star light, star bright

Wishing all my dear family* & friends new and old,

a warm, safe & loving Holiday!

May the deep faith you bring to this celebration

bring you joy and laughter,

free and light.

Isn’t this wonderful?

Your life cannot be measured by any restricted ruler.

Taizan Maezumi Roshi

Namo Buddhaya
Namo Dharmaya
Namo Sanghaya

Thank you for practicing and supporting my practice with your presence.
I offer the merits of our relationship for all beings that they may find the light love and deep freedom of practice.


*Ed note: Hubby reminded me he’s my most loyal fan!  Hope that lump of coal in my stocking gets compressed overnight to a sparkly gem!  😉

maezumi roshi & this most important matter

Christopher James
December 24, 1918 – November 17, 2002

I’m grazing through Taizan Maezumi Roshi’s book, Appreciate Your LifeStraightforward.  Uncluttered.  Opening the book to random pages, I find clusters of sentences and paragraphs that have me pause, put down the book, and reflect.

Our life as the Way itself is what gives value to our lineage.

Today is my father’s birthday.  Christmas was a three-ring celebratory circus in our home because December 26 is my daughter’s birthday.  Through my childhood and into adulthood, we would start the season with a midnight feast for Dad’s birthday, followed by opening presents, and general mayhem that lasted into the early hours of Christmas Day itself.  This became very convenient when my brother and I developed relationships that extended the family.  We never had those unenviable battles about whose home would be featured in the annual Christmas dinner bun-toss.  When the Kid came along, it became a bit more complicated.  But we managed.  Midnight feast, lie around the next day, and dive into the birthday cake on the 26th, Boxing Day in Canada.

We are not just blindly believing in something; we raise such faith in the Way and make it work as our life.  What is handed down to us?  What is most precious?

After Dad passed away, the season seemed like a wonky three-legged bar-stool.  It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years already.  His things still clutter up my study; the silver cigarette holder, fountain pens (Parker only!), tennis trophies – physical evidence of his attachments.  The stuff of his life also clutters up my studies: love of good literature, fierce devotion, and incessant playfulness.  And the dark side: unpredictable pessimism, cold intractable withdrawal, and mercurial responses.

What is the vital and warm blood that runs through ourselves and through the lives of the buddhas and ancestors?  What IS the living essence of the lineage?

I’ve valued my heritage as he did.  His mother was a devout Buddhist who, in marrying his Catholic father, had to agree that her children would be raised Catholic.  My father became a devout Catholic whose faith sustained him through 60 years of marriage and his last five years of cancer treatments and recurrences.  His mother being the dragon lady of the family nevertheless saw to it that his legacy would be an intermingling of both faiths.  So, she took me into her charge, a move that one could only call “guerrilla re-conversion.”

Please take care of this most important matter.

Maezumi Roshi’s words caught me by surprise as I gazed out over the sun-jewelled ocean.  It is (also) my life as the Way which gives value to my lineage because in the bloodline* I am connected back to the source; it is not just a linear flow from Buddha through my teacher to me. The authenticity with which I live my life infuses my lineage with genuineness.  The strength of my practice empowers my lineage to carry the weight of transformation.  The bloodline flows in a circle beginning with our original nature and through all its forms – father, mother, children, friends, colleagues, all beings – and closes the circle back in our true self.

The lineage is simply this one circle…  It is complete.

Thank you for practicing,

– and Happy Birthday, Dad.  I hope you don’t mind if I take your share of the monstrous pig marzipan – again!


*When a zen student takes the precepts or jukai, the student prepares a lineage chart which starts with a circle representing the Buddha and then weaves through the names of teachers in the lineage who preceded the student. The second-to-last name is the student’s teacher and the last is the student’s name. Then the red line continues back to the Buddha, closing the circle of the Way.

zen of being the Kid

Our daughter is travelling through New Zealand.  It takes a lot of guts to set off for strange shores with nothing more than a knapsack and Netbook.  Then again she’s been trained well just being our Kid.

One summer day, she may have been about 7 or 8, we went for a walk through the fields on the farm.  With the time to talk about everything under that sun, she asked why the sky was blue, the grass green and what were those little red berries tucked under the alfalfa.

“Those?  I don’t know.  Let’s see?”  I plucked one and popped it in my mouth.  And toppled over.

She shrieked.

I opened one eye.

The rest is a story of how her school teachers for many years wondered how to call Children’s Aid to complain about my perverted sense of humour.  In my defense, my sense of humour was finely honed to protect against her father’s and her own twisted views on life.

triple ginger cookies

I like to think that through the trials of being our daughter, she has picked up a few survival skills.  Baking awesome desserts is one.  Writing incredibly well is another.

She posts on her blog – though not as frequently as her fans would like – missives from the North and South Island.  Interspersed with the posts are “The Becca Chronicles“.  Way too racy for a mother to read; but I do because that’s what mothers do.  Dad, on the other hand, just mumbles about the Southern way of managing things.

Crow’s Nest is one of her latest posts and it really caught me.  Of course, it’s about books… after a fashion.  Or maybe, more accurately it’s about the loss of dreams and wishes, the things we build and infuse with hope which then languish from lack of sustenance or fail from things out of our control.

I’m sharing it without her permission – but then I’m her momma and she’s the one who taught me to colour outside the lines.

The Kid’s Mom

The Kid decking the rose garden for me

driving zazen or Yes, Santa, there is a Virginia…

… and they could use with some snow plows for Christmas!

