Posts Tagged ‘Love’

Every bit love

September 15th, 2009    -    12 Comments

The other night I stepped into the living room to deliver the announcement: Timetobrushyourteethwashyourfaceitsbedtime! My husband and daughter were watching an ancient baby video, one of the ones we haven’t watched in, oh, nine years or so, a dozen obsolete formats ago.

We were starstruck.

She was not yet two. We watched her waddle in circles around the lemon tree, and then repeat a circuit around the yard, climbing the steps over and over, little feet sailing, arms flailing, head tucked and hell-bent on a mission called growing up.

She stood in sunken, soggy diapers twirling her goldilocks curls and rubbing her bedtime eyes.

She danced in a loopy bounce to grandpa’s ragtime piano, bathed in a spotlight of self-immersion and propulsion.

She emptied her first Halloween bag piece by piece, cooing a drooling baby talk of approval, chirping a drunken birdsong of eees and opps and umms that we understood perfectly.

I said to my 10-year-old, “Now do you see why we love you so much?”

Everything seen and unseen. Heard and unheard. Known and unknown. The confusion, the fear, the fatigue, the worry, the doubt. The rage, the gulf, the hurt, the tears, lonely sleepless anxious terribleness, all of it, the ugly underside of it, and the unwrapped rosy red yummy of baby’s first bobbypop. It’s all love.

My sweet lord. Every bit love.

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Attention is love

June 29th, 2009    -    13 Comments

Attention is the most concrete expression of love. What you pay attention to thrives. What you do not pay attention to withers and dies.

Quite simply, it bears repeating.

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The last 19 books I didn’t write

May 17th, 2009    -    76 Comments

stock-footage-colorful-books-stack-loop-colorful-books-piled-seamless-loop-with-copy-spaceAbout mid-way through this school year, my daughter started griping, I’m bored. I thought, whatever. She nagged me to volunteer in her class. I thought, no way.

When a four- or five-year-old uses the word, bored, it’s a safe bet they are playing with the word. But when they are eight or nine, it might be time to pay attention. When I did, it changed my life.

I like Georgia’s historic, charming, well-staffed, well-intentioned public school. She does too. This post is not about the shortcomings of her school. It is about the shortcomings of my attention.

My daughter and her classmates are being taught superlatively well how to write to rules and rubrics. But to write freely, for fun and without judgment? That’s a different story.

Stuck in my own nowhere of creative momentum, I plunged instead into a new adventure. I proposed to Georgia’s teacher that I lead a classroom project in something I’d never done, but that amounted to the only thing I could contribute. The magnificent teacher did her part: she said yes. Then, over a four-month period, she and I worked together with 19 third-graders to write their own creative nonfiction (and a bit of fiction) stories.

We tell our children stories. We read books aloud, and prod our kids to read for themselves. So they read about famous people, folk tales and legends, biographies, historical fiction and fantasies. But do they realize that their own lives are stories? That they have the experience and imagination to create and share stories that come entirely from themselves? Based on their own remarkable lives and the future they envision?

Well, of course, they can. Give them tools and attention and you will be amazed. I was amazed. I was encouraged. I was uplifted and transported. I was repaid a million times over, with the only payment that counts or lasts.

I want you to know that wherever your child goes to school, or doesn’t, whatever their age or grade level, they are brilliant. They are geniuses. They are authors. I am convinced already. I am their first fan.

I word-processed and printed out each three-chapter-long book on my computer. They drew illustrations and a cover design that we laminated. They wrote author bios and I snapped their photos and we put that together on the last page. We spiral bound everything together and then they went on book tour reading their stories aloud in classrooms of younger ages. We’re having a book festival next week where the kids will read their stories to their fellow authors and everyone gets a literary prize. An eraser. Oh how I prize my own, because the most important thing about writing is not that you finish. It’s that you start, and then start all over again.

What did they write? To keep it short, I assembled 19 lines from their work into this abridged life story. It gives you an idea of the treasure they handed to me.

My story is unlike any other.
I was born early because I wanted to go places.

My first smile wasn’t a real smile, it was my “about to cry” smile.

