Home Page–Summary/Guide

July 9, 2010

A quick summary of how to find what you are interested in:

Index Tab: (above):  Links for Specific Articles by title

Categories: (side bar):   Articles by Topic in Chronological Order

Links to Most Searched Articles (opens in a new window):


Dealing with A Bad Performance Review Appraisal

Employee Performance Appraisal Rankings–Lessons about Flaws from “Arrows Paradox”

Office Backstabbing 101

Zen Stories

Two Monks and a Woman

The Tigers and the Strawberry


Zen Teaching Schedule

Advertising Zen

Offering Zen to Students

Problem Solving

Teaching Students Problem Solving-Confusion/Resourcefulness/Confidence

Eliminating Mental Bias Decision Errors

Effective Quantitative Problem Solving Methods

Solving Complex Problems—Put Aside the First Idea


Academic Survival–The First College Semester

Getting Off Academic Probation–Looking Further for Success


Making up a Good New Children’s Story Every Night

Stacking Blocks for the Imagination–A Great Toy not Found in Many Stores


Cold Remedies, Miso Soup and the Influence of Advertising

Healing Ocean Oriental Medicine

Preventing Common Household Accidents–Swiss Cheese Model

Teaching High School Engineering Resource Site


Office Backstabbing: 101

November 16, 2006

There is nothing more unsightly than watching co-workers crudely hack at each other competing for a better job. It is office politics at its lowest. The pros do this so smoothly that people view their promotions as inevitable when these individuals jump over their boss with only routine performance credentials.

It’s useful to think about the some of the underlying techniques. As a hypothetical example, consider these points if you were trying make such a move.

Maintain integrity about verifiable facts.
Apparent credibility is essential to succeed. It is important never to be caught distorting an objective fact.
A powerful tool is simply to ignore inconvenient facts that may not be known or verifiable by others. It is also acceptable to spin the facts, as every politician does.

Separate self-promotion activities from attacks.
Self-promotion is always accepted and is just getting the word out about accomplishments and abilities. Backstabbing in this case means attacking unfairly or in an underhand deceitful manner. Both activities have their place, but mixing them in the same conversation really calls attention to the attack.

Enforce corporate values to others.
These values may not apply to you, but enforcing them does provide a good image and, in fact, does hold some of the others in check. Few people want to acknowledge that those with extraordinary success have followed their own rules.

Cultivate independent relationships with the influential, especially in soft business settings.
Soft business settings are activities which do not have the core day to day objectives as their primary focus. Consequently, there are routine opportunities for informal information dissemination. Fact finding and exploratory committees are among the best since they tend to provide regular access. These peripheral activities, often passed up by the rank and file, are sought after by the pros.

Use information about targets appropriately, based on its content.
Information about targets has its own value

(i) Negative information can be disseminated in an objective manner.
If the facts speak for themselves, there is no need to risk integrity points by adding much subjective opinion.

(ii) Positive information value can be minimized.
The positive content can often be minimized by presenting it in a context that logically results in an unfavorable comparison. This technique has the advantage that it simultaneously acknowledges the others accomplishment while denigrating its significance. (Example: “Yes, they delivered ahead of schedule, but twice as many resources were used…..)

(iii) Disinformation is an art.
Disinformation should contain just enough fact so that the entire statement can be immediately accepted as true. There is an emotional negative taint that sticks even if the negative ambiguities are later corrected. Paraphrasing others, without attribution, is a very common and effective method

Disinformation attacks are best made when the targets are separated geographically so that they do not have the opportunity to respond immediately. The additional time both allows the disinformation to morph into doubts or rumors, as well as leaves some vagueness about the originating circumstances.

A modicum of patience is needed here. The opportunities for using information present themselves if the foundation elements are in place. There is no need to force them.

Leave no traces.
It is embarrassing that otherwise cunning adults believe that e-mails and voice mails are not treated as public information.

Of the seven techniques discussed above, none are examples of particularly egregious behavior. It is the use of them together that makes the underhanded methods successful. It’s just part of the corporate landscape and important to track.

The one exception is disinformation. Ultimately tolerating, and even rewarding purveyors of disinformation, will corrupt and cripple any organization. It’s inevitable. Plan for it.

