bring your life to life

When you see your life, you bring it to life.

Paradise in Plain Sight is now available from online sellers and will soon be in neighborhood stores. Please share this video glimpse into my home and garden via Facebook or Twitter, and then leave a comment on this post for a chance to win the very first signed copy.

If you are reading this in your email, click here to see the video.

I will notify the winner by Monday, April 28.

 

I am that mom

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I am that mom who failed at breastfeeding
or should I say, gave up too soon
listened all night for the cough
the cry the whimper
held you limp in a steamy bathroom
called the doctors the neighbors
the teachers
asked for prayers and gave them back, too.
I am the mom who cut the crusts off
sliced the grapes
packed the lunch as my body and blood
Cheez-Its
Nutella
Kellogg
Kraft
Campbell’s
GoGurt
Fruit Loops
a sorry sack of my sins
which you survived.
Yes, let me tell it. You survived.
I am the mom who read the note.
Signed the paper. Told the time.
Got you there. Picked you up.
Fifteen minutes early I am that mom.
On the curb at the door inching forward.
So you don’t wait or wonder.
Don’t wait or wonder.
I am the mom who sweats the small stuff.
Hand washes in cold.
Hangs your clothes up to dry.
Plugs in the twinkle lights.
Fluffs, straightens, tucks.
Combs the lice.
Boils the hairbrush.
Reminds, reminds, reminds.
The field trip, the mid-term, the final.
And then —
I am the mom who is not you.
Doesn’t know you. Cannot be you.
Lets you stand, and fall, and leave.
I am the mom and you are a world beyond your mom.
A life, a heart, a song.
A rainbow, a rosebud.
A bird on the wing, come to visit one day
outside my window, and then gone.
I am that mom.

no teacher

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I do not say that there is no Zen, only that there is no Zen teacher. — Obaku

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 may write, but his words are not the teacher.
A Zen teacher may be a therapist, but a Zen teacher is not your therapist.
A Zen teacher may be an adviser, but don’t come to a Zen teacher just for advice.
You have all kinds of teachers, but a Zen teacher is not your mother or father, not your partner or child, not a coach or mentor, not a fairy godmother, not even your friend, not your boss, not your hero, not a saint or a sage.
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 close 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.

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Friday, May 16, 6:30 p.m.
“The Garden of Mindfulness: Family, Work & Home”
Dharma Talk with readings from Paradise in Plain Sight and Q&A
Clouds in Water Zen Center

Saturday, May 17
Zazenkai (one day meditation retreat)
Dharma Field
8:45 am–2:30 pm
Register here

Sunday, May 18, 10 am
“In Plain Sight” Dharma Talk
with readings from Paradise in Plain Sight and Q&A
Dharma Field

Washington, DC
Sat.-Sun., June 21 & 22
Lil Omm Yoga
Sat., June 21, 3-6 pm
Meditation & Dharma Talk

Sun., June 22, 1-3 pm
Yoga & Dharma Talk
Register here

Houston
Sun., June 29, 3 p.m.
Rothko Chapel
“Clarity and Compassion: Lessons from a Zen Garden”
Register here

Photo of the Grailville zendo by Pleasance Lowengard Silicki

 

face to face

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The great way of Buddha ancestors is only giving and receiving face to face, receiving and giving face to face; there is nothing excessive and there is nothing lacking. You should faithfully and joyously realize when your own face meets someone who has received this transmission face to face.

— Dogen, “Face-to-Face Transmission”

I hope to see your face when I travel to these places in the coming months. Through all space and time, nothing surpasses meeting face to face.

