Posts Tagged ‘Dharma’

mindfulness starts here

September 29th, 2013    -    61 Comments

deep+waterWhen I first began my practice, I was already lying inert at the bottom of the deep end. Life’s triple decker of despair—heartbreak, grief and depression—had sent me plummeting into the murky realms. On the way down, I tried to rouse myself with the usual prescriptions, but nothing could reach. So when I bumped into a Zen teacher who reminded me how to breathe, it saved my life. Breath gave me the buoyancy to rise to the surface where I could float, and later, find the strength to swim. Breath always does that.

Not everyone comes to practice in the same sloppy way. Not everyone is as far gone as I was, in dire need of resuscitation. Some folks are holding onto the side of the pool, knuckles whitening, but still alert and awake enough to realize, “Perhaps I should give some serious thought to taking some swimming lessons.”

There’s a new book out that is like a set of swimming lessons.

Lynette Monteiro and Frank Musten have kindly packaged an eight-week mindful course into a single volume, Mindfulness Starts Here: An Eight Week Guide to Skillful Living. It includes the practices, explanations, encouragement and accountability you would find if you participated in a mindfulness course like the kind they lead at the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic. And here’s what I really like: it also includes the people. The authors pair their artful instructions with real-life commentary from the students in their classes—students who might as well be you, facing the fear, doubt, resistance and even overconfidence we carry with us into the water. This is what I like best about this eminently likeable work: the human voices and stories reminding us that this practice isn’t academic or intellectual. It isn’t a course of self-improvement or just a tool for a toolkit. Mindfulness is not a seasoning, a flavor or a fad. It is life—your life—and it starts here. It starts wherever you are.

I’m still in the deep end, you know. We’re all in the deep end. But this much I know: I’m breathing.

Leave a comment on this post and I’ll draw a winner for a free, brand-new copy of Mindfulness Starts Here next Sunday, Oct. 6.

And in case you think you still don’t have the time, place, or teacher to begin your practice, look right here. There is water, water, everywhere.

The Plunge One-Day Retreat in Boise Sat., Oct. 5
Yoga & Meditation Retreat, Washington DC, Sat. & Sun., Oct. 19-20
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Sun., Nov. 10

If money is what’s stopping you from starting at these or any of my programs anywhere in the country, please contact me privately for help. Even a little help can help enough. Money never gets in the way of the Dharma, and that’s how you can tell what’s true.

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a forest of emptiness

May 29th, 2013    -    8 Comments

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Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep prajna paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.

Heart Sutra

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. This single phrase is the summation of the Buddhist path, the culminating insight of the Way. But having uttered it, I’ve already strayed from it. Having read it, you’ve missed it, because now your mind is running amok trying to understand it, and here I am trying to chase after you. So let’s come back together in one big, empty place, and start over.

What looks solid is not solid; what has no shape comes in all shapes. In a physical sense, bamboo is strong because it is hollow. It is supple and resilient; it bends without breaking. It supports incredible weight. It grows unimpeded by any known barrier, spreading outward everywhere. This is true of you, too. Where do you think you begin and end? Your feet? Your head? Your skin? Your eyes, nose, mouth, ears? Your thoughts, memory, feelings? The way we limit ourselves imposes a bunker mentality and defies scientific reality.

It helps to remember what you took on faith in fourth grade science. All matter is composed of atoms. Atoms are mostly empty space. By definition you can’t see emptiness, but you can be it. Now, to live and let live in emptiness. That’s the secret to paradise.

First, be quiet. Give away your ideas, self-certainty, judgments, and opinions. Let go of defenses and offenses. Face your critics. They will always outnumber you.

Lose all wars. All wars are lost to begin with. Abandon your authority and entitlements. Release your self-image: status, power, whatever you think gives you clout. It doesn’t, not really. That’s a lie you’ve never believed.

Give up your seat. Be what you are: unguarded, unprepared, unequipped and surrounded on all sides. Alone, you are a victim of no one and nothing.

