Posts Tagged ‘Truth’

that jerk saved my life

September 23rd, 2013    -    16 Comments

Zazen

I am concerned that in the process of making a business out of all this your sense of compassion is going out the window. I do not see a person in tune with others’ suffering. I see a lack of humility.

This is the kind of correction that can knock you back a bit when it appears in your inbox. I suppose I don’t get much criticism, all things considered.  I’m sure it can’t compare to the uninvited trouble foisted onto the rich and famous—but even a near-miss can level you, make you stagger and tumble onto the rocks where you scuff your knees and pick the scabs for a good while after.

He thinks this is a business?

That’s when you might see that the unwelcome blow was in fact an act of compassion. Why? Because it stops you. It interrupts your monologue. It commands your attention. And if you feel unjustly injured, you can take a good look at where that injury comes from, where it resides, and what sustains it.

Only the thoughts in my head.

Anything that interferes with the flow of thoughts in your head is compassionate. Why? Because what we think isn’t real. It is delusion. More than delusion, it is death. And that’s how we live most of the time—as if dead—arguing, defending, judging and debating with ourselves, by ourselves, and then projecting our upsets onto the real world. The internet seems to make this projection easier and even painless. It’s so easy to sound smart and clever, raw and biting, in a comment box. It’s so easy to argue, attack, and rebut. But it’s hard to stop.

All this digital carrying-on while we might not even pause to say hello to a single real, live person we pass on the street today.

Real compassion requires that you go out the window.

There is a part of the message that would have been laughable if I’d been of a mind to laugh: the “business” part. This isn’t a business. I don’t ask you for money. There is no enterprise here. I’ve dressed up the joint, but behind the curtain I’m just an old, poor, woman. By old I mean I turn 57 on Thursday. By poor I mean I don’t earn any money. The amount I’m paid to write a book every four years falls beneath the one-person poverty line. I write to myself and for myself, and if you encounter it, it is free or next-to-free for the taking. And by all means, be compassionate with yourself and discard whatever I say if it doesn’t make sense to you. Suffering is voluntary. You can opt out at anytime.

Compassion is a stick.

In the Zen tradition, there is something called a “waking stick.” It is a long, flat wooden stick used during meditation periods of long retreats. A monitor walks behind the backs of meditators, stick in hand, totally alert and watching for people who place their palms together and bow slightly, which is the gesture that means, “hit me.” Ask to be hit? Would anyone ever ask to be hit? If the business at hand is waking up, and you are cramped, sleepy, bored, or in pain, yes, you might ask for the stick. The monitor wields it swiftly, delivering a jolt of energy to the soft pad of muscles between the shoulders. It hurts! But you wake up, the pain dissipates, and then you realize, “That jerk saved my life.”

The stick is called the stick of compassion. It comes only when you ask for it.

The business of a buddha.

This is not a business, but there is a business here, and it is the only business worth pursuing. Compassion is the business of a buddha. A buddha’s work is to wake up. I’m here because I have more work to do. I always have more work to do. I offer this commentary as proof of how much work I’ve yet to do.

Good advice from a good friend.

That’s what I wrote back to the guy. And it’s true. But the real correction is what comes after.

Don’t make anything more out of it.

***

Photo: A. Jesse Jiryu Davis.

 

a forest of emptiness

May 29th, 2013    -    8 Comments

IMG_5614

 

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep prajna paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.

Heart Sutra

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. This single phrase is the summation of the Buddhist path, the culminating insight of the Way. But having uttered it, I’ve already strayed from it. Having read it, you’ve missed it, because now your mind is running amok trying to understand it, and here I am trying to chase after you. So let’s come back together in one big, empty place, and start over.

What looks solid is not solid; what has no shape comes in all shapes. In a physical sense, bamboo is strong because it is hollow. It is supple and resilient; it bends without breaking. It supports incredible weight. It grows unimpeded by any known barrier, spreading outward everywhere. This is true of you, too. Where do you think you begin and end? Your feet? Your head? Your skin? Your eyes, nose, mouth, ears? Your thoughts, memory, feelings? The way we limit ourselves imposes a bunker mentality and defies scientific reality.

