Posts Tagged ‘Wisdom’

how to see paradise

February 9th, 2015    -    1 Comment

kmm-placeArt by Esmé Weijun Wang.

important things are close by

January 22nd, 2015    -    4 Comments

rockIn the past, I thought the important things were far away from me. I worked hard and thought hard every day in order to get to those important things. But soon I realized that these were actually close by. — Lee Kang-hyo, master potter

I’ve watched a video about this man several times this week. As in some books, the first lines are unforgettable. The simplicity is brilliant. I hope you can make the time to watch it, and if you can’t see it at the bottom of this post, you can go here to watch it. You may never get a chance to meet this man or glimpse his life, and even if you met him, you might not recognize him as a master. His shirts are stained and he smokes.

Earlier this week I spent a day with the ponds in the backyard. The leaves in Southern California have finally shaken loose and there is work. Everything I do in the garden or house I do by hand, like you. I bend low over a small stream under the sycamores and lift layers of wet leaves from the slow flowing water. They smell of earth and decay, a luscious stink. I scuff my hands and crack my fingernails without knowing. I try not to fall into the deeper water, aware that no one will come and fish me out, but I straddle the rocks without fear. After a few hours I’ve built a mound of leaves and muck at the back of the yard. My shoes and pants are wet. I need a shower. I don’t give a backward glance at what I’ve done. It will be meaningless tomorrow. I feel alive.

Do you ever experience something like this? Is it possible to live like this in an everyday way, doing everyday things? The potter in this video is a master of the Korean onggi, which means large jars. They are amazing creations, these massive jars. He says that when he began working, he saw them as sculpture. He wanted to make beautiful sculpture. Now he appreciates that the clay pots, first created to store fermenting food like kimchi, chili paste and soy sauce, are inextricable from Korea’s food culture. Food that people make for their own families and eat in their own homes every day. Large jars are even more beautiful as large jars.

Important things are close by. Let this bring you peace.

a voice in the night

December 14th, 2014    -    57 Comments

41Jec+cLZXLMomma Zen is now available as an audiobook, read by me. Here’s a chance to win a free copy for yourself or a friend.

I can’t remember writing this book. I can’t remember what I wrote. But I can remember the moment when I began to write. I had never written in my own name before. The moment of birth went like this:

Me to my husband: I need a laptop!
Him: Okay.
Me: I need to go away and write!
Him: Okay.
Me: I’m going to write a book!
Him Okay.

The labor, as all labors, continued for quite a long time after, in every kind of circumstance. It was years before I had a sense of what I had done and, more to the point, who had done it. I can see that Momma Zen is not really like the books I’ve written since. One reason is that it reflects my maturity as a Zen student, mother, and writer at the time, which were all three nil. I used to wonder how in the world I had pulled it off. Now I think I know.

These are my mother’s words, after she died, reaching beyond time and space to console me in my darkest hours. When I read these words I see her and feel her; when I hear them I am her. How comforting her voice in the dark, reminding me that I am not alone. Now, how comforting my voice in the dark, reminding you that you are not alone.

Bring yourself into the fold by leaving a comment on this post. I will be awarding several free copies of the new audiobook to commenters next Sunday, the darkest night of the year.

my spectacular failure

September 8th, 2014    -    4 Comments

This week I’ll be going into a recording studio to tape the audiobook of Momma Zen. This is a welcome and unexpected chance to put my speaking voice to my writer’s “voice.” The occasion reminds me of this passage in the book about the eternal power of voice:

“In the cozy darkness, tucking in my three-year-old, I ask her what she loves best. ‘Your voice,’ she says, dreamily. She is halfway dreaming, when answers are undefiled. I am reassured. It will change a bit, weaken and grow old. And then she will hear it in herself: a song without words, a lyric beyond language, a smile, a laugh, a moment’s silent consolation. It will always come back because it never leaves. I know that voice.” — Momma Zen

I’ll be sure and let you know when the Audible book is ready so you can hear my voice in my own voice and share it with those inclined to listen.

In my work and practice, I’m continually exploring the intuitive voice within us, the voice that speaks a truth we know before we know it. Earlier this year I had a videochat with my friend, artist and writer Christine Mason Miller about the mysteries of voice, the peculiar humiliations of a writer’s life, the organic uncertainty of the creative process, and redefining professional success (which in my case looks like spectacular failure). If you wish to write or try to write — or if you harbor any artistic or professional aspirations for that matter — our conversation might be helpful. What I say applies to any expectation or ideal we cherish and it might just be something you need to hear today.

The video was included in a comprehensive e-course Christine put together for aspiring authors called “The Conscious Booksmith.” The six-week course will be offered again in January, and if you’d like to get more information about it, sign up here. It’s worth it.

