Cheerio Road

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Making peace with the laundry, the kitchen, and the yard.
Updated: 1 year 12 weeks ago

unfolded, a gift

September 26, 2013 - 2:57pm

“There is something in me maybe someday ?to be written; now it is folded, and folded, ?and folded, like a note in school.”?? Sharon Olds

Unfolded
by Jena Strong

Every line on my face is a place I unfolded,
no longer compressed, no longer needing
to contain mystery after mystery,
no longer a matryoshka doll holding itself
in and in and in, kaleidoscopically hidden.
No, life has unfolded my careful origami,
like a middle or third name
too beautiful for the world not to hear,
each deep crevice a hint of healing
and heartache and hero’s journey.
It’s old-school, to remain folded up
like that, or to collapse like a mountain
unto itself, or to get so lost
in the folds of what happened
that you can no longer make out
the writing on the wall of your life,
which is to say how blue the sky is
in September, how kindly she caresses
the deep grooves between your eyes,
folded notes to be passed to a friend
between classes, perhaps—or birds
or buildings or an architecture
defying smooth textures. Let me be
creased, then, unfolded as a piece
of paper you’ve tucked inside
the pages of a heavy hardcover for years,
stumbled upon, blank, and fluently speaking
in a language you didn’t even know you knew.
***
A gift on the first day of my fifty-seventh year.

Art by Martin Creed, “Work No. 340: A sheet of paper folded up and unfolded,” 2004.

that jerk saved my life

September 23, 2013 - 8:52am

I am concerned that in the process of making a business out of all this your sense of compassion is going out the window. I do not see a person in tune with others’ suffering. I see a lack of humility.

This is the kind of correction that can knock you back a bit when it appears in your inbox. I suppose I don’t get much criticism, all things considered.  I’m sure it can’t compare to the uninvited trouble foisted onto the rich and famous—but even a near-miss can level you, make you stagger and tumble onto the rocks where you scuff your knees and pick the scabs for a good while after.

He thinks this is a business?

That’s when you might see that the unwelcome blow was in fact an act of compassion. Why? Because it stops you. It interrupts your monologue. It commands your attention. And if you feel unjustly injured, you can take a good look at where that injury comes from, where it resides, and what sustains it.

Only the thoughts in my head.

Anything that interferes with the flow of thoughts in your head is compassionate. Why? Because what we think isn’t real. It is delusion. More than delusion, it is death. And that’s how we live most of the time—as if dead—arguing, defending, judging and debating with ourselves, by ourselves, and then projecting our upsets onto the real world. The internet seems to make this projection easier and even painless. It’s so easy to sound smart and clever, raw and biting, in a comment box. It’s so easy to argue, attack, and rebut. But it’s hard to stop.

All this digital carrying-on while we might not even pause to say hello to a single real, live person we pass on the street today.

Real compassion requires that you go out the window.

There is a part of the message that would have been laughable if I’d been of a mind to laugh: the “business” part. This isn’t a business. I don’t ask you for money. There is no enterprise here. I’ve dressed up the joint, but behind the curtain I’m just an old, poor, woman. By old I mean I turn 57 on Thursday. By poor I mean I don’t earn any money. The amount I’m paid to write a book every four years falls beneath the one-person poverty line. I write to myself and for myself, and if you encounter it, it is free or next-to-free for the taking. And by all means, be compassionate with yourself and discard whatever I say if it doesn’t make sense to you. Suffering is voluntary. You can opt out at anytime.

Compassion is a stick.

In the Zen tradition, there is something called a “waking stick.” It is a long, flat wooden stick used during meditation periods of long retreats. A monitor walks behind the backs of meditators, stick in hand, totally alert and watching for people who place their palms together and bow slightly, which is the gesture that means, “hit me.” Ask to be hit? Would anyone ever ask to be hit? If the business at hand is waking up, and you are cramped, sleepy, bored, or in pain, yes, you might ask for the stick. The monitor wields it swiftly, delivering a jolt of energy to the soft pad of muscles between the shoulders. It hurts! But you wake up, the pain dissipates, and then you realize, “That jerk saved my life.”

