Posts Tagged ‘Impermanence’

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

Prayer for a girl becoming a teenager on Sunday. The silent companion to Prayer for a Mother Becoming.

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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faded letters

April 2nd, 2012    -    12 Comments

If you really want to change, live by someone’s last words. These are with me this week.

Be yourself, and take good care of your family. — Mom

I can’t wait until then. — Dad

It’s very beautiful over there. — Thomas Edison

Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow. — Steve Jobs

I am being shown the most amazing things. — Dominique de Menil

Does nobody understand? — James Joyce

It’s all been very interesting — Lady Montagu

Don’t make a great commotion over nothing. — Zen master Tozan

Today you will be with me in paradise. — Jesus

For all eternity, I love you. — President James Polk

Good night my darlings, I’ll see you tomorrow. — Noel Coward

the empty bento

March 19th, 2012    -    15 Comments

Sometimes when something unexpected happens — which is nearly always — I think these kinds of thoughts:
Oh no!
How will that work out?
How will I fit that in?
How can I make that OK?
I don’t know how.

What about the rest of everything?
What about the plan?
Stop!
Not something else!
I can’t handle any more!
It’s all falling apart.

I feel as if I am holding a box where I’ve given everything a place, a turn, and a time. A box I can’t ever drop. I like to think I’m good at not dropping the box. But then I remember:

There is no box.

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they grow up soon enough

January 15th, 2012    -    18 Comments

We spent the day emptying drawers, sorting “keep” or “go,” hauling bags of trash and giveaways, swiping piles of dust. My husband and I have relented to buying my daughter a new bed, a bed entirely of her choosing, to match her self-image and sensibilities, a “teen” bed which will endure as the last blasted bed we buy her. It delivers tomorrow, and so today we cleaned out her room, meaning we cleaned out the most beloved 12 years of our lives. A day like this reminds me that all days are like this. I can’t say it any better than I did in Momma Zen:

“Form is emptiness,” Buddhism teaches. “And emptiness is form.” What could it possibly mean? It means this. It means I cried on the night of Georgia’s first birthday.

The bakery cake was ugly. She bawled in bewilderment at the crowd around the table. The presents didn’t interest her. She fled my arms to the cuddles of her babysitter. My shame was complete, but it was something else that brought me to tears. It was the finality. My baby was done with her first year. And despite my hurry, I was not. I had chosen this night to box up her baby clothes, refolding the tiny come-home things, sobbing at the poop and spit-up stains. They were already relics. How could it be over?

People will tell you so many things, passing on their hindsight and regrets. Love them when they are little. Cherish the early days. I would say it all again but I’m not sure you can hear it until you reach the other side, open your eyes and let the tears of recognition come. There is not one piece of life that you can grasp, contain or keep, not even the life you created and hold right now in your arms. I confess I never tried to slow it down, ever pushing forward to some imagined place of competence for me and independence for her. On this night, though, I could see how fast it all would go. How fast, how sad. Every happy day brimming with bittersweetness.

This is how it passes: no matter where we are we think of someplace else. The place before nighttime feedings, the place beyond twelve-a-day-diapers, the certain bliss that beckons from a distant shore.  This is how we spend our lives; this is how we spend their lives, motoring past milestones as if collecting so many merit badges.

We can be forgiven for this tendency, in part, because childhood is full of tests and measures, percentiles and comparisons. Bring your baby to the doctor’s office and they will plot her as a dot on a growth chart. I inscribed these glyphs dutifully on my calendar ­– how many pounds now, how many inches now – satisfied that we were safely on course to get somewhere. Where is that somewhere? Where is that place that I can relax the tension on the reins, ease off the accelerator?

Not one bit of life is a weight or a measure, a list or a date, a tick or a tock. It is never a result or an outcome. What it is, is a continual marvel, a wondrous flow without distance or gap, a perpetual stream in which we bob and float. We are buffered from nothing and yet never quite fully immersed because our thinking mind keeps eyeing the banks, gauging the current, scoping for landmarks and striving for some kind of perfect, elusive destination. There isn’t a destination. Life keeps going. It keeps going within us; when we’re not attentive, it keeps going without us. read more

be careful of the words

January 9th, 2012    -    67 Comments

This probably puts me in the category of a Kevin Costner sympathizer.

I’ve begun thinking in apocalyptic terms about what seems certain to be the demise of the US Postal Service. Admittedly, I’m a cultural throwback. I still think of writing as something that you do on paper, with your whole hand, in a cursive script that is elegant and intrinsic, like your DNA. I still think of community as consisting of people with bodies, using arms and legs and good manners to stand in line patiently at the post office, where we buy stamps, grouse about the three-penny price increase, see somebody we know, say a kind word, conduct our minor essential business, and go on our way, until next Monday or Thursday or tax season or the holidays.

I’ve noticed that they’ve started selling greeting cards in my little post office, which is ingenious, really, in a demoralizing way, since the only people who enter a post office these days are the sappy has-beens like me. People who saw those lame Kevin Costner movies in the 1990s predicting the disappearance of the post office, global warming, and the end of the world as we know it. And now we really do know it. read more

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