Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

homesick

November 10th, 2011    -    16 Comments

Not long ago I heard from someone who thanked me for giving her permission to struggle with her depression. Oh yes, I assured her, by all means, struggle! Depression is the sane response to the insanity of our lives. Depression is the struggle to be sane! We’re not fools if we struggle with depression. We’re fools if we don’t. It’s crucial that we seek, so we can finally exhaust ourselves, turn around, and find what we already possess.

They say every sickness is homesickness, and when I hear that, I feel sick for every moment I spend running away. They still outweigh the length I stay.

Even on a good day, when we’re snug in the bosom of our sweetest sentiments, in the Eden of our dreams, it doesn’t feel like home for very long. The stirrings start. The restlessness rears. We become feverish with longing, a longing that consumes our every thought. We might even make a home of our homesickness, becoming naturalized to a state of unrest and alienation. I’ve got to get out of here. How many times have you said that to yourself today?

Much of the time, our own life feels like a foreign country we can’t wait to get out of. And not a nice foreign country, either.  Even life with the people we profess to love, to whom we have promised fidelity. (Especially those people.) Even the half-decent job, the nice neighborhood, the loyal friends, the adorable kids, the good luck, the manifold blessings, the plan realized, the wish come true — nothing settles or calms for long, nothing feels quite right. There’s no place like the home you think you don’t have.

We’re all looking for something more, in a state of mild-to-moderate or even chronic despair. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you’ve got — how well you can manage your store of talents or prospects — you are somehow convinced that you haven’t yet got “it.” Not the whole of it, not enough to be completely satisfied or secure. Maybe you haven’t yet figured it out, had it happen, gotten it done, or pulled it together. You might think you need a lucky break, a promotion, a new body, another lover — or the old lover — another child; you might call it higher purpose, passion, or simply, inspiration. Maybe you want things to be as good as they were before, back when you didn’t know how good it was. Maybe you want things to be better than ever, as good as everyone else seems to have it. Feeling as if you’re not enough and don’t have enough, I want you to know, is good enough. It’s what got you this far.

Thus we arrive at the first step on the path of faith, a step that Buddha called “right view.” It is the slender flicker of wisdom, the illuminating certainty that you are lost. As verification of your own insight, it is followed immediately by the second step, the realization that you have to turn yourself around. You have go back home.

And here you are.

small packages

September 13th, 2011    -    3 Comments

These days I feel as though the world doesn’t need one more person to say one more thing. And so I leave you these small packages to unwrap if you like, to use if you need:

What mindfulness looks like – a sweet reflection through the eyes of one participant in last weekend’s Art of Mindfulness workshop in Houston.

What Buddhism sounds like – Melvin McLeod, editor of the Shambhala Sun magazine and its numerous anthologies of Buddhist writing, updates the simple story of our tradition in this excerpt, his introduction to a new volume of teachings.

What your family is worth – Offering a new couples discount to The Plunge one-day retreat in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 1. Use and share with those you love.

I’m off this weekend to Shambhala Mountain Center in northern Colorado where a small circle of us will sit, walk, talk and wake up. I can’t imagine a heaven any greater than the one in your hands. Please take good care of it.

come set foot

September 6th, 2011    -    12 Comments

Last year I was visited by a filmmaker making a documentary about Japanese gardens. By the time we met in my backyard, she had spoken with many experts and had hundreds of hours of footage, but she was still confused about Zen Buddhism and the metaphors illustrated by a Zen garden. I tried to simplify things for her. That’s what Zen does for our lives: simplify the way we see it, so that we no longer confuse one thing for another, and see it whole.

Come set foot into the garden.

secret message

August 29th, 2011    -    5 Comments

I am being cautious here, mindful of what I say and don’t say, because of how earnestly we all seek and how easily we misunderstand.

I am not telling you how to live, how to improve yourself, how to make the right decisions, or what the right decisions are. I am not suggesting you live like me, think like me, or choose what I have chosen. It is easy to elevate what appears to be the sage or guru, the expert, the coach, the one “who has it together.”

