Posts Tagged ‘Truth’

the ones who don’t win

August 5th, 2012    -    17 Comments

Last week a friend told me the story of how her daughter learned to swim. She refused at first, terrified that she would sink to the bottom and drown.

The fear of drowning is such an intelligent fear.

The instructor asked her how old she was.

“Five,” the girl answered.

“Five-year-olds don’t drown,” the instructor told her. And thus she learned to swim.

The story struck me for the brute genius with which it obliterated fear. But, of course, it was a lie.

Sometimes we lie a little. Sometimes we lie a lot.

We tell our children little lies for most of their young lives, because the lies are in service of a greater good. We tell our children lies because we tell ourselves lies. They make us feel safe and capable. Confident in the face of staggering uncertainty. We tell lies about effort, desire and glory, about time, dreams and possibilities, success and achievement. Then we come together and celebrate rituals of competition and prowess, pageants of pride and invincibility. You can do it! You can do anything! You can win! You deserve it! The excitement over, spectators leave the stands, plumped on inspiration and daring. Maybe they’ll jog the block in the morning. read more

faded letters

April 2nd, 2012    -    12 Comments

If you really want to change, live by someone’s last words. These are with me this week.

Be yourself, and take good care of your family. — Mom

I can’t wait until then. — Dad

It’s very beautiful over there. — Thomas Edison

Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow. — Steve Jobs

I am being shown the most amazing things. — Dominique de Menil

This is all an elaborate hoax. — Roger Ebert

Does nobody understand? — James Joyce

It’s all been very interesting. — Lady Montagu

You are wonderful. — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Don’t make a great commotion over nothing. — Zen master Tozan

Today you will be with me in paradise. — Jesus

Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears as so much straw. — Thomas Aquinas

For all eternity, I love you. — President James Polk

Good night my darlings, I’ll see you tomorrow. — Noel Coward

a memoirist’s lament

January 30th, 2012    -    8 Comments

“Too many notes.” — Emperor Joseph II’s criticism to Mozart

Truth is, I don’t consider anything I’ve ever written to be a memoir. I don’t even think I tell stories. I un-tell stories. I unwind plots. I silence my narrator. I do this by listening.

I’m not the virtuoso on the stage. I’m the emperor in the audience. Dumb, dull, and frankly, unimpressed by the racket.

When I write I call myself a diamond cutter. That sounds fancy until you realize that it’s usually just a hairy guy with a chisel. Perhaps I should call myself a sausage stuffer. Some days I’m more like an orange juicer. The point is, I have something in my hands, something we all have — blood, bones and guts — and my job is to turn it into something else. A gem. Or a healthy part of a balanced breakfast.

I start writing when I am sick of my story, sick of its sound, smell and taste. And so I cut it open, air it out, let it go, and then it turns into a larger story, one I hadn’t ever heard before, spilling across the page. It becomes everyone’s story, which we call the truth. And then it’s done.

I’m not even interested in other people’s stories, especially if by page 153 it’s obvious that they aren’t going to turn it into something else. These are the books I don’t finish. Nonfiction that makes itself sacred becomes a lie. Yes, I understand you are still very sad/angry/confused. Write back when you get work.

So imagine my surprise when I saw who’s visiting Butler University in Indianapolis on Feb. 15.

Zen memoirist Karen Maezen Miller
“Memoirs of a Zen Priest”
Talk and book signing
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.
The Efroymson Center for Creative Writing
Butler University, Indianapolis

Come anyway, come anyway! It’s free and open to the public. I’ll be talking about oranges, with sausages on the side.

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what how when

October 3rd, 2011    -    4 Comments

What? How? When? These are the questions on everyone’s mind, especially those who have come to their first retreat or dharma talk and had their heads turned by the truth.

These are small steps, because all steps are small, and taking small steps is the only way to go places.

