When all else fails


So while I was gloating over what this much-loved and widely read woman said about me, Ana spoke from behind my chair.

Ana is a woman who quite nearly shares my age, my home and my family and yet we live worlds apart. She comes every other week to put my life right side up, to pet the dog and humor the kid, to climb ladders and sweep corners and reach places that annoy me to high heaven but not enough to get off my butt and do something about.

She sat with me when I was bedbound and pregnant; I have rushed her to the hospital with strange and gripping pain. I do not live without Ana, and thankfully, I do not have to.

I swiveled around and Ana told me about her niece in El Salvador who was dying of leukemia. A niece only 12 years old and with only five months to live. A niece with the two names Meriam Artice.

At least I think that is what she said. Although we communicate perfectly, Ana and I rarely understand one other, which is the basis for an ideal relationship.

Meriam Artice is what I heard, and she spelled it for me. I had to ask because hearing this shut me down and emptied me out. Artice was my mother’s name. It was only my mother’s name. I never knew anyone else, nor did my mother know anyone else, who had her name. My mother has been dead for six years, but as you might guess, she’s not gone. Not by a long shot.

I took Ana by the shoulder and we went to the backyard to say a service. We said a chant for auspicious blessings for Meriam Artice and every other Artice, for Ana, me, you and every other you. And post-haste, I hastily posted to broadcast the benediction.

This is how the practice works. This is how the world works. In thunderbolts of heartbreak and flashes of illumination.

And while I was out back, with the dog and Ana and Artice, I saw clearly that it was time to rake. The rake rescues me, every time.

What she said


In the beginner’s mind are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. – Suzuki Roshi

It’s a good thing I’m having this conversation today when I otherwise feel so, well . . . fruitless.

She speaks my mind for me. And she speaks my heart.

How can I connect the two?

Back to the beginning, always back to the beginning.

Seeds of conversation


fer•tile, adj. Capable of growing and developing; able to mature; highly or continuously productive; prolific

An open invitation to enlarge your point of view by talking about the infinite possibilities of fertility as part of a one-hour teleconference on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 6 p.m. Pacific, 7 p.m. Mountain, 8 p.m. Central and 9 p.m. Eastern.

Our topic is “The Mind-Body Connection to Conception.” Let’s see what grows out of it.

Sponsored by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. There is no charge; please register to obtain the call-in information by contacting Ami Jaeger at 505-466-4642 or asj@bio-law.com.

A good night to see the moon

A comment over the weekend had me remembering that my father died two years ago this Thanksgiving. Or rather, he died the day after Thanksgiving, but only because we delayed him on this side of the door until the dinner dishes could be cleared. His death was swift but a long time coming, unexpected but unsurprising, inconvenient but flawlessly executed.

I hope you understand when I say my father’s death was his finest hour. I was proud of him, something I never genuinely felt before.

My mother ran interference for Dad in our lives. Despite her frequent assurances that “Your Daddy really loves you,” my father did not love easily nor was he easy to love. Although no child could be expected to know or compensate for it, my father showed us what a lifelong submersion in pain could look like, and how insidiously it could spread. As soon as I could steady myself on two feet, I kept my distance. For the rest of his life, nearby or not, I cultivated ways to buffer myself. I owe my strength, resilience, independence, intelligence, humor and oddly enough, peace of mind, to him.

My sisters and I would sometimes imagine my father’s decline into illness and incapacitation. We would stew in the cynical certainty that the burden would befall us to be kind to an unkind man and generous to a self-centered scrooge. We weren’t at all sure we could do it.

Suffice it to say that isn’t what happened.

About a year before he died, my father began to do some strange things. He imagined a new life, or death, in a new place, far away. And he set about, with the intention and resolve he had lacked in nearly every other year of his life, to accomplish this. He gave away or sold all the stuff we were so sure we would be saddled with sorting out. He sold his home, the albatross we’d already hung around our necks. He loaded up his dog and his truck and moved to a mountain home where six months later he could no longer breathe.