The stick is called the stick of compassion. It comes only when you ask for it.

The business of a buddha.

This is not a business, but there is a business here, and it is the only business worth pursuing. Compassion is the business of a buddha. A buddha’s work is to wake up. I’m here because I have more work to do. I always have more work to do. I offer this commentary as proof of how much work I’ve yet to do.

Good advice from a good friend.

That’s what I wrote back to the guy. And it’s true. But the real correction is what comes after.

Don’t make anything more out of it.

***

Photo: A. Jesse Jiryu Davis.

 

value of time

September 17, 2013 - 7:27am

“I think I have the sixty cents.”

This is what you’re likely to hear if you’re standing behind me at the post office. Or at Starbucks, tapping your feet, waiting to order and get back on the road.

Sure enough, I do have the sixty cents to go with the five dollars’ postage for my priority mail envelope, and as I dig in my wallet to bring it forth and count it out, I realize how it looks. Two quarters and two nickels.

“Money is so old-fashioned, isn’t it?” I say to the postal worker, who sees a veritable parade of the out-of-date at her counter every day. The post office today is like a mecca of yesterday.

Here’s what I like about exact change. It takes time. Counting change slows me down.

I’m not in such a hurry anymore. I don’t know why anyone would be. I can see what we lose by our rush, but I cannot see what we gain.

It was back-to-school night last Thursday. The school year is now one month gone. The 8th grade math teacher let us in on a plan they have to roll back the math curriculum to the way it used to be. Awhile ago when everyone decided we were falling too far behind in this country, losing the future and forfeiting our superpower, they commenced a reign of terror in our middle school math program. Good math students were funneled into accelerated classes, learning math two years ahead of schedule, crammed and tested until they crapped out of the cull. It was a mystery to me why they thought this was good for our kids, what they hoped to gain by the pressure to duke it out with each other, let alone compete with the kids in Bangalore or Chengdu.

Tell kids to hurry up and you’ll stop their love of learning. Steal their confidence and pride. Dull their excitement and delight. Given time, they might yet recover. I hope somewhere along the line someone will give them back the time they’ve lost.

You can find time waiting in line behind me at the post office but those lazy days are numbered too.

This weekend I posted a prayer list and invited folks to add to it. The list grew and grew. Someone wondered how long it would take me to recite all those prayers. It takes several minutes a day. Maybe that’s why I’m doing it. Doing things that take time is the way to find time. Find time, and you’re not in such a hurry anymore.

Find time for yourself at the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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prayer list

September 14, 2013 - 3:05pm

Whenever I am feeling injured or ignored, which I’m sorry to say is quite a bit, all I have to do is open my eyes to someone who has real suffering, not just the imaginary kind like me.

That’s what I’m feeling now as I consider the devastation and despair passing through every news stream in front of me. I feel a triple, quadruple whammy of sad helplessness, which is a powerful invitation to pray.

I’m saying a prayer service today, and tomorrow, and the day after, and after, and after. Let’s assemble a prayer list, shall we? I’ll start the list, and please leave a comment or two and add to it. Tell me who or what to pray for. You can give me actual names if you like. In the face of our suffering world, I can’t imagine doing less, and I don’t know how to do more.

I’m praying for:

All the people of Syria.
All victims of war.
All victims of the Jersey boardwalk fire.
All victims of the Colorado floods.
All victims of natural disasters.
Our mother the Earth.
All children who are troubled and want to die.
All children who are sick and want to live.
All parents who need strength and guidance.
All animals suffering from abuse and neglect.
All beings suffering the pain of parting.

So far it is a short list, but it is a neverending need. Please add your prayers to the list.

7 tips to de-stress your home

September 12, 2013 - 5:55am

A tour bus stops in front of my house and two dozen visitors disembark. They’ve come to view the 100-year-old Japanese garden in my backyard. Without a word of instruction, they spontaneously merge into a single file and advance soundlessly along the suburban sidewalk like an order of monks, albeit monks in khaki shorts and ball caps carrying iPhones.

