Posts Tagged ‘Hand Wash Cold’


July 5th, 2010    -    12 Comments

If you’ve read Hand Wash Cold or Momma Zen, unfurl your colors. Go to Amazon or Goodreads and enter a new rating or a review for either or both books, then come back here and leave me a comment telling me so. At the end of the week I’ll draw a winner from the comments here to receive two free signed copies. So you can have your flag and wave it too.

Edited to add: Winners of this giveaway are Shana and Jim. But the commenters have already given me the grand prize. Thank you, everyone!

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inspiration is for dust

June 30th, 2010    -    2 Comments

I’ve been handed my most significant writing gig in a year, and . . . what can I say? I’m not inspired. Should I go looking?

No. I never go looking for Inspiration. I let it arrive, and it does, as surely as a breath.

I have no doubt that eventually, and right on time, the temperature will rise, the molecules will combine and the conditions will combust in a peculiar gust of words that skitter across the page. They will gather mass and velocity, direction and duration, and conclude themselves before my deadline. How does that happen? To tell you the truth, I have no idea. It’s like asking how an inhalation turns into an exhalation.

The waiting is torturous, although I’m not really waiting, and I’m not really tortured. I’m busying myself with what comes along, like writing this post on Inspiration, because I promised to follow up the earlier post about Information, and because the universe is prompting me. That’s what happens, you see, by itself. Inspiration arrives in invisible bits and fits, vapors and swirls, and it’s only when something comes out of it, something is done with it, that it can properly be called Inspiration.

Inspiration is the thing that got you here, but of course it’s not here.

Last week I was in Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena and I naturally inspected the stock of Hand Wash Cold. They had several copies on the shelves under Inspiration. I was happy to find it on the shelves, although you know by now I have a curious relationship with that thing called Inspiration. The Vroman’s staff is very good to me, though, and they’ve been taking the book from the back of the store and stacking it beside the cash registers. That’s where it appears in front of a shopper’s unsuspecting eyes and they do something with it. They buy it. Inspiration is for dust, but the action front and center in our lives, my friends, is enlightened.


I’ve done quite a few radio interviews for Hand Wash Cold. I’ve talked to people who liked me and who didn’t like me; those who read the book and those who only read the back cover of the book; those who wrangled or mangled my name. But none have been quite as inspiring as this one, an hour-long one, with a 13-minute prelude in which you can learn something really inspiring about meditation’s remarkable effectiveness in treating anxiety. Enlighten yourself by doing something with it right now.

kindness, milk and cookies

June 11th, 2010    -    9 Comments

I wake this morning in Seattle – Tacoma, to be exact – where I am soaking up the hospitality that greets me every place I arrive for a reading, a talk or a Mother’s Plunge retreat. Tomorrow’s Mother’s Plunge with 34 women is the multiplied outcome of a single kindness. By kindness I don’t just mean the command to come, but one person’s compassionate effort and initiative to make this event happen.

This is how we save the world. This is how we save ourselves. With living kindness, the kindness that walks on your own two legs, finds a room for people to gather, hosts a tired traveler in an upstairs bedroom, brews coffee and bakes cookies and makes the world a better place.

In that spirit I offer you this simple treatise today, an excerpt from Hand Wash Cold: read more

everyday ingredients

May 12th, 2010    -    2 Comments

I’m so happy to see an excerpt of Hand Wash Cold posted at Shutter Sisters today as part of their May “One Word Project.” Their inspirational word for this month is one I can’t help but love: Everyday. Visit the site and leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of the book. As an enticement, here is a taste of an audio excerpt using the same ingredients. Just click on the link and let the mp3 download and play. Savor and share it!

Ordinary Life – An Audio Excerpt from Hand Wash Cold

Photo by Tracey Clark

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everything happens

April 14th, 2010    -    5 Comments

It doesn’t look like anything happens in those torturous few minutes of motionlessness. But everything happens when you meditate. Whole worlds are dismantled, innumerable scores are settled, grievous deeds are undone, and the entire universe settles at rest.

Please click here and read an exclusive excerpt from Hand Wash Cold featured by my good friends at Shambhala Sun magazine. Then, everything happens. I’ll award a signed book to one commenter on their post by this Saturday, April 17.

may flowers

April 7th, 2010    -    8 Comments

From time to time I hear from a faithful reader in a neighboring town. Today she wrote to me and said that each morning when she arrives at work, the first thing she reads in her inbox is this blog. This post is for her and everyone else who reads their mail.

