Posts Tagged ‘Impermanence’

the age of undoing

July 9th, 2013    -    9 Comments

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In the end, what ties everything together is how predictably it falls apart.

Like everyone, I must have seen heaps of leaves all my life, but I never really noticed the part where they fall to the earth.  When you watch a tree drop its leaves, it will change you. It will alter your ambition and interrupt your agenda. There’s nothing like the sight of falling leaves to give you a glimpse of reality, especially if it’s in your own backyard.

It was my forty-first birthday. I was looking out the garden window in our guest room, also called our office, but which would be lost to either use when a baby took up residence a year later. I was alone, in the middle of the day, amid September’s melancholy stillness, with nothing to do except give undue consideration to the sad landscape of my recent loss. Three months earlier I’d left my job, planted my savings into this decrepit house, sacrificed my slim claim to fame and greatness and brought myself down to earth. And for what? I was no clearer on the why. Then it began to rain, more like the suggestion of rain, a translucent veil that fell like lace from the crown of the sky. Did this even qualify as rain? I had to wonder, being a transplant from the land of whipcracking cloudbursts and tornado warnings with sudden raging floods that crested two feet higher than your front door. That was rain.

I remember this event not because of the birthday, one of many that would come after the year I stopped counting, but because of the delicate mists that carried the first leaves down from the sycamores, leaves still partly green and as wide across as my two hands. What a show—the water, the light, and the leaves gliding into a soft landing of letting go.

I was forty-one years old before I ever saw a tree lose its leaves. After that, everything I saw was a falling leaf. Everything came down. read more

fire and water

May 26th, 2013    -    3 Comments

I have been writing seriously for several months, which means I have been seriously reading. I’ve relied on a furnace of words for warmth and light, and an ocean of wisdom to slake my thirst. Most recently, I have consumed these books, and they have consumed me. I wholeheartedly recommend them for telling the one true story of our lives.

9780670026630A Tale for the Time Being – By Ruth Ozeki. When a woman finds a girl’s journal washed up on her island shore, it becomes a portal through time. A mysterious and compelling story, as well as a fearless presentation of Zen’s deepest teachings. Brilliant.

 

age-miracles-karen-thompson-walker-paperback-cover-artThe Age of Miracles – By Karen Walker Thompson. When the Earth’s rotation inexplicably slows, the result reads like neither science nor fiction, but the revelation of our hidden nature in unblinking daylight. Observant and insightful.

 

9780307962690_180X180Wave – By Sonali Deraniyagala.  Her life, family, future and every shred of sanity is washed away by the South Asian tsunami on the day after Christmas. The sole survivor can only say this much. Each word of this memoir is a pearl. Unbearably perfect.

 

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weather

March 18th, 2013    -    18 Comments

JR70297-red-tree You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather. Pema Chodron

Ohio in March? The weather would be iffy. For months before last weekend’s retreat in southwest Ohio I crossed my fingers about the weather. The brink of spring in Ohio was like—what exactly? Now I know the answer. Ohio would be like Ohio. A chilly day of filtered sun, the rip-roar of thunderstorms preceding a bright and balmy afternoon, an overnight freeze and snow flurries on the way out of town.

Welcome to Ohio, everyone said, with a tinge of dismay, since it was, after all, Ohio. Nothing to write home about. Oh but it is! Here I am at home writing about it. I found everything about Ohio to be utterly wonderful and illuminating. What a marvelous place to observe the whims of the weather, and learn by it.

Weather changes. Weather moves. Weather does not linger. It is not to be understood or analyzed, because it doesn’t last. No one, I hope, believes they are irreparably shaped by the misty rain they encountered walking home from school in April of the fifth grade. Or by the heat wave that stultified the summer of 2006. Or by last night’s wind or this morning’s fog.

