Confessions of the “Quality” Obsessed…

It’s been a while since I’ve put out or even recorded a video or a podcast. There’s a lot of different reasons for that . Some of which are more complicated than others. 


If you listened to my podcast interview with Daniel Midson-Short, you may have heard me mention that I picked up a second job. As you can imagine that comes with its fair share of time constraints and scheduling complications. I have less available time to meticulously craft podcast episodes and videos in the way that I once did.


However, that’s only part of the story. It’s not the “whole” truth. Yes, my free time has been dramatically reduced but, another big reason that I haven’t been recording or filming lately is an issue of “mind-set”. I’ve been a bit lost, both creatively and personally. I’m in a weird head-space.


In the past year that I’ve devoted my time, effort, and energy to making videos and recording podcasts I’ve started getting obsessed with things I never cared about. Things that I never gave a shit about became vitally important.


Look, I get that over time it’s not uncommon for our priorities to change, in fact we can expect that they will. There’s nothing wrong with varying the levels of importance that we attach to things. There’s nothing wrong with shifting the hierarchy of what we value. But, sometimes we lose something in the shift. Sometimes in shifting how much we value certain things we inadvertently shift our “values”. We move pillars that should never be out of place, and we compromise the structural integrity of who we are.


I didn’t start making videos because I wanted to be a film maker. I never wanted to be a videographer or a cinematographer. As much as I love the art form, as creatively invigorating as it is to film and edit, it’s not my primary aspiration. It’s not my passion. And yet, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly obsessed with camera angles, camera settings, lenses, aperture, frame rates, lighting, audio, mic placement, B-roll, cinematic sequences, setting, background, etc, etc, etc.  In other words, I’ve become overwhelmingly obsessed with the production, the “quality”.


There’s nothing wrong with all the videographic techniques and cinemagraphic speficities outlined above. I’m glad I took the time to learn to do them. But, the simple fact remains I didn’t start doing this for any of that.
I’ve also been unhealthily obsessed with “the numbers”; the subscriber count, the views, the listens, the plays, the likes, the shares, the comments, and the things. We all know the numbers shouldn’t matter. We’ve all either said ourselves or heard other creatives say “don’t create for the numbers”, “the numbers don’t matter” but, saying it and believing it are two different things. Implicitly, in the back of nearly every creators mind, the numbers matter. A lot of us, especially me, will attach our value as a creator, the value of what we create to those numbers. We will interpret those numbers as a numeric representation of how much our work matters, and we start judging the quality of our work based on those numbers. At least, that’s what’s happened for me.


One of my guilty pleasures is Gary Vaynerchuck. Love him or hate him, his energy is intoxicating and his enthusiasm is infectious. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I’ve garnered some valuable and beneficial information from his work.


One of the things I’ve disagreed with about most adamantly is the idea that quantity is more important than quality, because he says that quality is subjective. I think there’s some truth to that. After all art is subjective, we each decide in our own way what we define as art. As much merit as I see in that point I haven’t been able to make the leap to this quantity over quality position.


Interestingly enough, a few months ago Gary Vaynerchuck was interviewed by Matt D’Avella. I think it’s fair to say that D’Avella has a stance on the quality vs. quantity question that it is seemingly antithetical to Vaynerchuck’s. He believes it’s better to put one really high quality video every week than to put out 7 “ok”  or mediocre videos. He favors quality over quantity. For the past year that’s the way I’ve been leaning as well.
When it comes to quantity vs. quality it’s not as simple as an “either/or” question. If art is subjective, if quality is itself subjective, then I think it’s also safe to say that the way in which one chooses to answer or approach this question is also subjective. I think it comes down to self-awareness and consistency.


If the precision and production level of the craft, is your driving factor, and you can be consistent in putting out that work then, I think that’s working just fine for you. In other words, if you’re more motivated to put out one high quality piece of work every week and you can continuously come through on creating and delivering that piece of work week in and week out then, you’ve already won.


