shoveling gutters

18335467I’m biding my time today until the sun is higher in the sky, the air warms a bit, and I can get out and clean the rain gutters. This is a chore that stands in for all the snow shoveling that might go on where you live. It is a solitary job. No one but me notices that it is time to do it. No one but me will do it. It does not diminish me. On the contrary, cleaning the gutters will give me power and purpose, direction and rhythm: spiritual guidance that doesn’t come when I spend the day merely thinking about what I could be doing, say, tomorrow.

My dear and sensitive friend Katrina Kenison recently sent me a marvelous book, out of the blue, which is what makes something a gift, descending like a bird into your hand from who-knows-where, a memoir by Mary Rose O’Reilley, a poet and author hitherto unknown to me, who once apprenticed herself to a sheep farm. Going to work every day in a barn made no sense in a literal way, her lofty mind knowing nothing about sheep or lambing or castration or shearing or sudden virulent sickness and death, any of the activities that make up the muddy substance of a sheep farm. Perhaps she had an inkling that the experience would spiritually ground her, rescue her from the reaches of her poetic inclinations, and it did. The farm rescued her, and reading about it rescued me too.

I haul the ladder from the garage and put on oversized gloves. I always start by using a trowel to dig out the gutters but before long I’ll pitch the gloves and tool because they don’t quite get at the depth of the matter, the sweet oozing muck, the marriage of last summer’s dust, wind-brittled leaves and December’s forgotten rain. You have to use your hands.

Sometimes, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel greatly alone and sad. Especially these days, I have to remind myself that I keep company with the earth and sky, and that I alone mother the myriad things in-between. That I am a farmer and a friend, and still an apprentice at both. I have to come back to this wholesome earth and shepherd myself in the best way I can. That’s about the time a gift arrives, and I am saved.

The ladder is shaky because at no spot around this house, which sits on a mountain, is the ground level. I’m not afraid. This old path is muddy, but my aim is straight, and maybe I’ll see a bird.

Going out now.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

letter from my 16-year-old self

mailbox-396694__180Today’s news has brought this old post to mind. Looking at life straight on, death is always at hand.

Yesterday I reached into the bottom of a drawer and rediscovered my English Composition notebook from my junior year in high school. I knew that I had kept it, and flipping through the pages of my tightly curled script, spaced so sincerely between faded blue rules,  I remembered why.

We often think that if we had the chance we would go back in time to illuminate our younger selves with mature insights, to foreshorten expectations and prevent cruel disappointments. Drop the notion that you’re wiser now than you were then. What did your 16-year-old self know that you’ve forgotten? Before your last hour, can you remember again?

My Last Wish
English III
October 23, 1972

My life is a collection of small occurrences. In looking back over sixteen years, I remember incidents which, when they happened, seemed quite forgettable. A handshake with a friendly dog, a gift of bubble gum from my father, and a playground chase are a few of the scenes that come to mind.

When confronted with the possibility of only one more day of life, I immediately respond with a desire to experience all of the thrills our earth has to offer. But, after considering further, I reject that idea as a way to conclude my life.

What experiences, after all, has my memory chosen to include in its vast enclosures? The everyday happenings remain most clearly in my mind’s eye. They have influenced and molded me into the complex person that I am.

If I had one day left to live, I wouldn’t want to circle the world or sail the seas. I might wash my hair, play cards, clear the dinner table, fight with my sister, say my prayers and go to sleep.

We must become the ones we always were. How else to explain the sublime recognition when we meet ourselves again.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

 

how to see paradise

kmm-placeArt by Esmé Weijun Wang.

how to peel an orange

Grandpa showed me how to peel an orange.

Hold the fruit in one hand and the pocketknife in the other.

IMG_0823

First, score a circle in the rind around the navel below and the stem on top.

IMG_0825

Draw the blade down the sides in vertical strokes all around the whole, no deeper than the skin, an inch between each cut. Be careful. Go slow. Do not harm the flesh.

IMG_0830
Lift off the top and bottom pieces.

IMG_0833

Pull each section of rind away from the fruit. It will come easily, and with it, the pith.

IMG_0844

Wedge your thumb into the center and splay the fruit wide open.

IMG_0847

There will be ten or so segments—enough to share.

Once you taste the living truth, you are never again fooled by the imitation flavored drink in a carton.

