Posts Tagged ‘Attachment’

you are born

January 4th, 2018    -    24 Comments

eggshellFor everyone.

You are born.

Let’s consider the facts before we get carried away.

You are born and no one—neither doctor, scientist, high priest nor philosopher—knows where you came from. The whole world, and your mother within it, was remade by the mystery of your conception. Her body, mind and heart were multiplied by a magical algorithm whereby two become one and one becomes two.

You inhale and open your eyes. Now you are awake.

By your being, you have attained the unsurpassable. You have extinguished the fear and pain of the past, transcended time, turned darkness to light, embodied infinite karma, and carried forth the seed of consciousness that creates an entire universe. All in a single moment.

Now that you are here, you manifest the absolute truth of existence. You are empty and impermanent, changing continuously, turning by tiny degrees the wheel of an endless cycle. Just a month from now, your family will marvel at the growing heft of your body. They will delight in the dawn of your awareness. You will grab a finger and hold tight, turn your head, pucker your lips and eat like there’s no tomorrow. You will smile. Six months from now, the newborn will be gone. Within a year, you will be walking the earth as your dominion. And although your caregivers might think that they taught you to eat, walk and talk, these attributes emerged intuitively from your deep intelligence.

You are born completely endowed with the marvelous function of the awakened mind. You are a miracle. You are a genius. You eat when hungry and sleep when tired.

You are a Buddha. But in the same way you will forget the circumstances of your birth, you will forget the truth of your being. And by forgetting what you are, you will suffer in the painful, fruitless search to become something else, striving against your own perfection to feel whole and secure. By your attachment to desires, you will squander the chance of infinite lifetimes: the chance to be born in human form. Luckily, the chance to be reborn—to wake up—arises every moment. Your body is the body of inexhaustible wisdom. When will you realize it? read more

all I got done

April 6th, 2017    -    17 Comments

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.”

This is a passage from Paradise in Plain Sight, and as it is with many things I scribble, I don’t arrive at the full impact of my words until long after.

I am writing from a sick bed. I had a colonoscopy last week, a routine one they give you at age 60, and as with the one ten years ago, the trauma of the procedure and the sedative wiped out my immunity, and I quickly picked up the flu that I pray doesn’t progress into pneumonia.

It’s painfully obvious that at my age, I am approaching the steepest part of the path. The time that some of us realize that we have already done it all, with that determination and acceleration that young people produce, barreling through decades of accomplishment and acquisition. But now, in order to keep going, we have to let go. Let go of stuff, which is actually the easy part. Let go of our health, perhaps. Let go of our certainty about things and the reliability of physical strength. Let go of our beliefs about who we are and what we want and need. We really have no choice in the matter.

This is what I am experiencing. My resistance makes it worse. There is no going back. I truly have to see how things go. It doesn’t matter if I like how it goes. Letting go of what isn’t needed is such a relief.

This may be all I “get done” today.

the secret of a good mother

July 6th, 2016    -    9 Comments

broken We say, “A good father is not a good father.” Do you understand? One who thinks he is a good father is not a good father. — Suzuki Roshi

The quote above is often misunderstood. How do you understand it? I’ll answer for you from my own experience. One who thinks she is a good mother is not a good mother.

Zen can sound like doublespeak, but it’s always as plain as plain can be. When you think “good,” that is not good. The moment you step back from total involvement in living life as it is and go up into your judging mind to evaluate it, you are completely mistaken. Do you know that place? Have you ever judged yourself to be comfortably ahead of the game? Or woefully behind? With an edge, an advantage, a method, or for that matter, a reason, excuse or handicap? Maybe you think all those things in a single day! When you indulge in either self-congratulation or self-criticism you are no longer present. You might even say you are no longer alive. Dead fathers are not good fathers.

One who thinks he is one of the worst may be a good one if he is always trying with a single-minded effort.

I have a teenager now, as if it isn’t obvious. And in the course of writing, however vaguely, about what I am experiencing, I hear from kind-hearted people of a venerable cast, folks who have a longer view of the road we tread. They tell me about inexplicable disappointments and deep sorrows, happy turnabouts, miraculous resolutions, and ultimate acceptance of what they didn’t know then and couldn’t have guessed would happen in a million years. Life is a tricky business, and no one knows how it will go. We all know this, and yet we don’t.  Not until the illusion shatters.

