Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’

when you meet a nun on the mountain

October 4th, 2013    -    5 Comments

wilson2There they were in full-length habit, an unlikely sight on a Sunday morning hiking Mt. Wilson. Out of the blue, three nuns rounded the switchback straight ahead of me. They were coming down; I was heading up. No matter how promising the skies at the start of the trip, the southern trail descends into a merciless sun. They had to be broiling by now.

These suburban mountains lure all sorts of pilgrims on weekends—mostly first-timers, families, and well-meaning health-seekers who are ill-equipped for the incline. One minute you’re strolling in the park and the next you’re crawling up an unforgiving peak. It’s a lot like life: the path is steep. That’s why I’d found refuge in my practice as a Zen Buddhist priest. Zen teaches you to take each moment, like each step, one at a time.

This morning my step was heavy. I’d taken to the hills after an angry talk with my teenager and a tiff with my husband. I was still steaming as I stopped and stood to the side of the narrow path, letting the first two sisters pass.

They were talking and barely took notice, but the third was falling behind and as she approached she said, “So much farther to go.”

“Always farther to go,” I said, and then, struck by the words, went a little further, asking where she was from.

“From the Motherhouse in Alhambra,” she said, taking a card from a rubber-banded batch in her hand and holding it out to me. A meeting on a mountain is not without purpose, and she had come prepared to save someone’s life. Despite our religious differences, maybe that someone was me. I ventured another step.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Sister Imelda, like Imelda Marcos. Except I don’t collect as many shoes, but more souls.”

We both laughed, and my burden lifted. Two souls meet on a mountain, and although they come from different sides, they close the distance one step at a time.

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that jerk saved my life

September 23rd, 2013    -    16 Comments

Zazen

I am concerned that in the process of making a business out of all this your sense of compassion is going out the window. I do not see a person in tune with others’ suffering. I see a lack of humility.

This is the kind of correction that can knock you back a bit when it appears in your inbox. I suppose I don’t get much criticism, all things considered.  I’m sure it can’t compare to the uninvited trouble foisted onto the rich and famous—but even a near-miss can level you, make you stagger and tumble onto the rocks where you scuff your knees and pick the scabs for a good while after.

He thinks this is a business?

That’s when you might see that the unwelcome blow was in fact an act of compassion. Why? Because it stops you. It interrupts your monologue. It commands your attention. And if you feel unjustly injured, you can take a good look at where that injury comes from, where it resides, and what sustains it.

Only the thoughts in my head.

Anything that interferes with the flow of thoughts in your head is compassionate. Why? Because what we think isn’t real. It is delusion. More than delusion, it is death. And that’s how we live most of the time—as if dead—arguing, defending, judging and debating with ourselves, by ourselves, and then projecting our upsets onto the real world. The internet seems to make this projection easier and even painless. It’s so easy to sound smart and clever, raw and biting, in a comment box. It’s so easy to argue, attack, and rebut. But it’s hard to stop.

All this digital carrying-on while we might not even pause to say hello to a single real, live person we pass on the street today.

Real compassion requires that you go out the window.

There is a part of the message that would have been laughable if I’d been of a mind to laugh: the “business” part. This isn’t a business. I don’t ask you for money. There is no enterprise here. I’ve dressed up the joint, but behind the curtain I’m just an old, poor, woman. By old I mean I turn 57 on Thursday. By poor I mean I don’t earn any money. The amount I’m paid to write a book every four years falls beneath the one-person poverty line. I write to myself and for myself, and if you encounter it, it is free or next-to-free for the taking. And by all means, be compassionate with yourself and discard whatever I say if it doesn’t make sense to you. Suffering is voluntary. You can opt out at anytime.

Compassion is a stick.

In the Zen tradition, there is something called a “waking stick.” It is a long, flat wooden stick used during meditation periods of long retreats. A monitor walks behind the backs of meditators, stick in hand, totally alert and watching for people who place their palms together and bow slightly, which is the gesture that means, “hit me.” Ask to be hit? Would anyone ever ask to be hit? If the business at hand is waking up, and you are cramped, sleepy, bored, or in pain, yes, you might ask for the stick. The monitor wields it swiftly, delivering a jolt of energy to the soft pad of muscles between the shoulders. It hurts! But you wake up, the pain dissipates, and then you realize, “That jerk saved my life.”

The stick is called the stick of compassion. It comes only when you ask for it.

The business of a buddha.

This is not a business, but there is a business here, and it is the only business worth pursuing. Compassion is the business of a buddha. A buddha’s work is to wake up. I’m here because I have more work to do. I always have more work to do. I offer this commentary as proof of how much work I’ve yet to do.

Good advice from a good friend.

That’s what I wrote back to the guy. And it’s true. But the real correction is what comes after.

Don’t make anything more out of it.

***

Photo: A. Jesse Jiryu Davis.

 

8 ways to raise a mindful child

September 3rd, 2013    -    10 Comments

Parents are rightfully concerned about the capacity their children have to pay attention, express empathy, and cope with the stresses that infiltrate their lives. Should we then coerce our children onto meditation cushions? Impose artificial silence, stillness or philosophical indoctrination? Before you do that, take a closer look.

