Posts Tagged ‘True Nature’

Forgive us our misconceptions

December 12th, 2008    -    15 Comments


A gospel in two parts.

The other night my book group met at the mall (you read that right!) for a quick dinner and an even quicker discussion of our latest read, the most pathologically unfunny franchise of bestselling books I’ve ever encountered. We did this with our hearts in the right place, having dutifully taken up the task of spending money to help those less fortunate than we, a faceless group that has, in these torturous last months, come perilously close to resembling ourselves.

We had absolutely nothing to say about the book, which filled most of us with silent gratitude to be done with it once and for all.

So the conversation turned to other things, other less frivolous things, thankfully not politics but the circumstantially relevant topic of religion.

It is easy to think of your religion as the religion. And by that I mean the right one. I sat at the far end of the table literally and figuratively.

First came the question of whether Jesus had brothers and if so, who they were. That brought up the subject of Mary’s imagined life as the wife of Joseph and mother of mortals and the implications of conception, immaculate and otherwise.

The most authoritative Catholic in the group appraised us all of the doctrinal meaning of “immaculate conception” which may not be the conception you, or I for that matter, were conceiving of, that is, the virginal conception of Baby Jesus. Rather, it refers to the concept of Mary’s own conception as a human being born without sin. We outliers on the far end voiced misconceptions about all these conceptions, and the devout one said, Google it.

Google it is the modern-day conversation stopper. But then, that’s what dogma is designed to do. Stop conversation.

So we stopped talking and each went on separate pilgrimage for socks, scarves, hats, books, toys and a shred of holiday warmth for some unknown poor family. It was easy to conceive of them wandering in the chill outside the high walls of this nearly empty temple, immaculately lit on this eve like an ancient shrine to economic redemption.

Part two.

I doubt that any of us did any Googling on the dinner topic when we got home. The next morning came an email followup inviting us all to convert our erroneous thinking about the immaculate conception by clicking a link to a page in Wikipedia. I encourage you all likewise to go look at it right now while I keep quiet and ponder these things in my heart.

Pondering.

How about it? When I looked at it I thought: Has there ever been a more faith-defying argument, explanation, fabrication, extrapolation, interpretation or complication than this? Holy catechism! Buying all that takes a lot more intellectual credit than I have on hand!

I can fathom how the doctrine came about. Catholicism venerates Mary as an intercessor, and so divinely sanctified she must be made to be. But I was raised a good Lutheran (which is to say, a bad Lutheran) and we didn’t make so much of Mary. Except some of us little Lutheran girls prayed like hell to be cast as the comely mother in the yearly Christmas program. As you can guess, back then I never got the part. Now I see it as a part we are perpetually called to fill.

All this conceptualization is beyond us; the arguments are beneath us; they conquer and divide us when we know the really important things in life perfectly well for ourselves.

We all came together again before the night was over, setting down the blessed burdens we carried, opening up to share the modest gifts we had come to deliver. Without shame, we had used our half-price offers and twofer coupons to bring comfort to the humblest. We offered a package of girls’ white socks size XS, travel umbrellas, toys, playing cards, marked-down scarves, hats and bargain books. We saved far more money than we spent, but we still did right and we did good, without the slightest defilement of doctrinal debate.

This is the gospel few preach, but all of us, unified by inherent grace and goodness, can practice it: Doing good. There is no need to understand it. There is only a need to do it. And that’s so easy.

No matter what we believe, we’ve all been cast in the nativity pageant. No matter what our means, we have it within ourselves to deliver comfort, love and peace from our own pure hearts. Thank heaven, heaven is ours to share.

Goodbye to everything else

October 6th, 2008    -    19 Comments

This year,
My sister broke her fall
My dog broke her knee
And through it all, there was one good thing
My deal disappeared
My words dried up
And through it all, there was one good thing
My other sister lost her job
My hopes took a hit
And through it all, there was one good thing
My bank failed
My future all but vanished in a day
And through it all, there was one good thing
My country collapsed
My happy ending kaput
And through it all, there was one good thing
A good so good it cannot be called good.
A thing so vast it cannot be called a thing.
A one so many it can only be called one.

