Posts Tagged ‘Love’

just give yourself

March 26th, 2020    -    15 Comments

On a walk around town yesterday, I passed a house with glitter-painted rocks lined up along the sidewalk. It looked like a cute way to jazz up a yard, but then I saw the hand-lettered sign taped to a nearby telephone pole.

Adopt a Rock!
(I promise they’ve been Lysoled)

On the way back home, I passed the house again. It didn’t look like any rocks had been taken, despite the invitation. I intended to take one, but then I took two because I couldn’t choose. Plus, I didn’t want to be stingy with the adoption. I have the room to foster a lot of rocks! After I finish jotting this down I’ll take them outside for a photo so you can appreciate them. Like the rest of us, rocks want to be seen, touched, and heard. They want to belong.

We’re all trying to reach out these days even though we can’t really reach out. The Italians set the bar with their sunset serenades across deserted streets. Every evening in Madrid, people throw open their windows and give a round of applause for healthcare workers. Musicians share mini iPhone concerts. A neighbor down the street gives away painted rocks, and me, I do this thing with words.

I’ve been writing quite a bit, in case you’ve noticed. A few years ago I lost interest in it. Writing about kids, or about Zen, or about trees, pets or plants just seemed like a blabbering conceit. I couldn’t stand the sound of myself anymore. After suffering enough pain and penury from publishing I told my Zen teacher I was going to stop writing. He chuckled.

What are you going to do then, he asked. Write?

He had me there. Writing isn’t a matter of what you write about, or who you write it for, and certainly not about praise or profit. Writing is just writing, like a rock is just a rock, and it’s a fine offering, a simple medicine that restores our common humanity while jazzing up the yard.

If you’re sitting at home like I am, wondering what you are supposed to give to a world ravaged by pain and terror, just give yourself. That’s the most beautiful thing.

the jewelry box

January 13th, 2020    -    6 Comments

The Tiffany Building, New York

When you die can I have your jewelry?

My daughter must have been 7 or 8 years old when she said this. It was one of those bugle calls our children regularly give us without guile or guilt. You are old and going to die! At other times, she asked for certain fancy dresses and pointy shoes post-mortem. I took it as a thief’s form of approval.

When I was in my twenties, my apartment was burglarized. A pair of professionals had watched me leave for work. I didn’t think I owned anything that was worth stealing, but was nonetheless relieved of an old television, spare change, a modest stock of jewelry and all the prescriptions in the medicine cabinet. When the police came I noticed that two silk flower arrangements were missing. Silk flowers were a thing in the early ’80s, but I didn’t believe anyone could fetch a dime for a handful of fake flowers. The policeman set me straight.

Those are for their wives.

I was being crafty when I handed my daughter a trash bag one morning last week, saying if you throw out your old makeup, bath, and hair stuff I will give you my jewelry. I wanted a clean bathroom, you see, and it worked. When she reported back, the duty done, I took a step ladder to the closet shelves and brought a dozen or more little boxes down from the farther reaches where they’d been forgotten. We opened them one by one.

There were iconic robin’s egg blue boxes, dainty ring boxes and long black bracelet boxes, a Baccarat crystal necklace, a box each from Barney’s New York and the Met, and a collection of treasures from a certain antique jewelry purveyor on East 57th. I told my daughter I once had a wealthy admirer who shopped for me whenever he was in the very city which is now her city. Shown the evidence, her eyes widened in appreciation.

Victorian Period
Fifteen Karat Gold Brooch
Made in England
Circa 1880

There were a few souvenirs from my first marriage during a decade when the size of my hair, shoulder pads, shoes and rings coalesced in New Jersey mobster chic. I took out a dusty Rolex watch, a rope of black pearls, and a chunky choker in blazing gold. My daughter demurred.

Some things are too fabulous even for me.

She made an exception for the watch.

After all that, I opened the little wooden jewelry box that I’d kept my wearables in, cheap jewelry chosen by me and not someone adorning me. Most of the clasps were broken. These really were valuables. I’d worn out the stuff. There was one last bracelet rimmed with miniature charms: a statue, a building, a bridge, all the landmarks of Manhattan. I’d once loved it for holding the promise of a new life, a world yet unseen. My daughter claimed it.

I wish I’d known you then.

She said, as if there was ever a single moment separating us.

