Posts Tagged ‘Impermanence’

come together in grace

November 23rd, 2014    -    7 Comments

knives forks and spoons in cup of dry food dishes“From an early age I knew that I was different.”

Last weekend I went to a place far away that I’d never been before and sat in silence for two days in a small room with people I’d never met. All of us who find ourselves in that kind of predicament — even if we’ve done it a hundred times — are a bit uncomfortable at the outset. First, we don’t know the people we are sitting with, we don’t know what will happen, we don’t know what we are doing, and we aren’t able to talk about what is bothering us.

So when it was over, we went around the room and said our names and gave a parting word or two. What I said was that, no matter what we presumed about the strangers sitting next to us, everyone in the room had been sitting in a world of hurt. It is a guarantee.

No matter what, we hurt. We have trouble in our lives. We have pain. We have pain even when there’s no pain because the things we cherish won’t last. This universal suffering, this eternal ache, is our greatest blessing, in a way, because through it we realize that we are not different, we are not better or worse, we are not special or chosen, we are just alike, and this recognition allows us to get over ourselves and care deeply for one another. Very few realize it, and so we live at war, wars big and small, public and private, and they go on forever. Our world is a world of hurt. It is a guarantee.

There is a kind of standard-issue biography among spiritual entrepreneurs that goes something like this: “From an early age I knew that I was different. Teachers recognized that I was spiritually gifted. I possessed a profound awareness that I was meant to do something special. I decided to go out into the world and share what I was born to do.”

From an early age, know that you are not different.

Being different has not been a transformative experience for me. Neither was it the experience of Buddha, who from an early age knew that he was not different. His spiritual awakening began when he left the phony shelter of his delusions and realized that he would get old, get sick, and die. Like the rest of us, he had no special gift, no deferment, no way out or around reality. This stone-cold clarity is the root of wisdom and the source of compassion.

I offer this up today so that we can be a bit less uncomfortable in the days ahead. So that we can experience things in a new way. We can be tolerant of one another. We can be generous. We can be forgiving. We can be at ease in a crowded airport, house or kitchen. We can clasp hands around the table, giving thanks not only for life’s abundance, but for its scarcity, its brevity, and its painful guarantee of impermanence. Until we realize that we are not different, we can never, even for one moment, come together in grace.

Amen.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

a tiny bit useful

November 9th, 2014    -    9 Comments

IMG_0728_2“I’m so over that cup!” my daughter said as I was about to pour a drink for her to take on the morning drive to school.

The cup was a spill-proof plastic cup with a hole in the lid for a straw. When she objected, I realized it was a child’s souvenir cup from an amusement park. The kind of park where you take your little ones for their first coin-operated horsey rides, first bumper cars, first roller coaster, and the first of dozens of cheap, ugly, oversized stuffed animals that will litter their rooms for years. It was still a perfectly usable cup, one you graduate to after you outgrow the sippy cup, but the drink I was pouring for her was coffee, and the commute was to high school.

My days are like this now.

This week I sold a good number of her once-very-special American Girl dolls, taking a baby step toward her urgent desire for a teenager’s room, Mom, a teenager’s room like everyone else. For a day and a half, my office was a doll salon, where I cleaned their faces, eyelashes and hair with baby wipes and coaxed the tangles from their ratty curls. I sorted a trunkload of doll clothing, hats, coats, socks, shoes and underwear. In short, I had a blast. Deep in the mound I found this teeny tiny duct tape purse. This craftwork dated from an age when my daughter was obsessed with enterprise. First came the dog training, dog washing, and dog walking schemes, then the yarn potholders and duct-tape wallets and purses. She was forever wondering how she could offer something people would want and use. Her ambition crested around age 12 with the YMCA babysitting classes and personal business cards, a campaign producing the pitiful yield of one actual babysitting job. Then she gave up childish things.

I kept the duct tape purse, because I remembered a little girl’s attempt to be a tiny bit useful in this big world. Usefulness gives us dignity. It gives us life. Everyone and everything wants to be useful, until their usefulness is used up.

I pitched the cup and a few more like it. I shipped the dolls. Now I pound this into my laptop waiting for the text that will tell me it’s time to pick up a girl who needs a ride home in the cold and dark from school. My tiny bit of usefulness is not yet used up, and for that I am completely grateful.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

a long life

August 5th, 2014    -    10 Comments

Day after day, day after still day,
The summer has begun to pass away.

When my husband walked past me on the way to work this morning, he asked what I was going to do today.

I did not say what I was really going to do, such as “Wash a week’s worth of towels” or “Iron that clean white shirt of Georgia’s that ended up in the laundry just because it got wrinkled in her suitcase,” or “Make Katrina Kenison’s favorite recipe for gazpacho.” No, I didn’t say any of those things because they seemed trivial compared to the daily march of important activities in which I am no longer employed.

