Posts Tagged ‘Practice’

sit there

July 10th, 2012    -    9 Comments

Conventional wisdom has it that Los Angeles is sinking into the Pacific. One more quake, they say, and this silly sandcastle will be swept offshore. But they have it upside down. We’re already on the bottom of the sea. Five million years ago, seismic storms pushed the Pacific crust to the surface of the Earth. We are the children of a risen ocean. We scuff our shoes on its billowy floor.

Conventional wisdom says this ancient practice of mine no longer reaches. It does not translate. Westerners don’t get it. It’s too hard and long and fruitless (although science, medicine and common sense affirm it at every turn.) I once studied with another teacher who prodded me. Faster, faster! He wanted to see flying colors, coach a champion, build a team. I quit that place. Later, he trademarked a new way to sell enlightenment, a method sped up for the restless and distractible. We’re competing with many other pastimes, the reasoning goes. Better give people what they want when they want it, or they will . . . do what? Scatter, like so much dust.

Thinking like that is a sure way to lose ground. Where wisdom is the agenda, there is no wisdom.

“I was afraid Maezumi was just going to let you sit there,” he said. I didn’t know better at the time, but now I can answer.

My teacher was unafraid to just let me sit there.

This is my inexhaustible desire: that you will find a guide who is both patient and daring, unafraid to watch you struggle, drift, and finally settle in the tempest of your own pot. One who will keep you quiet company as you go deep and dig, until you look up and see that you are not sinking, you are not hopeless, your cause is not lost. There is no war and no enemy, no hurry and no wait. You are sitting upside up in the echoless calm of a deep, clear ocean, no wind or waves, and you are breathing, breathing, breathing.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, Los Angeles

the way

July 1st, 2012    -    6 Comments

Open the door.
Take a step.
Follow signs.
Do not be deceived by shortcuts.
Do not make excuses for false turns.
Keep to the right except when passing.
Go straight on.
Wake up.
Take in the view.
Keep going.
Forever.

Summer vacation, Telluride, Colorado

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settle

June 18th, 2012    -    12 Comments

When my daughter was little, she would squat for hours every afternoon on a pile of sand in the front yard. I planted little plastic animals underneath, and she’d dig them up with a shovel, handing them over to me with a satisfied grunt. She quarried the same zebra, the same tiger, the same frog, hippo, and horse out of that pile every day. While she wasn’t looking, I’d hide the toys under again. She’d keep at it, tireless. We sat there for what seemed like forever, unearthing purpose from the sodden heap of our new life together. She couldn’t know how much she was teaching me then, in her wordless way, about being satisfied with the same old thing, squashing my every day’s plan to get somewhere else.

I used to think those days were over, but they never really are. We move on to a different pile, but we have to find a way to settle into it just the same.

One time I was interviewed by a radio host about meditation as an antidote to dissatisfaction. She seemed alarmed, even offended, by the suggestion. Staying put runs contrary to the doctrine of self-improvement.

“It seems to me you’re telling people to settle,” she said. I was tongue-tied, and I searched my mind for a response. If I’d had the equanimity of my Zen kin, I would have said what I really meant.

I would have said, “Yes.”

I’m telling you to settle.

What’s wrong with settling? What’s wrong with making peace? What’s wrong with quieting the crazy-making, egocentric mind? This is why we begin our practice, and this is why we keep practicing even when we are no longer entertained. If we are really committed to our own sanity, we keep chasing ourselves out of our ruminating mind and onto different ground. The ground where things come to be.

“People will be drawn to you, and now you have something to share,” Maezumi said to me before I knew anything, least of all what those words could possibly mean. This is how you arrive at the ground of faith—not by what you know, but by what you don’t. Luckily, the ground of faith is, for all practical purposes, the ground itself. It is the ground where we stand, sit, walk, work, and rest. Faith is the ground on which we settle, or we will never settle at all.

Some people settle with shovels and picks, some with tractors and hoes, some on a mat, chair or cushion. Once you learn to settle, you can settle wherever you are, and begin to cultivate the scenery.


