"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 Long-time Student of Meditation.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Bit Touched

 "When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.”
― Pema Chödrön

 “Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”
― Chögyam Trungpa


I suppose in some people's eyes, I'm definitely "a bit touched in the head."  

These days, I spend much of my time meditating, studying spiritual texts, and comparing notes about matters of spirit, heart, and mind with as many folks as I can.  

I even let slip in some settings that I've felt the Presence of, sometimes even heard the Voice of,  what some folks may call God (or Tao or Buddha or Allah or Krishna or a myriad other names for the Groundless Ground of Being that will always dance beyond our ability to name it.) 

Over the years I've learned to be a a bit more discrete about yakking about these experiences, though.

  I try not to mention these Openings where it is likely to lead to an embarrassed silence, furtive glances toward the nearest exit -- or maybe even somebody dialing 911!  (Although I say that lightly, in all seriousness this has been an unfortunate reality for all too many of my fellow mystics in a society that doesn't understand such things.)

Looking back, I guess I've always been a bit touched.  Often dismissed as a dreamer or an idealist, sometimes with obvious scorn by those who considered themselves to be"realists," I had dedicated my life to serve "all sentient beings" before I even heard that phrase or knew of the Bodhisattva Vow.  It just seemed to make sense to be kind and giving rather than engage in the selfishness and cruelty I saw in the world around me.

For much of my life, I've stumbled ahead in a sometimes quite bizarre, sometimes crazed effort to understand what the Real Deal was well enough to lend a helping hand where I could.  I've often crashed and burned in the process, blowing a fuse trying, all too desperately,  to serve.  I hadn't truly appreciated how the natural inclinations to seek approval and security and defend myself from anything unpleasant had operated since childhood to distort my vision and "harden my heart"  with layers and layers of frozen childhood trauma, sadness, fear and anger.  Hell, I always thought I was a real softy!  

Little did I know.

Live and Learn

Although my journey continues to involve a variety of practices emerging from several spiritual traditions, for the past decade one of the most useful tools in my personal roadside service toolkit has been Tonglen Practice as taught by American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron and others.  Like many of us 'back in the day," having experienced a number of compelling visions and rapturous openings of my heart chakra, I was convinced of the existence of a boundless and mysterious energy that I now call One Love.  Yet, in the day to day reality of my life I discovered that actually being a loving person wasn't all that easy.  Blinded by the subconscious patterns of a deeply wounded ego, immersed in the energies of a patently neurotic society, much the time I could be a real jerk, failing miserably to even help myself stay free from harm.  Even after experiencing the Infinite Grace of Our Oneness, I still didn't have much of a clue about the sheath of armoring around my heart that distanced me from others -- and, more importantly, from myself.  

Although I was blessed to be able to attend retreats along the way with Stephen and Ondrea Levine and Joanna Macy that provided opportunities to access and melt away some of that armoring, years later, I still stumble ahead noticing daily how much remains.  Now 71 years old, I've realized that there is no end point.  Opening the Heart is a Ceaseless Practice.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

For Now

"Life will give you whatever experience is helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.
How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience
you are having at the moment."
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose

"One can appreciate & celebrate each moment — there’s nothing more sacred. There’s nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there’s nothing more!”
― Pema Chödrön



After raining heavily all night, the sun broke out as I came upstairs a few minutes ago.  Streaming through the skylight, it played across the floor as I entered.  The windblown dance of light and shadow, woven of sun, tree and partially open blinds brought a smile to my face.

Then, as quickly as it had emerged, the sun again disappeared into the thick sea of gray clouds.  That brought a smile to my face as well.  

I walked over to raise the blinds, expecting to see the glistening, now pink-brown, late autumn leaves of the maple tree outside the window waving in the wind.  Startled, I found I was face to face with the stark gray brown of empty branches.  It was now November!  Only a few leaves, scattered among the wet branches remained.  "Oh yeah," I thought. "It rained hard all night.  Duh."  I smiled again.

