Is it Kind?
Is it Necessary/Useful?

II. 4 Gates of Speech ~ Possibly Sufi; misattributed to Buddhism.

Is it True?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Kind?

III. 5 Factors of Right Speech ~ Buddhist; from the Vaca Sutta (italicized text mine).

It is spoken at the right time.
Will it be Heard, Received and Understood? Does it Improve Upon the Silence?

It is spoken in truth.
Is it Factual, Sincere, from the Heart?

It is spoken affectionately.
Is it delivered Gently, Kindly, with Compassion, Equanimity, Empathy?

It is spoken beneficially.
Is it Useful, Constructive, Informative, Necessary, Life-Affirming?

It is spoken with a mind of good-will.
Is it offered with the Clear Intention to Not Cause Harm, to Inspire, to Comfort, to Support?

[16 December 2015]

in the dharma circle

So what does this look like in action? Following our meditation practice, Sangha exercises the capacity for skillful communication through a discussion on a selected topic of contemplation.

Our skillful speech has the opportunity to become refined by three factors: silence, bowing (gassho), and breath.  

We speak from discerning through silence — using the sacred pause to garner clarity of thought/feeling and to measure those formations alongside the (3, 4, or 5) criteria named above.

We bow when we wish to speak. Sangha bows in return.
It is an embodiment of our commitment, as speakers, to speak skillfully and, as listeners, to listen deeply in order to cultivate our skillful understanding of what will be shared. 

We bow again at the completion of our sharing. Sangha bows in return.
It is an embodiment of our commitment to give space for understanding to unfold and for discerning whether to contribute a subsequent insight, question, or experience.

We pause and breathe, for at least 3 full cycles, to center and ground ourselves before contributing to the dharma circle.

The pausing, bowing, and breathing not only bridge the sacred energy of mindfulness to the practical aspect of turn-taking. But these practices also disrupt common communication patterns and de-condition our habits of interrupting, cross-talking, or sparking side conversations.

Whichever of the 3 Sieves, 4 Gates, or 5 Factors resonates most with you, use these criteria to gauge the quality of your awareness and ensuing impulses to respond when holding conversations. It can be jarring for practitioners who intentionally cultivate deep listening and skillful speech to recognize how wide the gap is between how we experience and participate in communication inside and outside of the dharma circle.

on the dharma shelf | december 2016

there are no new ideas, just new ways of giving those ideas we cherish breath and power in our own living.

~ audre lorde 

In a given season I cycle through a stack of books and frequently exchange “currently reading” snap shots with my circle of family and friends. What and when I read depends both on mood/instinct and whose voice/ideas feel most compelling. It is a discernment that inevitably leads to discovering the message I most needed to hear!  

This list comprises books that were long-ago gifted or recently rediscovered that I am re-reading(*) with fresh eyes after many years. Others were recommended or “manifested” at the right time — namely, from the juju-magick of a kiosk at my local library branch where books I don’t even know I’m looking for seem to auspiciously materialize as I pass by!

  • Sister Outsider | Audre Lorde
  • Reading the Bible Again for the First Time | Marcus J. Borg
  • The Gilda Stories* | Jewelle Gomez
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice + Redemption | Bryan Stevenson
  • Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, + Liberation | Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, Jasmine Syedullah
  • How To Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator* | Thubten Chodron

on the danger of delusion + co-signing craziness


Requiem: Prelude, Coda, Encore 

This. Againa million hoodies, a million hearts: metta behind the movement for trayvon martin.

I didn’t know where to physically place this section in the body of this writing. An overlapping marker on the timestream — the beginning, the end, the looping back to repeat for impact and emphasis — it wasn’t a part of the original thought-piece (consciously, anyway).

Read it as you will: first, for a sneak peek; or last as a behind-the-scene bonus. Either way, I offer it as insight into process and synchronicity.

Eager though I was to get these pressing thoughts out of my head, there is something to be said for respecting intuition. For cultivating shamatha. Pausing, stepping away, and allowing things to simmer and deepen when you sense your work needs more time to stew (like any slow-cooked dish).  In those days between drafts, I got a ping-back notifying me that another site had linked to the piece I’d written four years ago. Turns out Baltimore + Beyond: Mindfulness Community had just added a million hoodies, a million hearts to its updated list of selected dharma readings to be shared at its activists and people of color gatherings. 

I had not read it since 2012 and was astonished that I could have just as easily written yesterday about James Means or Joe McKnight and all the others like Sandra Bland and Rekia Boyd whose names have become engraved upon our wailing hearts.

Understand then — yes, really dwell in the cries of despair and protest and the calls for action until clear comprehension prevails — why being here, stuck in this maniacal cycle is fucking tiresome. To exist in it and to constantly have to explain it to people who have not the ears to hear or hearts to feel. We are weary. But we are (getting) ready.

Cutting Through

We cannot afford to participate in the delusion
that we are absolutely powerless,
that change can happen without us,
that our fears are over-hyped,
that things will be alright,
that our right to protect our well-being
should take a backseat to playing nice
in the face of bigotry, violence, and injustice.
These times are too dangerous to co-sign craziness.
I cannot, will not, and unabashedly refuse do it.
And my loved ones, who hear me say this repeatedly, will attest that this is more than a favored turn-of-phrase.
Not co-signing craziness is at the heart of my commitment to the work of being a good spiritual friend!

This is the craziness that manifests as willful ignorance, denial, and delusion in our personal lives as well as in the world-at-large.

In our current state of crisis where cultural warfare is being waged against Otherness, it is the absurdity that refuses to see how quickly the vile rhetoric spewed throughout the campaign has become reality in the form of bold-faced white supremacists being appointed to key roles of leadership in the new (return-to-the-dark-ages) administration.