Everything, it turns out, is like this. Everything we see, hear, feel, and think. Every bit of life plays out in a phenomenal flicker, and then it’s gone. We are able to accept this impermanence in the weather; we are not so foolish to expect one day to be like the next. Welcome to Ohio! But we are terribly foolish in other ways. One is the importance we give to our feelings, especially our difficult and uncomfortable feelings. We think they have value—high and lasting value—giving insight into our being, our soul, our self, the who, what and why that we are. We are obsessed with our feelings; we are confused by them; we are entertained by them. On a perfectly ordinary day when nothing at all is happening to us we rummage back into old feelings—I’m afraid, I’m angry, I’m sad—as if these faded footprints formed the meaning and substance of life.

When we identify so totally with the weather we do not see where the weather comes from. We do not see our true nature, the infinite and eternal spaciousness that gives rise to a single momentous thunderclap or the billion snowflakes that melt into a square foot of March mud. We do not see that we are the sky, a vivid and unpredictable vista that is never once marred by the frolic of light and vapor across its flawless face.

This is what I saw in Ohio. I saw the sky, and I loved it. I loved everything and everyone who roamed with me across that wide open field, like birds at rest and play. They leave no trace.

Now, come see the ocean in June.

 

the last fall

March 5th, 2013    -    12 Comments

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I want to tell you that the baby won’t fall
the tooth won’t break
the skin won’t scrape
no row of stitches at the hairline
you never saw it coming
I want to tell you that the teasing won’t hurt
the teacher won’t frown
the kids won’t laugh
her name won’t be the last one called
because I suck at kickball that’s why
I want to tell you that your heart won’t rip
your eyes won’t mist your breath won’t catch
when she disappears into her lonely self
beneath a sweatshirt two sizes too big
a widow
to her babyhood
I’m not that girl anymore
I want to tell you that the flowers won’t bloom
the leaves won’t bud
the fruit won’t dangle and drop
that nothing fades and nothing dies
nothing hurts and nothing leaves
you’ll never see it going
but it will go
it will go home
the way a period ends a sentence
the earth is our mother
she heals even the last fall.

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you are born

February 19th, 2013    -    21 Comments

eggshellFor everyone.

You are born.

Let’s consider the facts before we get carried away.

You are born and no one—neither doctor, scientist, high priest nor philosopher—knows where you came from. The whole world, and your mother within it, was remade by the mystery of your conception. Her body, mind and heart were multiplied by a magical algorithm whereby two become one and one becomes two.

You inhale and open your eyes. Now you are awake.

By your being, you have attained the unsurpassable. You have extinguished the fear and pain of the past, transcended time, turned darkness to light, embodied infinite karma, and carried forth the seed of consciousness that creates an entire universe. All in a single moment.

Now that you are here, you manifest the absolute truth of existence. You are empty and impermanent, changing continuously, turning by tiny degrees the wheel of an endless cycle. Just a month from now, your family will marvel at the growing heft of your body. They will delight in the dawn of your awareness. You will grab a finger and hold tight, turn your head, pucker your lips and eat like there’s no tomorrow. You will smile. Six months from now, the newborn will be gone. Within a year, you will be walking the earth as your dominion. And although your caregivers might think that they taught you to eat, walk and talk, these attributes emerged intuitively from your deep intelligence.

You are born completely endowed with the marvelous function of the awakened mind. You are a miracle. You are a genius. You eat when hungry and sleep when tired.

You are a Buddha. But in the same way you will forget the circumstances of your birth, you will forget the truth of your being. And by forgetting what you are, you will suffer in the painful, fruitless search to become something else, striving against your own perfection to feel whole and secure. By your attachment to desires, you will squander the chance of infinite lifetimes: the chance to be born in human form. Luckily, the chance to be reborn—to wake up—arises every moment. Your body is the body of inexhaustible wisdom. When will you realize it? read more

it isn’t algebra

December 17th, 2012    -    5 Comments

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There are so many questions, and so many possible answers. But then again, it isn’t algebra.

Even if it were algebra, I’m not very good at algebra, so I wouldn’t be able to help you with your algebra. But it isn’t algebra.

For the last three weeks my daughter has been out of school—a temporary homeschooler—while she finishes the run of a theater production. She’s been doing algebra at home, where I can’t help her with the answers. I can only hover and hound her, stressing the importance of keeping up with algebra.