In my long career as a consultant, I came to realize, after the first years of doubt and pretense, that I didn’t have to know any answers. All I had to do to be successful was tell people what to do. I could even make it up on the spot! Because everyone – no matter what their station or status or position – wants to be told what to do. Regardless of whether we do it or not – and we usually don’t – we think there is some secret message we’re missing. But every message is the one you already carry. It’s only a secret if you haven’t yet noticed what you have in your hands. read more

the knock at the door

August 18th, 2011    -    7 Comments

Yesterday I was rather lost and confused, uncertain which way to turn, when I heard a knock at the door. Actually, it was just the delivery of an email, adroitly timed, as all events, to give me clarity and purpose. I asked the writer if I could respond in a blog post so that our dialogue could serve others like us.

I heard an interview with you on the Buddhist Geeks podcast and found it very informative and enjoyable.  I’ve studied Buddhism on and off now for a few years but never really made the leap to incorporating it into my life.

Any place that leads you here is a good place to start.

 I was wondering if you had any tips for which “school” of Buddhism would be best for a beginning layperson.

First, let’s look at that word, “school.” There are no Buddhist schools, not really. The word “school” was probably used by academics to identify and define different historical and cultural approaches, but it suggests a kind of academic learning and institutional enrollment that is not applicable to your life. So I suggest you replace “school” with “path.” Everyone has a path in life – including the spiritual aspect of life – and the good thing is, you don’t have to find it. You don’t have to choose it. You  are already on it. The path you are on always leads you farther on, in the same way you were led here today. To walk the path, you just keep going, exploring, asking, seeking, finding, and this is the most important thing: trying. If you haven’t yet recognized your path it’s because you haven’t gone far enough to see clearly. We have to use our feet to get close enough for anything to come into focus.

Second, let’s look at that word “beginner.” We are all beginners. If someone no longer considers themselves a beginner, it’s time to start over. In the same way, create no distinction between a layperson and a priest or monk. It makes no difference.

 Zen seems like it might be a simpler place to start but I also read that it’s considered the most difficult. I’m a little confused.

Naturally. Reading or thinking too much about anything is sure to confuse us. Information is of no use if we don’t use it ourselves. Never let what someone else says preempt your own experience. So let’s take a look at that word “difficult.”

Many things are difficult. The first noble truth of Buddhism simply restates that fact. Life itself is going to get hard. So things are difficult long before we start out. In fact, we only get started in the practice of Buddhism when life becomes so difficult that we want to change directions. We practice because things are difficult.

Zen is not difficult to grasp. It is very simple. Maezumi Roshi once said that the reason Zen is so often presumed to be complicated is because it is so plain. Our heads are complicated.

And that’s where the difficulty comes from. Difficulty arises in our judging minds. We make things difficult by the way we think about them. Principally, the way we like or don’t like them; want or don’t want them; reject, avoid, or refuse them.  Zen consists entirely of the practice of meditation, which is the complete actualization of our true nature. It is only difficult when we don’t want to meditate. Practice is only difficult when we don’t want to practice. Zen practice dissolves difficulty. read more

something amazing in the space

June 2nd, 2011    -    13 Comments

Reprinted from the Summer 2011 issue of Buddhadharma magazine.

I’m sitting in what I call the “mommy pit” at the gymnastics studio, the fenced sideline from which I’ve watched my daughter explore the potential of her human form over the last five years. She does a triple back handspring, vaulting backward in three blind spirals until she plants her feet in the unmistakable thwack of a solid landing, raising her arms in a completion salute.

Her teacher stands with arms crossed, her response inscrutable. Is that a slight smile? A frown? A nod? Is that encouragement? Criticism? Recognition? Who can tell?

“Again,” she instructs, and my daughter flips across the floor.

I’m thinking about teachers and what they empower in us, and how different that is from a teaching itself. I’m thinking about this because of the choice it presents to us in our own lives, and because of the crossroads we face in the propagation of American Buddhism.

What do teachers do? And given how difficult Buddhist teachers can be to locate, trust, understand, accept, admire, and follow, are they even necessary? It’s my guess that most Buddhists don’t think so, since by their own admission, so many are “unaffiliated,” unable, unwilling, or unconvinced they need to seek a teacher.

The justifications to dismiss the role of teachers and sanghas are compelling. Justifications always are. It’s inconvenient, for one. You might have to travel. Teachers are few and far between. It takes time. You have to meet other people. You might not like them. It’s frightening. Looks cultlike. And what if you get the wrong one? Besides, we live in the virtual age, when Buddhist information, discussion, and so-called communities proliferate on the web. Shouldn’t we advance the dharma into modernity? Who needs to meet face-to-face when you have Skype?