It happens by itself, an autonomic response to the pervasive calm of the environment. When these guests leave, they might attribute their sudden state of reverence to some unseen spiritual power. Maybe the place is sacred, they might think. Mystically endowed, holy.

I thought about this recently when I was asked to come up with some simple tips for de-stressing a home. If I live on hallowed ground, I might have an unfair advantage in handling stress. Except I don’t. I stress out just as easily as anyone, but by managing my environment, I de-stress easily too.

What turns a home into a sanctuary? What transforms a familiar set of cramped rooms into a sense of spaciousness? What changes everyday chaos into an oasis of calm? You don’t need to install a meditation garden or consult a geomancer. There are no ancient secrets. The same devotional practices that turn monasteries into bastions of serenity can relieve the mindless stress that infiltrates your home life. Even if you can’t consistently observe all of these pointers, doing a few will change the way you feel when you come home, and that is nothing less than a modern miracle.

1. Observe light. The natural world wakes with the first light of the sun, why not you? If rising at daybreak is too late for your daily work and commuting schedule, wake before the sun and observe the sunrise. In the habit of hitting the snooze button? Don’t.  If your waking thought is resistance, you wake in stress. You start the day in a race against time, and you stay that way. The sun is not only a natural time management system, it delivers the neurotransmitter serotonin that enhances brain function and reduces stress.

2. Observe darkness. Turn the power off and see what happens when night falls. We’ve turned our homes into temples of electronic stimulation, and our default position is maximum overdrive. Gadgets are handy and appliances are useful, but everything from the microwave to the smoke alarm and the cell phone to the computer is discharging a constant pulsing stream of energy. We cannot afford to be careless about our electronic addictions because we are going out of our minds. Evening brings a natural end to the 24-hour workday, restores mind-body balance, and invites quiet.

3. Observe quiet. I’ll be loud and clear. The quiet that needs observing is not an external silence like the kind imposed at a library or hospital. Our homes are not ivory towers or infirmaries. The quiet that needs stilled is our internal commentary – the nonstop thoughts that stir anger, resentment, anxiety and fear. You may never get around to practicing meditation, but try this technique in the meantime.  Designate a comfortable seat in your bedroom as your “quiet chair.” Clear it of clutter; keep it empty and available. When domestic chaos and turmoil overtake you, retreat to your bedroom and take sanctuary in your quiet chair. Conflicts will decelerate by themselves when you take a step back. When the decibels in your head come down, come out.

4. Observe bells. A mountain of laundry, a forest of weeds, and an avalanche in the hall closet: the sheer size of untended tasks at home can topple us into paralyzing despair. When chores get out of hand, pick up some extra time. Set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and focus on doing one thing during that period. It doesn’t matter if you finish; what matters is that you start. Once you start, the finish comes into view.

5. Observe nature. Open a window. The view doesn’t matter. Open a door. You don’t have to be in a national park. Air and light are curative. If you doubt it, just take a walk around the block and watch your mood lift with the breeze and change with the scenery.

6. Observe order. Washing dishes, sweeping floors, folding clothes, clearing the table, and sorting mail: these are not just simple means of practicing mindfulness, they are your mind. As Buddha described our true relationship to our environment, “There is no inside, there is no outside, and there is no in-between.” When we resist order, we are messing with our minds.

7. Observe ritual. Light a candle, and elevate your mealtime. Burn incense, and alleviate anxiety. Sages have always known that rituals are not just symbolic. Your rituals don’t have to reek of religious significance. Give yourself a set of completion rituals to signify the end of the day. Empty the kitchen sink; put your shoes in the closet; brush and floss your teeth. When repeated, rituals prepare you to enter a state of repose.

***

It’s another Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’m reprising some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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nine eleven thirteen

September 11, 2013 - 6:55am

Is this the year that memory fades? The date unremembered until looking over, turning back, taking stock,
you see what you have missed until now?

