Thursday, September 15

what's in a name?: the art of mindfulness with karen maezen miller

::part two:: (part one here)

In this excellent podcast interview, Karen Maezen Miller explains that she wishes retreat and workshops participants would have their breakdowns firsts, before showing up to an event. I certainly felt like I qualified last Saturday as I was heading into The Art of Mindfulness daylong workshop in Houston. During our entire drive from Austin to Houston the previous day our 7-month old son screamed his little head off, and on my morning drive to the workshop site, I screamed my head off at the Google Maps app on my phone, unfamiliar Houston roads and crazy Houston drivers. My fear of being late combined with my neuroses regarding going to new places nearly did me in; only Maezen's sweet words, "do not worry!", kept me from driving off the road and into the nearest ditch to sob. But as I walked onto the lovely grounds at Great Oaks Manor, and into the workshop space, something magical happened. Maezen saw me, walked over to me with open arms, and said, "Good morning, Fanny. Welcome."

We had never met before. I knew her face from book jackets and her website; she knew my face from Facebook and Twitter, where I number into her followers (you should be one, too.) So many negative things have been said about social media, about how it prevents us from having "real" relationships. How do you define "real"? We'd never met in person, but that morning, because of our social media presence, Maezen was able to call me by my name, and by doing so, she handed me my Self back. I immediately simmered down from my frantic worry, and knew in that instant that I was not only in exactly the right place, but that I'd gotten there exactly at the right time. Such was the power of my own name, spoken by my teacher.

Maezen went right along talking about names. She broke down her own: Karen, the name her mother gave her; Maezen, the name her teacher gave her; and Miller, the name Mr Miller gave her. From these three names, three spheres of practice, three spheres of influence: that of her family of origin, of her family of Zen practice, or sangha; that of her very own family, where she is wife and mother. This was a very striking thought to me. Names are things I've always thought much about, and here was another thought: how our names are a mark of belonging, and as such, a reminder of the arenas in which we are called to practice. I thought about my son's own name, the hopes and aspirations his father and I put into it.

Much later, an unrelated comment brought back this idea of names to me with the full force of a fierce wake-up call. Maezen was talking about moving from the workshop, from its cozy environment and ideas, back out into our everyday lives. "How are we supposed to practice when there are no Zen priests around?" To which her response was, "There better be one." WHAMMO. Priest. That is my last name, given to my by Mr Priest. I'd always rather liked the fact that I married it, but never before had I seen my last name so clearly as a function, as a calling. I am a Priest in my own home, devoted and dedicated to being awake and aware, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of my family, of the people I share a home, a life with. I may not be ordained as a Zen priest, but I can put on my apron with all the portent and reverence with which Maezen donned her rakusu, and set about doing the same work a Zen priest does: that is, to attend to what is in front of me, with the fullness of my attention, without judgement.

Thank you, Maezen, for calling me by name, and with it, for calling me to my purpose.

1 comment:

  1. Fanny, this is really beautiful! It is such a great discovery that you had such power within yourself all along. You write beautifully, my dear. :)
    ~ Naomi


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