Posts Tagged ‘Dharma’

Notes on a wildfire

May 1st, 2008    -    13 Comments


“Diligently practice the Way as though putting a fire out on top of your head.”

There is engaging language in my spiritual tradition, in the old writing and the poetic phrases. It’s easy to take the language as inspiration or as metaphor, inclined as we are to analyze everything for deep meaning and exalted purpose. This is what religious scholars do, what intellectuals do, and it’s obvious why. We can almost never believe that things are simple or straightforward, that they are what they are. What do we use our brains for if not figuring things out? Everything has to mean something else.

I’ve heard a phrase more or less like the one above many times and thought it conveyed urgency and desperation. It does. But then I saw with my own eyes this week the startling science of extinguishing fires. How you put out a fire is exactly how you should practice. How you put out a fire on the ground is exactly how you put out the fire on your head – your insane, compulsively anxious, fearful ego mind.

Like you, I wish practice was merely a matter of writing this post, or reading a book, or making a list, or thinking positive thoughts, or losing five pounds. But I’ve seen the firefighters, and how they practice. They do not waste a moment to theory, philosophy, inspiration or appearances.

This is what I learned:

The best fire prevention is fire. When an area burns fully it does not burn again. To extinguish the fire of ego, you must burn the concept of self completely. Then it does not re-ignite or flare up in trouble spots. Have no more inflaming thoughts of yourself: what you want, what you need, what you wish, what you think, what you feel, what you don’t have, what you don’t like, your dramas and intrigues, the world according to you. It is not enough to comprehend this, though. You actually have to burn the brush away, and let the fire rouse you from the bed you sleep in tonight.

A fire isn’t out until the roots are upended. When a mountain catches fire and the flames soar from a vertical surface, the battle begins from the air. Water and fire retardant are dropped over and over. It’s impressive. It buys time, but it doesn’t finish the job. To finish the job, they send in the ground crews. Foot solders, who scale the blackened slope with picks and shovels to turn up the smoldering roots. The roots of burned vegetation can hold a fire for months, I’m told, like the roots of ego attachment, ageless embers of ignorance and anger, all the delusive ways in which you hold fast to the idea of yourself.

Fire erupts from conditions, an inextricable set of causal conditions including heat, dryness, fuel and a spark. Unfavorable conditions sustain a fire, no matter how valiant the strategy. When conditions change, the wind turns, humidity climbs and the temperatures drop, the fire goes out. Like that, it goes out.

To practice the Way is to change the conditions of your personal suffering. Like that, it goes out.

***
Written in haste, while clear and fresh, and with apologies to those who have no interest in these matters.

Sowing basket

March 24th, 2008    -    9 Comments


My karma ran over my blogma.

There is an often mentioned yet little understood law called karma. It is not hard to grasp; no, it is always in the palm of our hands. Still, most of us persist in thinking that karma is something beyond us, some unseen force that arrives – shazam! – as random fortune on the whims of fate. Not so. We are karma, and we produce karma. Our present is the product of our past; our future is the product of our present.

And I do mean present. In a series of interwoven, yet still unexpected karmic consequences, my basket has lately been filled to the brim with presents. I array them here for you now, in accord with another fractured axiom, “You read what you sow.”

First, Irene sent me this. It is made of the kind of magic only rarely seen and quickly disappearing these days. Catch it while you can.

Next, Jen sent me this. It was a smash sell-out, but you can still begin at the beginning. I suspect there’s more where it came from.

Then, Kathryn gave me this. She had already delivered the prequel. Do you see the way the circle turns?

Mika, the mommy musician who always sounds a true note, sent these amazing sounds. You’ll be blown far, far away.

Laura, who once worked with me, kindly skirted the issue of mints. In the intervening years I’ve become well-aged but she’s become the big cheese.

Keri made my wish true. Now I wish to return the favor a million times over.

That brings me to Bella, who along with Meg has come up with a way to fill the basket forward. This is your future calling. Bless it.

Ingredients on hand

March 20th, 2008    -    19 Comments


Using what’s at hand, he finished up the yard. He could use it and know when to quit.

Time after time I’m refreshed by this obscure line from a nearly forgotten verse on a 7th century koan I studied long ago. When you first approach a Zen koan, through meditation, you can get lost in a labyrinth of intellectual incomprehension. Using what? Whose hand? Finishing what? The yard where? And then you might stop wondering for a second and the instructions surface, clear and direct. As clear as picking up a rake, for instance, or sweeping with a broom.

