Becoming Aware 1:3

Situating Yourself: Mind Noise

…continued from Becoming Aware 1:2

Once you start to become aware and take note of what your mind is doing, create a Quiet Corner bank (some call it a God box—if that works better for you) in which to store all your questions, self-judgments, and self-criticisms. Perhaps you could make something out of construction paper. Make it colorful and big enough to hold many slips of paper. Don’t try to imagine how many questions you might ask yourself before the questions slow down. You can always make a second or third or fourth container if the first becomes too small. Once you fill one up, you can create a ritual to burn them all!IMG_1219

Have some fun. Make a game of it. Use magazines or old newspapers or even an empty coffee can. Paint it, decorate it, label it. And then put it away. Let it be the vessel for your nagging questions. This is the beginning of clearing your head of some of the noise so that you can begin to hear your inner voice. Be aware that once you write a question down and put it in the bank, it may revisit you. That’s okay and perfectly natural. Simply write it down again and redeposit it. There may be something to learn from the repetition.

The Aha! Experience
As we go along, I will make suggestions of things to do that will help you along your path. So far I’ve suggested that you

1. Carry with you and use your “purpose tool,”
2. Observe your mind as it works,
3. Write down your mind questions (and judgments and criticisms), and
4. Make a mind question bank.

A lot of suggestions just to begin! If you’re anything like me, you might judge them as silly and inconsequential or resist doing them at all. At first glance, many of the suggestions in this book will seem slight and meaningless, but try to think of them as a grocery list. Before you go shopping you know what you have and what you need, but a list is always helpful in assisting you in your chore; it helps you to remember all that you need and to avoid buying things you don’t need. A list may seem unnecessary (you have it all in your head), but it can be useful. And while each ingredient you buy is not always or necessarily a meal in itself, it will combine with other ingredients to form a perfect meal. That’s how you can look at each suggestion here—as just one ingredient to be included in a life of serenity.

You can also look at these suggestions as nuggets of surprise. Until you actually do them, break open their shell, you can’t know what’s waiting for you inside. If you’ve ever discovered or learned something in an indirect way (in trying to solve one problem, the answer to another is revealed), you’ve had the aha! experience. So keep an open mind as you approach the suggestions because they have the potential to work this way. And each one will reveal a secret just for you.

To be continued…

from Just Listen – A Guide to Finding Your Own True Voice


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The Practice of Standing Still

Standing still is anathema to so many these days. Our lives are about movement, about doing, about getting someplace. We so rarely are where we are. Instead, we’re into the next thing, place, thought, or action, before we even get there. And then when we do get there, we hardly take the time to be there, as we’re off into the next whatever. We are racing to catch up with ourselves, which usually leaves us stressed out and short of breath, hoping everything will stop and wondering when relief will come. We even chase after relief, even though it is eternally out of reach when we do pursue it.

If this is all true, it seems that the solution is to just stop. But because this is nearly impossible to contemplate, let alone accomplish, we feel defeated before we even begin. We’ve tried slowing down before with little success. The surprise here is that you are already doing what you need to do and the only thing now is to take advantage of those already existing moments.


Standing, at the bus stop, the copier, or ATM machine, in the theater or grocery store checkout line; waiting for the elevator to arrive or the stoplight to change—throughout the day, we frequently find ourselves standing with no place to go, and too often we squander this time. Anxious for movement, we view the stillness, the lack of motion, as a waste of time. Paradoxically, when we’re on life’s treadmill, all we want to do is stop. Yet when we do, we yearn to move. This is just one example of never being satisfied with where we are.

All it takes to transform these moments from dreadful to delicious is a little mind movement, a shift in attitude. Even if you cannot change to a new outlook directly, if you’re reading this, you most likely have the willingness to take a different approach. And if you’re willing, then change is possible.

When your body comes to a standstill, your mind doesn’t always follow right away, which is why not moving can create such internal discomfort. So when you find yourself standing still with your mind on fast forward, there are two things you can do.

