Karen Maezen Miller is, quite simply, my teacher. I have never asked her to be my teacher though so technically she’s not (in case she’s reading this). But to me, she is. That is because all the good changes that have come to pass in my heart and my mind in the last 3 years were brought about by reading her book Momma Zen. Her book brought me back to myself. I can’t explain it better than that.
I started by writing her a letter of thanks. She wrote back, to my great shock. Then, I started following her blog. Once I wrote a comment on one of her entries. It was written in a bit of despair and she wrote back “Sarah, gravity makes us fall down, gravity keeps us from falling off. Be at peace in your universe.” Be at peace in your universe, she said. It hit me like a gentle rain.
So in a tremendous leap of faith, I drove down to DC for a day to meet her in person. In a quiet yoga studio called Lil Omm my heart pounded as we began our meditation. I was terrified. Surely, I thought, as I sat on my borrowed cushion, I am doing this incorrectly. Surely they (totally absurd) are watching me and thinking how silly I look. But as the room grew quiet the birds began to chirp, I relaxed. When we were done Maezen asked if we could hear the birds chirping and I was relieved, because at first I thought well, if I can hear those birds, if I am paying attention to those birds, I must be doing it wrong. But if Maezen admitted to hearing them, surely I wasn’t doing it wrong. That day in her dharma talk I was floored. And I cried and cried and cried. She always does that to me. I don’t know how. She talks and it’s true. How is that even possible? That day she said that we would meet again. She didn’t say it to me, she said it to us all. And then I knew, somehow, we would meet again. And when the chance arose I took it. I made another enormous leap of faith and took a 3 day retreat in Grailville OH. Without knowing a soul I went to a silent retreat and meditated with total strangers. They are no longer strangers. And Maezen said again, that we would meet again. And we did.
I went back to Grailville again this year f0r a much shorter period. And as I came back to the room I felt a hole in my heart fill rapidly. It was the thing I was missing for the past year. Every time I have sat alone in my bedroom, that room has been in my heart. The memory of that place surrounded me in my practice. And there I was again, that room, that silence, that peace, and yes, that joy. Such joy I felt sitting down with my friends that morning. I would have given my left arm to stay and sit there for many more days. It was like sitting with the softest sweetest blanket thrown around my shoulders. I could not only feel the silence, but this year I could feel the love–the love we had for each other though we barely “know” each other, and the love that had brought us together. In that room with us, clear as day to me, were the loved ones of the people I sat with. The children, the husbands, the parents, the grandparents. To me they were entirely present. The faces and souls of all the love that brought us all to that place in time seemed to join and be right there in that room too. It freaked me out, to be honest. I’m not a particularly deep thinker. But it wasn’t a thought it was a feeling. The love had created this palpable group of humans together in a room. Trippy. Shocking, really.
Anyway, back to Maezen. She has a way of cutting to the heart of things. Her dharma talk this year was….again, shocking: shocking in its unscripted simplicity and truth: why do we sit? Oh my, why do we sit? She said in that talk, we sit to face the wall. We sit to face ourselves. She said that we go through our days saying “shhhh!!!!! It’s too loud! Shhh!!!!” And in sitting, we realize that all that noise is coming from us. I was flattened by that. Like a thunderbolt her words hit me. Will there ever be a time when the uncut truth doesn’t make the ground shake? I guess not. We sit to face the wall.
All that noise is really…..just…..me. What’s with all this truth business? It would be a lot easier and more convenient to not be slapped in the face with truth every which way I turn. In a span of an hour Maezen turned stuff upside down with that whole truth business. How does she do that???
Anyway, this year as I sat staring at that beautiful wall in exactly the same spot I sat a year before, I could hear myself so loudly. SHHH!!! I said to myself. SHH!!
As a mother of 3 children I can’t even count how many times a day I have said “shhhh!!!” But really, I have been talking to myself. And in sitting in the astonishingly silent room I was able to hear just how loud it is in my head. In the room you can hear a pin drop. But in my head it sounded like a herd of cattle. Maezen pinpointed for me just how much I need to sit. She made me realize that when I am shushing my children, I really should be shushing myself. She made me realize that practice is a living breathing necessity for me.
None of this is particularly convenient. But every time I cross paths with Maezen she wakes me up. And I can’t go back to sleep. She has opened my eyes to a reality I never knew could exist….she has helped me realize how beautiful, how shockingly beautiful life can be if I just…..shhhhh.
So I will shhh. And read her new book Paradise in Plain Sight, Lessons from a Zen Garden. And I hope you read it too.