Posts Tagged ‘Beginnings’

this is the beginning

August 22nd, 2016    -    7 Comments

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A while 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 children was about the end of time. From time to time someone predicts time, or the world of time, is going to end soon. 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 learn to slow 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 beginning. Can you see?

Have another look. There’s still time to begin.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Sept. 11, 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles

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nice to meet you

May 18th, 2016    -    No Comments

original

True refuge is where everyone meets. — Katagiri Roshi

People often ask me how to find a Zen teacher. As one’s practice keeps going, the path becomes clearer. But for some, the questions remain: what and who is a Zen teacher, and how do you find one?
A Zen teacher practices in a room that is not near and is not far.
If it seems too far you’re not near enough.
If it seems too near you’re still too far.
To find the teacher, find the room.
Go inside and sit down.
If this matters to you, you will do it in a hurry. By hook or crook.
(If it doesn’t matter, you won’t do it, because you don’t want a teacher.)
The teacher and student practice face to face.
When a student sees a teacher and a teacher sees a student, they see into themselves.
If you turn this into a metaphor, you will never see it even in a dream.

One day you think there is no chance, and the next day there it is staring you in the face. Not everyone will risk it, not everyone will see, but a few will, and out beyond ideas of right and wrong, in a field, under the sun, on a mountain, across the street or hundreds of miles from where you were yesterday, you will land on your feet, arms outstretched in greeting.

Nice to meet you! Indeed, it is the nicest thing of all.

Valley Streams: A Zen Retreat
July 7-10, 2016
Milford, OH near Cincinnati
Registration open

Lion’s Roar Retreat: Finding Freedom from Painful Emotions
July 29-31, 2016
Garrison Institute
Garrison, NY
Registration open

Wild Grasses Zen Retreat
Aug. 18-21, 2016
Madison, WI
Registration open

Quiet Joy: A Zen Retreat for Busy People
Oct. 28-30, 2016
Copper Beech Institute
West Hartford, CT
Registration open

Ordinary Mind is the Way: Zen Retreat
Nov. 11-13, 2016
Rime Buddhist Center
Kansas City
Registration open

commencement address

May 28th, 2015    -    13 Comments

beautiful-rain-photography-3

Two mornings ago, dropping my daughter off at the curb, her mind a muddle of wind and worry with the end of the school year, I turned on the radio for the ride home.

A set of triplets has been admitted to MIT, where the admission rate is less than eight percent.

It’s the time of year the waves seem flooded with this kind of triple-rainbow success story, however rare it occurs in real life. The lower the odds, the more is made of it. I remember this one because of what came after it.

Twenty-four dead in floods and 13 in a tornado, including an infant sucked by the storm out of its mother’s arms.

And I am overcome by the cruel arrangement of high and low, the valedictorians and the victims, among them four vacationing children flung from a floating house into the tidal surge of a timid river, now but a whisper on the lips of a radio news reader.

My daughter tells me she is anxious these days, and I can see why. She has been wrestling with questions that have no answers. Where is the right place, the right way, the right time, the right choice, where should I go, who should I be, what can I do, what do I want. Some would say her thinking is precocious; some would call it a curse. I cannot save her from these waters. She has to swim across, and I have to watch and wave. The wind drowns out any instructions I shout from the shore.

They made incredible sacrifices growing up by taking the most difficult courses, their father said.

And I wonder when it all became so difficult. The river so high, the odds so low, the rain, the wind, the storm that twists a mother’s entire life right out of the baby carrier on her chest.

There is no higher ground, people. No safety, no shield, no fix for the fix we’re in. I can’t say more without getting carried away. Watch the news for yourself, if you can bear it. Love everything and let go.

One will be speaking at commencement and her message for other students is simple: Just relax, have fun and do what you love.

 

fresh start

January 1st, 2015    -    7 Comments

new-years-day

For old times and a new year, here is an excerpt from Momma Zen, now fresher than ever as an audiobook.

“Again, again, again!”

