Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Overrating is overrated

April 2nd, 2008    -    29 Comments


Now for something completely now.

I’ll admit I was a tad off-put, mildly aggrieved and recklessly endangered by a glib comment made recently by someone (who, like me, can be forgiven her off-the-cuff pronouncements) lecturing along the lines of living in the now is overrated . . . something that only monks and yogis can do . . . and that the key to happiness lies in having fond memories of the past and plans for the future.

Huh? And from a “spiritual” memoirist?

Let me go on record as saying I am all for happy memories and titillating trips. I’m all for champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Pile up my pasta bowl. Save me a first-class seat. Fill up my glass and pour me a second. In a certain way, there’s nothing quite so happy (or sad) as a memory, and nothing quite so invigorating (or agitating) as the future.

But the comment plays to the conventional misunderstanding about time and how it can be fully lived. The past and the future aren’t real and no matter how many times we stamp the passport, we can’t live in imaginary places. No, we have to stay right here. And for some of us, with full houses and real lives, with crying, whining kids that we love and even hate sometimes; gimpy dogs with diarrhea; husbands we haven’t left; broken bones; busted bank accounts; and all-day laundry to do, the facts of life are not something that we need to detour around. Again.

Life isn’t always a day in Polynesia, that’s for sure. You can keep sneaking out the back door and racing out the front door and squeezing past airport security but you’ll never end up anywhere else but now.

You know where I’m heading, but I’ll say it again anyway. The only place we ever live is now! There are no other options whether you’re a monk or a millionairess, a yogi or a bear. You can’t underrate or overrate it. When we call it “the” now it suggests a certain kind of now, a different now, a better, special edition now that is attained, as one fan cynically dismissed, “by the old idea of meditating on a rock and wishing for enlightenment,” or by what someone else testified against, “living in a vacuum.”

Oh the dust we do indeed stir when we live in a vacuum which I haven’t yet tried but I suspect with my new slimline Dyson to be that much more impossible for me to attain.

No one has to master living in the now. It’s impossible to live anywhere else, rock or no rock, wish or no wish! Just as you can never leave now, no one will ever take away your past or withhold your future. Effortlessly, your past accumulates. Instantly, your future arrives. What matters is that you notice your life while you can still call it “alive.” That’s called now.

Or at least it matters to me and my still-beating heart.

There’s really nothing more to it. For your own peace of mind, get rid of any three-letter word that you might automatically insert before “now.” As in “the.” Or “not.” Take those out and put nothing else in. Get rid of the idea that now is anything else or anywhere else or anyone else.

You are now. There! Life just got easier still. “Now” may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but the real problem with it, I suspect, is whether we think it’s enough.

And special thanks to Liz. Because she inadvertently prompted this awakening, along with many hours of hedonistic reading, she is to me what we rock-sitters call a bodhisattva. We should all look that one up while we have the eternity otherwise unaffectionately known as now.

***

Hoppity Dog Update: Thank you for being Super Dog’s duper best friends! Although we’ve been assured it’s not an emergency, and we could leave it untreated and expect our girl to heal to at least half her former self, we’ve opted to award Molly with the most expensive medical treatment our money can’t quite buy. (Thank you home equity!) She will have her surgery next week, while Daddy and Piddly Dog are in Kansas City and Mommy Dog is in Orange County doing her doggone best to speak, girl, speak at this parenting conference. Come down and join me in a romp. I’ll be off-leash, which I seem to be already.

Planet Lazarus

March 18th, 2008    -    16 Comments


Last weekend I sat in the middle of more than a dozen newcomers who participated in the Beginner’s Mind retreat at my Zen Center, and it was a remarkably powerful experience. Powerful because it always is. Remarkable because attracting more than a dozen people out of the drunken sunshine of a lazy LA Sunday to practice eight hours of silent self-discipline is a miracle. A miracle, I tell you.

Now it’s nothing much to boast about compared to what they’re calling America’s most popular church, the church of Be as Rich as God Wants You to Be.

And it’s a pittance compared to the self-styled gospel worshipped at the altar of Be as Rich as You Think You Should Be.

But it is a miracle in the plain and ordinary church that I frequent, the church where, invite as we might, many are called and stubbornly few ever choose to step even one foot inside, the church of Be.