But…that’s not what I’ve been doing. I’ve been operating under the auspices of pursuing this “quality” model but, I’ve been anything but consistent. In most cases, I don’t even attempt to film or record when my conditions or circumstances don’t allow for attaining the level of “quality” I feel is “necessary”. In other words, if I don’t feel I have the time or space to get close to perfection then I don’t even try to do anything at all. 


My obsession with “quality” has become counterproductive. “Quality” has become my excuse not to create. “Perfectionism” has become procrastination. Adam Savage says that “procrastination, perfectionism, and analysis paralysis…are the bane of a Maker’s existence”. I can personally and avidly attest to the truth of that statement.


I think I lost my connection to an even more important question, “why did I start?” “What did I start doing this for?” It’s so easy to get lost in the minutia of techniques and all the things that touch the thing you’re doing but, what’s the core of what you’re doing? What’s the heart beat of why you do what you do? If you lose touch with the thing that made you want to start doing what you’re doing then you’ve lost the whole drive, you’ve lost the whole aspiration, the whole motivation, the whole operative significance of the thing.


And that’s where I find myself. I’ve let all the things that touch my work influence my process more than than the central thesis of the work.
So, if I didn’t start any of this to be a film maker, an audio guru, a YouTuber extraordinaire, if I had no interest in becoming a cinematographer or a videographer, why did I start doing all this for? I started doing this because there where things that I wanted to talk about that I wasn’t getting to talk about. There were conversations that I wanted to have that I wasn’t getting to have, and I needed to have, and I still needed to have them. I’ve lost sight of that in the process of just trying to make the shit.


I started doing this because I’m in love with ideas. I’m in love with the kind of ideas that James Victore might call “Dangerous Ideas”. Oscar Wilde said that ” An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all”. That is my core. It’s gotten buried in the process but, its still there, and I’m trying to find my way back to it.


How do I get back? I don’t know. I don’t have it all figured out yet. But, this is an attempt to get back to the dangerous ideas, and maybe that’s a dangerous idea in itself. I hope that it is. I don’t know what comes next, but i never have. All I can tell you is that I’m still in the process. If you’re still here then, we’re in the process together. 


Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.


Shout out to my Patrons and Supporters:
Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/
Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/
Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/revjerryhtx/?epa=SEARCH_BOX
Jerome Shaw – https://anchor.fm/jshaw
Rajan Shankara – https://rajanshankara.com/


If you want shout outs in podcasts and videos, if you want access to all my behind-the-scenes, patron only content, if you want early access to all my videos, and if you want to be a part of a community of creativity and curiosity, the check out my Patreon page – https://www.patreon.com/duanetoops

Sketching in Books, because “Making is Messy”…

If you’ve followed any of my work for even a short period of time you probably know all too well how much I love to read.

Whenever I’m not working or spending time with my family, you can bet I’m probably reading.

I also love sharing the things that I’ve read almost as much as reading, itself. A good portion of what I post and share on my social media accounts are quotes from whatever books I’m enthralled with at the time. Sometimes its type, sometimes copy and paste, sometimes it’s screen shots taken from reading in Kindle.

Lately I’ve been on an unanticipated hiatus from recording and filming. The constraints of my current schedule aren’t particularly conducive to shooting YouTube videos or recording podcasts, at least not in the way that I have been doing it. I realize that’s a rather pathetic excuse but, its the truth, or part of the truth. I also have to admit I’ve not been in a great head-space.

Regardless, I’ve been looking for ways to be creative in new and different ways.

At the moment I’m enamored with Adam Savage‘s book Every Tool’s a Hammer. I almost feel like I should apologize for how much I’ve been sharing from this book. It’s like my tweeter feed is on a mission to overtake the internet with Adam Savage quotes.

One of the things I’ve been asking myself is “how can I can make sharing what I’m reading a creative act?” Here’ what I’ve come up with so far:

I’ve made a series of collages either on my phone or in Photoshop, or using a combination of the two.

