Weekend in Paradise, practice meditation and yoga with me in Washington DC June 21-22
Spend an hour in your own Paradise, a radio broadcast.
Art by Julie Kesti
How can we live fearlessly?
With more freedom, kindness, joy and compassion?
By living differently.
1. Blame no one.
2. Take no offense.
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.)
This is what practice is like.
If the video doesn’t appear in your email, click here.
Our practice is like walking in a fog, Suzuki Roshi said.”In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little.”
And then you see the sun.
Cultivating Stillness: A Weekend Meditation Retreat at Grailville
Friday, Mar. 15-Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013
Grailville Retreat Center
20 miles northeast of Cincinnati
Sold out for overnight attendance; day passes for Saturday participation will soon be available.
Let’s consider whether we see a crescent moon, a half moon or a full moon. In any of the phases of the moon before it is full, is anything truly lacking? — Maezumi Roshi
One day a girl looked up at the sky through a veil of clouds and saw that half the moon was missing.
The moon is missing! The moon is missing! No one could convince her otherwise. In fact, she had seen it shrinking for some time, and every night came more proof of her worst fears.
I was right! This conviction was a miserable consolation.
Where others might have seen a sliver of shine, all she saw was the deepening hollow of absence.
There is something you think you don’t have. A virtue, quality, or substance you need to acquire. Courage. Strength. Patience. Wisdom. Compassion. Wholeheartedness. As soon as I name it, you see it as missing from you, quick to disavow the suggestion that you are complete.
I’m only human, you might say. I’m not at all whole and perfect. I’m injured, inadequate, and yes, even a little bit robbed. Especially robbed.
She tried filling the hole with tears, shouts and bluster. She bought a toaster, a Sub Zero, and a Maserati, a pile of shiny objects. They overflowed her house and storage unit. She stomped her feet and kicked up dust. All of it made a mess, but nothing more. You can’t fill a hole that doesn’t exist.
And so, exhausted, she gave up and sat down, head heavy, heart leaden.
She didn’t notice the shadows shifting into light, the wind lifting, the clouds parting, the days passing. One evening she opened her eyes and saw the moon. It was full, of course. It was full all along, doing what moons do, reflecting light. Only our perspective changes. We rob ourselves when we mistake the unreal for the real.
Your heart is always whole, just as the moon is always full. Your life is always complete. You just don’t see it that way.
Just let everything and anything be so, as it is, without using any kind of standard by which we make ourselves satisfied, dissatisfied, happy or unhappy. Then you’ll see the plain and clear fact.
Open the door.
Take a step.
Do not be deceived by shortcuts.
Do not make excuses for false turns.
Keep to the right except when passing.
Go straight on.
Take in the view.
Summer vacation, Telluride, Colorado
“The moon follows us wherever we go.” My daughter said this when she was about three, gazing up out of a car window. And she was right. The moon has not yet and never will leave her sky. I’ve heard others tell of their little ones, usually no more than three or four, seeing the same intimate companionship in the sun and stars. Little children still experience themselves — correctly, I might add — as the axis in a spectacular universe, not apart from, but immersed in its shining seas. They haven’t been taught to know more, as we have; they haven’t been instructed to think less of what and where they are.
“That’s an optical illusion,” a well-meaning someone will soon insert into this teachable moment. “It only looks that way because the moon is so big, 3,476 kilometers across, and you are so small, 384,400 kilometers away.” The child sinks back inside the stiff straps of her car seat, which isn’t in the front seat, she notices, but in the safest, smallest notch in the back, where all the wonders are explained away.
I nearly stopped myself from posting this for fear that it would offend some readers who are therapists or who have therapists, but as those individuals already know without a doubt that I am not their therapist, I concluded it would cause no confusion.
There is a therapist somewhere in the Midwest who has a name and an email address similar to my own. I know this because of the volume of emails I receive which are intended to be seen only by this same therapist. The messages usually arrive early in the morning or late at night, long and anxious missives about upsets, ultimatums, and breaking points between parents and their children, or couples on the verge. Often they say, “I know we have a session later today but I wanted to tell you this in advance,” or “I wanted to get this off my chest,” or “I’ll call you later and see if you have any advice for me” or “I am worried about what will happen before our next appointment.” Sometimes they are simply business or professional messages, notices of meetings and deadlines, for instance. Some are invitations to parties, and others are haughty reminders to respond to previously misaddressed messages.
Emails from therapeutic clients are intensely personal, and I am reluctant to even open them. But as they arise from a psychological crisis, I think the most compassionate response for me is to reply with this instruction:
“Please correct the address on this email as it has not reached your intended recipient.”
I have sent that message dozens of times over many years. Never once has anyone responded to me, not even the therapist who must now realize from patients and colleagues that private emails are frequently misdirected.
I’ll leave aside the question of how email has corroded our interpersonal communication skills. I’ll leave aside the question of whether email advances the therapeutic model. I’ve seen enough messages to appreciate the position of the therapist, however. Perhaps the messages don’t really matter that much – crises pass, marriages mend or end, children and parents reconcile or not. Feelings change, emergencies blow over, and time will tell. The protagonist in a psychological saga is, above all, a storyteller, and the emails are simply one more page in the story someone is telling himself.
Seen in a jaded way, there is nothing new in them, nothing urgent or revealing. They are a story – the same story – being repeated over and over. What bothers me is the fear and panic they uniformly convey. The confusion, the despair, the helplessness. I would hope that the clients would do something more than send a late-night email, something more than pound out their heart’s desperate wail and send it to the wrong address.
