Chopping away at the truth


All well and good, you say. Who wouldn’t agree that children tell a charming version of the truth? But what about when a lie is really a lie? What about right from wrong? How do I teach my children to know that? Isn’t that the task before us? To raise good children to do good things?

Yes, it is our task and it is deceptively difficult. Not because of them, but because of us.

It is not as easy as counting to 10. Not just about hewing closely to a list of things to do, or a list of things to not do. Don’t hit your brother! Don’t cheat! Don’t lie! There is a place for those kinds of lists, they appear in all religious traditions, and they can be useful, especially as a starting point. But they do not really get to the pit of the cherry, so to speak, because human beings are quite clever with themselves. We nibble around the edges. We lie all the time, especially when we say we don’t. Rare are the offenders who can’t completely convince themselves of innocence. Or at least of extenuating circumstances!

In Buddhism, we have what we call the precepts. Formalizing your commitment to a Buddhist practice involves “taking the precepts,” which is a public promise to do what you say you will. The precepts sound like this: “Refrain from killing. Refrain from stealing. Refrain from lying.” They sound deceptively like another list of prohibitions with which most of us are familiar. And in that way, sometimes Buddhists seem to be replacing one set of ethical prohibitions with another. That’s as far as some folks get: still mired in a moralistic view of good and bad, right and wrong, believing sincerely that they are on the righter side of right, and on the gooder side of good. I’ve written before about how anytime we are judging either/or, right/wrong, good/bad, using our egocentric picking and choosing mind, we are hanging ourselves from a very strong and enduring tree, but hanging ourselves nonetheless.

(With lip-smacking self- satisfaction, I assure you that I’m better than those other half-baked Buddhists!)

No, just thinking you are doing the right thing isn’t doing the right thing at all. To get it really right, you have to chop down the tree. You have to chop away at self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, self-interest, self-absorption and self-service. You have to chop down your precious self – all its menacing branches and creeping vines. You have to forget yourself altogether. Then you really cannot tell a lie. But you can still eat the cherries or make a heckuva pie.

I’m off to destroy the incriminating evidence. Less of everything but truth tomorrow. (Or something that tastes a lot like it.)

Truth, as told by



The following post is based on the truth.

Things my daughter has said when I’ve been attentive enough to hear:

At the amusement park:
Sometimes the noisiest places are the most peaceful.
Looking at the sky:
The moon follows us wherever we go.
After a nightmare:
My brain is mixed up.
Asked to subtract 2 from 32:
I’ll know that in high school.
On setting the alarm:
My eyes have timers in them so I know when to wake up.
On her religious persuasion:
I’m half Jewish, half Buddhist and half Christian.
Hearing that what she wants costs $139.
I’ll ask Santa and it won’t cost anything.

I could take exception to any or all of these statements. I could see these as teachable moments. I could subtly nudge, correct, expand, or explain. I could interject scientific, biological, psychological or theological concepts of my choosing. I might note, for example, that the moon is not following her, per se, but that through Einstein’s Theory of Relativity we know that the interplay between mass and curvature causes the gravitational and centripetal forces that hold the moon in its position relative to Earth. Would that be more true?

Children’s views on the life around them are at once literal, lyrical and magical. They are simultaneously very small and simplistic, and very large and profound. They are always true; we just may not judge them to be right.

When my daughter speaks, I listen for a teachable moment. That is, a moment that teaches me. And I stifle the impulse to limit the possibilities of her universe. Her life will do that for her. She will inevitably acquire knowledge, cultivate reason and encounter her own doubts and dark nights. She will ask me difficult questions and I will respond as best as I can. I save her nothing by shortcutting her journey to what I believe to be right or rational, provable or true. I play along, because these are the days for play.

Right now and for the briefest flicker of time, she stands before a wide open window, inviting me to come see. It is a breathtaking view, and I want it to last far longer than I know it will.

When it ends, I’ll still be standing by her.

Unscrabbling the answers

Our week of truth-telling begins by revealing the winner of last week’s giveaway of the first copy of the new paperback edition of Momma Zen. Drumroll, please.

