A tale that wags the dog


Mommy, who’s your agent and editor?

She has called to me from the fourth chapter of her new book, the kids’ version of that golden syrup Marley & Me, speedily read in bed before lights out.

We have imposed a moratorium on her voracious nighttime feeding of the Harry Potter seven-book collector’s series, noticing only months too late the correlation between her interrupted sleep, resurgent fear of the dark, wakefulness after 90 minutes of early dreaming and her tearful terror of being alone. (These things are rather always of obvious origin, although pitiably difficult for parents to recognize.)

She leaps up from bed and comes to me, certain that she has everything she needs to write her own international bestseller – a pencil, paper and dog whose name begins with an M. (Plus mom’s trusty publishing contacts!) Hastening to the dining table, she starts and finishes, sensibly enough, with a rendering of the cover. What more need be said?

“Molly & Me” it reads, with illustrations of the lead characters. Inspiration has wagged its tail, and all before bedtime.

If only I had her literary pedigree.

Life is suffering


There’s nothing new about the news.
It’s always time to practice, she reminds herself.
Things change, she knows for sure.
Let go, she intones.

And still, there’s nothing new about the news.
Must we always fail our children?
I’m afraid I know the answer.

Opening the box of my heart

A letter to my daughter on my birthday.

My dear heart,
It is customary in these parts to post letters of reflection on our children’s birthdays. But at my age and altitude, a birthday is everyone’s birthday and I can no longer split the difference.

There were stirrings that something was up with you of late. A scurry and hush as I walked into your room. The scattered remnants of things cut out, disassembled, refashioned. You assured me that I would love the present you were making for me, if only I could wait.

This was new for you. Not new to make something, no that isn’t new. But to make and keep a secret of your own. To guard yourself so well and to let excitement crest in your own sturdy chest.

In the morning I came into the kitchen and found the surprise you had snuck overnight onto the center of the table, mimicking every birthday of your own, starting the party at dawn, because not one moment of a day so long awaited can be wasted.

I found a box.

Inscribed with the curious glyphs of a language you now own:

Decorated with pictures of your friends and family, the people and the places you inhabit with and without me:

Labeled emphatically with the contents, the contents that cannot be named or contained:

Opening it, I already know that everything is inside.

I love my life.

Do you know the way to San Jose?


I’ve been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way.
Do you know the way to San Jose?
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose.

I flew into San Jose and spent most of today with a group of inspiring and powerful women, the founders and organizers of the Palo Alto Mother’s Symposium, a landmark event created nine years ago by mothers for mothers to address the questions that echo forever in the lives of mothers, questions without sufficient answers, that we can never know with any certainty, but that bind us together in the most tender kind of everloving company.

On Saturday, March 7 I’ll go back to keynote the symposium on the campus of Stanford University, and I want you to find the way. Because you, yes you, are going to come down, up, out, over and join me there. You and I are going to spend the morning in glorious company, then because you’ve come so far we’re going to have a bonus round of afternoon coffee, tea and conversation with raucous laughter and a few tears. I won’t settle for otherwise. Mark your calendar, find your way and meet me there. Admission is cheap and the transportation – well, why not just see what’s possible. (Put a hundred down and buy a car.)

I’ve got lots of friends in San Jose
Do you know the way to San Jose?
Can’t wait to get back to San Jose.

Counting it up


How many times I’ve received the Kilkenny email about Palin: 4
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Women Against Palin email: 3
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Gloria Steinem essay about Palin: 5
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the Anne Lamott essay about Palin: 3
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

How many times I’ve received the email to give to Planned Parenthood in Palin’s name: 4
How many times I’ve given to the Obama campaign: 1

As much as I like to receive, I know first-hand that receiving even the most inspiring words won’t change the outcome of anything. I’m giving to the Obama campaign today, because I’ve done the math, and I have a lot of catching up to do.

Give $15. Give what you have, or (like me) give money you don’t yet have. Join me in changing the outcome of everything.

