Posts Tagged ‘Love’

pledge of allegiance

December 19th, 2016    -    13 Comments

Today I stood in line behind nineteen other patrons served by a diminished staff of two underpaid postal workers, packages stacked cattywumpus in bins and on counters, the holiday stamps sold out, the customers impatient but still peaceable, because what else are you going to do, the wait stretching ever longer behind me as if to the end of time, or at least out the front door, and I thought to myself: this is what this country needs, indeed this is what this country is. Neighbors assembling in democratic fashion, first-come first-served, inconvenienced, to do something selfless for someone else, using an old-fashioned and unglamorous system that still ably conveys their tidings across inconceivable distance and indecipherable zip codes with a high degree of reliability, affordability, and yes, even speed.

Perhaps some of us have overlooked what is already great about this country.

Anyone with the proper perspective can tell you that greatness is not stitched on cherry red gimme caps or emblazoned in ten-foot-tall letters atop the penthouse floor, but found in inconspicuously small things. Small things have filled my time since I leapt off social media and invited people to save their Facebook likes and send me mail instead. Since then I have spent a little bit of every afternoon writing to folks who gamely wrote to me first, people in California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Nevada, Wisconsin, Missouri, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Iowa, states I name here so you can know that you made my day.

Your mail has saved me. Saved me from self-obsession, that is. From my own fear, angst, and despair. Because before I respond to a letter I read it several times, entering your life by quieting my own. This is nothing new, just something to be rediscovered: a key, I think, to civil society and noble friendship, the ability to interrupt for a moment the nonstop stream of self-absorption that otherwise engulfs and destroys us.

What I’ve shared with most folks is the vital necessity to take the long view right now, much like a postal customer, and to do small things with great love, as Mother Teresa taught. To be sure, there will be shameful waste and ruin, thievery, greed, lies, crimes and disruption on a grand scale, but our independent spirits can still rise. In these treasonous times, I pledge allegiance to the United States Postal Service, and to the flag of a Forever stamp. If you’d like my address, just send me a message through this Contact form and I will promptly respond because it is the single greatest thing I can do.

the rules are broken

December 12th, 2016    -    6 Comments

Last night I saw my neighbor at the gas station in town. We didn’t recognize one another at first even though we’ve lived next door for 17 years. A sad sign of the times. We immediately fell into each other’s arms, saying what needn’t be said, that every day it gets unbelievably, horrifyingly worse and that our country is dead. I told her it feels like the flags should be flying at half-mast. She said she feels sorry for our teenage daughters, a year apart. There was a contract we thought we had, a contract with the future that depended on our effort, intelligence, honesty and decency. Did you ever feel that? It was fragile, to be sure, but it’s what we grew up believing.

The rules are broken, I said.

A night or two after the election my daughter came into my room as I was sitting. “Mom, if you let me get a tattoo . . . ” she launched into a proposition that she knew was absurd, “would you get one with me?” She explained that since she was under 18, she could only get a tattoo with a parent’s consent.

Every institution in our country is collapsing and what comes up in the middle of the fall is the tiny matter of a tattoo.

I did not straight away say no, because of the realization that has taken hold in me: the rules are broken. We’re going to have to depend on something else, you see, than what we thought was allowed. How we thought things worked.

I said yes.

I told her about a certain phrase in of one of my books that has inspired quite a few people, words that I wrote with only her in mind. I suggested that if we got identical tattoos based on that message, even though people all over the world have shared it on the internet, we would be the only two people in the world who shared it in real life and knew what it really meant.

And that dialogue has since caused piercing pain for me, but total amusement and pride for her, and considering the way the world is going, it has made us both very happy to have each other, two blossoms blooming on a branch that will never break.

healing the fall

December 9th, 2016    -    5 Comments

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Empty-handed, the masters say, we attain the Way. This is the healing power of your peaceful presence, resisting nothing, adding nothing, thinking nothing. Sit quietly and enter the fullness of time, where the seasons advance in one viewing. Know that leaves bud and break. Flowers bloom and burst. Fruit softens and drops. Earth is our mother. She heals even the last fall.— Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden

Please remember to purchase this book for holiday giving. It is perfect for making peace with mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, and conveying love to gardeners, caregivers, teachers, neighbors, friends and enemies. Thank you for supporting my life and practice.

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the girl on the train

June 8th, 2016    -    17 Comments

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When I was little I took a train trip halfway across the country. It was at Christmastime. I remember it as a luxury, a measure of how modestly my family lived otherwise. The train seats were upholstered. I had a bag of brand-new puzzle books and snacks. The porter brought around pillows in creased pillowcases. They cost a dollar apiece to rent. It took three days to get from Union Station in Los Angeles to Austin, Texas.