In the meantime, you can watch us talk about success and failure right here and now. (If you’re reading this post in your email and don’t see the video, click on the headline and you’ll be taken to the blog.)

 

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on the road with Brett

August 17th, 2014    -    7 Comments

10154960_10152344068466885_4491155882900185074_nI get the feeling Brett has always done things head first: farsighted, excitable, bullish.

A well-known angel investor in Silicon Valley, Brett Bullington was past the midpoint of a cross-country bike ride for charity on October 8, 2012 when he fell face-first going downhill on a highway in northern Oklahoma. He had probably been going about 30 mph. His brain injuries were severe. The prognosis wasn’t good. When he was in ICU I got an email from a mutual friend asking me to pray for him.

“I feel strongly that he has not yet passed,” she wrote at that first perilous hour. I stepped outside and said a chant in the garden.

She was right. Brett did not leave this world, but entered a long period of recovery and rehabilitation, with modest daily progress and sudden devastating setbacks. But he has been home and healthy for some time, working on getting better, and I was able to meet him in May when I visited Palo Alto.

Meeting Brett is not like meeting anyone else.

He might tell you straightaway, for instance, how many hours he slept last night or last week, along with his recent nightly average. How many steps he has taken today or yesterday. Who he saw this morning. Where he’s going this afternoon. What he’s planting in his garden. What he ate, what he read (his wife Diana reads books aloud at night) and again, how many hours he slept.

His doctor told him that walking and sleep are vital to brain recovery, so he records his progress on his Jawbone UP fitness band and posts it everyday on Facebook. People like to hear about his improvements, he says, and their appreciation fuels a continuous loop of feedback.

During our visit, we had dinner with friends and meditated together. Sitting still for several hours took a toll on Brett’s walking totals that day, but he did great. After I returned home, he friended me on Facebook. There he posts pictures of the people he meets on his daily walks, some with his dog Trudy. He puts up his Jawbone tallies, which might constitute a good day or a reason to do better tomorrow. His focus is resolutely optimistic and straight-ahead. I am always struck by the unintended profundity in his notations. Everything he does is upfront, pure and simple. In contrast, I’m embarrassed by my own clumsy efforts to say something deep and quotable. read more

clarity and compassion

July 9th, 2014    -    3 Comments

Clarity and Compassion: Lessons from a Zen Garden
A wisdom teaching at The Rothko Chapel, Houston
June 29, 2014

Clarity and Compassion: Lessons from a Zen Garden from Rothko Chapel on Vimeo.

 

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the truth about lying

March 9th, 2014    -    3 Comments

buddha

Or, what a buddha does not say.

An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.
— The Dhammapada

Why would a Buddhist have to think twice about lying? Admittedly, lying is disagreeable. If we don’t agree on that, there’s no sense having a conversation about honesty. “Right speech” is codified into the Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s teaching on the way out of suffering. It’s there in black and white: “Don’t lie.”

Only it’s not black and white and it’s doesn’t say that. The “right” in right speech (and each element of the path) does not mean the opposite of “wrong.” It is not a dualistic comparison. Right speech is whole, perfected, wise, skillful, appropriate, necessary, and non-divisive. That’s a lot of words to describe the language that arises out of the nondistracted awareness of your awakened mind, free of judgments about this or that, right and wrong, if and when, you and me. That’s why right speech is so often expressed by silence.

The Abhaya Sutra categorizes what a buddha does not say:

1. Words known to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others.

2. Words known to be factual, true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others.

3. Words known to be factual, true, beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, because it is not yet the proper time to say them.

4. Words known to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others.

5. Words known to be factual, true, but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others.

Right speech is not only a lesson in how to speak. It is an admonition to practice: to watch and wait until the mind opens and intuitive wisdom finds its own compassionate expression. In the real world, abstract discussion about honesty doesn’t go far enough, because living beings are not abstractions. That’s the most inconvenient truth of all.

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
Then you can care for all things.
— Tao Te Ching

imparting wisdom to children

October 27th, 2013    -    9 Comments

I94_North_Dakota_March_2005__soul-ampWhat have you imparted to your daughter?

This question came near the end of our one-day retreat together, when our hearts were open and full. After we’d done zazen and chanting, walking and bowing. It’s the kind of question we find underneath it all, when we’ve emptied all the silly stuff out of the top of our heads in the weary stillness of practice. We might still be looking for evidence that we’re doing something worthwhile.

Nothing.

That was my answer. I have imparted nothing to my daughter. At least not successfully. In hindsight, it seems to me that she has been waiting for me to stop imparting to her. To stop imposing on her, to stop judging, coercing, undermining, and second-guessing her, as if she were the proof of my able foresight and good intentions.

