The Birthday Cigarette

On Sunday the singer-song writer Leonard Cohen turned 80. While his friends and family were lighting the candles on his cake, Mr. Cohen was lighting a cigarette. A year ago he promised that when he turned 80 he would start smoking again after thirty years. Why not? If you’ve made it this far, you can…

Breathing with the Dolphin

“Remember to breathe.” I often say this to people under stress—whether it’s distress or eustress. It’s something I have to tell myself. We don’t have to think to breathe. If we did, we’d fall asleep at night and suffocate in our beds. But like all gifts, autonomic breathing also holds liabilities. We can go months,…

Lessons in Stone

If you want to know what beauty is and how it is created in this life, build a simple stone wall. When I decided to build two low stone walls on either side of the driveway into our home in Pennsylvania, I went in search of stone. I wished for a truck that would drop…

My Many Birthday Selves

Today is my 58th birthday. This morning I received a note from an old friend—someone one month younger than I—who posed the question we all ask as the years mount: What am I doing in this old person’s body? I still feel like the person who played the sax in the marching band, the person…

Raids on the Unspeakable

One of the gifts of vacation is to change up one’s prayer ritual. Normally, Pam and I sit for prayer in a corner of our bedroom. There are two chairs, a small table for an oil lamp, a few sacred books, and a timer that sounds a Tibetan prayer bell when our orison is over….