Burning Bowl Ritual

THE BURNING BOWL CEREMONY is a transformative ritual traditionally performed among various faith-based groups on New Year’s Eve.

The purpose of the ceremony is to identify and symbolically release old hurts, grudges, resentments, regrets, sufferings, mistakes… to release the past letting go of any thoughts,  feelings or behaviors that might be holding you back for the new year ahead.

Across religious traditions, fire is a powerful symbol of wisdom, knowledge, passion, purification, transformation, divinity and light. Fire inflames, consumes, warms, illuminates, inspires and serves as a catalyst for change.

By briefly writing down on a small piece of paper what you are choosing to be free of, the actual act of writing what you want gone from your life is a key element of the letting go process.

The paper is then folded and carefully placed in a “burning bowl,” (a large, safe and unburnable bowl/container holding a  small lit candle to safely enable quick burning).

Spend a moment or two in quiet prayer or meditation honoring your personal surrender and commitment to change.  Acknowledge what is holding you back and release that as well. Now light your piece of paper and quickly drop it into the burning bowl.

This ritual focuses on what needs to be released from the past to prepare the present moment for our creation of a new year. It’s a simple outward sign of our awareness of what needs to change in our lives as we go forward. As we change, others see our changes and might be invited to change as well.

Namaste!   Happy New Year!





Burning Bowl Ritual

Clouds Never Die

When conditions are sufficient, a cloud transforms into rain, snow, or hail. The cloud has never been born and it will never die. This insight of signlessness and interbeing helps us recognize that all lives continue in different forms. Nothing is created, nothing is destroyed, everything is in transformation.

– Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Clouds Never Die

Turning Positive

Dear Compassionate Gardener, how do I keep negativity, bad news and bad vibes out of my life? I’m trying to do a 180 turn and find the right path for me. How long did it take you?

Great question! Thanks for asking. My intention is to keep this blog straight-forward and simple so I’ll let those two principles guide my response.

Your question sounds like you are changing…or at least wanting to change. Congratulations! My years have taught me repeatedly that we’re always changing. Its all about change. I’ve come to believe resisting change is one source of suffering (Buddha thought so too). Bluntly: its all change. Sometimes change hurts.

I truly think and feel that living is change. Its kind of like we’re created to change…born to change…live to change…and die to change as well.

Change is a process. While catastrophic events can initiate change, most of us change one moment at a time, an hour at a time, a day at a time. Pretty soon, those days turn into weeks, weeks into months…and alas…I’m changed!

I change. You change. Everything changes – including our relationships with ourselves, each other, our jobs and our environments.

I counsel that baby steps of change are just fine. They also tend to produce less dramatic results. As I’m allergic to drama…gradual change is OK for me. Think: ITS ALL PROCESS. One action…one reaction at a time.
Embrace change. Resistance is futile.

Psychologists suggest that awareness is the first step of change. So you might begin by asking: What needs to change?

Recognizing the negativity and its pervasive allure is not good for us is a big change for many because its counter-cultural.
Once recognition of the extent of negativity happens…it can be a bit of a jolt because we’re overwhelmed with negativity but we didn’t really understand its scope or its depth. This stuff is overwhelming.

For me negativity and fear are almost always hand in hand. That’s a toxic friendship.

Clarify your values. What is important to you today? Write it down. Start small. The list is going to change. Expect the change…add/subtract to the list as you go. I keep several lists in my smart phone: values list, goals list, forgiveness list, peace list. They’re there when I need to remind myself.

While I continue to judge myself (sometimes too critically), I work daily to stop judging others. This is very hard for me. I grew up in a family, religion and profession that not only values evaluations and judgments…judging was rewarded and reinforced repeatedly. We live in a judgmental world.
Less judgment…more acceptance is a value. Tolerance is a value. Compassion is a value. Forgiveness is a value. Live and let live is a value. We are one is a value. We are all interrelated is a value. Let your values be your guide.

Change is an inside process that manifests outside.
External changes that are not mirrored internally are smoke and mirrors. I call that calling a spade a spade. My sister who is developmentally challenged would look at me and simply say: “Bryan, it is what it is.” She’s right.

Knowledge is power. Use Google. Sift through the propaganda for accurate, reliable and accountable information. Once I truly began to really understand the methods and affects of the American diary industry… justifying my milk or cheese consumption became increasingly more difficult. Its called cognitive dissonance. It’s a real social psychological construct and it is VERY powerful if you pay attention to it. (Think: Psych 101’s Leon Festinger).

Ask questions. It’s always wise to ask: who says so? Challenge responses.

Recognize what you can change. Release what you cannot change. Think small bites… or else you will choke.

Pay attention. Wake up. Don’t believe everything you read. Fox News is not divinely inspired. All media is about the spin. That’s the way it is.
Avoid complicated.
Practice gratitude every single day. Then practice forgiveness everyday.

Whenever possible imitate nature.
We are integrally interconnected with nature. We’ll never control nature. We are nature.
Consistently move toward the path of least resistance. Think rivers…think flow.

Be prepared to recognize that the opposite may also be true.

Stop hanging out with negative people. This is really hard for some. Its a choice and you get to decide. I prefer to be alone than mingle with toxicity.

