Posts Tagged ‘Now’

hello my name is

September 21st, 2010    -    11 Comments

There exists only the present instant, a Now which always and without end is
itself new. There is no yesterday or any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a
thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.
Meister Eckhart

My teacher Nyogen Roshi sent that quote to me in an email recently, suggesting that “you might find it useful in one of your upcoming programs.” Emailing is something we do sparingly, our relationship resting solely on the alchemy of face-to-face proximity. The rarity of his emails ensures that they are highly visible; the fact is, every email I receive is itself rare and highly visible to me, or my practice has lapsed, as Meister Eckhart observes.

On Saturday at the Mother’s Plunge in Boston, I started the way I always start – by introducing myself. “My name is Karen Maezen Miller,” I said, and go on to tell them that “Karen is the name my mother gave me, Maezen is the name my Buddhist teacher gave me, and Miller is the name Mr. Miller gave me.” I use all three names, and in that way I carry forward three streams of wisdom inextricable to every moment of my life and work. My name is not just my name. It is my teaching. When I state my name I am also stating my practice: the realization that no part of my life is more or less important. No part battles with another because there are no parts. It is all one life and all one practice.

Among the many practical aspects of Zen training is the protocol of its form: the way certain customs are prescribed and therefore serve to eradicate self-consciousness and confusion. Zen training tells us where to put our arms and legs, for instance, which is a question of considerable consternation for most of us most of the time. Practical too is the protocol of my formal practice in the dokusan room, the private interview room within which I meet and work with my teacher face-to-face. Although I have practiced with Nyogen Roshi for 10 years, every time I meet with him in dokusan, which is at least once a week (and once a day during retreats) I begin by introducing myself. read more

Mashed tomorrows and gravy

September 8th, 2009    -    13 Comments

mashed-potato“What day is tomorrow?” my daughter asks. She’s three years old and I couldn’t be more pleased that she has learned the days of the week.

It seems precocious, and more evidence of what I hope will be an accelerated future.

“Wednesday,” I say.

“No, what day is tomorrow?” she asks again.

“Today is Tuesday, so tomorrow is Wednesday.”

“But when is it tomorrow?”

I’m no longer sure what she is asking.

“It goes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” she ticks them off. “But when is it Tomorrow?”

When is that day called “Tomorrow” that factors so eternally in our plans and schemes? I gape at her clear-eyed misperception, at her supremely intelligent confusion. How many times have I lost her in the mists of my ramblings about that never-to-come day?

Everything, it must seem to her, is going to happen Tomorrow. And for good reason: it’s where we adults live most of the time, straddling the yucky puddle of the here and now, teetering on our tippy toes to affix one foot on a better future. One we think we can control. It simply can’t be done, and so we keep toppling over, face first into our good intentions. We complain that our lives are out of balance, and wish we could one day learn how to live in the moment.

I hear a lot about living in the moment. I hear about how and why and when and how hard it is to live in the moment. The truth is, there is not a single person alive who is living anywhere but the moment. It’s just not the moment we have in mind. The moment we aspire to live in is a different kind of moment, a better kind. A moment of solitude, perhaps, of quiet satisfaction, of thrilling accomplishment or satisfying retribution, of deep confidence and unshakable certainty, with children asleep and ducks lined up and ships come in and an extra spoonful of gravy on top. That’s the moment we are waiting to relish.

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Why oh why

August 26th, 2009    -    21 Comments

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

The way we are

May 29th, 2009    -    24 Comments

As a farewell to backpedaling Mercury, whose retrograde ends this Saturday, thereby closing reopened chapters and resolving unfinished business, awkward pauses and anxious backward glances, I offer this parting remembrance of last year’s fire:

We evacuated the house yesterday, probably the last people to be evacuated, because as soon as we drove away the mountain cooled to a wispy simmer and they started letting folks return. We had already loaded up a week’s worth of clothes, assorted papers, dusty photo albums and baby videos, the dog and the dog crate, with the potholders, yes those very potholders, at the bottom of the suitcase. That talisman alone probably turned history on its heels.

