Posts Tagged ‘samsara’

the ones who don’t win

August 5th, 2012    -    17 Comments

Last week a friend told me the story of how her daughter learned to swim. She refused at first, terrified that she would sink to the bottom and drown.

The fear of drowning is such an intelligent fear.

The instructor asked her how old she was.

“Five,” the girl answered.

“Five-year-olds don’t drown,” the instructor told her. And thus she learned to swim.

The story struck me for the brute genius with which it obliterated fear. But, of course, it was a lie.

Sometimes we lie a little. Sometimes we lie a lot.

We tell our children little lies for most of their young lives, because the lies are in service of a greater good. We tell our children lies because we tell ourselves lies. They make us feel safe and capable. Confident in the face of staggering uncertainty. We tell lies about effort, desire and glory, about time, dreams and possibilities, success and achievement. Then we come together and celebrate rituals of competition and prowess, pageants of pride and invincibility. You can do it! You can do anything! You can win! You deserve it! The excitement over, spectators leave the stands, plumped on inspiration and daring. Maybe they’ll jog the block in the morning. read more

there is no why

July 20th, 2012    -    10 Comments

When you are unable to understand, there is no why.
When you are unable to accept, there is no why.
When you are unable to forgive, there is no why.
When you are unable to rest, there is no why.
When you are unable to find peace, there is no why.
All the noise and trouble, the rabble and riot, all the anger, the hate, the arrogance, the self-righteousness and blame, the learned opinions and reasoned explanations, the justifiable fear and rampant paranoia, are nothing but the ignorant invention of why.

But there is no why.

In the garden, old redwoods mingle with day-old dragonflies, and there is
no question of why.

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what parents want

April 9th, 2012    -    8 Comments

Speaking only for myself, of course.

When our children are infants, we want them to be normal.

When they are toddlers, we want them to be competent.

When they are preschoolers, we want them to be geniuses.

When they are kindergarteners, we want them to have friends.

When they are first graders, we want them to be polite.

When they are third graders, we want them to be gifted.

When they are fifth graders, we want them to be talented.

When they are middle schoolers, we want them to be competitive.

When they are high schoolers, we want them to be ambitious.

When they are in college, we want them to be elite.

When they are adults, we want them to be normal.

If you’re near San Francisco, join me for “The Art of Non-Parenting,” a public presentation at  Central Elementary School in Belmont on Thurs., May 31.

the empty bento

March 19th, 2012    -    15 Comments

Sometimes when something unexpected happens — which is nearly always — I think these kinds of thoughts:
Oh no!
How will that work out?
How will I fit that in?
How can I make that OK?
I don’t know how.

What about the rest of everything?
What about the plan?
Stop!
Not something else!
I can’t handle any more!
It’s all falling apart.

I feel as if I am holding a box where I’ve given everything a place, a turn, and a time. A box I can’t ever drop. I like to think I’m good at not dropping the box. But then I remember:

There is no box.

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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.

under your hat

November 1st, 2011    -    11 Comments

This is not a post you might expect from me, but you’ve heard the likes of it before. I know I don’t need to write this, but I have been quiet so long.

Yesterday there was a stereotypical news leak about a political candidate. Stereotypical news engenders stereotypical responses — denials, blame, defense, sympathy, antipathy, and conspiracy theories.

Maybe the story is fabricated, maybe this didn’t really happen, and maybe it’s just another round of dirty trickery. Maybe the whole thing was a misunderstanding — the case of innocent friendliness being exaggerated and exploited for gain.

If you’ve ever experienced it, you know sexual harassment and discrimination is not an exaggeration.  It’s not exaggerated  because you probably didn’t even say a word about it. But it is a fact: a fact that is usually ignored, tolerated, belittled and then forgotten. Until it happens again. It always happens again.

The story made me remember things I’d forgotten.

When I was just out of college and working in my first job, a client invited me to dinner. He said he wanted me to come to work for him. When he started talking about sex, I excused myself.

