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.

Notes on congeniality


When I was a senior in college – serious, smart and ambitious– a professor asked if I wanted to grade papers for hourly pay. I accepted, not just because I needed the money, $2.50 an hour, but because I needed a mentor. Now this was not a good or well-liked professor. He was tenured, but he had stopped actually teaching his students decades before. In each class lecture, he droned disinterestedly from a yellowed sheet of notes he took from a dusty three-ring binder, the pages as aged as his skin, as discolored as his teeth.

He never looked up and he knew none of our names. But he sought me out, and I traded on his attention.

I did his work and I took his wage and I felt lucky about it. When I graduated, he arranged a series of job interviews for me with the executives who were at the top of my profession in the city where I would live. I had agreed to his proposal because he had that kind of power, and in leveraging it, I landed my first real job.

Later on I came to realize that he had probably not chosen me for this gratuity because I was serious, smart and ambitious – what I perceived to be my obvious qualifications – but more likely because of other attributes. I was no pageant winner, but I could contend with the best, and I was congenial.

Young women are often granted the gifts of old men’s power. We are given the opportunity to do their work and do it cheaply. We do it well; we are recognized and applauded. We might be invited into the club room, on occasion, where mostly other men chat amiably about the mission, and the team, and the objective, and the strategy for whatever consumer, capitalist or culture battle they are plotting at the time. We might view this admittance as our achievement and reward for being serious, smart and ambitious. But it is not, no, not hardly. We are invited in because we are young women, and we have the charms of a certain kind of young woman. We do the dirty work well, and hot-damn, we are congenial.

That is, until.

And it’s what happens after that makes all the difference.

Raising more eyebrows

OK. I’m feeling more empathetic today.

You do your best. Try to raise ‘em up right. Keep your eyes open. Go with the flow. And then you’re plucked from the relative calm of total obscurity only to find out your kid has done something you’ll never live down.

Eyewitness courtesy of Kathryn and Claire.

Seeing the soft bigotry of low expectations


With apologies to those who expected more or less of me.

There was once a supremely arrogant and idiotic man who mouthed this line of someone else’s melodic prose – “the soft bigotry of low expectations” – to decry the educational imprisonment of the underprivileged. Nevermind that by his every action he condemned these underprivileged to further generations of poverty, invisibility, exploitation and pain.

Now I see what those words mean.

When you blithely send your firstborn to war and call it foreign relations.
When you leave your three-day-old at home and call it working motherhood.
When you don a dimestore tiara and call it a star.
When you adamantly oppose sex education in public schools and silence comment on your daughter’s teenage pregnancy by calling it a private matter.
When you cynically manipulate the future of the world and call it a game.
When you ignore the rules of reason, experience, wisdom, truth, legitimacy, decency and public trust and call it a gamechanger.

I see what it means.

Call me a bigot. But do not expect me to take any more or make any less of this.

On a softer note, there’s always this week’s giveaway.

So not me and other music to drown by


The drowning man is not troubled by rain.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what sent me underwater a mere twelve hours after our seven-hour drive home from six days of vacation. The parking ticket on the car we left behind? The opaque algae bloom in the fishtank? The stinking carload to unpack and sort? That assault awake at dawn? No food in the house? No milk in the fridge? No cream for the coffee? The dog’s persistent whine to eat, to chase, to go outside? My daughter’s breathless urgency to make French Toast for breakfast? Then open her own restaurant? Write the menu? Make a flyer? Charge premium admission for patrons seated in the backyard? Have a lemonade stand? Have a bake sale? Have a Labor Day party for the neighborhood?

And all in the first 45 minutes of the day.

By the time my husband wakes I’m already over my head in dread. I’ve remembered what it’s like now to be home. A ranch manager. A playground supervisor. An animal handler. A carnival barker. So not me.

What’s the one thing I could do for you so you have a better day, he asks when I’ve sunken from view, just a telltale bubble on the surface. So not me.

I’m dumbstruck by the question. One thing? For me? A better day? There’s not one thing that can be done for me, I think to myself, because I’m not even here. There’s no room for me here. This is all so not me.

I wish you could see it all with my eyes, I say, knowing the complete impossibility of that request. Because it’s all me.

***

One thing I’ve noticed since I installed the new bloglist down the right hand column, the one that shows the title of the latest posts from everyone, is how often we write about the same thing at the same time. Themes seem to dance among us like the waves of a desert mirage. We write about power one day, belief the next, hope, wish, and the eternally cherished first day of school.

You might call this coincidence. In Buddhism we call it no coincidence. There is only one mind, you see, and it is what you see. The mind that is always in front of you is the mind we all share, although the filters we perceive it with are uniquely our own.

We share one mind, and in that way we share one life, but we do not share the view of it. The judgment, the resentment, the desperation, the dread, the fear of drowning, is only me.