Some really quick “get down” suggestions to consider:
Sell or donate your television. If you choose to keep it, choose not to watch it one day a week.
Limit social media including email to short intervals. Use a kitchen timer or your smart phone alarm if that helps.
Mute your cell phone during meals and stop paying attention to it during conversations. Just do it!
Host a pot luck dinner. Suggest a discussion theme that matters to you or invite a guest speaker or facilitator. Check out who shows up.
IDEA: There is a World Water Day Event coming up next month. Host a potluck and talk about water…not in Africa…in Lake Mead.

Keep your response to negativity immediate and local. Its very easy to get caught up in the escalation of visions and voices of hate broadcast 24/7. Acknowledge it. Release it. Ask gently: What can I do right here and right now to mitigate that negativity. (This relates to one of my motivations to post “Good News” pieces on social media every single day. Believe me, some days it ain’t easy to find good news).

Embrace the principle that less is more.
Decrease distractions. (Why am I so attracted to minimalism). De-clutter. Don’t stop with your clothes closet or dresser drawers. Release stuff.

Silence is my friend. Drive more in silence. Sit more in silence at home. Walk or run in silence. While I have nothing against music… silence speaks.
There is a time and place for everything.
Speaking of silence, listen more…to yourself and to others. Rehearse less.
Get back to nature repeatedly. This is huge. Don’t let is sound trite. Embrace the Mojave Desert. See the sky. Look at the moon. Discover Spring emerging all over.

Be mindful. Google “mindfulness.” Lots of people write books about it. Enough said.
Remember that past experience filter present perception.
There is a huge difference between “news” and “opinion.” I filter all opinion pieces and editorials through my own criteria. I learn to trust some. Reject others as simply not for me to read, listen to or pay any attention to.
If it pisses me off…why am I doing it?

Surround yourself with people who are open to you, new experiences, new perceptions and new opportunities.

Teach yourself to care more deeply about what matters while paying less attention to what doesn’t matter.
Say out-loud: It doesn’t matter to me.

Can I flip this person, place or thing to a positive? If not, I release it.

Let it go = delete!
Erase. Use whatever mental imagery works best for you… find it and use it. You will probably need to do this more than once. Repetition works. You might have to do it 74 times a day. It doesn’t matter. Just do it.

Change does not happen in a vacuum. In fact, change affects many things on many levels directly and indirectly.
Change in patterns yield different patterns.
Change in habits witness new habits.
Change in attitudes bring new perspectives.

Trust your intuition. What’s your instinct saying? Most of us manifest feelings in our abdomens or chests. For some, this will mean think less…feel more.

While I may be in the minority, I find satire and sarcasm distasteful, not useful and poor communication. I avoid it.

Your “180 turn” is more likely to look like gradual movement just a few degrees at a time. That’s OK. Even 90 degree right angle changes can jolt the hell out of you. The very fact that you can ask the question about change…suggests you are changing.

Quick story: The notion of “unspeakable horrors” knocked me over the head with a “2X4” while writing a paper in seminary last year. In the middle of the night with thoughts flowing freely, sentences forming and paragraphs coming together…suddenly I stumbled on the quote “unspeakable horrors.” I was typing furiously, thoughts racing…and I became very angry. The words confronted me out of a complacency. I became intensely preoccupied with defining and understanding how any horror could be considered unspeakable. The words didn’t mean anything anymore. If a person can do it…a society has the responsibility to not only talk about…but to also deal with it. This single moment was a turning point for me in my life and in my ministry. The realization is still affecting my life, my choices, my actions.

My ministry teaches me daily that the loss of a love through death is a transformational experience for many. My own father’s death, the sudden death of my best friend and the death of my favorite pet – all were profound moments of change for me.

As always, its up to us to decide whether that change is for the better…or for the worse.

Believe that little shifts in values, responses and reactions can and do have impact both short and long term impact. Think ripple affect.

Remind yourself that bad news, gossip, awful events, tales of horror and evil stories are poison.
Daily, I filter out TMZ, Fox News, apocalyptic predictions and terror propaganda. I choose not to pay attention to it.

On an index card in my bathroom, I read: “You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.”

Several cautions:
Caution #1: My experience is not your experience. My path is not your path. What works for me may not work for you.
Caution #2: Change will affect your relationships on more levels than you expect. That can be painful.
Caution #3: At least someone in your life will accuse you of overdosing on Prozac or being Pollyanna delusional. So be it.
Caution #4: Never forget there’s always two sides to every story.

Final thoughts:
Whenever possible…and it’s always possible: Consider peace instead.
Change hurtful thoughts to compassionate thinking every time even when its very hard to imagine or feel.
Change what you can change. Make peace with what’s left.
Remember that I create my experience. I can control my experience. I can change my experience.
It’s really helpful to find a way to “meditate” or ‘pray” or simply be in the presence of what you consider Sacred habitually. Daily is optimal. Weekly is a start. Nothing fancy or complicated. Quiet. Peaceful. Whether it looks like jogging, Yoga, Zen meditation or watching trees in the wind – be mindful.

