Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

7 ways to make Thanksgiving mindful

November 20th, 2017    -    4 Comments

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Of course you want it to be good. You’d like the mashed potatoes to keep warm, the stuffing to stay moist and the gravy to taste homemade. You’re hoping the pies turn out, the guests turn up and the TV gets turned off. You’ll be grateful to have it over with, but can you take a week of hectic cooking and turn it into a mindfulness practice?

The sages did, and still do.

Mindfulness practice is exactly like preparing a holiday dinner. In fact, one of the most profound and practical texts in Zen, “Instructions for the Cook,” was written nearly 800 years ago for the monastery kitchen staff. That ancient teaching inspires these 7 ways to prepare your Thanksgiving meal more mindfully. read more

5 steps to joy

September 1st, 2016    -    9 Comments

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How do we find joy amid chaos?

I’ve been practicing meditation for 23 years now, and this question tells you why. It’s why I do retreats as a student, and it’s why I offer them as a teacher. Each of us, no matter what the circumstances, can find ourselves in a daily struggle to stay sane. And if not completely sane, at least positive. And if not totally positive, than at least moderately hopeful. There is so much going on. We can’t catch up or get ahead. Even our kids are too busy. Everyone is stressed, pressured, and anxious. The outlook is for more of the same. We may feel an urgent need to slow things down, or a depressing belief that nothing we do will make a difference.

We might think that chaos is a unique feature of our 21st century culture, but that isn’t so. True, technology means that we can work 24/7, and we have our devices to thank for our chronic distractibility. We may lack the support of family and friends, and feel disconnected from meaningful relationships. But I bet that you don’t need to look very far back in your family history to find a time when your own ancestors struggled just to maintain adequate food and shelter, or labored under catastrophic wars, disasters, and economic or social injustice. In short, life has always been hard, and often a lot harder than it is now. The proverbial “simpler time” we yearn for might not have been simple at all.

Contemplative practices such as meditation originated many thousands of years ago and haven’t changed. They don’t need to change. They don’t need to be modernized or adapted to the millennial mindset. They depend solely on oneself. And they work. This is what I have observed in my own meditation practice: stillness and silence bring peace, and from that peace springs radiant joy that you can experience for yourself.

It begins in chaos. Are you troubled, confused, anxious or overwhelmed? You’ve taken the first step to joy.

Enter the chaos

All spiritual practices are born in chaos — the shock of loss, the pain of despair, the sobering certainty of old age, sickness and death — the recognition that time swiftly passes and you are not in control. When the world is moving too fast, we always have a choice: to be tossed about by external events, or to center ourselves in the midst.

Drop resistance

The fact is, you’re upset. Frustrated, disappointed and annoyed. Resentful, regretful or indignant. Uncomfortable, uneasy and afraid. Most of us have developed a hard outer edge: the edginess that comes from resisting the way things are. Once you recognize what you are holding on to, you can drop it. It’s a lot of work to haul that extra stuff around, and it makes you feel terrible.

Exhaust yourself

No longer struggling against anything, you might instead feel . . . tired, very tired, and tender, very tender. Your heart softens, and you feel genuine compassion for yourself and others. Everyone is simply doing their best. This is a key step on the journey, because now you are courageous enough to do the most difficult thing of all.

Be still

A great teacher once said, “The effort of no effort is the hardest effort of all.” Using breath as a guide, meditation draws you into the still center of your being. You can stay, rest, and relax there. Your core of stillness, which is pure presence, is the place where healing and transformation occurs.

Enter the silence

Some people approaching their first retreat think that keeping silent will be the biggest challenge for them. I always remind folks that silence is not a prohibition. It is instead an invitation to enter the silence that is already here. Once the mind is quieted and the heart is calmed, everything is exactly as before, but without the noisy rat-a-tat-tat of our judgments. Inner silence harmonizes with all outer activity.

In silence we find quiet joy and gratitude for our life, and for all those who share it with us.

What a useful thing to bring home from retreat. Perhaps you could find out for yourself.

***

Join me at  Quiet Joy: A Zen Retreat for Busy People, the weekend of Oct. 28-30 at Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford, Conn.

8 steps to happy laundering

July 3rd, 2016    -    12 Comments

You might think I’m using a metaphor when I say that my spiritual practice is doing the laundry. Metaphor or not, laundry is the practice of seeing things as they are. Take a look at how to go from the hamper to happiness in eight steps.

