One reason I like to write is that my mind is a busy little metaphor machine. Comparisons come bubbling up all the time, and a really apt one tickles me and I want to share it – especially when it comes to Buddhist topics that can only be approached through metaphor.

Hence, The self is like the Red Sox, and I am a self-driving car. (More about these some other time.)

Here’s one that’s been lurking at the edge of my mind lately, begging to be put it into words: The Internet is a metaphor for annata (the non-self nature of existence).

The thought arose recently when I was working with our young website designers on Summer House Soap’s new site.

I studied graphic design way back in…well, never mind when it was, but let me tell you that when we wanted to position an image or some type on a layout, we had to glue it in place with rubber cement.

Even after I migrated to digital graphic design, (I was mostly designing for print) I could position things where I wanted them and they would stay there. Fonts, line spacing, etc. were under my control. And when everything was to my liking, I’d convert the file to a PDF, essentially creating a fixed solid object.

Not so with designing for the internet! It’s frustrating to see how different a design can look on different devices, depending on what browser is used, whether it’s mobile or laptop, and so on. What I had to get used to is how the design gets assembled anew in each setting. It’s a living aggregate of pieces, coming together in the moment according to conditions.

Isn’t that a nifty metaphor for the non-self (non-solid) nature of existence?

The young seem to take this fluidity in stride because they grew up in a digital world. I wonder if that makes them more able to intuit the dharma.

Dune shack

This being my last full day at the shack, I’m ready for some human contact. It will help with re-entry.

Coincidentally, this morning I exchanged greetings with the neighbor as we pumped water at our respective wells, and he invited me over to his shack to meet his wife. The two of them are part of the vanishing tribe of shack owners who have had their property taken by the National Seashore.

When I arrived at their shack, their first words were, “We’re in the middle of a situation here.” Turns out that their shack had just become infested with crabs (no, not the kind you make crab dip out of) and they were in the process of removing all bedding for laundering.

It was quite an icebreaker! I perched on a wooden chair on their porch, trying not to touch anything or scratch at psychosomatic itches, and we chatted about a wonderfully broad range of topics. I could not help but be aware, though, that the very situation that was breaking their hearts – their shack lease from the seashore expires next year and they don’t know what the establishment will do – was what made my blissful week in the dunes possible. All the shacks that are available to the public were once privately owned.

Later in the day my friend Carolyn came to call. She’d just arrived for a week at another shack not far away. The mung had receded so she coaxed me into the water. Cold!! Exhilarating!! My week now feels perfect.

If you want to learn more about opportunities to stay in a dune shack, contact The Provincetown Community Compact or the Peaked Hill Trust.

Dune 4

I could live happily here all week in just my crinkly pink tee shirt and tan shorts.

One of the benefits of solitude is being able to wear the same clothes day after day and be as be as unwashed and unkempt as you like. This week has been a good test of my “I don’t get BO” theory. (I believe this because I’ve been testing our new natural deodorant. First I tested it against my regular deodorant (right armpit natural, left Mitchum.) No discernible odor! Then I tested it against an untreated armpit. Still no difference, so the test was inconclusive.)

Staying in a shack with no running water or electricity necessitates some creative personal hygiene. I’ve worked out a routine with two stainless steel bowls and two washcloths. One set is for my face, the other for grubbier ablutions like dirty feet. It’s also good for laundering undies.

Today I took my first outdoor shower. There’s a tank on the shed roof that collects rainwater. It runs thought hoses that are exposed to the sun, so the water came out scalding hot at first. I partially filled one of the bowls with well water and topped it off with the hot stuff.  This made a nice temperature for dumping over my head. Suds, rinse, and repeat. Nice!

Toileting is done in an indoor composting toilet for #2 and outside for #1 because the toilet is nearly full. Not a problem, except for last night. As I squatted in the bushes in the dark, a large noisy insect dive-bombed me. I lurched out of the way, bopping my head on an overhead branch and peeing on my pants in the process. Tomorrow: laundry day.