Around fourth grade, math becomes the marker by which our schoolchildren are judged. Fourth grade was when I stopped being able to do the math.

I dropped by the school to deliver some assignments last week, and I walked into the algebra class with a completed chapter test in hand. The test was a big benchmark for me. Perhaps she could get through this month without falling too far behind, is what I’d been telling myself.

I thought the room was empty until I saw the teacher sitting in the corner, his back to me. When he saw me, he said hello, and his voice sounded strained.

Are you okay? I asked.

Can you tell? He asked.

Is something wrong? I asked.

It’s my mother. She’s dying. He paused. Do you have any advice for me?

I listened. I had no answers. It is so hard, but it isn’t algebra.

Even now, I’m breaking down at how much I’ve misunderstood the questions and mistaken the answers.

None of it is algebra.

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let it snow

December 12th, 2012    -    8 Comments

It is the silent season and yet it is so hard to find quiet at this time of year. Busy making ready, in a hurry to finish, we can fret away nature’s patient calm in the blur of a frantic ending.

I spent half a day looking for a video of snow falling without added music or special effects. Why do we think we need music or special effects? This one-minute video inspires soundlessly. I post it here so I can look at it over and over, and let go of everything that will disappear if I try to hold on.

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the turning season

November 11th, 2012    -    6 Comments

My head was heavy
when I laid me down to sleep
the wind still sweeping the sky
the leaves crumpling at their end
like the paper bags
we used to hold old newspapers
when there were newspapers
our brand being the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner,
a fealty as final as Pepsi or Coke
the afternoon paper on your porch said your dad’s collar was blue

when there were collars
and porches
and afternoons.
There will always be leaves.
They are piling up these days,
a mountain of yesterdays.
I don’t know how high the mountain will be
I only know it is deep.
We called it a newspaper drive back then,
giving them up was good.
I looked at you, the long stretch of you,
not looking at me
and said, for lack,
You used to be so little, I loved you so much.
Do you remember that?
and you said no.

For my sisters, on a November day, 2012.

after the storm

October 28th, 2012    -    3 Comments

Do you remember the night we took that long flight from Florida and the pilot came on when we were over New Mexico and said the wind had blown out the power at the airport and we were landing in Phoenix to refuel and wait it out and we took off again and made it to ground and set out in the car up the road towards home and on the other side of downtown the wind bore down and the car started shaking and we saw the branches flying toward us like torpedoes and the dark sky grew darker still, the mountains ahead a pitch black nothing, the roar monstrous, the road littered and ghostly, a cemetery of trees, and we made it to our street and pulled in the driveway, the dirt swirling, darker than midnight, afraid to leave the car but we did, we ran to the house, it was heaving and cold, and we laid sleepless in bed while the storm still shrieked, the trees whipped, windows shook, roofs ripped, and in the morning we saw that everything was a remnant, a splinter, we raked and pulled and piled, and still no power, the candles burned down, the food spoiled, the limbs and leaves on the curb reached six feet high, and no help came, no lights, five nights no lights, it was hopeless, hopeless, and we lost all hope. I’ll never forget that, do you remember that, love? No?

Just as well. Today is balmy and bright.

In these darkening days of fear and dread, of conquests and battlegrounds, disasters natural and unnatural, screaming rage and blind fury, we must face the storms of our own brewing, the hurricane force of our own delusional thinking, and take higher ground. No matter the weather, the high ground is always the ground beneath our feet, where we reunite in the quiet calm of another day.

May you find your peace and live there.

the koan of boredom

September 27th, 2012    -    4 Comments

Please see the link at the bottom of this post to read the entire essay online.

The message comes with good intentions, as do most things designed to inspire, so I click on the link in my email and watch the short video.

First I see a sleeping newborn swaddled in a blanket, followed by a silken black butterfly perched on a finger, a dewdrop dangling from a leaf tip, and a nest cradling two luminous robin’s eggs. Images dissolve to a piano serenade—a foggy meadow at daybreak, the fiery blaze of an ocean sunset, a peach pie cooling on a plank table, and a vase of peonies gracing a windowsill. A boy bites a glistening red popsicle at that perfect instant before it slides off the stick. A golden-haired girl blows the dancing flames from her birthday candles. “Moments,” the voiceover says. “Moments like this are all we have.”