I guess I'm pretty easy these days -- at least much of the time

Once the fundamental Impermanence of what Uchiyama Roshi called "the scenery of our lives" is directly seen -- and accepted -- we have the opportunity to embrace Life with an increasing degree of ease, grace and kindness.  Within the ever-flowing energies that we encounter, we see that there is always nothing more, and nothing less, than Life as it exists in the Present Moment.  

Although the thoughts and emotions that emerge from the causes and conditions of our personal and collective histories can make it appear otherwise, what is right there in front of us is a constant Invitation to the Dance.  We can either explore the possibility of opening our hearts and minds (and our eyes and ears and arms, etc.) to accept and appreciate the Absolute Miracle of the Mystery that we are part of -- or not.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  
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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

"The highest form of human intelligence is to
observe oneself without judgment."
Jiddu Krishnamurti

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect
 to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Sometimes a mirror is worth a thousand words.

Although at one point back in the 1970's I actually practiced Mirror Gazing Meditation as a way to explore aspects of my subconscious, these days I don't spend much time in front on a mirror.  

Why bother?  

Being retired now,  I don't have to appear with the proper clothes and haircut at the proper place at the proper time each day. Sporting little hair on the top of my head, a washcloth is usually a good enough brush--and Betsy is generally quite expressive at the points at which I cross the line between un and kempt, periodically coming at my beard and mustache with scissors --  and great zeal. 

These days, it seems that Sitting Practice is my primary mirror. 

Taking the time to gaze steadily and kindly at the flowing river of Mind as it merrily meanders along is increasingly interesting at this stage of the journey.  In fact, with a bow to the Fall Ango practice I observed at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, I recently upped the ante.  I've committed to going off the grid and observing a Day of Mindfulness each week, as well as Sitting outside to observe the sunset daily when I can this fall.

I didn't leave the Monastery because I don't like to Sit.  Meditation practice is often the most interesting part of my day.

It is also, I think, the most helpful.

As the Practice deepens, I'm grateful to acknowledge that even the more gnarly emotional whirlpools that swirl through my awareness don't seem to rock the boat all that much.  Even the momentary bursts of violent self-hatred and anger that still sometimes emerge are usually just experienced as waves crashing over the rocks.  These days those feelings readily become water over the dam--on and off the zafu.  Just around the bend, the river generally forms a clear, deep pool mirroring the grandeur of the emerging autumn foliage and a brilliant clear blue sky.
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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Lojong: Training the Heart and Mind

"True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those
less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
---Pema Chödrön, Awakening Loving-Kindness

"Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation."
---The 16th Mind Training Slogan of Atisha

I've had my nose buried in books a lot this past week, diving once again into a stack of works on the Lojong Trainings.

Although the 59 slogans of this Tibetan Buddhist system of training the Heart/Mind were passed on as secret teachings in Tibet by the ninth century emigre Indian teacher, Atisha, they were codified and then opened to a wider audience in the 12th century by Tibetan teacher Geshe Chekawa.

Now, in the 21st century, that audience has become worldwide.  Here, in the melting pot of American Buddhism, there are numerous translations and commentaries on these Teachings in English -- and not only by teachers in the Tibetan tradition of  Pema Chödrön and her teacher Chögyam Trungpa.  In fact, these days my favorite book on Lojong is that of Zen teacher, Sensei Norman Fisher.  His book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, rocks!

In print, in digital media, and on the web, viewing the vast array of material on Lojong available today is like peering at the rainbow facets of a diamond while slowly spinning it around in the sunlight.  It's dazzling.

How cool is that?

The Theory and the Practice

Of course, studying is one thing.  Unlearning a habits of a lifetime is another.  We've all been immersed in a pool of conditioning that serves to disconnect us from our Heart of Hearts.  The effort to uncover our natural compassion and wisdom takes commitment, energy, and patience.  It takes Practice. 

At one point years and years ago, after having been struck by a suggestion by Ram Dass's in Be Here Now,
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