A related post:   Recognizing Incompetence Early–Pretending to be a Manager

The Lama of Crystal Mountain

June 10, 2014

From the Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

The Lama of Crystal Mountain appears to be a very happy man, and yet I wonder how he feels about his isolation in the silences of Tsaking, which he has left for eight years now and, because of his legs, may never leave again.  Since Jang-bu seems uncomfortable with the Lama or with himself or perhaps with us, I tell him not to inquire on this point if it seems to him impertinent, but after a moment Jang-bu does so.  And this holy man of great directness and simplicity, big white teeth shining, laughs out loud in an infectious way at Jang-bu’s question.  Indicating his twisted legs without a trace of self-pity or bitterness, as if they belonged to all of us, he casts his arms wide to the sky and snow mountains, the high sun and dancing sheep, and cries,  “Of course I am happy here! It’s wonderful! Especially when I have no choice”

Additional stories:

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories at usefulzenwords.com

“Especially when I have no choice”  

i) Life is as it is.  We can accept it fully and just live it with full awareness.

ii) There can always be opinions arising about what is—like/don’t like; fair/unfair; right wrong. If we not recognize them as opinions, or delude ourselves by considering them to be the reality— then there is attachment and the moment of the ceaseless flow of life is missed.

iii)A teacher replied on the subject of aging:  “Savor the deterioration and decline of your body.” Pretty direct.  Yes, certainly you can take responsible actions to take care of yourself, but decline is inevitable.  What else is there to do but appreciate the moment of life, fully and without attachments.

Stonehouse (Shiwu, Shih-wu) Verses

March 6, 2013

Shiwu or Stonehouse (1272–1352) was a Chinese Zen poet and hermit who lived during the Yuan Dynasty.  After living in a hut for 20 years, he became abbot of Fuyuan temple for 8 years.  He returned to his mountain hut and composed the “Mountain Poems” (Shan-shih). The translation of his work is by Red Pine  THE ZEN WORKS OF STONEHOUSE: POEMS AND TALKS OF A FOURTEENTH-CENTURY CHINESE HERMIT

These are the verses from the recent talk.  I have deleted my comments so that they can appreciated from the perspective of today.


This body’s existence is like a bubble’s

may as well accept what happens

events and hopes seldom agree

but who can step back doesn’t worry


We blossom and fade like flowers

gather and part like clouds

worldly thoughts I forgot long ago

withering away on a mountain peak.


Nothing is better than being free, but getting free is not luck.


Not one care in mind all year
I find enough joy every day in my hut
and after a meal and a pot of strong tea
I sit on a rock by a pond and count fish.


Koan Excerpt

Without knowing what’s coming, the cricket sings beside the golden well.  Shining for no reason, the moon before the shrine hall announces early autumn.  If you can unite limitless worlds into a single speck of dust, and let every speck of dust be a great sea of enlightenment, if you can combine ten lifetimes into a single thought and let every thoughts be the day of release, the leave here like this, without taking roads, much less a staff or bundle or tightly woven shoes, and with leaving your footprints throughout the four quarter a thousand miles from home.

If you think Zen practice means traveling across rivers and mountains in search of a teacher or (the Way), your’re just running around like lost fools.  Even if you jump as high as the thirty-third heaven in the blink of an eye, or circle Mount Sumaru and its perfumed sea a million times. . . .  Grabbing his staff and raising it, the master said, You still can’t leave here.

Teaching Students Resourcefulness Skills

November 6, 2012

Being resourceful means being able to get the information and results you need.  It takes practice, but is a skill that is of benefit in many areas of life.

Problem Solving Success results from a combination of:

  • Necessity  (This problem has to be solved.)
  • Knowledge (Underlying Principles have to be understood.)
  • Resourcefulness/Creativity  (Open-mindedness and confidence when a solution is not obvious.)
  • Persistence (Relentless effort)

Steps to be  Resourceful:

  • Evaluate a proposal.
  • Realize that mistakes and choosing wrong directions are inherent in the process.
  • Take action.
  • After each attempt, use the experience to pick up a clue from the result, make a change and try again.  Working Questions may help change the perspective and pick up a new lead.  A new lead is crucial; a common frustrating mistake is to just keep trying the same thing again.
  • Repeat.

