Tag Archives: writing

The Sycamore that Wanted to be a Cactus

sycamore I created this story and told it for the first time at Yoga West last Sunday. Some of my students encouraged me to publish it, so here it is!

I was inspired by the two sycamores we share a home with, “Don Quijote” and “Sancho Panza.” The picture with this post is actually one of them. I suppose you could say that we are the family in this make-believe story. Only, the message isn’t make-believe. You’ll probably see very quickly, that we all do what the sycamore tree does.

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This is a story about a sycamore tree who wished he could be more like the cactus. He stood very tall, next to another sycamore tree. Together, they guarded a charming old bungalow house and were much loved by the family who lived there.

He got the idea to imitate the cactus because all the billboard ads say that cactus spikes are in fashion. With all the attention the cactus was garnering, the sycamore began to feel that he wasn’t as handsome or as special as the cactus.

So, the sycamore went online and payed top dollar for the rarest cactus spikes from Mexico. From his elevated position, he was able to watch the street everyday, for his coveted Fed Ex delivery.

Finally, they arrived! And on that day, he pulled off all his fan-shaped leaves and replaced them with the pointy spikes in the box.

While he was online, he had seen more ads for similar imported goods from Mexico. One item, in particular, caught his attention: Genuine El Norteño cowboy boots! The ad said that these boots would make him more masculine. He couldn’t stop thinking about them, so once again, he snuck into the house, went online and ordered them.

And once again, he watched and waited for the unmistakable white truck to come down the street. Finally, when his beautiful boots arrived, he rushed to put them on. But this proved to be a formidable task, as his roots were very long and stringy and he was having a hard time scrunching them into the pointy, leather, boot toe.

At first, he felt proud and pleased with his new look. But after a few days, he wasn’t feeling so well. The Dr. said that without his leaves in tact, he wasn’t getting enough sunlight to facilitate photosynthesis. Tests also showed a deficiency in CO2.

As if this news wasn’t bad enough, he learned that the family members in the old wooden house, weren’t feeling well, either. They were short on oxygen and no longer had any shade to keep them cool on hot summer days.

That did it. The sycamore put his leaves back, at once, and replanted his roots in the earth, which immediately and thirstily began drinking up water, like happy kids sucking up apple juice with straws.

As he fortified his body with sunshine and water, balance was quickly restored and everyone felt better right away. The family once again began to enjoy picnics under the lush, green canopy formed by his fan-shaped leaves, and the giant expanse of shade that this created, kept the air fresh all year round. They even built a beautiful treehouse in his strong, shapely branches!

The sycamore came to realize that there is no other tree quite like him, that each one is beautiful in its own way, and that each fulfills a unique purpose in nature. He now felt very proud to be himself, to serve in a way that only he can, and to be such a tremendous source of delight in the world.

~DDQ

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Moral of the Story…
We give away our authenticity through our fixation on identity and our need for outside approval. We also succumb to what my teacher calls “OPO,” better known as, “Other People’s Opinions.” There is perhaps only one thing that’s worse—we cripple ourselves with our own stories, such as when we buy into it all, and begin to tell ourselves that we’re not good enough as we are.

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Day 1 – Meditation Journal

It’s that time again—I’m grading end-of-semester projects and as is always the case, I was struck many times, by moments of  gratitude and delight. It’s the gratitude of being able to introduce stressed-out students to meditation and the delight of witnessing what is sometimes nothing short of a personal transformation. Taking up a personal meditation (sadhana) for a week, as this student chose to do, is one of their project options. As I’ve done before, with the student’s enthusiastic permission, I’m sharing a portion of the one that brought the biggest smile.*

*Note: Following the entry, I have added the instructions to the meditation she did, along with a link to the recorded mantra she used.

Meditation Journal: Day One

It was Day One of my new sadhana commitment. I was woken up by a Rihanna song blasting out of my Iphone, and a few minutes after that, by my ten-year-old brother urging me to get ready and take him to school. After the hustle bustle of my early routine, I arrived at SMC and tried to fit my car into a parking space that would need a plier to get out of. I sat through class after class, took notes, stared at the clock, and made about thirty lists of things I had to do.

After the long day had progressed and I was finally in bed, I found myself nervous, as usual, and lost in my monkey mind of excess thoughts. I have quite a neurotic habit before I sleep, where I replay all the little, unimportant negative moments of my day that stuck out to me, like when my history professor poked fun at my question, or when a friend said something that hurt my feelings. Before I know it, I am usually so involved in the replaying of these scenes and distracted by other thoughts that remind me of other negative scenes, that I am up all night, with only a couple hours of sleep to spare.

