"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

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Love Love Love

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love: in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles


We have it on good authority. 


Buddha and Jesus, as well as many other sages and saints throughout the ages, seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering and why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks have learned to believe is love, the terrain of much music and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  What is presented as love is a very human blend of desire, biological attraction, and attachment.  It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what JC, Buddha and others had in mind, right?

The form of "love" that our culture promotes has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own individual ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the quality of consciousness that emerges from what American Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron calls an Awakened Heart.  True Love is not the profound passionate grasping of deep attachment. True Love is much grander than that.  

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from, Pure Being.  It is identical to the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of disconnection that characterizes the realm of relative reality.  Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love emerges as the compassion, joy, ease, and clarity that exists in our heart of hearts. 

Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something we just fall into (and, so often, out of),  in the Buddhist tradition, love is seen as a mode of consciousness.  Our connection to that love can be consciously cultivated.  Although we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "the other" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- ultimately, True Love emerges from a fundamental choice to embrace Life itself, to let go of who we think we are and open our hearts and minds to the actual experience of the present moment.  

Although this can happen with the very next breath, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen.  It is a Practice.  Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving.  Like any discipline, True Love takes commitment, a set of skills, effort -- and patience. 
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Saturday, September 18, 2021

'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

Here it comes, ready or not.

The sultry days of August and early September have given way to the first polar jet streams of the season.  In the past week or so, the thermometer has dropped into the upper 40's a couple of times overnight.

Whispering through the trees in patches of red, orange, and yellow, the first hints of autumn have appeared here in Western Massachusetts.  

Here it comes, ready or not.   

To Every Thing There is a Season

As they often do as autumn announces its presence, my thoughts have turned to those times in my life that I have committed to 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 period of meditative retreat is widespread in Theravadan Buddhism.  It is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen as well.  Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, the rain's retreat seems to have evolved into periods of intensive practice that occur in the Fall and/or the Spring. 

At Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, the Rain's Retreat has become The Three Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year.  In 1991, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.  
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Saturday, September 11, 2021

Take a Hike, Buddhy!

"Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle. "
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, "A Guide to Walking Meditation

"I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, 
works at about three miles an hour. 
If this is so, then modern life is moving faster 
than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness.”
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking 

This morning's meditation was buzzy.  
  
It was one of those days when even a few moments of a clear, calm and open awareness were greatly appreciated.  Most of the time I was immersed in the the high volume prattle of discursive monkey-mind. 
 
It seemed like I had chosen mantra practice rather than mindfulness practice.  Unfortunately, the mantra wasn't something exalted like the Tibetan Buddhist "Om Mani Padme Hum" or Zen's "Gate, Gate, Paragate" Today's mantra was the simple mental note "thinking thinking. " I had learned this long ago as "what to do" when I became aware during meditation that I was thinking rather than focusing my attention on my breath and allowing my heart's awareness to expand into the boundless realm of One Love.
 
Today "thinking, thinking" was repeated over and over.  

And over.  

And over again.

And Then

Fortunately, after the bells sounded, I had places to go and things to do around town.  Since they were all within walking distance, I could get some needed cardiovascular exercise as well.  It was a no-brainer.  I left the car keys on the counter and headed out on foot. 

I'm so grateful that I made this choice.  
 
I came to my senses as soon as I walked out the door.  The morning air was cool and crisp on my face.  The neighborhood birds were singing their praises to a clear blue sky.  Just opening to the sights and sounds and smells of the world altered the nature of my reality immediately.  I took a deep breath and felt my body moving down the stairs to the sidewalk.

Mindful of body and breath, awash in the sensations of sight and sound and smell, I was again made aware of the Ongoing Miracle of life as it isI felt a great gratitude for the practice of walking meditation in my life. 
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Saturday, September 4, 2021

A Love Affair

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. 
You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open.
 ― Pema Chödrön, 
Practicing Peace in Times of War

We now see that the only way that we could love ourselves is by loving others, 
and the only way that we could truly love others is to love ourselves. 
The difference between self-love and love of others is very small, 
once we really understand.”
― Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong
 


As I've mentioned before, here and elsewhere, I think the Hippies actually had it right.  It IS all about Peace, Love, and Freedom.


In the Collective Kensho of that era, many of us were catapulted to the mountain top.  Whether it was the energy of psychedelics, the myriad Asian teachers who came to the West to see what was happening, the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements, Woodstock,  or just the Season, the Spirit was in the air.  Many of us were directly touched by the One Love that permeates and transcends the universe.   
 
We glimpsed the Real Deal. 

Yet, I soon learned that seeing it -- and even believing in it -- isn't enough.  The task of freeing the mind and opening the heart to actually BE a peaceful and loving human is no mean feat.  It takes deep commitment, effort, discipline, courage, skill --  and patience.

It takes Practice.

In the Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist worlds the term "Love" isn't generally used to refer to the Ultimate State of Being. They approach the Ineffable with different concepts and understandings. I think that is actually helpful to us Westerners.  We are incredibly sloppy with the word love.  It has a wide range of meanings.

In English, love could be the word that attempts to describe the spiritual glow that emerges from the ethereal domain of unconditional, unselfish agape on the one hand.  Or,  just as readily, the word could be used to indicate the self-absorbed fiery emotion that erupts from the nether realms of green eyed monsters and wrathful, jealous gods.  
 
So, what's the deal? It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, and then you," isn't exactly what Jesus and Buddha had in mind when they taught about Love.  Right?
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