this is the beginning

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A while ago someone reached my blog by Googling “teaching children about the beginning of time.” It made me wonder if what they really wanted to teach children was about the end of time. From time to time someone predicts time, or the world of time, is going to end soon. Anyone coming here for those kinds of answers is looking in the wrong place. I don’t know the answers. I don’t even ask the questions.

I don’t normally pay too much attention to how people reach this blog. Most of those who come for the first time come with this question in mind, another one that I answer, more or less, by saying I don’t know.

There’s a lot of talk out there about deep questions and dark fears, especially these days. I wish we’d all answer them more honestly than we allow ourselves. I wish we were more courageous about saying “I don’t know.”

That’s the answer to most things our children ask; that’s the answer to most things, period. Don’t know. Don’t even try to know. You can’t know.

That brings me to beginner’s mind.

If you’ve read Suzuki Roshi’s little book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind you may know a little something about what Zen calls “beginner’s mind.”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Some define it as having an open mind. Some equate it with a child’s mind. I’ve seen it called a central concept in Zen.

That’s all wrong.

Whenever you start thinking about beginner’s mind it’s no longer beginner’s mind, because it’s not something you do inside your head. It’s something you don’t do. You don’t conceive it, define it, explain it, or label it. You don’t measure it like we do with the finite concept of time; you live in it as your infinite universe. Isn’t it lovely?

You don’t know beginner’s mind, but if you learn to slow down and stay in one place, you can begin to see it. And seeing it, you can totally be it.

There is an end to what any of us can know. But there is no end to this beginning. Can you see?

Have another look. There’s still time to begin.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Sept. 11, 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles

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the answer is practice

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Q: I am confused when you say, “Mindfulness without meditation is just a word.” Do you mean that in addition to practicing mindfulness whenever we can throughout the day, we also need to spend time in quiet mindfulness meditation?

A: I understand the confusion. The current mindfulness movement originated as a way to share the benefits of meditation in a medical or therapeutic setting. Although the practice of meditation was retained, the word “meditation” was not, perhaps because of its association with Eastern traditions. As a result, today there is some confusion that mindfulness and meditation are not related. Mindfulness is attention, true, but meditation is the cultivation of one’s attention. We cannot be mindful without practicing paying attention. If we are only thinking, “I am mindful,” it doesn’t get us very far. The old masters didn’t worry about words, but having practiced seated meditation, they took their concentrated mind with them throughout the day in all activities.

If one happens to only read books about mindfulness, the practice aspect may be overlooked.

Another analogy might be telling ourselves that we are full, when in fact we have failed to eat.

Good places to eat:

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Sept. 11, 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles

Quiet Joy: A Zen Retreat for Busy People
Oct. 28-30
Copper Beech Institute
West Hartford, CT

the good citizen

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Be generous with your attention, that you might dispel the loneliness and isolation that divide us. Be generous with your time and money. They go farthest when freed from your own hands. Make room for all the people—even the majority—that don’t think or act like you. Make an enemy of no one. Be humble. Let others speak. Let others rant. Give argument no mind. Your opinion alters no one’s. Be humble. Have abundant patience and trust, knowing that things change in ways you cannot imagine or predict. Recognize hate as fear, greed as poverty, and ignorance as our common plight. Have faith. Spread cheer. Do good. With an open heart and clear mind, vote. Everything you think, say, and do, however small, has a monumental consequence. Your influence is boundless, so take infinite care. You make all the difference in the world. Give it all you’ve got.

10 tips for a mindful home

Or 10 ways to take back your life.

1.Wake with the sun
There is no purer light than what you see when your eyes open first thing in the morning.

2.Sit
Mindfulness without meditation is just a word.

3. Make your bed
The state of your bed is the state of your head. Enfold your day in dignity.

4.Empty the hampers
Do the laundry without resentment or commentary and have an intimate encounter with the very fabric of life.

5. Wash your bowl
Rinse away self-importance and clean up your own mess. If you leave it undone, it will get sticky.

6. Set a timer
If you’re distracted by the weight of what’s undone, set a kitchen timer and, like a monk in a monastery, devote yourself wholeheartedly to the task at hand until the bell rings.

