Annapurna Woman Karen Maezen Miller

Portrait of the Annapurna Woman is an ongoing series featuring divine women who embody the nurturing spirit of Annapurna Living. Today, meet Zen Buddhist Priest & author Karen Maezen Miller.
Karen Maezen Miller. Photo by Stacy de la Rosa.

Karen Maezen Miller. Photo by Stacy de la Rosa.

How do you start your day?

I wake first and take responsibility for the day. Although I may not always want to be first out of bed, I don't resist. Dropping resistance is the best practice for beginning each day. (And for ending it, too.)

Everything we do as human beings is a ritual, we just don't see it that way. Our routines are predictable. In one sense, I don't do anything out of the ordinary. But paying attention to what we do makes it a ceremony.

So there is the ceremony of feeding the dog, pouring the first cup of coffee, making my daughter's school lunch, and emptying the dishwasher. There is the ceremony of reading the news and checking email. If the blue jays call to me, I respond with the ritual of feeding them peanuts. There are infinite, small, ordinary activities that fill the day with rituals of present-moment awareness.

What do you do when you are overwhelmed or stressed?

Good question. When I have neglected my daily meditation practice it is painfully apparent to everyone that what I need to do is sit.

What gives you the feeling of true bliss within?

Not thinking.

What are you currently reading?

"Under the Wide and Starry Sky" by Nancy Horan, a fictional account of the unconventional marriage of the author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Osbourne.

What are you listening to right now?

Perfect quiet and occasionally a bird call, airplane or car passing by.

What is your go-to simple recipe?

Use what's at hand. Make something up out of what's already in the fridge and pantry. Surprise yourself. Have no attachment to outcome! In our house that's likely to be stir-fry with rice or roasted vegetables.

What are some simple things you do for self-care?

Walk the dog; do the laundry; take out the garbage; rake the leaves or pull weeds in the garden; read; run; spin; write letters; cook. Everything is self-care. On the other hand, if I see myself as separate from the world I inhabit, as if I'm captive or oppressed by circumstances, I'm not taking good care of anything or anyone, including myself.

What does nourishment look like to you?

This great earth and the garden I live in.

Zen Garden

How do you make space for play?

I'm not very good at play in the typical sense. I'm pretty hardcore about Zen, for instance. I value solitude, simplicity, personal responsibility and self-discipline. No question I take life seriously but I try not to take myself seriously. Do you see the difference? Without ego, space opens up by itself. When you are no longer self-conscious, everything is play. You have nothing to lose and no one to defend.

What are some favorite mantras you cling to?

My only mantra is the breath, but I dare not cling to it. That's the wonderful thing about the breath: if you hold it, you pass out! Every inhalation is a fresh start and every exhalation is letting go. Paying attention to the natural movement of the breath teaches you everything. The breath is totally present. It can't happen anytime but now. There is no past breath or future breath. There is no secret to the breath, and nothing to figure out. Breath is the utterly perfect function of pure being.

We are soothed, strengthened, amazed and made grateful by the breath, which is life. There's nothing more to want or wish for.

Please share some words of wisdom you’ve learned as a direct result of soulful and embodied living.

Your baby will be okay.

Attention is love.

Take care of what's in front of you.

Have faith in yourself as the Way.

Karen Maezen Miller

About Karen

Karen Maezen Miller is an author and Zen Buddhist priest. She writes about spirituality in everyday life. Her latest book, Paradise in Plain Sight, is about caring for the 100-year-old Japanese garden in her backyard. Her other books are Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold. She and her family live in Sierra Madre, Calif. She leads meditation retreats around the country.

Find her online at, on Twitter, and on Facebook.