From where I stand now it seems a parent’s learning curve goes like this: it starts out hard then it gets easier, and then hard, then harder, then quite a bit harder, then much harder. Humility is the face of love.

The people I take comfort from are the humble ones. They are quiet but outnumber the prideful ones a billion to one.

So how do we conduct ourselves without attaching to good or bad? I like this story about the 20th century Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah who was giving a talk on impermanence. He could be talking about anything.

Before saying a word, he motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

Read a transcript of the original talk by Suzuki Roshi.

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getting along fine without me

May 17th, 2015    -    14 Comments

381069_10150447692416247_262842176246_8779182_1129924044_nBuddhists don’t try to cause trouble, but one thing that troubles people about Buddhism is the concept of non-attachment. That’s because we think attachment means love, and we think love means I can’t live without you. We are always hung up on our own self-serving notions—what I need, what I want, what I like, what I think, what is best, what is right—and that’s the cause of suffering. We attach to those ideas as though they were life itself. The truth is never the phony thing we attach to in our heads. The truth is as it is.

Buddha taught what he called the Four Noble Truths. He taught truth as it is, complete and universal. He called it noble because there’s nothing more true than what is. You don’t have to believe this is true because you experience it every time things don’t go your way.

1. Life is suffering. Things change.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment. It hurts when things change.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable. Accept that things change.
4. There is a way out of suffering. By changing yourself.

When we try to imagine what it means to overcome our attachments, we picture cruel and unfeeling indifference. But that is never the outcome of overcoming attachments. That is never the outcome of accepting what happens. That is never the outcome of allowing people and things to be as they are. The outcome of non-attachment is love.

I don’t have to preach this. You know it yourself by waking up to life as it is. Your children grow up and grow distant. They might upset, alarm and even despise you, but your eyes still flicker at the sight of them. Your parents grow old, enfeebled and afraid, dependent and encumbering, but you care for them. Sickness comes, disaster strikes, and seasons change. Everything falls apart no matter how hard you’ve tried: all that forethought, planning and prevention! This life of ours is strewn with faded blooms. You didn’t sign up for the hard part, but this is the way it is. How will you love what you don’t even like? There’s only one way: selflessly.

When you act with compassion, all your doing is undoing—undoing ignorance, suffering, fear, anger, exploitation, alienation, injury, blame, you name it—simply by undoing the stingy hold you keep on yourself. Thinking poor me impoverishes your entire world.

When she was about six years old, someone asked my daughter what it was like to have a mom who was a Zen priest.

“She screams a lot,” she said. It wasn’t the answer they were expecting. There were polite chuckles all around.

I can comfort myself with the fact that children only remember when their parents scream, not when their parents don’t scream. Silence, after all, is a non-event. No matter what I was hollering about, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to let it go. I wish I’d dropped my rage, fear, frustration, resentment, or despair: whatever illusory part of me I was cherishing at the time. I wish love could be my legacy instead, the way a camellia launches its blossoms into the oblivion of time without causing a quiver of pain. No one ever notices when a flower has fulfilled its purpose in life, just as no one ever regrets a moment lost to love.

***

Excerpted from  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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8 reminders to let go

November 3rd, 2013    -    3 Comments

IMG_6160

 Leaves fall. Freed from a useless stem.

Bags break. Contents spill.

Wind moves. Never arriving.

Birds fly. No end to the sky.

Clouds burst. The earth flows.

Fruit rots. Returned to their nature.

 Smoke rises. In plain sight.

 Morning comes. Where does the moonlight go?

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the way to let go

September 30th, 2012    -    12 Comments

There are few names and no dates on the photos. Together, they span fifty years.  The oldest are bound in a half-torn album tied with a limp shoelace.

The pictures begin with my lithe and lovely grandmother, no more than a teenager, posed alluringly against a tree trunk in a grassless yard. In another, she has arranged herself on top of railroad tracks. Here she is, a poor girl wearing new clothes, and her hair is marcelled. There are pictures of other young women, her friends or sisters; they take turns wearing a fur-trimmed coat. This is their dress-up; these are their aspirations. They have taken pictures to show how desperately they want to get out from the pictures. Cross the tracks. Leave home.

Oh, how you know the feeling.