What began as a Friday morning afterthought ended up as an onslaught of 66 entrants, nearly all ensnared in a 24-hour period. Wait a minute. Astute readers might have noticed that sometime between the time I posted the giveaway and the time the winner was chosen, I changed the terms of the contest. What I first presented as a weeklong, below-the-radar offer turned into a high-speed photo finish on the final day of the Internet’s largest giveaway promotion. How did that happen? Easy. I changed my mind, and when I changed my mind, I changed the truth.

Those of you who entered early saw one deadline in the post; those in the thundering pack unleashed from giveaway central saw another. Whether you are an early and loyal reader on this Road or just a drive-by viewer tossing rocks in my dryer, consider this: Was my offer deceiving to some and not to others? Was it fair and honest? Every time my post was viewed, it was accurate, but perhaps not to your point of view.

It is difficult to extract one’s personal point of view from truth, but we must if we want to answer our own uncertainties about what is true and right for our children. But more about that tomorrow.

I do not know what silent force of attraction compelled my daughter to scroll through a list of 66 names and choose one, but she did. Her choice was proof again that children usually arrive at the most apparent answer, because after scanning all 66 she chose the very first name! I trust her choice to be as true and right as any other, and it carries my cheery salute to our first winner.


Kathryn has been busy lately losing her mind and heart to a two-month-old, but things are looking better every day. Stop by and give her a grin.

Astute readers might notice that I said first winner. This whole escapade addles and rattles one’s flimsy sense of truthiness, doesn’t it? Feeling uncomfortably as though my own personal agenda might not have been met by my daughter’s predilection for the obvious, I changed my mind again and turned to the scientific sanctity of an automated integer generator to name our second winner:


By her own words, this lucky mom of nine-month-old twins really NEEDS THIS BOOK. Why not visit and give her a high-five?

Trusting that the first two paperback copies of Momma Zen are headed in the right direction, and hoping that everyone carries through on their exclamatory promises to share and share alike, we call it a very good night.

Tomorrow, more stumbling forward on the march to Truth!

The giveaway that keeps giving away


All week long I’ve been teasing you with the claim that this was Grab Bag week at the Cheerio Road, promising that at the end of my interminable rambling there would be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

This morning I reached into the bag and came up with a prize . . . for me.

The Original Perfect Post Awards - Oct

Shawn awarded me A Perfect Post Award for that little list of trust I posted last week. Only Shawn knows how perfect this turn of events really is; how the universe delivers what you need courtesy of a sensitive, soulful mom working hard and long in the wee hours of Somewhere, Pennsylvania. This is one gift that really gives, since it corralled a herd of unsuspecting readers to this dinky one-lane road yesterday. I’m so grateful I could blog on that for 30 days, but I won’t, I’ll get back to the subject at hand.

At the verrrry bottom of the bag is the giveaway I have in mind to give away, and it’s not nearly so generous, since I bet I’ve already given something very much like it to nearly all of you. The brand new paperback edition of Momma Zen has arrived and honestly it makes me and my mother and her mother and my daughter and her daughter proud all over again. It’s right pretty. I will send this gleaming white prize, inscribed by the famous author of same, to one of you who wants it and tells me so in the comments section of this post by 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, Nov. 4. Now here’s the deal. If you get it and already have a copy of the book, promise me pretty please that you will give away the other copy to someone else who least expects it, because that’s how the Cheerio rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls back to you like it does to me. All the time.

An upstanding girl of 8 will choose the winner from all entries. She is trustworthy and honest and, unlike her mother, has never told a lie. But more about that next week when we talk about Truth with a capital T.

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Self-deceptively delicious

Mom, what’s your favorite holiday?

Crinkle. Chomp. Swallow.

New Year’s.

And hey! Speaking of lying to yourself, what’s the deal with this mega-deception anyway? 1.2 million copies in print? And who needs help hiding squash in macaroni and cheese? Burying chickpeas in chocolate? What kind of help is that? We need help getting the squash out into the open as it is! Chickpeas, rise up and reveal your true (lack of) colors! Good food tastes good by itself. But let’s be honest. You can do all that without a book, and your children just might begin to trust you more if you stop trying to pull one over on them at dinner, no matter how adept you are at fooling some of the people some of the time.

