Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

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

sitting

July 25th, 2011    -    2 Comments

your proof

June 27th, 2011    -    16 Comments

Zen is to deal with this very life – here now – as one’s own.  We have to face the fact of this now, this here and this oneself.  That’s what each of us is facing. That is the path. That is the Way. – Maezumi Roshi

When people bring me their stories of pain and despair; when they are broken-hearted and lonely; when I hear their panic and fear, their sobs and gasping breath, what can I say? What can I do? There is nothing I can say; no way to fix it. When people bring me their disbelief, their last hope, their rage, I can only meet it with a nod. Yes! Yes! You are right! It is true! You are not dreaming this, you are wide awake! How I wish it weren’t so, this time. How I wish for the things we all wish for.

Like you, I wish I could go back in time and undo every disaster, every accident, every tough break and piece of bad news. I want your life to once again be just as you thought it was or as you hoped it would be. I want it desperately, but I have nothing to offer you except this.

You’ll always reach the end of how you thought your life would go. You’ll reach it many, many times. What looks like the low point is also the high point. What looks like the end is always the beginning . Finding faith may seem impossible in your darkest times, but like the earth’s eternal orbit and the sun’s ceaseless shine, impossible things happen all the time. You may be lost right now, but after days, months, even years in the wilderness, you will be found alive. Completely, joyously, miraculously alive. This right here is your proof.

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something amazing in the space

June 2nd, 2011    -    13 Comments

Reprinted from the Summer 2011 issue of Buddhadharma magazine.

I’m sitting in what I call the “mommy pit” at the gymnastics studio, the fenced sideline from which I’ve watched my daughter explore the potential of her human form over the last five years. She does a triple back handspring, vaulting backward in three blind spirals until she plants her feet in the unmistakable thwack of a solid landing, raising her arms in a completion salute.

Her teacher stands with arms crossed, her response inscrutable. Is that a slight smile? A frown? A nod? Is that encouragement? Criticism? Recognition? Who can tell?

“Again,” she instructs, and my daughter flips across the floor.

I’m thinking about teachers and what they empower in us, and how different that is from a teaching itself. I’m thinking about this because of the choice it presents to us in our own lives, and because of the crossroads we face in the propagation of American Buddhism.

What do teachers do? And given how difficult Buddhist teachers can be to locate, trust, understand, accept, admire, and follow, are they even necessary? It’s my guess that most Buddhists don’t think so, since by their own admission, so many are “unaffiliated,” unable, unwilling, or unconvinced they need to seek a teacher.

The justifications to dismiss the role of teachers and sanghas are compelling. Justifications always are. It’s inconvenient, for one. You might have to travel. Teachers are few and far between. It takes time. You have to meet other people. You might not like them. It’s frightening. Looks cultlike. And what if you get the wrong one? Besides, we live in the virtual age, when Buddhist information, discussion, and so-called communities proliferate on the web. Shouldn’t we advance the dharma into modernity? Who needs to meet face-to-face when you have Skype?

Once again I glance at the gym teacher standing among her charges. A handspring isn’t something I do, or can teach my daughter to do. What was it that turned her timidity into trust, her fear into freeform flight? A firm touch to her knees? A hand on her back? The sheer persistence of practice? A grin? A shout? The company of her teammates, who amplify her effort with the energy of their own? Perhaps all of that, plus the teacher’s steadfast reassurance that my daughter could do what she didn’t believe she could: go beyond her limits. read more

don’t eat the label

May 29th, 2011    -    16 Comments

The journey of our lives is remarkably universal and predictable. That’s why we can share experiences, insights and sentiments, and that’s how we can empathize with one another. And so it is guaranteed that, after a pinprick of recognition, a flicker of awareness, someone will turn to me and ask what they should read next.

I would like to say, “Nothing” but that is neither kind nor practical. Of course we read, and we want to read, accustomed as we are to thinking that what is in a book will guide and shape us, will lead us to some deeper understanding, some culminating truth, and maybe even save us a step. Nothing you read in a book will give you that, although reading is itself a worthwhile pastime. Reading a good book is like gazing onto a field of flowers, or the sky, or the sea, or the sand, or a cornfield, or the parking lot at Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon. Gazing at any of those things will deliver you to a deeper recognition and appreciation of yourself and your world without informing you of one thing, except to stay away from Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon.

Information, least of all about the nature of your life, is vastly overrated and might even be harmful. Information about Zen, and Buddhism for that matter, is rather useless, although many will gorge themselves on it, as if eating the label on a can of soup can give them a taste of Tomato Bisque. Zen is the actual, living experience of your life. No one has yet documented the life that only you can live. The practice of Zen requires that you intimately experience your life, and not restrict yourself to reading about it. Almost nothing in your experience will match the anticipation, fear, and misconceptions that are stirred up by accumulating knowledge about this or that. read more

to the teachers

May 18th, 2011    -    79 Comments

Perhaps you’ve noticed I don’t write much about motherhood any more. Our children do an excellent job of being consistently, rather stubbornly, exactly who they are, and once we acknowledge that, our only job as mothers is to keep acknowledging it over and over. Or not. The not is what causes the difficulty.

Perhaps you’ve noticed I don’t write much about marriage any more. Our partners do an excellent job of being consistently, rather stubbornly, who we aren’t, and once we accept that, our job is to keep accepting it over and over. Or not. The not is what causes the difficulty.

At one time in my life, motherhood brought to me my most urgent and incomprehensible lessons. At other times, my marriage did. But by itself, over time, sure as day to night to day, in a continuous and miraculous transformation, a daughter becomes a mother and a woman becomes a wife. When that transition is complete, there’s not much to say about it, not much I can tell you, since you will have to make that passage on your own. Or not.

What is most interesting to me now is another transition, perhaps the last for me, and the greatest of all. It is the transition from the student to the teacher. In whatever form it takes, whatever time it travels, this is the longest lesson we undertake, because it is the lesson in how we live, how we give, how we grow, and how we know. read more

saying service

May 9th, 2011    -    25 Comments

Too many people are hurting to keep this to myself. If you need me to say a service for you or someone you care for, please add the name in the comments below. To see the syllabic transliteration of the chant I say in this video, click this link.

 

my eyes are brown

April 3rd, 2011    -    11 Comments

My mother had brown eyes. My father had blue eyes. My eyes are brown. I hope you appreciate this fact, because it is a way to appreciate your life.

I’m always honored when someone contacts me through this site, or any other of our so-called social media, and asks how to take up the study of Zen Buddhism with me. I also realize that they will be slightly dismayed by my response, since we can seem to get so far these days by going nowhere at all, just flicking our fingers and thumbs across a pad.

I happen to belong to a Zen lineage that spans 81 generations of ancestors each of whom transmitted the teaching one-on-one, in person, to his or her successors. What kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t believe in the teaching I’ve been shown or the lineage to which I belong?

There are many who don’t experience the truth as I do, and so there are those who offer long-distance study. That is fine, up to a point. But the point of departure is the fundamental point of the practice: to penetrate the illusion of duality – separation – and experience the one mind. To do that, you have to meet the teacher eye-to-eye. When the student comes together with the teacher, as conditions are right, wisdom arises by itself: the way grass grows with rain and flowers bloom to face the sun. You may have already experienced what I’m talking about, although none of us can quite express it in words. read more

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