Posts Tagged ‘Dogen’

A rose colored carpet

January 21st, 2010    -    No Comments

Flowers fall with our longing, and weeds spring up with our aversion – Dogen

I read a book this week that was really a good book, a memoir about how much a daughter loves her father, warts and all, and about how that love transcends age, sickness and time. In the story, the author recalls meeting up with a Buddhist family in Nepal during a bit of youthful wandering, and although she can’t reconcile herself to faith, she dismisses Buddhism in a single gust over that one prickly word we hold so dear: attachment. read more

Silent light

December 23rd, 2009    -    4 Comments

In a mind clear as still water
even the waves, breaking,
are reflecting its light.

– Dogen Zenji

Merry California Christmas from my shore to your door.

Hanging out by my lonesome

May 14th, 2009    -    1 Comment

A monk asked Gensha, “How do I enter the Way?” Gensha replied, “Do you hear the murmuring stream?” The monk answered, “Yes, I do.” Gensha said, “Enter there.” – Zen koan

“What is dharma?”

That was my one of my first questions in one of the first dokusans, or interviews, I had with a Zen teacher when I started practicing 15 years ago.

I’d been drawn to a remote mountain, to the scent of sandalwood, to the hush of the pine trees, to the rustle of the robes in the dim light of a zendo, and to an inscrutable Japanese teacher. I’d been driven by despair, by a broken heart, and by disgust with the same old same old me.

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I kid you not

December 21st, 2008    -    10 Comments

Stop dwelling on passing days, months and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth
where chrysanthemums bloom.

– Dogen Zenji

When I tell you that this ancient practice comes alive in my home, you as yet may not believe me. You may not yet believe yourself, or trust your own home.

This is how it flowers. This is how it is. This is how it has always been.

Deep love and appreciation for you on these holidays and everyday. Be of good cheer. Your life is in bloom. Just look.

The Miller Family

Look in your top left-hand drawer

December 19th, 2008    -    9 Comments

Steps of Encouragement:
1. “I understand, I know it’s hard.”
2. “I think you can handle it.”
3. “Want to give it a try?”
4. “When you’re ready . . . “
5. “Look in your top left-hand drawer.”

***
Today, shopping done, leaves raked, laundry spinning and the computer waylaid one more day in repair, I cleaned out my desk. My desk may be no different than the one you have, drawers so full of detritus that I hardly open them anymore. Into the drawers I went, and I found:

1. A short stack of rejections I saved while hunting for an agent. There were eleven of them here, among more that weren’t, because these were the dozen that favored me with a written reply. What struck me was not the disinterest these strangers showed, but the civility of their response. So I keep them still. The most civil of all was the one who called.

2. Scrap papers of notes written on the plane home after my first retreat with Maezumi Roshi 15 years ago. What I jotted: “He says he doesn’t want to flatter me, but he has been waiting for someone like me, someone with a big capacity to learn and teach others.” You can see he still has an infinitely big capacity for flattery! And while I don’t doubt he told others the same thing, I was the one who found it today.

3. A photo of my mother giving baby Georgia a bath. My mom’s head is a post-chemo cap of newly grown, wiry black curls. She is not the radiant woman who still lives in my heart; the baby is not the precious girl who still lives in my home. Time has passed but I’ve lost nothing and no one.

4. A snapshot of El Santuario de Chimayo taken on a visit in 1992, a magical axis from which my life turned in a totally new direction.

5. A print out of the first and only of Maezumi’s teachings I edited for him before his death. It was from three hours of his talks on Dogen Zenji’s fascicle, “Tsuki,” or “The Moon.” It took 36 hours of listening to tapes, craning into the earphones of a Radio Shack portable cassette player, to transcribe one inscrutable word at a time. I had no idea what I was doing.

6. Stuck on the first page of the completed transcription was a Post-It note written by my current teacher when he read it five years ago. “Maezen, Thank you so much! Keep it going – N.” This was the first time I’d read the piece since. I was afraid to.

7. A sheet of paper with the first four of the above Steps of Encouragement given to me by a preschool teacher when my daughter was three. My daughter never needed them; I still do.

8. And thus I found all the encouragement I need right now in my top left-hand drawer. There’s more than enough here, so please take some to tide you over until you look deeper inside for yourself.

All in one load

August 17th, 2008    -    7 Comments


“Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma see no Dharma in everyday actions. They have not yet discovered that there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma.”

Dogen Zenji, 13th century

Sprinkles on top

January 15th, 2008    -    8 Comments


To study words you must know the origin of words. – Dogen Zenji

I love words. I love it when people love my words. If I could eat and breathe words I would be happy. If I could make my living with words I would be ecstatic. Unfortunately, the business I’m in isn’t about the words, but about what’s underneath.

What exactly am I trying to say?