***

There are a lot of things you can find on vacation when you’ve temporarily lost sight of the crumbs, the weeds, the dog hair, the fish tank, the empty fridge, and the overdue registration on the car you left parked on the street outside your house.

On vacation, it can seem like you find yourself. But what you’ve really found is that vast field beyond yourself, beyond your limited views and habitual perspectives. You find mind, the mind so easily lost when all we see is the drudgery of a daily grind. And you wish you could live in that boundless space. In truth, you already do.

On my vacation I found an oasis in a tiny shop in Carmel, a shop oozing with rich comforts and colors and drenched in herbal fragrances. I bought two flavors of these delicious shower gels, the one thing I can give myself to wash away the dread of the day. No one else can do it for me, thanks honey.

Then I realized, because we share this vast mind and all things in it, one of these gifts is most certainly yours.

The better to drown with.

***

Leave a comment on this post anytime by the end of this Friday, September 5 and you could drown yourself in 8.4 fluid ounces of bathtime bliss.

Oh! And you’re all invited to our Labor Day lemonade stand and bake sale. It’s a party for the neighborhood, you see, to celebrate the drowning of me.

***
I just love when this happens! This giveaway was won by one of my dearest drowning buddies: Lisa at Sunset Pig.

Plus we made $20 at the lemonade and bake sale.

One good reason to take the dog


Yes. That. Dog.

What I did on my summer vacation


1. Gave up the idea that I was ever going to write again.
2. Gave up the idea that I was never going to write again.
3. Gave up the idea that I couldn’t run a marathon.
4. Gave up the idea that I wanted to run a marathon.
5. Gave up the idea that I would lose 10 pounds.
6. Gave up the idea that I should lose 10 pounds.
7. Gave up the idea that I should make more money, save more money, or figure out the stock market.
8. Gave up the idea that I could produce, manage or reinvent a different kind of life.
9. Stood drenched in the glowing sun before the ancient sea.
10. In the end, gave that up too.

What did you do?

And quick, before you answer, do one more thing: enter this week’s giveaway!
And lookie where we popped up yesterday: live in person and in love!

There is only one thing for you to do

This is so staggeringly simple you’ll want to sit down and see how it works in real life.

Compassion = No judgment
Authenticity = No deception
Freedom = No thought
Fearlessness = No ego
Love = No self

Making more of it is making it up. No need to research or study, analyze or compare. No slideware, no book, no CDs, no subscriptions. No seminars, no webcasts. No invention or interpretation.

There is only one thing for you to do. Sit down and practice. Everything else happens by itself.

Presented in public service and courtesy of a wide-eyed teacher 2,500 years ago.

Untitled by anonymous


In silent witness to a quiet one, and courtesy of wordle.

Seeing in the dark


It was past midnight when my husband nudged me in the dark. He stood by my side of the bed, fully dressed, and I was confused from early, deep dreaming.

– Can you sit with Georgia? She’s been awake for hours and I have to get some sleep.

I scrambled up. For some reason I felt happy to do it. I must have been dreaming.

In the early days, months and years, getting the tots reliably to sleep is an elusive goal, but one of those goals we keep hammering away on. We think there is some way, some place, some trick to doing it so that it sticks. Many times we hoist that congratulatory banner and do a happy dance: Mission Accomplished! But sleep is like all things, like all mysterious forces and fields. It moves in waves with the moon and moods and invisibilities. Sometimes we hit a patch, like now, when the night’s first nod is a short one, and our daughter startles awake to hours of restlessness.

It’s been a while since I was called up for this tour. Georgia prefers her daddy’s consolation at night, probably because I’m not very consoling when I have to work a double shift. Last night I went into her room and, still half-asleep, stunned her by getting under the covers of her slender twin bed. She scooched over and in minutes we were both sleeping. It was the best night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. But was I sleeping? Twisted onto a sliver of the mattress about a foot wide, ears enfolded on one side by a fuzzy dolphin, the other by a plush poodle, lulled by the gurgle of two fish tanks, I dove into a heavy doze in which I kept repeating in a marvel: I’m asleep, I’m asleep, I’m asleep. Surely, then, I was awake?

In the darkness, much later, the dog put her wet nose to mine and I rose to resettle her into the room where I had enclosed her hours before, the door still firmly latched. Perhaps that part was a dream?

Around daybreak, my daughter began to sigh and toss herself awake. We smiled and giggled at each other. It was barely 6 a.m. I told her that I’d had a good night’s sleep.

– I did too! That’s why I always wake up so early! Because I sleep so well!

This she said without any recollection of her hours of sleepless agitation. Perhaps her wakefulness was the dream? I don’t much care. I just give up, so I don’t disturb the dream. It’s the sweetest dream, and if I can keep from pinching myself, it never ends. Never, ever ends.

Photo copyright: Glenn Millington

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