Posts Tagged ‘Practice’

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

hand me the flute

September 23rd, 2011    -    11 Comments

The farther I roam from home, the more I realize the disservice I do from this distance, from this page, with these clumsy, wooden words.

The other day I heard from someone I met at a retreat nearly 20 years ago. She asked me if I was the one with the story about the flute. I was astonished that after all this time she’d found me. I heard an echo that’s been running through my mind lately, the echo of a flute.

The dharma is never what we think it is. Nothing is what we think it is. Nothing has the meaning that we manufacture.

It was only my second retreat when I begged a ride up into the San Jacinto Mountains to sit 10 days with Maezumi Roshi. I admit I was beginning to feel rather privileged, the way newcomers can feel favored just because strangers are nice. When I got my daily work assignment, I knew what it meant.

My job was to dust the altar in the teacher’s room.

The teacher’s altar. You know what that means.

Other people were cleaning latrines and clearing brush.

And so I reported daily to the big altar in his small quarters. He was never there. I took great care with the strange and wondrous objects, the flowers and offerings arrayed on the polished platform. A statue of something-or-other; a figurine of who-knows-what; incense; a candle; a funny-looking stick; a whatchamacallit; a thingamajig. I’d never seen an altar up close. I didn’t know what anything was called or what it was supposed to do. I picked each item up and held my breath as I dusted beneath it, praying that I’d remember where to set it down again: a high and holy rite.

One day Maezumi came in while I was there. He smiled and said something to me. What he said was:

Hand me the flute.

The flute? Everything looked foreign to me, but nothing looked like a flute.

I handed him the stick. He laughed.

No, the flute!

I handed him the thingamajig.

The flute! The flute!

Suddenly I knew that I didn’t know what anything meant. You know what that means.

He came closer and stood over me, pointing directly to the meaning I had misunderstood. I looked down the bow of his finger and saw:

A plum. I handed it to him and he took a bite.

What’s the matter, he laughed. Don’t you speak Engrish?

That day I learned the difference between a flute and a fruit. It’s something you can only taste for yourself, in person. After you taste it you can tell a story about it. A story that has meaning, even if it’s only to you.
***

On this, the eighteenth anniversary of the day I met Maezumi Roshi and started to see, to hear, to taste, and to live.


The Plunge one-day retreat in Pittsburgh Oct. 1
Beginner’s Mind one-day meditation retreat in LA Oct. 9
Love Beyond Limits parenting workshop in Athens, GA Oct. 22

(pretending to) sit

September 4th, 2011    -    No Comments

At the Art of Mindfulness this weekend in Houston, and all the upcoming retreats, some of us will sit like this. And others of us will pretend to sit like this. Practice is an elegant pretense, and even so, it beats all other options.

I love all the videos by Patrick Burke, starting with this one.

One week before The Art of Mindfulness Retreat in Houston
Two weeks before The Practice of Everyday Life Retreat in Colorado
Four weeks before The Plunge Retreat in Pittsburgh
Five weeks before the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat in LA

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secret message

August 29th, 2011    -    5 Comments

I am being cautious here, mindful of what I say and don’t say, because of how earnestly we all seek and how easily we misunderstand.

I am not telling you how to live, how to improve yourself, how to make the right decisions, or what the right decisions are. I am not suggesting you live like me, think like me, or choose what I have chosen. It is easy to elevate what appears to be the sage or guru, the expert, the coach, the one “who has it together.”

In my long career as a consultant, I came to realize, after the first years of doubt and pretense, that I didn’t have to know any answers. All I had to do to be successful was tell people what to do. I could even make it up on the spot! Because everyone – no matter what their station or status or position – wants to be told what to do. Regardless of whether we do it or not – and we usually don’t – we think there is some secret message we’re missing. But every message is the one you already carry. It’s only a secret if you haven’t yet noticed what you have in your hands. read more

sitting

July 25th, 2011    -    2 Comments

meet me in the middle

June 20th, 2011    -    4 Comments

Sometimes people ask me when I’m going to come to their town. That’s a reasonable question. The answer is, it beats me. I never go anywhere unless someone else takes the first step. And then the step after, and then another step. Everything I say and do is for the sole purpose of encouraging people to take the next step.

The only place we can meet is in the middle.

That’s where I hope you’ll meet me this fall, as I have this incredible patchwork of visits set up, none of which was my idea to begin with. Neither do I have any idea earthly how they will turn out. But they usually turn out quite lovely, in their own artful way. You can see all of these programs detailed on my Retreats page, but I’m hanging them out here in the middle of the open road for you to bump into, in case you thought you were on your way somewhere else. See if you can stitch together a way to make it. I would be so happy to see you.

