Posts Tagged ‘Dharma’

The last word on happiness

October 4th, 2007    -    9 Comments

Buddha held out a flower to his listeners. Everyone was silent. Only Mahakashyapa broke into a broad smile.

– Zen koan

Get it?!

I’ll spell it out for you: 🙂

If you’re out of practice, this could help.

Having the time of your life

September 17th, 2007    -    3 Comments


I often tell people they have all the time in the world. They look up from their frantic scramblings, their scattered minds, feeling overwhelmed and bogged down, and they think, to put it nicely, She’s insane.

So let’s say a word about time. But let’s not say what everyone else says. Let’s not say, for instance, that time flies, or time runs out, or that time waits for no man.

Time itself is being, and all being is time.

Time isn’t something we think we have. We think it escapes us. We think it flees. We think it sneaks up behind us and delivers a sucker punch. Time’s up! Time, it seems, always has the upper hand.

We see this front and center in our lives as parents. Even though our children change every day, we don’t always notice it. We don’t notice it until we clear out the baby clothes, then – snap – how did all that time disappear? What seemed like forever is now forever ago. And all of those special times we intended to have! All those precious moments we were counting on! We use most of our time feeling displaced and distraught, or even depressed.

Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

We think of time as being separate from us, an entity – no, an adversary – unto itself. A grandfather, robed and bearded, keeping score and exacting a toll; a swift second hand; a relentless march. What looks like time passing is actually evidence of the profound, true nature of life: impermanence. Everything changes. But time doesn’t change. It’s always the same time. It’s always now.

Life, we think, could be so much more, if only we had more time. When real life seems to detour us from happiness, it can seem like we’re held prisoner by time. We feel as though we’re held in place, only marking time, only serving time.

Things do not hinder one another, just as moments do not hinder one another.

These days, I can see too clearly what time it is. The broad canopy of my giant sycamores turns faintly yellow, and the leaves sail down. This would be a poetic image except that they fall into my ponds where they temporarily float and eventually sink until I hoist a net over my shoulder and scoop out the mucky yuck of wet leaves that would otherwise displace the pond itself. Someone has to do it. (Someone being me.) A part of every day from now until December finds me fretting and fuming at the simple sight of falling leaves. Then, I get on with it.

Tell me, while I’m scooping and hauling leaves ’til kingdom come, is it getting in the way of my life? Is it interfering with my life? Keeping me from my life? Only my imaginary life, that other life of what-ifs and how-comes: the life I wish and dream of.

I will be unable to accept my MacArthur Genius Award at the present moment because I am scooping leaves from the pond.
I missed the call from Oprah’s producer but at least the ponds are clean.

A sudden gust kept me from writing an international bestseller.


At the moment I’m in the muck, at the moment I’m doing anything, it is my life, it is all of time, and it is all of me.

We look for time the way we look for meaning, purpose and happiness. We never find it because it is already in the palm of our hands.

I am time. You are time. But this is getting long, and I don’t want to unduly occupy you. Come back tomorrow, same place, same time, for more timeless, wide-open secrets to mastering time.

You can spare the wait, because you have all the time in the world. And every moment is nothing but the time of your life.

All the quotes herein (other than those of the neurotic voice in my head) are from “Time-Being,” a teaching by the 13th century Zen master, Dogen Zenji. Please don’t confuse one for the other.

wash your bowl

September 13th, 2007    -    4 Comments

blue-bowlA monk said to Joshu, “I have just entered this monastery. Please teach me.” “Have you eaten your breakfast?” asked Joshu. “Yes, I have,” replied the monk. “Then you had better wash your bowl,” said Joshu. With this the monk gained insight.

Two days ago I had a letter in my mailbox from Seattle. I let it sit a bit before I opened it, while I percolated to ripe fullness with its fragrant possibilities: the gushing thanks, the unexpected accolade, the irresistible offer that it contained.

I live this way a lot, squinting around the curve, anticipating what I’m about to get. Don’t we keep expecting to get something? In particular, to get “it”? To figure “it” out? To reach a culminating resolution, reward, complete understanding, wisdom, clarity, closure, the right answer, the holy grail? That very expectation fills us up and weighs us down.

The letter was nothing I dreamed of. It was a note from a long-lost cousin lately relocated from Japan here to the States. She has adopted a daughter, a Japanese girl, and wouldn’t it be lovely for our sisterless girls to each gain a cousin?

I cried at the long circumference of the circle.

She told me that she had a woodblock print of a fountain at the inimitable Ryoanji Zen temple in Kyoto. The print reads, “I am content with what I have,” she wrote. No, not quite, she corrected herself, capturing the subtle depth of the teaching, “I am content with what I lack.”