1. Buy a zafu – proof that you are committed to the practice of sanity.
2. Put the zafu in plain sight – on the floor in your bedroom, where you see it first thing when you wake up and last thing before you go to bed. Your first public profession of faith occurs in the privacy of your home.
3. Sit on it – From time to time, just a few minutes at a time, the way you’ve been shown.
4. Look for a place to practice – Google “zen” and the name of your town or state and see what turns up. Something will always turn up when and where you least expect it.
5. Visit practice centers and teachers – You don’t know what is out there until you take a step, any step, in any direction. You are your own pilot, navigator and passenger.
6. Start a sitting group – It could be in a spare room, at a school, in a yoga studio, church, community center, anywhere. Just decide that on a certain day of the week or month you will show up with your new zafu. Let other people know. Keep showing up and keep letting people know.
7. See how it goes. – It always goes. You may not know the what or the when, but you already know the only thing that matters: how to take a step.

In the meantime, there’s this:

Beginner’s Mind one-day meditation retreat in LA Sunday, Oct. 9

your child’s peril

September 26th, 2011    -    27 Comments

Dear Dr. Neuroscientist:
Please help us grow up to be safe.
The Kindergarten Class of 2012

Last weekend I saw a story in the New York Times that made my head explode. Those of you who have heard me speak about “my head exploding” know that it is a clever metaphor for when my head actually explodes. The story in the paper was this:

Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril

I have a vested interest in this story, since I – gasp! ­– delayed kindergarten at my child’s peril. (Actually, she delayed it herself by refusing to go.) The gist of the story is that a couple of neuroscientists did some math and concluded that if you keep your child from starting school until he or she is a year older it won’t deliver a measurable competitive advantage. Boo hoo. Here’s the money graph:

In a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age.

Say what? The findings, in my book, are benign and irrelevant. What mattered more to me was the word “peril.” Who in their right mind would put the word “peril” in the same sentence with the word “kindergarten,” provoking the subtle suggestion of child endangerment, ensuring that the article would be the number one e-mailed article for days after?

The answer is, someone playing on your fear that you are ruining your child’s life. And someone who wrote a book about it. Yes, these kind of grotesque generalizations and implied consequences are always about selling something you think you don’t have, telling you something you think you don’t know, and convincing you – by way of arcane statistics – of your worst fear: that you are a terrible, rotten and not very good parent, making the kind of irreparable mistakes that will condemn your child to second place, a lowly Von Winklevoss to a triumphant Zuckerberg. read more

in the absence of tiger woods

August 14th, 2011    -    9 Comments

I was driving to the Zen Center Saturday morning listening to NPR and I heard an unsurprising report about the latest professional debacle for Tiger Woods — his failure to make the cut at his comeback tournament. The story has really stuck with me; this saga has stuck with me, and not because I care one bit about golf or gossip. The commentator said it in one long wail, with breathless wonder and disbelief, like an eyewitness to the Hindenburg disaster:

“What happened to Tiger Woods? What didn’t happen to Tiger Woods? This was awful. This has been a continuation of the most spectacular collapse, I think, in American sports history; to have a player be on top of the sports world, to be the most recognizable sports figure in the world to fall apart in so many different ways, at so many different levels. It’s stunning to watch simply to see what’s happened with him on the field of play. But I think it’s even more stunning when you look at him in totality. He went into this tournament feeling optimistic, feeling like he’d had a clean slate, and it was one of his worst rounds of his career. And I think on top of that, what’s even more stunning about Tiger, is while all of this collapsing for him on field — while his family life has collapsed — you also have some of his great sports friends who have also wondered exactly what’s happened to him. Charles Barkley, Roger Federer, all say that he’s no longer friends with them. And so I think it’s really interesting when you watch what’s happened with them; a perfect storm of physical injury, of personal catastrophe. And it really is one of the most unbelievable public spectacles I think I’ve seen for a professional athlete.”

I was riveted to the radio through all of this, sitting still and captive, a patient to the doctor speaking an unspeakable diagnosis. The diagnosis is mine, and yours too.

Let me be clear: I am not a victim of Tiger Woods. For all the moralistic associations and denunciations, there are not many victims of Tiger Woods. And yet, we should all feel the collateral damage. What we are witness to is a completely artificial and manmade disaster — the collapse of the superhero myth. We all buy into it, and not just the corporate branding types, we all buy into the superhero myth, because we buy into the myth for ourselves. We want to be special, only that’s not quite special enough. We want to be extraordinary! Oprah told us we could. Everyone keeps telling us we should, in helium infused hyperventilated overpunctuated pitches: be your best crazy sexy self!!!!

