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.

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broccoli in the mac and cheese

MacCheeseBrocCaulThere comes a day 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.

And what I want to say is that 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, the president’s daughter 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.

Counting the days ’til The Plunge Retreat in Boise.

fresh picked

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I forgot the way I had come. —Kanzan

The buds appear in early winter and bloom through early spring. Theirs is the perfume of youth, the scent of morning. They number in the thousands, perfect star-shaped flowers caressed by eager breezes until nearly all of them loosen and fall. Those left behind—about one in a hundred—have been spared by the iffy wind and weather. They stay on the branch until they form a tiny fruit, hard and green, hidden among the dark leaves. Plumped on full sun and fed by deep water, they grow round and soft. Their skin becomes thin; their color turns radiant.

One tree can produce up to three hundred oranges per year. Mature fruit lasts for months on a branch without ruin, long enough for two crops to be stored on the tree at once: the old and the new. Pick an orange from a tree in my front yard and its rind may be dirty or scarred, slightly shriveled, the color uneven, bulbous, shrunken: no two are alike. But under the layers of skin, scars, and dust, there is goodness, you see, pure goodness untempered by time. Once you taste it, you know for sure.

If you were offered a glass filled with life at its undiluted prime, would you refuse, preferring to gnaw on the bitter rind? That’s what we do when we cannot move past the past: we keep swallowing the sour and never reach the sweet.

Of all the splendors in this patch of paradise, these old trees are most dear to me. They are susceptible to disease, afflicted by parasites and flies, brittle and arthritic. On appearance, they’ve exhausted their stay. But season after season they carry on in continuous production. Their aroma is always fresh; their taste wakes me up. Oranges are in my blood. They are the family business. My grandfather grew oranges and he taught me how to eat them. He was the best grandfather you could ever have. The best ancestors teach you to forget, and when you learn their secrets, they give you the best reason to forgive.

Excerpted from the upcoming book Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

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actual unretouched photo of bliss

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Nothing makes me happier than sharing my practice.
Wish you were here:
Rime Buddhist Center
Beginner’s Mind Zen Retreat June 21-23
All the details here.
Take a seat beside me.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken!
Take heed.
Do not squander your life.

the long way

IMG_6002“Great words of inspiration. I really admire you for embracing your life as it is.”

She wrote it by hand in a card and then mailed it to the publisher named on the copyright page and then someone at the office tucked it into another envelope and mailed it to me and I opened it on Saturday evening when my husband handed me the day’s forgotten mail while I was sitting in the green chair in the living room, and what struck me was not the words, although they did make up in small part for the last jaw shattering one-star review on Amazon, “self-centered drivel, not worth my time.” No, it wasn’t what she said in the card with the picture of a yellow bird sitting on a blossoming branch, it was the faith and patience, the few minutes of time and trouble, the paper, the pen, the flowing stroke of the letters, the tenderness expended in doing a little something the long way and sending it straight into my heart.

I’m slowly gathering materials and supplies, robes, pillows, bells, things remembered and nearly missed, for a long drive north on Friday to sit with folks for two days in lightness and dark at the ocean’s edge. Honestly, I don’t much like this part. The packing and organizing, listing, thinking, all the thinking, the miles, the money, the time. But I do it. I do things the long way. Because when I finally get to that place in the room where the silence rolls in my heart fills with the fullness of peace and I come to rest on the good ground of forever.

The long way is the straight way to the human heart.

For anyone who ever wondered if I saved the card you sent. Yes, I saved it in a woven basket of forever.

a forest of emptiness

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Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep prajna paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.

Heart Sutra

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. This single phrase is the summation of the Buddhist path, the culminating insight of the Way. But having uttered it, I’ve already strayed from it. Having read it, you’ve missed it, because now your mind is running amok trying to understand it, and here I am trying to chase after you. So let’s come back together in one big, empty place, and start over.

What looks solid is not solid; what has no shape comes in all shapes. In a physical sense, bamboo is strong because it is hollow. It is supple and resilient; it bends without breaking. It supports incredible weight. It grows unimpeded by any known barrier, spreading outward everywhere. This is true of you, too. Where do you think you begin and end? Your feet? Your head? Your skin? Your eyes, nose, mouth, ears? Your thoughts, memory, feelings? The way we limit ourselves imposes a bunker mentality and defies scientific reality.

It helps to remember what you took on faith in fourth grade science. All matter is composed of atoms. Atoms are mostly empty space. By definition you can’t see emptiness, but you can be it. Now, to live and let live in emptiness. That’s the secret to paradise.

First, be quiet. Give away your ideas, self-certainty, judgments, and opinions. Let go of defenses and offenses. Face your critics. They will always outnumber you.

