Posts Tagged ‘Retreat’

shoes are the first to go

August 21st, 2012    -    6 Comments

Shoes are the first to go, left at the door.
What if someone takes them—you’re afraid to say more.
No perfumes or unguents, no shorts or short sleeves
Be mindful of others, but I’d rather leave.
The wardrobe, the makeup, the image, the pose
like pimples concealed on the tip of your nose.
Baggage and crap hauled two flights up the stairs
A room with four walls and the walls are just bare.
Sit, someone tells you, sit and be still.
That’s all there is to it. I’m gonna be ill.
But you do it, you try it, you do it some more.
The guy next to you wobbles. Did I hear a snore?
Years pass. Was it minutes?
Time stops. Shadows cast.
Was that one breath or two?  The first or the last?
You don’t know. You don’t care.
One day you consider the weight of your hair.
Like grass it’s too long, like straw it’s all dead.
Take it off, you beseech,
and what you mean is your head.
Take the nightmare, the fairytale, the Hollywood end
the someday, the one day, the hard luck, the win.
Take my mask and my shield, excuses and lies
my what-ifs and rathers, ifs, ands and whys.
Where’s your fear? Where’s your dread?
I can’t find it. It’s shed.
Now plain faced and simple, empty-handed and bare
Go put on your shoes. They’re still there.

If you want to learn how to meditate, come to the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Nov. 10, 2013  in LA.

 

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needle and thread

July 31st, 2012    -    6 Comments

Registration is now open for the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sunday, Sept. 23 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center  in Los Angeles.

***

What do you practice?

Choose your practice wisely, because we become what we practice.

Some people grow more fearful or cynical; some more arrogant or vain; some greedy, some needy; some combative or close-minded. And then there are a few who grow as solid as a mountain and as wide-open as the sky. They are strong and yet tender. Steady yet yielding. Powerful yet gentle. You will recognize them on sight because they resemble the earth you can touch and the sky you cannot contain. It’s not that they are superhuman, but that they are more completely human than most of us ever allow ourselves to be.

I met plenty of powerful people in interesting situations before I began my practice.

I met the heads of some of the world’s largest companies.

I met the founder of Enron before his titanic collapse.

I stayed too long having cocktails with the Governor of Texas and missed my flight home.

I saw a President of the United States having a club sandwich on a sun deck outside a hotel.

I met Frank Sinatra when he was still doing it his way.

I met a Super Bowl quarterback, a Hall of Fame pitcher, and the general manager of the New York Yankees.

I met three Heismann Trophy winners, including one who would be acquitted of the crime of the century.

I met a half-dozen television anchors, two big-city mayors, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

What I remember is that they were very well-dressed. (Except for the writer.)

Maezumi Roshi didn’t look like much. He was scrawny fellow, no taller than me, wearing mended clothes. His face was wrinkly and sometimes whiskered. But when you got up close, you saw that his eyes shone black as night and he moved, when he moved, like a mountain. If you think that black doesn’t shine bright, look at the night sky. And if you think a mountain doesn’t move, I’ll remind you that a mountain moves whenever it wants, which will certainly get your attention.

Unlike the world’s most illustrious people, he had nothing, yet he had something, and I would have followed him anywhere.

I guess you could say I did, although it was nowhere special.

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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

inviting you to sit down

May 29th, 2012    -    3 Comments

A student comes to a teacher and asks, “What is the way?” You might wonder this yourself from time to time. What do I do? Where do I go? Is it this way or that? What next? What if? Did I miss the turn? If you don’t see the way, you don’t see it even as you walk on it.

The teacher replies, “Go straight on.”

Crazed by doubts and hobbled by fear, we’re bound to end up nowhere until we stop and ask for directions. As every traveler knows, the best directions come from someone who has already made the trip.

A young Japanese fellow boarded a steamer ship and set his course for terra incognita. Like the rest of us, leaving home was his only option.

