Posts Tagged ‘Love’

Opening the box of my heart

September 26th, 2008    -    26 Comments

A letter to my daughter on my birthday.

My dear heart,
It is customary in these parts to post letters of reflection on our children’s birthdays. But at my age and altitude, a birthday is everyone’s birthday and I can no longer split the difference.

There were stirrings that something was up with you of late. A scurry and hush as I walked into your room. The scattered remnants of things cut out, disassembled, refashioned. You assured me that I would love the present you were making for me, if only I could wait.

This was new for you. Not new to make something, no that isn’t new. But to make and keep a secret of your own. To guard yourself so well and to let excitement crest in your own sturdy chest.

In the morning I came into the kitchen and found the surprise you had snuck overnight onto the center of the table, mimicking every birthday of your own, starting the party at dawn, because not one moment of a day so long awaited can be wasted.

I found a box.

Inscribed with the curious glyphs of a language you now own:

Decorated with pictures of your friends and family, the people and the places you inhabit with and without me:

Labeled emphatically with the contents, the contents that cannot be named or contained:

Opening it, I already know that everything is inside.

I love my life.

The power of powerlessness

September 15th, 2008    -    27 Comments


There was a horrific train collision near Los Angeles on Friday. A few hours ago I learned that my neighbor was one of the terribly injured. He is a reliably good and loyal customer at one little girl’s lemonade stand.

There was a colossal hurricane in my old hometown on Saturday. Millions are without electricity, and that includes many dear friends who must now be sweltering in the long dark and silent wake of the littered remains.

There is more disquieting news out of the presidential campaign, ever more staggering in its dimension of hidden truth and dire consequence.

There is an implosion in our financial markets the likes of which leaves none of us little people far enough or smart enough to be out of the quake zone. Our corner savings bank could well collapse by morning. Much bigger streets will topple, and my nest will shudder too.

I am powerless in the face of this powerlessness. I am as powerless as those without power, without truth, without safety and with a careless engineer at the wheel. In solidarity with all who suffer and to bring my mind to peace, I’m unplugging myself this week, going offline to the certain solace of prayer and meditation, steady work, wash, and walks with a very good dog.

I will take power in the only place it can be found: the right here and now.

Take comfort, friends I know and cannot reach, and friends I reach but cannot know, in my brokenhearted love.

I heart NY

September 8th, 2008    -    12 Comments


Start spreading the news. Jen Lee and I chat in a heart-to-heart over in her hip of the slope.

And as long as I’m at it, see if you don’t find yourself in my palpitations:

I heart Montreal, Cedar City, Commack, Hanoi, Cohasset, Philadelphia, Milton, Pearland, Erie, Sydney, Issaquah, North Billerica, Reston, Madison, Berlin, Den Haag, New Boston, Old Boston, Gilbert, Tyler, Grand Rapids, Seattle, Astoria, Orimattila, Glen Burnie, Louisville, Minneapolis, Silver Spring, Everett, South Pasadena, Burnaby, Buxton, Jacksonville, Saint Louis, Littleton, San Jose, Champaign, Austin, Hitchcock, Belfast, Toronto, Frazier Park, Vereeniging, Boise, Ebern, Los Angeles, yes you read that right, even Los Angeles and especially Hollywould, Norman, Portland, Watertown, Paris every day of my life, Omaha, Phuket, London, Unterhaching, Tacoma Park, Romeoville, Tillatoba, Summerdale, Kingfisher, Lynnfield, Sandy, Coventry, Chelmsfort, Montataire, Moscow, Sant-Ouen, Newport Beach, Bedford, Vancouver, Killeen, McWatters, LaPorte, Fresno, Central Islip, Franklin, San Juan Capistrano, Utica, Lausanne, Somerville, Radolfzell, Liphook, Zurich, Hanford, Asheville, Longview, Port Angeles, Palos Verdes, Wonder Lake, Leesburg, Oklahoma City, Reno, Providence, Wilbraham, Waterloo, Indianapolis, Denver, Wellington, Brooklyn, McKinney, Salem, Midlothian, Plainfield, Englewood,Lynnfield, Bethlehem, Zofingen, Des Plaines, Trowbridge, Hudson, Williston, Havelock, Sherman, Fayetteville, South El Monte, Klaipeda, Imperial, Trostberg, Braselton, El Paso, Methuen, Washington DC, Sliedrecht, State College, Ingolstadt, Orly, Winnepeg, Birmingham, Kailua Kona, Smyrna, Irvine, Scottsdale, Ledyard, Saint Petersburg, Dayton, Columbus, Tampa, Engen, Greensburg, Baltimore, Dallas, Venice, Albrightsville, Douglasville, Lakeland, Mississauga, Oakland, Affoltern, Santa Clara, Calgary, Sterling Heights, Anderson, San Francisco, Walla Walla, Lincoln, Bamberg, Livermore, Knoxville, Charlotte, Caroga Lake, Mesa, Halifax, Dublin, Valley Stream, Parow, Frederiksberg, Kaneone, Dauphin, Stoneham, Cagayan de Ore, Ooltewah, East Hampton, Boca Raton, El Mirage, Eugene, Gteborg, Chattanooga, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Albuquerque, Grafton, Valencia, Russell, Gracemont, Canberra, Dexter, Virginia Beach, Tuscola, Saint Paul, Kansas City, Evanston, Camden, Orange, Brighton, Canton, Lafayette, Ottawa, Phoenix, Houston, Holliston, San Luis Obispo who doesn’t love San Luis Obispo, Overland Park, Chapel Hill, Montclair, Hoofddorp, Queens Village, Ridgway, Atlanta, Newton Center, San Clemente, Maastricht, Trenton, Honolulu, Victoria, Calverton, Farmington, Nicholasville, Cincinnati, Alexandria, Sarasota, Downers Grove, Livingston, Kent, Newark,Westwood, Gooik, Fremont, New Orleans, Chicago, Burlington, Union Grove, Calumet, Little Elm, Scottsdale, Santa Fe, Santa Barbara, Sherman Oaks, Columbia, Raleigh, Davao, Fort Lauderdale, Kurri Kurri, Rockville, Charleston, Watonga, Morinville, Athens, Durango, Westlake, Plano, Rochester, Bailey, Hinesburg, Lubbock, Little Rock, Palmar, Syracuse, Keene, Cambridge, Warwick, Custer, Wellesley Hills, Sudbury, Griffin, and whether you find yourself here or don’t find yourself here, you will still find yourself here, yes you and everyone everywhere who shares this dance floor right here on the head of a pin.

You won’t believe what I don’t believe

September 5th, 2008    -    17 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, once again, to join me at another one-day beginner’s meditation retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 21. I know it is too far, too much, too long, too impossible to ask, and I understand. I just believe in asking.

Untitled by anonymous

August 21st, 2008    -    4 Comments


In silent witness to a quiet one, and courtesy of wordle.

What an (awful, terrible, rotten) mother I am

August 18th, 2008    -    22 Comments


“Mom, are you ever going to grow your hair out again?” she asks for the trillionth time, while I am sitting at the kitchen table trimming her nails for the billionth time. This after one of those long, full exhausting Sundays of overdue chores that quite nearly empties me out. (Quite nearly.)

“No,” I snip in reply. (I am a Buddhist priest and what length of hair I still have tells you everything about the ego I’ve yet to let go.)

She looks away and says nothing, and I feel the temperature climb up my spine to a rolling boil.

“Why would I?” I erupt. “I’m just a slave around here!” (Did I say that? Or was it my mother, or her mother, or the ancient mother of all mothers?)

It’s quiet as I finish up her hands and feet, then she skips up the hallway to her room.

“Here, I want you to have this,” she says when she returns, holding out a folded bill. It’s $10 from her savings.

I shake my head in remorse.

“It’s for helping us,” and here she pauses to find the words, “to live.”

(Leaving me to repay the favor.)

Love of our lives

July 29th, 2008    -    7 Comments

This is a snapshot of Georgia, at two, dressed up in what had been my honeymoon nightgown. She claimed it from my closet, where I had let it become dusty and discolored from disuse.

That just about sums it up.

But not really the whole of it, not the best and most of it. Look at her coy and come-hither loveliness. She’s a decoy, my daughter, a decoy luring my husband and me to a place far gone from the honeymoon, a place of love and respect that is no romance, to be sure. But honest, and difficult, and workable. Serviceable, handy, constant, everyday.

That reminds of this post, which I present as a tribute to the man I love.

(I wonder what kind of hopeful, insistent, half-obsessed mother put the potty chair right there.)