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Friday, May 16, 6:30 p.m.
“The Garden of Mindfulness: Family, Work & Home”
Dharma Talk with readings from Paradise in Plain Sight and Q&A
Clouds in Water Zen Center

Saturday, May 17
Zazenkai (one day meditation retreat)
Dharma Field
8:45 am–2:30 pm
Register here

Sunday, May 18, 10 am
“In Plain Sight” Dharma Talk
with readings from Paradise in Plain Sight and Q&A
Dharma Field

Washington, DC
Sat.-Sun., June 21 & 22
Lil Omm Yoga
Sat., June 21, 3-6 pm
Meditation & Dharma Talk

Sun., June 22, 1-3 pm
Yoga & Dharma Talk
Register here

Houston
Sun., June 29, 3 p.m.
Rothko Chapel
“Clarity and Compassion: Lessons from a Zen Garden”
Register here

Photo: Serving tea to my teacher, Nyogen Roshi

 

the end of us

The eighth-grade girls cried after last night’s spring musical. They are onto something.

I wrote the following on a notecard, on a plane, about eight years ago, flying east to my father’s deathbed. I’ve carried it with me ever since, suspecting I would one day put it somewhere. And so I’ll put it here, yesterday’s bouquet.

“This is the end of us,” Georgia says, pointing to the airport out the window. She means this is the end of our ride to the airport or this is the end of our time together before I get on the plane. Or what does she mean? It could be anything. It could be everything. It is so completely true. It is always the end of us.

“You be sure to go to the toy store and buy Georgia a Barbie today — a wedding Barbie!” I wag my finger in mock lecture to my husband. A wedding Barbie is proof of heaven to this six-year-old. Georgia brightens in the midst of the abyss. I need her to. She is onto something that I dare not face.

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the truth about lying

buddha

Or, what a buddha does not say.

An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.
— The Dhammapada

Why would a Buddhist have to think twice about lying? Admittedly, lying is disagreeable. If we don’t agree on that, there’s no sense having a conversation about honesty. “Right speech” is codified into the Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s teaching on the way out of suffering. It’s there in black and white: “Don’t lie.”

Only it’s not black and white and it’s doesn’t say that. The “right” in right speech (and each element of the path) does not mean the opposite of “wrong.” It is not a dualistic comparison. Right speech is whole, perfected, wise, skillful, appropriate, necessary, and non-divisive. That’s a lot of words to describe the language that arises out of the nondistracted awareness of your awakened mind, free of judgments about this or that, right and wrong, if and when, you and me. That’s why right speech is so often expressed by silence.

The Abhaya Sutra categorizes what a buddha does not say:

1. Words known to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others.

2. Words known to be factual, true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others.

3. Words known to be factual, true, beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, because it is not yet the proper time to say them.

4. Words known to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others.

5. Words known to be factual, true, but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others.

Right speech is not only a lesson in how to speak. It is an admonition to practice: to watch and wait until the mind opens and intuitive wisdom finds its own compassionate expression. In the real world, abstract discussion about honesty doesn’t go far enough, because living beings are not abstractions. That’s the most inconvenient truth of all.

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
Then you can care for all things.
— Tao Te Ching

Excerpted from my review of Sam Harris’s book Lying in the March 2014 Shambhala Sun on newsstands now.

lost in living

lost+socks+sockSome nights as I put myself to bed, a tremor comes over me with the thought that there’s no time. Of course there’s no time but what I mean is that in my house there is no baby, no little girl, no tween, no new bride, no young mother, no thirties, no forties, no fifties, no yesterday, no tomorrow, and no someday. This is real, people! There is no time to question how much or little time there might be, where to go or when, what comes after, how to end up, the next great thing I should or could do. The days of wondering are spent.Paradise in Plain Sight

About a year ago, I recommended a documentary called Lost in Living that follows the lives of four artists in different stages of work and motherhood. You might have caught a screening of the film in your community, purchased a DVD or attended a house party viewing. Now, Lost in Living will be available for free streaming for 24 hours beginning Saturday, March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day. This global Web screening event is an opportunity to share Lost in Living with women around the world. I know some of you have been waiting for this.

Before I say more, let me give you the vitals:

Here is the link to view the video which will be public for 24 hours only beginning at 8 a.m. PST on Saturday, March 8.
Here is a link to more information about sharing the live stream on your website or social media.