Once again I glance at the gym teacher standing among her charges. A handspring isn’t something I do, or can teach my daughter to do. What was it that turned her timidity into trust, her fear into freeform flight? A firm touch to her knees? A hand on her back? The sheer persistence of practice? A grin? A shout? The company of her teammates, who amplify her effort with the energy of their own? Perhaps all of that, plus the teacher’s steadfast reassurance that my daughter could do what she didn’t believe she could: go beyond her limits. read more

don’t eat the label

May 29th, 2011    -    16 Comments

The journey of our lives is remarkably universal and predictable. That’s why we can share experiences, insights and sentiments, and that’s how we can empathize with one another. And so it is guaranteed that, after a pinprick of recognition, a flicker of awareness, someone will turn to me and ask what they should read next.

I would like to say, “Nothing” but that is neither kind nor practical. Of course we read, and we want to read, accustomed as we are to thinking that what is in a book will guide and shape us, will lead us to some deeper understanding, some culminating truth, and maybe even save us a step. Nothing you read in a book will give you that, although reading is itself a worthwhile pastime. Reading a good book is like gazing onto a field of flowers, or the sky, or the sea, or the sand, or a cornfield, or the parking lot at Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon. Gazing at any of those things will deliver you to a deeper recognition and appreciation of yourself and your world without informing you of one thing, except to stay away from Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon.

Information, least of all about the nature of your life, is vastly overrated and might even be harmful. Information about Zen, and Buddhism for that matter, is rather useless, although many will gorge themselves on it, as if eating the label on a can of soup can give them a taste of Tomato Bisque. Zen is the actual, living experience of your life. No one has yet documented the life that only you can live. The practice of Zen requires that you intimately experience your life, and not restrict yourself to reading about it. Almost nothing in your experience will match the anticipation, fear, and misconceptions that are stirred up by accumulating knowledge about this or that. read more

buddha tuesday

March 8th, 2011    -    142 Comments

I’m giving away this Buddha.

The more you sense the rareness and value of your own life, the more you realize that how you use it, how you manifest it, is all your responsibility. We face such a big task, so naturally we sit down for a while.Kobun Chino Otogawa

I ran into this quote the other day and it was like, Well, hello! Nice to meet ya! Because sometimes in my dinky little corner of the Buddhist world I feel like I’m the only one with any amount of faith. Faith in what, you ask? Well, faith in life. Faith in practice. Faith in teachers. And faith in the way that has saved my life. So I thought it was about time to share something more than my syrupy sentiments, something more than preachy how-tos and why-dontchas. It’s time for me to pull out the big guns and give away Buddha. The Buddha you see right here as a matter of fact. Free, free, free!

I’ve got Buddhas galore around here, and more on their way, I’m sure. But this little one is special because I bought it for myself to put on my home altar. It’s a teeny thing, just 5 inches of carved wood, from China, and whether it’s antique or not it’s definitely distressed, which is itself a commentary on so-called Western Buddhism and our long-suffering world. You have to bring it into the light to see the rich gold and vivid red beneath the patina. You have to see it in person to sense the rareness and value. It’s the perfect reminder to do the only thing the Buddha instructed us to do – naturally sit down for a while.

Leave a comment here by next Monday, March 14, and give yourself a shot at a Buddha you can see, feel, hold, and bring to life in your own home. I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday.

The winner is commenter number 106 – Jessy.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat Sunday, March 13

Listen to my interview “The Way of Everyday Life” on Buddhist Geeks podcast

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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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a wing and a prayer

September 27th, 2010    -    47 Comments

Do Buddhists pray? This Buddhist does.

Parenthood is like continuous prayer, and these days I’ve been praying a lot:
Dear Lord, let it just be allergies.
Dear Lord, let her sneakers still fit.
Dear Lord, let the lunchbox come home empty.
Dear Lord, let me see her smile.

No matter who or what you pray to, prayer works. If you’re looking for a modern miracle, I say, “Pray.” I don’t have a theological explanation for it, but prayer seems to work by itself. We gather our agitated worries into the palms of our hands, a single point of contemplation, and by our utterance, we release them. We are immediately calmed and comforted by our own action, regardless of any eventual outcomes. For me, prayer is a continuous loop of supplication, surrender and consolation.