It is the problematic hushed-and-haloed spiritual and inspirational messaging (gaslighting wrapped in sanctimony), blanketly chiding the wounded:

to transcend anger because we’re bigger than that,
to not abandon or “throw away” folks who don’t regard humanity as we do,
to try to understand those who refuse to understand us,
to yield to our divine capacity for open-heartedness and forgiveness for they know not what they do…because they are suffering too,
to trust thin assurances that — guys, c’mon — it’s only class resentment.

Let’s get very clear:

Resentment is a near-enemy of hateResentment + Implicit Bias = A Gateway to the -Isms.

And through that narrow passage, it is a short walk to discrimination, bigotry, and the bartering of lives for the false promise of economic and job security from a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobe with no basic skills in decency and civility, let alone diplomacy.

Sorry, folks, platitudes and passivity cannot transform hate and delusion.

“And this deluded person, overcome by delusion, his mind possessed by delusion, kills living beings, takes what is not given, goes after another person’s wife, tells lies, and induces others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm & suffering.”

“Yes, lord.”
“So what do you think, Kalamas: Are these qualities skillful or unskillful?”
“Unskillful, lord.”
“Blameworthy or blameless?”
“Blameworthy, lord.”
“Criticized by the wise or praised by the wise?”
“Criticized by the wise, lord.”
“When adopted & carried out, do they lead to harm & to suffering, or not?”
“When adopted & carried out, they lead to harm & to suffering. That is how it appears to us.”

“So, as I said, Kalamas:
‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.”

When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering” — then you should abandon them.’
Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’

When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.

from the “Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas” (AN 3.65),
translated from Pali by Thanissaro Bhikku

Now is the time to unburden ourselves. To release the fetters that bind us to a dysfunctional codependency on a corrupt system that has plotted for centuries to diminish our agency, deny our wholeness, and compromise our right to survive and thrive. To get clear. To get equipped. To get connected to good spiritual friends who are willing to leverage their privilege to aid and abet us as accomplices on the path to anti-oppression and liberation.


straight outta the dhamma:

In the foundational Buddhist tome, Visuddhimagga, the commentaries on the Divine Abodes (brahma-viharas) make reference to the “near” and “far” (or remote) enemies of these four esteemed virtues — love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Near enemies bear such close resemblance to the virtue itself that it is easy to miss the unskillful dimensions. On the other hand, far enemies are easily recognized as the opposite of the virtue. For example, pity can be seen as a near enemy of compassion and apathy its far enemy.

for more skillful understanding:

Implicit Bias

White Privilege, Resentment + Politics


the eightfold path: on skillful understanding + skillful thinking


Sangha is studying how we “live into community” and the purpose of gathering as spiritual friends to build our capacity for skillfulness and resilience. To that end, we’re contemplating the Eightfold Path as a set of embodied practices that help us develop wisdom, ethical action, and various faculties that support our meditation.

The Eightfold Path is the fourth of the 4 Noble Truths:

There is Suffering.
There are Causes of Suffering (craving/attachment).
There is an End of Suffering.
The Noble Path is the End of Suffering.

Taking these meaty topics one by one and spending two sessions covering each (and allowing for overlaps as they are inextricably linked), we are inching our way from Skillful Understanding toward Skillful Thinking.

Skillful Understanding blooms from cultivating a receptive “big picture, fine detail” mind that sees clearly into the nature or roots of things as they arise. For example, having a skillful understanding of the 4 Noble Truths — being able to look deeply into each of these statements, turn them over, test them against experience, and create skillful actions based on this understanding.

Skillful Thinking is informed by Skillful Understanding. It is the active mind that generates wise responses to what arises, i.e. seeing the roots and conditions that create my anger in the moment and discerning how to tend to my anger.

How then do we develop these two wisdom aspects of the Eightfold Path? By asking, in our meditations, contemplations, and dharma discussions with friends:

What Is This? Is This True? Am I Sure? Is There More?


a note about semantic preference

I have a particular fondness for the use of the word skillful here as a qualifier to describe each practice of the eightfold path; whereas, readers of the Buddhist Canon will most commonly see them framed by the term “right” from the Pali word sammā.

I recall first encountering the application of the word skillful to the eightfold path back in the Spring of 2005 in Buddhism for Mothers (which was an inspiring source of guidance for me, as a fairly new auntie who was closely engaged in the care of my first-born niece…and in extending patience to her very young parents). I was enthralled by the word and immediately used it in place of “right” because of its expansive quality.

It moves us beyond the dichotomous “either/or” world view of the ultimate two — right and wrong. And into the vast field of potential where we train toward our mastery of these spiritual capacities. Where there is room for beginning — clumsy, uncertain, doubtful, resistant; for gradually becoming proficient; and for continuously growing in our competency.

I recently discussed this over coffee with a dharma friend who is a Buddhist teacher, who prefers to use wise instead. Albeit more liberating even that, I admitted to her, feels finite. And worrisome to those (particularly younger practitioners) who wonder if being wise is strictly relegated to the loathsome domain of adulting…that wisdom precludes all lapses in skillfulness. So it can become an aspiration to get to. Someday.

As one who has been a spiritual seeker all my life, I am living into my aspiration to be a wise elder right now. It has not merely been a matter of adulting or aging or waiting for my hair to become gray enough for others to perceive me as wise. Wisdom has blossomed from years of deep inquiry and of meeting, owning, and transforming my unskillfulness, again and again, until skillful, compassionate actions become an effortless response to the world around me. 


other liberating actions of  the eightfold path

on skillful understanding + skillful thinking
on skillful effort, skillful mindfulness + skillful concentration