Sitting there all day in this simmering brew of effort, willingness, endurance, open-mindedness and sincerity, sitting with strangers in a slow bake of solidarity and mutual encouragement, percolating in the intimacy and acceptance of a shared experience, I was overwhelmed with delight and gratitude. When it was over, we all left on weightless wings, sailing on gusts of freshness, into the lives we had, only eight hours earlier, been desperate to leave behind.

Truly, miraculously, we raise the dead.

Please come next time. There is always a next time, and there is always room for you.

The smile spread

February 29th, 2008    -    9 Comments


I thought I’d told it all, but yesterday when I was doing an all-day sit at the Hazy Moon, I remembered something. Without realizing it, I began this recollection on February 24, which would have been Maezumi Roshi’s 77th birthday. I decided to add this benediction, with a smile.

Coming softly down the carpeted stairs on the last morning of sesshin, she saw Roshi and his attendant having tea, the way they did every morning when she passed by. This time, Roshi asked her to join them. He introduced her.

She’s been having her own business for over 15 years, but she can’t be over 16 herself! He laughed at his own flattery.

Actually, today is my 37th birthday, she said.

Why would you want to spend it here? His smile spread.

I was hoping not to meet you, she said, letting the truth be playful for a change.

Then let me write you something. And come to see me before you leave.

After the morning sitting and the work period and the closing remarks, she came to see him, giddy to be finished and facing only the full blue sky of a return flight to Texas.

He sat in his study, behind a deep wooden desk made serious with the surrounding stacks of papers and books. Looking up, unshaven, he handed her a square flat package wrapped in sturdy rice paper. When she unwrapped it she saw that, to Roshi, writing meant calligraphy. The bold black strokes danced down an ivory bristol board.

Let me read it to you, he said as he came forward. Congratulations on the anniversary of your birth September 26, 1993. He pointed to two large characters stacked on the right side. Spring and fall.

Do you want to see my inspiration, he asked, pulling a leather bound volume from the bookshelf. He turned to a page, pointing at the last two lines.

She read to herself: No matter how much the spring wind loves the peach blossoms, they still fall.

Do you know what it means? he quizzed. She shook her head no, but she knew without knowing. He had seen through her all along.

That would be 1956, then, the year you were born? He scratched his stubble and she nodded.

That was the year I came to America, he said.

They hugged then, a full familiar embrace, and she ran to catch the ride that would take her home.

***
Happy birthday, Roshi. Happy birthday, Everyone. It’s always a good day to be born.

Some other place entirely

February 28th, 2008    -    11 Comments


It seems like it’s over even before it begins:

Inside the dokusan room, she bowed again, a full bow to the floor, then lifted from the waist and stayed seated. Maezumi Roshi sat two feet away. She spoke as she’d been told, stating her name and her “practice,” which was counting her breath, although she didn’t really know how to do it, or whether she did it at all.

He spoke. Are you a teacher?

No, she wasn’t a teacher. She had her own business in Houston, Texas. A public relations business for more than fifteen years, although she was going to sell it and change her life and all of that. And all of that.

And you came to Zen by?

Not by her parents, and not her training, not anyone in particular, not that, no, no reason at all. By a book, she half-lied, ashamed that an endlessly broken heart could send her tumbling all this way.

He nodded and talked. Kept talking and saying things she would not remember or ever repeat, streams of words assuring, encouraging and appreciative and she felt her face hot and wet and knew that she had been crying for some time. He asked her to turn sideways and he lightly touched her shoulders so they lifted, and he showed her how to relax her neck and lower her chin in posture. He was slowing down now, winding it up. Do you have a question, he asked, in courteous dismissal.

Yes, she seized, aiming to do her best. When I get up right now do I do a standing bow or a full bow?

He tossed his head back and laughed and called her sweet, and she caught her breath at the sound of the nickname only one other had ever called her. Smartness alone isn’t as nice, he said. She stood and bowed and left the room, walked back to her seat in the zendo and sat down in the spot where she started, in some other place entirely.

***
You could also try this place, or this place, or even stay right here.

Wake up when you get here

February 27th, 2008    -    6 Comments


There’s still time to dive into the story because it’s just starting.

