The Muscles of Writing

"Writing is a kinetic activity. It comes from the whole body, your knees and arms, kidneys, liver, finger, teeth, lungs. spine — all organs and body parts leaning in with you, hovering in concentration over the page. And just like any other sport, it takes practice. Behind the football that we see on TV, the players have put in hundreds of hours before the game. The muscles of writing are not so visible, but they are Justas powerful: determination, attention, curiosity, a passionate heart."
Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

Tasting the Texture of Our Minds

"Writing is a way to connect with our own minds, to discover what we really think, see, and feel, rather than what we think we should think, see, and feel. When we write, we begin to taste the texture of our own mind. This can often be frightening. We look around. There's no one else there. We come face to face with our own aloneness, sit in our own loneliness. It is hard, painful, but it is real. Americans long for this realness and often don't know how to get to it."
Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America

Absorbing the Teachings

"Slowly, slowly like osmosis, this understanding dissolved into me as I practiced zazen with Katagiri Roshi. No good, no bad, just the action: Just pouring tea, just pouring tea, just writing, just breathing; just standing, sitting, speaking, or not speaking. This was my Zen education. The process of learning was as deep for me as what I learned, and this I shared with my students, not by talking about it but by allowing empty silent space after someone read, giving them nothing to grab on to, only sitting there with their own breath.
Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America

Be Kind Even to the Chair

"We stop being so chauvinistic as Homo sapiens. Other beings besides human beings matter on earth: ants have their own cities; dogs have their own lives; cats are always busy rehearsing for a nap; plants breathe; trees have a longer life span than we do…

"Katagiri Roshi used to say: 'Have kind consideration for all sentient beings.' Once I asked him, 'What are sentient beings anyway? Are they things that feel?' He told me that we have to be kind even to the chair, the air, the paper, and the street. That's how big and accepting our minds have to become."
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Everything We Do Is Deep

"We have a responsibility to treat ourselves kindly; then we will treat the world in the same way. This understanding is how we should come to writing. Then we can handle details not as individual, material objects alone but as reflections of everything. Katagiri Roshi said: 'It is very deep to have a cup of tea.' Understand that when we write about a cup or a mesa or the sky or a bobby pin, we must give them good attention and penetrate into their heart. Doing this, we will naturally make those leaps that poetry talks about, because we are aware of the interconnection of all things. We can also write prose that moves from paragraph to paragraph without having to worry about those transitions we were taught about in high school. They will happen naturally, because we will be in touch with the hugeness of movement."
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Open to Receive the World

" 'My job is to make you very dumb,' Katagiri Roshi often said. 'Dumb' in Zen was a compliment. It meant you weren't running ahead of yourself, planning, organizing, strategizing. You were open to receive the world as it was.

"I could relate to that. A writer needed a certain dumb quality. I often told my students that in a downpour people rush for cover. A writer stands unprotected near a puddle, fascinated by the ripples the drops make, bewitched by the way they bounce on the pavement, letting the rain hit her naked head. Both writers — and Zen students — needed to step into life fresh and experience it anew. Being smart was beside the point."
The Great Failure