Posts Tagged ‘Attention’

blaming Steve Jobs

September 12th, 2017    -    8 Comments

This afternoon I went into the backyard and noticed a patch where everything has shriveled and the ground is cracked and bare, and although it’s been hotter every year, it seems like it happened overnight. The garden is dying.

I blame Steve Jobs.

I’ve been blaming Steve Jobs for a whole mess of stuff for a long time now, for the conversations that stopped, the music that ended, the books that disappeared, the kids that went absent, the friends that drifted off and the way the world seems to have shriveled into a hot, lifeless, angry place of crazy strangers. Oh, I know it wasn’t him. It’s a cynical joke. But it was him, and the legion led by him. I saw it happen. I saw it happen with me and I saw it happen with nearly everyone else. And now there is hell to pay.

He was a god to many. But he was never my guru. I never entered that temple, not all the way. The theatrics looked cool, but they disturbed me. There was awesome power and beauty in his works, but I never trusted myself to handle that kind of artillery. It went too fast and too far. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I am too cheap. I bought a laptop. It works fine. It sits on this desk. Every time I use it I have to stop, be still, and do only one thing. I do not carry it in my hands or put it in my purse, pocket or car. It is not a companion. It is not the world. It is a very small and distorted picture of the world.

I have to wake myself up every minute of every day to realize the difference.

I am probably the only person you know without a smartphone. Please don’t text me.

It seems to me that we have completely confused the world with a picture of the world. We are so adept at manipulating the false picture — with just one thumb — that we have forgotten how to occupy the real world. How to live responsibly and with accountability. How to be decent and how to be kind. How to use our hands and feet and heart. We are so fascinated with artificial intelligence that we have negated our own. We do stupid things. We say stupid things. We shout at each other in tiny digital boxes. We overuse exclamation points.

When we do things directly in the world, instead of through technology, when we speak aloud to one another, meet face-to-face and side-by-side, it is altogether a different experience. It is intimate and alive. Magic, really. You can’t program it. Totally original, one-of-a-kind, without a trademark.

Innovation produces some really neat things, but it can’t be your religion. It won’t soothe or satisfy. It destroys what is to make room for what’s next. To be sure, it’s a naturally occurring cycle, January to December, but it can be sped up to the point of wanton waste and disposability. Suppose every time you were hungry you took only one bite and then tossed the apple. (It got a little brown around the teeth marks.) The earth would be nothing but a landfill of fallen fruit, and we’d all be hungry ghosts, waiting in line all night to grab the next nibble that will once again fail to satisfy.

I know Steve Jobs isn’t to blame. But I blame Steve Jobs.

This is a lousy load to lay at the tomb of a giant and a genius. Although he was arrogant and egotistical, by all accounts Mr. Jobs made amends to estranged friends, family and rivals and was at peace before the end. It’s a given. Everyone reaches the end of ideas when they arrive at the ultimate disruption. I’m going to have to give him a break for everything that troubles me and take responsibility for what’s right here now.

I’m going to have to keep this place alive.

So I’m heading out to walk this world of mine and see what needs doing. To notice the dry spots. Fix what’s broken. Lend a hand. Spare a little more time, a little more water, and a lot more love. I know this in my bones because I preach it, and I preach it because I need it: What you pay attention to thrives, and what you do not pay attention to withers and dies.

What will you pay attention to today?

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follow

September 26th, 2016    -    3 Comments

 

A road leads deep into a  Kansas cornfield in late July.

Follow the humble. They will lead you to dignity.

Follow the gentle. They will lead you to strength.

Follow the kind. They will lead you to gratitude.

Follow the silent. They will lead you to truth.

Follow the simple. They will lead you to wisdom.

Follow your heart. It will lead you home.

Follow the path. It will lead you everywhere.

the answer is practice

August 16th, 2016    -    5 Comments

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Q: I am confused when you say, “Mindfulness without meditation is just a word.” Do you mean that in addition to practicing mindfulness whenever we can throughout the day, we also need to spend time in quiet mindfulness meditation?

A: I understand the confusion. The current mindfulness movement originated as a way to share the benefits of meditation in a medical or therapeutic setting. Although the practice of meditation was retained, the word “meditation” was not, perhaps because of its association with Eastern traditions. As a result, today there is some confusion that mindfulness and meditation are not related. Mindfulness is attention, true, but meditation is the cultivation of one’s attention. We cannot be mindful without practicing paying attention. If we are only thinking, “I am mindful,” it doesn’t get us very far. The old masters didn’t worry about words, but having practiced seated meditation, they took their concentrated mind with them throughout the day in all activities.

If one happens to only read books about mindfulness, the practice aspect may be overlooked.

Another analogy might be telling ourselves that we are full, when in fact we have failed to eat.