Life keeps proving it cannot be grasped.
May you be safe
May we all be safe here forever
as One.

Photo by Kevin Carden

There is only one thing for you to do

August 24th, 2008    -    15 Comments

This is so staggeringly simple you’ll want to sit down and see how it works in real life.

Compassion = No judgment
Authenticity = No deception
Freedom = No thought
Fearlessness = No ego
Love = No self

Making more of it is making it up. No need to research or study, analyze or compare. No slideware, no book, no CDs, no subscriptions. No seminars, no webcasts. No invention or interpretation.

There is only one thing for you to do. Sit down and practice. Everything else happens by itself.

Presented in public service and courtesy of a wide-eyed teacher 2,500 years ago.

Seeing in the dark

August 20th, 2008    -    12 Comments


It was past midnight when my husband nudged me in the dark. He stood by my side of the bed, fully dressed, and I was confused from early, deep dreaming.

– Can you sit with Georgia? She’s been awake for hours and I have to get some sleep.

I scrambled up. For some reason I felt happy to do it. I must have been dreaming.

In the early days, months and years, getting the tots reliably to sleep is an elusive goal, but one of those goals we keep hammering away on. We think there is some way, some place, some trick to doing it so that it sticks. Many times we hoist that congratulatory banner and do a happy dance: Mission Accomplished! But sleep is like all things, like all mysterious forces and fields. It moves in waves with the moon and moods and invisibilities. Sometimes we hit a patch, like now, when the night’s first nod is a short one, and our daughter startles awake to hours of restlessness.

It’s been a while since I was called up for this tour. Georgia prefers her daddy’s consolation at night, probably because I’m not very consoling when I have to work a double shift. Last night I went into her room and, still half-asleep, stunned her by getting under the covers of her slender twin bed. She scooched over and in minutes we were both sleeping. It was the best night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. But was I sleeping? Twisted onto a sliver of the mattress about a foot wide, ears enfolded on one side by a fuzzy dolphin, the other by a plush poodle, lulled by the gurgle of two fish tanks, I dove into a heavy doze in which I kept repeating in a marvel: I’m asleep, I’m asleep, I’m asleep. Surely, then, I was awake?

In the darkness, much later, the dog put her wet nose to mine and I rose to resettle her into the room where I had enclosed her hours before, the door still firmly latched. Perhaps that part was a dream?

Around daybreak, my daughter began to sigh and toss herself awake. We smiled and giggled at each other. It was barely 6 a.m. I told her that I’d had a good night’s sleep.

– I did too! That’s why I always wake up so early! Because I sleep so well!

This she said without any recollection of her hours of sleepless agitation. Perhaps her wakefulness was the dream? I don’t much care. I just give up, so I don’t disturb the dream. It’s the sweetest dream, and if I can keep from pinching myself, it never ends. Never, ever ends.

Photo copyright: Glenn Millington

Under the sun

July 17th, 2008    -    11 Comments


Have you ever noticed, I mean really noticed, that it’s all the bright side?

Instructions on burning a barn

June 5th, 2008    -    9 Comments

Haul the dog to the vet – she’s perfectly healed.
Sort the mail – a small stone glimmers from the stack.
Reluctant to cook – the lemon and basil take over.
Morning madness –the earth and sky kiss me at the door.
Can’t find your way – let the barn burn itself to dust.

***
Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon
– Masahide

No inside, no outside

May 21st, 2008    -    12 Comments

Another thing my dog showed me.

Just the idea of it had me pacing anxiously. But there it was in black and white:

Molly should be STRICTLY CONFINED for the next 2 months in an airline kennel, crate or equivalent.

All my doubt and consternation rammed up against this barrier. Say what? A dog? A big dog? A big running, jumping, happy-go-lucky dog? Behind bars? For how long? Say what?

Truth is, just the idea of having a dog – a healthy, ambulatory dog – had seemed confining enough to me. And now the walls were squeezed to an inconceivably narrow enclosure.

We lugged the crate into the house. It loomed over the room. Black, menacing, punitive. Her prison. Our prison.

