Posts Tagged ‘Satisfaction’

settle

June 18th, 2012    -    12 Comments

When my daughter was little, she would squat for hours every afternoon on a pile of sand in the front yard. I planted little plastic animals underneath, and she’d dig them up with a shovel, handing them over to me with a satisfied grunt. She quarried the same zebra, the same tiger, the same frog, hippo, and horse out of that pile every day. While she wasn’t looking, I’d hide the toys under again. She’d keep at it, tireless. We sat there for what seemed like forever, unearthing purpose from the sodden heap of our new life together. She couldn’t know how much she was teaching me then, in her wordless way, about being satisfied with the same old thing, squashing my every day’s plan to get somewhere else.

I used to think those days were over, but they never really are. We move on to a different pile, but we have to find a way to settle into it just the same.

One time I was interviewed by a radio host about meditation as an antidote to dissatisfaction. She seemed alarmed, even offended, by the suggestion. Staying put runs contrary to the doctrine of self-improvement.

“It seems to me you’re telling people to settle,” she said. I was tongue-tied, and I searched my mind for a response. If I’d had the equanimity of my Zen kin, I would have said what I really meant.

I would have said, “Yes.”

I’m telling you to settle.

What’s wrong with settling? What’s wrong with making peace? What’s wrong with quieting the crazy-making, egocentric mind? This is why we begin our practice, and this is why we keep practicing even when we are no longer entertained. If we are really committed to our own sanity, we keep chasing ourselves out of our ruminating mind and onto different ground. The ground where things come to be.

“People will be drawn to you, and now you have something to share,” Maezumi said to me before I knew anything, least of all what those words could possibly mean. This is how you arrive at the ground of faith—not by what you know, but by what you don’t. Luckily, the ground of faith is, for all practical purposes, the ground itself. It is the ground where we stand, sit, walk, work, and rest. Faith is the ground on which we settle, or we will never settle at all.

Some people settle with shovels and picks, some with tractors and hoes, some on a mat, chair or cushion. Once you learn to settle, you can settle wherever you are, and begin to cultivate the scenery.


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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.

what you won’t get

May 6th, 2011    -    6 Comments

You’ll get breakfast in bed. A flower on your tray. Dinner out. A card, a call. Maybe one less upset. If not, an apology. And if you’re truly blessed, you’ll get some time to yourself, when you can consider everything you won’t get, and what no one else can give you for Mother’s Day:

 

What You Already Have
A quick burst of introspection and inspiration in this new interview on Painted Path

What You Already Know
A free download of the mini-book 23 Things You Might Not Know About You (but to be perfectly honest, you already do) courtesy of Zen at Play

Where You Already Are
Basic instructions in how to stay from Walking on My Hands.

Happy Mother’s Day. I know. I understand. Me too.

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turning life into love

August 23rd, 2010    -    7 Comments

When I was at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral this spring, I asked the audience what they thought turned the inside of the church into a sanctuary. Was it the concrete walls?

When I was leading walking meditation in the chapel at Seattle’s Bastyr University in June, I asked the people with me what turned the ground under their feet into a pathway. Was it the terrazzo tile?

When I was at a yoga studio in suburban Milwaukee last Saturday, I asked the group in front of me to notice the change that occurred in the room from the time we convened at 2 p.m. until the hour we dispersed at 4 p.m. What turned the mildly restless, self-conscious discomfort at the start of our time together into the vast, settled calm at the end? Into a still and quiet ease so deep that no one cared to move? So satisfying that no one rose to leave?

The answer is you. The secret is yours. The power of your own nonjudgmental attention is what transforms space into spaciousness. It turns your wandering into the way. It transforms your life into love.

And now we’ll do the same in Boston when we gather for the Mother’s Plunge on Saturday, Sept. 18.  I’m so pleased that we’ll be meeting at the Seaport Academy, a therapeutic day school for adolescents who need extra attention to navigate the perils of growing up. The students will not be there the day we are, but your attention will, and your attention will transform our humble gathering into the spaciousness of infinite potential. Come see for yourself what the power of your love can do. We’ll leave some of it behind, and you can take the rest home with you.

