the song of your life

May 15th, 2011

This is a passage from my next book, No Trace of My Teacher: Finding Faith in Your Days. I wrote it last night. The parts in italics are the words of Maezumi Roshi.

He only hears the cicadas singing in the maple-woods.

the Ten Oxherding Pictures

When I was little, I spent nearly every weekend at my grandparents’ house in the middle of the Ventura County orange groves about an hour north of Los Angeles.

Theirs was a tiny house, with only four rooms, and I slept in one with my grandfather. He could snore like a bear, but I never heard him snore, or at least I was never troubled to hear it. What I heard at night, through the screen door, atop the dark chill that carried the smell of sandy dirt and orange essence, were the crickets.

I just heard the crickets.

I didn’t make any meaning of it then – four-year-olds don’t yet assign meaning to things – and I don’t make any meaning of it now.

I simply heard the crickets and I knew they were crickets and I knew where I was and how I was and what time it was and what it was time to do. I knew everything that you know when you hear a cricket, which is actually quite a bit, so much that you can’t really explain it all. And the good thing is, you don’t have to.

I’m reciting all this here and now because lately when I toss in my bed, I can remember what I knew for sure when I was four or five and heard the crickets. I am fifty years older now and my head is crowded with far more than it needs to be – fear, for instance, of being 54, and worry, and doubts about my work, especially this work, and my daughter and whether she will be okay and not too disappointed or hurt and then the prescription that needs refilling and the bills that need paid and I forgot, what did I forget, oh that’s right I forgot to call, to fix, to sign, to return, to finish, to start – and for all I know there are crickets outside my own window right now but most of the time I’m making far too much noise between my ears to hear them.

That’s what can come between the hearing and the knowing, between the lost and the found, and between the fear and the faith. That’s all there is to let go of: what we keep putting in-between.

Hearing the sound, seeing the forms, many attain realization. Here where the verse says “He only hears the cicadas singing” what does it imply?

When I remember the sound of those country crickets these days, it’s not an emotional thing. It doesn’t trigger a sentiment as much as it awakens a sensation. A state of being that is effortless and relaxed, tucked into a small house under a vast and twinkling sky with a gentle grandfather beside me. When I remember that, I can drop the wiry tangle under my skin, the jangle inside my skull, and empty out what’s come in between me and a simple song.

When we see, when we hear, when we feel, when we smell, when we think, or when we perceive, conceive: right there, the author urges us to realize, “Why don’t you hear cicadas singing as the song of your life!” instead of just listening to it as a lousy noise something outside is making.

Oh that – that’s just a cricket.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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  1. Right now, a robin is singing through open windows, along with chirping house sparrows.

    Comment by Lorianne — May 15, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

  2. The whzzzing cicadas scare me a bit. I take it as a warning to stay away from their tree. They are quiet right now tho, so I think its safe to go for a walk.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — May 15, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  3. Oh Maezen, what a delicious, generous offering this is! I can’t wait to read more. Love your voice here, love picturing that dear, snoring grandfather, and love the reminder to pay more attention to the beauty outside than to the noise inside.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — May 15, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

  4. Thank you so much! I feel the same way about crickets…I feel ‘at home’ with their sound, altho I didn’t grow up in an area with them. Thanks for the reminder here of this wisdom.

    Comment by Kristin Hasselblad — May 15, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  5. When I read this; I hear you reading; both your actual voice, and your true voice. And I smile, and softly say yes.

    Comment by Michael Douglas Jones — May 16, 2011 @ 2:47 am

  6. Yes, only hear the crickets, and that one songbird who wakes me every morning.

    Comment by Jena — May 16, 2011 @ 2:55 am

  7. A lovely lesson. These mornings I lie in bed and listen to the birds songs. They provide so much joy with their busy happy songs….

    Comment by marilee pittman — May 16, 2011 @ 5:07 am

  8. The peeper frogs sing away my wiry tangles in the night.

    I’m happy you’re writing, and offering more of your words to the world. Poised to gobble. xo

    Comment by sweetsalty kate — May 16, 2011 @ 6:07 am

  9. I am sometimes astounded at what I’ve been missing when I bring my attention back to the here and now.

    Comment by Swirly — May 16, 2011 @ 6:45 am

  10. Ah Maezen…another book. How utterly delicious.

    And this post? How utterly necessary (and entirely delicious also).