7. Rake the leaves
Rake, weed, or sweep. You’ll never finish for good, but you’ll learn the point of pointlessness.

8. Eat when hungry
Align your inexhaustible desires with the one true appetite.

9. Let the darkness come
Set a curfew on technology and discover the natural balance between daylight and darkness, work and rest.

10. Sleep when tired
Nothing more to it.

***

Upcoming Retreats

New York – July 29-31
Lion’s Roar Retreat: Finding Freedom from Painful Emotions
Garrison Institute
Garrison, NY

Madison – Aug. 18-21
Wild Grasses Zen Retreat
Madison, WI

Los Angeles – Sept. 11
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Hazy Moon Zen Center

West Hartford – Oct. 28-30
Quiet Joy: A Zen Retreat for Busy People
Copper Beech Institute
West Hartford, CT

Kansas City – Nov. 11-13
Ordinary Mind is the Way: Zen Retreat
Rime Buddhist Center
Kansas City

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the secret of a good mother

broken We say, “A good father is not a good father.” Do you understand? One who thinks he is a good father is not a good father. — Suzuki Roshi

The quote above is often misunderstood. How do you understand it? I’ll answer for you from my own experience. One who thinks she is a good mother is not a good mother.

Zen can sound like doublespeak, but it’s always as plain as plain can be. When you think “good,” that is not good. The moment you step back from total involvement in living life as it is and go up into your judging mind to evaluate it, you are completely mistaken. Do you know that place? Have you ever judged yourself to be comfortably ahead of the game? Or woefully behind? With an edge, an advantage, a method, or for that matter, a reason, excuse or handicap? Maybe you think all those things in a single day! When you indulge in either self-congratulation or self-criticism you are no longer present. You might even say you are no longer alive. Dead fathers are not good fathers.

One who thinks he is one of the worst may be a good one if he is always trying with a single-minded effort.

I have a teenager now, as if it isn’t obvious. And in the course of writing, however vaguely, about what I am experiencing, I hear from kind-hearted people of a venerable cast, folks who have a longer view of the road we tread. They tell me about inexplicable disappointments and deep sorrows, happy turnabouts, miraculous resolutions, and ultimate acceptance of what they didn’t know then and couldn’t have guessed would happen in a million years. Life is a tricky business, and no one knows how it will go. We all know this, and yet we don’t.  Not until the illusion shatters.

From where I stand now it seems a parent’s learning curve goes like this: it starts out hard then it gets easier, and then hard, then harder, then quite a bit harder, then much harder. Humility is the face of love.

The people I take comfort from are the humble ones. They are quiet but outnumber the prideful ones a billion to one.

So how do we conduct ourselves without attaching to good or bad? I like this story about the 20th century Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah who was giving a talk on impermanence. He could be talking about anything.

Before saying a word, he motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

Read a transcript of the original talk by Suzuki Roshi.

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8 steps to happy laundering

You might think I’m using a metaphor when I say that my spiritual practice is doing the laundry. Metaphor or not, laundry is the practice of seeing things as they are. Take a look at how to go from the hamper to happiness in eight steps.

Empty the hamper – Laundry gives us an honest encounter with ourselves before we’re freshened, fluffed and sanitized. It gives us a mirror to the parts of ourselves we’d rather overlook, and makes us take responsibility for our own messes. Self-examination reveals the pure wisdom that resides within each of us.

The instructions are in your hands – The tag inside a garment tells you exactly how to care for what you hold in your hands. Not just clothing, but very bit of life comes with instructions when we are attentive enough to notice. Doing it well may take more work than we’d like, but the effort is always worth it in the long run.

Handle with care – It’s inevitable: everything shrinks, fades and falls apart. Nothing stays brand-new. The most precious things we have are fashioned of flimsy fabric. Be mindful with each moment you have and you will experience your life in a different way. read more

the girl on the train

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When I was little I took a train trip halfway across the country. It was at Christmastime. I remember it as a luxury, a measure of how modestly my family lived otherwise. The train seats were upholstered. I had a bag of brand-new puzzle books and snacks. The porter brought around pillows in creased pillowcases. They cost a dollar apiece to rent. It took three days to get from Union Station in Los Angeles to Austin, Texas.

