Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

sitting still and being quiet

February 6th, 2012    -    No Comments

My uncle was a star among us. As a 12-year-old, he had a calling from God, or at least a push from his parents. This was the only kind of call that counted in rural Central Texas at the time. It meant he would be educated, he would preach, and he would go places.

He went overseas as a missionary. Every three years he brought his American bride and his growing family back to the States for furlough. He toured churches where he towered in the pulpit, gave stirring guest sermons, and said grace over potlucks in his honor. Everyone looked up to him.

But he was not spared the fall we all take into human torment and doubt. At midlife, he broke up his family and left his post. During his time of exile, he visited my mother’s house. Grown, I came home to visit. I sat in the room while he told my mother everything. He needed to say everything, and she was a complete listener. There was nothing but love in the room.

During a lull, he looked over to me in the corner and asked, “Karen, how did you get to be so wise?” I was surprised, because I only knew what I saw. My elegant uncle, eyes glistening, heart breaking; a light undimmed, spilling onto earth.

“By sitting still and being quiet.”

Join me when you’re ready.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 26 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center, Los Angeles
Register by email here.

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to begin, watch this. Watch it anyway, and you’ve begun.

Ordinary Glories from katherine gill on Vimeo.

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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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leave

December 2nd, 2011    -    2 Comments

Digging out from a hundred-year windstorm, neighbors without roofs and windows, trees shredded, landscapes buried, no heat, no light, no relief in sight, gives new meaning to the word, “leave.”

I’m leaving for Rohatsu retreat, sitting in silent witness to impermanence and the inconceivable power of mind.

Watch this place while I’m away for guests and gifts and remember this: When you’ve done all you can do, undo.

twitter zen

October 12th, 2011    -    18 Comments

An actual email exchange.

Hello, I am interested in Zen practice and live nearby. I’d like to schedule a visit sometime soon.

>Thank you for contacting us. We recommend that you first take the introductory Zen meditation class offered every Saturday from 8:30-10:30 a.m. It covers the basics of Zen Buddhism, meditation techniques and our lineage.

>>I am not looking for a class on meditation right now. The idea of sitting through a two-hour class is off-putting to say the least. I merely want to visit for 10-15 minutes.

magical powers

October 8th, 2011    -    8 Comments

Sometimes I offer to do these things for you and others; sometimes I’m asked. So I do them, although all the power in your life resides with you.

These are the verses I chant. You can chant them too.

This is the incense I light. You can light it too.

These are the books I keep in my Zen library. I share them with you.

This is the practice. It is the practice of all the buddhas. To sit even one moment like this is to sit as a buddha.

This is my place of practice. When you sit, we sit in the same place.

These are the magical powers — no more magical and no less magical than you are.

And yet none of these things is as powerful as the heart that seeks a true teacher.

This is where the real magic occurs.

***

Love Beyond Limits parenting workshop in Athens, GA Oct. 22

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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

hand me the flute

September 23rd, 2011    -    11 Comments

The farther I roam from home, the more I realize the disservice I do from this distance, from this page, with these clumsy, wooden words.

The other day I heard from someone I met at a retreat nearly 20 years ago. She asked me if I was the one with the story about the flute. I was astonished that after all this time she’d found me. I heard an echo that’s been running through my mind lately, the echo of a flute.

The dharma is never what we think it is. Nothing is what we think it is. Nothing has the meaning that we manufacture.

It was only my second retreat when I begged a ride up into the San Jacinto Mountains to sit 10 days with Maezumi Roshi. I admit I was beginning to feel rather privileged, the way newcomers can feel favored just because strangers are nice. When I got my daily work assignment, I knew what it meant.

My job was to dust the altar in the teacher’s room.

The teacher’s altar. You know what that means.

Other people were cleaning latrines and clearing brush.

And so I reported daily to the big altar in his small quarters. He was never there. I took great care with the strange and wondrous objects, the flowers and offerings arrayed on the polished platform. A statue of something-or-other; a figurine of who-knows-what; incense; a candle; a funny-looking stick; a whatchamacallit; a thingamajig. I’d never seen an altar up close. I didn’t know what anything was called or what it was supposed to do. I picked each item up and held my breath as I dusted beneath it, praying that I’d remember where to set it down again: a high and holy rite.

One day Maezumi came in while I was there. He smiled and said something to me. What he said was:

Hand me the flute.

The flute? Everything looked foreign to me, but nothing looked like a flute.

I handed him the stick. He laughed.

No, the flute!

I handed him the thingamajig.

The flute! The flute!

Suddenly I knew that I didn’t know what anything meant. You know what that means.

He came closer and stood over me, pointing directly to the meaning I had misunderstood. I looked down the bow of his finger and saw:

A plum. I handed it to him and he took a bite.

What’s the matter, he laughed. Don’t you speak Engrish?

That day I learned the difference between a flute and a fruit. It’s something you can only taste for yourself, in person. After you taste it you can tell a story about it. A story that has meaning, even if it’s only to you.
***

On this, the eighteenth anniversary of the day I met Maezumi Roshi and started to see, to hear, to taste, and to live.


The Plunge one-day retreat in Pittsburgh Oct. 1
Beginner’s Mind one-day meditation retreat in LA Oct. 9
Love Beyond Limits parenting workshop in Athens, GA Oct. 22

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.

come set foot

September 6th, 2011    -    12 Comments

Last year I was visited by a filmmaker making a documentary about Japanese gardens. By the time we met in my backyard, she had spoken with many experts and had hundreds of hours of footage, but she was still confused about Zen Buddhism and the metaphors illustrated by a Zen garden. I tried to simplify things for her. That’s what Zen does for our lives: simplify the way we see it, so that we no longer confuse one thing for another, and see it whole.