The Art of Mindfulness retreat in Houston, Sat., Sept. 10. Just announced and open for registration. Do you hear me Texas? I’m coming home.*

The Practice of Everyday Life weekend retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center outside Fort Collins, CO, Fri., Sept. 16-Sun. Sept. 18. This is as midwesterly as I can maneuver this year. If it makes a difference, apply for a scholarship on the SMC site!

The Plunge one-day retreat Sat., Oct. 1 in Pittsburgh. The absolutely farthest northeast I can make it for the foreseeable future, and Pittsburgh figures so keenly in my past that I’m delighted to see it again.

*Pssst: plug in the discount code MAEZEN at check out for a special give-back on the Houston event.

Red & Indigo Quilt by Jean Hall Painting.

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don’t eat the label

May 29th, 2011    -    16 Comments

The journey of our lives is remarkably universal and predictable. That’s why we can share experiences, insights and sentiments, and that’s how we can empathize with one another. And so it is guaranteed that, after a pinprick of recognition, a flicker of awareness, someone will turn to me and ask what they should read next.

I would like to say, “Nothing” but that is neither kind nor practical. Of course we read, and we want to read, accustomed as we are to thinking that what is in a book will guide and shape us, will lead us to some deeper understanding, some culminating truth, and maybe even save us a step. Nothing you read in a book will give you that, although reading is itself a worthwhile pastime. Reading a good book is like gazing onto a field of flowers, or the sky, or the sea, or the sand, or a cornfield, or the parking lot at Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon. Gazing at any of those things will deliver you to a deeper recognition and appreciation of yourself and your world without informing you of one thing, except to stay away from Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon.

Information, least of all about the nature of your life, is vastly overrated and might even be harmful. Information about Zen, and Buddhism for that matter, is rather useless, although many will gorge themselves on it, as if eating the label on a can of soup can give them a taste of Tomato Bisque. Zen is the actual, living experience of your life. No one has yet documented the life that only you can live. The practice of Zen requires that you intimately experience your life, and not restrict yourself to reading about it. Almost nothing in your experience will match the anticipation, fear, and misconceptions that are stirred up by accumulating knowledge about this or that. read more

doing good

May 22nd, 2011    -    16 Comments

I’ve pulled up one of those plastic stackable chairs alongside the humming hulk in the middle of the icy room. My daughter is lying inside the cylindrical chamber. We are both relieved that her head is peeking out at my eye level. A white fleece blanket covers her. Beneath it, she is holding a teddy bear handed to her at the last minute. She wears head phones tuned to Radio Disney. Her eyelids flutter.

From time to time the technician tells her something. I think he’s telling her what will happen next, but I can’t hear it. I only hear her answer. What she says is okay.

Neither of us is wearing metal. The clasp on my shoes, I was told, doesn’t matter.

The machine starts to make clicking sounds, then a growling heave and a sledgehammering smash. Over and over. On my lap is a New Yorker magazine opened to a story – I always read the fiction first. Three lines in and I look up at her, marooned. I watch her breathe. It’s beautiful.

She was anxious and afraid before we arrived for the MRI this morning. But this moment now is oddly comfortable and serene. I don’t mind the chill or the noise or the time. I know what to do, I know where to be, and I don’t want to be anywhere else.

I feel a kinship with every mother who has graced this station, parked in this plastic bastion of stillness, a steady eye in the tempest of uncertainty. We don’t know what will come of this – and there’s no reason for undue worry, it’s just a stubborn pain – but right now we are doing good. Right now is the only place we can ever do good, and this is as good as it can be.

Before we arrived I started to think about the difference between doing well and doing good. The “well” involves a subtle and insidious comparison of one outcome versus another, numbers and grades, finish lines, success, mediocrity, failure. Of course we all want our children to be well and to do well. We want the same for ourselves and our lives, as measured against goals and ambitions, as compared to others, always and ceaselessly compared to others. Sometimes I am far more concerned with doing well than doing good, and that’s no good.

Hours like these – so wholly purposeful and riveting – shift my sights away from my puny obsessions and toward the great immeasurable good, a single moment of undistracted presence. Over the din and out of nowhere I hear her say, like a benediction, okay.


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

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saying service

May 9th, 2011    -    25 Comments

Too many people are hurting to keep this to myself. If you need me to say a service for you or someone you care for, please add the name in the comments below. To see the syllabic transliteration of the chant I say in this video, click this link.

 

buddha tuesday

March 8th, 2011    -    142 Comments

I’m giving away this Buddha.

