Monday, July 2, 2007

MOMMA ZEN: An author interview, and giveaway

I'm proud to announce that this is my first author interview on LTMD. Honestly, I hadn't really been planning to do any, but I found author Karen Maezen Miller's new blog, Cheerio Road, about a month ago and knew it was perfect. About 10 months into my motherhood job, I read her book, "Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood." I had already read a similar book and knew it was something I had to have the second I saw a mention of it in a magazine.

Karen is a Zen Buddhist priest, a wife and a mother of Georgia, who was born in 1999.

In addition to answering my questions about being a mother, being a writer, and being Buddhist, she is kind enough to giveaway five copies of her book. Learn more below about how to enter the random drawing at the close of the interview.

Without further ado, here's the Q&A. Thanks, Karen!

LTMD: First, I loved "Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood." It came to me at a time I needed it most; when my young twins were overwhelming me each day. Can you provide how your book came to be for blog readers?

KMM: I have been a writer all of my professional life, but always as a PR person or ghostwriter. Momma Zen was the first thing I ever wrote in my own name. When my daughter turned two, shortly after my mother died, I felt ripe with words. I got a laptop and went away for the weekend. It was a very rare and predetermined act. I drove up to a small inn overlooking Big Bear Lake here in Southern California, and I started to write recollections of my pregnancy and early days of motherhood. It was as though a voice--perhaps my mother's voice --had arrived to provide me clarity and encouragement. I was writing to myself. I naively thought I could finish in two days! (It ultimately took two years.) As I kept writing, I showed chapters to my husband and he said, "Karen, this is Zen." Although I had practiced Zen meditation for 10 years, I had been reluctant to write anything at all about my Buddhist practice. I felt I had no authority to teach, and I still don't. But my husband had perceived what I had not. I was still viewing my spiritual life as separate from my life as a mother. I saw them as two things and often, in conflict. But the words I had written proved otherwise: life as a mother is a spiritual practice. And so it is for us all, whether we know it or not and no matter what beliefs we have. My point in writing was to encourage other mothers to realize the wisdom they already have.

LTMD: To prepare these questions, I wanted to go back and re-read some pages in your book. The first page makes reference to the overuse and misuse of the word Zen, which I know I used in one of our first e-mail exchanges. I was worried that I used it improperly.

KMM: I hope you didn't worry too much! Worrying about it really would be a waste of your precious life. Zen literally means meditation. Meditation means attention. Not some special kind of attention, but the attention you already have. Most of the time we waste our attention thinking about what doesn't exist: our worries, fears, anxieties, and all those "what-ifs." In fact, we think that's what parenthood is all about: engineering the best possible outcome. In meditation we learn to pay attention, or awaken, to what is right in front of us. In Zen, we even meditate with our eyes partly open. We pay attention to the here and now. When we pay attention to what is here, it always has the most beneficial impact on the future. Our children are always right here and now. In our hearts, we already know that to be present with our children right now is the best way to nurture the future. It's the only thing we can give them!

LTMD: You state in your book's introduction, you state that "zen is motherhood." Please explain.

KMM: Zen is paying attention to your life as it really is, so however your life really is, is Zen. Zen is motherhood, Zen is fatherhood, Zen is childhood, Zen is sleeping, Zen is laughing, Zen is eating, Zen is tired, Zen is crying, Zen is confused. Zen is even angry! Zen is you, just as you are. Zen is not some manufactured state, some better way to be. It means dropping the self-criticism, opinions and judgments and just being yourself. (By the way, most of our judgments are about not being good enough, so just dropping those is a big improvement.)

LTMD: I have found that blogging has truly helped me find beauty in the everyday lifestyle of mothering and being a wife. As each moment passes, I am forced to stop and think about it, and think, this would be a great blog post. Do you experience the same mindfulness when it comes to your new blog, Cheerio Road?

KMM: Absolutely. Before, I always seemed to be waiting for somebody else to ask me to write something. My writing became something special that happened only under certain circumstances. I would weigh and value it, even before I got started, thinking to myself, "This is an essay, this is an article, this is a chapter, this is the next book!" The blog is my commitment to writing for its own sake. Freed from any expectation, I see that my life is full of writing opportunities! It is overflowing with lessons, insights and encouraging signs. So I try to keep it spontaneous and unrelated to any outcome. No one may read it; someone may read it; the sun comes up and another day appears. As long as I don't get caught up in my own blogging ego, the practice is very pure. Like making today's breakfast. You don't carry around the oatmeal for a month trying to make something else out of it. You move on to other meals!