Good places to eat:

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Sept. 11, 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles

Quiet Joy: A Zen Retreat for Busy People
Oct. 28-30
Copper Beech Institute
West Hartford, CT

the secret of a good mother

July 6th, 2016    -    9 Comments

broken We say, “A good father is not a good father.” Do you understand? One who thinks he is a good father is not a good father. — Suzuki Roshi

The quote above is often misunderstood. How do you understand it? I’ll answer for you from my own experience. One who thinks she is a good mother is not a good mother.

Zen can sound like doublespeak, but it’s always as plain as plain can be. When you think “good,” that is not good. The moment you step back from total involvement in living life as it is and go up into your judging mind to evaluate it, you are completely mistaken. Do you know that place? Have you ever judged yourself to be comfortably ahead of the game? Or woefully behind? With an edge, an advantage, a method, or for that matter, a reason, excuse or handicap? Maybe you think all those things in a single day! When you indulge in either self-congratulation or self-criticism you are no longer present. You might even say you are no longer alive. Dead fathers are not good fathers.

One who thinks he is one of the worst may be a good one if he is always trying with a single-minded effort.

I have a teenager now, as if it isn’t obvious. And in the course of writing, however vaguely, about what I am experiencing, I hear from kind-hearted people of a venerable cast, folks who have a longer view of the road we tread. They tell me about inexplicable disappointments and deep sorrows, happy turnabouts, miraculous resolutions, and ultimate acceptance of what they didn’t know then and couldn’t have guessed would happen in a million years. Life is a tricky business, and no one knows how it will go. We all know this, and yet we don’t.  Not until the illusion shatters.

From where I stand now it seems a parent’s learning curve goes like this: it starts out hard then it gets easier, and then hard, then harder, then quite a bit harder, then much harder. Humility is the face of love.

The people I take comfort from are the humble ones. They are quiet but outnumber the prideful ones a billion to one.

So how do we conduct ourselves without attaching to good or bad? I like this story about the 20th century Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah who was giving a talk on impermanence. He could be talking about anything.

Before saying a word, he motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

Read a transcript of the original talk by Suzuki Roshi.

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I’m here

February 10th, 2016    -    12 Comments

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Years and years ago when I was young and busy and my mother was alive, I would rarely call home. So when I did, it was a sign. If my father answered, he wouldn’t stay on the line for longer than a minute because he knew something was up, and my mother would have walked into the kitchen and looked at him questioningly.

“It’s Karen,” he’d say as he handed her the receiver.

Then she would get on the line and say, “Karen.”

And just like that she was there, all of her, for me, which was why I called, and I would start crying.

I called because I was going to make a C in Contemporary American Poetry. Because I’d totaled my car. Because I was going to get married. Because I was going to get a divorce. I had called because I needed her, which happened a lot more than just the times I called, but I was the one who isolated herself, the quiet one, the one who stayed away. And she always let me.

One time in my early 30s, I had to have surgery for endometriosis. This is a diagnosis that doesn’t need major surgery these days, but in those days it meant a week in the hospital and six weeks at home. When I woke up a day after surgery she was sitting in a chair opposite me and although I’m sure this was part of the plan I couldn’t imagine how she had transported herself to my side. She had a bag of books or magazines or work papers with her and she was settled in and I knew that she wouldn’t leave. She stayed a week with me in the hospital and a week at home where she brought me soup and crackers in bed like it was nothing and she asked nothing. She always knew how to ask for nothing.

Later on, older and married again, I moved to another state and I was for some time unbearably sad and afraid of what I’d done. I called that time and asked if she would come for a visit.

“I was just waiting for you to ask,” she said.

***

When I go to a retreat like the one last weekend in Massachusetts, the group of us, mostly strangers, sit with one another in a silent room for five or six or eight hours a day, and there isn’t any conversation. We sit in the quiet, and walk around in the quiet, and follow the schedule to show up at certain times and be quiet together again. And after awhile or certainly by the end you might realize that you have been sitting in a net, and that you are actually part of the net that’s holding you and everyone else up. After all that time and right before you go home you have the chance to speak. Someone will say something like this:

This is the first time I’ve ever done this. I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve read all of your books and they’ve helped me so much and I always told myself that if I ever had the chance I would come to one of your retreats and then I saw that you’d actually be here and I couldn’t believe it and I had to come.

There are usually tears by then and not much more to say, but so much more you can’t even say, and I want them to know everything my mother wanted me to know if I ever asked.

I’m here.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Los Angeles
Sunday, March 20
More info here

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practice no harm

October 4th, 2015    -    2 Comments

Cracked_Pavement

When folks begin to practice Zen, they can be set back by how hard it is. They might have expected to be good at it—for certain they expected something—but what they are good at is something else altogether.