And, recently, as a fast and dirty creative experiment, I’ve started adding some sketchy doodles to Kindle screen shots.

It’s not breath-taking or astounding work, but its fun, messy, and experimental. I like that, and more importantly, I need that.

As Adam Savage says:

Making is messy. It’s full of fits and starts, wrong turns, and good ideas gone bad. New Methods, new skills, new creations, they are all a product of experimentation; and what is an experiment but a process that may or may not yield expected results? WHO KNOWS?

Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

Integral Iterations: The Process of Building “Trust”…

The picture above was inspired by the notes I took while I was interviewing Daniel Midson-Short for an episode of my podcast. He and I had an unexpected conversation about “Integrity” – you can check it out below:

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is the second time I’m writing about this discussion. Having previously explored the topic, I didn’t intend to bring it up again. But, like the unexpected arrival of our discussion on “Integrity”, itself, this writing, too, is something of a surprise.


A couple days ago I wrote an essay called “Prototyping the Process“. As artists, creatives, writers, and makers, we have to be constantly tweaking and prototyping the work that we produce, but we also have to be constantly beta-testing and iterating the processes by which we produce the work.


Before writing that essay I began working on the art piece at the top of this post. It’s initial iterations took place in an app on my phone, while sitting in a retail store break-room. Eventually it found its way into Photoshop for further tweaks and iterations. For my birthday my wife got me a Huion Inspiroy Q11k Graphic Drawing Tablet. That’s what helped bring this piece to its final form.


It was a process of small changes, incremental adjustments, an interplay of various tools, an endeavor of consistent development. In other words, the process of creating this image embodies the quote it depicts. The art “is” what is it “about”. The medium is the message, one might say.
The iterative creation of this collage unexpectedly illustrates the on-going consistency that demonstrates “Integrity”.


Creativity and integrity go hand in hand. Both are a commitment to truth; a commitment to the pursuit of truth, a commitment to truth-telling. Both necessitate the strength of reliability. Art and each entail consistency. Both are built over time.


The slow dependable process of carefully stacking brick upon brick, Art and Integrity are built upon “trust”; trust in the work, trust in the process, the trust you give to others, and the trust you receive in return.


None of it arrives fully formed, and so we build…

…As a $2 Bill…

This morning was a momentous occasion, well that’s probably an exaggeration.

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of writing every morning after I meditate and before I bring my daughter to school. Yesterday, I filled the last remaining pages of a notebook, which means that today was time to open a new notebook.


I took out a fresh journal. I always keep a few around, who doesn’t? Right? I pulled the cover back, cracked the spine, eager to enter the freshness of the notebook’s beckoning blank pages, I noticed two crisply folded $2 bills. What else could I think but “that’s weird”? I don’t remember when or why I put them there but, I’m glad I did.


I’ve often quipped that I’m religious but not spiritual. I don’t have an affinity for the “other-worldly”, the supernatural, or what some might call the transcendent. I think “this-world” has more than enough amazement and wonder to offer. I think the “natural” is plenty “super” on its own, and often my most profound experiences of “transcendence” comes from deep experiences of the immanent.


And yet, I have a relishing fondness for ritual. I think most creatives do. We are often meticulous and almost superstitious in the observance of our creative routines. We take great care to create at the same time and place everyday. We drink out of the same mug. Some of us are compulsively particular about the notebooks and pens we use, as well as the ceremonial ways in which we use and prepare them. It’s interesting that the near monastic ordering of our creative ritualizations becomes the opportunity for the expression of our weirdness.


In a lot ways I think that’s exactly what creative practices are, the routinized rites we methodically perform in honored observance of our weirdness; the ceremonious celebration of our peculiar strangeness.


In fact, James Victore goes so far as to say that “the things that make you weird as a kid will make you great tomorrow”.


On a daily basis we are bombarded by a legion of outside influences and forces all vying for a chance to smooth out the unevenness of our peculiarities, so that we can better fit into the current cookie cutter shape of normalcy.