By 9 p.m. she was back in her upstairs room, the first night done. She had followed everyone else’s moves, a half-beat off, corrections whispered by well-meaning strangers. The sitting was easy and quick. She shuffled off with the other newcomers early for a lesson in eating “oryoki” style, using monk’s bowls with chopsticks and chanting, all choreographed in unison like a mealtime ballet. Come breakfast she would be lost.

It was a strange night in a strange place and she didn’t sleep, which wasn’t strange at all. Where oh where have I ended up? She wrapped her head in a pillow to fend off the all-night noise from the street below, and gradually sunk into the wide-eyed defeat that accompanied nearly every night’s tossing. Hours evaporated. She heard a gentle rap at her door. It was Roshi, calling her name to wake up for the dawn sitting period. He said the r in her name like an l. The clock said 3:30. She washed her face and dressed, went downstairs and out back and sat in her spot on her cushion in the dim light of the zendo.

The room filled to stillness, and the timekeeper struck the bell three times to begin the sitting. Before long, Roshi and his attendant rose and walked out, turning down a side hall to what she had been shown the night before as the “dokusan” room, where the teacher saw each student in a private interview, sometimes several times a day. This was the real stuff of Zen, she knew. The eyeball to eyeball encounter that revealed all. And this was the tight spot she still hoped to opt out of, unready to defend her feeble motivations for being here.

The attendant returned to the zendo and announced that the dokusan line was open for those attending their first sesshin. No mistake. This meant her. Right now. Her legs responded and she stood, picked up her cushion, and watched her bare feet move in autopilot across the parquet floor. This was how she found herself kneeling in a shadowy hall waiting to show herself to a Zen master. Against her better judgment. She craned her ears to listen for the next cue recollected from last night’s hasty lesson. From inside the interview room , Roshi rang a tiny bell, signaling her to enter. She stood, walked, stopped, bowed, went inside and closed the door behind her, guessing at the moves.

***
All week, and all because of the Beginner’s Retreat coming up on March 16.

Both feet

February 26th, 2008    -    9 Comments


From a story that seems like it began yesterday:

She followed her guide out the back door and into a shaded garden, where she could now see that this place, a collection of houses and apartment buildings painted pale yellow with blue trim, covered perhaps half a block. They walked across the yard to the far house, which she took to be the teacher’s.

They paused inside the door to remove their shoes and padded through the downstairs in stocking feet. In the living room the woman pulled up and did a little bow. There in a nubby upholstered armchair sat a little Japanese man, bald-headed and smiling. She fumbled at the bows and nods, invisibly, she hoped.

Hers was a large guest room with three twin beds. She was too early, and where she thought there would surely be something, something important to do, there was nothing to do but quiver and wait. Wait first for supper, then the first sitting period beginning at 7. This was what Zen Buddhists called a “sesshin,” or a meditation retreat. Four periods of seated meditation a day, two hours each, divided into 30-minute periods with walking meditation in between. Meals, services, work and rest in all the other hours. Starting at 4 in the morning and ending at 9 at night. She’d been warned that, even though this was a beginner’s retreat of only three days, it would be the hardest thing she’d ever done. These days, everything was hard for her. Eating was hard, sleeping was hard, speaking and making sense was hard. She laid down on one twin and listened to the street noise barge through the open windows: cars, buses, horns, shouting, the forlorn refrain of an ice cream truck. She was too afraid to cry.

Shortly before 7, she put on her loose black pants and t-shirt and went downstairs to walk over to the zendo, the meditation room. It wasn’t like a lecture hall. With just over 40 people sitting along the walls, she wouldn’t be overlooked, but she could still be inconspicuous, she thought.

Just outside the backdoor, she found Roshi, now in his black robes, standing with his attendant. They looked at her and smiled.

“Are you ready for me to torture you?,” Roshi kidded, the words softened by his accent and his laugh.

“I do that well enough myself already,” she joked, flush with the narrowness of her escape.

***
To be continued all this week or until I find out how the story ends.

Once paradise

February 24th, 2008    -    4 Comments

I’ll be leading another one-day beginner’s meditation retreat on Sunday, March 16 in Los Angeles. That reminds me of a story.

