"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.

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.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Bother?

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!
--the title of a book by Mindfulness Teacher Sylvia Boorstein



Each Monday the alarm goes off at 4:20 AM or so and Betsy and I begin the process that takes me to a 6:15 bus in Orange.  With any luck at all, I'm at the door to Community Yoga, key in hand, at 7 AM to begin Monday Morning Mindfulness.  Although there have been a few regulars, and a few irregulars, on and off over the past year for that first hour of MMM, I've often sat alone in the early morning quiet of downtown Greenfield.  Sometimes in the past year I'd sat alone for the entire 3 hours.

Any number of times as I sat there,
I would watch a bevy of unpleasant thoughts and feelings emerge.  Feeling tired, doubtful, foolish, I'd sometimes questioned my own sanity for dragging myself (and my partner) out of bed at that ungodly hour to glug a cup of coffee, jump in a car to drive 25 minutes to jump on a bus for an hour to then hustle, sometimes through rain or snow, uphill from the bus station to the studio--and then sit by myself in an empty room. It certainly didn't seem like a reasonable thing to do.

Why bother?

That, of course, is an essential question.  It's probably useful to ask it before we dangle our foot over the edge of the bed to start each day, to examine the nature of our essential commitment.  Taking it to to heart over the course of many years, I don't know that there is a "reasonable" answer.  And yet.......

In the first session of the Introduction to Meditation class three people commented that they had found that their lives seemed to be "better" when they meditated, yet they found it difficult to sustain a regular practice.   That seems to be a common condition.  I think it can be explained pretty readily as a function of our conditioning.  We are deeply propelled to "do" by the prevailing values and norms of our materialistic society.  Sitting still, isn't our strong suit.

Yet, now there are a few of us are sitting fairly regularly--at least each Monday morning. 

Why do we bother?

It might be interesting to compare notes on why we have chosen to do that--don't you think?





Friday, June 14, 2013

It's a Family Affair

 "Let me respectfully remind you, life & death are of supreme importance.  
Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost.  Each of us must strive to awaken.  Awaken!  Take heed, do not squander your lives."
--A traditional Zen Exhortation recited at the end of Evening Service 
at Zen Mountain Monastery



Today I meditated under a tree about a hundred yards or so from where I saw my eldest daughter Persephone born in 1972--and witnessed the death of my father in 1975.  Though I sat in formal meditation for only ten minutes or so (my son Joshua was walking nearby with a sleeping Granddaughter Amelia in the her stroller), I had the opportunity, at least momentarily, to once again open my heart to the Profound Immensity of Life/Death in a way that most folks in this society probably haven't allowed themselves to consider possible--or even desirable. 

I'm incredibly grateful to the teachers, teachings and practices that have allowed me to experience even the tears that flowed during those moments as an outright blessing, to feel again the utter Preciousness of Life.

Afterwards, Josh, sleeping Amelia and I continued walking the grounds of what was once St. Therese Hospital (Now owned by Vista Health System) in Waukegan, IL talking about our rather tumultuous family history.  It's been that sort of week.

All too often within families, the death of a loved one is accompanied by a great deal of "unfinished business".  Rarely is there a willingness and ability to engage in the type of deep, open, and honest communication about our lives--and our deaths--that could serve to heal the inevitable wounds inflicted and incurred in the course of a normal life.  In a society that, in the main, has lost sight of the Sacred possibilities of Forgiveness and True Human Love, the grief of the ultimate loss is often compounded by the anguish of guilt and regret.

When I read Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living, Conscious Dying by Stephen Levine years ago, I took the first step toward approaching my death intentionally, as an integral part of my life and practice.  Although I had already had a set of "peak experiences" that had dissolved a fundamental fear of death, I saw pretty clearly that there was a lot of work to be done within my own family.  It was going to take a deepening of my own personal practice and a lot of communication with my loved ones before I would be able to "let go" and take that last breath "in peace". 

A couple of years later, I was fortunate enough to attend "Healing Into Life and Death", a five day retreat presented by Stephen and Ondrea Levine.  The two of them were masterful in creating a sense of community among the 300 or so folks gathered there, about a third of whom were terminally ill. Amidst the hours of meditation, guided meditations, interpersonal exercises, talks and discussions, I first touched an essential form of forgiveness: the ability to forgive myself for the countless ways that I had caused harm to those I loved, intentionally or unintentionally.

As time has gone on it has, once again, become clear that even the deepest experiences are ephemeral as I've stumbled and bumbled ahead in life.  Yet,  although I still blunder quite regularly--and I can and do feel moments of guilt and shame emerge and dissolve--it is also quite clear that something had shifted, something had healed.  That experience has enabled me to more quickly extend and accept forgiveness.  This has helped me to slowly and carefully engage in the needed conversations over the years with those I love. 

The work, of course, isn't done.  I don't suspect it will be until I do take that last breath. 

But, at this point, that seems fair enough.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

Walking with ease and with peace of mind on the earth 
is a wonderful miracle.  Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle.     
---Thich Nhat Hahn


Several times in the past couple of months, I've had the opportunity to be present as someone experienced walking meditation for the first time.  After sharing a few words about the various forms of walking meditation, I introduced to each the "slow motion" walking meditation practiced in South Asian Buddhism* that I had learned at Insight Meditation Society years ago.  We then took a stroll across the glistening wooden floors of the studio at Community Yoga from one wall to the other, turned, and returned.  It only took a few minutes.

Each time, I then had the pleasure of meeting the eyes of someone who had experienced, at least for a moment, what Suzuki Roshi may have described as "Beginners Mind."  There was a childlike sense of wonder in their eyes.  It was obvious that each had touched a form of Mindfulness.  They had been Present to Life in a fuller and more complete way. 

The spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff claimed that most humans are "sleepwalking" through their lives.  I think this is a particularly appropriate metaphor for the distracted, semi-conscious manner in which we are prone to scurry through our lives.  Having been trained in our families and schools to focus our awareness primarily on our thoughts in a materialistic society that stresses speed, production, and the accumulation of goods and status, all too often we move ahead without being fully aware of the totality of the present moment.  Lost in our thoughts, much of the wondrous sea of sensations that constitute our lives each moment remain beneath the level of consciousness.  We are "sleepwalking" as we move ahead. 

The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way.  We each have the ability to awaken. It can happen this very moment.

Although the slow motion technique that we've shared in Monday Morning Mindfulness for a few moments during some of our sessions is a useful and powerful technique, there are many other forms of walking meditation available. 

Thich Nhat Hahn's Walking Meditation is a classic text and there are a number of YouTube videos available of his instructions. For those who identify with the Christian tradition, former Trappist Monk, James Finley, Ph.D. devotes a chapter to walking meditation in his book Christian Meditation. There is also an interesting Christian approach shared by Eric Munro on the web at Christian Walking Meditation.  

In actuality, any time we are walking we have the opportunity to notice the sensations of our feet as they meet the ground, feel our legs as they move through space.  Each time we walk from here to "there" (which, of course, is just another here), we have the opportunity to notice how our thoughts carry us away from the experience of our body breathing and moving through space. Each moment as we move to close the space between us and our planned destination, we have the opportunity to expand our awareness to include the sounds we are hearing, to actually be in touch with the incredible rainbow of colors that our eyes are seeing in any one moment, to be aware of  the multitude of fragrances that surrounds us.  It can happen in the majesty of a hike along the seashore. It can happen as we move along the concrete sidewalk downtown.

With each step we have the opportunity to Be Mindful of the Ongoing Miracle of Life itself!

How cool is that? 

*The term Buddha actually means "Awakened One".