Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’

the last lesson

July 18th, 2012    -    5 Comments

I watched the lovely documentary about the horse trainer “Buck” again last weekend. If you haven’t watched it once or twice, I recommend it. It’s on streaming Netflix, so there’s no reason to put it off.

This time I watched it with houseguests staying for the weekend. The visit wasn’t going so well. The kids are older now and can be cranky and sullen. We couldn’t get the group to agree on what to do. We were all put out with one another. I suggested we watch the movie.

“It teaches about relationships,” I said.

You’ve probably heard about Buck Brannaman, the cowboy sage who uses a gentle touch to save horses and correct their overbearing owners. The movie has a kind of slow, sad beauty that you can lose yourself in. But there’s a part toward the end that I can hardly bear. I turned my head away in anticipation.

Buck seems like a miracle-worker until someone brings him a horse that is wild-eyed and bloodthirsty. An orphaned colt that has been untended to the point of savagery. Even as the horse charges the gates and bolts the pen, you’re thinking there’s a happy turn to come. The minds of all the riders and spectators — and this includes you — are united in hope and prayer: Save the day.

This is what we expect of our stories.

But then the horse bites a man between the eyes, and in the gush of blood and truth, the owner admits that she’s scared to death and tired of living on the brink of self-made catastrophe. She’s going to do what she has to do, no longer turning back.

There’s the last matter of loading the horse onto the trailer, and Buck stands in the ring to coax him safely out the gate. He doesn’t have a rope. The horse and man are totally untethered. His owner calls to the pony from outside. “Come on,” she coos, “Come on.” She wants to help; she wants to do one last thing right.

And then Buck speaks the last lesson, the eternal finishing stroke.

Just sit still. Don’t do anything. He says it quietly, a whisper. He stands pat, head bowed, issues no command, and gives the horse the dignity of self-propulsion.

The horse knows where he’s going, just like we all know where we’re going, because there is only one way to go. Straight on.

The only magic in life, the only miracle, is in the time and space that opens up between us, by sheer acceptance and surrender, so we can finally lead ourselves in the only direction there is to go.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Fan me • Follow me.

how to train a peanut

February 2nd, 2012    -    6 Comments

I’ve trained a bluejay, out of my own delight, to perch like a cat outside my door.

He doesn’t want me to sprout wings and fly. He can fly.

He doesn’t want a song and dance. He has a song.

He has a dance.

He wants a peanut. That, I can do.

For Jena Strong.

99% perspiration

October 14th, 2011    -    5 Comments

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

2:24 a.m.

February 9th, 2011    -    9 Comments

We never need to make our lives more difficult than they are, but of course we do. Then one day life itself rises up with an irrevocable force and we suddenly find that there is nothing we can do. Here is a message I received from Rose in Amsterdam not long ago. Since then, I’ve been visiting her blog daily, where I’m struck by her elegantly sage and poetic posts about her family. What she writes is more profound than anything I can offer, and proof that compassion and wisdom are indeed self-arising. Please visit her and leave your kindness.

This afternoon I planned to write you regarding your last email almost a year ago. I wanted to tell you how grateful I was about your words and how meaningful they still are to me.

This afternoon the phone rang and my husband told me that he was called to the ER immediately. Something appeared to be wrong with his blood, which had been drawn that morning. He’s a normal healthy person who happened to feel very tired. But which parent isn’t tired? we thought. I found a babysitter for our boys (ages 1 1/2 and 3) and rushed over there. A couple of hours later he was diagnosed with leukemia.

He asked me how to cope with his tremendous fear in facing this disease and the road ahead of him. The pain. But mainly the fear. Of course I’m literally scared to death too, but it isn’t my body that has to do the fighting.

Is there anything I could tell him? Besides the fact that I love him, truly and deeply. We both aren’t religious and always try to take life as realistically as it appears in front of us. But now we feel swept from our feet, and at this time we know we need to be grounded to make the right decisions.

I read your blog daily and read how often people email you with their problems. At 2:24 in the morning, I’m one of them. I simply wish I could have sent you the email I intended to write this afternoon, when I knew my life as it was.

Love from Amsterdam,
Rose Stamet-Geurs

grief is a mother

October 24th, 2010    -    14 Comments

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva doing deep prajna paramita clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions. – Heart Sutra

We are on a death watch at my house. Which is to say, we are on a life watch. Redhead, the fantail I once boasted to be the world’s oldest living goldfish, has become the world’s newest dying goldfish. To watch her transit is a powerful and fitting thing at this hour. And although I kept her alive for so long by absurdly arrogant and heroic measures (see How to Keep a Goldfish Alive in 20 Easy Steps) now I am doing what is even more heroic: letting her disappear into her own insurmountable mystery.

Death surrounds at this time of year. It surrounds at all times, but in these dwindling of days we might see it. We might see it in the surrender of the sun and the swift triumph of night. Feel it in the grip of the wind, the cataclysm of leaves, mud, dirty windshields, paw prints, rain-dank rugs and snot: the whole soggy rot of life’s residue.