I can’t wait for the new season to start


Have you ever noticed that right at the point life gets difficult, demanding more than you think you can give, there’s a nearly irresistible urge to change it? To change the channel, the mission, the purpose? From where I sit it sometimes seems that every mother of a minor child chooses the most full-on challenging time of life, with a newborn, say; or two kids under five; or a son in Iraq, a pregnant teen and a special needs infant; to strike out on a wild hair, try to write a book, start a new business, or otherwise engineer an amazing new life starring an incredible new you.

If you can swing it, hey, great. But most of us can’t. We just use that self-critical impulse – I should I wish I want – to beat ourselves up. I’m not who I want to be! I’m not creative enough, successful enough, and important enough! We’re desperate to fast-forward to a new season in our lives. Never mind the one we’re in.

We are an advanced society of channel changers, and the world, in its mess, shows us what happens when no one, absolutely no one can hold their attention steady for longer than 22 minutes.

Today I sat a daylong meditation retreat with a group of beginning students. A one-day meditation retreat is called a zazenkai. During one of these retreats we don’t do anything except keep company with ourselves. We’re not putting blinders on. We’re not imagining some future perfect world. We’re not sitting in caves. We see the world sinking into insanity; we see the chaos; we feel the fear and disappointment in our own lives and surrounding us. We just practice keeping company with it, for a change. We practice staying put, for a change. We practice noticing our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, for a change, instead of just impulsively clicking a button to feed the ravenous demons of distraction. This takes utmost courage, perhaps the only courage there really is. The courage to face forward and see how things go.

There’s something you notice when you keep this kind of company, the company of things as they are.

The channel changes by itself. So does the season.


Happy autumn, everyone. Enjoy the show.

Otherwise occupied

I’m breaking my silence for a bit of nitpicking, which I’ve gotten pretty good at.

Quick! Give me two words that unnerve you more than:

Great Depression

Terrify you more than:

President Palin

Paralyze you more than:

Hurricane Ike, Josie, Kyle or storms beginning with the letters LMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Nah! Bring on all those lightweights!

It’s HEAD LICE, the mantra of my week in the here and now. Should this catastrophe ever befall your household, smack dab in the middle of your self-imposed meditative solace, I will tell you what works (two treatments, four comb-outs, and ferocious use of scissors; spending eight back-breaking hours over two days peering through a magnifier at each of 100,000 hair strands; and doing five loads on hot at the laundromat because the WASHING MACHINE BROKE last week). Here’s what doesn’t work (anything less because believe me I tried).

Friends, I want to attest to the power of prayer, because little by little, things are looking up.

And my neighbor survived the train crash with the blessings of two broken ribs, a broken leg and a completely intact sense of gratitude. May we all be so rich.

The power of powerlessness


There was a horrific train collision near Los Angeles on Friday. A few hours ago I learned that my neighbor was one of the terribly injured. He is a reliably good and loyal customer at one little girl’s lemonade stand.

There was a colossal hurricane in my old hometown on Saturday. Millions are without electricity, and that includes many dear friends who must now be sweltering in the long dark and silent wake of the littered remains.

There is more disquieting news out of the presidential campaign, ever more staggering in its dimension of hidden truth and dire consequence.

There is an implosion in our financial markets the likes of which leaves none of us little people far enough or smart enough to be out of the quake zone. Our corner savings bank could well collapse by morning. Much bigger streets will topple, and my nest will shudder too.

I am powerless in the face of this powerlessness. I am as powerless as those without power, without truth, without safety and with a careless engineer at the wheel. In solidarity with all who suffer and to bring my mind to peace, I’m unplugging myself this week, going offline to the certain solace of prayer and meditation, steady work, wash, and walks with a very good dog.

I will take power in the only place it can be found: the right here and now.

Take comfort, friends I know and cannot reach, and friends I reach but cannot know, in my brokenhearted love.

12 awesome tips avoided by great moms


Hey moms! I just had to share with you something really awesome that keeps turning up when I Google myself. “How to Be a Great Mom – 12 Awesome Tips.” I mean, how awesome! All 12! Tips!

And look! It’s on this site called Zen Habits. That’s so zen!

