Posts Tagged ‘Love’

p.s. i love you

April 19th, 2011    -    21 Comments

It was the toothbrush that told me. Alone and overlooked in the emptied medicine chest, it was one of the few things my lover had left behind. When I found it, I knew with certainty what I’d been denying to myself for some time.

It was over.

In truth, our relationship had been over for longer than I’d wanted to believe, but in beginnings and endings, one party can lag the other on the uptake. If the toothbrush was my messenger, what was his? Perhaps the time I kicked his suitcase to the curb? For years after, I would forget that part in the telling of the story, since we tell stories our own way.

Whether by choice or circumstance, by the fleet seasons of romance or the final curtain of death, love ends. At least the love that is a story ends. And when that happens, what are we left with? A passage we might otherwise never dare to take. A portal through denial, disbelief and despair, through rage and madness, beyond delusive fairytales and melodrama, into a state of wakeful grace that can only be called true love.

True love is what is left behind when love leaves. It only looks like the end. Make it through one ending, and you might change your mind about all endings. That is the miracle cure, the ultimate healing, left behind on an empty shelf.

***

Someone asked me to write an article about love. Specifically, about the ending of love, because nobody needs help with the beginning of love.

So I’ve been thinking about love, and here are some of the things I’ve been thinking. Thinking about love is the opposite of love, because love is never what you think. read more

seeing through

March 23rd, 2011    -    18 Comments

Here’s the thing about your 11-year-old. She has begun to see through the school she tries to like and the teachers she tries to love. See through the endless days and the culminating years. See through the grades and contests, the History Festival, Science Fair, Math Olympics and the Cultural Appreciation Day, all serving a half-hidden agenda. She has begun to see through the false privilege of measured gifts and talents, the flimsy prize of more work and extra credit. She has begun to see through the exaggerated stakes, the badges, and the salesmanship without end. She has begun to see through the unmasked elitism, the hysteria of parents in panic. She has begun to see through anyone and anything that would make a pet or pawn of her. And that empty stare, that wounded glare she brings to you – she’s wondering if you don’t see through it too.

There is that one thing, though, that ignites her pulse and passion, that giant leap beyond reason, a goal that defies the odds. See that through. Just see that through. And scream your fool head off.

goes well with chocolates

January 19th, 2011    -    3 Comments

Some of the most profound truths come from the simplest minds and mouths.

The movie character Forrest Gump immortalized his mother’s homespun wisdom in the line, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” The saying is so pervasively repeated and unarguably true that my 11-year-old daughter, although she’s never seen the movie, quotes it to me regularly. Surrounded lately by the tasty snack buffets of holiday parties and bowl games, I arrived at my own recipe for sagacious living.

Life is like a five layer been dip. You always get out what you put in.

Everything you do well requires these five ingredients. Together, they deliver irresistible goodness and lasting satisfaction . . .

Taste and share the goodness! Continue reading this recipe for a tasty life and leave your comment at the Huffington Post.

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The long curve of kindness

January 5th, 2011    -    50 Comments

Love is kind. 1 Corinthians 13:4

There is a lot of talk about love. There is a lot of talk about kindness. There is a lot of talk about something we might think is a high-potency spiritual blend of the two called lovingkindness. Oh, that’s the kind of kindness I want!

Everything we say about these things is one degree removed from the thing itself. But here I go in my infinite unkindness.

Lovingkindness is the absolutely emptied, undisturbed, vast and open state of mind we realize through meditation practice. Here she goes about practice again. I’ll find my brand of kindness somewhere else!

There is nothing else.

At the bottom, beneath it all, without any intention or elaboration, is lovingkindness. It is what we are; it is what everything is, as it is. When you actually experience it, not just talk about it, you find out for yourself. These days some people in the “help” business might sprinkle the mumbo-jumbo of Buddhist lingo on top of their talk to give it a little spiritual flavor. But unless you practice, the language alone is unfulfilling. It is inauthentic. When you serve it, no one can taste the truth. What is true?

Being is love; being is kind.

It is immediate and eternal. It is ever-present, absent the insidious self-centered spin we persist in putting on things.

Kindness is the long, gentle, never-ending curve we walk on.

