"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about progressively opening your heart and calming your mind 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.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Be Still and Know

“Be still.  Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.
When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself”
― Lao Tzu

“Space and silence are two aspects of the same thing. The same no-thing. They are externalization of inner space and inner silence, which is stillness: the infinitely creative womb of all existence.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment 

In the midst of the scurry of the holiday season; often adrift in a sea of activity and noise (I'd forgotten that many folks leave their televisions on, running in the background), I was especially aware of how precious each morning's meditation was to me this past week.  Flowing through days and evenings chock full of visitations and meals and excited flurries of paper-ripping, my cushion seemed like an oasis.

Touching Stillness, even for a few brief moments, is like sipping clear, crisp spring water on a steamy summer day.  Paradoxically, it's also like feeling the warm glow of a fireplace, snuggling at home on a snowy evening peering through the window at the moon.  In Stillness, the Presence emerges.  In a silent whisper, it sings of the Ineffable, that space where the fundamentally mysterious and completely ordinary meet to form the fabric of Life itself.  

Although I use a variety of meditation techniques, I've found that the foundation of Practice is
(CONTINUED)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

For Unto Us A Child is Born

"Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. "
--- Thich Nhat Hahn

"Every child born is a living Buddha.  Some of them only get to be a living Buddha for a moment, because nobody believes it."
 ---Stephan Gaskin in Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin

Originally scheduled for a Christmas Day debute, Granddaughter Keaton arrived in the wee hours of Monday morning, in plenty of  time to avoid head to head competition with Baby Jesus.  Sporting all ten fingers and toes, sparkling with Buddhanature, her birth, like all births, is another obvious Affirmation of the Miraculous.  As she peered from Betsy's face to mine following the sound of our voices later that day, I could feel her Presence as pure, unadulterated Life Force.  Touched by the Great Mystery once again,  I felt a deep joy -- and a deep sadness.

Even as a child, the Christmas season always brought with it a certain sadness.  Something seemed more than slightly askew.   The messages of "peace on earth" and "goodwill to all", the prevailing storyline proclaiming this to be a special time of mirth and merriment,  didn't resonate with what I was experiencing.  I imagined it was just the chaos and uncertainty of my own childhood that left me feeling somehow "out of the loop".  As the years have rolled by,  I have thought that less and less.
 (CONTINUED)

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Wing and a Prayer

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake 
is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”
― Pema Chödrön

``Do not be afraid," the Voice called to him. ``Hang on to the wind and trust!"
-- from "Tale of the Jumping Mouse", 
in Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

Back in 1970, my kid brother David, who was in many ways my main Guru long before I knew anything about gurus and the Practice, sent me a handwritten copy of the "Tale of the Jumping Mouse".  (A denizen of Haight-Ashbury for years, David had come across it before it appeared in Hyemeyohsts Storm's Seven Arrows.) 

I was transfixed.  It was one of those stories.  It resonated deeply with the Heart of the Matter for me. Stirred to the core, my heart chakra again opened through a torrent of tears.  (Those were the days, huh.)

An allegory, "Tale of the Jumping Mouse" traces the journey of a simple mouse who heard something one day, a faint roaring sound that the others didn't appear to hear amidst the scramble of their day to day existence.   His Essential Curiosity stirred, this mouse summoned up the courage to leave the confines of his normal life to discover a world of great beauty and magic.  With the help and guidance of other creatures, through repeated acts of courage and the willingness to serve others again and again, he developed his Medicine as Jumping Mouse.  In the end, (or perhaps, the beginning), the Jumping Mouse became Eagle.  

Although, I probably personally identify more with the Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (another spiritual allegory of the early 1970's) than with an Eagle, I think that the symbol of flight captures something essential about the Spiritual Path.  Years ago, I read of a society in the South Pacific where the children were taught to fly in their dreams as the main spiritual practice. Carl Jung believed that flying dreams symbolized the basic human desire for liberation. It seems pretty deep and universal.

So what does Sitting have to do with Flying?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Visible to the Naked Eye

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 

“The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.”
―Meister Eckhart


The trees across the way are shrouded in mist this morning. Although there is still a hint of green and red brown in the butterfly bush at the edge on the garden the world is awash in grey tones.  There was a time when a grey day like this would invariably send my spirits spiraling downward.  

That doesn't happens so much these days. I blame the Practice for this turn of events. 

Yesterday,  I ran into one of my dharmabum buddhies on the bus to Orange.  Like me, a regular daily practice is a central part of his life these days.  At one point, I characterized him as "a Lifer" and he grinned and alluded to the many times he's fallen off the wagon.  The look in his eyes was unmistakeable, though.  He was aware of the Real Deal.  I think, deep down, we all are.  Manifesting the truth of it in our own lives is only a matter of time, effort -- and Grace*.

As I sense it, Mindfulness Practice is nothing more, and nothing less, than getting in touch with the Truth as it exists in each and every moment of our own experience. Although as the Practice unfolds, there can and will be moments of outright wonder and gratitude and bliss, all the experiential big bang moments of human consciousness imaginable, they aren't the Heart of the Matter.  In fact, an attachment to going for the gold and getting all the goodies can hang you up as much as any other grasping.  It's much more about just "assuming the position" --again and again.  It's much more about paying full attention to this very breath, this sight, this sound, this feeling.

At a certain point it becomes obvious.  There just isn't anyplace to go other than where you are.  There is nothing more extraordinary than the ordinary.  If you look deeply, Infinity is visible to the naked eye. 

The mist outside is clear as a bell.

I love it when that happens.   




* I think it's wise to always embrace Grace as an essential part of the picture and remember that the individual "I" didn't set the Universe up this way.  It's the naked "I", unadorned by this individuated costuming, that's responsible.  Alhamdulillah

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Attitude of Gratitude

"A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving.”  
-- Albert Einstein

 "Be grateful to everyone."
-- The 13th slogan of the Lojong Trainings

I'm sometimes amazed -- and often amused -- as I observe my heart/mind floating down the stream of consciousness as I sit here at the keyboard in the attempt to write something helpful for the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call each week.  Today, I sat for a few moments facing the relatively blank New Post screen, then wandered around a bit on the web tracing the word "gratitude" along various strands of thought, trying all the while not to get too far afield.

