DharmaPhD Meta

Dharma PhD Update, 2020 Q4

I’m pursuing an Independent PhD. This is a post about how that’s going. For more details on what an Independent PhD is and why you should start one, check out this post over here.

Greetings, Friendlies! Welcome to 2021!

The 2020 Q4 summary is: experimenting. There were lots _and lots_ of experiments, big and small. The podcasting workshop closed down and I found myself without a dedicated Akimbo workshop for the first time since February. It was a little bit lonely, but there was much more space, less tending to others and finally feeling it was appropriate to retract my tentacles and dedicate energy to my own projects.

Big highlights this quarter: The Buddha Bites Podcast hit 5K downloads. And I promptly declared an end to Season 1. I began setting up a new online forum for the Bodhi College Community pilot. I turned off hosting (practicing letting go of the external push to teach). I committed to four online jhāna retreats in four months! We learned that we’ll be moving next spring. I was interviewed on somebody else’s podcast! And in the process of researching [[Dharma PhD EP5 BDSM B4 Theri 4]], I came to realize that I am beginning to make new connections. I’m beginning to synthesize my own work. I’m finally becoming a graduate!



  • Daily 0.5-1.0 hour metta practice (TWIM-esque). Though, frankly, my brains are so scrambled with the podcasting workshop that I spend most of my time just trying to calm my mind. I often spend half the time on the body and then transition to metta. I look forward to finishing up this workshop and slowing down my pace to access some real calm again.
    • Something I’ve found, and I’ve heard this from others, is that when guiding meditations, the guider can often drop much more quickly into a focused state. I’m wondering if it will be possible to use this trick on myself? I mean, guide myself, and see if I can drop in more quickly/deeply? I found a similar effect when I attended the Dhamma Sukha 10-day online Metta retreat. One thing they ask you in the survey each day is how long are you able to stay with the object. I found the process of paying attention to how long I could stay with the meditation object seemed to help me concentrate better. This is interesting and not something I’ve heard anyone talk about before. I’m experimenting with guiding myself (internally) to see what effect it has.


Continuing to work through John Peacock’s series “Buddhism Before the Theravada“. Producing blog posts and podcasts regarding the same.


  • Podcasts:
    • Buddha Bites
      • I did a 5-part series on vedanā (aka hedonic tone). I couldn’t figure out how to keep the episodes down around 60-seconds. They were 3-5 minutes. But I got a lot out of the production, the opportunity to talk about vedanā in Buddha Bites style was interesting. I was mostly pleased with the output.
      • Created a YouTube channel for Buddha Bites and started posting episodes there as audiograms. But after episode 32 I decided it was too much extra work so, for now, it’s on hold.
    • Dharma PhD
      • Episode 3 released 02OCT. This episode came together more smoothly than the last one. I scripted more of the discussion, and when invited to digress, I usually declined. I used the app Descript for the production… IT’S SO RAD.
      • Episode 4. Working on the script. Interesting realization; if I was doing this podcast by myself or with a dharma co-host, I would simply be regurgitating what Peacock says. I’d say something like, “Then he talks about the aggregates” and I’d list the aggregates. Maybe we’d debate the merits of various scholars’ interpretation, etc. Instead, I’m having to really engage deeply with the material. Instead of saying, “This is what the aggregates are.” I have to say, “Why do we care what the aggregates are? And does this particular series of categories make sense today?” It’s an approach that I’ve not experienced yet before in Dharma talks, and it’s not easy. My instinct is to talk about the foreground, the aggregates. Not to delve into the background, the premises and worldview behind them… and to ask the question, if/how does this serve us today? I did get the script complete in October, but my co-host is very busy with work, so not sure when we’ll get to record.
    • Guided Meditations with Shannon. I stopped doing this podcast as the workload seemed greater than the reward. I’m getting a lot of downloads in India, which is awesome, but it’s not serving the people I wanted to serve, those folks who are already attending my guided meditations and/or are on the signup list for the same. Maybe if I start a newsletter and can get more touch points, I’ll turn this back on. Or if I decide I want to teach later, I’ll turn it back on to create touch points with new students.
  • Dharma PhD Blog
    • 4 posts. Quality above quantity, of course. But it may be interesting to track production.
  • Akimbo Podcasting Workshop. (29JUN-12NOV)
    • It’s really petered off by late October. But I’m still posting occasionally and checking in with folks. I backed away from contributing myself because I wanted to really concentrate on my own content creation.
  • Inaugural Bodhi College “Community Course”. Bodhi College. Online. I forgot about our October meeting. Argh!
  • Bodhi College “Thinking Out Loud” Series. This dāna-based series is covering all number of topics. B.C. has started to understand that they have a role in sangha-building; they are including breakout sessions in the talks to allow folks to speak with each other. The series so far has included the following:
    • The Making of a Self, taught by Christina Feldman.
    • Early Buddhism and the Existential Dilemma, taught by Stephen and John Peacock.
    • Stages of Awakening – Stream Entry, taught by Christina Feldman and Chris Cullen.


