"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart 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 Longtime Student of Meditation

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Defense Rests

"There is a vast store of energy which is not centered, which is not ego's energy at all.  It is this energy which is the centerless dance of phenomenon, the universe interpenetrating and making love to itself." 
Chögyam Trungpa
 
"Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you can not bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain."
-- Khalil Gibran
 
Attributed to Hieronymus Bosch 1450-1516
I'll admit it.  These days, I'm a real softie. 
 
Of course, it's taken me years to get here.  
 
After all, I am a 75 year old, white, working class, cis male.  A freakin' Aries, ex-collegiate wrestler, too boot.  I launched into adult life heavily programmed by my upbringing to defend my ego at all costs.  
 
A "little guy" at 5'2", having survived a traumatic childhood (sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, physical abandonment, time in institutional settings and foster care, etc.), "proving myself," became a full-time job.  Most of my conditioned propensity toward over-achievement, chronic workaholicism, and behaviors that ranged from unbridled argumentation to throwing objects -- and even fists -- operated subconsciously.  Even as I came of age in the late sixties and early 70's, heavily influenced by the non-violent civil rights movement, the peace movement, and Woodstock, I didn't have a clue about the nature of ego.  I didn't really know how to be peaceful -- or truly loving.
 
To this day, if I'm not paying attention, I still get caught up at times in those ancient patterns. Thankfully, a day in, day out, commitment to the Practice usually allows me to sense fairly quickly when the attachments that create and reinforce ego emerge.  I can usually detect the sparks of disappointment, fear, and frustration soon enough to keep them from roaring into flames.  Most often, I am able to notice what is going on, take a few conscious breaths, get in touch with my heart, and clear my head.  This usually allows me to make better choices on how and where to focus my attention, and decide what to do -- or, oftentimes, better yet -- not do,

Unfortunately, usually doesn't mean always.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

One Day at a Time

"In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion."
-- Albert Camus

“Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
 
I was looking forward to it.
 
Although  a regular daily meditation practice is the foundation of Life and Practice for me, I've also experienced, first hand, the transformative power of silent meditation retreats.  
 
For months now, I had planned to take a three day personal retreat on the weekend of the Vernal Equinox as I had done in the past.  I even penciled it in on my kitchen wall calendar in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS.

The Best Laid Plans...

As Saint John (Lennon) once proclaimed, "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."  It was a good thing that I had used pencil.  As it always does, Life happened.
 
With two Pfizer shots in my arm, and the strict isolation of the past year beginning to disappear in the rear view mirror, two out of my four children reached out for Papa Lance to jump into grandpa duty, including some in-person child care.  So, in a couple of blinks of an eye, not only was my weekend scuttled, my ritualized flow through a weekly schedule that had evolved over the past year was up for grabs.
 
I guess Springtime has a way of shaking things up. 
What was only a hidden potential unfolds its wings and takes flightNew sprouts push their way toward the sun.

In fact, within a week, a new sprout emerged.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Silence is Golden

 “Be still.  Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity. 
When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself” 
― Lao Tzu

 "Be still and know that I am God."

― Proverbs 46:10 

Sometimes the magic happens when you are sitting alone in silence.  The thin veil dissolves. The Ultimate Connection is made.  

Sometimes the magic happens when you are meditating with others.  In the silence, the illusion of our fundamental separateness evaporates.   The "I" becomes "we" -- and we know it.

I think it's even sweeter when it happens that way.

I remember one of those times distinctly.  Sitting here now, it seems like it happened in a different world, a long, long time ago.  I guess it was.  The year was 6 B.C.  You know --  six years Before COVID. 

There were fifteen of us gathered to Just Sit Still during the Wednesday Evening Mindfulness Circle at the Recovery Learning Community's Greenfield Center that night.  As is our Practice, I rang the bell three times and we sat in silent meditation for twenty minutes.

At a certain point, it happened.  It got really quiet.  Really, Really -- Quiet

In the silence,  I could feel our Shared Presence.

When I rang the bell to end the meditation and begin the Heart Council, the air was electric.  I knew that what I had just experienced wasn't just a subjective personal event occurring within the confines of my own skull.  I could see it in people's eyes.  

