Posts Tagged ‘Time’

the long way

June 4th, 2013    -    12 Comments

IMG_6002“Great words of inspiration. I really admire you for embracing your life as it is.”

She wrote it by hand in a card and then mailed it to the publisher named on the copyright page and then someone at the office tucked it into another envelope and mailed it to me and I opened it on Saturday evening when my husband handed me the day’s forgotten mail while I was sitting in the green chair in the living room, and what struck me was not the words, although they did make up in small part for the last jaw shattering one-star review on Amazon, “self-centered drivel, not worth my time.” No, it wasn’t what she said in the card with the picture of a yellow bird sitting on a blossoming branch, it was the faith and patience, the few minutes of time and trouble, the paper, the pen, the flowing stroke of the letters, the tenderness expended in doing a little something the long way and sending it straight into my heart.

I’m slowly gathering materials and supplies, robes, pillows, bells, things remembered and nearly missed, for a long drive north on Friday to sit with folks for two days in lightness and dark at the ocean’s edge. Honestly, I don’t much like this part. The packing and organizing, listing, thinking, all the thinking, the miles, the money, the time. But I do it. I do things the long way. Because when I finally get to that place in the room where the silence rolls in my heart fills with the fullness of peace and I come to rest on the good ground of forever.

The long way is the straight way to the human heart.

For anyone who ever wondered if I saved the card you sent. Yes, I saved it in a woven basket of forever.

fire and water

May 26th, 2013    -    3 Comments

I have been writing seriously for several months, which means I have been seriously reading. I’ve relied on a furnace of words for warmth and light, and an ocean of wisdom to slake my thirst. Most recently, I have consumed these books, and they have consumed me. I wholeheartedly recommend them for telling the one true story of our lives.

9780670026630A Tale for the Time Being – By Ruth Ozeki. When a woman finds a girl’s journal washed up on her island shore, it becomes a portal through time. A mysterious and compelling story, as well as a fearless presentation of Zen’s deepest teachings. Brilliant.

 

age-miracles-karen-thompson-walker-paperback-cover-artThe Age of Miracles – By Karen Walker Thompson. When the Earth’s rotation inexplicably slows, the result reads like neither science nor fiction, but the revelation of our hidden nature in unblinking daylight. Observant and insightful.

 

9780307962690_180X180Wave – By Sonali Deraniyagala.  Her life, family, future and every shred of sanity is washed away by the South Asian tsunami on the day after Christmas. The sole survivor can only say this much. Each word of this memoir is a pearl. Unbearably perfect.

 

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the last fall

March 5th, 2013    -    12 Comments

12778814-oranges-in-ground-who-fallen-from-tree

I want to tell you that the baby won’t fall
the tooth won’t break
the skin won’t scrape
no row of stitches at the hairline
you never saw it coming
I want to tell you that the teasing won’t hurt
the teacher won’t frown
the kids won’t laugh
her name won’t be the last one called
because I suck at kickball that’s why
I want to tell you that your heart won’t rip
your eyes won’t mist your breath won’t catch
when she disappears into her lonely self
beneath a sweatshirt two sizes too big
a widow
to her babyhood
I’m not that girl anymore
I want to tell you that the flowers won’t bloom
the leaves won’t bud
the fruit won’t dangle and drop
that nothing fades and nothing dies
nothing hurts and nothing leaves
you’ll never see it going
but it will go
it will go home
the way a period ends a sentence
the earth is our mother
she heals even the last fall.

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the turning season

November 11th, 2012    -    6 Comments

My head was heavy
when I laid me down to sleep
the wind still sweeping the sky
the leaves crumpling at their end
like the paper bags
we used to hold old newspapers
when there were newspapers
our brand being the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner,
a fealty as final as Pepsi or Coke
the afternoon paper on your porch said your dad’s collar was blue

when there were collars
and porches
and afternoons.
There will always be leaves.
They are piling up these days,
a mountain of yesterdays.
I don’t know how high the mountain will be
I only know it is deep.
We called it a newspaper drive back then,
giving them up was good.
I looked at you, the long stretch of you,
not looking at me
and said, for lack,
You used to be so little, I loved you so much.
Do you remember that?
and you said no.

For my sisters, on a November day, 2012.

the koan of boredom

September 27th, 2012    -    4 Comments

Please see the link at the bottom of this post to read the entire essay online.

The message comes with good intentions, as do most things designed to inspire, so I click on the link in my email and watch the short video.

