Posts Tagged ‘Love’

for lucia, still and always

September 26th, 2017    -    21 Comments

Many years ago, when I thought my life had just about ended, that my heart had died, and I would never be happy again, I wandered into a little shop and garden on Virginia Street in Houston. There, I met a woman who taught me things. She taught me that flowers are spirits and that stones are medicine; that herbs are wisdom, food is fortune, and friends are gold. She showed me that books are pictures and pictures are books; that music is alive. That the lines in your palm are your map, and the symbols on a card tell your story. Her garden was a place of hope and healing. It seemed as though just about everyone in the city had passed through her gate during a dark and halting time in their life and found a reason to believe.

She had once wanted to be a nun, or so I recall, but the cloister had been too confining. Instead, she made the world her sanctuary and gave everyone in it a home. She gave me a room above her garage to practice meditation when I was just starting to do it and needed a circle of friends to keep me going. She said it would help her to have the space filled with silence once a week on Sunday mornings, and that breath was the voice of God.

She and her husband, Michael, were master gardeners. Now I know what that means. It means she bowed to the earth and revered the fruits it bore. She knew that thyme is courage, sage is immortality, and rosemary is remembrance. I asked her to arrange herbs as flowers at my wedding banquet, a kind of secret blessing just between us.

There is not one thing that I ever did that she did not applaud. She sold my books. She sang my praise. I last saw her three years ago on a visit to speak at the Rothko Chapel in Houston. She and her husband, older and more frail than before, lingered back, not wanting to take my time, she to whom I owed every day since the first day I entered her door on Virginia Street.

She has been ill. She has been quiet. She has been still and always on my mind.

She is peace.

Lucia Ferrara Bettler
September 17, 1948 – September 22, 2017

sun and moon

September 21st, 2017    -    9 Comments

One sky

blaming Steve Jobs

September 12th, 2017    -    10 Comments

This afternoon I went into the backyard and noticed a patch where everything has shriveled and the ground is cracked and bare, and although it’s been hotter every year, it seems like it happened overnight. The garden is dying.

I blame Steve Jobs.

I’ve been blaming Steve Jobs for a whole mess of stuff for a long time now, for the conversations that stopped, the music that ended, the books that disappeared, the kids that went absent, the friends that drifted off and the way the world seems to have shriveled into a hot, lifeless, angry place of crazy strangers. Oh, I know it wasn’t him. It’s a cynical joke. But it was him, and the legion led by him. I saw it happen. I saw it happen with me and I saw it happen with nearly everyone else. And now there is hell to pay.

He was a god to many. But he was never my guru. I never entered that temple, not all the way. The theatrics looked cool, but they disturbed me. There was awesome power and beauty in his works, but I never trusted myself to handle that kind of artillery. It went too fast and too far. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I am too cheap. I bought a laptop. It works fine. It sits on this desk. Every time I use it I have to stop, be still, and do only one thing. I do not carry it in my hands or put it in my purse, pocket or car. It is not a companion. It is not the world. It is a very small and distorted picture of the world.

I have to wake myself up every minute of every day to realize the difference.

I am probably the only person you know without a smartphone. Please don’t text me.

It seems to me that we have completely confused the world with a picture of the world. We are so adept at manipulating the false picture — with just one thumb — that we have forgotten how to occupy the real world. How to live responsibly and with accountability. How to be decent and how to be kind. How to use our hands and feet and heart. We are so fascinated with artificial intelligence that we have negated our own. We do stupid things. We say stupid things. We shout at each other in tiny digital boxes. We overuse exclamation points.

When we do things directly in the world, instead of through technology, when we speak aloud to one another, meet face-to-face and side-by-side, it is altogether a different experience. It is intimate and alive. Magic, really. You can’t program it. Totally original, one-of-a-kind, without a trademark.

Innovation produces some really neat things, but it can’t be your religion. It won’t soothe or satisfy. It destroys what is to make room for what’s next. To be sure, it’s a naturally occurring cycle, January to December, but it can be sped up to the point of wanton waste and disposability. Suppose every time you were hungry you took only one bite and then tossed the apple. (It got a little brown around the teeth marks.) The earth would be nothing but a landfill of fallen fruit, and we’d all be hungry ghosts, waiting in line all night to grab the next nibble that will once again fail to satisfy.

I know Steve Jobs isn’t to blame. But I blame Steve Jobs.