The train traveled through the empty desert and mountains, across days and nights. We stopped at unfamiliar places in the dark and snow, at old depots in dying towns. People got on and off.

I was only six years old then, in 1962. I was not afraid. My sisters were with me, and my mother was across the aisle.

We got off the train on the third night and were met by the grandparents I hardly knew. My mother’s whole family was waiting to see us. They missed her so much and she lived so far away. Only lately have I realized how hard it was for my mother to miss her mother every day for so long.

I’ve been remembering this since last night when I heard the first woman to become the presidential nominee of a major party saying she wished her mother could be with her right now, a mother who taught her that she could grow up to be anything.

You may not like this particular girl. It doesn’t matter. Some of my own friends call her corrupt, a piece of shit, a snake, things that shock and horrify me, and not because she is a girl—no, not that. They always assure me it’s not because she’s a girl.

This morning I read an article about this girl’s mother, the one who inspired in her daughter such determination and courage. Her mother, you see, was once a girl on a train. Abandoned by her parents at age 8, traveling with her sister to live with people who didn’t want her. By 14 she was on her own again, cleaning houses for strangers during the Depression.

And so today I ask myself this: what do I inspire in my daughter? Do I believe she can go anywhere and do anything? Do I trust, admire, and uplift her? Do I console and encourage her? Am I good company on her long trip to a destination I will never see? Have I taken every opportunity to give my daughter the reassurance my mother still gives me?

Because, you see, a mother may disappear, but a mother never leaves. She is at your side, just across the aisle, for a billion miles across the empty sands. She buys you snacks and books and a fresh pillow. She stays awake through the long night hoping that you will rest. She weeps in humility at how little she can do, and infinite pride at who you have become.

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7 ways to be mindful with a teen

May 17th, 2016    -    11 Comments

QrYW7OmafWxuFeK7RAh5WwThese days kids are 2 going on 12. Mine is 16. What I keep in mind with my teenager is this one thing, the sum total of my old teacher’s advice on raising kids.

Become one with your child.

That may not mean what you think it means. It does not mean to fabricate phony friendship or rah-rah enthusiasm. Nor does it mean to harbor ambition, fear, hope, or dread. It means to become as your child is right now, meet them where and as they are, dissolving the distance from which you judge them. When judgmental distance disappears, you may see that the teenage years are very reminiscent of a far, far, earlier stage in parenting, when you tiptoed about, wanting nothing more from your child than that they sleep and eat, whereby they mysteriously and marvelously continue to grow.

Here is how I try to become one with my daughter as she is, the seven ways I practice mindfulness as the parent of a teenager:

1. Be quiet! — Teenagers become as quiet as the quiet you once wished for. They seem to disappear inside themselves, but they are not lost. Accept their silence within your own nonjudgmental quiet. The silence you keep between you is undefiled love. Trust, faith and respect grow in the silence. That way, when your teen speaks, it will be something they really want to share.

2. Do not disturb — You’re worried about whether your teen has enough good sense. But what do you give them 24 hours a day? Doubt and distrust? A nag, prod, poke, or push? An ominous warning? Anxious oversight? All of the above?  Imagine that your teen is now wearing the sign you once hung from the doorknob to the nursery. Baby sleeping. Don’t let your neurotic fears continually rattle the calm between you.

3. Feed yourself —Children learn to feed themselves. Now it’s your turn. As teenagers wrest themselves from their emotional dependence, parents can feel starved for love. Nourish your own neglected passions, purpose and interests. Fulfill yourself by yourself, and you’ll free your children from your emotional appetites. Now all your relationships can mature.

4. Draw no conclusions. — We are deeply attached to the illusory signs of  “successful” parenting. As in all of life, the next setback inevitably interrupts our self-congratulation. The only conclusion is that there is no conclusion. Stay on the ride. See where it goes. It keeps going forever.

5. Grow up. This is what I remember from being a teenager. As I reached the age where I could see my parents’ foibles and follies, I wished for one thing only: that they grow up. Like my daughter, I am trying my best to grow up.

6. Knock softly. For a few more years at least, your children are still guests in your home. As with any guest, be a good host. Give privacy; respect boundaries; ask permission.

7. Wait for the door to open. It will. Because there was never a door to begin with. You are not strangers. You are not enemies. Two blooms on a single branch: you and your teenager are one.

