Posts Tagged ‘Everyday Dharma’

your bed is your head

July 29th, 2013    -    14 Comments

Foot of unmade bed with white and blue linensBefore your feet hit the floor you’ve already run through the reasons. First, there’s not enough time. It’s pointless. You’ll just have to do it all over again. You have more important things on your mind. It doesn’t matter. No one will see it. You don’t care. You’re not uptight about it. It’s a waste of energy. You hate it. After all, you’re not Martha Stewart.

The bed is a nest of egocentric attachments: our cravings and aversions. In the one minute it takes to avoid making your bed in the morning, you can observe the ways you battle the reality of your life all day, everyday. You might think it’s unfair to deduce all that from a tangle of sheets and pillows, but it’s not an exaggeration.

The state of your bed is the state of your head. To be sure, the bed and its adornments are a mirror of your psyche, a reflection of your thoughts and feelings, the locus of your dreams and nightmares. But more than that, your bed actually is your mind. Like all phenomena that arise within your field of perception, your bed appears within your own consciousness. How do you respond to what appears?

By habit, we respond with dualistic judgment, dividing the whole of our experience into the few precious things we like and the greater load of what we dislike, accepting the former and rejecting the latter. We thus move through our lives as if maneuvering through enemy territory, attacked on all sides by the overwhelming forces of displeasure. It’s no wonder that we have the urge to crawl back under the covers as if defeated before the day even begins.

Luckily, this one piece of furniture not only serves to diagnose our ills, but to treat them as well. Transform your reality. Transcend dualistic thinking. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows. See for yourself if making the bed makes a difference in your head.

This article appears in the September 2013 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine.

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These are the last three days for Early Bird Registration for the Boise Plunge, one-day retreat on Oct. 5.

 

 

talking the talk

May 23rd, 2013    -    3 Comments

This was such a nice conversation I wanted to include you in on it. Listen when you have the time.

Listen to internet radio with Real Sisters Talk on BlogTalkRadio

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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the best chocolate cake

February 14th, 2013    -    53 Comments

DoubleChocolateSnackingCakeForkMy father-in-law was a simple man, and the things he said could ring with unintended clarity.

Every time he ate something, like a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, he would say, “This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted!” He meant it, and it was true, because it came from the exuberance of a mind emptied of critical thought. A mind like that can seem silly and childlike. It is, and that’s what makes it so wise.

Last night I finished a small book that was the best chocolate cake, and I’d love for you to taste it. At the start, you might not think this kind of cake is for you. Nearing middle age, a man faces himself honestly, courageously, admitting that he is gay, a liar, a cheater, a thief, a phony, a creep, a mindless alcoholic and ugly drug addict, and here’s the sweet spot—despite his serial failure at suicide—he wants to live. Does this sound even remotely like your kind of chocolate?

He envisions for himself the sort of idealistic quest that is the stuff of parody. He travels to India in search of enlightenment. What you find in India is, well, India. And what you find on a quest is yourself. But he tells his story with such beauty and feeling, such flavor and artistry, that I could not resist the whole thing.

At the end of the book, he is finishing his trip with a trek to Nepal in the company of a young guide and porter. His months of meditations and mantras, vows and renunciations seem to have failed. On the trail he is back to being angry and resentful, feeling foolish and even exploited. The objects of his spite are the two poor servants who are attending him. Does this sound even remotely like what happens daily in your kitchen, your home, your neighborhood, your world?

I remember the promise I made to myself to keep my heart, mind and senses open for the rest of my stay. My journey was coming to an end too fast. There was no more time to drift off in daydreams, or to lose myself in petty complaints. But all that resolve had flown off like a bird from an untended cage and the hours given over to anger and self-cherishing are now gone forever. What sights, sounds and joys did I miss as I sealed myself off from the world?

This is the practice. Watching my actions, watching my words, watching my mind every day. It does not only occur at holy pilgrimage sites or on retreats or in the presence of great spiritual masters. It occurs everyday, with the people who are with me right now, in this time, in this place.

“Hey, Chris!” my guide waves to me with a big smile. “Your dinner is ready.”

He wipes off a seat on the rough little bench and hands me a bowl of stew and when I look down into the steam and the goodness of it, I already know it will be the best meal I have ever tasted.

I really, sincerely, wholeheartedly recommend The Narrow Way by Chris Lemig. Buy yourself two copies: one for you, one for a friend. Leave a comment below and you could win the copy I’m giving away on Friday.

Update: The winner of the book is commenter #12, Robin Gaphni, whose blog is Grief & Gratitude.

There is still time to register for the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat on Sun., Feb. 24 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in LA.

 

a life in a day

October 30th, 2012    -    5 Comments

Would you walk us through a typical day in your life?

