"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! The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lighten Up!

Stephen at Monday Night Class, San Francisco circa 1969
IMHO, Spiritual Practice isn't about bright lights and all that fancy magical "woo woo" stuff.  Nothing should insult our basic intelligence.  Yet, sometimes the Universe  really does lay one on you.

It happened almost exactly five year ago one morning as I struggled to write a fitting memorial to Hippie Spiritual Teacher Stephen Gaskin who had recently made the Grand Transition.

With another deep bow to Stephen -- and to a Most Amazing Universe -- I want to share, once again, the post from that day.   Beyond the Mysterious Magic Manifested, it's encouragement to "lighten up" bears repeating.

Lighten Up!   
Originally Posted July 12, 2014

This morning, I was quaffing my first cup of coffee in a couple of days watching bubbles of confusion and angst float through my awareness.  I still was struggling with an attempt to put into words my thoughts and feelings about the passing of Stephen, a man whose Presence and Teachings had a  profound impact on my life.

Then, (probably with a furrowed brow), I decided to reach for my cell phone to check my email -- and perhaps just fall back and select an old post to republish.

At that very moment the phone "dinged"with an incoming email. Peering down I read the notification:
"Monday Morning Mindfulness
Lighten Up! Posted 18 January 2014"

WTF!!!???

I have no idea what strange permutation of the Google space time cyber continuum could have possibly generated and delivered to me the email version of a post I'd written six months before -- especially at that very moment!  It had never happened before.  (and hasn't since)

How could I not lighten up?  

I broke into a bemused grin as I clicked it open.  Just receiving this unsolicited and inexplicably"cosmic" MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call would have been enough to make my decision (just read, introduce and re-post this one for sure) -- and make my day.  

I began reading the post.

It got even more mind blowing!

As I often do, I had begun the post with two quotes.  The first was from my current Dharma mainstay, Pema Chodron.  The second quote was from from Stephen Gaskin! (who I've rarely quoted here.)

Try as I may, I have no rational explanation for any of this.  All I can do is grin, offer a deep gassho to Stephen, and to the Primordial Comedian of the Cosmic Mystery Medicine Show -- and renew my commitment to lighten up!  Here's that post!

Lighten Up!
Originally posted January 18, 2014

  "The key to feeling at home with your body, mind and emotions, to feeling worthy to live on this planet, comes from being able to lighten up. When your aspiration is to lighten up, you begin to have a sense of humor. Things just keep popping your serious state of mind."
---Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

"Get your mind unbound and free; and then from the loosest, highest, best place you have, with the fastest and most humorous mind you can get together, you can reach out and make a try at  understanding Spirit."
---Stephen Gaskin, This Season's People

All too often, it seems like those of us who are sincere spiritual seekers can get a bit too stodgy.  It's not surprising, I suppose.

Although some of us may have experienced lives of relative comfort and success, to then realize that there was still something lacking, I think many of us were drawn to the Practice because we'd had a hard go of it.  We'd led lives that included serious trauma and/or significant emotional distress.  

So, when we stumbled across Buddha's First Noble Truth, it rang true.  We knew suffering to be real in our lives.   Reading on, we learned that this Sage had also proclaimed that there was a reason for suffering. -- and, even more importantly -- a freakin' way out!!?

Seriously?  Damn.  Sign me up!

Even if we were drawn to other spiritual traditions as we entered the Practice, I think there was often a similar dynamic.  Whether we were seeking nirvana or heaven,  sat chit ananda or atonement, we were looking for Light at the end of the tunnel, some form of release from this "veil of tears".  Then, whatever our path, at a certain point we knew that if we "wanted out" we had to get serious about it.  

Very, very, serious.

Unfortunately, some of us then got deadly serious about it.  I, for one, know that at one point my friends used to hate to see me coming.  I could quickly squeeze the life out of any party.  I was so serious!  I didn't realize that the Practice could involve having some serious fun.  I didn't realize that in order to really see the Light, it is helpful, maybe even crucial, to Lighten Up.

Although some forms of humor can be mindless and cruel, I think humor, at its best, is High Magic.  It's a Holy Balm, a Healing Art.  If some future Worldwide Buddhist Conference was considering the addition of a ninth element to the Eightfold Path, Right Humor would get my vote. Although I don't think that the College of Cardinals would go for it at this point, I'd also recommend that any candidate for Pope should be able to master appropriate "one liners" -- preferably off the cuff.   I'm hoping that at some point an archeologist will unearth ancient scrolls containing the Jokes of Jesus to educate future Popes -- and, of course, strengthen my case.

But I digress...
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Sunday, July 7, 2019

High Times: In Memory of Stephen Gaskin

"There is a plane of experience, other than the three dimensional plane, which can be felt by a human being...If people never get above the merely signal level of communication, and don't become telepathic, they haven't explored their full human birthright."
-- Stephen Gaskin

"We are all parts of God.  Each one of us has an electrical body field that surrounds us, and a mind field that goes on to infinity."
-- Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin (February 16, 1935 - July 1, 2014) with his wfe, Ina May
In meditation, the subjective nature of Time becomes  obvious.  Sometimes, an hour zips by.  At other times, I've felt like a dazed prizefighter hanging onto the ropes of a painful existence waiting forever for the bell to ring.

