Posts Tagged ‘Mindfulness’

Great minds don’t think

March 5th, 2009    -    4 Comments

Before I leave you for a weekend of higher learning, I’ll offer this link to a compelling tribute to the lost genius of the novelist David Foster Wallace. It’s in this week’s New Yorker magazine.

“I believe I want adult sanity, which seems to me the only unalloyed form of heroism available today.”

The article traces Wallace’s unfulfilled “preoccupation with mindfulness.”

“They’re rare, but they’re among us. People able to achieve and sustain a certain steady state of concentration, attention, despite what they’re doing.”

Give yourself the time to read it, all, along with this excerpt from his unfinished work. I know you have the time, and I pray you have the attention.

Possible dreams

February 21st, 2009    -    5 Comments


Within hours of the birth, the complicated and life-threatening birth of my beautiful and brilliant daughter, a single word began whizzing across that high-speed thoroughfare between my ears. Back and forth along the byway that bisected my mother nature. As I simmered in the newness of motherhood and the inconceivable possibilities that lie ahead, convinced of the utter perfection and excellence of her future, the word on my mind was not now or possibility. I was grateful, but the word was not grateful. I loved her, but the word was not love. It wasn’t peace, or calm, or happiness. It wasn’t blessing or miracle. It wasn’t amazing or grace.

It was Stanford.

Ninth Annual Palo Alto Mothers Symposium
Stanford University
Palo Alto, California
Saturday, March 7
9:30 a.m.-noon

Momma Zen: Finding Peace and Patience in the Everyday
with Karen Maezen Miller

How or if or when my daughter gets there no longer matters. What matters is that you do, that we all, each of us, get to a place of peace and patience, by the very means we have at hand. Then, and only then, have we finally given our children lives to make their own.

“Year after year, this unique gathering of mothers generates a spirit of support and compassion that ripples out into our families and our community. We hope you will find refuge from the demands we all experience as mothers, sometimes enlivened and sometimes burdened by the magnitude and influence of this role. We invite you, for a morning, to take a break from all the rules, goals, consequences, and other criteria against which we measure ourselves; and to embrace the possibility that most of what you need to know about mothering is available within you and the present moment.” – The Mothers Symposium

Care instructions for an ordinary life

February 6th, 2009    -    9 Comments
Lather.
Rinse.


Repeating my call for company at a one-day Beginner’s Meditation Retreat on Sunday, Feb. 15 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles to fill your lonely heart with light. Complete instructions, very short periods of sitting meditation, compassionate talks, a delicious meal, and the basket empties itself.

Register here.

One size fits all

January 27th, 2009    -    25 Comments

In case you thought my life was any different than this.

I was fuming. I spend a lot of my time fuming. Because of my husband. Know what I mean?

You don’t pay attention, I say.

When I fume, he does too and the cause of it, from what I gather, is this:

You pay too much attention, he says.

Neither of us is right, but both of us have our reasons. Reasons are a big problem in this house, but they usually get rinsed out in the wash.

Except lately, I haven’t been doing his wash for him. I don’t know how or why. I just stopped. He has the most clothes, wearable and unwearable, the most laundry, washed and unwashed, of anyone in the house. I think one has to do with the other.

My reasoning goes like this. Perhaps because he hasn’t – oh, in the last 13 years – had a weekly face-to-face with his laundry pile, he unduly cherishes his wardrobe, and unduly dismisses the meticulous task of caring for clothes.

Can I donate this to the rag pile, he says.

Trying to be helpful, he holds up a single pair of old socks.

Just throw them away, I instruct. He doesn’t like to give away worn out or outgrown clothes, and you know how I feel about that. He likes to buy new ones. I noticed last week he was sporting a handsome new sweater of a dense weave.

I picked it up while I was at the mall, he says.

I have a judgmental eye for those kinds of things. A judgmental eye for all kinds of things. I see that his old sweaters are stretched out and threadbare, but they are still crowding his drawers and closet. Still filling the hamper with to-dos.

Are you doing your laundry, I say.

He’s put a small load in on Sunday before I could start the heavy lifting. A few important things along with the new sweater.

I actually love to do laundry. Rather, I love to finish laundry. The clean, warm, folded, fresh scent of accomplishment. I just wish there was money in it!

Let me put it in the dryer, he says.

He is being responsible, cheery, chastened after one of my harangues. Washer cleared, I start my own load. About 30 minutes later, I open up the dryer to empty out his stuff. One glance at the surviving swatch of sweater and I turn it inside out to read the label he hadn’t.

Hand wash cold, it says.