Two resources I’ve read many times and frequently refer to:
Buddhist Boot Camp by Timber Hawkeye
Love is Letting Go of Fear by Gerald Jampolsky

Turning Positive

Gratitude in Grief

Finding gratitude in grief can be one path toward healing the hurt of sorrow or loss. Just as some spiritual writers suggest that saying “thank you” might be our perfect prayer to God… expressing thanks can begin to satisfy our deepest yearnings to honor and give meaning to a life no longer shared here and now.

Looking for, listening to and feeling open to thankful moments within the sadness of grief – over time – can empower our sense of loss, soothe our heartache and focus our disillusionment from resentment towards appreciation.

While death hurts, gratitude can be transformative… even in the shadows of the darkest hours of shock, rage and despair…thanks can glimmer hope.

We know grief is a very individual process. There is no one way or right way to grieve. We all feel and express grief in different ways.

Some prefer to grieve alone in private or within a close circle of family and friends. Others value public opportunities to grieve in groups with ceremony and rites of passage. Surely, many of us grieve in both ways from moment to moment, time to time, season to season. And yes, grief can last a lifetime in varying ways attached to just as many variable memories.

Grief is like walking an ocean beach. Grief comes in waves, moves in tides and is relentless.

Within the raw pain of death, separation and loss, our individual coping styles in the face of death – mental, emotional, physical and spiritual – all reflect our unique personal experiences; our beliefs about living and dying; the degree of trauma we associate with the death; and the complex thoughts, feelings and behaviors the impact of death has on ourselves and others.

Grief is always filtered through our resiliency – our deepest capacities to cope even in the darkest of hours.

No loss, no grief, no trauma is ever minimized. What is true for you is your experience.

The meaning we attach to death varies from death to death…person to person and any meaning can change.

Where we find strength matters. Many find profound strength within themselves they never knew existed. Many also find strength in family, friends, spiritual beliefs and faith inspiration.

Without a doubt, there are healthier ways to cope with grief than other destructive ways that can be damaging to ourselves and others. Repeated attempts to numb grief with excessive alcohol, recreational chemicals, prescription drugs, spending money wildly, abusing food or sex – these self-medicating kinds of behaviors are easily abusive or addicting. It is not uncommon for some persons to act out grief in less than optimal ways.

Sometimes I remind mourners that dying is about the person dying… the dying is really not about you. That doesn’t negate in anyway that the person dying is having a profound affect upon your daily living… moment after moment… but the process of dying really does belong to he/she who dies. We sometimes forget that in the chaos of our pain.
If this is so…what is about you… the griever?
Indeed, your grief gets to be all about you. Perhaps ironically, your grief is not about the dead… your grief is about you and your response to death as you are left living.

Suggestion: Please don’t let other people tell you how to grieve.
It’s not their pain… it’s your’s.

And, of course, as always… it’s OK to ask for help.

Gratitude in Grief


without leaps of imagination or dreaming we lose the excitement

I’m not talking about sorcery, illusions, delusion or tricks.

I am talking about magic that actually has its roots in ancient Judaism and native, indigenous and primal religions worldwide.
Magic, the stuff of Anthropology’s Magic, Witchcraft and Religion, one of my all time favorite courses back in college…
the magic of transformation… the beliefs and practices associated with how we practice power, control and influence over our experience.

Magic: the dimension of paranormal, the unconscious, the Supernatural. Our ability to change.

Universally, magic changes things. Through combining and recombining the substances, forms and forces of Nature, the magician is a catalyst for change.

We all possess the necessary tools to make magic happen. We are magicians in our own gardens. We are the masters of our own creations – our thoughts, our feelings, our health, our beliefs, our actions.

I am magical.
You are magical.
We are all magicians.

If we pay attention, we can witness magic right here right now. You can change what you think. You can change what you feel.
You can practice the magic of tolerance, compassion and mercy.
You can make the magic to transform your fear into love. Your magic can create and sustain forgiveness. You can change dishonesty into honesty.
You can decide for just 10 minutes, an hour or a day to make the choices necessary to not be a victim of anything around you.
You can choose hope instead of despair.
You can savor your half full beer bottle or see your gas tank as half full… not half empty.

I know a guy who practices magic on Saturday’s and holidays, volunteering at a children’s hospital. His ability to make transform himself into the clown whose suit he wears helps sick and dying kids smile. He is a magician. His antics and jokes are magical. Making suffering children laugh is his magic.

Yesterday, I looked around and saw magic all around me as people of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages and financial means fed hundreds of homeless people Thanksgiving lunch… that was magic: to the givers and to the receivers.

Everyday planting and tending my interfaith ministry gardening blog is magic.

Magic is always in you: Hear your heart. Taste a lemon. Touch your toes. Smell the coffee. Look in the mirror. All magic!
Respiration, perspiration, coagulation, fertilization. Magic!

Magic is always all around you: family,friends and playmates, living room furniture, snow, the car, ATM machines, instant mash potatoes. All magic!
Photosynthesis, biosynthesis, chemosynthesis, psychosynthesis. Magic!

Awareness is the first step toward change. Action is then required. Magic is focused action. Trust your magic. Share your magic.