First I see a sleeping newborn swaddled in a blanket, followed by a silken black butterfly perched on a finger, a dewdrop dangling from a leaf tip, and a nest cradling two luminous robin’s eggs. Images dissolve to a piano serenade—a foggy meadow at daybreak, the fiery blaze of an ocean sunset, a peach pie cooling on a plank table, and a vase of peonies gracing a windowsill. A boy bites a glistening red popsicle at that perfect instant before it slides off the stick. A golden-haired girl blows the dancing flames from her birthday candles. “Moments,” the voiceover says. “Moments like this are all we have.”

They are happy, captivating shots, drenched in color and sentiment. The eye wants to drink them in and dwell. Compared to this, my life seems mostly washed-out and even wasted.

I stop the show. Something’s wrong with this picture. Pies and popsicles are appealing, but these pictures don’t quite capture the essence of life. Not the whole of it.

Later on, in the bathroom picking up dingy wet towels, I notice the mildew creeping up the bottom of the shower curtain. This is not the life of precious tributes. It’s not one of the moments you want to frame and keep. It’s one you want to throw out. And many of us do. We replace people, places, and things that have grown charmless and tiresome— which they always do. Fascination fades and restlessness stirs.

Chasing the picture perfect, we can lose what we have in abundance—the times that teach us even more than the rare delight of butterflies or a robin’s blue eggs. We lose the hours, the days, and the decades when nothing much seems to happen at all. Time freezes. Paint dries. Mildew spreads. We’re bored out of our minds.

Boredom is the unappreciated path to patience, peace, and intimacy, so who would read a paean to it? Let that be your koan.

Don’t quit now! Continue reading this complete article online at Shambhala Sun.

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momma time

September 18th, 2012    -    15 Comments

Reprinting this, because it’s about time.

Last week I received this message from a young mother. I asked if I could respond to her via this post so others would benefit. No matter what our stage of parenting, we could all use a little time out to reflect and refresh.

I have two little girls, age 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. They are wonderful and show me what aspects I need to work on as a person and a mother.

Children are indeed wonderful. They are always showing us aspects of ourselves we aren’t familiar with. One aspect, for instance, is happiness. No one has ever made a mother feel as happy as her children do. The other aspect is sadness and despair. We’ve never felt so frustrated, hopeless or inadequate. Every day our children introduce us to a completely new human being: their mother. And although she vaguely resembles someone we used to know, at times we hardly recognize ourselves. When it becomes especially tiresome and difficult, our relationship with our children sounds an alarm. We need rescued.

I have them both at home with me everyday except for four hours each week. Perhaps I’m overwhelmed but lately I’m finding motherhood to be a total drag.

Too much togetherness is too much. Every mother needs more help. The first step is to admit it; the second step is to ask for it; and the third step is to take the help that comes. You never know where help will come from. Not every angel wears wings.

When we have help taking care of our children, it magnifies the love in our lives. When either by circumstance or choice we think we have to do it all by ourselves, we scrimp on love. Everyone suffers for it.

We don’t always have the money to pay for help, so we have to rely on family. We don’t always have family nearby so we have to make friends. We don’t all have friends so we have to be brave. We have to speak up, make calls, trust strangers, invite people over, walk the street, meet, listen and console one another. Last week I called a friend who talked me off a ledge. Just by contacting me you’ve done the same thing for yourself. And look: no one jumped. read more

the bony end of a branch

July 16th, 2012    -    16 Comments

Where do you come from?

In the same way we have a physical lineage we have a spiritual one, although you may not yet know about yours. In the same way fruit derives its flavor from the soil, it takes it from the sun. Anything and everything that comes to us comes through a lineage, because that’s how life works. Nothing comes into existence any other way.

You might still think it’s weird that I’m a Zen Buddhist—not a choice you’d make—but you wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. That’s how lineage works. It’s not a choice of this or that. Not like inventing a new last name—make mine Rockefeller. Or like doctoring your eye color—I’ll take periwinkle blue. In lineage as in life, you get what you get. And then somewhere along the way, you get upset.

In my spiritual lineage, tracing more than eighty generations of Zen wisdom, one question is asked over and over again.

A student comes to meet a teacher, and the teacher asks, “Where do you come from?” The student replies, and from this, the teacher sees who stands there.

How would you answer?

Where do you think you come from?

From your parents? From your parents’ parents? From a place? From the place before that? From a time? Or the time before that? Before that? Before that?

How far back do you have to go to realize that you don’t know? How long before you know that you can’t ever know?

We are one family of unknown origin, the fruit of beginningless time, the descendents of everyone who has ever lived. The most we can know is that we do not know where we come from, and from that point on, everything becomes possible.