They are happy, captivating shots, drenched in color and sentiment. The eye wants to drink them in and dwell. Compared to this, my life seems mostly washed-out and even wasted.

I stop the show. Something’s wrong with this picture. Pies and popsicles are appealing, but these pictures don’t quite capture the essence of life. Not the whole of it.

Later on, in the bathroom picking up dingy wet towels, I notice the mildew creeping up the bottom of the shower curtain. This is not the life of precious tributes. It’s not one of the moments you want to frame and keep. It’s one you want to throw out. And many of us do. We replace people, places, and things that have grown charmless and tiresome— which they always do. Fascination fades and restlessness stirs.

Chasing the picture perfect, we can lose what we have in abundance—the times that teach us even more than the rare delight of butterflies or a robin’s blue eggs. We lose the hours, the days, and the decades when nothing much seems to happen at all. Time freezes. Paint dries. Mildew spreads. We’re bored out of our minds.

Boredom is the unappreciated path to patience, peace, and intimacy, so who would read a paean to it? Let that be your koan.

Don’t quit now! Continue reading this complete article online at Shambhala Sun.

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no way over but through

September 4th, 2012    -    7 Comments

I’m a guest teacher this month at  Shambhala Publication’s Under 35 Project, where the topic is Experiencing Loss.

Under 35 is a site for young meditators to write about finding, beginning and encouraging a mindfulness practice. I hope you’ll visit and read this month’s submissions. If you’re a writer looking for a new venue, or a practitioner looking for support, please consider writing a short essay and contributing it to the site. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re under 35 or not. I view age limitations the same way I view loss: there’s no way over but through, and getting through is what makes a difference.

This remind me of a passage I came across in James Ishmael Ford’s book Zen Master Who? 

There are numerous stories about Maezumi Roshi’s teaching style, but one I particularly like has to do with a student who had been a professional dancer.

As recounted in Sean Murphy’s One Bird, One Stone, the student had badly hurt one of her feet in an accident and was forced to retire from the stage. Embarrassed by her injury, she always kept her foot covered with a sock. In her first interview she asked Maezumi a question about her Zen practice. But he answered, “Never mind that. Tell me about your foot.” She was reluctant to talk but he insisted. She told him the story, weeping, and even took off her sock and showed him her foot.

Maezumi placed his hand silently on her foot. She looked up to find that he was crying too. Their exchanges went on like this for some time. Every time she asked the roshi about her practice, he’d ask about her foot instead, and they’d cry together. “You might think you have suffered terrible karma,” Maezumi told her, “But this is not the right way to think. Practice is about learning to turn disadvantage to great advantage.” Finally the day came when the student walked into the interview room and began to tell her teacher about her injury, but it summoned no tears from her. “Never mind about that,” Maezumi told her. “Let’s talk about your practice.”

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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how to say goodbye

September 3rd, 2012    -    27 Comments

In memory of Mr. Nobuaki “Jeffery” Isobe, age 83, born in Tateyama, Chiba, Japan, resident of Rosemead, Calif., who passed away peacefully on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012.

A letter received two weeks after the last one.

Dear Mrs. Miller,

I would like to take this time to inform you of my resignation as your gardener due to an unfortunate discovery of a potentially terminal illness. My illness will require extended treatment and recovery, and I am unsure that my ability to perform my duties will ever return. In addition to considering my age, this is my only option.

It has been a pleasure to work for you and I do apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Sincerely,

Mr. J.I.

prayer for a girl becoming

August 10th, 2012    -    33 Comments

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May she be happy
May she sing, and make up songs
May she be safe, and feel safe
See shadows only for playing
May she seek and find
May her smile always find reflection in my own
May I find in her name the measure I need
And give give give.

Amen.

Georgia Grace in the garden, springtime 2007.

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