Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

easy rest inn

August 6th, 2011    -    4 Comments

When I was growing up we used to snicker about my dad and his hankering for road trips. He would plan for days or weeks, map alternate routes, fill the tires, top the tank, load the car, and wake us in the dark to start the drive so we could get there – wherever that was – ahead of schedule. And then he would be perfectly miserable in the place and with the people we had come to see. These trips always ended the way they began: uncomfortably early.

Near the end of his life, he made one last road trip across country to visit me. He never made it. He stopped at a hotel an hour from my home and called, asking me to come up and meet him for lunch. After a hamburger and a side of fries, he hugged me in the parking lot, turned around, and drove back the twelve hundred miles he’d come. His affliction was no longer a quirk. His sickness had prevailed and overtaken him, and he was utterly without a single square inch of home.

I ache to think of his lonely exile, but I don’t think he was so different than anyone else. His curse is mine and yours, too. The road is pitiless when the company you can neither keep nor avoid is your own. And yet, by degrees of habit, this is how we all live. We are all lost in the dark until we see the light up ahead and aim for it. There is always a light ahead. read more

read this sign

July 31st, 2011    -    20 Comments

From time to time someone writes to me with a question that silences me. They put their heart on the page, and I know there is nothing I can say or do for them. Although I’m not ever able to provide the answers someone is looking for, these missives always help me to articulate something that speaks to people where they are instead of where I am. I sent this reply to someone today, and looking it over I realized it could help me and others take a hard look at where we are.

Where are you?

Readers are almost never where I am, sitting side-by-side with me in a Zen retreat, using the medicine for human ills prescribed by Buddha 2500 years ago. But the distance between us still compels me to try.

I am not a bestselling author, and I don’t have the first idea how people become a success. I don’t know how to fix a relationship, manufacture happiness, or realize one’s passion. I don’t know the alchemy that turns fiction into fact or pain into pleasure.  If I did know how to do that, I would be doing things the easy way. But I’m not. I am doing things the hard way. We are all doing things the hard way, as best as we can.

In short, I am not in the manifesting-your-dream business. I am in the waking-up-from-your dream business. The former is more popular and lucrative than the latter. I’m sure it is more temporarily uplifting, inspiring and entertaining. What it entertains is fantasy. I don’t put my faith in fantasy. I put my faith in the path you least desire, the path you most avoid, and the option of having no other option. read more

Leaving things be

July 21st, 2011    -    3 Comments

The dryer broke, the weeds are choking, the dust is piling, the heat is climbing, I’m leaving things be. Here are some other pursuits for the time being.

Right Here With You – A new book on relationships, with some of my stuff on marriage.
Relationship with Fear – Our first and last love.
A Gust of Wind – God breathing a reminder to let go.
The Body of Wisdom – Feets of faith.
Impossible Things Happen – This right here is your proof.
Shells on the Beach – The illusion of self.
Brain Drain – Nowhere to go, nothing to get.

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your proof

June 27th, 2011    -    16 Comments

Zen is to deal with this very life – here now – as one’s own.  We have to face the fact of this now, this here and this oneself.  That’s what each of us is facing. That is the path. That is the Way. – Maezumi Roshi

When people bring me their stories of pain and despair; when they are broken-hearted and lonely; when I hear their panic and fear, their sobs and gasping breath, what can I say? What can I do? There is nothing I can say; no way to fix it. When people bring me their disbelief, their last hope, their rage, I can only meet it with a nod. Yes! Yes! You are right! It is true! You are not dreaming this, you are wide awake! How I wish it weren’t so, this time. How I wish for the things we all wish for.

Like you, I wish I could go back in time and undo every disaster, every accident, every tough break and piece of bad news. I want your life to once again be just as you thought it was or as you hoped it would be. I want it desperately, but I have nothing to offer you except this.

You’ll always reach the end of how you thought your life would go. You’ll reach it many, many times. What looks like the low point is also the high point. What looks like the end is always the beginning . Finding faith may seem impossible in your darkest times, but like the earth’s eternal orbit and the sun’s ceaseless shine, impossible things happen all the time. You may be lost right now, but after days, months, even years in the wilderness, you will be found alive. Completely, joyously, miraculously alive. This right here is your proof.