Even though it’s not just allergies.
The sneakers no longer fit.
She traded her lunch for someone else’s.
But because the smile, the smile, I still see.
read more

trouble with buddhism

July 30th, 2010    -    10 Comments

When you’re as easily teased by Buddhist discourse as I am, you can see the same arguments over and over. Among the refrains I keep hearing are the ones I call The Biggest Lies in Buddhism. Believing them is serious self-deception and keeps you in a world of trouble.

I’m not a Buddha. You most certainly are; you may not yet realize it. “Buddha” does not equate to a celestial being or deity but to an awakened one. When human beings live in their natural awakened state, undisturbed by delusive thoughts and emotions, they live as buddhas. Buddhahood is your birthright. You claim it every time you wake up to the present moment. And even when we can’t quite convince ourselves, we practice the way Maezumi Roshi admonished: “as if” enlightened. “I’m only human,” we like to assess and degrade ourselves. And yet we have an entirely lopsided idea of what a human being really is. That leads me to:

My ideas are as good as yours. That’s true, however, no one’s ideas are any good at all. The practice of Buddhism is not intended to democratize personal views, as in Oh, you think that way? That’s OK. I think this way? That’s OK too. Buddhism is not a feel-good club that aims to equalize the worth of everyone’s self-reinforcing preferences; it simply transcends them. We practice Buddhism so we will no longer be blinded by what we think, confused by what others think, or stuck in the understanding we feel compelled to express on a Buddhist discussion board someplace. We practice Buddhism to wake up to how things are. How things are is not how you think they are. As Dogen said, “Your understanding of reality is not reality.”

No one is perfect. Everyone and everything is perfect as they are, we just don’t view them – or ourselves – to be so. Imperfection lies solely in our judging mind, the mind that picks what we like and calls it best or right, and labels what we don’t like as worse or wrong. This mind between your ears is the source of all conflict, and even then, it is functioning perfectly. Seeing it clearly, we must unleash ourselves from its mastery over our lives. Only then can we hope to repair the mess we have made of the world we inhabit.

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invite yourself over

April 25th, 2010    -    5 Comments

Here are a few places I hope you take the time to hop over to:

An interview on the Gregoire Today show: I had this live conversation with Bob Gregoire on his blog talk radio show the other day, and it made me as happy as red polka dot shoes! He is a rare thing: a man of faith with an open mind, and you can hear it opening wider as he asks me about Buddhism and the practice life inside our homes. I’m insufferable for the way I keep pointing you to nothing more than my own voice, but I don’t care whose voice it is. What I experienced in this hour-long conversation was the illuminating warmth of the teachings, and the comfort that comes when we turn on the porch light.

An invitation to my front door: Here again is an invitation to my open house and book reading this next Sunday, May 2. I’m sincere when I say that everyone and their brother is welcome. You can tramp around the garden, have a cookie and sip a glass of my mother’s style of Texas iced tea. You’ll go home rested and well-read, with your hands full! No need to RSVP through the invitation; you might not even be able to do so via the links. Just jot down the info and plug it into the GPS.

3 ways to find love in a kitchen timer: Read my latest installment of kitchen wisdom on the Huffington Post. Time, unhurried, is never wasted.

5 days to sign up for the Mother’s Plunge San Francisco Bay Area: It’s a wonderful group to be part of, and no one will be turned away for coming out of their way. Sat., May 22 at Mercy Center Burlingame: sign up here. I have one more scholarship to go to someone who would otherwise have a hard time with the $75 admission. Contact me to put your name on it.

My home or yours: Have you given a thought to coming here for the Mother’s Plunge – Los Angeles (which is really in my hometown of Sierra Madre) on June 26 or Colorado Springs on July 17? The latter will be my only Midwest retreat all summer, so why not kick off your shoes, dig your toes in and make a family mini-vacay out of it?

All on the table: And for those of you who have Kitchen Table Tour stops on my calendar between now and June – here’s a taste of the pure magic of friendship and story that awaits, from a golden evening at Christine Mason Miller’s home, courtesy of Anne Carmack, who possesses all the time in the world and invests it most wisely.

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