"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.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trouble in Mind

"Trouble in mind, babe, I'm blue,
but I won't be blue always
Yes, the sun gonna shine,
in my back door someday
-- Big Bill Broonzy, "Trouble in Mind"

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent,
dynamic nature of your own being and of reality,
you increase your capacity to love and care about other people
and your capacity to not be afraid."
-- Pema Chödrön, Practicing Peace in Times of War


I regularly Sit for an hour each morning these days.  I have no idea at this point whether this is a sign of advanced practice, personal inadequacy, or addiction.  It could be said that this daily ritual is a result of my personal commitment to Practice. It doesn't feel like that anymore.  It's just what happens when I roll out of bed most mornings.

Over the years I've learned that labeling a particular meditation session "good" or "bad" is missing the point.  Although I certainly notice my own tendency to prefer the pleasant sensations of a particularly bright, calm and spacious quality of consciousness over the claustrophic feeling tone of doom and gloom melodrama or the buzzy feeling of endless discursive prattle, it is precisely there that Practice begins.  I suppose its the primary lesson of Buddhism 101: A whole lot of needless suffering seems to emerge from the conditioned habit of mindlessly grasping onto the pleasant and reflexively rejecting the unpleasant.  Bringing that process into the light of Mindfulness opens a new world of possibility. 

As we bring Mindfulness to the present moment oftentimes we see quite clearly that the "trouble in mind" is quite ephemeral.  It is just held in place by the current storyline.  Seeing that clearly, the sun returns, sometimes instantaneously.  

Yet there are also deeply troubled waters in life.  Mindfulness Practice then becomes the bridge to a deeper understanding.  Gently and courageously opening our hearts and minds to the horrors and sadness of life, exploring and embracing the human condition as we experience it with diligence and care brings forth a deep transformation.  And, wonder of wonders,  it increasingly allows us to open to deeper levels of joy and peace and amazement as well. 


When we are no longer deeply invested in grabbing for one thing and pushing away another, a new sense of ease and appreciation emerges.  When we aren't attempting to dam the river of life to suit our own, generally unexamined,  preconceptions (often damning the river in the process), the flow gets to be even more deeply interesting and worthwhile.  At times, the river dances and sparkles, reflecting the brilliant sun. At times it glowers. consuming storm clouds as it broils downstream.  It is still the river.  As we approach our True Nature, we see that we, too, are the river -- and Love becomes increasingly possible. 

It just takes Practice.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Me and My Shadow

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back...They’re like messengers that show us,
with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck."
 --  Pema Chödrön

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, 
but by making the darkness conscious...Knowing your own darkness is the best method
for dealing with the darknesses of other people."”
-- C.G. Jung

Although Mindfulness Practice will  provide many moments of deep calm and clarity -- sometimes relatively quickly -- oftentimes it will also surface a lot of feelings that we have managed to assiduously repress, deny or avoid as we scurried ahead in a materialistic society that kept us focused outwardly for fulfillment.  As we spend time in meditation, it is not uncommon to encounter moments of fear, deep sadness, anger, restlessness -- and boredom.  Contrary to what we might think, this is actually a sign that the Practice is working.  The good news is that, with Practice, we are able to navigate the more gnarly aspects of the human condition with increasing ease. 

Adrift in delusions of grandeur, I sometimes joke about beginning a high profile advertising campaign for Monday Morning Mindfulness with full page bold print ads, billboards and television commercials proclaiming something like:

Want Sadness, Fear, Disappointment, Boredom and More?
Practice Mindfulness!

Besides possibly getting sued by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others, I don't think I'd get much action.   As Pema Chödrön points out, the actual process of meditation seems "counter-intuitive".  At a certain point, we decide to sit still and face what we have always fled from.  Who needs that?

Most of us do.

In fact, with Practice, we come to see that it is precisely our willingness and ability to carefully examine the nature of our own subconscious with a modicum of gentleness and ease that unlocks the Gateless Gate of Ease and Joy.  When we finally face our fear and wander down into the basement with all its ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night, then learn how to 
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Friday, July 18, 2014

"#@&*%!!?"

"I vow to understand living beings and their suffering, 
to cultivate compassion and loving kindness,
and to practice joy and equanimity."
Thich Nhat Hanh, from "Refuge Poem"

"Give me an F.....
Give me a U.............."
Country Joe McDonald, Introduction to "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag"


I swear.  Sometimes a lot.  It can be embarrassing. 

