where the fun stops

Two years ago we took a summer vacation to Hawaii. Nowadays weather is unpredictable all over, and here it was unseasonably wet. Roads flooded and bridges washed out. One day the clouds lifted. Housebound and bored, we signed up for a kayaking tour that would have us paddling up a river and hiking to a waterfall.

The guide told us that because of the rain, this was the first day in a week that any boats had gone out. When we launched, the river was wide and placid. About two miles in, we pulled out to start the hike. They gave us sandwiches and cold drinks for a picnic in the shade. Then they told us that to start on the trail, we had to cross a ford over slippery rocks in high water with a churning current by holding onto a rope. We’d have to do the same on the way out. There was no way around it.

For some of us, this is where the fun stopped.

I spent last weekend sitting with a group of people in Cincinnati. Anyone who has ever been on a meditation retreat knows that the principal reason you come to sit, whether you realize it or not, is because life is difficult. Sure, meditation helps you focus and calm down. But no one with a half-opened eye comes to Zen just to chill out, be a better person, or get more out of life. This was never clearer to me than when folks began to tell me their troubles. Inside this silent room, amid a rainbow of stained glass, illuminated with the dappled daylight of the glistening garden beyond, disease was spreading, surgeries were pending, marriages were ending, parents and partners had perished, children were stumbling, money was scarce, worry was rampant, and fear flooded our hearts. The sky was falling and the earth was burning. Up ahead, the current was swirling.

Knowing what we know—the swiftness of change—and what we don’t—the miles of uncertainty ahead—how do we live?

There’s a rope over the river and we cross it together.

The rope is love. Take it.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, July 15, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles
Register by email

Beautiful Valley: A Zen Retreat in Upstate New York
Oct. 11-14
Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia NY
Register here

it always comes out of nowhere

We have more money and more brains and better houses and apartments and nicer boats. We are smarter than they are. We are the elite. — Trump in Fargo ND, June 27, 2018

In the light of an early morning last week, I was on a 58-foot boat motoring the 22 miles to Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. The sky was gray, the clouds were low and the water, smooth. We hadn’t seen much—a handful of seals, a scattering of water birds, and nothing at all on the horizon—when the island suddenly penetrated the mist.

“It always comes out of nowhere,” the captain said.

I’d never been to Catalina, although I’d long heard that there wasn’t much there. As soon as the clouds lifted we set off walking. To my mind, the only way to get to know a place is on foot. A mile-and-a-half stroll across the tiny harbor town takes you a century back in time to the island’s brief heyday, when a chewing-gum magnate bought the whole of it and vowed it would never leave his hands. Mr. Wrigley aimed to turn his investment into “the people’s island,” a tourist mecca to be known all over the world.

It didn’t take me long to reconstruct what happened instead. The Wrigleys built their mountaintop home here 1921, their son’s mansion in 1927, the country club in 1928 and the Casino boasting “the world’s largest circular ballroom,” in May 1929. Yes, that 1929. In the long and great aftermath, who would dare to boast? The island was closed to visitors during WWII. Big bands died, and with it, ballroom dancing. Commercial air travel would soon make far more exotic locales accessible to tourists. Dreams disappeared like mist.

Decades later the island remains what it has always been, a lovely little spot to see the endless wash of wind and waves, which leave their mark without a word.

Can anything be imagined so ridiculous, that this miserable and wretched creature [man], who is not so much as master of himself, but subject to the injuries of all things, should call himself master and emperor of the world, of which he has not power to know the least part, much less to command the whole? — Michel de Montaigne

This sad week has felt, politically speaking, as if nothing will ever change, that the deck is stacked, the course is set and the outcome is irreversible. The vain and vile talk of “more money, more brains, and nicer boats” recalled, for me, the nicest boat of all, the world’s largest ocean liner, built by the richest men with the biggest blindest egos and ambitions, a vessel that nonetheless took only 2 hours and 40 minutes to submerge completely under the North Atlantic and a scant 5 minutes more to reach the ocean floor. All because something always comes out of nowhere, and things really do change overnight.

Photo by Matthew Johnson

a sip of stillness

I’ve added a one-day beginner’s retreat on Sunday, July 15 in case you need a sip of stillness in your summer. All the information you need to register is right here.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, July 15, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Register by email

a story about butterflies

When our children are little we ask them what they want to be when they grow up. A butterfly, they might say, a fireman, mommy, giraffe, teacher, tiger, truck driver, astronaut! And these are good answers. They are born knowing how to be so they know they can be anything.