Molly walked inside the pen. She walked inside and laid down. She laid down and relaxed. She fell asleep. She snored her doggy dreams. When she got better, we began leaving the door unlatched. She ambled in by herself, undisturbed by what you or I might judge as the cruel separation of inside and outside.

She has never been anything but completely unconfined in her confinement, because she has no idea of confinement.

Me? I have been thrashing my head against these bars all my life.

Some are a quicker study.

Good dog

May 18th, 2008    -    11 Comments


The author and Zen teacher Lin Jensen wrote a book entitled “Bad Dog!” I haven’t read it although now I want to, since Lin let me read an advance copy of his forthcoming book, “Together Under One Roof.” You will want to run out and fetch that book too as soon as it’s out. You will want to want to run and fetch and sit and stay with everything Lin writes from now on, as I do, because I have a hint of what he writes about in “Bad Dog!”

And that is that there is no such thing as a Bad Dog. Mercy me, there is no such thing.

This is what I have been learning so vividly in my relatively brief yet eventful tenure as a dog owner, in my slightly longer stint as a mother, in my considerable experience as a wife, on the bumpy road as a daughter, and even in those storied stretches when I’ve been bad at any and all of those things.

If you’ve been traveling here with me for a spell you know that Molly, our dog, came to us from my father’s house, after his death, after all other recourses failed, on good authority that if not yet altogether bad, she was probably difficult, quirky, nervous, untrained and prone to peeing on the carpet. Including his last, humiliating debilitation, those were the very things we would have said about my Dad.

Molly is none of those things, or maybe all of those things, but we just can’t tell anymore. We can’t tell because she’s such a damn Good Dog.

Her goodness was revealed to me in little bits, like milkbones, until Molly went and had herself a bad accident in March. It was the kind of accident that turns your day and night inside out for a good long while, topples your every notion of what a dog could and should do (and what you’d like to do yourself), rattles all that loose and shakes it silly.

She ruptured her ACL, the ligament behind the knee, repairable by a fabulously expensive surgery. She spent four days in the hospital and then came home with a list of post-op instructions that knocked the last bit of sense out of me. She was to be completely confined in a crate for two months, hoisted for weeks via a sling when hauled out expectantly to pee and poop, noosed for 14 days in an Elizabethan collar (a gross misnomer for its indignity) and kept painfree. I look at this list now and it doesn’t seem outrageous enough. It doesn’t seem like the list that left me deranged. We are now six weeks into the stretch, she and I, six weeks when we’ve never been closer or more dependent, and I can only say that I’m smiling now, my eyes flooding with love and appreciation, because she is such a Good Dog.

I’m dedicating this week to Molly so I can show you all the tricks she’s teaching me.

Department of flying pigs

March 17th, 2008    -    10 Comments

With intermittent frog downpours. As soon as I rhapsodize on splendor in the grass, heaven freezes over.

(It’s technically hail, not snow, but still.)

Hail by hail.

Revolutionary new weed treatment.

Silent night

December 19th, 2007    -    10 Comments

All is calm, all is bright.

Can’t you hear the quiet? We all seem to be shutting down the works this week. My friend who put her blog on semi-permanent pause; the others wisely taking hiatus hither and yon. The email slows, the work dries to a dribble and stops. We stand still and then what?

This slowing down, this shortening of the day, does it make us anxious? Does it make us afraid? Or do we hurry up elsewhere to compensate? Quick! Find a crowd. Create a stir. Start a fight.

Within light there is darkness, but do try to try to understand that darkness.

This article in yesterday’s paper lit a bulb for me. Once again, it shows us something about ourselves that we do not see. Or rather, when we do see it, we only see it superficially and seek to change it. It’s about Seasonal Affective Disorder, the name given to the obvious fact that when the days shorten we go dark as well, withdrawing into ourselves, becoming less alert, less social, and less cheerful. What struck me about the story was not the symptoms described, which seem quite normal, natural and appropriate.

Light and darkness are a pair like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.

What struck me about the article was the use of the word “disorder.” Talk about a disorder! Of course I realize that the pharmaceutical industry drives the disordering of our world, but in buying it we show what a narrow range of life and time we accept as “ordered.”

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position.