First of all, you can become aware of your body in space, where it is, how it feels. Notice your posture and any tension you might have in your spine. Make slight adjustments to how you’re standing, and breathe into your whole back, as you center your awareness on the fact that you are able to stand upright. Feel your feet standing firmly on the ground. Imagine that there are roots solidly planting you into the earth, your legs the trunk of a tree, your upper body the branches gently swaying in the breeze. If you’re carrying heavy bags, place them down as you stand there, unburdened and free. Appreciate your body; savor the moment. Be there with every inch of every fiber of your being.

Then, once you’ve stilled your body, observe your mind and where it wants to take you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Watch your thoughts; simply stand there, breathe into your belly, be in your body, and pay attention—without judgment or criticism. Consider that everyone around you, standing with you, contains a similarly active mind. It might take time, but know that if you still your body, the mind will eventually follow and reach a state of stillness—the first step to serenity.

And keep in mind that there are no needless, wasted moments. Each one is precious and an opportunity to experience contentment. So stand tall in your life with all that it offers, good and bad, and know that serenity is available in and through everything. Be sure to stand wherever you are and you won’t miss it.

(from Serenity in Motion)

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Caring About and For Yourself

As our society has become so enthralled with narcissism, many of us have come to believe that self-love is bad and selfish. We have done ourselves wrong here. There is nothing wrong with loving ourselves. In fact, this is necessary before we can truly love another. Let’s try to put aside the old myths and have faith that love sent in any direction is positive and healthy.Find Quiet Corner

If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’ll remember being told to put on your own oxygen mask in the event of an emergency before helping young children; if you help yourself first, you’ll be better equipped to help others. In the same way, love yourself first. Take some time for yourself. Consider these actions to be done in the service of others. A quiet, loving corner can be the nurturing ground for your own and your family’s well-being.

Love is what we all ultimately seek, but to get love, we must give it. And in order to give it, we need to know it for ourselves. Unless we take good care of ourselves, we will have nothing to give others. Caring for ourselves is the first step in the process.

from Find a Quiet Corner

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Mindful Quotes for January

As a new year begins and I look forward to some new and exciting possibilities, I find myself coming back to these few words of inspiration that always ground me. I hope you too can sit with these a while and take them with you into this year and beyond.

And check out more wonderful quotes about New Beginnings on our Imperfect Partners site. Happy 2015 to all!



“All of man’s woes derive from the fact that he cannot sit quietly in a room alone.”
Blaise Pascal


Think in this way of all this fleeting world:
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A dewdrop, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
The Diamond Sutra


“When it’s cold, shiver; when it’s hot sweat.”
Zen Saying


“If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.”
The Dalai Lama


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What Will You Leave Behind?

As the year draws to a close I look forward to spending time with family and celebrating New Year’s Eve in meditation with friends.

On this last occasion of the year we will all write vows for the next year: what practices and activities we want to start or deepen, and what we might like to leave behind and not carry forward into the new day.


An old Zen story that I love, and share with every student I’ve ever had, speaks to the burdens that so many of us carry and how easy it could be to just put them down.

I hope this parable will inspire some of us to start the year fresh and be mindful every day of the new year to ask ourselves the question posed at the end of this story, so that we don’t end next year carrying more than we can handle.

Muddy Road

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.

Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

(from Zen Flesh Zen Bones)



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Seppo’s Spicy Rice Bake

This has always been one of my favorites from 3 Bowls, not just because it’s spicy and delicious but also because it’s so simple. And it has some of my favorite foods: sweet potato, rice, black-eyed peas, collard greens – all spiced up with Chipotle.

Add to this the fact that it’s a crowd pleaser makes it a real winner. I made it this week for a potluck brunch and it was easily the favorite dish there. Try it, you’ll love it!