In this hush
between the rising and dusk
of one minute and month
a season arriving
a circle recycling
we see sharp and know cold
that not one thing stands
or stands still
Not one thing untouched
but all carried intact
by love
deep, far and beyond.


 

10 tips for mindful work

September 9, 2013 - 3:12pm

It has been 15 years since I’ve spent 60 or more hours each week in an office, and at no time during the long stretch of my professional career was I anything but profoundly inattentive. Still, those days brought the dawn of a penetrating realization that my work was not the problem. Work is never the problem.

In that spirit, I offer these 10 Tips for Mindful Work, or What I Would Do Differently if I Had It All to Do Over Again:

Be on time
Self-discipline is the foundation of all success and the essence of self-respect.

Care
Work is not a distraction from your life; it is not a detour, hindrance or necessary evil. If you think this way it is the wrong view. When you are working, work is your life. Care for it as you care for yourself. As Dogen Zenji says, “If you find one thing wearisome, you will find everything wearisome.”

Make a list
Start each day with a list of things to do. Control is an illusion, so wise up and keep the list short.

Forget the list
Do not mistake a list for the thing. Adapt to the flow of real events as they occur. Adaptation is innovation and innovation is genius.

Attend to what appears
What appears in front of you is the only thing there is. Respond appropriately as things arise, and crises will not overtake you.

Avoid gossip
Viruses spread. Keep your hands clean and cover your mouth.

Smile
The workplace is a theater, and the drama is make-believe. Everyone appreciates a good laugh. When you can do anything as though you work at nothing, you have the best days of your life.

Give credit
No amount of money is enough. Be generous with your kindness, courtesy and thanks. They will always be repaid.

Take the rest of the day off
Do your work, then set it down. Let others praise or blame.

Do it all over again
Rise and shine. An ancient teacher said, “A day without work is a day without eating.” Take every chance to do it differently, and your life will transform.

***

It’s another Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’m reprising some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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4 rules for a mindful garden

September 7, 2013 - 6:33pm

This is a simple set of instructions that I always give children when they visit my backyard garden. Beginning when she was three years old, we invited Georgia’s class to our garden for a field trip each year. She is now 14, and I am far older, and yet the instructions still apply. Children find them easier to do than adults.

Life is a garden and we are the gardeners. Here are the rules for a mindful garden:

1. Be kind. Every time we are kind to another, we are kind to ourselves, because we have left our stingy self-centeredness behind. It’s important: kindness is the supreme religion. It’s not hard: pure silence is the ultimate kindness. We already know how to do it.

2. Don’t throw rocks. The garden path is paved with stones. For children, it’s tempting to pick one up and loft it into the ponds. For adults, it’s tempting to pick one up and loft it at each other. Consider how very often we blame others, and the circumstances around us, for whatever displeases us. It’s not my fault, we say, it’s you, it’s my job, it’s my parents, it’s my kids, it’s my neighbor that’s causing all the trouble, tossing rocks with wild abandon. To maintain peace in your garden, don’t pick up a rock if you can’t set it down.

3. No running. There’s no hurry and no one chasing you. Running in my backyard is a sure way to fall headfirst into the murky mud beneath you. How much of life do we miss because we are racing headfirst toward some place else? A place we never reach? You have all the time in the world to savor the life you have.

4. Pay attention. Bring all your attention to what is at hand. You’ll wake up to the glorious view before you and realize you’re right at home where you are.

***

It’s Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’ve reprised some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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7 ways to be mindful with a teen

September 5, 2013 - 3:55pm

I am no parenting expert, but what I keep in mind these days with my teenager is this one thing, the sum total of my old teacher’s advice on raising kids.

Become one with your child.

