Category: Pieces of My Heart: Meditations and Reflections by Neil Selden


— Vivekenanda With increasing freshness, vivacity, fascination and energy, my meditation practice has been becoming, more and more, though not every day, a source of freedom from the hourly everyday seesaw of good feelings and bad feelings that was my lot before I began a serious– forty years ago– daily practice of meditation and concentration that kicks up from inside me unexpectedly great deeps of sorrow, and joystreaming, delightful surprises. The great deeps of sorrow and the joystreaming, delightful surprises have been coming and going for decades, and the insights and changes in myself are an evergrowing gift. Most of us feel good when life gives us what we want, and then inevitably feel bad when we lose what we want, or are afflicted with what we don’t want. We are informed by recent scientific research (and the research of meditators throughout history) that good feelings and toxic feelings are not created by the events we experience, but by thoughts we think about those events. Most folks still resist that discovery and consider it crazy wisdom, because it seems to them so obvious that events outside us are the causes of our feelings. That is why the discoveries of the… Read more »


“He who does not know that he does not know is a fool, avoid him. She who knows that she does not know is a wise woman, seek her company. He who does not know that he knows is a saint, love him. She who knows that she knows is God, worship her.” — Anonymous Something was breaking and breaking again, over and over, something in my chest, under my ribs, without pain, a flood of emotion, a cataract of sorrow and a tremendous love, bursting from my heart, the breaking of my heart such as I had never felt in forty years of daily meditation, not just an idea of it breaking but the actual sensation of something inside me being shattered, like a vessel cracking apart, waves of a sorrow beyond sorrow and a love beyond love. Watching it, feeling it, I remembered my darling teacher, inspiration, collaborator, brother-in-law Robert McCrea Imbrie asking me to promise to laugh every morning for five minutes with nothing to laugh at. Twenty years of daily laughing practice had taught me that no matter what I was feeling, toxic or not, I could give it up at a moment’s notice and avoid… Read more »


“O Nobly Born, O you of glorious origins, remember your radiant true nature, the essence of mind. Trust it. Return to it. It is home.” — Tibetan Book of the Dead Engineers have proven conclusively that bees cannot fly, because their wings are not sufficient to sustain them Manoel de Oliveira, the most famous Portuguese film director, shook hands with Clint Eastwood at the Cannes Film Festival, and then, crisp, fit, took the mike to thank the festival for acknowledging his work in film. When I saw the video of de Oliveira, and was informed that he, at one hundred and one years of age, continues to make a new film every year, my vision of my own future as a director and writer of plays and films, and as a psychotherapist, became radically and delightfully refreshed. I decided then and there to aim at living at least until one hundred and five, writing, directing plays and films, and serving others as a therapist up to the end. Such is the power of how we see ourselves and our future that the thought of a man like de Oliveira can transform our thinking. When Martin Luther King dared to face… Read more »


“I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too? Good, then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell! They’ll banish us, you know. How awful to be somebody, how public, like a frog, to croak your name the livelong day to an admiring bog!” — Emily Dickinson “I don’t know where I came from, I don’t know where I am going, but I know that I came well, and I will go well.” — Walt Whitman “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere” is the title of an amazingly simple and powerful book by a Buddhist nun, Ayya Khema, who as a Jewish child in Germany was saved from the Holocaust. She later became a wife, a grandmother, and a wise and scientific practioner/teacher of the Buddhist journey to love and peace, the same journey– with different signposts– made known to those of every faith and no faith who study without prejudice the laws of existence. The first sentences of the Dhammapada, the path experienced and taught by the Buddha, gives us the key to shedding the almost universal pain that arises when we think we have to be somebody, and we have to know where we are going: “All that we are is… Read more »


“Life is not a puzzle to be solved, it is a mystery to be experienced.” — Rajneesh Once upon a time, 39 years ago, when “CAR”, a play I wrote with McCrea Imbrie, was presented at the Director’s Unit of the Actor’s Studio, I heard the founder, Lee Strasberg, speak of the most important quality needed by a director, the only quality that Strasberg insisted cannot be taught. This is the ability to see what is actually happening on stage, not what the director thinks/hopes/persuades himself is happening because he so loves the work he did, but what objective spectators actually see and hear. How often it happened, in my experience at the Actor’s Studio and other theatre groups to which I belonged, that a director or a writer could in no way hear and accept the feedback from thirty or more colleagues trying to be of help, because he was so in love with what he thought he had directed or written. And how often, in our relationships with others, we cannot step back and be a witness to our own unskillful and toxic thoughts, words, actions, as well as our own loving kindness, compassion, joy and peace. One… Read more »


