Posts Tagged ‘Mindfulness’

zen is not about zen

February 10th, 2014    -    7 Comments

thusZen is the freshest essence of mind, already gone by the time it becomes an idea. The Zen meaning of literature is impact, not ideology. ~ Thomas Cleary

I found this wonderful quote on the Facebook page of Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis. I’ll be in Minneapolis and St. Paul May 16-18 for several talks and a daylong retreat launching my next book, Paradise in Plain Sight — go to their website now and sign up before you think twice.

There is one question that causes me a lot of trouble. It isn’t intended to upset me. Anyone who asks it is sincere. Other people can answer it with aplomb. It’s just that I can’t answer in the way you might expect. The question is: What are your books about?

I never know what to say, because the truth is something like this:

I don’t write books about anything. I just write what I see. I write my experience. I put myself on a page and let others wonder what it is about.

Of course, it is useful in all ways to have a book be “about” something. Books need to be categorized and coded. In the conventions of bookselling and library science, books are sorted into genres and genres are collected onto shelves (even virtual shelves) as an aid to the reader or researcher looking for a book “about” something. Most non-fiction books fit the bill: they are the product of the author’s effort to illuminate a certain area of expertise or a period of history, even if it’s their own history.

In the traditional way of selling books, which is still the only way books are sold, a category is printed on the jacket flap or back cover as the publisher’s suggestion for shelving. The distributor feared Momma Zen would be “lost” in the parenting aisle so suggested it be sold under Eastern Religions. Eastern Religions is the Outer Slobbovia of bookstores, a place only stray dogs and ideologues are likely to roam. Momma Zen was definitely not about Zen. As soon as librarians or store managers read Momma Zen, they knew it belonged in Parenting, which was the kind of impact I was aiming for all along: the impact of the obvious.

Zen is not about Zen.

When you write, don’t you formulate ideas? Don’t you think about it? Don’t you work out what you’re going to write before you write it, what you’re going to say before you say it? Uh, no. Can’t you tell? I have no idea what words will appear from my dancing fingertips. I have no idea where a book will take me. Nor do I formulate the beat of my heart or the shine of the sun. Formulation is an unnecessary vexation.

With a little bit of time and reflection, I can now say that Momma Zen is about a daughter becoming a mother, Hand Wash Cold is about a woman becoming a wife, and Paradise in Plain Sight is about a student becoming a teacher. But that’s only how I see it. What really matters is what you see.

I put my life on a page. And then, in that glorious instant when you see it fresh and unexpected, you might recognize it as your life too, the life of everything and everyone, freed from any notion of what it’s supposed to be about. A moment of realization is not about anything. It just is as it is, then it’s gone.

And that’s Zen.

 

tacloban is calling

November 12th, 2013    -    132 Comments

Surivor in Tacloban walks among the debris after Typhoon Haiyan

This message is not for the people of Tacloban. The people of Tacloban do not need any messages from me. They are completely engulfed in a reality that eclipses the linguistic coding of sentiment or solidarity. Send money if you can. No, this message isn’t for, but rather from the people of Tacloban, because in their horrific struggle for survival and security, they have sent a message to you. It is a message you don’t want, and that none of us is ready for.

Some people have a sudden glimpse of reality, a stroke of insight, an aha moment. They might strive for it a long time – travel the world, trek mountains, study the wisdom of sages. But that’s not the glimpse of reality that matters. The glimpse that can change your life is the sight of rubble and ruin – the truth that things fall apart. We see the evidence every day, but still, it’s a hard thing to wake up to.

There was that cloudless morning in early September when most of us – roused by the radio, a phone call, or a shuddering impulse – turned on our televisions and saw the impossible.  We saw a building buckle, and then, after a breathless half-second, a rushing crush of dust as one and then another tower disappeared in front of us – a Niagara of concrete, steel, desks, and doorknobs, everyday lives conjoined irretrievably in death, a plume of ash simultaneously rising and falling and haunting the gaping emptiness we could not turn away from.

