Posts Tagged ‘Writing Life’

here because of you

December 19th, 2011    -    12 Comments

To the woman pulling out of the parking lot on Friday who rolled her window down and said, “Are you Momma Zen?”
To the ones who asked.
And the ones who came.
To the one who wrote, “If I’d known what your workshop was about I wouldn’t have come.”
To the people who traveled across states and south from Canada.
Who saw a sign that said, “turn here.”
And even though it was far they thought, “It’s not too far.”
For the airport rides and the spare bedrooms.
For the reunions and first meetings.
The coffee, the breakfast, the dinner, the talks, the tears.
For the last-minute cancelations.
For the names I didn’t remember.
And even the “constructive criticism.”
For not saying, “You’re older than I thought.”
For the sun in Asilomar, the rain in Pittsburgh, the old friends in Houston, the new ones in DC, the love in Georgia, and the stars in Colorado, oh the stars in Colorado.
For meeting your children. For bringing your mother.
For looking me in the eye.
And for sending me on my way.
To the man at the Zen Center on Saturday who said, “I’m here because of you.”
That’s only half of it.
I’m here because of you.
I’m here because of you.
I’m here because of you.

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swimming in joy

December 5th, 2011    -    40 Comments

If you want to keep me awake at night, ask me about my writing process.  (I haven’t ever figured it out.) So I took notice when my friend  Christine Mason Miller dropped by for no good reason during the last, mad deadline for her new book, Desire to Inspire. (Win a copy here.) Turns out she doesn’t have a writing process either. Hers is the process of no process. (Sounds Zen.) She likens it to surfing. (I haven’t ever figured surfing out either.) Read more of her guest post, and if  Desire to Inspire inspires you to desire, leave a comment on this post by the end of the day Thursday, Dec. 8 and you could be swimming in joy (without getting wet).

Before the ink began to dry on my contract with North Light Books for the publication of my next book, I made a decision. I declared that, no matter what, my work on the book was never going to take place in a space of stress, anxiety, worry, or fear. This book was going to be created from joy, and in order for that joy to flourish unfettered, I was going to have to trust – Trust with a capital T.

With five major deadlines, nineteen contributors, more than one hundred images, and ten chapters, there were loads of opportunities to lose my cool. Not to mention the usual creative hurdles that have the potential to throw the best laid plans into a rapid tailspin such as writer’s block, procrastination, or, in my case, an eight-week old puppy who joined our family soon after the book contract was finalized. I had my work cut out for me, not only as the author of the book, but as a self-proclaimed devotee of Trust in the Process and Commitment to Joy. Had I faltered on the latter, the book could certainly still be written, but then the experience of writing it and pulling together the stories of its nineteen extraordinary contributors would have been less akin to riding the perfect wave and more like being pummeled by the surf. read more

go

November 28th, 2011    -    6 Comments

It took a very long while. Thirteen years. It took a lot of people. Nine thousand or so. We had to travel a far way. From California to Florida. To wake up awfully early. Five a.m. We took a car, a plane and then a bus before we sat on the shore of Banana Creek in the drizzle of a gray dawn to watch the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s newest and largest rover – lift off from Cape Canaveral.

The rover will look for the smallest signs of life.

My husband had a role in its engineering for several years. I do not recall the stretch of time with particularity. In the heroic cause of ordinary life, the days do not shine with glory.

We sat in bleachers for two hours as the minutes and clouds passed. We chatted with our neighbors, compared stories of kids and colleges, and drank coffee and hot chocolate, our gaze focused lightly on the horizon, where a shiny sliver stood against all odds that time could yet stop, or the day turn disastrous.

As the count drew down, the flight director made one more audible poll of system flight controllers for a go/no-go call, a spoken ritual broadcast on loudspeaker. There was no no given. There was only go, and again, go, and again, go.

Go.
Go.
Go, and all accounted for, go.

Certain then that neither earth nor sky would intercede, we stood and crossed our hearts and sang an anthem, then heard one last benediction, one final decree, a dedication to all the men and women who had risen each day to this task, traversing their own long years and brave distance, in the split second before their work could be judged as success or failure, taking measure by each part, each step, allowing the greatness to be no greater than the small in each of us.

And I thought to myself: Could there ever be life more intelligent than this? The propulsion of human ignition, the momentum of life itself, the genius of the inevitable, irreversible, go.

small packages

September 13th, 2011    -    3 Comments

These days I feel as though the world doesn’t need one more person to say one more thing. And so I leave you these small packages to unwrap if you like, to use if you need:

What mindfulness looks like – a sweet reflection through the eyes of one participant in last weekend’s Art of Mindfulness workshop in Houston.

What Buddhism sounds like – Melvin McLeod, editor of the Shambhala Sun magazine and its numerous anthologies of Buddhist writing, updates the simple story of our tradition in this excerpt, his introduction to a new volume of teachings.