***

“You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives.” – Dogen Zenji

Photo by Benjamin Jopen on Unsplash

a mother’s diary

August 3rd, 2019    -    3 Comments

April 5, 2002

Today Georgia found this forgotten diary in my nightstand and called it hers. I slid it back to my spot after a lapse. So much is different. Saying nothing says it all. Her dad is far away on a long trip and Georgia has had her fill of me. I am so tired. I have gone and given everything away again. There she is crying out in her sleep. I covered her and rubbed her back. She will feel it 50 years from now.

***

Photo by Akshar Dave on Unsplash

don’t use a word of this

June 19th, 2019    -    1 Comment

“You are an experienced meditator, aren’t you?”

Perhaps only an experienced meditator would be stumped by this question, but I answered yes to be cooperative.

“Something happened after I meditated and I wanted to ask you about it.”

She told me that she’s been meditating more and she was getting good at it but the last time she did it she had made it through all the chakras and it was going pretty well and she meditated for longer than she ever had and afterwards some good things had happened to her but then later that day she felt sick and lightheaded and had to lie down and had I ever heard of that and what did I think it meant?

“That does sound like a kind of sickness,” I said.

Which part? she asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t even know where my chakras are.”

***

Something happens when you meditate, but it will never be what you expect.

To be sure, no one starts a meditation practice without expecting to get something out of it—the answer, the secret, the pay-off. Just about any motivation is worthwhile if it gets you out of bed and upright for one more day, but what I experience in a room with other people on retreat is never something I’m seeking.

When I stop thinking about myself, I feel the subtle energies around me, like fear and sadness, restlessness and worry. People around me are grieving. They are in crazy pain and shame. There is trouble at home. A marriage is ending, loved ones are lost or leaving, lives are falling apart. The body is breaking, the cancer is spreading, the debt is coming due. And out of this great ache comes a flooding rush of gratitude up my spine and out of my heart because these humans have shared a moment of their lives without a get or a fix, for no good reason and absent any shred of understanding.

What happens is love.

***

Your body knows what to do, and it’s already doing it, so just breathe, I told her. Breathe from the belly, and count your breath to keep your mind still and focused. You don’t have to process anything. Everything is already processed. Try not to look for a result. Don’t judge if it’s good or bad or right or wrong or working or not. Keep it simple. Buddhism is really simple, and Zen meditation is the simplest kind of Buddhism.

“That’s really useful,” she said, even as I prayed she wouldn’t use a word of it.

Letting Go: A Zen Retreat
Aug. 8-11, 2019
Transfiguration Spirituality Center, Cincinnati

Clear Waters: A Zen Retreat
Oct. 10-13, 2019
Chapin Mill Retreat Center
Batavia NY between Rochester and Buffalo

Photo by Zoltan Tasi

a cat in your bed

June 4th, 2019    -    5 Comments

“Let’s go to the Humane Society when you get home and adopt a cat. There are too many animals who need loving homes.”

It sounded like something I would say but I didn’t really mean to say it. It was more of a Hail Mary pass, an attempt to keep my daughter in the game before semester’s end. The dog had died. Her cough was worse. Sleeping wasn’t possible. She was sad, tired, lonely and ready to come home. Then she started asking for a new pet. I hemmed; I balked; in desperation I threw into the end zone. In my mind there was still time to backtrack.

My chief regret as a parent is my failure to leave well enough alone.

Our conversations changed overnight.

She immediately named the fictional kitten.  She spent hours shopping for cat furniture online. In one day she sent me seven links for different scratching posts and beds, not to mention a cat hat. (I had to admit it was darling.) There didn’t seem to be any end to her expectations.

Can we please get this bed please please please.

Depending on how well behaved the cat is maybe I can get it registered as an emotional support animal and bring it to school with me.

Before she even flew home she asked how soon after deplaning we could go and get the kitten. I bargained for time, and then I had to level with her. I didn’t really want a cat. I just wanted her to feel better.

It seems to me that there are two checkpoints in parenting. The first is when your children believe what you say. The second is when they don’t believe what you say. If you fail the first, you accomplish the second. I knew I had to keep my word. It was time to let go.

A few mornings later we were at the humane society. She filled out the forms to be a new mother. Then she fell in love once, twice, three, four, five times. She loved every single kitten. Narrowing her heart to fit the one who was old enough to be adopted that day, she made the perfect match.

