practice no harm

Cracked_Pavement

When folks begin to practice Zen, they can be set back by how hard it is. They might have expected to be good at it—for certain they expected something—but what they are good at is something else altogether.

Why is it so hard to just breathe? Because you’ve been practicing holding your breath.

Why is it so hard to keep my eyes open? Because you’ve been practicing falling asleep.

Why is it so hard to be still? Because you’ve been practicing running amok.

Why is it so hard to be quiet? Because you’ve been practicing talking to yourself.

Why is it so hard to pay attention? Because you’ve been practicing inattention.

Why is it so hard to relax? Because you’ve been practicing stress.

Why is it so hard to trust? Because you’ve been practicing fear.

Why is it so hard to have faith? Because you’ve been trying to know.

Why is it so hard to feel good? Because you’ve been practicing feeling bad.

Whatever you practice, you’ll get very good at, and you’ve been practicing these things forever. Take your own life as proof that practice works as long as you keep doing it. Just replace a harmful practice with one that does no harm.

***

For the benefit of those who will be practicing with me at any of these places, and especially for those who won’t be able to make it.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Oct. 18
Introductory Zen Retreat, Kansas City, Oct. 23-25
Zen Retreat at Meadowkirk, Middleburg VA Dec. 10-13
Meditation as Love, Kripalu, Feb. 5-7

Excerpted from Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

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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.

 

the myth of the missing moon

Let’s consider whether we see a crescent moon, a half moon or a full moon. In any of the phases of the moon before it is full, is anything truly lacking? — Maezumi Roshi

One day a girl looked up at the sky through a veil of clouds and saw that half the moon was missing.

The moon is missing! The moon is missing! No one could convince her otherwise. In fact, she had seen it shrinking for some time, and every night came more proof of her worst fears.

I was right! This conviction was a miserable consolation.

Where others might have seen a sliver of shine, all she saw was the deepening hollow of absence.

There is something you think you don’t have. A virtue, quality, or substance you need to acquire. Courage. Strength. Patience. Wisdom. Compassion. Wholeheartedness. As soon as I name it, you see it as missing from you, quick to disavow the suggestion that you are complete.

I’m only human, you might say. I’m not at all whole and perfect. I’m injured, inadequate, and yes, even a little bit robbed. Especially robbed.

She tried filling the hole with tears, shouts and bluster. She bought a toaster, a Sub Zero, and a Maserati, a pile of shiny objects. They overflowed her house and storage unit. She stomped her feet and kicked up dust. All of it made a mess, but nothing more. You can’t fill a hole that doesn’t exist.

And so, exhausted, she gave up and sat down, head heavy, heart leaden.

She didn’t notice the shadows shifting into light, the wind lifting, the clouds parting, the days passing. One evening she opened her eyes and saw the moon. It was full, of course. It was full all along, doing what moons do, reflecting light. Only our perspective changes. We rob ourselves when we mistake the unreal for the real.

Your heart is always whole, just as the moon is always full. Your life is always complete. You just don’t see it that way.

Just let everything and anything be so, as it is, without using any kind of standard by which we make ourselves satisfied, dissatisfied, happy or unhappy. Then you’ll see the plain and clear fact.

Excerpted from the book Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

Buy a personally signed copy of Paradise in Plain Sight right here for the best price under the sun.

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not the story you wrote

lista

A couple of weeks ago I saw one of those charity appeals scroll past on my Facebook feed. Someone was sick and needed help. I let it pass at first, and then it came back again. So I clicked on the link. It was for this fellow I’d never met, who lived across town, a Facebook friend who was always kind and—get this—encouraging. He’d been hit with a triple whammy on the health front: lymphoma, kidney disease and congestive heart failure. I hesitated before I signed up. My choices were to give money, make a meal, or ignore it altogether. His location wasn’t exactly convenient, so maybe money would suffice. Or I could drive a meal over. In the end, I decided that if I couldn’t do that little, my friendship wasn’t worth that much. So I put my name next to a date, cooked that morning, and showed up on his doorstep.

I apologized when I got there, because the food I brought didn’t even taste good. There were dietary restrictions to follow, and anything cooked without salt ends up tasting like wet cardboard. But it turned out we had a lot in common and had a nice visit. The meal I brought, and the meal he needed, wasn’t my tasteless stuff in the plastic containers. The meal was the company we shared. I told him I could drop by and hang out anytime, and I meant it.

The next day he learned that his lymphoma had progressed even further throughout his body. He was devastated.

This isn’t the ending you’d like for this story, is it? And yet, it’s the ending we all share.