When I arrived at his bedside, he was not breathing on his own. I sat for two days to the rhythm of the respirator while we waited for a pathology report delayed by the holiday hiatus. There was no hope, nor was there need for any. We saw so clearly the perfect plan and timing, the wisdom, the care, the great responsibility he had stepped forward to shoulder for his life, finally, and his death, and weren’t they one and the same?

The last night, I felt his life rush out like the tide, and I lost my footing. I could not stand. I could not walk. The nurses wondered if I had the flu and if I should go to the ER.

“No,” I said, “it is my father dying.” They could only assume that it was an emotional response. But it wasn’t emotional. It was physical. I clung to my chair like a raft lest I flow out in the undertow. And then I felt, as never before, that my father was me.

When all was said and done, we turned off the machine and death came. It was simple and effortless. It was easy and on time. I spoke prayers, verses and encouragement, and I found out I could. I owe my compassion, faith and fearlessness to him.

I owe him my life, and my dog.

Good night, Daddy.

Nothing left over


Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?” Nansen replied, “Ordinary mind is the Way.”
“Shall I try to seek after it?” asked Joshu. “If you try to seek after it, you will become separated from it.” “How will I know the Way unless I try for it?” Joshu persisted. Nansen said, “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is confusion. When you have truly reached the Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How you can explain it by yes or no?”

Making the effort, in these unusual days of unusual events with unusual company in unusual circumstances, to leave no trace of myself. In Zen we call this the effort of no effort. It is the hardest effort of all, but it sure tastes good.

Hundred flowers in Spring, the moon in Autumn,
The cool wind in Summer and Winter’s snow.

If your mind is not clouded with things,
You have the happiest days of your life.

The risk of life

When I realize I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I realize I am everything, that is love. And between these points I live my life.

In this big, wide world that fits on the head of a pin, in this universe of infinite possibilities and yet identical experiences, I often find my voice in the words of readers or find my readers in mine. Such was the case today when this post prompted a drip and then the outpouring you find in the puddle right here.

This is what I have been longing to say.

Living involves an incalculable level of risk. It is the riskiest thing we do. And not because it could be fatal. There is a 100 percent risk of fatality, and that cannot be called a risk, but rather a guarantee. No matter what false comfort we take in our age, our habits, our attitude, or our genetics, none of that changes the bottom line. We all die. In spite of that irrefutable end, living with our whole heart, our whole mind and both feet is a risk that few of us are willing to take.

Few of us are willing to take on the risk of being alive. By that I mean being fearless and free, spontaneous, creative, generous, expansive, trusting, truthful and satisfied. To risk accepting ourselves and our lives as they are. To risk forgiveness. To risk not knowing. To risk messing up and starting over. To risk life’s inevitable cycles and sequences. To risk something new. To let hurts heal. To let bygones be gone. To face the fact that the narrow, familiar, comfortable idea we have of our self is just that – an idea – and to let that idea go. And not to be replaced by any other newer, better idea of who we are. To realize every name, every definition, every label, every story, every boundary, every fear, every feeling, every diagnosis, every conclusion, everything we claim to know about ourselves, is just an idea. And to let every bit of that go too.

The truth is, we know nothing about life. It can’t be known. But it can be observed. This is what we can see.

Life wants to live. Watch a friend or family member face death, or have a health scare yourself, and see how much life wants to live.

Life wants to grow. Plan a family, or struggle with infertility, and see how much life wants to grow.

Life is not hard to live. It is effortless. Life lives by itself. It is what we think and feel about life that is so very difficult to endure.

Life has a way of going. Why it goes, we can’t answer. Where it goes, we don’t know. But how? That’s entirely up to us. How can you risk losing another year to fear, anger or anxiety? Another month? Another day? Another moment? How can you risk being anything but whole-heartedly alive right now?