Within yourselves let grow a boundless love for all creatures…Strive for this with a one-pointed mind; your life will bring heaven to earth.” — Buddha “I have a—it feels like emptiness– inside me—a hole in my gut– feels like a ten thousand foot chasm—it can’t possibly be filled– but any– any drop of love– would be– appreciated.” I remember speaking those words when it was my turn on what we used to call the ‘hot seat’, at a 43 hour group therapy ‘marathon’ (with only one three hour break) my wife Lee and I were facilitating. It was one of my early attempts to embrace the emotional truth of who I was at the time, of what my body had been trained to suppress as a child, in school, and among my peers. In the years that followed I learned, sometimes painfully, sometimes joyfully,that at the bottom of my unfillable chasm was a mother lode of playful and exciting creativity and love, often hidden deep among the hated garbage of thrown-away sorrow, unclean rage, buried fears, unacceptable shame, self-disgust wearing a mask of boredom. And, yes, the beautiful, childlike, spontaneous, creative, crazy wisdom every artist longs for, totally alien to… Read more »


UNSKILLED FARMERS “Unskilled farmers throw away their rubbish and buy manure from other farmers, but those who are skilled go on collecting their own rubbish, in spite of the bad smell and the unclean work, and when it is ready to be used they spread it on their land, and out of this they grow their crops. That is the skilled way.” — (Meditation In Action, by Chogyam Trungpa, founder of Naropa University) Pouring, pouring, tears of gratitude came sparkling down my cheeks, deep into heart and mind, when I read the chapter by Trungpa entitled The Manure of Experience, because it described so vividly what I and many others have been trying to learn, practice and teach in our own lives and in the lives of those who come to us for help. How do meditative tears of gratitude sink so deep into the source of art and love, flowing outward into the joy of art, and the joyful struggle to make my relationships a giving and receiving of love? It seems to me that years of acknowledging and honoring my sorrow, my fear, my anger, my shame, my disgust, without letting those emotions determine my speech or actions,… Read more »


Make each day a work of art; make a work of art of time.” McCrea Imbrie spoke those words to me quite casually one day, as we wrestled together, collaborating word by word, phrase by phrase, thought by thought, on our first play together, SOMEONE’S COMIN’ HUNGRY, which was produced a year later Off-Broadway. To discover works of art within ourselves, in words or any medium, and in the reconstruction of my own is-ness, often requires opening myself up to long-buried desires. Many of us were taught as kids, subtly or violently, to grab desire by the throat and choke it to death, whether it was a playful desire to make a design in a plate of mashed potatoes, or a serious desire to play soldier with a dead branch as a machine-gun, killing the enemy by the dozens, or maybe just a universal primate desire to cling to daddy long after Daddy thinks clinging is appropriate. I have been learning again and again, for decades, to throw my arms around my desires like grabbing a life-raft in the middle of a raging sea, and when the storm subsides to study how desires may lead me to new sources of… Read more »


Recognizing greatness in others can only occur because we have that greatness within ourselves. As a husband, father, uncle, friend, artist, psychotherapist and meditator, I need that greatness—we all need that greatness, we all possess that greatness– in order to create beauty and meaning and inspiration that can give peace and strength to those who may benefit from whatever we create of art, and whatever we create of ourselves. In my work and in my life, I try to be aware always of the three poisons—greed, ill will, delusion—because any one of the poisons can make it impossible to recognize and realize and use our greatness to create loving kindness and compassion and joy in our art and in our relationships.. Perhaps the most powerful antidote to the three poisons is what the buddha called “loving the world as a mother loves her only child.” Years ago, I worked as a clinician therapist with a charming, but extremely paranoid, substance-abusing, lawbreaking and possibly dangerous individual who had the walls of his apartment lined with empty fishtanks, and who purchased every book he could find about Buddhism, but never read any of his collection. One afternoon, as I was counseling him,… Read more »


Meditative Nurture for the Heart Here’s a bit of possible meditative nurture for the heart, which, as we learn so slowly, must break and break and break (could be the broken heart of a one year old when Mom takes five minutes to respond to the child’s cry of hunger or loneliness) before the limitless love for self and others hidden deep with every heart can pour freely forth. I don’t know if I don’t want to die, I don’t know if I do, How swell to know I do not know, and go on loving you. Every morning for many years I have practiced visualizing my own death, always hoping to die in a way that would be a gift to other people. I was inspired by the words spoken to my son Michael by Kim, my wife’s half-sister, in her 80’s, when she chose to have no medical intervention, and to die at home. He was about twenty, living with Dearing, his wife-to-be (they now have a 17 year-old daughter and a nine year old daughter, both of them strong and delightful). Michael lay his head on Kim’s lap and wept, and she tenderly stroked his head, and… Read more »