How Not to Become a Zen Master

“That’s right. Blame it on Zen,” my neighbor, Grace, says.

With Zen, I just don’t hold onto names or nouns anymore was what I was thinking, aloud it seems.

Grace is a Zen master not because she is 90 but because she is contemplative in all ways. She was born to it. And she attends tai chi twice a week. Her whole life is a practice. She would never label herself a Zen master.

We were in the middle of a project that began simply enough but soon involved another neighbor. Specifically, I opened a package that was not mine.

The package was one of four I was expecting but as you can see, there are five packages. The shocking pink garment stunned but it was the thank you card that intrigued–one American meme of gratitude after another, the length of a paragraph.

I read the card aloud to Grace.

“Which company?”

“Doesn’t say.”

All these packages were dumped in the mailroom of our apartment complex on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. They were there for the taking and so I did.

It was not until I straightened the cardboard boxes Grace had so beautifully broken down with her seriously sharp knife that I saw the name on the box of great gratitude was not mine.

And now I was writing a card of explanation to a woman whose name I kept forgetting. Grace selected the blank note card, rejecting the polar bear in favor of the fir of a mountain. Appropriate for any occasion.

“Well, when you decide to get dressed, I’ll take you.” Grace was sitting on my leather loveseat, waiting, with her small knife lying next to her.

She wasn’t taking me anywhere in a red polo shirt so large and so long it was more skirt than shirt, nearly covering my khaki shorts. The logo read Elder Affairs.

I finish writing the card and read it to Grace. “That’s classy,” she says.

“I want her to know what I did in case she’s not there when we return the package.” And with that, I pick up the flat cardboard box that is not addressed to me.

“You’re not going to tape that back up, are you?”

“Trust me, Grace. Perception is everything. I’m admitting my guilt but I’m returning a taped package.”

Just another of the many ways I avoid becoming a Zen master. I was born to it.

KMHuberImage; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge; Florida; USA

And so, we began our journey to Grace’s car. I with my three-wheeled walker and the re-wrapped package tightly cornered into my walker’s lower bag, and Grace with her walking stick in one hand and under her other arm, four cardboard boxes now flat.

Grace decided who took what. She is Sicilian. We do things her way.

We drove halfway across the apartment complex before I told Grace, “I forgot the card.” We look at one another and then, Grace turns the car around.

Again, we drive across the apartment complex and we score the nearest accessible parking spot, the one near the elevator. As we ride to the second floor, I try to channel Grace, but I am who I am. Still, my focus remains mountain.

I tell the woman what happened, as it happened, all the while holding her package. She does not take it from me.

“Do you know how many people would not even bother to do this?”

I wasn’t clear. She doesn’t realize I opened her package. I should not have taped up the box.

As I look into the kind face of the woman accepting her package, I am determined not to burst into her life but I tell her my story, again, with profuse apologies and my concern about the boxes being left unattended.

“You’re an angel,” she says. I assure her I am not and introduce Grace who smiles and stays silent. We leave.

As we drive back, Grace says, “You know, I think she would have difficulty getting to the mail room.”

“I’m no angel.”

Grace laughs.

On this day I have Grace, and for that, there are not enough expressions of gratitude in any form.

Of Arugula, Alarms, and Available Lenses

Mostly, I meet the energy of the day. What other lens is available? It’s not always what I want, the energy or the view, so sometimes, I look elsewhere.

These are the moments I am the center of the universe, as if I were a match for the energy of any day. Sometimes, the reminders that I am not are fierce.

Like my apartment filling with smoke or my garbage disposal clogged with arugula, sprouts, and spinach gone sour. Who wants to be present then?

I ignore the mundane at my peril. I set myself up.

KMHuberImage; Wood Stork Fishing

The “smoke” in my apartment is a slight exaggeration, more like opening the freezer on a summer’s day. So, vapors. Enough to set off the smoke alarm, which did get my attention. Some of it, anyway.

I opened my front door, certain it was the fire alarm for the building. No one else was in the corridor.

“I wonder if anyone else hears this,” I say, realizing I am the culprit, as my smoke alarm continues to go off. Quickly, I shut my front door.

It is true the vapors were only in my living room, not in the bedroom where I work. There was nothing to notice other than the faint aroma coming from a small saucepan cooking pasta (gluten-free because I must not because I want).

And I had set a timer for the pasta. It had not gone off, just the smoke alarm. Nor was the pasta burned. There were drippings in the burner pan, obviously oil from?? Fresh so perhaps from the morning’s baking. Cleanup was quick.

