"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, January 30, 2014

How Can I Keep From Singing?

"God sent his Singers upon earth
With songs of sadness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men,
And bring them back to heaven again."
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

" It's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land" 
-- Pete Seeger, If I Had a Hammer

Pete Seeger 1919-2014
I awoke this morning to the sound of Pete Seeger singing  "How Can I Keep From Singing?".  In tears by the time I had descended the stairs, I found a moist eyed Betsy sitting at the computer in the office having found Seeger's version of this 19th century Christian hymn on YouTube.  (I've embedded it below.)   

With a simple accompaniment on his 12 stringer, in a voice clear and true, the spirit and heart of his delivery was as pure as the life of service he led.  His life, and his death at age 94 this week, touched countless seekers, songsters, and social activists. 

If I was the Grand Dude in Charge, I'd immediately canonize this humble and courageous man.   I'd then have him replace that other guy at the Pearly Gates.  They wouldn't even have to change the name plate at the Gatehouse, right?   

With harp in hand and a song on his lips, I'm sure that this Saint Peter, like all Bodhisattvas, wouldn't be satisfied until everyone had entered and was singing in the Heavenly Choir.  Tyrants, plutocrats, bigots and hypocrites, of course, might have to work a lot harder at it, but I'm sure Saint Pete ultimately would have them singing in harmony with the rest of us.  Buddhanature is Universal, after all.  

Although some strains of fundamentalism have consigned "singing and dancing" to the hell realms, Sacred Sound in the form of chanting, music and song has always played an important role in the world's religions throughout the ages.   As anyone who has entoned the Sacred Syllable AUM knows, certain sounds resonate with certain chakras.  That AHHHH goes right to the Heart.  It's pretty Universal as a Sacred Sound. (to wit: Allah, Krishna, Rama, Jahweh, Wakan Tanka, Dao, Buddha, Alleluia, etc. -- Amen.)

Over the years, whether listening to the soul stirring call to prayer of a Muslim Muezzin or dancing 
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Thursday, January 23, 2014

It Takes One to Know One

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”

 “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it Intuition or what you will, the solution comes to you and you don't know how or why."
― Albert Einstein

As a kid I was extremely curious. I think we all were--although many of us were quickly conditioned to drop it and "get with the program" by parents and schoolteachers who couldn't deal with our incessant questioning.

I remember stumbling across a broken camera when I was about 9 years old.  I took it home and immediately took it apart.  I wondered why the heck the world was upside down when I viewed it through the single lens I extracted from that camera! After fooling around for awhile with the various lenses I then collected, I figured out how to right the image and make a telescope.

Later that same year, I discovered that an electric car I'd received as a Christmas gift made static on the radio's speakers whenever its path took it close to the radio.  Again curious, I took the car apart and discovered that the sparking of its electric motor created radio waves! Before all was said and done, I had cobbled together a homemade keying device and was learning morse code so that I could send messages through space using these invisible waves of energy.   

This early interest in invisible waves of energy continued.  In junior high school I became a ham radio operator -- and a musician.  Sound waves, radio waves, light waves.  They all fascinated me.  The idea that these individual waves operated at different frequencies, at different rates of vibration was pretty clear to me. I learned how to tune my guitar.  I learned how to tune my homemade transmitter to deliver maximum power at a particular frequency. There appeared to be certain principles involved. 

So, by the time the Hippies were happening in Haight Ashbury a handful of years later, even at a distance, I was quite inclined to believe in the term "good vibrations."  I didn't find it odd at all to believe that there was a dimension of experience that involved invisible energies.  I was soon exploring yoga and meditation practice. 

In the course of the next few years, with the support of a number of friends/kindred spirits (we actually formed a short-lived "commune" in the early 70's), I learned that one didn't have to do drugs to be in touch with a subtle dimension of experience where other energies were at play. If we pay
attention, "the vibes" are as perceptible as the wind on our skin.  I came to see that, just like in music and radio, there were certain principles at work.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lighten Up!

 "The key to feeling at home with your body, mind and emotions, to feeling worthy to live on this planet, comes from being able to lighten up. When your aspiration is to lighten up, you begin to have a sense of humor. Things just keep popping your serious state of mind."
---Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

"Get your mind unbound and free; and then from the loosest, highest, best place you have, with the fastest and most humorous mind you can get together, you can reach out and make a try at  understanding Spirit."
---Stephen Gaskin, This Season's People

All too often, it seems like those of us who are sincere spiritual seekers can get a bit too stodgy.  It's not surprising, I suppose.