Kindness is what we breathe. Kindness is what we eat, when we are not swallowing the bitter aftertaste of our own unkindness. The kindness of real food is what nourishes and sustains life, which is an act of love. read more

grief is a mother

October 24th, 2010    -    14 Comments

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva doing deep prajna paramita clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions. – Heart Sutra

We are on a death watch at my house. Which is to say, we are on a life watch. Redhead, the fantail I once boasted to be the world’s oldest living goldfish, has become the world’s newest dying goldfish. To watch her transit is a powerful and fitting thing at this hour. And although I kept her alive for so long by absurdly arrogant and heroic measures (see How to Keep a Goldfish Alive in 20 Easy Steps) now I am doing what is even more heroic: letting her disappear into her own insurmountable mystery.

Death surrounds at this time of year. It surrounds at all times, but in these dwindling of days we might see it. We might see it in the surrender of the sun and the swift triumph of night. Feel it in the grip of the wind, the cataclysm of leaves, mud, dirty windshields, paw prints, rain-dank rugs and snot: the whole soggy rot of life’s residue.

Yesterday we observed Obon at the Hazy Moon, a ceremony honoring our departed loved ones. The altar was crowded with photos of more people loved and remembered than have ever stood alive before it. Such is the way, and it is always the way, and it is always sad. Grief is our mother, and when we grieve, we taste her tears. We taste eternity, the brimming fullness from which everything rises and to which everything returns.

I can see the cycle of things that have lately come near:

A mother quaking in bottomless shock after her baby died at birth.
A friend moored in friendship’s final vigil.
A granddaughter answering the clear call of goodbye.

And right here too, come unexpected calls and emails, late word of swift departures and funerals on Thursday at 3. My daughter’s third-grade teacher was stunned six months into her happy retirement by her husband’s sudden crumbling fall into a mean disease. She walked into the school assembly last week, to see and be seen by the children she last cradled, the ones who will be the last to remember her. She whispered her widowed vacancy to me, “It’s the absence, the absence!”

I know that awful yawning space, that thunderclap after a jagged bolt rends the sky. It is the infinite ache of a mother’s heart, the heart we all have whether we are men or women, mothers or not. It is the absence that contains, curiously, our own presence, the tender fearlessness to watch and weep and let angels sleep.

Edited to add: Leave a comment on this post and I’ll include the name of your departed loved one in memorial services I do this week at my backyard altar.

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is you, the embodiment of infinite compassion.

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come here

October 17th, 2010    -    10 Comments

I’m about to leave Portland, and like every place I go, I love it. I love it on sight. I love it without effort. I love it simply because I’m here, and because Portland is too. It reminds me that I love my life every time I actually step foot into it.

When I drove to LAX on Friday morning under clouds and drizzle I thought to myself, This reminds me of Portland. When I got to the Portland airport that afternoon I thought to myself, This reminds me of Milwaukee or Denver. On the windy waterfront later having clam chowder I thought, This reminds me of Boston or San Francisco. At the little church where I spoke I thought This reminds me of Minnesota or Scottsdale. Some women walked in and I recognized them, and they reminded me where we had last met. Seattle.

The real world is like this, when you meet it face to face. It always reminds you that you’re home.

I like to sum things up as simply as possible, so when I give a talk, I say, “Everything I say, the whole point of the teaching, the only reason I’m here is to get you to come here.” Then I stick my index finger out and curl it toward me, “Come here!” And by that I mean come out of the confines of your head and all those thoughts that tell you what you can’t do or where you can’t go and come into the bright wide open field before you. “Make yourself at home here,” I say, “in your life.”

But today I see that’s only half of it. The whole point of the teaching is to get me to come out, to step forward, to keep going, so I can meet you and love you on sight, without effort. Because there’s no place like home, and no place that isn’t already home.

Thank you, all of you, for always encouraging me in my practice.

love is solid ground

September 23rd, 2010    -    6 Comments

A preciously dear friend has lately recalled light once seen and fallen drunkenly in love with eyesight. She sends me poems each day like valentines and I cannot resist sharing them. Yes, yes, love sees everything exactly as it is, and walks on it, barefoot.

The Opening of Eyes

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

– David Whyte

Photo of the Portland Japanese Garden. Come meet me on that ground, Oct. 15-16.

hello my name is

September 21st, 2010    -    11 Comments

There exists only the present instant, a Now which always and without end is
itself new. There is no yesterday or any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a
thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.
Meister Eckhart

My teacher Nyogen Roshi sent that quote to me in an email recently, suggesting that “you might find it useful in one of your upcoming programs.” Emailing is something we do sparingly, our relationship resting solely on the alchemy of face-to-face proximity. The rarity of his emails ensures that they are highly visible; the fact is, every email I receive is itself rare and highly visible to me, or my practice has lapsed, as Meister Eckhart observes.