There’s a New Age mantra that tells us if we own our story and reframe the story we can rewrite the story. We can turn down into up, failure to success, pain into promise, and fear into courage just by changing the way we talk to ourselves. It’s true up to a point, and it’s not a bad way to spend a few days if you find yourself in a career or lifestyle funk. But the suffering I see all around me is too real for that.

The other night I flipped open a Buddhist magazine and saw what are called the Buddha’s Five Remembrances. These are the remembrances that we spend our whole life trying to forget.

  1. I am sure to become old; I cannot avoid aging.
  2. I am sure to become ill; I cannot avoid illness.
  3. I am sure to die; I cannot avoid death.
  4. I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
  5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

With every true thing staring me in the face, I stopped flipping through the pages.

***

The response American crowds gave to Pope Francis last week was not surprising. We are drawn to his being because we suffer deep ills that cannot be fixed by ego’s clever devices, wounds that cannot be healed by the shallow salve of American self-help. We need a real priest for real times. The times we’re in.

So here’s the purpose of this post: I’ve been handed two beautiful books that I’m going to give away to folks who are ready to read them. If you’re interested in winning either one or both, leave a comment on this post by this Saturday, Oct. 3. Let me tell you what you’re in for.

410mchq-dOL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The Taste of Silence: How I Came To Be at Home With Myself  by Bieke Vandekerckhove. This is the most profoundly brilliant book I’ve read in a long time, and it took me completely by surprise. When she was 19 and in college, the Belgian author was diagnosed with ALS and quickly became paralyzed from the pelvis up. Facing the certainty of approaching death, she took refuge in the silence of a Benedictine monastery and Zen practice. Remarkably, she experienced an unheard-of remission, and from her extreme forbearance came this small book of shining teachings. A week after I read this long-awaited English translation, I learned that Bieke had died after 27 years with the disease.

41HyRSSg4xL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness by Toni Bernhard. Fourteen years ago, Toni was traveling in Paris when she fell ill with an acute virus. She never got better. She is still sick. Toni is no longer a law professor or college dean. She is instead a tireless author of books about the unavoidable presence of pain and the power of sickness. Her work is wonderfully honest, practical and wise, proof that living ill can be living well. From the midst of suffering, Toni is generous and clear. This book is a bountiful gift to caregivers too, so they can keep giving when they’ve given just about everything.

A taste of hard wisdom offered with love and delivered to your doorstep. If you could use the company, just tell me so.

broccoli in the mac and cheese

MacCheeseBrocCaulThere comes a day as a parent when you realize you have accomplished nothing because there was nothing to accomplish.

I have a strange relationship with readers. Or rather, they have a strange relationship with me through my books. Some of them are new to parenthood, and so they find me musing about the first terribly shocking and sincere years of raising a child. Some of them are at a later stage and so they find themselves on the outer edge of midlife with grown children. And then there’s me and my family, defying the demography, crossing the currents, merging the streams.

Sixteen years of personal research into parenting and I can tell you this much: it doesn’t work. My conclusions have been premature. The early signs were irrelevant. We do not raise our children. They do not conform to a graph, a glyph, or a stamp. We do not mold them. We have been thoroughly misled and mistaken.

I started clapping before the scene was over; stood up to leave before the encore. There’s a twist, an alternate ending, an extra feature, a director’s cut!

They grow up to make their own choices, and it doesn’t matter if they liked asparagus at age three.

It doesn’t matter if you hid spinach in the meatballs, zucchini in the muffins or broccoli in the mac and cheese.

They have their own interests, and their passions are not based on how many evenings you read them to sleep.

It doesn’t matter if the preschool aide called them a “genius.” I, for one, will never forget that day.

They don’t floss just because you nagged them nightly until they were twelve.

They don’t care just because you do.

Nothing was lost by waking up four times in the middle of the night; nothing was gained by sleeping through.

They have their own hearts, and you cannot mend them.

Their own feet, and you cannot steer them.

Their own voice, and they do not speak the words you sounded out for them so long ago.

My child will not be a giraffe when she grows up (her first choice), not a superhero, a princess, or a cowboy. She probably doesn’t even know what a cowboy is. Or was.

My daughter was born premature, but I was the one ahead of myself. Every expectation has been erroneous. I can finally admit that I don’t have any idea what will happen next or when. I’m eavesdropping through a soundproof door.

I no longer think of my daughter as something for me to do, or parenting as something to accomplish. We are ordinary people who love and need each other in ever-changing and unpredictable ways. Let’s hope I can keep the broccoli out of it.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Oct. 18
Introductory Zen Retreat, Kansas City, Oct. 23-25
Zen Retreat at Meadowkirk, Middleburg VA Dec. 10-13
Meditation as Love, Kripalu, Feb. 5-7

8 ways to raise a mindful child

Parents are rightfully concerned about the capacity their children have to pay attention, express empathy, and cope with the stresses that infiltrate their lives. Should we then coerce our children onto meditation cushions? Impose artificial silence, stillness or philosophical indoctrination? Before you do that, take a closer look.

