Monthly Archives: March 2016

the beauty and power of words


Gatha is a Sanskrit term meaning verse or hymn. In Buddhist literature it is used to designate the versified portion of the sutras.

 As I prepare to embark on a journey through Buddhist gathas, three thin volumes sit at my side. One is a translation of the Dhamapada that my mother helped make more accessible to a Western audience, one is a sliver of a book by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled Present Moment Wonderful Moment, and the third is a book by Robert Aitken Roshi called The Dragon Who Never Sleeps.

 Verse and meditation have been intimately linked since the beginning of religious thought. Part poetry, part affirmation, part vessel for wisdom, gathas cover a vast territory. Short and incisive, they supply us with a pocket practice we can carry anywhere and pull out at anytime. They are equally as useful for beginners as they are for advanced practitioners. The use of verse as a carrier for wisdom is not only found in Buddhism but also in other religions throughout the world. The Torah, the Psalms, the Bible, and the Koran are just a few examples of illuminated words that contain an experience of enlightenment within their syllables.

When we encounter just the right words a door to a more expansive reality opens up before us. We can enter there. The words may be different for different cultures, different ages, and different personalities, but their effect is the same. When we meet these words, the spiritual world becomes, not simply beautiful thoughts, but a very real experience of the numinous in the present moment. Gathas can bring us here. They remind us of the joy and depth that is available regardless of our circumstances.

Looking at these skinny little books, almost pamphlets really, it’s clear that an inquiry into gathas is not going to be about research or scholarship. Gathas are art forms. Because of this we can’t think our way through them. We need to feel and experience a gatha. It is a dance between our awareness and the present moment. The way into a gatha is through our own flesh and blood life-the dishes being washed, the snarky thought, the food being eaten, combined with an openness to experiencing life fresh. Here are a couple of gathas:

When I feel I haven’t got
I vow with all
To light incense, and making my
Touch the place of no time.

Robert Aitken, Roshi

Entering the meditation
I see my true
I vow that once I sit
All disturbances will stop.

Thich Nhat Hanh

The above gathas deal directly with meditation, but no situation is too small or too large for a gatha:

When the traffic is bumper to
I vow with all
To move when the world starts moving
And rest when it pauses again.

Robert Aitken, Roshi

May I cut you, little flower,
Gift of Earth and sky?
Thank you, dear bodhisattva,
For making life beautiful.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Each of these gathas deal with everyday life. Can you hear how different the voices of Aitken Roshi and Thich Nhat Hanh are? Both navigate the depths, yet each psyche is unique. Your awakening does not look like my awakening or Aitken Roshi’s awakening or Thich Nhat Hanh’s awakening, even thought we inevitably touch the same, basic truths. This is the case with the world’s great religions and mystical systems as well. Each system dives deep into the heart of the matter and brings up its treasures, conveying the depths using different languages and imagery for different cultures.

The challenges you encounter each day are different than the challenges I encounter. Because of this we may be attracted to different gathas. A gatha about ox herding is not so relevant to today’s city dweller. A gatha about waiting in traffic is not so relevant to someone who doesn’t drive. Allusions about plants and the seasons appeal to some, allusions about graffiti and bus stations to others. Images and language evoke different things to different people given their life experiences. For this reason we need to continue creating new poems, new literature and new gathas. They are living art forms.

We all have some experience of this depth of wisdom. It’s who we are. A gatha is designed to remind us of who we are and tap into that depth, as we are all prone to forget, over and over. Both beginners and seasoned practitioners need to be reminded of the bigger picture many times a day, regardless of how long we’ve been at this spiritual awakening journey. A gatha can aid in the realization of this purpose.

Nobody knows the best language to use or what situations we encounter daily better than ourselves. With a little support we can learn how to write our own gathas from that deep, still place within us. Using language that is meaningful to us, our homemade gathas will touch our hearts powerfully and directly. They will remind us of who we really are throughout the unique particulars of our day.

Hearth is embarking on a gatha writing experiment. What words resonate with you? Which parts of your day do you most need a gatha? How can you tap into a more awakened reality in order to bring more awareness into the mundane? If you feel called to explore this with us please contact me at






flower, water, mountain, space


Breathing in: I am a flower
Breathing out: I am fresh

 Breathing in: I am still water
Breathing out: I am calm

 Breathing in: I am a mountain
Breathing out: I am strong

 Breathing in: I am space
Breathing out: I am free

Variation on Thich Naht Hanh’s meditation for children.

Over many years of teaching meditation to mothers I’ve continually heard them say, “Now that I have children I have no time to meditate.” Mothers today juggle keeping a home, raising children and, more often than not, working outside of the home. This leaves little time to take a bath let alone sit in meditation! What little discretionary time they have they want to spend with their children. With this in mind, Hearth began a new series on Meditation with Children. This course is designed to meet three needs at once; to explore new ways to meditate, to share meaningful time with our children and to be in community with other families who are also meditating in their homes.

There are two things that bode well for families that meditate with their children. One is that mom’s are apt to take care of their children’s needs before getting around to their own. In light of this, we can find our meditation during time spent with our children. Children are natural meditators. Give them the tools and watch them work! Then there is the matter of respect between parent and child. When we meditate with our children we are acknowledging their spiritual intelligence, which elevates the relationship to a position of friendship and mutual respect. This is of great value, especially as our children become teenagers and young adults.

In the west we have come to think of meditation as sitting, and for some walking as well. While sitting we can become quiet, our attention becomes delicate. Quiet meditation helps deepen our awareness when we sit for stretches of time, especially when we sit with an authentic teacher. But sitting quietly is just one way to practice awareness. In fact, the Buddha said there are four positions one can awaken in; sitting, standing, lying and walking- a poetic way to reveal that awakening can happen anytime, anywhere. This includes in the midst of our busy days.

We can’t create a problem free world for our children, no matter how hard we may try. Life can be capricious and filled with betrayals, illnesses, and unkindness. But we can provide a place for our children to remember their true glowing nature even amidst life’s slings and arrows. Meditation can see us, and our children, through whatever life throws at us. It can help us deal with anger, sadness, confusion and other natural aspects of being human. Another beautiful thing about giving our children the gift of meditation is that once the gift is given no one can ever take it away from them. When we teach our children to meditate we are giving them tools that will serve them their entire lives. Our children carry this powerful tool with them wherever they go. So do we. If we nurture the gift, it continues to grow.

To encourage family meditation Hearth is offering a five week course on meditation with children. This course offers a number of different approaches to meditation. There is not a lot of reading, just some words for inspiration. These practices can be found in other places. What we hope to add to the mix is community support for families wanting to meditate. The practices are the paints, your home and family are the canvas. You create the pictures.

As a final gesture of generosity we share our experiences with other families, our questions, triumphs and challenges. The only commitment required for this class is for you to try the practices with your family, post at least once each week and enter the series with the intent to support your fellow classmates. If you would like to sign up for our next group contact me at

Come join us!