One day after Christmas, the Indian Ocean stood to reach a resplendent sky and then tumbled forward into a bottomless blackness, swallowing the earth in one gulp, stealing the doomed from their innocent idylls and the sleepy ease of paradise – paradise! A whole population was snatched from the sheltering palms of a holiday while the rest of us still celebrated ours.

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6 steps to a mindful argument

November 10th, 2013    -    4 Comments

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1. Stop talking
2. Inhale
3. Exhale
4. Listen
5. Smile
6. Repeat as needed

Because when you stop arguing, the argument stops.

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8 reminders to let go

November 3rd, 2013    -    3 Comments

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 Leaves fall. Freed from a useless stem.

Bags break. Contents spill.

Wind moves. Never arriving.

Birds fly. No end to the sky.

Clouds burst. The earth flows.

Fruit rots. Returned to their nature.

 Smoke rises. In plain sight.

 Morning comes. Where does the moonlight go?

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10 tips for mindful writing

October 15th, 2013    -    21 Comments

How to keep your mind on writing.

Read more. Words are the food of lively writing. Read everything you can get your hands on. Be greedy, but not picky. You never know what will flavor the meal you ultimately cook.

Think less. The kind of writing you want to do does not come from contemplation or analysis, not from self-judgment or second-guessing. It comes by itself when you stare blank-headed at a blank page.

Practice. Writing is a job. Writing is a discipline. A famous author once said that discipline in a writer was overrated. That’s clever, but wrong. Overrating is overrated. Without stopping to judge, just keep going. Everything done well takes practice.

Have no goal. Other than to write. Examine your motivations and be clear. There are easier ways to become famous. Sing, dance, run for high office, make a sex tape. If your goal is to become rich, I have no career advice for you.

Use a net. A butterfly net. Words and phrases will alight in their own time and place, and not always on a keyboard. Keep a pen handy. Journal. Jot in the fog of a mirror or shower door. Catch what comes.

Write for yourself. Write to yourself. Writing for others, to satisfy other people’s opinions and expectations for your writing, is folly. No one is as interested in your work as you are. You are already your worst critic. Now be your number one fan.

Know the reader. Approach your reader with fearlessness. Be honest. Be open. Say everything. Say anything. (Hint: the reader is you.)

Don’t know the reader. The world is vast and wide and does not fit on a Facebook page or Twitter list. Your true reader, like your true friends and fans and followers, is in the real world beyond social media. Let this comfort you, and redirect you to your real work.

Do not confuse talking for writing. Writing about how to write is a waste of time for you and everyone who reads it.

Go back to it. There are no tips for writing, only tips to avoid writing. I apologize.

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mindfulness starts here

September 29th, 2013    -    61 Comments

deep+waterWhen I first began my practice, I was already lying inert at the bottom of the deep end. Life’s triple decker of despair—heartbreak, grief and depression—had sent me plummeting into the murky realms. On the way down, I tried to rouse myself with the usual prescriptions, but nothing could reach. So when I bumped into a Zen teacher who reminded me how to breathe, it saved my life. Breath gave me the buoyancy to rise to the surface where I could float, and later, find the strength to swim. Breath always does that.

Not everyone comes to practice in the same sloppy way. Not everyone is as far gone as I was, in dire need of resuscitation. Some folks are holding onto the side of the pool, knuckles whitening, but still alert and awake enough to realize, “Perhaps I should give some serious thought to taking some swimming lessons.”

There’s a new book out that is like a set of swimming lessons.

Lynette Monteiro and Frank Musten have kindly packaged an eight-week mindful course into a single volume, Mindfulness Starts Here: An Eight Week Guide to Skillful Living. It includes the practices, explanations, encouragement and accountability you would find if you participated in a mindfulness course like the kind they lead at the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic. And here’s what I really like: it also includes the people. The authors pair their artful instructions with real-life commentary from the students in their classes—students who might as well be you, facing the fear, doubt, resistance and even overconfidence we carry with us into the water. This is what I like best about this eminently likeable work: the human voices and stories reminding us that this practice isn’t academic or intellectual. It isn’t a course of self-improvement or just a tool for a toolkit. Mindfulness is not a seasoning, a flavor or a fad. It is life—your life—and it starts here. It starts wherever you are.