Many pictures have been ripped from the pages. Glued to the front, as if a new title, the first page remade when the album filled, is a photo labeled “Jim Jimmie Erma,” a family portrait. My father, little Jimmie, looks about four years old. His father holds the boy close in his thick arms, taking responsibility. My grandmother stands alongside wearing the coat and traveling hat. They are squinting into the daylight.

From this vantage point, I can see the secrets and scars in their unblemished faces. They confess to me of future crimes and punishments. Even as an innocent, my father looks exactly as I feared him, a fact that strikes me as peculiar only when I consider that my daughter will see her own hysterical mother in my cherub-cheeked baby pictures. The mother she will misjudge and misunderstand, the mother she might reject and revile, until one day she doesn’t.

But I am going to erase all that—everything I think I see—and give them a fresh start. I’m going to give them what I would if they were my own children, or if they were me. Because they are me. I’m going to give them love. read more

prayer for a girl becoming

August 10th, 2012    -    33 Comments

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May she be happy
May she sing, and make up songs
May she be safe, and feel safe
See shadows only for playing
May she seek and find
May her smile always find reflection in my own
May I find in her name the measure I need
And give give give.

Amen.

Georgia Grace in the garden, springtime 2007.

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the empty bento

March 19th, 2012    -    15 Comments

Sometimes when something unexpected happens — which is nearly always — I think these kinds of thoughts:
Oh no!
How will that work out?
How will I fit that in?
How can I make that OK?
I don’t know how.

What about the rest of everything?
What about the plan?
Stop!
Not something else!
I can’t handle any more!
It’s all falling apart.

I feel as if I am holding a box where I’ve given everything a place, a turn, and a time. A box I can’t ever drop. I like to think I’m good at not dropping the box. But then I remember:

There is no box.

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the gospel of toddlers & tiaras

January 23rd, 2012    -    17 Comments

On Wednesday evenings I’ve taken to watching TV with my daughter. It’s her one night off from gym practice and after she finishes homework, she likes to tune in to a controversial reality show called Toddlers & Tiaras. I grimaced through a few episodes of overbearing mothers parading their kids through grotesque beauty pageants until I came away with an enlightened view of the whole thing. Here is what I’ve learned:

Delusion begins with hair and makeup. The line between reality and psychosis is drawn with Maybelline Master Drama Brow and Eye Pencils.

There is no end to delusion. You can just keep piling it on.

There are no bad kids. There are just bad adults behaving like bad kids. And bad kids behaving like really, really bad adults.

The husbands are the sane ones. Just admitting this makes me crazy.

The room is empty except for you. The chairs are mostly vacant, the competition is entirely imaginary, and the judges wish they could disappear.

When you win, you lose. When they crown you a Queen, or Most Beautiful, or Best Talent, or Miss Congeniality, it means you didn’t win. In fact, it means you finished last. You don’t want those titles or sashes. Spit on them! You have to lose for a chance to win big, by coming back onstage later, when you really don’t win.

It’s all about you. “We keep doing this because she really loves it.” At the end of the show, when the kids are maniacal with hunger or exhaustion, tearing off the butt-ugly $1200 dresses that will take their parents two years to pay for, all the moms and dads say that. But it’s not true. You keep coming back because you don’t have a life! You’re sick, or bored, or you don’t want to make dinner, or fold laundry, or pay the bills, or face reality! You keep coming back for a chance to sit in a room with your own child, or at least I do! I’ll keep doing this because this show gives me a piercing view of my own shit while reminding me that if I’m not careful I could be a much worse parent than I am.

I’ll be back because this show is about me.

“Mom, do you see now why I watch this show?”

“Yes, I do, honey. I’m afraid I really do.”

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to jacqueline’s mom

May 25th, 2011    -    21 Comments

When bird passes on –
like moon,
a friend to water
– Masahide

It’s the final week of rehearsals before the fifth grade song and dance revue, and since my daughter is sidelined on crutches, she sits wallflowered in the front row every afternoon until I come into the auditorium to fetch her. I’m none too cheery when I get there, since the sight of a hundred kids cavorting to Katy Perry makes my eyes sting. It’s like a stage show of all that Georgia has missed in this long year of hurt feelings, hard knocks and disappointments – a cruel season, to be sure, and not quite over. Today at dismissal the teachers called all the kids into small groups and handed out letters. The letters ran out before Georgia could get one, but she returned and told me what it said.

