Posts Tagged ‘Mindfulness’

the song of your life

May 15th, 2011    -    25 Comments

This is a passage from my next book, No Trace of My Teacher: Finding Faith in Your Days. I wrote it last night. The parts in italics are the words of Maezumi Roshi.

He only hears the cicadas singing in the maple-woods.

the Ten Oxherding Pictures

When I was little, I spent nearly every weekend at my grandparents’ house in the middle of the Ventura County orange groves about an hour north of Los Angeles.

Theirs was a tiny house, with only four rooms, and I slept in one with my grandfather. He could snore like a bear, but I never heard him snore, or at least I was never troubled to hear it. What I heard at night, through the screen door, atop the dark chill that carried the smell of sandy dirt and orange essence, were the crickets.

I just heard the crickets.

I didn’t make any meaning of it then – four-year-olds don’t yet assign meaning to things – and I don’t make any meaning of it now.

I simply heard the crickets and I knew they were crickets and I knew where I was and how I was and what time it was and what it was time to do. I knew everything that you know when you hear a cricket, which is actually quite a bit, so much that you can’t really explain it all. And the good thing is, you don’t have to.

I’m reciting all this here and now because lately when I toss in my bed, I can remember what I knew for sure when I was four or five and heard the crickets. I am fifty years older now and my head is crowded with far more than it needs to be – fear, for instance, of being 54, and worry, and doubts about my work, especially this work, and my daughter and whether she will be okay and not too disappointed or hurt and then the prescription that needs refilling and the bills that need paid and I forgot, what did I forget, oh that’s right I forgot to call, to fix, to sign, to return, to finish, to start – and for all I know there are crickets outside my own window right now but most of the time I’m making far too much noise between my ears to hear them.

That’s what can come between the hearing and the knowing, between the lost and the found, and between the fear and the faith. That’s all there is to let go of: what we keep putting in-between.

Hearing the sound, seeing the forms, many attain realization. Here where the verse says “He only hears the cicadas singing” what does it imply?

When I remember the sound of those country crickets these days, it’s not an emotional thing. It doesn’t trigger a sentiment as much as it awakens a sensation. A state of being that is effortless and relaxed, tucked into a small house under a vast and twinkling sky with a gentle grandfather beside me. When I remember that, I can drop the wiry tangle under my skin, the jangle inside my skull, and empty out what’s come in between me and a simple song.

When we see, when we hear, when we feel, when we smell, when we think, or when we perceive, conceive: right there, the author urges us to realize, “Why don’t you hear cicadas singing as the song of your life!” instead of just listening to it as a lousy noise something outside is making.

Oh that – that’s just a cricket.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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what you won’t get

May 6th, 2011    -    6 Comments

You’ll get breakfast in bed. A flower on your tray. Dinner out. A card, a call. Maybe one less upset. If not, an apology. And if you’re truly blessed, you’ll get some time to yourself, when you can consider everything you won’t get, and what no one else can give you for Mother’s Day:

 

What You Already Have
A quick burst of introspection and inspiration in this new interview on Painted Path

What You Already Know
A free download of the mini-book 23 Things You Might Not Know About You (but to be perfectly honest, you already do) courtesy of Zen at Play

Where You Already Are
Basic instructions in how to stay from Walking on My Hands.

Happy Mother’s Day. I know. I understand. Me too.

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of particular note

February 23rd, 2011    -    6 Comments

We have two prolific orange trees in the front yard, easily 40 or more years old but still reliably producing. There are probably 500 oranges right outside my front door perched in the trees until they get picked for juice or fruit. They don’t bother us, don’t fuss, and rarely fall. Suppose I went out and plucked a barrel, simmered them up into sloppy marmalade and rubbed it all over the bottom of your shoes?

That’s what I feel like I do when I share items like these. But hey, it’s a lonely life for all of us, the oranges too, until someone gets drunk on the juice.

This is a new anthology that borrows a previously published magazine piece of mine. Publisher’s Weekly says it has an “unsurprising lineup” of writers but “of particular note is Karen Maezen Miller’s meditation on housework.” It pays to be particular! Well, it doesn’t pay money but it still tastes good on the tongue.