Shortly after that I did some writing for an oil company. I flew to another state and spent an hour interviewing a refinery manager for an article in the company magazine. At the end of our conversation about industrial safety, apropos of nothing, he said, “I like that skirt on you.” I said thank you and left.

The day after I was hired to handle publicity for a financial services firm, the president of the company called me and asked point blank, “So, you wanna fool around?” I hung up.

Assigned to work with a regional vice president of a large beverage company, I was told by his assistant, “From now on when you come to a meeting, don’t say anything. We don’t mind looking at you, but we don’t want your opinion.” I resigned.

Everybody can tell stories like this. This stuff happens all the time. No one really gets hurt. It’s all a misunderstanding. Don’t take it the wrong way. Things aren’t always what they seem. Don’t be so touchy.

I’m an old lady now, and I no longer care how I’m seen or heard. I’ve left that conversation for good.

When you feel intimidated, accosted or afraid, what you really want to do is leave. But the people who say and do things like this rarely seem to go away. They’re still out there pulling infinite second chances from under their hats. To them I say nothing. But to you, I say speak up, even if it’s only here.

twitter zen

October 12th, 2011    -    18 Comments

An actual email exchange.

Hello, I am interested in Zen practice and live nearby. I’d like to schedule a visit sometime soon.

>Thank you for contacting us. We recommend that you first take the introductory Zen meditation class offered every Saturday from 8:30-10:30 a.m. It covers the basics of Zen Buddhism, meditation techniques and our lineage.

>>I am not looking for a class on meditation right now. The idea of sitting through a two-hour class is off-putting to say the least. I merely want to visit for 10-15 minutes.

in the absence of tiger woods

August 14th, 2011    -    9 Comments

I was driving to the Zen Center Saturday morning listening to NPR and I heard an unsurprising report about the latest professional debacle for Tiger Woods — his failure to make the cut at his comeback tournament. The story has really stuck with me; this saga has stuck with me, and not because I care one bit about golf or gossip. The commentator said it in one long wail, with breathless wonder and disbelief, like an eyewitness to the Hindenburg disaster:

“What happened to Tiger Woods? What didn’t happen to Tiger Woods? This was awful. This has been a continuation of the most spectacular collapse, I think, in American sports history; to have a player be on top of the sports world, to be the most recognizable sports figure in the world to fall apart in so many different ways, at so many different levels. It’s stunning to watch simply to see what’s happened with him on the field of play. But I think it’s even more stunning when you look at him in totality. He went into this tournament feeling optimistic, feeling like he’d had a clean slate, and it was one of his worst rounds of his career. And I think on top of that, what’s even more stunning about Tiger, is while all of this collapsing for him on field — while his family life has collapsed — you also have some of his great sports friends who have also wondered exactly what’s happened to him. Charles Barkley, Roger Federer, all say that he’s no longer friends with them. And so I think it’s really interesting when you watch what’s happened with them; a perfect storm of physical injury, of personal catastrophe. And it really is one of the most unbelievable public spectacles I think I’ve seen for a professional athlete.”

I was riveted to the radio through all of this, sitting still and captive, a patient to the doctor speaking an unspeakable diagnosis. The diagnosis is mine, and yours too.

Let me be clear: I am not a victim of Tiger Woods. For all the moralistic associations and denunciations, there are not many victims of Tiger Woods. And yet, we should all feel the collateral damage. What we are witness to is a completely artificial and manmade disaster — the collapse of the superhero myth. We all buy into it, and not just the corporate branding types, we all buy into the superhero myth, because we buy into the myth for ourselves. We want to be special, only that’s not quite special enough. We want to be extraordinary! Oprah told us we could. Everyone keeps telling us we should, in helium infused hyperventilated overpunctuated pitches: be your best crazy sexy self!!!!

