rite of passage

baby-crib-in-empty-roomGeorgia turned 14 today. When she woke up and got dressed, I called her over to my desk.

Do you want to see the photos of you right after you were born? You mean when I was all wrinkled and red? No.

Do you know the time you were born? 10:04 a.m.

Do you know who was the first one to see you besides Dad?

She knew; she knows it all. Then she sat up excitedly in the scanty new Brandy Melville shorts and crop top, a gift from a girlfriend. “My favorite outfit of all time.” She was up late last night fielding happy birthday texts. “Really long ones.” She was going to walk into our little downtown and spend the day with pals.

“I’ll be in touch,” she said, on top of the world.

Then it was clear: she’s reached the point where parents don’t give you a birthday. Your friends do. I have a familiar sense of where I am in this go-round. Precisely where I was 14 years ago. After her birth I was too sick to see her for several days. I was no more useful for the next, oh, seven years. Through feeding and teething, coughs and fevers, tears and terrors, night after night, I felt just as clueless then as now. But something spoke to me, coaxed me out of my fright and confusion, brought me solace, and one day the crib was emptied.

“Today is a day to celebrate,” a knowing friend said to me. What shall I celebrate? Coming this far, I suppose. Having far to go. Being upright, in comfortable shoes, with a good dog at my side, friends near and far, an empty road ahead, and absolutely no idea.

Absolutely no idea.

I’ll be in touch.

***

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Momma Zen, a rite of passage, published the year Georgia turned seven. Winner selected this Sunday, Aug. 18.

 

 

a daughter is turning fourteen

5625882690_66af0e601f_o_mShe wants balloons at the pool party, and I think a cloud of purple balloons would be just right. There is no such thing as too young or fun in these last days before turning fourteen.

I have thought lonely and long about how far beyond my reach you are now, how gone beyond my knowing. There is so much of me you do not need or want or like. That you cannot like just now, on the brink of turning fourteen.

We bought school supplies today. How few days like this remain—new ruler, pens, and notebooks, graph paper, pocket folders, pencil cases—a hundred dollars worth. I resented the trouble and money. But when you came home and loaded your backpack for next Wednesday’s bell, I cried over these lines.

Am I more frightened than at the start? I thought I’d break you then but it’s me torn in two.

I said yes, invite everyone to the party, twice as ever before, let everyone come for this last splash and  splurge—greasy pizza and pixie sticks—all our beautiful daughters, our hearts, our dreams, let them laugh and scream, be silly, be lovely, take the cake, claim the prize, the women we’ve never seen and might yet meet, our daughters are turning fourteen.

 

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Facebook me • Follow me.

 

your bed is your head

Foot of unmade bed with white and blue linensBefore your feet hit the floor you’ve already run through the reasons. First, there’s not enough time. It’s pointless. You’ll just have to do it all over again. You have more important things on your mind. It doesn’t matter. No one will see it. You don’t care. You’re not uptight about it. It’s a waste of energy. You hate it. After all, you’re not Martha Stewart.

The bed is a nest of egocentric attachments: our cravings and aversions. In the one minute it takes to avoid making your bed in the morning, you can observe the ways you battle the reality of your life all day, everyday. You might think it’s unfair to deduce all that from a tangle of sheets and pillows, but it’s not an exaggeration.

The state of your bed is the state of your head. To be sure, the bed and its adornments are a mirror of your psyche, a reflection of your thoughts and feelings, the locus of your dreams and nightmares. But more than that, your bed actually is your mind. Like all phenomena that arise within your field of perception, your bed appears within your own consciousness. How do you respond to what appears?

By habit, we respond with dualistic judgment, dividing the whole of our experience into the few precious things we like and the greater load of what we dislike, accepting the former and rejecting the latter. We thus move through our lives as if maneuvering through enemy territory, attacked on all sides by the overwhelming forces of displeasure. It’s no wonder that we have the urge to crawl back under the covers as if defeated before the day even begins.

Luckily, this one piece of furniture not only serves to diagnose our ills, but to treat them as well. Transform your reality. Transcend dualistic thinking. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows. See for yourself if making the bed makes a difference in your head.

This article appears in the September 2013 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine.

***

These are the last three days for Early Bird Registration for the Boise Plunge, one-day retreat on Oct. 5.

 

 

beyond gone

flood-memorial-site-

This is the scene at Maezumi Roshi’s memorial site in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles after recent wildfires and mudslides.

The stones still stand, but much work remains to restore and protect this hillside, which is in the canyon home of the the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. Volunteer crews defended the property from destruction by fire, but soon after, rains triggered floods that engulfed much of the property and destroyed its sustainable systems for water and power. It will be rebuilt.