Now I'm sitting here with my chest heaving, tears rolling down my cheeks,with images of Bing Crosby as freakin' Father O'Malley playing across the screen at Memory Lane Theater.   
 
WTF? How in the world did I end up here?
(CONTINUED)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

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 palpable.  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. 

The first of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of Body is a concept that stretches back to the earliest texts of Buddhism.  In the Theravada tradition, the Anapanasati and Maha Satipathana Suttas spell out the details of meditative techniques which have been widely taught for about 2500 years.  Now, through the efforts of Jon Cabot-Zinn and others, western medical science has been able to verify that mindfulness meditation has a significant positive impact on health, both physically and psychologically.  A primary emphasis of these techniques is developing a fuller awareness of our bodies as a basis of cultivating a calmer and clearer sense of the entire realm of our own experience.  With this comes a clearer sense of the nature of reality.

Conditioned as we are, most of us are "in our heads" most of the time.  Although we are obviously always breathing; although our eyes are seeing, our ears hearing, our bodies moving, most of that happens without our full presence of mind.  Most of the focus of our attention is on the thoughts running through our head.  Oftentimes fueled by emotions that we are, at best,  minimally aware of, these thoughts dominate our awareness in a way that sweeps us along the stream of our own conditioned patterns.  Without a commitment to Practice, we are liable to "sleepwalk" through our lives, rarely awakening to the Sacredness of Life that permeates our existence each and every moment.

In this week's MMM Circle, I found myself mentioning that it may be helpful to create a specific

(CONTINUED)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Some Serious Fun

“Discipline is important. When we sit down to meditate, we are encouraged
to stick with the technique and be faithful to the instruction,
but within that container of discipline, why do we have to be so harsh?"
--- Pema Chödrön, Shambala Sun

Tuesday morning the world turned white in the foothills of the Berkeshires. In the crisp pre-dawn air, with the cracking of a small woodstove in the simple meditation hall of the Valley Zendo as a soundscape,  I caught my first glimpse of winter.   As I turned the corner during the first walking meditation of the morning, there it was outside the window.  I was awestruck, surprisingly joyful.

That came and went, of course. The day unfolded as I continued Sesshin with Reverend Eishen Ikeda, the Soto Zen teacher in residence at this simple, rustic center in Rowe, MA.  In the style of Antaiji, where Ikeda had practiced with the late Kosho Uchiyama Roshi in his native Japan years ago, a day of the monthly five day Sesshin begins at 4:10 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. I had entered sesshin with my friend Peter the day before at 3 p.m. and was committed to sitting the final day which ended at 5 p.m.  It was "easy duty." I was only facing ten hours of meditation that day.  Except for the meals and clean-up, each hour consisted of 50 minutes of sitting and ten minutes of the slow walking meditation known as kinhin.

I can't really say with any degree of certainty at this point why I was drawn to travel out there to face the predictable physical discomfort and the entire gamut of feelings that would emerge during that day and a half.  Yet, I can say with certainty that I felt it to be valuable.   I'm now thinking of doing this a monthly part of my personal Practice.  I think it may have something to do with exploring the nature of discipline. A full day of Sitting can likely involve moments of "not wanting to do it."

What then?

For good reasons, I think most of us have a difficult relationship with the whole idea of discipline.
(CONTINUED.....)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

"My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness."
--Dalai Lama

"What we expect is to be truthful; to be kind; to try to share; to try to love one another. Some folks don’t recognize that as a discipline: They say, "Oh, that old stuff…." And it may not sound too difficult, unless you’ve ever tried it. But if you ever try it, you’ll know it’s an exacting discipline."
--Stephan Gaskin, This Season's People

 
The only time I saw a somewhat severe Burmese Buddhist meditation master (and his entire coterie of attendants) break down into belly laughs was when he pointed out that most Westerners seem to think that their mind is in their heads.  After a few moments, regaining his composure, he then raised his hand to his heart and continued.  Although I don't remember the exact words his interpreter used, the point seemed obvious.  It resonated with what I had felt years before as I sat in tears of joy during one of those perfect moments that Life seems to grace us with now and then.

Jesus had it right. It's all about Love.

As I learned it from my first Zen teacher, heart, mind, spirit are the same word in Japanese. Derived from a chinese character, the word shin makes no distinction between these three realms of existence.  They are seen as inseperable, one and the same.  In the Oneness of Being, beyond any words we use, our bodies, our minds, and our spirit are a seamless whole.  It's why I practice meditation.  I'm trying to "get it together", to live a life of Integrity as best I can. 
 
Over the years, I've found that as we spend the time to observe carefully how heart/mind/spirit operates within our own experience, as we commit ourselves to the Practice both on and off the cushion, we can not only develop a clearer and more appreciative understanding of the exquisite and intricate Web of Life that we are, we can actually begin to get a handle on how to slowly and gently become the person that, in our heart of hearts, we wish to be.  Then, at a certain point, we can even realize that we actually ARE the person we wish to be--and always have been!  We find that, even with all our flaws, with all our neurosis and conditioned patterns, we are absolutely perfect as is--and so is everybody else!  There is nowhere and nobody that is beyond the embrace of the One Love, whatever the karmic "predicament" may be at that moment.

The major question that propelled Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen, to leave Japan
(CONTINUED...)

Friday, November 1, 2013

The (Heart) Beat Goes On

"While we are sitting in meditation, we are simply exploring humanity
and all of creation in the form of ourselves."
---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.  No longer on the road with Daddy and Papa duties predominating, my time had opened up again and, of course, I seemed to fill it right back up.

Although, admittedly, some of that time involved taking long morning walks amidst fall splendor and making the time to take additional periods of Just Sitting Still Doing Nothing, the discussion in Wednesday's Midweek Mindfulness Circle did propel me to dive into a stack of books to re-familiarize myself with Lojong Practice, based on the Mind Training Slogans of Atisha.

Although these slogans emerged and were passed on as secret teachings in Tibet by the 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, in the melting pot of American Buddhism, I not only get to read a  number of commentaries of teachers from the Tibetan tradition (Chögyam Trungpa, Pema Chödrön and B. Alan Wallace), I get to read the commentaries of an American disciple of Japanese Zen, Sensei Norman Fisher.*  It's like peering at the facets of a diamond while slowly spinning it around.

How cool is that?