My mind churned with everything I should tell her that she didn’t know—about the sleeping, the eating, and the mess. The commitment, the responsibility, and the cost. And then, like a circle completing itself, I flashed back to bringing my baby home 20 years ago this summer, and silenced myself with the sudden certainty that she had everything she needed. It’s all any of us have to see us through from beginning to end—love.

And a cat in her bed.

spring and fall

April 18th, 2019    -    10 Comments

“No matter how much the spring wind loves the fragrance, the beauty and the delicacy of the blossom, the same wind that caresses the blossom sets the blossom free. And so we see that. We feel that. This is what life brings to us: spring and fall, the bloom and the faded bloom.

The boundless ocean of love encompasses everything—the rise and the fall. We can know the infinite comfort of love and still grieve. And still be terrified! We can be unafraid to be terrified. We can be unhindered by grief.”

Dedicated to my faithful dog Molly, 2001-2019

An excerpt from Closing Remarks at the Spring Wind Zen Retreat on April 14, 2019. Listen in full using the player shown below, or at this link.

Photo by Robbin Huang on Unsplash

love unconditionally again

April 2nd, 2019    -    8 Comments

Sometimes I’d like to tell every reader of Momma Zen, “Nevermind. I’m sorry. I had no idea what I was talking about. It’s not this simple.” Parenthood is the education of a lifetime, perhaps many lifetimes. Increasingly I find myself turning to the model of my mother and her tolerance, patience, and selflessness. My daughter keeps reminding me that there is a place to be involved in her life that is still present but not hovering, and not so self-righteously involved in who she is or what I want her to be. What I’ve seen is how emotionally dependent I’ve been on my daughter being happy, doing things that I like or liking the things that I do. The real shakeup for me has been seeing the degree to which I encumber my daughter with the job of feeding my ego or meeting my emotional needs. It is really a hard lesson to not exploit our children in that way, to not judge them, and to take an even further step back as they explore difficulty, pain and their own confusion about themselves. Whereas parents in our time feel so much stress and pressure to do something right and to advantage their children in some way, our children feel that times a hundred. My daughter said to me not long ago, “Mom, I have more stress in my life than you’ve ever had in your life.” And I’m beginning to see that it’s true: academic stress, social stress, physical stress. It’s hard. The lessons never stop! How can I write another book unless it’s an apology? I’m along for this ride and the ride is long and steep. I’m trying to keep my own place and love unconditionally again.

This is what I said in a podcast recorded three years ago, which you can listen to in full at this link or via the player shown below. Although I scarcely knew it at the time, this has become the anthem of my life, my one true song. Love unconditionally again.

The photo shown at the top is of kintsugi, the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a lacquer of powdered gold, silver or platinum.

writing to you

February 6th, 2019    -    11 Comments

A few days before my daughter left for college, the air between us was not air. It was more like tar. Neither of us could budge from our opposing sides. Inside her room, she was petrified; outside, I was petrified. You’d think that at a crossroads like this we could’ve shared a sentiment. But no, if you can’t share the oxygen in a room, it’s unlikely you can share anything else.

That’s when a thought came to me. I’ve written about her, but I’ve never written to her. I scooted out to Staples and bought a red-covered Moleskin, then filled the first dozen pages. I told her what I knew and believed beneath the sticky pitch of my fear. Whatever I wrote, it was quick. I don’t remember any of it.

I knocked on her door and handed the journal to her. I’ve written a little bit about you, and now you can fill in the rest. A few minutes later she came out in tears. We shared a long embrace.

After she’d landed cross-country in a world of her own, I continued to write to her. A letter a week, perhaps, because what else could I do with myself? Although in person most of what I say is a tiresome nag, the words on paper were love.

She told me that she’d started to write in the journal, and then one day she wrote to me. When I told people that my daughter had written me a letter, they all responded the same way. On paper?

Yes, on paper. Words on paper, written to me.

***

About my books, some people say This is drivel, irritating, unhelpful. I couldn’t finish. Don’t bother. At the same time, other folks will say You have cracked me open and read my thoughts. I underlined the whole thing. This book is for everyone. 

It’s a curious thing: how people see or hear each other so differently when at the deepest level we are all alike.

