Posts Tagged ‘Everyday Dharma’

Discuss amongst yourselves

November 20th, 2009    -    7 Comments

I have a little load of delicates in this just-published book. I haven’t seen the book yet, but I’m posting this promotional video to make it easier for me to view another 2,000 times:

Since the video is a little finicky, you can always click and see it here.

The book is one thing, but the really interesting thing (to me) is that the editor, Kirtsy co-founder and social media maven Laura Mayes, was once a co-worker of mine. Actually, I was her dictatorial but charmingly benevolent boss back when I was a woman of substance. That our lives have intersected again is something far more interesting than anything of mine you’ll see in the book, because it’s the way women’s lives really are: deeply and profoundly connected.

I can get as riled up as the next gal about the inequality in this world of ours, the his-versus-hers, the patriarchy, and the idiots in pants. But the more I see, the more I see that’s the way it has always been. There is no equal, and there is no quality. So I don’t want to spend any more time getting riled up. Not while there is so much to do. Like write, and read, and fold laundry; like start companies and spread peace; like soothe the suffering and calm the cries; and discuss, yes, discuss everything amongst ourselves.

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The complicity of blindness

November 9th, 2009    -    No Comments


The day gives light to things.

In other words, wake up! I may be the only person on the planet who gets such a guffaw out of spam emails from the purveyors of terribly clever and inanely unnecessary things. Today, the $49.95 voice interactive alarm clock. Around here, we have a voice interactive alarm without spending $49.95.

Like looking for the eyeglasses on top of your head. A treatise on asking a teacher how to find a teacher, over at Shambhala SunSpace.

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It’s your mother calling

October 6th, 2009    -    9 Comments

All wisdom is a matter of call and response.

The sun comes up, your eyelids flutter.

The bell rings, you answer.
Work appears, you do it.
Mail arrives, you open.
Sadness fills, you cry.
A stranger nears, you smile.
A crack opens, you fall.
Hunger rises, you eat.
Quiet descends, you quiet.

All struggle is resistance to response.

That’s why I will always respond.
Announcing June 12 in Seattle.

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The big Q, the big A

September 29th, 2009    -    1 Comment

How is your daughter? How is your husband? How are your in-laws? How is your job? How is your boss? How is your dog, your fish, your garden, your laundry, your dishes, your life?

How do you answer?

It’s easy to think that Buddhist practice is about the big questions. Birth and death, cause and effect, form and emptiness, delusion and enlightenment, attachment and non-attachment, and whether a dog has Buddha nature or not. I just hope you’re not actually thinking about any of that stuff.

My Zen practice is koan practice, and every time I meet with my teacher in dokusan, or face-to-face interview, I present my understanding, so to speak, of the inscrutable koan I’m working on at the time. I recite the koan and its verse, which by this time I’m pretty well convinced that I’ve nailed.

After we talk a bit about how far along I am, the state of my spiritual genius, he’ll wrap up the interview with what sounds like a simple social courtesy:

How’s your family?

Read the rest and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

The Big Answer: The winner of the giveaway of the Feeleez Empathy Game is C who blogs at Once. Thanks to all who answered.

When the last bluebird sings

September 28th, 2009    -    8 Comments


I’ve been watching it for some time now, anticipating the end and knowing what it would mean.

When I left my lonely life of accomplishment behind, when I first moved with my husband to this house, to my stark empty-handedness, I called my mother soon after. She had raised three independent daughters, three whiz kids, and I had never said the words that tumbled from my blubbering lips:

I need you.

She came to visit, but before then she sent me a houseplant. It was the kind of plant sold at grocery stores and florists, just a pot of common ivy and indistinguishable indoor greenery. For decoration, it had a slender spike stuck into it with a bluebird on the end of it. I’ve had it since then, all 12 years, in one spot and then rotated to another. I treated it like a talisman, and then a memorial, thinking to myself:

This is my mother.

About a year ago it started to fade. The ivy yellowed and dropped off. The other stalks shrunk. Little remains but the spike with the bird on top. It seems to have bugs now, or some kind of blight. I know it’s time, and so I moved it to the patio. As part of every morning service at the Zen Center we chant this line, and so I chant it now:

The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother.

It’s time to let the old girl go, to let it all come to rest. My mother is telling me to go, to take flight, to sing my own song. A few weeks ago I heard myself say, as if reading my own heart, “I don’t want to write about parenting any more. Motherhood is about so much more than the kids.” Yes, it’s true the kids are part of it, I said, pounding my chest, but my life and work have moved to a larger purview now. Like what, you might ask, if I haven’t lost you in this pile already. And so I tell you:

The laundry.