I’m never again going to wonder, “What does it take to be an awesome mom?” Here we go: 1.Stay true. 2. Don’t be a martyr. 3. Don’t try to be perfect. (That was perfect. Without trying!) 4.Ditch the guilt. 5. Be patient.

Whoa. Just be patient! That’s so zen. Why didn’t I think of that? I’m going to start being more patient right now! But wait, maybe I should kill the patience and hurry through the other tips so I can finally be an awesome and great mom in just seven more steps and start being patient later. Awesome!

6. Listen to your children. REALLY listen. (Yoo-hoo! All caps means REALLY.) 7. Be their mom, not their friend. (That is so “unique” and “original” too.) 8. Teach them simplicity. (Simple!) 9. Don’t push too hard. 10.Teach self-esteem. 11. Teach self-reliance.

Big shout out for self-reliance! A website with 70,000 subscribers latched to their computers reading an endless recitation of inane and superficial tips on how to live life tells us to be self-reliant! Why didn’t I think of that? I’m going to start as soon as I’m done reading this great list of awesome tips on how to be a great and awesome mom.

12. Laugh and have fun.

Photo credit: kmevans

A whiff of the unspectacular


1. The washing machine broke over the weekend.
2. The spin cycle went all to hell and the dirty water won’t drain.
3. I hate it when it breaks altogether. I feel helpless and vulnerable.
4. On the flip side, I rarely appreciate how good life is when it works.
5. The laundromat is really quite a sane place.
6. On a weekday morning, it’s quiet, welcoming and warm.
7. Filled only by the rhythmic hum of its unspectacular duty.
8. The whole ordeal reminds me that if I want to fix anything I have to do it myself.
9. Wring it out by hand and hang it on a line.

With help from Jena for giving me a nudge, and to Amy for lending me her entire left brain.

Early returns and small packages


At the end of the third day of third grade, her teacher looked at me and said, “You have a happy child.”

I heart NY


Start spreading the news. Jen Lee and I chat in a heart-to-heart over in her hip of the slope.

And as long as I’m at it, see if you don’t find yourself in my palpitations:

I heart Montreal, Cedar City, Commack, Hanoi, Cohasset, Philadelphia, Milton, Pearland, Erie, Sydney, Issaquah, North Billerica, Reston, Madison, Berlin, Den Haag, New Boston, Old Boston, Gilbert, Tyler, Grand Rapids, Seattle, Astoria, Orimattila, Glen Burnie, Louisville, Minneapolis, Silver Spring, Everett, South Pasadena, Burnaby, Buxton, Jacksonville, Saint Louis, Littleton, San Jose, Champaign, Austin, Hitchcock, Belfast, Toronto, Frazier Park, Vereeniging, Boise, Ebern, Los Angeles, yes you read that right, even Los Angeles and especially Hollywould, Norman, Portland, Watertown, Paris every day of my life, Omaha, Phuket, London, Unterhaching, Tacoma Park, Romeoville, Tillatoba, Summerdale, Kingfisher, Lynnfield, Sandy, Coventry, Chelmsfort, Montataire, Moscow, Sant-Ouen, Newport Beach, Bedford, Vancouver, Killeen, McWatters, LaPorte, Fresno, Central Islip, Franklin, San Juan Capistrano, Utica, Lausanne, Somerville, Radolfzell, Liphook, Zurich, Hanford, Asheville, Longview, Port Angeles, Palos Verdes, Wonder Lake, Leesburg, Oklahoma City, Reno, Providence, Wilbraham, Waterloo, Indianapolis, Denver, Wellington, Brooklyn, McKinney, Salem, Midlothian, Plainfield, Englewood,Lynnfield, Bethlehem, Zofingen, Des Plaines, Trowbridge, Hudson, Williston, Havelock, Sherman, Fayetteville, South El Monte, Klaipeda, Imperial, Trostberg, Braselton, El Paso, Methuen, Washington DC, Sliedrecht, State College, Ingolstadt, Orly, Winnepeg, Birmingham, Kailua Kona, Smyrna, Irvine, Scottsdale, Ledyard, Saint Petersburg, Dayton, Columbus, Tampa, Engen, Greensburg, Baltimore, Dallas, Venice, Albrightsville, Douglasville, Lakeland, Mississauga, Oakland, Affoltern, Santa Clara, Calgary, Sterling Heights, Anderson, San Francisco, Walla Walla, Lincoln, Bamberg, Livermore, Knoxville, Charlotte, Caroga Lake, Mesa, Halifax, Dublin, Valley Stream, Parow, Frederiksberg, Kaneone, Dauphin, Stoneham, Cagayan de Ore, Ooltewah, East Hampton, Boca Raton, El Mirage, Eugene, Gteborg, Chattanooga, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Albuquerque, Grafton, Valencia, Russell, Gracemont, Canberra, Dexter, Virginia Beach, Tuscola, Saint Paul, Kansas City, Evanston, Camden, Orange, Brighton, Canton, Lafayette, Ottawa, Phoenix, Houston, Holliston, San Luis Obispo who doesn’t love San Luis Obispo, Overland Park, Chapel Hill, Montclair, Hoofddorp, Queens Village, Ridgway, Atlanta, Newton Center, San Clemente, Maastricht, Trenton, Honolulu, Victoria, Calverton, Farmington, Nicholasville, Cincinnati, Alexandria, Sarasota, Downers Grove, Livingston, Kent, Newark,Westwood, Gooik, Fremont, New Orleans, Chicago, Burlington, Union Grove, Calumet, Little Elm, Scottsdale, Santa Fe, Santa Barbara, Sherman Oaks, Columbia, Raleigh, Davao, Fort Lauderdale, Kurri Kurri, Rockville, Charleston, Watonga, Morinville, Athens, Durango, Westlake, Plano, Rochester, Bailey, Hinesburg, Lubbock, Little Rock, Palmar, Syracuse, Keene, Cambridge, Warwick, Custer, Wellesley Hills, Sudbury, Griffin, and whether you find yourself here or don’t find yourself here, you will still find yourself here, yes you and everyone everywhere who shares this dance floor right here on the head of a pin.