Working Questions–Put aside the current approach and consider these questions:

  • What requirements are not met by the current proposal?
  • What is your goal?
  • Where is the effort most needed.  Is that where it is being put?
  • What are other perspectives on the problem?
  • What are other ways of thinking about resources?

Forward: What resources are  required and not currently available?

Backward: What can be done differently with the resources available?

  • Who has information to contribute a different skill or perspective?
  • What is one more idea to try?
  • Has a similar problem been solved by someone else or in a different context?
  • How can search engines be used effectively?

The first choice of search terms is often not the most effective.

Use the results of the initial effort to identify more appropriate key words)

Consider searching “images” .  This can be an efficient way to scan information.

Learn and apply advanced search techniques to focus search results.

Comments to the Bard High School Early College Graduating Class, June 2012

August 31, 2012

Congratulations on this milestone.

I have been asked to say a few words with the emphasis on few.  I’ll start with a Zen story.  There are a couple of points to keep in mind when listening to a Zen story.  First, the story is always about you.  This one appears to be about a bird, but see how it resonates in your own life as you hear it.  Even if you have heard it before, the reaction today may be different, because the time and conditions are changed.  Second, the story does not have a traditional ending; rather it is your individual response to it that gives it power.

A bird found himself in a cage.  He did not know how he got there. The cage life was really all he remembered and, as such, it seemed like a normal life for him.

The cage was decent sized and there was enough room to move around comfortably, although not to fly.  He regularly toured the cage, often finding twigs, straw, cloth as well as food and water.  Well, the bird thought, since he was here, he may as well make himself comfortable.  So, he began making a crude nest.  As time went on, he found other things around to make himself a first class home, with plenty of diversions and sufficient food.  Not too bad, he thought.  It might be nice to try out the wings, but then again he was comfortable.

One day, during his regular inspection tour, he was surprised to see that the cage had a door!  The cage had not been changed, the door had always been there; the bird had simply not noticed it before.  The bird was intrigued and inspected it further.  To his astonishment, the latch of the door was not locked.  With one peck on his part, the latch disengaged and the door swung open. He was free to go if he chose.

There were never any constraints, just the lack of recognition of the actual situation.  It only appeared to be a new condition. The bird perched at the threshold of flying into freedom.  The bird could go through the gate into the unknown.  Perhaps he would experience the true freedom of the flight of the bird, or be eaten by a predator.  Another option was to stay inside and maintain his comfortable style.

Life is always bringing new situations that require us to act; it is the nature of life itself.  But how do you choose.  What abilities or insights have to be developed or grown in order to proceed well with our life?  It is true for all of us and it is especially relevant as you leave the school and push off in new directions.

The first is to have eyes that see the truth.  Not physical eyes, but the ability to experience life just as it is.  Not how we want it to be, not how it should be, not how our parents or others told us how it is.  Life just as it is in the moment.  Some people may call it understanding one’s own nature, but that is a different conversation.

Second, feet that can function, that can move or stand still as the appropriate for the situation.  Storms often arise in life.  Think about the summer storms—they come on suddenly and with disrupting power, wreak havoc, and then just as quickly are gone, sometimes they may be emotional or physical, but they come through us with power and perhaps leave a mess to be cleaned up.  Our storms may be emotional or physical, we cannot run from them, but stand firm, weather them out.  Other situations are different.  They require initiative action, a stepping out, if you will, into a new situation, a new set of experiences.  Our feet must have the capability to do both.

Third is the heart of intuitive courage.  The strength to be able to choose to do what is appropriate, once the situation has been recognized.  This is not easy.  Internally, it is often a struggle between the intellect and heart.  On occasion, it requires a decision directly in conflict with the mind or emotions.

Eyes that see the truth, feet that can function, a heart of intuitive courage.  Where do these come from?  The good news is that we already have them. It is our responsibility to develop them, allow them to grow and to express themselves in our own life.  The other news is that no one but ourselves can do this.  There are no teachers or books that can make this happen.  It takes work and effort.  Each individual has their own path for this growth, but there are some guides.

