Posts Tagged ‘Chop Wood Carry Water’

Illustrated guide to life planning

February 18th, 2008    -    8 Comments

Sometimes, what to do next becomes quite clear.


Editorial note: Keep a goldfish alive for three years and you might one day find yourself in this position.

Love in the time of laundry

February 13th, 2008    -    15 Comments

Dear Cupid:

I’ve been out of touch for a while. I used to imagine you, worship you, and cry my eyes out for you every day. But that was before you left for the last time.

I’ve learned a lot about myself since you’ve been gone. I admit I’ve changed. I learned, for instance, that there is a time and season for everything. There’s a time for flirting with that cute waiter at the breakfast place even though he’s 10 years younger, doesn’t own a car, needs to borrow money and he’ll pay you back this time for sure. A time for composing all-night sonnets to the old high-school heartthrob who doesn’t realize he’s just using you to get over his divorce. There is a time for booking a first-class ticket to spend a romantic weekend, at your own expense, with the handsome stranger who will one day soon drive down from Denver, move into your house, barely ever get out of bed, never get another job, and tell you everything that’s wrong with you and your life before he moves out again.

Then there’s a time to sort the whites from the colors.

I’ve learned, too, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. That Mars can be light-years away from clearing the dinner dishes from the table, putting the shoes in the closet, and making the coffee in the morning, but that Mars is nearly always inches away from a flat screen.

The washer and dryer are on Venus.

I’ve seen and felt my share of love. In some ways, I consider myself an expert. I’ve seen a man’s face tremble in awe and, yes, fear, as I walked down an aisle toward him. I’ve seen a man weep at the sight of his baby girl. I’ve seen the walls quake and the floor tilt with the immensity of our anger, then fall instantly still with an apology. I’ve seen an entire home built and rebuilt on love alone, sometimes in a single day.

I’ve seen the washer overflow and the fuse short out.

Love comes into my life everyday now, Cupid. It comes in denim, khaki, in cotton underwear, in hand wash, machine wash and rarely, rarely in dry clean only. It comes in dainty piles of pink and purple, and massive stacks of towels and sheets. Love comes by the basketful in my house, Cupid, but it doesn’t come from you. It never did.

Dear Cupid: I’m into my third load today, but I’m just not that into you.

***
Inspired just in time for Happy Valentine’s and another lovely group writing project at Between the Lines.

All my fish are little

January 4th, 2008    -    12 Comments



I thought you would have bigger fish to fry, she said,
so as not to be a bother.

Ideas are big
Plans are monumental
But all my fish are little.

Ambitions are high
Visions are grandiose
But all my fish are little.

The future is vast
The past, well that’s a whole other story
But all my fish are little.

All my fish are little.
My feet step one at a time.
My hands each hold one palm.
My heart beats beats beats
A single beat
A subtle flutter.

All my fish are little.
Can’t be otherwise.
Never think differently.
Never hesitate
To say hello.

Because all my fish are little
But the ocean is so big.
And look
Here we are face to face.

Everything and the kitchen sink

December 3rd, 2007    -    14 Comments

Returning after two days of retreat. Crumbs, mud, dog hair, mail, laundry, trash, stacks, cracks and someone else’s dishes. But my oh my, look at the view from my kitchen sink.

Eyes wide open, I’m home again.

When all else fails

November 28th, 2007    -    7 Comments


So while I was gloating over what this much-loved and widely read woman said about me, Ana spoke from behind my chair.

Ana is a woman who quite nearly shares my age, my home and my family and yet we live worlds apart. She comes every other week to put my life right side up, to pet the dog and humor the kid, to climb ladders and sweep corners and reach places that annoy me to high heaven but not enough to get off my butt and do something about.

She sat with me when I was bedbound and pregnant; I have rushed her to the hospital with strange and gripping pain. I do not live without Ana, and thankfully, I do not have to.

I swiveled around and Ana told me about her niece in El Salvador who was dying of leukemia. A niece only 12 years old and with only five months to live. A niece with the two names Meriam Artice.

At least I think that is what she said. Although we communicate perfectly, Ana and I rarely understand one other, which is the basis for an ideal relationship.

