Posts Tagged ‘Mindfulness’

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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what mom didn’t get

May 11th, 2010    -    13 Comments

When my sisters and I used to ask my mom what she wanted for Mother’s Day, her birthday or Christmas, she would say something like, “panty hose.” Or, she’d ask for stationery, stamps, measuring spoons or Tupperware lids. (Not needing the bowls, you see, but the lids that always came up missing.) These answers were ridiculous to us. We cracked jokes about them. We cracked jokes about her. We didn’t believe anyone could be so unimaginative, so uninspired by the opportunity to improve herself. She was only interested in the trifling, mundane things. We assumed that she just didn’t get the concept of getting, and that she lacked a grand vision for her life that could only be realized by seizing every opportunity to procure shiny, new things.

Mothers can be a mystery to us in so many ways. It took me more than 40 years to comprehend a fraction of my mother’s life. But I’ve been coming around on this front. My mother wasn’t what I thought she was. She never stopped improving things or keeping things going. She took every opportunity to make things better. She knew all along what I’ve only learned lately. Once you put yourself into the effort – your whole heart, your undying love – there’s really nothing else you need.

When Mother’s Day comes around, and even more on every day after, I remember the things my mother asked me for most often. And then I do them. In doing these five little things, I’m giving my mother her heart’s desire: I’m taking good care of myself, so she can finally sit back and rest easy. read more

daily bread

March 1st, 2010    -    16 Comments

Banana Bread by Tracey Clark

Give us this day our daily bread.

When I was a little girl and recited that line of the Lord’s Prayer, I always took notice. Suddenly, my religion had given me something I could see, touch and taste. Something I experienced everyday, scuffed with butter and dabbed with jelly. The other things I’d learned to say in church were in a dusty, lost language. For a moment at least, my Wonder Bread filled me with wonder, a gift descended from the invisible heights of heaven.

I was not wrong, as a child. Children do not err or misperceive. Bread is all this and more. It was only later, my sight dimmed by cynicism and self-absorption, when I began to search for more than my daily bread. I began to do what all of us do, and urge one another to do: go someplace else. Dream, lust, wish, follow, journey, uncover, trudge, and wallow. Overlook the bread, and find your bliss. It must be somewhere, the fulfillment we seek, hidden in something bigger than a breadbox.

It seems to me we spend nearly the whole of our lives overlooking the obvious: debasing the ordinary and idealizing the unattainable. I’m damn tired of it, aren’t you? Why don’t you sit down and have a slice of bread? Have a pair of pants and shoes, a blanket, a sky, a blue jay, the back of an envelope. Have your work, and just do it. Have a neighbor, and say hello. Have a night’s rest, and a day after. Have a smile, a cough, a burp. Blow your nose. Pay your bills. Fold the towels and match the socks. read more

Your mind on Tide

January 17th, 2010    -    5 Comments

My mother taught me many things, but she didn’t teach me much about homemaking. To learn how to keep house, I had to study under the tutelage of an eighth century Chinese enlightened master.

I’m so pleased to see my new article “Do Dishes, Rake Leaves” in the March issue of Shambhala Sun magazine, and I’m especially pleased to see it under my full name. If you haven’t yet read it, put it on your list of things to do this weekend. If heaven forbid you don’t subscribe to the magazine, put that on your list, too.

And if you don’t have a list, here’s a handy one to start with.

The road traveled

August 18th, 2009    -    7 Comments

Spying the untouched package, realize this is the last doll.
Watching her take a bath, realize this is the last of childhood.
Counting the days until deadline, realize this is the last draft.
Lifting the carton from the shelf, realize this is the last Mint Chip.
Tasting the grounds in the cup, realize this is the last coffee.
Facing the shrinking summer, realize these are the last lilies.
Remembering everything, realize this is the last regret.
Nearing the horizon, realize this is the last stretch.
The color! The color!
This is the road traveled.
None traveled less, none traveled more.
Everyone travels the same, alone and yet never apart.
Hello, traveler.

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Keep the change

April 27th, 2009    -    5 Comments


I just spent three days finding peace and presence. One afternoon while I was gone I called my husband to check in. He and Georgia were leaving Long Beach, where they had spent four hours touring the Aquarium and taken a long harbor cruise, a memorable first for both of them. Here’s Georgia’s on-the-spot report:

She: Mom, guess what?! I just found a dollar bill on the steps in front of me. And then I crossed the street and found a quarter!

Wherever you go, I hope you find $1.25 today, and keep the change. I hope I do too. Because it’s not ever where you’ve been. It’s where you are.

Now entering the motherland

April 12th, 2009    -    11 Comments


Last week I was reminded of one of the most refreshing aspects of an arduous trip to a foreign country: not speaking the language. What sweet relief! Being utterly, absolutely free of language and its insidious effect on me: reading, talking, eavesdropping, writing, judging, second guessing, comparing, competing and then, and then, and then. Last week I didn’t read, blog or bloviate. I didn’t charge ahead. I didn’t fall behind. I didn’t make a list. Here I’m home but for two hours, and the list is already lengthening at my side, the pen squiggling across the lines of my journal even as I fight a reunion with the cherished sleep I missed most dearly.

I’m striving again. We’re all striving. If we’re not striving, we might wonder, what then?

As I rapid-fire clicked through emails and blogs I returned twice to Kelly, who today stands in the nowhere between a very sick mother and a very sick sister:

The most challenging part of all the illness around me is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help anyone get better.

That is the truest thing I haven’t said lately. Being with someone who is sick or dying can seem like being in a foreign country. Or a foreign airport, in my case, in an unmoving line leading to one Lufthansa ticket agent hammering uselessly into a broken computer while the cushiony minutes to takeoff disappear. The most challenging part is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help. There’s no striving. There’s just being. And even though there is no striving in just being, some folks will tell you that there must be a way to steer the being along better. Not just a way to do nothing, but a right way, a good way, to do nothing.

I don’t subscribe to that expertise. We are all amateurs at death; in the same way we are all amateurs at life, although we rarely give ourselves permission. For those of us whose part in dire hours is to sit it out and sit beside, our part is to just sit. Sitting with my mother and my father as they died was the most intimate act I’ve ever known. And while I do not think it more sacred than going nowhere at a ticket counter, it was no less sacred.

You see, when it looks and feels as if we are doing nothing, we’re actually doing quite a bit. We are standing still on one of those slow-motion moving walkways stretching from terminal A to terminal E. We are crossing a threshold all the while, crossing a border whose demarcation is all but imperceptible. We are entering the motherland, the pure land, and in that nowhere else, we are coming home.

A tribute to my mother, and to everyone’s mother, on the eighth anniversary of her death April 13, 2001.

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When planets align

March 24th, 2009    -    3 Comments


Some of you are busy thinking about coming to the Mother’s Summer Plunge. I’m busy thinking about it too. I promise that I will soon stop all that needless air traffic. But for today, I’d like you to know that Southwest Airlines really is having a terrific sale on flights in and out of all the airports in Southern California. Click all the way through and see for yourself. Even on Friday flights, ahem.

Pluto has never been closer. Mickey too.

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