“You’re not me.” She tells me this with the blunt force of her 14 years, and I am stunned that she can see so clearly through the dark cloud of my crazy fears. “You don’t know what my reality is like.” And since I can’t identify the point at which she gained this unassailable insight, I can only assume she has possessed it all along.

Yes, yes, that’s it: each of us possesses this illumination (although we might only catch a glimpse in the rear-view mirror). The certainty that we can only be ourselves, at the center of our own reality, encountering the unknown road, and doing the best we can. So we can be kind to one another, offer the space to rest and refresh, without hurry, without doubt. We can be generous. We can let things be. And although this insight belongs to me, it is sharpened in the shadowless cast of her shine.

What has your daughter imparted to you?

Everything.

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anything helps

June 30th, 2013    -    19 Comments

In much of the country today it is really hot, and anything helps.

I’m usually in the center lane when I stop at this light, ready to shoot straight through the intersection on green.

Most days there is someone or another on the corner with a sign. I don’t always turn my head, but today I knew I had a dollar in my purse.

He was old – probably not as old as he looked. It was sunny today, hot. He was sunburned and dirty. I rolled down the window and he came right over.

Thank you, bless you, he said, his face crumpled.

Thank you, sir, I answered, and rolled the window back up.

When the light turned he was back on the corner, waving at me. I waved back.

He blew a kiss and cupped his hand to his heart. I saw the sign then. It read, “Anything helps.”

Anything helps. How true, how kind, how wise. For a dollar.

fire and water

May 26th, 2013    -    3 Comments

I have been writing seriously for several months, which means I have been seriously reading. I’ve relied on a furnace of words for warmth and light, and an ocean of wisdom to slake my thirst. Most recently, I have consumed these books, and they have consumed me. I wholeheartedly recommend them for telling the one true story of our lives.

9780670026630A Tale for the Time Being – By Ruth Ozeki. When a woman finds a girl’s journal washed up on her island shore, it becomes a portal through time. A mysterious and compelling story, as well as a fearless presentation of Zen’s deepest teachings. Brilliant.

 

age-miracles-karen-thompson-walker-paperback-cover-artThe Age of Miracles – By Karen Walker Thompson. When the Earth’s rotation inexplicably slows, the result reads like neither science nor fiction, but the revelation of our hidden nature in unblinking daylight. Observant and insightful.

 

9780307962690_180X180Wave – By Sonali Deraniyagala.  Her life, family, future and every shred of sanity is washed away by the South Asian tsunami on the day after Christmas. The sole survivor can only say this much. Each word of this memoir is a pearl. Unbearably perfect.

 

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prayer for a mother becoming

May 8th, 2013    -    74 Comments

With time, your roots grow deep and your branches long. You lean a little less backward in fear and a little less forward in doubt, resting solidly right where you are. When the wind blows, you bend. When it stops, you straighten. Your boughs provide shelter and shade. Your strength supports the sky.

Momma Zen

There is a quiet hollow to my days now. I have less to do and more time to observe. I can see inside the hearts of new mothers and old mothers and grandmothers. And grandfathers too. Good folks in every trembling state of hope, exhilaration, despair, exhaustion and worry. And so I fold my hands and pray.

May you be tired and afraid
overwhelmed and ready to quit.
Quit!
Start over, over
ten thousand times over
roll out, get up, fall down
break into tears
open in laughter
sing and dance
be silly, be glad.
May you forget most things,
remember everything,
come to know in your bones
with your blood
through your eyes
from your lips
out of earth
deep below, well beyond
you are love.
You are just love.
Amen.

A companion to Prayer for a Girl Becoming.

sit here

April 4th, 2013    -    5 Comments

logo

Conventional wisdom has it that California 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.)  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.

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.

Golden Gate: A Weekend Retreat on the Marin Headlands, Sat.-Sun., June 8-9, Sausalito, CA.  For everyone.

 

the wisdom of the one you love

February 10th, 2013    -    6 Comments

glitter-heart-painting-L-JLKW_sMommy,

It’s not always going to be easy for me.

I’m not you.

Why don’t you encourage me?

A “B” is a good grade too.

I’m too dumb for second grade.

When is it tomorrow?

I’ve been waiting for you all night.

I do lots of things you don’t know how to do.

It takes more time to practice.

You’re not me.

It seems like I have friends all over the world. 

I am thankful for my life.

Haven’t you ever heard the saying “Everybody makes mistakes?”

Everything happens when you don’t expect it.

Can I have your jewelry when you outgrow it?

Do you want a lucky penny?

I never get mad when you don’t do your best.

I just forget.

Are you happy now?

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