While I have some flip flops with me, bare feet are the best way to get around on the dunes, unless it’s midday. Then, the sand is like a frying pan, and it’s best to wear some socks.

Here are the two bars of soap that have been my companions this week. One is Nantucket Sea Clay, a spearminty soap which was great in the outdoor shower. The other is a yet-to-be-named experiment created by Jules. It fascinates me. It really goes well with this shack – very smokey and woody with notes of vetiver, cedar and clary sage. I think it’s a keeper. Maybe I’ll call it Dune Shack. Or Sand Dune? Sand Bar?



I walk on the beach every day, but so far haven’t gone swimming. I’m intimidated by the cold rough surf that will probably knock me down, the undertow, and the sharks. They tell us not to swim where there are seals because there may be sharks nearby too. But there are seals all over the place.

Consequently I’m grateful for the mung – an invasion of smelly seaweed that has turned the waves into brown mud. Nobody would want to swim in there! I’m off the hook, and don’t have to pester myself to push past my fears.

When I come down to the shore, a dozen or more seal heads turn their black lab faces my way. A little farther down the beach, a sandbar emerges from the receding tide that becomes a gathering place for hundreds of seals. It’s like a party every six and a half hours. A mournful chorus of seal  talk fills the air – whoa! whoa! whoa! It must be nice to take a break from worrying about sharks.

While those who have grabbed a spot on the sandbar loll in the sun, dozens more circle in the water, waiting for a chance to climb aboard. In the green mung, it looks like seal soup. If I were a shark, I would be all over this place. But so far no sign of them.

Nature question: if seals are mammals, do they have breasts? Do the nurse while they swim?

Dune 5

I’m spending a week barefoot in a sand dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore. I’m here alone in my little shack, though there’s another inhabited shack nearby. It’s been several days since I’ve talked to anyone except a couple of short conversations with John on my cellphone. The quiet and space are a balm to my psyche, which has worn thin from too much of everything this summer.

The dunes of the outer Cape are an amazing landscape. They have a grandeur and yet such a feeling of  intimacy. I feel like I’ve found my “happy place.” During the daytime I take long walks on the beach. In the evening, I climb to the top of a nearby dune for a 360 degree view the sun setting to the west, the sea to the north, the moon rising in the east, and the endless undulation of the dunes in every direction.

The week is shaping up to be sort of a retreat/vacation hybrid.  I’ve been practicing in the morning and evening (bowing, chanting, sitting, walking) but giving the afternoon over to reading, napping, trying to write, and exploring my new camera.

Every night I listen to a dharma talk. Last night it was Pascal Auclair. A word I liked was specificity. This breeze, this wave, this bow, with its cracking of cartilage, pinpoints of sand underfoot, and flavor of surf sound and smell.  Specificity…a useful little talisman to carry through the day.

(One thought worth recording: God is in the details. Details like sweeping sand off the floor, feeling the breeze, hearing crickets, watching sandpipers skittering along the waterline. All very specific.)



The past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like a giant to-do list walking around on two legs, full of jazzy anxiety and tension. Each day is a battle to slay as many items on the list as I can in the time available.

Nights are worse, because there are no distractions. No matter how tired I am, I am capable of lying in bed for hours, my mind cycling through undone tasks. That paperwork I should have filed! That order that’s scribbled on a napkin…where did I put it? I seem to be always on the edge of losing complete control of my life– and the to-do list is the only thing that stands between me and catastrophe.

But of course that’s not true. And in a couple of days, I’m daringly thumbing my nose at the to-do list. I’m going to a meditation retreat where I will immerse myself in non-doing, instead of doing. And hopefully reconnect with a sense of myself as a limited human being who is only capable of so much.

Sounds good!

(Of course, much of the reason I’ve had so much to do is because I’m trying to get away. There’s definitely some irony there.)

picture by Jill Ross,

Last year, I went directly from a meditation retreat in Burma to selling at the New York Gift Show, jet lag, bronchitis and all. Talk about a rough re-entry!

