Posts Tagged ‘Maezumi’

dare small things

March 31st, 2015    -    12 Comments

Become the least grain of sand on the beach. —Maezumi Roshi

I’ve had this quote on my mind lately, because it’s so easy to be distracted by the waves.

A few years ago I spent considerable time running the streets around my neighborhood. I told myself I was training to do a great and worthwhile thing: a marathon. I didn’t yet know that the truly great thing was taking even one tiny step.

Since I ran in the mornings, I would often cross a major intersection at commuting time, and lope through the crosswalk as the cars idled beside me. I had a startlingly intimate view of the solitary drivers, which is a rare and beautiful thing. We sit behind our wheels as if cocooned in invisibility. No one looked back at me. No one noticed the small, stooped lady striding past, smiling at them.

I might have said people looked grim, but that wasn’t quite true. They had no expression. They were unaware. It was going to be a day like any other. Not a single one of them would have thought they’d achieved greatness.

But they had. They had punched the alarm and gotten out of bed. Made the coffee and turned off the pot. Packed a sack lunch. Fed the pets, scratched the sweet spot under the dog’s chin. Smeared a smudge of butter across a slab of toast. And here they were, on time or late, calm or impatient, angry or bored, feeling utterly insignificant in the scheme of things.

My heart would swell at the sight of these great people answering the noble call: to do small things, and do them everyday. That’s why I smiled, but they didn’t see.

***

My dear husband was part of a recent space landing that bore as its slogan “Dare Mighty Things,” a snippet from a stirring Teddy Roosevelt quote:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Teddy could rally soldiers to their doom.

The space project was daring, its landing sequence worked, and it brought a wave of relief and pride to a group of people whose careers are continually being foreshortened and whose intelligence, frankly, is a bit of a cultural liability. (At least in this country.) The landing of the mission, though, was not the mighty thing. I had an up-close look at this endeavor, so I know.

What was mighty is that thousands of people woke up each workday for many, many years in several countries to log onto their computers and answer emails, stand in security lines at airports, eat crackers at their desks, tell jokes and ask about each other’s kids.

We must not lose sight of this everyday greatness, or we might as well live on Mars.

***

My teacher tells the story of hearing firsthand Maezumi’s instruction, “Become the least grain of sand on the beach.” He thought at first the old guy was telling him he wouldn’t amount to much. Aim low. Give up. Settle for less. And then he realized that not amounting to much was amounting to everything.

Become the least grain of sand and you’ve become inseparable from the whole beach. Big, mighty, or great doesn’t begin to measure what you already are. All you have to do is see it, and then, keep doing the small things. The universe depends on it.

Two more little things you might want to look into:

Beginner’s Mind Meditation Retreat April 17-19 in West Hartford, CT

Prairie Bloom: A Zen Retreat Aug. 6-9 in Madison, WI

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mindfulness starts here

September 29th, 2013    -    61 Comments

deep+waterWhen I first began my practice, I was already lying inert at the bottom of the deep end. Life’s triple decker of despair—heartbreak, grief and depression—had sent me plummeting into the murky realms. On the way down, I tried to rouse myself with the usual prescriptions, but nothing could reach. So when I bumped into a Zen teacher who reminded me how to breathe, it saved my life. Breath gave me the buoyancy to rise to the surface where I could float, and later, find the strength to swim. Breath always does that.

Not everyone comes to practice in the same sloppy way. Not everyone is as far gone as I was, in dire need of resuscitation. Some folks are holding onto the side of the pool, knuckles whitening, but still alert and awake enough to realize, “Perhaps I should give some serious thought to taking some swimming lessons.”

There’s a new book out that is like a set of swimming lessons.