Winter is winter. Cold is cold. The branches are brittle and bare. The quiet glistens. The darkness shines. Winter is its own time, and it passes in its own way. Right now, can you appreciate things as they are? You, as you are?

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Wishing you every comfort of the season, every calm, every hush, every star blazing full in your perfect silent night. Amen.

Combining the poetic brilliance of “Silent Night” and “The Identity of Relative and Absolute.”

Your heart is in your hand

December 11th, 2007    -    15 Comments


“I need instruction. How, HOW do I realize that I am enough?” -– Lisa

I am honoring Lisa’s plea from yesterday in this post. Here, I’m going to speak as directly as I can about what true practice is. Then tomorrow I will tell you how to find a practice center. Because, for all of us, time is wasting.

There’s a lot of bullshit talk about practice. There’s a lot of talk about spirituality, wholeness, wellness, self-improvement, happiness and all that rot. I say rot because talking and reading about it is crap. It misses the point entirely. The point of everything I write is the same point of everything I do: to bring my practice to life, not just to tell you about it. Zen makes it clear that doing makes all the difference.

I saw a friend and reader over Thanksgiving who had some advice for the next book. She said, “Include more about meditation, because I can’t really do it.” I said: Exactly! Even though I encourage you to meditate at home, even though I encourage myself to meditate at home, I can’t really sustain my effort by myself, and I’ve been practicing for 15 years! My teacher recalls something said by Maezumi Roshi after he’d been practicing most of his life – more than 40 years at least – while recognized as one of the foremost Zen masters in the world. He said, “I think I’m finally starting to do it.”

The “it” I’m referring to is zazen, or Zen meditation. I’m not going to recite how to do it in this post. You can follow the instructions here, and do your best. Or you can read this book, a classic, featuring the instructions of my dharma great-grandfather. Or better yet, you can find a place that will welcome and support you and a teacher who will guide you.

There are many answers to spiritual questions and many traditions that ensue, but I will only tell you what I know from personal experience: Zazen will do what Lisa asks. It will show you that you are enough. It will show you that, in fact, you are the only thing. You are the whole world, the earth, heaven and stars. Even when you aren’t yet able to see the truth completely, zazen will totally transform your life. It worked for Buddha. It’s what the Buddha taught, and how the Buddha lived.

Now here are some responses to the questions that I imagine you might have.

What makes Zen meditation different than other kinds of meditation? It is not visualizing. It is not ruminating. It is not contemplation. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a relaxation technique. Those are all OK; they just won’t transform your life. Zazen is not done with your eyes closed. It is the discipline of stilling your body and watching with precise attentiveness – and your eyes open – to how your habitual worries, fears and anxieties rampage and ruin your life. And when you finally notice that, it helps you to kick those gangsters out of the house.

What is it supposed to be like? Here are two warning signs to watch for with meditation. (1) Beware if you like meditation, because you’re probably not really doing it. Sorry. At least for the first 39 years (joke), meditation is difficult. Your mind and your body will revolt against it. It is a discipline. It is a crisis intervention. You are withdrawing from your lifetime addiction to your self-involved, ego-driven thoughts. Hear this: you are not destroying your ego; you are not going brain dead; you are putting your overblown head on a diet. (2) Beware if you don’t like meditation, because no one does at first, and if you think you’re the only one who doesn’t enjoy it you will stop right there. This practice works when you keep doing it in spite of your preferences. This practice IS going beyond preferences, your picking-and-choosing mind. When you keep it up, practice deepens. It grows. It takes time to recognize and relax into peace of mind instead of darting madly for the exit. Misery, you see, is an addiction too.

How do I prepare myself? There is no way and no need to prepare yourself. You simply begin. Telling yourself you have to prepare before you begin a meditation practice is just setting up false expectations of how it is supposed to be. The best preparation is the state of mind expressed in Lisa’s question: heartfelt insistence, urgency and the raw vulnerability of having nothing left to lose. That’s where I started too.

Tomorrow I will tell you where and when to find people who can help you. And because that’s not soon enough, you have in your hands the means to find it yourself. Start right now. Do it all wrong, because there is no wrong. Do not waste another minute waiting for the right way or the right day or the right place or the right anything.