At one point years and years ago, after having been struck by Ram Dass's teachings in Be Here Now,
(CONTINUED...)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

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 as a way to explore aspects of my subconscious, these days I don't spend much time in front on a mirror.  Being retired now,  I don't have to appear with the proper clothes and haircut at the proper time each day. Sporting little hair on the top of my head, I usually feel that the washcloth is a good enough brush--and Betsy is generally quite expressive at the points at which I cross the line between kempt and un, and will periodically come at my beard and mustache with a scissors and great zeal. 

These days, Sitting Practice is my primary mirror.  Taking the time to gaze steadily and kindly at the flowing river of Mind as it merrily rolls along is increasingly interesting at this stage of the journey.  In fact, inspired by one of the MMM regulars, Stephanie, and her account of establishing an evening practice for the past couple of weeks, I added a third period of formal meditation yesterday before bed for the first time in quite awhile.  It was grand.

As the Practice deepens, it seems that even the more gnarly emotional whirlpools that swirl through don't seem to rock the boat all that much.
(CONTINUED...)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Opening the Hand of Thought

(This is the post I began last week but had to let go of.  Thanks so much to all of you who extended your kind words and support these past weeks.  It has meant a lot to me---Lance)

"To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away."
                                                         --Eihei Dogen, from Genjokoan

 "If we open the hand of thought that grasps "this person" (that is, our self) as the center of the world, then our lives broaden and our hearts open to all beings."
Shohaku Okumura, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo

Eihei Dogen (1200-1253)
Although Sitting is the Heart of Practice for me,  I also generally spend a bit of time most days going over spiritual teachings in the written form.  For awhile now, I had been re-reading Pema Chodron's Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, digesting it a chapter at a time once again, sometimes alone, sometimes reading aloud to Betsy before we retired for the night. Although it's was my third time through in succession, each journey through has been inspirational.

Then, several weeks ago, I spied a copy of Shohaku Okumura's Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo laying in the back seat of my buddhy Peel Sonier's car as we're driving up to Greenfield for the #OMG! Sit.  Having been hoodwinked into a bit of koan study by Daido Roshi during my residency at Zen Mountain Monastery (a funny tale which I won't go into here), I had been deeply touched as I studied Genjokoan with the Roshi.   Having been also touched by the writings of Okumura, one of the founding forces of the Pioneer Valley Zendo in Charlemont, and his teacher, Kosho Uchiyama,  I immediately asked Peel if I could borrow the book.  He smiled and said "sure." 

The timing was perfect.  Sometimes the right book at the right time can make all the difference.
(CONTINUED)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Hand of Thought

"If we open the hand of thought that grasps "this person" (that is, our self) as the center of the world, then our lives broaden and our hearts open to all beings."
Shohaku Okumura, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo

Well, for days, I've tried to grab a few minutes here and there to write this week's Courtesy Wake Up Call in the midst of the current Dad and Papa (Grandfather) duties.  I got a good start at one point, but as events rolled on, it's become obvious that I best just let it go. 
 
It's quite clear that the conditions of our lives will always hold up and downs, difficult periods and easy times, plans and chaos.  The Practice is to embrace it all--even if it doesn't reflect our notions of what should be.  Although I've been fortunate enough to grab some time to meditate most days, the real Practice has been off the cushion.  Again and again, Uchiyama Roshi's instruction, "to let go of the hand of thought", has allowed me to turn my gaze instead to what needs to be done to support those around me. 

I hope to write more about that next week!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Shelter from the Storm

"There is a foundation for our lives, a place in which our life rests. That place is nothing but the present moment, as we see, hear, experience what is. If we do not return to that place, we live our lives out of our heads. We blame others; we complain; we feel sorry for ourselves. All of these symptoms show that we're stuck in our thoughts. We're out of touch with the open space that is always right here.”
― Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special

In the past few weeks, I've experienced some stormy seas.  Although "life as usual" for me is always rather unusual as I continue to explore the practice of what Uchiyama Roshi termed a "Life of Vow", this has been a particularly unsettled and, at times unsettling, passage through time and space.  As I've kept moving, caring for my partner, kids and grandkids (and their pets) strewn around Massachusetts, most of my usual routines, other than Sitting, have dissolved.  Even MMM itself, which, in part, has been my attempt to create a regular "shelter from the storm"--for myself and others--hasn't been immune from storminess.

Yet, as I sit here looking out the window at the dance of raindrops shimmering along the glistening asphalt of Bank Row here in Greenfield, the reality of storminess--rather than my thoughts about it-- just emerged unfettered.  In the midst of a torrential downpour, it is actually quite beautiful out there!  Even though I am committed to walk across that rainswept street in a few moments and probably get a bit soggy as I fulfill a commitment to the #OMG! (#Occupy Meditation Group!) Peace Presence*, I can honestly say that my spirits aren't dampened.  I just felt the tightness in my shoulders release as my lungs began to fill with air.  The river of traffic along Main Street sings, the multi-colored grayness of the sky glows in harmony.

The promise of Mindfulness Practice delivers once again.

The moment I turned my gaze to what was happening outside the world of my own thoughts and feelings to realize the actual storminess that is existing in the here and now, a shift of consciousness occurred spontaneously.  As soon as my awareness was released from the storylines about shelters and storminess and wet and dry and good and bad and gain and loss, the expansiveness and fullness of Life As It Is returned--instantaneously! I didn't choose to change the channel (although sometimes that works, too).  I merely raised my eyes to look outside.

I love it when that happens. 

Of course, there are still shelters and storminess and wet and dry and good and bad and gain and loss woven into the fabric of our lives.  The relative plane of existence is absolutely there.  It is not separate from the Essential Oneness.  There are hard times and there are easy times; times to cruise, times to roll up our sleeves.  Life is just like that.

Yet, as the Practice matures, we come to see for ourselves that it is precisely our attempts to control the world to meet our own models of how it should be, and our own resistances to what is actually occurring, that ultimately separate us from one another, from the ever present Oneness of Life.  The flow of the Universe is incessant and any attempt to create a lasting shelter from the storm is doomed to disappointment. Yet, when we turn to face Life directly, the shelter emerges from within the storm itself.  It rests securely in the embrace of the present moment.

It is sheer grace.



Since the fall of 2011, a few of us meditate for a half hour at noon on the Greenfield Town Commons, Monday through Saturday.  Begun as a form of "direct inaction" in the midst of the #Occupy Wall Street! Movement, #OMG! has continued through rain and shine, snow and summer heat. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Once Again: Why Bother?