On Saturday at the Mother’s Plunge in Boston, I started the way I always start – by introducing myself. “My name is Karen Maezen Miller,” I said, and go on to tell them that “Karen is the name my mother gave me, Maezen is the name my Buddhist teacher gave me, and Miller is the name Mr. Miller gave me.” I use all three names, and in that way I carry forward three streams of wisdom inextricable to every moment of my life and work. My name is not just my name. It is my teaching. When I state my name I am also stating my practice: the realization that no part of my life is more or less important. No part battles with another because there are no parts. It is all one life and all one practice.

Among the many practical aspects of Zen training is the protocol of its form: the way certain customs are prescribed and therefore serve to eradicate self-consciousness and confusion. Zen training tells us where to put our arms and legs, for instance, which is a question of considerable consternation for most of us most of the time. Practical too is the protocol of my formal practice in the dokusan room, the private interview room within which I meet and work with my teacher face-to-face. Although I have practiced with Nyogen Roshi for 10 years, every time I meet with him in dokusan, which is at least once a week (and once a day during retreats) I begin by introducing myself. read more

turning life into love

August 23rd, 2010    -    7 Comments

When I was at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral this spring, I asked the audience what they thought turned the inside of the church into a sanctuary. Was it the concrete walls?

When I was leading walking meditation in the chapel at Seattle’s Bastyr University in June, I asked the people with me what turned the ground under their feet into a pathway. Was it the terrazzo tile?

When I was at a yoga studio in suburban Milwaukee last Saturday, I asked the group in front of me to notice the change that occurred in the room from the time we convened at 2 p.m. until the hour we dispersed at 4 p.m. What turned the mildly restless, self-conscious discomfort at the start of our time together into the vast, settled calm at the end? Into a still and quiet ease so deep that no one cared to move? So satisfying that no one rose to leave?

The answer is you. The secret is yours. The power of your own nonjudgmental attention is what transforms space into spaciousness. It turns your wandering into the way. It transforms your life into love.

And now we’ll do the same in Boston when we gather for the Mother’s Plunge on Saturday, Sept. 18.  I’m so pleased that we’ll be meeting at the Seaport Academy, a therapeutic day school for adolescents who need extra attention to navigate the perils of growing up. The students will not be there the day we are, but your attention will, and your attention will transform our humble gathering into the spaciousness of infinite potential. Come see for yourself what the power of your love can do. We’ll leave some of it behind, and you can take the rest home with you.

And if you’re not on the East Coast on Sept. 18, come to the one-day meditation retreat I’m leading in LA on Sept. 12. We’ll turn our attention onto a bare white wall and unleash the wild blue yonder. You don’t have to believe it; you just have to see it.

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just one life

August 18th, 2010    -    9 Comments

We were side by side in the spinning class this morning when she turned to me and spoke over the pounding pulse of the imaginary road beneath us. We got into it last night. I nodded, and knew. After I made my plans and sent out the invitations, he won’t take the kids that weekend. The lonely long stretch of it, the gaping ache of betrayal. You just can’t do that! At every turn, the shock and sudden crumble. I know what he’s doing. He’s taking her and her kids on vacation. Another raging tremble. It’s more than we ever think we can bear. And I thought to myself “she should read my book.”
We rode.
We all ride.
Sometimes it’s steep.
We sweat and cry.
A slope, and then it’s harder yet.
Farther still and finally
The last gasp.

Class over, we slide off the bikes and she says to me “I should read your book.”
I wish you would, I say, because there’s just one life and I want you to know.
It’s not over yet.

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forget what you call it

July 21st, 2010    -    43 Comments

OK friends. I am officially now part of the problem. In Zen we call this kind of talk “going into the weeds” and I caution you not to get entangled in the vines. Here are my worthless opinions on the meanings of some commonly misunderstood Buddhist terms and why I think they are so easily misjudged.

DISCLAIMER: Notice that I just used the words problem, opinion, meaning, misunderstood, why, think and misjudge at the same time. Watch your step, and don’t take my word for any of this.