This is how life is. We always have at hand everything we need to finish up. We know how to do what needs to be done and we know when to quit too. It’s what we don’t need to do when we don’t need to do it that is so puzzling.

If I ever wrote a cookbook, this would be my sole instruction: Use what’s at hand. That stark brevity means, of course, that I could never write a cookbook. But I could make dinner out of limp celery and garbanzo beans, as someone once said.

Similarly inspired by the forlorn kale, spongy mushrooms, forgotten carrots, patient potatoes and canned tomatoes in my kitchen yesterday, I made ratatouille for dinner. Not that it was ratatouille from a book, mind you, but what I simply called ratatouille in a spark of who-me individuality and why-not invention. My daughter was so engaged by the prospect of dinner a la Remy that she instructed me to thin-slice the accompanying sausage and array it like “fallen dominoes” around the circumference of the mush. See? She knew.

We always have the ingredients on hand to finish what we already know how to do.

As I write this, by hand, the sun has just risen in the mists between the surf and the cliffs of Orange County, California. I followed a medical transport van here in the wee-hour darkness, a van that carried my sister. Last week, on the first of what was to be seven days of Colorado skiing, she broke her ankle and her wrist. Back home now, she’s doing what she knows to do using the help at hand. Today, surgery to re-set and secure the bones and hasten recovery.

The thought, the mere thought, of losing the use of one leg and one arm is paralyzing, isn’t it? But here she is, with a medical transport taxi to get her to and fro, a couple of good doctors, a home health attendant, and a sister in the waiting room. I would be here anyway. But now, by virtue of life’s passing, I am her next of kin, her domino.

It turns out none of us is paralyzed.

Today I write with my hand the words that you read. It is the writing that makes for reading and the reading for writing.

We all, each of us, come together where we are, as we are, to make one savory stew, one delectable taste, interdependent and whole. In the way my sister is grateful for me today, I am grateful for you. Together we make a meal.

Weed by weed

March 15th, 2008    -    14 Comments


I wrote this post yesterday and I was holding onto it for later, but holding on is not at all the spirit of this post, or the teaching of the weed.

I used to know a deeply intuitive and provocative woman, a woman of many arts and aptitudes, who said she was going to write a book called Start What You Finish (as opposed to that book we’ve all had recited to us a billion times, Finish What You Start). I well understood her point. Before we even start something we are already mentally rounding the curve toward the steep and sticky part, the complex, exhausting, immeasurable length of it, the part we can’t imagine doing, and we stop before we’ve begun. How to keep from doing that would make a great topic for a book.

We lost touch with one another, but as far as I know, this was one project she never got started.

This morning I sat down to work on the kind of work I get paid to write. Honest, I don’t get paid much or at all to write this other stuff. So I’m looking at my options on this wide-open morning: to crack into the research brief entitled “Competing on Analytics,” or the “Encyclopedia of Statistics in Quality and Reliability.” (I’m not making this up.) Or maybe I’ll just scroll one more time through my primary source, the white paper I already wrote once, “Making Performance Measurement Work.” I need to pull together an outline and key messages to ghostwrite an industry article on “Operational Dashboards.”

I give up. It’s not happening today.

Today, I’ll weed.


We used to enjoy having a carpet of green weedy ground cover across our rolling backyard garden. I say enjoy but I really mean accept because what, in the end, is more enjoyable than simple acceptance? Our vista looked neat and green, but the ground was mostly weeds. Then when our nervy neighbor began hoisting his two-story addition overlooking our home and garden last year, we raided the retirement fund to landscape the whole schmeer with towering bamboo and darling little mounds of grass called “dwarf mondo.” Isn’t that the cutest name? Dwarf mondo, i.e. little big. Because it’s a little thing that can cover a big space.

We replaced all the topsoil with rich, fragrant dirt and planted precious little plugs of mondo across the roaming whole of it so that now I still have a green grassy ground cover but I do not enjoy it nearly as much. No, I have replaced that sense of carefree disregard with the drive and agitation I imagine a surgeon feels as he surveys his upcoming schedule of life-and-death procedures. Now, I am a backyard neurosurgeon, prying sprigs of weeds from between the delicate roots of my baby mondo, my vast and miniature world, my little big.

