"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.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Working It

"When you see ordinary situations with extraordinary insight, 
it is like discovering a jewel in rubbish."  
-- Chogyam Trungpa, 
"Work", The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation

“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

The Studio at Community Yoga
I have been involved with Community Yoga and Wellness Center here in Greenfield, a small town in western Massachusetts, since 2011.  I was 65 years old when I first walked through the doors, having just competed a six week cardiac rehab program. 

I was grateful to be alive.

Although a regular meditation Practice had been part of my life for decades at that point, my own genetic programming, inconsistent attention to diet, and years of smoking, had set me up for acquiring the same form of coronary artery disease that had ended my father's life at age 61 and his father's life at age 47.  Although I never had a heart attack, by the time of the procedure, the major artery that feeds the major pumping chamber of my heart was 90% blocked! 


It's clear.  Without the wonders of modern science and Practice, I would not be sitting here at this aging Mac laptop, in reasonably good shape for an old coot.  I'd be ashes spread to the four winds.

Connecting the Dots

If I try to connect the dots of my own spiritual journey as a child of the 60's, it was the inspired Christianity of the Civil Rights Movement, embodied in the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that had led me explore the life and writings of Mahatma Gandhi.  The engaged spirituality of Gandhi's Satyagraha, and the vibrant example of his Life and Practice had drawn me toward the exploration of Hinduism.  Like many others, Hatha Yoga became the Gateway to developing a Spiritual Practice.

The world of Hatha Yoga in the US wasn't like it is today, though. 

Back then, there weren't any yoga studios in the fringe suburbs of ChicagoLand.  My first Teachings and Teachers were the books of Richard Hittleman and Swami Sivananda, then Lilias Folan of PBS's "Lilias, Yoga, and You"delivered on an 18" black and white television. In each case Yoga wasn't primarily viewed as exercise and stress reduction technique.  It was embraced as a spiritual practice, a path leading to enlightenment.  

As it was, my kid brother David David Little ( a healer, who has lived in India for the past 40 years), gave me my first "hands on" instruction in yoga -- as well as certain medicinal herbs and compounds -- during my visit to Marin County is 1970.  It was inspirational.  Within the next year or so, Ram Dass's classic Be Here Now, provided continued inspiration and over the next couple of decades, I found a partner who practiced yoga, then classes with the Yoga Meditation Society of Madison, WI (affiliated with Swami Rama's Himalayan Institute of Swami Rama).  After a decade of Practice, I taught classes there in the 1980s.

Coming hOMe

By 2011, all that was ancient history.  The meditation practices of Buddhism had become central to my life.  Other aspects of my life had become more sedentary as well.  Contemplating the saga of my life deeply, knowing how close I had come to the final curtain, I decided that I wanted to reclaim a hatha yoga practice.  The serendipitous sychronicity that emerged in the wake of that decision was grand.  

At the end of the first class I attended, part of a noontime series offered by the local food coop, that day's teacher, Jenny Chapin, announced that she was looking for a someone to barter custodial duties for yoga classes at the studio she owned and directed.


"What a great idea," I thought.  Retired, I had much more time than money. Looking to regain a serious practice and more physical lifestyle, I was immediately on my feet and headed in her direction. The brief discussion with Jenny was quite positive.  I started the next day.  

Today, although my role is now "Coordinator of the Caretaking Crew," I found self with mop in hand, dancing across the wooden floors of the studio's entryway landing.  Due to transitions in the Crew and an extremely snowy winter, I was again, "hands on." An alchemist, I was transmuting mud, melted snow, sand, and salt into gleaming hardwood floors again. For the first time in a while, I had the chance to personally participate in this high form of magic. 

I'm not chomping at the bit to find a replacement.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Know What?

“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times 

"It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew,
and in that there is joy.
― Jiddu Krishnamurti

Bodhidharma by Shokei, 15th Century
Not having a clue rarely stops me these days.  In fact, at age 71, it seems to be the best stance to take in any given moment.  It certainly seems the most appropriate.  The presumption that we really know what is going on is most often is only just that.  It's a presumption.  Clung to, it can be patently presumptuous.  