Children are exemplars of the art of being. Wherever they are, they are completely immersed: in mud, in make believe, in laughter, in tears or in spaghetti sauce up to their eyeballs. Without a bit of self-consciousness, they lose themselves in what they are; they literally throw themselves away. This is the kind of losing in which mindfulness is found.

Without making a big deal about it, parents can gently encourage everyday actions that nourish and grow attention, empathy and self-care.

1. Read picture books – Illustrated children’s books have fallen out of favor as parents push children into early reading as a competitive outcome. Mindfulness is perception, and the rich visual content of picture books nourish the capacity to see, explore and relate to what appears in front of us.

 2. Listen – When your children speak to you, turn your face toward them, meet their gaze, and listen. Your own non-distracted attention is a wellspring for theirs. We cannot extract from our children what we fail to give.

 3. Sing  – Encourage singing: at home, at play, in the bath, anywhere. Singing is breathing and breathing is the body’s natural calming mechanism. Hearing your children sing to themselves will release your own deep sense of well-being, and you will smile.

 4. Smile – Smiling is a silent song. For heaven’s sake, greet your children with enough presence of mind to smile at them.

 5. Brush teeth – The ritual of brushing teeth imparts subtle disciplines.  It is rhythmic and therefore soothing; attentive and self-managing; and it stretches our capacity to tend to what we’d rather put off. Then add flossing. You’re developing concentration and fighting cavities in a single stroke.

 6. Walk to school – If that’s not feasible, walk the dog. Walk to the store. Walk to the post office. Or just walk around the block. Walking is meditative and mood-altering. Moreover, walking in your neighborhood overcomes the isolation and alienation we can unwittingly breed in our lives. You might meet or make a friend.

 7. Handwrite – The mysterious art and skill of writing by hand is being shunted aside by the keyboard. Writing with paper and pencil takes time, practice and mind-body focus. Researchers say it enhances learning, memory and ideation. Our children will all learn how to type, but will they learn how to write? Take time now.

 8. Start now – The list of things we want for our children – and expect from them – seems endless. Where will we ever find the time? Until you know what it is to live in the present moment, you will never be able to relax. So relax! It doesn’t take long to be mindful. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your small children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but in free play and casual company according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give. Amply supplied, your children will return their love to the world through mindfulness.

Mindful children grow up in mindful homes.

***

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nine eleven fifteen

Is this the year that memory fades? The date unremembered until looking over, turning back, taking stock,
you see what you have missed until now?

In this hush
between the rising and dusk
of one minute and month
a season arriving
a circle recycling
we see sharp and know cold
that not one thing stands
or stands still
Not one thing untouched
but all carried intact
by love
deep, far and beyond.


 

almost living

1-1

You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. — Dogen Zenji

The time is near
It’s almost done
What seemed forever
left awhile ago
I’m almost sixty
She’s almost driving
One more month
and the day will come
There was that time
you won’t remember
I don’t remember
even yesterday
Memory is a memory
Time tells lies
Words come too little and late
There is no first or last
no then, if or how
no near or far
almost, an impossibility
If you can see
a moment of Zen
the only when
is now

so much magnificence

1

It was the day before Austria found 50 bodies in a truck on the side of the road. The day after the young Roanoke reporters were murdered on TV so the shooter could post it on Facebook and Twitter. And three days after my daughter woke up for her first day of a new school year.

“I dreamed Donald Trump bombed our school because we have gay students.”

Do you know anything about Donald Trump? I asked her.

I just know that he is stupid.

This is our world. The virulent, ignorant, unimaginable evil of it, screaming past us every day.

***

A few years ago, at the end of a summer yoga class, lying vanquished in the death pose, I heard a song come through the speaker. A single voice sung a four-line lyric (well, three) to an acoustic guitar, and then swelled into a two-part harmony.

There is so much magnificence
Near the ocean
Waves are coming in
Waves are coming in

It was so plain! Repeating and repeating without ever going anywhere. But I was mesmerized. Eight minutes of a song with no beginning, middle, or end, and I didn’t want it to be over, didn’t want to silence the strange and awesome power of the simplest tune I’d ever heard.

It was sung by a guy named Steve Gold. I bought the song and never got tired of it. Sometime it’s the perfect time for it.

Maybe this is what we mean by magnificence. The pristine beauty of things bigger than us and simpler than us and yet so near to us, coming in, coming in, coming in, to the sand we’re standing on.