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Mindful Quotes for December

I often get a little sad at this time of year. I think it’s from all the expectations stored in my body from when I was a kid. Especially the expectation that something with my name on it would appear under the tree to magically transport me to a different place, take away all my little girl sadness and make me the happiest person on the planet. Of course that never happened, but I have discovered other ways to cure the blues and they don’t come from outside of me. Except from all the amazing teachers that came before me. Here are some words from some of them.

“No matter how difficult the past, you can always begin again today.”

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
Melody Beattie


“Without looking out of the window, one can see the way of heaven.”
Lao Tzu

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

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My Favorite Day of the Year

Sending blessings and good wishes to all for a safe, peaceful and delicious Thanksgiving.


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Becoming Aware 1:2

Situating Yourself: Busy Mind

…continued from Becoming Aware 1:1

Throughout this process we will be studying our mind. We will see how it controls us and learn to what extent we have control over it. Being human, most of us have very active minds. Generally, we just accept this as normal and may not even realize that much of our stress and anxiety comes from our busy minds. Have you ever paid attention to what your mind actually contains? When we sit quietly alone with ourselves we can begin to hear what’s there inside us, and the point of doing this is to clear our minds of empty chatter and hear the deep, inner truth of ourselves. But before we explore that, let’s look at what a busy mind might contain and feel like.

A busy mind might contain thoughts of what you have to do later this afternoon, tomorrow, or next week. It might be thinking about yesterday’s meeting with the boss and trying to figure out what he’s thinking or what his next move will be. Maybe it dreams about last week’s date or next month’s vacation as you pretend to pay attention to what you’re doing at the moment.IMG_0596 Thoughts of bills waiting to be paid sit in one corner of your brain, while thoughts of where you’ll be picking up the kids, how you’re going to afford your mother’s nursing home, and when your best friend will be out of the hospital invade the other corners. A busy mind can jump from one thought to the next, spanning years, without your even noticing the shift.

A busy mind can keep you awake at night with feelings, unresolved dilemmas, worries, hopes, and fears. A busy mind can so preoccupy you that accidents happen. It might cause such anxiety that your physical health becomes weakened. A busy mind can torment you to distraction and leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and empty. A busy mind might all at once start telling you how to do things, what not to do, when to do it, whom to or not to do it with, how you should look, what you should think about this or that, what you could have said to avoid this morning’s argument, what to cook for dinner. Your busy mind might ask those tormenting who-what-when questions ad nauseam. What will happen at tomorrow’s job interview? Will I have enough money to pay the rent? When will I see him again? This goes on until you think you might explode from the sheer weight of words floating around in your head. There are enough voices to supply a choir and then some.

You might be asking yourself “What can I possibly gain from finding my true inner voice? I have enough voices in my head, I don’t need to find another one.” While reading this, put aside such questions. Let’s practice taking them (and all judgments and criticisms) as they arise and putting them aside. When such a question comes up, write it on a slip of paper and put it away. You may want to start an envelope or a box or drawer in which to collect these slips of paper. Believe it or not, by the time you finish this book, if you are diligent about taking the suggestions here, you will see that all your questions will either be answered or will have become irrelevant. So write them down and put them away for now.

When we get right down to it and actually notice the various components and voices that contribute to our busy mind, we realize that much of it is repetitive and mundane. Our minds usually are not cluttered with creative ideas that stem from our genius. Generally, our thoughts deal with the boring specifics of our day-to-day lives or with abstract philosophical questions that we’ll never resolve. Sometimes we compartmentalize the different parts of our busy mind to avoid too much conflict and competition among them. Yet, though we try our best, they often struggle to have their way, keeping us awake at night or interfering each time we are about to make a big decision. And these parts of our mind do not cancel each other out. They rarely agree, a situation that usually just leads us to more confusion. Rarely does such a busy mind live in harmony. It can often rule our lives without us even knowing it.