I’m so fond of my own language that the hardest part of writing is not starting or finishing. The hardest part is changing a measly word, particularly if it’s not my idea to do so. I’m attached at the tongue to my own cleverness. I mistake the notes for the melody, the brushstrokes for the painting, the rainbow sprinkles for the cupcake underneath. Ever taste just the sprinkles? Do and you’ll see that it’s not about them.

So what’s the point here?

A long time ago I got a fortune in a cookie that said, “Cleverness is serviceable for some things, but sufficient for nothing.” Left to my own cleverness, I can string together pearls like, well, a string of pearls. A very long string of pearls. With no clasp on either end, and no way for anyone to get any use out of it. But such a pretty string of pearls! Doesn’t that count?

You’re losing me.

When I’d first assembled 50 or so pages of early writing, not knowing a thing about publishing, I judged the writing to be so good, so obviously special, that I sent it to an agent. Not an agent I knew, but an agent whose name I’d overheard from a neighbor at my three-year-old’s swimming lesson. This agent was so kind to reply at all, even with a gentle refusal, to this mound of – what, sprinkles? – and give me my first awakening. It’s not about the words.

Are we getting any closer?

Of course we use the words, because it’s all we have to work with. Words are the only way we can approach the unsayable essence. But we don’t exactly write our way there; it is more like unwriting. We dive back into the mush of our muddled language to extract the pure shine. Every time we’re sent by critics and editors and unguarded husbands back to the keyboard it’s to find the source under our skin, the precise truth beneath our words that anyone and everyone recognizes. That’s the one that looks good enough to eat.

And tastes great too.

Not by the book

January 14th, 2008    -    12 Comments


You should look after water and grain with compassionate care, as though tending your own children without expecting any result or gain. – Dogen Zenji

Perhaps you have children. Remember when you were trying to conceive, and you thought it was only about getting pregnant? Or how about when you were pregnant, and it was only about having a baby? Then the baby was born and all your expectations were obliterated in the first week of terror and chaos. But I only wanted a baby, you might have inwardly wailed, as if you could straighten out a terribly mixed-up order. What you got was a life, a whole new wonderful awful horrible miserable magnificent life – yours– that you could never have imagined before.

We never quite arrive at the outcome that we have in mind, because nothing is quite what we think it is. It is so much more, and it keeps going!

Before too long we forget about the outcome and focus instead on tending the baby before us with compassionate care, and without expecting any result or gain. (I’m raising a daughter. We’re both happy I don’t think I’m raising a pianist.)

The book you’re thinking about? It’s not about the book. There might well be a book that surfaces some day, a couple hundred pages pressed between two cardboard ends, but writing a book isn’t about a book. The book is a word for your life, the vast, unknowable dynamic process of turns and trips and thumps, that transforms you as you go along, as you go along becoming more of yourself. Somewhere along this road, somewhere well after you begin and before you end, you might finally be born as a storyteller and a writer; you might arrive at an authentic voice, an enlivened heart. You might finally see, in the very light of your day and in the words on your screen, that you have something to say. And that only you could say it.

But if you think you know that before you start out, I will say with unwavering emphasis: You are wrong. It’s true that mechanistic and unartful things get written that way: by the book. And there are probably 99,000 mechanistic and unartful books published every year. But that’s not what you aim to write, do you? Leave that to the experts!

You stand before a stove with a soup pot and a spoon. What will you put in? Everything you’ve got. How will it taste? You’ll find out as you go along. How will you know what’s next? You’ll know it when you see it. How long will it take? Long past the time you get hungry but before you’re dead. How do I start? You already have.

If you happen to have read this far and you aren’t writing a book, know for a fact that you are. Everyone is writing a book. And the book is called your life. You are the writer and you are the reader, and – no flipping to the last page first! – you don’t know how it will end.

***

This week we’re talking about writing. Send me your questions, and we’ll turn them into something you can swallow.

Cooking the books

January 13th, 2008    -    11 Comments


An ancient master said, “When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life.” – Dogen Zenji

I like to cook. Not always, mind you. But I can honestly say I’m no longer afraid to cook; no longer preoccupied with how things will turn out. I don’t cook as sport or even as art. I cook just to cook, as a mysterious and fulfilling practicality. What most delights me about cooking is using what I already have on hand in ways I hadn’t planned. Kind of like a spontaneous symphony. Well, more like a whistle.

This wasn’t always true of me. I never learned to cook and I never had to cook. When I took up residency here, in this home as a whole woman and a wife, after accomplishing my life’s shallow ambition by the age of 35 and then falling splat on my ass, I began to cook. When my parents visited me here for the first time, my father came into the kitchen wide-eyed. “Artice,” he called to my mother. “You’ve got to see this. Karen made scrambled eggs.” He was just amazed, and so was I. Life is amazing! And breakfast is pretty miraculous too.