Oh dear! It’s just like yours, literally. I’m the first up and into the kitchen. (I love a quiet house at dawn.) I feed the dog, make a breakfast that my daughter is likely to ignore. I check e-mail, and begin the daylong practice of responding to whatever appears. I quickly make the bed, get dressed, drive my daughter to school, take an exercise class and then I’m home again for the dog walk. I have a grand scheme of what I’d like to do each day, but am usually overtaken by small practicalities and urgencies. Sometimes the big thing on my list is something as little as pruning the azaleas! I do a little bit of writing here and there, sometimes for the blog, an article or something longer. Words sing to me all day long, and every now and then I catch one or two! My daughter is out of school at 2:30, the afternoon falls, I cook dinner, run the vacuum, finish a load of laundry, take my daughter to gymnastics. Before bed I sit on my cushion, and this is how I keep company with all the ancestors who have come before me. Then I let the day be done. I never regret what I haven’t done. Even as I write this I am overwhelmed with gratitude that this right here is my life. Who could want more?

. . . Read more of the interview on Mama Here Now.

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dare small things

September 7th, 2012    -    8 Comments

Become the least grain of sand on the beach. —Maezumi Roshi

I’ve had this quote on my mind lately, because it’s so easy to be distracted by the waves.

A few years ago I spent considerable time running the streets around my neighborhood. I told myself I was training to do a great and worthwhile thing: a marathon. I didn’t yet know that the truly great thing was taking even one tiny step.

Since I ran in the mornings, I would often cross a major intersection at commuting time, and lope through the crosswalk as the cars idled beside me. I had a startlingly intimate view of the solitary drivers, which is a rare and beautiful thing. We sit behind our wheels as if cocooned in invisibility. No one looked back at me. No one noticed the small, stooped lady striding past, smiling at them.

I might have said people looked grim, but that wasn’t quite true. They had no expression. They were unaware. It was going to be a day like any other. Not a single one of them would have thought they’d achieved greatness.

But they had. They had punched the alarm and gotten out of bed. Made the coffee and turned off the pot. Packed a sack lunch. Fed the pets, scratched the sweet spot under the dog’s chin. Smeared a smudge of butter across a slab of toast. And here they were, on time or late, calm or impatient, angry or bored, feeling utterly insignificant in the scheme of things.

My heart would swell at the sight of these great people answering the noble call: to do small things, and do them everyday. That’s why I smiled, but they didn’t see.

***

My dear husband was part of a recent space landing that bore as its slogan “Dare Mighty Things,” a snippet from a stirring Teddy Roosevelt quote:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Teddy could rally soldiers to their doom.

The space project was daring, its landing sequence worked, and it brought a wave of relief and pride to a group of people whose careers are continually being foreshortened and whose intelligence, frankly, is a bit of a cultural liability. (At least in this country.) The landing of the mission, though, was not the mighty thing. I had an up-close look at this endeavor, so I know.

What was mighty is that thousands of people woke up each workday for many, many years in several countries to log onto their computers and answer emails, stand in security lines at airports, eat crackers at their desks, tell jokes and ask about each other’s kids.

We must not lose sight of this everyday greatness, or we might as well live on Mars.

***

My teacher tells the story of hearing firsthand Maezumi’s instruction, “Become the least grain of sand on the beach.” He thought at first the old guy was telling him he wouldn’t amount to much. Aim low. Give up. Settle for less. And then he realized that not amounting to much was amounting to everything.

Become the least grain of sand and you’ve become inseparable from the whole beach. Big, mighty, or great doesn’t begin to measure what you already are. All you have to do is see it, and then, keep doing the small things. The universe depends on it.

Two more little things you might want to look into:

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23 in LA.

The Art of Non-Parenting: Discovering the Wisdom of Easy, and Deeper Still: Breath & Meditation Workshop on Oct. 20-21 in Wash. DC.

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5 tips for meaning in cleaning

August 14th, 2012    -    26 Comments

It seems to settle deepest at the end of summer, in the stark raving middle of withering heat and drought, in the geologic layers of dust, grit and cobwebs that converge at this time of year. It’s dirt, and my house is full of it. It’s a good time to remember these 5 Tips for Finding Meaning in Cleaning:

1. Make it meditative. Focus on the doing, not the getting done. The motion of simple, repetitive tasks can make you more attentive and calm – the back and forth of the vacuum cleaner or dust rag, the concentrated effort of spot cleaning, the methodical sorting of laundry – chores are meditative, as long as you’re not thinking about how much you hate them. The key to mindfulness is not thinking something lofty, but thinking nothing at all, and it doesn’t take any thinking to clean the sink. Throw open the windows and doors! Spring cleaning is spring break for your brain.

2. Find what you’ve been missing. We spend most of our lives ignoring what’s in front of us and looking instead for something more. The life we already have doesn’t seem like it’s worth our time or effort. The life right now is the only life we have, and when we don’t take care of it, we reinforce our feelings of inadequacy. Seeing things clearly is the foundation of wisdom and the path to genuine fulfillment. Plus, you’ll find your car keys faster.