Got a total kick out of this library user (damn libraries) who recounts how she wandered through the shelves in the 200s section and found someone who writes like a “normal person who happens to be a Zen Buddhist priest”  . . . “totally lacking in any conversionary rah-rah sentiments that would make me drop the book in a heap on the floor.” That’s one less fall from grace for me, and it’ll do nicely for a change.

And finally, from time to time someone will write a tiny thank you and I will respond with a teeny you’re welcome and what comes next is a heart’s rush of such power and poignancy that I trust again and know again and hope again and start all over again. The courage to keep going comes from each other.

On that note, sing.

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tiger bait

February 6th, 2011    -    23 Comments

Comparing our kids to one another is the most juvenile thing we grown ups can do. But amid all the recent hubbub over so-called Chinese style parenting,  I’ll take the bait.

Unlike some other kids, here are some things my daughter is allowed to do:

• spend time making friends
open her eyes to a world that is not defined by rank, culture, race, wealth, elite performance, or my ideas about the same
• be in a school play
• complain about not getting the part she wanted
• perform in the play anyway and overcome the sting of not being “best”
• learn by her own disappointments to be kinder to others
• obey me, disobey me; gladden, frustrate, and defy me; and one day repudiate me, as she must
• watch TV on weekends, learning that when it comes to finding TV entertainment, the first hour is easy and the second and third hours are hard
devote herself to extracurricular activities that I was never good at or afraid to try
• remind me, when she sees my face collapse in horror, that “a B is a good grade too.” read more

gift exchange

December 26th, 2010    -    53 Comments

In the true spirit of the week after Christmas, I’m exchanging gifts. Here are two lovely books I’ve had the chance to read and enjoy, and now I’m putting them up for grabs. Leave a comment and tell me if you have a preference for one or both, and give yourself a shot at getting something you can really use.

The Wisdom of a Broken Heart – Every charming and insightful word of Susan Piver’s latest book reminded me of what I wish I had known years ago when a breakup sent me lurching into my own darkness. Trust me, I wouldn’t trade the outcome of the experience, because it led to the saving grace of a spiritual practice – but I would have had a fabulous friend along for the ride. Piver is funny, smart, sensitive and spot-on. She’s a wonderful writer. I love that she keeps bringing you back to the healing power of a meditation practice, among other practical tips. While this book traces the fallout from a failed love, please realize there are many ways to break your heart. If you find yourself in a gulf of suffering and sadness, there is sweet company here. Everything comes from a broken heart, including the good fortune to read this book. The title has just come out in paperback, but I have a hardcover to share.

Living this Life Fully: Stories and Teaching of Munindra – When author Mirka Knaster invited me to read this first biography of the 20th century Bengali Buddhist master Munindra (1915-2003), she and I had a chuckle over what some are hyping as “the modern mindfulness movement.” Nothing could be less modern than the essential teachings of Buddha, and no one is less hyped than a real teacher in an authentic lineage. This book weaves Munindra’s teachings on mindfulness with recollections from an exhaustive number of former students, some of whom later established insight meditation, or Vipassana practice, in North America. You’ll find in these stories the utter simplicity and uncompromised clarity of a teacher devoting his life to the Dharma. Quite illuminating if you haven’t found your own teacher, or better yet, if you’re going to try to get by without one. I have a brand new paperback to pass along.

Take a giant leap toward a happy new year. Comment as often as you like for more chances to win these worthy spiritual companions before I draw names next Sat., Jan. 1.

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zen guide to the holidays

December 3rd, 2010    -    8 Comments

No, Virginia, there really isn’t a Zen guide to the holidays, but I’m going to give you one anyway.

First, a story about the magic of giving. When I was in Seattle this year for a Plunge retreat, a woman in the group approached me afterwards and handed me a package. I said thanks, then I packed it away and didn’t open it until I returned home. When I did, I was astonished. She had made, with her own hands, and placed into my own hands, a felted silk and woolen scarf of the most exquisite artistry that it became the most beautiful thing I own. It seems to be sculpted out of thin air.

