Posts Tagged ‘Practice’

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

never farther

August 9th, 2010    -    2 Comments

I am inspired by questions I get about practice. That tells me that you’ve heard the most important thing I can tell you. That tells me that you’re trying.

I am inspired by posts like this.

I am inspired by the talks I’ve been listening to and transcribing every day. Old dharma talks on dusty cassette tapes, in which Maezumi Roshi tells me loud and clear, “This life you are encountering is nothing but the life of the Buddha.” And his question, “How are you living your life as the practice of Buddha Dharma?”

So here I show you what my practice looks like most days, and I snare you into seeing through my eyes. Where is your practice? Only you know; only you can answer. I hope you will.

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swallowing seeds

August 8th, 2010    -    4 Comments

Did you ever swallow watermelon seeds as a kid and wait for the vine to creep up your throat?

Luckily for me, my teacher Nyogen Roshi keeps repeating the same thing over and over again. (I’m beginning to realize that’s what teachers do.) In nearly every one of his weekly dharma talks he ends up reciting a set of instructions given to him by his teacher Maezumi Roshi in the early days of his training.

Wisdom teachings are fascinating things. They may not appear to be special. They are never complicated. They can sound so ordinary that we don’t even hear them or grant them consideration. But like seeds, they burrow into us and one day surface in full bloom. Only then are we ready to appreciate them. Here are Maezumi’s Three Teachings, which you’re not likely to find elsewhere. read more

a mother’s suitcase

August 3rd, 2010    -    4 Comments

First Stop:
Brookfield, Wisconsin, Sat., Aug. 21, 2-4 p.m. Extraordinary Ordinary workshop at YogAsylum. Register during these last 10 days of early bird savings.

Second Stop:
Boston, Mass., Sat., Sept. 18, 9-3:30 p.m. Mother’s Plunge retreat at Seaport Academy. Last 10 days of early bird savings.

Full Stop:
Los Angeles, Sun., Sept. 12 9-5, Beginner’s Meditation Retreat at Hazy Moon Zen Center. The best way to practice with me for real. Register here.

I’m home from a week’s retreat and unpacking my suitcase. My practice amounts to unpacking all the time, metaphorically and otherwise. Laundry piled and put away, refrigerator emptied and filled, mail opened and tossed before I’m off for warm pastures and waterfronts.

A letter waited on my kitchen table, and with it, this story unfolded. It’s the story packed in every mother’s suitcase. I hope you find yourself at home in it. read more

cloudy with a chance

July 27th, 2010    -    11 Comments

On a week when I am at away at a practice retreat, I asked Lindsey Mead of A Design So Vast to write this guest post. She offers her own practice reminder and weather forecast. If you’re in Boston, it looks like you’ll just have to get wet!

I never understood the saying, Our kids are our teachers. Actually, I’d go further.  I rolled my eyes whenever I heard it.  I thought it was one of those trite adages like another one that I love to hate, It is what it is.

Then one day last fall, the universe hit me over the head with the truth of that statement.  Grace, Whit and I were walking to the playground in Harvard Square.  Grace was in the middle of a long-winded story when I glimpsed a friend standing by the gate of the playground.  She waved at me and shouted hello.  “Hi! So glad to see you!” I responded, waving enthusiastically.  When I dropped my hand to recapture Grace’s I found that she had crossed her arms angrily across her chest.  She’d planted her feet in a classic I am NOT happy stance, stubbornly remaining behind as Whit and I kept walking.  I turned back to her.  “Gracie, what’s up?”  She shook her head, screwed up her eyes, and I saw tears rolling down her cheeks. I dropped Whit’s hand to hurry back to her, crouching down in front of her.

“Well, sometimes, when you see an adult and you are excited to see them you stop listening to me. Sometimes I feel like you are not paying attention to me. And you always tell me interrupting is wrong. But then…” she hesitated, “then you do it yourself sometimes?” Her voice wavered and I could tell she was not sure if what she was saying would get her in trouble. I wrapped her in a huge hug as I realized the wisdom of her words.  I whispered that she was right, that I needed to be more careful, that she was a thousand times right and thank you for reminding me. read more

a short history of Zen practice

July 25th, 2010    -    4 Comments

People used to think they couldn’t practice because they were only human.
They couldn’t practice because they had families.
Children and jobs.
Too many things to do.
And not enough time to do them.
They couldn’t practice because they were poor.
Because they lived in a certain town and not another.
They couldn’t practice because they didn’t know how.
Hadn’t read the right book.
Met the right teacher.
Found the right place.
Weren’t lucky, fated or called.
Were hobbled by time, space and circumstance.
And that practice didn’t matter. (At least not that much.)
People used to think a lot of crazy things.
And then they practiced.

Be back soon.

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with and without you

July 15th, 2010    -    8 Comments

Since my last post on Shambhala SunSpace about practicing with a teacher stirred up so much dust, I’ve not done much writing or thinking about it except when people ask me directly. Usually people ask whether a teacher is necessary, or whether a teacher can be harmful, and how to protect themselves from exploitation.

This is an important question, because it points to the heart of all our relationships, whether those relationships are with a person, place or thing. Frankly speaking, we always expect to get something out of our relationships – something like happiness or wholeness, even something as benign as respect or validation. When we expect to be enriched by a relationship we invest ourselves in an external source of fulfillment. We place the responsibility for our own well being in something or someone else: a better job, a newer city, the right mate, a benevolent teacher or wise leader. If we look closely, we might see how deeply we want to relinquish responsibility for ourselves.

That never works, and if it appears to, it doesn’t work for long.

Continue reading this post on Shambhala SunSpace, and please leave a comment there if you choose. I want to hear what you have to say.

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the hard truth

April 27th, 2010    -    26 Comments

If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. – Verses on the Faith Mind

Yesterday I saw my new book called “self-centered for someone who is all about detachment.” That was hard to let go of.

This morning I called in for an interview on a live radio show and the host said “Pardon my personal view, but for our society to be raised right it takes more than tree hugging.” That was hard to embrace.

As I backed out of the driveway to take my daughter to school, I spotted a ticket on the spare car we keep parked on the curb. The overnight parking permit had expired four months ago, an oversight that was hard to keep from citing someone else for.

This practice is hard, particularly when I don’t practice it. The truth can be hard to admit, although the truth is never hard to see. What truth am I talking about? The truth of what is. Some of us spend our whole lives in a search for truth, and yet the truth is always staring us in the face. We don’t need to do anything to find it, and even less to cover it up.

One of the things that helps me deal with the thorny business of competitiveness, authorship and ownership is my view of the truth. My view of the truth is that it’s not mine, or at least, not mine alone. Wisdom is not mine to manufacture. It’s not in a clever turn of words, a brand, or a trademarked slogan. It’s not even in my unique story. My story isn’t unique. My practice isn’t unique, and if I truly practice, I don’t have anything left to call my own. I don’t deal in anything original. None of us do. read more

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