It was like being sad and happy at the same time.
When I was little I liked excitement. I put Cheetos in the microwave.

When people asked how many friends I had, I said, “It would take a long time to count them.”
It seems like I have friends all over the world.
Friends are magic, movies are magic and spelling is magic because people can read your writing.
Making people feel happy and safe is the most important thing there is.

Everywhere we went, we went fast.

I thought a lot about growing up, but my parents thought about when I was little.

That’s what parents do.

Sometimes you have to lose something to find something better.

What you love never really goes away.

I used to want to work in an ice cream store, but something tells me life will be more interesting than that.

The day you read this I may be 9 or 90.

Now my energy goes up in the daytime and down in the nighttime.
The funeral lasted three hours.

Somewhere I’ll be watching, and I’ll be happy if you are good citizens.

I could go on forever, but my heart is bursting, and I find I have some writing to do.


If you are a parent or teacher and you would like a copy of the lesson plan I created for this project, “My Life Story: A Creative Nonfiction Project for 3rd Graders,” just leave a comment with a way to contact you, or email me and I’ll gladly share.

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Remove, retread, repeat

May 13th, 2009    -    11 Comments

The other day I had to have a ginormous bolt removed from a tire and the hole plugged. It reminded me that retreads can have a lot of miles left on them, and so I plugged in this repeat post today:

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.

What do you believe?

My mother, my hero, my mountain

May 3rd, 2009    -    6 Comments

Heroic is she who stays even when she wants to run away,
sits and watches as the sky darkens and falls all around,

who cries, can track the patterns of loss and find
the truth like a birthmark of her own making,

who speaks when to speak is to risk everything
and is silent when to be silent is to protest

all the noise that drowns out the quiet hum of the love.

Heroic is she who waits, wading through impatience, willing to sit with rage, irritability, fear, annoyance –
all the makeshift states of the restless mind,

feeds the raucous morning birds whose song refuses silence,
abandons the stories that speed by like traffic going nowhere fast.

Heroic is the one who stays, even as the sky darkens and falls,
and finds herself in a pool of apple blossoms
after a hard rain.

Jena Strong

She is strong. She is soft. She is always.

She is Kuan Yin, Kanzeon, Tara born of tears, Mary mother of sorrows, Shakti, the great divine mother.

She is every mother.

She is the mother mountain, which is the very mountain of your heart.

See her for yourself when you come next month, or when you stay this week in honor of our mighty, heroic, eternal, compassionate mother selves.

I’m not afraid to keep company with tears and tissue. Just look who’s here with me.

The squiggly wigglies

April 23rd, 2009    -    3 Comments

I’m off for a three-day retreat at my practice home starting tonight, because this silent spaciousness is where all stories begin and end.

Before I leave I want to share some recent inspiration.

First, the Shambhala Sun has reposted my piece on the Dharma of Barbie. Even after you think you’ve tossed her, the old girl never dies. And there’s always a new generation of parents for her to haunt. If you scroll down to the end of the story, you’ll see the announcement that I’ll soon be launching a blog on their site named after the stuff that is always near to my heart. Once I sort the lights from the darks, we’ll see what comes out of it. Leave a comment over there and let them know that I’m not just full of suds.

This column in the New Yorker snapped, crackled and popped my eyes open earlier this week. It’s a fascinating look that could leave you wondering about how much you’re willing to commit to yourself during troubling times.

Speaking of troubles, I was touched by this letter to fellow practitioners. Not just because the need is urgent and the time is now, but because of the sheer delight in seeing that, even to a Rinpoche, practice is just pretense. We must all pretend harder!

Lastly, I was so moved by Cam’s reflection on loss. It reminds me that the why that has no answer is the very why we keep going, and that love and loss are never separate.

And just for a parting grin, this snippet of conversation two days ago over a sleeping dog.

Mom, you know what I’ve figured out?

What’s that?

A well-trained dog isn’t that much fun.

Why not?

Because you don’t get to wrestle it, and have trouble with it. You don’t get to be mad at it.

I see.

So a well-trained dog isn’t the best kind.

You think?

If we ever get a new puppy can we name it Squiggly or Wiggly?