That may not mean what you think it means. It does not mean to fabricate phony friendship or rah-rah enthusiasm. Nor does it mean to harbor ambition, fear, hope, or dread. It means to become as your child is right now, meet them where and as they are, dissolving the distance from which you judge them. When judgmental distance disappears, you may see that the teenage years are very reminiscent of a far, far, earlier stage in parenting, when you tiptoed about, wanting nothing more from your child than that they sleep and eat, whereby they mysteriously and marvelously continue to grow.

Here is how I try to become one with my daughter as she is, the seven ways I practice mindfulness as the parent of a teenager:

1. Be quiet! — Teenagers become as quiet as the quiet you once wished for. They seem to disappear inside themselves, but they are not lost. Accept their silence within your own nonjudgmental quiet. The silence you keep between you is undefiled love. Trust, faith and respect grow in the silence. That way, when your teen speaks, it will be something they really want to share.

2. Do not disturb — You’re worried about whether your teen has enough good sense. But what do you give them 24 hours a day? Doubt and distrust? A nag, prod, poke, or push? An ominous warning? Anxious oversight? All of the above?  Imagine that your teen is now wearing the sign you once hung from the doorknob to the nursery. Baby sleeping. Don’t let your neurotic fears continually rattle the calm between you.

3. Feed yourself —Children learn to feed themselves. Now it’s your turn. As teenagers wrest themselves from their emotional dependence, parents can feel starved for love. Nourish your own neglected passions, purpose and interests. Fulfill yourself by yourself, and you’ll free your children from your emotional appetites. Now all your relationships can mature.

4. Draw no conclusions. — We are deeply attached to the illusory signs of  “successful” parenting. As in all of life, the next setback inevitably interrupts our self-congratulation. The only conclusion is that there is no conclusion. Stay on the ride. See where it goes. It keeps going forever.

5. Grow up. This is what I remember from being a teenager. As I reached the age where I could see my parents’ foibles and follies, I wished for one thing only: that they grow up. Like my daughter, I am trying my best to grow up.

6. Knock softly. For a few more years at least, your children are still guests in your home. As with any guest, be a good host. Give privacy; respect boundaries; ask permission.

7. Wait for the door to open. It will. Because there was never a door to begin with. You are not strangers. You are not enemies. Two blooms on a single branch: you and your teenager are one.

This may be a good time to read:

8 Reminders for Mindful Parents
8 Ways to Raise a Mindful Child
10 Tips for a Mindful Home
15 Ways to Practice Compassion on the Way Home for Dinner
7 Tips to De-Stress Your Home
Rules for a Mindful Garden
10 Tips for Mindful Writing
5 Tips for Meaning in Cleaning
10 Tips for Mindful Work

***
It’s Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’ve reprised some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Facebook me • Follow me.

 

10 tips for a mindful home

September 4, 2013 - 2:57pm

If you can do the first one, the next nine take care of themselves.

1.Wake with the sun
There is no purer light than what we see when we open our eyes first thing in the morning.

2.Sit
Mindfulness without meditation is just a word.

3. Make your bed
The state of your bed is the state of your head. Enfold your day in dignity.

4.Empty the hampers
Do the laundry without resentment or commentary and have an intimate encounter with the very fabric of life.

5. Wash your bowl
Rinse away self-importance and clean up your own mess. If you leave it undone, it will get sticky.

6. Set a timer
If you’re distracted by the weight of what’s undone, set a kitchen timer and, like a monk in a monastery, devote yourself wholeheartedly to the task at hand before the bell rings.

7. Rake the leaves
Rake, weed, or sweep. You’ll never finish for good, but you’ll learn the point of pointlessness.

8. Eat when hungry
Align your inexhaustible desires with the one true appetite.

9. Let the darkness come
Set a curfew on the internet and TV and discover the natural balance between daylight and darkness, work and rest.

10. Sleep when tired
Nothing more to it.

***
It’s Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’ll be reprising some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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8 ways to raise a mindful child

September 3, 2013 - 5:21pm

Parents are rightfully concerned about the capacity their children have to pay attention, express empathy, and cope with the stresses that infiltrate their lives. Should we then coerce our children onto meditation cushions? Impose artificial silence, stillness or philosophical indoctrination? Before you do that, take a closer look.