Yesterday we observed Obon at the Hazy Moon, a ceremony honoring our departed loved ones. The altar was crowded with photos of more people loved and remembered than have ever stood alive before it. Such is the way, and it is always the way, and it is always sad. Grief is our mother, and when we grieve, we taste her tears. We taste eternity, the brimming fullness from which everything rises and to which everything returns.

I can see the cycle of things that have lately come near:

A mother quaking in bottomless shock after her baby died at birth.
A friend moored in friendship’s final vigil.
A granddaughter answering the clear call of goodbye.

And right here too, come unexpected calls and emails, late word of swift departures and funerals on Thursday at 3. My daughter’s third-grade teacher was stunned six months into her happy retirement by her husband’s sudden crumbling fall into a mean disease. She walked into the school assembly last week, to see and be seen by the children she last cradled, the ones who will be the last to remember her. She whispered her widowed vacancy to me, “It’s the absence, the absence!”

I know that awful yawning space, that thunderclap after a jagged bolt rends the sky. It is the infinite ache of a mother’s heart, the heart we all have whether we are men or women, mothers or not. It is the absence that contains, curiously, our own presence, the tender fearlessness to watch and weep and let angels sleep.

Edited to add: Leave a comment on this post and I’ll include the name of your departed loved one in memorial services I do this week at my backyard altar.

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is you, the embodiment of infinite compassion.

Subscribe to my newsletter  • Fan me • Follow me.

hello my name is

September 21st, 2010    -    11 Comments

There exists only the present instant, a Now which always and without end is
itself new. There is no yesterday or any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a
thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.
Meister Eckhart

My teacher Nyogen Roshi sent that quote to me in an email recently, suggesting that “you might find it useful in one of your upcoming programs.” Emailing is something we do sparingly, our relationship resting solely on the alchemy of face-to-face proximity. The rarity of his emails ensures that they are highly visible; the fact is, every email I receive is itself rare and highly visible to me, or my practice has lapsed, as Meister Eckhart observes.

On Saturday at the Mother’s Plunge in Boston, I started the way I always start – by introducing myself. “My name is Karen Maezen Miller,” I said, and go on to tell them that “Karen is the name my mother gave me, Maezen is the name my Buddhist teacher gave me, and Miller is the name Mr. Miller gave me.” I use all three names, and in that way I carry forward three streams of wisdom inextricable to every moment of my life and work. My name is not just my name. It is my teaching. When I state my name I am also stating my practice: the realization that no part of my life is more or less important. No part battles with another because there are no parts. It is all one life and all one practice.

Among the many practical aspects of Zen training is the protocol of its form: the way certain customs are prescribed and therefore serve to eradicate self-consciousness and confusion. Zen training tells us where to put our arms and legs, for instance, which is a question of considerable consternation for most of us most of the time. Practical too is the protocol of my formal practice in the dokusan room, the private interview room within which I meet and work with my teacher face-to-face. Although I have practiced with Nyogen Roshi for 10 years, every time I meet with him in dokusan, which is at least once a week (and once a day during retreats) I begin by introducing myself. read more

kindness, milk and cookies

June 11th, 2010    -    9 Comments

I wake this morning in Seattle – Tacoma, to be exact – where I am soaking up the hospitality that greets me every place I arrive for a reading, a talk or a Mother’s Plunge retreat. Tomorrow’s Mother’s Plunge with 34 women is the multiplied outcome of a single kindness. By kindness I don’t just mean the command to come, but one person’s compassionate effort and initiative to make this event happen.

This is how we save the world. This is how we save ourselves. With living kindness, the kindness that walks on your own two legs, finds a room for people to gather, hosts a tired traveler in an upstairs bedroom, brews coffee and bakes cookies and makes the world a better place.

In that spirit I offer you this simple treatise today, an excerpt from Hand Wash Cold: read more

A rose colored carpet

January 21st, 2010    -    No Comments

Flowers fall with our longing, and weeds spring up with our aversion – Dogen

I read a book this week that was really a good book, a memoir about how much a daughter loves her father, warts and all, and about how that love transcends age, sickness and time. In the story, the author recalls meeting up with a Buddhist family in Nepal during a bit of youthful wandering, and although she can’t reconcile herself to faith, she dismisses Buddhism in a single gust over that one prickly word we hold so dear: attachment. read more

The hummingbird and the fire

January 13th, 2010    -    5 Comments

A terrible forest fire broke out one day, and all the animals fled their homes. But one hummingbird zipped over to a stream, got some water in its beak, and rushed back to the raging fire. The little hummingbird tried to douse the flames with a few drops of water, then back to the stream it flew to retrieve more water. The other animals watched in disbelief. They asked the hummingbird what it was doing – one tiny bird would not make a bit of difference. The hummingbird replied, “I’m doing the best I can.”