This is a lousy load to lay at the tomb of a giant and a genius. Although he was arrogant and egotistical, by all accounts Mr. Jobs made amends to estranged friends, family and rivals and was at peace before the end. It’s a given. Everyone reaches the end of ideas when they arrive at the ultimate disruption. I’m going to have to give him a break for everything that troubles me and take responsibility for what’s right here now.

I’m going to have to keep this place alive.

So I’m heading out to walk this world of mine and see what needs doing. To notice the dry spots. Fix what’s broken. Lend a hand. Spare a little more time, a little more water, and a lot more love. I know this in my bones because I preach it, and I preach it because I need it: What you pay attention to thrives, and what you do not pay attention to withers and dies.

What will you pay attention to today?

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nine eleven seventeen

September 11th, 2017    -    11 Comments

In this hush
between the rising and dusk
of one minute and month
a season arriving
a circle recycling
we see sharp and know cold
that not one thing stands
or stands still
Not one thing untouched
but all carried intact
by love
deep, far and beyond.

flooded with love

August 28th, 2017    -    4 Comments

A few weeks ago I went to see the movie Dunkirk. I had heard something about it, how real and human and decent it was. It was real all right—being relentlessly terrifying, conveying the experience of being trapped, desperate and abandoned.

It’s about a 10-day period during the Second World War when Allied forces retreated to the northern coast of France to evacuate from a “colossal military disaster.” Except there wasn’t really an evacuation. Hundreds of thousands of bedraggled troops massed on the beaches awaiting rescue by naval ships that were blasted to bits either before or right after they were loaded with evacuees. After two days, the British weren’t inclined to send more assets, as they say, into that certain fate. The ships stopped coming.

Knowing nothing of the history, I watched this doomsday unfold in a mounting panic as if I, too, were waiting waist deep in water for a rescue that would never come. But it came, after an eternal two hours, the rescue came and left me flooded with relief on a sun-soaked sidewalk outside the multiplex.

****

After I’d spent 23 of my best years living in Houston, I came to appreciate what those years were about. They were about work, because you come to Houston to work. Sure the place can be good and plenty fun, but it’s not a cushy life, not carefree. You’ve got the heat, you see, which is not really the heat, but the humidity. And you’ve got the rain, a whole lot of it whether you’re ready or not, with skies that rupture into Biblical floods that swallow half your block and all your car before you can conjure a superior second thought. And in the middle of all that, you work.

But the work you’ll do in Houston is not just what’s visible up top. It always seemed to me that it was underneath. Soul work, you might say. Because hard places make you dig deep and find what matters in your own self. Houston is not really like some other cities in Texas. It’s a working-class town. A wide open town. With people from everywhere doing everything. I used to get asked what made Houston different. Well, I’d say, in Houston nobody asks you who your daddy is.

****

So the call went out to everyday folks back home to muster fishing boats, pleasure boats, life boats and any other passable craft to come to the aid of their unlucky and afflicted kinsmen. It was a crazy, reckless, impossible thing to do, but these neighbors didn’t think twice. A hastily assembled fleet of more than 800 little boats rescued 338,226 soldiers from Dunkirk.

And yesterday a man from Texas City, launching his boat into a flooded Houston underpass, made it plain as day: I’m gonna try to save lives.

When the skies are really dark you can see the truth at the very bottom of things. There’s only one side. We are already united. We love one another. And right where you are with whatever you’ve got, you try to save lives, don’t you?

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petals

July 23rd, 2017    -    8 Comments

When my daughter was three years old she was asked to be the flower girl in a family wedding. I’d never been a flower girl, so I felt as though all my aspirations for her had been fulfilled. We’d get the fancy dress, the shiny shoes, the crown of flowers: it would be perfect. But as the date approached I was stressed. She was three, for heaven’s sake. How could I could keep her awake, good-humored, and adorable at an evening wedding past her bedtime without a nap? (I thought like this quite a bit.)

The doors of the hotel ballroom opened and the wedding guests turned to see a tiny girl enter with a basket. She walked forward all by herself, dropping handfuls of petals with great seriousness until she stopped abruptly just halfway down the aisle. Then she tore out running the rest of the way to the front until she could hide herself on my lap. Her basket had emptied, you see, and she couldn’t keep going without petals to throw. It was precious, but for years after she would say that she ruined the wedding.

This summer my daughter is 17, and she is spending a month in New York City taking classes before her last year of high school. The night she moved into the dorm, she texted me: “miss you.”

