By the time I finished reading Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, the bottom corners of more than a dozen pages were tagged. Kernels of wisdom had captured my attention, and awaited my return.
Zen priestess author Karen Maezen Miller blends stories of the everyday duties of family life with gentle teachings about self-awareness. Here’s an example of one---funny and profound—that drew me back into her book again and again:
“Karen’s making eggs!” It’s true. My mother and father both lived to see me make a pan of scrambled eggs. The lived a bit longer after eating them, too.
I don’t want to make too big a flap about the merits of cooking. I merely marvel at the everyday lesson of seeing a construction you so earnestly assemble vanish in a pfffft.
My pancakes are relatively harmless; the most troublesome things we accumulate are the ideas of what will make us happy and fulfilled. They always leave us hungry for more. ... How much success, how much worth, insulates any of us from the twin torments of inadequacy and impermanence?
Oh, how we know it, and yet, can we free ourselves for even one day from our appetite for more? We can if we study the culinary secrets of monks and grandmothers. Not many of us do, and so we miss—or arrive tragically late at—the one meal our life is serving us.
In the Zen tradition, monastic training positions consist of the very same things we might reluctantly do at home every day—cooking, cleaning, and yard work—yet in practice they are positions requiring great depth and maturity. The cook is on the crest of the heap. Lives literally rest in his hands. Enlightenment comes down to a bowl of rice. Having the good life can be so simple when you savor the one you have.
And then I noticed that Karen Maezen Miller was a Real Person who would Really Tweet You Back. So one day I tweeted a little gratitude for an a-ha! I’d gleaned from one of her newsletters. I said how I wished all of her workshops weren’t so far away.
And she tweeted me back. As a Zen teacher, she pretty much had to, because I’d “wished” for something, and wishing, it seems, is not very Zen. So she sent me a gentle correction, that led to planning, that led to Athens Conscious Parents agreeing to host Karen right here in Athens so we could have our very own workshop.
You, dear one, are invited. A week from Saturday, on October 22, Karen will present Love Beyond Limits: The Spiritual Practice of Parenting. It’s from 1pm-4pm at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens. Tickets are $40/person or $70/couple. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Northeast Georgia Food Bank’s Athens Food 2 Kids effort to provide food to schoolchildren who are in danger of going hungry over the weekends.
Karen’s workshop will include a wisdom teaching, a brief meditation (no experience required), an informal discussion, and a book signing. (Her books Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold will be available for purchase at the event.)
Looking at my well-worn copy of Hand Wash Cold, I’m comforted by the snapshots of simple moments held within its pages. Through Karen’s journey, one that has traversed “youthful ambition and self-absorption, … a broken marriage, and the steady calm of a so-called ordinary life,” it becomes easier and easier to accept my own path as just right. Feeding the children, washing clothes for the family, marveling at how the vacuum transforms the cob-webby corners of our home—that is profound work indeed.
I hope to meet you at the workshop. Karen does, too.
Jennifer Derryberry Mann, editor of Belly Button Bliss: A Small Collection of Happy Birth Stories, blogs about navigating the labyrinth of motherhood one breath at a time at Mamahhh.com. Her Nurture + Frolic column appears biweekly on Athens Patch.