I’m still in the deep end, you know. We’re all in the deep end. But this much I know: I’m breathing.

Leave a comment on this post and I’ll draw a winner for a free, brand-new copy of Mindfulness Starts Here next Sunday, Oct. 6.

And in case you think you still don’t have the time, place, or teacher to begin your practice, look right here. There is water, water, everywhere.

The Plunge One-Day Retreat in Boise Sat., Oct. 5
Yoga & Meditation Retreat, Washington DC, Sat. & Sun., Oct. 19-20
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Sun., Nov. 10

If money is what’s stopping you from starting at these or any of my programs anywhere in the country, please contact me privately for help. Even a little help can help enough. Money never gets in the way of the Dharma, and that’s how you can tell what’s true.

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7 tips to de-stress your home

September 12th, 2013    -    13 Comments

A tour bus stops in front of my house and two dozen visitors disembark. They’ve come to view the 100-year-old Japanese garden in my backyard. Without a word of instruction, they spontaneously merge into a single file and advance soundlessly along the suburban sidewalk like an order of monks, albeit monks in khaki shorts and ball caps carrying iPhones.

It happens by itself, an autonomic response to the pervasive calm of the environment. When these guests leave, they might attribute their sudden state of reverence to some unseen spiritual power. Maybe the place is sacred, they might think. Mystically endowed, holy.

I thought about this recently when I was asked to come up with some simple tips for de-stressing a home. If I live on hallowed ground, I might have an unfair advantage in handling stress. Except I don’t. I stress out just as easily as anyone, but by managing my environment, I de-stress easily too.

What turns a home into a sanctuary? What transforms a familiar set of cramped rooms into a sense of spaciousness? What changes everyday chaos into an oasis of calm? You don’t need to install a meditation garden or consult a geomancer. There are no ancient secrets. The same devotional practices that turn monasteries into bastions of serenity can relieve the mindless stress that infiltrates your home life. Even if you can’t consistently observe all of these pointers, doing a few will change the way you feel when you come home, and that is nothing less than a modern miracle.

1. Observe light. The natural world wakes with the first light of the sun, why not you? If rising at daybreak is too late for your daily work and commuting schedule, wake before the sun and observe the sunrise. In the habit of hitting the snooze button? Don’t.  If your waking thought is resistance, you wake in stress. You start the day in a race against time, and you stay that way. The sun is not only a natural time management system, it delivers the neurotransmitter serotonin that enhances brain function and reduces stress.

2. Observe darkness. Turn the power off and see what happens when night falls. We’ve turned our homes into temples of electronic stimulation, and our default position is maximum overdrive. Gadgets are handy and appliances are useful, but everything from the microwave to the smoke alarm and the cell phone to the computer is discharging a constant pulsing stream of energy. We cannot afford to be careless about our electronic addictions because we are going out of our minds. Evening brings a natural end to the 24-hour workday, restores mind-body balance, and invites quiet.

3. Observe quiet. I’ll be loud and clear. The quiet that needs observing is not an external silence like the kind imposed at a library or hospital. Our homes are not ivory towers or infirmaries. The quiet that needs stilled is our internal commentary – the nonstop thoughts that stir anger, resentment, anxiety and fear. You may never get around to practicing meditation, but try this technique in the meantime.  Designate a comfortable seat in your bedroom as your “quiet chair.” Clear it of clutter; keep it empty and available. When domestic chaos and turmoil overtake you, retreat to your bedroom and take sanctuary in your quiet chair. Conflicts will decelerate by themselves when you take a step back. When the decibels in your head come down, come out.