If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, look into the free teleconference I’m hosting on “The Mind-Body Connection to Conception” next week. I don’t know what I will say, but I promise to do no harm.

Coming home to the place you never left


We pulled to a stop at the light on the way to the dentist, of all places.

Mom, there’s a man holding a sign that says homeless.

We do this nearly every time, handing a very small bill to this very same man in the very same spot. I roll down the window with my offering. He blesses us and the light turns green.

That’s going to take him a whole year, she says as I pummel the accelerator.

A whole year for what, I ask with imperceptible interest.

To save enough for a home.

And the curtain rises to reveal the innocence of a child, seeing the hidden dignity in the humbled, the obvious depth of the need, the unbiased purity of the gift. And I hope that in this one exchange, this folded paper passed between a crack of glass, this man has indeed palmed a full dollar’s worth of peace and comfort, a home sweet home, as he is and where he is.

He is not, of course, saving up for a home. But the rest of us are. We force and finagle. We fret, scrimp and plan. We set our sights on an impossible someday, when things are finally set, the ship comes in and the planets align. When the grass is cut and the pie crust is perfect. At last, or so we envision, we arrive at a life of ease and fulfillment. Until then we scramble like mad to recast a life with a different beginning in urgent anticipation of a life with a different ending. We go looking for home.

In this week when tradition calls us home, can we find it? Can we set aside the expectations and standards, the wishes and dreams, the old resentments, the tired conversations, the grudges, the comparisons and judgments? Can we avoid the build-up and the letdown? Can we accept, forgive, forget, make peace and pass the mashed potatoes? If we can do that, really do that, then we might find home – our true home – in the very spot we sit, and we might for once – I don’t mind if I do – just eat.

A detail from the woodcarving on our front door.

In celebration of our home’s inclusion in the remarkable new book, At Home: Pasadena.

Fill me with pie


Georgia and I have volunteered to make the pumpkin pie for this year’s family Thanksgiving. I could just go to my safe-bet recipe source. Or to the tried and provenly true. But I’d much rather take a tip from you. I have in mind that nearly everyone else but me is deliciously crafty and outrageously homespun. And some of you really are. Yes, I’m talking about you.

Before the holiday week barrels over us, before we all become overwhelmed, underwater and out of touch, send me your favorite pumpkin pie recipe please. It can be a link or a list; it can be elaborate, unusual or as easy as pie. Georgia and I will whip it up together and take a piece of you on the road to the glistening winter wonderland of Newport Beach, California, where one more faraway friend will have a seat at our table of thanks.

From the bottom of our crusts, thank you.

Attention readers, bloggers and opinionators: if you would like a review copy of the new paperback edition of Momma Zen, my publisher will provide! Just contact me via the email on my profile page.

Six of one, half dozen of the other

angel-wing_galI am Thankful
By Georgia

I am thankful for, My family.
I am also thankful for my dog, Molly
I am thankful for my life.
If I had no life I would be an angal.

No quibble from me, sweetie. No quibble.

 

Instead: Or what I did all day


I wanted to sleep past dawn, but instead
I know making breakfast isn’t worth the effort, but instead
I hounded my daughter to make her bed, but instead
I’ve given up hounding my husband, so instead
I tried for a quick drop-off at school, but instead
I hoped the garden weeds wouldn’t spread, but instead
I prayed the dog poop in the yard would disappear, but instead
I wished a pet like ours didn’t need walking, but instead
I aimed to go exercise, but instead
I could have let the laundry mount, but instead
I contemplated a sumptuous lunch, but instead
I wanted to cancel the teleconference, but instead
I would gladly let someone else chauffeur the kids, but instead
I thought we could go one more day without groceries, but instead
I could have picked up dinner, but instead
I might have nixed my daughter’s bath and hair wash, but instead
I wish I’d written something more than this, but instead
I long for another response to Marta’s question, but instead
This is my life and there is no instead.
How could it be any other way?