Taizan Maezumi Roshi was the product of an archaic system of patriarchy in Japan, where Zen temples operated as a kind of family enterprise. One of seven Kuroda brothers raised at a family temple in Otawara, Japan, he ordained as a priest at age eleven and studied literature and philosophy at university. This was expected. By birth order, he would not inherit the family business. This was decreed. Thereafter, he did two things uncommon for both his time and our own: he took his mother’s patronym, Maezumi, and he took the practice of Zen Buddhism seriously.

He’d lost respect for blind authority; he wanted to part with dead customs. After his institutional training, he sought teaching by radical masters, testing firsthand the truth of an ancient teaching.  Beyond the fabled stories, one question seized his mind: What is the way?

At twenty-five he sailed for America, intending to spread the practice of Zen Buddhism in a country hostile to both his nation and his faith. He was posted as a priest at a small temple in Los Angeles serving a diminished and demoralized population of Japanese-Americans.

I am the heir of his American dream. Now you are too.

His reputation grew. He attracted students from all over the world. He was revered by some, dismissed by others, and misunderstood by most. He was still there, in a dinky house in a dumpy part of town, when I arrived to ask for directions.

“I’ve left home,” I told him in so many words, “and I’m lost.”

As if anyone got there any other way.

He invited me to sit down.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, Los Angeles, Sun., Nov. 10.

Photo credit: Blue Stairs by m0nni

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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here because of you

December 19th, 2011    -    12 Comments

To the woman pulling out of the parking lot on Friday who rolled her window down and said, “Are you Momma Zen?”
To the ones who asked.
And the ones who came.
To the one who wrote, “If I’d known what your workshop was about I wouldn’t have come.”
To the people who traveled across states and south from Canada.
Who saw a sign that said, “turn here.”
And even though it was far they thought, “It’s not too far.”
For the airport rides and the spare bedrooms.
For the reunions and first meetings.
The coffee, the breakfast, the dinner, the talks, the tears.
For the last-minute cancelations.
For the names I didn’t remember.
And even the “constructive criticism.”
For not saying, “You’re older than I thought.”
For the sun in Asilomar, the rain in Pittsburgh, the old friends in Houston, the new ones in DC, the love in Georgia, and the stars in Colorado, oh the stars in Colorado.
For meeting your children. For bringing your mother.
For looking me in the eye.
And for sending me on my way.
To the man at the Zen Center on Saturday who said, “I’m here because of you.”
That’s only half of it.
I’m here because of you.
I’m here because of you.
I’m here because of you.

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get to me

December 15th, 2011    -    2 Comments

This one got to me:
“I’m not sure if you remember me, but I attended your workshop in ——.  After the workshop, I told my mother how much I had enjoyed reading Hand Wash Cold and how special it was to meet you in person, and she decided to check your book out of the library to read.

Six months later, Hand Wash Cold is the one gift that my mom has requested from my sister and me for Christmas.  My mother is a former librarian who believes strongly in the power of checking out books – I don’t think I’ve ever known her to buy a book or to ask for one for a gift.  Yet, here that is and here I am wondering if it would be possible to purchase an autographed copy of Hand Wash Cold for my mom for Christmas.”

This one gets to me:

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 26 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center, Los Angeles
Information and registration here

Photo taken by Lisa Braun Dubbels at Kowalski’s Market in Minneapolis.

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leave

December 2nd, 2011    -    2 Comments

Digging out from a hundred-year windstorm, neighbors without roofs and windows, trees shredded, landscapes buried, no heat, no light, no relief in sight, gives new meaning to the word, “leave.”

I’m leaving for Rohatsu retreat, sitting in silent witness to impermanence and the inconceivable power of mind.

Watch this place while I’m away for guests and gifts and remember this: When you’ve done all you can do, undo.

meditation on the wind

November 25th, 2011    -    8 Comments

This morning I am sitting beside the Atlantic ocean, and it is windy.

