Posts Tagged ‘Writing Life’

fresh picked

June 14th, 2013    -    6 Comments

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I forgot the way I had come. —Kanzan

The buds appear in early winter and bloom through early spring. Theirs is the perfume of youth, the scent of morning. They number in the thousands, perfect star-shaped flowers caressed by eager breezes until nearly all of them loosen and fall. Those left behind—about one in a hundred—have been spared by the iffy wind and weather. They stay on the branch until they form a tiny fruit, hard and green, hidden among the dark leaves. Plumped on full sun and fed by deep water, they grow round and soft. Their skin becomes thin; their color turns radiant.

One tree can produce up to three hundred oranges per year. Mature fruit lasts for months on a branch without ruin, long enough for two crops to be stored on the tree at once: the old and the new. Pick an orange from a tree in my front yard and its rind may be dirty or scarred, slightly shriveled, the color uneven, bulbous, shrunken: no two are alike. But under the layers of skin, scars, and dust, there is goodness, you see, pure goodness untempered by time. Once you taste it, you know for sure.

If you were offered a glass filled with life at its undiluted prime, would you refuse, preferring to gnaw on the bitter rind? That’s what we do when we cannot move past the past: we keep swallowing the sour and never reach the sweet.

Of all the splendors in this patch of paradise, these old trees are most dear to me. They are susceptible to disease, afflicted by parasites and flies, brittle and arthritic. On appearance, they’ve exhausted their stay. But season after season they carry on in continuous production. Their aroma is always fresh; their taste wakes me up. Oranges are in my blood. They are the family business. My grandfather grew oranges and he taught me how to eat them. He was the best grandfather you could ever have. The best ancestors teach you to forget, and when you learn their secrets, they give you the best reason to forgive.

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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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.

a forest of emptiness

May 29th, 2013    -    8 Comments

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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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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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a piece of paradise

May 3rd, 2013    -    17 Comments

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This is an excerpt from my next book Paradise in Plain Sight, coming next spring from New World Publishing.

The blue sky and bright day,
No more searching around!
Mumon’s Verse, Gateless Gate, Case 30

And then I saw the garden.

I’m going to slow down and choose my words carefully. Not because the garden is hard to describe, but because I want you to see.

Sometimes people come to the garden and say, “It’s so much smaller than I thought.” Or “It’s so much bigger than I thought.” Or “It’s not at all what I thought.” They have created a picture in their minds of what the garden would look like, or what it should look like, and when they see the real thing they aren’t seeing it at all, but comparing it to the picture in their minds. We cherish the pictures in our minds. We prize our fantasies or they wouldn’t be our fantasies, perfected with every wish. Nearly everything we cherish is just a picture: our ambitions and ideals, size 4 or 6 or 8; our notions of what happy families and their homes should look like (not this); the past, the future; our vision of love, lovers, and life ever after. The picture might even be a nightmare—frightening and forlorn—but we cherish it just the same.

Sometimes people come to the garden and say, “I had no idea.” Then they don’t say anything else, because they are actually seeing the garden. They are actually seeing what is right in front of them, and experiencing it. Then nothing needs to be said.

I had no idea what to expect when my husband called me to the kitchen. By this time we’d entered the house, and because it was empty, we did not take offense at what we saw. Empty rooms are full of possibilities. Possibility is full of love.

“You should see this,” he said.

I stepped into the kitchen where he stood at a plate glass window, looking out.

And then I saw the garden.

I saw a multitude of greens, iridescent greens. The glint of rocks and sunbleached stones. Red bark and burnished branches. The sheen on still water. The light on a hill. A foreground, a background: the seamless whole of three dimensions. Colors with no names because I wasn’t naming them. Beauty beyond measure because I wasn’t measuring it. A view unspoiled because I wasn’t judging it. The shine of the sky making everything visible, everything vivid, even the shadows, with the radiance of being alive.

This was not a picture of a garden. This was not a picture that I could ever conjure from memory or make-believe. This was true life, so unexpected it made me cry.

Now do you see? When you see your life, you bring it to life. When you don’t see your life, it is lifeless.

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telling

April 14th, 2013    -    44 Comments

bracha_amulet_2Every now and then someone will write to me and say, “It feels like you are reading my mind. It’s so comforting to know that I’m not alone. You have a way of writing exactly what I need to hear at the moment I need to hear it.”