The train traveled through the empty desert and mountains, across days and nights. We stopped at unfamiliar places in the dark and snow, at old depots in dying towns. People got on and off.

I was only six years old then, in 1962. I was not afraid. My sisters were with me, and my mother was across the aisle.

We got off the train on the third night and were met by the grandparents I hardly knew. My mother’s whole family was waiting to see us. They missed her so much and she lived so far away. Only lately have I realized how hard it was for my mother to miss her mother every day for so long.

I’ve been remembering this since last night when I heard the first woman to become the presidential nominee of a major party saying she wished her mother could be with her right now, a mother who taught her that she could grow up to be anything.

You may not like this particular girl. It doesn’t matter. Some of my own friends call her corrupt, a piece of shit, a snake, things that shock and horrify me, and not because she is a girl—no, not that. They always assure me it’s not because she’s a girl.

This morning I read an article about this girl’s mother, the one who inspired in her daughter such determination and courage. Her mother, you see, was once a girl on a train. Abandoned by her parents at age 8, traveling with her sister to live with people who didn’t want her. By 14 she was on her own again, cleaning houses for strangers during the Depression.

And so today I ask myself this: what do I inspire in my daughter? Do I believe she can go anywhere and do anything? Do I trust, admire, and uplift her? Do I console and encourage her? Am I good company on her long trip to a destination I will never see? Have I taken every opportunity to give my daughter the reassurance my mother still gives me?

Because, you see, a mother may disappear, but a mother never leaves. She is at your side, just across the aisle, for a billion miles across the empty sands. She buys you snacks and books and a fresh pillow. She stays awake through the long night hoping that you will rest. She weeps in humility at how little she can do, and infinite pride at who you have become.

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nice to meet you

original

True refuge is where everyone meets. — Katagiri Roshi

People often ask me how to find a Zen teacher. As one’s practice keeps going, the path becomes clearer. But for some, the questions remain: what and who is a Zen teacher, and how do you find one?
A Zen teacher practices in a room that is not near and is not far.
If it seems too far you’re not near enough.
If it seems too near you’re still too far.
To find the teacher, find the room.
Go inside and sit down.
If this matters to you, you will do it in a hurry. By hook or crook.
(If it doesn’t matter, you won’t do it, because you don’t want a teacher.)
The teacher and student practice face to face.
When a student sees a teacher and a teacher sees a student, they see into themselves.
If you turn this into a metaphor, you will never see it even in a dream.

One day you think there is no chance, and the next day there it is staring you in the face. Not everyone will risk it, not everyone will see, but a few will, and out beyond ideas of right and wrong, in a field, under the sun, on a mountain, across the street or hundreds of miles from where you were yesterday, you will land on your feet, arms outstretched in greeting.

Nice to meet you! Indeed, it is the nicest thing of all.

Valley Streams: A Zen Retreat
July 7-10, 2016
Milford, OH near Cincinnati
Registration open

Lion’s Roar Retreat: Finding Freedom from Painful Emotions
July 29-31, 2016
Garrison Institute
Garrison, NY
Registration open

Wild Grasses Zen Retreat
Aug. 18-21, 2016
Madison, WI
Registration open

Quiet Joy: A Zen Retreat for Busy People
Oct. 28-30, 2016
Copper Beech Institute
West Hartford, CT
Registration open

Ordinary Mind is the Way: Zen Retreat
Nov. 11-13, 2016
Rime Buddhist Center
Kansas City
Registration open

7 ways to be mindful with a teen

QrYW7OmafWxuFeK7RAh5WwThese days kids are 2 going on 12. Mine is 16. What I keep in mind with my teenager is this one thing, the sum total of my old teacher’s advice on raising kids.

Become one with your child.

That may not mean what you think it means. It does not mean to fabricate phony friendship or rah-rah enthusiasm. Nor does it mean to harbor ambition, fear, hope, or dread. It means to become as your child is right now, meet them where and as they are, dissolving the distance from which you judge them. When judgmental distance disappears, you may see that the teenage years are very reminiscent of a far, far, earlier stage in parenting, when you tiptoed about, wanting nothing more from your child than that they sleep and eat, whereby they mysteriously and marvelously continue to grow.