What your family is worth – Offering a new couples discount to The Plunge one-day retreat in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 1. Use and share with those you love.

I’m off this weekend to Shambhala Mountain Center in northern Colorado where a small circle of us will sit, walk, talk and wake up. I can’t imagine a heaven any greater than the one in your hands. Please take good care of it.

love stories

August 22nd, 2011    -    38 Comments

I have two books and one story to give away this week. Like all stories, they are love stories.

A few weeks ago I answered an invitation to read and review this acclaimed new book, To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal. Why am I suddenly saying yes to reviewing books? Perhaps because it’s summer; perhaps to avoid my own writing. That’s okay. When it’s time to take your time, a book is as good as a day on the lake. Here the author dips into a favorite well of mine: how we tell old stories to ourselves; how we salvage, refinish, embroider, store, and vainly, always vainly, try to relive the past. The book has a vintage feel to it, like its solid hardcover heft. The characters are old-school and middle-aged; they can ring false to one another and sometimes to the reader as well. But there is a beating heart here that is pure, placid and wide. It is romance: the romance we can only lose, since romance is by definition long gone. And then when I read that the author was 63 years old, with 12 years between his first novel and this, his second, and that he builds homes for a living, and has an orange grove on his California homestead, well, I loved all that even more than the fiction. You know I have a thing about orange trees: they hold the fruit for a long time before they let it go. McNeal clearly knows how to take his time and he knows how to spend it. I’ll gladly send this one to you so you can love time all by yourself.

The publisher sent me a crisp new copy of that book with a chapter of mine in it, Right Here With You: Bringing Mindful Awareness into Our Relationships. It’s got all the Buddhist regulars in it, and a few of us irregulars, and I’m sure it’s good because the Dharma is always good. I haven’t read it because I don’t read the kind of books that have me in them, but be sure to ask if it’s right for you now.

And finally, I’ll send you a second time to the online excerpt from my most recent magazine article, “Waking up Alone,” in the current issue of the Shambhala Sun. The issue focuses on the wisdom of love, and my article is about how we never know what love is until the love story ends.

Leave a comment on this post with the name of either or both books, if you want them. I’ll choose a winner next Monday.

Less than three weeks til The Art of Mindfulness in Houston.

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Leaving things be

July 21st, 2011    -    3 Comments

The dryer broke, the weeds are choking, the dust is piling, the heat is climbing, I’m leaving things be. Here are some other pursuits for the time being.

Right Here With You – A new book on relationships, with some of my stuff on marriage.
Relationship with Fear – Our first and last love.
A Gust of Wind – God breathing a reminder to let go.
The Body of Wisdom – Feets of faith.
Impossible Things Happen – This right here is your proof.
Shells on the Beach – The illusion of self.
Brain Drain – Nowhere to go, nothing to get.

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paw prints

July 9th, 2011    -    11 Comments

Book Review & Giveaway
by Georgia Miller

Since my daughter’s literary interests have long veered toward the furry four-legged, she was eager to share her latest book review. Read the instructions at the end of this post and you will be entered to win her own special giveaway.

A Dog Named Slugger by Leigh Brill is a touching true story about a young woman and her service dog.

Because of her cerebral palsy, Leigh was in need of a service dog. She had trouble walking and a dog would help her balance and walk up stairs. When she finally received Slugger, she had to go through several training courses. I learned that dogs can be used for more than companionship.

One day, when she was walking around on campus, Leigh met her future husband. They always loved playing Frisbee and catch with Slugger. When Leigh was interviewed for a job, they wouldn’t accept her because of Slugger. No matter how hard they tried to get Leigh to work without her dog, she wouldn’t give in. She was brave.

Of course, after the many years of helping Leigh, Slugger developed arthritis. It eventually got worse and worse, so Leigh decided to get another service dog named Kenda. Kenda was a young, fun-loving puppy. So she helped Leigh during the time when Slugger was sick and had to be put to sleep. That part of the book was so sad I didn’t want to read it at night before bed so I read it in the car on the way to gymnastics.

I thought this was a great book. It is absolutely perfect for the young dog lover, or a dog lover of any age. It’s good to read books about dogs so if you’re looking to get one, you can learn what they are like. This is now one of my favorite books. I loved it. I learned a lot about people and dogs, and it made me feel lucky.

If I could say anything to Leigh Brill it would be that you are really awesome and you are one of my idols. I hope you write a book about you and Kenda!

Now for my giveaway. Please leave a comment with your suggestion of more books I should read and review this summer. If I choose your name, I will send you a super cool duct tape wallet handmade by me!

It’s Kid’s Week on Cheerio Road. Check back frequently for guest posts on the darnedest things.

