Synopses & Reviews
From the author of two beloved books about finding the spirituality in each day comes a book about finding the spirituality in each place. Zen teacher and all-American mom Karen Maezen Miller, author of Momma Zen
and Hand Wash Cold,
in her new book tells us how to cultivate the garden beneath our feet, a paradise hidden in plain sight.
In the summer of 1997, after a string of personal disappointments and wrong turns, Miller and her husband stood in the backyard of an empty house on a quiet street in a suburb of Los Angeles. The yard was Southern Californias oldest private Japanese garden, an oasis of ponds and pines that had stood intact for nearly a hundred years. Flush with faith but light on know-how, they moved in and started work. The book uses the lessons of the garden to show how a seeker becomes a sage.
The first part shows how to find the garden always waiting right at our feet: stepping beyond disappointment, fear, selfishness, confusion and doubt. In the second part, readers see how the ageless elements of the gardenrocks, roots, ponds, and treesoffer lessons in how we, too, can transcend the winds of time and turmoil. The third part offers the gifts of a garden: the fruit, flowers, leaveseven weedsof spiritual maturity. With these come forgiveness, compassion, joy, and the effortless ease of letting go. Each chapter introduces and explores a Zen koan or quotation, allowing readers to glimpse the intuitive wisdom of their own awakened minds.
Millers teachings speak directly to the anxious ills that overwhelm us. Her lessons are pragmatic and personal, grounded in the simple truths of our natural world. Gently insistent, her voice conveys the intimacy of a face-to-face encounter, the living transmission of Zen. The book is also an elegy to her departed teacher Taizan Maezumi Roshi, a humble giant of American Zen, who once gardened the same ground.
In the tradition of the finest spiritual writing, Paradise in Plain Sight speaks beyond religious divisions to all those with a wounded heart and weary mind, confronting the questions we can only settle for ourselves. It is an emphatic and encouraging guide for anyone trying to plant the seeds of mindfulness in their own backyard.
"House-hunting in suburban Los Angeles, Miller (Hand Wash Cold) was stunned to discover a 100-year-old Japanese backyard garden. 'I was right where I belonged,' she recalls. The Zen priest and former student of the late Maezumi Roshi now draws on her 16 years tending this unruly bit of 'paradise' to show how everyday experience can lead to timeless truths. 'I realized that everything I want or need... is taught to me right here,' she writes, 'no farther away than the ground beneath my feet.' To illustrate the Zen path 'the Way' she skillfully weaves vivid details of nature with personal history and such gritty tasks as curbing running bamboo and raking endless sycamore leaves. Given the built-in difficulty of explaining Zen, it is perhaps not surprising that Miller's conclusions can teeter on the border between profound and clichÃ©d ('you already possess what you are looking for,' 'love is letting go') and her advice, while solidly grounded in Buddhist teachings, can sound obvious (be kind, forgive, don't deceive yourself). However, Miller's graceful writing, hard-learned wisdom, and heartfelt commitment to help her readers find their own bit of paradise here and now make this an inspiring guide." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
[Karen Maezen Miller] skillfully weaves vivid details of nature with personal history and such gritty tasks as curbing running bamboo and raking endless sycamore leaves....Miller's graceful writing, hard-learned wisdom, and heartfelt commitment to help her readers find their own bit of paradise here and now make this an inspiring guide.”
Wise, insightful, and honest.”
Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness
This is one of the most beautiful books Ive ever read. Karen Maezen Miller has cleared a path for all of us from pain and confusion to joy and gratitude. She taught me that the secret garden Ive been searching for has existed all along. I just needed to find the right guide.”
Priscilla Warner, author of Learning to Breathe and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Faith Club
Paradise in Plain Sight stopped me in my tracks and invited me to look into the backyard of my own life in a different way: with deep attention and radical gratitude. To read this extraordinary book so brief in length, yet so magnificently deep and so transparently clear is to remember that home is where I am and that what I need I have.”
Katrina Kenison, author of Magical Journey
Zen teacher Karen Maezen Miller is beloved for helping her readers and students understand that the insight and contentment they think of as out there” are really here and now. Miller and her husbands rocky road to a home with a venerable Japanese garden demonstrates how fear, anxiety, and doubt blind us. The process of transforming both a garden and a marriage shows the benefits of grappling with the hands-on, day-in-and-day-out needs of the ground where you stand.” Each chapter explores a Zen koan or quotation, and while Millers teachings are warmly personal, they are also gently, insistently pragmatic. In homage to her departed teacher, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, who once gardened the ground Miller now cultivates, Millers down-to-earth insights are as simple as planting a seed and as profound as nurturing perennial mindfulness.
Come See the Garden That Is Your Life
When Zen teacher Karen Maezen Miller and her family land in a house with a hundred-year-old Japanese garden, she uses the paradise in her backyard to glean the living wisdom of our natural world. Through her eyes, rocks convey faith, ponds preach stillness, flowers give love, and leaves express the effortless ease of letting go. The book welcomes readers into the garden for Zen lessons in fearlessness, forgiveness, presence, acceptance, and contentment. Miller gathers inspiration from the ground beneath her feet to remind us that paradise is always here and now.
About the Author
Karen Maezen Miller
is a Zen Buddhist priest, meditation teacher, and self-described delinquent mother and reluctant dog walker.” Her writing is also found in The Best Buddhist Writing 2007
and The Maternal is Political
. She lives in Los Angeles County.
Table of Contents
The origin of the word paradise” reveals its hidden whereabouts.
Have faith in yourself as the Way.
