All in one load


“Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma see no Dharma in everyday actions. They have not yet discovered that there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma.”

Dogen Zenji, 13th century

A time and place for unicorns

“The unicorn is the only fabulous beast that does not seem to have been conceived out of human fears. In even the earliest references he is fierce yet good, selfless yet solitary, but always mysteriously beautiful. He could be captured only by unfair means, and his single horn was said to neutralize poison.” –The Unicorn and the Lake

That my daughter, for all her outsized dreams, could be satisfied with only a bedspread for this birthday is something I regard as fabulous. One look and you might not share my opinion of it, but I am a selfless saint, or so it helps we sinners to encourage ourselves daily.

Yesterday I asked her if she wanted to change out her old quilt for the new one, and we did. Off came the patchwork spread that had cushioned her across that first fearsome transition to the big bed. Fadeworn and soft. Off too the menagerie of stuffed animals, the easier for her to swoon at the sight of her new beloved.

“And what about Fay?” I asked. Fay is a three-foot-long stuffed pink unicorn, perhaps the most fabulous gift ever bestowed on a four-year-old, as big as she was when an infatuated little friend named Noah hauled it in to the birthday party five years ago. I was faintly disturbed by its sheer heft, the volume of space it dislocated on the bed. But Georgia adored it and she named it herself: Fay, which was my mother’s middle name, although my mother had died even before Georgia turned two. Did she understand?

“What about Fay?” I’d asked. And she proceeded to tell me a new and fabulous story, of how Fay should now be on the floor, behind the chair, by the turtle tank, for when Daddy needed to kneel down, and protect his knees, and such like that, her tone earnest and good.

I understood.

I understood completely.

There is a time and place for unicorns named Fay, that mysteriously gentle phantasm, the transition between first and last, then and now, hello and goodbye.

I miss my baby. I miss my mommy too.

I release them both into the wild.

Where the sun gets its shine


On the twelfth dawn of the eighth month, lifting the shadows of the darkest hours that came before, blazing through nine revolutions and counting.

Winner: Not about Zen

The winner of this giveaway is Sulo. Yes, this one is going all the way to Finland! And all under one roof.

A weekend full to the brink with laughter and tears, a season’s slow peak and steady slide, my dear hearts coming and going, and I am in an offering place. This week I have another giveaway for the taking, a copy of Lin Jensen’s new book, Together Under One Roof: Making a Home of the Buddha’s Household.

I don’t read Buddhist books very often. That is to say, I don’t read books about Buddhism. Books about Buddhism may be useful to some, but not for me. The problem is the “about.” When we conceptualize and intellectualize Buddhism, it dies. Buddhism is not about anything. It is the direct and vivid experience of your life, before you kill it by thinking about it.

To that end, I consistently confound people by insisting that Buddhism is a practice and not a philosophy. Most of us would probably prefer it to be a philosophy, something to think long and hard about, but here’s my point: What would you rather eat? A recipe or a meal? Where would you rather live? A home, or a blueprint for a home? If I were really a Buddhist, I would stop insisting anything and then there would be one less confounded person in the world! And so I practice.

This is what Jensen has so wisely done – stop insisting – and thus I was completely taken with this collection of perfect essays, his real mind and heart. Jensen is a teacher of writing and Zen but I can attest he doesn’t teach anyone “about” anything. These short essays, drawn from the ripeness of his life, stitch a seamless and sheltering whole, the one truth that we all share.

When I was sent an advance copy of this book, this is what I said in thanks, “Gently, humorously, humanely, Lin reminds each of us to keep the house we live in, the wide-open room we share as one. Treasure this book as a housewarming gift.” I really meant it.

This week it is my gift. Who will step forward to claim their treasure house? Leave a comment on this post anytime this week and I’ll name the new owner on Saturday, Aug. 16. (Be greedy! I’m only giving you back what is already yours.)

Fare thee well, and welcome home!

Requiem for slumber


Eight girls
Eight sleeping bags
Two pizzas
Chocolate cupcakes
Chocolate frosting
Chocolate chips
Chocolate ice cream
Ninety minute TV movie
Three brothers spawned from the belly of the beast
Writhing, giggling, shrieking, running, leaping, teasing, screaming, singing, sneaking
Sunrise

Party on this weekend, readers! Sleeping is for babies. (We wish.)

Yet another happy indicator that all my suffering is self-imposed.

Bottoming out


Him: Are you really going to quit?
Me: It’s just that in the face of this pain, the only thing that makes me keep going right now is ego.
Him: Isn’t that true of everything?
Me: No, when I do what needs to be done, that’s not ego. I would run 16 miles to go get help if the house was on fire. But when what keeps me going is pride, or shame, or obligation, or obstinance, or the idea that I’m accomplishing something or overcoming something or the fear of letting someone down, that’s ego.
Him: (dejected) I just thought it was a pretty neat thing for you to do.
Me: Like that.

Unlaced and ready for takeoff

Mommy, if running gives you so much pain, why don’t you not do the marathon?

After clocking 14 miles last Sunday morning, I went to sit a meditation retreat for five days. I can testify that running is liberating, up to a point, but freedom from pain is, well, freedom.

Just sayin.