Tiger has fallen, yes he has fallen. But where has he fallen to? A collapse brings us to the solid ground, where all the truly unbelievable spectacles occur. We stand up, without wings, and walk the Earth in the supernatural act of being utterly ordinary. The miracle, you see, is what we already are.

“In the absence of Tiger Woods . . . “ the commentator continued, to move the story along, and I turned the radio off and stepped out of the car. That’s where the real story begins, you see, that’s where we all pick up and move on. Even Tiger will have to move on in the absence of so-called Tiger Woods. What sweet redemption! In the absence of myth, there is truth, spectacular truth from which there is no collapse.

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the rolls of a lifetime

July 16th, 2011    -    5 Comments

The role of a parent in the life of a child: Patience
The role of a child in the life of a parent: Impatience
The role of a partner in the life of a relationship: Acceptance
The role of a relationship in the life of a partner: Irritation
The role of a teacher in the life of a student: Demonstration
The role of a student in the life of a teacher: Attention
The role of toil, trouble, disappointment and inconvenience: Service
The role of anger: Equanimity
The role of hatred: Love
The role of enemies: Harmony
The role of community: Solitude
The role of light, food, shelter and air: Generosity
The role of the self:  None*

*Which means replace the empty roll while you’re at it.

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i wanted to like it

April 17th, 2011    -    28 Comments

If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything.

Verses on the Faith Mind

I just finished reading a book. I wanted to like it.

Those last five words I wanted to like it are the tip-off to any author that her book is about to get trashed. I wanted to like it is an absolution before the executioner goes to work. I could write a wicked little bit on Goodreads, a quick dismissal, an eternal damnation, and a triumphant last word. One star. I thought so much about my clever condemnation while I was reading that I literally felt sick. I had to wonder what was more disagreeable: the book or me?

So I stopped myself.

Writers get trashed a lot. Is it more than chefs or dry cleaners or college professors or car detailers? Probably not. The web has made everyone a public critic of everything. Sometimes that’s all the interactive media seems to be: a shooting range. The whole world is erupting in opinions. We all have opinions. The problem starts when you cherish your opinions, when you elevate them, and, yes, even when you express them. Why express an opinion except to elevate yourself and demean others? Loft your opinion and it’s going to land somewhere it hurts. You might even shoot yourself. Look closely to see what you are sharing when you unleash poison and pain.

In my humble opinion, there’s no such thing as a humble opinion.

All this gives me pause about the way I glibly injure innocents and overlook the truth. What do I mean by the truth? The truth is what you don’t read in a book, and even less, what you think of it.

I just finished reading a book. I’d say more, but I’m finished.

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in the matter of mr. d

March 14th, 2011    -    12 Comments

I have written before about the peculiar scourge of jury service but that is nothing compared to the small matter of one Mr. D.

And I have wailed over yet another cruelly unjust summons, for which I cleared my calendar to no avail until the fourth of five days’ duty, when I was the last of 40 called in the final hour of an interminably inconvenient week.

And so I howled at the capriciousness of the judge who then made me and my fellows report downtown for a next day, and then a next day, all before seating the twelve who would take up the minuscule matter of one Mr. D.

And on this third day in proverbial chains to the justice system, reassured on each previous one that this was but a minor case, a slight disruption, a quick thing, a short suit, we commence to consider the foregone insignificance of one Mr. D. I was not, at last count, among the dozen who will determine his fate, but he has already determined mine.

Because on this day, I finally realize what has lain before me all this time, unseen in the impatient storm of my own self-pity.

I see Mr. D., a young black man in a jail jumpsuit, a garment itself so indicting that the judge has taken three days to reassure us that his apparel choice alone is meaningless and inconsequential. No one is dissuaded, because we know what befits the guilty.

I survey the court and see the absence of either friend or family, no one to piously pray or hopelessly hope for his redemption.

I have heard the jurors, on interview, bemoan their own victimhood, brag of their biases, defend their beliefs, all offered as but a clever strategy to be removed from the tenure of this test, and I am sadly aware that Mr. D has no peers among us.

