Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

sit there

July 10th, 2012    -    9 Comments

Conventional wisdom has it that Los Angeles is sinking into the Pacific. One more quake, they say, and this silly sandcastle will be swept offshore. But they have it upside down. We’re already on the bottom of the sea. Five million years ago, seismic storms pushed the Pacific crust to the surface of the Earth. We are the children of a risen ocean. We scuff our shoes on its billowy floor.

Conventional wisdom says this ancient practice of mine no longer reaches. It does not translate. Westerners don’t get it. It’s too hard and long and fruitless (although science, medicine and common sense affirm it at every turn.) I once studied with another teacher who prodded me. Faster, faster! He wanted to see flying colors, coach a champion, build a team. I quit that place. Later, he trademarked a new way to sell enlightenment, a method sped up for the restless and distractible. We’re competing with many other pastimes, the reasoning goes. Better give people what they want when they want it, or they will . . . do what? Scatter, like so much dust.

Thinking like that is a sure way to lose ground. Where wisdom is the agenda, there is no wisdom.

“I was afraid Maezumi was just going to let you sit there,” he said. I didn’t know better at the time, but now I can answer.

My teacher was unafraid to just let me sit there.

This is my inexhaustible desire: that you will find a guide who is both patient and daring, unafraid to watch you struggle, drift, and finally settle in the tempest of your own pot. One who will keep you quiet company as you go deep and dig, until you look up and see that you are not sinking, you are not hopeless, your cause is not lost. There is no war and no enemy, no hurry and no wait. You are sitting upside up in the echoless calm of a deep, clear ocean, no wind or waves, and you are breathing, breathing, breathing.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, Los Angeles

settle

June 18th, 2012    -    12 Comments

When my daughter was little, she would squat for hours every afternoon on a pile of sand in the front yard. I planted little plastic animals underneath, and she’d dig them up with a shovel, handing them over to me with a satisfied grunt. She quarried the same zebra, the same tiger, the same frog, hippo, and horse out of that pile every day. While she wasn’t looking, I’d hide the toys under again. She’d keep at it, tireless. We sat there for what seemed like forever, unearthing purpose from the sodden heap of our new life together. She couldn’t know how much she was teaching me then, in her wordless way, about being satisfied with the same old thing, squashing my every day’s plan to get somewhere else.

I used to think those days were over, but they never really are. We move on to a different pile, but we have to find a way to settle into it just the same.

One time I was interviewed by a radio host about meditation as an antidote to dissatisfaction. She seemed alarmed, even offended, by the suggestion. Staying put runs contrary to the doctrine of self-improvement.

“It seems to me you’re telling people to settle,” she said. I was tongue-tied, and I searched my mind for a response. If I’d had the equanimity of my Zen kin, I would have said what I really meant.

I would have said, “Yes.”

I’m telling you to settle.

What’s wrong with settling? What’s wrong with making peace? What’s wrong with quieting the crazy-making, egocentric mind? This is why we begin our practice, and this is why we keep practicing even when we are no longer entertained. If we are really committed to our own sanity, we keep chasing ourselves out of our ruminating mind and onto different ground. The ground where things come to be.

“People will be drawn to you, and now you have something to share,” Maezumi said to me before I knew anything, least of all what those words could possibly mean. This is how you arrive at the ground of faith—not by what you know, but by what you don’t. Luckily, the ground of faith is, for all practical purposes, the ground itself. It is the ground where we stand, sit, walk, work, and rest. Faith is the ground on which we settle, or we will never settle at all.

Some people settle with shovels and picks, some with tractors and hoes, some on a mat, chair or cushion. Once you learn to settle, you can settle wherever you are, and begin to cultivate the scenery.


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my practice isn’t working

June 10th, 2012    -    18 Comments

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

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

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat Sunday, Sept. 23

Listen to “The Way of Everyday Life” a Buddhist Geek podcast

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inviting you to sit down

May 29th, 2012    -    3 Comments

A student comes to a teacher and asks, “What is the way?” You might wonder this yourself from time to time. What do I do? Where do I go? Is it this way or that? What next? What if? Did I miss the turn? If you don’t see the way, you don’t see it even as you walk on it.

The teacher replies, “Go straight on.”

Crazed by doubts and hobbled by fear, we’re bound to end up nowhere until we stop and ask for directions. As every traveler knows, the best directions come from someone who has already made the trip.

A young Japanese fellow boarded a steamer ship and set his course for terra incognita. Like the rest of us, leaving home was his only option.

Taizan Maezumi Roshi was the product of an archaic system of patriarchy in Japan, where Zen temples operated as a kind of family enterprise. One of seven Kuroda brothers raised at a family temple in Otawara, Japan, he ordained as a priest at age eleven and studied literature and philosophy at university. This was expected. By birth order, he would not inherit the family business. This was decreed. Thereafter, he did two things uncommon for both his time and our own: he took his mother’s patronym, Maezumi, and he took the practice of Zen Buddhism seriously.

