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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progress*

bamboo

It looks like a two-year-old hoisting herself up between two bamboo stalks.
A four-year-old dressed like an elephant in a ballet recital,
crying on the way home, “I was the worst one.”
It looks like a five-year-old who can’t wipe the smile off her face.
Trying a cartwheel.
Falling down and liking it.
Getting a stamp, a sticker, a hug.
Getting better. Getting good.
Then, taking a break.
Shrugging it off.
“I’m just not into it right now.”
Being told, “You’re not strong enough.”
Thinking, “I’m not good enough.”
Holding a secret hope and then letting it die.
Joining the swim team.
Loving a horse.
Watching the Olympics.
Getting an autograph.
Progress looks like a new place, a new year, new friends, and a coach who says
“You can be on our team.”
Hours and hours. Night after night.
Being tired and sore and scared.
It looks like a sprained ankle. A stress fracture. A broken toe.
Six weeks wearing a boot.
It looks like quitting.
And then starting again. For the fun.
*That’s what progress looks like. Because there isn’t any such thing as progress.
There’s no curve, no line, no end. No graph or dots.
And never, ever, ever, is there a reason to compare.
A young girl, weary of the pressure to improve
“I already do things no one else even tries!”
and me, seeing all of it, the endless chase of it,
the ache and the letting go
glad to have a seat at the back of the house.

prayer

goldenkuanyin

I am crying every mother’s tears
waking in every mother’s night
deafened by the blasts
bleeding in the street
broken to the bone
I am not brave
not quick
not done
I will not forget
cannot untie
every child
every child
every child leaves a mother
and the mother is me.

A prayer of compassion
A plea for peace
A word of truth
Amen.

Kuan Yin in the bodhisattva of compassion. The name Kuan Yin is short for Kuan Shih Yin which means “Observing the Sounds of the World.”

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telling

bracha_amulet_2Every now and then someone will write to me and say, “It feels like you are reading my mind. It’s so comforting to know that I’m not alone. You have a way of writing exactly what I need to hear at the moment I need to hear it.”

Other people will pipe up and say about me, “She is so not me. I can’t relate to her at all. We’d never click in person. I dislike the way she writes as if her story is exactly the same as any mother’s story.”

Whatever people say is revealing, because whether we realize it or not, we are always telling a story about ourselves.

Stories are universal. We think that our story is unique and special. Particularly painful, particularly wise, particularly interesting. What really matters is when we see that our stories are the same, because then we see the invisible connection between us—a greater truth than told in the particulars. For that moment, we stop judging each other and begin sharing what lies beneath the story: love.

Here are two pieces of storytelling I want to share with you today.

Amulet: Spring 2013

First, a community of wildly creative women has collaborated on the spring edition of an online magazine called Amulet. A friend asked me to spread the word, and this is what she said. See if it doesn’t sound familiar.

“We have poured endless love and guts into it, and you know the drill—being mothers and workers and creators—whoa. But we are so in love with doing what we do.

If you aren’t familiar, Amulet is a field guide for seasonal living that includes inspiration to help us keep connecting with the earth under our feet, the world around us, and the universe inside us through prose, DIY, recipes, herbal stuff, book stuff, music, hand made goods—every day life stuff. ”

Sounds like my stuff.

Lost in Living

In January I shared the story of a new documentary about the intersection of motherhood and artistic expression, Lost in Living. Filmed over seven years, Lost In Living confronts the contradictions inherent in personal ambition and self-sacrifice, female friendship and mental isolation, big projects and dirty dishes. The response was amazing. Many of you wanted to know how you could see it. Now you can. While the film makes its way around the country in public screenings, it is also now available on DVD. I have a copy of the DVD to give away to a reader who comments on this post anytime this week.

You will know if it’s your story. All stories are your stories. They tell you that you are not alone.

The winner for this giveaway has been chosen and notified. Thank you for entering.

what my mother taught me

I wanted to share a few things with you about my mother. I’m sure you already know them. They are what bring you here today.

Nonetheless, over the last few months, she said some things that I wanted to pass along. She has probably been saying them to me all my life, but I suspect I heard them, finally, for the first time.

Just last weekend she looked at me, clear-eyed and steady, and told me what I’ve come to recognize as her final instructions.

“Be yourself,” she said. “And take good care of your family.”

Now you know that my mother could never, for one minute, be anything but herself. Honest, unselfish, unpretentious, lighthearted, optimistic and, in a way, so ordinary. So ordinary that she was, in fact, extraordinary. It drew people to her, to her comfort and ease. So open and accepting. So authentic. And so happy!

She kept all the cards and notes you all sent over the course of her illness. Hundreds and hundreds, perhaps even a thousand. She kept every one and everyday, more came. She was so uplifted, and in a way, mystified at the magnitude.

I told her that they showed how much she was loved. “Yes,” she said, and she shook her head in disbelief. “And just for being me.” read more

unhatched

I was going to write a special post a month before Mother’s Day and put it up today. I marked my calendar. Collected info. Jotted down some ideas. But I’ve decided I can’t. Or rather, I won’t. Looking at the matter closely, I see that it’s one more thing I don’t really need to do.