Lynette Monteiro and Frank Musten have kindly packaged an eight-week mindful course into a single volume, Mindfulness Starts Here: An Eight Week Guide to Skillful Living. It includes the practices, explanations, encouragement and accountability you would find if you participated in a mindfulness course like the kind they lead at the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic. And here’s what I really like: it also includes the people. The authors pair their artful instructions with real-life commentary from the students in their classes—students who might as well be you, facing the fear, doubt, resistance and even overconfidence we carry with us into the water. This is what I like best about this eminently likeable work: the human voices and stories reminding us that this practice isn’t academic or intellectual. It isn’t a course of self-improvement or just a tool for a toolkit. Mindfulness is not a seasoning, a flavor or a fad. It is life—your life—and it starts here. It starts wherever you are.

I’m still in the deep end, you know. We’re all in the deep end. But this much I know: I’m breathing.

Leave a comment on this post and I’ll draw a winner for a free, brand-new copy of Mindfulness Starts Here next Sunday, Oct. 6.

And in case you think you still don’t have the time, place, or teacher to begin your practice, look right here. There is water, water, everywhere.

The Plunge One-Day Retreat in Boise Sat., Oct. 5
Yoga & Meditation Retreat, Washington DC, Sat. & Sun., Oct. 19-20
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, LA, Sun., Nov. 10

If money is what’s stopping you from starting at these or any of my programs anywhere in the country, please contact me privately for help. Even a little help can help enough. Money never gets in the way of the Dharma, and that’s how you can tell what’s true.

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sit there

July 10th, 2012    -    9 Comments

Conventional wisdom has it that Los Angeles is sinking into the Pacific. One more quake, they say, and this silly sandcastle will be swept offshore. But they have it upside down. We’re already on the bottom of the sea. Five million years ago, seismic storms pushed the Pacific crust to the surface of the Earth. We are the children of a risen ocean. We scuff our shoes on its billowy floor.

Conventional wisdom says this ancient practice of mine no longer reaches. It does not translate. Westerners don’t get it. It’s too hard and long and fruitless (although science, medicine and common sense affirm it at every turn.) I once studied with another teacher who prodded me. Faster, faster! He wanted to see flying colors, coach a champion, build a team. I quit that place. Later, he trademarked a new way to sell enlightenment, a method sped up for the restless and distractible. We’re competing with many other pastimes, the reasoning goes. Better give people what they want when they want it, or they will . . . do what? Scatter, like so much dust.

Thinking like that is a sure way to lose ground. Where wisdom is the agenda, there is no wisdom.

“I was afraid Maezumi was just going to let you sit there,” he said. I didn’t know better at the time, but now I can answer.

My teacher was unafraid to just let me sit there.

This is my inexhaustible desire: that you will find a guide who is both patient and daring, unafraid to watch you struggle, drift, and finally settle in the tempest of your own pot. One who will keep you quiet company as you go deep and dig, until you look up and see that you are not sinking, you are not hopeless, your cause is not lost. There is no war and no enemy, no hurry and no wait. You are sitting upside up in the echoless calm of a deep, clear ocean, no wind or waves, and you are breathing, breathing, breathing.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, Los Angeles

settle

June 18th, 2012    -    12 Comments

When my daughter was little, she would squat for hours every afternoon on a pile of sand in the front yard. I planted little plastic animals underneath, and she’d dig them up with a shovel, handing them over to me with a satisfied grunt. She quarried the same zebra, the same tiger, the same frog, hippo, and horse out of that pile every day. While she wasn’t looking, I’d hide the toys under again. She’d keep at it, tireless. We sat there for what seemed like forever, unearthing purpose from the sodden heap of our new life together. She couldn’t know how much she was teaching me then, in her wordless way, about being satisfied with the same old thing, squashing my every day’s plan to get somewhere else.

I used to think those days were over, but they never really are. We move on to a different pile, but we have to find a way to settle into it just the same.

One time I was interviewed by a radio host about meditation as an antidote to dissatisfaction. She seemed alarmed, even offended, by the suggestion. Staying put runs contrary to the doctrine of self-improvement.

“It seems to me you’re telling people to settle,” she said. I was tongue-tied, and I searched my mind for a response. If I’d had the equanimity of my Zen kin, I would have said what I really meant.