No memory for moments I am not present, and sometimes, absentia becomes a boomerang. Something starts, and I am unaware, ignoring the energy I am. Mind elsewhere makes for thoughtlessness, fertile ground for boomerangs.

Such as arugula, sprouts, and spinach meshing with a green scrubber in the garbage disposal. Rarely, any of my food meets the garbage disposal but again, awareness.

This time, arugula getting shoved to the back of the refrigerator, along with the sprouts. In my mind they were still fresh–I had plans for them–alas, that was not the energy of the day. The handful of spinach was sour.

Nor was I particularly present as I shoved the greens into the garbage disposal. Promptly, the sink filled with swirling, green water, a whirlpool. What was to clog? Arugula, apparently.

I have battled with this garbage disposal so my kitchen has its own plunger. Such force in suction, the clinging and the letting go. So it was to be with the arugula, finally separating from the green scrubber, indisposed but not yet disposed, only drained.

In some past moment, the green scrubber found its way down the garbage disposal. What choice for the arugula except to wrap itself round the scrubber? The disposal was doing what it does. Same for the plunger.

Not sentient beings, those things, but all at my whim, like the energy I bring into the space of every day. Will I look through the lens available or stare elsewhere in longing? And when I look away, what change will I effect?

No doubt, it will find me.

KMHuber Image; St. Mark's Refuge, FL; mirror

Zen and the Art of Girl Boners

“Does dirt have calories?” was my introduction to August McLaughlin six years ago. I had written a blog post about binge eating after reading August’s struggle with anorexia and  binge eating. She nearly died.

I have been following her work ever since and along the way, we became friends. She had a great bulldog named Zoe, and beagle Cooper was still with me then.

Those were the days before Girl Boner® the blog, the podcasts, and now, the book, Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment, a movement in the making.

I’ve listened to most of the podcasts on Girl Boner Radio, maybe all, and not just because I learn something every episode no matter the subject. If I need to get my Zen on, I listen to a GB podcast.

Each episode is as diverse as we are. GB celebrates being human, immersing ourselves in the experience that is life, not confined to one gender, one color, one sexual identity. Sexual empowerment.

Sounds Zen to me, for an open mind is the nature of being:

Beneath the mountain, a stream flows
On and on without end.
If one’s Zen mind is like this
Seeing into one’s own nature
Cannot be far off. 

Zen master Hakuin, 1686 – 1769

To know our nature is to know our sexuality, and that is what GB is all about. August and I talk about GB, Zen, and quite often, our gratitude for Pema Chodron. Seems to me our conversation always comes back around to sexuality and our joy in it.

August: It took me years and a lot of struggle to realize that I had shame around my sexuality and the serious ramifications of that. I was in treatment for a severe eating disorder when I had an (a-ha) epiphany that changed my life: I’d had and enjoyed sex, but I wasn’t sexually empowered. I’d barely even talked about sex. The simple notion that our sexuality is a beautiful, natural part of ourselves, simmering below the surface—for those of us who’ve learned we can’t be “good” and sexual beings at the same time—can open us up to richer, fuller lives.

To change is to begin where we are, accepting that change is the constant. What is more difficult than opening doors we keep closed to everyone, including ourselves. What is more basic than our sexuality?

August: I knew when I first launched Girl Boner as a blog series five years ago that it was a journey, but I had no idea where it would lead. I wanted to provide a fun and positive place to celebrate and explore women’s sexuality. At the same time, sadly, we can’t explore female sexuality or LGBTQIA+ sexuality without addressing darker subject matter, such as trauma and abuse.

 I’m really fortunate in that readers responded so personally and quickly and haven’t stopped—same for listeners of Girl Boner Radio. For me, listening has been the most important aspect of building Girl Boner from blog series and community to much more. When we open our hearts and ears, what’s needed and desired becomes super obvious. More important, the same applies to listening to ourselves and our sexual desires.

 And if we cannot look at what is basic in us how do we open ourselves to relationship? I cannot remember a Girl Boner Radio podcast that does not explore the idea of looking within and being okay with who we find.

August: More than anything, I want people to know that they are not broken or flawed. However they experience and express their sexuality is more than okay. It’s beautiful and worthy and embraceable.

 Our sexuality is a gorgeous part of each and every one of us and committing to a path of sexual empowerment invites greater joy, pleasure, and authenticity. We might even have a ton of fun in the process.