Empty the hamper – Laundry gives us an honest encounter with ourselves before we’re freshened, fluffed and sanitized. It gives us a mirror to the parts of ourselves we’d rather overlook, and makes us take responsibility for our own messes. Self-examination reveals the pure wisdom that resides within each of us.

The instructions are in your hands – The tag inside a garment tells you exactly how to care for what you hold in your hands. Not just clothing, but very bit of life comes with instructions when we are attentive enough to notice. Doing it well may take more work than we’d like, but the effort is always worth it in the long run.

Handle with care – It’s inevitable: everything shrinks, fades and falls apart. Nothing stays brand-new. The most precious things we have are fashioned of flimsy fabric. Be mindful with each moment you have and you will experience your life in a different way. read more

best laugh

January 7th, 2015    -    8 Comments

il_570xN.664617919_ill0They don’t give awards to people like me.

My daughter said this right before the eighth-grade graduation ceremony, when I learned that there would be awards for certain graduates that night. The fact is, I was instantly uncomfortable. I don’t like awards. I don’t like that we live in a competitively obsessed, elite-driven culture that creates phony contests out of false comparisons, but I tried to stay positive. Maybe you’ll get one, I had said.

There were lots of awards that night, for basketball stars and class officers, for those with perfect attendance and perfect grades, for teacher’s favorites and then two very special top awards for the one boy and one girl who in the principal’s opinion did absolutely everything best. My daughter was correct. She didn’t get one.

I sometimes forget how life really is, or at least, how life is for my daughter. As a parent, I’m usually tripping out on toxic levels of either false pride or fear. Oh, how I want her to do well! Oh, how I want her to keep up! Oh, how I want her to get in, get out, and move on! Oh, how I want her to be happy! Oh, how I want her to be liked, and loved and noticed! Oh, how I want her to be someone who does something important!

A few weeks ago the holiday cards started to arrive, and with them, the holiday letters. We still hear from folks we haven’t seen since our kids were in preschool or kindergarten, in scouts or swimming lessons, kids who are in high school now, where the pressure is amping up toward that final launch into . . . where, exactly? Our sophomore loves Pre-Calc and Latin and is extra busy with AP/Honors course work, staying up late every night and weekends while on the soccer team, volunteering, and taking ballet 18 hours a week.

I’m not that keen on holiday letters either.

Monday was the first day back at school, a cold and unwelcome day when my daughter would find out the results of finals and her semester grades. I texted her at lunch to see how she was doing. She was overwhelmed, she told me, and then came this. Apparently the class votes were tallied, and:

I won Best Laugh in the 9th grade!

She also won Best Friend.

She was right. They don’t give many awards to people like her, but that doesn’t matter to people like her.

***

Above: The most wasted of all days is the one without laughter. — a quote by E.E. Cummings hammered on a vintage, silver plated spoon on Etsy.

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bring your own cookies

February 25th, 2014    -    16 Comments

img_5702-1I’ve been a mother now for nearly 15 years. This is the sum total of my parenting advice: bring your own cookies.

When my daughter was in kindergarten she had a big, easy smile. She smiled all the time to everyone. Another mother asked what I had done to make my daughter like that. Her comment sent me over the moon with self-satisfaction.

I told her what Maya Angelou had said to Oprah. Angelou said always greet your child with a smile so they can see how much they are loved. A smile for a child is like handing them a cookie. Right out of the blue! This cookie is for you!

Whenever I stepped into the Kindergarten classroom at the end of the day I stood with the other parents at the back of the room and beamed. Smiling was pretty easy for me in those days. Kindergarteners are adorable. I had no expectations of performance or achievement. I wasn’t anxious about tests or grades or homework or arriving anywhere on time.

I just smiled, and the smile gave her everything and took nothing away.

Then things changed. Then I changed.

Things change all the time but they change in a big way come sixth grade, the beginning (in our school system) of letter grades, major homework and crowded, smelly classrooms of alarmingly overgrown kids who suffer daily insults that have nothing to do with their mother. There is no pack of parents at the back of the classroom, thank god, but emphatic instructions to stay far, far away and by all means stop embarrassing me!