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doing good

May 22nd, 2011    -    16 Comments

I’ve pulled up one of those plastic stackable chairs alongside the humming hulk in the middle of the icy room. My daughter is lying inside the cylindrical chamber. We are both relieved that her head is peeking out at my eye level. A white fleece blanket covers her. Beneath it, she is holding a teddy bear handed to her at the last minute. She wears head phones tuned to Radio Disney. Her eyelids flutter.

From time to time the technician tells her something. I think he’s telling her what will happen next, but I can’t hear it. I only hear her answer. What she says is okay.

Neither of us is wearing metal. The clasp on my shoes, I was told, doesn’t matter.

The machine starts to make clicking sounds, then a growling heave and a sledgehammering smash. Over and over. On my lap is a New Yorker magazine opened to a story – I always read the fiction first. Three lines in and I look up at her, marooned. I watch her breathe. It’s beautiful.

She was anxious and afraid before we arrived for the MRI this morning. But this moment now is oddly comfortable and serene. I don’t mind the chill or the noise or the time. I know what to do, I know where to be, and I don’t want to be anywhere else.

I feel a kinship with every mother who has graced this station, parked in this plastic bastion of stillness, a steady eye in the tempest of uncertainty. We don’t know what will come of this – and there’s no reason for undue worry, it’s just a stubborn pain – but right now we are doing good. Right now is the only place we can ever do good, and this is as good as it can be.

Before we arrived I started to think about the difference between doing well and doing good. The “well” involves a subtle and insidious comparison of one outcome versus another, numbers and grades, finish lines, success, mediocrity, failure. Of course we all want our children to be well and to do well. We want the same for ourselves and our lives, as measured against goals and ambitions, as compared to others, always and ceaselessly compared to others. Sometimes I am far more concerned with doing well than doing good, and that’s no good.

Hours like these – so wholly purposeful and riveting – shift my sights away from my puny obsessions and toward the great immeasurable good, a single moment of undistracted presence. Over the din and out of nowhere I hear her say, like a benediction, okay.


Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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the song of your life

May 15th, 2011    -    25 Comments

This is a passage from my next book, No Trace of My Teacher: Finding Faith in Your Days. I wrote it last night. The parts in italics are the words of Maezumi Roshi.

He only hears the cicadas singing in the maple-woods.

the Ten Oxherding Pictures

When I was little, I spent nearly every weekend at my grandparents’ house in the middle of the Ventura County orange groves about an hour north of Los Angeles.

Theirs was a tiny house, with only four rooms, and I slept in one with my grandfather. He could snore like a bear, but I never heard him snore, or at least I was never troubled to hear it. What I heard at night, through the screen door, atop the dark chill that carried the smell of sandy dirt and orange essence, were the crickets.

I just heard the crickets.

I didn’t make any meaning of it then – four-year-olds don’t yet assign meaning to things – and I don’t make any meaning of it now.

I simply heard the crickets and I knew they were crickets and I knew where I was and how I was and what time it was and what it was time to do. I knew everything that you know when you hear a cricket, which is actually quite a bit, so much that you can’t really explain it all. And the good thing is, you don’t have to.

I’m reciting all this here and now because lately when I toss in my bed, I can remember what I knew for sure when I was four or five and heard the crickets. I am fifty years older now and my head is crowded with far more than it needs to be – fear, for instance, of being 54, and worry, and doubts about my work, especially this work, and my daughter and whether she will be okay and not too disappointed or hurt and then the prescription that needs refilling and the bills that need paid and I forgot, what did I forget, oh that’s right I forgot to call, to fix, to sign, to return, to finish, to start – and for all I know there are crickets outside my own window right now but most of the time I’m making far too much noise between my ears to hear them.

That’s what can come between the hearing and the knowing, between the lost and the found, and between the fear and the faith. That’s all there is to let go of: what we keep putting in-between.

Hearing the sound, seeing the forms, many attain realization. Here where the verse says “He only hears the cicadas singing” what does it imply?

When I remember the sound of those country crickets these days, it’s not an emotional thing. It doesn’t trigger a sentiment as much as it awakens a sensation. A state of being that is effortless and relaxed, tucked into a small house under a vast and twinkling sky with a gentle grandfather beside me. When I remember that, I can drop the wiry tangle under my skin, the jangle inside my skull, and empty out what’s come in between me and a simple song.