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Buddhists and gardeners raise your hands

September 14th, 2009    -    No Comments


Shortly after my husband and I moved into our house with its old garden, we invited the experts and academics over tell us what to do. Some would say that our backyard is Southern California’s oldest private Japanese garden, dating from 1916. Some would say that it isn’t; that by virtue of geography, topography, plant selection and cultural anthropology, it can’t ever be Japanese. We were twisted into a fit by these and other debates about the right way to care for the place. Heaven forbid we make a fraudulent move when we were already paralyzed by ignorance from the get go!

You might not fall victim to this kind of dialectic. You might be able to sweep it aside with the simple observation that the Japanese garden originated in China and the Chinese garden originated as a Persian pleasure park, and that a garden is a garden no matter what you call it.

One day we stopped asking the experts. That was the day we got dirt under our fingernails. Conventional wisdom holds that our garden isn’t the real thing, but try telling that to the pine tree.

Read the rest and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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Still blowing smoke

September 1st, 2009    -    1 Comment

Thank you to all who have asked about us here in Los Angeles. Everyone who has said a prayer, offered a place, a shrug, a sigh. Some of you know our little town, our mother mountain, which is downslope of the beast. Conditions seem to be turning today, no better day than this. I posted this piece on Shambhala SunSpace because of the marvelous teaching that comes ready made in the smell of smoke. The fire is massive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you can smell it too.

“Diligently practice the Way as though putting a fire out on top of your head.”

There is engaging language in my spiritual tradition, in the old writing and the poetic phrases. It’s easy to take the language as inspiration or as metaphor, inclined as we are to analyze everything for deep meaning and exalted purpose. This is what religious scholars do, what intellectuals do, and it’s obvious why. We can almost never believe that things are simple or straightforward, that they are what they are. What do we use our brains for if not figuring things out? Everything has to mean something else.

I’ve heard a phrase more or less like the one above many times and thought it conveyed urgency and desperation. It does. But then I saw with my own eyes this week the startling science of extinguishing fires. How you put out a fire is exactly how you should practice. How you put out a fire on the ground is exactly how you put out the fire on your head – your insane, compulsively anxious, fearful ego mind.

Like you, I wish practice was merely a matter of writing this post, or reading a book, or making a list, or thinking positive thoughts, or losing five pounds. But I’ve seen the firefighters, and how they practice. They do not waste a moment to theory, philosophy, inspiration or appearances. This is what I learned with my own eyes:

Read the rest and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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Why oh why

August 26th, 2009    -    21 Comments

Why I practice. Why I write. Why oh why.

Note to self: nevermind

July 16th, 2009    -    2 Comments

There must be something in the connotation of the word “being” that makes it seem like the opposite of “doing.” I say that because I’m sometimes asked how, as an avowed meditator, I ever get things done. Perhaps they picture me curled up in a corner.

A regular meditation practice is the last thing that prevents me from totally engaging in activity. It helps me do more even as I think about it less. Hidden in the question is how preoccupied we are with to-doing rather than doing. To-doing or should-be-doing takes up quite a bit of time. It could well be the principal occupation of our lives: imagining scenarios, planning strategies, fretting outcomes, second-guessing choices and then sticking the whole rigamarole back into the familiar rut that’s so hard to get out of.

Emptying the mind of that kind of doing opens it up to a spontaneous and creative undoing that is quite marvelous and, I dare say, breathtaking.

Read the rest and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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The angel of Assisi

June 16th, 2009    -    24 Comments


Here’s a little story about spiritual pilgrimage for those of you who are traveling to my city of angels this weekend for the Mother’s Plunge – and those of you who aren’t. The extraordinary response to the first splash has me planning a countrywide tour of backward steps. Where should I bring the retreat next? Minnesota? Arizona? Kansas? Tell me.

Even the man at Marshall Field’s who had sold me the yellow travel umbrella had said it: “You must go to Assisi.”

Everyone, it seemed, had said it – You must go to Assisi! – and so the fifth day of a solo trip to Italy became the day for me to go the distance. It would require a car, which I obtained from a rental agency a few blocks from my hotel in Florence. It would require getting out of town, which I accomplished with an angel on the dashboard. And it would require a couple hours’ drive south on the Autostrada, which I high-tailed in the slipstream of the surging traffic.

“You will see it on the hill,” another advisor had told me rapturously. And I did, in a purple haze of trees and tile and imagination. I steered my little vehicle onward in the soldierly direction, ascending the hill and circling the top, passing the marked parking lots with all the beached buses, inching slowly alongside the streams of tourists who had come for the St. Francis experience, motoring up the wrong streets and down again until I mustered my purpose and pulled over on a narrow hillside shoulder. I angled in among the other likeminded pilgrims who were committing, I hoped, the pardonable sin of illegal parking.