And that is what the book, Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment, explores, embracing and experiencing our sexuality with joy and authenticity. It is such a refreshing read and conversational, chock full of stories and research so vital for sexual empowerment. It is not your usual human sexuality book. It is unique, a conversation about sexual empowerment.

And as it turns out, there is even a bit more.

August: I haven’t yet announced it officially, but I have a second book releasing on August 7th as well. (So excited!) It’s called Girl Boner: A Guided Journal for Self Awareness.

 To me, journaling is just as important for inviting pleasure and authentic sexuality into our lives as any sex toy or how-to class. In some ways, expressing ourselves freely, without concern of judgment from others, is the most important step we can take. The main Girl Boner book has journaling prompts throughout. Girl Boner Journal takes this element further, so people can dig even deeper. I’ll share more specifics in my newsletter soon, should anyone wish to sign up.

And if you have not clicked on any of the links included in the post, here they are:

Pre-order Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment (releasing August 7, 2018):

Pre-Order Girl Boner: A Guided Journal for Self Awareness (Releasing August 7, 2018):

Girl Boner Radio

August’s newsletter:

August’s website:

If we learn who we are, we accept our nature, and we’re on our way.

 

It’s Not “A Thing” Unless…

I have been living beyond my means, again, which means a lull in life, writing becalmed. I’m shipwrecked, dogged daily by whether to stay with the ship, relive the storm that has passed, or let it go.

I know that life is one experience after another, including shipwrecks. When aground, why not explore where I am rather than reliving the wreck. I get that now, at almost 66. “It’s not a thing” unless I make it one.

I cannot claim this brilliance as my own. This sliver of light belongs to a trusted friend, cheerful in all weathers, especially during my storms. She’s my lighthouse.

I set to salvage operations.

Most of my writing is beyond saving, easily recycled. Momentarily, I anguish over the gap between blog posts, once an ego favorite for shaming. I made it “a thing” for years.

What seems salvageable are pieces of a pirate story, although grounded in place rather than plot–as always–as well, a pitch for a resistance essay that is all thought and not yet a word.

Neither is yet a place on a map still to be drawn.

I’m fascinated at the idea of writing a pirate story, which does not mean it will end up being a pirate story. I am not good at writing fiction. I know that. For years, every time I failed it became “a thing,” a true tempest. Shipwreck after shipwreck.

And then it wasn’t “a thing” anymore. I stopped reliving the storm and discovered that my elaborate exploration of setting was its own story, and the map began to reveal its treasures.

Not all my expeditions take place on the screen. Sometimes, I visit actual lands, like Spanish Hole, where some 500 years ago at least one exploration for gold turned into a quest for survival.

Familiar story, if not exactly about pirates, but who has not sought one treasure only to find another? Is that a pirate story?

Where the St. Marks River flows into the Gulf of Mexico is Spanish Hole, its secrets intact. And that is its own kind of treasure, too. Like writing a pirate story. Who knows what it may not reveal.

As I was writing this post my dad sent me photos, as he often does. This one is from his cabin on Treasure Island. And I realized, I had set sail.

It is not as if a life lens comes with a ready-made life. It’s just a lens.

Thanks, Leonard Huber, for the view. ❤

Of Bombs, Washing Machines, and Missions

In the early hours of Saturday in Syria, bombs fall, a first world response to do as we say and not as we do or else. Mission accomplished, whatever that means.

Later that same morning, my washing machine fills with water and stops, refusing to start the wash cycle no matter what I say or do. Sometime later, the repairmen (it takes two) tell me it is a Monday problem, at which time they will return to empty my washer of water and clothes to see if the machine is worth fixing.

I know a bit more about washing machines than bombs but not enough about either. Although I am at fault in evaluating one with the other, I can no more afford to replace a washing machine than I can offer a solution to world peace.

Why is that?

Somewhere in the truth of that false equivalency is an answer on whose surface I skate every day, hoping it will hold until it doesn’t. Like Saturday.

Prior to the arrival of the repairmen, and perhaps coincidentally, I meet one of my neighbors in the hallway of my apartment complex. I am on my way to guide the repairmen to a parking place. In actuality, none are available for all are assigned, some to people who do not live here but occasionally visit.

I am among the lucky who have an assigned space, by virtue of being among those who have lived here longest but I know that assigned parking does not mean having a place. Freely, the phrase “parking Nazis” is bandied about but no one is quite sure who they are. Just that they are.