Tiger has fallen, yes he has fallen. But where has he fallen to? A collapse brings us to the solid ground, where all the truly unbelievable spectacles occur. We stand up, without wings, and walk the Earth in the supernatural act of being utterly ordinary. The miracle, you see, is what we already are.

“In the absence of Tiger Woods . . . “ the commentator continued, to move the story along, and I turned the radio off and stepped out of the car. That’s where the real story begins, you see, that’s where we all pick up and move on. Even Tiger will have to move on in the absence of so-called Tiger Woods. What sweet redemption! In the absence of myth, there is truth, spectacular truth from which there is no collapse.

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easy rest inn

August 6th, 2011    -    4 Comments

When I was growing up we used to snicker about my dad and his hankering for road trips. He would plan for days or weeks, map alternate routes, fill the tires, top the tank, load the car, and wake us in the dark to start the drive so we could get there – wherever that was – ahead of schedule. And then he would be perfectly miserable in the place and with the people we had come to see. These trips always ended the way they began: uncomfortably early.

Near the end of his life, he made one last road trip across country to visit me. He never made it. He stopped at a hotel an hour from my home and called, asking me to come up and meet him for lunch. After a hamburger and a side of fries, he hugged me in the parking lot, turned around, and drove back the twelve hundred miles he’d come. His affliction was no longer a quirk. His sickness had prevailed and overtaken him, and he was utterly without a single square inch of home.

I ache to think of his lonely exile, but I don’t think he was so different than anyone else. His curse is mine and yours, too. The road is pitiless when the company you can neither keep nor avoid is your own. And yet, by degrees of habit, this is how we all live. We are all lost in the dark until we see the light up ahead and aim for it. There is always a light ahead. read more

how twitter works

June 7th, 2011    -    21 Comments

It doesn’t. Not really. Twitter doesn’t work. It’s like all those things you think will work that actually don’t work. Like being famous doesn’t work. Or being what you think successful is. Or admired, smart, clever, popular or quotable. Or having more followers. Or getting elected. Or getting an agent or a book deal. Or falling in love. Or getting another wife or husband or career after your last tweet doesn’t quite work. None of it works the way you’re thinking it will.

Twitter is just another name for another thing that will disappoint you, even betray you. It is an agent of your demise – the demise of how you want things to turn out.

If I could just ratchet up those numbers, cross that threshold, send more, get more, do more, have more. You know how that works.

It’s kind of fascinating that when these new things roll around we think, for a minute or two, that they will change human drama, human tragedy, or human history. Revolutionize it! They don’t. They don’t change the ending of anything. They might even hasten it. At best, they hasten the end of the dream.

The way I think of Twitter is the same way I think of advertising. And advertising doesn’t work either. I worked for more than two decades in advertising and PR, alongside great people and with great companies and I learned some great things about life and work. One of the things we all learned was that advertising and PR don’t work. Well, not quite the way you hope they will. Not like magic or make believe. Advertising only works when you have endless sums of money and you pollute the world with your advertising and then it works in the same way trees and rocks and buildings work – they show up everywhere. There’s no magic in that, no strategy or cleverness, just sheer tonnage. And endless money and hopes and dreams and schemes and silliness just circulating around like so much dust.

But when you see the dust! That’s when it begins to work. That’s when the real conversation starts. That’s worth hoping for.

Two new real-life happenings now open for registration:
The Practice of Everyday Life, weekend retreat in Colorado Sept. 16-18
The Plunge in Pittsburgh, one-day retreat right where you think it will be, Oct. 1

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2:24 a.m.

February 9th, 2011    -    9 Comments

We never need to make our lives more difficult than they are, but of course we do. Then one day life itself rises up with an irrevocable force and we suddenly find that there is nothing we can do. Here is a message I received from Rose in Amsterdam not long ago. Since then, I’ve been visiting her blog daily, where I’m struck by her elegantly sage and poetic posts about her family. What she writes is more profound than anything I can offer, and proof that compassion and wisdom are indeed self-arising. Please visit her and leave your kindness.