The taxi driver was lost. Not lost, but not where he expected to be. She sat silent in the back while he retraced the turns then stopped on a narrow street crowded with pastel apartment houses and faded cars. Airport fares didn’t come to this part of LA. She paid, grabbed her duffel and stepped out.

It was a raggedy neighborhood not far from downtown. Tiny bungalows perched off the curb behind chain link fences; noisy, messy lives on full view through open kitchen windows. Only if you looked up, straight up, at the palm trees swaying against the perfect sky, did you realize that this was once paradise.

She was unsteady after the big trip. And disappointed. A three-hour flight and she was standing on a painted porch without a soul in sight. The door was locked. She rang the buzzer and an intercom voice answered. Come in, the woman said, we’ve been expecting you. The automatic lock unlatched. She went inside.

She’d always mistrusted the mean little black pillow he sat on when he turned his back to meditate, mornings and nights. Once she had tried the pose beside him, only once and only to please. Follow your breath. Count to ten. She didn’t get it. It hurt and it was dull, almost impossible to do and who would want to? So when he chose it, day after day, a sacred routine, she tiptoed past, petrified that this strange seduction would drive them apart.

Much later, a slender red spine caught her eye on a night spent roaming what remained on the bookshelf. When she opened a page of the Chinese verse, the ache in her gut yawned wide and the words fell in. Dropped all the way down and echoed back again. She took her bed pillow and folded it into a high square and sat on it. First, for five minutes. The cool space that surrounded her seemed so significant that she wrote the date down in a book by her bedside: June 18, 1993.

She read more books and bought new ones. The man at the yoga studio said it’s called a zafu and it’s $36. She left work at lunch and bought her own hard black cushion. That night and almost every night after she sat and watched the wall, measuring the time and her intent. Why am I doing this? What am I hoping for? She remembered his reverential reference to a teacher in Los Angeles, one of the first and now one of the last. One day she dialed directory assistance and asked all the questions without, she thought, revealing her doubts. When the woman said they had a special training planned for September 24-26, she said yes send me the form because it coincided with her birthday and only just then she had begun to believe in magic.

She went upstairs to the office and was greeted by a kind-faced woman who handed her a schedule and keys. She nodded at all the instructions but couldn’t respond, taking in the cases of books and papers and mismatched furniture that filled the room. How nice you’ll be houseguesting with Roshi, she heard the woman say, and she squinted at the rarefied name of the teacher she’d hoped to avoid.

***
More to come. There’s always more to come.

As close as I come to baking bread

December 12th, 2007    -    6 Comments


I know. Any way you slice it, going someplace else to practice is going too far. I used to live three states away from my practice center and that was too far. Now I live 19 miles away and it’s too far. Believe me, I understand how far it can be.

I also understand that bread doesn’t bake until you turn up the heat and close the oven door. When you are ready for results – when your life and everyone else’s depends on it – you have to take your lumpy rumpus on the road.

People always ask me if it is necessary to have a teacher to have a practice. The answer is yes and no. No, because you can cruise along for quite some time on your own power. Yes, because cruising along on your own power rarely gets you anywhere else. We all, naturally, find a comfort zone for ourselves, by ourselves, and we stay there. A teacher helps you recognize your sticking points. Comfort zones become discomfort zones, and a teacher won’t let you wallow. So a teacher is your best, worst friend.

At the same time, practicing with other people in the room gives you amazing power and encouragement. It is like family, only better, because you never have to speak to one another!

All of this gets scary and most people opt out right there. But consider this: We might go to a chiropractor to fix our back, a therapist to fix our head, a facialist to squeeze our zits, a fitness studio to squeeze our glutes, a stylist to cut and color our hair, a manicurist, a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, a naturopath, a palm reader, and so on. You get my point. We do all that and more, and sometimes in one day! But it’s too far out to go to a Zen center and sit in solitude for an hour.

Here’s your first stop to see if there’s one near you: a roster of centers from the American Zen Teachers Association.

Here’s an even easier way: Madison, Philadelphia, Chicago, Montreal, Boston, St. Louis, Houston, San Diego, Minneapolis, Portland or Washington DC. Otherwise just Google it. If you found me, you can find out where to go in your own backyard. If you’re lucky, you can try a few places to zero in on one that fits.

