Posts Tagged ‘Wisdom’

can’t apologize

November 19th, 2012    -    7 Comments

Yesterday I made an error in speech, which was actually an error in typing. Sending an email, I intended to write what I always advise on the subject of conflict resolution: “Say you’re sorry. Apologize not because you are wrong but because you can.”

After I sent the email I re-read it. What I had written was “Apologize not because you are wrong but because you can’t.” I wavered: should I send a correction? A quick clarification? Make sure that the recipient understood that I was in my right mind?

When I looked at it again I decided that the mistake expressed an even deeper level of practice. Apologize because you can’t. Send the apology you never thought you would. Do it because it doesn’t make sense.

This is the way we resolve everything: by realizing that the only thing standing between can and can’t, love and hate, war and peace, us and them, is a hasty, reckless and erroneous contraction. So get over it.

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breath is fearless

October 23rd, 2012    -    3 Comments

Just this one little thing, the breath, delivers all the wisdom in the world. Each inhalation powers your strength, endurance, and concentration; each exhalation releases your resistance and fears. Life gives continuous testament to the miracle of the breath, and yet, do we really know what the breath is?

 

When we bring our agitated minds into focus by following the movement of the breath in and out of the body, we experience the reality of the present moment, clear from confusion and anxiety. The breath is fearlessness personified. That can matter a great deal to you in times of pain and panic. How wonderful that all the sages and wise ones, the birth educators and coaches, the doulas and midwives, tell you to breathe! Focusing on the breath is the safest, surest way to overcome fear and let the immediacy of any experience move forward.

When all other schemes and devices fall away, the breath is all we have to use. It never fails us. Now is a good time to get to know your breath, through simple awareness practices such as meditation and yoga. While sitting, lying down, walking, or moving, bringing your attention to your belly and the natural movement of the breath will strengthen your connection to your own life force, the awareness that is everpresent and unafraid. The breath will not only transport you beyond fear, it will deliver you to joy. In the flow of the breath, mother and child come into being, and joy springs to life.

Excerpted from my essay, “Preparing for Childbirth,” in the book, The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy.

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the last lesson

July 18th, 2012    -    5 Comments

I watched the lovely documentary about the horse trainer “Buck” again last weekend. If you haven’t watched it once or twice, I recommend it. It’s on streaming Netflix, so there’s no reason to put it off.

This time I watched it with houseguests staying for the weekend. The visit wasn’t going so well. The kids are older now and can be cranky and sullen. We couldn’t get the group to agree on what to do. We were all put out with one another. I suggested we watch the movie.

“It teaches about relationships,” I said.

You’ve probably heard about Buck Brannaman, the cowboy sage who uses a gentle touch to save horses and correct their overbearing owners. The movie has a kind of slow, sad beauty that you can lose yourself in. But there’s a part toward the end that I can hardly bear. I turned my head away in anticipation.

Buck seems like a miracle-worker until someone brings him a horse that is wild-eyed and bloodthirsty. An orphaned colt that has been untended to the point of savagery. Even as the horse charges the gates and bolts the pen, you’re thinking there’s a happy turn to come. The minds of all the riders and spectators — and this includes you — are united in hope and prayer: Save the day.

This is what we expect of our stories.

But then the horse bites a man between the eyes, and in the gush of blood and truth, the owner admits that she’s scared to death and tired of living on the brink of self-made catastrophe. She’s going to do what she has to do, no longer turning back.

There’s the last matter of loading the horse onto the trailer, and Buck stands in the ring to coax him safely out the gate. He doesn’t have a rope. The horse and man are totally untethered. His owner calls to the pony from outside. “Come on,” she coos, “Come on.” She wants to help; she wants to do one last thing right.

And then Buck speaks the last lesson, the eternal finishing stroke.

Just sit still. Don’t do anything. He says it quietly, a whisper. He stands pat, head bowed, issues no command, and gives the horse the dignity of self-propulsion.

The horse knows where he’s going, just like we all know where we’re going, because there is only one way to go. Straight on.

The only magic in life, the only miracle, is in the time and space that opens up between us, by sheer acceptance and surrender, so we can finally lead ourselves in the only direction there is to go.

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the bony end of a branch

July 16th, 2012    -    16 Comments

Where do you come from?

In the same way we have a physical lineage we have a spiritual one, although you may not yet know about yours. In the same way fruit derives its flavor from the soil, it takes it from the sun. Anything and everything that comes to us comes through a lineage, because that’s how life works. Nothing comes into existence any other way.

You might still think it’s weird that I’m a Zen Buddhist—not a choice you’d make—but you wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. That’s how lineage works. It’s not a choice of this or that. Not like inventing a new last name—make mine Rockefeller. Or like doctoring your eye color—I’ll take periwinkle blue. In lineage as in life, you get what you get. And then somewhere along the way, you get upset.

In my spiritual lineage, tracing more than eighty generations of Zen wisdom, one question is asked over and over again.