Cut off her head with a pencil

March 28th, 2009    -    18 Comments

A reader wrote the other day with a bit of earnest confusion that gave me a quick tickle. Earnestness tends to promote hilarity. She said she’d finished the book and pretty much liked it until part of the last chapter that she didn’t understand.

Frankly, I can never imagine how my writing perplexes. To me, I’m always blathering about the most literal, obvious, barenaked things. Perhaps I can’t imagine the confusion because I’m so lousy at imagining.

The reader wondered if by skipping over the evil parts of fairy tales when reading to my wee daughter, did I do that for Buddhist reasons?

This is a very good question, and one that few would be sincere enough to ask.

Did I do it to overcome dualism? So that I didn’t present the dichotomy of good versus bad? Did I likewise edit out so-called good parts? To teach nonjudgmental equanimity? Which is to say, even-mindedness?

This is a question that points to the very trouble with Buddhism.

I laughed the moment I saw it, because no philosophy, Buddhist or otherwise, has ever guided my parenting. Philosophies aren’t very effective at guiding anything. It’s like learning how to drive by studying the motor vehicle code.

So I want to take a minute to make it clear. Many people want to be better, to do good, to raise better children, to save the world, to promote peace, etc. etc. and they reach for a philosophy to do it. Buddhism seems like a pretty nice one. But then, all philosophies are pretty nice ones. They just don’t ever seem to change behavior very much. (See items 1-10.)

What I apply in parenting is not an ideology or worldview, it is not Buddhism or any -ism. It is the magnificent, miraculous, intelligent, intuitive product of Buddhist practice. What I apply, on those lucky days I can find it, is attention.

Attention is what works when I crack open a Disney Read-Aloud Princess Storybook and see that the evil stepmother is about to dispatch an axeman to lop off Snow White’s head. Attention alerts me that it is an inappropriate and unwelcome image to insert into my baby’s silky haired noggin, especially at bedtime. So I skip it, and when my girl points to the picture of the hatchet and asks what it is, I say, “a pencil.”

Until you practice, you might have a hard time believing that attention alone can spontaneously direct and correct behavior without the substructure of a philosophy. A set of prescribed rights and wrongs. Or in the Buddhist sense, a set of prescribed non-right rights and non-wrong wrongs.

People are fond of saying about their chosen ethics or morality, “How else will we know right from wrong?” And I ask this: beneath your skin, in your bones, within your heart, have you ever not known right from wrong? Just attend to that knowing.

Attention alone is what assuages anger, abates greed, and promotes kindness. Attention alone is even-minded. Attention is love, and love always knows what to do.

I’m so glad you wrote and brought it to my attention.

Genuine fulfillment

March 17th, 2009    -    20 Comments

To chop the soft and blemished fruit into a past-due breakfast parfait, lace with warm oatmeal, then cajole my daughter into eating it instead of the Trix she finagled from the cereal aisle and which I’m certain will give her sugar-induced pea green diarrhea.

To rise from my sickbed to do the weekend laundry, resurrected from my habitual resentments, appreciating this simple task as the essential business in a whole and healthy life.

To tenderly, mindfully, as though approaching an altar, hang nearly every item of my daughter’s laundry to air dry, because although it is our fervently futile wish that she never grow up, I can still do my best to ensure that she not too hastily grow out, and starvation is not an option.

To notice that, within the full hamper of cleaned clothing, not one pair of her socks had been worn in the previous week, meaning she is suitably free of her mother’s fastidious conventions.

To hear my grace, my Georgia, against her willful inertia, practice the piano and deliver to me the most lovely praise songs, thus knowing that my own mother, standing in her own kitchen, despite my fumbling artistry, once received the same sweet cup of satisfaction from me.

To flush and fill the fish tanks with fresh gallons of distilled elixir, a weekly baptism, comforted that in the vast mutabilities of this life, I can pour this gold into the goldfish forever.

To watch my husband and daughter circle each other in wary regard, to wrestle and shout a messy wreck of feelings, to see them suffer their deep adoration of one another, and leave it be, well and good and theirs alone.