But when our children are older we no longer ask them what they want to be. We ask what they want to do. What is lost? What is gained? What happens when we do not release the butterfly?

The End

wheels up

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever
to be
able to do it. — J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Last weekend I got on a plane and paid close attention to the takeoff. The explosive roar as the engines throttled up. The rattle and shake as you accelerate down the runway. The bounce, the din, the doubt. The outcome of the whole endeavor doesn’t seem very promising at this point. Then, when you’re about to run out of runway, the lift of the wings overcomes gravity and the ride goes suddenly smooth. You’re wheels up, in flight.

The day before, I’d walked into the house and my daughter calmly announced, “I cleaned my bedroom.” This is something I might ask her to do, oh, about nineteen times a day. Here she had done it without provocation, and was so quietly pleased that she wanted to show me. I stepped into a room devoid of any scrap of her school days. No pencils, pens, or spirals. No notes, no lists, no riot of papers. Counters empty, drawers organized, clutter disposed.

In that moment I realized we’d cleared the runway.

Today is her last day of high school. An on-time departure.

a teacher is a mirror

because your mascara ran
your lipstick smudged
you have spinach stuck between your teeth
because you broke a nail
got a rash
wore a hole in the heel of your sock
because your crow’s feet
your frown lines
the circles under your eyes
because what to do about your hair
you’re going bald
you’re going gray
the roots grew out
you sweat
snore
shit
stink
can’t do it
don’t want to
a lost cause
a waste of time
a lie a fraud a joke
but mostly you’re afraid
afraid to face the mirror
because the mirror just reflects

like walking on diamonds

A poor man came to visit a wealthy friend, and they ate, drank and talked until late in the night. After the guest fell into a deep sleep, the host learned that he had to leave immediately for a distant land. Before he left, to show his care and compassion, he sewed a beautiful jewel inside the hem of his friend’s shabby robe. This jewel had the power to satisfy all one’s desires.

The next morning, the guest awoke alone in his friend’s lavish house. He departed, traveling from place to place begging for food or work, unaware that he possessed a priceless gem in the hem of his robe.

One day, by chance, the wealthy man came upon his friend. Seeing the man’s desperate condition, he asked him: “Why have you allowed yourself to become destitute? You could have used the jewel that I gave you to live your life without worry.”

Bewildered, the poor man fumbled in his robe and found the gem. Ashamed of his ignorance yet overcome with joy, he realized for the first time the depth of his friend’s love and compassion. From then on, he lived in complete fulfillment.

When we realize we live in a treasure house, we can use it freely.

The Parable of the Jewel in the Robe from the Lotus Sutra

 

I just want to encourage you

My first Zen teacher was Japanese, and although he spoke English, he was nearly impossible to follow. In his soft voice and heavy accent, a good part of what he said was indecipherable. Because of that, he had a reputation for giving terrible Dharma talks, or teachings, and this caused him regret.

“I just want to encourage you,” he would say as he set off on a discourse that no one could make heads or tails of. But that was enough, at least for me. I’ve realized that encouragement is the essence of teaching. I think it’s just about all we can do for one another, and all we need to do. With encouragement, you see, people can do anything and will. A little encouragement goes a long way. You might even say it lasts forever.

Nowadays I’m grateful for the encouragement I’ve been given, which seems to be the most useful thing I can pass along.

A few years ago there was some new research into how toddlers learn to walk. The study said that a baby learning to walk falls on average 17 times per hour. 17 times! Can you imagine that? Seventeen times the shock, hurt, and tears. More than 200 failures in one 12-hour stretch! And 200 times to start over at square one. Even with all that, there has not yet been a baby who gave up on the whole enterprise. It’s a remarkably efficient learning process. Forward motion dissolves fear.

This information has factored into a lot of the advice I’ve given to people since then. Most of us, most of the time, encumber ourselves with the terrible weight and responsibility for teaching our kids everything so they turn out to be something. By that I mean something successful or prized, happy or well. Starting out, we look at them as shapeless clay, putty, or goop. I like to remind parents that we don’t actually teach our children how to walk, how to eat, how to talk, or how to sleep, regardless of how many expert opinions we seek on those subjects. An acorn becomes an oak, I say, lacking any other explanation for how human development happens. And on this basis, our children are completely and wholly themselves at every age and stage, lacking nothing, only absorbing time and encouragement to keep going.