I can’t do anything about anything, but I can share the magnificence. Let this be enough for now.

The list of forgetting

To study the Buddha way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.
To be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to free one’s body and mind and those of others.  –
Dogen

Mindfulness means to remember that you are here, and to forget the story of where you are not.

So forget the story you tell yourself about your parents, the story you tell yourself about your childhood, the story you tell of your first love, the story of your first marriage, the story of pain and partings. Forget the birth story, the death story, the whole story, the story you keep repeating, the story you’ll never forget. Forget that story, and do not replace it with another.

Forget what might have been and what could still be. The past is gone and the future will arrive on schedule.

Forget the time you ran away, the time you cheated, the time you got caught, the time you found out, the time you broke down, the time you picked yourself up, the time you were left high and dry, the time the milk spilled and the glass broke, the time you’ll never forget. Forget time.

Forget what happened this morning. There is no this morning. There is no last night, today or tomorrow.

Forget your second thoughts, your second guesses, your second glances and second chances. Forget the count. No one knows the count and there is no way to count it.

Forget your worst fears and highest hopes. Forget all fears and hopes. Forget all worst and highest. Forget altogether the habit of make believe when reality is magic already.

Forget your leaps of logic and foregone conclusions. Nothing is ever foregone or concluded. Cover the ground where you stand. It’s enough.

Forget what you thought.

Forget what you felt. Do not resurrect a ghost.

Forget what she said, what he said, and especially what she said. Do not mistake the word for the thing.

Now, open your eyes and do what needs to be done. Having forgotten all obstacles and limitations, all distractions and negations, there is nothing you do not know how to do. Surprise yourself.

You are a buddha.

Any questions? Remember to ask me in person.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Oct. 18
Introductory Zen Retreat, Kansas City, Oct. 23-25
Zen Retreat at Meadowkirk, Middleburg VA Dec. 10-13
Meditation as Love, Kripalu, Feb. 5-7

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my practice isn’t working

If my practice doesn’t make me more tolerant, humble,
and generous,
my practice isn’t working.
If my practice doesn’t make me more respectful, loving, and
sympathetic,
my practice isn’t working.
If I can’t forgive and forget
begin again
stop, drop
turn around
wake up
say hello say goodbye
be kind be quiet be still
listen laugh
cry it out
give it time
sit down stand up
get over myself
smile
admit I don’t know
then my practice isn’t working.
If I’m not less cynical, less critical, less arrogant, less mean
then my practice isn’t working.
If my practice doesn’t fill me with wonder, gratitude,
fearlessness, faith and trembling doubt
my practice doesn’t work.

Does my practice work?
Only when I practice.
Let’s do it. Soon.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Oct. 18
Introductory Zen Retreat, Kansas City, Oct. 23-25
Zen Retreat at Meadowkirk, Middleburg VA Dec. 10-13
Meditation as Love, Kripalu, Feb. 5-7

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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 self-serving 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.

Prove it to yourself:

Introductory Zen Retreat, Kansas City, Oct. 23-25
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Oct. 18
Zen Retreat at Meadowkirk, Middleburg VA Dec. 10-13
Meditation as Love, Kripalu, Feb. 5-7

Art:

Hand embroidery and found cardboard sign by Marc Dombrosky.

birth story

IMG_1534

She sat on the step between the kitchen and the hall, waiting for the time to pick up her friends and drive to the beach to celebrate her birthday.

There’s something I want to tell you, I said, and I stepped outside of myself so I could give this to her, so she could have this for herself.

Sixteen years ago today we were both at home. Of course you weren’t born yet. We had spent a week in the hospital trying to keep you inside of me where I thought you were safe. I wanted that very much, for you to be safe and well. And they had finally let us come home. I had to stay in bed and take my blood pressure every thirty minutes, and it just kept going up and up. I couldn’t make it go down. A friend drove me to the doctor’s and she said it wasn’t up to me any longer, you had to come out, you had lost a pound because the food wasn’t getting to you. It was too serious to wait any more. So she told us to go to the hospital early the next morning so you could be born no matter what.

I’ve been thinking about his lately because everything has been hard and stressful again, and I’ve realized how hard and stressful it was for you then, how much pressure you felt, and how you weren’t getting what you needed, and I was so worried and sick. They gave you steroids in the hospital before you were born so you would be able to breathe. The steroids made you strong. And when you were born, after all that pain and pressure for you, you were strong. You have always been strong, and you do such strong things even when they are hard. And when the doctor saw you for the first time, she said I really like the way this baby looks!

She had been quietly smiling as I said this, hearing it, seeing it, knowing it, full and ready to go.

 

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