secret message

August 29th, 2011

I am being cautious here, mindful of what I say and don’t say, because of how earnestly we all seek and how easily we misunderstand.

I am not telling you how to live, how to improve yourself, how to make the right decisions, or what the right decisions are. I am not suggesting you live like me, think like me, or choose what I have chosen. It is easy to elevate what appears to be the sage or guru, the expert, the coach, the one “who has it together.”

In my long career as a consultant, I came to realize, after the first years of doubt and pretense, that I didn’t have to know any answers. All I had to do to be successful was tell people what to do. I could even make it up on the spot! Because everyone – no matter what their station or status or position – wants to be told what to do. Regardless of whether we do it or not – and we usually don’t – we think there is some secret message we’re missing. But every message is the one you already carry. It’s only a secret if you haven’t yet noticed what you have in your hands.

This verse was penned by a friend upon returning this weekend from her first sesshin at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. She simply opened her hand and put it to use, retelling the essence of her journey down the highway and home again. I’m proud of her penmanship.

The lake — a bowl of glitter!
Winds whisper to water,
waves murmur replies.
A crow flies, snail snared
in its beak.

Rooster crows, broom sweeps.
A car growls to life.
Helicopters thump the sky.
Pigeon wings slap air.
Sirens keen, dogs bark.
Zazen in L.A.

My food – Advil.
My nectar – water.
My balm – sleep.

Now the cushion
Now the breath
Now the work.
Samadhi does not
come in a box or book.
It cannot be imagined
or conjured.
Bells, incense, bows, chants
bring dignity and form
to the formless.
But above all,
it is about the work.

Cresting the mountain,
valley a blanket spread low;
slices of miles served –
feast towards home.

Two weeks before The Art of Mindfulness Retreat in Houston
Three weeks before The Practice of Everyday Life Retreat in Colorado
Five weeks before The Plunge Retreat in Pittsburgh
Six weeks before the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat in LA

Come decode your message.


  1. As someone once said, “The secret is within your self.” I love you, dear Maezen. I’m grateful you attended alongside.

    Comment by Kathryn — August 29, 2011 @ 9:58 am

  2. Every time I think about the sounds of the dog barking…I think about something Nyogen Roshi said:

    “Sometimes we get annoyed with the dog barking, but we need to realize that the dog barks because he’s scared. He’s all alone out there and it’s dark. So he barks. We would bark too.”

    Thank you for sharing this lovely poem.

    Comment by Erica — August 29, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

  3. {deep exhale}

    Comment by Swirly — August 30, 2011 @ 6:34 am

  4. And see, for the VERY FIRST TIME in my life, I truly, truly believe that I get this. Even more importantly, I understand it of myself.

    Comment by Christine @ Coffees & Commutes — August 30, 2011 @ 11:39 am

  5. I wrote those verses over five years ago. As I re-read them I felt I was encountering someone else’s words. I wrote that ?! (With a little amazement and a lot of curiosity about what happened – or didn’t happen – thereafter.)

    Comment by Kathryn — December 15, 2016 @ 12:22 am

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