"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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Nothing Special: Part Two

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”  
-- Rumi

There's a first time for everything.  Looking closely, I suppose there is a last time for everything as well.  Each unique moment arises and passes away within the flow of eternity quite distinctly, so quickly that we can't actually grasp it at all no matter how hard we try.  

With any luck at all, we can notice it, though.  And, it seems to me, is where the Real Magic exists.

This is the first time since I took on the task of scribing a weekly blog piece that I actually set myself up to continue writing about a "theme".  Usually I finish a piece and let it go.  Then when the next Thursday morning rolls around, I pull out the laptop and start fresh.  Sometimes I might have a theme in mind, or I've latched onto a title as a starting point before I begin.  Often, I just sit facing a blank screen -- and wait.

This week it's different.  I came to a point last week where I realized there was much more to say about the notion that there is really Nothing Special.  There was no way that I could keep the post at a reasonable length.  (Some of my friends have already complained that they are too damn long)  At that point, I scrolled up to the title window and typed a colon and P-a-r-t  O-n-e.  When I hit publish, I knew my goose was cooked. 

What the hell I was thinking?

Looking back to that post, I saw that I wasn't satisfied with having proclaimed that in my Heart of Hearts I believed that everyone and everything should be loved and appreciated --and then immediately went on to say that this was No Big Deal. It seemed that had come awfully close to proclaiming that the manifestation of Unconditional Love was nothing special.  Another way of saying that could be that God is No Big Deal.  That sounds a bit blasphemous, huh. 

And yet, as I Sit here this morning with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds in a milky sky,
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Nothing Special: Part One

"Though my heart burns like a glowing hot coal, my eyes are as cold as dead ashes"
-- Zen teacher Soyen Saku

"If nothing is special, everything can be."
-- Charlotte "Joko" Beck

A gentle rain is falling outside the window.  After two significant snowfalls this past week, storms that left huge mounds of plowed snow along the highways and byways of my life here in Massachusetts, Mother Nature is again moving to melt her way into spring.  The temperature this week has oscillated between single digits and the mid 40's.  Gazing into the the National Weather Service's 10 Day Crystal Ball it looks like more of the same.

What gives?

Sitting here I can imagine myself making up all sorts of stories about the weather.   With the world through the window a pastel landscape of organic brown tones, dripping grey skies, and melting white snowfields, my mind could create a rant about the specter of global climate change in a heart beat.  (There certainly appears to be ample scientific evidence, after all.)  On the other hand, having suffered through some sort of respiratory bug again this week, I could narrow my horizons and spin off fantasies of personal climate change --dreams of moving my tail to a gentler and significantly warmer clime.

Yet, when I just return to my senses; feeling the sensations  of my breath and body as I sit here, watching the tapestry of soft color outside the window, listening to the deep, deep silence occasionally augmented by the twitter of a bird, it is quite easy to let go of those particular storylines. Just Sitting Still and letting the thoughts drift away, there is no problem.  The weather?  No big deal.  It simply is.

In Soto Zen, the notion of "no big deal" seems to be a big deal actually.  In my first visit to The Farm*
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Friday, February 14, 2014

What's Love Got to Do with It?

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind
 and with all your strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-- Jesus

"Hatred never ceases by hatred. It is healed by love alone. This is the ancient and eternal law."
-- Buddha

An octogenarian friend of mine told me the other day that she was making Valentine's Day cards again this year to send out to some of her special friends.  My first thought was, "how cool is that?"  Since she is quite a collage artist, I must admit my next thoughts were, " I hope I make the cut. I'd love to get one."

Love to get to get one?? Hmmmm.

I'm not much of a linguist so I don't know how it plays out in other languages, but it seems that the word love in English is amazingly imprecise.  Covering the entire gamut from a "greater love hath no man than to lay down his life" style of sacrificial selflessness to the most possessive and jealous form of desirous grasping imaginable, the word love casts a net that seems to include both the enlightened activity of the Bodhisattva Green Tara and painful flailing of folks ensnared by the Green Eyed Monster.  Yet as the quotes above indicate, we have it on "good authority" that the key to the Real Deal is Love.  So, what the hell does that word really mean? (Ekkk.  There's another one: the word mean!  Its "meaning" runs the gamut from ultimate signficance to just being nasty, from the Golden Mean to the Blue Meanies.  Damn. I mean give me a break here. LOL)

All this, I think, underscores the plight we find ourselves in as human beings.  Conditioned as we are in a world that stresses the importance of thinking, much of our awareness seems to be tied up in the stream of thoughts that dominate our awareness at any one point in time.  Although it's obvious that words can be quite useful, it's also quite clear that words can be pretty sloppy when it comes to gaining clarity.   

One of my Zen teachers once said, "Every time I open my mouth, 
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Friday, February 7, 2014

Kicking the Habit

"Compassion and resilience are not, as we might imagine, rarefied human qualities available only to the saintly.  Nor are they adventitious experiences that arise in us only in extraordinary circumstances.   In fact these essential and universally prized human qualities can be solidly cultivated by anyone willing to take the time to do it."
― Norman Fischer,
Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes
 your smile can be the source of your joy.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh


I think one of the most exciting discoveries to emerge from medical science is neuroplasticity.    Even in cases where there has been fairly severe physical damage to the brain, new neural pathways can be created -- if they are correctly stimulated through activity. Undamaged neurons actually sprout new nerve endings to develop alternate pathways to accomplish needed functions in an amazing fashion -- even transferring certain functions from a severely damaged hemisphere of the brain to the other!

The implication of this is huge.  Although most psychologies agree that there is a basic personality set in place very early in our lives through the interplay of genetics and conditioning, neuroplasticity gives us an organic basis for understanding that we can alter the elements of that personality in fundamental ways -- at even a cellular level.  (Research has now shown that meditation alters the brain organically.) What this means is that, contrary to the old adage, you can teach an old dog new tricks. This is extremely good news.

Most of us don't think that the way we view and react to our world is just a habit we have learned, a habit that operates mostly below the level of our awareness as a cluster of synapses firing in certain patterns.  Yet, it certainly seems to explain the way many of us seem to go stumbling along entertaining deep yearnings to be a certain type of person -- and failing to meet our own standards again and again.  We want to be kind, caring, compassionate, constructive and productive people.   And we end up -- all too often -- being jerks!  Now Western Science affirm what all the major religious traditions having been saying: There is hope! We can get it together.  We can kick the habit of being who we have been in deep and fundamental ways. 

In own my experience, the Practice has been a means to kick start, and maintain, some dramatic changes in the way I am in the world.  With Practice I have brought an awareness to what had previously operated subconsciously, and I've been able to "rewire" my responses.  It's a kick!

To wit: I had a violent temper.  Even as an adult I could readily fly into a rage and lash out verbally,
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