There is a saying about life: you don’t get a second chance. Children are here to tell us otherwise. You get a lot of second chances. You get a lot of third chances. You get many fourth chances. Before all is said and done, you get about a gazillion chances to do things that you never wanted to do even once. You will do many things again, so many times again: knocking down the same old blocks, pushing the same old swing, reading the same old story, singing the same old song, winding the same old wind-up to its predictable ending. Predictable to you, that is, same old, same old you.

Children learn by repetition. And by their repetition we can learn too. We can learn how cynical we are; how busy and easily bored; how impatient and restless. Those are the things we can see in ourselves many times a day. It can take far longer — a lifetime — for us to realize what they, with their brilliantly open minds, still see quite plainly: nothing, absolutely nothing repeats. Every moment of this life is altogether new. They do things again and again because they haven’t yet calculated the probabilities; they haven’t yet anticipated the ending. They are still doing what we have ceased to do: see the infinite possibilities. They are not yet cutting life short by their jaded cleverness. “Been there, done that,” we say, as we dispose of our unrealized potential.

It is impossible to conceive of the true, dynamic nature of life. It is ever-flowing, never arriving at the same place twice; indeed, never even pausing to arrive. And yet we think we’ve seen it all. read more

prayer for a woman becoming

August 26th, 2014    -    5 Comments

AR-120809992

May you be strong
Look ahead
Go alone
Hold your own
Speak your piece
State your name
Take your place
Love your face
Bare your skin
Wear it tough
Wear it thin
Cry it out
So many nights
So many sighs
So many wondering whys
Then find yourself
Make your way
Know your heart
Trust your gut
Use your feet
Make a stand
And be utterly, totally, awesomely
unmistakably
you
Leaving me well enough, far away, evermore
behind.

Amen.

For a daughter turning 15.

You may also want to say the Prayer for a Girl Becoming, the Prayer for a Mother Becoming, and the Prayer for a Wife Becoming. It’s becoming a good time to pray.

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unfolded, a gift

September 26th, 2013    -    11 Comments

Martin_Creed,_Work_No._340_A_Sheet_of_paper_folded“There is something in me maybe someday 
to be written; now it is folded, and folded, 
and folded, like a note in school.”
― Sharon Olds

Unfolded
by Jena Strong

Every line on my face is a place I unfolded,
no longer compressed, no longer needing
to contain mystery after mystery,
no longer a matryoshka doll holding itself
in and in and in, kaleidoscopically hidden.
No, life has unfolded my careful origami,
like a middle or third name
too beautiful for the world not to hear,
each deep crevice a hint of healing
and heartache and hero’s journey.
It’s old-school, to remain folded up
like that, or to collapse like a mountain
unto itself, or to get so lost
in the folds of what happened
that you can no longer make out
the writing on the wall of your life,
which is to say how blue the sky is
in September, how kindly she caresses
the deep grooves between your eyes,
folded notes to be passed to a friend
between classes, perhaps—or birds
or buildings or an architecture
defying smooth textures. Let me be
creased, then, unfolded as a piece
of paper you’ve tucked inside
the pages of a heavy hardcover for years,
stumbled upon, blank, and fluently speaking
in a language you didn’t even know you knew.
***
A gift on the first day of my fifty-eighth year.

Art by Martin Creed, “Work No. 340: A sheet of paper folded up and unfolded,” 2004.

anthem of the empty room

August 28th, 2013    -    11 Comments

jill_bedroomI’m cleaning off the desk today. Then I’ll tackle the drawers. By process of elimination, I’m headed for the floor.

I finished the manuscript for Paradise in Plain Sight, the book that New World Library will publish next spring. By finished, I mean I had the thought that I was finished. Every day I’m more finished than before. Soon I will gather the files and shoot them into a life of their own. I want my hands free to do simple things.

These hands. What will I do with them? That is the question that keeps coming around. Now what? Now where? What’s next?

My sister told me she has decided to retire next spring. She is younger than I am, and she has worked longer and harder than I ever did doing complicated things. She is at ease with her decision, the only ruffle coming when people kindly say, “I can’t wait to see what you will do next.” It is just small talk, but right there is the expectation that there’s got to be something great and interesting to show for ourselves.