Here is how I try to become one with my daughter as she is, the seven ways I practice mindfulness as the parent of a teenager:

1. Be quiet! — Teenagers become as quiet as the quiet you once wished for. They seem to disappear inside themselves, but they are not lost. Accept their silence within your own nonjudgmental quiet. The silence you keep between you is undefiled love. Trust, faith and respect grow in the silence. That way, when your teen speaks, it will be something they really want to share.

2. Do not disturb — You’re worried about whether your teen has enough good sense. But what do you give them 24 hours a day? Doubt and distrust? A nag, prod, poke, or push? An ominous warning? Anxious oversight? All of the above?  Imagine that your teen is now wearing the sign you once hung from the doorknob to the nursery. Baby sleeping. Don’t let your neurotic fears continually rattle the calm between you.

3. Feed yourself —Children learn to feed themselves. Now it’s your turn. As teenagers wrest themselves from their emotional dependence, parents can feel starved for love. Nourish your own neglected passions, purpose and interests. Fulfill yourself by yourself, and you’ll free your children from your emotional appetites. Now all your relationships can mature.

4. Draw no conclusions. — We are deeply attached to the illusory signs of  “successful” parenting. As in all of life, the next setback inevitably interrupts our self-congratulation. The only conclusion is that there is no conclusion. Stay on the ride. See where it goes. It keeps going forever.

5. Grow up. This is what I remember from being a teenager. As I reached the age where I could see my parents’ foibles and follies, I wished for one thing only: that they grow up. Like my daughter, I am trying my best to grow up.

6. Knock softly. For a few more years at least, your children are still guests in your home. As with any guest, be a good host. Give privacy; respect boundaries; ask permission.

7. Wait for the door to open. It will. Because there was never a door to begin with. You are not strangers. You are not enemies. Two blooms on a single branch: you and your teenager are one.

This may be a good time to read:

8 Reminders for Mindful Parents
8 Ways to Raise a Mindful Child
10 Tips for a Mindful Home
15 Ways to Practice Compassion on the Way Home for Dinner
7 Tips to De-Stress Your Home
Rules for a Mindful Garden
10 Tips for Mindful Writing
5 Tips for Meaning in Cleaning
10 Tips for Mindful Work

***

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it’s okay to be angry

It’s okay to be angry. Be totally angry. You don’t have to build it, bury it or chew it. Anger incinerates itself, and it will end.

It’s okay to be sad. Be sad. You don’t have to drug it, drag it out or plumb it. Sadness subsumes itself, and it will end.

It’s okay to be tired. Be nothing but tired. Fed up, over, out, done. You don’t have to fix it. Tiredness tires of itself, and it will end.

Be angry. Be sad. Be tired. Be as you are, not as you think you should be.

I bet you feel better already.

See for yourself at the Lion’s Roar Retreat “Finding Freedom from Painful Emotions” July 29-31 at the Garrison Institute.

 

because it is impossible to hold

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Because it is impossible to hold, I hold it.

Because it is impossible to hold, it is a word.

Because it is impossible to hold, it fills everything.

Because it is impossible to hold, it falls down.

Because it is impossible to hold, it stands up.

Because it is impossible to hold, it breathes.

Because it is impossible to hold, it lets go.

Because it is impossible to hold, it never leaves.

Because it is impossible to hold, it never ends.

Because it is impossible to hold, love keeps forever.

leave no meaning

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Water birds
going and coming
their traces disappear
but they never
forget their path.

— Dogen, “On Nondependence of Mind”

For a week I’ve had a thought every so often to write a blog post entitled “Leave No Trace.” Then the thought would disappear and I wouldn’t do it. When I sat down just now to write, I realized that I had not visited this site for twenty-eight days or written anything new for thirty-nine days. In the meantime, my site meter had stopped working. The traffic stats for this website thus appear as a vast empty stretch of tracelessness, as if a flock of birds could fly right through it. Something probably happened over the interval — a few visits here, a few there, two thousand spam comments — but nothing was recorded so I don’t know or even care. While I was so nobly intending to hold forth on the Dharma wisdom of “Leave No Trace,” the Dharma was expounding itself without me.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Your site meter can stop and it doesn’t mean you are dead. You can do nothing and everything still happens. You can leave no trace and you won’t fall into a void of extinction. But you might notice that you are a little less self-obsessed, a little less devoted to fame and popularity, less dependent on recognition and praise, less inclined to argue and blame. This is the subtle and profound wisdom of Zen instruction. You don’t lose anything when you leave no trace but the notion of your own ever-loving importance.