"The study of the Buddha Way is to study the self.  To know the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things."
---Dogen Zenji, from the Genjokoan (Actualizing the Fundamental Point)

"Enlightenment is ego's ultimate disappointment."
---Chogyam Trungpa

More than ever, the world today needs a certain type of bravery.  As we go careening through the cosmos in what appears to be a helter skelter, mad dash toward our self-destruction as a species, the courage to sit still and examine the nature of our hearts and minds on a regular basis is, I think, crucial.  The actual commitment to do just that is no mean feat.  It's a rare and precious thing.

One of the stated intentions of most people who have wandered into MMM in the past 18 months has been to develop a regular meditation practice of their own.  Most, if not all,  had been exposed to meditation before, yet it hadn't "stuck".  Although there had been an intuitive draw to the exploration of Practice, and meditation did seem to make life work a bit better at that point, those special cushions ended up in closets and life rolled on.

I can relate, of course.  My zafu had gathered dust for months at a time over the past four decades as I bumbled and staggered ahead through my life.  Yet, inexorably-- and ultimately inexplicably--I found myself again drawn to Sit Still on a regular basis, again and again.  I haven't missed more than a handful of days in the past few years.  It can be the most interesting and wonderful, or the most confusing and disturbing,  part of my day!  At this point, it seems that the Practice is doing me as much as I'm doing it. 

One of the notions that propelled me to start MMM a year and a half ago was that I could help create a setting that would support others in the development of Practice.  For the most part I think that what has emerged does that to some extent.  Yet, it is clear that what one of my favorite MMM regulars characterized as "The Dilemma of Discipline" last week,  is a fundamental challenge along the path of Practice for us all.   

She and I just sort of bounced off of each other that day, getting hung up on debating external structures during the recent period of transition, rather than focusing on the central nature of commitment in the development of the Practice.  More than anything, it seems to me that commitment really is the Heart of the Matter. 

As we did back in June, it might be time for the Circle to again look at the essential question: "Why Bother?"--and compare notes on what we've found challenging and what we've found helpful in cultivating our practices.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we     love, they will bloom like flowers.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

The Universe is exquisite.  It provides us with lessons on letting go again and again.  Just when you think The Plan is in place--something shifts.  

Friday began normally enough.  I awoke before 5, set the meditation timer for an hour, and Sat to greet the day.  Usually, I would then grab a cup of coffee with Betsy before sitting down at the laptop to complete the weekly post for Your Courtesy Wake Up Call.  So much for that plan.

When I went downstairs after the Sit, Betsy was lying on the couch. It's not uncommon for her to stay down there after an early morning pee to give the two chihuahuas, Pedra and Chico,  some "puppy pile" time. When she stirred, though, I could tell she was not feeling well.  She said she felt lousy and needed to rest some more.  

It only got worse.  

Within a couple of hours, we were on our way to the Emergency Room at Heywood Hospital in Gardner.  After a series of tests over the course of the next few hours, we got the word: It was acute appendicitis!  Within a few minutes, at 4 p.m., the surgeon, the ER nurse and I were rolling Betsy down a series of corridors to the prep area of the Operating room.  (Thank God for small town hospitals. I was with her until the moment the team rolled her into the OR).  A little over an hour later she was in the ICU beginning her recovery from an appendectomy.  Soon her son Mark joined me at her bedside, and after she fell asleep, I left to drive back to Barre, tired and extremely grateful for the care and skill provided by the staff we encountered that day--and for the Practice.

During the course of that long day I had the opportunity to put the fruit of all those hours on the zafu to good use.  I was able be Present for my beloved friend.  As the hours rolled by, I was able to stay calm, caring, and clear as Betsy and I interacted with one another and the staff we encountered.  Experiencing the entire gamut of emotions (tears leaked through a few times), I had the opportunity to to breath and open my heart into each moment as it appeared without spinning off or turning away.  I was able to be there for her as Betsy experienced pain, be there with her fear--and mine.  One breath at at time, I watched as feelings emerged and dissolved in the spacious embrace of Mindfulness as my partner and I danced through this day along the edge of Life/Death.

Although these procedures are "routine", I had gazed out the window during the operation to see a windblown autumn leaf twirl through the sunlight and disappear into the shade.  I knew the deal.  Each moment is precious as it is. The next is not guaranteed.

So, obviously Friday's post never happened. It didn't happen Saturday as I cleaned house, shopped, made telephone calls to family and friends, then picked Betsy up from the hospital at noon.  Happy to have her safe at home,  I stayed at her side much of  the day, served as chief cook and bottle washer the rest of the time.  It was a blessing to see the color returning to her face.

Today. through the wonders of arthroscopic surgery Betsy is already able to move without a great deal of pain, to walk a bit. 

In fact she's stirring on the couch now after another nap--and it's a beautiful autumn afternoon. 

Perhaps it's time to do some walking meditation?

(Obviously, it has still taken me hours to finish up and get this on the web. The best laid plans.......)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Times They Are A-Changing

“One of my favorite subjects of contemplation is this question: “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?””
― Pema Chödrön

"I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence..."
–– David Bowie, "Changes"

I never really was a David Bowie fan, but as I sat down to the computer to begin this week's post, strains of "Ch-ch-ch-ch changes..." started running through my brain.  I even surfed over to YouTube and played it a few times, then brought up a copy of the lyrics.  "Ch-ch-ch ch changes. Turn and face the strain." Changes, indeed. Buddha in drag! (After all, Buddhanature is Universal, right? )

Although yesterday's sultry sizzler of an afternoon and last night's dazzling display of lightning, thunder, hail, and torrential rain seemed like a quintessential summer day, fall began whispering in our ear this past week.  My housemate Michael noticed it on the northwest breeze one relatively warm afternoon, enough to comment on it in the kitchen.  The next night the National Weather Service warned of scattered frost. "Ch-ch-ch changes..."

The fall has always been my favorite time of year.   But it's not just the multi-colored majesty of the foliage and cooler temperatures that bring its music to the top of the charts.  I wish it were that easy. 

