Posts Tagged ‘Practice’

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

word from a master

March 3rd, 2010    -    3 Comments

It was not only Rodin’s fame that brought Rilke to him. Rilke had a passionate desire to know a master, a figure who could fill his imagination with a kind of authority that his father no longer had for him. When Rilke prepared for his trip to Paris in the summer of 1902, his expectations were high. He arrived in August, waited a few days, and finally presented himself at 182 rue de l’Université. The two blue-eyed men sat opposite each other.

A week later Rilke wrote his new master a staggering letter in which he poured forth his desire to give himself up to the higher force he had found in Rodin. He knew Rodin might think it strange to get a letter from him . . . but when he was with Rodin, he felt the insufficiency of his French “like a sickness.” So he preferred to sit in the solitude of his room and “prepare the words.” He wrote some verses in French for Rodin.

“Why do I write these lines?” the letter said. “Not because I believe them to be good but out of my desire to draw near to you so that you can guide my hand. You are the only man in the world of such equilibrium and force that you can stand in harmony with your own work . . . This work, like you yourself, has become the example for my life and my art. It is not just to write a study that I have come to you, it is to ask you: how should I live? And you have responded: work.”

From Rodin: The Shape of Genius by Ruth Butler

***

Shortly after I met Maezumi Roshi, I came for a visit and read him these words. He smiled, “Is that for me?” We were driving to a flower shop, where he picked out a plant for his mother-in-law. “It has to be big,” he laughed.

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2 minutes of grace

February 24th, 2010    -    28 Comments

I’m reading a biography of Grace Kelly right now. Why would I need to do that? I know perfectly well how the story ends: it’s how all stories end. One way or another, each of us drives off a cliff at the foreshortened end of a long and winding road. Still, grace stands in perennial service.

As we do with other earthbound deities, we invested so much in Ms. Kelly. We made her the paragon of the good girl, the icon of good looks and the fairytale princess of the good life. She bore it, needless to say, with grace.

I bring this up because of a message recently received in complete sincerity from a dear friend endeavoring in all ways to be good. She said she was scouring Momma Zen to re-read those parts that might help in her search for courage and patience. I told her to give that up.

Words you read won’t transform your life. Words I write won’t transform my life. Only one thing transforms my life: practice. I mean both my formal practice on a meditation cushion, and my everyday, standing-at-the-sink, emptying-the-hamper practice of giving up my chronic search for something else. The life we are most devoted to is the life we don’t have.

More to the point, I told this friend of mine that if I didn’t have a practice of silencing my inner screams, I would have hurt someone a long time ago. I would have hurt either myself or someone I profess to love. I cringe when people ascribe to me such heavenly virtues as calm, peace, patience and wisdom. They don’t yet realize that I do what I must to keep from destroying my life and everyone in it out of anger, fear, frustration and resentment. read more

Straight on faith

November 29th, 2009    -    2 Comments


My teacher gave a talk the other day and touched on a topic that has coincidental significance to me: whether or not Zen is a religion. He said that a group of scholars once deliberated this and concluded that Zen was a religion because of its use of faith. Of course, it’s not the faith you might be familiar with; not a faith in something or someone or somewhere else. It’s faith in yourself.

I’m sharing this post on Shambhala SunSpace today.

***

From time to time I’m asked this question: What do Buddhists believe?

I don’t know what some Buddhists believe, but I like to respond that Buddhism requires no beliefs. That’s rather hard to believe. And so I offer this solely as my own testimony.

I believe in love. Not the love that is the enemy of hate, but the love that has no enemies or rivals, no end and no reason, no justification and no words. Love and hate are completely unrelated and incomparable. Hate is born of human fear. Love is never born, which is to say, it is eternal and absolutely fearless. This love does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

Continue reading and leave a comment on Shambhala SunSpace

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The big Q, the big A

September 29th, 2009    -    1 Comment

How is your daughter? How is your husband? How are your in-laws? How is your job? How is your boss? How is your dog, your fish, your garden, your laundry, your dishes, your life?

How do you answer?

It’s easy to think that Buddhist practice is about the big questions. Birth and death, cause and effect, form and emptiness, delusion and enlightenment, attachment and non-attachment, and whether a dog has Buddha nature or not. I just hope you’re not actually thinking about any of that stuff.

My Zen practice is koan practice, and every time I meet with my teacher in dokusan, or face-to-face interview, I present my understanding, so to speak, of the inscrutable koan I’m working on at the time. I recite the koan and its verse, which by this time I’m pretty well convinced that I’ve nailed.

After we talk a bit about how far along I am, the state of my spiritual genius, he’ll wrap up the interview with what sounds like a simple social courtesy:

How’s your family?

Read the rest and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

The Big Answer: The winner of the giveaway of the Feeleez Empathy Game is C who blogs at Once. Thanks to all who answered.