Although some of us may have experienced lives of relative comfort and success, to then realize that there was still something lacking, I think many of us were drawn to the Practice because we'd had a hard go of it.  We'd often led lives that included serious trauma and/or significant emotional distress.  So, when we stumbled across Buddha's First Noble Truth, it rang true.  We knew suffering to be real in our lives. When many  of us, like me, then found out that he also
proclaimed that there was a reason for suffering-- and, even more -- a freakin' way out?

Seriously?  Damn.  Sign me up!

Even if we were drawn to other spiritual traditions as we entered the Practice, I think there was often a similar dynamic.  Whether we were seeking nirvana or heaven,  sat chit ananda or atonement, we were looking for Light at the end of the tunnel, some form of release from this "veil of tears".  Then, whatever our path, at a certain point we knew that if we "wanted out" we had to get serious about it.  Very, very, serious.

Unfortunately, some of us then got deadly serious about it.  I, for one, know that at one point my friends used to hate to see me coming.  I could quickly squeeze the life out of any party.  I didn't realize that the Practice could involve having some serious fun.  I didn't realize that in order to really see the Light, it is helpful, maybe even crucial, to Lighten Up.

Although some forms of humor can be mindless and cruel, I think humor, at its best, is High Magic.  It's a Holy Balm, a Healing Art.   If some future Worldwide Buddhist Conference was considering the addition of a ninth element to the Eightfold Path, Right Humor would get my vote. Although I don't think that the College of Cardinals would go for it at this point, I'd also recommend that any candidate for Pope
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Friday, January 10, 2014

Imagine That!

"Imagine all the people living life in peace."
--- John Lennon, Imagine

"So, with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world,  spreading upward to the skies
and downward to depths, outwards and unbounded."
--- from Karaniya Metta Sutta of the Pali Canon*

Margo Adair 1950-2010
Good fortune had me stumble across a great book, Margo Adair's Working Inside Out: Tools for Change, in the sale section of a local store this week.  I immediately grabbed it, plunked down a dollar, and put it in my pack. That night I dove into it for awhile before I turned off the lights and meditated into sleep.  Then, in the wee hours of the morning, I experienced a quite wonderful sequence of lucid dreams.  I even got to levitate and fly around again. Thanks, Margo.

I hadn't thought of Margo Adair in quite awhile. In the mid-1980's this book brought her brilliant synthesis of Spirituality and Activism to a wider public.  It made quite an impact on many of us who were -- and still are -- convinced that Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr had it right.  A master theorist and practitioner of what she characterized as "applied meditation", Margo Adair offered forth a rich collection of guided visualizations and group practices that bridged what some folks may consider the chasm between "inner work" and "outer work." Her work and her life also bridged the perceived gaps between the present moment and the eternal, the "real" and the "possible',  helping to transform and heal some of the wounds of the racism, sexism, and homophobia of our times.

Although Mindfulness Practice primarily focuses on the quality of consciousness that we bring to bear in the present moment, there are many meditative techniques in the Buddhist,  and other spiritual, traditions that make use of mental visualizations.  Using words and images, these practices can act to expand our awareness into different dimensions of being than readily "meet the eye."  We mentally create things that may or may not be there -- yet.

If you think about it, we are often doing just that as we daydream our way through the day, right?
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Friday, January 3, 2014

One Step Forward, One Step Back

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers
within yourself that you have built against it.”
― Rumi

"When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. ”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

It has been snowing steadily all morning and, once again, the world outside the window is being transformed.  In another cycle of what seems to be constant oscillation this winter, a predominantly brown world again fades to white, springlike temperatures plunge into the nether realms.  Perhaps, Mother Nature is doing her part to remind us of the nature of Life itself.

I've noticed that as I sit at the keyboard to muse about the Practice each Thursday morning, there is a particular quality of consciousness that emerges.  Although there are certainly moments of befuddlement and confusion, sometimes swaths of time in which I stammer and stumble ahead haltingly, only to hit the backspace key and take a few steps back again and again, it seems that I generally return to being quite aware of a space beyond any of the thoughts find their way into my fingers.  I generally spend many moments being aware of Awareness itself. I like it when that happens.

There is a problem with it, though.

In reading over some of my past posts this past week, I found myself wondering if I was too quick to present the high side of a Life of Practice without acknowledging how very difficult and challenging it can be to truly open one's heart to the reality of the human condition as it is actually lived in our day to day lives.  It seems to me that I can spend a bit too much airtime raving about the fact that Life is Miraculous and Beautiful, not enough time acknowledging that Life Sucks.
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