Instead what I said was, “Clean out a few closets.” And I saw the shadow of terror briefly crease my husband’s face, the shadow that crosses whenever I throw out what to him is safely out of sight. By my thinking, closets are where things go to die, and by die I mean lose vitality and disappear from use. Such is my ambition in this eighth month of every year as summer slows and autumn knocks. I become a teeny bit preoccupied with cleaning off the shelves. It’s my thing.

A failing light, no longer numinous,

Now frames the long and solemn afternoons

Where butterflies regret their closed cocoons.

I have just a few closets in my small house and they are in awful shape because I have now lived here longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere. As long, and soon longer, than I lived with my parents. Longer than the time spent with my grandparents, whose undying devotion gave me an eternity of perfect memories. Longer than any home I fled or wrecked. A very long time, and the closets show the count.

When I was packing week before last for a family vacation I went hunting for umbrellas, having seen the forecast, and found our “new” umbrellas encased in grime from layers of daily dust creeping through a slender crack in the closet door. Where in the world do closeted umbrellas get dirty through lack of use? My house, that’s where, in the closet I’m aiming for.

But that’s not what this post is about. I will get to the closets, or someone will. This post is about time. I’m feeling it, aren’t you?

Time, time, time. Next week my precious rosebud of a daughter turns 15. Next month I’ll be 58. We are so blessed.

A few years ago I was giving a talk in Boston at which, without shame, I called myself “an old lady.” A lovely woman wearing a look of discomfort raised her hand.

“Why do you keep calling yourself old?” she asked.

“Because I am.”

“But look at you,” she said, as a compliment.

“I feel as though I’ve lived a thousand years,” I said, “and I am satisfied.”

What’s wrong with being old? More to the point, when did age become an insult? It is liberating to open the doors, sweep the shelves and discard what is no longer enlivened by use. To face the present day and the plain, pure facts in front of us.

We reach the place unripe, and made to know

As with a sudden knowledge that we go

Away forever, all hope of return

Cut off, hearing the crackle of the burn-
ing blade behind us, and the terminal sound

Of apples dropping on the dry ground.

I watched a beautiful film on the plane last Sunday, and then commenced a quasi-obsession with Coco Chanel. She was a captivating ingénue, a force of nature, a cultural legend, and she lived until she was a very old lady of 87. She died not sick, but working — and hers was the work of scissors and straight pins. She made a full, long life of doing the simplest things again and again until she was satisfied.

After a week’s trek through some of the great monuments of Western civilization, I came home from vacation to a dry, needy yard and three full laundry hampers. Four loads and three hours of weeding and I was sated. Not done, not by far, but feeling utterly content and alive. Summer nearly gone, and I’m living well past it. To the closets I come.

Excerpts from the poem “Summer’s Elegy” by Howard Nemerov
Photo: Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

 

 

bring your life to life

April 21st, 2014    -    43 Comments

When you see your life, you bring it to life.

Paradise in Plain Sight is now available from online sellers and will soon be in neighborhood stores. Please share this video glimpse into my home and garden via Facebook or Twitter, and then leave a comment on this post for a chance to win the very first signed copy.

If you are reading this in your email, click here to see the video.

I will notify the winner by Monday, April 28.

 

I am that mom

April 8th, 2014    -    15 Comments

istock_000012599863xsmall

I am that mom who failed at breastfeeding
or should I say, gave up too soon
listened all night for the cough
the cry the whimper
held you limp in a steamy bathroom
called the doctors the neighbors
the teachers
asked for prayers and gave them back, too.
I am the mom who cut the crusts off
sliced the grapes
packed the lunch as my body and blood
Cheez-Its
Nutella
Kellogg
Kraft
Campbell’s
GoGurt
Fruit Loops
a sorry sack of my sins
which you survived.
Yes, let me tell it. You survived.
I am the mom who read the note.
Signed the paper. Told the time.
Got you there. Picked you up.
Fifteen minutes early I am that mom.
On the curb at the door inching forward.
So you don’t wait or wonder.
Don’t wait or wonder.
I am the mom who sweats the small stuff.
Hand washes in cold.
Hangs your clothes up to dry.
Plugs in the twinkle lights.
Fluffs, straightens, tucks.
Combs the lice.
Boils the hairbrush.
Reminds, reminds, reminds.
The field trip, the mid-term, the final.
And then —
I am the mom who is not you.
Doesn’t know you. Cannot be you.
Lets you stand, and fall, and leave.
I am the mom and you are a world beyond your mom.
A life, a heart, a song.
A rainbow, a rosebud.
A bird on the wing, come to visit one day
outside my window, and then gone.
I am that mom.

the end of us

March 14th, 2014    -    4 Comments

The eighth-grade girls cried after last night’s spring musical. They are onto something.