Children are exemplars of the art of being. Wherever they are, they are completely immersed: in mud, in make believe, in laughter, in tears or in spaghetti sauce up to their eyeballs. Without a bit of self-consciousness, they lose themselves in what they are; they literally throw themselves away. This is the kind of losing in which mindfulness is found.

Without making a big deal about it, parents can gently encourage everyday actions that nourish and grow attention, empathy and self-care.

1. Read picture books – Illustrated children’s books have fallen out of favor as parents push children into early reading as a competitive outcome. Mindfulness is perception, and the rich visual content of picture books nourish the capacity to see, explore and relate to what appears in front of us.

 2. Listen – When your children speak to you, turn your face toward them, meet their gaze, and listen. Your own non-distracted attention is a wellspring for theirs. We cannot extract from our children what we fail to give.

 3. Sing  – Encourage singing: at home, at play, in the bath, anywhere. Singing is breathing and breathing is the body’s natural calming mechanism. Hearing your children sing to themselves will release your own deep sense of well-being, and you will smile.

 4. Smile – Smiling is a silent song. For heaven’s sake, greet your children with enough presence of mind to smile at them.

 5. Brush teeth – The ritual of brushing teeth imparts subtle disciplines.  It is rhythmic and therefore soothing; attentive and self-managing; and it stretches our capacity to tend to what we’d rather put off. Then add flossing. You’re developing concentration and fighting cavities in a single stroke.

 6. Walk to school – If that’s not feasible, walk the dog. Walk to the store. Walk to the post office. Or just walk around the block. Walking is meditative and mood-altering. Moreover, walking in your neighborhood overcomes the isolation and alienation we can unwittingly breed in our lives. You might meet or make a friend.

 7. Handwrite – The mysterious art and skill of writing by hand is being shunted aside by the keyboard. Writing with paper and pencil takes time, practice and mind-body focus. Researchers say it enhances learning, memory and ideation. Our children will all learn how to type, but will they learn how to write? Take time now.

 8. Start now – The list of things we want for our children – and expect from them – seems endless. Where will we ever find the time? Until you know what it is to live in the present moment, you will never be able to relax. So relax! It doesn’t take long to be mindful. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your small children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but in free play and casual company according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give. Amply supplied, your children will return their love to the world through mindfulness.

Mindful children grow up in mindful homes.

***
It’s Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’ll be reprising some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Facebook me • Follow me.

 

 

8 reminders for mindful parents

September 2, 2013 - 5:30pm

A cozy set of practical guidelines for parents who practice mindfulness:

1. Practice in plain sight. Place your zafu, or meditation cushion, in a conspicuous place in your home, such as on your bedroom floor. As you pass by, let it invite you to practice meditation daily. Even five minutes morning or night can turn your life around.

2. Live by routine. Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.

3. Elevate the small. And overlook the large. Want to change the world? Forget the philosophical lessons. Instruct your child in how to brush his teeth, and then do it, together, twice a day.

4. Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimulation. This begins with you.

5. Give more attention. And less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Use a timer to keep yourself honest. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.

6. Take a break. Before you break in two. Designate a chair in your home as a “quiet chair,” where you can retreat to decelerate conflicts. Or walk around the block and see how quickly your own two feet can stamp out the fire on your head.

7. Be the first to apologize. Practice the miracle of atonement and instantly restore household harmony. By your doing, your children will learn how.

8. Be the last to know. Refrain from making judgments and foregone conclusions about your children. Watch their lives unfold, and be surprised. The show is splendid, and yours is the best seat in the house.

***
It’s Mindfulness Reminder Week on the blog. I’ll be reprising some of my most popular posts on mindfulness at home and work. To learn how to put the preaching into practice, come to the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

anthem of the empty room

August 28, 2013 - 8:28am

I’m cleaning off the desk today. Then I’ll tackle the drawers. By process of elimination, I’m headed for the floor.