Children are exemplars of the art of being. Wherever they are, they are completely immersed: in mud, in make believe, in laughter, in tears or in spaghetti sauce up to their eyeballs. Without a bit of self-consciousness, they lose themselves in what they are; they literally throw themselves away. This is the kind of losing in which mindfulness is found.

Without making a big deal about it, parents can gently encourage everyday actions that nourish and grow attention, empathy and self-care.

1. Read picture books – Illustrated children’s books have fallen out of favor as parents push children into early reading as a competitive outcome. Mindfulness is perception, and the rich visual content of picture books nourish the capacity to see, explore and relate to what appears in front of us.

 2. Listen – When your children speak to you, turn your face toward them, meet their gaze, and listen. Your own non-distracted attention is a wellspring for theirs. We cannot extract from our children what we fail to give.

 3. Sing  – Encourage singing: at home, at play, in the bath, anywhere. Singing is breathing and breathing is the body’s natural calming mechanism. Hearing your children sing to themselves will release your own deep sense of well-being, and you will smile.

 4. Smile – Smiling is a silent song. For heaven’s sake, greet your children with enough presence of mind to smile at them.

 5. Brush teeth – The ritual of brushing teeth imparts subtle disciplines.  It is rhythmic and therefore soothing; attentive and self-managing; and it stretches our capacity to tend to what we’d rather put off. Then add flossing. You’re developing concentration and fighting cavities in a single stroke.

 6. Walk to school – If that’s not feasible, walk the dog. Walk to the store. Walk to the post office. Or just walk around the block. Walking is meditative and mood-altering. Moreover, walking in your neighborhood overcomes the isolation and alienation we can unwittingly breed in our lives. You might meet or make a friend.

 7. Handwrite – The mysterious art and skill of writing by hand is being shunted aside by the keyboard. Writing with paper and pencil takes time, practice and mind-body focus. Researchers say it enhances learning, memory and ideation. Our children will all learn how to type, but will they learn how to write? Take time now.

 8. Start now – The list of things we want for our children – and expect from them – seems endless. Where will we ever find the time? Until you know what it is to live in the present moment, you will never be able to relax. So relax! It doesn’t take long to be mindful. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your small children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but in free play and casual company according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give. Amply supplied, your children will return their love to the world through mindfulness.

Mindful children grow up in mindful homes.

***

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what happens in Texas

July 2nd, 2013    -    24 Comments

6C8055389-tdy-130626-wendy-davis-shoes-3p.blocks_desktop_mediumOf all the things I could share, what matters is that you are not alone, and I will never judge you.

All things pass but not all pass gracefully. Years ago I found myself easily, impossibly, pregnant. I was not alone, but I was unmarried. It was the year that what I thought was true love had come and then spun around and left.  It had not yet left on the day suspicion overcame doubt and I mouthed the most shocking of certainties when I came out of the bathroom with the telltale pink strip.  He had smiled. To me, he looked boyish. This had happened to him before, but it had never happened to me. I felt suddenly and totally on my own.

I’ll support you in whatever you decide to do, he said.

Encouragement had never sounded so feeble, not that I was listening.  Before my belly had bloated into the slightest round I had turned against it, mean and quick, making furtive calls to a yellow-page ad answered by a receptionist who counseled, Honey, you have to wait at least six weeks.  When that day came, I drove myself to the clinic and back to work, making false excuses but taking no blame, making no apologies, seeking no comfort and giving none in return.  It was August 27.  And I had thought then, too, that I had my life back again, in charge, in control, to do all the right things in my own time and my own way.  Then everything else happened instead, because things are never what you think.

We make of our life what we must, and we learn from it. But we do not judge, because we are always doing our best, and no matter what, it hurts. I hope this helps someone.

anything helps

June 30th, 2013    -    19 Comments

In much of the country today it is really hot, and anything helps.

I’m usually in the center lane when I stop at this light, ready to shoot straight through the intersection on green.

Most days there is someone or another on the corner with a sign. I don’t always turn my head, but today I knew I had a dollar in my purse.

He was old – probably not as old as he looked. It was sunny today, hot. He was sunburned and dirty. I rolled down the window and he came right over.

Thank you, bless you, he said, his face crumpled.

Thank you, sir, I answered, and rolled the window back up.

When the light turned he was back on the corner, waving at me. I waved back.

He blew a kiss and cupped his hand to his heart. I saw the sign then. It read, “Anything helps.”

Anything helps. How true, how kind, how wise. For a dollar.

how

June 26th, 2013    -    11 Comments

owners-manual-translation

How can we live fearlessly?

With more freedom, kindness, joy and compassion?

By living differently.

1. Blame no one.
2. Take no offense.
3. Forgive.
4. Do not compare.
5. Wash your face and leave it bare.
6. Forget about your hair.
7. Grow old.
8. Have no answers.
9. Seek nothing.
10. Go back to 1.