Now for the magic. On a chilly Friday night in Portland two months ago, I was sitting on the unheated floor of a church parish hall giving a talk and a woman entered the room and sat right in front of me. She smiled at everything I said. Afterwards, she introduced herself to me once more as Anna Katherine Curfman from Seattle, the scarf maker. She had traveled to Portland for a craft show, heard that very day that I was in town, and made her way across town in the dark to give me the gift of a smiling face in the front row.

We are all traveling a vast distance in the dark. We all have gifts for one another. We come together out of thin air, our hearts full, our arms open, and it’s magic. I resolved that night to give her handmade scarves as gifts this season to those most dear. I highly recommend that you take a look at her magic for yourself. They are not cheap or disposable, but I’ve never seen anything more generously made and freely offered. You may know someone special who will be astonished at how far you go this year to see them smile.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Zen guide to the holidays, and it’s wrapped into this 30-minute conversation recorded by Donna Wolff Freeman of Yoga in My School. Open it and sit back to receive a soothing balm of quiet comfort straight out of thin air. Imagine it’s my arms, around your shoulders, to soften the chill of dark distance. Generously made and freely offered.

***

More zen for the holidays, if you act fast: New World Library, the publisher of Hand Wash Cold, is offering their Facebook fans 40% off and free shipping on all products until Monday 12/6. Simply join their Facebook page and enter code SNDIS at checkout when you shop their online catalog. Happy holidays!

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heat in the kitchen

November 16th, 2010    -    17 Comments

Of course you want the turkey to be done. You’d like the mashed potatoes to keep warm, the stuffing to stay moist and the gravy to taste homemade. You’re hoping the pies turn out, the guests turn up and the TV gets turned off. You’ll be grateful to have it over with, but can you take a week of hectic cooking and turn it into a mindfulness practice?

The sages did, and still do.

I have a new photo-post up at the Huffington Post this week, “7 Ways to Make Thanksgiving Mindful,” and it’s worth your while to notice. Follow these instructions step-by-step and see what comes of it:

1. Click on the link to read the post on Huffington.
2. Once you’re there, click on the blue thumb to “like” it.
3. Click on “Facebook Share” to share it on FB.
4. Click on the red “Retweet” to share it on Twitter.
5. If you don’t mind a few ruffled feathers, join the cackle of Huff Post commenters by adding your own.
6. Come back here and leave a comment on this post telling me anything and everything you’ve done. For each step taken you earn a point in my prize drawing.

You must know I would never tell you what to eat or how to make it. I’m simply illuminating the power of your own evenminded attention.

For each step you take, you’ll earn a point toward a drawing for a fabulous gift: an autographed copy of the organic cookbook Food to Live By, an inspiring and passionate 400-page cooking cornucopia by Myra Goodman, the co-founder of Earthbound Farms. The winner will be drawn this Sunday.

Good luck and good appetite!

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babies and bathwater in Portland

October 6th, 2010    -    7 Comments

Washing dishes is like bathing a baby Buddha – Thich Nhat Hanh

People often quote this to me as their understanding of mindfulness. I only hope it is not their understanding of dishwashing or baby bathing.

First off, let me be clear. In an absolute sense, dishes are indeed the baby Buddha. The Buddha is indeed the dishes. As is the water, the dishwashing liquid, the scrubber and the baked-on lasagna. Everything is nothing but Mind, which is nothing but Buddha. So this instruction is absolutely true. It’s in the application that the baked-on lasagna gets sticky.

In a relative sense, our understanding of mindfulness poses difficulty. (Any understanding poses difficulty and the relative sense is where all our difficulty lies.) We might infer that we are to bring a certain something extra to the sink, like an attitude of holiness or reverence. Maybe we should slow down and contemplate the sacredness of the task, its deeper meaning and value. We might even extract a self-satisfied fulfillment from how we see ourselves. I’ve finally got it! I’m really washing dishes like bathing a baby Buddha!

Even though the dish is the baby Buddha, it is still a dish. And a baby? A baby is not a dish. To wash the dishes is to wash them as they are: dishes. To bathe a baby is to bathe the baby as it is: squirming, splashing, crying, laughing, slippery. To be mindful is to bring nothing more to your life than what is there already. Seeing things as they are, you already know exactly what to do and how to do it. Wash the dish. Bathe the baby. As they are.