The Dharma is always expounded in the absence of self.

When I first began to attend Zen retreats, or sesshins, I’d see the short admonition posted throughout the retreat grounds. Leave No Trace was taped to the corner of the bathroom mirror, propped by the coffee pot, and hanging above the kitchen sink. It secretly pleased me because I thought it validated my own tendency toward obsessive-compulsive tidiness. Wipe your feet! Clean up after yourself! Rinse your own cup! It does quite literally mean those things. But it also means much more. Leaving no trace is a practice that goes on well after you clean your shoes, brush your teeth, and wash a lifetime of coffee cups. No trace is aimed at getting rid of all the petty offenses, inconveniences, and problems in your life: namely, you. Or should I say, me.

Do I have a problem with you? That’s me.

Am I irritated? That’s me.

Do I feel unappreciated? That’s me.

Distracted? That’s me.

Disrespected or misunderstood? That’s me.

Do I feel the need to explain my personal history and point of view so that you can validate my experience? That’s me.

Am I angry at you? That’s me.

Am I struggling with things around me? That’s me.

Do I feel vulnerable, ashamed, defensive, unworthy, or victimized? That’s me.

Uninspired, resistant, and unsure? That’s me.

Do I feel like I leave a big blot of ugly trouble wherever I go? Every day.

Water birds are not dependent on a particular place. When they are on the ground, they function on the ground. On the water, they function on the water. In the sky, they function in the sky. They function perfectly and intuitively wherever they are, moving from one place to another by spontaneous instinct, never lost and never leaving a trace of where they’ve been.

What does it mean to “leave no trace?” It means leave no meaning.

This post was originally published as “The problem with you is me” on April 27, 2015, but then it disappeared. Isn’t that wonderful?

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why don’t you just be the mom

If you ever wondered what you are supposed to teach your child, please read this and learn from me.

It was Thursday afternoon about four-thirty. Georgia was racing through her mound of homework before we left for gym practice at five. (Do math, do science, write a poem.) The minutes were ticking.

This is where it gets sticky.

She’s finishing gluing drawings into her “Silk Road Journal” (16 pages, front and back, history project due the next day) when she lets out a high shriek. The glue has exploded out the cap from a hard squeeze and blanketed two whole pages. The booklet is a soppy mess. Her artwork is doused. She sobs. I stiffen. She collapses. I look at the clock. And what I think I see is no more time.

I really think that time is up.

How is it that a girl and her mother can get stuck between two pages of the Silk Road Journal? Wedged between the pitiless hours of four and five on a Thursday? Strung between almost-done and starting over? Knotted, tangled and ripped in two?

I don’t want to tell you.

I don’t want to tell you what I told her. About what she didn’t do, didn’t plan, and didn’t finish soon enough. About how little and how late. The cause and the fault. How I couldn’t and wouldn’t and didn’t know how to help.  And what did she expect me to do?

Then she turned to me, through her sobs and streaked cheeks, and asked me the one thing that is still so hard for me to do.

Why don’t you just be the mom? Why don’t you encourage me?

Why can’t I just be the mom, and not the taskmaster, the lecturer, the appointments manager, the critic, the cynic, and the know-it-all? What is more important to show her than love? What is there always time for?

All great people, in their profound humility, remember their mothers most. They remember a mother who believed in them. And no matter how late, believed that there was still time. No matter how little, that there was enough. No matter how dismal the prospects, that it was possible. A mother who loved without measure, without schedule and without hurry. A mother who was just the mom.

So we blew off the timetable and moved to the dinner table. I gave her all the room she needed. She spread out and started over, using all the time it took. It went slow, but I encouraged her. She might have learned a lesson about glue, but I learned a lesson that I pray will stick.

When we realize that our child is not the child, then we begin to practice parenthood. It’s never too late to for me to grow up and be the mom. In fact, it’s time I did.

Originally published on Feb. 27, 2012, proving that it’s always time to just be the mom.

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