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my practice isn’t working

June 10th, 2012    -    18 Comments

If my practice doesn’t make me more tolerant, humble,
and generous,
my practice isn’t working.
If my practice doesn’t make me more respectful, loving, and
sympathetic,
my practice isn’t working.
If I can’t forgive and forget
begin again
stop, drop
turn around
wake up
say hello say goodbye
be kind be quiet be still
listen laugh
cry it out
give it time
sit down stand up
get over myself
smile
admit I don’t know
then my practice isn’t working.
If I’m not less cynical, less critical, less arrogant, less mean
then my practice isn’t working.
If my practice doesn’t fill me with wonder, gratitude,
fearlessness, faith and trembling doubt
my practice doesn’t work.

Does my practice work?
Only when I practice.
Let’s do it. Soon.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat Sunday, Sept. 23

Listen to “The Way of Everyday Life” a Buddhist Geek podcast

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the end of mother’s day

May 13th, 2012    -    6 Comments

Someone sent me something that renders me mute with gratitude.

Blackbirds
by Susan Mitchell

Because it is windy, a woman
finds her clothesline bare, and without rancor
unpins the light, folding it into her basket.
The light is still wet. So she irons it.
The iron hisses and hums. It knows how to make the best of things.
The woman’s hands smell clean. When she shakes them out,
they are voluminous, white.

All night my hands weep in gratitude
for little things. That feet are not shoes.
That blackbirds are eating the raspberries. That parsley
does not taste like bread.

From now on I want to live
only by grace. In other words, not to deserve things.
Without rancor, the light dives down
among the turnips. I eat it with my stew.

Today the woman’s hands smell like roots. When she
shakes them out, they are voluminous, green.
All day they shade me
from the sun. The blackbirds have come to sit in them.
Since this morning, the wind has been enough.

Image above is “Clothesline,” a painting by Heather Horton.

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first, you fall apart

May 7th, 2012    -    2 Comments

I was about 36, which I think of as my youth, but I had ended my first marriage and I had built a business that I’d invested a lot of time in.  I was a workaholic. I had no family and no interest in a spiritual pursuit. My religion was capitalism. I had a rising level of disillusionment and despair with everything in my life. I was in a relationship that began and ended very quickly and the fellow that I was involved with had a Zen practice, which I was really disturbed by. I thought it was absurd and grim and an inexplicable waste of time. I was really scared, to tell you the truth, at the thought that someone would turn their back to me and be more absorbed in a blank wall than in my own charming self.  That was a warning sign for me.

In any event, after that fell apart, I was in sad shape.  I couldn’t sleep; I was very depressed and had a hard time making it through the day.  One night I picked up a book that was on a shelf in my own home that, apparently, he had left behind. It was the Tao Te Ching, and I picked it up because it was red and it caught my attention. I was at that point in my life where I didn’t have time for anything. I didn’t have time for people (friends or family). I didn’t read books. I didn’t have any pleasure, but I read it that night and it was just the most beautiful thing I had ever read. I had never read anything so true. Then I was curious about all of those things that I had dismissed before. I folded up a cushion and tried to sit in meditation. I read the next book on the shelf and so forth and so on, and that’s how I started, just sitting in my own room.

This is an old story, a universal story, and one you may have read or even lived before. I share it here today because it might the right time for you. It comes from a longer interview with me posted on the Sweeping Zen website.  It may be the right time for you to read it, and it may be the right time for you to see what comes next, how you start your own Zen practice, sitting side-by-side with me in the same room.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat
Sunday, June 10, 2012
9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles
Information and registration here.

Affordable dormitory housing available.

sitting still and being quiet

February 6th, 2012    -    No Comments

My uncle was a star among us. As a 12-year-old, he had a calling from God, or at least a push from his parents. This was the only kind of call that counted in rural Central Texas at the time. It meant he would be educated, he would preach, and he would go places.