When I look up across the endless stretch of the job before me, I surely want to quit.


But if I manage to regain my focus on what’s at hand I realize it’s just one weed. There’s always just one weed to do next. I do it weed by weed, and the weeds always show me how.

I’ve come to believe that every impasse, obstacle and impossibility is just that: one weed, saying, “Pull here.”

I don’t ever finish. But I always start. Weeding is something you start but you’re a fool if you think a gardener is ever finished, if you think a garden ever stays put.

Today I’ll weed. And when I return to the job I’ve set aside, it will start in an altogether different place, a different space, with different openings and perhaps, greater ease. Everything moves through this one place in time, the infinite and unimaginable totality of existence moves through this one moment of motion: the tug, as I dislodge a weed from the earth. When I do that, I dislodge it all.

Starting anything is starting everything. The finish, if you want to call it that, takes care of itself.


In homage to a certain treatise on birds.

The smile spread

February 29th, 2008    -    9 Comments


I thought I’d told it all, but yesterday when I was doing an all-day sit at the Hazy Moon, I remembered something. Without realizing it, I began this recollection on February 24, which would have been Maezumi Roshi’s 77th birthday. I decided to add this benediction, with a smile.

Coming softly down the carpeted stairs on the last morning of sesshin, she saw Roshi and his attendant having tea, the way they did every morning when she passed by. This time, Roshi asked her to join them. He introduced her.

She’s been having her own business for over 15 years, but she can’t be over 16 herself! He laughed at his own flattery.

Actually, today is my 37th birthday, she said.

Why would you want to spend it here? His smile spread.

I was hoping not to meet you, she said, letting the truth be playful for a change.

Then let me write you something. And come to see me before you leave.

After the morning sitting and the work period and the closing remarks, she came to see him, giddy to be finished and facing only the full blue sky of a return flight to Texas.

He sat in his study, behind a deep wooden desk made serious with the surrounding stacks of papers and books. Looking up, unshaven, he handed her a square flat package wrapped in sturdy rice paper. When she unwrapped it she saw that, to Roshi, writing meant calligraphy. The bold black strokes danced down an ivory bristol board.

Let me read it to you, he said as he came forward. Congratulations on the anniversary of your birth September 26, 1993. He pointed to two large characters stacked on the right side. Spring and fall.

Do you want to see my inspiration, he asked, pulling a leather bound volume from the bookshelf. He turned to a page, pointing at the last two lines.

She read to herself: No matter how much the spring wind loves the peach blossoms, they still fall.

Do you know what it means? he quizzed. She shook her head no, but she knew without knowing. He had seen through her all along.

That would be 1956, then, the year you were born? He scratched his stubble and she nodded.

That was the year I came to America, he said.

They hugged then, a full familiar embrace, and she ran to catch the ride that would take her home.

***
Happy birthday, Roshi. Happy birthday, Everyone. It’s always a good day to be born.

Bookmark it

February 21st, 2008    -    16 Comments


Updated to note the first come, first served below:

Jena tagged me for the meme that I’ve seen a number of you do already. Like most exercises, it is useful. I am to take the book closest to me and open it to page 123, then go to the fifth sentence and quote the next three sentences, or some such. I’m not being too exact with these instructions because, well, I wasn’t too exact when I did this and you’ll see that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we do it at all, and the how just takes care of itself.

I honestly did reach for the book closest to me here at my desk. It is a book that sits, indeed lives, under my desk. A number of books live under my desk, because literally and figuratively, that’s where my writing grows out of: the underneath. A box of books I wrote sits under my desk. But the book closest isn’t one I wrote. It is a book that I endeavor to rewrite daily through my life itself. It is my muse and inspiration, “The Way of Everyday Life” by Maezumi Roshi. This happens to be a self-published publication from 1978. It is out of print. And because it has that circa-1978 zen spin, it doesn’t even have page numbers. So I turned to what I would like to think is page 123 and I scrolled down a bit and chose not three but four sentences:

Some people think that until they complete their practice and attain enlightenment, they can’t help other people. But such a time will never come, because practice is our life itself, and continues endlessly. So, according to the demands of each situation, we do our best. That’s our way.