 

the song of your life

May 15th, 2011    -    25 Comments

This is a passage from my next book, No Trace of My Teacher: Finding Faith in Your Days. I wrote it last night. The parts in italics are the words of Maezumi Roshi.

He only hears the cicadas singing in the maple-woods.

the Ten Oxherding Pictures

When I was little, I spent nearly every weekend at my grandparents’ house in the middle of the Ventura County orange groves about an hour north of Los Angeles.

Theirs was a tiny house, with only four rooms, and I slept in one with my grandfather. He could snore like a bear, but I never heard him snore, or at least I was never troubled to hear it. What I heard at night, through the screen door, atop the dark chill that carried the smell of sandy dirt and orange essence, were the crickets.

I just heard the crickets.

I didn’t make any meaning of it then – four-year-olds don’t yet assign meaning to things – and I don’t make any meaning of it now.

I simply heard the crickets and I knew they were crickets and I knew where I was and how I was and what time it was and what it was time to do. I knew everything that you know when you hear a cricket, which is actually quite a bit, so much that you can’t really explain it all. And the good thing is, you don’t have to.

I’m reciting all this here and now because lately when I toss in my bed, I can remember what I knew for sure when I was four or five and heard the crickets. I am fifty years older now and my head is crowded with far more than it needs to be – fear, for instance, of being 54, and worry, and doubts about my work, especially this work, and my daughter and whether she will be okay and not too disappointed or hurt and then the prescription that needs refilling and the bills that need paid and I forgot, what did I forget, oh that’s right I forgot to call, to fix, to sign, to return, to finish, to start – and for all I know there are crickets outside my own window right now but most of the time I’m making far too much noise between my ears to hear them.

That’s what can come between the hearing and the knowing, between the lost and the found, and between the fear and the faith. That’s all there is to let go of: what we keep putting in-between.

Hearing the sound, seeing the forms, many attain realization. Here where the verse says “He only hears the cicadas singing” what does it imply?

When I remember the sound of those country crickets these days, it’s not an emotional thing. It doesn’t trigger a sentiment as much as it awakens a sensation. A state of being that is effortless and relaxed, tucked into a small house under a vast and twinkling sky with a gentle grandfather beside me. When I remember that, I can drop the wiry tangle under my skin, the jangle inside my skull, and empty out what’s come in between me and a simple song.

When we see, when we hear, when we feel, when we smell, when we think, or when we perceive, conceive: right there, the author urges us to realize, “Why don’t you hear cicadas singing as the song of your life!” instead of just listening to it as a lousy noise something outside is making.

Oh that – that’s just a cricket.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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juicy oreo wednesday

May 11th, 2011    -    79 Comments

Book Review & Giveaway
By Georgia Miller

Rip the Page! by Karen Benke is great for the young, aspiring writer. It features everything from ideas to poems. It even has a list of 24 of Karen’s fave words! And, it lives up to its name – there are even places where you can literally rip the page! There are letters written to the reader from authors such as Lemony Snicket and Annie Barrows.

This book will help kids start writing because it gives great ideas, support and different ways to write. It gives examples of fun words to use, and tells how to write poems. Once the author tells you about a way of writing, she gives you a blank page to try it out on. It really helps to put the fun into writing. Now I’m going to share some of my favorite words:
Guadalupe
Basenji
Antidisestablishmentarianism
Bacon
Gymnastics
Juicy
Oreo
Wednesday
Turtle
Frog
Marshmallow
Actually, those are just random words that I happen to like. The point is, though, that this really is a great book for young writers like me. So I give this book two thumbs up! I really love it!

***
You may win a copy of this book by leaving a comment telling Georgia your favorite word. Enter by next Tuesday. She will announce the winner, naturally, on Wednesday, May 18.

The Winner: Georgia selected comment #55, from Caitlin, for her word, “gubbins.” Thank you everyone for your wordplay!

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i wanted to like it

April 17th, 2011    -    28 Comments

If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything.

Verses on the Faith Mind

I just finished reading a book. I wanted to like it.

Those last five words I wanted to like it are the tip-off to any author that her book is about to get trashed. I wanted to like it is an absolution before the executioner goes to work. I could write a wicked little bit on Goodreads, a quick dismissal, an eternal damnation, and a triumphant last word. One star. I thought so much about my clever condemnation while I was reading that I literally felt sick. I had to wonder what was more disagreeable: the book or me?

So I stopped myself.

Writers get trashed a lot. Is it more than chefs or dry cleaners or college professors or car detailers? Probably not. The web has made everyone a public critic of everything. Sometimes that’s all the interactive media seems to be: a shooting range. The whole world is erupting in opinions. We all have opinions. The problem starts when you cherish your opinions, when you elevate them, and, yes, even when you express them. Why express an opinion except to elevate yourself and demean others? Loft your opinion and it’s going to land somewhere it hurts. You might even shoot yourself. Look closely to see what you are sharing when you unleash poison and pain.