This land is where Maezumi Roshi planted his greatest faith. He aspired to create a major training center—an incubator—for the seeds of Dharma in the west. But it was untamed acreage, and the conversion of rocky timberland into a peaceful dwelling took more time, work, and money than one lifetime could muster.

“Little by little,” he would say.

He brought in a geomancer to choose the most favorable locations for the Buddha hall and the zendo, and then he began to dig. The scale of labor taxed blood and tears out of his students at the time. They told stories of the endless excavations, the patience spent as Maezumi hauled and hoisted rocks into arrangements that were inexplicable to their tired eyes. Now, the work goes on.

Each rock had a face, Maezumi said. He lifted and turned each rock until it faced forward. Until you could see it straight on.

You can still see the rocks straight on. Although I no longer call this mountain my home, my practice still resides here with Maezumi. If you’d like to help out even a little with repairing the damage, please consider a gift to the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. It will go to immediate use, and we will all benefit from your selflessness.

gone weeding

arbai-prati11Empty handed, holding a hoe. —Mahasattva Fu

No matter how pretty it might look on a good day, paradise is just a patch of weeds.

What loyal friends, these undesirables that infiltrate the impeccable lawn, insinuate between cracks, and luxuriate in the deep shade of my neglect. Weeds are everywhere, thank heaven, reporting for duty every day. I have quite a bit of help around here but weeds are my most reliable underlings. Where would I be without them? I would run out of reasons to wake up every morning. I would lack motivation and direction. I might consider the job here to be done.

The job here is never done.

As if it isn’t obvious enough, I must confess that in these sixteen years of gardening I have not yet learned how to garden. Oops! By this I mean that I do not know the chemistry of soils or the biology of compost. I have not learned the nomenclature; I do not know the right time or way to prune. My most useful tools are the ones farthest from my hands: sun and water. I have not planted a single thing still standing. In all this time in the yard I have cultivated no worthwhile skills, save one that is decidedly unskilled.

I weed.

I offer this up as a modest qualification because I have noticed how reluctantly most people bring themselves to the task. Weeding is not a popular pastime, even among gardeners. Weeds are the very emblem of aversion. One spring I directed our revered Mr. Isobe to a troublesome spot in the backyard where invasives were spreading through the miniature mondo. He squinted to see what I was pointing to. Subsequently he did not share my alarm, but broke into laughter. “You want me to weed?” I suppose he felt the need to verify that someone of his stature would be asked to stoop to the occasion.  After that, I didn’t ask him again. The weeds were all mine. read more

value the child

Every now and then it becomes tragically important to remember the value of a human being.

My daughter went to a wonderful preschool that had a slogan on its brochure: Value the Child. I liked the sound of that, but it took me time to realize what it meant. It didn’t mean what I thought at the beginning. I’m not sure how many other parents ever got the gist of it. To them, the value might have represented the bazillion dollars we spent on the monthly tuition. We already valued our children so much that we wanted them to have the best, and the most, and the first, and the highest.

In other words, we didn’t value our children at all.

When I say that my daughter went to the preschool I really mean that I went to the preschool, because I did, for part of every day. Gradually, I learned what the devoted, loving and talented teachers were showing me: what it means to value someone else.

It doesn’t mean to prize.
Not to elevate.
Not to demean.
Not to impose.
Not to judge.
Not to expect.
Not to push.
Not to accelerate.
Not to withdraw.
Not to conclude.
Not to give up.
Not to coddle.
Not to do things for them.
Not to do things to them.
Not to do.

To value a child is to value them as they are. To support them where they are.
To show them the immeasurable and eternal value of love. It never stops growing.

Do not kill the child.

writer’s block

icebergThis old teaching is like a tall, cool drink to this blogger, increasingly reluctant to use daily life and family as a writing prompt:

The first thing to be remembered in character-building is to understand the secret and character of human nature. We must know that every person in the world has his own object in life, his own interest and his point of view, and that he is concerned with himself. His peace is disturbed when you wish to interest him in your object of interest. If you wish to force upon him your point of view, however near and dear he may be to you, he is not pleased with it. Very few consider this; and they wish to pour out their own troubles and difficulties upon someone near to them, thinking, “Everyone has the same interest in my subject as I myself and everyone has the same point of view as myself; so everyone will be glad to hear my tale.”

There is a story told that a person began to speak before a new acquaintance about his ancestors. He continued so long that the patience of his hearer was thoroughly exhausted. In the end the acquaintance interrupted the story by asking, “If I do not care to know about my own ancestors, what do I care to know about yours?”