We do our best. That’s not only our way, it’s the only way. We are always doing our best. When I see these words, so simple and clear, I want to weep for all the times that I have forgotten them.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading (and writing) lately. Because of these appetites and my deep belief in the beneficent and reciprocal power of circulation, I have books to pass on to you. This post gives me a way – the best way – to offer up some fine paperback reads for your taking, and this is the only kind of tagging I do. I will send any of these by very cheap, excruciatingly slow media mail service to anyone who claims a title by name in a comment. Then email me separately with your address. Please take only one so more can benefit. I enjoyed them all in their own original way. According each to its situation, they were the best. The one you choose will be the best for you. That is our way.

The books have been claimed by the following readers, many of whom pledge to pass their copies along in good faith, and whether they do or not it will be good enough. I am delighted to have heard from so many first-time commenters and I encourage you to keep coming so together we can keep going:

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton/The Conspirator
Handling Sin by Michael Malone/Mama Zen
Life of Pi by Yann Martel/Jennifer The Word Cellar
Oil by Upton Sinclair/Kathryn
Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan/Someone Being Me
Snow Flower and The Secret Fan by Lisa See/Kirsten Michelle
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón/Jena
Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett/Backpacker Momma

Turning words

February 12th, 2008    -    5 Comments


In 2003 – March 16, 2003 to be exact, because I still have the paper– I drew a Wheel of Life as I described in yesterday’s post. My daughter was then two and a half years old. Under my “Career” aspect I wrote “Power of Pen.” I can recall being uncertain and inhibited about my ambition, but I was asking for something invigorating to come from my writing. I drew a quick sketch of an open book with little squiggly lines and a pen on top. The next day, a former PR client called me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book with a man whose last name happened to be Power.

I had never written a book. I had written many things – articles, papers, brochures, websites, speeches, business plans – but I had never written anything published in my own name so that I could credibly call myself an author. Awed by the coincidence, I said yes to the invitation. Over the next weeks and months, I met and spoke to a series of people involved in the project so they could assess my ability. It was a very long shot, but each presentation was the opportunity for me to believe my own b-s about myself. In the end, not surprisingly, we didn’t do a book together. But by the end, I knew that there was a book to be done by myself. The little power trip was to empower myself.

This is the kind of thing that comes out of the wheel. Not always so immediately, so glaringly, but in its own time and fashion. Everything, you see, turns on the wheel. Just this weekend as I was fomenting this topic, it came to me how psychically and spiritually powerful the circle is. Familiar with the enneagram? Fascinating. The Celtic wheel? The labyrinth? The bagua? A mandala? We all know the wheel of the zodiac. How about the dharma wheel? And then there’s that little cheerio close to my heart, the enso. The list goes on and on, and it isn’t a list, but a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s your life in motion.

I would write more but I’m already inspired to move beyond. And you are too.

Stepping in it

January 9th, 2008    -    8 Comments


I just came back in from walking the dog, something I never wanted to spend a moment of my life doing. Now I do it daily. And the dog does it daily too. Not just the walking. The dooing. Dogs poop. Sometimes I step in it.

I’ve been stepping in dog doo lately. There we have it. As my teacher would say, it’s good practice. You step, you see, you scrape it off. You scrape it off enough and something more than shit starts to come off. You lose your revulsion, your upset, your attitude. You see it and you just take care of it, the stink on the bottom of your shoe. Mommies and daddies learn particularly well that some shit doesn’t even stink. That’s love.

I want to take a second to clarify something. I’m not writing about you. I’m not writing even for or at you. I’m writing to myself. Honest. These are my fingers flailing across the keyboard. These words are appearing before my eyes from I really don’t know where. Like every part of my life – the laundry, the dishes, the dog poop and the singular sensation of falling short again – it is my practice. It teaches me. My life teaches me things I’ve never seen before, and my words tell me truths I’ve never conceived. I don’t know you and never really can; my practice is to know myself.

The fact that these words might hit you where you sit is, well, magic. What you do with them is entirely up to you but I hope you scrape them off right quick.

In my Zen lineage we have a ceremony that concludes an intensive 30-day training period wherein the head trainee or priest gives a public talk for the first time on a particular teaching point. (I’m choosing my words carefully so as not to misrepresent.) As part of this ceremony, the trainee reads lines that monks have been saying in this ceremony for generations. One line is, “I hope there is enough water in the Pacific Ocean to wash my words from your ears.”

I like that saying. I repeat it often to myself. It reminds me not to conceptualize any experience, not to think myself into intellectual understanding, confusion, upset, anger, defensiveness and intractability. Just to scrape it off.