  • MBSR-esque 1-hour meditation sessions for staff and faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Online.
  • Because I have not started any new courses during COVID (I didn’t enjoy teaching online as much and am sufficiently busy right now that I don’t mind), I turned off the website on Squarespace. Pro-Tip, if you want to take screen shots of your pages before canceling a subscription on Squarespace… do so before canceling. You can’t look at anything but the front page after canceling. :Sad face: I’ve exported the content… hopefully that will be enough?
    • I really liked the look of Squarespace and may take Dharma PhD there some day. But it seems to me I don’t have enough traffic to justify the cost. This may be a cognitive fallacy… if only I knew someone who specialized in the practical understanding of brain function… :)


  • I’m feeling very over-full with tasks right now. I have not yet been able to carve out as much time to work on Dharma PhD the podcast as I want. So my publishing schedule is less than once a month. I would like to be able to produce twice a month. Optimistic that production time will reduce as I get more accustomed to it, and probably will also be faster when I start conducting interviews. There won’t need to be so much prep work, maybe?
  • We’ve discovered that we’ll be moving next spring. This is great, because I’m ready to try a new place. But it does change my proposed plans for Q1 2021. I had planned to do a big community building drive, but maybe that is not so skillful while planning a cross country relocation. We’ll see.



  • Daily 0.5-1.0 hour metta practice (TWIM-esque). I’m doing better now that I’ve backed away from contributing to the Podcasting Workshop forums. Still, my practice is not daily and it’s shorter than in the past. This is something I’d like to improve on. I’ll take a 10-day at home retreat in December and one in January; those will certainly do the trick. But is it possible to re-invigorate without the retreats?
    • I spoke in October about “guiding myself” in practice. It’s been a mixed bag. It’s effortful. But it does seem to help me focus when the mind is quite restless. More experimenting to do.
    • As the second Akimbo workshop (podcasting) comes to an end, I’m finding myself very much drawn to returning to the pre-Akimbo workshop state. Although the experience has been transformational, it has come at a cost to my equilibrium and calmness. I had forgotten until this week how I’d felt before the Story Skills Workshop. The requirement to produce and to interact at a high level of engagement is excellent for productivity and learning, but detrimental to a state of calm. Ready to get back into it!
  • 13-17NOV Online Retreat with Marc Akincano Weber and Yuka Nakamura, hosted by Bodhi College. “Meditation: Between Pyschology and Spiritual Growth”. I am not really sure where to put this one. It’s a bit practice, a bit scholarship, a bit discussion. I really enjoyed the format, though it was hosted in CET (and I’m ET), the organizers set it up so that break out groups and question sessions were available in our time zone.
    • It was an interesting retreat. Particularly watching the instructors manage the gulf between those of us who were really into the Psychology and those of us who were really into the Spirituality. At times there was a lot of fire under those views. I thought the A & Y did an admirable job of fielding questions as they could, and letting go what was inappropriate.
    • Something else that surprised me about this retreat was how much idealization happens of Akincano. No wonder the guy is going on sabbatical. I mean, I thought I was worried I pedastalized him a bit much as a teacher. But listening to others made me feel quite reasonable in my admiration. It has also made me more eager than ever to let go of my admiration as much as possible. Not because A doesn’t deserve it, but because the man is human and he deserves to be treated as such. I think the thing I want to hold is admiration for the material, respect for the individual, but hold the dhamma above any individaul holder of that dhamma.
    • It was very gratifying to see so many familiar faces, and to have an opportunity to correspond with them. I emailed a handful of folks I saw whose addresses I had and there was some very interesting behind the scenes conversations to be had. It helped enrichen my experience of the retreat. Too, it was helpful to hear where others were struggling in the same ways that I was. Particularly with the notion of “spirituality” not landing well, and the struggles that some of us were going through with that term. Yes. It is good to feel connected.


