I spent my Saturday learning from Karen Maezen Miller, author of Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold. Karen is a Zen Buddhist Priest as well as a wife, mother, and teacher. The retreat was held in the Garden Room of the Great Oaks Manor (in Richmond, TX), which is a beautiful 3-story Southern Colonial home serving as a bed and breakfast. The Art of Workshops offers many classes throughout the year. It was run smoothly, the coffee/snacks/lunch was delicious, and there was even a parting gift. (You know I’ll be back there for The Art of Creativity and The Art of Words!)
How did I hear of this, you ask. At some point a couple years ago, a friend recommended that I read Momma Zen. It helped me tremendously in allowing myself to accept (1) how my life had just radically changed due to my daughter’s arrival (Karen jokes that a child is like a flesh-eating disease), (2) that the current state of things is how it is meant to be, and (3) that it’s perfectly acceptable to let go of my own expectations of perfection. I began following Karen’s blog, Cheerio Road, and when she mentioned that she would be coming to Houston for this retreat, I knew I had to be there no matter what.
I was reminded of an important lesson. Karen told us that trying to avoid something causes it to chase us more. I told her that my daughter is constantly asking for my attention and while I think I do give her what she needs most of the time, I am also often saying essentially “not right now.” I’ll color with you right after I put in this load of laundry, or send this one e-mail, or do these dishes. I learned that attention is the most concrete expression of love. I think what scares me most, what prevents me from putting my iphone (or whatever else) aside and just being with her, is letting go of everything else in my mind. Before my daughter was even born, I was panicking about how I would fill my days because sitting and playing with a baby all day sounded like torture. That stillness. I am running from it just as much as I yearn for it. (Karen also says that wherever you are in your life learning, when you have a baby you jump to the front of the class! The selflessness and patience required is mindblowing.) She suggested just being present with her for an hour (no more or less) and perhaps that’s all my daughter will need. Worth a try.
I also learned that in order to rest your mind, you have to first recognize that you’ve lost it (and boy have I lost my mind lately!), that you’re preoccupied with your thoughts much of the time rather than experiencing what’s right in front of you. I am someone who has trouble doing nothing. Paradoxically, you must first empty your mind in order to fill it. To see, you have to sweep out the cobwebs that block your vision. It was amazing how alert we all were while listening to Karen. We were all right there, listening to every teaching, focusing on our breath… our minds open and ready.
One thing Karen told us is that there are no coincidences; there are no accidents. Therefore, wherever you are is where you’re meant to be. I was definitely where I needed to be on Saturday. You are taught whatever you need to know in this moment. We are led where we need to go next. Just let things unfold.
So mindfulness… basically it means paying attention to what is happening for you right now. Pay attention to what you are experiencing with your senses. All we have is here and now. The past is over and often evokes pain. The future hasn’t arrived and often evokes fear. We have a choice of what to attend to now and what to think about. Focus on that and let the rest fall away. It will be there when it’s time to attend to that. Trust in that. Breathe in. Breathe out. Inhale. Exhale. Fill up. Let go. Keep breathing through the discomfort.
In addition to the learning, I enjoyed taking pictures of the grounds at the bed and breakfast.