“I love you but you poop too much,” I might say to my dog. You should see the volume of poop in my otherwise pristine backyard. “I love you but,” I say, and then I hear myself and realize that’s not love.

Turn here

January 2nd, 2008    -    12 Comments


When we were little, my mother would drive us to our babysitter’s house early each morning so she could go to work as a schoolteacher. My big sister and I walked to our elementary school from there. My little sister, who was about 2, stayed at the sitter’s all day.

The three of us sat in the backseat as my mom drove the familiar few miles of the daily route. This was before car seats– egad – it was even before seatbelts, so you won’t be shocked to hear that my little sister stood on the hump of the floorboard and gripped the back of the front seat as we rode. She would stand like that and speak into my mom’s right ear, saying:

Turn here! Turn here!

My baby sister wasn’t giving my mom directions to the sitter’s house; she was giving her directions away from the sitter’s house. It was so funny: as if just hearing the words would cause my mom to steer away from the same old, everyday destination.

My mom, of course, couldn’t turn. But I can, and I do, every time I remember.

As always happens in the dharma, or your life, the very conversation you’re having gives you the inspiration you’re seeking. The very question you ask contains the insight you need. And so it happened in a dialogue yesterday about towels and trash and teeth flossing.

Why is it so hard to do what we know we should do?

Because it takes self-discipline, I replied. All practice is the practice of making a turn in a different direction. Toward one thing, away from another: the particulars in any situation don’t matter because we always know the right way. A different way. With practice, you get better at turning.

Even as I responded I was remembering a fascinating article I read in the paper a year or two ago. It was an account of the rather startling finding in the “Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance,” a book based on a study of how people get really good at what they do. The book shocked everyone by disputing the notion of talent. How people get really good at something is not because they have more talent but because they practice more.

Specifically, they do deliberate practice. Not just mindless repetition, but mindful repetition – directional, correctional and concentrative.

Turn here! Turn here!

Friends, this is my practice. This is Zen. It is not anything new you need to learn about. It is not some new information you need to study. It is not anything you haven’t heard before. It is just a turn you might not have yet made, or made again, and again, and again.

Maezumi Roshi used to say he was so sick of himself. So sick of hearing himself saying the same thing over and over again. Nyogen Roshi, my teacher now, says the same thing.
As a student, I get sick of hearing them say the same thing over and over again too. I’ve heard the same thing about a million times over. But then, for the first time, I might actually hear it. And then I might actually do it. And when I do, I arrive in a different place altogether: into the wide-open, beautiful, limitless and unknowable life right in front of me.

Turn here! Turn here!

Someone who advises me on my writing usually bounces things back to me with the encouragement to try again, reminding me that readers like to be taken on a journey. I’m sure that’s true, but this advice frustrates and perplexes me, at least momentarily. My readers are already on a journey – a desperate, painful, heart-wrenching, anxious, chaotic, and unfulfilling journey. They take this journey every day and night, incessantly, and even given the information and encouragement to go somewhere else, they usually never do. They might die on the same forsaken highway, having missed all the exits.

My practice is not a journey. Or if it is, it is a journey of one turn.

Here.

Silent night

December 19th, 2007    -    10 Comments

All is calm, all is bright.

Can’t you hear the quiet? We all seem to be shutting down the works this week. My friend who put her blog on semi-permanent pause; the others wisely taking hiatus hither and yon. The email slows, the work dries to a dribble and stops. We stand still and then what?

This slowing down, this shortening of the day, does it make us anxious? Does it make us afraid? Or do we hurry up elsewhere to compensate? Quick! Find a crowd. Create a stir. Start a fight.

Within light there is darkness, but do try to try to understand that darkness.

This article in yesterday’s paper lit a bulb for me. Once again, it shows us something about ourselves that we do not see. Or rather, when we do see it, we only see it superficially and seek to change it. It’s about Seasonal Affective Disorder, the name given to the obvious fact that when the days shorten we go dark as well, withdrawing into ourselves, becoming less alert, less social, and less cheerful. What struck me about the story was not the symptoms described, which seem quite normal, natural and appropriate.

Light and darkness are a pair like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.

What struck me about the article was the use of the word “disorder.” Talk about a disorder! Of course I realize that the pharmaceutical industry drives the disordering of our world, but in buying it we show what a narrow range of life and time we accept as “ordered.”