In my cell phone conversation with the repairman I do not explain everything but I do mention parking Nazis in hopeful emphasis, for I have yet to be a cause of parking concern and don’t want this to be that day, too.

As is, mine is not to meet the repairmen in the parking lot.

“Aren’t you a Buddhist?”

It is Vicky, hers is a smoker’s voice, husky and helped by tubes attached to the oxygen cylinder lying in the basket of her walker. Her dog, Teddy, tethered to its handlebars.

“Well, I see myself more as Zen.” Why I never just say “yes” to being Buddhist, I do not know. I just won’t.

“What does that mean?” Vicky asks, wary that I might actually try to explain. I can all but see the amount of oxygen increase in her transparent nose tubes.

KMHuberImage; oneness; St. Mark's Refuge FL

She is not looking to understand the many schools of Buddhism (as if I do) much less the distinction of labels. Just like me, she has only her kind of love to give, and on this day she is offering it, doing her best to ask about something she knows nothing about other than it is important to me.

“It means open to everyone.” And for once, I stop there.

“So, do you do tai chi?” And we find our way to conversation.

If I hear her, I will find something to give in response. Nothing magical, just helpful. She’s in so much pain, much of it physical, and I tell her about my gentle yoga practice. It does not take much to begin a practice, just a DVD I tell her, and she is relieved. Maybe it will be a way for her. Maybe.

While Vicky and I talk, the repairmen are in my apartment examining all the parts of my washing machine, where distinctions matter. What began on Saturday must be met again on Monday. As always, mission ongoing.

Only later do I remember the parking Nazis.

The Best Feeling Ever

I always wander home, eventually, ever surprised, once again, that no matter where I roam, I am always home. “Wherever you go, there you are.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). The hearth of home. Joy.

Yes, joy. No, really. Joy, in all of its rejoicing, delight, exultation. The best feeling ever. It’s always there. I just don’t realize it. I get lost. Why is that?

When does home become a foreign place? It doesn’t, of course. It is I who become a stranger in a new land, when ideal replaces real. When joy becomes only a brilliant light, unsustainable. Unreal.

Joy is not a momentary flash, all show. Joy is pure prana, the energy of existing. It is home. The trappings and trimmings change but joy seeps through any moment, no matter how dark.

Joy fills the cracks of experience, pulls the pieces together and seals them with grace. That is the hearth of home, no matter how the house might appear. Within are the rooms of a lifetime. The exploration never ends.

Still, I wander from time to time, and it is in impermanence that I wander– when change arrives–I go in search of what is gone but don’t yet accept. It is a fool’s errand but I go anyway.

Once I realize I have been running, I stop. That’s the easy part. It is at home that I am face-to-face with the change that sent me running. At a glance, it is minimal. New disc herniation at the base of my neck, a gnawing stomach in protest of ongoing chemical intake. Low sodium and fluid retention issues, maybe heart involvement.

The leitmotif of autoimmune-spinal cord disease, ever involving all of the body. Any newness wears off as soon as it is discovered. Where is the joy? Nothingness, groundlessness, may warm the cockles of my Zen heart but my humanness cannot help but hold cold.

No, I do not feel joy in this moment. I have to trust it is there, nothing more and nothing less, as I pick up the pieces, restructure my home, shake up one routine after another. Rearrangement, new structure.

It is very like a jigsaw puzzle. I know what the picture looks like. That doesn’t change. It’s the rearrangement of the pieces, the energy of grace, that gives me shape. I sink into my surroundings, the room that I occupy more than any other.

It’s comfortable here, my hearth of home, and every time I return I wonder why I ever left. My electric, adjustable queen-size bed, room enough for notes, naps, food, and stand for my desktop keyboard. The comfort eases the ache of arthritic joints, supports my spine and damaged spinal cord. Sturdy and soft, I am ever grateful for home.

From here, I reach out to the world and it calls back. Connection, the experiences of a lifetime. Easy to shut down but in absence, connection changes. Impermanence is inevitable; it does not pause because I do. Easier to stay connected, experience after experience, no matter what.

All of us have only our kind of love to give but I wonder if we know it’s invaluable, pure joy, light no matter what. Life is not limited to one lens, one look, one way. Maybe that’s what I find most difficult.

I don’t want to sit in the eye of any storm anymore because I know to come through is to be changed. That is the way of life in this dimension. It’s not so much what I lose or who I no longer am. Not anymore. It is change itself. That’s new.