4. Observe bells. A mountain of laundry, a forest of weeds, and an avalanche in the hall closet: the sheer size of untended tasks at home can topple us into paralyzing despair. When chores get out of hand, pick up some extra time. Set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and focus on doing one thing during that period. It doesn’t matter if you finish; what matters is that you start. Once you start, the finish comes into view.

5. Observe nature. Open a window. The view doesn’t matter. Open a door. You don’t have to be in a national park. Air and light are curative. If you doubt it, just take a walk around the block and watch your mood lift with the breeze and change with the scenery.

6. Observe order. Washing dishes, sweeping floors, folding clothes, clearing the table, and sorting mail: these are not just simple means of practicing mindfulness, they are your mind. As Buddha described our true relationship to our environment, “There is no inside, there is no outside, and there is no in-between.” When we resist order, we are messing with our minds.

7. Observe ritual. Light a candle, and elevate your mealtime. Burn incense, and alleviate anxiety. Sages have always known that rituals are not just symbolic. Your rituals don’t have to reek of religious significance. Give yourself a set of completion rituals to signify the end of the day. Empty the kitchen sink; put your shoes in the closet; brush and floss your teeth. When repeated, rituals prepare you to enter a state of repose.

***

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10 tips for mindful work

September 9th, 2013    -    7 Comments

It has been 15 years since I’ve spent 60 or more hours each week in an office, and at no time during the long stretch of my professional career was I anything but profoundly inattentive. Still, those days brought the dawn of a penetrating realization that my work was not the problem. Work is never the problem.

In that spirit, I offer these 10 Tips for Mindful Work, or What I Would Do Differently if I Had It All to Do Over Again:

Be on time
Self-discipline is the foundation of all success and the essence of self-respect.

Care
Work is not a distraction from your life; it is not a detour, hindrance or necessary evil. If you think this way it is the wrong view. When you are working, work is your life. Care for it as you care for yourself. As Dogen Zenji says, “If you find one thing wearisome, you will find everything wearisome.”

Make a list
Start each day with a list of things to do. Control is an illusion, so wise up and keep the list short.

Forget the list
Do not mistake a list for the thing. Adapt to the flow of real events as they occur. Adaptation is innovation and innovation is genius.

Attend to what appears
What appears in front of you is the only thing there is. Respond appropriately as things arise, and crises will not overtake you.

Avoid gossip
Viruses spread. Keep your hands clean and cover your mouth.

Smile
The workplace is a theater, and the drama is make-believe. Everyone appreciates a good laugh. When you can do anything as though you work at nothing, you have the best days of your life.

Give credit
No amount of money is enough. Be generous with your kindness, courtesy and thanks. They will always be repaid.

Take the rest of the day off
Do your work, then set it down. Let others praise or blame.

Do it all over again
Rise and shine. An ancient teacher said, “A day without work is a day without eating.” Take every chance to do it differently, and your life will transform.

***

It’s another Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’m reprising some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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4 rules for a mindful garden

September 7th, 2013    -    6 Comments

This is a simple set of instructions that I always give children when they visit my backyard garden. Beginning when she was three years old, we invited Georgia’s class to our garden for a field trip each year. She is now 14, and I am far older, and yet the instructions still apply. Children find them easier to do than adults.

Life is a garden and we are the gardeners. Here are the rules for a mindful garden:

1. Be kind. Every time we are kind to another, we are kind to ourselves, because we have left our stingy self-centeredness behind. It’s important: kindness is the supreme religion. It’s not hard: pure silence is the ultimate kindness. We already know how to do it.

2. Don’t throw rocks. The garden path is paved with stones. For children, it’s tempting to pick one up and loft it into the ponds. For adults, it’s tempting to pick one up and loft it at each other. Consider how very often we blame others, and the circumstances around us, for whatever displeases us. It’s not my fault, we say, it’s you, it’s my job, it’s my parents, it’s my kids, it’s my neighbor that’s causing all the trouble, tossing rocks with wild abandon. To maintain peace in your garden, don’t pick up a rock if you can’t set it down.

