no way over but through

September 4th, 2012

I’m a guest teacher this month at  Shambhala Publication’s Under 35 Project, where the topic is Experiencing Loss.

Under 35 is a site for young meditators to write about finding, beginning and encouraging a mindfulness practice. I hope you’ll visit and read this month’s submissions. If you’re a writer looking for a new venue, or a practitioner looking for support, please consider writing a short essay and contributing it to the site. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re under 35 or not. I view age limitations the same way I view loss: there’s no way over but through, and getting through is what makes a difference.

This remind me of a passage I came across in James Ishmael Ford’s book Zen Master Who? 

There are numerous stories about Maezumi Roshi’s teaching style, but one I particularly like has to do with a student who had been a professional dancer.

As recounted in Sean Murphy’s One Bird, One Stone, the student had badly hurt one of her feet in an accident and was forced to retire from the stage. Embarrassed by her injury, she always kept her foot covered with a sock. In her first interview she asked Maezumi a question about her Zen practice. But he answered, “Never mind that. Tell me about your foot.” She was reluctant to talk but he insisted. She told him the story, weeping, and even took off her sock and showed him her foot.

Maezumi placed his hand silently on her foot. She looked up to find that he was crying too. Their exchanges went on like this for some time. Every time she asked the roshi about her practice, he’d ask about her foot instead, and they’d cry together. “You might think you have suffered terrible karma,” Maezumi told her, “But this is not the right way to think. Practice is about learning to turn disadvantage to great advantage.” Finally the day came when the student walked into the interview room and began to tell her teacher about her injury, but it summoned no tears from her. “Never mind about that,” Maezumi told her. “Let’s talk about your practice.”

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23 in LA.

The Art of Non-Parenting: Discovering the Wisdom of Easy, and Deeper Still: Breath & Meditation Workshop on Oct. 20-21 in Wash. DC.

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  1. What a beautiful project, and your words were wise and insightful. I wish that when I was “under 35” I might have known about mindfulness meditation. I recently helped to produce a video for, by and about parents of children with disabilities, parents who have suffered loss in the most primal of ways. I am finding that just witnessing others’ loss is immensely healing and that the common message for the people who participated is one of hope and acceptance.

    Comment by Elizabeth Aquino — September 4, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

  2. I think you and I might have the same idea about loss, but I’m not sure. I usually think about it (and other difficult experiences) as a wall to get over. Not that it will be “over and done with,” but in terms of believing that I will get to the other side of that wall and find a way to keep going, instead of just stopping inside of grief and loss and not moving at all. So when I first read your quote, “not over but through,” I immediately thought “right!” Because it is something one has to get through, not to leave behind but just to find a way to keep going at all for oneself, and the others around one. So I think you meant “over” in the sense of “done with,” and of course one is never done with loss. But I’m not sure – is that what you meant? Or is there something wrong with the “wall” idea I’m not seeing? The idea of getting over the wall has worked for me because the wall is in front of me, and doesn’t let me see what is on the other side, so it takes what fragment of faith I have left (and sometimes there is not that much left these days) to believe that (a) there is something on the other side of the wall at all, (b) that it is worth getting to, and (c) that I will be there, someday, even if I cannot see it now. But I’m always open to other words of wisdom from you, they have helped so much and continue to do so.

    Comment by Anonymous in Mpls — September 4, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  3. Well, I don’t really think about what I say or write and no one need trouble themselves with words. Over, under, or through, there is no wall that I can see. We only get stuck in our heads. Opening our eyes we see the truth: everything is movement and change.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — September 4, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

  4. I was talking to my friend Ryan tonight about how I started painting one of my upstairs bedrooms…and then I got overwhelmed and wanted to stop. Now, Ryan’s a Texan so he paused for a second and then said: “If you’re going through Hell, keep on going”.

    There is no way over but through.

    There’s A Country Song For That:

    Comment by Erica — September 4, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

  5. I’ve followed you for years, and respect your work. I’ve been sitting for seven years.

    The video on loss feels like you’re working really hard to be cheerful. Is that so? It doesn’t take a breath, and hang with the emptiness.

    Comment by Ray Watkins — September 5, 2012 @ 3:09 am

  6. Happy to get through it Ray, happy to get through it.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — September 5, 2012 @ 4:44 am

  7. A while ago I was meditating, a friend of mine has a husband who is critically ill, she has a 7 year old son. I was wondering why this happened and how to make sense of it. The answer welled up from inside: “They have to find the soulful aspect of what is happening” to let go of being a victim and grief and see what their soul would like to express in relation to all this. That feels similar to what the teacher in the story says.

    Comment by Simone — September 6, 2012 @ 7:48 am

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