I would have said, “Yes.”

I’m telling you to settle.

What’s wrong with settling? What’s wrong with making peace? What’s wrong with quieting the crazy-making, egocentric mind? This is why we begin our practice, and this is why we keep practicing even when we are no longer entertained. If we are really committed to our own sanity, we keep chasing ourselves out of our ruminating mind and onto different ground. The ground where things come to be.

“People will be drawn to you, and now you have something to share,” Maezumi said to me before I knew anything, least of all what those words could possibly mean. This is how you arrive at the ground of faith—not by what you know, but by what you don’t. Luckily, the ground of faith is, for all practical purposes, the ground itself. It is the ground where we stand, sit, walk, work, and rest. Faith is the ground on which we settle, or we will never settle at all.

Some people settle with shovels and picks, some with tractors and hoes, some on a mat, chair or cushion. Once you learn to settle, you can settle wherever you are, and begin to cultivate the scenery.


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meditation on the wind

November 25th, 2011    -    8 Comments

This morning I am sitting beside the Atlantic ocean, and it is windy.

The first time I came close to waking up out of my highly cultivated neuroses, I was at a weeklong meditation retreat in the high desert of California’s San Jacinto Mountains. It was December, and it was cold and dark. The facilities were rustically beautiful, which is to say, off the electrical grid and without flushing toilets. In that kind of an environment, a lot of things fall away: first, all the things you think you can’t live without, and then, all the things you think.

By midweek, my hair was matted and greasy, my back was achy, my legs were creaky, my clothes were stinky, and I could hardly lift a care about any of it. Once I’d worn out my complaints and objections, unspooled my stock of poor-me storylines, I was left with nothing to do but sit and listen.

What we’re usually listening for — and especially when we’re doing things the hard way — is for the damn thing to be over. Aren’t we itching for just about everything to be over? Whenever we’re uncomfortable, which is most of the time no matter what the circumstance, we’re anticipating the end. Fast-forwarding, channel-changing, boredom-breaking, leave-taking outta here!

What I’ve noticed about most of the things that are really good for us is that there’s no easy way out. Not without making a total fool of yourself. So you might as well relax, because you’re here.

When I relaxed on my meditation cushion I heard something outside the window. I heard it morning, noon, and night, unbroken and eternal, like Seinfeld reruns. The next time I saw my teacher face-to-face, I told him about it.

The wind! I said, as if I’d never heard it before. It’s the same wind my grandfather heard!

What is that wind? he asked.

Yikes, what is the wind? I detoured up into my head, which had equipped me for so long with the quick cleverness of intellect and retort. This time it was empty and out of service. Crickets chirped.

Everything, I finally answered, grasping for something. Some explanation, some answer to describe the very is-ness that transcends description. He patted my knee.

Now and then I wonder whether that was the right or wrong answer. Whether it was good or bad, enlightened or deluded, enough or not enough. Whether his pat was a correction or congratulation, a pass or a fail. Maybe you’re wondering too. As my practice matured, I wished I had said something different. When my practice matures further, I will stop wishing. I will stop rewriting the old or re-imagining the new, because when we do that, detouring into the wilderness in our heads, we have lost the wind, we have lost the crickets, we have lost the song, and we have lost our lives, again.

the knock at the door

August 18th, 2011    -    7 Comments

Yesterday I was rather lost and confused, uncertain which way to turn, when I heard a knock at the door. Actually, it was just the delivery of an email, adroitly timed, as all events, to give me clarity and purpose. I asked the writer if I could respond in a blog post so that our dialogue could serve others like us.

I heard an interview with you on the Buddhist Geeks podcast and found it very informative and enjoyable.  I’ve studied Buddhism on and off now for a few years but never really made the leap to incorporating it into my life.

Any place that leads you here is a good place to start.

 I was wondering if you had any tips for which “school” of Buddhism would be best for a beginning layperson.