Glossary of Misconceptions

Attachment – Oooh la la. We think attachment means loving devotion, as in “attached at the hip.” But sometimes that isn’t love, is it? When we’re intoxicated by romance (or just intoxicated) we might want to stay attached forever. Don’t leave me! I can’t live without you! But attachment becomes uncomfortable and confining, suffocating and debilitating. And it doesn’t only mean clinging to what we like, it also means rejecting what we don’t like. Attachments are desires and aversions that we can’t let go of; the places we get emotionally, physically and mentally stuck. Life itself never sticks. So when an attachment gets ripped from our grasp by the ebb and sway of life as it is, we hurt. Attachments are the source of our suffering and unfulfillment. Can we ever let ourselves stop hurting? Can we ever be satisfied and happy with life as it is? The dark truth is that we are often attached to our suffering. We relive it over and over in our minds and reignite familiar, painful feelings. Sometimes we’re not quite sure who we would be if we didn’t have our unfulfillment to fill us up. The funny thing is, when we drop an attachment we find out that we’ve lost nothing at all.

Non-attachment – Boo hiss! Who wants non-attachment? That sounds downright sinister and at the very least indifferent. But non-attachment isn’t inhumane, unconcerned or indifferent. It simply means that when the ebb and sway of life carries us along, we can let go because we see all of it in a different way. It doesn’t create the absence of feeling or smug disregard. It allows instead the complete acceptance of all feelings and circumstances as they are, empty and impermanent. We hurt, and then we stop hurting. We grieve, and then we stop grieving. We are free. When we truly love someone or something, we grant them freedom from our own preferences. We neither clutch nor reject. Non-attachment is the nature of life itself: it keeps going. Non-attachment allows us to love one another and life as it is regardless of whether we like it right now or not. It gives rise to trust and cultivates faith in something far greater than what we wish: life as it is. Non-attachment is selfless compassion.

Ego – Uh-oh. Now the party’s over. Who invited the deadly sins? Envy, anger, greed, pride and all the rest are sure signs of ego. Thankfully I don’t have any of those symptoms if I do say so myself! There: that’s ego too. Ego is you when you are talking to yourself. “I like this; I don’t like that. I think so; I don’t think so. I agree; I disagree.” Ego is the voice of the thinking mind, the mind that conceives, perceives, measures, judges, evaluates, picks and chooses, likes and dislikes, clutches and rejects from the standpoint of a separate “I.” There is nothing wrong with ego, or thinking. Only most of your thoughts are not pleasant, and egoism is by nature self-serving and fearful. The attachment to ego is our most pernicious attachment. Still, we do not aim to destroy ego, just suspend its driving privileges! read more

sitting quietly doing nothing

June 28th, 2010    -    14 Comments

Last week my daughter finished fourth grade.

At the beginning of the year her teacher asked the students to make a time capsule from a cardboard cylinder and fill it with artifacts. Inside went a self-portrait; a hand print; names of favorite foods, movies and books; and a list of goals for the year ahead. She opened it on the last day of school, and this was what it said:

What I would like to learn this year:
1. Pi
2.More long division
3.More multiplication
4.To type

What I would like to accomplish in school this year:
1. Math Field Day
2. Student Council

What I would like to accomplish at home this year:
1. Middle split
2. Back handspring

What I would like to do to become a better person:
1. Volunteer at the aquarium

I record these things here not for her, but for me. I had not one thing to do with anything on this list, and she did them all. I no longer know what pi is or does, and any handsprings I do are mere metaphors. I post it to remind myself that her life is her own, and to make space for it to grow in every direction. To trust her able hands, agile mind, limber legs and passionate heart. To delight in the scenery and to marvel at the change. To keep company with her – silent, loving, loyal company – and to leave her off my list.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

For an up-close view of what I mean, see what my friend Pixie saw in my patch of paradise. The photo credit is hers.

A rose colored carpet

January 21st, 2010    -    No Comments

Flowers fall with our longing, and weeds spring up with our aversion – Dogen

I read a book this week that was really a good book, a memoir about how much a daughter loves her father, warts and all, and about how that love transcends age, sickness and time. In the story, the author recalls meeting up with a Buddhist family in Nepal during a bit of youthful wandering, and although she can’t reconcile herself to faith, she dismisses Buddhism in a single gust over that one prickly word we hold so dear: attachment. read more

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