I responded immediately as if she needed me to. But she didn’t need me that night, or any other.

Over the weeks, her messages have been scant and short.

I love it.
I love my roommate.
I love my teachers.
I love NYU.
I love the city.
I love you.

They are petals, dropped on the far side of the aisle, from a full basket.

teachers are special

June 12th, 2017    -    4 Comments

Last Wednesday at 10:32 a.m. I got a 16-word text from my daughter, which is noteworthy regardless of what it said. She was at the awards assembly on the last day of her junior year of high school. She wasn’t expecting to hear her name announced. Middle school convinced her that “they don’t give awards to people like me” and it wasn’t a complaint, but a clear-eyed wager, since that’s when a handful of kids emerge at the top of Geometry and Robotics and Chess Club and Debate, with better-than-perfect grades so that when I asked who they do give awards to she answered, “the same people every time.”

Won most improved in APUSH and AP bio and magna cum laude and summa cum laude

That night she had dinner with a friend of my husband’s, an entrepreneur who offered to advise her on applying to his alma mater, a school that has emerged as her new Number 1. He told her that there are lots of kids with good grades—good grades don’t set you apart to the admissions director at a great school. She needed to be special. She needed to stand out by standing up for something. Where did she want to make her mark?

That sounds crazy to me, suggesting as it does that our teenagers rave about themselves before they have any idea who they are or want to be. Isn’t that what college is supposed to be about? Taking the long road to arrive at a better understanding of the world and how you might fit into it?

She and I wondered why her two favorite teachers awarded her “most improved.” Her history grade had held steady all year long. There were a lot of good students in AP Bio. I told her what her teachers had said at the parent conference last fall: She writes down everything I say, she’s eager to participate, and she’s heading in the right direction.

If I could, I would turn around and tell those teachers what I’ve learned this year: She loves and respects you, you’ve inspired her, and she couldn’t wait to go to your class each day.

I have a daughter who cannot bullshit. She won’t boast, can’t pretend, and doesn’t waltz around thinking she’s special. She thinks her teachers are special.

They are.

****

Coffee mug by PhotoCeramics on Etsy.

how do you mother yourself?

May 14th, 2017    -    65 Comments

One of the first readers of Momma Zen, by my timid invitation, was a middle-aged single gay man who had no interest or experience in parenting but a keen eye for content.

“This is about parenting yourself, right?” he concluded after a quick flip through the pages.

I agreed as if I knew. As if that very insight had guided my hand.

But those aren’t the kind of insights that illumine the daily life of a mother when the process is so totally involved with the continuous operation of a malfunctioning bundle, so wholly immersed in behavior management of a toddling monster or a moody teen.

We don’t see our lives clearly when we live it as though it has an external object and outcome. Judging it as if it is a foregone conclusion or – what if? – a looming failure.

Yet how we mother our children can never be anything other than how we mother ourselves, because it is all one life. So my question is not how you parent the people you undoubtedly love the most, but rather, how do you mother yourself? Because there are not two ways.

Are you kind and forgiving?
Do you give yourself quiet attention?
Permission to play?
Discipline to work?
The confidence to do things by yourself?
Are you honest with yourself?
Do you encourage yourself to go outside?
To take a breath?
To try again?
To take risks?
To be silly?
Are you hurrying toward some imagined milestone?
Do you undermine yourself with constructive criticisms?
Are you undisturbed by your apparent lack of progress?
Are you tender, careful and trusting with yourself?
Do you comfort fears, or magnify them?
Do you nourish yourself?
Laugh at yourself?
Smile in greeting each day?
Do you abandon yourself to preoccupations with the past?
Do you make new friends and forgive the old?
Do you allow that the world is entirely your own and encourage self-mastery?
Do you sleep when tired and eat when hungry?
Take a bath and splash?
Do you let yourself rant and cry for no good reason and then coax yourself back into the familiar cushion of your very own lap?

Do you tell yourself you are a wonderful mother and a beautiful daughter? Then let me be the first, and not the last.

How do you mother yourself?

A printable copy of this post is available here.

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this is love

April 20th, 2017    -    3 Comments

There is a certain attitude, perhaps unavoidable, that most of us seem to adopt as we grow up. It is a kind of self-satisfied conclusion that our parents didn’t love us. Oh, they might have loved us, but they didn’t love us enough. They didn’t love us the right way. They didn’t love us just so. Have your own child and you will penetrate into the utter absurdity of that idea.