    I hear Mani may be bringing you to us soon. That makes me feel deep happiness (I would pay just to hear your laughter fill a room).

    I am heading to CA the first weekend in June – perhaps I can steal a moment to head your way.

    Love, love, love

    Comment by Jeanette — May 16, 2011 @ 6:51 am

  11. When I hear your voice, I hear Maezumi too. Thank you helping me hear this teaching.

    Comment by wendy — May 16, 2011 @ 7:05 am

  12. I am delighted to learn that you are writing another book. I loved “Hand Wash Cold” and went on to read some of the teachings of Maezumi Roshi which have registered deeply with me. Just wanted to say thank you from Scotland.

    Comment by Pam — May 16, 2011 @ 7:47 am

  13. Karen…I had to pause somewhere in the middle of reading this and let the beauty just wash over me. I love the way you put words together, the calm sureness that comes through.

    How is it possible that you are 54? I did a big gulp when I read that…you look so entirely youthful–and gorgeous. 54 looks just right on you.

    Thank you for slowing me way down this morning.

    ♥ Julia

    Comment by julia — May 16, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  14. There is complete joy in only hearing the crickets. Thank you for this reminder as the noise in my head ranting about my life has been keeping me from hearing the song of my life. Instead now, listening to the whir of the air circulating and feeling grateful for it.

    Comment by Meg Casey — May 16, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  15. Julia, me too, me too. It is entirely impossible that I am 54! And yet, that’s what we are: living proof of the impossible. (Actually, I feel as if I am a million years old, and that I will live another million – that’s how strange the numbers themselves are.)

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 16, 2011 @ 9:49 am

  16. unrelated: there is a beautiful new(ish) children’s book out called Old Bear and his cub. This reminds me of that.

    Comment by Emily — May 16, 2011 @ 11:33 am

  17. “I’m making far too much noise between my ears to hear”
    That’s a great line.
    Keep writing, please.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — May 16, 2011 @ 11:44 am

  18. Oh, beautiful as always. If you need encouragement with this book, I am giving it because I want to read everything you want to write.

    Comment by Stephanie Rayburn — May 16, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  19. I don’t know exactly when it was I realized that I no longer need to say anything, have anything, be anything or do anything to prepare to take my leave. (I am 62 this year so the subject comes up and plays out between my ears periodically.) Each moment takes care of itself and unfolds, no doubt, as it is meant to. Attention replaces urgency, peace replaces anxiety and there is the lovely spaciousness in which all things come and go, including the one I know as “me”. A million years, yes, the numbers are strange.

    Comment by Connie — May 16, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  20. Oh I love this. I so needed this settling. A year ago I still lived in Ventura so I know what you are talking about. Thank you for bringing me back home.

    Comment by Pamela — May 16, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  21. I love this.

    Comment by Katie Murphy — May 16, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  22. […] snow is piled up and you think you might just never get out again. But then, when my mind stops and I can listen to the song of my life, there is a happiness, a contentment, a feeling of relief and peace that comes when I no longer […]

    Pingback by Making way - Meg Casey — May 16, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

  23. I told my four year old daughter that we couldn’t go the newly opened outdoor pool because it was raining. We could hear the bold kids having fun a block away. Let me explain, I was having a great hair day. My kid looked at me like, and so…And so, I laughed so hard because our day was almost spoiled by my hair, my attachment to it. We went and, you guessed it, got wet. My prefect hair was wet too. I remembered you wrote about your hair in Hand Wash Cold. What a funny way to see that I am carrying SO much. Sigh..these busy minds.

    P.S. glad you’re writing a new book

    Comment by Kelly — May 16, 2011 @ 9:58 pm

  24. I cannot wait to read your book, as always your writing just speaks to me. You are a gift Karen.

    Comment by Christine @ Coffees & Commutes — May 18, 2011 @ 3:36 am

  25. Loved this post Karen x

    Comment by Rachel — November 16, 2011 @ 8:34 am

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