  • SAA: Continuing to work through John Peacock’s series “Buddhism Before the Theravada“. Producing blog posts and podcasts regarding the same.
  • 30NOV-21DEC, Seminar series, “Losing Yourself: How to be a Person Without a Self” hosted by Jay Garfield and offered through BCBS.
    • Wow! I’d never heard of Jay Garfield before. But here is someone who’s doing what I want to be doing. Cognitive Science, Philosophy, Buddhist Studies. He’s spicy, he’s light. He’s actually a _de_light! I’m looking forward to learning more from him.
    • As with the Psychology and Spirituality retreat, I was grateful to see familiar faces and be able to reach out and discuss. Again, it’s so much richer to have several views on a course, on an instructor, on the material. I’m so incredibly fortunate.


  • Podcasts:
    • Buddha Bites
      • These episodes are definitely getting longer. For the day after the election I told the story of the blind men and the elephant with my preferred alternative ending. It’s here.
      • I’d like to start building a queue of these to publish so that when I want to take spontaneous camping trips or retreats I don’t feel constrained by publishing BB.
      • Had my first distribution SNAFU. My mom (!) texted on Sunday morning to ask what had happened to the Friday episode. It was live on my podcast host’s site (, but was not “ingested” by the distributors (ie, Apple/Google Podcasts, Spotify, etc). On Monday, Captivate refreshed the RSS feed; seemed to fix the problem. I sure don’t want to have to check on these…
    • Dharma PhD
      • Episode 4. Co-host was super busy with work, so there was some delay getting on microphones. The first attempt to record EP4 was surprisingly contentious. Co-host was fatigued and I could hear that things weren’t going well. So we called it that day. Attempt two went much better, there were software kerfuffles, but we got some decent tape and I’m hoping to have EP4 released 13NOV. We’ll see how the first recording goes; may have to re-record parts of it.
  • Dharma PhD Blog
    • 3 posts.
    • I realized that I’d been so focused on producing the podcast I hadn’t thought about blog posts. There’s plenty to say that isn’t captured in the podcasts… actually because of the co-host situation, the blog could become a place where I geek out more, dive deeper into the work. I mean, it doesn’t need to be an overlap of the podcast. The trouble, of course, is deciding to make the time/energy to write.
  • Akimbo Podcasting Workshop. (29JUN-12NOV)
  • Inaugural Bodhi College “Community Course”. Bodhi College. Online.
    • I am finding this group more to my taste, I mean that I get more out of it and am more engaged (a self-feeding circle), than the formal Bodhi College “Thinking Out Loud” series. In the 04NOV group, our facilitator proposed bringing a BC teacher on to the call. I noticed a significant contraction at the proposal; several others spoke up against the idea. We all felt similarly, that a teacher would lead to less sharing, less intimacy, less discovery. Isn’t _that_ interesting? And I know that, for myself, I attend the TOL sessions more for the break-out groups than for the talks themselves. I often have a hard time staying focused on the teacher’s holding forth. Perhaps a fault, but certainly an interesting data point.
  • Bodhi College “Thinking Out Loud” Series.
    • The final episode in the Fall series was Emptiness and Fullness, taught by Martine Batchelor and Jake Dartington. Unfortunately I was unable to attend.