I’m getting ready to go to Scottsdale for this weekend’s Mother’s Plunge and by getting ready I mean I’m not getting ready. I’m slouching around in my pjs, drinking coffee, resetting the clocks after last night’s power outage. Making beds, unloading the dishwasher, groaning over the shopping list that means I’ll have to go to Target before I leave.

Last night at bedtime I had a scary thought: What will I tell these women? Oh, for sure I have a general idea, but I don’t do anything based on a general idea. Those of us who gather will have never come together before and likely won’t ever again. Our once-in-a-lifetime meeting, like every moment of our lives, is the culmination of a vast and unknowable past and the seed of an infinite and unimaginable future. It’s magic, I tell you. There’s nothing general about it.

There are more women attending this Plunge on scholarship than any one before. When I asked for donors, there was such an outpouring of unselfish generosity, met by an equal torrent of unabashed need, that I stand in pure amazement. Pure amazement, I tell you. Aid comes not because any of us is lacking, but because all of us are rich. So rich in love that it pours out of us.

Prepare to be doused.

If you’re anywhere near our little fire, come for water. If you’re not, choose a bigger one to quench and do the best you can. It’s impossible to do otherwise.

***

The hummingbird and the fire is a Japanese folktale, but you might like to hear it told or read about the kind of inspiring people who believe it here.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to my retreat • Fan me • Follow me.

The mother you never knew you had

October 18th, 2009    -    3 Comments

Bring me that mother.
The one who fills up a pot
turns the flame up to hot
dials the phone for a long talk
and lets it boil over again.
It’s okay.

Bring me the one who wakes from a snore
plants his feet on the floor
grabs mismatched socks from a drawer
darts out the front door
running fast, late and stressed out again.
It’s okay.

Bring me the one who lives by herself
a chipped cup on a shelf
unaware of her wealth
power reach magic health
until she smiles at a stranger again.
It’s okay.

Bring me the one who sniffs change on the breeze
covers a sneeze
lets the air freeze
and knows the bloom will unfurl once again.
It’s okay. It’s always okay.

Bring me that mother who isn’t a mother.
Not the kind you think she would be.
Man, woman, mother or not.
It’s okay.
There’s no other mother to be.

Bring me that one.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to my retreat • Fan me • Follow me.

I hate you*

September 22nd, 2009    -    89 Comments


*and other ways to say I love you.

Today I had a: conversation/fight/tantrum/major meltdown.
The fact is, I’m having a tough time with the transition to: going back to work/daycare/no sleep/solids/no nap/the big bed/the twos/the threes/a new sibling/the layoff/the new job/kindergarten/fourth grade.
I’m just so frustrated with: naptime/potty training/bedtime/no time to myself.
I shouted/screamed/slammed the door/broke down/sobbed/made her cry.
I should have: seen it coming/stopped in my tracks/used my words/taken a break/left the room/given myself a timeout.
This is so much harder than: I thought/anyone told me/it was last year.
How can I: learn from my mistakes/do better/raise my child differently?

My friend Kris Laroche sent me a Feeleez game recently to give away on this blog. Because of all of the above, I feel happy to share it with you now.

Kris is one of the founders of Feeleez, which originated tools to teach kids what some folks call emotional intelligence.

Getting along peacefully is what we all want to do. A tool to help our children identify and talk about their feelings helps parents talk about their feelings too. Personally speaking, that has always been a more urgent need in our household, and that’s why I’m so glad to offer you this gift.

Kris was an early adopter of Momma Zen, for which I feel so grateful, and she checked in with me recently to find out how else I was feeling. Frankly, Kris, I’m feeling relieved now that I said all this, and empathize with all the moms who I know are having a rough go of it these days.

I’m giving away a beautifully crafted and packaged Feeleez Empathy Game with 25 matching pairs of Feeleez cards to help you and your children learn to recognize and express feelings in a non-confrontational way. It comes with a guide for several game ideas including memory games and charades. It’s a lovely addition to your home or classroom.

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me how you feel right now, including a way to contact you by blog or email if you win. Seriously, I feel sad when I choose a winner that I can’t contact! The giveaway ends next Monday, Sept. 28. Enter as often as you like whenever the feeling strikes.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to my retreat • Fan me • Follow me.

Just sayin

July 9th, 2009    -    9 Comments


“I often see those who are trying to study Buddhism just use their worldly intelligence to sift among the verbal teachings of the buddhas and ancestral teachers, trying to pick out especially wondrous sayings to use as conversation pieces to display their ability and understanding. This is not the correct view of the matter. You must abandon your worldly mentality and sit quietly with mind silent. Forget entangling causes and investigate with your whole being. When you are thoroughly clear then whatever you bring forth from your own inexhaustible treasure of priceless jewels is sure to be genuine and real.”

Zen Letters: Teaching of Yuanwu (1063-1135)

A practice without a practice is not a practice.

To settle the matter, settle the matter.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to my retreat

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 Next

archives by month

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.