Saturday, March 24, 2012

An unexpected apology

The other day I was talking to my brother, and one of my former high school classmates came up in the conversation. For just a little background, this person used to bully me, and repeatedly threatened me with severe bodily harm. Fortunately even back then I was not the type of person who would just take crap like that from someone, so I resisted as best I could. However, I was also painfully aware that I was not the only recipient of the person's cruelty. Several others suffered much more silently than I did, which saddened and angered me.

My brother told me that he had recently seen this person around town. Recognizing my brother, my former bully apologized for the terrible behavior towards me, and told him how regretful they were about their actions and words. Surprised, I sarcastically remarked that I was amazed that this person wasn't in prison, let alone apologizing for their actions.  
Later that night, alone with my thoughts, I thought about what my brother had told me a little more seriously. For the first time in years, I thought about the bullying and how I had responded to it. For the most part, I was happy I had stood up for myself, and sometimes for others who were being bullied. I did wish I would have done a little more of both, though, and perhaps a little more cleverly.

I also thought about the bully, and about how people can change. The person I was thinking about was from 14 years ago, an angry teenager who didn't seem to care about anyone. This person is an adult now, perhaps with a family of their own. Although I don't want to paint an imaginary picture, they may have made some major changes in their life and attitude. Of course, I am speculating. I don't know for sure if the apology was genuine, but what I do know is that it sure took guts walking up to my brother like that. And that in itself is a change.

Anyway, regardless of my thoughts about my former bully, several ideas about apologies stuck in my mind. 1) Realize that the character of the person may have changed for the better (especially if quite a lot of time has passed since the person wronged you). 2) If you're going to apologize for something, apologize to the person directly. 3) Apologies don't necessarily lead to immediate forgiveness, but can still be appreciated.

As for forgiveness, I'm not going to talk much about it here. All I know is that in order to forgive someone it is important for me to see a change in character, mostly to determine if that person will stop purposely hurting others (including me) in the future.

For a much more inspiring and gracious story of forgiveness (or perhaps 'non-forgiveness'), please read this article about the Buddha. As one might expect, he makes a truly excellent point which I believe we can all learn and benefit from (I'll give you a hint- in order for there to be forgiveness there must be a grudge in the first place).

Perhaps that is where we must all try to begin.

Can you relate to this post? I know that I am certainly not the only one who was bullied in high school, that bullying sucks, and also that I did not get the worst of it. What would you think/do if someone who had hurt or betrayed you in the past apologized for their actions? What does forgiveness mean to you?

May all beings be happy!

"True remorse is never just a regret over consequence; it is regret over motive." Mignon McLaughlin (The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960)

"Forgiving is rediscovering the shining path of peace that at first you thought others took away when they betrayed you." ~ Dodinsky

"To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee." ~ William H. Walton

"I cannot forgive you because I have no grudge against you." ~ the Buddha

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Path

The Path

Just came across my old collection of 'sets' from the fashion and design website 'Polyvore'

Most of my designs featured colorful outfits and various occupational and 'femme fatale' themes, but I also had a lot of fun designing cultural or spiritual sets like this one. I wanted it to represent the first step in the journey of a spiritual traveller, surrounded by the wisdom, compassion, and guidance of Buddhas past and present. I hope you enjoy it!

May all beings be happy!


"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." ~ Lao-tzu

"You cannot travel the path until you have become the Path itself. "
~ Buddha

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mindful eating, mindful yum!

Inspired by pictures of yummy looking meals from some excellent blogs, I have taken pictures of some of the meals I have had in the past week or so. Unlike the great things I've seen on 'foodie' blogs, my creations are relatively simple, but I still wanted to post about them just to add some variety and 'mix things up a bit' here at ByChanceBuddhism. I also have long been inspired by proponents of mindful eating, who advocate practices such as mealtime blessingsfocusing upon and savoring food, and preparing food with love.

Except for the pasta dinner with tomato and tuna sauce, all meals are vegetarian. Enjoy!

Sliced pears with walnuts, cinnamon, and a dollop of whipped cream. A tasty late breakfast. 