We need to find, formulate, and routinely carry out rituals that remind us of our strangeness. 


Today one found me…


I think from now on, whenever I open a new notebook, before I ever dot an “i”  or cross a “t”, these $2 bills will be ritualistically paper clipped onto the pages of the journal to instruct me that no matter what happens here, no matter what you do…Keep it weird…

Prototyping the Process…

*I created this using Photoshop Express, Photoshop Mix, and Photoshop Sketch

I’ve been reading Adam Savage’s book, Every Tool’s a Hammer. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve been enjoying it. It’s not uncommon for me to be juggling 3 books at any given time within my daily reading rotation; reading from one in the morning, reading a chapter or two from another book on my lunch break, and ending the day reading from an entirely different book before I go to bed.


What is uncommon for me, though, is becoming so enamored, so engrossed with “one” book that I give it my exclusive reading attention. This is exactly what’s been happening with Savage’s book. Every time I open my Kindle, I immediately tap on it without a second thought.

I’ve tweeted so many evocative nuggets of wisdom from it, I joked that I might end up tweeting most of the book (see below, lol):

But, seriously… I might…


I read the following passage last night:


“Creation is iteration. Your job as a creator is to take as many wrong turns as necessary, without giving up hope, until you find the path that leads you to your destination.”


“Creation is iteration”. That line has been reverberating in my head since I read it.


What I love about the word “iteration” is that it is expressive of an analytical ambiguity.


“Iteration” is repetitious. However, it is not the repetitive monotony of an assembly-line task performed identically ad infinitum. “Iteration” is a procedural searching. It is the fine-tuning of a computational curiosity, a continuous re-considering.


“Iteration” is problem-solving…


At first glance, this isn’t necessarily a revelatory concept. We are used to and well-aware of prototypes and prototyping. We have grown accustomed to “beta-testing”, especially in terms of “what” we make. But, “the process” by which we create is also a prototype. Our methods and mediums, themselves, are perpetually in “beta”.


In other words, it’s not only the “products” of our creativity that require iterative problem-solving. Sometimes, it’s our actual creative process that is “the problem” that needs solving.


For the past year I have devoted nearly all of my creative free time to videography and podcasting. Learning these mediums has been a fruitful endeavor. It’s unlocked parts of my creativity that had become dormant, and its revealed forms of creativity I didn’t know I had access to. However, the process of filming and recording is time consuming. Setting up takes time. Adjusting the set-up to get it “just right” takes time. Recording and filming – trying to find just “the right take”, takes time. And, editing take A LOT of time.


The amount of time I have available to create has diminished substantially. At the moment, I only have small isolated windows in which to “make”, which makes it almost impossible to create videos and podcasts in the the way that I have been for the past year. If I want to continue, I will have to prototype a new process. I will have to find a new iteration of my creative process.


Truth be told, I haven’t quite solved that problem yet. But, I have started prototyping new paths for my creative expression. I’ve begun dabbling in different artistic mediums that are more accommodating to my patchwork schedule of free time.


As Gary Vaynerchuck says, “Creative people can be creative anywhere, and the most creative people do it where no one else has tried before.”


I’ve started doing some collage art (you can check out my Instagram to see some examples or you find some here, here, and here). I’ve also started writing and blogging more. And, I’ve begun experimenting with what I guess you could call a kind of graphic designing. I’m finding ways to be creative regardless of my circumstances. I’m finding ways to make it work. Maybe you could say that I’m finding ways to make “making” work.


Evernote has been instrumental in allowing me to work on essays and blogs from any where and at anytime; while I’m at work, whenever I have a random thought, or when I manage to find a free moment. I’ve also begun integrating apps like Photoshop Express, Photoshop Mix, Photoshop Sketch, and Adobe Capture into my creative tool belt. They give me the flexibility to create, and iterate, when the only thing I have access to is my phone.


The process isn’t perfect but, no process ever is.


I haven’t solved all the problems or worked out all the kinks, but we never really do.


