Creeping Toward Commitment

For much of my life I’ve wandered on a spiritual journey without knowing quite where to go. One of the paths I began to explore in the late 1990s was meditation. I took a Vipassana meditation class, read books, and occasionally pretended to be serious about it. In 2003 I began this blog in part because of this interest (and in part because I had a therapy practice), although in my “About This Blog” section I made it clear I was not a Buddhist, lest readers feel mislead or take issue with my less-than-Buddhist perspectives. Having plummeted down the path of conservative Christian fundamentalism twice in my life — and driven loved ones away in the process — I’ve been reluctant and cautious about further pursuits.

In 2006, out of nowhere (and everywhere) a woman contacted me after reading my blog. She had read about my attempts to get pregnant, the miscarriages, the misgivings. She had recently published a book and asked if I would be interested in a complimentary copy. I said yes, although I couldn’t bring myself to read it for quite awhile. Once I was pregnant with Claire, I did read it, devoured it with gratitude and gusto, and I repeatedly returned to that book for comfort and wisdom.

That woman’s name is Karen Maezen Miller. She is a Zen Buddhist priest, a wife, and a mother. I credit her with helping me remain sane and growing into motherhood. After Claire was born and began to exhibit colic, I was panicked and beside myself with agony. Claire wasn’t sleeping. Hub was doing his best but he wasn’t sleeping either. I was terrified I’d do something wrong. Many emails sailed between us — me writing laments, she responding with love. And even though we’d never met, Maezen offered a gift: to come up one weekend and help out with Claire so Hub and I could rest. We talked on the phone to discuss it, and it turned out that this was enough at the time; just knowing the offer was sincere and standing and hearing her voice in the wilderness helped.

I’d seen Maezen subsequently three times; in 2008 she and her daughter visited me and Claire briefly just before Claire’s first birthday; in 2009 at the Mother’s Symposium and 2010 at a one-day retreat. I read her second book. I pondered her thoughts about the importance of having a teacher. And finally, last weekend, I had my first weekend ever away from home and Claire. I drove to Sierra Madre to spend the weekend with Maezen and her family; I also attended a beginner’s meditation class and a dharma talk at Hazy Moon Zen Center. And there it dawned on me that I already have a teacher — Maezen! — and that without realizing it I’d become a student.

It is time to commit. It is time to practice. So I’d like to introduce my new best friend, the “cushion of kindness,” as Maezen calls it. The technical name is zafu. And when I sit on my zafu, this is called zazen. This is where the revolution takes place. Facing a blank wall, alone, silent, counting my breaths, and being awake.

new best friend

I am not yet in a position of making a formal commitment. That will come when it comes. It is not lost on me that one of my favorite quotes, which I encountered in 1998, is by Hui-Neng, a Zen monastic from the 7th/8th century. “The secret is within your self.” It’s been there all along, waiting for me to look, and see.

The other watershed quote that inspired me to move from Syracuse to Austin in the early 90s was by Sir Edmund Hilary, organizer of a Mount Everest Expedition, and it too rings familiarly as I observe what is changing. The snippet that motivated me I have italicized, but the entire quote is priceless.

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in oneโ€™s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his/her way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goetheโ€™s couplets: What ever you can do, or dream you can; begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.โ€

My next trip to Sierra Madre will probably be later in the summer or fall, when they offer a three-day retreat at the center. So, hello world! My name is Kathryn and I am, at last, “abuddha” (awake).

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8 Comments on “Creeping Toward Commitment”

  1. donna Says:

    Namaste! ;^)

  2. Kathy G Says:

    K! Such a great post! Raw and vulnerable, and you, yourself, being transformed into a a teacher for us!

    I acknowledge you for this journey.. and if you don’t mind, I will offer something.

    From when you and I were friends going thru our SEU program together, I found myself drawn to you as you and are are a lot alike (or were then, I can only speak to then ๐Ÿ™‚ regarding our commitments and how strongly we feel when we do commit to something. I’m still hearing that here in your post, which is not bad, but here is what I have learned over the years (and am still trying to put to use here and there)..

    Don’t let it mean anything. OR Just let it be as it is.

    What I mean is, you can commit to something today if it’s something you are called to do, drawn to, which seems the case here. Giving yourself fully as you explore may give you deeper insights to your journey. If you find that it’s not calling to you tomorrow, next month, 10 years from now, you can complete that piece and declare something else.

    For myself, it sounds a lot like my religious journey.. being brought up Catholic but not feeling called to be part of that community now. It’s hard to commit to something else as I don’t “feel” a connection in other places, but I can honestly say I haven’t truly committed to the journey of finding out what DOES work! It’s obvious to me in your speaking that you have committed.

    I say, just declare it, throw your hat over the wall and see what happens! I know more questions will come, but more answers will follow.

    Since I’ve met you and have seen you on this path, I always “saw you” as a Buddhist. I’m not sure why, but I get feelings about people and that was one of them. I saw you struggling with “traditional religion” and knowing who you were, I just didn’t see that fit.

    I, for one, LOVE Buddhism and I have several friends that practice. I’m not connected to all the parts of it, but thru my friends and my yoga practice, I can see where I’m drawn and what makes sense to me.

    Thank you for sharing your journey and I hope to hear more!

    Namaste ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Kathryn Says:

    Thank you both! Kathy, thanks for your heartfelt response. I hear what you’re saying… and one thing about Zen Buddhism is that it’s about being with what IS. It’s easier said (and conceptualized) than done, which is why it is a practice. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Nichole Says:

    I love these words. I think that you are such a beautiful person and I thank you for writing this. I love Maezen too. I met her in Houston for a talk at the Rothko Chapel after having adored her words and wisdom for years. It was one of the most awakening moments of my life to get to hug and listen to her in person.

    Motherhood has been one of my biggest spiritual practices and “eye openers” and I appreciate Maezen’s and Maezumi Roshi’s wisdom that “your life is your practice”. I try to sit as often as possible but having a 2.5 year old and one due July 5th makes that, well, harder. She brings me peace realizing that your life off the cushion is as important as on it. I gotta go with the flow and let it roll organically and that is also why I love your words.

    When I first read this I thought you lived in Austin too! Oops. Maybe one day I’ll get to hug you too.

  5. Kathryn Says:

    Nichole, I look forward to the day we can share a hug!

  6. acm Says:

    exciting adventures — even giving yourself permission to Go Elsewhere for a while is a big one! congrats on all the possibilities; will enjoy hearing some of the things you find along the road…

  7. Jan Says:

    What a wonderful new adventure: discovering what you already know. I’m so happy for you.

  8. Liora Says:

    Beautiful post! Maybe just commit to taking it day by day? Whenever I commit to something long-term, it’s like there’s immediate rebellion. Eventually I’m afraid to commit, to make New Year’s resolutions, to do anything that resembles drawing a definite line in the sand. Sometimes it’s easier to just decide I’ll show up next time and see what happens. Does that make sense? I’m glad you had such a nice weekend. What a treat to make contact with someone so life-changing through your blog!