the hard truth

April 27th, 2010

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.

Why does the sorting out seem so complicated? The for and against. I use three signposts to bring me back to the truth of any situation:

1. The truth shines. It isn’t hidden. It is not the product of rumination or analysis. It requires no research. The truth illuminates as the sun to the sky. It is the sun. It is the sky.

2. The truth is simple. Not complicated. If a teaching seems confounding or contradictory, the teacher is confused. If your life is confusing you, then you are confusing yourself. See the first signpost.

3. The truth is what you already know. That’s why we call it wisdom. It resonates so deeply in your gut that there is no equivocation and no doubt. You recognize it on sight with nothing added to it. All you have to do is face it.

The truth is not hard, except as I make it that way. My way.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to my retreat • Fan me • Follow me.


  1. The truth is the truth. Thanks for this post.

    Comment by Maggie Scott — April 27, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

  2. “By not quite accepting, because they do not please us, things that are so, we spend our entire lives making meaningless gestures somewhere next store to reality.” (source: Nan Shin, Diary of a Zen Nun)

    Comment by Maggie Scott — April 27, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

  3. i adore you, and that is the truth.

    Comment by Terri — April 27, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

  4. As I’ve always said, anger or defensiveness or negativity has more to do with the person SAYING these things than it does with the actual statement.
    If you can separate the two, and know who you are inside, that’s all that matters. It still hurts, though. I’m not discounting that fact. I know you know this; I’m just reminding you, dear heart. Kiss, kiss.

    Comment by Elissa — April 27, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

  5. A not-so funny miscoception about zen and zen practioners is that we need to be detached or that we don’t focus on oursleves.

    What else do we have to work with, but ourselves?

    Whose story were you supposed to tell? Whose life were you supposed to use in lieu of the one you have?

    The same critcism is batted about by non-zen critics of many contemporary zen writings. They say its “self-centered.” I’ve also seen some Mahayana practioners scold Theravadans for the same thing. Honestly anyone who understands Zen on any level understands that in Zen we don’t bleeive there is a self that is discreet from others so it’s pretty much impossible to be self-centered.

    KMM you’re self-centered. You are. You just recognize that self is the same as the whole Universe. You’re just the part of it that calls itself Karen Maezen Miller.

    I for one am glad that that part exists and finds herself able to accpet these bumps in the road and embrace the fact that we are all one.

    Comment by J. Andy Lambert — April 27, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

  6. I’m reading this from my hotel room in Berlin, after a day of wandering all over the city alone. It struck me this afternoon that it is only just today that my mind really settled down and didn’t wander beyond what I was looking at and experiencing today. Recognizing that a lot of other chatter had quieted, I thought of our conversation, particularly when we discussed travel and how wonderfully freeing it can be to exist in a place where I can’t really communicate with anyone around me. I think I might be rambling here, but I wanted you to know you have been in my thoughts, and I appreciate your words today.

    Comment by Swirly — April 27, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

  7. sounds a little confused, which is fine, but when it’s promoted as “truth” when it is actually just opinion, is not very helpful to others.

    Comment by George Mikeo — April 27, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

  8. So true, George. Confusion only makes sense to the confused. Which is how I explain the Tea Party.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 27, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  9. My inner science nerd can’t help saying that sometimes the truth DOES take a little research, but once “discovered,” the truth still shines so brightly we wonder how we never saw it before. Well said, and those criticisms aren’t really about you, anyway.

    Comment by Stephanie Rayburn — April 27, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

  10. True again! Scientific “truth” does take a long time to be discovered, and rediscovered, since it is eventually revealed to be the incomplete truth! I can attest to this personally because my husband is a rocket scientist, you see, and that kind of discovery takes quite a bit longer than the time it takes to notice that the parking permit on the back of his car is expired, if you get my drift.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 27, 2010 @ 6:36 pm

  11. Thank you for this post and for pointing out these signposts! You have the power to put your wisdom into words in such a humble way.

