Posts Tagged ‘Love’

the transfiguration of the bathrobe

January 22nd, 2016    -    5 Comments

1984+The+Robe+Following+Her

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

popsicleboat1

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

Stillness-1

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.

 

a mother’s unmanifesto

November 10th, 2015    -    25 Comments

window1Do not be me.
Do not act like me, look like me, talk like me, live like me or remember me.
If you should, in some late season, see me in yourself, realize that I am long gone and happy to live forever in the deep well of your forgetting.
Forget my voice.
Absolutely, I mean it this time.
Even this voice!
Allow yourself the quiet I disturbed.
Remember instead what you said and what you did.
The things I overlooked.
The things I tried to change.
Your silliness.
Your friends.
Your fascinations.
Your refusal to listen to my worry and fear.
I was trying to turn you into me!
Find your heart.
Free your mind.
Use your feet.
Love your life and hate it, sometimes, too.
Everything is permitted.
Give yourself totally to your world.
Overrule me.
Remove my hands.
Escape my grip.
Kick me out of the house.
I will fly in on the starlight
between the cracks
through the gaps
in the empty veil of time
and watch you.
Silently watch you.
It’s all I ever wanted to do.
Love, Mom.

For my daughter, in tribute to my mother, with apologies all around.

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in the backseat

October 14th, 2015    -    No Comments

Downtown LA view from the backseat of my friend's car

There was a shadowy presence, and I was afraid.

This summer I had a dream. In the dream my daughter was driving a car. In the backseat there was a shadowy presence. I could not see who it was, and I was afraid.

I’d been feeling a little wobbly since my daughter declared last fall that on February 12, 2015, she would be 15 1/2 years old and eligible for a learner’s permit under California motor vehicle law.

I braced myself.

Suddenly she was speeding through a series of tight turns, each more unexpected than the last. She had already researched online driver’s ed and would I please sign her up? You mean today? And having finished the course, would I schedule the permit test at the DMV? Are you sure you’re ready? And having passed the test, would I arrange for the six hours of driving instruction? So soon? And if I was going to the grocery store, could she drive? Right now? And could we go to the mall and practice parking? Tonight? And could she drive home in the dark? And in the rain? And in traffic? And on the freeway?

Freeway driving I scheduled with her certified driving instructor, and they drove off one Saturday morning in September. When she got home two hours later, I asked how it went.

Fine.

Where did you go?

I took the 210 to the 134 to the 101 to Studio City and then the 101 to the 5 to the 134 to the 210. (Forty-five miles round trip.)

Doesn’t he know you can’t drive? I didn’t say.

***

One day she saw a used car for sale in the parking lot at In & Out Burger. It was the exact car she wanted! She took a picture of the car, the license plate and the phone number. Two months later, the car was still for sale. She took it to our mechanic, who gave it a thumb’s up. Then she passed the driving test. The last question was: could she buy the car?

I didn’t answer. I didn’t have to. Before she died 15 years ago, my mother sent a gift for Georgia: some money to save, which turned out to be the exact amount of the car. I can imagine what my mother was feeling as she was about to let go. Her last grandchild only a year old, all her journeys still to come. She must have wanted her to feel loved and strong, confident and free, always.

In my dream I couldn’t see, but now I know who’s in the backseat riding with Georgia, and my heart is at rest.

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so much magnificence

August 27th, 2015    -    6 Comments

1

It was the day before Austria found 50 bodies in a truck on the side of the road. The day after the young Roanoke reporters were murdered on TV so the shooter could post it on Facebook and Twitter. And three days after my daughter woke up for her first day of a new school year.

“I dreamed Donald Trump bombed our school because we have gay students.”

Do you know anything about Donald Trump? I asked her.

I just know that he is stupid.

This is our world. The virulent, ignorant, unimaginable evil of it, screaming past us every day.

***

A few years ago, at the end of a summer yoga class, lying vanquished in the death pose, I heard a song come through the speaker. A single voice sung a four-line lyric (well, three) to an acoustic guitar, and then swelled into a two-part harmony.

There is so much magnificence
Near the ocean
Waves are coming in
Waves are coming in

It was so plain! Repeating and repeating without ever going anywhere. But I was mesmerized. Eight minutes of a song with no beginning, middle, or end, and I didn’t want it to be over, didn’t want to silence the strange and awesome power of the simplest tune I’d ever heard.

It was sung by a guy named Steve Gold. I bought the song and never got tired of it. Sometime it’s the perfect time for it.

Maybe this is what we mean by magnificence. The pristine beauty of things bigger than us and simpler than us and yet so near to us, coming in, coming in, coming in, to the sand we’re standing on.