You won’t believe what I don’t believe


From time to time I’m asked this question: What do Buddhists believe? I like to respond that Buddhism requires no beliefs, but that’s rather hard to believe. And so I offer this.

I believe in love. Not the love that is the enemy of hate, but the love that has no enemies or rivals, no end and no beginning, no justification and no reason at all. Love and hate are completely unrelated and incomparable. Hate is born of human fear. Love is never born, which is to say, it is eternal and absolutely fearless. This love does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in truth. Not the truth that is investigated or exposed, interpreted or debated. But the truth that is revealed, inevitably and without a doubt, right in front of my eyes. All truth is self-revealed; it just doesn’t always appear as quickly or emphatically as I’d like it to. This truth does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in freedom. Not the freedom that is confined or decreed by ideology, but the freedom that is free of all confining impositions, definitions, expectations and doctrines. Not the freedom in whose name we tremble and fight, but the freedom that needs no defense. This freedom does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in justice. Not the justice that is deliberated or prosecuted; not that is weighed or measured or meted by my own corruptible self-interest. I believe in the unfailing precision of cause and effect, the universal and inviolable law of interdependence. It shows itself to me in my own suffering every single time I act with a savage hand, a greedy mind or a selfish thought. It shows itself in the state of the world, and the state of the mind, we each inhabit. This justice does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in peace. Not the peace that is a prize. Not the peace that can be won. There is no peace in victory; there is only lasting resentment, recrimination and pain. The peace I seek is the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is the peace that is always at hand when I empty my hand. No matter what you believe, this peace does not require belief, it requires practice.

I believe in wisdom. Not the wisdom that is imparted or achieved; not the wisdom sought or the wisdom gained. But the wisdom that we each already own as our birthright. The wisdom that manifests in our own clear minds and selfless hearts, and that we embody as love, truth, freedom, justice and peace. The wisdom that is practice.

***

I invite you, once again, to join me at another one-day beginner’s meditation retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 21. I know it is too far, too much, too long, too impossible to ask, and I understand. I just believe in asking.

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