"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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Know what?

“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times 

"It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew,
and in that there is joy.
― Jiddu Krishnamurti

Bodhidharma by Shokei, 15th Century
It's been awhile since I sat down to court the Mindfulness Muse here at the screen without at least a shred of a clue as to what I was going to write about.  Although a number of ideas emerged during the week, I didn't grab the proverbial (and possibly metaphorical) bull by the horns and document any of them.  All my aging memory cells can do is whisper "oh yeah, there was this cool title, and then there was that idea about............something."

Of course, not having a clue rarely stops me these days.  In fact, at age 68, it seems to be the best stance to take in any given moment.  It certainly seems the most appropriate.  The presumption that we really know what is going on is most often only just that, a presumption.  Clung to, it can be patently presumptuous.

And that's being a bit generous.  My first boss, Charlie Winchester, foreman of the maintenance department at a small factory in a small town north of Chicago had a decidedly less delicate way of making the point.

I started working at Clayton Mark and Company as a high school sophomore, dutifully eschewing summer days splashing in the local lake to save for the obligatory college education.  As good fortune would have it, I ended up in the maintenance department where my tasks ranged from mowing the extensive grounds to learning how to fix things. Charlie was a kind and able mentor.

One particular lesson on the nature of reality began as Charlie came around the corner to find me standing in front of a simple machine gone amuck.   Lurching erratically and making tortuous noises after my attempt at repair, it threatened mayhem.  The afternoon's production quota now in question, I quickly explained what I had done and why.  With the ever present cigar stub in his mouth, Charlie quickly shut the machine down, then took a pen from his shirt pocket pen holder and wrote the word "ASSUME" on a piece of paper.

"You know what happens when you assume?" he asked.
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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Working It

"When you see ordinary situations with extraordinary insight, 
it is like discovering a jewel in rubbish."  
-- Chogyam Trungpa, 
"Work", The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation

“So if you do something, you should be observant, and careful, and alert.”
―Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

The Studio at Community Yoga
I have been involved with Community Yoga and Wellness Center here in Greenfield, a small town in western Massachusetts, for about four years now.

I had decided that I wanted to reclaim a hatha yoga practice as part of my rehab from a cardiac procedure back then, and was attending my first class at a series offered by the local food coop when the teacher that day, Jenny Chapin, announced at the end of class that she was looking for a someone to exchange custodial duties for yoga classes at the studio she owned and directed.  

"Wow!", I thought.  Now retired, with much more time than money, looking to regain a serious practice, I was on my feet and headed in her direction immediately.  The brief discussion with Jenny was quite positive.  I started the next day.  

Although a lot of changes have occurred, (I now coordinate a team of barter students to cover the rent for Monday Morning Mindfulness there), today I found myself again dancing with a mop, observing an entryway landing marred with mud, melted snow, sand and salt steadily disappear, to then return to view reincarnated as a gleaming hardwood floor.  Due to transitions in the Caretaking Crew and a particularly snowy winter, it was the third time this week that I had the opportunity to personally participate in this form of ritual magic. 

I'm not chomping at the bit to find a replacement.

Gold Is Not All That Glitters

Years ago, I was quite struck by a suggestion in Ram Dass's classic, Be Here Now.  In the final section of the book, "Cookbook for a Sacred Life", he suggested that you take a regular mundane activity that you really disliked and turn it into a form of active meditation.  I chose washing the dishes -- and immediately headed out to the kitchen to face the unsightly stack that had emerged over the course of the past few days.  (I really hated washing dishes. LOL)
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Saturday, February 14, 2015

How Sweet It Is

"Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment.
It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation."
 --  Rabindranath Tagore

"What you seek is seeking you!"
-- Rumi


When I woke up that morning years ago, I had no idea that the trajectory of my life through time and space would be very much determined that afternoon.  In fact, I don't think I fully realized it until a few moments ago sitting here --a half century later.   

It was the summer of 1965.  I had just finished my freshman year in college and was back home in a small town north of Chicago, working in a factory again for the summer, putting myself on a $5 a week "entertainment" budget and saving the rest to fund my education.  I spent three of those dollars that afternoon in a matter of moments at a table of used books at the Lion's Club White Elephant sale in the small park near the center of town.

For years, I've realized that two of the books that I bought that day had a profound influence on me.  The Wisdom of Buddha, published by a Buddhist organization in Japan was my first introduction to Buddhism.  When I flipped it open and scanned a few pages,  I thought, "Wow.  That's interesting.  This sounds like the Bible to me!?" This began the exploration of Buddhist teachings and practices that was to emerge, inspire, and sustain me over the years.

The second book was another small tome, The Wisdom of Gandhi.  Deeply touched by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, I had read that Dr. King had been deeply touched by Gandhi.  That was good enough for me.  Poking my nose into that one immediately brought forth another 20% of that week's allocated "mad money", and set the tenor and tone of my life's political activism.

It was only today, after an interesting experience yesterday evening, that I remembered that there was a third book I bought that afternoon.

I had climbed in front of the computer to begin work on this week's post yesterday with the thought that since I had ended up focusing on the inevitability of death last week, ("Reality Asserts Itself", Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call, February 7, 2015), I should probably balance it off a bit with the flip side of that assertion.  In fact, if you use the Four Reminders of the Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhist tradition as a frame of reference, last week's post had sort of put the cart before the horse.  An awareness of the reality that life ends is actually the Second Reminder of Point One of the seven training points that encompass this series of 59 training slogans.  (For more, see A Layman Looks at Lojong.)