***

Upcoming retreats:

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, Los Angeles, Nov. 10, 2013

The Plunge: a One-Day Retreat, Boise, Idaho, Oct. 5, 2013

 

One mother

July 17th, 2007    -    3 Comments


The aptly named Maya, from her fresh perspective in Buenos Aires, has posted this interview, reminding me once again that this is one beautiful world.

I’ll keep trying to see it this way.

Deadhead

July 15th, 2007    -    5 Comments

We’ve lived in this house for 10 years this month. Ten years: it’s time to either torch it or have a garage sale. And so I am on a tear. I am tearing through the closets and drawers, under beds, behind shelves and beneath the tidy veneer of a life seemingly well-scrubbed. Scouring through the books and nooks, the outgrown everything, the forgotten extras, the dusty yesterdays, the once-cherished sentiments, but mainly, the toys toys toys toys toys.

Nothing quite like this time of year for feeling the full-on urge to purge. It always comes this time of year for me. Does it for you?

One week from now I leave home for a full seven days’ retreat at my temple, the culmination of our summer practice period. That kind of time away might seem radical, but it is so terribly, urgently, critical to our home that mommy go away at least a few times a year and, as they say, “de-clutter.” I find it curious that the term is suddenly all the rage. De-clutter is so, well, antiseptic when what you really mean is “decapitate.”

Recently I recovered the notepad I kept with me last summer before I left for retreat, and I read the words that fled from my head back then:

I found myself in the flower beds again this morning. From my office window, from the computer chair where in more ways than one I watch my life flicker past, it came to me yesterday: I must deadhead the dianthus before I go to retreat. Suddenly I’m struck by the perfect dharma words in the garden, where the dianthus wilt, their blooms withered into straw, waiting to be deadheaded. Deadhead: to cut the faded bloom from the stem so it will flower again. It’s always time to deadhead.

Off with it!

Close, but

July 10th, 2007    -    3 Comments

No cigar.

The rocket launch was postponed even before we landed, postponed again, then scrubbed altogether within 24 hours of our arrival. There are no guarantees in this business, the saying was too-easily said, over and over, escalating the injury as we shuffled about in the suffocating heat, the unstinting sun, the sweltering steam of an angry thunderburst that soaked through our clothes and drenched the flimsy shreds of our status as VIPs at a nonevent.

This was no place we’d ever choose to end up, my husband and I agreed, as we drove back and forth over endless, featureless highways across a low landscape, past screaming pink bodacious surf shops and greasy diners plating heaping helpings of fried unimaginables.

And then I found my way over the waters and off the main strip. I nosed down a quiet road to a country church on a Sunday morn and found the marvel that is my lineage. I found a group of strangers who keep alive – in the cool stillness of a near-empty room – the simple truth that was my teacher’s. I see the stray exotic bloom that is the fruit of his life; the harvest of his days. I feel faith renewed and upheld, the faith that is so rarely seen and only subtly discerned. I gave a talk about detaching from outcome. As if I could.

Then today came, easy and slow. This isn’t quite the place I thought. It’s a place of gentle swells and rippling breeze. Where the land sinks, the sky falls, the fronds sway and the manatees loll. This is the peace that is found anywhere when you finally go on vacation, when you leave the confines of mind behind. This is the calm that prevails, my friends, when you are lucky enough to have no ignition.

One hand clapping

July 2nd, 2007    -    2 Comments


Wendy, meet Shawn. Shawn, meet Wendy. Everyone else, meet yourselves.

In the inexplicable synchronicity that governs all cheerios on this road, two of my main mommas have elected to post interviews of me today. This perfectly curious incident comes just when I need it most: when I lose sight of the only thing that matters. The bottom line. The end-all. The whole of it. We’re all one and the same.

Oh I know we’re different. Wendy is an artist and mother of Satch, the heart snatcher. Shawn is a writer and wrangler of the uber twins, Jadyn and Liana. But read their blogs–read anyone’s– and see that we have the same desires, the same dilemmas, the same questions, the same aspirations, the same fears, the same tears. We have the same chaotic days, the same tortured nights, the same achy breaky heart, and the same boundless mind that contains every little thing.

Today, of all days, let them prove to you that we have one life. I’m going to keep telling you that, even though it is pert near impossible to believe. It doesn’t matter if you believe it. One click and you’ll see for yourself.

In deep gassho.