I hope you can find a quiet corner sometime Saturday to watch the film, not least because you’ll spending a few hours with yourself. That opportunity alone is worth cherishing. As you watch the film you’ll see beyond yourself into the connection women have with one another in every phase of life, and how motherhood transforms our aspirations. It’s poignant, funny, powerful and oh so good.

A few weeks ago I caught a screening of the film and heard director Mary Trunk talk about how she started the project that consumed seven years of her life. Her motivation sounds universal. She and her husband had just relocated to LA and she was home alone with a one-year-old in a new and unfamiliar town. She felt adrift and isolated. Her camera became her passport into friendship and collaboration.

As our lives change and children grow we find ourselves in unfamiliar places where we have to reinvent our work, rhythm and purpose. This is where I am right now — at the end of one stage without ready answers or expectations. As everything around me changes, I am changing too. Something new will appear and give me a new way to express my life. A new way to serve others. I don’t need to wonder what it will be. Generations before me have walked this path: an infinite world of women who live the story of becoming themselves.

Find the time to see Lost in Living this Saturday.

If you subscribe to this blog by email and cannot view the following movie trailer in your email program, please click here.

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Photo Credit: Lost Socks do-it-yourself project at Brilliant Like Fireflies.

 

 

bring your own cookies

img_5702-1I’ve been a mother now for nearly 15 years. This is the sum total of my parenting advice: bring your own cookies.

When my daughter was in kindergarten she had a big, easy smile. She smiled all the time to everyone. Another mother asked what I had done to make my daughter like that. Her comment sent me over the moon with self-satisfaction.

I told her what Maya Angelou had said to Oprah. Angelou said always greet your child with a smile so they can see how much they are loved. A smile for a child is like handing them a cookie. Right out of the blue! This cookie is for you!

Whenever I stepped into the Kindergarten classroom at the end of the day I stood with the other parents at the back of the room and beamed. Smiling was pretty easy for me in those days. Kindergarteners are adorable. I had no expectations of performance or achievement. I wasn’t anxious about tests or grades or homework or arriving anywhere on time.

I just smiled, and the smile gave her everything and took nothing away.

Then things changed. Then I changed.

Things change all the time but they change in a big way come sixth grade, the beginning (in our school system) of letter grades, major homework and crowded, smelly classrooms of alarmingly overgrown kids who suffer daily insults that have nothing to do with their mother. There is no pack of parents at the back of the classroom, thank god, but emphatic instructions to stay far, far away and by all means stop embarrassing me!

A block up the street, she would get into my waiting car and I would ask how she was, and she would mumble something that didn’t tell me enough so I would ask again in rapid fire so that by the end of the four-minute ride home I would have pummeled her with all this and more:

How was lunch?
How was the test?
What was your grade?
What did the teacher say?
Was anyone nice to you?
Was anyone mean to you?
What’s the homework situation?
When will you start?
When will you finish?
How will you get it all done?

To my ear it was innocent enough: I was involved; I was attentive; I cared. But there was never going to be an answer that would make me feel secure with a reality that was out of my hands. I was giving her nothing but my own anxiety, as if her 25-lb. backpack weren’t enough.

It’s taken me awhile to realize what I’m really asking for as my daughter crumples into the car after a long school day. I’m asking for a cookie. Right out of the blue! Give me a cookie!

The thing is, she doesn’t carry the cookies. That’s not her job. If you want to share cookies with your kid, you’d better be the one to bring them.

 

 

book giveaway: guide to meditation

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I’m giving away the brand-new book, A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers, edited by my friend Rod Meade Sperry and the editors of the Shambhala Sun. How marvelous to offer something useful for a change. To give yourself a chance, leave a comment on this post by this Sunday, Feb. 23 and then sit quietly.

Note: The randomly drawn winner is commenter #15. Thank you, everyone.