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position.

Winter is winter. Cold is cold. The branches are brittle and bare. The quiet glistens. The darkness shines. Winter is its own time, and it passes in its own way. Right now, can you appreciate things as they are? You, as you are?

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Wishing you every comfort of the season, every calm, every hush, every star blazing full in your perfect silent night. Amen.

Combining the poetic brilliance of “Silent Night” and “The Identity of Relative and Absolute.”

One true sentence

December 17th, 2007    -    13 Comments

I’m half Jewish, half Buddhist and half Christian – Georgia Miller

Only the sublime logic of a child can sort through messes like the one I have. “I wish our street was called Miller Street so our whole family would live here!” she offered up one day, seeing through ideological distance with the wide eyes of a sage. Everything she says is so wholly true, it breaks open my heart, and much later, it might even lift my eyelids.

Lately I’ve been overcome by the oneness of it all: called by name, caught and dragged out onto the street to see how completely alike we are. The woman last week trapped in the deep recess of depression calling for a way out: I know that place. The friend who recently confided the tawdry abasement of a romance gone wrong: that was me too. And then this morning the email from a self-described gay curmudgeon who recovered in my memoir the stunning certainty of his own mother’s unfailing love. We are children, all. We are mothers and fathers, too. We are the mothers and fathers of our own true lives. Can we see it?

If you read nothing else today, I want you to read what this remarkable man wrote on his own blog, because he writes so perfectly to and for us all. This fellow said something else to me many years ago that he won’t remember but that I’ll never forget. He said, “You have written one true sentence.” What writer wouldn’t be gratified by that, but he gave me the only encouragement I’d yet been given to keep writing, and to keep making it true.

And now I’m called to live it true too.

My husband is Jewish. I am what I am. My daughter insists that she can be everything. And she can! Can I?

The problem, I tell myself, is not me. It is my husband’s family, more precisely, his brother, who has elected to live a most extraordinary Orthodox Jewish life in Israel. Of course, he objected to our wedding. He ultimately came but did not enter the ecumenical sanctuary for the Reform Jewish service. He cannot, by his law, touch me to shake my hand. He says next to nothing to me. I feel awkward and excluded in the midst of this family, and I imagine they feel it too.

That’s what imagination does: create boundaries that we then project out onto the street, the street that is not named Miller Street. Onto the family that does not love us nearly enough.

Recently my cousin recounted some family lore of my own. She said that my aunt, my mother’s sister, surmised that my mom must have been outraged when I became a Buddhist. But she wasn’t. What my mother said to me at the time was, “Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore.” She was a true Christian.

Can I be as true? As transcendent? By what calculus do I define my limits, my parameters? My share, my heart, my home?

Last week my Zen teacher, who knows too well my tired saga of religious persecution, called me by name. “Maezen,” he said, which always gets my attention. “When are you going to Israel?”

“It will be good for you,” he said. With a mother’s love. A father’s love. True love.

I told my husband and daughter that we will go to Israel next summer for sure. Everyone is thrilled. Like Georgia, I want to be half of everything. Like my friends everywhere, I want to be whole.

I want this one sentence to be true.

“God bless us, every one!”

Your heart is in your hand

December 11th, 2007    -    15 Comments


“I need instruction. How, HOW do I realize that I am enough?” -– Lisa

I am honoring Lisa’s plea from yesterday in this post. Here, I’m going to speak as directly as I can about what true practice is. Then tomorrow I will tell you how to find a practice center. Because, for all of us, time is wasting.

There’s a lot of bullshit talk about practice. There’s a lot of talk about spirituality, wholeness, wellness, self-improvement, happiness and all that rot. I say rot because talking and reading about it is crap. It misses the point entirely. The point of everything I write is the same point of everything I do: to bring my practice to life, not just to tell you about it. Zen makes it clear that doing makes all the difference.

I saw a friend and reader over Thanksgiving who had some advice for the next book. She said, “Include more about meditation, because I can’t really do it.” I said: Exactly! Even though I encourage you to meditate at home, even though I encourage myself to meditate at home, I can’t really sustain my effort by myself, and I’ve been practicing for 15 years! My teacher recalls something said by Maezumi Roshi after he’d been practicing most of his life – more than 40 years at least – while recognized as one of the foremost Zen masters in the world. He said, “I think I’m finally starting to do it.”