Oh look at that, my buddhism went all to hell with this post. I’ll try to patch up my self-image next time. Maybe I should get a little counsel from a world-class expert in the art of fooling no one. Turns out that, as of today, Karen P. Hughes, trusted counselor to the President, is available for another tricky assignment with truth, and I only hope she doesn’t write a cookbook.

Interview with a vampire

Did somebody say to write about control? Did somebody ask about fear? I’m afraid so. Who better to pontificate on the point than today’s guest, the phantom of fear himself, Count Effluvium Ginormus Overtopster.

May I call you ego for short?

I prefer that I forever be known as I, me, myself, the Big Kahuna, Top Dog, Numero Uno, the Commander in Chief or the Decider. I’m sure you won’t mind. In fact, you’ll come to love me as none other than yourself.

Are you big and bad?

Of course not, I simply have a neverending job to do.

Which is?

To protect you.

From?

Lions, tigers and bears.

But I don’t see any wild animals.

Boo!

Seriously, there’s nothing dangerous going on.

What’s that sound? Who’s hiding in the closet? What’s around the corner? What if? What then? What next?

Are you trying to change the subject?

All the time! See my sleights of hand? Judgment, control, planning, defense, intellect, memory. Hey! Remember that time you walked home in the dark and that stranger came close and . . . Remember when you were six and the dog barked and . . . Look before you leap! Better safe than sorry!

You’re trying to scare me.

I like to stay busy! And look at all the nifty defense mechanisms I brought with me: denial, displacement, intellectualization, fantasy, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, regression, repression, sublimation, blah, blah, blah. I can’t wait to use one after the other. I never go anywhere unless I’m armed to the teeth.

You never go anywhere?

I prefer to stay in control right where I am. In fact, why don’t you go upstairs into that dusty attic surrounded by all those old, familiar things and I’ll lock you in where you are safe and secure.

Secure from what?

The outside, you silly! Didn’t you notice it’s getting dark? Didn’t you notice it’s getting light? Didn’t you notice all those ominous changes? The threatening signs? Didn’t you notice that those people over there are looking at you? Didn’t you notice everyone is talking about you? Better get up there and not move an inch. Entrust me with your life!

But it’s my house and there’s no one else here and you’re the only one talking.

Yes, and I wish you’d straighten up and set some standards! Fresh towels would be nice.

Why don’t you shut up?

Why don’t you try to make me?

This is my Halloween prank, but for a real scare, see what happens when ego rules the so-called free world.

In a variation on trick-or-treat, this is Grab Bag week at Cheerio Road. I’ll let your comments ignite the topic I take up each day. If there isn’t a gust from you – a question, a comment, a change in direction – we’ll just have to sit through the wait. At the end of the week, there’ll be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

The stew in lieu (of a post)

1. Wake up.
2. Realize it is Monday.
3. Realize the phone is ringing; answer it and agree to teach yoga this morning.
4. Realize that by teaching this morning I can be home this evening instead of taking a class.
5. Realize that I need to check my calendar to be sure.
6. Realize it is October 29.
7. Realize that today is my 12th wedding anniversary.
8. Realize I need to buy a card.
9. Realize I need to buy a gift.
10. Realize the gift should be something my husband really wants.
11. Realize that would be a 90-minute massage at the health club.
12. Realize I could make a nice dinner.
13. Realize it could be something my husband really likes.
14. Take daughter to and from school, walk the dog, answer email, teach yoga, pick up dog poop, go to market, get card and gift certificate, talk on phone, chop veggies, make pot roast, receive magnificent floral delivery, help daughter with homework, clear table, bring in mail, vacuum, empty dishwasher, take out trash and chill champagne.
15. Realize that I can stop pondering the imponderabilities of today’s potential profundity
16. Because whenever I wake up and realize that my life as it is is perfectly OK it answers Karen Beth’s question from yesterday about my practice.
17. And thus comprises my post as promised.