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zen is not about zen

thusZen is the freshest essence of mind, already gone by the time it becomes an idea. The Zen meaning of literature is impact, not ideology. ~ Thomas Cleary

I found this wonderful quote on the Facebook page of Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis. I’ll be in Minneapolis and St. Paul May 16-18 for several talks and a daylong retreat launching my next book, Paradise in Plain Sight — go to their website now and sign up before you think twice.

There is one question that causes me a lot of trouble. It isn’t intended to upset me. Anyone who asks it is sincere. Other people can answer it with aplomb. It’s just that I can’t answer in the way you might expect. The question is: What are your books about?

I never know what to say, because the truth is something like this:

I don’t write books about anything. I just write what I see. I write my experience. I put myself on a page and let others wonder what it is about.

Of course, it is useful in all ways to have a book be “about” something. Books need to be categorized and coded. In the conventions of bookselling and library science, books are sorted into genres and genres are collected onto shelves (even virtual shelves) as an aid to the reader or researcher looking for a book “about” something. Most non-fiction books fit the bill: they are the product of the author’s effort to illuminate a certain area of expertise or a period of history, even if it’s their own history.

In the traditional way of selling books, which is still the only way books are sold, a category is printed on the jacket flap or back cover as the publisher’s suggestion for shelving. The distributor feared Momma Zen would be “lost” in the parenting aisle so suggested it be sold under Eastern Religions. Eastern Religions is the Outer Slobbovia of bookstores, a place only stray dogs and ideologues are likely to roam. Momma Zen was definitely not about Zen. As soon as librarians or store managers read Momma Zen, they knew it belonged in Parenting, which was the kind of impact I was aiming for all along: the impact of the obvious.

Zen is not about Zen.

When you write, don’t you formulate ideas? Don’t you think about it? Don’t you work out what you’re going to write before you write it, what you’re going to say before you say it? Uh, no. Can’t you tell? I have no idea what words will appear from my dancing fingertips. I have no idea where a book will take me. Nor do I formulate the beat of my heart or the shine of the sun. Formulation is an unnecessary vexation.

With a little bit of time and reflection, I can now say that Momma Zen is about a daughter becoming a mother, Hand Wash Cold is about a woman becoming a wife, and Paradise in Plain Sight is about a student becoming a teacher. But that’s only how I see it. What really matters is what you see.

I put my life on a page. And then, in that glorious instant when you see it fresh and unexpected, you might recognize it as your life too, the life of everything and everyone, freed from any notion of what it’s supposed to be about. A moment of realization is not about anything. It just is as it is, then it’s gone.

And that’s Zen.

 

no comment

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It’s kind of weird that I should toss up such a long post on the subject of silence, but that’s how it is. I just haven’t wanted to say anything for awhile. That’s not true, I’ve wanted to say a lot, but I haven’t said what didn’t need to be said.

The world seems awfully noisy these days. When I manage to quiet the first impulse to talk back, I find that nothing needs to be said. There’s a thought: maybe nothing at all ever needs to be said! Should I ever confirm that for myself I won’t be talking about it, so I encourage you to investigate silence for yourself.

Everywhere there’s an argument, a cause, a rumble. An upset in the paper, a battle on Twitter, an outrage on Facebook, a side for, and another side in stark raving opposition. Perhaps this is what happens this time of year, in the fearsome dark and slogging cold (or alarming heat) of winter. We go stir-crazy. We pick fights, name names, make enemies, slam doors, close our ears and pound out open, clever, biting letters, as though our point of view is an urgent and necessary correction to the world’s spin.

Anytime I feel like my opinion is a matter of life and death I’m overlooking life and death.

Dogo and Zengen came to a house to express condolences. Zengen tapped on the coffin and said, “Is this life or death?” Dogo said, “I don’t say life, I don’t say death.” Zengen said, “Why don’t you?” Dogo said, “I won’t say, I won’t say.”