What appears in front of you is your liberation. That is, unless you judge it. Then you imprison yourself again.

Now that you are free, see where you are. Observe what is needed. Do good quietly. If it’s not done quietly, it’s not good.

Start over. Always start over.

Excerpted from the upcoming book Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

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best friends

April 1st, 2013    -    9 Comments

il_570xN.318379070The other morning I opened an email from a reader. I asked her if I could respond via the blog so other people could benefit. All our problems are the same; what is different is whether or not we face them in an openhearted way. When we can do that, problems resolve themselves.

I am sure you get this all the time but first off thank you so much for Momma Zen and your blog. Both have brought me to laughter and to tears.

Reaching the place of tears and laughter—the starting point of our common humanity—is my highest aspiration. When one person cries, we all cry. When one person laughs, we all laugh. Now you can see how compassion works: in our shared tears and laughter.

I started studying Buddhism when I was 18. My dad was dying and my boss had a copy of Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It took me a while to get through, but since then I have always been able to find a Buddhist book or teacher to help me.

What a coincidence. I, too, read that book early in my practice and it was a wonderful companion for me during a time of loss. The Dharma, or teaching, always works in what appears to be a mere coincidence. Whether you’re handed things you like or things you don’t; something that makes you happy or sad, laugh or cry; whether you are consoled or confused; you are always receiving the teaching. Disappointment is the greatest teacher, because it gets right to the source of our problems: our attachment to having our own way. We usually don’t finish those books or stay with the teachers who disappoint us, but life continually and directly delivers us this lesson: the moment it’s not the way we want it.

My best friend and I had a falling out two years ago. We tried to go back to normal but I feel like it hasn’t been the same since. We’ve drifted apart. I am in disbelief. I never thought I would lose this friendship.

Now we can see what a good teacher this friend has been for you. Things don’t go the way we think. People don’t act the way we expect. We cannot control the outcome of anything no matter how much we wish, hope, try or want. Right there is the turning point toward a deeper understanding of love. True love is letting go. Not trying to change someone else. Not trying to control the outcome. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do.

I try to feel compassion, and practice tonglen or a metta meditation for my friend, but what can I do for this sad, empty, hollow feeling in my chest?

My teacher Maezumi Roshi said, “There is always something we can do.” The most important thing to do is practice acceptance. Take care that you do not try to conjure a certain outward feeling or impose a manipulation of any kind. Compassion is complete acceptance of things as they are, free of a self-serving agenda.

Within that acceptance, you can practice atonement. Offer an apology. Forgive yourself as well. Do not ignite anger or resentment by assigning blame. A genuine apology always restores harmony. Take complete responsibility and offer it without expecting an outcome.

Add your friend’s name to your prayer list. Dedicate your meditation to her. Look carefully at your motivations and intentions. Have no expectations. Simply devote your practice to your mutual well-being. Express your love and care without any need for reciprocity. We do not practice to change people’s hearts; we practice to open our own.

In short, be a best friend.

If you do these things freely and for their own sake, you will have made a friend of yourself. Your heart will soon be filled with love and gratitude. And then something will happen. It always does. Nothing stays the same. The Dharma works by itself when we stop trying to make it work.

Please stay in touch and share this with a friend.

Best Friends necklace by Jewel Mango on etsy.

 

the gardener’s way

March 28th, 2013    -    10 Comments

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You are all perfect the way you are, and you could use a little improvement.

—Suzuki Roshi

face time

February 28th, 2013    -    11 Comments

blog-wilted-house-plantNext time you want to grow a plant, set it in front of a screensaver of the sun and see what happens.

Excuse me for pointing out the obvious. The sun is not a picture of the sun. An internet connection is not the same as a living connection. Life is not a picture of life. It is the transmission of living energy and not the transmission of digital data.

Or as an old Zen fogey said in far fewer words, “A rice cake is not a picture of a rice cake.” Which one will satisfy your hunger?

