just give yourself

March 26th, 2020

On a walk around town yesterday, I passed a house with glitter-painted rocks lined up along the sidewalk. It looked like a cute way to jazz up a yard, but then I saw the hand-lettered sign taped to a nearby telephone pole.

Adopt a Rock!
(I promise they’ve been Lysoled)

On the way back home, I passed the house again. It didn’t look like any rocks had been taken, despite the invitation. I intended to take one, but then I took two because I couldn’t choose. Plus, I didn’t want to be stingy with the adoption. I have the room to foster a lot of rocks! After I finish jotting this down I’ll take them outside for a photo so you can appreciate them. Like the rest of us, rocks want to be seen, touched, and heard. They want to belong.

We’re all trying to reach out these days even though we can’t really reach out. The Italians set the bar with their sunset serenades across deserted streets. Every evening in Madrid, people throw open their windows and give a round of applause for healthcare workers. Musicians share mini iPhone concerts. A neighbor down the street gives away painted rocks, and me, I do this thing with words.

I’ve been writing quite a bit, in case you’ve noticed. A few years ago I lost interest in it. Writing about kids, or about Zen, or about trees, pets or plants just seemed like a blabbering conceit. I couldn’t stand the sound of myself anymore. After suffering enough pain and penury from publishing I told my Zen teacher I was going to stop writing. He chuckled.

What are you going to do then, he asked. Write?

He had me there. Writing isn’t a matter of what you write about, or who you write it for, and certainly not about praise or profit. Writing is just writing, like a rock is just a rock, and it’s a fine offering, a simple medicine that restores our common humanity while jazzing up the yard.

If you’re sitting at home like I am, wondering what you are supposed to give to a world ravaged by pain and terror, just give yourself. That’s the most beautiful thing.


  1. I love this so much. Thank you.
    Hugs to you from Canada.

    Comment by Pauline Leger — March 26, 2020 @ 8:29 am

  2. My folks are both nearing what we call their “mid-eighties”. This “shelter in place” order has not affected them as much as others as they didn’t go out a lot before. Yesterday, acknowledging that fact, my Mom told me that it isn’t until you’re told you can’t do something that it really makes you really want to do that very something. Then she told me again about a neighbor that has been leaving painted rocks every so often on her mailbox. I can’t even tell you how much she loves them. Yesterday I mailed her a card. You are so right about giving what we can give. It’s a beautiful exercise for the spirit, too. Thank you for writing ♡

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — March 26, 2020 @ 8:59 am

  3. One my small delights is when one of your posts drops into my email box. I wait until I get home to prolong the anticipation and find somewhere quite where I can read and savour each carefully crafted word. Your writing might not make you much money but your deft way with words and finely turned sentences gives great pleasure. Moreover, your wise insights and particular take on this strange thing we call Zen offers many great teachings. Thank you for giving so much of yourself, please don’t think it goes unappreciated, especially in these dark and troubling times.

    Comment by Martyn — March 26, 2020 @ 11:47 am

  4. Yes yes yes! Everything is an offering. Today it was monitoring invasive species in a restoration area; keeping our distance, well under the 10 people restriction, but able to see, to smile, to speak and to pull those vines that have held back the resilient diversity of life that sustains — springing forth, leafing. To the music of our river as it crosses a geological divide between one physiographic region and another. The sound of boundless transition.

    Also . . . this made me think of Charlie Brown in “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!”:

    “I got a rock”.

    A rock isn’t just an insult in a trick or treat bag. It can be a freely given gift.

    Comment by Laura — March 26, 2020 @ 2:01 pm

  5. Hello Karen,
    This is exactly what I needed to read. As a mindfulness meditation facilitator, I have been offering free meditations live online. For the clients that continue to pay, I am donating all that income to the small businesses I frequent.
    Often feels like it won’t make much of a difference and that I am not doing enough…but this is who I am and what I have to offer.
    Thank you for your constant inspiration.

    Comment by Cate Roman — March 26, 2020 @ 2:04 pm

  6. Awww, this made bedtime so much better and far less lonely. Thank you

    Comment by Myo-An Debra — March 26, 2020 @ 7:01 pm

  7. Each day I look for slender threads of silver lining. Today that threat shimmered at my breakfast table, as I read your words here and felt calmed and inspired and connected. Thank you for giving of yourself, dear one.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — March 27, 2020 @ 4:32 am

  8. Thank you for this. I am so glad you have been writing and sharing more lately. Your posts have always brought some truth, some bit of wisdom, some comfort to my day. Now, each time I read, I am reminded to reach down and touch the ground. Please, keep showing us ways to touch the ground. Peace

    Comment by Lain Tetrault — March 27, 2020 @ 5:07 am

  9. Gosh Karen you are a really talented writer. I’ll have to find more space in my heart for the suffering which has brought more of your writing to me.

    Comment by Mark — March 27, 2020 @ 7:07 am

  10. I am grateful for your more frequent posts at this time! Oh, also, pictures of your beautiful garden are welcome (we still have snow here in Nova Scotia). Sheri

    Comment by Sheri — March 27, 2020 @ 9:50 am

  11. I wondered what your explanation would be for your limited epistles. I’m not surprised at your explanation. Common question: does what I do really matter? It does, at least for you. Meditation: for me. Watercolor painting: for me. Writing in my datebook: for me. More thoughtful responses to my wife: for me. Listening to your talks, and Martin Goodson’s: for me. Making that call to my youngest brother: for me. Being the best me is good for: you. Larry Misiak, Houston.

    Comment by Larry Misiak — March 27, 2020 @ 5:26 pm

  12. You are so wise, Larry. You are my Yoda.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 27, 2020 @ 7:02 pm

  13. Sending you love and hugs from Iowa. I so need to heat this now. Thank you!!

    Comment by Lisa Baker — March 27, 2020 @ 7:40 pm

  14. My 9.5 y/o son took chalk with us on our walk last week. We wanted to write messages of encouragement to our community, since we have no other way right now. We live in Kirkland, WA, about a mile away from the long term care center where the first cases and deaths in the US began accumulating. We walked down toward the library, where lots of people walk back and forth, to and from the city park and grocery store. On a concrete retaining wall we wrote:


    My sweet-hearted boy, he wanted to tell each of the few people we passed by walking home about our message, I had to keep us moving or at least keep him from running up too close. It so necessary right now, the space, and he gets that. It gives me hope, the unrestrained joy children have that even a virus can’t contain. It’s too be the one to hold them back. I welcome the day where I won’t need to. 🙂

    Comment by Jessica — April 2, 2020 @ 5:15 pm

  15. Your words are always medicine wrapped in grace.I’m so grateful. Sending love to you and yours. xo

    Comment by Mindy — April 4, 2020 @ 5:44 am

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