Often, the best solution is simply working towards “successively closer approximations”…

“Grace” through the Cracks…

The funny thing about making it a point to practice gratitude is that when you go looking for things to be grateful for, you find them – go figure.

What’s even more interesting is that we find things to be grateful for in unexpected places and in the strangest of forms.


I was walking my son to the bus stop, as I do every morning. We traversed the same crumbling asphalt road as we had every school day for almost two years. Nothing had changed. Everything was the same, and yet I saw something different. Maybe only because I was different. Maybe because “I saw” differently.


Stabbing upwards through the fractures and fissures of the road were these subversive blades of grass. In piercing their way through the pavement they had lacerated their way into a portion of my own experience. They were unapologetic in penetrating their way through the gravel and pitch of my mind. 


On my walk back home, I stopped and took this picture:

I’ve spent what some might say is far too much time staring at this photo, staring at these blades of grass. There is something so bold, so defiant, so rebellious, about the way the foliage finds a way through the ordered obstruction of the asphalt. And yet, there is also something so graceful about its poise, balanced perfectly upon the edge of strength and vulnerability. 


Maybe that’s what gratitude does. Maybe gratitude cuts through the breach of our concrete defenses. Maybe when our callousness begins to crumble just enough, the recalcitrance of grace and gratitude finds a way to reach through.


Leonard Cohen says “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


Maybe gratitude is obstinate. Maybe grace is insubordinate. Maybe gratitude is a kind of mutiny. Maybe, as Jay Baker says, “Grace is Anarchy“.
Gratitude refuses to be submissive or obedient. Grace resists “staying in line” and objects to “staying in its place”.


The grace of gratitude says “fuck you” to the authority of the “No Trespassing” sign and finds a way to slip through the fence anyway. Sometimes we are cut deeply by the barbed-wire that stands between us and where we are told we are not allowed to go. With radical noncompliance we wear our scars with pride, knowing that the scars of grace are our gift to the world.


Francis Su explains that “our shared struggles” are opportunities for “extending and sharing grace”.


Sometimes its the seemingly crushing conditions that create the perfume of our existence, fragrance of our aliveness, a sweet savor unto our collective human condition.


I am grateful for the grace that grows through the cracks and crevices of our fractured Being.


I am thankful for gratitude found in unexpected places and in the strangest of forms…

Art in Pieces…

Nietzsche says that “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” I can relate. While I can’t say for sure if I’m actually able to “give birth to dancing star”, I can say that everything I create begins in chaos, an inner chaos that manifests itself into outward expression. That physical expression of an internal anarchy is what I call my creative process.


Everything that I make begins its life as a fever of a thought typed into Evernote, a jagged idea roughly hewn and scraped into a notebook or across a Post-It, like the photo above.

The line inscribed on the pictured Post-It note first appears in a conversation I had with Brady Hester on an episode of his podcast. It then took up residence as a random annotation. And, would eventually find a home in an essay called “I Am Grateful for the Insight of the Other.”


This leads me to wonder…


What if it’s the Post-It notes, the scaps of paper, the unseemly assortment of uncured ideas, that are more important then the completed essay?


What if it’s the sketches, the rough drawings, the drafts, that are of greater value than the finished painting?

What if “the process” is the place of artistry?


What if it’s all the various “pieces” that make up a piece of art that are the real ‘masterpieces”? And what if we treated them that way?


What if we created a Gallery of First Attempts, a Museum of the Primordial?


What if we framed the early iterations and filed away the finished product?

Maybe that’s what it means to be liberated from the “outcome”…

Putting the “Grit” in “InteGRITy”…

My favorite part about having guests on my podcast is that there is little to no “structure” to the conversation. I have a propensity for over thinking, over analyzing, and over planning but, not when it comes to the dialogue that takes place in the context of a podcast interview. I have no notes, no talking points, no topics, no previously determined questions. The conversation is a blank canvas that the guest and I begin to fill together, as we go. I try to let the structure of the conversation, the structure of the interview reveal itself to me because I think that begins to reveal the authentic structure of who each of us are.