IMG_0894If none of this applies to you, that’s great, you’re a rare individual. But most of us have extremely active minds. Some of us have a high tolerance for the noise, while others let it get the best of us, adding to our stress and making us unable to focus and think clearly. We all differ in how we deal with our mind noise. And there’s no point in trying to figure out how someone else’s mind behaves. Trying to compare ourselves with others is a frustrating and fruitless mind game. So begin by becoming aware of and accepting your own unique and wonderful mind just as it is. Resist the impulse to compare.

If your mind is a busy one and you’d like to learn how to calm it down, you can take steps to do so. The first thing you can do is simply observe your mind as it works. Start paying closer attention. What are you thinking of right now? Jot it down. Keep it simple. Next? Where did it go from there? Jot that down. Imagine that you have volume and channel selector knobs in your brain. Place them wherever you’d like. Behind your eyes. In the back of your throat. At the crown of your head. Now close your eyes and breathe. As one thought pops up, notice it and play with your dials. Turn up the volume. Change the channel and go to another thought. Now turn it down. Notice that I didn’t suggest an on/off switch. That is because your mind is permanently on. But there are control switches you can learn how to use.

So accept our mind as it is, know that you are, right now, powerless over the noise, and trust that there is a solution, that serenity and a peaceful mind are possible.

To be continued…

from Just Listen – A Guide to Finding Your Own True Voice

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A Wave, a Book, and a Contest

This is a short story about books, a dream and a contest.

The other morning I was jolted awake at the end of a dream. I was walking into water about calf deep, a sea of some sort in front of me stretched out to the horizon. I was fully clothed and I think I had rubber boots on. But dreams being what they are I am probably making some of this up now for the sake of this story. What I remember clearly was the slow moving, hundred foot high (at least) wave in front of me that hovered above. It was in no rush to complete its journey and neither was I. Mostly what I remember was my awe at the beauty and power of it. I just stood there waiting for it to drop and then I woke up. I wasn’t afraid.Wave

I’m sure a dream analyst would read a lot into this dream. For me it was about the daunting nature of life, the bigness and beauty and terror of it all. And it was about the calm waiting for us at the center if only we can stand or sit still long enough to welcome it.

Buddhism and sitting meditation practice not only saved my life but focused it. Each day it helps me to find my center no matter what the wave in front of me is carrying. My life now is dedicated to helping others find their calm in the midst of their particular chaos. I am a messenger: I coach, I teach, I write books, I do whatever I’m called to do to serve others.

I have had quite a journey in the world of books: first and foremost as a reader – I will probably die with a book in my hands – next as a bookseller, then as an author.

Quite a few years ago the wave in front of me was the ocean of fiction. It is what I mostly read and I had an itch to try my hand at writing some. I chose the mystery genre, thinking that would be the easiest way in. Ha! I also had a mission to not only entertain, but to open new worlds. And the world I wanted to open was the same one I wrote about in my non-fiction work – the power of meditation.

So I wrote about some evil monks and the inner recesses of a Zen Buddhist Monastery. The mainstream publishing world, which was in a major upheaval at the same time, was not interested. The editors who read my first manuscript held to the opinion that bad things don’t happen in spiritual communities among monks and Zen Buddhists. They weren’t willing to let go of the comforting, conditioned idea that places like monasteries were peaceful, idyllic settings.


I then stepped deeper into the waters of publishing, moved ever closer to that wave in front of me and became the publisher of two mysteries. That journey is another long story and all I will say now about that is this: there is another wave coming and though I’m not sure what it is yet, it does not include self-publishing. But, hey, you never know.

Now to the juicy part of this story and where you come in.NancyOHara_KillingSacred_8x5_eResFINAL

To bring attention to my Zen mystery series I am running a contest to win a Kindle Fire HDX.

Click here for all the details.

I hope you participate and help me end this self-publishing phase with a huge bang. I think this will be the wave crashing down on me and these two books. And perhaps we’ll all swim together into bestsellerdom.

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