Tag Archives: my mantra

Quest Questions

“If you don’t understand the way right before you,
how will you know the path as you walk?
Progress is not a matter of far or near,
but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.
I respectfully urge you who study the mystery,
don’t waste time.”

~ Shitou Xiqian, “Harmony of Difference and Equality”

I started this blog nearly three years ago with the express purpose of chronicling, and seeking guidance for, a quest of mine: to prove that one can simultaneously pursue one’s passions and sustain a modestly comfortable lifestyle. Well, the time has whizzed by, and I’m not sure I’m any closer to my goal, but this seems as good a moment as any for a progress (or lack thereof) report.

In the past three years I moved from Denver to Austin and back in something of a sub-quest for my magic mantra of Money, Mission, Mate, and Home. I’ve managed to earn enough from various school and freelancing jobs not to burn all the way through the savings I took from the world of regular, full-time work. When I’ve been able to maintain enough focus, I’ve brainstormed various schemes and ideas for how to find/create work I love that also pays the bills.

And yet, as I said above, I don’t seem to have progressed terribly far toward my goal of passion-driven, life-sustaining work, despite having learned a good bit and enjoyed some adventures. Were I to issue myself a performance evaluation using the criteria of that four-part mantra, I’d have to say I’m one for four at best (Mission), with bits and pieces of the other three.

How could I have let the years slip through my fingers just like that? How can it be so easy to get lost in the day-to-day trees as to completely lose sight of the life’s-purpose forest? I’ve been just getting by for years, telling myself, “Well, this isn’t so bad. Let’s give it one more year and see what happens.”

Well, no longer. I am no longer willing to “one more year” myself.

But what does that mean? First off, I think it means I have to stop wasting time; I have to stop indulging myself in any pursuit that doesn’t further this quest. It means I have to be ever more focused and disciplined in identifying and going after what I want.

Okay, fine: so what do I want, then? Again returning to the mantra, I want: Continue reading


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What’s In Your Bag?

Another Monday, another very short Zen story. This one comes from The Great Heart Way, a truly remarkable book co-written by the teachers at Great Mountain Zen Center in Lafayette, Colorado, where I first sat.

There was a traveling monk who went from temple to temple carrying a big bag of horse manure over his shoulder. When he arrived at a new temple, he would set his bag down and exclaim, “This place smells like shit!” Then he’d pick up his bag and move on to the next temple and do the same thing, surprised every time.

I hesitated briefly when choosing to post this story: as pithy and humorous as I find it, it could come across as an obvious point rather coarsely expressed. In the end, I decided that this tale embodies quite well the frank earthiness of Zen—and as I mention on the homepage, if I’m not offending someone at some point, I’m probably not doing my job.

For me this story is pertinent not only because of my deepening interest in Zen, but even more, my ongoing quest to find a more fulfilling life situation, one that more fully approaches my magic mantra of Money, Mission, Mate, and Home. Continue reading


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Quotable Home

Like many people, I imagine, I enjoy gathering quotes. In fact, I’ve posted a few here on this blog. So it’s hardly surprising that, given my mantra, a number of my favorite quotes would delve into the meaning of home.

For instance, I have no idea how I came upon this first quotes, but you can probably see why I held on to it…

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

~ George Moore

Then there’s Kathleen Norris, who’s lived the question of home in a rather deep and conscious way. In her twenties, Norris left New York City to spend what she thought would be a few years attending to the estate of her grandparents in rural South Dakota, a place she’d visited extensively throughout her childhood. This temporary move ended up lasting nearly twenty years, during which time Norris plumbed the social and geographical aspects of home—what ties people to a place and to each other, and how culture emerges from these interconnections.

I suspect that when modern Americans ask “what is sacred?” they are really asking “what place is mine? what community do I belong to?”

~ Dakota: a spiritual geography

To be an American is to move on, as if we could outrun change. To attach oneself to place is to surrender to it, and suffer with it.

~ The Cloister Walk

However, the two home-quotes that have spoken most vividly to me come from Wallace Stegner’s novel Angle of Repose (one of my all-time favorites) and Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America (which she autographed for me at a bookstore in Boulder, where I was then living and where she’d once studied). Continue reading

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Three Faces of Home

As part of my magic mantra, I’d say considerations of Home and all it entails reasonably qualify as an obsession. For years I’ve wanted to live in a place that felt like home; for years I’ve wondered where on Earth that place might be.

Recently, though, I’ve been wondering if—for me, anyway—home is less about place and more about people. Generally speaking, it seems the more I think about home, the more wrinkles and ramifications I discover. For example—and at the risk of grossly oversimplifying things—glancing over my past and present reveals at least three different types of home: what I’ll call geographic, social, and residential.