This may be a good time to read:

8 Reminders for Mindful Parents
8 Ways to Raise a Mindful Child
10 Tips for a Mindful Home
15 Ways to Practice Compassion on the Way Home for Dinner
7 Tips to De-Stress Your Home
Rules for a Mindful Garden
10 Tips for Mindful Writing
5 Tips for Meaning in Cleaning
10 Tips for Mindful Work

***

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because it is impossible to hold

May 9th, 2016    -    1 Comment

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Because it is impossible to hold, I hold it.

Because it is impossible to hold, it is a word.

Because it is impossible to hold, it fills everything.

Because it is impossible to hold, it falls down.

Because it is impossible to hold, it stands up.

Because it is impossible to hold, it breathes.

Because it is impossible to hold, it lets go.

Because it is impossible to hold, it never leaves.

Because it is impossible to hold, it never ends.

Because it is impossible to hold, love keeps forever.

why don’t you just be the mom

April 26th, 2016    -    32 Comments

If you ever wondered what you are supposed to teach your child, please read this and learn from me.

It was Thursday afternoon about four-thirty. Georgia was racing through her mound of homework before we left for gym practice at five. (Do math, do science, write a poem.) The minutes were ticking.

This is where it gets sticky.

She’s finishing gluing drawings into her “Silk Road Journal” (16 pages, front and back, history project due the next day) when she lets out a high shriek. The glue has exploded out the cap from a hard squeeze and blanketed two whole pages. The booklet is a soppy mess. Her artwork is doused. She sobs. I stiffen. She collapses. I look at the clock. And what I think I see is no more time.

I really think that time is up.

How is it that a girl and her mother can get stuck between two pages of the Silk Road Journal? Wedged between the pitiless hours of four and five on a Thursday? Strung between almost-done and starting over? Knotted, tangled and ripped in two?

I don’t want to tell you.

I don’t want to tell you what I told her. About what she didn’t do, didn’t plan, and didn’t finish soon enough. About how little and how late. The cause and the fault. How I couldn’t and wouldn’t and didn’t know how to help.  And what did she expect me to do?

Then she turned to me, through her sobs and streaked cheeks, and asked me the one thing that is still so hard for me to do.

Why don’t you just be the mom? Why don’t you encourage me?

Why can’t I just be the mom, and not the taskmaster, the lecturer, the appointments manager, the critic, the cynic, and the know-it-all? What is more important to show her than love? What is there always time for?

All great people, in their profound humility, remember their mothers most. They remember a mother who believed in them. And no matter how late, believed that there was still time. No matter how little, that there was enough. No matter how dismal the prospects, that it was possible. A mother who loved without measure, without schedule and without hurry. A mother who was just the mom.

So we blew off the timetable and moved to the dinner table. I gave her all the room she needed. She spread out and started over, using all the time it took. It went slow, but I encouraged her. She might have learned a lesson about glue, but I learned a lesson that I pray will stick.

When we realize that our child is not the child, then we begin to practice parenthood. It’s never too late to for me to grow up and be the mom. In fact, it’s time I did.

Originally published on Feb. 27, 2012, proving that it’s always time to just be the mom.

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so many mothers

April 13th, 2016    -    19 Comments

So much love.

The neonatologist, wheeling us out of NICU for the drive home: “Don’t worry. She’s strong and full of life.”

My mother, wearing a wig after chemo, holding my daughter for the first time: “I never thought this would happen.”

The pediatrician, about my difficulty breastfeeding: “Don’t let this come between you and your baby.”

The best friend, whenever I needed it: “She looks like you.”

The babysitter, on her first day: “We love each other already!”

The grandmother at the park, remembering life with her twin babies: “I had to get the laundry going every morning by 9.”

The nursery school teacher, before she had words: “She is a genius.”

The stranger watching her hoist herself to the top of the slide: “She’ll be a gymnast one day.”

The kindergarten teacher, on our first visit to the classroom: “I’d say she’s ready.”

The teacher at the parent conference: “She’s friends with everyone.”

The gymnastics coach: “You can be on our team.”

A fellow parent confronting the mystery of sixth grade math: “I have faith that they will figure it out.”

The Algebra teacher: “You know you can do it. Just give yourself time.”

The friend, after her admission to art school: “It’s what she was born to do.”

The English teacher, even after her panic attack in the classroom: “She’s the kind of student who will do well anywhere.”

Her counselor, when she had been frightfully sad, lonely and confused: “What an amazing young woman your daughter is.”

My mother, knowing her time was near: “I’ve often thought she came to take my place.”