Attention readers, bloggers and opinionators: if you would like a review copy of the new paperback edition of Momma Zen, my publisher will provide! Just contact me via the email on my profile page.

Separated at birth

This week Momma Zen debuts in paperback. I feel a bit like a mother who sees her child after a short absence. There’s that half-step back on first sight: recognition commingled with no recognition. So much has changed! That fuller face. Those longer legs. That confident step. Where did the baby go?

As a dutiful mother, I’m holding this baby up to the world again. Perhaps you know this blog but you don’t yet know the book. I invite you to peek inside and nose around. Knock on my door so we can meet face to face. Pull up a chair and listen. Get to know the neighbors. We’re all in this together.

Nothing would make me happier. It could do the trick for you, too.

Visit my website to download audio excerpts in my own voice and a video interview in my own backyard.

We haven’t met but I’d know you anywhere.

Don’t tell Daddy

Mommy, promise me you won’t tell Daddy.

She had been a little squirmy on the way home from school. Preoccupied.

What is it?

Well, Mandy, she . . . promise me you won’t get mad?

Tell me, honey.

Mandy said not to tell you. She gave me this to keep and bring to school so we can play with it and she told me not to tell you. Promise me you won’t tell Daddy?

She was petrified, tormented as she reached inside her backpack. I had never seen anything like it, not that there aren’t plenty of things like it, a little toy, one piece of a two-way text messaging set that must be the walkie-talkie of these degenerate times. It was harmless, really, but Georgia had heard enough about how cell phones and iPods and mp3 players and every handheld electronic thingy orbiting her world was not a toy and not for her and Mandy had encrypted it all in a secret and Georgia was now trembling, crumbling with the weight of this second-grade conspiracy.

We didn’t tell Daddy. I told Georgia to give the toy back to Mandy the next day. I said I could see that having it made her scared and uncomfortable so she couldn’t keep it. I didn’t tell her how good she was or how bad she was. I didn’t scold her, and thereby add insult to her self-inflicted injury. And I didn’t tell her how happy she made me. Happy not because she trusted me. Not because she couldn’t keep a secret. Not because she couldn’t tell a lie. But because she couldn’t tell a lie to herself.

She’ll be OK, this little one. And Daddy (right, Daddy?) will be OK too.

I’ve about had it with the Truth. We’re off for a long weekend in Seattle to meet the mysteries that turned up one day in the mailbox.

Nice haircut

I guess the last post was too much to swallow in one gulp, when all we’re really talking about is how to know for sure that we’re teaching our kids to do the right thing.

Buddha left us a nifty eight-step program for that called The Eightfold Path that tells us how to live an enlightened life. It tells us eight ways to do the right thing: eight ways that cover just about the entire scope of human activity. It goes: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

That’s a lot of right. But this right doesn’t mean from wrong. This right means without a perception of a self.

Whaaaat?

Specifically, when it comes to speaking, it means that honesty is not always the best policy if someone has just gotten a bad haircut.

It means that in my interaction with my child, if I am motivated by: my shame, my anger, my fear, my worry, my desire to have my way, my pride, my fervent hope that I can teach her to be smarter, more charming, more clever, more grown up, more successful, more like me, less like me or more or less of anything or any way that constitutes my personal agenda, that’s not right. And I will inevitably cause her harm.

It means that in my interaction with anyone else, if I am motivated by: my shame, my anger, my fear, my worry, my pride, my desire to have my way, my need to be understood, my need for you to hear me out, my need for you to validate, concur, accept or agree to my point of view or do anything else that accords solely with my personal agenda, that’s not right. And I will inevitably cause you harm.

How can we put this into practice? Each time you get ready to speak, take a look at what you’re carrying. If you’ve got a pair of scissors in your hand, ready to cut, snip, shape or otherwise improve someone else’s head to your liking, set the scissors down!

Turns out not very much needs to be said. And in the event that you slip, hair grows back in no time at all. That’s the truth!

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 ... 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 Next

archives by month