Last week I mailed my daughter one of my books, the one called Hand Wash Cold. It was a blind leap, but she was feeling lost and hopeless, and I knew that feeling well.

Then I got a text. I’ve been reading all night.

How could it be that the words I’d written for me would turn out to be written for her? Because of love.

***

I want to write to you today about writing, since we now share writing with each other. It blows my mind that you are reading my books and loving them. That’s because I put love into the words when I wrote them, even though I can’t remember writing them or even what they were.

If you take anything from the old, dried-up words on a page, it is love, because love put them there. And the same can be true of every word you write and every word you say, even if it’s someone else’s written word. It is your breath and your blood that brings words to life. So you, too, will always have the power to bring forth words that will help other people even as the words help you.

This is how we bring the broken pieces of ourselves back together.

***

Photo by Brandi Redd.

raising your child to be

January 30th, 2019    -    8 Comments

Years ago after Hand Wash Cold came out, I traveled around to people’s homes and gave talks about the book. I called it my Kitchen Table Tour. Folks all over the country were kind enough to host me for a gathering of their friends and sometimes even let me, a complete stranger, spend the night.

I visited a home in Silicon Valley where I gave a short reading and then took questions. One guest quickly raised her hand. I noticed that she’d brought her own copy of the book, which was plastered with sticky notes. She’d done her homework. There was a particular passage that provoked her question. It was the part about how my husband loads the dishwasher differently than I do, and that the way I’d dealt with his unorthodoxy was to just re-wash the dishes, if they needed it, in the morning. Specifically what I’d written was this:

The miracle does not occur in the machine. The miracle does not occur in the second wash. The miracle occurs when I don’t say a word about it.

Why couldn’t I just teach my husband how to load the dishwasher correctly? she asked, adding that she had two sons and she fully intended to raise them knowing the right way to load the dishwasher.

I can understand that way of thinking. We want people to do things the right way, which is often our way, so they will be coequal to household tasks and other critical competencies. Why would we waste the opportunity to produce better, smarter people? It makes perfect sense, so I knew my answer wouldn’t satisfy her.

Because I already know how to end a marriage, and I need to learn how to keep one. 

I think about this episode when I see someone write about what they are raising their children “to be.” Aren’t we all raising our children to be something better? You bet. It’s a fill-in-the-blank kind of thing. We might be trying to raise children to be kind, honest, self-reliant, or emotionally resilient. A loyal friend, a compassionate listener, a good citizen. Raising sons to respect women or raising daughters to respect themselves. We have all kinds of worthy ambitions for our children, I won’t deny that. But how do we teach that? By edict, insistence or imposition? I’d answered that question before too, in Momma Zen, and it might not be satisfying.

My child will do what I do and say what I say, but she will never, without coercion, do what I say.

The answer is that I have to be what needs to be. I have to be honest, self-reliant, and resilient. I have to be patient, tolerant, and optimistic. I have to be open and encouraging. A good listener and a devoted friend. Strong, brave, and self-respecting. I have to be that for her, even now, especially now that she’s gone.

These days when she writes to me, which isn’t often, she says more or less the same thing: that I’ve shown her what a strong and intelligent woman looks like. Here’s how I would answer that.

Not quite yet, but don’t give up on me, and I won’t give up on you.

 

what we do for love

December 13th, 2018    -    3 Comments

A practitioner at a meditation retreat asks a question.

Q: What am I practicing here that helps me be more present and connected in my daily life?

A: Here, what you’re practicing is presence and connection, so that you can be more present and connected. Although right now you’re in a different place doing something different than usual, this really is your daily life. Yours alone. Even among all of us gathered here in one place, no one else is having the experience that you are having. Furthermore, if I were to tell you that practice is transactional, that if you sit like this you’re going to have a certain wonderful experience in your other, “normal” life someday – that would be a lie. This isn’t a transaction. Practice isn’t a product, a course of study or a life hack. There are not two things: your life and your practice. They are the same thing. You never leave your life, and the point is to never leave your practice. It’s all one thing.

We are here practicing being human beings. This is the practice of being a human being. In the old days they called Zen the practice of everyday life. You think, “This isn’t my everyday life. This is the opposite of my everyday life.” But nonetheless, this is your everyday life. Since the very beginning, and I don’t know why, human beings are not so good at everyday life. Unless they really practice everyday life.