I am 55 years old. As the mother of a near-teen, I’m in the uneasy breach before the onset of an overthrow. My hair has grayed enough for me to be called gray-haired. Some of the freckles on my face are really liver spots, and the wrinkles are not just laugh lines. Life’s major milestones—those birthdays we call “The Big Ones”—have slipped past my reliable recollection. I have begun a stage of life where I am irritating to a precious few and invisible to everyone else. All these changes are as plain as day, but still, I can hardly believe it.

Here I am, petering past my prime, and here you are, just beginning that aching reach to sweetness. What will pass between us? What can I share?

Only this: the fruit on the bony end of a branch.

routine and ritual

March 15th, 2012    -    13 Comments

String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.

This is a transcript of a talk on parenting wisdom that I gave at the local library. We all live at such a distance from one other I thought I’d just put it all up here. It’s geared to parents of children under age three, but the lessons are forever. Please share.

——

Often we approach our job as parents like this:

“I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“I’m over my head!”
“I’m lost!”
“I’m ruining my kid.”

So we seek more information, come to workshops, and pick up new tips. We want to give our children a solid advantage and even a head start. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I take a different approach. I like to help you find the wisdom you already possess, help you find your own way, and help you feel more secure in your everyday life so that you can say:

“We made it through. We did OK. It was a good day.”

String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a piece of art, a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.

They say that children don’t come with instructions, so I’m not going to give you any new instructions. I want to talk about two tools that you already have, but that you may not be using enough. read more

they grow up soon enough

January 15th, 2012    -    18 Comments

We spent the day emptying drawers, sorting “keep” or “go,” hauling bags of trash and giveaways, swiping piles of dust. My husband and I have relented to buying my daughter a new bed, a bed entirely of her choosing, to match her self-image and sensibilities, a “teen” bed which will endure as the last blasted bed we buy her. It delivers tomorrow, and so today we cleaned out her room, meaning we cleaned out the most beloved 12 years of our lives. A day like this reminds me that all days are like this. I can’t say it any better than I did in Momma Zen:

“Form is emptiness,” Buddhism teaches. “And emptiness is form.” What could it possibly mean? It means this. It means I cried on the night of Georgia’s first birthday.

The bakery cake was ugly. She bawled in bewilderment at the crowd around the table. The presents didn’t interest her. She fled my arms to the cuddles of her babysitter. My shame was complete, but it was something else that brought me to tears. It was the finality. My baby was done with her first year. And despite my hurry, I was not. I had chosen this night to box up her baby clothes, refolding the tiny come-home things, sobbing at the poop and spit-up stains. They were already relics. How could it be over?

People will tell you so many things, passing on their hindsight and regrets. Love them when they are little. Cherish the early days. I would say it all again but I’m not sure you can hear it until you reach the other side, open your eyes and let the tears of recognition come. There is not one piece of life that you can grasp, contain or keep, not even the life you created and hold right now in your arms. I confess I never tried to slow it down, ever pushing forward to some imagined place of competence for me and independence for her. On this night, though, I could see how fast it all would go. How fast, how sad. Every happy day brimming with bittersweetness.

This is how it passes: no matter where we are we think of someplace else. The place before nighttime feedings, the place beyond twelve-a-day-diapers, the certain bliss that beckons from a distant shore.  This is how we spend our lives; this is how we spend their lives, motoring past milestones as if collecting so many merit badges.

We can be forgiven for this tendency, in part, because childhood is full of tests and measures, percentiles and comparisons. Bring your baby to the doctor’s office and they will plot her as a dot on a growth chart. I inscribed these glyphs dutifully on my calendar ­– how many pounds now, how many inches now – satisfied that we were safely on course to get somewhere. Where is that somewhere? Where is that place that I can relax the tension on the reins, ease off the accelerator?

Not one bit of life is a weight or a measure, a list or a date, a tick or a tock. It is never a result or an outcome. What it is, is a continual marvel, a wondrous flow without distance or gap, a perpetual stream in which we bob and float. We are buffered from nothing and yet never quite fully immersed because our thinking mind keeps eyeing the banks, gauging the current, scoping for landmarks and striving for some kind of perfect, elusive destination. There isn’t a destination. Life keeps going. It keeps going within us; when we’re not attentive, it keeps going without us. read more

be careful of the words

January 9th, 2012    -    67 Comments

This probably puts me in the category of a Kevin Costner sympathizer.

I’ve begun thinking in apocalyptic terms about what seems certain to be the demise of the US Postal Service. Admittedly, I’m a cultural throwback. I still think of writing as something that you do on paper, with your whole hand, in a cursive script that is elegant and intrinsic, like your DNA. I still think of community as consisting of people with bodies, using arms and legs and good manners to stand in line patiently at the post office, where we buy stamps, grouse about the three-penny price increase, see somebody we know, say a kind word, conduct our minor essential business, and go on our way, until next Monday or Thursday or tax season or the holidays.

