"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, May 29, 2015

Standing at the Gateless Gate

"With continued practice and the right kind of firm yet gentle effort, 
calmness and mindfulness and equanimity develop and deepen on their own..."
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn,  Wherever You Go, There You Are: 
Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life 

 "As the mind becomes a little more quiet the sacredness of everything 
within and without becomes clear to us.”
-- Norman Fischer,  In an interview with Kate Olsen



Rain clouds at the bus stop this afternoon
Gratitude came easily this morning.

After a month of bone dry weather, Mother Nature graced us with rain last evening and promises more today.  The birds seem to have noticed.  The overcast morning echoes with their animated song. 

Although the drought still prevailed yesterday morning, I felt a deep gratitude then as well.  My own "inner" weather was the source of that thankfulness, though.

I had just arrived at the bus stop en route to an appointment with the eye doctor, when I realized that I had forgotten to slip my insurance card into my wallet before leaving the house.  A quick look at the cellphone verified that there wasn't enough time to return to the house to get it.  My fate was sealed.  At that moment I realized that I would have to appear at the receptionist's counter to face another moment where I'd be asked, "Can I see your insurance card, please?"

At this point, you might wonder where the hell gratitude comes in here-- unless, of course, I am outing my own masochistic tendencies.  Which I'm not.  (I don't think.)
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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kicking the Habit (Take Two)

(This weeks events -- including multiple computer problems -- have me reprinting a post from last year.    Written primarily as an encouragement to develop a regular meditation practice, you might find it helpful -- or want to pass it along to someone who may.  One Love,  Lance) 

"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

“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

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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Friday, May 15, 2015

For Crying Out Loud!

“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer. 
 Crying includes all the principles of Yoga.”

“All the books of the world full of thoughts and poems are nothing in comparison to a minute of sobbing, when feeling surges in waves, 
the soul feels itself profoundly and finds itself."
― Hermann Hesse, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse 

Emmet Kelly 1898-1979
A couple of days ago I came across the above quote by Swami Kripalvanandji while preparing for a yoga class that I was going to teach later that day.  Amazed, I immediately emailed it to a dear friend of mine who was having a rough time.

She replied that it helped -- a lot.  She was heading out to her garden to have a good cry.

Growing up in today's society, most of us have learned to avoid crying like the plague.  Widely characterized as a sign of unacceptable weakness and frailty, we are conditioned to keep a stiff upper lip, to steel ourselves against this natural expression of heartfelt feeling.  As a result, our patterns of resistance to crying are pretty pervasive.  (Maybe Fear of Crying is a good title for another novel of self-discovery?)

That being said, I actually hesitated to plunge ahead here.  After posts concentrating on death, pain and sadness the past couple weeks, I thought that maybe I was being too much of a downer, that maybe I'd better "lighten up" a bit.  After all, isn't Buddha's Third Noble Truth the freakin' Cessation of Suffering?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sad but True

(I felt an especially warm glow in the room as the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle compared notes on the experience of sadness this week.  It brought to mind an encounter that I had with a woman a few years back.  A passage in one of Pema Chodron's books about what her teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, had called "the genuine heart of sadness" had transformed her life.  I had shared that story in a post last year and would like to offer it again this week.  I hope you find it useful.  One Love, Lance )

The Genuine Heart of Sadness
Originally posted April 18, 2014. Revised. 


This world- absolutely pure
As is. Behind the fear,
Vulnerability. Behind that,
Sadness, then compassion
And behind that the vast sky.
 --Rick Fields

 “Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share 
your heart with others.”  
― Chögyam Trungpa 


Sometimes, insight and healing emerge slowly during the course of Practice.   Like spring unfolding across the palette of April and May, our world slowly greens and blooms.  What was dark, harsh and frigid, slowly brightens, softens and warms.  At a point we notice:  It's different now than before.

At other times, insight and healing emerge like a bolt of lightning!

 Zap! 


Sometimes coming with a torrential downpour of tears, sometimes not, a Grand Gestalt comes together in a heartbeat. In a flash, in an instant,  we really Get It! (Or perhaps, more accurately-- It Gets Us.)  

We can't help but notice.  It's different now than before.

I was fortunate enough to be at Himalayan Views, a nearby spiritual gift shop/bookstore awhile back, to hear about a woman's experience of one of those moments.  Suffering from what was diagnosed as "clinical depression" since adolescence, she had come across one of Pema Chodron's teachings on the genuine heart of sadness.  