3. No running. There’s no hurry and no one chasing you. Running in my backyard is a sure way to fall headfirst into the murky mud beneath you. How much of life do we miss because we are racing headfirst toward some place else? A place we never reach? You have all the time in the world to savor the life you have.

4. Pay attention. Bring all your attention to what is at hand. You’ll wake up to the glorious view before you and realize you’re right at home where you are.

***

It’s Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’ve reprised some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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8 reminders for mindful parents

September 2nd, 2013    -    11 Comments

A cozy set of practical guidelines for parents who practice mindfulness:

1. Practice in plain sight. Place your zafu, or meditation cushion, in a conspicuous place in your home, such as on your bedroom floor. As you pass by, let it invite you to practice meditation daily. Even five minutes morning or night can turn your life around.

2. Live by routine. Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.

3. Elevate the small. And overlook the large. Want to change the world? Forget the philosophical lessons. Instruct your child in how to brush his teeth, and then do it, together, twice a day.

4. Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimulation. This begins with you.

5. Give more attention. And less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Use a timer to keep yourself honest. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.

6. Take a break. Before you break in two. Designate a chair in your home as a “quiet chair,” where you can retreat to decelerate conflicts. Or walk around the block and see how quickly your own two feet can stamp out the fire on your head.

7. Be the first to apologize. Practice the miracle of atonement and instantly restore household harmony. By your doing, your children will learn how.

8. Be the last to know. Refrain from making judgments and foregone conclusions about your children. Watch their lives unfold, and be surprised. The show is splendid, and yours is the best seat in the house.

***

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so far so good

August 22nd, 2013    -    No Comments

Giving away the moments of your life, and four free passes to the Boise Plunge retreat on Sat., Oct. 5. Send me send me a private message to claim your prize.

 

Moments from Everynone on Vimeo.

please come

August 18th, 2013    -    1 Comment

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After the kids return to school,
before the year is over and time disappears,
when patience is thin, and peace seems all but lost,
it’s safe to go back in the water:
Announcing the return of The Plunge workshop
healing weary hearts and minds
with the calming cleanse of deep compassion
a one-day mindfulness retreat
with the good people of Boise
and anyone else along for the swim
Saturday, Oct. 5
Register here.

If you can offer scholarship funds to waiting participants, please contact me.

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your bed is your head

July 29th, 2013    -    18 Comments

Foot of unmade bed with white and blue linensBefore your feet hit the floor you’ve already run through the reasons. First, there’s not enough time. It’s pointless. You’ll just have to do it all over again. You have more important things on your mind. It doesn’t matter. No one will see it. You don’t care. You’re not uptight about it. It’s a waste of energy. You hate it. After all, you’re not Martha Stewart.

The bed is a nest of egocentric attachments: our cravings and aversions. In the one minute it takes to avoid making your bed in the morning, you can observe the ways you battle the reality of your life all day, everyday. You might think it’s unfair to deduce all that from a tangle of sheets and pillows, but it’s not an exaggeration.

The state of your bed is the state of your head. To be sure, the bed and its adornments are a mirror of your psyche, a reflection of your thoughts and feelings, the locus of your dreams and nightmares. But more than that, your bed actually is your mind. Like all phenomena that arise within your field of perception, your bed appears within your own consciousness. How do you respond to what appears?

By habit, we respond with dualistic judgment, dividing the whole of our experience into the few precious things we like and the greater load of what we dislike, accepting the former and rejecting the latter. We thus move through our lives as if maneuvering through enemy territory, attacked on all sides by the overwhelming forces of displeasure. It’s no wonder that we have the urge to crawl back under the covers as if defeated before the day even begins.

Luckily, this one piece of furniture not only serves to diagnose our ills, but to treat them as well. Transform your reality. Transcend dualistic thinking. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows. See for yourself if making the bed makes a difference in your head.

This article appears in the September 2013 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine.

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These are the last three days for Early Bird Registration for the Boise Plunge, one-day retreat on Oct. 5.

 

 

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