To receive, sort and distribute 1,700 boxes of Girl Scout cookies into and out of my garage, ennobling each girl with the triumph of her participation, relieving each parent by the discharge of their duty.

To take, one by one, copies of my book to the good old United States Post Office, knowing these recipients by name, the readers by heart, and remembering full well that I can “wait a year to get rich.”

To see without doubt that when my dog places her muzzle on my left thigh while I sit here at the cockpit of my ruminations, it is indeed time to take her for a walk, because dogs are never confused about what time it is.

To relent and allow, when my daughter asks by name for an afternoon snack, the bowl of Trix she favors, and makes for herself, apprising me in the process that she had a bowl of the same yesterday and it didn’t turn her insides green.

To have all of this, to forget it, and then remember again, remember again, remember again.

Zen stimulus plan

February 24th, 2009    -    11 Comments

Get up when the alarm goes off. Make your bed without a second thought.

Walk your child to school. Notice the sky, the buds and the berries. Let the sunlight and fresh air dispel the mood of sullen reluctance.

Greet her teacher with a wide smile that imparts your trust and respect.

Walk the dog. The dog knows the way.

Say hello to your neighbor sweeping his sidewalk. He is nearly recovered from that terrible train collision. When he asks you for some good news, say, “Rain is in the forecast.”

Let him tell you about the groundcover seeds he’s about to plant. Laugh that between the two of you, you’ll keep the nursery in business this year.

Visit Jim’s blog and donate a couple of dollars to rebuild the far side of the world. Extend the domestic rescue and recovery to Mongolia, where English is still revered as the language of liberation, and learning it is an act of love.

Using what’s at hand, make dinner.

Drop by the grocery store for extra cheese from California, Wisconsin and Ohio.

When the checker asks if you found everything, say yes. Then ask her how her day is going, and mean it.

Clean up the kitchen without complaint, because one day soon you may need the rain gutters cleaned.

Day done, go to bed. Don’t waste a minute of this wondrous mind to self-criticism, worry or distraction.

Rest easy, knowing that tomorrow won’t bring any more than you can handle, or any less than you absolutely need.

One size fits all

January 27th, 2009    -    25 Comments

In case you thought my life was any different than this.

I was fuming. I spend a lot of my time fuming. Because of my husband. Know what I mean?

You don’t pay attention, I say.

When I fume, he does too and the cause of it, from what I gather, is this:

You pay too much attention, he says.

Neither of us is right, but both of us have our reasons. Reasons are a big problem in this house, but they usually get rinsed out in the wash.

Except lately, I haven’t been doing his wash for him. I don’t know how or why. I just stopped. He has the most clothes, wearable and unwearable, the most laundry, washed and unwashed, of anyone in the house. I think one has to do with the other.

My reasoning goes like this. Perhaps because he hasn’t – oh, in the last 13 years – had a weekly face-to-face with his laundry pile, he unduly cherishes his wardrobe, and unduly dismisses the meticulous task of caring for clothes.

Can I donate this to the rag pile, he says.

Trying to be helpful, he holds up a single pair of old socks.

Just throw them away, I instruct. He doesn’t like to give away worn out or outgrown clothes, and you know how I feel about that. He likes to buy new ones. I noticed last week he was sporting a handsome new sweater of a dense weave.

I picked it up while I was at the mall, he says.

I have a judgmental eye for those kinds of things. A judgmental eye for all kinds of things. I see that his old sweaters are stretched out and threadbare, but they are still crowding his drawers and closet. Still filling the hamper with to-dos.

Are you doing your laundry, I say.

He’s put a small load in on Sunday before I could start the heavy lifting. A few important things along with the new sweater.

I actually love to do laundry. Rather, I love to finish laundry. The clean, warm, folded, fresh scent of accomplishment. I just wish there was money in it!

Let me put it in the dryer, he says.

He is being responsible, cheery, chastened after one of my harangues. Washer cleared, I start my own load. About 30 minutes later, I open up the dryer to empty out his stuff. One glance at the surviving swatch of sweater and I turn it inside out to read the label he hadn’t.

Hand wash cold, it says.