Meriam Artice is what I heard, and she spelled it for me. I had to ask because hearing this shut me down and emptied me out. Artice was my mother’s name. It was only my mother’s name. I never knew anyone else, nor did my mother know anyone else, who had her name. My mother has been dead for six years, but as you might guess, she’s not gone. Not by a long shot.

I took Ana by the shoulder and we went to the backyard to say a service. We said a chant for auspicious blessings for Meriam Artice and every other Artice, for Ana, me, you and every other you. And post-haste, I hastily posted to broadcast the benediction.

This is how the practice works. This is how the world works. In thunderbolts of heartbreak and flashes of illumination.

And while I was out back, with the dog and Ana and Artice, I saw clearly that it was time to rake. The rake rescues me, every time.

Instead: Or what I did all day

November 14th, 2007    -    5 Comments


I wanted to sleep past dawn, but instead
I know making breakfast isn’t worth the effort, but instead
I hounded my daughter to make her bed, but instead
I’ve given up hounding my husband, so instead
I tried for a quick drop-off at school, but instead
I hoped the garden weeds wouldn’t spread, but instead
I prayed the dog poop in the yard would disappear, but instead
I wished a pet like ours didn’t need walking, but instead
I aimed to go exercise, but instead
I could have let the laundry mount, but instead
I contemplated a sumptuous lunch, but instead
I wanted to cancel the teleconference, but instead
I would gladly let someone else chauffeur the kids, but instead
I thought we could go one more day without groceries, but instead
I could have picked up dinner, but instead
I might have nixed my daughter’s bath and hair wash, but instead
I wish I’d written something more than this, but instead
I long for another response to Marta’s question, but instead
This is my life and there is no instead.
How could it be any other way?

Attention readers, bloggers and opinionators: if you would like a review copy of the new paperback edition of Momma Zen, my publisher will provide! Just contact me via the email on my profile page.

The stew in lieu (of a post)

October 29th, 2007    -    9 Comments

1. Wake up.
2. Realize it is Monday.
3. Realize the phone is ringing; answer it and agree to teach yoga this morning.
4. Realize that by teaching this morning I can be home this evening instead of taking a class.
5. Realize that I need to check my calendar to be sure.
6. Realize it is October 29.
7. Realize that today is my 12th wedding anniversary.
8. Realize I need to buy a card.
9. Realize I need to buy a gift.
10. Realize the gift should be something my husband really wants.
11. Realize that would be a 90-minute massage at the health club.
12. Realize I could make a nice dinner.
13. Realize it could be something my husband really likes.
14. Take daughter to and from school, walk the dog, answer email, teach yoga, pick up dog poop, go to market, get card and gift certificate, talk on phone, chop veggies, make pot roast, receive magnificent floral delivery, help daughter with homework, clear table, bring in mail, vacuum, empty dishwasher, take out trash and chill champagne.
15. Realize that I can stop pondering the imponderabilities of today’s potential profundity
16. Because whenever I wake up and realize that my life as it is is perfectly OK it answers Karen Beth’s question from yesterday about my practice.
17. And thus comprises my post as promised.

In a variation on trick-or-treat, this is Grab Bag week at Cheerio Road. I’ll let your comments ignite the topic I take up each day. If there isn’t a gust from you – a question, a comment, a change in direction – we’ll just have to sit through the wait. At the end of the week, there’ll be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

Airing dirty laundry

September 25th, 2007    -    6 Comments

I once wrote a post titled “Hand wash cold.” That post generates more traffic than any snake oil in the blogosphere. It snares Googlers from Portugal to Peru, from Little Rock to Lichtenstein. These searchers come from the very places where garments that need to be hand washed cold are actually manufactured. I feel bad for these suds seekers, because they aren’t looking for anything loftier than laundering instructions. So I decided to give them what they came for. In the process, I realized that this is a zen meditation of its own kind.