One is to be open to the experiences of the world and what they can show us.  This is especially true in observing nature, which is naturally manifesting these attributes.

Step back from making quick and rash judgments and labels about situations and experiences.   There is something to be learned from penetrating into the nature of experience.  Not learned in an intellectual way, but rather into the core of our being.

Then, there are people who can teach us about the eyes, feet, and heart.  They may not call themselves teachers.  In fact, be wary of those who represent themselves as teachers.  If someone says they have the truth for you, a good response is to head in the opposite direction.  Teacher arise as needed.  Paraphrasing Joshu, the great Zen teacher said:  “If I meet a man of 80 and I can teach him, I will do so;  If I meet a child of 3 who can teach me,  I will learn. “ Take teachers and teaching where you find them.”

The continuing theme from these examples is to be aware and make the effort.  The potential is unlimited so the activity is on-going throughout life.  But the path is your own, and you have to find it for yourself.

And a fair question is what is the effect on your life.  As the spirit opens, actions and responses become more spontaneous, appropriate, and even creative.  This is a natural expression, there is nothing forced or even conscious to do.  Second, some people will respond to you differently, again without any conscious effort.  They will sense some difference and seek out your advice and opinions.  There may be more calmness and life can unfold and manifest in a natural way.

Just as the bird in the original story, you are on the threshold of a new situation. It seems major, but there will be many other and you will have to meet each new one head one.  Let your guide be eyes that see the truth, feet that can function, and a heart of intuitive courage.

It has been a privilege to have taught you and  I wish you all the best going forward.

We’ll See—Adding ideas to the experience (Story)

August 11, 2011

There lived an old farmer who had worked on his fields for many, many years. One day, his horse ran away. His neighbors dropped in to commiserate with him. “What awful luck,” they said sympathetically, to which the farmer only replied, “We’ll see.”
Next morning, to everyone’s surprise, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How amazing is that!” the neighbors exclaimed in excitement. The old man replied, “We’ll see.”
A day later, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses. He was thrown on the ground and broke his leg. Once more, the neighbors came by to express their sympathies for this stroke of bad luck. “We’ll see,” said the farmer politely.
The next day, the village had some visitors – military officers who had come with the purpose of drafting young men into the army. They passed over the farmer’s son, thanks to his broken leg. The neighbors patted the farmer on his back – how lucky he was to not have his son join the army! “We’ll see,” was all that the farmer said!


The neighbors are quick to offer ideas about good or bad to the experience, but the farmer’s counsel is just to be present to it.   

Opinions such as good and bad are extra and lead to separation from the direct arising of the moment.  The direction is not to personalize the experience, nor to withdraw from it, but to encounter and act appropriately.  What is left if the idea of “how things should be” falls away?

Additional Stories:

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (usefulzenwords.com)

Trusting in the Magic of Life (Practice)

August 1, 2011

Magic Here and Now

The direction is to be present to the magic, trust it, express it.

The students in my college chemistry course put up a web site with the title “Stuff my Chemistry Teacher Says”.   The title used another word for stuff.

The dozens of entries were accurate.  It was a reminder that an incredible number of topics get touched upon in a course.  However, the students had put one as a sticky that appeared on each page:

“Never forget, the world is magic.”

The reason to study chemistry is to not just understand the principles, but to go deeper it and appreciate experience beyond it–the nature of the physical world, our own nature.  The same appreciation can true for any subject.  In the larger sense, we can study our own life, appreciate it and experience our nature.    Chemistry and Dogen are not often used in the same sentence, but this perspective is in harmony with his famous teaching:  “To study Zen is to study the self.  To study the self is to forget the self.  To forget the self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things.”

The real appreciation of the magic or mystery is to experience the vividness that penetrates all that is experienced in the moment.  It is easy to retreat from this mystery and fall back into a repetitious world of same old, same old or what if, should have been etc.