Frank  (his dharma name is too unwieldy in the Vietnamese so I default to his usual moniker) and I left for our first 3-week vacation in our 3 decades together.  We’ve been coming to this beach house for 27 years and the photographic history is filled with sun, smiles, sand and sea shells.  We are deeply creatures of habit: same place, same food, same routine.  The drive begins at home and ends on its first leg somewhere between Pennsylvania and Virginia.  There are still the in-jokes about the Scott 66 in Scranton and the motel which refused us room when we were first travelling with our four-month old daughter.  Had it been in December, there might have been a great story to tell.  But it was May and we were headed South to introduce his parents to the little Smudgit.

The obligatory visit done, we had headed east for the night at a beach where he had spent many a summer dreading the annual sunburn.  That was 1983 and these condos were just being put up.  The next year we came down, rented one, and continued every year since.  The first evening’s dinner is clam fritters and hush puppies.  After that, it’s catch as fresh catch can.  The days are stretched out from one end of the county to the other and each tourist trap, gift shop, artisan show room is combed for some treasure.

The beach is a long swath of sand, interrupted only by the usual flotsam and jetsam of life near a freighter lane.  Sometimes there are wave-washed traces of footprints from an occasional runner or an elderly couple out walking their dog.  We tend to come here on the off shoulder season.  Cheap lodgings and isolation.  We also give the locals a chance to shake their heads in that cultivated way only locals can when we step into the ocean.  This year, with the Kid in New Zealand for the holiday season, it seemed pointless to stay at home and put up the tree, bake cookies or sweets for just the two of us.  And it is officially an off shoulder season – though this may be so off the shoulder that a monk would blush.

Thanks to Kyle of the Reformed Buddhist we got a bit of a heads up on the weather for the drive down.  I must admit, I attributed the (pretend?) hysteria to his twisted sense of humour or just being Virginian and not really knowing what snow is.  I mean, I have cousins in the DC area – they drive an SUV that would make an oilfield weep – all just in case there’s a dusting of the white stuff!  By the time we were halfway through Pennsylvania, I began to worry a bit.  The closing angle of the storm made me wonder if we weren’t headed into the heart of one part of it given our speed and its trajectory.  We had planned on stopping in Scranton but that only meant delaying the inevitable drive through a different center of the storm the next day.

Such is life, I suppose.  There’s always a storm center to be met.  I raised my concerns forgetting with whom I have been living all these 3 decades.  If this were Kansas, we’d be twister stalking.  But it’s the North-East.  So when I said, “If we continue at our current rate, Hon, we’ll hit the blizzard in about three hours,” why was I surprised that he replied:

“Sounds good.  Haven’t run one of those in a few years.”

I admit we’ve tucked in a bit in the last few years.  A cancer scare for him, chronic pain for me, growing pains for the Kid.  Life, loss and letting go have pushed us into a cave that has become very comfortable.  A blizzard seemed just the right fix.  And a blizzard in a state where they don’t use snow plows could be like going to a 3-month retreat to turbo-boost practice!

We made it to Harrisonburg after hitting a wall of snow as we crossed into VA.  The last hour predicted by the GPS to get to Harrisonburg took only two.  The hotel was a suitable “Bates Inn” for the night and the waft of alcohol in the hallways from various styles of coping with being stranded added to the ambiance.  The next morning, despite warnings that the highway to Richmond was likely closed, we put the Japanese engineering, affectionately christened T-Rex, out.  A high wheel base, 4×4, and a motherly-growly 5-liter, V8 is most of what this girl needs in times like this.  The rest comes in the shape of a North Carolina son-of-auto-mechanic who grew up running the mountain roads for reasons best left unwritten.  The snow fall was light but the road to Richmond had not been plowed and the slide into the ditches were only distinguished by the cars and tractor trailers left there overnight.  Driving consisted of staying the middle path where possible and putting much faith in the forward momentum.  Yet, I was thrilled to be living the old times – even when the road to Richmond disappeared in a glare of white and the best I could do as navigator was to call out “left, more left, no! right, I meant right!”

The scenery was post-nuclear white and I desperately wanted to stop and take some shots of the pines curved under the weight of snow.  We had survived the Ice Storm of ’98 – fifteen days without electricity – and this was reminiscent of the day we managed to get down the lane way and onto the highway to the city.  Eerily still and solemn, even the female cardinal watching us by the roadside and the heron struggling to find familiar ground seemed pasted to the background.  Then we caught up with the traffic which had stopped for unknown reasons.  People tumbled out of their cars, likely more to escape the tense confines than to actually see what was happening.  We chatted with a couple of them and all agreed that whatever it was up ahead, there was nothing to do but wait.  It was a Snow Sangha.  Then one man, impatient and angry, insisted we all back up the way we had come and take the side road.  We politely turned down his suggestion but the (more) elderly couple beside us put their small truck in reverse and maneuvered back to the exit.  Less than 30 seconds later, the line of cars and trucks began to move.  I sent a prayer along that the couple had seen the change soon enough to not brave the alternate route which I saw earlier and had rejected as too hazardous even for T-Rex.

Five hours of driving zazen took us beyond the storm and into rain.  NBD after the two five-hour shifts of tactical breathing.

We are here.  Now.  Watching the pelicans trace sine waves over the surf and planning the nightly forage for food where the locals eat since the regular seasonal restaurants are closed.

I watched the sun set on the first night here.  Quick over this ocean.  With little regard for any longing that the day stay on just a moment more.

These pictures were taken less than a minute apart.  How quickly time passes – there is wisdom in not needing blizzards to remember that.

Thank you for practicing,