As we went around the Circle to compare notes on what we had each experienced during our meditation, the first person exclaimed, wide-eyed, "you could actually hear the silence!" 

"Yes.  The Silence was deafening!" a second added.  Others nodded.  

The magic had occurred.  In the silence, what my first Zen teacher called the Soundless Sound had emerged as a shared experience.   Whenever that happens, even for a  few moments, our Essential Oneness within the embrace of the One Love becomes less theoretical.   Reality Asserts Itself.  You can feel it in your bones.

I love it when that happens.

The Theory and the Practice

Immersed as we are in a patently materialistic society, a milieu that fosters individualism, greed, speed, fear and frustration, Just Sitting Still can be challenging.  We have been conditioned to experience our world through mental and emotional states that manifest a lot of noise, restless motion -- and a deep sense of separation.  Bombarded with stimulation and stress, our minds habitually filled with incessant chatter, most of us have spent much of our lives being constantly distracted and disconnected from our True Nature.  Disconnected from ourselves, we are disconnected from one another.  A direct experience of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls Interbeing, our fundamental interconnection with one another and the entire Web of Life, is rarely encountered on a conscious level.  Yet it is always there -- always here, more correctly -- in the embrace of what contemporary spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle and others have called the Eternal Now.
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Saturday, March 6, 2021

How Sweet It Is

"Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment.
It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation."
 --  Rabindranath Tagore

"“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek 
and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Rumi



When I woke up that morning over 50 years ago, I had no idea that the trajectory of my life would be profoundly influenced that afternoon.

It was the summer of 1965.  I had just finished my freshman year in college and was back home in a small town north of Chicago, working in a factory again for the summer.  As I had done since my sophomore year in high school, on Friday I cashed my paycheck, pocketed $5, and deposited the rest in the bank to fund my college education. 
 
I spent three dollars of that week's "personal entertainment" budget in a matter of moments, as I pawed through at a table of used books at the annual Lion's Club White Elephant sale in the park near the center of town.

For years now, I've realized that two of the books that I bought that day had a profound influence on me. The first, The Wisdom of Buddha, published by a Buddhist organization in Japan was my first introduction to Buddhism.  When I flipped it open and scanned a few pages, I thought, "Wow.  That's interesting.  Greed, hatred and ignorance don't cut it.  This sounds like what Jesus was teaching in the Bible!" This was my first introduction to the Buddhist teachings and practices that were to inspire and sustain me over the years.

The second book was another small tome, The Wisdom of Gandhi.  Deeply touched by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, I had read that Dr. King had been deeply touched by Gandhi.  That was good enough for me.  I poked my nose into the book.  One of the first passages I read described an encounter between a British journalist and the Mahatma.  When Gandhi was asked if he was a Hindu, he replied, “Yes I am.  I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.”   
 
I got goosebumps Something stirred deep inside me.  His words rang True.  I Immediately brought forth another 20% of that week's allocated "mad money."

It was only today, after a compelling experience yesterday, that I remembered that there was a third book that I bought that afternoon. 

Connecting the Dots

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you probably know that the Lojong teachings of Tibetan Buddhism have been part of my path for the past seven years.  I've read and re-read a handful of commentaries, and spent countless hours in the study and practice of the 59 slogans that comprise this system of mind training.  Each morning, I cast a slogan to focus on for the day. (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Lojong:Training the Heart and Mind).  
 
Yesterday, it was back to square one.  I cast slogan 1: Train in the Preliminaries.  The preliminaries include a contemplation of the Four Reminders:
    1. Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
    2. Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone.
    3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around.
    4. Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.  ( -- Pema Chodron in Lion's Roar)
Although the horror of the COVID pandemic has put the Second Reminder, "Be aware of the reality that life ends for everyone," front and center these days, I was reminded today of the importance of the First Reminder.  What would my life look like if I really did maintain an awareness of how precious life is?  Sitting there at the computer, allowing my mind to flow gently down the stream of this contemplation, relaxing to focus on and soak in the Preciousness of Life, a title for this post emerged: How Sweet It Is!

I had no idea where that would lead.
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