It helps to remember what you took on faith in fourth grade science. All matter is composed of atoms. Atoms are mostly empty space. By definition you can’t see emptiness, but you can be it. Now, to live and let live in emptiness. That’s the secret to paradise.

First, be quiet. Give away your ideas, self-certainty, judgments, and opinions. Let go of defenses and offenses. Face your critics. They will always outnumber you.

Lose all wars. All wars are lost to begin with. Abandon your authority and entitlements. Release your self-image: status, power, whatever you think gives you clout. It doesn’t, not really. That’s a lie you’ve never believed.

Give up your seat. Be what you are: unguarded, unprepared, unequipped and surrounded on all sides. Alone, you are a victim of no one and nothing.

What appears in front of you is your liberation. That is, unless you judge it. Then you imprison yourself again.

Now that you are free, see where you are. Observe what is needed. Do good quietly. If it’s not done quietly, it’s not good.

Start over. Always start over.

Excerpted from the upcoming book Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

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a moment of shame

March 24th, 2013    -    20 Comments

Let it be well understood: once desire for the truth arises, the desire for fame and riches will disappear in a moment.
– Dogen Zenji

I worked for a few days on a blog post. It expressed my feelings perfectly—outrage, cynicism, moral superiority—but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it up. Then I saw this quote and it corrected me instantly! I was ashamed of my bluster and threw it out.

There’s a lot of psycho/spiritual talk out there. Shame on me if I add to it. All around me are better teachers innocently delivering an instantaneous correction. Who don’t busy themselves talking mighty talk while sitting on comfy sofas or chairs. The purity of their faith and the discipline of their practice humbles me.

When it comes to authenticity and humility, I’ll throw in my lot with a Pope who rides the bus. For courage and vulnerability, I’ll take the TV host who trades fame for farming. For gratitude and compassion, look to the billionaire who gives 99 percent of his wealth to charity. For a teacher, follow anyone who actually gets down on the ground and helps sick babies and teen mothers and old people, the homeless, hopeless and unwanted—while unpaid and unseen.

As for me, I hardly help anyone at all except when I roll down my window at the stoplight and hand a dollar bill to the lost soul on the corner. That’s my master class. I can really learn from people who don’t try to teach me a thing. Who aren’t selling me a credential or an e-course.  People who have more important things to be than right or wise or popular.

Let me well understand myself. Let me be quiet. Let me do good.

 

the way to let go

September 30th, 2012    -    12 Comments

There are few names and no dates on the photos. Together, they span fifty years.  The oldest are bound in a half-torn album tied with a limp shoelace.

The pictures begin with my lithe and lovely grandmother, no more than a teenager, posed alluringly against a tree trunk in a grassless yard. In another, she has arranged herself on top of railroad tracks. Here she is, a poor girl wearing new clothes, and her hair is marcelled. There are pictures of other young women, her friends or sisters; they take turns wearing a fur-trimmed coat. This is their dress-up; these are their aspirations. They have taken pictures to show how desperately they want to get out from the pictures. Cross the tracks. Leave home.

Oh, how you know the feeling.

Many pictures have been ripped from the pages. Glued to the front, as if a new title, the first page remade when the album filled, is a photo labeled “Jim Jimmie Erma,” a family portrait. My father, little Jimmie, looks about four years old. His father holds the boy close in his thick arms, taking responsibility. My grandmother stands alongside wearing the coat and traveling hat. They are squinting into the daylight.

From this vantage point, I can see the secrets and scars in their unblemished faces. They confess to me of future crimes and punishments. Even as an innocent, my father looks exactly as I feared him, a fact that strikes me as peculiar only when I consider that my daughter will see her own hysterical mother in my cherub-cheeked baby pictures. The mother she will misjudge and misunderstand, the mother she might reject and revile, until one day she doesn’t.

