Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden

"What can I learn about my own nature from nature? I can learn everything."

The book Momma Zen by Karen Maezen Miller was recommended to me a year or two ago, and I really, really loved it. In fact, I was thinking about it again a few weeks ago (which is a minor miracle for this mama who has so many million thoughts in my head at one time that I rarely remember much from books I've read) just before I received an e-mail asking if I would be interested in reviewing Karen's new book. I usually immediately delete those e-mails, but having read and loved Momma Zen, knew that this would be a book that I would enjoy, and that I would be happy to share with you.

The premise is this:
While house hunting in the summer of 1997, bestselling author and Zen priest Karen Maezen Miller stood with her husband in the backyard of an empty house. The yard was Southern California’s oldest private Japanese garden, an oasis of ponds and pines that had stood mostly intact for nearly a hundred years. While it needed a great deal of work, they knew in their bones the place could only be theirs and made an offer the very next day.
Flush with faith but light on know-how, they moved in and started working.  In Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden (New World Library, May 15, 2014), Miller uses her experience in that garden to help readers understand that the insight and contentment they are seeking “out there” actually reside right under their feet in their everyday lives.
“I began to garden. I got scratched, tired, and dirty. I broke my fingernails and ruined my shoes. I yanked out what I could have kept and put in more of what I didn’t need. I pouted and wept, cursing the enormity of the task. I was resentful and unappreciative,” writes Miller. “But when I ventured afield, sidelined by things that seemed much more entertaining or important, I always came back to this patch of patient earth. Time after time I realized that everything I want or need — the living truth of life, love, beauty, purpose, and peace — is taught to me right here, no farther away than the ground beneath my feet.”
Miller’s teachings speak directly to the anxious ills that far too often overwhelm. Her writing is pragmatic and personal, grounded in the simple truths of the natural world. Gently insistent, her voice conveys the intimacy of a face-to-face encounter, the living transmission of Zen. 

As you may know, I am all about both gardens, plants and nature as well as the everyday moments which are the pieces that make up our lives. I really do believe that once we start opening our eyes (and hearts, really) to everything that's around us, right where we are, that's when we begin to live wholeheartedly. (I'm also currently reading some BrenĂ© Brown and 'wholeheartedness' is one of her things.) 

Let me say that I don't know much about Zen practice, and you certainly don't need to in order to enjoy the book and glean some wonderful truths from it. Karen's writing is lovely and thought provoking and not a chore at all to read.

I'm still mulling over an excerpt from pp.90-91...
"... I hear someone say she is trying to live in the now. We typically say this with our heads tucked in humility, as if confessing a secret aspiration for which we believe we lack the talent, opportunity, and training. Someday I'm going to star on Broadway. Go to the moon. Live in the now. But we are all living in the now. Now is the only time there is. Right now, you may think you're living in the past or future, but you are only thinking about another time. Nostalgia seems like a harmless pastime until it renders you blind. Worry seems like a reasonable activity until it renders you insane. When our thoughts dwell in neverland, we're bound to feel sad, angry, afraid, powerless, inadequate, or overwhelmed. If you feel that way, it's a good bet that you've gotten ahead or behind the times. Perhaps it would be kind, even wise, to suggest a different way.
Someday must be the great lie of our lifetimes. We tell it for forty or fifty years. After that, we trade its false promise for the dead sentiment of the good old days. Both are thieves that will steal time right out from under your nose, and you will grieve your passing life as if robbed."

Yes, yes, YES!

So get thee to thine library, or order the book and check out her others while you're looking. (I haven't yet read Hand Wash Cold, but I'm looking forward to it!)

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book to review. All opinions are entirely my own.


one of the last posts from this house

May is my favourite month. It feels like the summer and its warm weather are stretching out indefinitely before us, many of my favourite flowers and trees are in bloom, and the daylight hours are so long. Flowering cherry trees are the highlight of the month for me - they're so delicate and ruffly, pretty and fleeting.

We're going to start packing up this house over the next month or so, and we'll be moving to our new old forever home. I can't wait, but I will miss lots of things about this house. (It's for sale, and we just lowered the price, if you're interested!) This giant cherry tree is definitely one of the things I'll miss, along with the tulips, quince, woodland hyacinths, and the big willow tree. It's the house we brought our baby boys home to - it's always going to be a special place to me.