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There is No Place Like Home…Really

“If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family,” teaches Ram Dass. Our families—including our familiar networks of friends, neighbors and co-workers—ground us, reminding us of the goodness of life. We tend to remember this when we are far away from home or in a really difficult situation, lost in the woods or in a strange city, or imprisoned by an evil witch, and so on. In such a situation, we recall eating an ordinary dinner with friends or family and suddenly see the scene glowing goodness and love. “There’s no place like home,” as Dorothy says.…

Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939), "Silence of the Water," 1895

Be an Island

“Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves….” As he lay dying, the Buddha gave this advice to his beloved disciple Ananda. Death reveals the true value and meaning of life, which can be summed up in two words: it passes. Life goes on with us or without us. When the Buddha spoke of…

Image from a Japanese scroll which describes the realm of the hungry ghosts and how to placate them. Currently housed at the Kyoto National Museum, artist unknown.

Angry Ghosts

One night when my mother was a little girl growing up in the panhandle of western Nebraska, she was driving with her father when she saw, far off in the plains, a cross burning in the middle of a circle of Klu Klux Klansmen. The sight filled her with terror. Her parents came from Denmark…

Elliott Erwitt, "New York City," 1958

The Quiet Superpower

I love walking in the city, flowing along in a great river of humanity. But under ordinary circumstances I flow along in my own bubble of thought. Most of us live in this contradiction most of the time. We yearn to be part of a larger life, out there in a place where anything can…

Ivan Aivazovsky, Between the Waves, 1898

On Being Nobody…and No One

How deeply we fear being nobody. One way to think of the ego is as a defense against pain, particularly the pain of being no one. It shores us up, reminding us that we are somebody. We update our internal resumes and narratives constantly. We seek new skills and go on self-improvement regimes of all…

Oda Krohg, "By the Oslofjord," 1886 (Detail)

Be Straw

Once a poor miller was summoned to meet with a king. The summons itself must have filled him with terror. Evolutionary biologists tell us that we fear public speaking and other ways of being on the spot because we are all wired to link survival with acceptance by the tribe. And this king was the…