Back when my daughter was in preschool, her teacher made a handout for parents called 4 Steps of Encouragement. When your kids are about 4 years old, you might start to worry about the really important stuff they aren’t doing, like riding a tricycle, holding a pencil, writing their name, or drawing a person with arms and legs. You’re pretty sure they’re already behind, and then where will they end up?  The teacher assures you it’s not late, there’s no hurry, children learn and grow at their own pace, and for heaven’s sake please confine your contribution to repeating these four things:

1. “I understand, I know it’s hard.”
2. “I think you can handle it.”
3. “Want to give it a try?”
4. “When you’re ready . . . “

Last week my daughter texted me during a school day, one of the last of her senior year, and said “I’m getting sad to leave.” I was surprised to hear her express affection for high school, but that wasn’t it. She meant sad to leave home, which really means sad to grow up. Isn’t that true? Isn’t reluctance at the root of all sadness? The reluctance to change, let go, fall down, get up and move on?

Of course we can give help where it is needed, attention when it is lacking, and patience when time is short. But there’s one more thing that bears repeating.

I just want to encourage you.

instant pot enlightenment

I didn’t want it. I didn’t ask for it. What I asked for was a slow cooker. When I said “slow cooker” I envisioned the brown ceramic Crock-Pot my mother filled with pork chops and a can of condensed mushroom soup in the morning before work. I’m good with slow.

I usually scale down what I ask for because gifts for me tend to get scaled up. Once I asked for a juicer and got a stainless steel “citrus press” that stands 14 inches high. I asked for a 10-inch fry pan and got a 15-inch skillet. I asked for a soup ladle and got a professional grade combination ladle and strainer with a handle so long that it won’t fit in a drawer. I use all these things, but I have a small house and kitchen that gets teenier every Christmas.

So when I saw the two-foot tall box under the tree I held my breath. It was the last gift I unwrapped. It wasn’t a slow cooker. It was my worst fear: an instant pot. I needed it like I needed another ladle.

A week later I still hadn’t opened the box. When I did, I was wary. It had a lot of packing material and instructions in several languages. My husband reassured me it wasn’t that complicated. And it was the highest rated model he could find. I might have asked for what I wanted, but I hadn’t wanted nearly enough.

I waited until he cleared one of our three gourmet coffeemakers from the counter before I installed it. And then I trolled Facebook looking for real people who had used the thing successfully. The first weeks of the year were full of postings from first-time instant pot users, posts of the “live to tell” variety. I found one from a friend and went right to the recipe she had used: butter chicken.

I tried it. I loved it. Everyone loved it. And that’s all I needed to keep going. I’ve attained instant pot enlightenment, and here’s what I’ve learned:

1. It’s not complicated. Never mind the 14 function buttons lined up on the front of my Instant Pot Duo Plus. I don’t want to make cake or porridge or yogurt. I want to make dinner, and to do that I have only ever used two functions: sauté and pressure cook.

2. It’s not that big, not as tall as a citrus press, for instance.

3. It saves time to cook, but not necessarily the time for cooking. You still have to prep the ingredients, and you might have to shop for specific ingredients more often.

4. It’s fun. I’ve been the cook for at least four nights a week for the last 21 years. So I needed a jolt to my system.

5. There are a lot of recipes out there. Some of them are faster ways to make old favorites like pot roast, chili or tomato soup; others are things you never thought you’d make, like Indian food. The Instant Pot has revolutionized traditional at-home Indian cooking with its time bound methods to achieve complex flavors. (I read that in a magazine article.) I usually start looking for a recipe using things I have on hand and want to use up, like too many sweet potatoes, carrots, or tomatoes.

6. Season it up. The pressure cooker nukes your seasonings. My favorite recipe is for a quick pot roast that sounds like something my mom would have made: it uses a packet of old-fashioned onion soup mix for flavoring.

By now you might have an instant pot sitting on top of your refrigerator. Time to haul it down and fire it up. People ask where I get my instant pot recipes. I get them instantly, but I can still save you a second or two of trouble. These are some the recipes that I have or definitely would make twice.

Beef Stew
Butter Chicken
Chicken and Pea Risotto
Chicken Biryani
Curried Carrot Red Lentil Soup
Curried Sweet Potato Lentils
Ground Beef Chili
Kale with Garlic and Lemon
Lemon Vegetable Risotto
Mongolian Chicken
Mulligatawny Soup
Palak Paneer
Spicy Cauliflower Soup
Pot Roast
Sweet Potato Chicken Curry
Tomato Soup

 

go straight on

Here are audio excerpts from a dharma talk given on April 14, 2018 at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City.