Only some of you know what unexpected encouragement I took in finding those three words. Those three little words. Not because of what they meant about him: that he hadn’t paid attention, but because of what they meant to me: to take heart and keep going. To keep washing, drying, rinsing, and writing. To have faith, because I now have a new sweater that fits me perfectly!

It only cost $25, he says.

Priceless.

For your automotive safety

January 8th, 2009    -    14 Comments


We have a new motor vehicle law here in California. It is a good law. There are about a billion worthwhile reasons to have it. Along the roadways there are portable lighted signs with the newest prohibition spelled out on them. It’s jarring to see, because I am flabbergasted that we actually need a law to inform and correct this behavior. And yet, it doesn’t go far enough.

Don’t text and drive.
Don’t sleep and drive.
Don’t read Braille and drive.
Don’t needlepoint and drive.
Don’t stir fry and drive.
Don’t tie shoelaces and drive.
Don’t repot plants and drive.
Don’t braid hair and drive.
Don’t count pennies and drive.
Don’t crack nuts and drive.
Don’t finger puppet and drive. Don’t even think about it.

Just don’t.

Out of the mists

December 7th, 2008    -    10 Comments

My girl was a big girl, her own girl, with her own loves and life. I was a spectator, but the show was splendid and I still had the best seat in the house.

By my reckoning, I wrote those words nearly eight years ago, they were published nearly three years ago, and last night they came true in the most absolute and unpredictable way. I watched my daughter debut on a theater stage, feet steady, eyes blazing, cheeks glowing, her own girl, in her own life, from my seat in the full house. I’m filled with awe, not so much with her particular drama, but with the wonder of life itself. Do we write this life? Do we conjure out of scribbled ink and poetic image the very future we inhabit?

We must! We must!

Who is this girl, I wonder? Where does she come from and where will she go?

Is she the baby at twelve months, the fickle birthday girl whose sudden flare of independence inspired the tearful flow of the original words? Is she the sweetheart at two, and three, and four, who dressed herself in an everyday wardrobe of feather wings and glitter crowns? Is she the girl of eight, who cast herself in the real-life leading role of a fantasy come true?

She is all and none of those girls, and most of all this. She is the one who moves in and out of the mists, as we all move in and out of the mists, to appear live and on-stage in the pure light of the briefest moment of recognition.

Oh my heaven, my goodness, do you see it? Do you see it? When we do, when we open our eyes to see the show, there is only one thing to do. There is only ever one thing to do, and without the hesitation of a second thought.

Applaud! Applaud!

Out of the mists of The Huntington Gardens.

Dear friends, my best friends, my full house, appreciate your life.

I can’t wait for the new season to start

September 22nd, 2008    -    21 Comments


Have you ever noticed that right at the point life gets difficult, demanding more than you think you can give, there’s a nearly irresistible urge to change it? To change the channel, the mission, the purpose? From where I sit it sometimes seems that every mother of a minor child chooses the most full-on challenging time of life, with a newborn, say; or two kids under five; or a son in Iraq, a pregnant teen and a special needs infant; to strike out on a wild hair, try to write a book, start a new business, or otherwise engineer an amazing new life starring an incredible new you.

If you can swing it, hey, great. But most of us can’t. We just use that self-critical impulse – I should I wish I want – to beat ourselves up. I’m not who I want to be! I’m not creative enough, successful enough, and important enough! We’re desperate to fast-forward to a new season in our lives. Never mind the one we’re in.

We are an advanced society of channel changers, and the world, in its mess, shows us what happens when no one, absolutely no one can hold their attention steady for longer than 22 minutes.

Today I sat a daylong meditation retreat with a group of beginning students. A one-day meditation retreat is called a zazenkai. During one of these retreats we don’t do anything except keep company with ourselves. We’re not putting blinders on. We’re not imagining some future perfect world. We’re not sitting in caves. We see the world sinking into insanity; we see the chaos; we feel the fear and disappointment in our own lives and surrounding us. We just practice keeping company with it, for a change. We practice staying put, for a change. We practice noticing our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, for a change, instead of just impulsively clicking a button to feed the ravenous demons of distraction. This takes utmost courage, perhaps the only courage there really is. The courage to face forward and see how things go.

There’s something you notice when you keep this kind of company, the company of things as they are.

The channel changes by itself. So does the season.


Happy autumn, everyone. Enjoy the show.

Untitled by anonymous

August 21st, 2008    -    4 Comments


In silent witness to a quiet one, and courtesy of wordle.

