An introductory Zen meditation retreat for all levels of practitioners. Includes instruction in sitting, chanting and moving with mindfulness. One night, three meals included.
Located on the Marin Headlands just steps from the beach, NatureBridge sits amid 140,000 acres of coastal parklands with views of the Pacific Ocean, delicious meals, tide pools, hiking trails and dormitory-style lodging to the sound of the ocean. I’ll be here.
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. — Luke 22:19
The communion ritual fascinates me. I suppose for some it can seem an outright lie or ignorant superstition. Even as a girl who came to church solely for the sake of obedience, the words drew me into their mystery, and I partook. I still take communion whenever it is offered to me. I take my sustenance in the mystery.
Last week I was tenzo, or cook, at a five-day retreat, preparing three meals a day for 25 people. I have participated in countless Zen retreats, maybe a hundred, taking many more hundreds of meals, and never cooked. Let me express my deep gratitude to every cook who has ever prepared my food. I had no idea.
Having no idea is the doorway to realization. It is the essential ingredient, you might say, in the miracle.
They sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. They all ate and were satisfied. — Mark 6:40-42
At first my assistant and I were inept and overwhelmed, chased by the doubtful hours and disappearing minutes. We rushed and scrambled. We erred in composition and quantity. Every bowl we set out was returned empty. The diners seemed insatiable. The food was not enough.
But sitting down in the ranks transforms everything. By the third day of sitting, appetites quieted. Minds settled. In the kitchen, we moved with silent purpose. The miracle had begun to unfold. The food became a marvel; our hands, the instruments of magic. The taste was indescribable.
The cooks made an offering of the meal; the guests made an offering of their appetites. Everything in harmony; everyone blessed. By faith alone, we were all fulfilled. read more
In my last post I suggested three books on faith to begin the year. Here are ten reasons to begin exploring faith in your life starting now:
1. Now is the only time to begin.
2. Everything ends.
3. People you love will die.
4. There is no way to prepare.
5. One day you might get married.
6. You will face the reality of your choices every day.
7. Children don’t make you happy.
8. They make you grow up.
9. You don’t know as much as you thought.
10. Answers appear as you go.
And one better:
11. It’s free.
The questions in life are universal, and with them, our doubts and fears. In Katrina Kenison’s books, she writes through the questions we share: how do we parent, make a home, let go, be a friend, find a path, and become a true companion to ourselves? I am honored to share her art and kindness with you.
I’ve recommended other books on faith, but here’s one better. Katrina has offered a copy of her newest book, Magical Journey, as a gift to one of my blog readers. Please leave a comment on this post by Friday, Jan. 4 for a chance to take flight on Katrina’s latest journey.
Perhaps you have a new tablet, e-reader, or gift card. What should you do with it? Exercise your faith.
Many of the great books I’ve read this year have been faith stories. Some of them, accounts of indomitable spirit, like Unbroken and Wild. Others, masterpieces by divinely gifted artists for whom writing itself is realized faith.
In one sense, every book you read is a faith journey, starting where you are and taking you who knows where, but these are ones that have illuminated the way for me.
All the stars in heaven shine on Gilead. This is the most stunning articulation of living truth I’ve ever read. It is plain and real, resonant, poignant, honest, sweet, and thoroughly complete. After I finished, I prayed, and my prayers were answered. So I need to read it again.
This book stole every beat of my wandering heart. It will change you, even before you finish. I received it as an audio book from a wise and generous reader, and was immersed in astonishment. It was a genuine marvel, and a good cry.
This book is days away from debut, so you won’t have to wait long to start. Here my friend Katrina faces the question that haunts every mother’s empty house and every woman’s passage beyond midlife. What now? Every page shines with beauty and pulses with truth.
I’ll be welcoming Katrina to my favorite bookstore on her West Coast tour in a few weeks. Please mark your calendar and share an hour of faith with us at Vroman’s Bookstore at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8.
And now I’m off to sit the year-end retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. Because all the talk of faith is merely talk until you start walking.
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A few days ago someone reached my blog by Googling “teaching children about the beginning of time.” It made me wonder if what they really wanted to teach was about the end of time, which some calendars have penciled in for Friday. Anyone coming here for those kinds of answers is looking in the wrong place. I don’t know the answers. I don’t even ask the questions.
I don’t normally pay too much attention to how people reach this blog. Most of those who come for the first time come with this question in mind, another one that I answer, more or less, by saying I don’t know.
There’s a lot of talk out there about deep questions and dark fears, especially these days. I wish we’d all answer them more honestly than we allow ourselves. I wish we were more courageous about saying “I don’t know.”
That’s the answer to most things our children ask; that’s the answer to most things, period. Don’t know. Don’t even try to know. You can’t know.
That brings me to beginner’s mind.
If you’ve read Suzuki Roshi’s little book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind you may know a little something about what Zen calls “beginner’s mind.”
