"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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Love Affair

“We now see that the only way that we could love ourselves is by loving others, 
and the only way that we could truly love others is to love ourselves. 
The difference between self-love and love of others is very small, 
once we really understand.”
― Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong  

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people 
who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
― Pema Chödrön

As I've mentioned before, here and elsewhere, I think the Hippies had it right.  It IS all about Peace and Love.  

Although most of us were a bit too young and crazy to pull it off in our lives, we had been to the mountain top.  We saw the Real Deal.  But seeing that-- and even believing that -- isn't enough.

The task of actually being a peaceful and loving human being is no mean feat.  It takes commitment, effort, discipline, courage and patience.

It takes Practice.

In the Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist worlds the term Love isn't generally used to describe the Ultimate State of Being. They approach the Ineffable with different concepts and understandings.  I think that is actually pretty helpful to us Westerners.  We are pretty sloppy with the word "love". 

For us, the word "love" can emerge from the ethereal domain of agape, from the nether realms of green eyed monsters, or anywhere in between.  "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, too..." isn't exactly what Jesus had in mind when he taught about Love, right?  It seems at least a bit more precision would be helpful.

In the tradition of Mindfulness Practice that precision doesn't just emerge as a matter of intellectual discernment.  It emerges from refining our ability to be fully aware of our own experience in the present moment.  With Practice, Love emerges not exclusively as an emotional state, but as a quality of consciousness, our own inherent ability to be Present to Life, moment to moment, with a clear, calm, kind, and compassionate awareness.   

It may seem preposterous that taking the time to Just Sit Still to carefully observe one's own breath and bodily sensations could lead to the realization of True Love, but that's the deal.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't mean easy.  A regular meditation practice takes commitment and courage.  It takes the willingness to face yourself -- and all that you've denied and repressed -- openly and honestly.  It takes getting our of your head and feeling what's in your heart.  Again and again and again.

Yet, with persistent and gentle effort, Mindfulness emerges and deepens.  With Practice, our minds clear and our hearts open to embrace and explore all the patterns of feeling, thought and action that operate to diminish and distort our ability to be at peace in the present moment.  Over time, both on and off the meditation cushion, we see clearly that the conditioned patterns of grasping and pushing away, and the resultant pains, fears and resentments that emerge in ourselves -- and in others -- are the root cause of human suffering.   We also come to see clearly that, like everything else, those feelings are fundamentally insubstantial, clouds passing through the infinity of a clear sky.  This changes everything.

Then, at a certain point, we knowIn the embrace of Mindfulness, Reality asserts itself.  What has appeared to separate us from ourselves, from one another, and from the One Love that silently sings throughout all space and time dissolves.  At that point, we can meet anyone's eyes.  Life itself becomes a Love Affair.  

It just takes Practice.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Breath of Fresh Air

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. 
All is a miracle.” 
 ― Thich Nhat Hanh

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

First, The Good News 

 If you haven't heard by now, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who had suffered a severe stroke on November 11 last fall, returned home to Plum Village on April 4.  According to the Plum Village website, "Thay has been able to enjoy going outside, sitting under a tree and listening to birdsong, drinking a cup of tea and enjoying the sound of the bell. "  

At home in the community he founded, surrounded by the beauty of spring and a team of his devoted monastic attendants, Thay will receive on-site physical and speech therapy to treat  his hemiparesis and continue his progress in recovering his speech.  At age 88, his emergence from a severe brain hemorrhage and coma to return home is seen by many as nothing short of miraculous.

But, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, it's all a miracle. 

Then, More Good News: The Miracle of Mindfulness

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. 
Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

It seems too good to be true that the simple act of becoming more deeply aware of your own breathing could be the key to recognizing the miraculous nature of our lives.  It sounds way too easy.  

Until you try it.  

When you do, you may quickly learn that the mind has a mind of it's own.  Awash in our habitual conditioning, we are most often "lost in our thoughts."  Although we are always experiencing the world through all of the five senses, proprioception, intuition, and an array of other faculties that science is just beginning to recognize (although mystics have spoken about them for eons), most of our attention is usually focused on the various narratives and images generated from past experiences or imagined future experiences that run through our minds.  The rest just slides by at the periphery or beneath the range our conscious awareness.  In this state, we are missing out on the absolute grandeur of life as it is.  

It doesn't have to be this way.

Many of us have found that learning how to gather one's attention and place it on the actual sensations of one's own breath is an effective means of cultivating Mindfulness, that quality of consciousness that engages the full range of our capacity to experience life in the present moment.  Although it takes time and effort to rein in what some teachers have called "monkey mind", it is well worth the effort.  

There are many techniques that support the ability to focus the attention on the breath.  
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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Both Sides Now

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. 
You need to accept yourself.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

“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

Although it is nearly 50ºF outside with spring birdsong and brilliant sunlight pouring through the open window, a 20 mph northwest wind that occasionally gusts as high as 40 mph doesn't make it a day for lollygagging and lounging outside. 

I guess I'm grateful for that.  I'm committed to a blog post today -- and one less temptation is helpful.       (I just looked down at my cup.  It's empty.  I'm tempted to run down for some more tea.  It's going to be one of those kind of days. LOL)

Although this morning's hour long Sit was quite focused, I can sense that there is a bit of restlessness as I sit here at the computer.  Pausing to breath and observe this restlessness more closely as it plays across the rising and falling of my abdomen, it seems to mirror the wind.  Windblown leaves of mild fear, confusion, anticipation, excitement scurry past the window of my attention and disappear.  Like the wind outside there is movement, then stillness, then movement.  Like my breath, there is movement, then stillness, then movement.  