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Remembering so many mothers on the anniversary of my mother’s passing April 13, 2001.

I’m here

February 10th, 2016    -    12 Comments

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Years and years ago when I was young and busy and my mother was alive, I would rarely call home. So when I did, it was a sign. If my father answered, he wouldn’t stay on the line for longer than a minute because he knew something was up, and my mother would have walked into the kitchen and looked at him questioningly.

“It’s Karen,” he’d say as he handed her the receiver.

Then she would get on the line and say, “Karen.”

And just like that she was there, all of her, for me, which was why I called, and I would start crying.

I called because I was going to make a C in Contemporary American Poetry. Because I’d totaled my car. Because I was going to get married. Because I was going to get a divorce. I had called because I needed her, which happened a lot more than just the times I called, but I was the one who isolated herself, the quiet one, the one who stayed away. And she always let me.

One time in my early 30s, I had to have surgery for endometriosis. This is a diagnosis that doesn’t need major surgery these days, but in those days it meant a week in the hospital and six weeks at home. When I woke up a day after surgery she was sitting in a chair opposite me and although I’m sure this was part of the plan I couldn’t imagine how she had transported herself to my side. She had a bag of books or magazines or work papers with her and she was settled in and I knew that she wouldn’t leave. She stayed a week with me in the hospital and a week at home where she brought me soup and crackers in bed like it was nothing and she asked nothing. She always knew how to ask for nothing.

Later on, older and married again, I moved to another state and I was for some time unbearably sad and afraid of what I’d done. I called that time and asked if she would come for a visit.

“I was just waiting for you to ask,” she said.

***

When I go to a retreat like the one last weekend in Massachusetts, the group of us, mostly strangers, sit with one another in a silent room for five or six or eight hours a day, and there isn’t any conversation. We sit in the quiet, and walk around in the quiet, and follow the schedule to show up at certain times and be quiet together again. And after awhile or certainly by the end you might realize that you have been sitting in a net, and that you are actually part of the net that’s holding you and everyone else up. After all that time and right before you go home you have the chance to speak. Someone will say something like this:

This is the first time I’ve ever done this. I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve read all of your books and they’ve helped me so much and I always told myself that if I ever had the chance I would come to one of your retreats and then I saw that you’d actually be here and I couldn’t believe it and I had to come.

There are usually tears by then and not much more to say, but so much more you can’t even say, and I want them to know everything my mother wanted me to know if I ever asked.

I’m here.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Los Angeles
Sunday, March 20
More info here

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the transfiguration of the bathrobe

January 22nd, 2016    -    5 Comments

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The robe my mother wore was blue, quilted, ankle-length, with three-quarter sleeves. She had other robes during my years at home, but this is the one I remember. I remember that she wore it when she got up every morning to make breakfast, and had it on when she opened my bedroom door in the dark and said, “Time to get up, Karen.” I remember her in the robe while we ate our breakfast at the kitchen table—scrambled eggs and toast or cereal and milk—and then we hurriedly got dressed and went to school and her, to work.

My mother did her very best at everything. I would have called her excellent. Our house was small and clean. Sometimes if you looked closely you could see that things were not always so nice. When she wore the blue robe everything seemed warm and safe and reliable. The days began in the same way. There was always breakfast. We were always on time. My mother wasn’t sentimental or silly about anything. She was at all times grown up and good.

None of this may have happened the way I tell it except for the blue bathrobe and the feeling of being loved.

***

There is a lull that opens up between a mother and a daughter. A trench, a sinkhole, a grave and terrible silence. Feelings are overwhelming. Conversation is impossible. Words are dangerous. The truth can seem unbearably close and yet a million miles away.

***

I saw a plush pink bathrobe hanging in the window of a store in town and I knew I would have to buy it. It was expensive but I didn’t care. I took it home and laid it on my daughter’s bed so she would see it the minute she got home.

She put on the robe that night. Then she put it on every night. She would say that she was about to take a long bath and if she washed her hair would I dry it? She would tell me that she was going to take a break and Facetime with a friend. Have some tea with honey. Toast before bed. And twice, seeing me, she would smile, come over and embrace me in a plush hug, suddenly so grown up and good, a mother to a child.

None of this may have happened the way I tell it except for the pink bathrobe and the most excellent, unforgettable feeling of being loved.