A block up the street, she would get into my waiting car and I would ask how she was, and she would mumble something that didn’t tell me enough so I would ask again in rapid fire so that by the end of the four-minute ride home I would have pummeled her with all this and more:

How was lunch?
How was the test?
What was your grade?
What did the teacher say?
Was anyone nice to you?
Was anyone mean to you?
What’s the homework situation?
When will you start?
When will you finish?
How will you get it all done?

To my ear it was innocent enough: I was involved; I was attentive; I cared. But there was never going to be an answer that would make me feel secure with a reality that was out of my hands. I was giving her nothing but my own anxiety, as if her 25-lb. backpack weren’t enough.

It’s taken me awhile to realize what I’m really asking for as my daughter crumples into the car after a long school day. I’m asking for a cookie. Right out of the blue! Give me a cookie!

The thing is, she doesn’t carry the cookies. That’s not her job. If you want to share cookies with your kid, you’d better be the one to bring them.

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a new day on the old place

December 23rd, 2013    -    4 Comments

It’s a new day
on the old place.
With every good wish for peace and plenty
and a very
Happy New Year!
From our home to yours,
The Millers

On the left: The garden circa 1916
On the right: December 2013

if you want, give

December 5th, 2013    -    8 Comments

51wgzXg3BgL._SY300_If you want time, give away your preoccupations.
If you want faith, give away your reasons.
If you want peace, give away your ideas.
If you want love, give away your fear.
If you want rest, give away your worry.
If you want a better future, give away your past.
If you want a home, give away your walls.
If you want fame, give away your contentment.
If you want money, give away your happiness.
If you want more, give yourself less.
If you want fulfillment, give everything away. (You’ll never run out.)

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where is the line

October 22nd, 2012    -    7 Comments

Sometimes I’m asked about a certain line.

Where is the line between my needs and my family’s needs?

Where is the line between time away and time at home?

Where is the line between doing too much and not doing enough?

Where is the line between taking care of myself and taking care of everyone else?

Where is the line between inside and outside?

Between you and me?

Then and now?

Happy and sad?

Laughter and tears?

And I respond:

There is no line.

Look up, look around, see what needs to be done. There is no line, no wall, no gate, no limit, no barrier, no lock or key, and no one stopping you, except that one who has stopped to look for a line.

momma time

September 18th, 2012    -    15 Comments

Reprinting this, because it’s about time.

Last week I received this message from a young mother. I asked if I could respond to her via this post so others would benefit. No matter what our stage of parenting, we could all use a little time out to reflect and refresh.

I have two little girls, age 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. They are wonderful and show me what aspects I need to work on as a person and a mother.

Children are indeed wonderful. They are always showing us aspects of ourselves we aren’t familiar with. One aspect, for instance, is happiness. No one has ever made a mother feel as happy as her children do. The other aspect is sadness and despair. We’ve never felt so frustrated, hopeless or inadequate. Every day our children introduce us to a completely new human being: their mother. And although she vaguely resembles someone we used to know, at times we hardly recognize ourselves. When it becomes especially tiresome and difficult, our relationship with our children sounds an alarm. We need rescued.

I have them both at home with me everyday except for four hours each week. Perhaps I’m overwhelmed but lately I’m finding motherhood to be a total drag.

Too much togetherness is too much. Every mother needs more help. The first step is to admit it; the second step is to ask for it; and the third step is to take the help that comes. You never know where help will come from. Not every angel wears wings.

When we have help taking care of our children, it magnifies the love in our lives. When either by circumstance or choice we think we have to do it all by ourselves, we scrimp on love. Everyone suffers for it.

We don’t always have the money to pay for help, so we have to rely on family. We don’t always have family nearby so we have to make friends. We don’t all have friends so we have to be brave. We have to speak up, make calls, trust strangers, invite people over, walk the street, meet, listen and console one another. Last week I called a friend who talked me off a ledge. Just by contacting me you’ve done the same thing for yourself. And look: no one jumped. read more

how to train a peanut

February 2nd, 2012    -    6 Comments

I’ve trained a bluejay, out of my own delight, to perch like a cat outside my door.

He doesn’t want me to sprout wings and fly. He can fly.

He doesn’t want a song and dance. He has a song.

He has a dance.

He wants a peanut. That, I can do.

For Jena Strong.

not sleeping, waking!!