I never know what’s going to come up in the course of the conversation. We simply dig until we find something extraordinary.


When I interviewed my friend Daniel Midson-Short, who is a writer, speaker, and digital marketer, the conversation could have went anywhere. It could have revealed any number of things but, one of the most interesting things that came up was “integrity”. (You can listen to the episode here and you can find the full video here).


I’ve talked a lot about transparency and authenticity with past guests but, this is the first time “integrity” has come up. Already, this reveals something incisive about Daniel.


He mentions the word “integrity” several times through different topics as we talk. When I asked him zero in on the subject of integrity specifically he said that “Integrity is the structure of who you are” .


It’s interesting that “integrity” is also something that is ultimately revealed rather than created. Our integrity, or lack there of, is something that becomes apparent through the deliberateness of our intentions, the consistency of our behavior, and the congruence of our actions.


Maybe you could say that the structural integrity of who you are is built upon your underlying agenda, you ability to be consistent and congruent.


If what we build is in-congruent with our intentions, if our intentions are in-congruent with what we are building, if we are inconsistent, what we build will not stand, it will not be structurally sound.


If that’s the case then the integrity of the structure we build is determined long before we ever begin building anything.


And what we build will begin to reveal our underlying intentions, without us ever saying a word…


If you’d like to check out the portion of the conservation in which we talk about “Integrity” you can find it below:

I Am Grateful for the Insight of the Other…

Today marks the beginning of National Gratitude Month. I am a person guilty of harboring a multitude of character flaws but, if there is one thing I am especially guilty of it is being an ungrateful @$$hole. There’s a lot that hasn’t been going “well” for me lately, and I am a naturally “Glass half-empty” kind of guy but, I still have so much to be thankful for. While I can’t hope to radically alter my deeply ingrained habit of ingratitude in 30 days, I can make it a point to create spaces and opportunities to be more purposefully and intentionally grateful.


In his book Against Happiness, Eric G. Wilson writes that

“When a person views the world only through his own experience, he divorces himself from the polarized flow of existence, that persistent dialogue between self and other, familiar and unfamiliar.”


I am grateful for Eric Wilson’s writing. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from it. Grateful that he was actually willing to be a guest on my podcast. And, I am so grateful for what I learned from the insights garnered from our conversation together.


When we fail to engage with the perspective of another, when we neglect the opportunity to see the world from an alternate view, we fail to see the fullness of the human experience, the fullness of the world, the fullness of “Being” itself.


Every one of us are on our own specific journey. Everyone knows something individually that we collectively don’t. Everyone has experienced something that I haven’t. Anytime we get to bridge the gap between ourselves and another person, it can only be fruitful, it can only be enlightening, it can only be insightful.


We live in an amazing time. The opportunities for connection and communication have never been more abundant, more alive, more vibrant, and more readily available. Kwame Anthony Appiah writes that “the worldwide web of information…means not only that we can affect lives everywhere but that we can learn about life anywhere”.  Tim Harford explains that “the modern world gives us more opportunities than ever to forge relationships with people who do not look, act, or think the same way that we do.”


Every encounter with another person is an opportunity to get an insight that we didn’t have before, to get access to knowledge we wouldn’t have come across any other way.


 Jean-Paul Sartre says “The Other holds a secret – the secret of what I am”.

The insight of the Other is insight into ourselves. Revealed in the portrait of the Other is a picture of who we are. To gaze into the eyes of the Other is to glimpse into the reality of Being. To begin to understand the Other is to begin to understand everything.


I am grateful for all the “Others” I’ve been lucky enough to meet and deeply encounter, people who have given me their time to have discussions that continue to teach me so much about myself. I am grateful for the insight of the Other…


P.S. I am also specifically grateful for the conversation I had with Brady Hester on his podcast, The Braddog Media Show, which inspired parts of this post.


Keep showing up, Keep doing the Work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.