We just forget, and look for something more to add to it than our own straightforward attention. Attention is more than enough. It is pure love for everything in life as it is.

Attention! Someone dropped the baby in Portland! Whether you’re a mother or father, spiritual or not, into Zen or far out of it, come to this event and help me stack the dishes. Please share with anyone who has an interest in peaceful parenting, and especially those who have no interest at all.

Saturday, Oct. 16, 9-3:30 p.m.
Portals of Love: The Spiritual Practice of Parenting
Hosted by Zen Community of Oregon at St. David of Wales Church
Portland, Oregon

If you ever prayed for an easier way to parent, this one day workshop is for you. We’ll examine how to find a spiritual practice amid the demands of home life. If you’re not a parent, you’ll still benefit fully because there is no prerequisite for finding personal peace. The day includes morning coffee and vegetarian lunch, beginning meditation and other mindfulness practices, ample time for personal questions and book signing.

More information and registration here.

turning life into love

August 23rd, 2010    -    7 Comments

When I was at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral this spring, I asked the audience what they thought turned the inside of the church into a sanctuary. Was it the concrete walls?

When I was leading walking meditation in the chapel at Seattle’s Bastyr University in June, I asked the people with me what turned the ground under their feet into a pathway. Was it the terrazzo tile?

When I was at a yoga studio in suburban Milwaukee last Saturday, I asked the group in front of me to notice the change that occurred in the room from the time we convened at 2 p.m. until the hour we dispersed at 4 p.m. What turned the mildly restless, self-conscious discomfort at the start of our time together into the vast, settled calm at the end? Into a still and quiet ease so deep that no one cared to move? So satisfying that no one rose to leave?

The answer is you. The secret is yours. The power of your own nonjudgmental attention is what transforms space into spaciousness. It turns your wandering into the way. It transforms your life into love.

And now we’ll do the same in Boston when we gather for the Mother’s Plunge on Saturday, Sept. 18.  I’m so pleased that we’ll be meeting at the Seaport Academy, a therapeutic day school for adolescents who need extra attention to navigate the perils of growing up. The students will not be there the day we are, but your attention will, and your attention will transform our humble gathering into the spaciousness of infinite potential. Come see for yourself what the power of your love can do. We’ll leave some of it behind, and you can take the rest home with you.

And if you’re not on the East Coast on Sept. 18, come to the one-day meditation retreat I’m leading in LA on Sept. 12. We’ll turn our attention onto a bare white wall and unleash the wild blue yonder. You don’t have to believe it; you just have to see it.

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trouble with buddhism

July 30th, 2010    -    10 Comments

When you’re as easily teased by Buddhist discourse as I am, you can see the same arguments over and over. Among the refrains I keep hearing are the ones I call The Biggest Lies in Buddhism. Believing them is serious self-deception and keeps you in a world of trouble.

I’m not a Buddha. You most certainly are; you may not yet realize it. “Buddha” does not equate to a celestial being or deity but to an awakened one. When human beings live in their natural awakened state, undisturbed by delusive thoughts and emotions, they live as buddhas. Buddhahood is your birthright. You claim it every time you wake up to the present moment. And even when we can’t quite convince ourselves, we practice the way Maezumi Roshi admonished: “as if” enlightened. “I’m only human,” we like to assess and degrade ourselves. And yet we have an entirely lopsided idea of what a human being really is. That leads me to:

My ideas are as good as yours. That’s true, however, no one’s ideas are any good at all. The practice of Buddhism is not intended to democratize personal views, as in Oh, you think that way? That’s OK. I think this way? That’s OK too. Buddhism is not a feel-good club that aims to equalize the worth of everyone’s self-reinforcing preferences; it simply transcends them. We practice Buddhism so we will no longer be blinded by what we think, confused by what others think, or stuck in the understanding we feel compelled to express on a Buddhist discussion board someplace. We practice Buddhism to wake up to how things are. How things are is not how you think they are. As Dogen said, “Your understanding of reality is not reality.”