This afternoon I planned to write you regarding your last email almost a year ago. I wanted to tell you how grateful I was about your words and how meaningful they still are to me.

This afternoon the phone rang and my husband told me that he was called to the ER immediately. Something appeared to be wrong with his blood, which had been drawn that morning. He’s a normal healthy person who happened to feel very tired. But which parent isn’t tired? we thought. I found a babysitter for our boys (ages 1 1/2 and 3) and rushed over there. A couple of hours later he was diagnosed with leukemia.

He asked me how to cope with his tremendous fear in facing this disease and the road ahead of him. The pain. But mainly the fear. Of course I’m literally scared to death too, but it isn’t my body that has to do the fighting.

Is there anything I could tell him? Besides the fact that I love him, truly and deeply. We both aren’t religious and always try to take life as realistically as it appears in front of us. But now we feel swept from our feet, and at this time we know we need to be grounded to make the right decisions.

I read your blog daily and read how often people email you with their problems. At 2:24 in the morning, I’m one of them. I simply wish I could have sent you the email I intended to write this afternoon, when I knew my life as it was.

Love from Amsterdam,
Rose Stamet-Geurs

a little problem with suffering

January 24th, 2011    -    22 Comments

Sometimes I get a little pushback on the topic of Buddhism, particularly the subject of suffering. People say something like, “Gosh, all that talk about suffering! Aren’t you guys a bit over the top with all the suffering? That’s so negative.”

Yes, it’s true, the foundation of Buddha’s teaching is the Four Noble Truths, which usually are stated like this:

Life contains suffering
The origin of suffering is attachment
The cessation of suffering is attainable
There’s an Eightfold Path to freedom

Let me be clear. Buddhism doesn’t elevate, emphasize or worship suffering. Buddhism says, “Let’s just face the facts, people.” Despite our earnest attempts to conjure optimism, hope, abundance, luck, gratitude, aptitude, cleverness, perfect SATs, and triumphant superiority, there is nothing more universally human than having a problem.

To prove it, let’s take the word “suffering.” You might have a problem with it. Suffering sounds so big – Haitian earthquake, Tucson rampage, global warming big – when the kind of suffering most of us encounter every day is so embarrassingly trivial we might not even recognize it as suffering. More like WHO ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

There’s all the other kinds of suffering too – like old age, sickness, death, Jersey Shore, and taxes – but we can’t really do much about those, can we? So the kind of suffering we start with is the kind that actually causes us and everyone around us the most problems AS FOR INSTANCE WHEN SOMEONE WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS (YOU) ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

So I like to state the Four Noble Truths this way:

Life is full of problems.
It always seems like my problem starts with you but it really starts with me.
It always seems like you should fix my problem but in the end it’s up to me.
I’m going to the store, want anything?

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look at why I practice

September 13th, 2010    -    9 Comments

An acknowledgment of all those who joined me yesterday at the Beginner’s Mind Meditation Retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. You know who you are. More importantly, you are beginning to really know who you are.

When wisdom is a concept, look how ignorant I am in the name of wisdom.
When love is a concept, look how hateful I am in the name of love.
When charity is a concept, look how greedy I am in the name of charity.
When kindness is a concept, look how mean I am in the name of kindness.
When beauty is a concept, look at what I defile in the name of beauty.
When freedom is a concept, look who I imprison in the name of freedom.
When truth is a concept, look who I deceive in the name of truth.
When faith is a concept, look how fearful I am in the name of faith.
When peace is a concept, look how much chaos I create in the name of peace.
When life and death are concepts, look what I destroy in the name of life.

To overcome my own ignorance, hate, greed, meanness, defilement, imprisonment, deception, fear, chaos and death. This is why I practice.

If you’re on the other coast, there’s still time to join me this Sat., Sept. 18 at the Mother’s Plunge in Boston. I’ll be looking for you!

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