LTMD: You recently wrote on your blog that no one asks you how you meditate, only how you get your daughter, Georgia, to meditate. It was a lovely post. I actually found it interesting because my first question to you, over coffee, would be how do you meditate each day or throughout a day, with a child around? Your book offers great tips for mediating. Could you share a few with us, and how you eventually found a way to fit meditation into your busy mothering day?

KMM: What I meant is that people only seem to be interested in getting their own children to meditate, or sometimes they call it "focus." People rarely ask me how they themselves can begin meditating. Just another example of how we often view our children as the problem, imposing higher expectations on them then ourselves. My point was the same one I made in the book: everything begins with you! Just parenting ourselves is a full life's work, and our children will be so much better off if we do! The only way we teach them is by how we live.

I don't want anyone to think that I live differently than they do, or that with a small child underfoot I levitate into nirvana. More often, I scream my head off. But I finally did realize that the only sliver of the day I had control over was the minutes right before I went to bed at night. My formal home meditation practice consists of doing seated meditation on my zafu (cushion) in my bedroom at night before I get into bed. What bliss! It really helps me relax and let go of the day and sleep better, and I only do this for a few short minutes. Throughout the day, many activities can be meditative. They focus the mind and body in unison. Like singing, walking, exercise, yoga, knitting, artwork, gardening, folding laundry, cooking and conscious breathing (count to 10 before you explode). The opportunities are endless. Once you practice on a cushion, it is much easier to take mindfulness into your everyday life. Mindfulness, by the way, is kind of a misnomer. Our minds are too full already. I like to think of it as mindlessness. Empty mind, open and alert to what is happening now.

LTMD: You talk in your book about how we all spend so much time thinking about the life that we want, but really life is what is happening right now, this very minute. You also talk about the Crooked Path of Motherhood, and how we are all Other Mothers -- the mothers we see and think have it all, but really do not. How has knowing all of this, helped you be a better mother to your daughter? How has it helped you feel better about the life you are living?

KMM: You see, there it is right there: "better." I don't know if it is better. I try not to even think about being better, because the thinking always makes it worse. My point is to just be. Here's my only testimonial: I laugh. I smile. I lose it and quickly say I'm sorry. I see the utter delight that my daughter sees in her life and herself. I see the beauty and the bittersweetness, and it makes me cry. A lot. So far, every age and stage is more wonderful (sure there are struggles, there always are), but I love it all. There's nothing I would change, because it changes by itself as soon as I let it go. It's a show, the most amazing show on earth, and it never ends.

To enter this random drawing you will need to write (in any amount of words) about this statement: "For me, Zen is ..." You may write your answer in the comments section here, or on your own blog, but you must link to this post and to Karen's blog as well. Please, no matter what, leave a comment here notifying us of who is entering the drawing. Deadline to enter this contest is Saturday, July 7 by midnight. The Da! will pick the five lucky winners of "Momma Zen" Sunday by noon.
You do not have to be a blogger to enter this drawing; just leave your comment below.


Mama Zen said...

For me, Zen is . . .doing a google search before naming your blog!

Seriously, great interview. The book sounds fascinating. I'll definitely be posting for the giveaway. How could I not?

Jordan (MamaBlogga) said...

Mama Zen--I immediately thought of you when reading this interview!

My response is posted at

Shannon said...

Thanks for introducing us to Karen. What an inspiring interview. I'll be working on my Zen post!

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

Oh, I must read this book.

My perfectionism is kicking in right now and trying to strangle me -- it's whispering, "As someone who does Zen meditation and is flirting with Buddhism, you should be able to say what Zen is... You'll embarrass yourself. Everyone will know how imperfect your understanding is, how imperfect you are."

So, shut up little voice. Deep breath...

For me, Zen is... letting go of the need to perfectly define what Zen is.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

Oops, did I need to say explicitly that I'm entering the contest. I'm entering the contest. Off to post links on my blog right now.

Mama Zen said...

I'm posted!

Chris Austin-Lane said...

I just left a post at

I look forward to another copy of Karen's book, as I've just given my copy to a neighbor with a 3 week old (her second), he wrote not having learned the value of abandoning hopes.

Whatever happens, it is nice to see so many people exploring the intersection of Zen and parenting. After becoming a parent, I resolved to accept no philosophy or idea of humanity crafted by a person that had not taken care of children. There is so much to be seen in the growth of us as youngsters, just so much.