Chapter 1: CurbThe view from a distance
The first part of the book describes the signposts for finding the garden, and with it, ones own paradise. The curb is separation, or ignorance, the erroneous view that we are separate from the world we inhabit. Afraid of making a mistake, unable to trust what we do not know, we stand paralyzed at a crossroads. After two years of a long-distance marriage, my husband and I begin the search for a home in common. On a half-hearted house hunting expedition, we arrive in front of an empty house on a quiet street in an ordinary suburb, where there is no hint of the treasure well find if we are brave enough to step inside.
Chapter 2: Gate Whats holding you back
The gate is fear in all its clever guises: ambivalence, cynicism, self-deception, anxiety and doubt. In Zen, this barrier is called the gateless gate” because its only an illusion. An old and flimsy garden gate stands at the front of the property. Its half-rotten and leans to one side. Similarly, the mental limitations that hold us back arent real, but they form the threshold for every moment of our lives. How do we go beyond fear? Anyone can pass through by simply taking a step, and then another.
Chapter 3: PathStraight on
The path is the way. Like the sidewalk from the gate to the front door, theres no way to get lost, because the path is always beneath your feet. Stepping one foot in front of the other, we have an overwhelming sense of arrival. The years of feeling adrift, abandoned, conflicted and confused have led to this irreversible point. Without knowing, we are in a state of active mindfulness, or total awareness. This new and unfamiliar place seems like home, where we feel relief and belonging.
Chapter 4: GroundHere it is
The ground is the place. The point of Zen is to settle on the ground. It was a radical departure from the altitudes Id been scaling on my climb to so-called success. Id traveled a long way to see what was keeping me airborne: avoiding the real work of planting myself on the ground, the one place to cultivate satisfaction and fulfillment.
Chapter 5: SunWhat you see
Sun is illumination, the light of wisdom. The sun is always overhead, lighting our way. Once the garden comes into full view, a spectacular and serene panorama, the future is clear. This is our home. This is our life. This is our work and practice. It is always waiting for us to bring it to life.
Chapter 6: MoonWhat you dont see
Moon is wholeness. It is always complete even if you can only see a sliver. Second thoughts inevitably set in. We feel inadequate, untrained, and over our heads. But the moon's light assures that the sun will rise and show you exactly what to do in the morning. With the moon as our companion, we can see our way through many dark nights.
Cover the ground where you stand.
Chapter 7: Rocks The remains of faith
Part 2 depicts the work to maintain the gardenthe practice of mindfulnessand its application to daily activities and relationships. The first hands-on work in the garden is to uncover the rocks obscured by overgrowth and neglect. Rocks are faith, the foundation of the landscape and the secret to the gardens longevity. Keep the bare and unblemished face of the rocks in clear sight or you will lose your way.
Chapter 8: Ponds No wind, no waves
Ponds are stillness, the heart of the garden. Looking past its adornments you can see that the garden is formed almost entirely of still water. A pond is like the mirror of our mind: if the surface is disturbed, it's because we've tossed troublesome stuff into it. When we allow the pond to be still, the mud settles, the water clears and balance is restored. Ponds preach the power of meditation to clear the mind and reflect an open sky.
Chapter 9: Roots Giving life
Roots are lineage, the unfathomable source of life. The garden's hundred-year-old oak tree exemplifies lineage. The grandfather oak doesnt deal in delusional thinking about the past: the questions of what, who, when or how. It stands upright, giving shelter, shade and life to the universe here now. We embody the past and birth the future moment by moment. Isnt that meaning enough?
Chapter 10: Pine Taking life away
Pine is impermanence. A masterfully pruned pine is the pinnacle of the garden. Our pines have seen better days, and yet, they are still here. In the dying art of Japanese pine tree pruning, an old gardener reveals the beauty and dignity in lifes continual performance: disappearing.
Chapter 11: Palm The eternal now
Palm is time. Time seems to accelerate as we grow old. Every day its more evident how little remains. Yet the garden is dotted with prolific sago palms, a prehistoric species unchanged from the Jurassic age.
Chapter 12: BambooA forest of emptiness
Bamboo is strong because it is hollow. When we empty ourselves of fixed opinions about how things should be, we stand supple and straight. If one falls; all fall. Bamboo teaches the awesome responsibility of our interdependence and the true nature of togetherness.
Become the least grain of sand.
Chapter 13: FruitSwallowing whole
The third part of the book shares the parting gifts of the garden, the legacy we leave behind. Fruit is atonement, the act that heals the past, releases the future and makes life taste good. When the past is forgotten, nothing remains but gratitude.
Chapter 14: FlowersLove is letting go
Flowers are love, a perfect offering of oneself. Love showers the ground we walk on when we let our ideas of perfection go.
Chapter 15: LeavesThe ease of undoing
Leaves express the effort of no effort, freedom from the expectations of outcome or gain. Ease isnt inertia, but fearless acceptance.
Chapter 16: WeedsA flourishing practice
Weeds are practice. I can pull weeds every day and never be finished. When we see the weeds of anger, greed and ignorance, pluck them. Be vigilant in weeding or youll be overtaken and entangled.
Chapter 17: SoundNot what you think
The sound is not-knowing. Spend a few minutes mesmerized by the ballet of the summer dragonflies and youll know what you dont knowThe birds sing, the stream gurgles, and the frog croaks. All of it is beyond our comprehension.
Chapter 18: Silence Not what you say
Silence is truth, and truth speaks for itself. At the outset, I thought the garden, my life, presented something overwhelming to accomplish: a reinvention, an achievement, a master stroke. But my job is the same as everyones. There is a ready-made paradise in your own backyard. The work is solitary and silent: sweeping up the traces of yourself.
Epilogue: Rules for a Mindful Garden
Keeping it short and simple in four rules given to children who visit the garden.