First, let’s look at that word, “school.” There are no Buddhist schools, not really. The word “school” was probably used by academics to identify and define different historical and cultural approaches, but it suggests a kind of academic learning and institutional enrollment that is not applicable to your life. So I suggest you replace “school” with “path.” Everyone has a path in life – including the spiritual aspect of life – and the good thing is, you don’t have to find it. You don’t have to choose it. You  are already on it. The path you are on always leads you farther on, in the same way you were led here today. To walk the path, you just keep going, exploring, asking, seeking, finding, and this is the most important thing: trying. If you haven’t yet recognized your path it’s because you haven’t gone far enough to see clearly. We have to use our feet to get close enough for anything to come into focus.

Second, let’s look at that word “beginner.” We are all beginners. If someone no longer considers themselves a beginner, it’s time to start over. In the same way, create no distinction between a layperson and a priest or monk. It makes no difference.

 Zen seems like it might be a simpler place to start but I also read that it’s considered the most difficult. I’m a little confused.

Naturally. Reading or thinking too much about anything is sure to confuse us. Information is of no use if we don’t use it ourselves. Never let what someone else says preempt your own experience. So let’s take a look at that word “difficult.”

Many things are difficult. The first noble truth of Buddhism simply restates that fact. Life itself is going to get hard. So things are difficult long before we start out. In fact, we only get started in the practice of Buddhism when life becomes so difficult that we want to change directions. We practice because things are difficult.

Zen is not difficult to grasp. It is very simple. Maezumi Roshi once said that the reason Zen is so often presumed to be complicated is because it is so plain. Our heads are complicated.

And that’s where the difficulty comes from. Difficulty arises in our judging minds. We make things difficult by the way we think about them. Principally, the way we like or don’t like them; want or don’t want them; reject, avoid, or refuse them.  Zen consists entirely of the practice of meditation, which is the complete actualization of our true nature. It is only difficult when we don’t want to meditate. Practice is only difficult when we don’t want to practice. Zen practice dissolves difficulty. read more

black friday zen

November 26th, 2010    -    3 Comments

Being and doing
may seem to be different
but they really are the same.
There is no such state as just being.
even for inanimate things.
See, here is a saucer,
but there is activity in it.
You know how matter exists.
Particles are in motion –
protons, electrons, neutrons –
and they hold things together.
They are active.
They are doing something.
It is energy.
We are living in that samadhi to begin with.

–Maezumi Roshi, Teaching of the Great Mountain

I am sometimes asked the difference between being and doing, or at least a question that implies a difference between being and doing, such as “How do you ever get anything done?” Here Maezumi Roshi answers that question so simply and clearly. Most of us imagine that being is to exist in a state of paralysis, disengaged and inert. Oh the trouble we create by trying to understand something to mean something else!

I create a good bit of trouble for myself trying to understand Maezumi, to listen and transcribe and convey his teaching, and he does it himself so well. I was unaware of this little book, Teaching of the Great Mountain. It is a series of talks, some of which I’m delighted to recall I was present for! What is different is that his words are arranged in verse form, and seeing them that way they are suddenly so simple.

I bring it to your bargain-hunting attention today because like most treasures, it is found in the junk bin. You can buy a used copy on Amazon for as little as $1.49. I suggest you buy all your wisdom that way: well-worn and low-priced. Then you have the rest of your money to be foolish with.

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with and without you

July 15th, 2010    -    8 Comments

Since my last post on Shambhala SunSpace about practicing with a teacher stirred up so much dust, I’ve not done much writing or thinking about it except when people ask me directly. Usually people ask whether a teacher is necessary, or whether a teacher can be harmful, and how to protect themselves from exploitation.

This is an important question, because it points to the heart of all our relationships, whether those relationships are with a person, place or thing. Frankly speaking, we always expect to get something out of our relationships – something like happiness or wholeness, even something as benign as respect or validation. When we expect to be enriched by a relationship we invest ourselves in an external source of fulfillment. We place the responsibility for our own well being in something or someone else: a better job, a newer city, the right mate, a benevolent teacher or wise leader. If we look closely, we might see how deeply we want to relinquish responsibility for ourselves.

