Posts Tagged ‘Satisfaction’

blaming Steve Jobs

June 23rd, 2015    -    29 Comments

PA020450This afternoon I went into the backyard and noticed a patch where everything has shriveled and the ground is cracked and bare, and although this wretched drought is in its fourth year, it seems like it happened overnight. The garden is dying.

I blame Steve Jobs.

I’ve been blaming Steve Jobs for a whole mess of stuff for a long time now, for the conversations that stopped, the music that ended, the books that disappeared, the kids that went absent, the friends that drifted off and the way the world seems to have shriveled into a hot, lifeless, angry place of crazy strangers. Oh, I know it wasn’t him. It’s a cynical joke. But it was him, and the legion led by him. I saw it happen. I saw it happen with me and I saw it happen with nearly everyone else. And now there is hell to pay.

He was a god to many. But he was never my guru. I never entered that temple, not all the way. The theatrics looked cool, but they disturbed me. There was awesome power and beauty in his works, but I never trusted myself to handle that kind of artillery. It went too fast and too far. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I am too cheap. I bought a laptop. It works fine. It sits on this desk. Every time I use it I have to stop, be still, and do only one thing. I do not carry it in my hands or put it in my purse, pocket or car. It is not a companion. It is not the world. It is a very small and distorted picture of the world.

I have to wake myself up every minute of every day to realize the difference.

I am probably the only person you know without a smartphone. Please don’t text me.

It seems to me that we have completely confused the world with a picture of the world. We are so adept at manipulating the false picture — with just one thumb — that we have forgotten how to occupy the real world. How to live responsibly and with accountability. How to use our hands and feet and heart. We are so fascinated with artificial intelligence that we have negated our own. We do stupid things. We say stupid things. We shout at each other in tiny digital boxes. We overuse exclamation points.

When we do things directly in the world, instead of through technology, when we speak aloud to one another, meet face-to-face and side-by-side, it is altogether a different experience. It is intimate and alive. Magic, really. You can’t program it. Totally original, one-of-a-kind, without a trademark.

Innovation produces some really neat things, but it can’t be your religion. It won’t soothe or satisfy. It destroys what is to make room for what’s next. To be sure, it’s a naturally occurring cycle, January to December, but it can be sped up to the point of wanton waste and disposability. Suppose every time you were hungry you took only one bite and then tossed the apple. (It got a little brown around the teeth marks.) The earth would be nothing but a landfill of fallen fruit, and we’d all be hungry ghosts, waiting in line all night to grab the next nibble that will once again fail to satisfy.

I know Steve Jobs isn’t to blame. But I blame Steve Jobs.

This is a lousy load to lay at the tomb of a giant and a genius. Although he was arrogant and egotistical, by all accounts Mr. Jobs made amends to estranged friends, family and rivals and was at peace before the end. It’s a given. Everyone reaches the end of ideas when they arrive at the ultimate disruption. I’m going to have to give him a break for everything that troubles me and take responsibility for what’s right here now.

I’m going to have to keep this place alive.

So I’m heading out to walk this world of mine and see what needs doing. To notice the dry spots. Fix what’s broken. Lend a hand. Spare a little more time, a little more water, and a lot more love. I know this in my bones because I preach it, and I preach it because I need it: What you pay attention to thrives, and what you do not pay attention to withers and dies.

What will you pay attention to today?

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how to be satisfied

May 19th, 2015    -    9 Comments

il_fullxfull-152079237One day in a Lutheran church in Texas, a miracle happened.

I had taken my baby daughter on a trip to see my mother, a trip carefully timed for one of the rare “good weeks” during a punishing course of chemotherapy. At seven months old, my daughter would be baptized. The faith was not my own; it was not my husband’s. All things considered, that mattered not one whit. The baptism was a gift. But it was not the miracle.