A lesson from my garden to yours, via my newest book,  Paradise in Plain Sight. Order signed copies of all my books here.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

15 ways to practice compassion today

Marc-Dombrosky1I hear quite a bit about compassion, that brand of selfless love we usually judge ourselves to be lacking. Talking about compassion may be one reason it is so frequently misunderstood as something that we should be doing. But compassion doesn’t need doing. It exists already in the harmony of things just as they are.

Discord comes from our doing — when we impose our judgment, expectations, fear and greed. Compassion comes from undoing. Compassion greets us when we undo our boundaries and erase the lines we said we’d never cross. Compassion waits in the space between us, the space that only seems to separate us: a gap we close when we cease all judgment and take care of whatever appears in front of us.

We don’t have to go anywhere else to find compassion. Not to the Himalayas or even a meditation retreat (although the latter is probably cheaper and easier on the feet.) We don’t have to sit at the foot of a guru or stand on our heads. We won’t find compassion in a book, a blog, a TED talk, a sermon or an inspirational quotation. People who argue the need “teach” compassion usually mean their own idea of compassion.

Right in front of you, every moment of every day, is the only place to practice compassion. Do you want to live in friendship or fear? Paradise or paranoia? We are each citizens of the place we make, so make it a better place. Here are 15 ways to practice compassion today. You don’t have to do 15. Just do one as an experiment so you will recognize the source of compassion within you. You’ll feel good, and then you’ll share that goodness more easily and more often.

1. At the grocery store, give your place in line to the person behind you.

2. Ask the checker how her day is going, and mean it.

3. On the way out, give your pocket money to the solicitor at the card table no matter what the cause.

4. Admire children and praise pets, especially bothersome ones.

5. Roll down your car window when you see the homeless man on the corner with the sign. Give him money. Have no concern over what he will do with it.

6. Smile at him. It will be the first smile he has seen in a very long time.

7. Do not curse your neighbor’s tall grass, unshoveled walk, foul temperament or house color. Given time, things change by themselves. Even your annoyance.

8. Thank the garbageman. Be patient with the postal worker. Light a candle for the power company and the snow plows.

9. Leave the empty parking space for someone else to take. They will feel lucky.

10. Buy cookies from the Girl Scout and a sack of oranges from the poor woman standing in the broiling heat at the intersection.

11. Talk to strangers about the weather. Forgive weather forecasters.

12. Allow others to be themselves, with their own point of view. If you judge them, you are in error.

13. Do not let difference make a difference.

14. Do not despair over the futility of your impact or question the outcome.

15. Love the world you walk, ride and drive around in, and make it your home. It’s the only world you’ll ever live in, and you have all the love in it.

Leave aside the extraordinary lengths and heroic measures. There’s an eyeful of suffering right in front of your face. Often, people look frightened and lonely. They seem bothered, hurt and terrifically sad. Kindness doesn’t cure everything, but it cures unkindness. What a magnificent place to start.

Be compassionate on your way home today. You don’t have to go as far as you think you should. You just have to go farther than you think you can’t. There is no greater compassion than your own.

Prove it to yourself:
Beginner’s Mind Zen Retreat at Copper Beech, West Hartford, Conn. April 17-19
Waking up to our own compassion

Art:

Hand embroidery and found cardboard sign by Marc Dombrosky.

important things are close by

rockIn the past, I thought the important things were far away from me. I worked hard and thought hard every day in order to get to those important things. But soon I realized that these were actually close by. — Lee Kang-hyo, master potter

I’ve watched a video about this man several times this week. As in some books, the first lines are unforgettable. The simplicity is brilliant. I hope you can make the time to watch it, and if you can’t see it at the bottom of this post, you can go here to watch it. You may never get a chance to meet this man or glimpse his life, and even if you met him, you might not recognize him as a master. His shirts are stained and he smokes.

Earlier this week I spent a day with the ponds in the backyard. The leaves in Southern California have finally shaken loose and there is work. Everything I do in the garden or house I do by hand, like you. I bend low over a small stream under the sycamores and lift layers of wet leaves from the slow flowing water. They smell of earth and decay, a luscious stink. I scuff my hands and crack my fingernails without knowing. I try not to fall into the deeper water, aware that no one will come and fish me out, but I straddle the rocks without fear. After a few hours I’ve built a mound of leaves and muck at the back of the yard. My shoes and pants are wet. I need a shower. I don’t give a backward glance at what I’ve done. It will be meaningless tomorrow. I feel alive.