I took this photo today in my backyard. The azaleas are laden with blooms and they bend low over the ponds. Blooms on perennials like azalea bushes reappear each year, although they aren’t really perennial. The spring show comes out of nowhere, and returns nowhere. The flowers won’t be here by early May, but I hope you will.

Please come to my kitchen and garden
to celebrate the homecoming of my new book
Hand Wash Cold
Sunday, May 2, 2010
2-4 p.m.
397 N. Lima St., Sierra Madre CA
Everyone, everyone
come talk, walk and listen
you needn’t tell me you’re coming
I’ll be waiting just the same
There will be room for us all
We may run out of chairs, we may run out of cookies
but we won’t run out of breath
I’ll be reading, signing and selling words on a page
(just in time for Mother’s Day).
Now, take out your pen or i-gadget and write down the date, time and place. It won’t be the same without you. Without you, it won’t happen at all!

Today’s Bouquet: Another web giveaway of Hand Wash Cold. Go to this site and you’ll not only see the first blush of my chapter on parenting, but if you leave a comment there you’ll be in close company to win the book.

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inexpressible beauty of ordinary

March 22nd, 2010    -    108 Comments

Read an excerpt here.

Embed this video in a blog post, share it on Twitter or Facebook, and leave a comment here telling me that you’ve done so. You could win two (yes, 2) of the first autographed copies of Hand Wash Cold – one for you and one for a laundry buddy. Runners-up will win a subscription to Get Born magazine. Because we all know it takes a tribe to birth a new little one. Winners drawn March 28. Good luck and bless you.

Edited to add: The giveaway has concluded and the winners have been notified! Thank you.

hand wash cold excerpt

March 19th, 2010    -    20 Comments

Chapter One: Full Basket
A life as told by laundry

Life is laundry.

When I say that, I don’t mean I do a lot of laundry, although I do. I just started my fifth load this week and it’s only Tuesday. Still, some folks do more and some folks do less. Either way, that’s not the point.

I don’t mean my life is like laundry, although it is. Troubles pile up, and I ignore them as long as I can. Just about the time I sort through the heap, clean it, and stash it away, it reappears and I have to take care of it all over again. So yes, life is like laundry, but that’s not what I mean either.

I mean life is laundry, and when you do not yet see that your life is laundry, you may not see your life clearly at all. You might think, for instance, that the life you have is not the life you had in mind and so it doesn’t constitute your real life at all. Your real life is the life you pine for, the life you’re planning or the life you’ve already lost, the life fulfilled by the person, place, and sexy new front-loading washer of your dreams. This is the life we are most devoted to: the life we don’t have.

When I was thirty-five, I looked up one day and realized that I hadn’t had a life. Oh, I’d had a lot of things. I’d had a husband and a marriage of sorts. In fact, I still did. Between us, we had two late-model cars, two high-speed careers, and a two-story house on an oak-lined street where people left their blinds open so everyone else could look in and sigh. I had a great job working with talented and energetic people at my own company. I worked too hard, but I made enough money. I had a pool, and even a little pool house, neither of which I ever found the time or friends to fill. I had my youth. I had my looks, and I had the self-devotion to maintain them at any cost. I had fancy jewelry and cookware for which I had no use. What I did not have was laundry.

I had no laundry. I had clothing, and plenty of it, but I also had Theresa, who week after week did lifetimes’ worth of other people’s laundry, including my own. For more than ten years running, Theresa came to my house each Wednesday when no one was home. Except for the rare coincidence when I might be waylaid in bed by the sniffles, I never saw her come, I never saw her leave, and I never saw what she did in between. In this way, we had the strangest kind of intimacy.