Come set foot into the garden.

(pretending to) sit

September 4th, 2011    -    No Comments

At the Art of Mindfulness this weekend in Houston, and all the upcoming retreats, some of us will sit like this. And others of us will pretend to sit like this. Practice is an elegant pretense, and even so, it beats all other options.

I love all the videos by Patrick Burke, starting with this one.

One week before The Art of Mindfulness Retreat in Houston
Two weeks before The Practice of Everyday Life Retreat in Colorado
Four weeks before The Plunge Retreat in Pittsburgh
Five weeks before the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat in LA

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secret message

August 29th, 2011    -    5 Comments

I am being cautious here, mindful of what I say and don’t say, because of how earnestly we all seek and how easily we misunderstand.

I am not telling you how to live, how to improve yourself, how to make the right decisions, or what the right decisions are. I am not suggesting you live like me, think like me, or choose what I have chosen. It is easy to elevate what appears to be the sage or guru, the expert, the coach, the one “who has it together.”

In my long career as a consultant, I came to realize, after the first years of doubt and pretense, that I didn’t have to know any answers. All I had to do to be successful was tell people what to do. I could even make it up on the spot! Because everyone – no matter what their station or status or position – wants to be told what to do. Regardless of whether we do it or not – and we usually don’t – we think there is some secret message we’re missing. But every message is the one you already carry. It’s only a secret if you haven’t yet noticed what you have in your hands. read more

the knock at the door

August 18th, 2011    -    7 Comments

Yesterday I was rather lost and confused, uncertain which way to turn, when I heard a knock at the door. Actually, it was just the delivery of an email, adroitly timed, as all events, to give me clarity and purpose. I asked the writer if I could respond in a blog post so that our dialogue could serve others like us.

I heard an interview with you on the Buddhist Geeks podcast and found it very informative and enjoyable.  I’ve studied Buddhism on and off now for a few years but never really made the leap to incorporating it into my life.

Any place that leads you here is a good place to start.

 I was wondering if you had any tips for which “school” of Buddhism would be best for a beginning layperson.

First, let’s look at that word, “school.” There are no Buddhist schools, not really. The word “school” was probably used by academics to identify and define different historical and cultural approaches, but it suggests a kind of academic learning and institutional enrollment that is not applicable to your life. So I suggest you replace “school” with “path.” Everyone has a path in life – including the spiritual aspect of life – and the good thing is, you don’t have to find it. You don’t have to choose it. You  are already on it. The path you are on always leads you farther on, in the same way you were led here today. To walk the path, you just keep going, exploring, asking, seeking, finding, and this is the most important thing: trying. If you haven’t yet recognized your path it’s because you haven’t gone far enough to see clearly. We have to use our feet to get close enough for anything to come into focus.

Second, let’s look at that word “beginner.” We are all beginners. If someone no longer considers themselves a beginner, it’s time to start over. In the same way, create no distinction between a layperson and a priest or monk. It makes no difference.

 Zen seems like it might be a simpler place to start but I also read that it’s considered the most difficult. I’m a little confused.

Naturally. Reading or thinking too much about anything is sure to confuse us. Information is of no use if we don’t use it ourselves. Never let what someone else says preempt your own experience. So let’s take a look at that word “difficult.”

Many things are difficult. The first noble truth of Buddhism simply restates that fact. Life itself is going to get hard. So things are difficult long before we start out. In fact, we only get started in the practice of Buddhism when life becomes so difficult that we want to change directions. We practice because things are difficult.

Zen is not difficult to grasp. It is very simple. Maezumi Roshi once said that the reason Zen is so often presumed to be complicated is because it is so plain. Our heads are complicated.

And that’s where the difficulty comes from. Difficulty arises in our judging minds. We make things difficult by the way we think about them. Principally, the way we like or don’t like them; want or don’t want them; reject, avoid, or refuse them.  Zen consists entirely of the practice of meditation, which is the complete actualization of our true nature. It is only difficult when we don’t want to meditate. Practice is only difficult when we don’t want to practice. Zen practice dissolves difficulty. read more

read this sign

July 31st, 2011    -    20 Comments

From time to time someone writes to me with a question that silences me. They put their heart on the page, and I know there is nothing I can say or do for them. Although I’m not ever able to provide the answers someone is looking for, these missives always help me to articulate something that speaks to people where they are instead of where I am. I sent this reply to someone today, and looking it over I realized it could help me and others take a hard look at where we are.

Where are you?

Readers are almost never where I am, sitting side-by-side with me in a Zen retreat, using the medicine for human ills prescribed by Buddha 2500 years ago. But the distance between us still compels me to try.

I am not a bestselling author, and I don’t have the first idea how people become a success. I don’t know how to fix a relationship, manufacture happiness, or realize one’s passion. I don’t know the alchemy that turns fiction into fact or pain into pleasure.  If I did know how to do that, I would be doing things the easy way. But I’m not. I am doing things the hard way. We are all doing things the hard way, as best as we can.

In short, I am not in the manifesting-your-dream business. I am in the waking-up-from-your dream business. The former is more popular and lucrative than the latter. I’m sure it is more temporarily uplifting, inspiring and entertaining. What it entertains is fantasy. I don’t put my faith in fantasy. I put my faith in the path you least desire, the path you most avoid, and the option of having no other option. read more

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