And if you’re not on the East Coast on Sept. 18, come to the one-day meditation retreat I’m leading in LA on Sept. 12. We’ll turn our attention onto a bare white wall and unleash the wild blue yonder. You don’t have to believe it; you just have to see it.

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Cleverness is serviceable

August 22nd, 2009    -    15 Comments

Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing – Fortune cookie

I once got a fortune cookie that said that. Not exactly. This guy said it first. I was so impressed that I kept the slip of paper in my wallet for about 20 years. Eventually I cleaned out my wallet, it might please you to know, but you can see how dear these words are to me still. Needless to say, the fortune came true. It is the truest fortune I’ve ever seen. It is the truest fortune there is. It is everyone’s fortune.

What does it mean?

Surely you know. You’re smart and clever. Perhaps too smart and clever. Cleverness works, for a time. You can look “serviceable” up in the dictionary. You can figure some stuff out. You can get better at certain things. You can acquire knowledge and skills. You can work harder and longer. Figure out Twitter. Get a leg up on the next thing. You can do more, be better liked, with a bigger reputation. You can set a goal and maybe even reach it. And then another. And another.

But is it ever sufficient?

As long as you are in the realm of cleverness, it is not sufficient. By that I mean, as long as you are in the realm of judging yourself and your life as being one way or the other (good/no good, full/empty, success/fail, made/not made) it is not sufficient. How do you know? Because you will still feel insufficient. You will still feel as though there is something more, better, greater and more fulfilling for you to get. At the same time, it will seem as though there are a few charmed folks on the other side of the scale who already “got” it. But I promise you, whatever it looks like they “got,” they didn’t “get” nearly enough.

You can acquire many things through cleverness, but sufficiency is not one of them.

That being said, cleverness is serviceable for something truly wonderful and life altering. Cleverness will bring you to the last gasp of cleverness; to the end of judgment, greed and envy; to the brink of chronic dissatisfaction and despair. It will bring you to the starting point for sufficiency. A chance to be content with things as they are, the fortune you already possess, the potential for deep and radiating joy, and a life that goes far beyond anything you can engineer.

How do I know? It brought you here.

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A squirt in the eye

July 2nd, 2009    -    20 Comments


When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Summer’s thirst has stirred this saying to mind, and I find it squirts me right in the eye.

What’s wrong with a lemon being a lemon, I wonder, and lemonade standing alone? Each is perfect as it is, with its own time and purpose. The refrain points out again just how much we value one thing over another: choosing the sweet over the sour, concocting a so-called positive out of the perceived negative, manufacturing candy to camouflage life’s authentic and irreplaceable flavor. Candy only gets you so far, and so does conventional wisdom like this.

When life gives you lemons, let the lemons be. Sour has a sweetness all its own, and a season, like all seasons, that doesn’t last.

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Eight is enough

July 1st, 2009    -    3 Comments

The momentary fascination with the reality TV train wreck “Jon & Kate Plus 8″ has me wondering if the sad saga of family striving and dissolution is beneficial as a morality tale. Does the failed couple’s melodrama teach a real-life lesson about balancing careers, money, self-image, household responsibilities, individuality and passion post-parenthood?

Yes, there’s a lesson, in the same sense that wildfires teach us not to throw matches and car accidents teach us not to text behind the wheel. The damage, however, is so dear that it’s hardly redemptive unless we can change the course of our own catastrophe.

“Jon & Kate Plus 8″ is the story of what happens when what we have is not enough. A young and aspiring couple finds that the babies don’t come easy enough, the family isn’t full enough, the money doesn’t go far enough, the house isn’t big enough, the help doesn’t help enough, the good times aren’t good enough and the ever after isn’t happy enough.

Sound familiar? This isn’t just their dirty laundry; it’s mine and likely yours too. More than that, it’s the basis of Buddhism.