It took these three self-righteous days, these tortuous 14 hours, these 120 angry miles, these six indignant hikes up and down seven city blocks, for me to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt:

The minor matter of Mr. D deserves more than it is going to get, and better than I’ve granted. The proper defense of Mr. D requires that I escape the shackles of my own self-importance. And in the glare of that revelation, I see my way clear, chastened and in debt to the matter of Mr. D.

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the buddhist in the jury box

October 26th, 2010    -    23 Comments

We’re sometimes told that one key to an ethical lifestyle is to not take anything personally. That sounds like a good idea but practically speaking, your honor, I object.

State your:
Area of Residence


Marital Status

Spouse’s Occupation

Occupations of Adult Children

Previous Experience as a Juror

I studied the instructions posted on the courtroom wall. The judge said, “Pass the microphone to Juror Number 11.”

I told him where I lived, and then I said, “I’m a Buddhist priest.”


I like to think of myself as a good citizen, but let me come clean: I haven’t been upholding my civic duty for the last few years. When you are a full-time caregiver of children under school age, you are exempted from jury service. After that, you have to dodge and deceive to exempt yourself, and that’s what I’ve done for the last five years, vexed by the question of after-school childcare.

Then, as we expect of our civil society, the court came breathing down my neck with a high-dollar penalty. So I showed up at the criminal justice center downtown for a day of jury service. I hadn’t found a way to manage an unforeseen absence at home, but I did have an epiphany. I realized I could tell the truth about myself, and that alone might disqualify me from participation in our system of justice. Truth, you see, is the ultimate defense. It’s the defense of having no defense.

Maybe doing good would do me some good, I bargained.

It was 11:30 a.m. before I landed in a big courtroom with 40 other potential jurors, a charming judge, and two sides in a criminal case expected to last up to eight days. The judge warned us that with the late start, we might be required to come back an extra day before jury selection could be completed, and I began calculating the collateral impact at home.

Before anything could begin, we had to break for a 90-minute lunch. read more

swallowing seeds

August 8th, 2010    -    4 Comments

Did you ever swallow watermelon seeds as a kid and wait for the vine to creep up your throat?

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. read more

the hard truth

April 27th, 2010    -    26 Comments

If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. – Verses on the Faith Mind

Yesterday I saw my new book called “self-centered for someone who is all about detachment.” That was hard to let go of.

This morning I called in for an interview on a live radio show and the host said “Pardon my personal view, but for our society to be raised right it takes more than tree hugging.” That was hard to embrace.

As I backed out of the driveway to take my daughter to school, I spotted a ticket on the spare car we keep parked on the curb. The overnight parking permit had expired four months ago, an oversight that was hard to keep from citing someone else for.

This practice is hard, particularly when I don’t practice it. The truth can be hard to admit, although the truth is never hard to see. What truth am I talking about? The truth of what is. Some of us spend our whole lives in a search for truth, and yet the truth is always staring us in the face. We don’t need to do anything to find it, and even less to cover it up.

One of the things that helps me deal with the thorny business of competitiveness, authorship and ownership is my view of the truth. My view of the truth is that it’s not mine, or at least, not mine alone. Wisdom is not mine to manufacture. It’s not in a clever turn of words, a brand, or a trademarked slogan. It’s not even in my unique story. My story isn’t unique. My practice isn’t unique, and if I truly practice, I don’t have anything left to call my own. I don’t deal in anything original. None of us do. read more

I say/I mean

February 7th, 2010    -    No Comments

A fake conversation about fake conversations makes me realize who I’m talking to:

What I say/What I mean
I’m taking my time/I haven’t started
Take your time/Hurry up
I have too much to do/I have one thing to do that I’m avoiding
I’m too busy/I’m wasting too much time on the computer
I didn’t hear you/I’m not listening
Because I said so/Because I said so
I’m going to change/I’m not going to change
I love you/tralalalala
You’re terrific/You did what I wanted
No trouble/Trouble
No worries/Worries
Not a problem/Problem
It’s not your fault/It’s your fault
I’m doing this for you/I’m doing this for me
[Insert word here]/Me

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