The more you sense the rareness and value of your own life, the more you realize that how you use it, how you manifest it, is all your responsibility. We face such a big task, so naturally we sit down for a while.Kobun Chino Otogawa

I ran into this quote the other day and it was like, Well, hello! Nice to meet ya! Because sometimes in my dinky little corner of the Buddhist world I feel like I’m the only one with any amount of faith. Faith in what, you ask? Well, faith in life. Faith in practice. Faith in teachers. And faith in the way that has saved my life. So I thought it was about time to share something more than my syrupy sentiments, something more than preachy how-tos and why-dontchas. It’s time for me to pull out the big guns and give away Buddha. The Buddha you see right here as a matter of fact. Free, free, free!

I’ve got Buddhas galore around here, and more on their way, I’m sure. But this little one is special because I bought it for myself to put on my home altar. It’s a teeny thing, just 5 inches of carved wood, from China, and whether it’s antique or not it’s definitely distressed, which is itself a commentary on so-called Western Buddhism and our long-suffering world. You have to bring it into the light to see the rich gold and vivid red beneath the patina. You have to see it in person to sense the rareness and value. It’s the perfect reminder to do the only thing the Buddha instructed us to do – naturally sit down for a while.

Leave a comment here by next Monday, March 14, and give yourself a shot at a Buddha you can see, feel, hold, and bring to life in your own home. I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday.

The winner is commenter number 106 – Jessy.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat Sunday, March 13

Listen to my interview “The Way of Everyday Life” on Buddhist Geeks podcast

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i am not your therapist

December 29th, 2010    -    20 Comments

I nearly stopped myself from posting this for fear that it would offend some readers who are therapists or who have therapists, but as those individuals already know without a doubt that I am not their therapist, I concluded it would cause no confusion.

There is a therapist somewhere in the Midwest who has a name and an email address similar to my own. I know this because of the volume of emails I receive which are intended to be seen only by this same therapist. The messages usually arrive early in the morning or late at night, long and anxious missives about upsets, ultimatums, and breaking points between parents and their children, or couples on the verge. Often they say, “I know we have a session later today but I wanted to tell you this in advance,” or “I wanted to get this off my chest,” or “I’ll call you later and see if you have any advice for me” or “I am worried about what will happen before our next appointment.” Sometimes they are simply business or professional messages, notices of meetings and deadlines, for instance. Some are invitations to parties, and others are haughty reminders to respond to previously misaddressed messages.

Emails from therapeutic clients are intensely personal, and I am reluctant to even open them. But as they arise from a psychological crisis, I think the most compassionate response for me is to reply with this instruction:

“Please correct the address on this email as it has not reached your intended recipient.”

I have sent that message dozens of times over many years. Never once has anyone responded to me, not even the therapist who must now realize from patients and colleagues that private emails are frequently misdirected.

I’ll leave aside the question of how email has corroded our interpersonal communication skills. I’ll leave aside the question of whether email advances the therapeutic model.  I’ve seen enough messages to appreciate the position of the therapist, however. Perhaps the messages don’t really matter that much – crises pass, marriages mend or end, children and parents reconcile or not. Feelings change, emergencies blow over, and time will tell. The protagonist in a psychological saga is, above all, a storyteller, and the emails are simply one more page in the story someone is telling himself.

Seen in a jaded way, there is nothing new in them, nothing urgent or revealing. They are a story – the same story – being repeated over and over. What bothers me is the fear and panic they uniformly convey. The confusion, the despair, the helplessness. I would hope that the clients would do something more than send a late-night email, something more than pound out their heart’s desperate wail and send it to the wrong address.

I am not your therapist. read more

more dalai in your lama

September 29th, 2010    -    15 Comments

Warning: Falling rocks ahead.

A few months ago, a young newspaper reporter asked me a very good question, the kind of question that comes from the mouths of keenly observant babes:

“Do you encounter resistance because you don’t fit the stereotype of a Buddhist teacher?”

Honestly, I had never presumed as much, but it makes sense given the human proclivity to idealize and worship images.

Some people might like a little more Dalai in their Lama, I laughed.

I know I did, at least when I was starting out. And I know that most of us still do, taking a measure of comfort and even confidence when a teacher appears to be so altogether other, so unattainably spiritual, so removedly saintly. It must have drawn me closer, then, when Maezumi Roshi fit the bill of a short, smiling, impish Asian. He was nothing that I thought him to be, but his appearance upheld my standard of the real thing.

Being Maezumi, being a man, being an American, I once heard him say to describe his life, to no one in the room who believed him. We had a stake in him being a holy man.

Why this comes up I’m not so sure, although it may have something to do with an email I received yesterday telling me about a public talk by a revered Buddhist author. The talks are rare, I was told, and routinely sold out. There might not ever be another one, the message urged. I could get on the bandwagon and even make a little profit from the books I sold through my website.

All those things may be true, but this line of thinking does not sit with me, and so I sit with it. read more

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