This is the time of year when we naturally turn inward. We celebrate the light illuminating the darkness, the dawn of the new. It is an auspicious time to reflect. If you go looking, you may find a way to participate in part or all of a New Year’s retreat, like this one in Silver Spring, Maryland in the company of one of our own, or this one in Los Angeles at my own practice home and haven.

This is the last I’ll post on practice for a while. I always, however, welcome your questions publicly or privately, just so you know.

***
In spite of my daughter’s fever, my ill temper and all those missed appointments (see above), we did get out to sign a stack of books headed for you know who, making it the best kind of day. You can still order inscribed copies of Momma Zen for Christmas or any occasion by visiting here.

Your heart is in your hand

December 11th, 2007    -    15 Comments


“I need instruction. How, HOW do I realize that I am enough?” -– Lisa

I am honoring Lisa’s plea from yesterday in this post. Here, I’m going to speak as directly as I can about what true practice is. Then tomorrow I will tell you how to find a practice center. Because, for all of us, time is wasting.

There’s a lot of bullshit talk about practice. There’s a lot of talk about spirituality, wholeness, wellness, self-improvement, happiness and all that rot. I say rot because talking and reading about it is crap. It misses the point entirely. The point of everything I write is the same point of everything I do: to bring my practice to life, not just to tell you about it. Zen makes it clear that doing makes all the difference.

I saw a friend and reader over Thanksgiving who had some advice for the next book. She said, “Include more about meditation, because I can’t really do it.” I said: Exactly! Even though I encourage you to meditate at home, even though I encourage myself to meditate at home, I can’t really sustain my effort by myself, and I’ve been practicing for 15 years! My teacher recalls something said by Maezumi Roshi after he’d been practicing most of his life – more than 40 years at least – while recognized as one of the foremost Zen masters in the world. He said, “I think I’m finally starting to do it.”

The “it” I’m referring to is zazen, or Zen meditation. I’m not going to recite how to do it in this post. You can follow the instructions here, and do your best. Or you can read this book, a classic, featuring the instructions of my dharma great-grandfather. Or better yet, you can find a place that will welcome and support you and a teacher who will guide you.

There are many answers to spiritual questions and many traditions that ensue, but I will only tell you what I know from personal experience: Zazen will do what Lisa asks. It will show you that you are enough. It will show you that, in fact, you are the only thing. You are the whole world, the earth, heaven and stars. Even when you aren’t yet able to see the truth completely, zazen will totally transform your life. It worked for Buddha. It’s what the Buddha taught, and how the Buddha lived.

Now here are some responses to the questions that I imagine you might have.

What makes Zen meditation different than other kinds of meditation? It is not visualizing. It is not ruminating. It is not contemplation. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a relaxation technique. Those are all OK; they just won’t transform your life. Zazen is not done with your eyes closed. It is the discipline of stilling your body and watching with precise attentiveness – and your eyes open – to how your habitual worries, fears and anxieties rampage and ruin your life. And when you finally notice that, it helps you to kick those gangsters out of the house.

What is it supposed to be like? Here are two warning signs to watch for with meditation. (1) Beware if you like meditation, because you’re probably not really doing it. Sorry. At least for the first 39 years (joke), meditation is difficult. Your mind and your body will revolt against it. It is a discipline. It is a crisis intervention. You are withdrawing from your lifetime addiction to your self-involved, ego-driven thoughts. Hear this: you are not destroying your ego; you are not going brain dead; you are putting your overblown head on a diet. (2) Beware if you don’t like meditation, because no one does at first, and if you think you’re the only one who doesn’t enjoy it you will stop right there. This practice works when you keep doing it in spite of your preferences. This practice IS going beyond preferences, your picking-and-choosing mind. When you keep it up, practice deepens. It grows. It takes time to recognize and relax into peace of mind instead of darting madly for the exit. Misery, you see, is an addiction too.

How do I prepare myself? There is no way and no need to prepare yourself. You simply begin. Telling yourself you have to prepare before you begin a meditation practice is just setting up false expectations of how it is supposed to be. The best preparation is the state of mind expressed in Lisa’s question: heartfelt insistence, urgency and the raw vulnerability of having nothing left to lose. That’s where I started too.