Spring is easy to love. After the starkness of a New England winter, the world begins to explode with new life.  With warm breezes teasing us and daffodils poking their way through the snow, the irrepressible growth and greenery sings of "Ch-ch-ch changes" full of delight. Fall, on the other hand, modulates the whole world into a minor key as leaves burst into color--to then die and cascade to form burial mounds on the forest floor.

In the teachings of traditional Buddhism, human existence is said to have three basic characteristics: impermanence, non-self, and suffering.  These three Signs are said to be the inescapable fabric of our being.  Everything changes. We all die.  It hurts.  Fall puts that right in our face.
 
(Continued)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Listening With Our Hearts

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others 
and relieve others of their suffering....."
---from the Fourth Precept of Thich Nhat Hanh's Tien Tiep Order

“The intimacy that arises in listening and speaking truth is only possible if we can open to the vulnerability of our own hearts. ”
--- Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

A friend, who had attended  MMM Beginner's Mind and Beyond when a break in her schedule gave her the opportunity, was struck by the openness displayed by folks in the MMM Circle that day.  "Folks were so honest" she said with her eyes glowing a bit "--painfully honest!" I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo!" --and felt a deep gratitude for what emerges on Monday mornings these days. 

The opportunity to converse openly and honestly about what is nearest to our hearts and soul is a rare and precious thing today. In the hustle bustle of our prototypically materialistic society comparing notes on the Spiritual dimension of our lives doesn't happen all that much.  In fact, when I was a kid we were told not to ever talk about religion--or politics. 

Obviously, I didn't follow the rules.  I majored in political science in college--and have been an avid student of Spirituality for a long, long time.  The wisdom teachings that arise in the mystical traditions of all the world's religions and how they play out in the reality of our day to day lives is profoundly interesting to me.  I can't think of anything I'd rather yak about.

Of course, communication, in it's true sense, is much more than conversation.  Communication happens on many levels.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Sounds of Silence

"Be still and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:10


I remember my dad yelling, angrily, demanding that we kids shut up so he could get some "peace and quiet."  The threatening tone of his voice and likelihood of imminent violence usually did shut us up--at least for awhile. 

Dad loved to fish.  One of my strongest visual memories of him is of the day I looked out the front window of our apartment and saw him silhouetted against the sunsparkles of the lake a couple of hundred feet offshore, sitting quietly in his beloved rowboat, fishing pole in hand.  He could sit like that, motionless, surrounded by the stillness of that small Northern Illinois lake for long periods of time just peering at the red and white bobber.  Often, he returned to shore seemingly in a good mood, quieter, more content. 

I noticed. 

It wasn't at all surprising that when his doctor advised him to finally retire and "just go fishing", my dad did just that. He bought himself a camper and a trailer, and for much of final year and a half of his life, he traveled and fished from coast to coast.

I think the quest for "peace and quiet" is probably universal.  Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote that even the businessman's smoke break was an attempt to stop and breath, to find a moment's peace within the busyness.  The promise of the Practice is that we that we can engage in that journey with some degree of skill, that there is actually some method to our madness.

As today's quote from Ram Dass points out, there are deeper and fuller realms of experience available to us.  As we cultivate Mindfulness, we are more likely to notice ourselves being calmer, quieter.  The cacophony of random thoughts and feelings and bodily tensions tend to release their grip a bit, and a sense of silent spaciousness emerges in our lives. Yet--and here's where it gets interesting--we are also more likely to experience sounds and other sensations more vividly.  Sometimes it may be helpful to remember to look at Ram Dass's statement a bit differently:
The quieter you become, the noisier it gets!

As more time and energy are devoted to Mindfulness Practice, there will be times when the volume

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Who Knows?

"As long as you have certain desires about how it ought to be you can't see how it is.”
---Ram Dass

"Not-knowing is the first tenet of the Zen Peacemakers. Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any opinion, idea or concept. This means total openness to the situation,
deep listening to the situation."
---from the Zen Peacemakers website


Last week, Jane brought a question to the MMM Circle that was one of those questions.  A good question is like a good mirror.  You can sometimes see things about yourself that are otherwise hidden.

Although there are often quick answers that can seemingly take us off the hook, a really good question, if you take it to heart, can peel back layers and layers of "stuff".  It can shine a light on the unexamined assumptions and beliefs, subterranean feelings, and inner conflicts that so often keep us sleepwalking through our days.   Although I did  come up with a quick answer and hit the snooze button (Jane had emailed me the question before we met on Monday), this question has started ringing again.  I love it.

"My question this week, Lance, is how do you let go without giving up?"

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Suffering Is Not Enough: Take Two

(This is "Take Two" because I first posted a piece entitled "Suffering Is Not Enough" with the same introductory quote from Thich Nhat Hanh on May 30.)

"Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. 
They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time."
---Thich Nhat Hanh, "Suffering is Not Enough"

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior's world.”
Pema Chödrön,
 The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times 


During  the MMM Circle* last week, one of the regulars wondered aloud if some of the difficulties she had been experiencing were related to the fact that for the past several weeks folks had been sharing a lot of the "darker stuff" during our Monday morning sessions.  Although we didn't really address Stephanie's comment directly as the conversation unfolded, it certainly caught my attention.  A cartoonist may have drawn me with a little light bulb over my head (or perhaps the word "duh!" written in a little thought balloon). 

I think I, for one, perhaps had lost sight of that simple truth: Suffering is not enough!

 Grandson Demetri and Daughter Persephone Pappanikou
Although it is clear that the Practice deepens our ability to perceive and work with the darker and denser emotional clusters that so often keep us frozen in the patterns that cause us to feel disconnected from the Ongoing Miracle, it is also clear that at times we need to turn our attention to the simple blessings that surround us at each moment.  For the most part, they are always there.  Stephanie's passing question reminded me to make a more conscious effort to notice! It changed the nature of my experience for the rest of the week.  The world became lighter and brighter again.

One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Stephan Gaskin, taught that Attention = Energy.  At a very fundamental level, what we choose to attend to, what we focus our attention on, we energize in our lives and in our world. The Practice enables us to see how that operates more clearly.  We come to notice the impact that even the quality of attention has on ourselves and others. We see directly how cultivating our kindness and compassion and freeing ourselves from judgmental reactions dominated by subconscious grasping and aversion allows us to make healthier choices in the world that we are co-creating moment to moment. 