But I am going to erase all that—everything I think I see—and give them a fresh start. I’m going to give them what I would if they were my own children, or if they were me. Because they are me. I’m going to give them love. read more

with no help from me

August 12th, 2012    -    15 Comments

for Jena

I can’t remember when we first talked
the middle of March, end of September
before a shower, after walking the dog
third cup of coffee gone cold
beyond the particulars
of hot and cold
before and after
March or September
You must be so busy
she might have said when she called
because everyone says that
She asked questions
that weren’t the real questions
And one more thing
I answered without answering
what, I can’t remember
but she remembers
everything, that is,
with the kind of memory you don’t keep
the way the old message floats up from an empty pad
ghost words birthed by a pencil rubbing
Don’t miss this
the way the ancient turtle returns to shore
a heavy bellied resurrection
against the tides of extinction

I always invite folks to get in touch with me, and some do. Accept invitations, that is. Jena Strong is one who does. I honestly can’t remember the first time we talked. There was a second time, and maybe a third, and then two meetings, one on each coast. Whenever the need or opportunity arose. Sometimes it sounded like we were talking about writing, or ambition, marriage, money, career, or children. But we weren’t really talking about that. What passed between us—what passes in-between the words—is truth.

Jena is a poet who wrote poems nearly every day while believing she should be doing something else. Isn’t that what we do? Endure the life we think of as kinda-sorta, not yet real, a stepping stone, a holding pattern? And then one day she stopped believing she should be anything other than who she was. She just published her first collection of poems, Don’t Miss This, a memoir, with no help from me.

This poem is a tribute because she reminds me that we’re all poets. If you read, you’re a poet. If you write, you’re a poet. If you speak, listen, shout, cry, rant, sing, live or die, you’re a poet. Every moment expressing the eternal truth beyond the particulars.

As a writer, I like to give away books. But I like it more when someone buys them with no help from me,  so please don’t miss this.

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the ones who don’t win

August 5th, 2012    -    17 Comments

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

The fear of drowning is such an intelligent fear.

The instructor asked her how old she was.

“Five,” the girl answered.

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

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

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

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

faded letters

April 2nd, 2012    -    12 Comments

If you really want to change, live by someone’s last words. These are with me this week.

Be yourself, and take good care of your family. — Mom

I can’t wait until then. — Dad

It’s very beautiful over there. — Thomas Edison

Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow. — Steve Jobs

I am being shown the most amazing things. — Dominique de Menil

This is all an elaborate hoax. — Roger Ebert

Does nobody understand? — James Joyce

It’s all been very interesting. — Lady Montagu

You are wonderful. — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Don’t make a great commotion over nothing. — Zen master Tozan

Today you will be with me in paradise. — Jesus

Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears as so much straw. — Thomas Aquinas

For all eternity, I love you. — President James Polk

Good night my darlings, I’ll see you tomorrow. — Noel Coward

optical illusion

March 22nd, 2012    -    7 Comments

“The moon follows us wherever we go.” My daughter said this when she was about three, gazing up out of a car window. And she was right. The moon has not yet and never will leave her sky. I’ve heard others tell of their little ones, usually no more than three or four, seeing the same intimate companionship in the sun and stars. Little children still experience themselves — correctly, I might add — as the axis in a spectacular universe, not apart from, but immersed in its shining seas. They haven’t been taught to know more, as we have; they haven’t been instructed to think less of what and where they are.

“That’s an optical illusion,” a well-meaning someone will soon insert into this teachable moment. “It only looks that way because the moon is so big, 3,476 kilometers across, and you are so small, 384,400 kilometers away.” The child sinks back inside the stiff straps of her car seat, which isn’t in the front seat, she notices, but in the safest, smallest notch in the back, where all the wonders are explained away.

a memoirist’s lament

January 30th, 2012    -    8 Comments

“Too many notes.” — Emperor Joseph II’s criticism to Mozart

Truth is, I don’t consider anything I’ve ever written to be a memoir. I don’t even think I tell stories. I un-tell stories. I unwind plots. I silence my narrator. I do this by listening.

I’m not the virtuoso on the stage. I’m the emperor in the audience. Dumb, dull, and frankly, unimpressed by the racket.

When I write I call myself a diamond cutter. That sounds fancy until you realize that it’s usually just a hairy guy with a chisel. Perhaps I should call myself a sausage stuffer. Some days I’m more like an orange juicer. The point is, I have something in my hands, something we all have — blood, bones and guts — and my job is to turn it into something else. A gem. Or a healthy part of a balanced breakfast.

I start writing when I am sick of my story, sick of its sound, smell and taste. And so I cut it open, air it out, let it go, and then it turns into a larger story, one I hadn’t ever heard before, spilling across the page. It becomes everyone’s story, which we call the truth. And then it’s done.