Only some of you know what unexpected encouragement I took in finding those three words. Those three little words. Not because of what they meant about him: that he hadn’t paid attention, but because of what they meant to me: to take heart and keep going. To keep washing, drying, rinsing, and writing. To have faith, because I now have a new sweater that fits me perfectly!

It only cost $25, he says.


The Malia chronicles

January 22nd, 2009    -    12 Comments

Dear Malia,
My name is Georgia Miller. I’m 9 and from California. I watched your Inauguration at school today. What is it like at the White House? What I really want to know is if you want to be pen pals. I would love it if we could but it’s ok if you don’t want to. I hope to get a letter from you!

When my sisters and I were really little, we were lovestruck by our handsome president and wished that we could be his darling princess daughter. Then came the teen throbs of Lynda Bird and Luci to moon over. I understand what we have going on now in our house. I understand it completely.

It’s Malia time all the time.

First, she wrote and mailed this letter. Then she decided to name the lead character in the story she’s writing “Malia.” Then she wrote a one-act play last night after dinner about a girl named Malia, age 9, doing her homework.

Malia: Ugh! More homework! I’m already on my third page!

It’s not a pure love, you see, because romantic love never is. It’s subtly and insidiously self-serving. “You see,” she says bright-eyed, “I think everyone will be writing to President Obama and Malia won’t get any letters. Mine might be the first! And if we become pen pals then she might invite me to the White House.”

Later on she asked her dad if he might ever run for president. She’s scrambling to cover all the routes of admission, you see, since she’s heard there are 132 rooms in the building, a movie theater, a bowling alley and the Jonas Brothers.

Last night I tried to coach her (my mistake) through an intense monologue she’s doing in her theater class. “Say it with the kind of feeling you have for Malia,” I offered, intending to stir up passion and enthusiasm.

“You mean, like I’m jealous?”


All that aside, click here to see why I no longer worry how she gets her feet wet.

In praise of abandonment

January 18th, 2009    -    12 Comments

All my life, I have been stitching together a family – Barack

I read a fascinating piece in The New Yorker the other day. It became more fascinating days after I read it, as the implications surfaced in all kinds of other events right before my eyes. It’s from an interview more than 10 years ago of the young Obama couple. It’s delightfully honest, because you can see the truth and trajectory in what they say long before it was made known to them or to us.

There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career – Michelle

You can hear the foreboding, see the vulnerability, in her words and her picture. She describes herself as more traditional, more risk-averse, pretty private. She is so much like many of us, with a family background so much more like the rest of us, without ambiguity, and yet we see ourselves so clearly in him. How so?

I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me – Barack

Reading this I thought, wow, having a family is like an adventure to him, a journey. Because he didn’t have the kind of family that brings with it such an overriding sense of identity, such confining identity, he is free of expectations. He is comfortable with mystery even in those he loves. His arms are wide; his pose is relaxed and natural. On this wide open face, we have projected our hopes and dreams, and he alone can bear them.

Even as you build a life of trust, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person – Barack

How many of us can say that? Do that? Withstand and pursue that? How many of us can abandon our expectations and free those we love from the prison of being who we think they are? Who we want them to be? This is the recipe for all loving relationships and the point of an article I wrote for the February issue of Shambhala Sun entitled, radically enough, “Parents, Leave Your Home.” If you subscribe, you’ll get the magazine any day. If you don’t, you’ll see it at the Whole Foods checkout. Or, you can download it from my website right now by scrolling down the home page to a list of my articles and anthologies.

Thank you, Mr. President, for making me part of your family. You encourage me to do the same with my own. Let them be. Let them be a mystery. Let them be home wherever they roam.

I kid you not

December 21st, 2008    -    10 Comments

Stop dwelling on passing days, months and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth
where chrysanthemums bloom.

– Dogen Zenji

When I tell you that this ancient practice comes alive in my home, you as yet may not believe me. You may not yet believe yourself, or trust your own home.

This is how it flowers. This is how it is. This is how it has always been.

Deep love and appreciation for you on these holidays and everyday. Be of good cheer. Your life is in bloom. Just look.

The Miller Family

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