3. Enfold your life in dignity. Carry out the garbage and it carries over into every part of your life. A cluttered closet reflects the distraction and disorder between your ears. The state of your bed is the state of your head. The daily rituals of housecleaning enfold your life in dignity, because they are nothing other than the way you care for yourself. read more

going home

June 15th, 2010    -    52 Comments

Mondays, in her wash house
between the garden and the hen coop,
my grandmother sang,
“Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord,” while she
pulled khaki pants and denim shirts
through her wringer washing machine.
Work clothes that bore a day’s
cargo of sweat and red dirt,
without daring to wrinkle.

Before the dust kicked up
or the storm blew in, she unpinned
the wind stiffened clothes, singing
“I’m forever blowing bubbles,
pretty bubbles in the air.”
Tuesdays, brown beans and salt pork
hissed on the stove as she sprinkled
and rolled enough clothes
to fill two bushel fruit baskets.
Only towels and wash rags
escaped the grip of her mangle,
the hot kiss of her iron
as she sang, “If I had the wings
of an angel, through this prison
wall I would fly.”

Some days I crave the smell of steam
rising from clean cotton,
long for the steady slow pulse
of Tuesday routine:
pillowcase, tablecloth, handkerchief,
press, fold, press, fold, press;
rote progression of blouses and shirts,
facing, yoke, facing,
back, “Swing low, sweet chariot,
coming for to carry me home.”

Swing low.  Carry me home.  Swing low.

From Mansions, by Donna Hilbert, 1990, Event Horizon Press.

A month or so ago I went to a book festival. I never go to book festivals. Choosing which of three breakout sessions to sit in, I picked a poetry reading. I never pick poetry readings. The room was small. The chair was plastic. I questioned my whereabouts.

A woman spoke and called my name. She gave my address; she typed in my password. She transfused my blood; she sequenced my DNA. I was home. read more

everyday ingredients

May 12th, 2010    -    2 Comments

I’m so happy to see an excerpt of Hand Wash Cold posted at Shutter Sisters today as part of their May “One Word Project.” Their inspirational word for this month is one I can’t help but love: Everyday. Visit the site and leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of the book. As an enticement, here is a taste of an audio excerpt using the same ingredients. Just click on the link and let the mp3 download and play. Savor and share it!

Ordinary Life – An Audio Excerpt from Hand Wash Cold

Photo by Tracey Clark

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8 steps to happy laundering

February 21st, 2010    -    12 Comments

You might think I’m using a metaphor when I say that my spiritual practice is doing the laundry. Metaphor or not, laundry is the practice of seeing things as they are. Take a look at how to go from the hamper to happiness in eight steps.

Empty the hamper – Laundry gives us an honest encounter with ourselves before we’re freshened, fluffed and sanitized. It gives us a mirror to the parts of ourselves we’d rather overlook, and makes us take responsibility for our own messes. Self-examination reveals the pure wisdom that resides within each of us.

The instructions are in your hands – The tag inside a garment tells you exactly how to care for what you hold in your hands. Not just clothing, but very bit of life comes with instructions when we are attentive enough to notice. Doing it well may take more work than we’d like, but the effort is always worth it in the long run.

Handle with care – It’s inevitable: everything shrinks, fades and falls apart. Nothing stays brand-new. The most precious things we have are fashioned of flimsy fabric. Be mindful with each moment you have and you will experience your life in a different way. read more

Your mind on Tide

January 17th, 2010    -    5 Comments

My mother taught me many things, but she didn’t teach me much about homemaking. To learn how to keep house, I had to study under the tutelage of an eighth century Chinese enlightened master.

I’m so pleased to see my new article “Do Dishes, Rake Leaves” in the March issue of Shambhala Sun magazine, and I’m especially pleased to see it under my full name. If you haven’t yet read it, put it on your list of things to do this weekend. If heaven forbid you don’t subscribe to the magazine, put that on your list, too.

And if you don’t have a list, here’s a handy one to start with.

Bless this best: a New Year’s message

December 31st, 2009    -    7 Comments

My friends at the Shambhala SunSpace blog asked me to write a New Year’s blessing for their readers. It runs today somewhere over there, and I invite you to have a look. Then I thought, why don’t I just record it and share it with everyone who’s listening? I hope that includes you and that you share it with all you love.

Here’s to your best new year!

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Straight on faith

November 29th, 2009    -    2 Comments


My teacher gave a talk the other day and touched on a topic that has coincidental significance to me: whether or not Zen is a religion. He said that a group of scholars once deliberated this and concluded that Zen was a religion because of its use of faith. Of course, it’s not the faith you might be familiar with; not a faith in something or someone or somewhere else. It’s faith in yourself.

I’m sharing this post on Shambhala SunSpace today.

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From time to time I’m asked this question: What do Buddhists believe?

I don’t know what some Buddhists believe, but I like to respond that Buddhism requires no beliefs. That’s rather hard to believe. And so I offer this solely as my own testimony.

I believe in love. Not the love that is the enemy of hate, but the love that has no enemies or rivals, no end and no reason, no justification and no words. Love and hate are completely unrelated and incomparable. Hate is born of human fear. Love is never born, which is to say, it is eternal and absolutely fearless. This love does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

Continue reading and leave a comment on Shambhala SunSpace

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