The First Reminder, as translated by Chogyam Trungpa is: "Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life."   The teachings about this slogan are seen as support for a deep personal contemplation of the truth presented.  This contemplation, when taken to Heart, can change everything. Experiencing the Preciousness of Life is a wonderful gift.

Sitting there, allowing my mind to flow gently down the stream, quickly elicited the title "How Sweet It Is" for this post.  I had no idea where that would soon lead.
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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Reality Asserts Itself

"...Please understand, you have inherent in your very Mind a huge potential, an incalculable brilliance, an ability to see the reality of this moment clearly."
-- Harada Roshi, opening talk,
Rohatsu Sesshin, Sogenji Monastery, 2011


"Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view."
— Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom

Approaching my 69th birthday, I rarely sleep through the night these days.

Generally, I have to roll out of bed and walk a few steps into the adjoining room. There, I participate in one aspect of this Grand Recyling Project known to some as Samsara.  Depending on a multitude of factors ranging from things like phases of the moon, to what happens to be on my mind that particular moment, I then usually plop right back into bed and meditate back to sleep, often catching a few dream bubbles along the way.

Sometimes, something else happens.

Last night, as I crawled into bed, I heard the winds howling outside the window.  I then felt a bit of coolness on my skin from a draft finding it's way under the blanket that hangs over the window alongside my bed on nights like these.  Curious, I pulled a corner of the blanket up to take a peek.  I found myself gazing in awe at the sight of trees dancing wildly outside the window as a frigid windsong played across the blue-white snowscape.  Under the influence of a brilliant moon that was only a sliver past full, the surreal world outside the window was luminous.  It seemed to glow from within.

I was dumbfounded.  Thoughts, being irrelevant, incapable of grasping the majesty of the moment, pretty much just went on their merry way, leaving wonder in their wake. I was all eyes and ears.  Transfixed, I don't know how long I was present to that particular miracle before I let the blanket fall back across the window, rolled over, and returned to sleep through feelings of wordless wonder and soft, sleepy delight.

As beautiful as the scene outside my window was last night, I also know the Reality of it.  According to the National Weather Service, the raw temperature at 4 a.m at a small airport near here was -13°F.  The windchill was -22°.  Given different circumstances, that scene wouldn't be so delightful.  It would be deadly. 

In the grand scope of things, it is always like that, right? 

Although we don't like to face it, Life itself is a deadly proposition.  Without exception, life a terminal condition.
(READ MORE)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Gone Fishing

"Somehow we must find a way to allow each worker a day of mindfulness. 
Such a day is crucial. Its effect on the other days of the week is immeasurable."
--Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness

"Blow up your TV.  Throw away your paper."
-- John Prine, Spanish Pipedream

I awoke Wednesday knowing.

After a week in Chicago with my son and his family (complete with daily overdoses of internet, iPhone and television), then a long delayed flight day back to the Pioneer Valley on the tail of one snowstorm, then two full days of activity on Sunday and Monday with Winter Storm Juno glowering on the horizon, I found myself spending  hours and hours on Tuesday plugged into the Weather Channel's livestream broadcast, immersed in the media excitement of the blizzard that pummeled the Northeast and dumped 36 inches of snow an hour east of here. 

Of course, well primed and pumped, I was multitasking all day as well.  Texting and instant messaging and emailing and FaceTiming and surfing the web in search of this bit of information or that bit of Facebook news or gossip, I was "connected" to colleagues, family and friends, wired for action.  I was Busy.  Buzzing.  Buzzed.

I bopped until I dropped, bone-tired, at about midnight.

On Wednesday morning when I rolled over to look at the silent snowscape outside the window and listened to the birds twittering within the silence of a brand new day, I knew immediately.  The decision emerged from my bones, not my head.

I was done.

I needed to pull the plug -- literally and figuratively.  I had spent way too many hours spread across way too many days immersed in my own version of the hyper-cyber modern mainstream mode.  It was time to turn off all the devices, hang a "gone fishing" sign on the door of my life, and spend the the day in silence. 

Of course, I couldn't just disappear.  (I'd done that once before in my life in a dramatic and extremely unskillful fashion. A long story best left for another time.)

So, I quickly checked the calendar.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I then scribed a note of explanation to my housemates to prevent any embarrassing confusion about my silence during possible encounters that day.  Being responsible, I quickly responded to two texts with a similar explanation and turned off the iPhone.  Being irresponsible, I decided against taking the time to do a general email, a Facebook post, etc.  ( I mean really!?)

Instead, I brushed my teeth, peed.  Then I walked across the room to my little corner of the world, bowed, lit a stick of incense -- and Sat.

And I walked.  And I sat.  And...

By the time I crawled away to bed Wednesday night, I had spent about 5 hours on the zafu in my room and a half hour Sitting on the town commons.  Eschewing reading (even dharma books), I had done about an hour of Hatha Yoga, taken a walk, cleaned my room, watered and staked up a jade plant that had gone horizontal in search of the sun, prepared and eaten three meals and cleaned up afterwards and, of course, made a number of trips to the bathroom.   (My prostrate seems to be almost 69 years old, although I, of course, am much younger than that most the time.)  

For about 14 hours, I had not looked at a screen or a printed page or listened to any sound through any form of electronic device.  The only spoken words exchanged all day were a with my Dharmabuddhy Paul to let him know that I was doing a day of silence when he connected to pick me up for our ride to the #OMG! Peace Vigil at noon in town -- and my brief response to  a very juicy "Hi! How are you?" from a bright-eyed young woman,
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