During the middle of the service, I took my restless girl into the church nursery. There, bobbling in the middle of the room was a contraption known to cognoscenti as a baby saucer. This was not the kind of thing that would ever land on my wish list. I thought they were hideous and huge, and I could not imagine giving up half of my living room to yet another baby thing, especially one combining all the crude amusements of a video arcade: garish colors, spinning balls, whizzers and bells. Then the miracle happened: Georgia liked it. I thought to myself: Hallelujah! I want to make her happy.

Home again, I went straight away to Sears and charged the $60 model. I impressed upon my husband the urgency of assembling it that night. He did; we rearranged the furniture.

She never willingly sat in it again. Oh, I’m sure there was a time or two. In a pinch, I would plop her there for the half-second before her screaming began. I thought: Maybe I should get the $99 one.

This was my first experience with the rule called Other People’s Toys. The emphasis is on the “other.” You like them precisely because they are not yours. The corollary to this rule is Other People’s Kids, precocious and polite, who make you think: Why can’t my kid be more like that?

We held onto the baby saucer for a while and then priced it to sell at a garage sale. I hope it delivered hours and hours of saucer happiness and satisfaction to generations of families thereafter. For me, it was the beginning of an up-close analysis of human desire as expressed by Georgia. What I saw was that her desires were spontaneous, impermanent and never-ending. Just because she wanted something now only meant that she wanted something now. Desires change. Satisfaction eludes. That’s what it means to be human, with infinite, insatiable desires. It’s not about the saucer! It did start me thinking: I want to have a separate playroom.

I tried to keep the big picture in mind when we went to Other People’s Houses and played with Other People’s Kids and Other People’s Toys. I’d see Georgia clutch something, somebody else’s something, with the fervor of new car fever. I didn’t have to buy it. She didn’t have to own it. It would probably never come up again. Desire comes up again and again, you see, not the momentary object of desire. Still, I thought: I wish she could learn to share. read more

Buddha’s last 8 instructions

May 13th, 2015    -    8 Comments

nutshellI hesitated before I wrote that title because there is no such thing as “last” or even “first,” but there is a short list commonly known as Buddha’s final teaching before he died, and so I am sharing it here and now.

Words attributed to Buddha are the basis of much industry, interpretation, and enterprise. Buddha’s teachings were entirely spoken and conveyed for hundreds of years by word of mouth until the first written records were made. This is just the way it is and in one sense it works just fine. Sure, words are subject to erroneous understanding by deluded people, but with a bit of practice and a flicker of clarity, you can look at a modern quotation, especially a popular one, and know instantly that Buddha never said any such thing.

And this is precisely what his instructions foretold. There’s a good chance you guys are going to get this all wrong.

“Last words” are interesting in another way. When you’re present at someone’s death, you don’t know when the final moment will come, or what the critical utterance will be. Sometime later you reflect on what happened last and then decide for yourself what it means. Before her death, my mother told me, “Be yourself and take good care of your family.” She lived for several days after I heard that, and she may have said more that I didn’t hear or recall. But the words I retained were useful for me — simple and straightforward — carrying with them a mother’s hope that I wouldn’t complicate things quite so much.

That’s the spirit with which I see Buddha’s last instructions. A human being, surrounded by devotees and dependents, with a final chance to bring peace and ease to a population crazed with fear and grief. I have simplified these from a scholarly translation, but in a nutshell, this is what Buddha tells you to do here and now:

1. Want little — Suffer less.
2. Be satisfied — Enough is enough.
3. Avoid crowds — Be alone and quiet.
4. Keep going — Don’t turn back.
5. Pay attention — Guard your mind.
6. Meditate — Or you are lost.
7. See for yourself — Cultivate wisdom.
8. Don’t talk about it — Do it.

“Now, all of you be quiet and do not speak. Time is passing and I am going to cross over. This is my last admonition to you.”


Based on “Eight Awakenings of Great Beings” by Dogen Zenji. From Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi.

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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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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.

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