There were a couple of events that brought this to mind this week. One was the decision by the CEO of Yahoo to suspend the struggling company’s work-from-home policy. The stated reason turned out to be controversial: people who work together benefit from actual face time. And I do mean “face time,” not the phone app FaceTime for video chats, another example of a digital surrogacy that has brought living proximity to near-extinction. When I read the arguments against the new (old) policy on my computer, I said to my husband, “That CEO is right.”

He sat at his desk looking into his own computer and said, “Yes she is.” This spoken exchange is called “having a conversation.” From time to time we sit in the same room and speak to one another. Granted, not often, but stringing together these occasional proximities is what used to be called “a relationship.” He travels quite a bit in his job to have one-day meetings with his co-workers around the world because it makes quicker work of their complicated labor. Something happens in the space between living things—something visible as well as invisible. Something shared: a force, a bond; the circulation of energy, thoughts, feelings, sound, motion. Get it?

Few do. Not long ago I heard a young couple talking about their communication style. The fellow preferred texting; he said phone calls were inefficient and exasperating because “talking wastes time” when data can be conveyed instantly. I smiled and had a sense of where that non-conversation would be taking them in the next few years.

We all know better, really we do. That’s why we call that kind of disengagement “phoning it in.” I know doing things in person isn’t always convenient, but do we really have to argue the merits? I guess we do.

Last weekend at a beginner’s meditation retreat I was asked how many students I have. “That’s a good question,” I responded. “Lots of people ask me if I’ll teach them online, but I don’t do that.” It’s wonderfully clarifying for me that I practice in a line of teachers who have carried the living Dharma down from antiquity as an oral tradition. Teachers and students practice in living proximity: in the same room, two people sitting together having conversation, sharing sound, motion, breath. Get it?

Few do. Just about anything that looks like what we do in a meditation hall can now be done online via email, downloads, Skype, discussion boards, even meditation apps. Do it in your own home (where you won’t do it)! As an e-course! I don’t get it. This is not the Dharma I practice. Not the Dharma I teach. Whether you can see it or not, something happens in the space between us. Something intimate, wise, and generous. Something real.

You have to experience the light and warmth of the sun to stay alive.

This fascinating video called “Finding the Visible in the Invisible” will give you a look at the face time I’m talking about. But don’t mistake the video for the magic of real life. The video may pique your interest but it will not satisfy your hunger.

the best chocolate cake

February 14th, 2013    -    53 Comments

DoubleChocolateSnackingCakeForkMy father-in-law was a simple man, and the things he said could ring with unintended clarity.

Every time he ate something, like a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, he would say, “This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted!” He meant it, and it was true, because it came from the exuberance of a mind emptied of critical thought. A mind like that can seem silly and childlike. It is, and that’s what makes it so wise.

Last night I finished a small book that was the best chocolate cake, and I’d love for you to taste it. At the start, you might not think this kind of cake is for you. Nearing middle age, a man faces himself honestly, courageously, admitting that he is gay, a liar, a cheater, a thief, a phony, a creep, a mindless alcoholic and ugly drug addict, and here’s the sweet spot—despite his serial failure at suicide—he wants to live. Does this sound even remotely like your kind of chocolate?

He envisions for himself the sort of idealistic quest that is the stuff of parody. He travels to India in search of enlightenment. What you find in India is, well, India. And what you find on a quest is yourself. But he tells his story with such beauty and feeling, such flavor and artistry, that I could not resist the whole thing.

At the end of the book, he is finishing his trip with a trek to Nepal in the company of a young guide and porter. His months of meditations and mantras, vows and renunciations seem to have failed. On the trail he is back to being angry and resentful, feeling foolish and even exploited. The objects of his spite are the two poor servants who are attending him. Does this sound even remotely like what happens daily in your kitchen, your home, your neighborhood, your world?