And for the record, as Georgia swept through her room choosing those few things she would rescue, she donned her pink Disneyland cap and her Girl Scout vest. She strode out bedecked with badges and pins, under a pair of mouse ears. That precious glimpse of who she is, who she is right now, was proof enough that there’s no need – ever – to look back.

***
My 400th post. Proof enough of the wonders ahead.

Originally published on April 29, 2008 as my 200th post.

Keep the change

April 27th, 2009    -    5 Comments


I just spent three days finding peace and presence. One afternoon while I was gone I called my husband to check in. He and Georgia were leaving Long Beach, where they had spent four hours touring the Aquarium and taken a long harbor cruise, a memorable first for both of them. Here’s Georgia’s on-the-spot report:

She: Mom, guess what?! I just found a dollar bill on the steps in front of me. And then I crossed the street and found a quarter!

Wherever you go, I hope you find $1.25 today, and keep the change. I hope I do too. Because it’s not ever where you’ve been. It’s where you are.

Now entering the motherland

April 12th, 2009    -    11 Comments


Last week I was reminded of one of the most refreshing aspects of an arduous trip to a foreign country: not speaking the language. What sweet relief! Being utterly, absolutely free of language and its insidious effect on me: reading, talking, eavesdropping, writing, judging, second guessing, comparing, competing and then, and then, and then. Last week I didn’t read, blog or bloviate. I didn’t charge ahead. I didn’t fall behind. I didn’t make a list. Here I’m home but for two hours, and the list is already lengthening at my side, the pen squiggling across the lines of my journal even as I fight a reunion with the cherished sleep I missed most dearly.

I’m striving again. We’re all striving. If we’re not striving, we might wonder, what then?

As I rapid-fire clicked through emails and blogs I returned twice to Kelly, who today stands in the nowhere between a very sick mother and a very sick sister:

The most challenging part of all the illness around me is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help anyone get better.

That is the truest thing I haven’t said lately. Being with someone who is sick or dying can seem like being in a foreign country. Or a foreign airport, in my case, in an unmoving line leading to one Lufthansa ticket agent hammering uselessly into a broken computer while the cushiony minutes to takeoff disappear. The most challenging part is accepting that I have absolutely no ability to help. There’s no striving. There’s just being. And even though there is no striving in just being, some folks will tell you that there must be a way to steer the being along better. Not just a way to do nothing, but a right way, a good way, to do nothing.

I don’t subscribe to that expertise. We are all amateurs at death; in the same way we are all amateurs at life, although we rarely give ourselves permission. For those of us whose part in dire hours is to sit it out and sit beside, our part is to just sit. Sitting with my mother and my father as they died was the most intimate act I’ve ever known. And while I do not think it more sacred than going nowhere at a ticket counter, it was no less sacred.

You see, when it looks and feels as if we are doing nothing, we’re actually doing quite a bit. We are standing still on one of those slow-motion moving walkways stretching from terminal A to terminal E. We are crossing a threshold all the while, crossing a border whose demarcation is all but imperceptible. We are entering the motherland, the pure land, and in that nowhere else, we are coming home.

A tribute to my mother, and to everyone’s mother, on the eighth anniversary of her death April 13, 2001.

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The power of powerlessness

September 15th, 2008    -    27 Comments


There was a horrific train collision near Los Angeles on Friday. A few hours ago I learned that my neighbor was one of the terribly injured. He is a reliably good and loyal customer at one little girl’s lemonade stand.

There was a colossal hurricane in my old hometown on Saturday. Millions are without electricity, and that includes many dear friends who must now be sweltering in the long dark and silent wake of the littered remains.

There is more disquieting news out of the presidential campaign, ever more staggering in its dimension of hidden truth and dire consequence.

There is an implosion in our financial markets the likes of which leaves none of us little people far enough or smart enough to be out of the quake zone. Our corner savings bank could well collapse by morning. Much bigger streets will topple, and my nest will shudder too.

I am powerless in the face of this powerlessness. I am as powerless as those without power, without truth, without safety and with a careless engineer at the wheel. In solidarity with all who suffer and to bring my mind to peace, I’m unplugging myself this week, going offline to the certain solace of prayer and meditation, steady work, wash, and walks with a very good dog.

I will take power in the only place it can be found: the right here and now.