There are many who are very keen to let their neighbors know about every cold and cough they may have; every little gain or loss, however small, they would be glad to announce with drums and bugles. This is a childish quality; this tendency shows a child soul. Sometimes it frightens away friends and helps the foes. People who work noisily accomplish little, for they attract by their noise ten more people who come and interfere and spoil the work which one person could easily have finished.

Noisiness comes from restlessness, and restlessness is the sign of Tammas, the destructive rhythm. Those who have made any success in life, in whatever direction, have done so by their quiet working. In business, in industry, in art, in science, in education, in politics, in all directions of life, a wise worker is the quiet worker. He tells about things when the time comes, not before. The one who talks about things before he has accomplished them is like a cook who is announcing dishes before they are cooked, to the whole neighborhood.

Hazrat Inayat Kahn
Founder, Sufi Order of the West

Courtesy of Naader Shagagi, my dear yoga teacher

 

the age of undoing

2598633360_a457f5dce1_z

In the end, what ties everything together is how predictably it falls apart.

Like everyone, I must have seen heaps of leaves all my life, but I never really noticed the part where they fall to the earth.  When you watch a tree drop its leaves, it will change you. It will alter your ambition and interrupt your agenda. There’s nothing like the sight of falling leaves to give you a glimpse of reality, especially if it’s in your own backyard.

It was my forty-first birthday. I was looking out the garden window in our guest room, also called our office, but which would be lost to either use when a baby took up residence a year later. I was alone, in the middle of the day, amid September’s melancholy stillness, with nothing to do except give undue consideration to the sad landscape of my recent loss. Three months earlier I’d left my job, planted my savings into this decrepit house, sacrificed my slim claim to fame and greatness and brought myself down to earth. And for what? I was no clearer on the why. Then it began to rain, more like the suggestion of rain, a translucent veil that fell like lace from the crown of the sky. Did this even qualify as rain? I had to wonder, being a transplant from the land of whipcracking cloudbursts and tornado warnings with sudden raging floods that crested two feet higher than your front door. That was rain.

I remember this event not because of the birthday, one of many that would come after the year I stopped counting, but because of the delicate mists that carried the first leaves down from the sycamores, leaves still partly green and as wide across as my two hands. What a show—the water, the light, and the leaves gliding into a soft landing of letting go.

I was forty-one years old before I ever saw a tree lose its leaves. After that, everything I saw was a falling leaf. Everything came down. read more

oak tree in the garden

big-oak

This is an excerpt from my next book Paradise in Plain Sight, coming next spring from New World Library.

A monk asked Joshu, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming to China?” Joshu said, “The oak tree in the garden.” —Gateless Gate, Case 37

From the beginning, I called it a grandfather tree, the oak tree in the garden. The reasons were self-evident. It was tall, broad-shouldered and thick around the middle, like my grandfathers. Plus, I had an album of photos that showed it standing at full height before I was born. Only later did I learn that there wasn’t even such a description in arboriculture. What I called a grandfather tree was instead grandfathered, protected from removal by a village tree ordinance. But that made sense, too. It’s impossible to remove your grandfathers from the line of life you’ve been given. When you’re little, they hold you. You look up to them. They might teach you something useful that no one else has the time or patience for. In time, they slow down, grow feeble, drop things—but you can’t do a damn thing about it.

Even approaching a hundred years old, the oak tree in our garden was a fount of life. It cradled nests of marauding rats and raccoons. Noisy squirrels chased the length of it all day long. Jays shrieked, hawks roosted, and the wind flew through its wide-open arms. Its canopy shaded a teahouse built by a groundskeeper in the 1920s for his kids to play in. That’s a lot of hide-and-seek and games of tag: generations of joy and laughter. Two years after we got here, our daughter Georgia was born. Suddenly, we saw only peril in a yard full of rocks and water, not to mention dirt. If it had been left to me, fear would have kept us locked indoors. But Georgia kept proving that she was born to play in the garden, as we are all born to play in the garden. She watched her step; she knew her place. Before long, the neglected teahouse was crawling with kids for parties and play-acts: revivals of The Wizard of Oz and Little House on the Prairie, stories about making yourself at home wherever you are, stories retold with every generation.

The oak tree in the garden drops more than two thousand acorns a year. Each acorn is both a culmination and a seed; each carries its own ancestral imprint and the full potential to evolve. In California, the principal propagator of oaks is the scrub jay. A jay picks up thousands of acorns and stores them underground in the fall, and when it’s time to eat, remembers where nearly all of them are placed. Nearly all. A few stay undisturbed underground, and those are the ones that sprout. The lineage of the coastal live oak depends on what a bird forgets, and the survival of the Western scrub jay depends on what a live oak leaves behind. It sounds like a willy-nilly proposition, only it isn’t.