    Comment by Rose — April 27, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

  12. it’s my humble opinion that we walk around the earth making things way harder than they need to be.

    that’s why i think it may only take a little tree hugging to change the world.

    that’s why i loved your very simple and lovely tone. the way you wrote your story made it oh so simple.

    because, ultimately it is.

    Comment by mindy — April 27, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

  13. I really appreciate you posting the “hard stuff” – it is so hard to let go of those things… I take judgements/critique so seriously (don’t we all)… thanks for the tools tp navigate those stormy waters!

    Comment by Alyssa — April 27, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

  14. Early in our marriage, I remember this phrase coming up – speaking the “hard truths” to each other. And the longer we’re at it, the more I realize how ensnared we can get in “for” and “against” rather than what’s shining so obviously before us. It is hard and scary, at first blush. And then, somehow, not really. Just a relief.

    p.s. This comment lovingly written from one of the tree-hugging capitals of America.

    Comment by Jena — April 28, 2010 @ 2:39 am

  15. The truth of what is has been on my mind all week…that, and keeping it to myself, or not keeping it to myself, or quietly walking around the hole of what everyone else’s truth is. Thank you, as always.

    Comment by denise — April 28, 2010 @ 3:44 am

  16. This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you.

    And I totally agree with you mindy!!

    Comment by dana — April 28, 2010 @ 3:45 am

  17. dear karen…

    thank you for sharing the places that shake you and the spaces of understanding that are the result. i received two copies of your lovely book a couple weeks ago. one was for me, the other for my mom. both of your dedications on the inside covers were perfect.

    i finished reading your book while on a bus ride to surprise my mom for her birthday. your book was part of her surprise. i’ll write again soon and share with you a wee story of what happened to me while i was on that bus ride after reading a passage in your book. it was profound to say the least.

    i want to thank you for being self-centered enough to share your stories so i could see and really get one of mine.

    Comment by Lisa — April 28, 2010 @ 4:39 am

  18. My shoulders just relaxed 30 degrees reading this. This is why I come here. Thank you.

    Comment by 6512 and growing — April 28, 2010 @ 1:41 pm

  19. Thank you for writing this. You always manage to say just the right thing with the perfect words. Hugs to you! Oh yes and my copy of your book finally arrived in the bookshop today!

    Comment by Edith — April 28, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

  20. Nice pithy piece. Worth the read.

    Perhaps too simple though to say that if a teaching is confusing the teacher is confused. Many of the most profound teachings I’ve heard were often fuzzy at the start. They took time to digest.

    Comment by Greg — April 28, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

  21. True, Greg. When we try to understand what teachers teach we sometimes become confused. That’s the first signpost of a true teacher. A true (zen) teacher tells us not to think.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 28, 2010 @ 7:53 pm

  22. I have noticed a lot that when women write memoirish books, they are often called self-centered or self-absorbed in the comments on Amazon. It doesn’t happen as much for more cerebral books. Just an observation. Funny how a memoir by definition is about the self.

    Comment by Tara — April 29, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

  23. You know Tara, that is an interesting point and a bias I know that I myself have perpetuated in my criticism. Men don’t seem to be labeled as such, at least in their teaching and writing. Perhaps a fundamental difference in our gender perspectives and expectations?

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 29, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

  24. Karen, I am happy to have found you through a Facebook posting by Susan Yee. In my mind, the words are, “…it is just life being life.” We are asked to accept what seems unacceptable, yet struggling against it simply depletes our resources. I look forward to exploring your writings further. Could it be that speaking OF the truth is nearly as important as speaking it?

    Comment by Marylinn Kelly — May 2, 2010 @ 5:47 pm

  25. I just found you. Enjoyed your audio reading and video trailer. Glad to add you to my list.

    Comment by rebecca — May 2, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

  26. Hi Karen. Was just catching up on your blog posts and this one really spoke to me. It really is simple. But I like to make it really complicated. Thank you for the reminder.

    Comment by Tony Applebaum — May 22, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month