Take comfort, friends I know and cannot reach, and friends I reach but cannot know, in my brokenhearted love.

Wish you were here

July 24th, 2008    -    5 Comments

This weekend I’ll be reading here, then packing up for a weeklong retreat here, and after I get back, speaking to a group of parents here.

You’re welcome to join me wherever I go. Do give serious thought to coming here this Saturday for an intimate gathering as I read and sign Momma Zen. Every guest is guaranteed a triple shot of bliss!

Vroman’s Hastings Ranch Bookstore
Pasadena, Calif.
Saturday, July 26, 2 p.m.

In case you ever give serious thought to going on retreat like me, you should know that a meditation retreat is not really the kind of retreat we wish for, but a startling immersion in full-contact living. You probably have no idea what you’ve been missing, and you will never be the same. You can read about why I do it here, what it’s like here, and what I find when I come back right here.

Since I’ll be gone for so long, I’ll be re-posting personal favorites like the ones here, here, and here. Be sure to check back here for the announcement of this week’s giveaway winner after this Friday.

And anytime you’re here, come into my backyard for a one-on-one. I’m always here and wishing you were too!

The doormat of your life

May 22nd, 2008    -    24 Comments


One last thing my dog showed me.

Before the accident, Molly and I had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the home front. I’d leave the backdoor propped open and she’d wander out to do her business, whatever that was, and I stayed inside to do mine, whatever that was. The stipulations of her rehab now require mutual engagement. I have to decode her wags and whines to judge the likely outcome, the redeeming value, of a bothersome excursion.

Do you have a good reason to go outside, Molly? I test her intent as she tap dances her enthusiasm.

Lately, she has no good reason at all.

Because the sun is shining.

Because the earth is warm.

Because the grass is thick.

Because she is alive.

This is a line of argument that I do not practice. I hardly do anything for no good reason at all. Last week she led me outside by leash, and I followed, impatient for her to find the right spot as only a dog’s nose knows. But she had no business being outside. She simply plopped onto the lush carpet of mondo, letting the day’s radiance soak her sun-starved coat.

Amused, I took the time to gaze up through the canopy of maple leaves. Then I saw the painted birdhouse we hung five years ago when I felt interminably housebound with a three-year-old.


The project, like most of my projects, was a way to relieve my confinement. But there is really no part of life that is confined, no part that is just a tiresome interlude to be tolerated, or a penance to be endured, because life doesn’t come in parts. Every moment is your whole life.

In faded strokes I’d lettered under the portal it still says “Enter.”


Make yourself at home. Cross the threshold. Enter your life.

Dogs, birds, babies, everything, everywhere, all the time shows you how.

***

And if you’ve read this far, read a little farther still and see what I found in the laundry basket. It will take me forever to get it washed, dried, folded and put on the shelf.

Another country

April 15th, 2008    -    12 Comments


One of the things I tell people when I give talks (which, hint hint, I do whenever and wherever I’m asked) is that when we are still and quiet for just a few minutes in this pesky “now” it feels like a foreign country. A foreign country we are desperate to get out of. There are always newer, ultra high-speed ways to get out of this unfamiliar country and so we keep heading across the border, spinning this way and that and complaining of the bad food and long layovers in-between.

These days I feel a bit as though I am in a foreign country. Certain certainties behind me, and certain uncertainties before me. I am not trying to get out, in fact, I’m quite comfortable that I cannot leave, but I can notice the native soil beneath me.

Last week my dog Molly had surgery to rebuild her ruptured cranial cruciate ligament. We were eager and ready to do this, and eager and ready to bring her home. And now that she’s here I realize I will be too for some time. The recuperative instructions are clear and emphatic: two months in confinement, another two months in incrementally longer walks; assistance here, watchfulness there, judiciousness here there and yonder. This is the kind of circumstance that adds sudden clarity to the fuzzy wondering of what in the world will we do over summer vacation.

While Molly was at the hospital, I spent several nights with my sister, she of the still-broken wrist and ankle. She is every day more agile and resourceful making do with her intact left side, which I imagine to be like learning to drive on the opposite side of the road. Her doctors believe she will be back together at month’s end and although she can’t yet subscribe to that theory I’m sure that she will, if only because as soon as we adapt to the unadaptable, time’s up.