The “it” I’m referring to is zazen, or Zen meditation. I’m not going to recite how to do it in this post. You can follow the instructions here, and do your best. Or you can read this book, a classic, featuring the instructions of my dharma great-grandfather. Or better yet, you can find a place that will welcome and support you and a teacher who will guide you.

There are many answers to spiritual questions and many traditions that ensue, but I will only tell you what I know from personal experience: Zazen will do what Lisa asks. It will show you that you are enough. It will show you that, in fact, you are the only thing. You are the whole world, the earth, heaven and stars. Even when you aren’t yet able to see the truth completely, zazen will totally transform your life. It worked for Buddha. It’s what the Buddha taught, and how the Buddha lived.

Now here are some responses to the questions that I imagine you might have.

What makes Zen meditation different than other kinds of meditation? It is not visualizing. It is not ruminating. It is not contemplation. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a relaxation technique. Those are all OK; they just won’t transform your life. Zazen is not done with your eyes closed. It is the discipline of stilling your body and watching with precise attentiveness – and your eyes open – to how your habitual worries, fears and anxieties rampage and ruin your life. And when you finally notice that, it helps you to kick those gangsters out of the house.

What is it supposed to be like? Here are two warning signs to watch for with meditation. (1) Beware if you like meditation, because you’re probably not really doing it. Sorry. At least for the first 39 years (joke), meditation is difficult. Your mind and your body will revolt against it. It is a discipline. It is a crisis intervention. You are withdrawing from your lifetime addiction to your self-involved, ego-driven thoughts. Hear this: you are not destroying your ego; you are not going brain dead; you are putting your overblown head on a diet. (2) Beware if you don’t like meditation, because no one does at first, and if you think you’re the only one who doesn’t enjoy it you will stop right there. This practice works when you keep doing it in spite of your preferences. This practice IS going beyond preferences, your picking-and-choosing mind. When you keep it up, practice deepens. It grows. It takes time to recognize and relax into peace of mind instead of darting madly for the exit. Misery, you see, is an addiction too.

How do I prepare myself? There is no way and no need to prepare yourself. You simply begin. Telling yourself you have to prepare before you begin a meditation practice is just setting up false expectations of how it is supposed to be. The best preparation is the state of mind expressed in Lisa’s question: heartfelt insistence, urgency and the raw vulnerability of having nothing left to lose. That’s where I started too.

Tomorrow I will tell you where and when to find people who can help you. And because that’s not soon enough, you have in your hands the means to find it yourself. Start right now. Do it all wrong, because there is no wrong. Do not waste another minute waiting for the right way or the right day or the right place or the right anything.

I wish I could say more, but I cannot say enough. Please see it for yourself.

And if you’re not interested in meditation practice, forget all this, but be sure to visit Lisa anyway and practice kindness. It’s the same thing and in equally short supply.

Enough thoughts on practice

December 10th, 2007    -    15 Comments


I thought if I grew up, did good, and made everyone proud of me, it would be enough.
I thought if I got a good job, got a better job, made money, and then made even more money, it would be enough.
I thought if I met the right person, fell in love, got married, got a house, wised up, moved on, met the really right person, got remarried, and got a better house it would be enough.
I thought if I didn’t get pregnant, or if I did get pregnant, if I had a child, or if I didn’t have a child, it would be enough.
I thought if I could ever again sleep through the night, take a shower, get beyond the first three months, get beyond diapers, get through potty training, get past the ear infections, and into the right kindergarten, it would be enough.
I thought if I could lose ten pounds, get a better haircut, get the right jeans, get a different hair color, lose ten pounds, lose the same ten pounds, or just accept my hair and body the way they were, it would be enough.
I thought if I made everything healthy, organic, and by hand, with an occasional pizza night thrown in, it would be enough.
I thought if I went to Italy, France, New York, India, Big Sur, China, Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Seattle, Sedona, Indonesia, Orlando or just Kansas City it would be enough.
I thought if I ate, prayed and loved enough, it would be enough.
I thought if I could understand, explain, and express my feelings, it would be enough.
I thought it I could write a book and get it published, it would be enough.
I thought if I had the right luck, attitude, information, and inspiration; I thought if I wished, hoped, dared or dreamed enough, then it would finally be enough.
Then I thought: enough.

I practice being enough. When I do that, everything, already, is enough.

Off to get one little girl past an ear infection. Or two.

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