About six weeks ago I heard from someone trying to find a passage I’d written that she called “one of the most compassionate and eye-opening pieces of writing I have ever read.” It was about forgiving your parents for all the ways they failed you, and she wanted to share it with a friend as soon as possible. I told her that every book I’d written was more or less about that very thing, but having long since tired of reading or remembering my own words, nothing in particular came to mind. A few hours later she wrote back, having easily found what she was looking for at the beginning of Momma Zen.

Babies seem to be coming back into my world these days—babies and grandbabies of friends, family, and readers. It’s quite a joy. Meanwhile, I am feeling the cumulative weight of my own selfish errors and oversteps as a parent. It seems like the right time to remember how easy it is to find love, and how easy it is to give.

Just go back to the beginning.

It strikes me as best to begin with love. The word will never again mean so much.

Of course you love your spouse. You love your parents and brothers and sisters. You love your friends. You love your home, and perhaps your hometown. You love your dog. You may love your work. You might attest to loving your alma mater, mashed potatoes or reading on a rainy day.

But this is love. The feeling you have for your child is so indescribably deep and consuming that it must qualify as one of the few transcendent experiences in your plain old ordinary life. It occurs spontaneously as part of afterbirth. It is miraculous and supreme and irrevocable. It makes all things possible.

There is a certain attitude, perhaps unavoidable, that most of us seem to adopt as we grow up. It is a kind of self-satisfied conclusion that our parents didn’t love us. Oh, they might have loved us, but they didn’t love us enough. They didn’t love us the right way. They didn’t love us just so. Have your own child and you will penetrate into the utter absurdity of that idea. You will love your child as your parents loved you and their parents loved them. With a love that is humbling and uncontrived, immense and indestructible. Parents err, of course, and badly. They can be ignorant, foolish, mean and far worse, in ways that you can come to forgive in them and try to prevent in yourself. But this wholesale shortage of parental love at the crux of everyone’s story must be the product of shabby and self-serving recollections. Now that you are a mother, set that story aside, forgetting everything you thought you knew about love.

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what my mother taught me

April 13th, 2017    -    12 Comments

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 dark night after Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper when, in facing certain death, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them. Months before this day my mom had taken quiet confidence in me, telling me what she wanted for her funeral, what she wanted for her body, and asking me to write her obituary. Permission was thus tacitly granted to each other to proceed as we must. At her funeral I rose to say these words. They were not the first thing I had ever written, but they were the first thing I had ever written for myself, to be spoken in my own voice. This is the kind of thing that a mother can teach you. I have remembered it always, and especially on this day every year.

I wanted to share a few things with you about my mother. I’m sure you already know them. They are what bring you here today.

Nonetheless, over the last few months, she said some things that I wanted to pass along. She has probably been saying them to me all my life, but I suspect I heard them, finally, for the first time.

Just last weekend she looked at me, clear-eyed and steady, and told me what I’ve come to recognize as her final instructions.

“Be yourself,” she said. “And take good care of your family.”

Now you know that my mother could never, for one minute, be anything but herself. Honest, unselfish, unpretentious, lighthearted, optimistic and, in a way, so ordinary. So ordinary that she was, in fact, extraordinary. It drew people to her, to her comfort and ease. So open and accepting. So authentic. And so happy!

She kept all the cards and notes you all sent over the course of her illness. Hundreds and hundreds, perhaps even a thousand. She kept every one and everyday, more came. She was so uplifted, and in a way, mystified at the magnitude.

I told her that they showed how much she was loved. “Yes,” she said, and she shook her head in disbelief. “And just for being me.” read more

you won’t believe what I don’t believe

March 20th, 2017    -    21 Comments


From time to time I’m asked this question: What do Buddhists believe? I like to respond that Buddhism requires no beliefs, but that’s rather hard to believe. And so I offer this.

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 beginning, no justification and no reason at all. 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.