This can lead to all sorts of problems.

My first boss, Charlie Winchester, foreman of the maintenance department at a small factory in a small town north of Chicago had a decidedly less delicate way of making the point.  The memory brings a smile and warm glow to my heart.

I started working at that factory as a high school sophomore in the summer of 1962.  A working class kid, I had come of age.  Dutifully eschewing summer days splashing in the local lake, I needed to get serious and start saving money for the college education that would propel me up a notch in status, if not in income, as a public school teacher.

In those days, like many of us, I was able to get a relatively good paying union job for the summer at the factory where my dad worked.  Although I began as a stock handler on one of the assembly lines, I was soon able to transfer to the maintenance department where my tasks ranged from mowing the extensive grounds to learning how to fix things.  Although it was often noisy, dirty, and sometimes even dangerous, I loved it.  

My boss, Charlie, was a kind and able mentor.  That spirit pervaded the maintenance crew and during the seven summers I worked there, I learned a lot about how things work -- on many levels.

One particular lesson on the nature of reality that first summer began when Charlie came around the corner to find me standing in front of a simple piece of production machinery gone amuck.   Lurching erratically and making tortuous noises after my attempt at repair, it threatened mayhem.  The afternoon's production quota now in question, I quickly explained what I had done and why.  

With the ever present cigar stub in his mouth, Charlie quickly shut the machine down, then immediately took a pen from his shirt pocket pen holder and wrote the word "ASSUME" on a piece of paper.

"You know what happens when you assume?" he asked.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Two Out of the Three Ain't Bad

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.  If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.”
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.”
― Pema Chödrön

 Being sick is no fun.  

Last week was a doozy.  Rather than enjoy the delightful energy of three cherubic granddaughters for the entire five day visit to ChicagoLand, I spent two of those days sequestered in the basement, laying in a makeshift bed coughing and wheezing. 

There was no doubt about it.  I was sick.

I still am.

After a long travel day and two more solid days of rest here at hOMe, I was able to stay upright for several hours the next day with only occasional bouts of coughing.   Yet, even after another week, I'm not yet back to "normal".   At age 71, the realities of old age, illness and death that led young Siddhartha to turn his back on worldly power and pleasure to seek the Truth as a wandering ascetic are a part of my direct experience in many mind moments here again today.  

Yet, although it's true that I'm an ailing old coot at the moment, I can say in all honesty: I'm just fine!  In this case, two out of three ain't bad.  It sure as hell beats hitting the Trifecta, right?  I'm still Alive!  As I sit here upright at the laptop, aware of my breathing, aware of my body, I feel deep gratitude and even a touch of joy as the hiss of tires on the rain slickened road outside the window emerges and dissolves into the vast stillness that embraces the magic of the present moment.  

I blame that on Practice.  I wouldn't be here without it.  

All the Difference in the World

For most of my life,  I've hated being sick.  As well as the discomfort of the various symptoms, I would invariably experience a lot of frustration and anger.  It was a double whammy.  Feeling lousy sucked.  Not being able to do what I wanted to do sucked.  I was miserable about feeling miserable.  Although my body needed rest, I couldn't.  
Yet, as the years have rolled on and Practice has deepened, I can honestly say that things have shifted.  This time around, I've rested for days.  Although, admittedly, I relied on re-runs of Monk (a comedy-mystery series involving a detective with OCD named Adrian Monk, not an ordained monastic) to structure some of my time during the course the past week, I also spent a great deal of downtime just laying still and devoting my attention to breathing, being aware of the sensations of my body, and watching various thoughts come and go within the limitless space of awareness. 

One day,  I even created my own sickday"retreat schedule." It began with my usual one hour morning of sitting meditation, then continued with alternating equal periods of Monk and laying down Meditation for the rest of the day, taking breaks to eat and nap, etc.   (I don't know, if any Zen master would have been pleased, but it worked just fine for me. )