In my humble opinion, there’s no such thing as a humble opinion.

All this gives me pause about the way I glibly injure innocents and overlook the truth. What do I mean by the truth? The truth is what you don’t read in a book, and even less, what you think of it.

I just finished reading a book. I’d say more, but I’m finished.

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groupon nation

April 5th, 2011    -    75 Comments

Your writing will not save you. Managing to be published will not save you. Don’t be deluded. – Joyce Carol Oates

Every morning when I click on my email and see the daily offer from Groupon, I feel a little twinge. I may or may not read it. I may or may not know the business. But I definitely will not use it. I am heartsick over all the businesses that will not be saved by Groupon.

Your couponing will not save you.

This post is not about the relative merits or demerits of social couponing. Yes, I understand it is the latest big thing. It is the big thing that reminds me a lot of the last big thing. We have a remarkable capacity in this nation to make each other poor – and call it the next big thing. We have a remarkable capacity to demean and devalue each other, and degrade the decent work we all do. We might even call it progress. To want something for nothing, to take more and pay less, to come out ahead, as if we can stand taller on the cumulative loss from our cheap, daily deal making.

Don’t be deluded.

This treatise may be inspired by the bloodthirsty union-busting that passes as budget balancing in our statehouses, or the arrogant idiocy of the other side in Congress. Or it may have something to do with our income tax returns. My husband finished them last weekend, and in a sign of his unshakable goodness, he did not report that my net income last year had inched valiantly up, to the round number that is the very lowest of the low five-figures. He has, over these 16 years, made what amounts to a guaranteed, year-over-year, skyrocketing investment in my poverty.

Your writing will not save you.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not some big-timer. I am not like, say, Joyce Carol Oates, the Pulitzer Prize winner, author of bestselling books too numerous to count, collector of accolades too voluminous to mention, including several rumored Nobel Prizes, whose recent memoir from the abyss of her widowhood included the remarkable passage I quote above.

Managing to get anything will not save you.

At this point in my so-called life I feel like I did about a half-second after I got married, when I had a startling realization. Someone has to be the wife! And then a half-second after I gave birth: Someone has to be the mother! And now: Someone has to be the priest! Each of these revelations occurred after I’d made an avowed commitment to do something that I had no earthly idea how to do. That’s the way vows work: forever after, or they don’t work at all. read more

of particular note

February 23rd, 2011    -    6 Comments

We have two prolific orange trees in the front yard, easily 40 or more years old but still reliably producing. There are probably 500 oranges right outside my front door perched in the trees until they get picked for juice or fruit. They don’t bother us, don’t fuss, and rarely fall. Suppose I went out and plucked a barrel, simmered them up into sloppy marmalade and rubbed it all over the bottom of your shoes?

That’s what I feel like I do when I share items like these. But hey, it’s a lonely life for all of us, the oranges too, until someone gets drunk on the juice.

This is a new anthology that borrows a previously published magazine piece of mine. Publisher’s Weekly says it has an “unsurprising lineup” of writers but “of particular note is Karen Maezen Miller’s meditation on housework.” It pays to be particular! Well, it doesn’t pay money but it still tastes good on the tongue.

Got a total kick out of this library user (damn libraries) who recounts how she wandered through the shelves in the 200s section and found someone who writes like a “normal person who happens to be a Zen Buddhist priest”  . . . “totally lacking in any conversionary rah-rah sentiments that would make me drop the book in a heap on the floor.” That’s one less fall from grace for me, and it’ll do nicely for a change.

And finally, from time to time someone will write a tiny thank you and I will respond with a teeny you’re welcome and what comes next is a heart’s rush of such power and poignancy that I trust again and know again and hope again and start all over again. The courage to keep going comes from each other.

On that note, sing.

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so-called authenticity

February 3rd, 2011    -    17 Comments

My teacher Maezumi Roshi used the word so-called a lot. He used it before every word that really wasn’t what it stood for. (That’s every word.) It’s such an efficient way to point out the source of our confusion: confusing the way things really are with the mental artifice of words and concepts.

That’s why I’m majorly peeved by the word authenticity. As soon as I say it, I’m not. Just the notion that there is a way to be more real than you already are is a lie. People who trade in authenticity trade in deception, and it’s a deception that they reinforce by their own salesmanship. So I was happy to expound on the word “authenticity” for the extraordinarily authentic Irène Nam and her recent Simple Soulful photography workshop. Here’s what I said:

What I like to remind people is that authenticity is just a word. It is a word for what you already are. Never let anyone lecture you about what authenticity means, or how to have more of it. You have it in abundant supply. You just don’t believe it.

And then I said a lot more. Oops. Listen only if you have the heart for what is real.

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