"Love is real. Everything else is an illusion. Live in this realm and be at peace."

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Short Story 1: Dharma Talk?

(This story was written for Jack Kornfield's 60th birthday)


“Enjoy!” Those were the words of my teacher, Jack Kornfield, this auspicious March 1998 Monday evening after eating a wonderful dinner in the Spirit Rock Dining Hall.

I had asked Jack for some words of advice, a teaching sort of speak, prior to my leaving the next day for my first 90 day retreat. This retreat would be a personal solitary retreat, the kind where you just sit and show up to yourself day after day. I wouldn’t be following any specific program or sitting schedule, therefore, I felt some guidance from the teacher who has greatly influenced my practice would be helpful.

I must admit I had kind of hoped for something a little more bounteous and well rounded than the simple word “Enjoy”. I mean, “Enjoy” is what someone might say to another person who is going to Disneyland or Paris.

Jack probably averages at least one 45 minute Dharma talk a week and has been giving them for over twenty years. Therefore, I thought he would have had a little more to say than “Enjoy”. I’m sure his files contain hundreds of written commentaries and notes on planned and delivered talks each touching upon the Dharma and that one of those would fit me perfectly.

My thoughts went to how I experience each of his talks which are aimed at a particular subject and delivered to a group of people hungry for guidance and a deeper understanding of their lives. I have sat through many of these talks over the last nine years and I’ve noticed that his notes are hand written, carefully stapled at the top of the page, and accompanied by highlights to identify quotes from an assortment of books and articles strategically placed in a half circle around him as he gives the particular talk. While we are sitting I notice he writes down new passages and insights making the talk more current to his experience at that moment. This makes any given talk relevant, wonderful and, at times, even mystical. Maybe I was hoping for that, spur of the moment, divine set of words from him.

“Enjoy?” I repeated back with a touch of, ‘is that all’ quality around it. “Yes” he said, “you know, you’ll experience joys, sorrows, along with numerous ups and downs, just like a roller coaster, so what else are you going to do?” Now this was more like it, I thought. For a brief moment I believed he was going to launch right into a special 5 minute lesson made especially for me.

But instead his attention was pulled away into a conversation with another yogi seeking a thought or teaching. And, although I was wrong about the 5 minute lesson, he was probably right that I would experience all kinds of ups and downs and end up having to choose to enjoy or not enjoy the experience. Thinking of the word enjoy, as Jack spoke to this other yogi it transformed into “in joy” as if it could be a choice to find joy in whatever came up.

As I walked away I realized I had learned three things: One, that the number of words doesn’t always indicate the depth of the teaching. Two, having a one word teaching would be easy to remember. And three, how I work with this teaching would be the challenge.

The 90 day retreat was challenging and there were times during my 12 – 14 hours of daily sitting I regretted the choice of doing this retreat. I learned how to weather the body pains which arrived emphatically, and as the 35th day rolled by I began to be in joy every time I started and ended a 2 hour sit. But then came a day of true reckoning.

I had begun to experience a real lifting of my lifetime angst and had started to believe I’d reached a new plateau in my practice and presence of being. After a particularly quiet and blissful sit I got up to do a walking meditation. I felt as if I was in a solid state of open clarity and awareness as I found my way down the driveway which leads to the center. I was much attuned to the sounds of the wind and the birds chirping in the bushes to my left and there was a overwhelming peace within my soul as my mind started to think “this was it”.

Just as this wave of awareness passed through my being I looked down to watch, in slow motion, my foot lift up move forward and place itself over a dazzling luminescent beetle. As the weight of my foot fell onto the back of this beautiful being, its exoskeleton was being uncompromisingly crushed by the weight of my body – and there was nothing I could do to stop this event.

It was over in a flash. My awareness, my clarity, and my peaceful bliss collapsed with my body as I crumbled onto my knees in the middle of the driveway. Tears raced down my face and a sad wail and moan, reflecting my mindlessness, came out of my mouth. With shock, horror and sorrow, my thought was; what have I done? After crying over the crushed remains of the beetle for 15 or more minutes I looked up to see a car, engine idling at the bottom of the driveway patiently waiting for me to move. I lifted the remains off of the driveway with stick and placed them in the bordering field.

Tears drying while I lay on my back in the field next to my crushed brother, thoughts of the teaching “enjoy” came up. How could I be in joy over this mindless action? How is it possible to enjoy being alive right now, I asked.

Then it dawned on me. Where was all this compassion and sadness for this bug coming from? Wasn’t I, just a few dozen years ago, one of those people who simply killed any bug that was invading my space? Yes, I was and now look at me mourning over one mindless act resulting in the death of a sentient being.

Then I realized that my becoming more mindful of all sentient beings is where joy in this act lived. Along the way I’d learned about our interconnectedness with all beings and this is something to be in joy about. We are all one and each step is important, so be careful and "Enjoy".


Story 2: Gift of Love