Lose all wars. All wars are lost to begin with. Abandon your authority and entitlements. Release your self-image: status, power, whatever you think gives you clout. It doesn’t, not really. That’s a lie you’ve never believed.

Give up your seat. Be what you are: unguarded, unprepared, unequipped and surrounded on all sides. Alone, you are a victim of no one and nothing.

What appears in front of you is your liberation. That is, unless you judge it. Then you imprison yourself again.

Now that you are free, see where you are. Observe what is needed. Do good quietly. If it’s not done quietly, it’s not good.

Start over. Always start over.

Excerpted from the upcoming book Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

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fire and water

I have been writing seriously for several months, which means I have been seriously reading. I’ve relied on a furnace of words for warmth and light, and an ocean of wisdom to slake my thirst. Most recently, I have consumed these books, and they have consumed me. I wholeheartedly recommend them for telling the one true story of our lives.

9780670026630A Tale for the Time Being – By Ruth Ozeki. When a woman finds a girl’s journal washed up on her island shore, it becomes a portal through time. A mysterious and compelling story, as well as a fearless presentation of Zen’s deepest teachings. Brilliant.

 

age-miracles-karen-thompson-walker-paperback-cover-artThe Age of Miracles – By Karen Walker Thompson. When the Earth’s rotation inexplicably slows, the result reads like neither science nor fiction, but the revelation of our hidden nature in unblinking daylight. Observant and insightful.

 

9780307962690_180X180Wave – By Sonali Deraniyagala.  Her life, family, future and every shred of sanity is washed away by the South Asian tsunami on the day after Christmas. The sole survivor can only say this much. Each word of this memoir is a pearl. Unbearably perfect.

 

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talking the talk

This was such a nice conversation I wanted to include you in on it. Listen when you have the time.

Listen to internet radio with Real Sisters Talk on BlogTalkRadio

rise and shine

Buddha wakes at 5 amShawn Ledington Fink was one of my first readers and online friends. It’s nice to watch her twin girls grow up and play. Since I’m in the thick of writing a book, I asked her to pop in and have some fun. This is a guest post.

We sat in a circle in the lovely, peaceful home of Lil Omm Yoga Studio in Washington, DC.

I listened as Maezen’s voice soothed me. It sounded just as I had remembered from the year before when she led a workshop for mothers.

“Buddha means awake,” she said to a group of dozens of mamas like me.

My eyes lit up.

I had no idea.

***

I’ve been on a quest to wake up and stay awake for years—becoming a mother only intensified those feelings.

And though since becoming a mother all I feel like I want to do is sleep, the reality is that my daughters are my little Buddhas—as Maezen gently pointed out to me in her book Momma Zen.

Buddha wakes at 5 a.m. sometimes at my house. Or in the middle of the night with a bad dream.

Buddha has a temper tantrum over not getting her way sometimes.

Buddha thinks God is in all of us.

Buddha likes to dance and sing silly songs.

Buddha likes to solve fourth grade math problems even though she’s only in first.

Buddha is everywhere at my house, waking me up in each pile of clutter, each handmade masterpiece, each random sock strayed on the kitchen floor and each, “Mommy, watch this.”

My daughters are the reasons I am awake—the reasons I can walk a curvy path of a nature trail and see a whole new world of tiny details I never would have noticed before they came along—like a tiny seed or a wiggly worm or a spotted leaf that’s been brunch for a caterpillar.

Wake up, that’s what my children say to me each day.

They say it when they tell me about their dreams at night.

They say it when they use words like “Mommy is the best,” and when they call me loving and caring and, my favorite, “She takes care of me.”

They say it when we’re struggling and I don’t know what I’m doing.

They say it when I’m spending too much time in my head and all I hear is, “Mommy … Mommy … Mommy.”

Wake up.

Wake up.

Wake up.

Their whispers and murmurs and screams and tears and belly laughs and silly antics are the bell, chiming all day, every day.

***

All this talk about waking up, it’s everywhere. We all want to feel more in the moment and more connected and more engaged.

But I’m left to wonder if we’re more awake than we realize, us mothers?

There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not up before dawn, and waiting.

Alert.

Ready at a moment’s notice.

Pouncing at the slightest sound of pain or hurt or difficulty.

Five or 500 steps ahead of a negotiation about what to consume or not to consume.

Ready to point out another wonder or to be cracked open wide to the awe of just simply being alive.

Perhaps this is the hardest part of being a mother?

Always on. Always alert. Always awake. Always ready.

And yet … and yet that’s exactly how I want to be and how I want to feel and how I want to live.

I had no idea. 

If you have a Buddha that wakes at 5 a.m.—or later—perhaps you are interested in signing up for Shawn’s latest offering, The Playful Family Adventure—an e-course this summer that will inspire you, motivate you and encourage you to be present, peaceful and playful. Register now!  The course begins June 24.