He went overseas as a missionary. Every three years he brought his American bride and his growing family back to the States for furlough. He toured churches where he towered in the pulpit, gave stirring guest sermons, and said grace over potlucks in his honor. Everyone looked up to him.

But he was not spared the fall we all take into human torment and doubt. At midlife, he broke up his family and left his post. During his time of exile, he visited my mother’s house. Grown, I came home to visit. I sat in the room while he told my mother everything. He needed to say everything, and she was a complete listener. There was nothing but love in the room.

During a lull, he looked over to me in the corner and asked, “Karen, how did you get to be so wise?” I was surprised, because I only knew what I saw. My elegant uncle, eyes glistening, heart breaking; a light undimmed, spilling onto earth.

“By sitting still and being quiet.”

Join me when you’re ready.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 26 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center, Los Angeles
Register by email here.

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to begin, watch this. Watch it anyway, and you’ve begun.

Ordinary Glories from katherine gill on Vimeo.

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leave

December 2nd, 2011    -    2 Comments

Digging out from a hundred-year windstorm, neighbors without roofs and windows, trees shredded, landscapes buried, no heat, no light, no relief in sight, gives new meaning to the word, “leave.”

I’m leaving for Rohatsu retreat, sitting in silent witness to impermanence and the inconceivable power of mind.

Watch this place while I’m away for guests and gifts and remember this: When you’ve done all you can do, undo.

the map of faith

November 14th, 2011    -    20 Comments

When my daughter was born prematurely, they said she might not breathe. Then they said she might be in a hospital for two months. They said she might need a year to catch up. Soon enough, she was at the top of the charts. Then they said she might be delayed. Then they said she was ahead. Then just last week someone said she might be slow, and need an extra year to catch up.

I no longer have faith in these pronouncements. My daughter has never been anything but completely herself, no matter what they called it.

All parents struggle with fear, hope, and expectations for their children, so I wanted to respond publicly to a mother who contacted me last week.

I’m totally unqualified to give guidance in her circumstance, so I’m only going on faith. That’s all any of us has to go on.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my mail. I feel a bit silly for writing to you, but I decided to get over that because my need for relief is so great.

The willingness to feel foolish is the first step on the path. It’s also the last step on the path. To be honest, it’s every step on the path.

I am mother to two children: a less ordinary boy of just 5 years with a mild disability; and a girl of 2 1/2.  I have noticed that having a non-average child complicates matters in a way I never saw coming.

Give yourself credit for what you didn’t see coming. Most of us think we see much farther ahead than we really can. We anticipate outcomes and draw foregone conclusions. Then we leap to either a false sense of security or a false sense of insecurity. Anything we conclude about the future is false. All that we can ever see is what is right in front of our eyes, and so I encourage you to keep that focus. Then you can be sure that you are always seeing clearly, because you are seeing things as they are.

It takes strength to see things as they are without interpreting it to mean one thing or another.

I’m not one of those mothers who always knew that there was something wrong. It is rather the opposite. My son feels OK to me. I see his delayed development and the stress he experiences because of that, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. I see a solid foundation in him and know that he will grow.

You’ve said two things here that are profound. First “my son feels OK to me.” This is the peace we seek: to be OK even when it is not OK. What makes it OK is the second thing you said, “it’s nothing we can’t handle.” This is the ground of faith. Not faith in a certain set of outcomes — the ones we want, wish, like, push, and prod for — but faith rooted in the reality of the present moment. The present is where we stand, and to stand upright where we are is the embodiment of strength. This is the strength we use to handle things as they occur, staying steady and aware without getting caught in the mind-spinning panic and paranoia of a future we cannot predict.

And let’s be clear: the future is unpredictable for everyone, no matter what. read more

homesick

November 10th, 2011    -    16 Comments

Not long ago I heard from someone who thanked me for giving her permission to struggle with her depression. Oh yes, I assured her, by all means, struggle! Depression is the sane response to the insanity of our lives. Depression is the struggle to be sane! We’re not fools if we struggle with depression. We’re fools if we don’t. It’s crucial that we seek, so we can finally exhaust ourselves, turn around, and find what we already possess.