  • MBSR-esque 1-hour meditation sessions for staff and faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Online.
  • It’s amusing to me how _compelled_ I feel to teach. Like it’s some sort of responsibility, some sort of thing I _should_ be doing. Despite very much not wanting to do it. Funny how, in even a Dharma context, one feels compelled by the norms of the community. Humans are _so_ interesting…


I had planned to not take on any new work until January. Take December easy. Wait til you see what I agreed to…



  • Daily 0.5-1.0 hour metta practice (TWIM-esque). Beginning December my practice is still not as strong as I’d like it to be. We’ll see how the December TWIM retreat does me. I do think that I’d eventually like to arrive at a place where two-hour meditations are the norm, not the outlier.
  • 10-day at home metta (TWIM) retreat with Dhamma Sukha (à la Bhante Vimalaramsi). I didn’t get as deep into this one as I have in the past. I think I’m worn out by the cares of the world, frankly. I did not sit as frequently nor get as deep into the jhanas. However, it was good to _see_ this. To recognize the Akrasia, the work that is needed to catch my behavior up to my aspirations. Also, I found I was able to let go (in large part) a few addictions (baby yoda hyper-fixation, anyone?) that had built up over the past six months (since the last one of these. Also, I am _so_ glad to have found Leigh Brasington and to be scheduled to attend retreats with him (online/at home) in 2021. I remain turned off by Bhante V’s dhamma talks and hope to find a teacher with whom I can continue to explore depths of stillness, but whose philosophy is a bit more in line with my own. We shall see!
  • The above being said, I’m not yet ready to turn away from the TWIM-technique. I find the 5Rs (I’ve modified from Bhante V’s 6Rs) incredibly helpful, both in formal meditation and daily life. I’m hoping that 2021 will transition into a year of deep concentration practice, with metta as the base, but as things are so up in the air (ahem, a certain virus which shall remain nameless), it’s probably best to keep plans short. I have grown much with and in metta in 2020 and see there is much still to develop in the Brahmaviharas.


  • Starting work on Dharma PhD EP5. Had the most delightful experience. I mean I was just filled with joy doing the research. I feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Maybe I’m delusional, but I feel like I can see just a little bit farther. This mix of philosophy, cognitive science, dharma, and discipline… I feel like I’m making connections that I’ve never heard made before. (And then I think, I must be delusional. There’s no way _I_ could be coming up with anything new. But new to _me_ anyway…) I am so fortunate to be doing this work.
    • More work on DPhD5. Wowowow. I’m working on understanding Dependent Origination. Using concepts offered by Brewer and Akincano last year at a retreat from BCBS (Pleasure, Like and Craving), book _The Power of Habit_, and other learnings. I feel like I’m beginning to craft something completely new. New to me, anyway. I told BooBear, “I may not be standing on the shoulders of giants, but I’m getting one heck of a piggy-back ride…” I love this work so much and simply can’t get enough!
  • I half-heartedly continued the seminar series hosted by BCBS, “Losing Yourself: How to be a Person Without a Self” taught by Jay Garfield. Although I _really_ liked Jay Garfield, I found the material not so engaging. In the first place, the first two lectures were very cognitive (which he explicitly stated would be the case, but I was surprised to find myself not engaging), secondly no break out groups; it was just Garfield lecturing, which again, totally fine, but I can listen to a talk anytime. And third, there wasn’t talk (in the first two lectures) about practice, about implementation. I do plan to listen to the last two talks to see if practice info was shared… but ultimately the format was not one that spoke to my needs at this point in my path. Garfield will be releasing the material covered in this seminar in an upcoming book by the same name. Might be interesting to re-investigate in that format; possibly in a book club? (Oh, how I want to host a dharmma book club!)