I believe in truth. Not the truth that is investigated or exposed, interpreted or debated. But the truth that is revealed, inevitably and without a doubt, right in front of my eyes. All truth is self-revealed; it just doesn’t always appear as quickly or emphatically as I’d like it to. This truth does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in freedom. Not the freedom that is confined or decreed by ideology, but the freedom that is free of all confining impositions, definitions, expectations and doctrines. Not the freedom in whose name we tremble and fight, but the freedom that needs no defense. This freedom does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in justice. Not the justice that is deliberated or prosecuted; not that is weighed or measured or meted by my own corruptible self-interest. I believe in the unfailing precision of cause and effect, the universal and inviolable law of interdependence. It shows itself to me in my own suffering every single time I act with a savage hand, a greedy mind or a selfish thought. It shows itself in the state of the world, and the state of the mind, we each inhabit. This justice does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in peace. Not the peace that is a prize. Not the peace that can be won. There is no peace in victory; there is only lasting resentment, recrimination and pain. The peace I seek is the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is the peace that is always at hand when I empty my hand. No matter what you believe, this peace does not require belief, it requires practice.

I believe in wisdom. Not the wisdom that is imparted or achieved; not the wisdom sought or the wisdom gained. But the wisdom that we each already own as our birthright. The wisdom that manifests in our own clear minds and selfless hearts, and that we embody as love, truth, freedom, justice and peace. The wisdom that is practice.

***

I invite you to join me at an upcoming practice retreat this year. I know it is too far, too much, too long, too impossible to ask, and I understand. I just believe in asking.

what to do next

February 1st, 2017    -    12 Comments

Never underestimate the power of a single monk on a mountaintop. He alone is transforming the universe.

***

A terrible forest fire broke out one day, and all the animals fled their homes. But one hummingbird zipped over to a stream, got some water in its beak, and rushed back to the raging fire. The little hummingbird tried to douse the flames with a few drops of water, then back to the stream it flew to retrieve more water. The other animals watched in disbelief. They asked the hummingbird what it was doing—one tiny bird would not make a bit of difference. The hummingbird replied, “I’m doing the best I can.”

***

On a winter day 56 years ago, Edward Lorenz, a mild-mannered meteorology professor at MIT, entered some numbers into a computer program simulating weather patterns and then left his office to get a cup of coffee while the machine ran. When he returned, he noticed a result that would change the course of science.

The computer model was based on 12 variables, representing things like temperature and wind speed, whose values could be depicted on graphs as lines rising and falling over time. On this day, Lorenz was repeating a simulation he’d run earlier—but he had rounded off one variable from .506127 to .506. To his surprise, that tiny alteration drastically transformed the whole pattern his program produced, over two months of simulated weather.

The unexpected result led Lorenz to a powerful insight about the way nature works: small changes can have large consequences. The idea came to be known as the “butterfly effect” after Lorenz suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado. And the butterfly effect, also known as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions,” has a profound corollary: forecasting the future can be nearly impossible.

***

It seemed to be going one way, and it turned out to go the opposite. The disaster is overwhelming, and you are powerless to change the tide. What do you do now? Be a hummingbird, be a butterfly. Do your best against impossible odds.

The hummingbird and the fire is a Japanese folktale, but you might like to hear it told by a masterful storyteller, political activist and Nobel laureate.

The story of Edward Lorenz is quoted from this article by Peter Dizikes in the MIT Technology Forum, Feb. 22, 2011.

And impossible things? They are happening every day.

 

I know

January 29th, 2017    -    16 Comments

Last week, I woke from a frightening dream in which a friend had gone missing. Nervous, I sent her an email and asked about her health. She told me that she had just been referred to a specialist for something serious, and had suddenly entered a place of uncertainty and worry.

Two nights ago, another friend appeared in my sleep and asked me to say a service for someone with a terminal illness. In the dream, we were in a vast temple, darkened by deep shadows. I ran across the long length of an endless corridor to find the altar and light the incense, panicked at the time being lost, the prayers unsaid.

Yesterday a good friend told me he had been to the hospital earlier in the week. His heartbeat was racing and he was short of breath. Tests were run, but no cause could be found. He thought he knew what it was. He had been waking at night in deep terror. His were the symptoms of profound anxiety.

This morning, a friend texted me and said that I had come to her in a dream last night. She was terrified about our country and sobbing. I appeared out of nowhere and hugged her. Then I said, “I know.”

In the name of terror, we are being terrified. In the name of security, we are being attacked. In the name of freedom, we have been made hostage. The temple is dark.

But this I have seen, and you have seen, and we can trust. Our fear is collective; our tears flow in common; our prayers ascend in one eternal sky. You appear to me and I appear to you. We are in this together.

I know. And I will always respond.

I am writing more than ever, saying all that I can. If you wish to subscribe to this blog and receive new posts in your email, please sign up here.

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