Over my head

June 29th, 2008    -    6 Comments

If I tried too hard to understand it, I might miss the view.
From a hand-drawn sign taped to my daughter’s bedroom door.

Aquatic Center
of what I like and love

Love
TV
Acting
Movies
Friendship
Art
Dogs

Like
Turtles
Tests
Friends
Pink
Blue
Fish

Big gulp

May 29th, 2008    -    10 Comments


I’m looking out the window
for my baby to come home
because today she left without me
while I stayed behind and mopped up:
the floor, the walls, the ceiling,
the stickiness of me

I’m looking out the window
for my baby to come home
because today I spilled over,
supersized with my own wonderfulness
when I asked, “Want some Coke?”
(Which I never do, you see, since Mommy says it makes kids stop growing
and that settles that.)
I poured this one-time specialness over ice in a cup,
toasting my good-motherness,
our happy-togetherness,
handed it to her
and instantly it spilled,
emptied over homework and folder,
onto table and chair,
soaking the Crate and Barrel rug.

The poison rose in me like foam over a tumbler
streaming down the sides
puddling on the counter
my long tongue lashing out the blame
lathering the shame
my arms and legs erupting
in a crazy-lady dance
saving wet pages
wet carpet
letting her wet face dry by itself.

How awful, how inane, over a pause that refreshes?
Sugar water and dye.
I’ve had my pause. I’ve died.

I’m sick and sad and sorry to be
looking out the window
for my baby to come home
Standing alone
where I can catch the first gleam
It’s what moms do
we do it forever
even before we are moms.

The waiting is worth it.

* * *

For Denise. In fullness. Of time.

Too hot to handle

April 28th, 2008    -    10 Comments


As I write this the helicopters growl overhead, the sun glows orange through an ochre haze and petals of white ash drift in a funereal descent. ‘Tis the season.

It’s not supposed to be fire season but we have one nonetheless, a little fire that exploded into a big and menacing one overnight on the brushy mountains behind our home. We are still here and safe, one block outside the evacuation line.

I already had the title of this post in my head two days ago and it applies even more now. I’ve written about Southern California wildfires before. They are an intermittent fact here in desert paradise. You might wonder how we can handle it. The answer is we just do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Today we wait and trust and offer a hand to those who live one block higher up the hill.

The fact is, no matter which state we reside in we all live in the pit of the flame, confronted time and again by conditions that seem too hot to handle. Sometimes the most we can do is offer an oven mitt, a sopping towel, a tall cool one, or a breather. Whatever we do is the best we can do. We all handle what we think we can’t.

And in that spirit I offer for your interest and consideration several quenchers.

Those of you who oohed over my daughter’s tortured art may be ignited by her one-of-kind potholders now up for bid at the Bloggers for Jeni auction. She made four to contribute to this amazing endeavor, all to raise funds for Jeni Ballantyne and her son Jack. The bidding on these is still quite low, and if you knew what I had to pay the wee miss in order to secure rights to her work, you would appreciate the bargain. Please bid high and often because these little squares are guaranteed to get you out of a hot spot. I don’t know how, but that Georgia can weave magic.

I’m offering my own kind of comfort on the auction, and it is already high priced enough. When the chance came to contribute to the sale, I couldn’t think of anything to give other than myself, and I routinely give that away for free, as you’ll see below. But that wouldn’t net any money for the cause, so we figured out how to give away nothing for something. The Comfy Day I’m offering is everything and more I can do for a mom (or dad) who thinks she’s in it alone, without a clue, a break, an extra pair of hands, a shoulder to cry on or a day off. I wish I could give it straight to Jeni but I think she’ll be just as soothed knowing that someone else is getting a lift. Think of it as a Mommy 9-1-1, suitable for a new mom, a multiple mom, or a group of moms, a shower gift, or a rescue for your own combustible self. If it doesn’t sell, I’ve already committed to contribute the value of my plane ticket to the auction fund so Jeni and Jack will get the most I can give no matter what.

That’s how we handle the heat, giving the most comfort we can give, knowing that there’s always someone farther inside the evacuation line.

***

Last week’s giveaway really caught fire and inspired a burst of wild-eyed generosity:

The winners of the English version of Momma Zen are nyjlm, Almighty Mama, Patricia, Amy and Shama-Lama Mama.

I’m sending the German version to all five people who asked, because what else am I going to do with a box of books in German? (Especially when I evacuate!)