Lunch: Baked 'aloo tikkis' or spicy potato patties, accompanied by whole wheat pita, cucumber, tomato, cilantro, feta cheese and Greek yogurt. Dessert: Sliced strawberries with balsamic vinegar topped with whipped cream and a 'kaju katli' or cashew sweet from Hyderabad, India

Lunch: Flatbread pizza with baked ciabatta crust topped with tomato sauce, peppadews, kalamata olives, feta, and mozzarella cheese. Served with orzo pasta with onions, mushrooms, and peas sauteed in olive oil and sherry. Cherry Chobani Greek yogurt for dessert and extra protein. Also yummy lemon-flavored sparkling water!

Lunch:  Same orzo dish from above and sweet potatoes chopped and baked with salt, pepper, and cayenne, then topped with lime juice, olive oil and cilantro (my husband made this, using a recipe from Reader's Digest). Apple cinnamon Chobani Greek yogurt for dessert.  

Lunch: Quesadilla with whole wheat tortilla, sauteed mushrooms, onions, and red bell pepper topped with extra sharp cheddar cheese. Homemade guacamole with tomato, onion, jalepeno, cumin seeds, lime juice, and salt, served with tortilla chips. Blood orange Chobani Greek yogurt for dessert, also sparkling water with a splash of cranberry juice. 

Dinner: Bowtie pasta with mushrooms, peas, and asparagus with a citrus sauce made with fresh lemon zest. Accompanied by steamed yellow squash with salt and pepper and carrot salad with dried cranberries and balsamic vinaigrette. 

Dinner: Whole wheat spaghetti with a tomato sauce with tuna fish in olive oil, onions, garlic, kalamata olives, and capers, topped with shaved pecorino romano cheese. Served with a mixed green salad topped with a honey-lime dijon mustard dressing and sunflower seeds. Oh, and enjoyed with a glass of Indiana white wine, of course! :) The wine was a gift from a dear friend.  

I hope you've enjoyed this post. I would love to hear about your favorite recipes (and mealtime blessings), too- Feel free to post them in the comments.

May all beings be happy!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Everyday joys

With all our responsibilities and obligations, it is sometimes easy to forget the many sources of joy in our lives. Thinking about living simply has helped me put these sources of joy (both current and potential) into perspective. 

I know that I have many goals and things I would like to accomplish in my life. But that doesn't really distinguish tasks of obligation and personal responsibility from those that really inspire true joy from the core of my being. To clarify this I've recently stopped and asked myself, 

What are my favorite things to do

Focusing my full attention on this question, I let the answers come naturally. Here they are, in no particular order. 

I love to . . . 
Take walks outdoors
Spend time with my husband
Listen and dance to music
Learn new things

This list, in all its simplicity, is different from other (albeit helpful) lists I have made in the past focusing on career goals, etc. This list is not about expectations, but simply to highlight what activities help me cultivate the most joy in my daily life. 

Since identifying these activities, I have realized how essential it is to make time for them, everyday. As long as they are wholesome and do not harm others, mindfully engaging in cherished hobbies is not selfish. In fact, cultivating joy in oneself is key to sharing joy and inspiration with others. As human beings with real responsibilities and even burdens, we find it necessary to make time for tasks that require our attention. But by also making time for the simple pleasures we really enjoy we stay inspired, happy, and willing to share that happiness with those around us. 

May all beings be happy! 


"Men weary as much of not doing the things they want to do as of doing the things they do not want to do." ~ Eric Hoffer

"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared." ~ Buddha


What activities give you the most meaningful sense of joy in your life? Would making more time for them allow you to cultivate a greater personal sense of joy and well-being? If you felt more joyful in your daily life, do you think it would benefit others?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Happy Holi!

Yes, I know, Holi is a Hindu festival that started yesterday, but yesterday I was busy writing about the Tibetan Butter Lamp Festival. Luckily the Holi festival also continues through today, March 9th, 2012, so it's all good. In my opinion, the colorful scenes of people celebrating with reckless abandon during Holi are too fantastic to miss, so I just had to write about it. :)  

The festival of Holi celebrates faith in Lord Vishnu so strong it led to the burning and defeat of the demoness Holika. Holi also signifies the end of winter and prepares merrymakers for the abundance of the spring harvest. The reason for the orgy of colors from the colored powders thrown about is said to have originated from the fondness Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) had for playing tricks on village maidens by dowsing them with water and colors. These days the colorful celebration also represents a melting away of social norms and restrictions, so that everyone, rich, poor, men, women, young, old, can shed their inhibitions and celebrate the festival together as Hindus.    