I remember the promise I made to myself to keep my heart, mind and senses open for the rest of my stay. My journey was coming to an end too fast. There was no more time to drift off in daydreams, or to lose myself in petty complaints. But all that resolve had flown off like a bird from an untended cage and the hours given over to anger and self-cherishing are now gone forever. What sights, sounds and joys did I miss as I sealed myself off from the world?

This is the practice. Watching my actions, watching my words, watching my mind every day. It does not only occur at holy pilgrimage sites or on retreats or in the presence of great spiritual masters. It occurs everyday, with the people who are with me right now, in this time, in this place.

“Hey, Chris!” my guide waves to me with a big smile. “Your dinner is ready.”

He wipes off a seat on the rough little bench and hands me a bowl of stew and when I look down into the steam and the goodness of it, I already know it will be the best meal I have ever tasted.

I really, sincerely, wholeheartedly recommend The Narrow Way by Chris Lemig. Buy yourself two copies: one for you, one for a friend. Leave a comment below and you could win the copy I’m giving away on Friday.

Update: The winner of the book is commenter #12, Robin Gaphni, whose blog is Grief & Gratitude.

There is still time to register for the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat on Sun., Feb. 24 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in LA.

 

20 minutes to fill

January 17th, 2013    -    3 Comments

Karen Maezen Miller Interview from Kelly Dahl on Vimeo.

I had this lovely conversation with Kelly Dahl the other day about how to find fulfillment. Give yourself 20 minutes to find out by watching the video. Then pop over to her site and do something good: leave a comment on her post to win a copy of Momma Zen for yourself or to share with someone who really needs it. You will be full in no time.

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working with anger

September 9th, 2012    -    5 Comments

Sometimes people ask me a question like, “How do I work with my anger?” I give them an answer like this.

Don’t work with your anger. Anger isn’t workable. Anger doesn’t listen and wants to do everything its own way. Why would you want to work with something like that? Better to take the work away from anger. Give it time off.

Work with your absence of anger instead. Give it wide latitude and lots of responsibility. Feed it with laughter and forgetting. Soon, your absence of anger will take over the department, then the division, then the whole company. It is a good worker, and will do anything asked of it except come to work angry.

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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shoes are the first to go

August 21st, 2012    -    6 Comments

Shoes are the first to go, left at the door.
What if someone takes them—you’re afraid to say more.
No perfumes or unguents, no shorts or short sleeves
Be mindful of others, but I’d rather leave.
The wardrobe, the makeup, the image, the pose
like pimples concealed on the tip of your nose.
Baggage and crap hauled two flights up the stairs
A room with four walls and the walls are just bare.
Sit, someone tells you, sit and be still.
That’s all there is to it. I’m gonna be ill.
But you do it, you try it, you do it some more.
The guy next to you wobbles. Did I hear a snore?
Years pass. Was it minutes?
Time stops. Shadows cast.
Was that one breath or two?  The first or the last?
You don’t know. You don’t care.
One day you consider the weight of your hair.
Like grass it’s too long, like straw it’s all dead.
Take it off, you beseech,
and what you mean is your head.
Take the nightmare, the fairytale, the Hollywood end
the someday, the one day, the hard luck, the win.
Take my mask and my shield, excuses and lies
my what-ifs and rathers, ifs, ands and whys.
Where’s your fear? Where’s your dread?
I can’t find it. It’s shed.
Now plain faced and simple, empty-handed and bare
Go put on your shoes. They’re still there.

If you want to learn how to meditate, come to the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Nov. 10, 2013  in LA.

 

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raising children the Buddhist way

August 19th, 2012    -    21 Comments

Last week someone asked me what it meant to raise children the Buddhist way. I sent them this:

If you are reading this post in your email and cannot see the video, click here.

If you want to learn how to meditate, come to the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23.

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needle and thread

July 31st, 2012    -    6 Comments

Registration is now open for the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sunday, Sept. 23 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center  in Los Angeles.

***

What do you practice?

Choose your practice wisely, because we become what we practice.