This week I’m going to write about writing. I just opened the cupboards and saw what I had on hand. Everywhere I turn, I see my friends talking about writing; they confess their aspirations and fears. Everywhere I turn, I see my own obstinate doubts and hindrances. I wasn’t always inclined to be so glib about writing. I stopped myself from blogging for a long time with the excuse that bloggers were “only writers” and therefore not my readers. Yes, I can be that way. I can be that mean and small and stingy and scared.

But now I feel a rush to get the word out so you have these encouragements and ingredients on hand. Please know that as I recite them I am nourishing myself. Here they all are, and I will take up each point separately in a longer post as circumstances allow.

Instructions to the Cook
1. Writing a book is not about the book.
2. It’s not even about the words.
3. The more you write the more you write.
4. Start writing but don’t stop reading.
5. Every no is a yes.

So this week, let’s read and let’s write. Send me your comments or questions, and we’ll scramble the eggs into something you can swallow.

Here’s the 25th hour of your day

September 19th, 2007    -    4 Comments

Not one thought deserves a second thought. – Dogen Zenji

What if you had one extra hour in the day to use to your heart’s content? To have fun, relax, exercise. To write, run or sleep. To start a book; to finish a book. To plant a garden; to cook. To play with the kids. To do something big. To do nothing at all.

These are the things we think we would do with extra time. But in truth, this is how we’d probably use it, because this is how we use most of our time:

It’ll never work. I’m not good enough. I can’t do it. I don’t know how. I don’t have what it takes. I’ll never finish. It’s a big mistake.

And the classic:

I don’t have time.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you replace these self-critical thoughts with something else. I don’t peddle positive thinking. I peddle positive non-thinking. Not all thinking is a waste of time, just the non-stop negative self-judgments that occupy nearly every waking hour. Cutting back on that will open vast new frontiers of (get this) empty space and time.

Of course, learning to disengage from habitual, self-limiting thoughts takes practice. And who has time for that?!

This concludes my three-day treatise. About time.

I’m teaching a one-day Beginner’s Mind Retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 4. Is it time? Find out more.

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.

On balance

August 22nd, 2007    -    7 Comments


I gave a talk last week about Work-Life Balance at a corporate retreat. Truth be told, it was my first. The audience was politely attentive. Going in, I wasn’t sure that there was much to say about the topic. Going out, I don’t feel that much different. Perhaps you can illuminate the way better than I can.

You see, our lives are never out of balance. They can’t be out of balance. Where are the mountains toppling? Where is the sun sliding out of the sky? Of course we think our lives are out of balance nearly all the time. We think that way except for the split second every other year in which we feel–ahhhh!– okay.

So this work-life imbalance that we give such credence to is nothing other than the nature of human existence. It is what the Buddha termed in his First Noble Truth as “suffering.” Life is suffering. The word he used was dukkha, or unfulfillment.

Yes, we’re unfulfilled. Can’t be otherwise as long as we operate our lives in separation, in ignorance of reality. By that I mean operating from the egocentric mind, the dualistic mind, the mind of me that repeats over and over in hysterical crescendo “You, you over there! You’re driving me crazy! My job is driving me crazy! My kids are driving me crazy! My spouse is driving me crazy! And you, yes you, dear reader out there in readerland, you’re driving me crazy! All of you are asking too much of me!”

Because so little can be honestly said about how to fix this, this little syndrome that is nothing other than the eternal human condition, I boiled it all down to three little rules. Three rules to restore the balance you think you’ve lost.

3 Rules to Life Balance

1. There is no right way to do anything, only a right now way. Wherever we are, we think of someplace else. I should be over there. No, I should be back here. Here, there, here, there. What is the right thing to do? That kind of thinking is what really makes your head spin. Stop that. Be where you are. When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at home, be at home. When driving, drive; eating, eat; sleeping, sleep. Get out of your head and tell me, right now, where’s the problem?

2. You have all the time you need for what’s important to you. What is most important? Whatever is right in front of you. Why? Because that’s the only thing that exists! In truth, you already have ample time for what is important to you. It just might surprise you to see what that is. What do you keep putting in front of yourself? Food? Drink? Computer? The average adult spends 28 hours a week watching TV. The average woman spends 8 years of her life shopping. These probably aren’t things that you would consciously set as your priorities, so consciously set your real priorities. And when you do, you’ll see that Rule 3 proves itself.

3. How you do anything is how you do everything. I borrow this from writer/teacher Cheri Huber, who paraphrased my main man Dogen: “If you find one thing wearisome, you will find everything wearisome.” Pay attention, be present, cultivate focus in one facet of your life and you will enjoy it in all facets of your life. Because an attentive person is an attentive person! A happy person is a happy person! A balanced person is a balanced person!

So strap on your shoes and dance.

I can only hope that I have less to say on this topic in the future.

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