They say every sickness is homesickness, and when I hear that, I feel sick for every moment I spend running away. They still outweigh the length I stay.

Even on a good day, when we’re snug in the bosom of our sweetest sentiments, in the Eden of our dreams, it doesn’t feel like home for very long. The stirrings start. The restlessness rears. We become feverish with longing, a longing that consumes our every thought. We might even make a home of our homesickness, becoming naturalized to a state of unrest and alienation. I’ve got to get out of here. How many times have you said that to yourself today?

Much of the time, our own life feels like a foreign country we can’t wait to get out of. And not a nice foreign country, either.  Even life with the people we profess to love, to whom we have promised fidelity. (Especially those people.) Even the half-decent job, the nice neighborhood, the loyal friends, the adorable kids, the good luck, the manifold blessings, the plan realized, the wish come true — nothing settles or calms for long, nothing feels quite right. There’s no place like the home you think you don’t have.

We’re all looking for something more, in a state of mild-to-moderate or even chronic despair. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you’ve got — how well you can manage your store of talents or prospects — you are somehow convinced that you haven’t yet got “it.” Not the whole of it, not enough to be completely satisfied or secure. Maybe you haven’t yet figured it out, had it happen, gotten it done, or pulled it together. You might think you need a lucky break, a promotion, a new body, another lover — or the old lover — another child; you might call it higher purpose, passion, or simply, inspiration. Maybe you want things to be as good as they were before, back when you didn’t know how good it was. Maybe you want things to be better than ever, as good as everyone else seems to have it. Feeling as if you’re not enough and don’t have enough, I want you to know, is good enough. It’s what got you this far.

Thus we arrive at the first step on the path of faith, a step that Buddha called “right view.” It is the slender flicker of wisdom, the illuminating certainty that you are lost. As verification of your own insight, it is followed immediately by the second step, the realization that you have to turn yourself around. You have go back home.

And here you are.

99% perspiration

October 14th, 2011    -    5 Comments

magical powers

October 8th, 2011    -    8 Comments

Sometimes I offer to do these things for you and others; sometimes I’m asked. So I do them, although all the power in your life resides with you.

These are the verses I chant. You can chant them too.

This is the incense I light. You can light it too.

These are the books I keep in my Zen library. I share them with you.

This is the practice. It is the practice of all the buddhas. To sit even one moment like this is to sit as a buddha.

This is my place of practice. When you sit, we sit in the same place.

These are the magical powers — no more magical and no less magical than you are.

And yet none of these things is as powerful as the heart that seeks a true teacher.

This is where the real magic occurs.

***

Love Beyond Limits parenting workshop in Athens, GA Oct. 22

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what how when

October 3rd, 2011    -    4 Comments

What? How? When? These are the questions on everyone’s mind, especially those who have come to their first retreat or dharma talk and had their heads turned by the truth.

These are small steps, because all steps are small, and taking small steps is the only way to go places.

1. Buy a zafu – proof that you are committed to the practice of sanity.
2. Put the zafu in plain sight – on the floor in your bedroom, where you see it first thing when you wake up and last thing before you go to bed. Your first public profession of faith occurs in the privacy of your home.
3. Sit on it – From time to time, just a few minutes at a time, the way you’ve been shown.
4. Look for a place to practice – Google “zen” and the name of your town or state and see what turns up. Something will always turn up when and where you least expect it.
5. Visit practice centers and teachers – You don’t know what is out there until you take a step, any step, in any direction. You are your own pilot, navigator and passenger.
6. Start a sitting group – It could be in a spare room, at a school, in a yoga studio, church, community center, anywhere. Just decide that on a certain day of the week or month you will show up with your new zafu. Let other people know. Keep showing up and keep letting people know.
7. See how it goes. – It always goes. You may not know the what or the when, but you already know the only thing that matters: how to take a step.

In the meantime, there’s this:

Beginner’s Mind one-day meditation retreat in LA Sunday, Oct. 9

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