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

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Daily bread

May 24th, 2009    -    9 Comments


My grandmother set her bread to rise each day before the sun yet dared to dawn, wresting two loaves into the oven before a shadow had stirred. She saved a handful of the dough to roll into the morning’s coffee cake and topped it high with buttery struesel. By the time I tramped into her ancient kitchen on summer mornings, the air bloomed with the sweetly sour greeting of yeast. It was breakfast time, and no one needed to ask.

Her house is now flattened, ground into the dust of the earth’s eternal crust. She is gone and the time has passed. But what she fed still ferments on my tongue, and I recognize my place and lineage.

I made pancakes today.

Genuine fulfillment

March 17th, 2009    -    20 Comments


To chop the soft and blemished fruit into a past-due breakfast parfait, lace with warm oatmeal, then cajole my daughter into eating it instead of the Trix she finagled from the cereal aisle and which I’m certain will give her sugar-induced pea green diarrhea.

To rise from my sickbed to do the weekend laundry, resurrected from my habitual resentments, appreciating this simple task as the essential business in a whole and healthy life.

To tenderly, mindfully, as though approaching an altar, hang nearly every item of my daughter’s laundry to air dry, because although it is our fervently futile wish that she never grow up, I can still do my best to ensure that she not too hastily grow out, and starvation is not an option.

To notice that, within the full hamper of cleaned clothing, not one pair of her socks had been worn in the previous week, meaning she is suitably free of her mother’s fastidious conventions.

To hear my grace, my Georgia, against her willful inertia, practice the piano and deliver to me the most lovely praise songs, thus knowing that my own mother, standing in her own kitchen, despite my fumbling artistry, once received the same sweet cup of satisfaction from me.

To flush and fill the fish tanks with fresh gallons of distilled elixir, a weekly baptism, comforted that in the vast mutabilities of this life, I can pour this gold into the goldfish forever.

To watch my husband and daughter circle each other in wary regard, to wrestle and shout a messy wreck of feelings, to see them suffer their deep adoration of one another, and leave it be, well and good and theirs alone.

To receive, sort and distribute 1,700 boxes of Girl Scout cookies into and out of my garage, ennobling each girl with the triumph of her participation, relieving each parent by the discharge of their duty.

To take, one by one, copies of my book to the good old United States Post Office, knowing these recipients by name, the readers by heart, and remembering full well that I can “wait a year to get rich.”

To see without doubt that when my dog places her muzzle on my left thigh while I sit here at the cockpit of my ruminations, it is indeed time to take her for a walk, because dogs are never confused about what time it is.

To relent and allow, when my daughter asks by name for an afternoon snack, the bowl of Trix she favors, and makes for herself, apprising me in the process that she had a bowl of the same yesterday and it didn’t turn her insides green.

To have all of this, to forget it, and then remember again, remember again, remember again.

The jingle of a tin cup

November 16th, 2008    -    13 Comments


One very late night among many very late nights lately, Georgia spoke up before falling asleep. Does this mean I am a professional? she asked. I assured her. Yes, you are a professional.

My nine-year-old is a professional. A professional beggar. She was the last in a cast of dozens given a role in our little town’s live theater performance of “A Christmas Carol.” She is deep into final rehearsals and costume fittings, and this is where our story turns. She was cast, or so we presumed, as a beggar girl. The costume is for a beggar boy.

You don’t have to tell me that to a nine-year-old, the difference between a boy part and a girl part is unfathomable and untouchable. And although she has been counseled by her parents that there is little to be done at this late and desperate hour, no fix or balm; although everyone has tried to convince her that playing a boy is Oscar bait for pretty girls, she cannot be sold or satisfied.

Because she is safe in expressing all of herself to me, her deep and dark feelings, she does. Every morning and night she tosses them up to me, her worrisome frets and ceaseless spins, about how to change the costume, how to replace it, get around it, make one more phone call, concoct one more reason, convince the powers that be, etc. etc. chapter and verse. (Mind you, she does not under any circumstance want to quit the show. She is an actress, first and last.)

