Posts Tagged ‘Practice’

the map of faith

November 14th, 2011    -    22 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 some time ago.

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

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.

 

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