Last weekend I gave a dharma talk in Kansas City based on this list. You can download a recording of the talk by clicking here. (Be patient; the podcast takes several minutes to load and 38 minutes to listen in full.)

a beautiful day

June 22nd, 2013    -    13 Comments

Nowadays I spend most of my time sitting in a chair pounding into a keyboard. It’s long and silent work, and I lose myself in it, but I know where to go for a kick of adrenaline. I click over to a social media site where I’ll find a new skirmish gathering speed, inciting the community’s opinion, anger, and rebuke. I understand why we do that—I, too, can be self-righteous—but I am battle fatigued. The world cries for compassion. It craves acceptance and belonging. It needs our attention, a kind word, a smile, a wave, a handshake, or a hug. Are we against everything? Angry at everyone? Sometimes it seems the only thing we’ll speak up for is a fight.

I push back from the fray and step out into the garden where the leaves rustle and bend in gentle rhythm with the wind. The air is fresh. The sky is blue. It’s an amazing place we live in when we’re not at odds with it. Who can contain the love that this one life brings with it? It is boundless.

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.”

Someone once asked Maezumi Roshi why he practiced.
“To make my heart tender.”

– from Paradise in Plain Sight, coming next spring.

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a forest of emptiness

May 29th, 2013    -    8 Comments

IMG_5614

 

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep prajna paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.

Heart Sutra

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. This single phrase is the summation of the Buddhist path, the culminating insight of the Way. But having uttered it, I’ve already strayed from it. Having read it, you’ve missed it, because now your mind is running amok trying to understand it, and here I am trying to chase after you. So let’s come back together in one big, empty place, and start over.

What looks solid is not solid; what has no shape comes in all shapes. In a physical sense, bamboo is strong because it is hollow. It is supple and resilient; it bends without breaking. It supports incredible weight. It grows unimpeded by any known barrier, spreading outward everywhere. This is true of you, too. Where do you think you begin and end? Your feet? Your head? Your skin? Your eyes, nose, mouth, ears? Your thoughts, memory, feelings? The way we limit ourselves imposes a bunker mentality and defies scientific reality.

It helps to remember what you took on faith in fourth grade science. All matter is composed of atoms. Atoms are mostly empty space. By definition you can’t see emptiness, but you can be it. Now, to live and let live in emptiness. That’s the secret to paradise.

First, be quiet. Give away your ideas, self-certainty, judgments, and opinions. Let go of defenses and offenses. Face your critics. They will always outnumber you.

Lose all wars. All wars are lost to begin with. Abandon your authority and entitlements. Release your self-image: status, power, whatever you think gives you clout. It doesn’t, not really. That’s a lie you’ve never believed.

Give up your seat. Be what you are: unguarded, unprepared, unequipped and surrounded on all sides. Alone, you are a victim of no one and nothing.

What appears in front of you is your liberation. That is, unless you judge it. Then you imprison yourself again.

Now that you are free, see where you are. Observe what is needed. Do good quietly. If it’s not done quietly, it’s not good.

Start over. Always start over.

Excerpted from the upcoming book 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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prayer

April 21st, 2013    -    7 Comments

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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best friends

April 1st, 2013    -    9 Comments

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.

 

a moment of shame

March 24th, 2013    -    20 Comments

Let it be well understood: once desire for the truth arises, the desire for fame and riches will disappear in a moment.
– Dogen Zenji

I worked for a few days on a blog post. It expressed my feelings perfectly—outrage, cynicism, moral superiority—but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it up. Then I saw this quote and it corrected me instantly! I was ashamed of my bluster and threw it out.

There’s a lot of psycho/spiritual talk out there. Shame on me if I add to it. All around me are better teachers innocently delivering an instantaneous correction. Who don’t busy themselves talking mighty talk while sitting on comfy sofas or chairs. The purity of their faith and the discipline of their practice humbles me.

When it comes to authenticity and humility, I’ll throw in my lot with a Pope who rides the bus. For courage and vulnerability, I’ll take the TV host who trades fame for farming. For gratitude and compassion, look to the billionaire who gives 99 percent of his wealth to charity. For a teacher, follow anyone who actually gets down on the ground and helps sick babies and teen mothers and old people, the homeless, hopeless and unwanted—while unpaid and unseen.

As for me, I hardly help anyone at all except when I roll down my window at the stoplight and hand a dollar bill to the lost soul on the corner. That’s my master class. I can really learn from people who don’t try to teach me a thing. Who aren’t selling me a credential or an e-course.  People who have more important things to be than right or wise or popular.

Let me well understand myself. Let me be quiet. Let me do good.

 

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

compassion doesn’t need doing

February 18th, 2013    -    11 Comments

dirtydishWe do-gooders think quite a bit about compassion. We want to have it, feel it and share it. There is so much we think we need to do to make the world a better place. But compassion doesn’t need doing. It exists already in the harmony of things just the way they are. Discord comes from our doing. Compassion comes from undoing. It greets us when we undo our boundaries and erase the lines we said we’d never cross. Compassion waits in the space between us, the space that only seems to separate us; a gapless gap we close by reaching an arm’s length in front of us to wipe a tear or wash a bowl.

You won’t find compassion in the brain. You will find it in your hands.

We can only love the world we wake up to. Start right here.

Good morning.

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