I’m not even interested in other people’s stories, especially if by page 153 it’s obvious that they aren’t going to turn it into something else. These are the books I don’t finish. Nonfiction that makes itself sacred becomes a lie. Yes, I understand you are still very sad/angry/confused. Write back when you get work.

So imagine my surprise when I saw who’s visiting Butler University in Indianapolis on Feb. 15.

Zen memoirist Karen Maezen Miller
“Memoirs of a Zen Priest”
Talk and book signing
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.
The Efroymson Center for Creative Writing
Butler University, Indianapolis

Come anyway, come anyway! It’s free and open to the public. I’ll be talking about oranges, with sausages on the side.

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what how when

October 3rd, 2011    -    4 Comments

What? How? When? These are the questions on everyone’s mind, especially those who have come to their first retreat or dharma talk and had their heads turned by the truth.

These are small steps, because all steps are small, and taking small steps is the only way to go places.

1. Buy a zafu – proof that you are committed to the practice of sanity.
2. Put the zafu in plain sight – on the floor in your bedroom, where you see it first thing when you wake up and last thing before you go to bed. Your first public profession of faith occurs in the privacy of your home.
3. Sit on it – From time to time, just a few minutes at a time, the way you’ve been shown.
4. Look for a place to practice – Google “zen” and the name of your town or state and see what turns up. Something will always turn up when and where you least expect it.
5. Visit practice centers and teachers – You don’t know what is out there until you take a step, any step, in any direction. You are your own pilot, navigator and passenger.
6. Start a sitting group – It could be in a spare room, at a school, in a yoga studio, church, community center, anywhere. Just decide that on a certain day of the week or month you will show up with your new zafu. Let other people know. Keep showing up and keep letting people know.
7. See how it goes. – It always goes. You may not know the what or the when, but you already know the only thing that matters: how to take a step.

In the meantime, there’s this:

Beginner’s Mind one-day meditation retreat in LA Sunday, Oct. 9

your child’s peril

September 26th, 2011    -    27 Comments

Dear Dr. Neuroscientist:
Please help us grow up to be safe.
Signed,
The Kindergarten Class of 2012

Last weekend I saw a story in the New York Times that made my head explode. Those of you who have heard me speak about “my head exploding” know that it is a clever metaphor for when my head actually explodes. The story in the paper was this:

Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril

I have a vested interest in this story, since I – gasp! ­– delayed kindergarten at my child’s peril. (Actually, she delayed it herself by refusing to go.) The gist of the story is that a couple of neuroscientists did some math and concluded that if you keep your child from starting school until he or she is a year older it won’t deliver a measurable competitive advantage. Boo hoo. Here’s the money graph:

In a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age.

Say what? The findings, in my book, are benign and irrelevant. What mattered more to me was the word “peril.” Who in their right mind would put the word “peril” in the same sentence with the word “kindergarten,” provoking the subtle suggestion of child endangerment, ensuring that the article would be the number one e-mailed article for days after?

The answer is, someone playing on your fear that you are ruining your child’s life. And someone who wrote a book about it. Yes, these kind of grotesque generalizations and implied consequences are always about selling something you think you don’t have, telling you something you think you don’t know, and convincing you – by way of arcane statistics – of your worst fear: that you are a terrible, rotten and not very good parent, making the kind of irreparable mistakes that will condemn your child to second place, a lowly Von Winklevoss to a triumphant Zuckerberg. read more

in the absence of tiger woods

August 14th, 2011    -    9 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the rolls of a lifetime

July 16th, 2011    -    5 Comments

The role of a parent in the life of a child: Patience
The role of a child in the life of a parent: Impatience
The role of a partner in the life of a relationship: Acceptance
The role of a relationship in the life of a partner: Irritation
The role of a teacher in the life of a student: Demonstration
The role of a student in the life of a teacher: Attention
The role of toil, trouble, disappointment and inconvenience: Service
The role of anger: Equanimity
The role of hatred: Love
The role of enemies: Harmony
The role of community: Solitude
The role of light, food, shelter and air: Generosity
The role of the self:  None*

*Which means replace the empty roll while you’re at it.

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