Continue reading

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Do You Think I’m Asking Too Much?

I’ve explored the wisdom of navigating terra icognita by relying on one’s sense of what’s appealing or compelling at a given moment, and of skipping ahead mentally to one’s preferred life and working backwards until a path’s in sight. Perhaps it’s time to apply those models a little more closely to my own situation.

Recently I’ve begun applying the navigation-by-inclination approach to my current situation, surveying various activities that seem both appealing and capable of generating income. In this post, I’d like to start delving into my personal vision of an ideal work environment and see what that turns up in the way of options.

On the most general level, I know that I crave meaningful work that enables a modest, yet comfortable, lifestyle—in other words, the “mission” and “money” elements of my mantra, leaving aside for now the aspect of “home” (though I will say that paying work I can find not tied to a particular locale would seems to maximize my flexibility).

Speaking of flexibility, I know this is an important quality in whatever work I pursue, along with a great deal of discretion or latitude in setting my agenda and deadlines, plus ample amounts of quiet solitude. Being able to spend time outdoors and travel would be a bonus.

Given all this, as well as things mentioned in recent posts, it would seem my niche lies in nonprofit management, promotion, building, etc.—entrepreneurship with a cause. As I’ve said before, I feel absolutely driven toward work that truly makes a difference, that will leave the world a better place: reducing suffering, cultivating compassion, empowering people.

Yet I wonder how to go about finding this kind of work in a form (or forms) that enable me to cover my basic expenses. The world for which I was prepared and conditioned—one of full-time employment in stable, extended careers—seems long-gone now. This appears especially true for the sort of crusading, windmill-tilting work that calls me, work whose relative tenuousness and low pay isn’t all that new.

So once again, the core question of this blog looms: how do I, a middle-aged man with ancient teaching credentials and modest freelance writing experience, create a life of meaningful, enjoyable and creative work/play, sustaining and sustainable? Continue reading


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Identifying Passion

Hello My Name Is PassionI don’t know how to account for this, but something isn’t working…or something’s missing, or something’s out of alignment. (Or, perhaps, all of the above.)

On the one hand, how can I complain when I’m spending the vast majority of the time doing what I want: building and enjoying a Sudbury school, making music with talented singers, meditating with a spiritual community, and running and biking year-round? I spend time with good people, and I have time to myself. So what if I haven’t figured out how to make all this financially feasible, if I’m still keenly missing the communities I had to leave behind?

On the other hand, how can I not acknowledge my ongoing struggle to prove it’s possible to make a living pursuing one’s passions in a place that feels like home? Or my frustration that, after seven months, I seem not that much closer to realizing that vision.

Previously I’ve explored the wisdom of navigating terra icognita by relying on one’s sense of what’s appealing or compelling at a given moment, and of skipping ahead mentally to one’s preferred life and working backwards until a path’s in sight. Perhaps it’s time to apply those models a little more closely to my own situation.

Regarding the first question—navigation by inclination—I’ve also written previously about the critical role of passion in creating an authentic, vibrant life. In my view, passion is closely related to cultivating one’s intuition, to being mindful and honest, and loving life (or, to use Byron Katie’s term, Loving What Is).

All right, then, what are my passions? When do I feel most alive? Continue reading

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Homing In

“Where are you from?” “Where’s home?”

Sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest.

In a recent post I considered the benefits of envisioning one’s ideal life, then working backward until a path emerges. I decided that elaborating my mantra of Money, Mission, Mate, and Home might be a way to try this out for myself. Thus, having begun with a glance at Mission, I now turn to a subject scarcely less dear: that of Home.

As I said in my original mantra post:

For years I’ve been seeking a sense of home, something more than just a place to keep my stuff and pursue my career and recreation…I want to feel grounded, rooted, connected. Ideally, this home would combine access to nature and urban opportunities; vibrant, overlapping communities and not too much sprawl; and not be too far from my family.

A year ago at this time, I knew I had to shake things up somehow. Straddling the border between comfortable and stagnant, I felt myself going in circles. Now, I want to be clear that going in circles isn’t necessarily bad: at a certain point in life, it seems we find those circles that work best for us, that circling in fact means digging down, nesting into an increasingly grounded, rooted existence.

Yet I’d never felt particularly connected to Colorado as a place, and the fact that the things I most enjoyed there were so far apart meant that (a) I was spending a great deal of time on the road, and (b) none of my micro-communities overlapped in the least.

Contributing to Colorado’s not feeling like home was that its climate, topography, and vegetation differ significantly from what I imprinted on living in Missouri and Illinois my first 30 years. It didn’t help that I was nearly 800 miles from my family at a time when my parents are aging and my niece and nephews are rapidly growing up.

Thus, when Austin appeared on my horizon, I leaped. Continue reading


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