***

noun trans·fig·u·ra·tion :  a change in form or appearance :  metamorphosis :  an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change

Jim Dine, 1984: The Robe Following Her

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serene through all their ills

January 17th, 2016    -    4 Comments

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When I travel around the country for meditation retreats, they usually take place in rooms that weren’t designed for Zen meditation. We may come together in a converted barn, for instance, or a basement, conference room or classroom. All that matters is that the room be empty. Then into the space we put a little bit of the form, or appearance, of a Zen retreat.

That means a bell, a statue of Buddha, and if allowed, a candle and incense; cushions or chairs; and a schedule of seated meditation, walking meditation, and chanting services throughout the day. It sometimes seems to me like we fashion a retreat out of popsicle sticks, but somehow it works.

To a beginner, the form appears strange. It’s rarely anything you’ve done before; classical Zen is not exactly a free-for-all. It’s important to see that the form of a retreat isn’t imposed, like a rule. It is offered, like a life raft. Form gives us a place and a way to rescue ourselves from ourselves. What do I do now, our crazy mind shrieks. Do this, form tells us. But how, we wail. Like this, the form shows us, and we have one less thing to fret about.

One of the first things I invite people to do at a retreat is write down the name of someone who is suffering, someone other than themselves. Even though people come to a retreat to get something—something called Zen—we automatically receive the benefit of our own practice. The point is to extend the benefit to others. The names go onto our retreat sick list which is chanted out loud as part of each day’s service. People might offer the name of someone who has cancer or is going through a personal calamity. Someone ill, elderly, or near death. We all know someone in those straits, and those are the first names that come to mind.

At the first morning service, people are self-conscious. Anyone would be. They are chanting things they don’t understand, mumbling words and syllables that don’t make sense. The chant leader is trying to find the right rhythm and pitch; the names on the sick list are mangled. But this is practice: everyone doing everything together for the first time. There is no criticism spoken, but of course, we often judge ourselves harshly.

With each service, the chanting grows clearer and more confident, and each morning the sick list grows a little bit longer. In our empty room, our minds are growing clearer. We think more compassionately of others when we stop obsessing about ourselves. We might approach the chant leader and ask, can I add one more name to the list?

On the last day of retreat, the chanting is strong and beautiful. The words merge in one voice. All are alert and present. The chant leader makes a point of sounding out each syllable. The names are carefully pronounced, and the list is twice as long. That’s when I hear the names of our children, partners, and parents: people who may not be distressed except by what we say to them, what we do to them, what we expect of them, and what we think of them. We have, by the last day, forgotten ourselves, and in that forgetting, taken responsibility for everything and everyone. After saying the last name on the list, the chant leader intones the final benediction:

May they be serene through all their ills
and may we accomplish the Buddha Way together

And in that instant, they are, and we do.

***

Even when it’s made of popsicle sticks, there is room in the raft.
Come sit by me.

Zen Retreat: Meditation as Love
Feb. 5-7, 2016
Kripalu
Stockbridge, MA

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after the accident

January 6th, 2016    -    8 Comments

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Last year about this time I told my husband our new azaleas were dying. The leaves looked like rust, and I thought I knew why. Not enough water, too much sun, the wrong plants in the wrong place, the money for nothing, the work wasted. Before pulling the dead ones out, he snipped some leaves and took them to the nursery. That’s when I learned something new.

The leaves of some evergreen azaleas turn red in winter.

Even good drivers in the morning rain

don’t see the other car coming.

Paint nicks. Glass cracks.

One world ends before another.

You are not safe.

So remember what your mother has told you:

Effect is the noun. Affect is the verb.

When in doubt, leave out the comma.

Add salt. Use butter.

Never serve food you haven’t tasted first.

Rinse stains in cold water.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow

but soon and for the rest of your life.

You’ll see.

In springtime, flowers bloom.

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what I could have said

December 3rd, 2015    -    5 Comments

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Though I think not
To think about it,
I do think about it
And shed tears
Thinking about it.

—Ryokan

I could have said good morning.
Are you hungry?
Did you sleep okay?
Are you warm enough?
They say it might rain today.
You look happy.
Sounds like fun.
Sounds perfect.
Have a good time.
Enjoy yourself.
Love your shoes.
Love your hair.
Sure.
Relax.
Not a problem.
It will work out.
I wouldn’t worry if I were you.
You’re a hard worker.
You’re a good person.
You’ll figure it out.
You’ll do the right thing.
You can always change your mind.
I think you’ll do just fine.
It will be OK.
Take your time.
There’s no hurry.
I understand.
I trust you.
I love you.
I’m proud of you.
I’ll be here when you get home.

Because bad things really do happen to people we love, and we might wonder if we could have said something different.

 

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