June 18th, 2012

When my daughter was little, she would squat for hours every afternoon on a pile of sand in the front yard. I planted little plastic animals underneath, and she’d dig them up with a shovel, handing them over to me with a satisfied grunt. She quarried the same zebra, the same tiger, the same frog, hippo, and horse out of that pile every day. While she wasn’t looking, I’d hide the toys under again. She’d keep at it, tireless. We sat there for what seemed like forever, unearthing purpose from the sodden heap of our new life together. She couldn’t know how much she was teaching me then, in her wordless way, about being satisfied with the same old thing, squashing my every day’s plan to get somewhere else.

I used to think those days were over, but they never really are. We move on to a different pile, but we have to find a way to settle into it just the same.

One time I was interviewed by a radio host about meditation as an antidote to dissatisfaction. She seemed alarmed, even offended, by the suggestion. Staying put runs contrary to the doctrine of self-improvement.

“It seems to me you’re telling people to settle,” she said. I was tongue-tied, and I searched my mind for a response. If I’d had the equanimity of my Zen kin, I would have said what I really meant.

I would have said, “Yes.”

I’m telling you to settle.

What’s wrong with settling? What’s wrong with making peace? What’s wrong with quieting the crazy-making, egocentric mind? This is why we begin our practice, and this is why we keep practicing even when we are no longer entertained. If we are really committed to our own sanity, we keep chasing ourselves out of our ruminating mind and onto different ground. The ground where things come to be.

“People will be drawn to you, and now you have something to share,” Maezumi said to me before I knew anything, least of all what those words could possibly mean. This is how you arrive at the ground of faith—not by what you know, but by what you don’t. Luckily, the ground of faith is, for all practical purposes, the ground itself. It is the ground where we stand, sit, walk, work, and rest. Faith is the ground on which we settle, or we will never settle at all.

Some people settle with shovels and picks, some with tractors and hoes, some on a mat, chair or cushion. Once you learn to settle, you can settle wherever you are, and begin to cultivate the scenery.

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  1. Thank you Karen. This is a lesson I need to learn in my heart.

    Comment by Alison Waters — June 18, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

  2. Thank you.

    Comment by Jena — June 19, 2012 @ 2:50 am

  3. Your words are like liquid ease to me. Wow, wow and wow (I cannot put it any other way!).

    About Maezumi’s words: “People will be drawn to you, and now you have something to share”; he was right. Of course. But don’t you think his words apply to us all? We’re all clueless yet we all have something to share – or so I’d like to believe.

    Comment by Roos — June 19, 2012 @ 5:10 am

  4. I have really struggled with this concept–accepting the status quo, or settling, when changes need to be made. How does Zen encourage or allow for change that needs to take place? Perhaps it is that Zen opens the mind–it allows you to be secure enough to embrace change or allow it to happen without fighting it. Maybe it is simply knowing and accepting that we ARE change in and of ourselves. Thank you for this post, it addresses and answers a tricky question for me.

    Comment by Sarah Stanton — June 19, 2012 @ 5:45 am

  5. The most valuable thing to share is the Dharma. We all share it whether we know it or not; but if it contains the shadow of a self, or ego, it causes harm.

    Settling is synonymous with movement, because nothing is permanent. But when we settle into Dharma we do not force our will or way. (And we always know the difference.) The only place we paralyze ourselves is in our heads. There is no such thing as status quo, by the way.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 19, 2012 @ 9:33 am

  6. Ahhhh. I love the expansiveness I felt in my chest and belly as I read this. I love the quieting. I love how I felt like I could curl up beside my butterscotch cat on the bed and just bask in the sun, filled up with the enoughness of what is. Thank you for these beautiful words.

    Comment by Sherry Richert Belul — June 20, 2012 @ 10:55 am

  7. Settle. It has been my challenge through these first weeks of summer, which are not turning out to be anything at all like what I spent the spring envisioning. I read your words this morning through tears, grateful for your mysterious, constant presence, your wisdom, you. Thank you for giving me a word for now, and for the only thing I really need to do.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — June 21, 2012 @ 3:24 am

  8. […] day the exact post shows up and sings to you. Karen often sings to […]

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  9. Thank-you for these words. I feel my body is settling, but my mind tries to escape and sees the present moment as a prison. Seems like a good thing to have a settled mind and a freed body… settle….settle.

    Comment by buikgevoel — June 22, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

  10. I just read a book and in it it was described that when you experience an emotion it is relevant to let that “vibrate” through you (like a string on an instrument) and not block it and create a blockage in your energy system. So I have been doing that this week, consiously experiencing my emotions and their sensations and letting them have their go at me. At first I was sort of swamped by a lot of “stuff” and emotions ping-ponging through me but now it is getting better and I feel good about it. More clarity. Eckhart Tolle describes this too but the thought behind it was not so clear.
    Reading this, it feels similar, I settled with my emotions (of course I am not done yet at all but you know: babysteps).
    Have a wonderful weekend!!!

    Comment by Simone — June 23, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

  11. I love this. It’s like when I start to think the grass is greener elsewhere, I sit and take a look around me and can appreciate what’s right here, even if it takes a while. Thank you.

    Comment by Nichole — June 23, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

  12. […] all, says Karen Maezen Miller at Cheerio Road, we could just settle. Cancel […]

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