Posts Tagged ‘meditation’


February 25th, 2013    -    11 Comments

imagesThe question of the hour is “Where are the heroes?” This seems like the question of every hour, every season, every year, when the mask of greatness falls and we see that our statesmen, athletes, idols and stars are not so great after all. I don’t just mean that they make mistakes, but that their hearts are hollow. They cheat, lie and hurt people. They are selfish, ignorant, undisciplined and up to no good. Real heroes are something else altogether.

Yesterday I joined a group of people—perfect strangers—who entered an empty room and sat still and quiet for the better part of a day. I am honored by the presence of people who would dare to do such a thing: use up a perfectly good (which means an astonishingly beautiful) Sunday in California to sit down and stare at a wall. At the end of it all, I told them that what they had done was heroic. To take responsibility for peace in the world is genuinely heroic. I reminded them that while practicing Zen can be difficult on your stiff body and restless mind, it does not hurt anyone. No one is harmed by your practice; indeed everyone is helped, even if it is only because you are not erupting in anger or simmering in resentment during the time you are away.

When you are still, no eyebrows are arched, no fists are clinched, no fingers tapped, no sideways glances given. When you are quiet, nothing mean, cruel or critical is said. This alone makes the day a good day for everyone in your life.

I began my practice purely for myself. I wanted to be able to get out of bed in the morning, go to sleep at night, and overcome my crippling sadness. I wanted to be able to cope. But now I practice for another reason: because I hurt people. I hurt them a lot, and in ways I never see until it is too late, until the breadth of my failure crumbles whatever notion I had of my own greatness.

I am amazed by the extraordinary power we have to do good when we have the courage to do nothing.

Then I bow to this great earth and everything in it, asking forgiveness. And shazam! It is given. Talk about superpower.

You can still join a day at my Grailville Retreat in Cincinnati on March 16, or book your space in the Marin Retreat in June by going to this page.

the best chocolate cake

February 14th, 2013    -    53 Comments

DoubleChocolateSnackingCakeForkMy father-in-law was a simple man, and the things he said could ring with unintended clarity.

Every time he ate something, like a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, he would say, “This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted!” He meant it, and it was true, because it came from the exuberance of a mind emptied of critical thought. A mind like that can seem silly and childlike. It is, and that’s what makes it so wise.

Last night I finished a small book that was the best chocolate cake, and I’d love for you to taste it. At the start, you might not think this kind of cake is for you. Nearing middle age, a man faces himself honestly, courageously, admitting that he is gay, a liar, a cheater, a thief, a phony, a creep, a mindless alcoholic and ugly drug addict, and here’s the sweet spot—despite his serial failure at suicide—he wants to live. Does this sound even remotely like your kind of chocolate?

He envisions for himself the sort of idealistic quest that is the stuff of parody. He travels to India in search of enlightenment. What you find in India is, well, India. And what you find on a quest is yourself. But he tells his story with such beauty and feeling, such flavor and artistry, that I could not resist the whole thing.

At the end of the book, he is finishing his trip with a trek to Nepal in the company of a young guide and porter. His months of meditations and mantras, vows and renunciations seem to have failed. On the trail he is back to being angry and resentful, feeling foolish and even exploited. The objects of his spite are the two poor servants who are attending him. Does this sound even remotely like what happens daily in your kitchen, your home, your neighborhood, your world?

I remember the promise I made to myself to keep my heart, mind and senses open for the rest of my stay. My journey was coming to an end too fast. There was no more time to drift off in daydreams, or to lose myself in petty complaints. But all that resolve had flown off like a bird from an untended cage and the hours given over to anger and self-cherishing are now gone forever. What sights, sounds and joys did I miss as I sealed myself off from the world?

This is the practice. Watching my actions, watching my words, watching my mind every day. It does not only occur at holy pilgrimage sites or on retreats or in the presence of great spiritual masters. It occurs everyday, with the people who are with me right now, in this time, in this place.

“Hey, Chris!” my guide waves to me with a big smile. “Your dinner is ready.”

He wipes off a seat on the rough little bench and hands me a bowl of stew and when I look down into the steam and the goodness of it, I already know it will be the best meal I have ever tasted.

I really, sincerely, wholeheartedly recommend The Narrow Way by Chris Lemig. Buy yourself two copies: one for you, one for a friend. Leave a comment below and you could win the copy I’m giving away on Friday.

Update: The winner of the book is commenter #12, Robin Gaphni, whose blog is Grief & Gratitude.

There is still time to register for the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat on Sun., Feb. 24 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in LA.


fog lights

January 15th, 2013    -    4 Comments

This is what practice is like.

If the video doesn’t appear in your email, click here.

Our practice is like walking in a fog, Suzuki Roshi said.”In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little.”

And then you see the sun.

Cultivating Stillness: A Weekend Meditation Retreat at Grailville
Friday, Mar. 15-Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013
Grailville Retreat Center
Loveland, OH
20 miles northeast of Cincinnati
Sold out for overnight attendance; day passes for Saturday participation will soon be available.