Barefoot and pregnant with meaning

September 24th, 2009    -    5 Comments

Going to sit a three-day sesshin on this anniversary of September anniversaries.

Details to follow.


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Still blowing smoke

September 1st, 2009    -    1 Comment

Thank you to all who have asked about us here in Los Angeles. Everyone who has said a prayer, offered a place, a shrug, a sigh. Some of you know our little town, our mother mountain, which is downslope of the beast. Conditions seem to be turning today, no better day than this. I posted this piece on Shambhala SunSpace because of the marvelous teaching that comes ready made in the smell of smoke. The fire is massive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you can smell it too.

“Diligently practice the Way as though putting a fire out on top of your head.”

There is engaging language in my spiritual tradition, in the old writing and the poetic phrases. It’s easy to take the language as inspiration or as metaphor, inclined as we are to analyze everything for deep meaning and exalted purpose. This is what religious scholars do, what intellectuals do, and it’s obvious why. We can almost never believe that things are simple or straightforward, that they are what they are. What do we use our brains for if not figuring things out? Everything has to mean something else.

I’ve heard a phrase more or less like the one above many times and thought it conveyed urgency and desperation. It does. But then I saw with my own eyes this week the startling science of extinguishing fires. How you put out a fire is exactly how you should practice. How you put out a fire on the ground is exactly how you put out the fire on your head – your insane, compulsively anxious, fearful ego mind.

Like you, I wish practice was merely a matter of writing this post, or reading a book, or making a list, or thinking positive thoughts, or losing five pounds. But I’ve seen the firefighters, and how they practice. They do not waste a moment to theory, philosophy, inspiration or appearances. This is what I learned with my own eyes:

Read the rest and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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How to meditate

July 11th, 2009    -    15 Comments


Practicing Zen is zazen. For zazen a quiet place is suitable. Set aside all involvements and let the myriad things rest. – Dogen Zenji, “Rules for Zazen”

To start, let go of the ideas you may have about what meditation is supposed to look like or what it is supposed to feel like. Let the monkey in your mind go to sleep so that you can wake up and reclaim your rightful home.

Unless you have a meditation cushion, or zafu, do not attempt to sit cross-legged on the floor to meditate. Without adequate support to elevate your buttocks and enable you to anchor your knees on the floor, sitting this way quickly becomes painful. The point of meditation is not pain. Your life is painful enough as it is. The point of meditation is to relieve pain.

What follows are instructions for meditating in a chair. Although you are unlikely to have the perfect chair in your home for meditation, any chair is perfectly okay. So do not delay your practice until your trip to the Furniture Mart.

1. Sit on the forward third of a chair so that your feet rest firmly on the ground. To support your back, place a hard cushion between your spine and the chair back. This will prevent slouching and keep you alert.

2. Space your feet widely apart. Your body is now supported at three points: your two feet and your bottom. In seated meditation, three contact points are essential for endurance and comfort. Your body now evokes the strength of a mountain.

3. Place your hands in the middle of your lap as follows: first, your right hand, palm up; then, your left hand, palm up, resting in your right palm. Lightly touch the tips of your thumbs together. Holding your hands in this way calms agitation and restlessness.

4. To check your posture, align your ears with your shoulders. Align your nose with your navel. Tuck your chin in slightly. Hold your head as though it were supporting the sky, and it will neither hang forward nor fall backward.

5. Relax your belly. A stiff, cinched abdomen restricts your breathing. In meditation, you will try to return to the full, rounded breathing of a baby. Watch your baby breathe and see that the belly rises on inhalation, not the chest. This is a good demonstration for you to learn from.

6. Lower your gaze, but do not close your eyes. If you close your eyes, you will be lulled into daydreaming. Meditation is not practice for sleeping; it is practice for waking up. Look at a spot on the floor or on a wall in front of you. Any spot will do, as long as it is not distracting.

7. Close your teeth and your mouth. Take a breath and exhale completely.

8. On your next inhalation, silently count “one.” When you exhale, silently count “two.” Inhale counting “three.” Count each exhalation and inhalation up to “ten” and then start back at “one.” If you lose the count, begin again at “one.” This meditation practice is called counting your breath.

9. When a thought comes up, let it go away by itself, which it will if you do not pursue it.

10. This is the practice of zazen. Do zazen for up to five minutes. Keep a watch or clock nearby to note the time. As you meditate more often, you may be able to do it for longer. Do not be self-critical or impatient with yourself. Do not push yourself. Do not make meditation one more thing you have to do. If you are gentle, encouraging and consistent with yourself, your meditation practice will naturally deepen and lengthen.

Five minutes is not a long time, but it can take a long time to find five minutes to meditate. Usually, the first five minutes or the last five minutes in the day are the easiest to find. You already have them and they are already quiet.

I will be most happy to answer your questions and encourage you to keep going.

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