Why is it so hard to just breathe? Because you’ve been practicing holding your breath.

Why is it so hard to keep my eyes open? Because you’ve been practicing falling asleep.

Why is it so hard to be still? Because you’ve been practicing running amok.

Why is it so hard to be quiet? Because you’ve been practicing talking to yourself.

Why is it so hard to pay attention? Because you’ve been practicing inattention.

Why is it so hard to relax? Because you’ve been practicing stress.

Why is it so hard to trust? Because you’ve been practicing fear.

Why is it so hard to have faith? Because you’ve been trying to know.

Why is it so hard to feel good? Because you’ve been practicing feeling bad.

Whatever you practice, you’ll get very good at, and you’ve been practicing these things forever. Take your own life as proof that practice works as long as you keep doing it. Just replace a harmful practice with one that does no harm.

***

For the benefit of those who will be practicing with me at any of these places, and especially for those who won’t be able to make it.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Oct. 18
Introductory Zen Retreat, Kansas City, Oct. 23-25
Zen Retreat at Meadowkirk, Middleburg VA Dec. 10-13
Meditation as Love, Kripalu, Feb. 5-7

Excerpted from Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

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Buddha’s last 8 instructions

May 13th, 2015    -    8 Comments

nutshellI hesitated before I wrote that title because there is no such thing as “last” or even “first,” but there is a short list commonly known as Buddha’s final teaching before he died, and so I am sharing it here and now.

Words attributed to Buddha are the basis of much industry, interpretation, and enterprise. Buddha’s teachings were entirely spoken and conveyed for hundreds of years by word of mouth until the first written records were made. This is just the way it is and in one sense it works just fine. Sure, words are subject to erroneous understanding by deluded people, but with a bit of practice and a flicker of clarity, you can look at a modern quotation, especially a popular one, and know instantly that Buddha never said any such thing.

And this is precisely what his instructions foretold. There’s a good chance you guys are going to get this all wrong.

“Last words” are interesting in another way. When you’re present at someone’s death, you don’t know when the final moment will come, or what the critical utterance will be. Sometime later you reflect on what happened last and then decide for yourself what it means. Before her death, my mother told me, “Be yourself and take good care of your family.” She lived for several days after I heard that, and she may have said more that I didn’t hear or recall. But the words I retained were useful for me — simple and straightforward — carrying with them a mother’s hope that I wouldn’t complicate things quite so much.

That’s the spirit with which I see Buddha’s last instructions. A human being, surrounded by devotees and dependents, with a final chance to bring peace and ease to a population crazed with fear and grief. I have simplified these from a scholarly translation, but in a nutshell, this is what Buddha tells you to do here and now:

1. Want little — Suffer less.
2. Be satisfied — Enough is enough.
3. Avoid crowds — Be alone and quiet.
4. Keep going — Don’t turn back.
5. Pay attention — Guard your mind.
6. Meditate — Or you are lost.
7. See for yourself — Cultivate wisdom.
8. Don’t talk about it — Do it.

“Now, all of you be quiet and do not speak. Time is passing and I am going to cross over. This is my last admonition to you.”

***

Based on “Eight Awakenings of Great Beings” by Dogen Zenji. From Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi.

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another 10 tips for a mindful home

January 12th, 2015    -    No Comments

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The artwork you see here was inspired by my 10 Tips for a Mindful Home, one of the most popular things I’ve ever done. Originally written as a sidebar for a magazine, it was pirated from the printed page as a photo and circulated about a million times around the web. It’s rather humbling that I’ve penned three whole books but my most useful work may well be the 200 words on this list. That’s because in our hearts we know we have to practice mindfulness where we are, not where we want to be, as we are, not as we wish to be. At my invitation, the artist Miranda Wulff Altschuler is now offering an exquisitely beautiful, practical, and affordable 11 x 14 poster of the 10 tips on Etsy. I love what she says: “Hang this print in your kitchen or living room. Hang it in your bedroom to see upon waking. Hang it anywhere you need a gentle reminder. Keeping a mindful home is simple (but not easy).”

What a brilliant wake-up for the New Year and every new day in it.

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rules for a mindful garden

December 9th, 2014    -    1 Comment

rules for a mindful garden

Available as a print by visiting here.

4 rules for a mindful garden

September 7th, 2013    -    6 Comments

This is a simple set of instructions that I always give children when they visit my backyard garden. Beginning when she was three years old, we invited Georgia’s class to our garden for a field trip each year. She is now 14, and I am far older, and yet the instructions still apply. Children find them easier to do than adults.

Life is a garden and we are the gardeners. Here are the rules for a mindful garden:

1. Be kind. Every time we are kind to another, we are kind to ourselves, because we have left our stingy self-centeredness behind. It’s important: kindness is the supreme religion. It’s not hard: pure silence is the ultimate kindness. We already know how to do it.