I wrote the following on a notecard, on a plane, about eight years ago, flying east to my father’s deathbed. I’ve carried it with me ever since, suspecting I would one day put it somewhere. And so I’ll put it here, yesterday’s bouquet.

“This is the end of us,” Georgia says, pointing to the airport out the window. She means this is the end of our ride to the airport or this is the end of our time together before I get on the plane. Or what does she mean? It could be anything. It could be everything. It is so completely true. It is always the end of us.

“You be sure to go to the toy store and buy Georgia a Barbie today — a wedding Barbie!” I wag my finger in mock lecture to my husband. A wedding Barbie is proof of heaven to this six-year-old. Georgia brightens in the midst of the abyss. I need her to. She is onto something that I dare not face.

11596974-bridal-bouquet-a-bridal-bouqet-faded-into-a-bunch-of-strawflowers-isolated-on-white

no comment

January 26th, 2014    -    7 Comments

MEC-TTA-March-1024x681

It’s kind of weird that I should toss up such a long post on the subject of silence, but that’s how it is. I just haven’t wanted to say anything for awhile. That’s not true, I’ve wanted to say a lot, but I haven’t said what didn’t need to be said.

The world seems awfully noisy these days. When I manage to quiet the first impulse to talk back, I find that nothing needs to be said. There’s a thought: maybe nothing at all ever needs to be said! Should I ever confirm that for myself I won’t be talking about it, so I encourage you to investigate silence for yourself.

Everywhere there’s an argument, a cause, a rumble. An upset in the paper, a battle on Twitter, an outrage on Facebook, a side for, and another side in stark raving opposition. Perhaps this is what happens this time of year, in the fearsome dark and slogging cold (or alarming heat) of winter. We go stir-crazy. We pick fights, name names, make enemies, slam doors, close our ears and pound out open, clever, biting letters, as though our point of view is an urgent and necessary correction to the world’s spin.

Anytime I feel like my opinion is a matter of life and death I’m overlooking life and death.

Dogo and Zengen came to a house to express condolences. Zengen tapped on the coffin and said, “Is this life or death?” Dogo said, “I don’t say life, I don’t say death.” Zengen said, “Why don’t you?” Dogo said, “I won’t say, I won’t say.”

On the way back Zengen said, “Master, please say it to me right away. If you don’t, I shall hit you.” Dogo said, “If you want to hit me, you can hit me. But I will never say.” Thereupon Zengen hit him.

Some time later Dogo passed away. Zengen went to Sekiso and told him what had happened. Sekiso said, “I don’t say life, I don’t say death.” Zengen said, “Why don’t you?” Sekiso said, “I won’t say, I won’t say.” With these words, Zengen came suddenly to an insight.

This is a koan, a Zen teaching story from a long time ago. I encountered it myself a while back and now I’m realizing how deeply it impacted me.  I first came upon it around the time my mother was dying, and I thought at first that it might settle some of my distress surrounding death, and how to prepare, what I should know, how it would be, and if there was a Zen answer that I could enlighten her with. It does give the answer, completely, just not in words. read more

tacloban is calling

November 12th, 2013    -    132 Comments

Surivor in Tacloban walks among the debris after Typhoon Haiyan

This message is not for the people of Tacloban. The people of Tacloban do not need any messages from me. They are completely engulfed in a reality that eclipses the linguistic coding of sentiment or solidarity. Send money if you can. No, this message isn’t for, but rather from the people of Tacloban, because in their horrific struggle for survival and security, they have sent a message to you. It is a message you don’t want, and that none of us is ready for.

Some people have a sudden glimpse of reality, a stroke of insight, an aha moment. They might strive for it a long time – travel the world, trek mountains, study the wisdom of sages. But that’s not the glimpse of reality that matters. The glimpse that can change your life is the sight of rubble and ruin – the truth that things fall apart. We see the evidence every day, but still, it’s a hard thing to wake up to.

There was that cloudless morning in early September when most of us – roused by the radio, a phone call, or a shuddering impulse – turned on our televisions and saw the impossible.  We saw a building buckle, and then, after a breathless half-second, a rushing crush of dust as one and then another tower disappeared in front of us – a Niagara of concrete, steel, desks, and doorknobs, everyday lives conjoined irretrievably in death, a plume of ash simultaneously rising and falling and haunting the gaping emptiness we could not turn away from.

One day after Christmas, the Indian Ocean stood to reach a resplendent sky and then tumbled forward into a bottomless blackness, swallowing the earth in one gulp, stealing the doomed from their innocent idylls and the sleepy ease of paradise – paradise! A whole population was snatched from the sheltering palms of a holiday while the rest of us still celebrated ours.

read more

8 reminders to let go

November 3rd, 2013    -    3 Comments

IMG_6160

 Leaves fall. Freed from a useless stem.

Bags break. Contents spill.

Wind moves. Never arriving.