No one is perfect. Everyone and everything is perfect as they are, we just don’t view them – or ourselves – to be so. Imperfection lies solely in our judging mind, the mind that picks what we like and calls it best or right, and labels what we don’t like as worse or wrong. This mind between your ears is the source of all conflict, and even then, it is functioning perfectly. Seeing it clearly, we must unleash ourselves from its mastery over our lives. Only then can we hope to repair the mess we have made of the world we inhabit.

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a short history of Zen practice

July 25th, 2010    -    4 Comments

People used to think they couldn’t practice because they were only human.
They couldn’t practice because they had families.
Children and jobs.
Too many things to do.
And not enough time to do them.
They couldn’t practice because they were poor.
Because they lived in a certain town and not another.
They couldn’t practice because they didn’t know how.
Hadn’t read the right book.
Met the right teacher.
Found the right place.
Weren’t lucky, fated or called.
Were hobbled by time, space and circumstance.
And that practice didn’t matter. (At least not that much.)
People used to think a lot of crazy things.
And then they practiced.

Be back soon.

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thank god it’s monday

June 21st, 2010    -    4 Comments

Wouldn’t it be something if we really thought that way? TGIM! Par-tay!

Mondays have a peculiar weight, a sisyphean shock and awe. I see it even in the statistics of who and how many visit this blog:  the slog, the grind, the reluctant rewind, the slow dread motion of facing another week. A week that we might mistakenly think is nothing but a repeat of all the rest.

It might be a good day to start off with my latest Huffington Post read, “10 Tips for Mindful Work.” If you’ve read it before, make use of Monday’s momentum to read it all over again.

And take heart! Your first coffee break is here sooner than you thought. Spend the next 10 minutes sipping a cup of liquid love by listening to this short podcast with me at the New Dimensions Cafe.

***

Thanking her lucky stars it’s Monday is Rose in Amsterdam, whose time zone gives her a head start on every day of the week, and who also won the random drawing of Donna Hilbert’s Traveler in Paradise poetry collection from last week’s giveaway.

Cheers.

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a day without laundry

May 26th, 2010    -    15 Comments

“A day without work is a day without eating.”
– Zen saying

This expression might strike you as a grim resignation. You might even call it depressing. Perhaps you think of work as drudgery. But when you realize the dependency between work and life, it can turn your notion of work upside down. Work does not detract from life, interrupt life or hinder life. Work sustains life. All work sustains life, whether we think of it as important or unimportant. It is vital and enhancing. It keeps us alive.

This brings me to the laundry. (Everything brings me to the laundry.)

The other day I put something up at the Huffington Post that I’ve published elsewhere: 10 Tips for a Mindful Home. It is a simple list to help us see how life is enriched by doing the little things we might disdain as insignificant, like laundry, dishes and bedmaking. It’s amusing to see the unrest that is stirred by the modest suggestion that we make our own beds!

One comment on the post was a variation of the kind of objection I encounter from time to time, a slow boil of outrage over gender inequality, a denigration of what is sometimes called “women’s work.”

“Women wind up doing a lot of the things that ‘never get totally done,’ that must be redone again in a short time, over and over again – while the man gets more time to build and repair things the result of which can be appreciated and used for years.”

Really? The things men build and repair last for years? Tell that to the man in my house who fixes the sprinklers and the leaky toilets, who changes the light bulbs and the oil in the cars, who clears out the cardboard shipping boxes that multiply mountainously in the garage. Tell it to the man in my house who builds spacecraft that break down dozens of times before they ever launch, might disappear before they ever arrive, and whose instruments routinely malfunction (if they work at all) over and over. Tell that to the boys who drill deepwater wells, and to the ones who keep trying to fill them. Tell that to the Wall Streeters who ride the stock exchange up and back down again. Tell that, but don’t ever for one second believe it.

Nothing that anyone does is ever done for good. Everything is undone and redone. That’s how life is. Why value big work over small, a monstrosity over the miniscule? I’ll do the laundry any day, and I’ll happily eat too.

But there is such a thing as a day without laundry! That would be called a Mother’s Plunge, my signature one-day retreat for mothers and all others coming up real soon in Seattle on Sat., June 12 and here in Sierra Madre (Los Angeles) on Sat. June 26. You must register now. But even before that, check out the post at Shutter Sisters today and see how you can win free admission to a Mother’s Plunge by merely lifting a finger!

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