How to meditate

Practicing Zen is zazen. For zazen a quiet place is suitable. Set aside all involvements and let the myriad things rest. – Dogen Zenji, “Rules for Zazen”

To start, let go of the ideas you may have about what meditation is supposed to look like or what meditation is supposed to feel like. Let the monkey in your mind go to sleep so that you can wake up and reclaim your rightful home.

Unless you have a meditation cushion, or zafu, do not attempt to sit cross-legged on the floor to meditate. Without adequate support to elevate your buttocks and enable you to anchor your knees on the floor, sitting this way quickly becomes painful. The point of meditation is not pain. Your life is painful enough as it is. The point of meditation is to relieve pain.

What follows are instructions for meditating in a chair. Although you are unlikely to have the perfect chair in your home for meditation, any chair is perfectly okay. So do not delay your practice until your trip to the Furniture Mart.

1. Sit on the forward third of a chair so that your feet rest firmly on the ground. To support your back, place a hard cushion between your spine and the chair back. This will prevent slouching and keep you alert.

2. Space your feet widely apart. Your body is now supported at three points: your two feet and your bottom. In seated meditation, three contact points are essential for endurance and comfort. Your body now evokes the strength of a mountain.

3. Place your hands in the middle of your lap as follows: first, your right hand, palm up; then, your left hand, palm up, resting in your right palm. Lightly touch the tips of your thumbs together. Holding your hands in this way calms agitation and restlessness.

4. To check your posture, align your ears with your shoulders. Align your nose with your navel. Tuck your chin in slightly. Hold your head as though it were supporting the sky, and it will neither hang forward nor fall backward.

5. Relax your belly. A stiff, cinched abdomen restricts your breathing. In meditation, you will try to return to the full, rounded breathing of a baby. Watch a baby breathe and see that the belly rises on inhalation, not the chest. This is a good demonstration for you to learn from.

6. Lower your gaze, but do not close your eyes. If you close your eyes, you will be lulled into daydreaming. Meditation is not practice for sleeping; it is practice for waking up. Look at a spot on the floor or on a wall in front of you. Any spot will do, as long as it is not distracting.

7. Close your teeth and your mouth. Take a breath and exhale completely.

8. On your next inhalation, silently count “one.” When you exhale, silently count “two.” Inhale counting “three.” Count each exhalation and inhalation up to “ten” and then start back at “one.” If you lose the count, begin again at “one.” This meditation practice is called counting your breath.

9. When a thought comes up, let it go away by itself, which it will if you do not pursue it.

10. This is the practice of zazen. Do zazen for up to five minutes. Keep a watch or clock nearby to note the time. As you meditate more often, you may be able to do it for longer. Do not be self-critical or impatient with yourself. Do not push yourself. Do not make meditation one more thing you have to do. If you are gentle, encouraging and consistent with yourself, your meditation practice will naturally deepen and lengthen.

Five minutes is not a long time, but it can take a long time to find five minutes to meditate. Usually, the first five minutes or the last five minutes in the day are the easiest to find. You already have them and they are already quiet.

I will be most happy to answer your questions and encourage you to keep going.

how to raise an adult

Today I walked to Rite Aid, something I’ve done a few times — okay, exactly twice. On the sidewalk ahead, I could see a bowlegged man shuffling toward me. When he got up close he pointed to the intersection behind me with his cane.

Is that Huntington? he asked.

No, that’s Sierra Madre Boulevard.

OK, he said, I just have to cross that street.

Huntington and Sierra Madre boulevards are three miles apart and not in any way like the other. So I wondered for the rest of the afternoon whether he was: 1) following a peculiar exercise regimen, or 2) genuinely disoriented and lost. I didn’t look back to see if he made it across the street, nor did I see him on the return walk home, but he stayed with me, that old traveler did.

When I encounter a stranger who tells me something unexpected — the lady in the Whole Foods parking lot who said she loved the shape of my head; Sister Imelda, a nun in full habit on the hiking trail telling me she was collecting souls — I figure they have a message for me. The message is to wake up. After 10,000 or so steps, I realized the man had given me an answer I’d been looking for.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about how to raise an adult, an activity that’s occupying me these last hundred days before my daughter leaves home. But I couldn’t, because I don’t know how to raise an adult. I was thinking I’d come up with a handy list of steps, like, say, the steps for growing corn. But it turns out growing corn isn’t that simple to sum up either. There’s the matter of soil, weather, temperature and pests: so many variables, too many unknowns.