1. Wipe the shaving stubble from a sink or rinse the motor oil from a pail.
2. Fill same with cold water.
3. Add a drizzle of gentle (read: expensive) laundry detergent or a spritz of dishwashing liquid to the water. Note: can also use bar soap, hand soap or no soap.
4. Slosh the water around to conjure up a few bubbles.
5. Submerge subject garment in water.
6. Let it sit.
7. Hours–or even days–later, remember.
8. Rinse it in clear, cold water. This special item is probably not the kind of thing that can survive twisting or wringing or even washing for that matter.
9. Which means that when you take it out you’ll have to hang it up over the bathtub to let the water drip out of it.
10. And that will probably cause the fabric dye to drip out of it too, creating streaks of variable density and lasting annoyance. Remember too late that the garment had some kind of warning about this too.
11. When it dries, the item will be six inches longer than when you purchased it. Or six inches shorter. Or six inches longer on one side; six inches shorter on the other.
12. You might wish that you had laid it flat to dry, which would take so long that it mildewed before you could wear it again.

All of this effort will allow you to wear the item once before you resolve to (a) never buy anything else that has to be hand washed cold, or (b) never wash it, thereby transcending all questions and eliminating all doubt.

Using what’s at hand

September 18th, 2007    -    5 Comments


Using what’s at hand, he finished up the yard. He could use it and know when to quit.

–Zen koan

In my aim to demystify time, I’m devoting today’s post to the magic of the plain, old, ordinary list.

1. Make a list every night before you go to bed.

2. Use whatever you have at hand: the back of an envelope, a scratch pad, even waste paper. You do not need a special system or calendar. You do not need technology. You only need discipline and a moment’s attention. Do not let anyone convince you this is more complicated than it appears, although many people are in the business of doing just that.

3. Keep your list simple.

4. Put the things on it you want to do tomorrow, even things you don’t need to list in order to remember. Scratching things off the list is a marvelous activity, and marvelous activities tend to be repeated. For instance, write “Do laundry.” Notice that I did not say, “Finish laundry” because that isn’t realistic and your reward would be too long delayed. See item 5.

5. Be realistic. For instance, do not write “Lose 10 pounds.” Write instead “Walk the dog.” Do not write “Become millionaire by 30.” Write instead: “Skip Starbucks.”

6. Do not list things to think about. Write only things to do. Contemplation is overrated.

7. Now the magic part. By writing things down, you take wandering thoughts and persistent anxieties out of your head and bring them out into the real world.

8. Things in the real world have form.

9. Things in the real world take place. You will be amazed at what you do simply because you wrote down that you would, even if you never look at the list again. But do yourself a favor and look at the list again. Keep it at hand and use it.

10. At the end of the day, be satisfied with what you did, and make a new list.

Having the time of your life

September 17th, 2007    -    3 Comments


I often tell people they have all the time in the world. They look up from their frantic scramblings, their scattered minds, feeling overwhelmed and bogged down, and they think, to put it nicely, She’s insane.

So let’s say a word about time. But let’s not say what everyone else says. Let’s not say, for instance, that time flies, or time runs out, or that time waits for no man.

Time itself is being, and all being is time.

Time isn’t something we think we have. We think it escapes us. We think it flees. We think it sneaks up behind us and delivers a sucker punch. Time’s up! Time, it seems, always has the upper hand.

We see this front and center in our lives as parents. Even though our children change every day, we don’t always notice it. We don’t notice it until we clear out the baby clothes, then – snap – how did all that time disappear? What seemed like forever is now forever ago. And all of those special times we intended to have! All those precious moments we were counting on! We use most of our time feeling displaced and distraught, or even depressed.

Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

We think of time as being separate from us, an entity – no, an adversary – unto itself. A grandfather, robed and bearded, keeping score and exacting a toll; a swift second hand; a relentless march. What looks like time passing is actually evidence of the profound, true nature of life: impermanence. Everything changes. But time doesn’t change. It’s always the same time. It’s always now.

Life, we think, could be so much more, if only we had more time. When real life seems to detour us from happiness, it can seem like we’re held prisoner by time. We feel as though we’re held in place, only marking time, only serving time.

Things do not hinder one another, just as moments do not hinder one another.