Bottoming out

August 5th, 2008    -    21 Comments


Him: Are you really going to quit?
Me: It’s just that in the face of this pain, the only thing that makes me keep going right now is ego.
Him: Isn’t that true of everything?
Me: No, when I do what needs to be done, that’s not ego. I would run 16 miles to go get help if the house was on fire. But when what keeps me going is pride, or shame, or obligation, or obstinance, or the idea that I’m accomplishing something or overcoming something or the fear of letting someone down, that’s ego.
Him: (dejected) I just thought it was a pretty neat thing for you to do.
Me: Like that.

What page are you on?

July 15th, 2008    -    12 Comments


It’s my daughter asking.

Page 3, I say.
Page 5, she snorts.

We’re sitting in a booth at Whole Foods. She’s dabbling in her deli peas and corn; I’m hunched over eight ounces of criminally expensive Greek salad. We’ve just cracked the spine on some new paperbacks. The bag of store-bought books; the $13 lunch; I’ve blown the top off an ordinary Tuesday, and all because I have work to do.

I have an inconceivable bit of writing ahead of me; an iron bull that baits my measly mosquito, an abandoned well with no way in, up or around; so naturally I want to eat. And read. And it’s a safe bet that something will come out of all this ingestion, eventually.

What page now?
Page 8.

Page 11,
she snarfs.

I had thought to just look into the window at the bookstore next door, the bookstore where I read on the 26th, to see if they’d set up a display like they said they would. But my daughter cannot merely peer through the plate glass of a place like this. She shoots inside. And me? I’m in a following mind. I pick up three books within three minutes, suddenly starving for someone else’s cooking. Guiltily, I tell her to find one, then two, then three books for herself.

My own book
is there like they said it would be. Stacks displayed bravely at the entrance, stacks undisturbed on the shelf, snow white and untouched, where they will remain, unless you and all your best friends and in-laws, even the ones you don’t like, come and save me next Saturday.

I have an idea! Let’s have a reading competition, she cheers.
Okay.
The first one who reaches page 22 wins!

I’m delighted now, by her invention and enthusiasm, saved by the starting bell of the only test at hand. It’s a test that reminds me once again that I only win by losing. So I give up, and she wins! We pack up our pages and walk over to Rite Aid where I buy her some press-on nails.

It’s hard to complain about a day like this, but I’ve got so much practice.

Disconnect the dots

May 27th, 2008    -    5 Comments


Even when the news is 2,500 years old, it can be useful to pay attention.

The doormat of your life

May 22nd, 2008    -    24 Comments


One last thing my dog showed me.

Before the accident, Molly and I had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the home front. I’d leave the backdoor propped open and she’d wander out to do her business, whatever that was, and I stayed inside to do mine, whatever that was. The stipulations of her rehab now require mutual engagement. I have to decode her wags and whines to judge the likely outcome, the redeeming value, of a bothersome excursion.

Do you have a good reason to go outside, Molly? I test her intent as she tap dances her enthusiasm.

Lately, she has no good reason at all.

Because the sun is shining.

Because the earth is warm.

Because the grass is thick.

Because she is alive.

This is a line of argument that I do not practice. I hardly do anything for no good reason at all. Last week she led me outside by leash, and I followed, impatient for her to find the right spot as only a dog’s nose knows. But she had no business being outside. She simply plopped onto the lush carpet of mondo, letting the day’s radiance soak her sun-starved coat.

Amused, I took the time to gaze up through the canopy of maple leaves. Then I saw the painted birdhouse we hung five years ago when I felt interminably housebound with a three-year-old.


The project, like most of my projects, was a way to relieve my confinement. But there is really no part of life that is confined, no part that is just a tiresome interlude to be tolerated, or a penance to be endured, because life doesn’t come in parts. Every moment is your whole life.

In faded strokes I’d lettered under the portal it still says “Enter.”


Make yourself at home. Cross the threshold. Enter your life.

Dogs, birds, babies, everything, everywhere, all the time shows you how.

***

And if you’ve read this far, read a little farther still and see what I found in the laundry basket. It will take me forever to get it washed, dried, folded and put on the shelf.

Poetry in motion

May 19th, 2008    -    6 Comments


One thing my dog showed me.

Plainly speaking, the benchmarks of convalescence are often the movement of bowels. So it was in the first weeks of my dog’s recuperation, as she swayed between long silences of worrisome constipation (She’ll explode!) and the urgent crescendos of an opposite kind (She’ll explode!).

One night, as her whimpers sounded oncoming eruptions, I hoisted her outside again and again. Four times that night. The quiet covered the yard like a blanket. The air was prickly with dew. Molly’s sore hindquarters convulsed, and I looked up at the sky. The moon’s dark lid was half lifted; her glowing eye kept sentry.

Night must be the birthplace, and the moon must be the mother, of patience.

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