Posts Tagged ‘Practice’

can’t apologize

November 19th, 2012    -    7 Comments

Yesterday I made an error in speech, which was actually an error in typing. Sending an email, I intended to write what I always advise on the subject of conflict resolution: “Say you’re sorry. Apologize not because you are wrong but because you can.”

After I sent the email I re-read it. What I had written was “Apologize not because you are wrong but because you can’t.” I wavered: should I send a correction? A quick clarification? Make sure that the recipient understood that I was in my right mind?

When I looked at it again I decided that the mistake expressed an even deeper level of practice. Apologize because you can’t. Send the apology you never thought you would. Do it because it doesn’t make sense.

This is the way we resolve everything: by realizing that the only thing standing between can and can’t, love and hate, war and peace, us and them, is a hasty, reckless and erroneous contraction. So get over it.

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deep sanity

October 8th, 2012    -    3 Comments

Sometimes the room is so still that the only thing you can babble about is gratitude. I am forever grateful to my teacher, and my teacher’s teacher, for showing me the deep sanity of practice.

A sky that never darkens.
An ocean that never empties.
Beyond patience and surrender,
the dignity of having no choice.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing
giving birth to a whole wide world.

Sharing my practice is the only thing that matters, because practice takes care of every single thing. Come sit by me two weeks from now in a world of your own creation.

Deeper Still: a Breath & Meditation Workshop, Washington DC, Oct. 21.

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the koan of boredom

September 27th, 2012    -    4 Comments

Please see the link at the bottom of this post to read the entire essay online.

The message comes with good intentions, as do most things designed to inspire, so I click on the link in my email and watch the short video.

First I see a sleeping newborn swaddled in a blanket, followed by a silken black butterfly perched on a finger, a dewdrop dangling from a leaf tip, and a nest cradling two luminous robin’s eggs. Images dissolve to a piano serenade—a foggy meadow at daybreak, the fiery blaze of an ocean sunset, a peach pie cooling on a plank table, and a vase of peonies gracing a windowsill. A boy bites a glistening red popsicle at that perfect instant before it slides off the stick. A golden-haired girl blows the dancing flames from her birthday candles. “Moments,” the voiceover says. “Moments like this are all we have.”

They are happy, captivating shots, drenched in color and sentiment. The eye wants to drink them in and dwell. Compared to this, my life seems mostly washed-out and even wasted.

I stop the show. Something’s wrong with this picture. Pies and popsicles are appealing, but these pictures don’t quite capture the essence of life. Not the whole of it.

Later on, in the bathroom picking up dingy wet towels, I notice the mildew creeping up the bottom of the shower curtain. This is not the life of precious tributes. It’s not one of the moments you want to frame and keep. It’s one you want to throw out. And many of us do. We replace people, places, and things that have grown charmless and tiresome— which they always do. Fascination fades and restlessness stirs.

Chasing the picture perfect, we can lose what we have in abundance—the times that teach us even more than the rare delight of butterflies or a robin’s blue eggs. We lose the hours, the days, and the decades when nothing much seems to happen at all. Time freezes. Paint dries. Mildew spreads. We’re bored out of our minds.

Boredom is the unappreciated path to patience, peace, and intimacy, so who would read a paean to it? Let that be your koan.

Don’t quit now! Continue reading this complete article online at Shambhala Sun.

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I am not awesome

September 19th, 2012    -    10 Comments

I am not awesome. Nor am I doing awesome work. I have no research, and not a single conclusion. I cannot tell you a thing about how you should live or why. Not one thing about greater meaning or purpose. I do not preach a doctrine, a science, a language or a new way of thinking. Words — authenticity, courage, creativity, happiness, innovation, greatness, compassion, mindfulness, even Zen— these are like wax wings to a fruit fly, feathers to a cloud. What I preach is practice. A preacher without a practice is a preacher. A preacher with a practice is a human being.

Try it.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23 in LA.

The Art of Non-Parenting: Discovering the Wisdom of Easy, and Deeper Still: Breath & Meditation Workshop on Oct. 20-21 in Wash. DC.

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no way over but through

September 4th, 2012    -    7 Comments

I’m a guest teacher this month at  Shambhala Publication’s Under 35 Project, where the topic is Experiencing Loss.

Under 35 is a site for young meditators to write about finding, beginning and encouraging a mindfulness practice. I hope you’ll visit and read this month’s submissions. If you’re a writer looking for a new venue, or a practitioner looking for support, please consider writing a short essay and contributing it to the site. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re under 35 or not. I view age limitations the same way I view loss: there’s no way over but through, and getting through is what makes a difference.

This remind me of a passage I came across in James Ishmael Ford’s book Zen Master Who? 

There are numerous stories about Maezumi Roshi’s teaching style, but one I particularly like has to do with a student who had been a professional dancer.

As recounted in Sean Murphy’s One Bird, One Stone, the student had badly hurt one of her feet in an accident and was forced to retire from the stage. Embarrassed by her injury, she always kept her foot covered with a sock. In her first interview she asked Maezumi a question about her Zen practice. But he answered, “Never mind that. Tell me about your foot.” She was reluctant to talk but he insisted. She told him the story, weeping, and even took off her sock and showed him her foot.

Maezumi placed his hand silently on her foot. She looked up to find that he was crying too. Their exchanges went on like this for some time. Every time she asked the roshi about her practice, he’d ask about her foot instead, and they’d cry together. “You might think you have suffered terrible karma,” Maezumi told her, “But this is not the right way to think. Practice is about learning to turn disadvantage to great advantage.” Finally the day came when the student walked into the interview room and began to tell her teacher about her injury, but it summoned no tears from her. “Never mind about that,” Maezumi told her. “Let’s talk about your practice.”

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23 in LA.

The Art of Non-Parenting: Discovering the Wisdom of Easy, and Deeper Still: Breath & Meditation Workshop on Oct. 20-21 in Wash. DC.

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The list of forgetting

August 28th, 2012    -    37 Comments

To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. –Dogen

Forget the story you tell yourself about your parents, the story you tell yourself about your childhood, the story you tell of your first love, the story of your first marriage, the story of pain and partings. Forget the birth story, the death story, the whole story, the story you keep repeating, the story you’ll never forget. Forget that story, and do not replace it with another.

Forget what might have been and what could still be. The past is gone and the future will arrive on schedule.

Forget the time you ran away, the time you cheated, the time you got caught, the time you found out, the time you broke down, the time you picked yourself up, the time you were left high and dry, the time the milk spilled and the glass broke, the time you’ll never forget. Forget time.

Forget your second thoughts, your second guesses, your second glances and second chances. Forget the count. No one knows the count and there is no way to count it.

Forget your worst fears and highest hopes. Forget all fears and hopes. Forget all worst and highest. Forget altogether the habit of make believe when reality is magic already.

Forget your leaps of logic and foregone conclusions. Nothing is ever foregone or concluded. Cover the ground where you stand. It’s enough.

Forget what you thought.

Forget what you felt.

Forget what she said, what he said, and especially what she said. Do not mistake the word for the thing.

Now, open your eyes and do what needs to be done. Having forgotten all obstacles and limitations, all distractions and negations, there is nothing you do not know how to do. Surprise yourself.

You are a buddha.

Any questions? Remember to ask me in person.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23 in LA.

The Art of Non-Parenting: Discovering the Wisdom of Easy, and Deeper Still: Breath & Meditation Workshop on Oct. 20-21 in Wash. DC.

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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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