"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about progressively opening your heart and calming your mind enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call! Musings on Life and Practice by a Long-time Student of Meditation.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Take a Rest, Buddhy!

"We seem to have lost the ability to just be quiet, 
to simply be present in the stillness that is the foundation of our lives. Yet if we never get in touch with that stillness,
we never fully experience our lives."  
-- Roshi John Daido Loori, Finding the Still Point


"Be still and know that I am God!"
-- Psalm 46:10



As someone who is halfway through my 72th year of life on planet earth, I grin when I find myself sometimes talking about "the good old days."  

I used to roll my eyes whenever Dad tuned into that particular channel to proclaim that what folks called "progress' had distinct problems.  Now, decades later, I get it.  As Bob Dylan once sang, " Ah, but I was so much older then.  I'm younger than that now."

As I glance at the cellphone sitting alongside the keyboard and notice that I'm currently sitting here with 6 tabs of information on this browser awaiting my beck and call (quotes, pictures, wikepedia, dictionary, email, blogger), I am quite aware that there is something deeply unsettling about the nature of "life as we know it" on planet earth today -- at least here in 21st century America.  Having compared notes with other geezers, it seems there is a consensus: The rat race has only gotten worse.

Although, I can't speak about how it may feel in other parts of the world today, I do remember having a conversation with an immigrant from Vietnam years ago, a co-worker in a spiffy New Age natural foods restaurant, bakery, retail store complex in Madison, WI.  As we sat in the alley out back (with one eye out for the manager), he lamented that the entire pace of life in the U.S. was unhealthy, uncivilized and inhumane.  Communist or not, he had come to believe that the entire fabric of life in his homeland was better than what he was experiencing in the US.  And that was thirty years ago, when I still had time to sigh and stretch after work, reach for the TV Guide, look through the listings, then get out of the chair to stroll across the room to change the channel. 

Nowadays, it seems that most of are on remote control, bombarded with stimuli and activity, wired for action in most every waking moment --or thinking about it.  Even "at rest", our thumbs twitch, and we are on the move with a dizzying kaleidoscope of images and sounds and thoughts zipping through our awareness continuously.  Awash in constant stimulation, scurry, and noise, time seems to have collapsed -- leaving no time at all.  

And -- surprise, surprise -- most of us are left feeling a bit breathless; increasingly stressed out, restless and anxious.     
 

Give it a Rest, Buddhy!

In all the major religious traditions that I've studied over the years, there is a deep recognition that Stillness and Rest are not only important -- they are crucial.  As mystics throughout the ages have proclaimed, at the core of Reality, there is Quiescence, a Profound Stillness.  It is an essential part of Our Being.  Although we can get swept up in the activity and constant sensory bombardment of today's world, I think it's important to remember that even the OmniProductive God of the Old Testament, working hard enough to create the entire Universe in only six days, then took a day off  --and proclaimed it Holy!

Of course, as God Almighty, Yahweh could probably kick back and settle right into the Stillness.   For most of us, 
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Friday, September 8, 2017

'Tis the Season

"Commitment is at the very heart of freeing ourselves 
of old habits and old fears."
― Pema Chodron

 “I think what everyone should be doing, before it's too late, is committing themselves to what they really want to do with their lives.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh


Buddhist Nuns at Amaravati Monastery
As the often stormy days of August gave way to September, my thoughts turned to those times in my life that I have engaged in Intensive Practice in the Fall.   

In Buddhism, like many of the world's religions (Ramadan in Islam. The High Holy Days in Judaism.  Lent in Christianity,  etc.), there are extended periods of time each year that people move beyond "business as usual" to make a special commitment to their Spiritual Practice.    

In Buddhism, the tradition of the Rain's Retreat (Vassa or Ango) goes back to the time of the Buddha.  Traditionally beginning the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month (June/July), it lasted about three months, the period of time that the monsoon season in India made travel difficult.  During that time the monks, who generally were homeless wanderers, would gather in one place to hear the Buddha's teachings and engage in intensive meditation practice.  

To this day, this extended period of intensive practice is widespread in Theravadan Buddhism, and is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and some traditions of Zen as well.  Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, it often seems to have evolved into periods of intensive practice that occur in the Fall and/or the Spring.  (I participated in Fall and Spring Ango while in residence at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago.)

At Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, the Rain's Retreat has become the 3 Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year.  One year, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.  
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Friday, August 25, 2017

Promises, Promises

Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”
Suzuki Rosh

“Daily sitting is our bread and butter, the basic stuff of dharma. 
Without it we tend to be confused.”
Charlotte Joko Beck


A Carmelite Monk and his Vows
There were quite a few of us back in the day that were first drawn to Zen because of its seemingly irreverent and iconoclastic tenor and tone.  To a bunch of us erstwhile hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, those ancient monks kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, proclaiming Buddha was a "shit stick", etc., seemed like our kind of guys. 

Little did we know.

Once I actually connected with a teacher and a sangha, a different reality emerged.  I found that the foundation of Zen Buddhism, like that of other spiritual traditions throughout the world, rests squarely on a set of vows and precepts.  Rather than becoming a member of another tribe of free form hippies, I found out that engaging in formal Zen training with a teacher meant making a commitment to a set of clearly stated intentions: Taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, the Three Pure Precepts, and the 10 Essential Precepts was expected.  It was part of the deal.

WTF?  

Jeez.  In the Judeo-Christian world, we only had to worry about the ten commandments! Now? Do the math. This is twice as many.  So much for being hip and cool, for "doing your own thing!"

Or so it seemed. 
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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Our Gang

"To begin a sangha, find one friend who would like to join you for sitting meditation or walking meditation or tea meditation or sharing."-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
-- Jesus, Matthew 18:20, Holy Bible (NAS)
 
Our Gang Contemplates Dog's Buddha Nature
Although these days I meditate alone for an hour in the morning as the day begins, and I seasonally observe a personal Day of Mindfulness weekly,  I also meditate with others.  A lot. 

It makes a difference.

In Buddhism, as in most of the world's religions, a community of kindred spirits is seen as an integral part of one's Spiritual Practice.  In fact, a commitment to Sangha (a group of one's fellow practitioners), along with "taking Refuge" in the Buddha and the Dharma, is one of the Triple Gems, the foundational vow of Buddhism.  In other faiths as well, a commitment to the fellowship found in churches, temples, mosques, ashrams and monasteries, etc. is also often seen as an important aspect of one's Path. 

I suppose that stems from the fact that humanoids, like most species of beings on this planet, naturally operate as members of groups.   We sentient beings travel through life, often moving as One whether we realize it or not, in packs, herds, flocks, prides, gaggles, colonies.  There are Buddhist, Islamic, Christian and Hindu schools and there are schools of tuna and salmon.  We live and breathe in concert with others.

Although human beings, especially here in the modern capitalist west, have a belief structure that reinforces the notion of "individuality", our fundamental interdependence plays out moment to moment.  Even when you are by yourself, alone in your room thinking, those thoughts are existing in a language you didn't invent that itself has been collectively evolving for a long, long time.  Even the structure and grammar of that language have a significant impact on your perceived world. The meanings emerge for you, not as isolated phenomenon, but in the context of your past interactions with other members of your family and tribe stretching back throughout time.  Most of this operates on a sub-conscious level.

With Practice, what had been sub-conscious increasingly surfaces into our awareness.  With time, effort and patience, on and off the meditation cushion, a whole new realm of experience becomes quite ordinary. As Practice unfolds we get a sense that Descartes seems to have gotten it "ass backwards." Rather than "I think, therefore I am", Reality is closer to "I am, therefore I think."  Then, looked at closely, even the notion of an distinct, solitary, isolated "I" independently existing becomes highly suspect.  

Getting It Together

Unlike most species, to some extent, we human beings have the ability to make a conscious choice about what groups to associate with.  Although we are born into a group, a clan, a village, a nation, if we are fortunate enough to realize and act on it, we then get to choose our gang, the folks we run with.  Unlike our fellow mammals, we human beings can choose our colors, costumes and customs.  For those of us on the Path, ideally, our gang is a group whose values, aspirations, and intentions support our own of cultivating wisdom and compassion, not one devoted to some sort of mayhem.  (although as Little Rascals, a bit of minor mayhem can be quite delightful, of course)  As myself and many others have found, the support and guidance provided by a meditation group can be  invaluable.   
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