And that's only one hour.  

As I get older, it becomes increasingly impossible to grasp the nature of concepts like a "year".  These days it feels easier at times to sense the mysterious nature of the Timeless in the boundless expansiveness of each moment.

I guess my head sort of goes to that place whenever Stephen Gaskin crosses my mind as it did this morning.  It seems surrealistic to me that it has been five years since he passed away at age 79 at his home on the Farm, the intentional spiritual community he had helped to found in rural Tennessee in 1971. 

More than anyone, Stephen's teachings informed my ideas about the nature of Reality and the work to be done during our sojourn on this planet.  I came across his rendition of the Bodhisattva Vow for the first time in The Farm's first book Hey Beatnik!  I was hooked.  

At that moment the vow took me.  

A decade older than many of the young folks who flocked to San Francisco in the mid-sixties as part of the Psychedelic Revolution, Stephen always maintained he was more of a Beatnik than a Hippie.  Yet, wearing tie-dyes til the end, Gaskin was a central figure in the burst of spiritual energy that encircled the globe during the 1960's and 70's, catapulting many of us into a Collective Kensho that transformed our lives.  Claiming that they were "out to save the world," Gaskin and 50 bus loads of Hippies left San Francisco to circle in for a landing in Tennessee to form what was, for a time, the largest hippy commune in the world.  Although the size and structure evolved over the years, The Farm is still there.

Although I was a lightweight when it came to psychedelics, those were High Times.  The Collective Consciousness was so energized that even I had a number of compelling out of body experiences, saw aura's, and experienced powerful moments of synchronicity and telepathy that were mind-boggling -- even without drugs in my system at those times.  Ultimately, I had an experience of Perfect Oneness that fulfilled my deepest aspirations and dispelled any fundamental fear about death. (Admittedly, I also had some very powerful moments while under --or perhaps, over --the influence of various powerful medicinal herbs and compounds.)
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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Child's Play

In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.
― the 6th Lojong slogan

“I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”
-- Yogi Jesus of Nazareth

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain, and crisp, cool air floating through the windows alongside my bed.  Undettered, the chorus of songbirds sang their parts in the predawn symphony as I rolled over and set the alarm to 6:30 AM to give myself a couple of more hours of sleep.  Moments later, I rolled over again and turned the alarm off.  Although I had thought otherwise, I was ready -- or so I'd thought. 

Today was blog practice.  I got up and sat down to the laptop to stare at a blank screen -- and waited.  

And waited.  

And waited some more.

After awhile, I got up again, set the timer, and walked over to the altar in the corner of my bedroom.  There, I  lit a stick of incense and Sat down in front of a different blank screen.

Now, an hour later, I'm ready -- I think.

There is a well known Zen story from the Meiji era (1868-1912) about a prominent university professor who visited master Nan-in to inquire about Zen.  As the professor prattled on, demonstrating his vast knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, the master began pouring his guest a cup of tea.  He continued pouring as the cup overflowed onto the table and floor.  

No longer able to restrain himself, the professor shouted, "Stop. The cup is overfull! No more will go in!".  Nan-in replied, "You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup." 

I first read that story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones back in 1970. I now realize I had only glimpsed the rim of that empty cup.  

Even as a 24 year old, fresh out of college and engaged in my first year of teaching school, I certainly "got" that there is a difference between the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom.  By then, I'd run into factory workers during my seven years of summer employment that appeared to have a much better handle on the Real Deal than most of my college professors.  I also sensed from the story that arrogance probably wasn't going to cut it with a Zen master, a fact that I've had verified any number of times number of times over the years as I ran into brick walls with Aries male bravado.

Little did I know, though, that this teaching, like the coffee down at Brad's Place, was being served in a bottomless cup.  

Then and Now

For several years now, I've been studying the Lojong Slogans.  After reading a number of commentaries a number of times, I began casting a daily slogan from among the 59 slogans for contemplation and practice last year.  I continue to be amazed at how helpful they have been.

Today, I cast the 6th slogan of the Lojong Teachings today: "In post-meditation, be a child of illusion."  One of the most haunting of the 59 aphorisms that make up this Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training, it is also, perhaps, one of the most radical.  It seemingly flies in the face of conventional wisdom.  Rather than exhorting us to "grow up and get real", we are encouraged, instead, to recapture the open and spacious sense of wonder that characterizes the mind of the child as we arise from our meditation cushion to move through the day to day activity of our lives. 

As Mindfulness Practice develops and we become more acutely aware of the fluidity and transparent nature of our own thoughts and emotions, the ephemeral nature of "mindstuff"
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