“Jacqueline’s mom died last night.”

I stood in that sludge of disbelief that comes with information you can’t yet receive, the noun and verb colliding in violent disagreement.  It can’t be. No. Yes. It is.

Our two girls had shared a second-grade class. There was not much that passed between us moms at first. Jacqueline’s mom was a single mom, working, with two kids and no other family nearby. She had moved to California for a job and had since left a husband. We passed one another at pickup, and she was hurried, private. By spring she had spoken, or emailed, I can’t remember, and she came to the house. We talked. I gave her a book. She was searching; she was ready. She came to one of my retreats where she won the door prize: a kitchen timer. She felt lucky.

Afterwards, we always greeted each other across the grass, waiting for the kids to ramble out from school. She passed me quick updates: she’d quit smoking, changed jobs, started therapy and worked out the family issues; she was getting better, reading books, loving her kids, taking her time, and nearly ready. I’m using the timer, she told me. One day she handed me a plastic shopping bag with something inside.

“I saw this and thought of you.” I waited until I was in the car to look inside. It was a 2011 Gift of Zen wall calendar that is hanging in our kitchen right now. We’ll be turning the page soon. Looking at it my eyes sting.

I feel lucky.

I feel lucky I was a friend.

To Jacqueline’s mom.

 

p.s. i love you

April 19th, 2011    -    21 Comments

It was the toothbrush that told me. Alone and overlooked in the emptied medicine chest, it was one of the few things my lover had left behind. When I found it, I knew with certainty what I’d been denying to myself for some time.

It was over.

In truth, our relationship had been over for longer than I’d wanted to believe, but in beginnings and endings, one party can lag the other on the uptake. If the toothbrush was my messenger, what was his? Perhaps the time I kicked his suitcase to the curb? For years after, I would forget that part in the telling of the story, since we tell stories our own way.

Whether by choice or circumstance, by the fleet seasons of romance or the final curtain of death, love ends. At least the love that is a story ends. And when that happens, what are we left with? A passage we might otherwise never dare to take. A portal through denial, disbelief and despair, through rage and madness, beyond delusive fairytales and melodrama, into a state of wakeful grace that can only be called true love.

True love is what is left behind when love leaves. It only looks like the end. Make it through one ending, and you might change your mind about all endings. That is the miracle cure, the ultimate healing, left behind on an empty shelf.

***

Someone asked me to write an article about love. Specifically, about the ending of love, because nobody needs help with the beginning of love.

So I’ve been thinking about love, and here are some of the things I’ve been thinking. Thinking about love is the opposite of love, because love is never what you think. read more

a little problem with suffering

January 24th, 2011    -    22 Comments

Sometimes I get a little pushback on the topic of Buddhism, particularly the subject of suffering. People say something like, “Gosh, all that talk about suffering! Aren’t you guys a bit over the top with all the suffering? That’s so negative.”

Yes, it’s true, the foundation of Buddha’s teaching is the Four Noble Truths, which usually are stated like this:

Life contains suffering
The origin of suffering is attachment
The cessation of suffering is attainable
There’s an Eightfold Path to freedom

Let me be clear. Buddhism doesn’t elevate, emphasize or worship suffering. Buddhism says, “Let’s just face the facts, people.” Despite our earnest attempts to conjure optimism, hope, abundance, luck, gratitude, aptitude, cleverness, perfect SATs, and triumphant superiority, there is nothing more universally human than having a problem.

To prove it, let’s take the word “suffering.” You might have a problem with it. Suffering sounds so big – Haitian earthquake, Tucson rampage, global warming big – when the kind of suffering most of us encounter every day is so embarrassingly trivial we might not even recognize it as suffering. More like WHO ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

There’s all the other kinds of suffering too – like old age, sickness, death, Jersey Shore, and taxes – but we can’t really do much about those, can we? So the kind of suffering we start with is the kind that actually causes us and everyone around us the most problems AS FOR INSTANCE WHEN SOMEONE WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS (YOU) ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

So I like to state the Four Noble Truths this way:

Life is full of problems.
It always seems like my problem starts with you but it really starts with me.
It always seems like you should fix my problem but in the end it’s up to me.
I’m going to the store, want anything?

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