I strode upward to the Basilica de San Francisco. It was big, too big, outsized for its namesake, and oddly uninspiring, I thought. Inside to more frescoes, more pews, more people, and decidedly more organization than in the other sacred spots I’d stopped. This, I could see, was a system.

I headed down into the crypts containing St. Francis’ tomb and there uncovered the day’s only treasure. “Scusa, scusa,” the ushers whispered to those, like me, who had barged in to bystand at the wedding ceremony underway in the underground chapel. I lingered in the shadows at the rear, charmed by the elaborate smallness of it. A local couple surrounded by local people, wearing uncomfortable new clothes for the biggest event of their lives.

Leaving, I wandered the winding medieval village. The heat had turned the streets into baking stones.

“You will feel it in the air,” another friend had confided. I felt stifling languor and epidemic disinterest. Wandering into an antique shop, my idle browsing did not disturb the mistress at the back watching American TV soap operas dubbed in Italian.

Then the divine message arrived.

Every place is holy.

It was my departing thought, a conclusion and a comfort, and I headed home, satisfied.

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.

Continue reading and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my new and occasional blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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Remove, retread, repeat

May 13th, 2009    -    11 Comments


The other day I had to have a ginormous bolt removed from a tire and the hole plugged. It reminded me that retreads can have a lot of miles left on them, and so I plugged in this repeat post today:

From time to time I’m asked this question: What do Buddhists believe? I like to respond that Buddhism requires no beliefs, but that’s rather hard to believe. And so I offer this.

I believe in love. Not the love that is the enemy of hate, but the love that has no enemies or rivals, no end and no beginning, no justification and no reason at all. Love and hate are completely unrelated and incomparable. Hate is born of human fear. Love is never born, which is to say, it is eternal and absolutely fearless. This love does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in truth. Not the truth that is investigated or exposed, interpreted or debated. But the truth that is revealed, inevitably and without a doubt, right in front of my eyes. All truth is self-revealed; it just doesn’t always appear as quickly or emphatically as I’d like it to. This truth does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in freedom. Not the freedom that is confined or decreed by ideology, but the freedom that is free of all confining impositions, definitions, expectations and doctrines. Not the freedom in whose name we tremble and fight, but the freedom that needs no defense. This freedom does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in justice. Not the justice that is deliberated or prosecuted; not that is weighed or measured or meted by my own corruptible self-interest. I believe in the unfailing precision of cause and effect, the universal and inviolable law of interdependence. It shows itself to me in my own suffering every single time I act with a savage hand, a greedy mind or a selfish thought. It shows itself in the state of the world, and the state of the mind, we each inhabit. This justice does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in peace. Not the peace that is a prize. Not the peace that can be won. There is no peace in victory; there is only lasting resentment, recrimination and pain. The peace I seek is the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is the peace that is always at hand when I empty my hand. No matter what you believe, this peace does not require belief, it requires practice.

I believe in wisdom. Not the wisdom that is imparted or achieved; not the wisdom sought or the wisdom gained. But the wisdom that we each already own as our birthright. The wisdom that manifests in our own clear minds and selfless hearts, and that we embody as love, truth, freedom, justice and peace. The wisdom that is practice.

What do you believe?

The squiggly wigglies

April 23rd, 2009    -    3 Comments

I’m off for a three-day retreat at my practice home starting tonight, because this silent spaciousness is where all stories begin and end.

Before I leave I want to share some recent inspiration.

First, the Shambhala Sun has reposted my piece on the Dharma of Barbie. Even after you think you’ve tossed her, the old girl never dies. And there’s always a new generation of parents for her to haunt. If you scroll down to the end of the story, you’ll see the announcement that I’ll soon be launching a blog on their site named after the stuff that is always near to my heart. Once I sort the lights from the darks, we’ll see what comes out of it. Leave a comment over there and let them know that I’m not just full of suds.

This column in the New Yorker snapped, crackled and popped my eyes open earlier this week. It’s a fascinating look that could leave you wondering about how much you’re willing to commit to yourself during troubling times.

Speaking of troubles, I was touched by this letter to fellow practitioners. Not just because the need is urgent and the time is now, but because of the sheer delight in seeing that, even to a Rinpoche, practice is just pretense. We must all pretend harder!

Lastly, I was so moved by Cam’s reflection on loss. It reminds me that the why that has no answer is the very why we keep going, and that love and loss are never separate.

And just for a parting grin, this snippet of conversation two days ago over a sleeping dog.

Mom, you know what I’ve figured out?

What’s that?

A well-trained dog isn’t that much fun.

Why not?

Because you don’t get to wrestle it, and have trouble with it. You don’t get to be mad at it.

I see.

So a well-trained dog isn’t the best kind.

You think?

If we ever get a new puppy can we name it Squiggly or Wiggly?

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