"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, 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.