On the way to school on Friday morning she lifted her chin and said again, as if anew, “I still really need to change that costume,” perhaps hoping that phrasing it as a need instead of a want would score results from her miracle-making mom.

I stopped cold and said icily, in a voice that would freeze your eyeballs: IT’S NOT IMPORTANT!

And it’s true, it’s not important. It just wasn’t a very nice thing to say.

We are beggars, the both of us. She is begging me to do something. And I am begging her to do nothing. We are, each of us, nearly always begging for what we don’t have.

***

A long time ago I had a Buddhist boyfriend who dumped me (but that’s another story) and as he got sick and tired of me he started to say abruptly rude things. They were probably true, but as the saying goes, I wasn’t ready to hear them. I hear them now! One thing he said was that I needed to learn the difference between need and want. He probably said it in the context of my complete debasement, in the midst of vain and endless pleading, while I clutched his pants leg, being dragged across a parking lot, wailing But you can’t leave! I need you!

The difference between need and want? I hadn’t a clue at the time. He set me wondering even as he set me wandering and I presumed that he had achieved some lofty kind of Buddhist understanding far beyond a groveling earth-dweller like me.

(Beware any Buddhist who appears to have attained any understanding, particularly the lofty kind.)

He hadn’t achieved anything, but he was right. I really didn’t need him, although my “needing” of him did set me off on this path to satisfy my wants, and I really did need that. We all do.

***

What is the difference between need and want? One starts with an “n” and one starts with a “w.” That’s about all I can distinguish. They are just words we either like to use or don’t like to use, choose or don’t choose, to label our dissatisfaction, our unfulfilled desire. Because really, whether we sanction something as a “need” or not, do we really need it? And when for a breathless moment we want something, do we really want it for long? I guess not, because look how easy it is to live without all the things we once wanted, and none of the things we don’t have but still think we need.

Life really is pretty easy by itself, unless we need or want for something different.

Needs and wants are the things we beg for, whether it sounds like begging or not, whether we are aware or not, no matter what the circumstance, no matter what the costume. Begging is the role of a lifetime. The curtain rises, and we start begging. The curtain closes, and who knows what becomes of the beggar? The real question is this: when, in the brief span between the rise and the fall, will we ever stop? When will we ever enjoy the show?

Shhhhh! It’s starting.

***

A reminder to put my whole self in the cup, and get the world in return.

Photo originally uploaded by Alastair Bird.

Summer shoes for well under $100

July 11th, 2008    -    19 Comments

I just came back from the health club where I was running on the treadmill (it’s a sickness) and watching “The View” (it’s another kind of sickness). They had this perky spokesmodel with a $500 haircut in an $800 dress hawking SUMMER SHOES FOR UNDER $100!

Really. Not even considering the fact that the best summer footwear is, well, your feet, I’m horrified, and then I wonder, Am I the only spoilsport who thinks this segment is unbelievably inane and insenstive in this day and age? SHOES FOR UNDER $100 is a newsmaker? In the SUMMER, no less?

And I immediately inventoried my own summer footwear finds, which were not only acquired for well under $100 but remain in every way utterly worthless, which for me evokes the true essence of summer.

Take these, for instance, which I picked up for $3 four years ago. I wear them every morning when I make the rounds in the yard to pick up dog poop:

Which always reminds me not to wear these while picking up dog poop.

Or these pink poolside classics, $5 at Wal-Mart three years ago:

Did you notice they are pink? They’re bloody screaming pink! Maybe that’s why even Wal-Mart had them on sale, you silly!

And these are my good running shoes. They aren’t my really good running shoes because those boats cost over $100, good grief, and I pound through them like putty:

No, these running shoes are old, worn out, dirty and so heavy that when you step on that unreliable bathroom scale you can automatically take, oh, 29 pounds off your weight.

In my view, that’s a steal.

Going nowhere and making good time

July 6th, 2008    -    11 Comments


Since I could use a fist bump right about now, I’m going to announce that my running partner and I ran ten miles today. Ten miles, albeit the old lady way. We have managed to train away some of the huffing, puffing, cramps and crying that had me convinced at an earlier, cynical age three months ago that I would never run ten miles let alone one.