She saw my underwear. She soaked my stains. She smelled my sweat. She did the same for my husband, all of which I refused to do. She swept and polished, emptied the trash and the hampers, and filled the house with a heady haze of lemony pine. Upstairs, on opposite sides of our bed, she laid our warm, clean laundry folded in his and her stacks. Everything was in its place. Only it wasn’t my place, because it wasn’t my life. My life was going to begin on some other day, when I had myself situated in some better place. read more

what not to wear

March 8th, 2010    -    9 Comments

I bet Publisher’s Weekly has no idea which line in this lovely review of Hand Wash Cold thrills me most:

“Miller uses daily household chores—laundry, kitchen, yard—to demonstrate timeless Buddhist principles. The skillful weaving of personal anecdotes, a few Zen terms, and acute insights—sometimes addressing the reader directly—distinguish this book from others in the genre. Miller argues for “the faultless wisdom of following instructions” when going about the mundane activities that form the substance of everyday life. Candid about some of the difficulties of her past, Miller stresses the importance of changing perceptions, which can lead to more beneficial outcomes for oneself and others: “All practice is the practice of making a turn in a different direction.” The book wears its Zen lightly; indeed, Miller skates over the years of study—as well as the decision to become a priest—that undoubtedly ground her current perspectives. This disarming book is full of deft and reassuring observations.”

I likewise have nothing to wear when I speak at the Whittier College Bookfaire on Saturday, April 3, where I’m a late, and as yet, undressed addition to the roster of speakers. Coming in my jammies!

You can call me

January 5th, 2010    -    13 Comments

It is revealing to me now that back then I didn’t want to make a fuss about this marriage. I didn’t want to have a wedding. I didn’t want to spend the money. I didn’t want to buy a dress or take the time. I didn’t want to bear his name or wear a ring and of course I didn’t want to have his children. In my own defense, I concluded that I was being modern. I meant no harm. Nothing about it had much meaning at all, certainly not the archaic vows I spoke in a half-price hotel suite before immediate family only.Hand Wash Cold

Those of you who read my ravishingly narcissistic Facebook updates may recall that an editor recently asked for permission to delete my Dharma name – Maezen – from my byline, suggesting that it was too Asian and too religious for the sensibilities of modern Western “mindfulness” adherents. (Air quotes are my own.)

You can imagine how I responded. It was not pretty, but it was swift.

For the benefit of all, I’d like to poke into this topic, because it is a jugular.

When you give a color a name, it is the beginning of blindness. – Zen saying

A Dharma name is the name given to a student by a teacher, usually as part of a ceremony in which the student commits him or herself to the practice, or the Way. In my case, I practice in a Japanese lineage, so the name sounds Japanese. In Tibetan traditions, the name will sound Tibetan. Even outside the formal practice, your first name may sound Irish and your last name Serbian. Or English, Spanish, Dutch or Swahili. I say “sounds” because that is what all names are. They are sounds. Names are made-up utterances. I asked for a Dharma name that paid tribute to Maezumi Roshi. My current teacher, Nyogen Roshi, gave it.

Of course, just because a name is made up doesn’t mean it is meaningless.

Some people do a ceremony, get a name, and never take it. I can understand that way of thinking: it’s more modern. Some names are cumbersome. Some are easy to forget. Some sound funny. And let’s face it, a new name doesn’t ever sound like the “me” that each of us so dearly knows and loves. It’s hard to commit to anything or anyone else if your most important commitment is still to yourself. That attachment to ego blinds you.

In my sangha, we all use our Dharma names. Sure, at first, it’s awkward. We think we’ll never remember, and we forget a lot of the time. Then, we adapt. Old habits change. The mind rewires. It happens, and it happens by itself. That’s what Dharma means.

Dharma is translated as “truth” and “teaching.” And the truth teaches itself, once little old me gets out of the way.

I vow to take what I am given. – Zen priest ordination precepts

Maezen (“May-zen”) isn’t really Japanese. It isn’t Asian, and it isn’t Buddhist. It is a vow. And unlike other halfhearted vows I’ve made but never kept, I’ve vowed to take it. I wear it on my sleeve, where I can see it, and where I can be it.

It is the heart of the Dharma.

You can call me Maezen. You can call me Karen. You can call me Mrs. You can call me Buddhist. You can call me Irish. You can call me Serbian. You can call me Mom. You can call me Honey. You can call me @#%!# You can call me No One. You can call me and I will respond. The response makes all the difference.

In matters of the heart, we too often forget what we have promised to remember, and remember what is best to forget.Hand Wash Cold

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Stacking up: a taste of my laundry

December 14th, 2009    -    24 Comments

I started at 8 a.m. this morning and finished the last load at 5 p.m. Today was laundry day; everyday could be laundry day. And at this dark hour, on this late day of this long year, some things are done but other things are not.