A voice from within welcomes me to aging, which I cannot escape, either. There is a lilt to the voice that I recognize as joy and the grace of experience. They whisper trust, and I do. After all, they are always with me.

The caverns of my mind go dark but not completely. There are cracks in every experience. It is the light that wins, as a friend told me, which is not to say living in the light is ever easy. It’s not, nor is it meant to be.

For most of the last six weeks, friends have kept me busy, some on Words with Friends. Slivers of light, both friends and words. It was not writing but it was words. And a blog post here and there. No thing and no one ever stays but each is an experience, all mine.

KMHuberImage; writing

Each time in my wandering, I wonder if I will continue to write. There will come such a day when I won’t, and it is closer. It surprises me that I accept that so readily but I do. With each illness flare-up, I am less, physically. Winter is hard, even a Florida winter without a “snow event.”

A corneal abrasion in my left eye shut down my sight for a while. Corneal abrasions are common but this one occurred in a mishap at a vision clinic and nothing about this incident stayed in the realm of the usual.

Never one to stray far from the written word, I listened to audiobooks, fiction and non. In reading Fire and Fury, I was reminded of what it is to sit through yet another storm of our collective chaos but unless we immerse ourselves in this experience, we will never move through it. The longer we look away, the harder it will be to face who we are.

And in that, I find my way home, again, replete with new life lens, healed corneal abrasion, and if not new vision at least light enough to string together sentences, keep connections, and find ones anew. Still others yet to discover.

Everywhere I go, there I am.

Thanks to Leonard Huber for the Seattle area traffic images, both light and dark.

 

 

 

The Grace of Acceptance

I continually grasp at life, clinging to what will not be held. I want to lie in the arms of acceptance, wrap myself in its grace.

Because once in a while I get a glimpse of Buddha nature, the backdrop against which the chaos of our everyday lives plays out.

I want to define what defies definition.

I suppose I just want to know where I stand, to which Pema Chödrön would remind me that only in groundlessness do I find my center. And that’s where acceptance is too, I think.

There is a lot of worry in that word, acceptance. I know it is a long moment and has nothing to do with approval, agreement, or acquiescing. Acceptance is living the every day with grace, embracing the daily risk.

That requires acceptance of circumstances–as they are for as long as they are–with “unconditional friendliness” toward ourselves. Who we are, as we are. That is Maitri. That is grace.

It moves us to deeds we once thought impossible. It unlocks us, and each day brings us “new grace” as Eberhard Arnold tells us.

I am a risk taker. Won’t settle for satisfactory. Never have. That doesn’t sound unconditionally friendly, does it? It sounds more like someone in search of a key for a lock.

Yet, I am not inflexible. I know the future is limitless. It is mine to explore the full experience of being alive. I really try to do that, no matter how many times my life lens changes.

I am most engaged when I’m completely present to my task, immersed in risk without ever a thought to it. Mine is not to control but to experience.  Without fail, the more groundless I am, the more centered I feel.

While it seems impossible at first,

you soon recognize that with everything

there is a point of balance

and you just have to find it.

(Amy Tan)

I suspect this is how we effect change everywhere–in tiny touches–surprising feats of strength all on their own. They allow us to enlarge our sense of things.

Far too often, I get lost in the minutia.

There is an oft-told story about a Hindu master and his apprentice who–I think–had a similar problem. The Hindu master sends the apprentice to purchase salt.

He tells the apprentice to put some salt into a glass of water and drink it. The apprentice says the water is bitter. The master agrees.

They go to a lake where the master tells the apprentice to throw in a handful of salt. The Hindu master instructs the apprentice to drink; he says the water tastes fresh.

Life is bitter the Hindu master says, “pure salt.” The taste of life depends upon whether we sip it from a glass or a lake. “The only thing [we] can do is … enlarge [our] sense of things.… become a lake.” (Version of Hindu story from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening).

This is why I meditate, to sip from something larger than life. Not to escape its bitterness but to become a lake, as comfortable with chaos as I am with constancy. To live where grace resides, in impermanence.

St. Mark's Refuge; Gulf of Mexico; KMHuberImage

Whether we confine ourselves to a single glass of water or become a lake depends upon how “friendly” we are with ourselves, whether or not we drink in our confusion as readily as our sanity.

Accepting that what fuels our fire creates the circumstances of our lives. May we live in the grace of that acceptance.

Life is like that.

We don’t know anything.

We call something bad;

we call it good.

But really we just don’t know.

Pema Chödrön