I can’t do anything about anything, but I can share the magnificence. Let this be enough for now.

my practice isn’t working

August 20th, 2015    -    20 Comments

If my practice doesn’t make me more tolerant, humble,
and generous,
my practice isn’t working.
If my practice doesn’t make me more respectful, loving, and
sympathetic,
my practice isn’t working.
If I can’t forgive and forget
begin again
stop, drop
turn around
wake up
say hello say goodbye
be kind be quiet be still
listen laugh
cry it out
give it time
sit down stand up
get over myself
smile
admit I don’t know
then my practice isn’t working.
If I’m not less cynical, less critical, less arrogant, less mean
then my practice isn’t working.
If my practice doesn’t fill me with wonder, gratitude,
fearlessness, faith and trembling doubt
my practice doesn’t work.

Does my practice work?
Only when I practice.
Let’s do it. Soon.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Oct. 18
Introductory Zen Retreat, Kansas City, Oct. 23-25
Zen Retreat at Meadowkirk, Middleburg VA Dec. 10-13
Meditation as Love, Kripalu, Feb. 5-7

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15 ways to practice compassion today

August 19th, 2015    -    15 Comments

Marc-Dombrosky1I hear quite a bit about compassion, that brand of selfless love we usually judge ourselves to be lacking. Talking about compassion may be one reason it is so frequently misunderstood as something that we should be doing. But compassion doesn’t need doing. It exists already in the harmony of things just as they are.

Discord comes from our doing — when we impose our judgment, expectations, fear and greed. Compassion comes from undoing. Compassion greets us when we undo our boundaries and erase the lines we said we’d never cross. Compassion waits in the space between us, the space that only seems to separate us: a gap we close when we cease all self-serving judgment and take care of whatever appears in front of us.

We don’t have to go anywhere else to find compassion. Not to the Himalayas or even a meditation retreat (although the latter is probably cheaper and easier on the feet.) We don’t have to sit at the foot of a guru or stand on our heads. We won’t find compassion in a book, a blog, a TED talk, a sermon or an inspirational quotation. People who argue the need “teach” compassion usually mean their own idea of compassion.

Right in front of you, every moment of every day, is the only place to practice compassion. Do you want to live in friendship or fear? Paradise or paranoia? We are each citizens of the place we make, so make it a better place. Here are 15 ways to practice compassion today. You don’t have to do 15. Just do one as an experiment so you will recognize the source of compassion within you. You’ll feel good, and then you’ll share that goodness more easily and more often.

1. At the grocery store, give your place in line to the person behind you.

2. Ask the checker how her day is going, and mean it.

3. On the way out, give your pocket money to the solicitor at the card table no matter what the cause.

4. Admire children and praise pets, especially bothersome ones.

5. Roll down your car window when you see the homeless man on the corner with the sign. Give him money. Have no concern over what he will do with it.

6. Smile at him. It will be the first smile he has seen in a very long time.

7. Do not curse your neighbor’s tall grass, unshoveled walk, foul temperament or house color. Given time, things change by themselves. Even your annoyance.

8. Thank the garbageman. Be patient with the postal worker. Light a candle for the power company and the snow plows.

9. Leave the empty parking space for someone else to take. They will feel lucky.

10. Buy cookies from the Girl Scout and a sack of oranges from the poor woman standing in the broiling heat at the intersection.

11. Talk to strangers about the weather. Forgive weather forecasters.

12. Allow others to be themselves, with their own point of view. If you judge them, you are in error.

13. Do not let difference make a difference.

14. Do not despair over the futility of your impact or question the outcome.

15. Love the world you walk, ride and drive around in, and make it your home. It’s the only world you’ll ever live in, and you have all the love in it.

Leave aside the extraordinary lengths and heroic measures. There’s an eyeful of suffering right in front of your face. Often, people look frightened and lonely. They seem bothered, hurt and terrifically sad. Kindness doesn’t cure everything, but it cures unkindness. What a magnificent place to start.

Art:

Hand embroidery and found cardboard sign by Marc Dombrosky.

moving toward love

July 28th, 2015    -    9 Comments

new-photographs-of-crashing-ocean-waves-frozen-in-time-by-pierre-carreau7

I was two days home from three weeks in silence when the calls and emails came. The fall, the break, the orphaned kids, she was only sick twelve days, the surgery, the setback, the job loss, nothing on the horizon, the unexpected and unimaginable, he’s on morphine now, with no warning, no hope, and no answers, the mountainous pain made immediate and real, and my doubt disappears, the shroud of my self-concern, the scrim of my small personal failure, and I know what there is to do.

Do for others, do for others, do for others.

When? When they appear. How? Without self.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.

The world, you see, does not end in a fire or flood. Not with war or pestilence. The world ends with the self. May we mind our devotions, and enter the vast and empty eternity of love.

Photo by Pierre Carreau

commencement address

May 28th, 2015    -    13 Comments

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Two mornings ago, dropping my daughter off at the curb, her mind a muddle of wind and worry with the end of the school year, I turned on the radio for the ride home.

A set of triplets has been admitted to MIT, where the admission rate is less than eight percent.

It’s the time of year the waves seem flooded with this kind of triple-rainbow success story, however rare it occurs in real life. The lower the odds, the more is made of it. I remember this one because of what came after it.