Here’s the deal: I spend way too much time troubling with what comes next. Thinking ahead. Hatching a scheme. Nagging, pushing, poking. Trying to produce something, make a difference, get a result.

I was going to ask you to buy my books. And say nice things about them on Amazon or Goodreads. Recommend them to friends. Come to a retreat. Do something for me. But I’d like to take a little break from that. My special post is this post instead.

I’ve noticed that most of my problems—my conflicts and disappointments—are because I’m trying to get somebody to do something I want. Only rarely do I realize that I don’t have to do that. Because everything truly wonderful (except most clean laundry and occasional meals) appears before me ready made.

Like this.

 il_570xN.242842258

Custom Bird’s Nest Talisman Necklace by Wendy Cook

Something truly wonderful, ready made for you to give to any mother, sister, or friend for Mother’s Day. The perfect reminder that the eggs always hatch when they are ready.

 

sit here

logo

Conventional wisdom has it that California is sinking into the Pacific. One more quake, they say, and this silly sandcastle will be swept offshore. But they have it upside down. We’re already on the bottom of the sea. Five million years ago, seismic storms pushed the Pacific crust to the surface of the Earth. We are the children of a risen ocean. We scuff our shoes on its billowy floor.

Conventional wisdom says this ancient practice of mine no longer reaches. It does not translate. Westerners don’t get it. It’s too hard and long and fruitless (although science, medicine and common sense affirm it at every turn.)  We’re competing with many other pastimes, the reasoning goes. Better give people what they want when they want it, or they will . . . do what? Scatter, like so much dust.

Thinking like that is a sure way to lose ground. Where wisdom is the agenda, there is no wisdom.

This is my inexhaustible desire: that you will find a guide who is both patient and daring, unafraid to watch you struggle, drift, and finally settle in the tempest of your own pot. One who will keep you quiet company as you go deep and dig, until you look up and see that you are not sinking, you are not hopeless, your cause is not lost. There is no war and no enemy, no hurry and no wait. You are sitting upside up in the echoless calm of a deep, clear ocean, no wind or waves, and you are breathing, breathing, breathing.

Golden Gate: A Weekend Retreat on the Marin Headlands, Sat.-Sun., June 8-9, Sausalito, CA.  For everyone.

 

best friends

il_570xN.318379070The other morning I opened an email from a reader. I asked her if I could respond via the blog so other people could benefit. All our problems are the same; what is different is whether or not we face them in an openhearted way. When we can do that, problems resolve themselves.

I am sure you get this all the time but first off thank you so much for Momma Zen and your blog. Both have brought me to laughter and to tears.

Reaching the place of tears and laughter—the starting point of our common humanity—is my highest aspiration. When one person cries, we all cry. When one person laughs, we all laugh. Now you can see how compassion works: in our shared tears and laughter.

I started studying Buddhism when I was 18. My dad was dying and my boss had a copy of Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It took me a while to get through, but since then I have always been able to find a Buddhist book or teacher to help me.

What a coincidence. I, too, read that book early in my practice and it was a wonderful companion for me during a time of loss. The Dharma, or teaching, always works in what appears to be a mere coincidence. Whether you’re handed things you like or things you don’t; something that makes you happy or sad, laugh or cry; whether you are consoled or confused; you are always receiving the teaching. Disappointment is the greatest teacher, because it gets right to the source of our problems: our attachment to having our own way. We usually don’t finish those books or stay with the teachers who disappoint us, but life continually and directly delivers us this lesson: the moment it’s not the way we want it.

My best friend and I had a falling out two years ago. We tried to go back to normal but I feel like it hasn’t been the same since. We’ve drifted apart. I am in disbelief. I never thought I would lose this friendship.

Now we can see what a good teacher this friend has been for you. Things don’t go the way we think. People don’t act the way we expect. We cannot control the outcome of anything no matter how much we wish, hope, try or want. Right there is the turning point toward a deeper understanding of love. True love is letting go. Not trying to change someone else. Not trying to control the outcome. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do.

I try to feel compassion, and practice tonglen or a metta meditation for my friend, but what can I do for this sad, empty, hollow feeling in my chest?

My teacher Maezumi Roshi said, “There is always something we can do.” The most important thing to do is practice acceptance. Take care that you do not try to conjure a certain outward feeling or impose a manipulation of any kind. Compassion is complete acceptance of things as they are, free of a self-serving agenda.

Within that acceptance, you can practice atonement. Offer an apology. Forgive yourself as well. Do not ignite anger or resentment by assigning blame. A genuine apology always restores harmony. Take complete responsibility and offer it without expecting an outcome.

Add your friend’s name to your prayer list. Dedicate your meditation to her. Look carefully at your motivations and intentions. Have no expectations. Simply devote your practice to your mutual well-being. Express your love and care without any need for reciprocity. We do not practice to change people’s hearts; we practice to open our own.

In short, be a best friend.

If you do these things freely and for their own sake, you will have made a friend of yourself. Your heart will soon be filled with love and gratitude. And then something will happen. It always does. Nothing stays the same. The Dharma works by itself when we stop trying to make it work.

Please stay in touch and share this with a friend.

Best Friends necklace by Jewel Mango on etsy.

 

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