  • Buddha Bites Podcast reached 50 episodes! I don’t always love producing these, but I’m really getting so much out of the work. Iteration after iteration. I’m getting better at talking about it. I’m making mistakes and recovering (I think). I feel so confident talking about the material. I think my understanding is growing very rapidly because of this.
    • BB also exceeded 5,000 downloads! Of course it was never about the downloads, rather about my process of learning and producing, still, I am not so awakened that I do not feel and warm a bit to the gratification of 5K downloads in just over 90 days. :)
    • Then, just as suddenly as I began them, I decided to close out BB, at least Season 1. I found that the material was getting more complicated; the episodes were getting longer. I wasn’t keeping my 60(ish) seconds promise very well. Rather than just stop all together, I decided to re-release Season 1 on a three-a-week schedule, just as they were before. I’m doing a little more audio processing to the episodes (I’ve learned a lot about audio since beginning) and slinging them back out into the world. BB was never designed as a back catalogue; it was always about frequent short touch-points. I thought it would be interesting to re-release them and see what happens to the listener-ship. Does it fall off a cliff? What do people want in their podcast feeds? We shall see…
  • Inaugural Bodhi College “Community Course”. Bodhi College. Online.
    • I’d planned on not taking on any new projects/retreats/whatever in December. But I was offered the opportunity to build a Discourse forum to host our Bodhi College Community group. (I’ve been lobbying for the same for some time.) It’s not worth turning down. It’s not even worth delaying. I thought about it a bit and realized, yes. Doing this work will reduce my personal progress in the dhamma for the month of December. But I really believe that helping to create a thriving online community for Bodhi College will help others to progress faster in their practice in the future. So I’ll do it. Again, saying these things feels a bit delusional, but it’s how I’m feeling at the moment. And I’m so happy to have the opportunity to do something _for others_. I mean, besides teaching, of course…
    • This project went along surprisingly well. It took several days of hunkering down and getting close to the code, but the forum is up, the first group have been invited (79% of the group has signed up), and a trickle of communication has begun. It will be interesting to see if/how this develops. Bodhi College is not sure this is the right format for them, and I completely understand that. But if they ultimately decide it’s not right for BC, I’ve learned enough and become confident enough to start one on my own (ahem, Discourse Dharmma book club anyone???).
    • I’ve reached out to some folks in another online community to start talking about the art of community building. Ultimately I’d prefer to be having these conversations with other Dharma practitioners, but for now I’ll take what I can get. :)
  • Dharma PhD Blog
    • Zero Posts. :(


  • MBSR-esque 1-hour meditation sessions for staff and faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Online.
  • The _most_ interesting thing happened. My mother, who last year, took an MBSR class, she and I were talking on the phone. And she began asking me questions about meditation, particularly about how to handle certain kinds of hindrances (this is not the language we used), and to my surprise, we got into a long and lovely conversation about the dharmma (again, not using the D word), and I think I was really able to offer her some helpful guidance. I didn’t notice how big a deal this was at the time, but afterwards it really hit home. I am able to help my parents by offering them help in their psychological/emotional growth. (Well, one of them, anyway.) Thinking back on how Gotama said that was the most helpful thing one could ever do for their parents, I’m very pleased to see my own practice coming to fruition in this way. I was grateful that she was willing to ask my opinion and trust my advice.


I’ve discovered a new piece of software for, well, ostensibly for taking notes. It’s called [[Roam Research]]. And really it’s designed to be “knowledge management” software. But I’m not sure that term is much known. Anyway, it feels to me like a paradigm shift in digital note management. A tool as profoundly different as Getting Things Done was for task management. It’s not cheap, but I can see myself getting hooked on the functionality.

What’s Next

For Q1 2021 we’ll be moving cross country. I’m looking forward to taking the opportunity to lighten the load a bit. There will be more than an orange robe and a begging bowl, but maybe a little less than what I have now. I’m also scheduled for three (!!!) online [[jhāna]] retreats with [[Leigh Brasington]]. One each month for the quarter. I spent 2020 in a pretty activated state. It will be interesting to see if 2021 can be a year of greater tranquility and ease.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s