Tomorrow I will tell you where and when to find people who can help you. And because that’s not soon enough, you have in your hands the means to find it yourself. Start right now. Do it all wrong, because there is no wrong. Do not waste another minute waiting for the right way or the right day or the right place or the right anything.

I wish I could say more, but I cannot say enough. Please see it for yourself.

And if you’re not interested in meditation practice, forget all this, but be sure to visit Lisa anyway and practice kindness. It’s the same thing and in equally short supply.

Interview with a vampire

October 30th, 2007    -    11 Comments

Did somebody say to write about control? Did somebody ask about fear? I’m afraid so. Who better to pontificate on the point than today’s guest, the phantom of fear himself, Count Effluvium Ginormus Overtopster.

May I call you ego for short?

I prefer that I forever be known as I, me, myself, the Big Kahuna, Top Dog, Numero Uno, the Commander in Chief or the Decider. I’m sure you won’t mind. In fact, you’ll come to love me as none other than yourself.

Are you big and bad?

Of course not, I simply have a neverending job to do.

Which is?

To protect you.

From?

Lions, tigers and bears.

But I don’t see any wild animals.

Boo!

Seriously, there’s nothing dangerous going on.

What’s that sound? Who’s hiding in the closet? What’s around the corner? What if? What then? What next?

Are you trying to change the subject?

All the time! See my sleights of hand? Judgment, control, planning, defense, intellect, memory. Hey! Remember that time you walked home in the dark and that stranger came close and . . . Remember when you were six and the dog barked and . . . Look before you leap! Better safe than sorry!

You’re trying to scare me.

I like to stay busy! And look at all the nifty defense mechanisms I brought with me: denial, displacement, intellectualization, fantasy, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, regression, repression, sublimation, blah, blah, blah. I can’t wait to use one after the other. I never go anywhere unless I’m armed to the teeth.

You never go anywhere?

I prefer to stay in control right where I am. In fact, why don’t you go upstairs into that dusty attic surrounded by all those old, familiar things and I’ll lock you in where you are safe and secure.

Secure from what?

The outside, you silly! Didn’t you notice it’s getting dark? Didn’t you notice it’s getting light? Didn’t you notice all those ominous changes? The threatening signs? Didn’t you notice that those people over there are looking at you? Didn’t you notice everyone is talking about you? Better get up there and not move an inch. Entrust me with your life!

But it’s my house and there’s no one else here and you’re the only one talking.

Yes, and I wish you’d straighten up and set some standards! Fresh towels would be nice.

Why don’t you shut up?

Why don’t you try to make me?

This is my Halloween prank, but for a real scare, see what happens when ego rules the so-called free world.

In a variation on trick-or-treat, this is Grab Bag week at Cheerio Road. I’ll let your comments ignite the topic I take up each day. If there isn’t a gust from you – a question, a comment, a change in direction – we’ll just have to sit through the wait. At the end of the week, there’ll be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

The stew in lieu (of a post)

October 29th, 2007    -    9 Comments

1. Wake up.
2. Realize it is Monday.
3. Realize the phone is ringing; answer it and agree to teach yoga this morning.
4. Realize that by teaching this morning I can be home this evening instead of taking a class.
5. Realize that I need to check my calendar to be sure.
6. Realize it is October 29.
7. Realize that today is my 12th wedding anniversary.
8. Realize I need to buy a card.
9. Realize I need to buy a gift.
10. Realize the gift should be something my husband really wants.
11. Realize that would be a 90-minute massage at the health club.
12. Realize I could make a nice dinner.
13. Realize it could be something my husband really likes.
14. Take daughter to and from school, walk the dog, answer email, teach yoga, pick up dog poop, go to market, get card and gift certificate, talk on phone, chop veggies, make pot roast, receive magnificent floral delivery, help daughter with homework, clear table, bring in mail, vacuum, empty dishwasher, take out trash and chill champagne.
15. Realize that I can stop pondering the imponderabilities of today’s potential profundity
16. Because whenever I wake up and realize that my life as it is is perfectly OK it answers Karen Beth’s question from yesterday about my practice.
17. And thus comprises my post as promised.