In a variation on trick-or-treat, this is Grab Bag week at Cheerio Road. I’ll let your comments ignite the topic I take up each day. If there isn’t a gust from you – a question, a comment, a change in direction – we’ll just have to sit through the wait. At the end of the week, there’ll be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

Putting out the fire


Practice the Way as though saving your head from fire. –Nagarjuna

We ended the week by quite nearly putting out the fires. We also ended the week by quite nearly coming around to practice. Are they one or are they two?

Here in Southern California, each round of wildfires reminds us of the last, only worse. It can appear to others that we are ignorantly dismissive or resigned. People rail against the shortage of plans and preventions, the inadequacy of resources, the greed of land developers and the (mostly) wealthy homeowners who build and buy in the fire zone. All of those are reasonable questions. But at this time of year, this long into the eternal drought, this far into Earth’s desperate disequilibrium, none of those questions puts out the fire. When the scorching desert wind blows from the East and starts or spreads the fire, there is nothing that can stop it. As long as the gusts are blowing from the Mojave furnace, the fire always wins. There is no fighting it. There is only the ravaging wait.

When conditions change, the fire always goes out. When the wind changes directions and the moist, cool air once again flows inland from the Pacific, the fires die back, and the fighters prevail.

So it is with practice. So it is with meditation, mindfulness and Zen. Only the fire is on your head. More precisely, it is in your head. It is your chattering, egocentric, picking and choosing mind that is aflame with fear, anxiety, worry, doubt, agitation, or just plain restlessness. None of those things is a problem unless it causes you a problem, unless the flames are too close for comfort. Maybe you can’t sleep. Maybe you can’t smile. Maybe none of the tried-and-true fixes will fix you up again. And that is the siren call for practice.

Just as with the other kind of fire control, we practice by changing the conditions. We settle our bodies into one spot, we minimize sensory distractions, we bring the full force of our mental powers away from the conflagration in our mind and toward the breath – the wind – to squelch the flames and cool the inferno.

Honestly, a life of practice isn’t the life we go looking for. It isn’t easy. It isn’t familiar. It isn’t a mansion in the hills. It is a life that starts out hard and ends up sweet; starts out hot and ends up cool. But it’s the only kind of sweet that ever satisfies. It’s the only kind of cool you urgently want and need. When it’s time, you know it, and you know what to do.

In a variation on trick-or-treat, this is Grab Bag week at Cheerio Road. I’ll let your comments ignite the topic I take up each day. If there isn’t a gust from you – a question, a comment, a change in direction – we’ll just have to sit through the wait. At the end of the week, there’ll be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

Why how what where when


Why trust? And why trust me to say so?

It’s not as though I’ve never known loss, fear, anger, depression or confusion. It’s not as though my relationship works. It’s not as though I’m the world’s most wonderful mother. With the world’s most wonderful kid (even though, like all kids, she is). I’m not better than anyone else. I don’t have my shit together. No, I’m not at all trustworthy in that kind of way.

The trust I’m selling isn’t something you can get from me. You can’t get it from a book, not even the really good ones. It’s not found in inspirational quotes, although it’s nice to run across them here and there.

It’s not something you get from a TV show, not even that really uplifting and helpful TV show, because the good feeling fades as soon as you change the channel. It’s not something you get when something really good happens, or something that you lose when disaster strikes. We say we lose our trust when really bad things happen, but what we’ve lost is the false certainty, the comfortable bubble, that only good things happen to good people.

So where do you get trust? You won’t believe me, but you already have it. You have it when you surrender, if you ever do, to a night’s slumber and open your eyes to another day. Everytime you exhale your breath, and in that half-minute before you automatically inhale again. You have it when you put on your shoes, or when you don’t, and you walk across this great Earth without falling off. You have it when you look up at the moon and see that wherever you go, wherever you are, it is always over your shoulder.

It is not by accident that you came here; it is not by chance.

So I will entrust you with the only thing I can give you. A notice once again that I am teaching a one-day meditation retreat that is perfect for you a week from now on Sunday, Nov. 4. It is the best way, and the fastest way, and the everlasting way, to uncover deep trust in your life.

If you cannot heed my offer this time, then hurry to the next, when not by accident or chance we meet again.

the parent’s little list of trust*

*Not so little. Not just parents.