LOGO for PFA Summer 2013

ABOUT SHAWN: Shawn Ledington Fink is the author of The Playful Family and the Thinking Mama behind Awesomely Awake, a project inspiring families to find their happy place. She is a peace and kindness spreader and has led more than 300 Mamas through her e-course The Abundant Mama Project, which leads mothers through an intense gratitude practice to help them develop an attitude of abundance. You can follow Shawn on her Blog or find her on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

most intimate

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This photo of my grandmother as a teenager teaches me how little any of us knows about another. She died with her secrets intact. And yet, her secret is me. How much more is there to know? Not knowing is most intimate.

She pointed a finger
in my direction
and said “You remind me
of someone.”
I said, “You remind
me of someone, too.”

Mothers and daughters
have their own stories
my mother
was an open book
nonfiction, but a
complete mystery

It didn’t stop me
from searching
her stories for clues
there was a lot
to read into

In my story
I couldn’t
save my mother
but in the retelling
of every tragedy
involving mothers
and daughters
the script is the same
regardless of setting
all mothers cry out,
“Take me! Just save
my daughter!”

She is the reason
I cannot deny
anyone food
or love
and the reason
I have known
hunger and desperation
she is the reason
forgiveness
is my first commandment

I never hold back
on telling people
how much they mean
to me
and people mean
everything to me
because of my mother

My mother is alive.
I saved her daughter.

— Taken from Mani Canaday’s memorial poem to her mother.

Posted on the eighteenth anniversary of Maezumi Roshi’s death. Don’t ask him any questions; he won’t answer.

prayer for a mother becoming

With time, your roots grow deep and your branches long. You lean a little less backward in fear and a little less forward in doubt, resting solidly right where you are. When the wind blows, you bend. When it stops, you straighten. Your boughs provide shelter and shade. Your strength supports the sky.

Momma Zen

There is a quiet hollow to my days now. I have less to do and more time to observe. I can see inside the hearts of new mothers and old mothers and grandmothers. And grandfathers too. Good folks in every trembling state of hope, exhilaration, despair, exhaustion and worry. And so I fold my hands and pray.

May you be tired and afraid
overwhelmed and ready to quit.
Quit!
Start over, over
ten thousand times over
roll out, get up, fall down
break into tears
open in laughter
sing and dance
be silly, be glad.
May you forget most things,
remember everything,
come to know in your bones
with your blood
through your eyes
from your lips
out of earth
deep below, well beyond
you are love.
You are just love.
Amen.

A companion to Prayer for a Girl Becoming.

You might also like “Motherhood is everything,” an interview at Sweeping Zen.

These are the last days to register for the weekend retreat June 8-9 in Marin.

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a piece of paradise

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

The blue sky and bright day,
No more searching around!
Mumon’s Verse, Gateless Gate, Case 30

And then I saw the garden.

I’m going to slow down and choose my words carefully. Not because the garden is hard to describe, but because I want you to see.

Sometimes people come to the garden and say, “It’s so much smaller than I thought.” Or “It’s so much bigger than I thought.” Or “It’s not at all what I thought.” They have created a picture in their minds of what the garden would look like, or what it should look like, and when they see the real thing they aren’t seeing it at all, but comparing it to the picture in their minds. We cherish the pictures in our minds. We prize our fantasies or they wouldn’t be our fantasies, perfected with every wish. Nearly everything we cherish is just a picture: our ambitions and ideals, size 4 or 6 or 8; our notions of what happy families and their homes should look like (not this); the past, the future; our vision of love, lovers, and life ever after. The picture might even be a nightmare—frightening and forlorn—but we cherish it just the same.

Sometimes people come to the garden and say, “I had no idea.” Then they don’t say anything else, because they are actually seeing the garden. They are actually seeing what is right in front of them, and experiencing it. Then nothing needs to be said.

I had no idea what to expect when my husband called me to the kitchen. By this time we’d entered the house, and because it was empty, we did not take offense at what we saw. Empty rooms are full of possibilities. Possibility is full of love.

“You should see this,” he said.

I stepped into the kitchen where he stood at a plate glass window, looking out.

And then I saw the garden.

I saw a multitude of greens, iridescent greens. The glint of rocks and sunbleached stones. Red bark and burnished branches. The sheen on still water. The light on a hill. A foreground, a background: the seamless whole of three dimensions. Colors with no names because I wasn’t naming them. Beauty beyond measure because I wasn’t measuring it. A view unspoiled because I wasn’t judging it. The shine of the sky making everything visible, everything vivid, even the shadows, with the radiance of being alive.

This was not a picture of a garden. This was not a picture that I could ever conjure from memory or make-believe. This was true life, so unexpected it made me cry.

Now do you see? When you see your life, you bring it to life. When you don’t see your life, it is lifeless.

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