A student comes to meet a teacher, and the teacher asks, “Where do you come from?” The student replies, and from this, the teacher sees who stands there.

How would you answer?

Where do you think you come from?

From your parents? From your parents’ parents? From a place? From the place before that? From a time? Or the time before that? Before that? Before that?

How far back do you have to go to realize that you don’t know? How long before you know that you can’t ever know?

We are one family of unknown origin, the fruit of beginningless time, the descendents of everyone who has ever lived. The most we can know is that we do not know where we come from, and from that point on, everything becomes possible.

I am 55 years old. As the mother of a near-teen, I’m in the uneasy breach before the onset of an overthrow. My hair has grayed enough for me to be called gray-haired. Some of the freckles on my face are really liver spots, and the wrinkles are not just laugh lines. Life’s major milestones—those birthdays we call “The Big Ones”—have slipped past my reliable recollection. I have begun a stage of life where I am irritating to a precious few and invisible to everyone else. All these changes are as plain as day, but still, I can hardly believe it.

Here I am, petering past my prime, and here you are, just beginning that aching reach to sweetness. What will pass between us? What can I share?

Only this: the fruit on the bony end of a branch.

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

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

routine and ritual

March 15th, 2012    -    13 Comments

String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.

This is a transcript of a talk on parenting wisdom that I gave at the local library. We all live at such a distance from one other I thought I’d just put it all up here. It’s geared to parents of children under age three, but the lessons are forever. Please share.

——

Often we approach our job as parents like this:

“I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“I’m over my head!”
“I’m lost!”
“I’m ruining my kid.”

So we seek more information, come to workshops, and pick up new tips. We want to give our children a solid advantage and even a head start. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I take a different approach. I like to help you find the wisdom you already possess, help you find your own way, and help you feel more secure in your everyday life so that you can say:

“We made it through. We did OK. It was a good day.”

String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a piece of art, a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.

They say that children don’t come with instructions, so I’m not going to give you any new instructions. I want to talk about two tools that you already have, but that you may not be using enough. read more

sitting still and being quiet

February 6th, 2012    -    No Comments

My uncle was a star among us. As a 12-year-old, he had a calling from God, or at least a push from his parents. This was the only kind of call that counted in rural Central Texas at the time. It meant he would be educated, he would preach, and he would go places.

He went overseas as a missionary. Every three years he brought his American bride and his growing family back to the States for furlough. He toured churches where he towered in the pulpit, gave stirring guest sermons, and said grace over potlucks in his honor. Everyone looked up to him.

But he was not spared the fall we all take into human torment and doubt. At midlife, he broke up his family and left his post. During his time of exile, he visited my mother’s house. Grown, I came home to visit. I sat in the room while he told my mother everything. He needed to say everything, and she was a complete listener. There was nothing but love in the room.

During a lull, he looked over to me in the corner and asked, “Karen, how did you get to be so wise?” I was surprised, because I only knew what I saw. My elegant uncle, eyes glistening, heart breaking; a light undimmed, spilling onto earth.

“By sitting still and being quiet.”

Join me when you’re ready.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 26 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center, Los Angeles
Register by email here.

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to begin, watch this. Watch it anyway, and you’ve begun.

Ordinary Glories from katherine gill on Vimeo.

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the gospel of toddlers & tiaras

January 23rd, 2012    -    17 Comments

On Wednesday evenings I’ve taken to watching TV with my daughter. It’s her one night off from gym practice and after she finishes homework, she likes to tune in to a controversial reality show called Toddlers & Tiaras. I grimaced through a few episodes of overbearing mothers parading their kids through grotesque beauty pageants until I came away with an enlightened view of the whole thing. Here is what I’ve learned:

Delusion begins with hair and makeup. The line between reality and psychosis is drawn with Maybelline Master Drama Brow and Eye Pencils.

There is no end to delusion. You can just keep piling it on.

There are no bad kids. There are just bad adults behaving like bad kids. And bad kids behaving like really, really bad adults.

The husbands are the sane ones. Just admitting this makes me crazy.

The room is empty except for you. The chairs are mostly vacant, the competition is entirely imaginary, and the judges wish they could disappear.

When you win, you lose. When they crown you a Queen, or Most Beautiful, or Best Talent, or Miss Congeniality, it means you didn’t win. In fact, it means you finished last. You don’t want those titles or sashes. Spit on them! You have to lose for a chance to win big, by coming back onstage later, when you really don’t win.

It’s all about you. “We keep doing this because she really loves it.” At the end of the show, when the kids are maniacal with hunger or exhaustion, tearing off the butt-ugly $1200 dresses that will take their parents two years to pay for, all the moms and dads say that. But it’s not true. You keep coming back because you don’t have a life! You’re sick, or bored, or you don’t want to make dinner, or fold laundry, or pay the bills, or face reality! You keep coming back for a chance to sit in a room with your own child, or at least I do! I’ll keep doing this because this show gives me a piercing view of my own shit while reminding me that if I’m not careful I could be a much worse parent than I am.

