"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, May 19, 2018

Body of Wisdom

 “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
― Thích Nhat Hạnh, Being Peace

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, 
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
― 1 Corinthians 6:19, The Bible,  New International Version

When I observed my first Zen teacher practice kinhin, the walking meditation of his tradition, I was dumbfounded. I hadn't seen anything like it before. There was a grace in his bearing, a Presence in his slow mindful steps that was awe-inspiring.  

It was obvious to me that Reverend Gyomay Kubose, in his 70's at the time, was connected to his body -- and to the smooth wooden floors of the Chicago Buddhist Temple -- in an entirely different way than I'd seen before. 

Embodied Practice

The first of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of Body, is a concept that stretches back to the earliest texts of Buddhism.  The Anapanasati and Maha Satipathana Suttas spell out the details of meditative techniques which have been widely taught for about 2500 years.  In these teachings, the development of a fuller awareness our bodies is seen as a means of cultivating a calmer and clearer sense of the entire realm of our own experience.  Often beginning with focusing our attention on the process of breathing itself, attention can be directed in a number of ways to more fully experience our bodies.  Then, as Mindfulness Practice deepens and we become more fully present to what we are experiencing on deeper and subtler levels, REALITY asserts itself.

At a certain point, the Real Deal becomes self-evident.

Getting From There to Here


Conditioned as we are, most of us are "in our heads" most of the time.  Although we are obviously always breathing, and our bodies and our sensory apparatus are operating to generate a whole realm of experiences, most of that occurs without our full presence of mind.  Generally, conditioned as we are, the focus of our attention is primarily on the thoughts running through our head.

Fueled by emotional energies, subconscious beliefs, and conditioned filters that we are mostly unaware of, these thoughts dominate our awareness in a way that sweeps us along the stream of our own conditioned ego patterns most the time.  Mindfulness Practice, both on and off the meditation cushion,  offers us a means to  expand our range of awareness to include a universe of experience that we generally aren't aware of.  Without  Practice we are liable to "sleepwalk", only half-awake,  throughout our lives. 

Reverend Kubose was definitely not sleepwalking that day.  He was awake to the present moment, to the majesty of Life Itself.
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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Always Maintain a Joyful Mind???

 "Notice everything. Appreciate everything, including the ordinary. 
That's how to click in with joyfulness or cheerfulness."
-- Pema Chodron

"Always maintain a joyful mind."
--  The 21st Lojong Slogan


I actually didn't mind the lingering winter weather this year here in Western Massachusetts.  The reoccurring bouts of snow and wintry mixes into April were just fine with me.  The neighborhood cardinals still sang up a storm each morning.   

It was what it was.  In fact, "what it was" was often quite grand.   

That being said, last week was different here in the Pioneer Valley.  Although Spring had occasionally whispered in our ear for weeks, last week she stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed in no uncertain terms, "I'M HERE!"

And everybody knew it.

On the sun washed sidewalks of Greenfield, good cheer was ubiquitous.  Steps were lively.  Strangers greeted one another with nods and smiles.  Joyful Mind was in the air, palpable -- and shared. 

Although I am well aware that the strains of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" could quickly morph into "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in the grand soundtrack of Mother Nature's movie here in Western Massachusetts, it doesn't matter.  It's a done deal.  She can and will turn on a dime to chill us and herself out.   In this era of climate change, She could even blow another Nor'easter in our face.  Yet, I'd just blow her a kiss.  We're home free.  

Spring has arrived!

Five Years of Lojong

Five years ago this spring, I was prompted by one of the irregular regulars in Monday Morning Mindfulness to jump into a study of the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism.  Although I had been struck by the heart centered teachings of Pema Chodron and had adopted Tonglen Practice for a number of years, I hadn't really picked up on her tradition's "slogan practice."

The Lojong Slogans are a series of aphorisms that are memorized, studied, and used in training the mind to expand beyond it's usual conditioned patterns.  Operating as mental reminders to frame our experience in particular ways -- both on and off the meditation cushion -- these 59 slogans, are arranged as 7 main points.   

Being at heart a Spiritual Practice Geek, I've now studied the commentaries of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron, Traleg Kyabgon, B. Alan Wallace, and Zen Teacher Norman Fischer.  Currently, I use a random number generator on my phone to select a daily slogan, referring to a on-line commentary by Acharya Judy Lief, then sometimes re-reading another commentary or two.

I've found Lojong to be quite helpful in examining my own conditioning and cultivating an open heart and a clear head.  The Practice continues to deepen.

Some of the Lojong slogans seem quite familiar: Don't be jealous, don't malign others, etc.   We probably have heard them from our parents, Sunday school teachers, from our kind and upstanding friends. Others, like "regard all dharmas as a dream" or "rest in the nature of alaya," call for an understanding of the terminology and teachings of Mahayana Buddhism or of some of the unique notions of Tibetan Buddhism.  I've found, though, that reading the commentaries by contemporary teachers helps bring them into focus.  (A bibliography is linked below.)

Then, there are some like slogan 21:  Always Maintain A Joyful Mind!

I think a common first reaction to that slogan is "Always maintain a joyful mind? WTF?  Are you kidding me?"
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Saturday, May 5, 2018

IMHO*

"All ego really is, is our opinions, which we take to be solid, real, and the absolute truth about how things are.  To have even a few seconds of doubt about the solidity and absolute truth of our own opinions, just to begin to see that we do have opinions, 
introduces us to the possibility of egolessness." 
-- Pema Chodron

“Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.”
-- Seng-ts’an, Third Zen Patriarch


I love when the Universe is kind enough to deal the cards to me in a way that makes a specific lesson inescapable.  I can be extremely dense. So structure and repetition can be especially helpful. This happened in spades a one day a couple of years ago. 

Luckily, Hearts were trump.

After my morning Sit, I had read the chapter entitled "Opinions", in Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart before heading to town for coffee.  Following the lead of one of the irregular regulars of the Tuesday Mindfulness Circle at that point,  I'd been re-reading this incredibly helpful book again, one chapter a day.  

In that morning's chapter, Pema suggested that noticing our opinions as opinions, just like noting our thoughts as "thinking", can be extremely helpful.  IMHO, this can be transformative. 

It certainly made my day.

Taking Note: Some Thoughts about "Thinking"
I had been meditating on and off for over twenty years before I was introduced to "noting practice" by a teacher in my first retreat at Insight Meditation Society  Before then, I had gravitated toward Zen Buddhism.  Reading extensively, practicing regularly at a local Zen center, and attending a a few Zen Sesshins, I'd had some fairly compelling experiences both on and off the zafu.

To be honest, the instruction to make a mental note -- "thinking" --  whenever I noticed that thoughts were dominating my attention seemed quite clunky and intrusive, patently unnecessary.  (Likewise, the instruction to  label other sensations, feelings, etc.)  Being a self-styled "Zennie", I just shrugged it off.  Zazen was zazen.  Who needs "techniques?" Hurrumph.

I spent the remainder of the seven day retreat at Insight Meditation Society practicing Shikantaza, the Soto Zen practice of Just Sitting.  As had happened before in sesshin,  I was able to access a quality of consciousness that was tranquil yet crystal clear and highly energized.  Mission accomplished.  Or so I thought.
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