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I’ll be here

January 13th, 2013    -    3 Comments


The future lays before me like a bejewelled carpet, a glistening tide.

Golden Gate: A Weekend Retreat on the Marin Headlands
Saturday, June 8 at 9 a.m. – Sunday, June 9 at noon
NatureBridge at Golden Gate
Sausalito, CA

Registration open.

An introductory Zen meditation retreat for all levels of practitioners. Includes instruction in sitting, chanting and moving with mindfulness. One night, three meals included.

Located on the Marin Headlands just steps from the beach, NatureBridge sits amid 140,000 acres of coastal parklands with views of the Pacific Ocean, delicious meals, tide pools, hiking trails and dormitory-style lodging to the sound of the ocean. I’ll be here.

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a mountain sees

December 6th, 2012    -    No Comments

The physical form of seated meditation is called the mountain pose. It looks just like it sounds. Sitting on a cushion or chair, the body is anchored in the earth and the head supports the sky. A mountain is what we imitate, but the more we practice sitting like a mountain, the more we become a mountain. Sitting, standing, lying down and walking about: the mountain is unshakable, but moves whenever it wants.

With strength like a mountain, you can keep your eyes, ears, mind, and heart open. Light comes in, and you see things as they are. You see that the sun encircles you, the moon follows you, and the clouds disappear by themselves.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013: 9-3
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles

Thank you, Nichole
Sun Over Mountain Peak, Tokonoma Scroll

empty field

November 26th, 2012    -    7 Comments

Women of my age are not asked what they want to do when they grow up. But if I were asked, I would say this.

This is all I want to do.

All I want to do is show people how to sit. All I want to do is sit with them. All I want is an empty field blanketed by the stillness of time.

Maybe you want that too.

If you can make it to Cincinnati in March, I’ll point you the rest of the way.

Cultivating Stillness: A Weekend Meditation Retreat at Grailville
Friday, Mar. 15-Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013
Grailville Retreat Center
Loveland, OH
20 miles northeast of Cincinnati
Registration open for full-time participants

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two handfuls

November 3rd, 2012    -    97 Comments

For those times when you feel the need to give your children something more than your non-distracted attention, give them A Handful of Quiet. But first, take two handfuls for yourself. — Karen Maezen Miller

Developed by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, the pebble meditation described in this book is an easy-to-understand, hands-on way for children to experience interconnection with nature and calm busy bodies and minds. When asked to review the book, I gave it two handfuls. They sent me a copy of the book for helping out.

I’m sharing this very small favor with parents who’ve ended the week up late, wigged out, and worried sick, all in search of a blessed moment of silence. Leave a comment on this post for a good chance to win A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh. Winner drawn on Monday, Nov. 5.

For more on teaching children to meditate, read on. I hope that everyone who enters cultivates a meditation practice for themselves.

Note: The contest has closed and the prize has been awarded.

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breath is fearless

October 23rd, 2012    -    3 Comments

Just this one little thing, the breath, delivers all the wisdom in the world. Each inhalation powers your strength, endurance, and concentration; each exhalation releases your resistance and fears. Life gives continuous testament to the miracle of the breath, and yet, do we really know what the breath is?


When we bring our agitated minds into focus by following the movement of the breath in and out of the body, we experience the reality of the present moment, clear from confusion and anxiety. The breath is fearlessness personified. That can matter a great deal to you in times of pain and panic. How wonderful that all the sages and wise ones, the birth educators and coaches, the doulas and midwives, tell you to breathe! Focusing on the breath is the safest, surest way to overcome fear and let the immediacy of any experience move forward.

When all other schemes and devices fall away, the breath is all we have to use. It never fails us. Now is a good time to get to know your breath, through simple awareness practices such as meditation and yoga. While sitting, lying down, walking, or moving, bringing your attention to your belly and the natural movement of the breath will strengthen your connection to your own life force, the awareness that is everpresent and unafraid. The breath will not only transport you beyond fear, it will deliver you to joy. In the flow of the breath, mother and child come into being, and joy springs to life.

Excerpted from my essay, “Preparing for Childbirth,” in the book, The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy.


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teaching children to meditate

October 18th, 2012    -    16 Comments

This is the most-read post on my site. Why? Because we love our children. The love we have for our children may well be the portal to our own meditation practice, even though we don’t recognize that at first. Children lead us to do all kinds of things we never thought we’d do.

To begin, understand this: you are never going to teach your child a life skill that you don’t already have.
But I know. You’re not here for yourself. You’re here because you’re worried about your child.

How do you teach children to meditate?
I’m asked about this all the time. Please know that I speak only from my own perspective as a mother and a practitioner. Everyone has his or her own view. Here is mine.

Children don’t need to learn to meditate. Parents do. Children are immensely helped in all ways by living with one or more parents who practice meditation. One powerful way is that our children see us do it, regularly, like brushing our teeth and putting dirty clothes in the hamper. They learn by what they see. Parents who already meditate don’t need to find anybody else to teach their children meditation. They simply invite the kids to sit down with them, if they are interested, and breathe quietly.