I’ll be back because this show is about me.

“Mom, do you see now why I watch this show?”

“Yes, I do, honey. I’m afraid I really do.”

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go

November 28th, 2011    -    6 Comments

It took a very long while. Thirteen years. It took a lot of people. Nine thousand or so. We had to travel a far way. From California to Florida. To wake up awfully early. Five a.m. We took a car, a plane and then a bus before we sat on the shore of Banana Creek in the drizzle of a gray dawn to watch the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s newest and largest rover – lift off from Cape Canaveral.

The rover will look for the smallest signs of life.

My husband had a role in its engineering for several years. I do not recall the stretch of time with particularity. In the heroic cause of ordinary life, the days do not shine with glory.

We sat in bleachers for two hours as the minutes and clouds passed. We chatted with our neighbors, compared stories of kids and colleges, and drank coffee and hot chocolate, our gaze focused lightly on the horizon, where a shiny sliver stood against all odds that time could yet stop, or the day turn disastrous.

As the count drew down, the flight director made one more audible poll of system flight controllers for a go/no-go call, a spoken ritual broadcast on loudspeaker. There was no no given. There was only go, and again, go, and again, go.

Go.
Go.
Go, and all accounted for, go.

Certain then that neither earth nor sky would intercede, we stood and crossed our hearts and sang an anthem, then heard one last benediction, one final decree, a dedication to all the men and women who had risen each day to this task, traversing their own long years and brave distance, in the split second before their work could be judged as success or failure, taking measure by each part, each step, allowing the greatness to be no greater than the small in each of us.

And I thought to myself: Could there ever be life more intelligent than this? The propulsion of human ignition, the momentum of life itself, the genius of the inevitable, irreversible, go.

secret message

August 29th, 2011    -    5 Comments

I am being cautious here, mindful of what I say and don’t say, because of how earnestly we all seek and how easily we misunderstand.

I am not telling you how to live, how to improve yourself, how to make the right decisions, or what the right decisions are. I am not suggesting you live like me, think like me, or choose what I have chosen. It is easy to elevate what appears to be the sage or guru, the expert, the coach, the one “who has it together.”

In my long career as a consultant, I came to realize, after the first years of doubt and pretense, that I didn’t have to know any answers. All I had to do to be successful was tell people what to do. I could even make it up on the spot! Because everyone – no matter what their station or status or position – wants to be told what to do. Regardless of whether we do it or not – and we usually don’t – we think there is some secret message we’re missing. But every message is the one you already carry. It’s only a secret if you haven’t yet noticed what you have in your hands. read more

not sleeping, waking!!

July 13th, 2011    -    6 Comments

 

10 Most Fun Things to Do in Summer
By Georgia Miller

There are a lot, I mean A LOT of fun things to do during summer break, but I have my favorites. Here are my top 10 favorite things to do over summer:

 

1. Amusement Parks!! I just love a good trip to Disneyland.

2. Vacationing! I remember last year I took a great trip to Kauai with my family.

3. Ice Cream! You can’t really do it . . . but who cares? It’s awesome anyway.

4. Doing nothing. I usually just do nothing when I’m not flipping, singing, dancing, or acting. Wow. I never do nothing.

5. My Acting Camp. I love my acting camp. It’s soooo fun.

6. Swimming! I just love cannonballing into a pool of cold water.

7. Hanging Out With Friends. Me and my BFF Kenna always have tons of sleepovers during the summer.

8. Going to the Beach!! I love the rush of icy water on my piggies!

9. Sleeping in. I don’t usually sleep in, but when I do, I feel relaxed.

10!! Gymnastics! I only started team this year, but I loooove it!

Those are my fave things to do during summer! What are yours?

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p.s. i love you

April 19th, 2011    -    21 Comments

It was the toothbrush that told me. Alone and overlooked in the emptied medicine chest, it was one of the few things my lover had left behind. When I found it, I knew with certainty what I’d been denying to myself for some time.

It was over.

In truth, our relationship had been over for longer than I’d wanted to believe, but in beginnings and endings, one party can lag the other on the uptake. If the toothbrush was my messenger, what was his? Perhaps the time I kicked his suitcase to the curb? For years after, I would forget that part in the telling of the story, since we tell stories our own way.

Whether by choice or circumstance, by the fleet seasons of romance or the final curtain of death, love ends. At least the love that is a story ends. And when that happens, what are we left with? A passage we might otherwise never dare to take. A portal through denial, disbelief and despair, through rage and madness, beyond delusive fairytales and melodrama, into a state of wakeful grace that can only be called true love.

True love is what is left behind when love leaves. It only looks like the end. Make it through one ending, and you might change your mind about all endings. That is the miracle cure, the ultimate healing, left behind on an empty shelf.

***

Someone asked me to write an article about love. Specifically, about the ending of love, because nobody needs help with the beginning of love.

So I’ve been thinking about love, and here are some of the things I’ve been thinking. Thinking about love is the opposite of love, because love is never what you think. read more

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