Enough already

June 25th, 2007    -    6 Comments


My life is one continuous mistake – Dogen Zenji

This is a picture of the season’s first water lily from my backyard pond. It seems ubiquitous, doesn’t it? A pond and a water lily? You never see one without the other. In truth, a water lily blooms only in the full sun of summer. Specifically, it only blooms under the shadowless midday, high-heat summer sun. That means it blooms for way less than half a day during way less than half a year. Its bloom is so rare, as a matter of fact, that I had to hold up this post until I could actually get a photograph of any one of our two dozen water lilies in bloom.

Now, would you call that bloom rate a success or a failure as far as flowers go? Would you call it a mistake? A half-measure? A near-miss? A critical success but a marketing failure?

If it were anything other than a water lily, say if it was your life’s work, or your life, you probably would judge it. I know I would, and I do. By output, uptake, download, click through, sales rate, tally mark; by any weight or number, my life is one continuous mistake. This is the burden I bear as I write this; this is the atlas unshrugged.

My life is one continuous.

Several weeks ago I started this blog, just as several years ago I started to write. I started both of these things as I know all writers do: for themselves, or more precisely, for itself. We, most of us writers, write for its own sake. We write because we must, because it is what we do. The words come from someplace else. We are merely the conveyers. We don’t quite manufacture, but rather more accurately, supply our product, like the ice cream man, or the Tupperware lady. The ideas, the inventories, build up, and then we take them to the streets and sound a tinkling tune; we put on a little word party and invite readers into our own home. Of course, there are hardly any ice cream men or Tupperware ladies left anymore. More failing propositions.

I started writing this for myself, and now I am chased once more by the numbers. I look around and see other writers, other bloggers, more skilled, I daresay even expert at the tags and the rankings, the rings and the pings, the views, the ticket-taking, and the turnstile. And then I catch myself. This post is my way of catching myself from falling that way again. Falling into my judging, measuring and weighing mind, my discursive, ego-screaming mind where nothing ever blooms enough.

My life is one.

Look at the water lily!

Hand wash cold

June 24th, 2007    -    1 Comment

I recently ordered a set of samue. Samue is a style of street clothing for Zen monks. This tiny piece of printed rice paper came tucked into the garment. I have no idea what it says, and for that very reason, I find it quite charming.

I imagine it could be laundry instructions. Maybe it says “Inspected by No. 12.”

It reminds me that, with only a change in perspective, the most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty.

Way station

June 15th, 2007    -    5 Comments


I have an unusual backyard full of old and unusual things. Sometimes when I find out that people need help, that they are struggling with fear or illness, anxiety or worse, I say, “I’ll go into the backyard right now and say a service.” And I just open the door, step into the garden and say a chant, which is a prayer.

It’s the least I can do; it’s the most I can do; it’s the only thing I can truly do.

Then I come back in and empty the dishwasher.

Lately it seems I hear those kinds of things a lot. I hear about women, my friends and sisters, strangers and soulmates, waiting for their children, waiting for the news, waiting for arrival, waiting for a turn, waiting for health and optimism, waiting for benevolence, waiting for a safe haven, waiting to start again.

This is who hears all of that. This is Jizo, a kind of Buddhist guardian of women and children and travelers (because aren’t we travelers all?). She is in my backyard, she stands watch and hears prayers. She does this for you, because who else could there ever be?

Take comfort today. Take comfort always.

Mercy me

June 12th, 2007    -    2 Comments


Oh my goodness. We had the most remarkable visitor here at our house this weekend. A peacock.

She was a peahen, actually, and you could skeptically discount her appearance as less than miraculous. We do live a mile or so from the Los Angeles County Arboretum where the birds have their run of the place. Occasionally you see a posse of them strutting around town. But we’re a bit farther above and beyond the typical range.

It was one, alone, flitting amid the bamboo, nibbling beneath the wisteria.

“It’s an auspicious sign,” I said, as I am wont to say about most things, mainly because I love the word “auspicious” and especially love the way it sounds, so round and full in the mouth, so deliciously sibilant. I find it easy to love words, far easier, for example, than loving anything else. “Maybe she’s roosting,” I said, as she squatted atop the garden gate.

And so, later on, after she’d left for the day, I googled to find the meaning. “Chinese symbol peacock” I typed in, and there she was, in plain sight. Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, of mercy, of love, she who hears the cries of the world, and responds eternally, effortlessly with her thousand arms and eyes. Kuan Yin, the essence of what we are: pure love, and not just a word for it. I’m like her number one fan!

Sometimes, only rarely, I can see so plainly that the dharma–the true teaching–is not something that I have to find elsewhere. It is not something to study or acquire. It is not something to do. It is not a metaphor for something else. It is all there is! Yes, like all signs we encounter in our life, the peacock is auspicious. “Enter here,” she reminds me. “This means you.”

Roost here, old girl, roost here.

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