Do you ever experience something like this? Is it possible to live like this in an everyday way, doing everyday things? The potter in this video is a master of the Korean onggi, which means large jars. They are amazing creations, these massive jars. He says that when he began working, he saw them as sculpture. He wanted to make beautiful sculpture. Now he appreciates that the clay pots, first created to store fermenting food like kimchi, chili paste and soy sauce, are inextricable from Korea’s food culture. Food that people make for their own families and eat in their own homes every day. Large jars are even more beautiful as large jars.

Important things are close by. Let this bring you peace.

26 things I can’t teach your child

stack-of-booksToday someone contacted me with a question I’ve been asked more than any other. I appreciate any question that comes to me directly. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to email me, which happens far less frequently these days. (Maybe because I don’t have any answers.)

The question was: How can I teach my child to ________.

It doesn’t matter how you fill in the blank. Pick one, pick another, I can’t tell you squat about any of them.

a. sleep through the night
b. go in the potty
c. share
d. stop fighting
e. start reading
f. make friends
g. make better friends
h. eat right
i. wear appropriate shoes
j. make better grades
k. not quit
l. respect others
m. lighten up
n. do their work
o. listen
p. focus
q. be quiet
r. be kind
s. love
t. help
u. know right from wrong
v. take responsibility
w. quit bothering me
x. do what I say
y. be who I want
z. meditate

I won’t make light of them; these are big time questions. I don’t have any answers, but I always respond to people who have the courage to ask a stranger for advice. I say, “Just for one teeny, tiny minute, believe that your children are fine. And then take whatever you want to teach them and make sure you do it yourself.” Everything, everywhere, every time begins with you. And the miraculous thing is, it doesn’t end there. It goes on and on forever.

***

You might like these:

Teaching children to meditate
8 ways to raise a mindful child
How to raise a Buddhist child
The myth of the teachable moment
Bring your own cookies
The child is not the child

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

7 ways to be mindful with a teen

QrYW7OmafWxuFeK7RAh5WwThese days kids are 2 going on 12. Mine is 15. 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

***

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

 

another 10 tips for a mindful home

10906248_10205866532325374_3004897397756009902_n

The artwork you see here was inspired by my 10 Tips for a Mindful Home, one of the most popular things I’ve ever done. Originally written as a sidebar for a magazine, it was pirated from the printed page as a photo and circulated about a million times around the web. It’s rather humbling that I’ve penned three whole books but my most useful work may well be the 200 words on this list. That’s because in our hearts we know we have to practice mindfulness where we are, not where we want to be, as we are, not as we wish to be. At my invitation, the artist Miranda Wulff Altschuler is now offering an exquisitely beautiful, practical, and affordable 11 x 14 poster of the 10 tips on Etsy. I love what she says: “Hang this print in your kitchen or living room. Hang it in your bedroom to see upon waking. Hang it anywhere you need a gentle reminder. Keeping a mindful home is simple (but not easy).”

What a brilliant wake-up for the New Year and every new day in it.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

best laugh

il_570xN.664617919_ill0They don’t give awards to people like me.

My daughter said this right before the eighth-grade graduation ceremony, when I learned that there would be awards for certain graduates that night. The fact is, I was instantly uncomfortable. I don’t like awards. I don’t like that we live in a competitively obsessed, elite-driven culture that creates phony contests out of false comparisons, but I tried to stay positive. Maybe you’ll get one, I had said.

There were lots of awards that night, for basketball stars and class officers, for those with perfect attendance and perfect grades, for teacher’s favorites and then two very special top awards for the one boy and one girl who in the principal’s opinion did absolutely everything best. My daughter was correct. She didn’t get one.

I sometimes forget how life really is, or at least, how life is for my daughter. As a parent, I’m usually tripping out on toxic levels of either false pride or fear. Oh, how I want her to do well! Oh, how I want her to keep up! Oh, how I want her to get in, get out, and move on! Oh, how I want her to be happy! Oh, how I want her to be liked, and loved and noticed! Oh, how I want her to be someone who does something important!

A few weeks ago the holiday cards started to arrive, and with them, the holiday letters. We still hear from folks we haven’t seen since our kids were in preschool or kindergarten, in scouts or swimming lessons, kids who are in high school now, where the pressure is amping up toward that final launch into . . . where, exactly? Our sophomore loves Pre-Calc and Latin and is extra busy with AP/Honors course work, staying up late every night and weekends while on the soccer team, volunteering, and taking ballet 18 hours a week.

