being well

March 9th, 2018

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. —Julian of Norwich

Last weekend I sat in a meditation retreat with a beautiful group of people. Three were in pain from back injuries. Two had recently lost close members of their family. One had a chronic illness; another, cancer. Others were facing vexing uncertainty in employment and finances. Several were overwhelmed with the care of elderly and incapacitated parents. Our youngest participant, a 20-year-old college student, said that because she has difficulty managing her attention and anxiety she was pretty sure she was doing it all wrong.

In short, we were exactly alike, doing what we needed to do in the only place we could be.

Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves. — Rumi

My doctor’s office called a few weeks ago saying that I was overdue for a physical. My last visit was in 2016. How had a whole year disappeared?

I knew how. The year had vanished in a lethal flurry of hurricanes and floods, fires and mass killings. It was swept away in a cyclone of fear, behind a wall of rage. It was crushed by greed, ignorance and ineptitude; infected with hate; buffeted by chaos; and pounded by gale-force lies. Oh yes, I understood why I might have lost track of normal. The world—with me in it—was sick and on life-support, in organ failure, beyond medical intervention. The family had been called in to pray.

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.  We need silence to be able to touch souls. —Mother Teresa

At the beginning of every retreat, we set out a blank sheet of lined paper with the title “Sick List.” Everybody is invited to write the names of people to chant for who are sick or suffering, that is, anyone other than themselves. The trick to wellness, you might know, is to see beyond yourself and your sickly preoccupation with your own fear, pain, inadequacy and sorrow. Only then can you see what to do.

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

At first, the names appear slowly, a dozen or so, the people and pets we know for certain are worse off. Their names are chanted in our morning service. Then, in the mounting hours of silent stillness, our hearts soften and we think of many more. Now there are two dozen names on the paper. We might recall those people we didn’t think we could help, or even want to. Difficult people, distant or estranged, overlooked and then suddenly seen in a sympathetic light. Three dozen, four, five. Spoken, the names flow like a spring river over two sides of two pieces of paper, and fill the room.

Little by little we let everyone into our warming hearts until the last day, when we arrive at a great and humbling truth: that as soon as we stop thinking about ourselves we are one piece with the entire world and everyone in it. No one is left out or forgotten; no one remains unworthy or unloved. And then we can’t help but smile, because we are not sick, we are well and whole.

The way I see it, if the greedy, angry and ignorant can unleash this much evil in the world, each of us, by our own selflessness, can deliver this much good.

Winter Sun Zen Retreat, Madison WI, March 4, 2018


  1. I hear you.
    I feel us all.

    Comment by Bonnie Nygren — March 9, 2018 @ 3:42 pm

  2. What an ocean of calm we had! ?

    Comment by Doreen Kunert — March 9, 2018 @ 5:01 pm

  3. Love is the answer. I love you, Maezen.

    Comment by Meg — March 9, 2018 @ 7:50 pm

  4. As so often happens, you’ve written exactly what my soul needs and my heart hungers for, words that bring me back to clarity and intention. I’ve lost a year, too; more actually. I’ve lost my temper and my patience and a good bit of my faith. I can’t get the time back, but I can soften today and be kind and still. Thank you for this, and for keeping that list.

    Comment by Katrina — March 10, 2018 @ 3:31 am

  5. What a wonderful sangha picture! It breathes pure love. Very moved to read what everybody brought to his or her zafu… proof again that we are all the same, connected and not alone in our struggle. In deep gassho, Ben Ming

    Comment by Ben Ming — March 10, 2018 @ 10:39 am

  6. Like Katrina, I too have lost a good bit of faith this year, among other things. Time to sit and be still and know love again. Thank you Maezen. I miss you so much.

    Comment by Kirsten — March 10, 2018 @ 11:43 am

  7. My friend died two weeks ago. At her funeral there was a picture of her with a line of text by Rumi:
    “You are not one drop in an ocean, you are the ocean in a drop.”
    It seems quite fitting for this post. Thank you Maezen.

    Comment by Simone — March 11, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

  8. This.
    So wise.
    So good.

    Comment by Joanne Cole — March 12, 2018 @ 5:53 am

  9. Still following you from Houston where we first met you. We are aging, too, and aware more of time left, not time spent. Your blogs are always welcome. But “now” is the time, isn’t it!

    Comment by Larry and Helen Misiak — March 13, 2018 @ 7:14 am

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