He’d lost respect for blind authority; he wanted to part with dead customs. After his institutional training, he sought teaching by radical masters, testing firsthand the truth of an ancient teaching.  Beyond the fabled stories, one question seized his mind: What is the way?

At twenty-five he sailed for America, intending to spread the practice of Zen Buddhism in a country hostile to both his nation and his faith. He was posted as a priest at a small temple in Los Angeles serving a diminished and demoralized population of Japanese-Americans.

I am the heir of his American dream. Now you are too.

His reputation grew. He attracted students from all over the world. He was revered by some, dismissed by others, and misunderstood by most. He was still there, in a dinky house in a dumpy part of town, when I arrived to ask for directions.

“I’ve left home,” I told him in so many words, “and I’m lost.”

As if anyone got there any other way.

He invited me to sit down.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, Los Angeles, Sun., Nov. 10.

Photo credit: Blue Stairs by m0nni

a glimpse of mindfulness

May 24th, 2012    -    10 Comments

This is the best video I’ve ever seen on how to meditate, and it was produced at my practice home, the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. It depicts the precise instructions given in our beginner’s class and our one-day beginner’s retreats, and reiterates the teaching carried down through all 81 generations of our Zen ancestry. Now you have everything you need to begin, and to begin again. Our next Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat is Sunday, June 10.

first, you fall apart

May 7th, 2012    -    2 Comments

I was about 36, which I think of as my youth, but I had ended my first marriage and I had built a business that I’d invested a lot of time in.  I was a workaholic. I had no family and no interest in a spiritual pursuit. My religion was capitalism. I had a rising level of disillusionment and despair with everything in my life. I was in a relationship that began and ended very quickly and the fellow that I was involved with had a Zen practice, which I was really disturbed by. I thought it was absurd and grim and an inexplicable waste of time. I was really scared, to tell you the truth, at the thought that someone would turn their back to me and be more absorbed in a blank wall than in my own charming self.  That was a warning sign for me.

In any event, after that fell apart, I was in sad shape.  I couldn’t sleep; I was very depressed and had a hard time making it through the day.  One night I picked up a book that was on a shelf in my own home that, apparently, he had left behind. It was the Tao Te Ching, and I picked it up because it was red and it caught my attention. I was at that point in my life where I didn’t have time for anything. I didn’t have time for people (friends or family). I didn’t read books. I didn’t have any pleasure, but I read it that night and it was just the most beautiful thing I had ever read. I had never read anything so true. Then I was curious about all of those things that I had dismissed before. I folded up a cushion and tried to sit in meditation. I read the next book on the shelf and so forth and so on, and that’s how I started, just sitting in my own room.

This is an old story, a universal story, and one you may have read or even lived before. I share it here today because it might the right time for you. It comes from a longer interview with me posted on the Sweeping Zen website.  It may be the right time for you to read it, and it may be the right time for you to see what comes next, how you start your own Zen practice, sitting side-by-side with me in the same room.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat
Sunday, June 10, 2012
9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles
Information and registration here.

Affordable dormitory housing available.

sitting still and being quiet

February 6th, 2012    -    No Comments

My uncle was a star among us. As a 12-year-old, he had a calling from God, or at least a push from his parents. This was the only kind of call that counted in rural Central Texas at the time. It meant he would be educated, he would preach, and he would go places.

He went overseas as a missionary. Every three years he brought his American bride and his growing family back to the States for furlough. He toured churches where he towered in the pulpit, gave stirring guest sermons, and said grace over potlucks in his honor. Everyone looked up to him.

But he was not spared the fall we all take into human torment and doubt. At midlife, he broke up his family and left his post. During his time of exile, he visited my mother’s house. Grown, I came home to visit. I sat in the room while he told my mother everything. He needed to say everything, and she was a complete listener. There was nothing but love in the room.

During a lull, he looked over to me in the corner and asked, “Karen, how did you get to be so wise?” I was surprised, because I only knew what I saw. My elegant uncle, eyes glistening, heart breaking; a light undimmed, spilling onto earth.

“By sitting still and being quiet.”

Join me when you’re ready.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 26 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center, Los Angeles
Register by email here.

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to begin, watch this. Watch it anyway, and you’ve begun.

Ordinary Glories from katherine gill on Vimeo.

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get to me

December 15th, 2011    -    2 Comments

This one got to me:
“I’m not sure if you remember me, but I attended your workshop in ——.  After the workshop, I told my mother how much I had enjoyed reading Hand Wash Cold and how special it was to meet you in person, and she decided to check your book out of the library to read.

Six months later, Hand Wash Cold is the one gift that my mom has requested from my sister and me for Christmas.  My mother is a former librarian who believes strongly in the power of checking out books – I don’t think I’ve ever known her to buy a book or to ask for one for a gift.  Yet, here that is and here I am wondering if it would be possible to purchase an autographed copy of Hand Wash Cold for my mom for Christmas.”