In the gaze of Mindfulness, sitting here at the screen observing what emerges each moment, it becomes clear that there is also stillness within the movement -- and movement within the stillness.  Stopping to notice, the world expands -- and glows.

It's nice when that happens.

It seems that the a number of folks in this week's Mindfulness Circles, myself included, reported that it was being a pretty "rough" week.  Although I was tempted to surf over to one of my favorite astrological websites to check out what in the world (or what out there) was going on, I don't think an extraterrestrial explanation is necessary.  As the Practice develops, we get more directly in touch with the human condition, more in tune with the way it IS.

Although there is no doubt that there is a greater sense of spaciousness and ease that emerges as we take the time and make the effort to meditate regularly, over time it's probable that we will also get in touch with a lot of subconscious emotional patterns and the narratives and unconscious beliefs (i.e., I'm a really inferior human being, all human beings are mean, etc.) that hold them in place.  Both on and off the meditation cushion, as we open our hearts and gaze more deeply at our experience, at times it may seem that all hell is breaking loose.  It is.

This is actually a good thing.

Over the years, most of us have accumulated a subterranean reservoir of repressed emotional energy.  As we take the time to patiently and gently observe and touch the layers of fear and frustration and sadness, the subterranean residues of grasping and aversion, all Hell does tend to break loose.  As we actually open our hearts to our own shame and humiliation and jealousy and the myriad of other ghosts and goblins haunting the basement, there is a Deep Healing.  The energies are released -- and Heaven remains.

For some of us, one of the most Healing aspects of this unfolding is to fall more deeply in love with ourselves, with our own humanity.  We see clearly that in this particular Heaven that we are co-creating and sharing on this planet, each angel is definitely Flawed -- and each is, just as definitely, Divine.  In fact, we come to see that if we deny either aspect, we are missing the boat to the other shore-- and missing out on a whole lot of fun as well. There is a sense of ease and joy that emerges when we know directly, and accept deeply, that we are each Bozo and Buddha.  At a certain point, the belly laugh becomes as relevant -- and reverent -- as the bow.

At some point it became clear to a lot of us.  We don't have to die to go to Heaven.  Like Yogi Jesus is said to have proclaimed, Heaven is right here, right now, in the One Love that exists within and among us. It seems rather amazing that Just Sitting Still can support opening the Pearly Gates.  But it does. 

Don't take my word for it though.  In fact, don't take anybody's word for it.  Check it out for yourself.  We all have the on-board equipment to determine the Truth of the Matter. 

It just takes Practice.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Always Maintain A Joyful Mind? (Reprise)

A full schedule of events this week, including helping to get the word out and participating in a Quaker led Pipeline Pilgrimage tracing the route of a proposed gas pipeline here in New England, has me turning back the clock this week to re-publish a previous MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call Post.  Interestingly, Spring's unmistakeable arrival here in the Pioneer Valley this week was also an issue in that post, written exactly a year ago.  (I love it when that happens.) I take a look here at Slogan 21 of the Lojong Trainings: "Always maintain a joyful mind."  I hope you find it helpful.  
One Love, Lance


Always Maintain a Joyful Mind?
Originally Posted, April 3, 2014

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a deep joy.” 
-- Rumi

 "Notice everything. Appreciate everything, including the ordinary. 
That's how to click in with joyfulness or cheerfulness."
-- Pema Chodron

I actually didn't mind the long, intense winter at all this year here in Western Massachusetts.  The abundant snow and ice were just fine with me.  Even a frigid February that extended its way through the month of March didn't seem to phase me.  It was what it was.  In fact, it was often quite grand.

That being said, Tuesday here in the Pioneer Valley was different.  Although Spring had occasionally whispered in our ear for weeks, on Tuesday she stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed in no uncertain terms, "I'M HERE!"

And everybody knew it.

On the sunwashed sidewalks of Greenfield, good cheer was ubiquitous.  Steps were lively.  Joyful Mind was in the air, palpable -- and shared.  Strangers greeted one another with nods and smiles. 

Although I was acutely aware that here in Western Massachusetts the strains of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" could quickly morph into "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in the grand soundtrack of Mother Nature's movie, it didn't matter.  It was a done deal.  Mother Nature could turn on a dime to blow yet another Nor'easter in our face (it was April Fool's Day after all),  and I'd just blow her a kiss.  We were home free.  Spring had arrived!

In the Lojong Training of Tibetan Buddhism, a series of aphorisms is memorized, studied, and used in training the mind to expand beyond it's usual conditioned patterns.  Operating as mental reminders to frame our experience in particular ways -- both on the meditation cushion and off -- these 59 slogans, arranged as 7 main points, can be quite helpful in cultivating an open heart and a clear head.  Prompted by one of the regulars at Monday Morning Mindfulness, I've jumped into an exploration of Lojong for eight or nine months now.  Being at heart a Spiritual Practice Geek, I've read and re-read the presentations of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron, and Zen Teacher Norman Fischer, surfed through the on-line course of commentaries by Acharya Judy Lief, poked around for other commentaries.  (In the past year, I've also poured through the commentaries by B. Alan Wallace and Traleg Kyabgon)

Some of these slogans seem pretty obvious: Don't be jealous, don't malign others, etc.   We probably have heard them from our parents, Sunday school teachers, from some of our kind and upstanding friends. Others call for some understanding of the basic principals and teachings of Mahayana Buddhism or some of the unique notions of Tibetan Buddhism.   Reading the commentaries by contemporary teachers usually brings them into focus pretty quickly and makes them accessible and applicable.

Then there are some like slogan 21:  Always Maintain A Joyful Mind!

I think a common first reaction to that is "WTF?  Are you kidding me?"
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