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

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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, March 20 , 2016

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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.

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.

 

how do you find a Zen teacher?

flip-flops-485956_640

A question that comes up nowadays: How do I find a teacher?

Your question is an important one. I would even say it is the most important one. Unless we limit our interest in Buddhism to philosophy or history, a teacher is essential. Buddha was a teacher. He did not formulate a doctrine or creed. He simply sat down and meditated, and for forty years taught others to sit down and meditate. Out of that we have your question.

So let me tell you that just asking the question is answering the question. You have raised a thought, and that thought will manifest direction and motivation for you. There is no need to figure anything out, such as distance or location or likelihood. You raised the question and then you sent it to me, someone who answers from the most fundamental view of a teacher. You need one. You do not need to know how you will find one.

In short, you are being led. Yes, you go and look. You listen. You’ll know your teacher when you hear him or her speak (as if they were speaking to you alone). You will work, however, to actively limit and prohibit your chances of meeting your teacher, in the ways you already have, such as “I live in the middle of nowhere, everyone is too far away, I don’t know the kind of Buddhism I want, I have no time, yada, yada, yada.” All of those excuses will make you stop before you start.

If you have been drawn to my work then it is over for you, I dare say. You will not be fooled by lukewarm teachers with watered-down dharma. So in a way you are spoiled. In another way you are terribly lucky. Just continue to meditate on that thought: who is my teacher? — and let yourself be guided. Don’t settle for just anyone anywhere. That would be a waste of time.

When I met Maezumi Roshi I lived three states away. I attended a retreat not to meet a teacher (Lord, no!) but just to get instruction in how to sit. So imagine my surprise, fear, and deep recognition when I saw him standing in front of me.

Nothing is impossible.

Don’t give it a second thought.

Have faith in yourself as the Way.

In gassho,
Maezen

moving toward love

new-photographs-of-crashing-ocean-waves-frozen-in-time-by-pierre-carreau7

I was two days home from three weeks in silence when the calls and emails came. The fall, the break, the orphaned kids, she was only sick twelve days, the surgery, the setback, the job loss, nothing on the horizon, the unexpected and unimaginable, he’s on morphine now, with no warning, no hope, and no answers, the mountainous pain made immediate and real, and my doubt disappears, the shroud of my self-concern, the scrim of my small personal failure, and I know what there is to do.

Do for others, do for others, do for others.

When? When they appear. How? Without self.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.

The world, you see, does not end in a fire or flood. Not with war or pestilence. The world ends with the self. May we mind our devotions, and enter the vast and empty eternity of love.

Photo by Pierre Carreau

a healing summer

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During a three-month summer ango, or training period, a novice monk is selected to serve as the head trainee at the monastery. He or she will monitor the practice inside the meditation hall, acting as a model and mentor for those who join in. The monk maintains order, harmony, motivation, and discipline through the depth of his or her own samadhi, the non-distracted awareness that is the healing nature of meditation. Ango means “peaceful dwelling.”

A simple ceremony marks the beginning of the training period, when the student formally enters the temple to begin the term of service. The trainee and the teacher will commence a long stretch of silence sitting side by side in zazen, doing their work alone and together. The student will swim through a flood of fear and crawl over a mountain of doubt. The work will consume light and dark, days and nights on end. At first he will cherish nothing more than the thought of escape, but in time he will plant himself deep in the ground and give up the search. On the last day of training, the student will enter a place he has never been. It will be in the exact same place he’s never left, but the walls will be gone, a cramped and airless room transformed into a universe of living things. He will know perfectly well how to take good care of it.

But this is still the first day, and he has no idea where the path is leading.

Ceremonies in the zendo are orchestrated, the script ordained in the manner of a thousand students and a hundred teachers before. The student stands before the teacher and expresses humility and gratitude. He moves to make his bows, but the teacher waves him off. There is no need for formality between them, no show of rank. The two are fellow travelers, and they will make this trip as one.

With palms together, the student speaks the last public words that will pass between them until they reach the other side. The room is quiet. Nothing stirs. Paradise comes into view.

“California weather is peaceful and calm. May your days go well.”

May you enjoy peace and healing this summer.

In gassho,
Maezen

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

your child is a boat on the ocean

boat-on-ocean

Your child is a boat on the ocean. There are clear skies and calm nights. There are storms and rain and fog. You cannot control the course. Every time you exhale, the boat is carried safely toward the horizon, its distant harbor and home.

You are the breeze.

Paying attention to the natural movement of the breath teaches you everything. The breath is totally present. It can’t happen anytime but now. There is no past breath or future breath. There is no secret to the breath, and nothing to figure out. Breath is the utterly perfect function of pure being. We are soothed, strengthened, amazed and made grateful by the breath, which is life. There’s nothing more to want or wish for.

Read more on Annapurna Living.

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