But on this night, before I started this tedious process, I remembered it was day one of my new sadhana and I was committed to practicing the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation every day for the next week. I put on the mantra recording I had downloaded from amazon and sat calmly with my eyes closed. I breathed deeply a few times and then started whispering SA TA NA MA, then singing it, then singing it in my head. I chose this sadhana because I love singing and I loved the element of music and chanting that this sadhana had. As I sang the words, I alternated connecting my thumb fingers with each of my other fingers.

I started to feel more relaxed as I felt the anxieties of my day being sung away. My mind felt more focused and at the same time, more clear. I felt like I had created a peaceful sanctuary in my quiet room. I felt connected with my body and felt it get lighter as I let go some of the worries I was bottling up all day. As the meditation came to an end, I found that my mind was lighter than usual, and to my surprise, I laid my head on my pillow and fell asleep.  

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Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation

  1. Sit with a straight spine, either on the floor or in a chair. Rest the backs of the hands on the knees.
  2. Eye Focus is at the Third Eye (look up toward forehead).
  3. Inhale deeply and begin to chant aloud the mantra: Sa ta na ma.
  4. On the syllable sa, touch the index finger of each hand to the thumb; on ta, touch the middle finger to the thumb; on na, touch the ring finger to the thumb; on ma, touch the pinkie to the thumb. Continue with these finger movements, with a firm pressure.
  5. First chant the mantra aloud, imagining that the sounds come in through the crown and exit through the third eye in an L shape. Then, chant in a whisper. Finally, chant silently (mentally), before reversing the order (Follow the recording).
  6. To finish, take a deep breath and reach your arms overhead. Exhale, and draw your hands to your chest in prayer position.

This meditation is one of the core Kriyas in our tradition of Kundalini Yoga and has been duly researched and lauded for its measurable benefits to those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related brain disorders.

Here is one of my favorite short recordings of it, on amazon: Sa Ta Na Ma.

Seeing White

Recently someone casually asked me why we wear white, as teachers of Kundalini Yoga. Here is a short passage from my upcoming book, in which I explore the significance of this color.

I didn’t count on the way it would make me feel and the way it would uplift my own presence, as well as that of others around me. White projects an air of purity and neutrality. It is why Rabbis wear white on Yom Kippur and why doctors wear white. It is why, in biblical passages, it is the color of the divine. It is expansive, rather than protective; limitless—like infinity itself, rather than contained; endless, as the compassion and forgiveness we are expected to embody as teachers, and unbounded, like the very essence of our being. In its interminable reflectiveness, it leaves you no choice but to appear, to totally show up, rather than check out, overriding any habitual inclination to hide away, as if under a dark, defensive cloak of protection. I didn’t count on the way it would evoke a certain refinement of my thoughts and actions and my general comportment. Donning the color that is universally held up high and waved humbly as the symbol of truce, it is the mark of our own transformation. And like that waving symbol of peace, it is the emblem of our own ongoing new beginning.

The color white represents the seven colors. Cotton is the flower of the Earth. It is good for your psyche, your energy, and your nervous system. Your way of dressing should be saintly and make you glow with grace. ~Kundalini Yoga Teacher’s Code of Excellence

Find the Lesson


On action alone be thy interest… Never on its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor be thy attachment to inaction. ~Bhagavad Gita

After being told that “memoirs are a hard sell,” I am still writing. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel discouraged for a few days, but I rallied. My turnaround was so complete, I felt liberated by the new perspectives that the supposed bad news afforded.

The most important of these was the way I came to see the event and the role it played in bringing me back to the whole point of writing, which is…the writing. And this realization brought me back into sync with one of the main tenets of the Gita—the spirit of service. If I continue to write, for the sake of the writing, and from the need to share my wisdom and experience with whomever shall benefit, rather than for the promise of publication, then I am truly serving. This realization made me ever more grateful for the experience.

Another perspective that shone forth came in the form of one of my teacher’s words—words I had heard many times, but which beamed brightly now, as if from a burned-out lamp whose bulb had just been replaced:

If you can be deflected from your path, you will be. ~ Guru Singh

It is inevitable that we will meet with opposition, of some sort and at some point—will you hold to your commitment? Will you be like the water in the Tao, able to find your way around all the stones and rocks so gracefully?

Finally, in any situation that seems, at first, to be displeasing, can you find the good? In this case, it was the lesson it delivered. I never saw this project as a memoir, but that wasn’t really the point. The lesson strengthened my commitment, not only to the writing, but to the art of living in grace, generally—and that requires trust. Trust that my offering will find the right home when it’s ready. After all…it is the only story I can tell, and it is a story only I can tell!

I share this story, as well, with the hope that someone may take encouragement from its lessons. What is your commitment?