Unlike some new age teachings that believe that giving any attention to "negative" feelings or thoughts is not helpful, the Practice invites us to open to "the places that scare us", to be willing and able to feel fear and sadness and anger and all the modes of experience that we have learned to repress and avoid.  Unexplored and unaccepted, that stuff forms an armoring over our hearts that prevents us from deeper contact with the Sacred Reality that we are immersed in. 

Yet, it is obvious that we can sometimes get stuck in the darker and denser mind states and allow them to dominate our awareness. They will, of course, eventually pass, (especially if we can successfully let go of the storylines), yet at times it can be quite helpful to make a conscious effort to "change the channel." We can, in that moment, decide that suffering is not enough and place our attention on the dance of clouds in a summer sky, or pause and look around at the beauty that we've created in our living space.  At times just turning our attention to the sounds around us can recreate the sense of spaciousness that allows even the darker emotions to float like clouds within the clear blue sky rather than dominate our consciousness.  The Practice, in developing our ability to point our attention gently and precisely where we choose, affords us that opportunity.

(If a shift doesn't happen immediately: take a walk, listen to your favorite music, do the dishes and actually feel the warm water on your skin and look for the rainbows in the soap bubbles, etc.  You'll find what works for you.) 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Though it is impossible........


"When you turn the corner
And you run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left"

---Langston Hughes, The Final Curve

There is nothing like a weekend in New York City to bring you face to face with yourself.  I generally consider myself to be pretty open-hearted, relatively unafraid, able to meet most folks eyeball to eyeball without withdrawing into myself.  That is, afterall, the essence of the Bodhisattva Vow, right?

And then there are those times..........

As folks met for Monday Morning Mindfulness at Community Yoga in my absence this week, I had the opportunity to explore Practice quite differently.  The setting was a Manhattan bound R train heading for the notorious confines of Port Authority.  At one point,  a women, disheveled and smelling of urine, stumbled and fell across my lap.  Lost in a non-stop rant about everybody being "into her business";  she then recoiled from me, apparently aghast.   Regaining her balance, at least physically, she arose and then sat next to me, all the while continuing the agitated conversation with herself.

It took me a couple of minutes to move through the initial shock of the physical contact.   Watching feelings of repulsion and fear arise and pass, observing thoughts emerge and dissolve (Eeek. I'm freaking infected with something, etc.), I took a long, slow breath and began to relax. Here it was--what my buddhy Peal might call "hard core Zen"--yet another chance to do Tonglen on the front lines. Absorbing what I could into the expansive space of the Heart on the in-breath, breathing out to extend my aspirations for peace and well-being--hers, mine, theirs, ours--into a subway car rattling through the darkness, I practiced.

Breathing in, breathing out. 

At one point, as I began to allow my gaze to turn toward her, I noticed that her agitation increased immediately.  Her ire at other folks "being in her business" was, afterall, the locus of her current hell.  I cut loose of any attempt to engage her more directly--and that's when the real work began for me.
I felt completely powerless, utterly helpless. 

Oh no, not THAT!

As a child I witnessed my mother's struggle with the demons of her own psyche, up close and personal.  Diagnosed at times as a paranoid schizophrenic, at times as manic-depressive, her struggle to navigate through life were a painful journey that, of course, affected me deeply.  Although I certainly enjoyed many perfect moments of childhood (wandering through fields for hours in awe of grasshoppers and butterflies, sitting on a hillside watching a rainbow emerge and dissolve, etc.), I also was often profoundly frightened and saddened as, again and again, my mother would disappear into the throes of her mental illness.  As a young child feelings of utter helplessness were not uncommon.  I ached to have Mom "re-appear"--and was powerless to bring that about.  I could see those same feelings emerge--in spades--as I sat there that morning hurtling toward Port Authority.  I can feel those feelings emerge now as I sit here at the laptop. 

Breathing in.  Breathing out.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

On the Road Again

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

" I have arrived. I am home. My destination is in each step."
Thich Nhat Hahn

This journey didn’t start with a single step exactly.  I staggered through a series of missteps and minor mishaps, stumbled through several misdirections and mistakes.  Originally planned as a “mini-tour”, spending time with friends in NYC and the Jersey Shore, Life interjected a series of changes that have me on a Peter Pan bus three days later than the original image. In the process “the Plan” has changed a number of times and a handful of unused tickets lay strewn in my wake.  

 Now, here I am, perched on a Peter Pan bus with Wi-fi, on the Road to New York City—finally. 

As always, Life is being just what it always is; a dynamic, everchanging, fluid, web of causes and conditions. If fortune graces this particular permutation of “the Plan”, I should be able to spend some time with my good buddhy Howard this evening and again on Sunday.  An unanticipated “day off” on Saturday (Howard now has to go to NJ for the day) could have me just hanging loose in Astoria or wandering over to Manhattan, maybe picking and grinning in a park somewhere.  And, although I can plan it one way or the other, I really won’t “know” until I get there. (It’s not unlikely that I’ll do neither or both of the above.)

In traditional Buddhism and Hinduism the ultimate goal of spiritual practice is often characterized as “liberation”.  In Christianity this notion of ultimate “freedom” from the vagaries and vissicitudes of Life is also found.  Jesus was reported have said “Then you shall know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.”  Freedom is cool, right?

More so than some other cultures, we Americans are steeped in ideas about the value of personal freedom.  For many of us, our perceived quest for freedom has often involved figuring out how to extricate ourselves from external forces, to free ourselves from the expectations and demands of others.  If only “they” would go away—whether that is the State or our Mom—we’d be free.  Then we can really step out and do as we please.  That seems simple enough, right?

Why then does Pema Chodron’s root guru, Chogyam Trungpa, entitle one of his books The Myth of Freedom? Maybe something else is going on.

The Practice, more than anything, involves examining the process of our own Life as carefully and deeply as possible.  If we engage this inquiry with a degree of steadfastness and a modicum of skill, we come to see for ourselves that it really isn’t the expectations and demands of others that imprison us, it’s our very own expectations and demands--on ourselves and others--that most often create the shackles that we drag along with each step we take.  At the deepest levels, our need to control our world to fit our own models of who we are and what we think we need can keep us stumbling along feeling very un-free.   

With Practice, we come to see how this process can and does operate in our own lives moment to moment.  Seeing that clearly, the next step isn’t so much a matter of deciding to let go. Things just shift.  Life emerges as it will and the journey boils down to taking this very step.  More so than a set destination, our basic intentions inform the direction and nature of that step.