All around, the year reaches crescendo: kids starting kindergarten, fourth grade, high school, and college. Everywhere, the firsts, which carry in them the lasts, and leave the emptiness of closets and chairs. It seems impossible to be finished. No less impossible to begin. But impossible things happen every day. Today.

My friend and dharma sister Jody Kujaku Glienke came to me after sitting zazen on Saturday. She handed me a pair of headphones and asked me to listen to a new song she’d written and sung about her daughter now grown and living in New York. She stood behind me like a good mother, so she wouldn’t intrude on my hearing and force a response. She was surprised when I turned around, sobbing at the end of her sweet song. She held me in her arms. Because I have a daughter still in her room, but halfway to New York, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Don’t we all? Let this console you, let this hold your song: the empty room where we find ourselves alone and together again.

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you are born

February 19th, 2013    -    21 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

one better

January 2nd, 2013    -    86 Comments

open-bird-cage

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.

And remember Katrina’s visit to Pasadena’s Vroman’s Bookstore on Feb. 8. Come sit with me in the front row.

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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

early birthday gift

July 29th, 2012    -    41 Comments

I’m giving away a copy of the book, Preemie, by Kasey Mathews, because my daughter was born on August 12 and she will turn 13 in two weeks.

These facts were once inconceivable to me. Equally impossible for her to be born on that date, and for her to grow up so fast. Is there any parent yet who can believe his or her own eyes?

Georgia was born early. Not as extremely early as allowed by today’s medicine, but early enough for us to ask, in the haste of emergency intervention, whether or not she would be able to breathe at birth. The answer was, “Maybe.” Because of the steroids I’d been given, she did breathe, and we were lucky, and she was fine, eventually. We went home after a few weeks in the hospital, and figured out the rest one day at a time.

But there is a whole story I’ve left unsaid.

What brings this recollection near is that I’ve just finished reading Preemie by Kasey Mathews. Kasey’s daughter Andie was a micro-preemie born four months early. In impeccably etched detail, Mathews tells the whole unthinkable story of an implausible birth, the reality, the setbacks, the disbelief, denial, and fury. What she tells most courageously are those things that are so hard to say.

She was afraid of her baby.
She was afraid to look at her, to touch and tend her.
She was afraid of what she’d done wrong and what might yet go wrong, the hidden trapdoors, the other shoes.
She was afraid of what she knew and what she didn’t know, the permanent scars and looming catastrophes, the not-yets, the maybe-nevers.
She was afraid to love.

We share these fears no matter when or how we become parents, no matter how or when our children arrive, each of us unprepared, undefended and stripped naked of all our expectations.

Our babies survive our fear and failings. They outlast our ignorance, our desperate strivings, and the virulent certainty that we, and they, are somehow damaged or inadequate.

I don’t often address my daughter directly on this page, but it’s time to tell her the only thing I know for sure, the thing she’s known all along.

You have never been too early, too little, or too late. It’s only me who struggles to keep up, who labors at the pace, who resists the steady insistence of your momentous arrival.

I can hardly believe my eyes, but you’re here already!

Kasey Mathews is offering a signed copy of Preemie to a commenter on this post. No matter where you are in your parenting journey, how old or young your children, we are all about to be born into the inconceivable, a new day and stage, and we feel frightened and unprepared. Leave a comment by this Friday, August 3 and claim your early birthday gift.

not the ending

July 8th, 2012    -    9 Comments

The beginning of Hand Wash Cold, because somewhere, for someone, the cycles are repeating:

By September everything was gone. Given away or sold, cheap. The entire living room to my sister, who hired movers to take it. Two garage sales to empty the shelves. My wedding crystal, still in plastic in the Lenox shipping box, for $35. The woman halfheartedly bargained, “Is this set complete?” before she laughed at her own question and handed over the bills. One Sunday night I invited the little guy from the rollerblading group inside and sold him the wine rack for $20. He’d wanted dinner and a date but he drove away with the rack standing up in the backseat of his MG convertible.