Twenty-four dead in floods and 13 in a tornado, including an infant sucked by the storm out of its mother’s arms.

And I am overcome by the cruel arrangement of high and low, the valedictorians and the victims, among them four vacationing children flung from a floating house into the tidal surge of a timid river, now but a whisper on the lips of a radio news reader.

My daughter tells me she is anxious these days, and I can see why. She has been wrestling with questions that have no answers. Where is the right place, the right way, the right time, the right choice, where should I go, who should I be, what can I do, what do I want. Some would say her thinking is precocious; some would call it a curse. I cannot save her from these waters. She has to swim across, and I have to watch and wave. The wind drowns out any instructions I shout from the shore.

They made incredible sacrifices growing up by taking the most difficult courses, their father said.

And I wonder when it all became so difficult. The river so high, the odds so low, the rain, the wind, the storm that twists a mother’s entire life right out of the baby carrier on her chest.

There is no higher ground, people. No safety, no shield, no fix for the fix we’re in. I can’t say more without getting carried away. Watch the news for yourself, if you can bear it. Love everything and let go.

One will be speaking at commencement and her message for other students is simple: Just relax, have fun and do what you love.

 

getting along fine without me

May 17th, 2015    -    14 Comments

381069_10150447692416247_262842176246_8779182_1129924044_nBuddhists don’t try to cause trouble, but one thing that troubles people about Buddhism is the concept of non-attachment. That’s because we think attachment means love, and we think love means I can’t live without you. We are always hung up on our own self-serving notions—what I need, what I want, what I like, what I think, what is best, what is right—and that’s the cause of suffering. We attach to those ideas as though they were life itself. The truth is never the phony thing we attach to in our heads. The truth is as it is.

Buddha taught what he called the Four Noble Truths. He taught truth as it is, complete and universal. He called it noble because there’s nothing more true than what is. You don’t have to believe this is true because you experience it every time things don’t go your way.

1. Life is suffering. Things change.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment. It hurts when things change.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable. Accept that things change.
4. There is a way out of suffering. By changing yourself.

When we try to imagine what it means to overcome our attachments, we picture cruel and unfeeling indifference. But that is never the outcome of overcoming attachments. That is never the outcome of accepting what happens. That is never the outcome of allowing people and things to be as they are. The outcome of non-attachment is love.

I don’t have to preach this. You know it yourself by waking up to life as it is. Your children grow up and grow distant. They might upset, alarm and even despise you, but your eyes still flicker at the sight of them. Your parents grow old, enfeebled and afraid, dependent and encumbering, but you care for them. Sickness comes, disaster strikes, and seasons change. Everything falls apart no matter how hard you’ve tried: all that forethought, planning and prevention! This life of ours is strewn with faded blooms. You didn’t sign up for the hard part, but this is the way it is. How will you love what you don’t even like? There’s only one way: selflessly.

When you act with compassion, all your doing is undoing—undoing ignorance, suffering, fear, anger, exploitation, alienation, injury, blame, you name it—simply by undoing the stingy hold you keep on yourself. Thinking poor me impoverishes your entire world.

When she was about six years old, someone asked my daughter what it was like to have a mom who was a Zen priest.

“She screams a lot,” she said. It wasn’t the answer they were expecting. There were polite chuckles all around.

I can comfort myself with the fact that children only remember when their parents scream, not when their parents don’t scream. Silence, after all, is a non-event. No matter what I was hollering about, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to let it go. I wish I’d dropped my rage, fear, frustration, resentment, or despair: whatever illusory part of me I was cherishing at the time. I wish love could be my legacy instead, the way a camellia launches its blossoms into the oblivion of time without causing a quiver of pain. No one ever notices when a flower has fulfilled its purpose in life, just as no one ever regrets a moment lost to love.

***

Excerpted from  Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

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value the child

May 11th, 2015    -    6 Comments

My daughter went to a wonderful preschool that had a slogan on its brochure: Value the Child. I liked the sound of that, but it took me time to realize what it meant. It didn’t mean what I thought at the beginning. I’m not sure how many other parents ever got the gist of it. To them, the value might have represented the price of monthly tuition. We already valued our children so much that we wanted them to have the best, and the most, and the first, and the highest.

In other words, we didn’t value our children at all.

When I say that my daughter went to the preschool I really mean that I went to the preschool, because I did, for part of every day. Gradually, I learned what the devoted, loving and talented teachers were showing me: what it means to value someone else. It’s not a lesson to learn once.

It doesn’t mean to prize.
Not to elevate.
Not to demean.
Not to impose.
Not to judge.
Not to expect.
Not to push.
Not to accelerate.
Not to withdraw.
Not to label.
Not to conclude.
Not to give up.
Not to coddle.
Not to do things for them.
Not to do things to them.
Not to do.

To value a child is to value them as they are. To support them where they are.
To show them the immeasurable and eternal value of love. Yes, I know: a mother’s work is never done. But the next time you see your child, act as if it is, and smile.

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