Can I practice handling just this moment, however it is? Because when I’m out and about in my everyday life, I’m perfectly fine until someone does something that I don’t like or something happens that I don’t want. That’s where it gets tough, and it can get tough every day. It can get tough today. This environment here is very artificial and contrived. We’ve arranged ourselves in this nearly empty room, everyone in funny clothes trying to sit still and be silent. We don’t intentionally add stress here, but you experience stress here. I promise you that in your life, you experience stress. Can you sit it out? Wait it out? Breathe it out? Refrain from involving yourself in sticky situations that you don’t need to be in?

I can only speak from my own experience. At a certain point in my everyday life, I just could not handle it! I didn’t want any more of it! I tried everything I could think of to fix the problems and nothing worked. So when I finally sat down like this, it was an act of complete surrender. A sign of total failure. I’m going to have to do this on my own, I said. I’m going to have to figure out how to be a human being, with a life that has other people and things in it.

That’s what we’re here to do. And why do we do it? I think it’s why we do everything. Not because we’re high-minded or religious. This is not a religion. It’s a practice. You do not worship Buddha, and you do not worship me. Let’s see for a moment if you can stop worshipping yourself.

We’re here for love, because we have a capacity for love and we want to love and we want to be loved. That’s the connection. It’s not romantic love. It’s unconditional love. Unconditional love is pure presence.

Here we are among strangers. It’s a good idea to find love among strangers. It gets complicated after you know each other’s names and stories. When you know all that, you might find that you can’t relate to someone else. You might not even be able to tolerate them. But here you can simply have respect and gratitude for one another. Here you can just be present with everyone and everything.

It’s a beautiful practice, this practice of presence. It comes in many shapes and forms. Some people find connection on a swim team, or a cooking class, or off-road racing. And then you wonder how does that apply to life? But it does.

What we’re doing here this weekend requires a very modest amount of time, compared to how long it takes to stream a Netflix series. And it is relatively painless. So ask yourself. Why am I here?

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles
March 31, 2019

Spring Wind Weekend Retreat
Holy Wisdom Monastery
Madison, WI
April 11-14, 2019

Photo: The Dewdrop Sangha by Rick McCleary.

This is an excerpt from an informal Q&A at one of this year’s Dewdrop Sangha meditation retreats. You can listen to the full recording here.

try

October 17th, 2018    -    1 Comment

try to turn off the radio
take out the earbuds
save the podcasts
for another day
set your phone down
pause the music
save the lullabies
for later play
put your shoes on
leave your front door
greet your neighbor
sunshine lights your way
do something, really do something
that makes a difference
today

what she said

August 24th, 2018    -    6 Comments

Even though it may not be necessary to write you a letter, I want to thank you again for everything you do for me. I am so incredibly lucky to have parents that support me in following my dreams, no matter how crazy they are. Even though I know I’m not always the easiest to put up with, you have always stood by me. I would not be the woman I am today without your unwavering love and support. You have shown me what a strong, intelligent, beautiful woman looks like. No matter how far away I am, I know you will always be a phone call away to help me if I am having a hard time, or comfort me when I’m feeling down, or just for me to tell you about my day. I hope one day to be as loving and supportive a mother as you are. I will always be your little snow bunny. I love you endlessly.

What I said.

like walking on diamonds

May 17th, 2018    -    2 Comments

A poor man came to visit a wealthy friend, and they ate, drank and talked until late in the night. After the guest fell into a deep sleep, the host learned that he had to leave immediately for a distant land. Before he left, to show his care and compassion, he sewed a beautiful jewel inside the hem of his friend’s shabby robe. This jewel had the power to satisfy all one’s desires.

The next morning, the guest awoke alone in his friend’s lavish house. He departed, traveling from place to place begging for food or work, unaware that he possessed a priceless gem in the hem of his robe.

One day, by chance, the wealthy man came upon his friend. Seeing the man’s desperate condition, he asked him: “Why have you allowed yourself to become destitute? You could have used the jewel that I gave you to live your life without worry.”

Bewildered, the poor man fumbled in his robe and found the gem. Ashamed of his ignorance yet overcome with joy, he realized for the first time the depth of his friend’s love and compassion. From then on, he lived in complete fulfillment.

When we realize we live in a treasure house, we can use it freely.

The Parable of the Jewel in the Robe from the Lotus Sutra

 

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