If you’d like to support my work, get shout-outs in podcasts and videos, and get access to Patron only content, check out my Patreon Page.

“Everything is Connected” – Transcript

A few weeks back I had the privilege of recording a few thoughts for The Riverside Church’s podcast “Be Still and Go“. The podcast has been exploring the connections between spirituality and the environment through meditative reflections from various practitioners of differing traditions. I am humbled and honored to be included in such an interesting and insightful group of thinkers. 


At one point in time ecological thinking played a pivotal role in some of my creative work and writing. It was invigorating to bring environmental thought back into current work. Below you’ll find a link to the episode and a rough transcript of my reflection. Enjoy!


Spiritual traditions are at their best when they’re breaking down binaries, when they are bridging the gap between binaries, when they’re dismantling and deconstructing dichotomies, when they’re collapsing all the categorizations that we’ve constructed to keep ourselves separate divided and disconnected.


I think one of the dichotomies, one of the binaries, one of these places of division that is most in need of being dismantled, and deconstructed, and broken-down is when we believe that we are separate from this earth, separate from the land, when we believe that we are disconnected from this planet, this environment that we are a part of.


I think that’s one of the things that attracts me most to Buddhism, and specifically Zen. They begin with this idea of “interdependence” and “inter-connectivity”, this idea that everything that “is” is dependent upon everything that is in order to continue to be. Everything is connected, everything connects, everything is engulfed by this lively mesh of existence and “Being”, this tangled brew of life.


In Buddhism we take refuge in something called the Three Jewels, we have these refuge vows. We say that we take refuge in the Buddha, we take refuge in the Dharma, we take refuge in Sangha. The Buddha, the dharma, and the Sangha. The teacher, the teachings, and the community. But, I think the reason that these refuge vows, these three jewels, are so important to the this practice and to this tradition is because there is a way to see them play out that shows that they are an expression of this interdependence, this inter-connectivity.


I think when we say that we take refuge in the Buddha, the teacher, we’re not saying that we take refuge in the historicity of a figure, or that we take refuge in the particularities of a person. I think what we’re actually doing is saying that we take refuge in the “universality” of awakening. We are recognizing that all of existence  exists in an already awakened state.
And if that’s the case, when we say we take refuge in the dharma, the teachings, we’re recognizing that because everything that exists is an expression of this on-going process of awakening, then everything that exists, everything that is, has truth to impart to us. Everything is the teachings, and everything has something to teach us. We have lessons to learn in the examination of all that lives.


When we say that we take refuge in the community, we’re not saying that we take refuge in the spaces and places of fellowship. We’re not saying tat we take refuge in our communities of practice, our communities of observance. We’re saying that we take refuge in the community of all being. We tale refuge in the community of life as a whole.


There’s a zen master by the name of Dogen who says that “Mountains practice with one who meditates. Water realizes the way with one who practices.” He goes on to say that “Because earth, grass, trees, walls, tiles, and pebbles of the world of phenomena…all engage in buddha activity, those who receive the benefits of the wind and water are inconceivably helped by the Buddha’s transformation…and intimately manifest enlightenment.” He says that “The sutras are the entire world… There is no moment or place that is not sutras.” There is no moment or place that is not the source of truth, the source of the teachings.


“The sutras,” he says, “are written in letters of heavenly beings, human beings, animals, fighting spirits, one hundred grasses, or ten thousand trees. This being so, what is long, short, square, and round, as well as what is blue, yellow, red, and white, arrayed densely in the entire world… is no other than letters of the sutras and the surface of the sutras. Regard them as the instruments of the great way and as the sutras of the buddha house.”


Mountains, rivers, lakes, streams, grasses, everything that we encounter, everything that is, are the letters of the teachings, they form the letters of the lessons we have to learn. They form the expression of how we’re connected. And when one meditates, when one sits down to practice, when one becomes observant, all of existence becomes observant. When one of us wakes up, everything wakes up. When one of us comes alive everything comes alive…