This might sound like heresy coming from a Buddhist priest. After all, there are many well-meaning parents and programs that aim to teach children meditation. Young children are very curious and adaptable, and with clever instruction, they can be taught nearly anything. But my point is that children already practice single-minded attention and non-distracted awareness. You may not see it in their stillness, but in their activity:  games, art, or outdoor exploration. (Engaging with your children in any of these activities is a form of group meditation.) We all have this capacity for single-minded focus within us. As adults, we practice to return to this state – the state where we can lose ourselves in what we are doing, carefree and undisturbed.

My teacher sums it up quite clearly every time he reminds our sangha: “We don’t practice to cultivate our Buddha Nature. Our Buddha Nature is functioning perfectly. We practice because we are neurotic!” Not many children are yet neurotic, plagued by delusive thoughts, fears and feelings of alienation. This is what I mean when I wrote in Chapter 24 of Momma Zen: “Children are exemplars of the art of being.” The aim of all Buddhist practice is to return to our natural state of wide-eyed wonder and unselfconsciousness that we can observe in our young children many times a day. read more

deep sanity

October 8th, 2012    -    3 Comments

Sometimes the room is so still that the only thing you can babble about is gratitude. I am forever grateful to my teacher, and my teacher’s teacher, for showing me the deep sanity of practice.

A sky that never darkens.
An ocean that never empties.
Beyond patience and surrender,
the dignity of having no choice.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing
giving birth to a whole wide world.

Sharing my practice is the only thing that matters, because practice takes care of every single thing. Come sit by me two weeks from now in a world of your own creation.

Deeper Still: a Breath & Meditation Workshop, Washington DC, Oct. 21.

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no way over but through

September 4th, 2012    -    7 Comments

I’m a guest teacher this month at  Shambhala Publication’s Under 35 Project, where the topic is Experiencing Loss.

Under 35 is a site for young meditators to write about finding, beginning and encouraging a mindfulness practice. I hope you’ll visit and read this month’s submissions. If you’re a writer looking for a new venue, or a practitioner looking for support, please consider writing a short essay and contributing it to the site. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re under 35 or not. I view age limitations the same way I view loss: there’s no way over but through, and getting through is what makes a difference.

This remind me of a passage I came across in James Ishmael Ford’s book Zen Master Who? 

There are numerous stories about Maezumi Roshi’s teaching style, but one I particularly like has to do with a student who had been a professional dancer.

As recounted in Sean Murphy’s One Bird, One Stone, the student had badly hurt one of her feet in an accident and was forced to retire from the stage. Embarrassed by her injury, she always kept her foot covered with a sock. In her first interview she asked Maezumi a question about her Zen practice. But he answered, “Never mind that. Tell me about your foot.” She was reluctant to talk but he insisted. She told him the story, weeping, and even took off her sock and showed him her foot.

Maezumi placed his hand silently on her foot. She looked up to find that he was crying too. Their exchanges went on like this for some time. Every time she asked the roshi about her practice, he’d ask about her foot instead, and they’d cry together. “You might think you have suffered terrible karma,” Maezumi told her, “But this is not the right way to think. Practice is about learning to turn disadvantage to great advantage.” Finally the day came when the student walked into the interview room and began to tell her teacher about her injury, but it summoned no tears from her. “Never mind about that,” Maezumi told her. “Let’s talk about your practice.”

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23 in LA.

The Art of Non-Parenting: Discovering the Wisdom of Easy, and Deeper Still: Breath & Meditation Workshop on Oct. 20-21 in Wash. DC.

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shoes are the first to go

August 21st, 2012    -    6 Comments

Shoes are the first to go, left at the door.
What if someone takes them—you’re afraid to say more.
No perfumes or unguents, no shorts or short sleeves
Be mindful of others, but I’d rather leave.
The wardrobe, the makeup, the image, the pose
like pimples concealed on the tip of your nose.
Baggage and crap hauled two flights up the stairs
A room with four walls and the walls are just bare.
Sit, someone tells you, sit and be still.
That’s all there is to it. I’m gonna be ill.
But you do it, you try it, you do it some more.
The guy next to you wobbles. Did I hear a snore?
Years pass. Was it minutes?
Time stops. Shadows cast.
Was that one breath or two?  The first or the last?
You don’t know. You don’t care.
One day you consider the weight of your hair.
Like grass it’s too long, like straw it’s all dead.
Take it off, you beseech,
and what you mean is your head.
Take the nightmare, the fairytale, the Hollywood end
the someday, the one day, the hard luck, the win.
Take my mask and my shield, excuses and lies
my what-ifs and rathers, ifs, ands and whys.
Where’s your fear? Where’s your dread?
I can’t find it. It’s shed.
Now plain faced and simple, empty-handed and bare
Go put on your shoes. They’re still there.

If you want to learn how to meditate, come to the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Nov. 10, 2013  in LA.


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raising children the Buddhist way

August 19th, 2012    -    21 Comments

Last week someone asked me what it meant to raise children the Buddhist way. I sent them this:

If you are reading this post in your email and cannot see the video, click here.

If you want to learn how to meditate, come to the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23.

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