When you’re a parent, every question you have is how, and every answer is do. All those ages and stages, milestones and thresholds, tests and percentages, transitions and regressions, variables and unknowns. But that’s in your head. In real life, to get where you’re going you just have to cross the street.

Forward motion: it happens.

Last week, a vote-by-mail ballot for the city election came addressed to my daughter. I sat beside her as she read the instructions, asked thoughtful questions and filled in the bubbles. Then she signed her name with a signature I’d never seen and wouldn’t have recognized. An adult.

Guess that’s how.

***

Coming up next:
What is Zen: A Retreat in Kansas City, April 13-15
Still Summer: A Zen Retreat in Ohio, Cincinnati July 5-8

 

healing community

Thorndale, Texas by Adrienne Breaux

 

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them. — Matthew 18:20

I’ve had this verse on my mind since I spent time in the hospital. I wasn’t in the hospital being a patient, mind you, but rather being patient, cultivating one of the virtues required of us in difficult circumstances.

A friend was having major surgery, and I accompanied her into the hospital and sat beside her as she mended for a day or so after. Although I didn’t do anything while I was there, I learned some things.

I learned, for instance, that a hospital is its own country, with its own language, symbols, rituals and time, its own days and nights. The outside, with its calliope of circus distractions, doesn’t exist. The first day I just sat in a waiting room with strangers whiling away the time. I was alone until a family came up to me and asked if the empty seats nearby were taken. We shared the lengthening hours then, talking about weather and pets, bound by our communal experience of waiting and worry.

It is a beautiful thing to see how much you have in common with people you’ve never met and know nothing about. People you might not see again and would likely never recognize. The circumstance connects you in a clarifying way, and you can see beyond appearances, beyond what you might otherwise judge on face value.

I learned that even the most confident doctors can pray, and that their shoulders carry the weight of our urgent faith.

I saw that even after 12 hours on the job nurses still enter sick rooms with a smile and leave with a thank you.

I watched a phlebotomist take blood so gently, so tenderly, asking permission and making apology while causing no pain, all because, she said, “I put myself on the patient’s side.”

I learned that it is always possible to be kind, and that most people already are.

The hospital gave me hope, tremendous hope. Not hope in miracles, but hope in healing. The hope that we can turn this thing around, that we can begin to heal one another even if only by twos or threes, which is the really good news, because that means we can do it right now where we are with the first stranger passing by.

Life in community

I read one pastor’s take on this Bible verse and I really liked it. She said that the verse instructs us to live our spiritual lives in community, with others, where there is conflict and contention to be reconciled. It’s in our differences, you see, that grace is revealed, that we are rescued and redeemed from our self-interest and thus able to love a neighbor with equal devotion.

In Buddhism we call this sangha. It is honorable for its harmony, and it is everywhere.

What is killing our communities? I wondered about that this week when I read the story of the unrepentant Austin bomber, isolated and frustrated by his life living in a town reminiscent of one I once knew.

Reading that he was from Pflugerville, Texas, reminded me of Thorndale, Texas, just 30 miles northeast, where my mother’s people had lived. Both towns were founded by farmers in the late 19th century for the sake of common interests: to have a school and a church, a general store and a post office, a bank, a cemetery and a cotton gin. These were real communities that arose out of real needs, needs met by being shared among the many.

Thorndale hasn’t changed. Progress passed it by. But not so Pflugerville, where real estate developers arrived in the ’80s to remake it into an Austin suburb. A city of 60,000, Pflugerville is now rife with master-planned communities, neighborhoods of sameness secured by fences and gates, valued for what’s left out as much as what’s put in.

What does living in community mean any more? There’s no grace, no spiritual good when we make our community out of one ideology or income bracket, and Lord knows there’s no salvation to be found in Facebook, either. These days the word, community, is used for everything while meaning nothing.

I spent two days watching how it works in a hospital, and this is what I saw. We have to get real, people, to get better, and we have to do it together before it’s too late.

You might want to watch a beautiful film, The Florida Project, about a community left on the fringe after Disney fashioned a make-believe world.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ... 76 77 78 Next

archives by month

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.