Although I often do refrain from allowing those "four letter words" to roll out of my mouth, the closer I get to a spontaneous expression of awe and joy and gratitude for the Absolute Wonder of Life, the more likely am I to launch forth an "F bomb" -- usually in its forms as an adjective or adverb. 
(Like "Far F*****g Out!")

I guess, more than anything, this tendency to be somewhat foul-mouthed shows my true colors.  I am the prototypical product of the 1960's.  I was a high school freshman in 1960 and I graduated from college in 1969.  Words that burned my ears at age 13 rolled out of my mouth freely when I was 23.  Although I began practicing yoga and meditation during that final year of the decade, it didn't seem to effect the language that had become part of my normal vocabulary during my years in college.

To a whole bunch of us back then, the actual bombs of the warfare seemed profane and obscene.  Launching F bombs?  Not so much.  In fact, "colorful" language, like colorful clothing, long hair,  and psychotropic drugs, was an integral part of a youth culture intent on breaking the monochrome norms of a mainstream society that appeared to be based on the false gods of materialism, competition, consumerism, environmental degradation and warfare.  We chose, instead,  to pursue a life based on the values of freedom, peace and love.  For many of us, "Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven" wasn't just something that we were supposed to chant in church on Sunday.  We believed we were supposed to be living that way every day as best we could!  And we were intent on having some serious fun along the way.  As one of my guiding lights, the late Stephen Gaskin, put it at the time: "We're out to raise hell -- in the Bodhisattvic sense."  

So how does swearing specifically fit into this picture?
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lighten Up!

(A couple of night's ago, unable to get back to sleep after a nocturnal "nature call", I had tried to write a memorial to Hippie Spiritual Teacher Stephen Gaskin, whose Life -- and recent Death -- touched me deeply.   I got nowhere.  I gave it up and read a bit of a Tenzing Norbu Mystery before finally stretching out to meditate into sleep once again.

Still on the mend from the events of the past month, I've been mostly laying low, staying away from the computer and cell phone as much as possible, allowing myself to Heal after a couple of false starts had showed me quite clearly how energy depleting my addiction to these "devices" can be. 

This morning, I was quaffing my first cup of coffee in a couple of days (another addiction under modification) watching bubbles of confusion and angst float through my awareness, not quite sure what to do about my commitment to the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call this week. 

Then (probably with furrowed brow), I decided to reach for the cell phone to at least check my email, maybe begin to select a reprint again for this week.  At that very moment I received, inexplicably,  an email from Monday Morning Mindfulness.  Peering down I read:
"Monday Morning Mindfulness
Lighten Up! Posted 18 January 2014"

WTF!!!???

I have no idea what strange permutation of the space time cyber continuum could have possibly delivered the email version of a post I'd done almost six months ago to me -- especially at that very moment!  How could I not lighten up?  I broke into a bemused grin as I clicked it open.  Just receiving this unsolicited "cosmic" MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call  would have been enough to make my decision (read, introduce and repost this one for sure) -- and make my day.  

It got even more mind blowing. 

As I often do, I had begun the post with two quotes.  The first was from my current Dharma mainstay, Pema Chodron.  The second was from the teacher who was probably the major influence on my spiritual practice for decades, though I've rarely quoted him here.  It was from Stephen Gaskin.

Try as I may, I have no rational explanation for any of this. All I can do is grin, offer a deep gassho to the Primordial Comedian of the Cosmic Mystery Medicine Show -- and renew my commitment to lighten up!  -- Lance )

Reprinted from January 18, 2014

  "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, July 4, 2014

The Attitude of Gratitude

(Although there is the danger that I may lose credibility with some of  my dear Buddhist brothers and sisters, I can honestly and wholeheartedly proclaim that today, for the first time in a long time, I am beginning to feel like myself!  Perhaps, a good cry a few moments ago is a major part of that.  I am also relatively clear headed, pain and nausea free, and feel some semblance of physical energy returning.  It's been a long time coming. 

That being said, I discovered a couple of days ago when I first turned the corner,  that sitting for a long time at the computer actually set me back significantly.  I awoke the next morning, trashed.  Trying to be a bit older and wiser, rather than sit here for a few hours, I am going to once again offer a reprint of an earlier post.  In it's own inimitable style, the Universe quickly provided me with the perfect choice for what I feel at this moment: "The Attitude of Gratitude".  I hope you find it helpful.  -- Lance)
Originally published November 29, 2013


"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 sitting here at the keyboard in the attempt to write something helpful for the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call.  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?
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