I wish I could say more, but I cannot say enough. Please see it for yourself.

And if you’re not interested in meditation practice, forget all this, but be sure to visit Lisa anyway and practice kindness. It’s the same thing and in equally short supply.

Enough thoughts on practice

December 10th, 2007    -    15 Comments


I thought if I grew up, did good, and made everyone proud of me, it would be enough.
I thought if I got a good job, got a better job, made money, and then made even more money, it would be enough.
I thought if I met the right person, fell in love, got married, got a house, wised up, moved on, met the really right person, got remarried, and got a better house it would be enough.
I thought if I didn’t get pregnant, or if I did get pregnant, if I had a child, or if I didn’t have a child, it would be enough.
I thought if I could ever again sleep through the night, take a shower, get beyond the first three months, get beyond diapers, get through potty training, get past the ear infections, and into the right kindergarten, it would be enough.
I thought if I could lose ten pounds, get a better haircut, get the right jeans, get a different hair color, lose ten pounds, lose the same ten pounds, or just accept my hair and body the way they were, it would be enough.
I thought if I made everything healthy, organic, and by hand, with an occasional pizza night thrown in, it would be enough.
I thought if I went to Italy, France, New York, India, Big Sur, China, Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Seattle, Sedona, Indonesia, Orlando or just Kansas City it would be enough.
I thought if I ate, prayed and loved enough, it would be enough.
I thought if I could understand, explain, and express my feelings, it would be enough.
I thought it I could write a book and get it published, it would be enough.
I thought if I had the right luck, attitude, information, and inspiration; I thought if I wished, hoped, dared or dreamed enough, then it would finally be enough.
Then I thought: enough.

I practice being enough. When I do that, everything, already, is enough.

Off to get one little girl past an ear infection. Or two.

Perfect as you are

December 6th, 2007    -    15 Comments


Like a lot of news, this article has me laughing and weeping. “Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You’re Just a Perfectionist” poses the New York Times in one of the more ridiculous examples of news, let alone medical news, in recent circus history. Pity the poor perfectionists. Not only are they imperfect, but they’re also depressed. They drink too much and they sleep too little. They don’t eat right. They have a really hard time.

This is like squinting to read a headline that says, “Need Reading Glasses? Maybe You’re Just Too Old.” Now that would be news.

The stunted logic and stumbling blindness of psychological science amazes me. Because, like, where are the non-perfectionists? Are they in a secret society with the I. AM. NOT. A. CONTROL. FREAKS ???!!!!!

Let’s face it. We’re all perfectionists. We’re all control freaks. Some of us deal with our perfectionism by trying really hard. Some of us deal with it by trying really hard not to try hard. How do I know that? Because we’re human beings. We all have thinking minds, the picking-and-choosing mind, and we judge. Can’t be otherwise. We judge everything as good or bad and no matter how hard we try to be good we judge ourselves as not-so-good. Isn’t that what we all agree on about life in general: We’re human. We’re imperfect. That sounds like it settles the matter; only it just settles it on the side of imperfection! It’s still a judgment. Who needs that? Remove the self-judgment and we are what we are.

“Mommy, I’m too dumb for second grade!”

Georgia was wailing on Monday morning before school. She moaned and rolled in bed, begging for an out. The reason? She was going to have a math test.

Don’t get me started on the lunacy of school testing, and the absurdity that such educational “improvement” was championed by none other than the child tyrant of mediocrity. School is what it is, and it’s a lot like the rest of life. One thing after another.

“I thought you said you liked tests,” I reminded her, and it was true. That comment put a swing in my step just a week ago.

“I like them when I get 100%,” she quivered.

Ah yes, don’t we all? Diagnosis complete. She’s a certifiable problem child, a syndrome, a case. Only I happen to see that she’s perfect as she is.

PS. Intervention averted. She got 100%.

Because some of you are getting so kissing close to seeing what true practice is, I’m going to dwell a bit on that next week. Let me entice you by saying true practice is the way out of perfectionism, the only way, and it has you laughing as you go.

***
Get started now! Choose the perfect, and perfectly inscribed, gift for every mother on your list right here.

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