This one gets to me:

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 26 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center, Los Angeles
Information and registration here

Photo taken by Lisa Braun Dubbels at Kowalski’s Market in Minneapolis.

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Invocation upon arrival at peace

December 11th, 2011    -    16 Comments


I’m home. Stop. The yard looks nice. Stop. But the weeds took over. Stop. The dog is shedding. Stop. The hair is everywhere. Stop. The mail is high. Stop. All bills I bet. Stop. The fridge is empty. Stop. The floor is muddy. Stop. What to do first? Stop. Unpack my bag? Stop. Maybe the laundry? Stop. Clean up the kitchen? Stop. Collect the trash? Stop. Write on the blog? Stop.

Too much to think about! Stop. My head is pounding. Stop. Hear the racket? Stop.

Just stop.

And then go.

And don’t stop.

leave

December 2nd, 2011    -    2 Comments

Digging out from a hundred-year windstorm, neighbors without roofs and windows, trees shredded, landscapes buried, no heat, no light, no relief in sight, gives new meaning to the word, “leave.”

I’m leaving for Rohatsu retreat, sitting in silent witness to impermanence and the inconceivable power of mind.

Watch this place while I’m away for guests and gifts and remember this: When you’ve done all you can do, undo.

meditation on the wind

November 25th, 2011    -    8 Comments

This morning I am sitting beside the Atlantic ocean, and it is windy.

The first time I came close to waking up out of my highly cultivated neuroses, I was at a weeklong meditation retreat in the high desert of California’s San Jacinto Mountains. It was December, and it was cold and dark. The facilities were rustically beautiful, which is to say, off the electrical grid and without flushing toilets. In that kind of an environment, a lot of things fall away: first, all the things you think you can’t live without, and then, all the things you think.

By midweek, my hair was matted and greasy, my back was achy, my legs were creaky, my clothes were stinky, and I could hardly lift a care about any of it. Once I’d worn out my complaints and objections, unspooled my stock of poor-me storylines, I was left with nothing to do but sit and listen.

What we’re usually listening for — and especially when we’re doing things the hard way — is for the damn thing to be over. Aren’t we itching for just about everything to be over? Whenever we’re uncomfortable, which is most of the time no matter what the circumstance, we’re anticipating the end. Fast-forwarding, channel-changing, boredom-breaking, leave-taking outta here!

What I’ve noticed about most of the things that are really good for us is that there’s no easy way out. Not without making a total fool of yourself. So you might as well relax, because you’re here.

When I relaxed on my meditation cushion I heard something outside the window. I heard it morning, noon, and night, unbroken and eternal, like Seinfeld reruns. The next time I saw my teacher face-to-face, I told him about it.

The wind! I said, as if I’d never heard it before. It’s the same wind my grandfather heard!

What is that wind? he asked.

Yikes, what is the wind? I detoured up into my head, which had equipped me for so long with the quick cleverness of intellect and retort. This time it was empty and out of service. Crickets chirped.

Everything, I finally answered, grasping for something. Some explanation, some answer to describe the very is-ness that transcends description. He patted my knee.

Now and then I wonder whether that was the right or wrong answer. Whether it was good or bad, enlightened or deluded, enough or not enough. Whether his pat was a correction or congratulation, a pass or a fail. Maybe you’re wondering too. As my practice matured, I wished I had said something different. When my practice matures further, I will stop wishing. I will stop rewriting the old or re-imagining the new, because when we do that, detouring into the wilderness in our heads, we have lost the wind, we have lost the crickets, we have lost the song, and we have lost our lives, again.

twitter zen

October 12th, 2011    -    18 Comments

An actual email exchange.

Hello, I am interested in Zen practice and live nearby. I’d like to schedule a visit sometime soon.

>Thank you for contacting us. We recommend that you first take the introductory Zen meditation class offered every Saturday from 8:30-10:30 a.m. It covers the basics of Zen Buddhism, meditation techniques and our lineage.

>>I am not looking for a class on meditation right now. The idea of sitting through a two-hour class is off-putting to say the least. I merely want to visit for 10-15 minutes.

magical powers

October 8th, 2011    -    8 Comments

Sometimes I offer to do these things for you and others; sometimes I’m asked. So I do them, although all the power in your life resides with you.

These are the verses I chant. You can chant them too.

This is the incense I light. You can light it too.

These are the books I keep in my Zen library. I share them with you.

This is the practice. It is the practice of all the buddhas. To sit even one moment like this is to sit as a buddha.

This is my place of practice. When you sit, we sit in the same place.

These are the magical powers — no more magical and no less magical than you are.

And yet none of these things is as powerful as the heart that seeks a true teacher.

This is where the real magic occurs.

***

Love Beyond Limits parenting workshop in Athens, GA Oct. 22

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