And now, I discover that the Wi-fi isn’t working anymore and there is no electricity in the onboard outlet! So, once again, the Plan— to have this entry on the Web on Friday afternoon—has dissolved. 

I trust that this will make it to the web on Saturday morning--or not! 

(Although I'll be on the Road, Michelle Tetreault will open the doors for the Beginner's Mind and Beyond Intro to Meditation Group at 8:30 on Monday, August 5.  The Early Bird Meditation Session 7:00-8:30 is cancelled for the day.  Things will return to abnormal on Monday, August 12.)

Friday, July 26, 2013

ARGH!!!

We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out,
either way making things worse for ourselves and others.
Or we can practice patience: wait,
experience the anger and investigate its nature.
---Pema Chodron

“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”
---Thich Nhat Hanh

The Universe is exquisite.  Once you hitch your wagon to Practice and roll out, you are going to get the lessons you need to take you deeper--whether you like it or not!  (That might be especially true if you have the chuzpah to sit down each week and try to say something about how Life really IS and suggest ideas about what we can do about that.  LOL)

Last week, I spent time here presenting the notion that simply "cutting loose of the storyline", the process of refocusing our awareness on other aspects of our experience (preferably what we are feeling in our heart), can sometimes take us from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.  Although I certainly have experienced something approximating that more than once, Life has interjected a pretty dramatic bout of upset apple carts and broohaha over the course of 24 hours or so to remind me that it certainly can take a bit longer to regain that sense of wonder about it all.  It may seem like a hell of a long time, even.

As a child and a young man I had what folks call an extremely bad temper.  Having grown up in the midst of a lot of anger, I would react to things in my world with bursts of violent emotions and even physical violence.  I could yell and smash things and strike out with the worst of them.  Perhaps, one of the deepest gratitudes that I have to the Practice is that I no longer am likely to inflict harm on others due to "loosing it".  

Yesterday, I hit a deep pool of anger for the first time in quite awhile.  Mixed with fear and pain, no amount of cutting loose of the storylines was about to dispel it rapidly.  Although it certainly helped,
what was called for was the willingness and ability to make some time and space to allow the anger to run its course within as much mindfulness and heart as I could manage.  Ultimately it took me a couple of  hours in the evening, then a couple more in the early morning to bring it to the point where I felt safe to re-engage with Betsy and the rest of my life in a clear and kind way. 

During that time, both Shamatha/Vipashyana and Tonglen practice seems to have afforded me the opportunity to feel and examine the nature of the patterns involved in that anger, to stay with it rather than withdraw.  First in little bursts, then with a slow and gentle expansion I felt that gracious spaciousness return.  Slowly I felt my heart open again.  Whew!

Shambala Sun, a magazine which offers a "Buddhist view for people of all spiritual traditions who are open, inquisitive, passionate and committed" has two articles that may be helpful to you if you are interested in ways to look at and work with anger (and the whole continuum of aversion). "The Answer to Anger and Aggression is Patience" by Pema Chodron and "Loosening the Knots of Anger" by Thich Nhat Hanh are both available on-line and can be quite useful.

I'm certainly grateful that Life embraces the possibility of Love, Forgiveness, and Good Will.  I'm grateful that we have the means to bring that into our world individually and collectively.  I'm grateful to the Practice and all it provides.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Once Upon a Time.........

“The Buddha’s principal message that day was
that holding on to anything blocks wisdom.
Any conclusion that we draw must be let go." 
---Pema Chodron, 
The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

"The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao."
---Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching

The irony is exquisite.  I'm sitting here at the laptop poised to sprinkle some words across the screen in an effort to capture the essence of the notion that words can't really capture the Essence.  (Fat chance, eh!?)

After choosing the two quotes for this post, the next thought was, "Ah, I'll just leave it at that, choose a graphic, and hit "send" and head out for today's adventure: my first visit to Laurel Lake.  But, that seemed a bit too cutesy, a tad too easy.   I am, afterall, making an attempt to live what Roshi Kosho Uchiyama has characterized as "a life of vow."  I've committed to a weekly post as part of my commitment to Monday Morning Mindfulness.

When push comes to shove, a set of commitments are all that I really have to bring to the plate. The rest is in the hands of the Cosmic Pitcher.   Although I have certainly put in my time in the batting cage, all I can really do is be Present as best I can and take my best swing if it appears to be in the strike zone,  let it go by if it ain't. 

And here's the next pitch.....

In chapter 8 of The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness,  Pema Chodron not only
offers what I sense is a valid "take" on the Way It Is, but gives us a useful and practical way to carefully, gently and persistently alter the nature of the way we experience Life.  Entitled "No Such Thing As a True Story", she points out that we create our own world moment to moment as a result of the way we think, what we believe.  

This notion probably isn't new to anyone who has been exploring Eastern Spirituality.  Yet, it's not the "belief" about how beliefs alter our perceptions of things that is most important.  What is important is realizing that we have the option--moment to moment--to let go of the thoughts that are spinning through our brain.  We can, instead, focus on the underlying experience of our life in that moment: the actual sensations of sight and sound and touch and feeling, the experiencing of the energies at play within our own bodies and beyond.  We can actually shift our awareness from our heads to our hearts.  That's where the real action is.

Although making the choice to let go of the "storylines" that tend to run through our brains takes having the courage and gentle persistence to explore even what is painful and scarey with a great curiosity, that's where all the Miracles exists.  With Practice, simply remembering the mental note "thinking",  ultimately can shift our experience of reality dramatically.  Sometimes it can take us from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.

Of course, for most of us, the "habit" of focusing most of our awareness on the content of our thoughts is deeply ingrained.  It is, after all, the major means we use to "control" our world.  We create a superstructure of "knowing" to protect us from the sometimes queasy, achy-breaky sensations that emerge from of the ultimate uncertainty of it all.

Oftentimes we've learned to stay in our head to avoid what is in our hearts. 

Our "thoughts about the matter" are also the primary foundation of our identity as we experience it.  The "I" that we experience is, in large part, the sum total of the conclusions we have drawn about the the nature of reality and how we fit into it.  Even if that "I" is generally stressed and unhappy, we cling to it.  It can be scarey as hell to throw it all up for grabs and proclaim, as the founder of the Providence Zen Center Korean Zen master Seung Sahn often did, "Don't know.  Straight ahead!" *

Yet. that is precisely the gateway to the Real Deal. 