An example that anyone can try:  Take an ice cube and hold it tightly.  The ice cube melts.  In a sense, there is nothing new here, we have seen it a thousand times.   In the study of science, the melting might be described as a physical change that a solid undergoes to a liquid, with no chemical bonds formed or broken.  But if the attention if fully directed on the ice and the hand, there is a direct experience.   First wet, then cold, then burning cold and discomfort or pain.  Bring the power of attention to each of these experiences as they occur in time. Simply exhaust the experience to full potential without analysis.  Later, the questions can follow: What is the experience of the hurting? Who is hurting? What is the origin of the pain? Where is the uneasiness?

Reality is directly what is experienced.  Take another look at the ice cube in the hand.  The experience of cold or pain only arises when your hand touches it.  Is the experience in the ice or the hand?  Experience is a mysterious quality.  It arises from time and conditions and cease when they are not longer present.  It arises from nothing and returns to nothing.  There is magic there to be seen.

The example gets right at the question of what is real.  Is there an independent existence or is it all impermanent and fleeting (empty).  The experiences are the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise in life.  In Buddhism, this is expressed as the 5 skandhas.  These skandhas (or heaps) are form, sensation, perception (thinking), mental images, and consciousness (awareness of an object). The important point is that these conditions arise in time.  However, they are then constructed or shaped to give us the idea of a self/object dualistic world.

Distinguishing experience from descriptions of experience lead to confusion of what is real– does a thing have an independent existence or not–no fixed identity (impermanence).

This is not a question to be wrestled with intellectually. Nowadays, people are very courteous about their comments about this, but Saraha* had some direct guidance about interpretations of reality it the 8th century:

Those who believe that what appears is real

Are as stupid as cows.

Those who believe emptiness is real

Are even stupider.

It is the thinking and talking in our mind that distorts our experience.  This erratic movement of the mind causes the separation and confusion.    Zen training, and especially zazen (sitting meditation), is the major driving engine to end this confusion of the thinking and talking, and to bring clarity and vividness to the experience.  The work of zazen focuses the energy to develop the power of attention to make us first aware of our thinking and talking minds, of our hopes and attachments and allow them to lose power.

Zen practice can move us from the repetitious to experiencing the magic.  It allows the bright and empty mind to shine without being obscured or filtered.

Some very succinct advice to keep in mind when we sit:

When we sit,

Don’t invite the future

Don’t pursue the past

Let go of the present

Relax right now.


Seen this way zazen is the expression of life itself, not a separate tool to help to experience or achieve something else.  Zazen is the practice of life.

Trust in Practice, Trust in Life

In the mind without thinking

No effort is made

Doubts and worries disappear

And faith is restored

First, trust is often misused term.  The expression: “Trust me.”, seems almost a passive naïve concept, suggesting giving up responsibility and relying on something external.

Then there is the issue of trusting the life of the quiet mind.  Two examples:

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. . . . .  “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew)

Enough for a fire.

The wind has brought me

Maple leaves.  (Haiku by Ryokan,  18th century zen teacher and hermit)

Trusting practice requires full participation in the appropriate activities of life, whatever the individual circumstances, with the vivid insight that life is perfect and complete just as it is, and will manifest or unfold in this way. The idea of shaping life to a goal or form just drops away.

Trust is active energy, a dynamic.  Trusting practice is to put full energy and effort into the moment without hope or expectation.  Trust grows concurrently with the settling of the mind.  It is confidence in life.  It allows us, to respond directly and freely to each condition, so that the energy flows and functions naturally.  Trusting practice is trusting life.

So there is the mystery and magic of the moment and trusting in the completeness as it arises.

In the mind without thinking, the possibilities are endless.  Life, practice extends beyond imagination.  The magical world manifests itself and participation is free.  The experience is not all fun and games; conditions arise to manifest as pain, disappointment as well as joy.  All are magic. They are life and the mind without thinking; we can have faith and trust in each of these and experience them in the movement they arise.  Compassion grows out of this and expresses itself.

This is the direction of Zen practice.

A closing verse from Niguna:

In this world of magical suffering

We work at a magical practice

And experience a magical awakening

Which comes from the power of truth.

(*Some verses are found in Wake up to Your Life ,  Ken McLeod, 2001, but primary citations have not been located.)