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
Some define it as having an open mind. Some equate it with a child’s mind. I’ve seen it called a central concept in Zen.
That’s all wrong.
Whenever you start thinking about beginner’s mind it’s no longer beginner’s mind, because it’s not something you do inside your head. It’s something you don’t do. You don’t conceive it, define it, explain it, or label it. You don’t measure it like we do with the finite concept of time; you live in it as your infinite universe. Isn’t it lovely?
You don’t know beginner’s mind, but if you slow way down and stay in one place, you can begin to see it. And seeing it, you can totally be it.
There is an end to what any of us can know. But there is no end to this. Can you see?
Every time you look it is just beginning. Have another look. There’s still time.
There are so many questions, and so many possible answers. But then again, it isn’t algebra.
Even if it were algebra, I’m not very good at algebra, so I wouldn’t be able to help you with your algebra. But it isn’t algebra.
For the last three weeks my daughter has been out of school—a temporary homeschooler—while she finishes the run of a theater production. She’s been doing algebra at home, where I can’t help her with the answers. I can only hover and hound her, stressing the importance of keeping up with algebra.
Around fourth grade, math becomes the marker by which our schoolchildren are judged. Fourth grade was when I stopped being able to do the math.
I dropped by the school to deliver some assignments last week, and I walked into the algebra class with a completed chapter test in hand. The test was a big benchmark for me. Perhaps she could get through this month without falling too far behind, is what I’d been telling myself.
I thought the room was empty until I saw the teacher sitting in the corner, his back to me. When he saw me, he said hello, and his voice sounded strained.
Are you okay? I asked.
Can you tell? He asked.
Is something wrong? I asked.
It’s my mother. She’s dying. He paused. Do you have any advice for me?
I listened. I had no answers. It is so hard, but it isn’t algebra.
Even now, I’m breaking down at how much I’ve misunderstood the questions and mistaken the answers.
It is the silent season and yet it is so hard to find quiet at this time of year. Busy making ready, in a hurry to finish, we can fret away nature’s patient calm in the blur of a frantic ending.
I spent half a day looking for a video of snow falling without added music or special effects. Why do we think we need music or special effects? This one-minute video inspires soundlessly. I post it here so I can look at it over and over, and let go of everything that will disappear if I try to hold on.
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When they induced labor that morning of the emergency, nothing happened. I would not dilate. My baby wouldn’t come. The doctor said we’d try again tomorrow. Sitting up in the bed that evening poking at my hospital dinner, I suddenly knew why. The man on TV said there had been a total eclipse of the sun that day, the last of the 20th century.
The moon had passed between the earth and the sun, turning day to night. I was certain that when the sun rose unobstructed the next day, it would happen. It did happen, faster than anyone predicted, and Georgia was born by 10 a.m.
She is pure light, and although what passes between us has always been so radiant, I have not always been able to look straight into it. I have not been able to understand.
And now she is a young woman loving womanly things, going her own way, illumining new ground. This transit, lately, has been difficult. There is tension in the approach; there is resistance and confusion. She does not rely on me but for the slightest reminders: a gentle glow of approval, trust, encouragement. Transport here or there. Showing up on schedule. Saying nothing.
Isn’t there more to a mother? Am I not the earth?
I once held her light inside me, then let it grow. Released, it filled the universe. She covers her own ground now, where I can see her always. Mine is a distant face made beautiful by her reflection.
I am the mother moon, and I have been eclipsed. It is not the end. It is joyous. I will never leave her sky. I love her sky. Here I am complete.
For my mother and my mother’s mother and all mothers in the sky.
The physical form of seated meditation is called the mountain pose. It looks just like it sounds. Sitting on a cushion or chair, the body is anchored in the earth and the head supports the sky. A mountain is what we imitate, but the more we practice sitting like a mountain, the more we become a mountain. Sitting, standing, lying down and walking about: the mountain is unshakable, but moves whenever it wants.
With strength like a mountain, you can keep your eyes, ears, mind, and heart open. Light comes in, and you see things as they are. You see that the sun encircles you, the moon follows you, and the clouds disappear by themselves.
A 35-year-old oven
Gratitude is humility on a plate. Thank you for coming to my table.
Yesterday I made an error in speech, which was actually an error in typing. Sending an email, I intended to write what I always advise on the subject of conflict resolution: “Say you’re sorry. Apologize not because you are wrong but because you can.”
After I sent the email I re-read it. What I had written was “Apologize not because you are wrong but because you can’t.” I wavered: should I send a correction? A quick clarification? Make sure that the recipient understood that I was in my right mind?
When I looked at it again I decided that the mistake expressed an even deeper level of practice. Apologize because you can’t. Send the apology you never thought you would. Do it because it doesn’t make sense.
This is the way we resolve everything: by realizing that the only thing standing between can and can’t, love and hate, war and peace, us and them, is a hasty, reckless and erroneous contraction. So get over it.