Love of our lives

This is a snapshot of Georgia, at two, dressed up in what had been my honeymoon nightgown. She claimed it from my closet, where I had let it become dusty and discolored from disuse.

That just about sums it up.

But not really the whole of it, not the best and most of it. Look at her coy and come-hither loveliness. She’s a decoy, my daughter, a decoy luring my husband and me to a place far gone from the honeymoon, a place of love and respect that is no romance, to be sure. But honest, and difficult, and workable. Serviceable, handy, constant, everyday.

That reminds of this post, which I present as a tribute to the man I love.

(I wonder what kind of hopeful, insistent, half-obsessed mother put the potty chair right there.)

Postcards from the ledge

I know I said I was going to be posting old stuff while I was away at retreat this week, and I suppose I yet will. But here I am on the cusp, the razor’s edge, of another year passing. When I come back next Saturday we will be days away from celebrating my daughter’s 9th birthday. It is a miracle, but no greater miracle than any other day. Once you get in the miracle business, you see, they just keep coming. Since I am spending a good part of my time missing my family this week, you can join me as I post pictures of what you’ve missed so far.


Here is Georgia Grace as she appeared at her premature birth in August 1999 at 34 weeks of gestation. We would soon pity the parents with those behemoth, 6-pound babies in what appeared to us to be the nursery for run-of-the-mill king-sized kids. They seemed so – how can I say this – big. But she was fine; she was ready for this. As many of you have witnessed since, I certainly wasn’t.

The thought of this day, and every day since, makes me tear up in amazement. There are many parents who know more keenly than I do the cruel afflictions of early-term birth. I weep for the inconsolable impossibilities. And in our case, I weep for the possibilities. I weep for the whole unknowable universe of it. The waiting and yearning, the coming and going, the missing, yes the missing, reminds me of this post, one of my first, which remains forever true. I’ve never lived any day or place that I wasn’t waiting for her all night. Missing is what it means to love.

Wish you were here

This weekend I’ll be reading here, then packing up for a weeklong retreat here, and after I get back, speaking to a group of parents here.

You’re welcome to join me wherever I go. Do give serious thought to coming here this Saturday for an intimate gathering as I read and sign Momma Zen. Every guest is guaranteed a triple shot of bliss!

Vroman’s Hastings Ranch Bookstore
Pasadena, Calif.
Saturday, July 26, 2 p.m.

In case you ever give serious thought to going on retreat like me, you should know that a meditation retreat is not really the kind of retreat we wish for, but a startling immersion in full-contact living. You probably have no idea what you’ve been missing, and you will never be the same. You can read about why I do it here, what it’s like here, and what I find when I come back right here.

Since I’ll be gone for so long, I’ll be re-posting personal favorites like the ones here, here, and here. Be sure to check back here for the announcement of this week’s giveaway winner after this Friday.

And anytime you’re here, come into my backyard for a one-on-one. I’m always here and wishing you were too!

Daily reflection on SPF 50


Me: You got a little red yesterday, honey, so let’s put more sunscreen on your face. The sun causes cancer and we don’t want you to get cancer.
Her: If I ever get cancer, I’m not going to brush my hair.
Me: No?
Her: No, because I read in a magazine about a girl who had cancer and when she brushed her hair it came out, so if I have cancer I’m not going to brush my hair.
Me: Okay.
Her: Does that sound like a good idea?
Me: It sure does.

Reflecting on my family history of cancer and hair loss and good ideas.

The winner: Show me where it hurts


Announcing the winner of this book giveaway: Megan from Exile in Kidville.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned here that the author Darin Strauss was doing a bit of high-profile book touring. You have to love this next part. He noticed what I said and he sent me his book, More Than It Hurts You. I’m offering it as a giveaway this week, as I like to do, and here’s why you should ask for it.

I thought it was just a few years ago, but turns out it was more like six (!), that I read something that left me weak and weepy to the point of exhaustion. It wasn’t as though I loved the book, or even liked it. Some of my very smart and well-read friends disagreed, but I thought the author Jonathan Franzen, in The Corrections, had nailed the whole of our unsayable lives. The ignorance and cynicism, the glib cleverness, the buried sorrow and habitual self-deception, and at the barren bottom of all our failings, the love. Still, the love.

More Than It Hurts You is that kind of ride. An ambitious and frantic story about how none of us – not one of us – is honest or fair or true or what we appear, even to ourselves, to be. It’s a story about the strivings of love, marriage and motherhood, but I don’t read stories for the stories. I read to be awed and lost and left to fend for myself on a far shore. I only have so much time, you see, and I don’t want to finish a book in the same place I started.

I’ve heard it called “a beach read.” This is no beach read. Oh sure you could read it on the beach, and when you finished, you would sit and stare a long time at the convulsing waves, at the mysteries that combine and divide us. It is a difficult book, an uncomfortable reveal. It cuts close, and it hurts. In a very safe way.

I recommend it. Because good work, and the writers who enslave themselves to it, are so blasted hard to find. When they find you, it makes things better.

***
Leave a comment anytime before next Friday, July 25 to enter.

Under the sun


Have you ever noticed, I mean really noticed, that it’s all the bright side?

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