I am not your therapist. read more
A preciously dear friend has lately recalled light once seen and fallen drunkenly in love with eyesight. She sends me poems each day like valentines and I cannot resist sharing them. Yes, yes, love sees everything exactly as it is, and walks on it, barefoot.
The Opening of Eyes
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.
It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.
– David Whyte
Photo of the Portland Japanese Garden. Come meet me on that ground, Oct. 15-16.
I’ve been handed my most significant writing gig in a year, and . . . what can I say? I’m not inspired. Should I go looking?
No. I never go looking for Inspiration. I let it arrive, and it does, as surely as a breath.
I have no doubt that eventually, and right on time, the temperature will rise, the molecules will combine and the conditions will combust in a peculiar gust of words that skitter across the page. They will gather mass and velocity, direction and duration, and conclude themselves before my deadline. How does that happen? To tell you the truth, I have no idea. It’s like asking how an inhalation turns into an exhalation.
The waiting is torturous, although I’m not really waiting, and I’m not really tortured. I’m busying myself with what comes along, like writing this post on Inspiration, because I promised to follow up the earlier post about Information, and because the universe is prompting me. That’s what happens, you see, by itself. Inspiration arrives in invisible bits and fits, vapors and swirls, and it’s only when something comes out of it, something is done with it, that it can properly be called Inspiration.
Inspiration is the thing that got you here, but of course it’s not here.
Last week I was in Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena and I naturally inspected the stock of Hand Wash Cold. They had several copies on the shelves under Inspiration. I was happy to find it on the shelves, although you know by now I have a curious relationship with that thing called Inspiration. The Vroman’s staff is very good to me, though, and they’ve been taking the book from the back of the store and stacking it beside the cash registers. That’s where it appears in front of a shopper’s unsuspecting eyes and they do something with it. They buy it. Inspiration is for dust, but the action front and center in our lives, my friends, is enlightened.
I’ve done quite a few radio interviews for Hand Wash Cold. I’ve talked to people who liked me and who didn’t like me; those who read the book and those who only read the back cover of the book; those who wrangled or mangled my name. But none have been quite as inspiring as this one, an hour-long one, with a 13-minute prelude in which you can learn something really inspiring about meditation’s remarkable effectiveness in treating anxiety. Enlighten yourself by doing something with it right now.
She’s going to be in 5th grade.
We’re sitting in the school auditorium waiting for a troupe of tweens to begin the spring dance revue. The kids shuffling onto the stage are already beyond their parents’ belief – sprouted up and out, gangly, tangly – and long since beyond their parents’ grasp. My husband whispers to no one in particular: She’s going to be in 5th grade.
These are the kinds of things he says at these occasions. I can hear the echoes: She’s going to be one, two, four, five, eight, ten! As before, I do not respond to what does not need to be said.
He’s having an enlightenment experience. Enlightenment, Dogen Zenji taught, begins with the recognition of impermanence, the moment we perceive the utter and astonishing transience of life, the moment we see through the constructed illusion that anything stays put.
Alas, all conditioned things are impermanent;
It is their nature to come into being and then cease to be.
Truth thus springs from what we see. Spiritual practice starts with a sigh. Enough sighs and you might one day get serious about it.
Do not pass over from the light to the darkness by ignoring practice and pursuing other things. Take care of this essential instrument of the Buddha Way. Your body is like a dewdrop on the morning grass, your life as brief as a flash of lightning.
It is a mistake to think we practice to change our lives, because life changes by itself. We practice to change the way we live, to face the facts of the matter. Because, have you heard? Did you notice? Do you know? Have you seen?
She’s going to be in 5th grade.
Offered in deep gratitude to the full house of beginners who will join me this Sunday at the Hazy Moon Zen Center for their first meditation retreat. You might want to read more about the beginning of my own practice, and the transformative power of impermanence, in this interview.
The only difference between a buddha and a sentient being is upside-down thinking – Buddha
Who turns this into that?
Sound into noise?
Aroma into odor?
Taste into pleasure or disgust?
Who turns yes into no?
Grace into unkindness?
Who turns the present into the past?
Who turns the now into the not-now?
As-it-is into as-it-should-be?
Silence into boredom?
Stillness into restlessness?
The ordinary into the menial? read more
Give us this day our daily bread.
When I was a little girl and recited that line of the Lord’s Prayer, I always took notice. Suddenly, my religion had given me something I could see, touch and taste. Something I experienced everyday, scuffed with butter and dabbed with jelly. The other things I’d learned to say in church were in a dusty, lost language. For a moment at least, my Wonder Bread filled me with wonder, a gift descended from the invisible heights of heaven.
I was not wrong, as a child. Children do not err or misperceive. Bread is all this and more. It was only later, my sight dimmed by cynicism and self-absorption, when I began to search for more than my daily bread. I began to do what all of us do, and urge one another to do: go someplace else. Dream, lust, wish, follow, journey, uncover, trudge, and wallow. Overlook the bread, and find your bliss. It must be somewhere, the fulfillment we seek, hidden in something bigger than a breadbox.
It seems to me we spend nearly the whole of our lives overlooking the obvious: debasing the ordinary and idealizing the unattainable. I’m damn tired of it, aren’t you? Why don’t you sit down and have a slice of bread? Have a pair of pants and shoes, a blanket, a sky, a blue jay, the back of an envelope. Have your work, and just do it. Have a neighbor, and say hello. Have a night’s rest, and a day after. Have a smile, a cough, a burp. Blow your nose. Pay your bills. Fold the towels and match the socks. read more