In a variation on trick-or-treat, this is Grab Bag week at Cheerio Road. I’ll let your comments ignite the topic I take up each day. If there isn’t a gust from you – a question, a comment, a change in direction – we’ll just have to sit through the wait. At the end of the week, there’ll be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

Putting out the fire

October 28th, 2007    -    7 Comments


Practice the Way as though saving your head from fire. –Nagarjuna

We ended the week by quite nearly putting out the fires. We also ended the week by quite nearly coming around to practice. Are they one or are they two?

Here in Southern California, each round of wildfires reminds us of the last, only worse. It can appear to others that we are ignorantly dismissive or resigned. People rail against the shortage of plans and preventions, the inadequacy of resources, the greed of land developers and the (mostly) wealthy homeowners who build and buy in the fire zone. All of those are reasonable questions. But at this time of year, this long into the eternal drought, this far into Earth’s desperate disequilibrium, none of those questions puts out the fire. When the scorching desert wind blows from the East and starts or spreads the fire, there is nothing that can stop it. As long as the gusts are blowing from the Mojave furnace, the fire always wins. There is no fighting it. There is only the ravaging wait.

When conditions change, the fire always goes out. When the wind changes directions and the moist, cool air once again flows inland from the Pacific, the fires die back, and the fighters prevail.

So it is with practice. So it is with meditation, mindfulness and Zen. Only the fire is on your head. More precisely, it is in your head. It is your chattering, egocentric, picking and choosing mind that is aflame with fear, anxiety, worry, doubt, agitation, or just plain restlessness. None of those things is a problem unless it causes you a problem, unless the flames are too close for comfort. Maybe you can’t sleep. Maybe you can’t smile. Maybe none of the tried-and-true fixes will fix you up again. And that is the siren call for practice.

Just as with the other kind of fire control, we practice by changing the conditions. We settle our bodies into one spot, we minimize sensory distractions, we bring the full force of our mental powers away from the conflagration in our mind and toward the breath – the wind – to squelch the flames and cool the inferno.

Honestly, a life of practice isn’t the life we go looking for. It isn’t easy. It isn’t familiar. It isn’t a mansion in the hills. It is a life that starts out hard and ends up sweet; starts out hot and ends up cool. But it’s the only kind of sweet that ever satisfies. It’s the only kind of cool you urgently want and need. When it’s time, you know it, and you know what to do.

In a variation on trick-or-treat, this is Grab Bag week at Cheerio Road. I’ll let your comments ignite the topic I take up each day. If there isn’t a gust from you – a question, a comment, a change in direction – we’ll just have to sit through the wait. At the end of the week, there’ll be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

Why how what where when

October 26th, 2007    -    12 Comments


Why trust? And why trust me to say so?

It’s not as though I’ve never known loss, fear, anger, depression or confusion. It’s not as though my relationship works. It’s not as though I’m the world’s most wonderful mother. With the world’s most wonderful kid (even though, like all kids, she is). I’m not better than anyone else. I don’t have my shit together. No, I’m not at all trustworthy in that kind of way.

The trust I’m selling isn’t something you can get from me. You can’t get it from a book, not even the really good ones. It’s not found in inspirational quotes, although it’s nice to run across them here and there.

It’s not something you get from a TV show, not even that really uplifting and helpful TV show, because the good feeling fades as soon as you change the channel. It’s not something you get when something really good happens, or something that you lose when disaster strikes. We say we lose our trust when really bad things happen, but what we’ve lost is the false certainty, the comfortable bubble, that only good things happen to good people.

So where do you get trust? You won’t believe me, but you already have it. You have it when you surrender, if you ever do, to a night’s slumber and open your eyes to another day. Everytime you exhale your breath, and in that half-minute before you automatically inhale again. You have it when you put on your shoes, or when you don’t, and you walk across this great Earth without falling off. You have it when you look up at the moon and see that wherever you go, wherever you are, it is always over your shoulder.

It is not by accident that you came here; it is not by chance.

So I will entrust you with the only thing I can give you. A notice once again that I am teaching a one-day meditation retreat that is perfect for you a week from now on Sunday, Nov. 4. It is the best way, and the fastest way, and the everlasting way, to uncover deep trust in your life.

If you cannot heed my offer this time, then hurry to the next, when not by accident or chance we meet again.

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