One acorn in ten thousand becomes a tree. On the one hand, what a waste. On the other, it works. In the crapshoot of life, you—I mean you—turned up. You rose from the ground of your ancestors, their dust in your bones. Without accomplishing another thing, you are the complete fulfillment of all those who came before you. How can you doubt yourself?

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Facebook me • Follow me.

 

 

what happens in Texas

6C8055389-tdy-130626-wendy-davis-shoes-3p.blocks_desktop_mediumOf all the things I could share, what matters is that you are not alone, and I will never judge you.

All things pass but not all pass gracefully. Years ago I found myself easily, impossibly, pregnant. I was not alone, but I was unmarried. It was the year that what I thought was true love had come and then spun around and left.  It had not yet left on the day suspicion overcame doubt and I mouthed the most shocking of certainties when I came out of the bathroom with the telltale pink strip.  He had smiled. To me, he looked boyish. This had happened to him before, but it had never happened to me. I felt suddenly and totally on my own.

I’ll support you in whatever you decide to do, he said.

Encouragement had never sounded so feeble, not that I was listening.  Before my belly had bloated into the slightest round I had turned against it, mean and quick, making furtive calls to a yellow-page ad answered by a receptionist who counseled, Honey, you have to wait at least six weeks.  When that day came, I drove myself to the clinic and back to work, making false excuses but taking no blame, making no apologies, seeking no comfort and giving none in return.  It was August 27.  And I had thought then, too, that I had my life back again, in charge, in control, to do all the right things in my own time and my own way.  Then everything else happened instead, because things are never what you think.

We make of our life what we must, and we learn from it. But we do not judge, because we are always doing our best, and no matter what, it hurts. I hope this helps someone.

anything helps

In much of the country today it is really hot, and anything helps.

I’m usually in the center lane when I stop at this light, ready to shoot straight through the intersection on green.

Most days there is someone or another on the corner with a sign. I don’t always turn my head, but today I knew I had a dollar in my purse.

He was old – probably not as old as he looked. It was sunny today, hot. He was sunburned and dirty. I rolled down the window and he came right over.

Thank you, bless you, he said, his face crumpled.

Thank you, sir, I answered, and rolled the window back up.

When the light turned he was back on the corner, waving at me. I waved back.

He blew a kiss and cupped his hand to his heart. I saw the sign then. It read, “Anything helps.”

Anything helps. How true, how kind, how wise. For a dollar.

how

owners-manual-translation

How can we live fearlessly?

With more freedom, kindness, joy and compassion?

By living differently.

1. Blame no one.
2. Take no offense.
3. Forgive.
4. Do not compare.
5. Wash your face and leave it bare.
6. Forget about your hair.
7. Grow old.
8. Have no answers.
9. Seek nothing.
10. Go back to 1.

Last weekend I gave a dharma talk in Kansas City based on this list. You can download a recording of the talk by clicking here. (Be patient; the podcast takes several minutes to load and 38 minutes to listen in full.)

a beautiful day

Nowadays I spend most of my time sitting in a chair pounding into a keyboard. It’s long and silent work, and I lose myself in it, but I know where to go for a kick of adrenaline. I click over to a social media site where I’ll find a new skirmish gathering speed, inciting the community’s opinion, anger, and rebuke. I understand why we do that—I, too, can be self-righteous—but I am battle fatigued. The world cries for compassion. It craves acceptance and belonging. It needs our attention, a kind word, a smile, a wave, a handshake, or a hug. Are we against everything? Angry at everyone? Sometimes it seems the only thing we’ll speak up for is a fight.

I push back from the fray and step out into the garden where the leaves rustle and bend in gentle rhythm with the wind. The air is fresh. The sky is blue. It’s an amazing place we live in when we’re not at odds with it. Who can contain the love that this one life brings with it? It is boundless.

On the street outside the gate, a woman walks a dog. I’ve glimpsed them nearly every day for what must be years. Her dog is old and the woman goes slow, the two now inseparable on the steepest part of the hill.

“It’s a beautiful day,” I say.
“It sure is.”

Someone once asked Maezumi Roshi why he practiced.
“To make my heart tender.”

– from Paradise in Plain Sight, coming next spring.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Facebook me • Follow me.

 

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ... 66 67 68 Next

archives by month

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

twitter bits

stay in touch