On the way back Zengen said, “Master, please say it to me right away. If you don’t, I shall hit you.” Dogo said, “If you want to hit me, you can hit me. But I will never say.” Thereupon Zengen hit him.

Some time later Dogo passed away. Zengen went to Sekiso and told him what had happened. Sekiso said, “I don’t say life, I don’t say death.” Zengen said, “Why don’t you?” Sekiso said, “I won’t say, I won’t say.” With these words, Zengen came suddenly to an insight.

This is a koan, a Zen teaching story from a long time ago. I encountered it myself a while back and now I’m realizing how deeply it impacted me.  I first came upon it around the time my mother was dying, and I thought at first that it might settle some of my distress surrounding death, and how to prepare, what I should know, how it would be, and if there was a Zen answer that I could enlighten her with. It does give the answer, completely, just not in words. read more

a bite or a banquet

Pindapata – ALMS Companion from Edward A. Burger on Vimeo.

In a certain sense, you could say that Buddha was homeless. He made a home wherever he went. He and his disciples were itinerants, each possessing nothing but a robe and a bowl to beg for meals along the way. In some Buddhist countries today, this practice has been ritualized into a monastic tradition. Monks pass through the monastery gates each morning and into the “real” world where strangers fill their bowls with offerings. The lesson is not one of poverty or humility. The purpose is not to instill charity or even gratitude. Buddhist rituals have no secret or special meaning, except to point directly to the true nature of our minds.

Each of us walks along a path with no sign of where we’ve been, and no knowledge of where we’ll end up. The earth rises to meet the soles of our feet, and out of nowhere comes a gift to support and sustain our awareness, which is our life. Some days the gift is a bite, and some days it’s a banquet. Either way, it’s enough.

Meet me for a weekend of practice in Loveland, Ohio March 27-30.

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

why you need a teacher

I stayed home in my pajamas this morning filling out forms. My daughter has decided to apply to private high schools and I’m only now realizing what that entails. Rather a lot of forms and questions and tests and interviews, many benefactors, and a slate of events rich with expectation and anxiety.

I support her in this effort unreservedly. After nine years as a precocious public school student, she makes her case convincingly.

“I need a teacher,” she says.

And it is true that since those sweet years in the lower grades when she positioned herself wide-eyed and smiling at the front of a room of darling children, she has been squashed and lost in a class of 41 high-testing kids on whom the burden of excellence is placed without concomitant resources: without time or attention; absent relationship; void of eye contact; empty of personal encouragement; and even shy of enough books, tables and chairs. Not every student appreciates a teacher in the same way, but my daughter says she does and so I stayed home in my pajamas today.

A teacher is important. A teacher is the most important thing of all. Go as far as you need to go to find a teacher. There is a teacher waiting for you.

******

It was near the end of his time at home, and my father-in-law was deep in dementia.

He would sit alone for hours in an empty room, and if you should enter quietly, he would make the kindest conversation.

“You look pretty today,” he said. He said this to all women.

“Did you come with that fellow?” he asked about the son whom he no longer recognized.

“Where did you find that girl?” he asked about his granddaughter. I answered simply, because I wasn’t here to remind him of anything. “She’s my daughter.”

“She looks very pretty today.”

He was quiet, then up from the vacancy came one last thing.

“I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve had many teachers,” he said, giving me another.

*******

Granted, he didn’t look like much—a scrawny fellow, no taller than me, wearing mended clothes. You might suppose it is some grand philosophy that draws us to the spirit — a theory of the cosmos — but it is the feet, the hands, the eyes, this miserable scrap of human life. Luckily for those of us with a wayward sense of direction, a Zen retreat consists largely of following in the footsteps of the person who stands in front of you. I was mesmerized by Maezumi’s sure, elegant footfall. He moved, when he moved, like Kilimanjaro. I would have followed him anywhere. I guess you could say I did, although it led no farther than my own home. Once you realize you are lost, everything you see is a sign pointing home. — Paradise in Plain Sight, May 2014

taizen maezumi roshi

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

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