I’m not that keen on holiday letters either.

Monday was the first day back at school, a cold and unwelcome day when my daughter would find out the results of finals and her semester grades. I texted her at lunch to see how she was doing. She was overwhelmed, she told me, and then came this. Apparently the class votes were tallied, and:

I won Best Laugh in the 9th grade!

She also won Best Friend.

She was right. They don’t give many awards to people like her, but that doesn’t matter to people like her.

***

Above: The most wasted of all days is the one without laughter. — a quote by E.E. Cummings hammered on a vintage, silver plated spoon on Etsy.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

 

 

 

fresh start

new-years-day

For old times and a new year, here is an excerpt from Momma Zen, now fresher than ever as an audiobook.

“Again, again, again!”

There is a saying about life: you don’t get a second chance. Children are here to tell us otherwise. You get a lot of second chances. You get a lot of third chances. You get many fourth chances. Before all is said and done, you get about a gazillion chances to do things that you never wanted to do even once. You will do many things again, so many times again: knocking down the same old blocks, pushing the same old swing, reading the same old story, singing the same old song, winding the same old wind-up to its predictable ending. Predictable to you, that is, same old, same old you.

Children learn by repetition. And by their repetition we can learn too. We can learn how cynical we are; how busy and easily bored; how impatient and restless. Those are the things we can see in ourselves many times a day. It can take far longer — a lifetime — for us to realize what they, with their brilliantly open minds, still see quite plainly: nothing, absolutely nothing repeats. Every moment of this life is altogether new. They do things again and again because they haven’t yet calculated the probabilities; they haven’t yet anticipated the ending. They are still doing what we have ceased to do: see the infinite possibilities. They are not yet cutting life short by their jaded cleverness. “Been there, done that,” we say, as we dispose of our unrealized potential.

It is impossible to conceive of the true, dynamic nature of life. It is ever-flowing, never arriving at the same place twice; indeed, never even pausing to arrive. And yet we think we’ve seen it all. read more

who turns

upside-down-world-earth-grass-sky1-250x300The only difference between a buddha and a sentient being is upside-down thinking – Buddha

Who turns this into that?
Sound into noise?
Aroma into odor?
Taste into pleasure or disgust?
Who turns yes into no?
Grace into disgrace?
Who turns the present into the past?
Who turns the now into the not-now?
As-it-is into as-it-should-be?
Silence into restlessness?
Stillness into boredom?
The ordinary into the menial?
Who turns pain into suffering?
Change into loss?
Grief into woe?
Woe into the story of your life?
Who turns stuff into sentiment?
Desire into craving?
Acceptance into aversion?
Peace into war?
Us into them?
Who turns life into labor?
Time into toil?
Enough into not-enough?
Who turns why into why not?
Who turns delusion into enlightenment?
Who thinks?
Who turns?

All practice is the practice of making a turn in a different direction.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

 

a voice in the night

41Jec+cLZXLMomma Zen is now available as an audiobook, read by me. Here’s a chance to win a free copy for yourself or a friend.

I can’t remember writing this book. I can’t remember what I wrote. But I can remember the moment when I began to write. I had never written in my own name before. The moment of birth went like this:

Me to my husband: I need a laptop!
Him: Okay.
Me: I need to go away and write!
Him: Okay.
Me: I’m going to write a book!
Him Okay.

The labor, as all labors, continued for quite a long time after, in every kind of circumstance. It was years before I had a sense of what I had done and, more to the point, who had done it. I can see that Momma Zen is not really like the books I’ve written since. One reason is that it reflects my maturity as a Zen student, mother, and writer at the time, which were all three nil. I used to wonder how in the world I had pulled it off. Now I think I know.

These are my mother’s words, after she died, reaching beyond time and space to console me in my darkest hours. When I read these words I see her and feel her; when I hear them I am her. How comforting her voice in the dark, reminding me that I am not alone. Now, how comforting my voice in the dark, reminding you that you are not alone.

Bring yourself into the fold by leaving a comment on this post. I will be awarding several free copies of the new audiobook to commenters next Sunday, the darkest night of the year.

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ... 68 69 70 Next

archives by month

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

twitter bits

stay in touch