Other people will pipe up and say about me, “She is so not me. I can’t relate to her at all. We’d never click in person. I dislike the way she writes as if her story is exactly the same as any mother’s story.”

Whatever people say is revealing, because whether we realize it or not, we are always telling a story about ourselves.

Stories are universal. We think that our story is unique and special. Particularly painful, particularly wise, particularly interesting. What really matters is when we see that our stories are the same, because then we see the invisible connection between us—a greater truth than told in the particulars. For that moment, we stop judging each other and begin sharing what lies beneath the story: love.

Here are two pieces of storytelling I want to share with you today.

Amulet: Spring 2013

First, a community of wildly creative women has collaborated on the spring edition of an online magazine called Amulet. A friend asked me to spread the word, and this is what she said. See if it doesn’t sound familiar.

“We have poured endless love and guts into it, and you know the drill—being mothers and workers and creators—whoa. But we are so in love with doing what we do.

If you aren’t familiar, Amulet is a field guide for seasonal living that includes inspiration to help us keep connecting with the earth under our feet, the world around us, and the universe inside us through prose, DIY, recipes, herbal stuff, book stuff, music, hand made goods—every day life stuff. ”

Sounds like my stuff.

Lost in Living

In January I shared the story of a new documentary about the intersection of motherhood and artistic expression, Lost in Living. Filmed over seven years, Lost In Living confronts the contradictions inherent in personal ambition and self-sacrifice, female friendship and mental isolation, big projects and dirty dishes. The response was amazing. Many of you wanted to know how you could see it. Now you can. While the film makes its way around the country in public screenings, it is also now available on DVD. I have a copy of the DVD to give away to a reader who comments on this post anytime this week.

You will know if it’s your story. All stories are your stories. They tell you that you are not alone.

The winner for this giveaway has been chosen and notified. Thank you for entering.

the best chocolate cake

February 14th, 2013    -    53 Comments

DoubleChocolateSnackingCakeForkMy father-in-law was a simple man, and the things he said could ring with unintended clarity.

Every time he ate something, like a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, he would say, “This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted!” He meant it, and it was true, because it came from the exuberance of a mind emptied of critical thought. A mind like that can seem silly and childlike. It is, and that’s what makes it so wise.

Last night I finished a small book that was the best chocolate cake, and I’d love for you to taste it. At the start, you might not think this kind of cake is for you. Nearing middle age, a man faces himself honestly, courageously, admitting that he is gay, a liar, a cheater, a thief, a phony, a creep, a mindless alcoholic and ugly drug addict, and here’s the sweet spot—despite his serial failure at suicide—he wants to live. Does this sound even remotely like your kind of chocolate?

He envisions for himself the sort of idealistic quest that is the stuff of parody. He travels to India in search of enlightenment. What you find in India is, well, India. And what you find on a quest is yourself. But he tells his story with such beauty and feeling, such flavor and artistry, that I could not resist the whole thing.

At the end of the book, he is finishing his trip with a trek to Nepal in the company of a young guide and porter. His months of meditations and mantras, vows and renunciations seem to have failed. On the trail he is back to being angry and resentful, feeling foolish and even exploited. The objects of his spite are the two poor servants who are attending him. Does this sound even remotely like what happens daily in your kitchen, your home, your neighborhood, your world?

I remember the promise I made to myself to keep my heart, mind and senses open for the rest of my stay. My journey was coming to an end too fast. There was no more time to drift off in daydreams, or to lose myself in petty complaints. But all that resolve had flown off like a bird from an untended cage and the hours given over to anger and self-cherishing are now gone forever. What sights, sounds and joys did I miss as I sealed myself off from the world?

This is the practice. Watching my actions, watching my words, watching my mind every day. It does not only occur at holy pilgrimage sites or on retreats or in the presence of great spiritual masters. It occurs everyday, with the people who are with me right now, in this time, in this place.

“Hey, Chris!” my guide waves to me with a big smile. “Your dinner is ready.”

He wipes off a seat on the rough little bench and hands me a bowl of stew and when I look down into the steam and the goodness of it, I already know it will be the best meal I have ever tasted.

I really, sincerely, wholeheartedly recommend The Narrow Way by Chris Lemig. Buy yourself two copies: one for you, one for a friend. Leave a comment below and you could win the copy I’m giving away on Friday.