A Little Bite from My Upcoming Book

It’s official—I have committed to my second book! In the spirit of the season and as a way of stamping and certifying the announcement, I am sharing just a little nibble here, from chapter 1:

Everything worthwhile begins with commitment—our marriages, our career, our friendships and every project we’ve ever undertaken, from the smallest task, to the largest; from cultivating a garden in our homes, to losing weight or leaving an unsatisfying job. In all of these pursuits, we dream of living “happily ever after.” But we fail to understand the true nature of happiness. Just as the sunshine, the droplets of moisture in the sky and our viewpoint, together, bring a rainbow’s colors to life, so happiness too, has conditions. And like the rainbow, once we begin to look for it, it’s nowhere to be found.

PS, I will share more about the scope of the book in a later post! ~DQ

On Writing; Like Dumping Bricks

I have had this analogy of writing in my mind for quite a while. I’m finally putting it to print.

DUMPING
The delivery truck beeps as it reverses into what is about to become your new driveway. It lowers its bed and dumps its contents onto the dirt. A mountain of bricks now sits there, in a heap.

It’s like the beginning of a writing project. You first have to put your ideas down freely. In a very real sense, you are unloading. Driven on by the silent ingredient of faith, you are uninhibitedly saying what you want to say, without regard to style and without hesitation. This is important; it means you are not giving in to the temptation to edit, yet. It means you trust yourself enough to let go of the tendency to say things perfectly. You trust yourself enough to get out of your own way. Unloading freely allows you to clarify for yourself what it is you really want to say. Like the bricks, there is an order to writing. The raw material—the words and ideas—must first be dumped before it can be arranged.

ARRANGING
After the bricks are laid out, you begin to examine them. What have you got? Where do these belong? And those? You organize them by size and shape, you lay them out, you arrange them properly and you begin building your structure. In writing, this means you now have your raw material. You clarify ambiguities and eliminate vagueness. You move entire paragraphs, you rephrase, you cross out sentences and other bits that are found to be repetitive, redundant or extraneous.

DECORATING
After the bricks are properly arranged, you begin to add decorative elements. An arch, a spire, a well-placed tier. You chisel, you layer, you alternate pieces. You give it rhythm and color. And you clean up all the messy, oozing cement.

In writing terms, it is time to prettify it. You know exactly which points to stress and where to stress them. You doll it up. Or you don’t. You recruit useful analogies or poetic metaphors to give it flair. As a painter uses pigment to create a desired style, tone and mood, language is your medium. And this is where everyone wants to frolic right away, but just as we were told as kids, there’s a time and a place for everything. Trying to decorate too fast would be as absurd as trying to anchor a building’s terrace before laying the foundation for it.

As an aside, following a logical order counteracts what is known as “writer’s block,” which occurs when you get overly concerned with form and style too soon. You’ve got to have building blocks with which to build before you can shape them and polish them—before you can do anything at all.

Excerpt from Buddha in the Classroom (Our Fixation on Passion)

Excerpt from Chapter 19—Passion; Accept, Adapt, and Abandon Hope

The real problem with our fixation on passion is the near certainty that even a blazing fire will dim with time.

Then what?

Even when passion is pursued and found, the affair won’t last forever. Passion changes. We change. A dancer friend recently shared with me the common experience among the cast members of a famous musical. Far from reveling in prideful accomplishment for having been part of one of the longest-running shows, they’re sick and tired physically, and mentally jaded. Many are dancing on old injuries, and are scarcely able to find the motivation to go onstage night after night; yet somehow they manage to put themselves into their postures and glissade, on tiptoe, onto the stage, one more time, because it’s how they make their living. It is the same motivation that gets most of the world to work every day.

It reminds me of the ancient Greek myth about Sisyphus: He is condemned by the gods to push a gigantic boulder up a hill, over and over, all day long, even as it continuously rolls to the bottom of its own weight as soon as he gets it to the top. The gods understood the futility of wasted labor, so assigning it was the perfect, wicked punishment. In retelling the story, the French philosopher Albert Camus likens the absurdity of the task to the everyday predicament of every single one of us, pushing our rocks in our own way, as we struggle to meet deadlines, deal with coworkers and bosses, and solve the problems that are part and parcel of any workday, anywhere.

But Camus was an optimist.

Despite his fate, it is Sisyphus himself who decides to be happy. He can whistle and hum happy songs while he pushes his rock, or he can lament and endlessly curse his fate. The irony is that as soon as he realizes the power inherent in his own reaction, he is liberated. He makes his fate his own. It is he alone who decides to be happy or miserable. In a nod to our own capacity for liberation, Camus says, “We must imagine Sisyphus smiling.”

Dharma: The Lesson for Teachers

Sisyphus’s existentialist smile resonates with the Buddhist reminder to let go. Sisyphus smiles because he accepts his fate. To let go is to accept. And through acceptance, Sisyphus liberates himself from his sentence. To accept is to simultaneously stop resisting. When you stop resisting, you are able to enjoy your experiences, which is to say, your life.