Zap!

As she read that passage an awakening had come in a flash.  She knew.  At that instant she discovered a whole new way to hold her experience.  

In a burst of tears -- and then with rainbows glistening through her tears -- the whole world had shifted.  She saw clearly that her deep sadness about the human condition wasn't a sickness, it was an essential Connection to Bodhichitta, the soft and tender core of our Spiritual Heart.  

Like many of us, this woman had felt the power of this deep connection to the Mysterious Reality of Life/Death as a child, but nobody in her life knew what it was.  As she read the teaching from Pema Chodron that day, she now understood that her sadness wasn't a personal flaw, an illness.   That day, she knew that in her Heart of Hearts that she had touched what the Buddha had touched.  Now, she just needed to learn how to work with it.  

With the assistance of a supportive counselor and a regular meditation practice, she successfully decreased, and then discontinued, her use of antidepressant medications -- and at the point she was sharing her story, had been successfully, sometimes quite joyfully, navigating her life for a couple of years, drug free.

Please understand: My point here is not that medications are always the wrong approach.  (As a child of the sixties, how could I ever claim that drugs are always a bad thing?  Stephan Gaskin and Ram Dass weren't the only ones who learned a few things under the influence.)  Drugs simply are what they are.  Over the years, I have had dear friends whose quality of life has been dramatically improved through the use of prescription drugs to address their psychological and physical health. 

Instead, what I am pointing to here, is that there is a great value in exploring what our society
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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Still Kicking

(The subject of Death came up at Monday Morning Mindfulness again this week.  As generally happens when the Grim Reaper joins the MMM Circle, the discussion was quite lively.   Since it's a subject that our society assiduously avoids, it seems that there is a lot of energy released when folks have the chance to compare notes on our ideas about the Final Frontier in an open and supportive environment.

In most schools of Buddhism, practitioners are actually guided to contemplate the inevitability of death as an essential foundation of Practice.  More specifically, slogan 18 of the Lojong Trainings of Tibet is actually "the Mahayana instruction for ejection of consciousness at death."  At age 69, this guidance becomes much less theoretical, much more immediate. 

Exactly a year ago,  I appeared at the doctor's office experiencing chest pains.  After a brief conversation and some poking and prodding, I was sent off to the Emergency Room.  A survivor of heart disease, with two stents in my cardiac arteries, it seems "better safe than sorry" was the maxim of the day.  I wrote about the experience the next day and, still kicking a year later,  I would like to share it again here.   
One Love, Lance )


Knocking at Heaven's Door
Originally Posted, May 2, 2014

"One of my favorite subjects of contemplation is this question: 
“Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, 
what is the most important thing?”
-- Pema Chodron, 


"When you practice looking deeply, you see your true nature of no birth, no death; no being, no non-being; no coming, no going; no same, no different. 
When you see this, you are free from fear. "
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, 
No Death, No Fear

Hospitals have never been among my favorite places -- even as a visitor.  

I'm certainly grateful that the subject of Death has been a focal point of Practice, study, and conversation in my life recently, because yesterday I found myself in the emergency room of the local hospital with oxygen tubes at my nostrils, wired to a couple of machines listening to the someone crying down the hall.  I hadn't recognized that sound as crying until the young woman who arrived to take blood samples said, "She's really having a hard time of it." I had just experienced the sound as another background sound among the whirrs, buzzes, clicks, and beeps of this busy small town medical center.

I had been laying there for close to an hour at that point, meditating whenever I wasn't being conscientiously poked and prodded (verbally or physically) by the staff.  Earlier that day I had arrived at the clinic of my primary care physician to explore a nagging chest pain that I had been experiencing for awhile.  Since I have a history of cardiac disease and live with two stents installed in my heart, she had concluded it was probably wise to get to the ER and run the standard tests to determine whether my ticker was firing on all cylinders or not.  

Now, laying there in the ER,  touched by the compassion of the young technicians voice,  I had turned my attention to the sound down the hall.  The distress of the person was apparent.   As often happens these days when i notice an emotional discomfort, my first thought was to begin Tonglen practice. Already fairly adrift in a clear, relaxed and spacious awareness, I drew the sound and those feelings into my heart on the in-breath, then released with the outbreath into the caring spaciousness of my heartfelt wishes for that person to be at peace.   The moment I began,  I heard the blood technician's voice asking, "are you okay?"