When we see, when we hear, when we feel, when we smell, when we think, or when we perceive, conceive: right there, the author urges us to realize, “Why don’t you hear cicadas singing as the song of your life!” instead of just listening to it as a lousy noise something outside is making.

Oh that – that’s just a cricket.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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risen

April 24th, 2011    -    16 Comments

My mother had come to me in a dream. Four years dead, she was standing on my front porch. I rushed up and hugged her. Her body was like ash in my arms, crumbling and decayed, but I was not afraid or repulsed. She took me up. We flew into space, into the vast darkness and pulsing light. I felt celestial wind in my face. It was exhilarating.

I asked her, “Is there a heaven?”

She said yes.

“What’s it like?”

Like this, she said, like this.

It was an attribute of her deep faith and her final, modest confusion that my mother believed she was dying on Easter, and it was, for her. But for the rest of us it was in the small hours before Good Friday, the dark night after Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper, when Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them. read more

a wing and a prayer

September 27th, 2010    -    47 Comments

Do Buddhists pray? This Buddhist does.

Parenthood is like continuous prayer, and these days I’ve been praying a lot:
Dear Lord, let it just be allergies.
Dear Lord, let her sneakers still fit.
Dear Lord, let the lunchbox come home empty.
Dear Lord, let me see her smile.

No matter who or what you pray to, prayer works. If you’re looking for a modern miracle, I say, “Pray.” I don’t have a theological explanation for it, but prayer seems to work by itself. We gather our agitated worries into the palms of our hands, a single point of contemplation, and by our utterance, we release them. We are immediately calmed and comforted by our own action, regardless of any eventual outcomes. For me, prayer is a continuous loop of supplication, surrender and consolation.

Even though it’s not just allergies.
The sneakers no longer fit.
She traded her lunch for someone else’s.
But because the smile, the smile, I still see.
read more

the hard truth

April 27th, 2010    -    26 Comments

If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. – Verses on the Faith Mind

Yesterday I saw my new book called “self-centered for someone who is all about detachment.” That was hard to let go of.

This morning I called in for an interview on a live radio show and the host said “Pardon my personal view, but for our society to be raised right it takes more than tree hugging.” That was hard to embrace.

As I backed out of the driveway to take my daughter to school, I spotted a ticket on the spare car we keep parked on the curb. The overnight parking permit had expired four months ago, an oversight that was hard to keep from citing someone else for.

This practice is hard, particularly when I don’t practice it. The truth can be hard to admit, although the truth is never hard to see. What truth am I talking about? The truth of what is. Some of us spend our whole lives in a search for truth, and yet the truth is always staring us in the face. We don’t need to do anything to find it, and even less to cover it up.

One of the things that helps me deal with the thorny business of competitiveness, authorship and ownership is my view of the truth. My view of the truth is that it’s not mine, or at least, not mine alone. Wisdom is not mine to manufacture. It’s not in a clever turn of words, a brand, or a trademarked slogan. It’s not even in my unique story. My story isn’t unique. My practice isn’t unique, and if I truly practice, I don’t have anything left to call my own. I don’t deal in anything original. None of us do. read more

Faith settles it

January 12th, 2010    -    1 Comment

As with all things, too much has been said already about the Brit Hume/Tiger Woods Christianity versus Buddhism thing, including what’s been said by me. In the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat opened up another front, suggesting that Buddhists man up to the debate, instead of playing what he calls “the victim card.”

“If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously,” he writes. Talk about faith, he admonishes, so you can “compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.”

I’m going to take up his challenge and talk about faith. But I’m not going to talk about my faith, because that wouldn’t serve anyone but me.

Continue reading and comment, please,
at Shambhala SunSpace

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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.

***

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.

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The keys to heaven

November 5th, 2009    -    7 Comments


Recently I ran across a new Buddhist blog that says it is for people who “are interested in meditation but don’t want to pretend they live in ancient Asia.” I try not to get too worked up about how people characterize Buddhism, but that line about pretense got my attention.

If I have your attention, please hop over to the web magazine Killing the Buddha, where my newest essay, “Grass Huts and Hermits” is up this morning. I’m looking into the future of American Buddhism, and it seems an appropriate way to sum up this week’s explorations of faith.

You have the keys. Get going!

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Monsters are midgets

July 19th, 2009    -    No Comments


I kept my eyes open the whole time! Those monsters are midgets!

Faith is forward motion.

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