Presence Not Forgotten: Karen Maezen Miller
Last week I was blessed to be able to attend a talk given by Karen Maezen Miller.
For those who are unaware, Karen is a Zen Buddhist Priest, a mother, and author of Hand Wash Cold and Momma Zen *- among other roles. (*Karma note: Those are affiliate links.) As she mentions on her website,
"I’m the kind of priest that looks a lot like you do, doing the same kinds of things you do, every day.
If every Tuesday afternoon you wheeled your garbage cans out to the curb and saw your next-door neighbor doing the very same thing, your neighbor would be me."
I remember a post I wrote after reading Momma Zen nearly 3 years ago (and after having my views on parenting - and thus, my day-to-day life - changed drastically). Honestly, I don't remember the post as much as I do receiving a comment from the author herself. (!) I remember being beside-myself giddy that she had actually read the post and taken the time to respond. (And I remember sharing my excitement with my husband and a few friends.)
Since that time, I have become a bit less trip-over-myself-Star-Struck as I realize the fascinating power of the internet and social media to connect "those-whose-names-are-known-by-many" with "those-whose-names-are-known-by-fewer". I am reminded that no matter how many people know thy name, a person is just a person. (And a person being just a person? Awe inspiring. A person taking the time to leave a comment? Priceless.)
I find myself getting excited whenever anyone connects with me these days. I've learned that fame does not make me excited to get to know a person -- the person makes me excited to know the person. If we are all indeed Buddhas, whether we recognize it or not, I have good reason to be excited to meet every being.
And Karen Maezen Miller? She is a person I have long been excited to "get-to-know". The honesty and intimacy shared through the words in her books and on her blog offer me the chance to get to know her.
Perhaps it would be more truthful to state that those words offer me the chance to get to know myself. Because of this, I enjoy knowing her even more.
Karen spoke for 40 or so minutes at Butler University in a beautiful, small room that used to be the sunroom for the president of the university. (You can read more about the details here. You can also read Karen's account here.) She invited and answered questions and stayed to sign books and to meet every person who asked for her attention.
I'll be honest: I only remember some of what she said. (I took notes as my memory is notoriously faulty. I'm growing to accept this.) What she left me with went far beyond words. Allow me to choose a few to invite you into contemplation:
Intimate Presence. She stood the entire time to be able to see everyone. When I asked a question, her eyes and her being were 100% with me.
Centered Presence. Karen was not performing for us in any way. She offered only what she had to say in that present moment. In a situation where I would have found myself stumbling, someone asked, "Why Buddhism"? She responded, "Why not?". She knew us and knew herself...and thus, who was asking and to whom she was responding.
Remembering A Name. When it was my turn at the signing table, I came with my kids hand-in-hand. Because of a comment I had left on Facebook, she recognized I was the mother who discussed bringing her kids...and acknowledged me by name. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but a greeting by a name any other than my own would not have had such a profound effect.
A Hug. Before signing the books I had brought, she stood and offered me a hug. Not the gentle-pat-on-the-back type of hug, but a real I-See-You type of hug.
I offer these memories to you not because I want to promote Karen. (Although I do.) I offer this as an invitation to contemplate who you are and who you are with others.
I was taken into an experiential awareness -- an experience of how being a mother, being a Zen Buddhist Priest, being an author -- is nothing more than being who you already are. (Which is everything. And Nothing.) When being acknowledged, seen, and called by name, I am reminded of who I am.
I am reminded that I want to make others see who they are.
Karen's books offer further and wiser reflections on the mundane. (and the seemingly not-so-mundane) I will leave you to explore her words * on your own ..and highly encourage you to do so. (*not an affiliate link.)
We are given opportunities in our lives to practice being who we are. These opportunities are called "here and now". Because it is a practice, we often forget. We assume that laundry-time or waiting-in-line-time or I'll-show-him-who's-right!-time is not part of the practice.
As an awareness artist and budding Buddhist, my practice is to remember. Over and over, to remember. (And to therefore assist others with remembering.) (And then my practice is to forget. But that is something else to remember.)
In Karen's presence, I am reminded.
I am grateful.
To Karen: Thank you.
To each of you in the practice of remembering yourself: Thank you.