Winners, please contact me via email on my profile page and leave me signing and shipping instructions. Soon the air will clear, the breeze will cool, and I’ll be winging your relief packages in a flash.

Where in the world

April 23rd, 2008    -    13 Comments


My husband gave me a new car. This is a gift of staggering dimension, and I’m only now, as they say, beginning to “wrap my mind around it.”

It was not a surprise. On Christmas morning he handed me a piece of paper with the picture of a car on it, the car he had determined was right for my needs: hauling all kinds of precious and ever-growing cargo. Then he spent several more months deliberating on the features that were the ones he thought I deserved.

My old car was doing fine, but at 12 years old, it could definitely be called old. I had driven it from Texas to California in 1997 and it symbolized the life I had left behind: a life of workaday grind, grief and stress, yet relative solitude and independent ease; a life without a child, a dog, a Brownie troop and Keebler crumbs. Mine was the kind of car that never fails, yet lately, when pressed to make a road trip, I felt better off renting some reliability.

When we arrived at the dealership, I could tell from the start that times had changed since the last time I bought a new car.

I remember the delivery process like this. You sit behind the wheel with the salesman beside you. He shows you the refined and slightly unfamiliar features of the dash: the windshield wipers, the gear shift, the lights, the stereo, the AC, the adjustable steering column, the cruise control, the CD changer (!), the remote side mirrors (!), the cupholders (!).

There was none of that.

Instead, we sat in the front seat and he began punching a touchscreen that occupies the center of the cockpit. As a car marketing professional, he must have sensed the slight quiver that was about to send my female eyeballs orbiting, because he said:

I’ll never buy another car without one of these.

Hmm, I thought, I’d better keep my opinions to myself.

His fingers were flying through maneuvers that I would never remember.

You can find the nearest Starbucks, for example.

Isn’t there one on every corner?

When you’re alone on the road this will lead you straight to the nearest Chinese restaurant.

If I’m ever again alone on the road I’m heading straight to China.

I’ve already programmed in your home address.

Can’t I just go back the way I came?

I considered it all harmless folly, even when he handed me the owner’s manuals. That’s right, two manuals. The manual for operating the car was 584 pages. The manual for operating the GPS system was 274 pages.

My husband sensed my trepidation and said, “Want to just follow me?”

And I did. Things went smoothly until he decided to try a shortcut. Then the map started scolding me, in that mildly sensual yet patronizing voice inherited from patriarchal computer forebears.

Right turn in one-quarter mile, she suggested.

Left turn in one hundred yards, she intoned.

Right turn ahead, she insisted.

Left turn ahead, she shrieked, and shot me in the head.

The commands elevated in urgency as the system rapidly reconfigured the route to accommodate my husband’s own innovative guidance choices one car ahead. Once we arrived home I was drenched in flop sweat and palpitating with fury.

I did not set my ass in that car again for one week.

Oh I know there’s plenty of gender psychology at work here, but I consider it all too obvious to mention.

Suffice it to say this may well be the car that I deserve, but I’m more convinced than ever that I don’t deserve it.

Honey, I said carefully to my husband one morning, I just don’t find myself getting lost that often.

Compassionately, he disabled the GPS and I’m getting used to driving again. I’ve located the radio. But I haven’t yet ventured toward the windshield wipers.

And I know in my gut what the lesson is. If I can overcome my aversion, if I can truly find my way around it, then I will finally be getting somewhere.

Something about my mother

April 13th, 2008    -    33 Comments

She was standing on my front porch, right where I would find her. I rushed up and hugged her. I was so happy, although she was dead. Her body was like ash in my arms, crumbling and decayed. She was dead, but I was not afraid or repulsed. She took me up, like in a flying dream, but not a flying dream. We flew into space, into the vast darkness and pulsing light. I felt celestial wind in my face. It was exhilarating.

I asked, “Is there a heaven?”

She said yes.

“What’s it like?”

Like this, she said, like this.

***

My mother died on April 13, 2001. Seven years, and this is how I remember her.

It was an attribute of her deep Christianity 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 small hours before Good Friday, the dark night after Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper, when Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them.

***

Not too long ago I chanced upon a telling of what has become a bit of family lore, that my mother, a devoted Lutheran and good churchgoer, had never known that I was Buddhist. She would not have stood for that, the reasoning goes among my relatives, who have mistaken the strength of her faith for hardness.