I finished the manuscript for Paradise in Plain Sight, the book that New World Library will publish next spring. By finished, I mean I had the thought that I was finished. Every day I’m more finished than before. Soon I will gather the files and shoot them into a life of their own. I want my hands free to do simple things.

These hands. What will I do with them? That is the question that keeps coming around. Now what? Now where? What’s next?

My sister told me she has decided to retire next spring. She is younger than I am, and she has worked longer and harder than I ever did doing complicated things. She is at ease with her decision, the only ruffle coming when people kindly say, “I can’t wait to see what you will do next.” It is just small talk, but right there is the expectation that there’s got to be something great and interesting to show for ourselves.

All around, the year reaches crescendo: kids starting kindergarten, fourth grade, high school, and college. Everywhere, the firsts, which carry in them the lasts, and leave the emptiness of closets and chairs. It seems impossible to be finished. No less impossible to begin. But impossible things happen every day. Today.

My friend and dharma sister Jody Kujaku Glienke came to me after sitting zazen on Saturday. She handed me a pair of headphones and asked me to listen to a new song she’d written and sung about her daughter now grown and living in New York. She stood behind me like a good mother, so she wouldn’t intrude on my hearing and force a response. She was surprised when I turned around, sobbing at the end of her sweet song. She held me in her arms. Because I have a daughter still in her room, but halfway to New York, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Don’t we all? Let this console you, let this hold your song: the empty room where we find ourselves alone and together again.

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come to California

August 25, 2013 - 4:51pm

“In the sun and in the weather, no one else has loved me better.”
Come to California
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Nov. 10
9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles

Because we need to save ourselves and start again.

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so far so good

August 22, 2013 - 12:56pm

Giving away the moments of your life, and four free passes to the Boise Plunge retreat on Sat., Oct. 5. Send me send me a private message to claim your prize.

 

Moments from Everynone on Vimeo.

please come

August 18, 2013 - 6:00pm

After the kids return to school,
before the year is over and time disappears,
when patience is thin, and peace seems all but lost,
it’s safe to go back in the water:
Announcing the return of The Plunge workshop
healing weary hearts and minds
with the calming cleanse of deep compassion
a one-day mindfulness retreat
with the good people of Boise
and anyone else along for the swim
Saturday, Oct. 5
Register here.

If you can offer scholarship funds to waiting participants, please contact me.

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rite of passage

August 12, 2013 - 3:29pm

Georgia turned 14 today. When she woke up and got dressed, I called her over to my desk.

Do you want to see the photos of you right after you were born? You mean when I was all wrinkled and red? No.

Do you know the time you were born? 10:04 a.m.

Do you know who was the first one to see you besides Dad?

She knew; she knows it all. Then she sat up excitedly in the scanty new Brandy Melville shorts and crop top, a gift from a girlfriend. “My favorite outfit of all time.” She was up late last night fielding happy birthday texts. “Really long ones.” She was going to walk into our little downtown and spend the day with pals.

“I’ll be in touch,” she said, on top of the world.

Then it was clear: she’s reached the point where parents don’t give you a birthday. Your friends do. I have a familiar sense of where I am in this go-round. Precisely where I was 14 years ago. After her birth I was too sick to see her for several days. I was no more useful for the next, oh, seven years. Through feeding and teething, coughs and fevers, tears and terrors, night after night, I felt just as clueless then as now. But something spoke to me, coaxed me out of my fright and confusion, brought me solace, and one day the crib was emptied.

“Today is a day to celebrate,” a knowing friend said to me. What shall I celebrate? Coming this far, I suppose. Having far to go. Being upright, in comfortable shoes, with a good dog at my side, friends near and far, an empty road ahead, and absolutely no idea.

Absolutely no idea.

I’ll be in touch.

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Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Momma Zen, a rite of passage, published the year Georgia turned seven. Winner selected this Sunday, Aug. 18.

 

 

a daughter is turning fourteen

August 7, 2013 - 8:33pm

She wants balloons at the pool party, and I think a cloud of purple balloons would be just right. There is no such thing as too young or fun in these last days before turning fourteen.