Running has become just about the one thing in my life that is satisfying my expectations, expectations being the kind of oversized load that triggers a 20-car, fog-bound pile-up around the next blind curve. Still, as a pastime, hitting the pavement provides me with a wide avenue of observations about myself and the world around me.

My regular route has me crossing a busy intersection during morning commute, an intersection with eight timed signals for through-traffic and turns. The consternation is palpable at this spot as the engines belch and fume about the interruption in their all-important progress. The traffic experts have been here. The science is on display. In place of the benign illuminated hand that once invited walkers to venture forth – We come in peace! – the crossing light now pairs a hunched stalker with a flashing countdown of seconds remaining before the defenseless few are smacked back to where they came from.

Can you believe it? In this hurry-up world, they even want the pedestrians to tailgate! In these last, poisoned days of our planet, they want the people on foot, the innocents who are truly doing no harm, to get out of the way already!

Now it may just be the peculiarity of the hour and the carbon monoxide, or the pulsing love croons of serial seducer John Mayer in my iPod (I’d run anywhere he told me to), but when I see the flashing countdown of seconds left to me in this crossing, when I see this laughably unjust incrimination, it makes me smile. I find myself trotting across the intersection with a grin on my face. I make it my wholehearted practice to smile at the gauntlet of grim drivers I pass. I peer through their tinted shields into their dead faces. I want to make contact, you see. I want them to respond. I want them to see the first, and perhaps, the last happy person they will see today. I want them to be happy too.

I know, I know. We all think we’re going somewhere. But on these mornings, in a sudden gush of giddy bliss, I bet I’m the only one who realizes how free and easy it feels to be going nowhere. Fast.

The crooked crown of falling down

May 12th, 2008    -    9 Comments


I’m holding steady this crooked crown
Knowing I’ll lose if I look down*

When my sisters and I were little – I mean really little – we used to gather around the TV on a sultry Saturday night in the late summer and watch the Miss America beauty pageant.

This is not a joke. This was in the days before we joked about such things.

We would sit inches from the screen, irradiated with anticipation, and choose our favorites even before all 50 girls had introduced themselves. Then we percolated through the rest of the program, through the talent and the evening gowns, through the arias and baton twirls, the sparkle, the suspense, the adoration and yearning, until a point of unbearable despair. A point that I discerned even at age 8 or 9, a point of tragic and humiliating desperation when I could watch no longer.

You see, there was a comic quiver in the girls’ outer thighs when they stalked the stage with mock pride and purpose (because what purpose could there be in wearing swimsuits with stilettos?) I turned my little-girl eyes aside and winced to see how earnestly they posed and yet how fraudulent they seemed, how tight and taut and twisted in pursuit of – what really? They were already pretty with perfect teeth and flat tummies and nice and friendly with bright futures and all, and here they were trying so hard to be something that they sure as heck weren’t going to be and we all knew it. We already knew it was going to be Miss Texas.

And although eventually the whole lot of us grew so smart and cynical about this kind of contest, I swear everything on TV today, everything in ads and magazines, everything on the Internet, everything in this country, everything in our lives, yes my life and yours, is just a reprise of this sad sport over and over every day. Not just about beauty, either. About fame, money, power, popularity, winning, losing and numbers, numbers, numbers. The desperate urging, chasing, yearning, selling. wishing, hoping, praying, prying, gnawing, groaning, clashing, crashing contest to be something more (or less) than what you are.

Not everyone sees this and weeps. But I do. To feel this very full and broken heart, to carry this unbearable sympathy and sadness, is to touch the very source of compassionate wisdom.

But to let go of the tortured striving for yourself? To let it all give way and lose nothing? That, dear Karen, is the path of enlightenment. What a refreshing topic to begin a new day, a new week, a new way. Which is the oldest way of all, the original unimproved, unretouched, you as you are way.

***
*Click here for more gospel.

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