These days, I can see too clearly what time it is. The broad canopy of my giant sycamores turns faintly yellow, and the leaves sail down. This would be a poetic image except that they fall into my ponds where they temporarily float and eventually sink until I hoist a net over my shoulder and scoop out the mucky yuck of wet leaves that would otherwise displace the pond itself. Someone has to do it. (Someone being me.) A part of every day from now until December finds me fretting and fuming at the simple sight of falling leaves. Then, I get on with it.

Tell me, while I’m scooping and hauling leaves ’til kingdom come, is it getting in the way of my life? Is it interfering with my life? Keeping me from my life? Only my imaginary life, that other life of what-ifs and how-comes: the life I wish and dream of.

I will be unable to accept my MacArthur Genius Award at the present moment because I am scooping leaves from the pond.
I missed the call from Oprah’s producer but at least the ponds are clean.

A sudden gust kept me from writing an international bestseller.


At the moment I’m in the muck, at the moment I’m doing anything, it is my life, it is all of time, and it is all of me.

We look for time the way we look for meaning, purpose and happiness. We never find it because it is already in the palm of our hands.

I am time. You are time. But this is getting long, and I don’t want to unduly occupy you. Come back tomorrow, same place, same time, for more timeless, wide-open secrets to mastering time.

You can spare the wait, because you have all the time in the world. And every moment is nothing but the time of your life.

All the quotes herein (other than those of the neurotic voice in my head) are from “Time-Being,” a teaching by the 13th century Zen master, Dogen Zenji. Please don’t confuse one for the other.

Work food

July 29th, 2007    -    3 Comments


With endless respect for those who must truly work for food, these are the words that came to me over the last week as I was away at a meditation retreat. Will work for food.

I think this is the kind of work that we most yearn for: the work that gratifies in the most immediate and essential way. The vital work of life, deep beneath and beyond the piffling stuff of livelihood.

That is the kind of work we do on a cushion, sitting for eight hours a day, at dawn and on through the dark, sitting in our sweat and tears, past boredom and pain, through fatigue and frustration, long past quitting time until time itself quits. We sit and sit and sit and grind away at the rock wall in our head and when a bell rings we eat. We work and we eat. The work is never easy. The food is never better. When the night falls, the day is so completely done. Not one hunger remains.

And although we call this a retreat, it is not the retreat we would choose if we could, once again, vacate our lives for a fleeting pass at pleasure. It is a real job, and like every real job I’ve got, it is damn difficult.

But the one here at home is the most difficult of all. Taking all that hard-won ease off the cushion and back into the cluttered kitchen. Past the laundry hampers. Down the list on the refrigerator. Perhaps that is why, after a half-day at home, my daughter tugged at me and said, “Mommy, it seems like you left all your happiness at the Zen Center.”

Honk. Honk.

Mommy’s home, this time Mommy’s really home, where she works for food. And the food here is what she loves most of all, Georgia, because it is love. Pinky promise.

And pass the pudding to Barbara Karkabi at the Houston Chronicle, who filed this profile while I was off in the trenches. You can see she got the “juggling” part right.

Who’s counting

July 13th, 2007    -    8 Comments

Miles flown: 4,400
Set of car keys lost: 1
Admission to two Disney theme parks: $390
Thunderstorms sending us running into gift shops: 8
Profit margin on a $24 Disney t-shirt: $23.92
Investment in Florida tollroads: $18.50
Credit cards lost: 1
Cell phones broken: 1
Credit cards found: 1
Cell phones replaced: 1
Conch fritters consumed: 32
Mysterious cases of skin rash, eye infection, diarrhea and bug bites: 5
Airfare increase to shorten vacation by one day: $300
Return flight delay and rerouting through Denver: 3.5 hours
Only difference between us and the other LA family coming home yesterday: $32.5 million over five years, for starters
Newfound appreciation for emptying 3 suitcases,
sorting 1 ft. stack of mail, doing 6 loads of laundry, scooping 3 pounds of dog poop, vacuuming 2 bags of dog hair, cleaning 2 fish tanks, returning 3 library books and buying $162.78 of groceries, all in one day: Priceless

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