I have thought lonely and long about how far beyond my reach you are now, how gone beyond my knowing. There is so much of me you do not need or want or like. That you cannot like just now, on the brink of turning fourteen.

We bought school supplies today. How few days like this remain—new ruler, pens, and notebooks, graph paper, pocket folders, pencil cases—a hundred dollars worth. I resented the trouble and money. But when you came home and loaded your backpack for next Wednesday’s bell, I cried over these lines.

Am I more frightened than at the start? I thought I’d break you then but it’s me torn in two.

I said yes, invite everyone to the party, twice as ever before, let everyone come for this last splash and  splurge—greasy pizza and pixie sticks—all our beautiful daughters, our hearts, our dreams, let them laugh and scream, be silly, be lovely, take the cake, claim the prize, the women we’ve never seen and might yet meet, our daughters are turning fourteen.

 

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your bed is your head

July 29, 2013 - 7:28am

Before your feet hit the floor you’ve already run through the reasons. First, there’s not enough time. It’s pointless. You’ll just have to do it all over again. You have more important things on your mind. It doesn’t matter. No one will see it. You don’t care. You’re not uptight about it. It’s a waste of energy. You hate it. After all, you’re not Martha Stewart.

The bed is a nest of egocentric attachments: our cravings and aversions. In the one minute it takes to avoid making your bed in the morning, you can observe the ways you battle the reality of your life all day, everyday. You might think it’s unfair to deduce all that from a tangle of sheets and pillows, but it’s not an exaggeration.

The state of your bed is the state of your head. To be sure, the bed and its adornments are a mirror of your psyche, a reflection of your thoughts and feelings, the locus of your dreams and nightmares. But more than that, your bed actually is your mind. Like all phenomena that arise within your field of perception, your bed appears within your own consciousness. How do you respond to what appears?

By habit, we respond with dualistic judgment, dividing the whole of our experience into the few precious things we like and the greater load of what we dislike, accepting the former and rejecting the latter. We thus move through our lives as if maneuvering through enemy territory, attacked on all sides by the overwhelming forces of displeasure. It’s no wonder that we have the urge to crawl back under the covers as if defeated before the day even begins.

Luckily, this one piece of furniture not only serves to diagnose our ills, but to treat them as well. Transform your reality. Transcend dualistic thinking. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows. See for yourself if making the bed makes a difference in your head.

This article appears in the September 2013 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine.

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These are the last three days for Early Bird Registration for the Boise Plunge, one-day retreat on Oct. 5.

 

 

beyond gone

July 25, 2013 - 8:52am

This is the scene at Maezumi Roshi’s memorial site in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles after recent wildfires and mudslides.

The stones still stand, but much work remains to restore and protect this hillside, which is in the canyon home of the the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. Volunteer crews defended the property from destruction by fire, but soon after, rains triggered floods that engulfed much of the property and destroyed its sustainable systems for water and power. It will be rebuilt.

This land is where Maezumi Roshi planted his greatest faith. He aspired to create a major training center—an incubator—for the seeds of Dharma in the west. But it was untamed acreage, and the conversion of rocky timberland into a peaceful dwelling took more time, work, and money than one lifetime could muster.

“Little by little,” he would say.

He brought in a geomancer to choose the most favorable locations for the Buddha hall and the zendo, and then he began to dig. The scale of labor taxed blood and tears out of his students at the time. They told stories of the endless excavations, the patience spent as Maezumi hauled and hoisted rocks into arrangements that were inexplicable to their tired eyes. Now, the work goes on.

Each rock had a face, Maezumi said. He lifted and turned each rock until it faced forward. Until you could see it straight on.

You can still see the rocks straight on. Although I no longer call this mountain my home, my practice still resides here with Maezumi. If you’d like to help out even a little with repairing the damage, please consider a gift to the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. It will go to immediate use, and we will all benefit from your selflessness.