The holiday greetings did not get out. This will have to do.

In a few days we leave for a foggy stay at a nearby beach before coming home for Christmas and a breakfast of – naturally – banana pancakes. With that in mind, with you in mind, with everything done and undone still on my mind, I offer you this taste of my latest confection, the first audio excerpt of my new book, Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life. It may be something you’ve read before or heard me say before. Either way, I know in my bones on this chilly, silent night, in my holey socks and nubby sweater, with the dog asleep and the room aglow, just me telling you my homemade story amid the sounds of my house, that you will love it. My hope is that you will stir that love into your own holiday brunch, dinner, and every meal after. I’ll try to do the same.

The most we can do for one another is listen. You’ve already done everything for me, and more.

Happy holidays, friends, brothers and sisters, all. I love you.

How to unwrap your life

December 8th, 2009    -    22 Comments

I speed-read a short story collection last week, Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, which I cannot recommend. Despite that, one story in the book stuck. It was about the relationship between a cellist and his musical mentor, a woman who described herself as a virtuoso. The woman gives her protégé weeks of technical and inspirational corrections before revealing that she cannot play a cello herself. “We are both virtuosos,” she explained in pitch-perfect logic, “but my virtuosity has not been unwrapped.”

A wrapped-shut virtuoso. Does that resonate?

We dare not yet pick up our own instrument for fear of, well, everything. We are cautious, guarded, unprepared. Getting closer, we tell ourselves. Getting ready. Awaiting the moment of fulfillment, when our mastery will be revealed. In the meantime, our virtuosity is unchallenged, shielded beneath layers of tissue, inert, immobile, a precious empty ideal. Held in reserve for one day.

How to Unwrap Your Life

1. Do something you’ve been avoiding, without thinking twice.
2. This might mean that you need to mail the letter or send the proposal. It will put things in motion.
3. This might mean you need to make the call or send the resume. Go for broke.
4. This might mean that you need to tackle the hand wash cold.
5. This might mean you need to make a meal from whatever you have on hand in the kitchen, without restraint or apology.
6. This might mean a dog walk or a litter box cleaning.
7. This might mean forgetting what he said, she said, you said and everything that has been said before now.
8. No one can tell you a thing. There is no “how to do.”
9. There is only do.
10. Play as if your life depends on it. Without you, there’s no music.

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Missing person

November 25th, 2009    -    5 Comments

I caught a story in yesterday’s paper that you shouldn’t miss. It’s not uncommon for one little story in the newspaper to sum up the wretched whole of human tragedy but this story was in a category by itself. A 13-year-old autistic boy, running from rebuke at school and evading punishment at home, stowed away in plain sight on a subway where he rode nonstop for 11 days without being noticed.

It wasn’t hard to be invisible, he told police. “Nobody really cares about the world and about people.” He is a rare jewel among human beings: he can see things as they are. Read more about his journey here.

I feel as if I have been missing for some time. Not so good about reading your blogs or writing my own. Not as open-eyed or even-keeled as I might have been. I’ve been immersed in the late stages of the publication process: the manuscript submission, the diagnostic revisions, and now the slice-and-dice of copy edits. No one who is striving for that mythical, magical realm called “Being Published” will ever believe what it is really like: how much it extracts from you, and yet how little it changes things. It’s like abdominal surgery. Over the course of the procedure, all 28 feet of your intestines are shoved aside, and in some cases, taken out and piled up on the table beside your body. Then your bowels are put back and you’re sewn into the semblance of something new. For a short while you feel the effects, but before long everything is just as it was before. You’re not younger, better looking, or rich. You might even been poor. You don’t believe me, but you can read more about it here.

Today I said goodbye to my husband and daughter as they travel east to celebrate the holiday with my in-laws. Aside from the year my father died, this is the first Thanksgiving we haven’t been together. I will attend Rohatsu sesshin, a Zen meditation retreat that commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment. It is time for me to excuse myself from the family table and do what the Buddha did, to be like the boy I told you about at the top of this post: a rare jewel who can see things as they are. You can read more about the story of Buddha here.

Next week several guest bloggers will appear in my stead. I thank them for spilling their guts, and I hope you’ll stick around and read more about them here.

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