Please enjoy this great photo gallery I found showing just a glimpse of the vibrant Holi festivities across India. You can find out more about the who, what, where, when, and why of Holi (as well as safety information) in this article from India Travel. There is also an extensive article about Holi on Wikipedia, which cautions about the chemicals contained in the synthetically dyed powders used during the festival, and suggests some natural and traditional alternatives.  

Have you experienced the excitement of a Holi festival in India (or elsewhere)? Please tell us about it in the comments!

May all beings be happy!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chunga Choepa (Tibetan butter lamp festival)

Although I am not near enough to a community who celebrates the amazing and colorful Chunga Choepa, or Tibetan butter lamp festival, I wanted to know more about it. And what better way to learn about something than sharing with others? Because this festival is held according to the lunar calendar (i.e. the 15th day of the first lunar month), I am a little confused as to whether the butter lamp festival is today, March 8th or March 19th, 2012. 

But no matter- whenever it is, Chunga Choepa (also called Chotrul Duchen) is an important festival which celebrates miracles performed by the Buddha and his oratory victory in a debate with cynics. There is music, dancing, and blessings are given. But the highlights of the festival are the amazingly huge sculptures that monks create out of, that's right . . . yak butter! These sculptures are indeed something to behold, and feature a myriad of designs such as flowers, animals, and people that are realistically portrayed through the use of carefully carved and richly colored yak butter. When finished, the sculptures are displayed on the main Barkhor district of Lhasa and illuminated with butter lamps. People from all over the city come to witness this awesome display, and stay out all night to enjoy the festivities. The butter sculptures slowly melt in the heat, demonstrating the impermanence of all things. 

Having been to a Tibetan Buddhist temple in the midwest, I have seen an example of these amazing works of art. I can't imagine beholding a whole street-full of them all at once- it must be absolutely breathtaking. If you have been to Lhasa during this time or otherwise participated in a Tibetan Butter Lamp festival, please share your experience in the comments!    

You can find more about the Tibetan butter lamp festival here. Also, check out this very interesting article about the 'Festival of the Butter Gods' and the important role that yak butter plays in the lives of the Tibetan people. (Note: It is unclear from the article whether the 'Festival of the Butter Gods' and 'Chunga Choepa' are the same- if you know, please speak up in the comments!) 

For the dates of other Buddhist holidays in 2012, click here.    

I hope you enjoyed this post. May all beings be happy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A springtime walk

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day, and so I thought I would take advantage of it by taking a nice, long walk. While I prefer to walk in the woods or on hiking trails, I had to make do with strolling through some nearby housing developments. But that doesn't mean that there wasn't anything worth seeing. Below are some pictures that I took on my little trek, mementos of this beautiful day. I hope you enjoy them.

Springtime buds, possibly Magnolia

 Male flowers illuminated by sunshine (possibly Red maple, or Acer rubrum)

Unsure of the identity of these early tree flowers. Perhaps I will go back when the leaves are out!

Seeds emerging from a pod of what looks like a milkweed, but I am unsure of the species.

Ornamental crab apples that have overwintered 

 Tiny weed Veronica persica, or Persian speedwell, growing along a sidewalk

 Mini daffodils (genus Narcissus) near a mailbox

Flowers from a garden shrub Chaenomeles speciosa or 'Japanese quince'

I hope you have enjoyed these photos- please let me know if you know the names of any of the plants I have not labeled. 

Have a wonderful day, May all beings be happy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Middle Way Minimalism: Living Simply

Take just one look at the content of trending and popular blogs, and it is easy to see that there is a revolution brewing. People from industrialized nations are fighting to get out of debt and digging themselves out from under years worth of clutter. They have rejected rampant consumerism and embraced minimalism and sustainability. People are blogging about minimalist wardrobes, 'minsumerism', tiny houses, even owning less than 100 things.

And it's all very exciting. But is it just a backlash- or even a fad? Fantasizing about white, empty walls and scooping up all one's < 100 belongings to 'backpack across Europe' has been equated to lifestyle porn. It looks good, sounds good, and seems oh-so-sexy. But just like the fallacy that money can buy happiness, striving for a house of empty surfaces (sorry kids, no artwork on the fridge), empty schedules (so I can meditate, dammit!), or a (comfortably?) nomadic lifestyle just sound like weird personality quirks, not bliss. 