Update: The winner of the book is commenter #12, Robin Gaphni, whose blog is Grief & Gratitude.

There is still time to register for the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat on Sun., Feb. 24 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in LA.

 

uncaged

January 27th, 2013    -    5 Comments

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Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.

When they are young, our children can seem like the tiny thorns to our bloom: our creative yearnings confined. As they grow up, our children can seem like the blooms to our thorn: their freedoms caged.

And yet, our longings are the same, two parts of an indivisible whole: life’s longing for itself.

I’m excited to share two upcoming events that examine motherhood as the unfolding of a creative journey. I hope you let yourself out of the house and come, where you are certain to meet a part of yourself you thought you’d lost.

Lost in Living
A full-length documentary by Mary Trunk
Friday, Feb. 1, 6:30 p.m.
Free, or a $5 charitable donation to benefit the All Saints Foster Care Project
All Saints Church
132 Euclid Ave.
Pasadena

Behind the domestic curtain of motherhood, where the creative impulse can flourish or languish, are four women determined to make a go of it. Filmed over seven years, Lost In Living confronts the contradictions inherent in personal ambition and self-sacrifice, female friendship and mental isolation, big projects and dirty dishes. The complex realities of family life unfold in this documentary film about the messy intersection of motherhood and artistic expression.

Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment
Discussion and book signing by Katrina Kenison
Friday, Feb. 8, 7 p.m.
Free
Vroman’s Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena

“No longer indispensable, no longer assured of our old carefully crafted identities, no longer beautiful in the way we were at twenty or thirty or forty, we are hungry and searching nonetheless.”

An inspiring, beautiful book for every woman whose children are growing up, but who is not done growing herself. Kenison explores the belief that even as old identities are outgrown, new ones begin to beckon, inspiring readers to summon enough courage to heed the call.

Heed the call.

(If you subscribe by email and are unable to see the trailer below, click here.)

a book of faith

December 25th, 2012    -    6 Comments

Perhaps you have a new tablet, e-reader, or gift card. What should you do with it? Exercise your faith.

Many of the great books I’ve read this year have been faith stories. Some of them, accounts of indomitable spirit, like Unbroken and Wild.  Others, masterpieces by divinely gifted artists for whom writing itself is realized faith.

In one sense, every book you read is a faith journey, starting where you are and taking you who knows where, but these are ones that have illuminated the way for me.

imagesGilead
By Marilynne Robinson

All the stars in heaven shine on Gilead. This is the most stunning articulation of living truth I’ve ever read. It is plain and real, resonant, poignant, honest, sweet, and thoroughly complete. After I finished, I prayed, and my prayers were answered. So I need to read it again.

images-2The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
By Rachel Joyce

This book stole every beat of my wandering heart. It will change you, even before you finish. I received it as an audio book from a wise and generous reader, and was immersed in astonishment. It was a genuine marvel, and a good cry.

kenison-book-coverMagical Journey
By Katrina Kenison

This book is days away from debut, so you won’t have to wait long to start. Here my friend Katrina faces the question that haunts every mother’s empty house and every woman’s passage beyond midlife. What now? Every page shines with beauty and pulses with truth.

I’ll be welcoming Katrina to my favorite bookstore on her West Coast tour in a few weeks. Please mark your calendar and share an hour of faith with us at Vroman’s Bookstore at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8.

And now I’m off to sit the year-end retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. Because all the talk of faith is merely talk until you start walking.

Happy New Year!

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a life in a day

October 30th, 2012    -    5 Comments

Would you walk us through a typical day in your life?

Oh dear! It’s just like yours, literally. I’m the first up and into the kitchen. (I love a quiet house at dawn.) I feed the dog, make a breakfast that my daughter is likely to ignore. I check e-mail, and begin the daylong practice of responding to whatever appears. I quickly make the bed, get dressed, drive my daughter to school, take an exercise class and then I’m home again for the dog walk. I have a grand scheme of what I’d like to do each day, but am usually overtaken by small practicalities and urgencies. Sometimes the big thing on my list is something as little as pruning the azaleas! I do a little bit of writing here and there, sometimes for the blog, an article or something longer. Words sing to me all day long, and every now and then I catch one or two! My daughter is out of school at 2:30, the afternoon falls, I cook dinner, run the vacuum, finish a load of laundry, take my daughter to gymnastics. Before bed I sit on my cushion, and this is how I keep company with all the ancestors who have come before me. Then I let the day be done. I never regret what I haven’t done. Even as I write this I am overwhelmed with gratitude that this right here is my life. Who could want more?