2. Don’t throw rocks. The garden path is paved with stones. For children, it’s tempting to pick one up and loft it into the ponds. For adults, it’s tempting to pick one up and loft it at each other. Consider how very often we blame others, and the circumstances around us, for whatever displeases us. It’s not my fault, we say, it’s you, it’s my job, it’s my parents, it’s my kids, it’s my neighbor that’s causing all the trouble, tossing rocks with wild abandon. To maintain peace in your garden, don’t pick up a rock if you can’t set it down.

3. No running. There’s no hurry and no one chasing you. Running in my backyard is a sure way to fall headfirst into the murky mud beneath you. How much of life do we miss because we are racing headfirst toward some place else? A place we never reach? You have all the time in the world to savor the life you have.

4. Pay attention. Bring all your attention to what is at hand. You’ll wake up to the glorious view before you and realize you’re right at home where you are.

***

It’s Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’ve reprised some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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8 reminders for mindful parents

September 2nd, 2013    -    11 Comments

A cozy set of practical guidelines for parents who practice mindfulness:

1. Practice in plain sight. Place your zafu, or meditation cushion, in a conspicuous place in your home, such as on your bedroom floor. As you pass by, let it invite you to practice meditation daily. Even five minutes morning or night can turn your life around.

2. Live by routine. Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.

3. Elevate the small. And overlook the large. Want to change the world? Forget the philosophical lessons. Instruct your child in how to brush his teeth, and then do it, together, twice a day.

4. Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimulation. This begins with you.

5. Give more attention. And less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Use a timer to keep yourself honest. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.

6. Take a break. Before you break in two. Designate a chair in your home as a “quiet chair,” where you can retreat to decelerate conflicts. Or walk around the block and see how quickly your own two feet can stamp out the fire on your head.

7. Be the first to apologize. Practice the miracle of atonement and instantly restore household harmony. By your doing, your children will learn how.

8. Be the last to know. Refrain from making judgments and foregone conclusions about your children. Watch their lives unfold, and be surprised. The show is splendid, and yours is the best seat in the house.

***

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a beautiful day

June 22nd, 2013    -    13 Comments

Nowadays I spend most of my time sitting in a chair pounding into a keyboard. It’s long and silent work, and I lose myself in it, but I know where to go for a kick of adrenaline. I click over to a social media site where I’ll find a new skirmish gathering speed, inciting the community’s opinion, anger, and rebuke. I understand why we do that—I, too, can be self-righteous—but I am battle fatigued. The world cries for compassion. It craves acceptance and belonging. It needs our attention, a kind word, a smile, a wave, a handshake, or a hug. Are we against everything? Angry at everyone? Sometimes it seems the only thing we’ll speak up for is a fight.

I push back from the fray and step out into the garden where the leaves rustle and bend in gentle rhythm with the wind. The air is fresh. The sky is blue. It’s an amazing place we live in when we’re not at odds with it. Who can contain the love that this one life brings with it? It is boundless.

On the street outside the gate, a woman walks a dog. I’ve glimpsed them nearly every day for what must be years. Her dog is old and the woman goes slow, the two now inseparable on the steepest part of the hill.

“It’s a beautiful day,” I say.
“It sure is.”

Someone once asked Maezumi Roshi why he practiced.
“To make my heart tender.”

– from Paradise in Plain Sight, coming next spring.

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the long way

June 4th, 2013    -    12 Comments

IMG_6002“Great words of inspiration. I really admire you for embracing your life as it is.”

She wrote it by hand in a card and then mailed it to the publisher named on the copyright page and then someone at the office tucked it into another envelope and mailed it to me and I opened it on Saturday evening when my husband handed me the day’s forgotten mail while I was sitting in the green chair in the living room, and what struck me was not the words, although they did make up in small part for the last jaw shattering one-star review on Amazon, “self-centered drivel, not worth my time.” No, it wasn’t what she said in the card with the picture of a yellow bird sitting on a blossoming branch, it was the faith and patience, the few minutes of time and trouble, the paper, the pen, the flowing stroke of the letters, the tenderness expended in doing a little something the long way and sending it straight into my heart.

I’m slowly gathering materials and supplies, robes, pillows, bells, things remembered and nearly missed, for a long drive north on Friday to sit with folks for two days in lightness and dark at the ocean’s edge. Honestly, I don’t much like this part. The packing and organizing, listing, thinking, all the thinking, the miles, the money, the time. But I do it. I do things the long way. Because when I finally get to that place in the room where the silence rolls in my heart fills with the fullness of peace and I come to rest on the good ground of forever.

The long way is the straight way to the human heart.

For anyone who ever wondered if I saved the card you sent. Yes, I saved it in a woven basket of forever.

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