Some people grow more fearful or cynical; some more arrogant or vain; some greedy, some needy; some combative or close-minded. And then there are a few who grow as solid as a mountain and as wide-open as the sky. They are strong and yet tender. Steady yet yielding. Powerful yet gentle. You will recognize them on sight because they resemble the earth you can touch and the sky you cannot contain. It’s not that they are superhuman, but that they are more completely human than most of us ever allow ourselves to be.

I met plenty of powerful people in interesting situations before I began my practice.

I met the heads of some of the world’s largest companies.

I met the founder of Enron before his titanic collapse.

I stayed too long having cocktails with the Governor of Texas and missed my flight home.

I saw a President of the United States having a club sandwich on a sun deck outside a hotel.

I met Frank Sinatra when he was still doing it his way.

I met a Super Bowl quarterback, a Hall of Fame pitcher, and the general manager of the New York Yankees.

I met three Heismann Trophy winners, including one who would be acquitted of the crime of the century.

I met a half-dozen television anchors, two big-city mayors, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

What I remember is that they were very well-dressed. (Except for the writer.)

Maezumi Roshi didn’t look like much. He was scrawny fellow, no taller than me, wearing mended clothes. His face was wrinkly and sometimes whiskered. But when you got up close, you saw that his eyes shone black as night and he moved, when he moved, like a mountain. If you think that black doesn’t shine bright, look at the night sky. And if you think a mountain doesn’t move, I’ll remind you that a mountain moves whenever it wants, which will certainly get your attention.

Unlike the world’s most illustrious people, he had nothing, yet he had something, and I would have followed him anywhere.

I guess you could say I did, although it was nowhere special.

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then you start crying

February 19th, 2012    -    18 Comments

Last week I went to Indianapolis to meet people. I stood alone in an empty room, let it fill, looked into faces looking at mine, spoke and listened, each sound beginning from silence and returning to the same, let the room empty again, and then sat in a quivering aftershock, unable to understand what had just happened, even though it happens every time.

We might think that when we come together in a room and speak our names, extending a hand or a hug, that we are meeting each other. Two discrete beings at a meet and greet. But what we’re meeting is much more and different than that. It is not really two people meeting; it is minds meeting, and not as two minds, but as one. It is inexpressible, but unmistakable. Something happens, and then you might start crying. At that instant, you feel incredibly lucky. Rich, even. As if your own paltry life is suddenly revealed as a priceless treasure.

From time to time people ask me, usually from a distance, if I will be their teacher. I try not to answer that question, because it is irrelevant from a distance, and certainly meaningless over the Internet. I’m never sure what the questioner is asking for — a friend, a counselor, a correspondent, an advisor, a coach, an eye, an ear, a hand? Although I can supply a metaphoric approximation of that from a distance, that’s not what a teacher does.

The teacher and student enter a room that is not a metaphor. They stand on the same ground. What they communicate is words and not-words. You needn’t worry about how it works. To explain it is to confuse it. No one knows how it works, but it does. We always know who our teachers are: they are the ones in the room with us. It’s really not a matter of choosing or asking. What a relief.

To that end, I heard something as I was in the car yesterday driving home from the Zen Center. It was an episode of Radio Lab in which a teacher tells how she broke through the conceptual isolation of a 27-year-old deaf student who had never been given language. “Something happened,” she said, “and then he started crying.”

I did too. I hope you’ll listen past the point where you think you know what it means. That’s the place things happen.

 

twitter zen

October 12th, 2011    -    18 Comments

An actual email exchange.

Hello, I am interested in Zen practice and live nearby. I’d like to schedule a visit sometime soon.

>Thank you for contacting us. We recommend that you first take the introductory Zen meditation class offered every Saturday from 8:30-10:30 a.m. It covers the basics of Zen Buddhism, meditation techniques and our lineage.

>>I am not looking for a class on meditation right now. The idea of sitting through a two-hour class is off-putting to say the least. I merely want to visit for 10-15 minutes.

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