I kept what I needed and wanted. They’d become the same. The bed, desk, books and a chair, and about half of my clothes. I sublet one room, the smaller one, in a two-bedroom apartment from someone who seemed desperate for the company and the cash. Then I did what everyone else had already done from the big house on Avalon Drive. I left. And then it sold.

Hadn’t quite sold, but after two years in a falling market it was wanted, finally and fast, by a woman attorney new in town.

It was time to take care of the last bit of housekeeping. Just a day’s worth, a day in September.

There was stuff left in drawers and closets. The cabinets above and below the tiny wet bar between the kitchen and the living room with the blue-and-yellow tile counter. An understated spot that had made the house seem so authentic. This would make someone a lovely home, I often thought, realizing it wasn’t me. I surveyed the mismatched glassware and souvenir mugs, the army of half-empty liquor bottles my husband had brought home after doing beverage inventory at the hotel where he worked. We can’t use it there, he’d said. Never used it here either. I poured every bottle down the little sink and stuck the empties, like bones, into garbage bags. Dragged outside, the bags piled up behind the little white picket sanitation fence by the garage. Up and over the top, an embarrassing tower of unmade toasts.

Upstairs, I swept through the closets of empty hangers and leftover shoes, pausing over a stash of get well cards from the surgery five years ago, when the doctor said get pregnant now and, looking at my blank-faced husband, I knew I didn’t love him.

I pulled down the attic stairs and went up. In some ways, it was my favorite room. We’d bought the house from a surgeon, and that explained the precision of the place. No visible scars. The guy had actually done his own gardening and cleaned his own pool, installed his own sprinkler system and outdoor lights. Awash in aftershave, I imagined, with an aperitif in hand.

The attic was high-ceilinged and light. The span was clean and shadowless. The surgeon had put in a solid floor and neatly lain old doors and shutters across the rafters. In case someone could use them again. On one wall was a built-in shelf where I kept my small store of Christmas decorations. Not enough ornaments to cover a tree, but centerpieces and ceramics to set out in the years before I could no longer lift the sentiment. read more

inviting you to sit down

May 29th, 2012    -    3 Comments

A student comes to a teacher and asks, “What is the way?” You might wonder this yourself from time to time. What do I do? Where do I go? Is it this way or that? What next? What if? Did I miss the turn? If you don’t see the way, you don’t see it even as you walk on it.

The teacher replies, “Go straight on.”

Crazed by doubts and hobbled by fear, we’re bound to end up nowhere until we stop and ask for directions. As every traveler knows, the best directions come from someone who has already made the trip.

A young Japanese fellow boarded a steamer ship and set his course for terra incognita. Like the rest of us, leaving home was his only option.

Taizan Maezumi Roshi was the product of an archaic system of patriarchy in Japan, where Zen temples operated as a kind of family enterprise. One of seven Kuroda brothers raised at a family temple in Otawara, Japan, he ordained as a priest at age eleven and studied literature and philosophy at university. This was expected. By birth order, he would not inherit the family business. This was decreed. Thereafter, he did two things uncommon for both his time and our own: he took his mother’s patronym, Maezumi, and he took the practice of Zen Buddhism seriously.

He’d lost respect for blind authority; he wanted to part with dead customs. After his institutional training, he sought teaching by radical masters, testing firsthand the truth of an ancient teaching.  Beyond the fabled stories, one question seized his mind: What is the way?

At twenty-five he sailed for America, intending to spread the practice of Zen Buddhism in a country hostile to both his nation and his faith. He was posted as a priest at a small temple in Los Angeles serving a diminished and demoralized population of Japanese-Americans.

I am the heir of his American dream. Now you are too.

His reputation grew. He attracted students from all over the world. He was revered by some, dismissed by others, and misunderstood by most. He was still there, in a dinky house in a dumpy part of town, when I arrived to ask for directions.

“I’ve left home,” I told him in so many words, “and I’m lost.”

As if anyone got there any other way.

He invited me to sit down.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, Los Angeles, Sun., Nov. 10.

Photo credit: Blue Stairs by m0nni
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