This month history repeated itself, though not so intensely. I returned from a week at the Providence Zen Center and immediately had to set up for the Boston Gift Show. It’s hard to go from sitting in silence to high-energy selling, but in many ways a Zen retreat is great preparation for any demanding life situation.

Just do it!  A lot of Zen practice is about showing up, paying attention, meeting the unexpected, and doing what needs to be done. Lots of opportunity to do that at a show!

Don’t know mind. I packed for the show with no idea of how our booth was going to come together. The organizers had just informed us that the booth drapes were going to be black instead of white, and I feared it would be weird and Goth and definitely un-Summer-House-y. There was no time to arrange alternate drapes…what to do? No choice but to figure it out once I got there.

Don’t make good and bad. As it turned out, our colors just popped on the black background – especially the turquoise banners — and the yellow daffodils and summery linens looked elegant. I was quite surprised.

Follow your situation. I was also surprised to find myself with a 10 x 35 ft. space to fill instead of our usual 10 x 10 booth. (There were a number of no-shows among the vendors.) I wrangled some piping for extra lights and spread our stuff out  and it turned out great.

Everything is no problem! All in all, I appreciated my new-found ability to chill when tensions were high and curve balls were flying. And during the long stretches where nothing much was happening? No problem when you’ve just spent a week sitting and staring at the floor for eight hours a day!

Don’t get me wrong…I don’t recommend this schedule if you have an alternative. But if you don’t? Just do it!



John and I were in New York last week attending the NYNow gift show. Last year I went as an exhibitor; this time I was a buyer. Or, I should probably say, a “looker.” I did place some orders, but mostly I spent my time looking, my senses wide open and tingling, absorbing the dazzling array of colors, textures, scents, fonts, graphics  – all the facets of what’s happening right now in design and merchandising.

I’d ask myself, What attracts me? What feels fresh? What feels  a bit stale? And how would our customers respond? I was taken with the oranges and reds and intense turquoises, with moss and galvanized steel and soft fluffy spring things.

There were workshops and seminars that left me buzzing about all the things I should be doing for my business but probably don’t have time to do: Re-arrange the shop weekly!  Pitch our “story” to the media!  Send samples to prominent bloggers in hopes of getting reviewed! Update our photography!

How to digest this over-stimulation, this kaleidoscope of wonders?

Nature is providing an answer: it’s telling us to hunker down at home, surrounded by mountains of dirty snow and ice, waiting for the next blizzard to arrive sometime tonight. John has the flu. I have started to sneeze a lot. Maybe I’ll go make some soup.

What a difference a week makes!


January is coming to an end.  I say this with some sadness, even though the weather outside is dreary and I’ve been sick most of the month.

But I love January because it’s traditionally been the one month during the whole year when I get a chance to reboot my life – something I look forward to all year long. Sometimes this reboot takes the form of a complete get-away, as when I went on a three week meditation retreat last year. This year I didn’t do that, choosing instead to staycation at home, and recoup, assess, and catch up.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the past year and making plans for the coming one. I’ve also been tackling some seriously overdue housekeeping. By this I mean clearing away the detritus of the past year and restoring a little order, both in my home and in my business.

I sorted a clogged closet, for example, and hauled the excess to Good Will. I cleared clutter off of my actual and virtual desktops, and updated some computer programs. I’m hoping to empty out my inbox before the week is over. My husband is good at keeping up with maintenance tasks through good daily habits. I don’t seem to have that temperament, so an annual binge will have to do.

The truth is, I’ll never really be caught up, and I’ve learned to accept that. I regard my token efforts as more symbolic than practical –  sort of a ritual cleansing before the next season begins. By next week, the call to get back to business will be getting insistent.


Oh the tyranny of the to do list.

Originally posted on Mindfulbalance :


In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, “Kayf haal-ik?” or, in Persian, “Haal-e shomaa chetoreh?” How is your haal? What is this “haal” that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a…

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