Birds fly. No end to the sky.

Clouds burst. The earth flows.

Fruit rots. Returned to their nature.

 Smoke rises. In plain sight.

 Morning comes. Where does the moonlight go?

Subscribe to this blog • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

 

unfolded, a gift

September 26th, 2013    -    11 Comments

Martin_Creed,_Work_No._340_A_Sheet_of_paper_folded“There is something in me maybe someday 
to be written; now it is folded, and folded, 
and folded, like a note in school.”
― Sharon Olds

Unfolded
by Jena Strong

Every line on my face is a place I unfolded,
no longer compressed, no longer needing
to contain mystery after mystery,
no longer a matryoshka doll holding itself
in and in and in, kaleidoscopically hidden.
No, life has unfolded my careful origami,
like a middle or third name
too beautiful for the world not to hear,
each deep crevice a hint of healing
and heartache and hero’s journey.
It’s old-school, to remain folded up
like that, or to collapse like a mountain
unto itself, or to get so lost
in the folds of what happened
that you can no longer make out
the writing on the wall of your life,
which is to say how blue the sky is
in September, how kindly she caresses
the deep grooves between your eyes,
folded notes to be passed to a friend
between classes, perhaps—or birds
or buildings or an architecture
defying smooth textures. Let me be
creased, then, unfolded as a piece
of paper you’ve tucked inside
the pages of a heavy hardcover for years,
stumbled upon, blank, and fluently speaking
in a language you didn’t even know you knew.
***
A gift on the first day of my fifty-eighth year.

Art by Martin Creed, “Work No. 340: A sheet of paper folded up and unfolded,” 2004.

anthem of the empty room

August 28th, 2013    -    11 Comments

jill_bedroomI’m cleaning off the desk today. Then I’ll tackle the drawers. By process of elimination, I’m headed for the floor.

I finished the manuscript for Paradise in Plain Sight, the book that New World Library will publish next spring. By finished, I mean I had the thought that I was finished. Every day I’m more finished than before. Soon I will gather the files and shoot them into a life of their own. I want my hands free to do simple things.

These hands. What will I do with them? That is the question that keeps coming around. Now what? Now where? What’s next?

My sister told me she has decided to retire next spring. She is younger than I am, and she has worked longer and harder than I ever did doing complicated things. She is at ease with her decision, the only ruffle coming when people kindly say, “I can’t wait to see what you will do next.” It is just small talk, but right there is the expectation that there’s got to be something great and interesting to show for ourselves.

All around, the year reaches crescendo: kids starting kindergarten, fourth grade, high school, and college. Everywhere, the firsts, which carry in them the lasts, and leave the emptiness of closets and chairs. It seems impossible to be finished. No less impossible to begin. But impossible things happen every day. Today.

My friend and dharma sister Jody Kujaku Glienke came to me after sitting zazen on Saturday. She handed me a pair of headphones and asked me to listen to a new song she’d written and sung about her daughter now grown and living in New York. She stood behind me like a good mother, so she wouldn’t intrude on my hearing and force a response. She was surprised when I turned around, sobbing at the end of her sweet song. She held me in her arms. Because I have a daughter still in her room, but halfway to New York, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Don’t we all? Let this console you, let this hold your song: the empty room where we find ourselves alone and together again.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Facebook me • Follow me.

 

beyond gone

July 25th, 2013    -    2 Comments

flood-memorial-site-

This is the scene at Maezumi Roshi’s memorial site in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles after recent wildfires and mudslides.

The stones still stand, but much work remains to restore and protect this hillside, which is in the canyon home of the the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. Volunteer crews defended the property from destruction by fire, but soon after, rains triggered floods that engulfed much of the property and destroyed its sustainable systems for water and power. It will be rebuilt.

This land is where Maezumi Roshi planted his greatest faith. He aspired to create a major training center—an incubator—for the seeds of Dharma in the west. But it was untamed acreage, and the conversion of rocky timberland into a peaceful dwelling took more time, work, and money than one lifetime could muster.

“Little by little,” he would say.

He brought in a geomancer to choose the most favorable locations for the Buddha hall and the zendo, and then he began to dig. The scale of labor taxed blood and tears out of his students at the time. They told stories of the endless excavations, the patience spent as Maezumi hauled and hoisted rocks into arrangements that were inexplicable to their tired eyes. Now, the work goes on.

Each rock had a face, Maezumi said. He lifted and turned each rock until it faced forward. Until you could see it straight on.

You can still see the rocks straight on. Although I no longer call this mountain my home, my practice still resides here with Maezumi. If you’d like to help out even a little with repairing the damage, please consider a gift to the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. It will go to immediate use, and we will all benefit from your selflessness.

the age of undoing

July 9th, 2013    -    9 Comments

2598633360_a457f5dce1_z

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

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 Next

archives by month

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.