What is true for me, what I remember, is what my mother said when I told her of my first encounter with my Buddhist teacher and the peace that I had found. What she said then, 15 years ago, was what today I recognize as the ultimate sanction a mother can give.

“Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore.”

***

It’s not that she was flawless. She did a lot of things I know she wished she hadn’t, a few things I wished she hadn’t, and some of them, like marry my difficult dad, she did more than once.

Still, none of that stays.

What stays is something else, something that is replenished with every recollection, with every blink and heartbeat.

When my father died four years after mom, he had just begun to keep company with a sturdy and decent woman. I told her of my dream about my mom and she made it real.

“When you can remember it,” she said, “it’s not a dream. It’s a visit.”

***

My mom brought me right back home, to the front door, and then she said something.

“There’s only one thing I want you to do.”

What is it, I asked. I would have done anything she said. I was filled with immense joy and thankfulness.

“Love Jesus,” my mother said.

I will, I said. I will.

Only later, upon waking, did I wonder. And then I stopped wondering.

***

I am sorry.

I am sorry that I am too often clever, unkind, rude, and critical. Too snide and quick. Sometimes when I am like this it causes others to hurt. Even when it inflicts no outright pain, it causes confusion, and that is the most chronic and enduring pain of all. So for your sake, for my mother’s, and for all of us, I’m sorry.

I offer this reparation not because I am a Buddhist. Not because I was raised a Christian. I say this because I am my mother’s daughter. Being my mother’s daughter is the only way I can know who she might have been, and the only way you can know her is through me. This is how I keep her alive. This is how I keep peace. By loving as she asked me, as she showed me, as Jesus loved.

There are many names, but only one love.

Rest in peace, Mom. You don’t have to worry about me anymore.

***
Artice Patschke Tate
June 20, 1933 – April 13, 2001

No one you know

April 10th, 2008    -    20 Comments


Children need to believe that the world is an interesting and safe place. Without it, they cannot grow and explore. When we rear our children to fear other adults we truncate their growth. Human development occurs within the context of real relationships. We learn from whom we love.

–Mary Pipher in The Shelter of Each Other

I scarcely gave the circumstances of my daughter’s life much thought before she was born, occupied as I was with my wished-for baby as the imagined end of the process. But soon, I faced up to the obvious. Here on this earth she would be mostly alone, without the company of kin. [Insert tears here.]

Not only were my husband and I older parents and she an only child, my parents were older and soon to be gone, my sisters older and far away, my nieces decades older and also far away, my husband’s parents farther away and his nieces way farther still.

But as soon as I mustered the gumption to roll a stroller down the hill into our two-bit town, I saw relievedly how it would go. With every coo, grin and bat of her lash, my baby drew people to her, perfect strangers, who filled her eyes and ears with the marvel and music of love. I saw her future instantly: She would draw people to her, and she would never be alone. She would always be loved and her life would always be full and new, if I could keep mustering the gumption to leave the house.

And this makes known my third and final ingredient in my personal program to cultivate childhood creativity.

Ingredient Number 3: A Stranger

It is difficult to trust people, I know. It is difficult to trust teachers, I know. It is difficult to trust other places and even other children, I know. But when we don’t, when we burrow and hide, when we reverse and recoil, when we bind ourselves too tight to our better judgment, creativity curdles. Full and thriving, life doesn’t just depend on the new; life is the new. Life is, by definition, strange. It is always enhanced by the kindness of strangers.

But now I can see that strangers are not always strangers, rather just people with new and unfamiliar gifts. The strangers who will serve and inspire your children may well be the same-old friends, family and neighbors; those with high recommendations and faultless referrals; or they may be the untried and unknown; the teacher you most dread in the school you’re dead set against; and the troublesome kid in the back row. We cannot know or second-guess which strangeness will spark creation’s promise, only that it will. Life is forever new and unfolding; endless and – get this – good.

The stranger my daughter needs most is very often me, when I emerge from my shadowy house of fear and follow her into the bright light of an unknown world where we frolic and swirl to the marvel and music of love. That could be today. It could be any day. Anyone stopping me? Anyone stopping you?

If you still doubt the pervasive and positive influence of strangers, consider this: No one you really know was involved in the writing of this post. Or the reading.

***

Find out even less when you read the first two installments of this three-part peculiarity on creativity: paper and story. Or go back to the beginning and start all over again.

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