. . . Read more of the interview on Mama Here Now.

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giving a way

September 21st, 2012    -    126 Comments

The best thing about my work is that it gives me the freedom to give. Here are four brand new books I’m offering as gifts. Read the descriptions below and leave a comment telling me which one(s) you’d wish for. Winners will be drawn by random at the end of the day Wednesday, Sept. 26, so make a choice while you’re here.

Everything is the WayThese days, when Zen has become a kind of shorthand for anything that’s enigmatic or aesthetically spare, it’s refreshing be reminded that Zen is at heart a practice for waking up from the dream we inhabit—in order to free ourselves from the suffering the dream imposes on us. Elihu Genmyo Smith’s Zen teaching never loses sight of that central concern: Whether it takes the form of zazen (meditation), koan work, or just eating your breakfast, the aim of Zen practice is nothing other than intimacy with ourselves and everything around us.

Turning Dead Ends Into Doorways — Whether we like it or not, control is an illusion. God and the universe laugh when we make plans. We can try hard to materialize something—a new job, the perfect body, trust, our dream partner, inner peace—without success. And sometimes life deals unexpected blows: illness, divorce, or death. With practical honesty and humor, healing practitioner Staci Boden introduces eight teachers to help us navigate the unknown in daily life—fear, awareness, choice, body, intuition, energy, intention and surrender.

Growing Happy KidsA book designed to help parents, teachers and adults cultivate a deeper sense of confidence and ultimately, happiness in their children. Maureen Healy brings together western science and eastern wisdom in a simple yet profound approach to cultivating confidence. It begins with the “Five Building Blocks of Confidence” supported by pediatricians, child psychiatrists, educational specialists and teachers across multiple spiritual traditions.

The Mindful Way through Pregnancy — Pregnancy is a time of wonder and of momentous change, both emotionally and physically, filled with excitement and awe but also with great uncertainty and vulnerability. This book-and-audio program brings together writings and simple daily practices for bringing the transformative power of mindfulness to this special time. This book includes a new essay from me on childbirth, so I will sign this book as a personal birthday gift from me.

Thank you so much, everyone, for reading this blog and being unafraid to ask for what you need. All winners have been notified.

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no way over but through

September 4th, 2012    -    7 Comments

I’m a guest teacher this month at  Shambhala Publication’s Under 35 Project, where the topic is Experiencing Loss.

Under 35 is a site for young meditators to write about finding, beginning and encouraging a mindfulness practice. I hope you’ll visit and read this month’s submissions. If you’re a writer looking for a new venue, or a practitioner looking for support, please consider writing a short essay and contributing it to the site. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re under 35 or not. I view age limitations the same way I view loss: there’s no way over but through, and getting through is what makes a difference.

This remind me of a passage I came across in James Ishmael Ford’s book Zen Master Who? 

There are numerous stories about Maezumi Roshi’s teaching style, but one I particularly like has to do with a student who had been a professional dancer.

As recounted in Sean Murphy’s One Bird, One Stone, the student had badly hurt one of her feet in an accident and was forced to retire from the stage. Embarrassed by her injury, she always kept her foot covered with a sock. In her first interview she asked Maezumi a question about her Zen practice. But he answered, “Never mind that. Tell me about your foot.” She was reluctant to talk but he insisted. She told him the story, weeping, and even took off her sock and showed him her foot.

Maezumi placed his hand silently on her foot. She looked up to find that he was crying too. Their exchanges went on like this for some time. Every time she asked the roshi about her practice, he’d ask about her foot instead, and they’d cry together. “You might think you have suffered terrible karma,” Maezumi told her, “But this is not the right way to think. Practice is about learning to turn disadvantage to great advantage.” Finally the day came when the student walked into the interview room and began to tell her teacher about her injury, but it summoned no tears from her. “Never mind about that,” Maezumi told her. “Let’s talk about your practice.”

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23 in LA.

The Art of Non-Parenting: Discovering the Wisdom of Easy, and Deeper Still: Breath & Meditation Workshop on Oct. 20-21 in Wash. DC.

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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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