Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden
by Karen Maezen Miller



New World Library, 2014. ISBN 978-1-608-68252-2.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 07/04/2014

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

"Paradise is your back yard," Karen Maezen Miller says.

Miller and her husband discovered their garden in 1997 while on a house hunt in a suburb of Los Angeles. "It seemed like paradise with our name written all over it," she writes in the preface to Paradise in Plain Sight.

The garden was built in 1916 on a hillside in the small town of Sierra Madre. The designer was a gardener from Japan called Tokutaro Kato. It was part of a larger estate later subdivided into housing plots but the garden remained intact. A bungalow was added to the property in 1949.

"Nature teaches us about ourselves because nature is what we are," Miller said in an interview.

I appreciated reading Paradise in Plain Sight because it reminded me of the beauty and lessons all around me. While I may dream of travelling elsewhere, everything I need is right here.

Miller writes about what she learned in her garden: "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."

Getting "scratched, tired and dirty" doesn't necessarily sound like fun, but despite the enormity of the task of restoring the 7,500 square feet of garden to its former glory, Miller "always came back to this patch of patient earth."

In an interview, Miller said she wanted to leave the lessons of the garden and her writing "for someone else to find." And I'm so glad she did as now I'm reflecting on my own garden and each part of it as a metaphor: rocks, ponds, roots, flowers, leaves and weeds.

"Letting Go" is the theme of Part Three of the book. In it Miller writes: "Flowers are love's perfect offering. They do not ask to be appreciated. They expect nothing in return. They just let go."

You can tell she loves language. It moves through her like a song. She says, "All I have to do is listen. I write by listening and responding to what I hear."

Miller makes the practice of Zen approachable—which doesn't mean easy. She says that as a Zen practitioner "you'll do and say weird things you may not understand." One day, though, "you'll realize it's not mumbo jumbo."

I especially loved this: "If you've recognized something in these pages that you want to underline and remember, it's because you already know it. Have faith in yourself as the way."

I highly recommend Paradise in Plain Sight. You can read it and then forget everything Miller says. That's what she suggests: "Your life is the life of the entire universe. How can I add a single thing to it?"


Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen Buddhist priest and teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. The author of Hand Wash Cold and Momma Zen, she leads retreats around the country. Visit her website.

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