The first time I came close to waking up out of my highly cultivated neuroses, I was at a weeklong meditation retreat in the high desert of California’s San Jacinto Mountains. It was December, and it was cold and dark. The facilities were rustically beautiful, which is to say, off the electrical grid and without flushing toilets. In that kind of an environment, a lot of things fall away: first, all the things you think you can’t live without, and then, all the things you think.

By midweek, my hair was matted and greasy, my back was achy, my legs were creaky, my clothes were stinky, and I could hardly lift a care about any of it. Once I’d worn out my complaints and objections, unspooled my stock of poor-me storylines, I was left with nothing to do but sit and listen.

What we’re usually listening for — and especially when we’re doing things the hard way — is for the damn thing to be over. Aren’t we itching for just about everything to be over? Whenever we’re uncomfortable, which is most of the time no matter what the circumstance, we’re anticipating the end. Fast-forwarding, channel-changing, boredom-breaking, leave-taking outta here!

What I’ve noticed about most of the things that are really good for us is that there’s no easy way out. Not without making a total fool of yourself. So you might as well relax, because you’re here.

When I relaxed on my meditation cushion I heard something outside the window. I heard it morning, noon, and night, unbroken and eternal, like Seinfeld reruns. The next time I saw my teacher face-to-face, I told him about it.

The wind! I said, as if I’d never heard it before. It’s the same wind my grandfather heard!

What is that wind? he asked.

Yikes, what is the wind? I detoured up into my head, which had equipped me for so long with the quick cleverness of intellect and retort. This time it was empty and out of service. Crickets chirped.

Everything, I finally answered, grasping for something. Some explanation, some answer to describe the very is-ness that transcends description. He patted my knee.

Now and then I wonder whether that was the right or wrong answer. Whether it was good or bad, enlightened or deluded, enough or not enough. Whether his pat was a correction or congratulation, a pass or a fail. Maybe you’re wondering too. As my practice matured, I wished I had said something different. When my practice matures further, I will stop wishing. I will stop rewriting the old or re-imagining the new, because when we do that, detouring into the wilderness in our heads, we have lost the wind, we have lost the crickets, we have lost the song, and we have lost our lives, again.

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

in the middle of forever

September 19th, 2011    -    8 Comments

The plane home was very late last night. The car battery, nearly dead. The house was dark. My mailbox was full. The violets on the kitchen table, wilted. To leave others at peace, I pulled a quilt from the hall closet and settled on the sofa, my mind still lit with the radiance of a weekend under the sun, the moon and the stars.

Sometimes you think you’re in the middle of nowhere. And then you look through the pitch blackness of the night and into the inconceivable shine of a mountain sky and know exactly where you are. You’re not in the middle of nowhere. You’re in the middle of forever.

If you can’t see the stars, see the moon. If not the moon, then the sun. And if you do not see the sun, watch your step and keep going.

Because this is what I found in my mailbox last night.

***

Where to learn how to watch your step:

The Plunge one-day retreat in Pittsburgh Oct. 1 (Now with a partners’ discount)
Beginner’s Mind one-day meditation retreat in LA Oct. 9
Love Beyond Limits parenting workshop in Athens, GA Oct. 22

small packages

September 13th, 2011    -    3 Comments

These days I feel as though the world doesn’t need one more person to say one more thing. And so I leave you these small packages to unwrap if you like, to use if you need:

What mindfulness looks like – a sweet reflection through the eyes of one participant in last weekend’s Art of Mindfulness workshop in Houston.

What Buddhism sounds like – Melvin McLeod, editor of the Shambhala Sun magazine and its numerous anthologies of Buddhist writing, updates the simple story of our tradition in this excerpt, his introduction to a new volume of teachings.

What your family is worth – Offering a new couples discount to The Plunge one-day retreat in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 1. Use and share with those you love.

I’m off this weekend to Shambhala Mountain Center in northern Colorado where a small circle of us will sit, walk, talk and wake up. I can’t imagine a heaven any greater than the one in your hands. Please take good care of it.

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