Accept, adapt, and abandon hope, Zen says…

Excerpt from Buddha in the Classroom (No Beginning & No End)

Well, the month has arrived! My book, Buddha in the Classroom; Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers, is now available for purchase. In celebration of the event, I will be posting a couple of excerpts this month. Here is the first, taken from one of the Dharma Lessons that follow each of the classroom chronicles I share in the book.

Excerpt from Chapter 7—Grading Papers; There is No Beginning and No End

We’re rushing to our deaths, Zen says.

We go through life forever trying to get to ten. We look to the clock with great expectations, forever asking, even as grown-ups, if we’re there yet. We humor the children when they ask, but we ask too, in our own rushed ways, in all the days of our lives, and in everything we do, forever rushing to the end. The end of what? If this continues throughout every activity, throughout the rest of our lives, the only end in sight is death.

As an experiment, catch yourself the next time you find yourself thinking in terms of quantity. It might be the day’s errands, or the pile of bills, or, like me, the talking stack of papers on your desk. Simply notice the feeling of urgency and the tendency to rush through them. Notice, also, the inclination to shrink back. Although they seem like opposite tendencies, both come from the same feeling of aversion, and serve only to keep us out of touch with the actual task. We’re taken aback by the enormity of what we’ve created in our minds, so we say, I’m just going to plow through it and get it done, or, It’s too overwhelming and I don’t know where to start. See them both as nothing more than habits that come from our skewed way of envisioning time.

Both responses pull us out of the freshness of direct experience. They both bind us to the fantasy of a task rather than the reality of it, warping our sense of what is really required. Wasting energy on head trips is exhausting, and we do it to ourselves. A task is done in steps, because reality is made up of steps, infinitely divided flashes of time that are too small to measure. We come to life and our energy soars when we join that moment, rather than standing separate from it—when we rise to the occasion rather than sink into the pit of resistance. When we join the moment, we join time. We are time.

Ultra distance runner Pam Reed understands this. When running superhuman distances that require her to continue on for three days straight, with no sleep or breaks of any kind, she tells herself she only has to get to the next pole, to the next marker, right there. She keeps herself from getting vacuumed up into the enormity of the distance and ends up at the final mark by employing these little tricks—which are less like tricks than they are reminders of reality itself.

Time is an abstraction that stops and stares right back at us as soon as we separate ourselves from it. To be separated from time is to watch it. It’s a shy child that can’t play naturally, and acts awkwardly when we watch, but as soon as we look away and rejoin our conversations, she continues to play naturally. Time flows when we stop watching it. Staring at the clock is to resist reality. I don’t like this situation—can’t this clock move any faster! Like Pam Reed, we need only put one foot in front of the other, and take a step, right here and now.

Poetry Page Updated!

I just uploaded almost all of my poetry. It is divided up based on form.

I have been fascinated with sonnets for a long time and have amassed quite a few through the years, so those are first. Further down are the Haiku, followed by those in loose form. I also included the date of each poem, next to my signature.

I have heard that poetry is a hard sell and this baffles me, for, as each art form does in its own way, poetry provides us with an elusive snapshot of this mysterious thing we call truth, and it does this by going beyond the discourse, debate and argumentation. Thus, as with all art, its valuable place in human life seems to me, unquestionable. I have also heard that poetry is easy to write and this baffles me even more, for, just like prose, a good poem has needs and requirements to tend to. A poem requires knowledge of form, a feeling for meter, a feeling for rhythm and a good sense of rhyme. There are decisions to be made, and like prose, even the decision not to make any at all, is, after all, a decision. And the decision to leave it all behind, requires knowledge of what it is you’re leaving behind. It’s like when someone says, “anybody can sing.” Sure, anybody can sing, but not everybody can sing!
~DQ

What’s New?

I am currently writing a follow-up to the article I recently wrote for Elephant Journal. Like the first article, it takes the reader into my classroom, where together, we explore important questions arising from Buddhist philosophy, like how on earth I’m supposed to be happy when the world is falling apart.

Yesterday, my lecture on Emptiness was filmed. We’ll see how it turns out – hopefully it’ll be uploaded to Youtube within the next week or two.

And although I haven’t added a blog post lately, I have added a POETRY page (see the horizontal index on top), which will allow me to house some of the poetry I’ve written over the years. I have so much, that it will be a project in itself to upload a fair portion of it in some sort of organized way, but that’s next in line, after the Elephant Journal article.

But most exciting of all, is that my publisher just gave me word that my book is expected in their warehouse TODAY! The release date is May 11th, but I should have a copy in hand before that – can’t wait!