People struggling with body image issues are told not to compare themselves to others, and that the number on the scale does not define self-worth. I think the same thing applies to the number of possessions one owns. Moreover, I really don't see how going from extreme consumerism to a self-imposed 'monk'-like existence helps achieve what people really want, and that is freedom. Instead it seems that the costly wastefulness of materialism has been replaced with a heavy egoism dependent on having 'less'.

That being said, there is no denying that the minimalist movement has benefited many people. Just the aforementioned shedding of crushing debt has been one 'miracle' facilitated by minimalist thinking. Other advantages include less time cleaning, shopping, searching, and fixing, and much more time for loved ones, special hobbies, and oh yeah, living.

The key is balance. Instead of focusing on how much (or how much less), I personally plan to focus on what is 'enough'. While terms like 'minimalist' can be helpful and descriptive, I believe that applying such words as self-labels can make us feel burdened by yet another expectation, when the outcome implied by that label may not be what we actually want. That's where the term 'Living Simply' comes in, because it is open and individual- it can mean what you want it to mean. My goal is to live a happier, richer life using a simple 'Middle Way' approach - without becoming attached to the concept of 'less', or caught up in terms defined by someone else.

What does 'Living Simply' mean to you? Could this help individuals live happier, richer lives? What do you think of the term 'minimalism' and the current popular interest in this topic? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

May all beings be happy!


Monday, March 5, 2012

Goals for living simply, spring 2012

One of my major objectives is to simplify my life so that I have more time to enjoy with loved ones and doing activities I care most about.

I wouldn't exactly describe my current lifestyle as extravagant. As a 'recovering' grad student, shopping sprees and a big houseful of expensive gadgets aren't really part of the picture.

But over the past few years I still accumulated a lot of stuff (thank you Goodwill) and bought things 'just because I could'. I would forgo valuable and fun experiences like spiritual retreats and dance classes because 'I couldn't afford it', yet still buy stuff. 

It took some time to evolve, but I finally became aware of how stuff was becoming a problem. Just like the "donate, shop, donate" cycle they joke about on the signs around their store, I donated at least two carloads of stuff to Goodwill. I organized my personal paperwork and got rid of most of it. I sold some books and downsized my wardrobe.

But, after having a fantastically difficult time moving followed by an interesting period of my husband and I trying to 'merge' our stuff, I've realized that this simplifying thing is still a work in progress. Moreover, once my love of freedom became greater than my attachment to possessions, I also wanted to simplify other aspects of my life, such as the commitments I have and my online presence. 

My long-term goals are to:
only own items that I need, cherish, and enjoy
spend a minimum amount of time cleaning and taking care of items
have more cash for savings, travel, and experiences
have more time for doing the things I love
have more time for the people I love.

My short-term goals are to:
downsize my wardrobe to quality, wearable items
use the cosmetics, lotions, and creams I own, and replace most of them with homemade treatments
downsize kitchenware to things I actually use
continue organizing kitchen, especially utensils
sell books and antiques to local dealers and shops
go through paperwork once again, organize what I need and shred what I don't
reduce number of friends on facebook to the people I am closest to (this will be in phases)
spend less time on facebook and checking email
text less
take a trip and pack light.

My progress since moving to the east coast:
Downsized my wardrobe, kitchenware, books, and miscellaneous items
Decluttered the master bedroom, with the help of my amazing husband
Decluttered and organized the pantry and kitchen cupboards, also with the help of my husband :)
Two phases of facebook reducing (and adding appropriate contacts to linked in)
Slowly getting through excess cosmetics and toiletries 
Eliminated cell phone data and texting plans

And last but not least: Shopping only when I actually need something, not when I am bored or stressed.

Granted, there are two things that have made progress toward a simpler life easier 1) our apartment is small and 2) money is tight. But money was tight before, so this progress does reflect a change in mindset, both in my husband and myself. I should print out this post and keep this part in my wallet as a reminder to save and simplify, in case there is ever anything in it to spend :) 

In the meantime, I will try to post additional progress when I can. 

Has living a simpler life become important to you? What strategies do you use to live a simpler life? What are your goals?

May all beings be happy!