Mindfulness Practice, both in formal meditation, and in those moments that we actually "notice" what we are experiencing, increasingly offers the possibility of exercising more conscious control over how and where we focus our attention.  With gentle persistence, we begin to open to Life in a kinder, clearer, and more complete way.  We come to see that we are way more than we thought.

And that's my story and I'm sticking to it--or not!

* In Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema describes this as a three-fold process:
Let go of the storyline. Feel what is in your heart.  Open to the next moment with no agenda.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Gateless Gate*

"You knock at the door of reality,
Shake off your thought wings,
Loosen your shoulders,
And open.
---Rumi

"And you shall know the Truth,
and the Truth shall make you free."
---Jesus of Nazareth


Last Monday's MMM Circle again provided some food for thought--and the impetus to move beyond thought--as a we compared notes on Mindfulness Practice.  At several points, as the group grappled with the various issues that had come up during the week as we worked to put the Practice into practice, the limits of discursive thought and "reasoning" became more than obvious.

I loved it.

At one point Michelle, in her own inimitable style, jumped with both feet into the apparent contradiction between the dictum to always "be here now" and the need to take care of life's necessary activities such as planning, paying the bills, etc.  She then moved on to the apparent contradiction between the notion that "we are One" and our individual uniqueness, adding, "I mean we're all one, but we're not.  We're the same, but we're different, ya know?"

I think Zen monks of old would have had a ball.

As it was, the Circle spiraled onward and we turned to the more apparently "practical" concerns of Practice, comparing notes, exchanging tips, etc.  Yet, as best I can sense it, the questions that Michelle had raised echoed themes presented in some of the fundamental koans of Zen.

It didn't surprise me, really.

It's become more and more obvious to me: when there is a commitment to live life consciously;  when there is any sort of willingness to examine our experience of Life in depth rather than allowing the messages we have internalized from our upbringing to create our realities,  Life Itself can and will provide us with the necessary questions--and the necessary answers. 

The fundamental paradoxes that Zen Koan study thrives on are inherent in the way conceptual thought operates.  With some time and effort, we each come to the Gateless Gate.  And, the good news is that we each have the ability enter into a deeper and richer reality than we've been conditioned to experience.  Like Jesus proclaimed, "Ask and you will receive. Knock and it will be opened."

Like Zen koan study, Life itself is designed to blow your mind.  It is designed to transform question marks into exclamation points.  All we have to do is really pay attention.  How else can we perceive the absolute Sacredness of our every day experience in the midst of a sunny summer day?  How else can we perceive Beauty in the eyes of a child?

The promise of Mindfulness Practice is that we increasingly become more able to answer these fundamental questions for ourselves from a quality of consciousness that embraces not only thought, but our bodies, feelings and intuition as well. Just because conceptual thought throws up it's hands and walks away without an easy answer, doesn't mean that answers don't exist. The most important ones just don't always come packaged in words.

As one's heart opens and the mind becomes calmer, the Truth can be as simple as experiencing the next breath.

How cool is that?

*The Gateless Gate is a classical collection of Zen koans compiled by Chinese Zen Master Wu-men in the 13th century.  In some forms of Zen, koan study is a primary practice.  Students have to demonstrate an understanding of what often appear as conundrums, ridicules and paradoxes.  
"What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is one of the most famous in the West. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Wherever Two or Three of You

"To begin a sangha, find one friend who would like to join you for sitting or walking meditation or tea meditation or sharing."
---Thich Nhat Hanh

 "Everyone has the seed of Buddhanature within themselves."
---Thich Nhat Hanh


These past few weeks of Monday Morning Mindfulness have certainly reaffirmed a belief that I've held for quite awhile now: Anyone who makes an effort to explore their own experience consciously and has the opportunity to compare notes on this effort with others similarly engaged will come to understand themselves and others at a deeper level.  The Practice works.

As the small group of us who have been meeting for Monday Morning Mindfulness "Beginner's Mind--and Beyond" have continued our exploration of Mindfulness Practice and our relationship to the question, "Why Bother?" it's only gotten better and better.  

As I sit here and turn my attention to the whisps of images that constitute the memories of the past couple of sessions, I am struck with a sense of awe and a feeling of gratitude for having shared those moments with other folks who have the heart and courage to explore Life in a way that is, I believe, crucial at this point in history.  At a time in which clinging to problematic institutional truths or the reaction to that, cynicism, threaten our very existence on the planet, the essential sincerity--and competence--of those gathered in the effort to Engage Life with an open heart and clear mind each Monday morning continues to amaze me.

It makes my heart glow.

Although I did my "teacher" thing this past week and made a point to share some ideas about commitment from the Buddhist traditions that I've worked with over the past few decades, it was again made obvious to me "The Teachings" are beyond any teacher or set of traditional teachings.  They emerge from Life itself.

Again and again during the past two sessions, the various members of the circle have offered forth, sometimes with tears in their eyes, powerful insights into the heart and mind.  These truths came forth as simple expressions of their own experience. I learned a lot.

How cool is that?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Don't Bother!



Last week's theme "Why Bother?" seems to have generated some thoughtful reflection among the folks who showed up for Monday Morning Mindfulness and, apparently, others as well.  

As most of us scurry ahead in our lives, the bottom lines that guide our lives and inform our choices are generally not so obvious.  We may have set forth to accomplish a set of specific goals, yet have never taken it a step deeper to ask ourselves why we have chosen those particular goals. 

Why bother?  It seems to me if more of us would take a bit more time and attention to sit with that question, this "ole suffering world" would probably be in a lot better shape. 

Of course, how we Sit with that question is important.  Although thinking about why we are doing what we are doing is certainly helpful, ultimately, it seems to me that our own bottom line is a matter of Heart.  The truth of the matter and the heart of the matter are the same thing.

I think that is where Mindfulness Practice comes in.  As we cultivate the ability to be present to our actual experience more completely rather than allow our thoughts to continually dominate the major part of our awareness, our perspective begins to shift. Directly experiencing our breath, our body, our thoughts, our feelings, our senses, the locus of "decision-making" expands beyond just what we think about things.  It expands beyond just our conditioned emotional reactions, as well.

That's where it gets really interesting.