That never works, and if it appears to, it doesn’t work for long.

Continue reading this post on Shambhala SunSpace, and please leave a comment there if you choose. I want to hear what you have to say.

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imprisoned with an i

June 23rd, 2010    -    9 Comments

We are enslaved by our understanding of “I”Maezumi Roshi

We are each imprisoned with an I. The I that you think you are, and the I that you think you’re not. The I that you like on good days, and more often the I that you don’t like. The I you interpret, analyze and diagnose. The I you want and wish for; the I that you want to become. The I in obsession, and the I in addiction. And so on and so on, a life sentence of solitary confinement without release. Four dank walls and a hard cot: call it your “comfort zone.”

Imprisonment begins with an I.

We are enslaved by our understanding of who and what we are. By our opinions and preferences. By our ruminations, fantasies, ideas and values. By our knowledge and understanding. Understanding is limited. But our true nature is boundless. How can we understand something without limits? We can’t even come close, but we keep banging our head away at it, like battering a tin cup against jail bars.

What has shot me off in this wretchedly abstract direction is something simple and concrete: our appetite for information, and the habitual way we confuse information with action. Many of us want to change the way we live, and we start by informing ourselves. I can see the point. It’s why, for instance, you might read this blog. Sorry to disappoint you, but other Buddhist bloggers shell out far more information and explanation than I do! Armed with a self-righteous view, they might even yell and fight! Prison riots are exhilarating in their way, but they always end up lengthening your sentence. read more

three little instructions

May 7th, 2010    -    No Comments

Luckily for me, my teacher Nyogen Roshi keeps repeating the same thing over and over again. (I’m beginning to realize that’s what teachers do.) In nearly every one of his weekly dharma talks he ends up reciting a set of instructions given to him by his teacher Maezumi Roshi in the early days of his training.

Wisdom teachings are fascinating things. They may not appear to be special. They are never complicated. They can sound so ordinary that we don’t even hear them or grant them consideration. But like seeds, they burrow into us and one day surface in full bloom. Only then are we ready to appreciate them. Here are Maezumi’s Three Teachings, which you’re not likely to find elsewhere.

Continue reading and leave a comment on my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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word from a master

March 3rd, 2010    -    3 Comments

It was not only Rodin’s fame that brought Rilke to him. Rilke had a passionate desire to know a master, a figure who could fill his imagination with a kind of authority that his father no longer had for him. When Rilke prepared for his trip to Paris in the summer of 1902, his expectations were high. He arrived in August, waited a few days, and finally presented himself at 182 rue de l’Université. The two blue-eyed men sat opposite each other.

A week later Rilke wrote his new master a staggering letter in which he poured forth his desire to give himself up to the higher force he had found in Rodin. He knew Rodin might think it strange to get a letter from him . . . but when he was with Rodin, he felt the insufficiency of his French “like a sickness.” So he preferred to sit in the solitude of his room and “prepare the words.” He wrote some verses in French for Rodin.

“Why do I write these lines?” the letter said. “Not because I believe them to be good but out of my desire to draw near to you so that you can guide my hand. You are the only man in the world of such equilibrium and force that you can stand in harmony with your own work . . . This work, like you yourself, has become the example for my life and my art. It is not just to write a study that I have come to you, it is to ask you: how should I live? And you have responded: work.”

From Rodin: The Shape of Genius by Ruth Butler

***

Shortly after I met Maezumi Roshi, I came for a visit and read him these words. He smiled, “Is that for me?” We were driving to a flower shop, where he picked out a plant for his mother-in-law. “It has to be big,” he laughed.

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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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Barefoot and pregnant with meaning

September 24th, 2009    -    5 Comments

Going to sit a three-day sesshin on this anniversary of September anniversaries.

Details to follow.


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