The visit with my sister coincided with the happy occasion of spending two days in Orange County, which never needs a happy occasion for hordes to consider it the happiest place on earth. I spoke at a conference of preschool directors, teachers and parents from across California. When I get to do something like this, which is too seldom for my insatiable ego, it is magical and uplifting for me, me who otherwise sits in confinement next to my sad dog with an ignoble plastic cone encircling her head. It is uplifting because it affirms once more that we have one life, one struggle, one place and one heart. If any of the wonderful people I met should find themselves here – or find themselves anywhere, for that matter – I do hope that they will speak up and say hello.

That’s all that we travelers can do in foreign countries. Make ourselves and each other at home.

Overrating is overrated

April 2nd, 2008    -    29 Comments


Now for something completely now.

I’ll admit I was a tad off-put, mildly aggrieved and recklessly endangered by a glib comment made recently by someone (who, like me, can be forgiven her off-the-cuff pronouncements) lecturing along the lines of living in the now is overrated . . . something that only monks and yogis can do . . . and that the key to happiness lies in having fond memories of the past and plans for the future.

Huh? And from a “spiritual” memoirist?

Let me go on record as saying I am all for happy memories and titillating trips. I’m all for champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Pile up my pasta bowl. Save me a first-class seat. Fill up my glass and pour me a second. In a certain way, there’s nothing quite so happy (or sad) as a memory, and nothing quite so invigorating (or agitating) as the future.

But the comment plays to the conventional misunderstanding about time and how it can be fully lived. The past and the future aren’t real and no matter how many times we stamp the passport, we can’t live in imaginary places. No, we have to stay right here. And for some of us, with full houses and real lives, with crying, whining kids that we love and even hate sometimes; gimpy dogs with diarrhea; husbands we haven’t left; broken bones; busted bank accounts; and all-day laundry to do, the facts of life are not something that we need to detour around. Again.

Life isn’t always a day in Polynesia, that’s for sure. You can keep sneaking out the back door and racing out the front door and squeezing past airport security but you’ll never end up anywhere else but now.

You know where I’m heading, but I’ll say it again anyway. The only place we ever live is now! There are no other options whether you’re a monk or a millionairess, a yogi or a bear. You can’t underrate or overrate it. When we call it “the” now it suggests a certain kind of now, a different now, a better, special edition now that is attained, as one fan cynically dismissed, “by the old idea of meditating on a rock and wishing for enlightenment,” or by what someone else testified against, “living in a vacuum.”

Oh the dust we do indeed stir when we live in a vacuum which I haven’t yet tried but I suspect with my new slimline Dyson to be that much more impossible for me to attain.

No one has to master living in the now. It’s impossible to live anywhere else, rock or no rock, wish or no wish! Just as you can never leave now, no one will ever take away your past or withhold your future. Effortlessly, your past accumulates. Instantly, your future arrives. What matters is that you notice your life while you can still call it “alive.” That’s called now.

Or at least it matters to me and my still-beating heart.

There’s really nothing more to it. For your own peace of mind, get rid of any three-letter word that you might automatically insert before “now.” As in “the.” Or “not.” Take those out and put nothing else in. Get rid of the idea that now is anything else or anywhere else or anyone else.

You are now. There! Life just got easier still. “Now” may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but the real problem with it, I suspect, is whether we think it’s enough.

And special thanks to Liz. Because she inadvertently prompted this awakening, along with many hours of hedonistic reading, she is to me what we rock-sitters call a bodhisattva. We should all look that one up while we have the eternity otherwise unaffectionately known as now.

***

Hoppity Dog Update: Thank you for being Super Dog’s duper best friends! Although we’ve been assured it’s not an emergency, and we could leave it untreated and expect our girl to heal to at least half her former self, we’ve opted to award Molly with the most expensive medical treatment our money can’t quite buy. (Thank you home equity!) She will have her surgery next week, while Daddy and Piddly Dog are in Kansas City and Mommy Dog is in Orange County doing her doggone best to speak, girl, speak at this parenting conference. Come down and join me in a romp. I’ll be off-leash, which I seem to be already.

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