July 13th, 2011    -    6 Comments

 

10 Most Fun Things to Do in Summer
By Georgia Miller

There are a lot, I mean A LOT of fun things to do during summer break, but I have my favorites. Here are my top 10 favorite things to do over summer:

 

1. Amusement Parks!! I just love a good trip to Disneyland.

2. Vacationing! I remember last year I took a great trip to Kauai with my family.

3. Ice Cream! You can’t really do it . . . but who cares? It’s awesome anyway.

4. Doing nothing. I usually just do nothing when I’m not flipping, singing, dancing, or acting. Wow. I never do nothing.

5. My Acting Camp. I love my acting camp. It’s soooo fun.

6. Swimming! I just love cannonballing into a pool of cold water.

7. Hanging Out With Friends. Me and my BFF Kenna always have tons of sleepovers during the summer.

8. Going to the Beach!! I love the rush of icy water on my piggies!

9. Sleeping in. I don’t usually sleep in, but when I do, I feel relaxed.

10!! Gymnastics! I only started team this year, but I loooove it!

Those are my fave things to do during summer! What are yours?

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repeat until all gone

April 26th, 2011    -    16 Comments

On Sunday evening, my daughter looked up from the sofa and told me she was going to write a blog post. Seeing it later, I wondered if she was reading my mind. She was no doubt reading her own mind, consoling that restless uncertainty that surfaces in the spring. Maybe the bunny brings us fluff to buffer the bumps ahead: the transitions, the spurts, the sudden endings and the fits. Things are changing all around and in-between us, and I can scarcely steal a kiss. I smiled when I saw how she straddles her precarious age, savoring one piece of  kiddie candy before wrapping herself in the shiny gloss she lets us see.

She makes me happy enough already, but you might need some excellent advice from a girl who knows her happy.

Recipe for Happiness
by Georgia Miller

Feeling blue? Need a boost? These easy-to-follow steps will make you feel a whole lot better.
Ingredients
10 M&Ms
1 Hershey’s Kiss
Bath Salt (Optional)
Facial Scrub

Step 1- Take your 10 M&Ms in your hand and pop one in your mouth, but don’t chew it. Suck on it until it melts in your mouth. Repeat until they are all gone.

Step 2- Either do the same with the Hershey’s Kiss or start taking minuscule bites out of the tip until you finish.

Step 3- Slip into the tub or, if you prefer the shower, “jump” in. Make sure the water is comfortably warm. If you’re in the tub, pour in 1 ½ tsp of scented bath salt. If you’re in the shower, use a loofah to rub scented soap (I like the French liquid soap from Trader Joe’s) all over your body.

Step 4- Rub facial scrub on your face and leave it on for 5-7 minutes. Rinse off with warm water and a soft washcloth.

I hope these four steps helped you feel happy and relaxed!

-Georgia : D

She’s inspired to write because she is reading Karen Benke’s Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing.

Love Beyond Limits Workshop, Wash., DC, Sat., April 30
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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president’s day steal

February 21st, 2011    -    5 Comments

Some truths are self-evident. Money can’t buy happiness. Appearances don’t matter. You can’t tempt me with a mindless shopping spree. So it’s easy for me to say no when my 11-year-old daughter resumes a noxious whine for skinny jeans or a bazillionth pair of dimestore earrings. I’m not the mom who shops. I’m the mom with the $12 haircut, wearing the 10-year-old sweater, in the same faded khakis you saw me wearing yesterday. I am the one with a half-empty closet, a near-empty wallet, and a brand of religious devotion that keeps them that way. I’m a Buddhist priest. I’m not the mom at the mall.

That changes one day on the way home from school. “Can we go to the mall?” my daughter asks wearily, and instead of refusing again, I turn onto a street I never take, into the asphalt sprawl. The two of us are fairly airborne as we enter the cool cavern through the automatic doors and ride the escalator past the food court. Striding beside me on the concourse, my daughter tightens the subtle distance she has begun to keep from me in public. I notice her head tops my shoulder. Her face has narrowed, and her lips have grown full. She flashes me a comrade’s secret smile and reaches for my hand. “Mom,” she says, radiating her bliss, “I don’t think Dad gets this.”  In one unexpected turn, I’ve entered the exuberance of her girlhood, a treasure too fleeting to resist.

From my essaylet on stolen happiness in the March issue of Whole Living magazine.

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