Trust accidents and coincidences; trust imperfection and the unforeseen.
Trust the milk to spill.
Trust confusion as the child of clarity; trust doubt as the mother of confidence.
Trust fevers, trust coughs, trust tummy aches.
Trust the body at all times.
Do not trust children’s cold medications.
Trust family. Trust friends. Trust strangers to become friends.
Trust old wives. Trust whatever you find when you find it.
Trust forgiveness. Trust forgetfulness. Trust remembrance to return when it serves you.
Trust the day and the night, like the sun and the moon, to appear right on schedule.
Trust time.
Trust change. And the change after that.
Trust not knowing.
Trust that when you can’t handle it for one more minute, you can handle it for one more minute.
Trust your strength. Trust your flexibility.
Trust in every outcome. To trust only in a certain kind of outcome is not trust, but fear.
Trust that children always say what they mean.
Trust that even when they don’t get what they want, children always get what they need.
Trust your life as it unfolds.
Trust your teacher, and that everything everywhere is your teacher.
Trust your child.
Trust yourself.
Trust.
And trust again.

Bathtub confessional


I’d always wondered when the time would come. Then one night while Georgia soaked in the tub and I sat nearby, it came.

Mommy, were you alive in 1982?
Yes, I was.
Were you married?
Not to your Dad.
Were you married to someone else before Daddy?
Yes, I was.

Cool.

Trust accidents and coincidences; trust imperfection and the unforeseen.

Tea and terribles

“Invite him to tea.”

This was my teacher Maezumi Roshi talking, after he learned that I had a certain relationship of a certain kind with a certain guy.

And so this guy motored down to the Zen Center in Los Angeles for tea with me and Roshi on New Year’s Eve 1993. When he arrived, my guy took off his shoes, according to the custom, stepped into the tiny kitchen and we made awkward half-bows all around.

“I hear you’ve been living in Sierra Madre,” Roshi says to the guy.

“Yes, I’ve lived there for 15 years,” the guy responds, relieved perhaps at an opening question he can answer.

“What are you doing living in that dinky little town?” Roshi’s face crinkled up in a tease.

I stepped in-between to buffer the unexpected turn in this august encounter. “Roshi, do you know Sierra Madre?”

“I was a gardener there when I first came to America.”

My friend never found his shoes again that night. It was terrible. He drove home in his socks stewing about some terrible Buddhist that stole his Reeboks. But after the terrible shock of Roshi’s death the next year and after the guy and I said I-do some time after that, after a terrible year married and living terribly apart – me home in Texas and he staying put – after another terrible year married and living terribly together – he moving in and me staying put – after a terrible time deciding what to do about it, after a terrible day looking at pretty terrible places to rent for a not-too-terrible price and for not too-terribly long, because we weren’t so terribly sure we would stay, we found ourselves in a certain garden, in fact the very garden, in Sierra Madre, breathless and still with the stunning arrival in a story that was suddenly ours.

Can you believe it? Can you believe it about your own life?

Trust your life as it unfolds.

Tidying up


Leaves have a way of falling. Scars have a way of healing. Babies have a way of sleeping, eventually. Fridays have a way of rolling around. All by themselves.

This week we started on a low note, were roused into an angry fright, and got entangled in a world of pure junk. What does any of this have to do with the other? Here on the Cheerio, how is Sunday related to Monday related to Thursday? By the courage to keep going, my friends, and by the power of truth, nobly told.

Everything we talked about this week illustrates Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. Of course, everything everywhere illustrates the Four Noble Truths. How life involves suffering, how suffering stems from attachment – to things, feelings and ideas – and how attachment can be overcome by ending our desperate clinging to things, feelings and ideas. Including, most importantly, the idea of who we are. These Four Truths are the one storage system, the one container, that truly simplifies your life. It organizes all there is to know and all there is to do. This is the way to true freedom, and it’s absolutely free. This weekend, if you have a chance, read the link. But don’t just read it, consume it. So that there’s only one thing left behind: trust.

And now that it’s appeared, all by itself, let’s make trust our topic for the week to come. I trust you’ll have something to say about it. I trust I will too.

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