I’ve noticed that they’ve started selling greeting cards in my little post office, which is ingenious, really, in a demoralizing way, since the only people who enter a post office these days are the sappy has-beens like me. People who saw those lame Kevin Costner movies in the 1990s predicting the disappearance of the post office, global warming, and the end of the world as we know it. And now we really do know it. read more

in a word, love

December 23rd, 2011    -    3 Comments

The mountains have more snow. Georgia dragged her jacket out today and went outside for one minute before she agreed it was too cold. She was happy to read and play inside today.

My sister sent me an envelope in the mail this week. She attached a short note:

“I found this today while going through a drawer of old letters. I think I found it in Mom’s room when cleaning up after her death. Regardless, it belongs with you. Now that Georgia is all grown up, it’s especially poignant.”

She ate a good supper of chicken and vegetables all by herself. When the spoon proves inefficient, she just digs in with both hands.

The date of the letter was Feb. 14, 2001. I think it was the last letter I sent to my mom before she died.

She thought the doctor’s office yesterday was one big hoot but the wait was boring. She is 20 lbs and 31 inches. She was very happy after her long nap and danced backwards and forwards to Barney before her Daddy came home.

Georgia was 18 months old. Not knowing what else to say to a dying woman, I put every little detail of my daughter’s day on the paper. I wanted my mother to be in her life. I wanted my mother to be alive.

Last night she had a bath in the big tub, and while she was squatting in the water, she pooped. That was a fast bath and a long cleanup. I bought her a small potty chair for her to look at and she thinks it is a waste of time and money. Good for holding Cheerios but nothing else.

I see how I was mimicking my mother’s style of correspondence. My sisters and I used to laugh at the quotidian details she put in her letters. Perhaps we thought she should make better use of the time and space to expound on worldly matters, things that would interest daughters like us.

Georgia misses her Grandpa to chase around the dinner table. She runs a circuit around the table or sofa every night. Where is he?!?

Mom died on April 13, 2001. Dad died on Nov. 25, 2005.

I will not tell you how my parents failed me; I will not tell you I despise my kin. I no longer indulge those conversations when there are more important things to say.

Our love and thanks for another day,
Karen & Family

My holiday wish for you.

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out of the chifforobe

October 28th, 2011    -    10 Comments

Staring from family photographs, we look
older than we are. Even as children, our faces
are shadowed with doubt and parental disappointment,
as if to say to those looking years from now:
We persist. We persevere. We do this for you.

– from “In the Olden Days” by Richard Newman

My grandmother’s house held the scent of a mothballed century. Time had locked itself in a cabinet called a chifforobe. The very word was one of the secrets it contained. I considered it a double mystery: first, that a country washerwoman would have a chifforobe, and second, that she would call it by that name, the frill of the double consonant like a vestige of lost extravagance.

Inside hung the few fancy dresses worn by my mother and her sisters to dances and weddings. On summer visits we granddaughters made charades with them. (Such frocks are kept for the sake of girlish fantasy.) But there were other things that held me for a longer stretch — old photographs of the dead and unnamed — my phantom ancestors. I would flip through shoeboxes full of sepia images, staring into the stiff and grim faces of related strangers.

My mother’s people were Wends, an odd and oppressed sort of religious colony, which like all colonies, no longer exists. Run out of Prussia in the late-nineteenth century, they settled in the purgatory of Central Texas where they were mostly poor farmers. (Except for my grandfather, who out of enterprise or foolishness later made himself the town barber, ensuring that he would remain the poorest among poor relations.) The Wends were serious about faith, hard work, and economy. The wedding portraits captured their high sobriety: the brides wearing black to signify the life of toil awaiting them. This foresight was not in the least bit faulty.

These were my kin, somber in face and fashion, weighted by work and gravity, and much younger than they looked. On the backs of some photos, salvaged from frames or torn from albums, were half-vanished names written in thin pencil.

What brings this to mind today? Is it the season? A poem about olden days drifted into my hands and moved me. I have been taken of late with the matter of lineage, and how we have largely disposed of its umbrage. We are a do-it-yourself culture. We believe we can manufacture anything with independence and initiative. Our heroes are the self-made who suggest that by clever sorcery we can conjure our own mythology. Perhaps it is my age that turns me back to face the accident of my birth, which was no accident.

I am not self-made. I have come from the persistent. I am the heir of disappointment and doubt. I came out of the chifforobe and I will yet join the ranks of its unremembered. Like all those before me, I do this for you, and it is all I can do.

Leaving me to wonder and to grieve.

Also inspired by the work of Michael Douglas Jones.

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

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