"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, October 30, 2015

Taking It to Heart

 “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion.” It is said that in difficult times, it is only bodhichitta that heals.”
 -- The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa
quoted by Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times

"So, when we are willing, intentionally, with this kind of attitude, this vision, to breathe in the suffering, we are able to transform it easily and naturally; it doesn't take a major effort on our part, other than allow it."
-- Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

"That's backwards isn't it? You meant breathe in the good and send out the bad, right?" she said, not unkindly.   Being gracious, she was making a space for me to realize that my aging brain cells had gone dyslexic.

I had been chatting on the phone with an old friend for first time in quite awhile,  talking about my continued wonder at the Lojong Teachings in general, and Tonglen Practice in particular.  After a moment's pause, to relax and reconnect with the basic openness of mind -- and to make sure that I really hadn't verbally zigged when I had intended to zag -- I continued.

"No, I actually did mean that I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that have emerged.  Then I breathe out a sense of relief and healing energy with the aspiration that myself and others be free from such suffering and the roots of suffering." 

She paused for awhile (perhaps also to relax and reconnect with a basic openness of mind herself in light my rant), and simply replied, "Oh?" She didn't sound convinced.

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly materialistic society, the basic premise of this ancient Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training, that opening our hearts to the entire gamut of human emotions rather than grasping at the "good" and pushing away the "bad", is actually the path of Awakening to our True Nature, seems a bit crazy.  It most certainly is. 

Crazy like a fox.

The Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which consist of 59 training aphorisms are supported by two meditation practices: Basic Sitting Practice (Shamatha-Vippasyana) and Tonglen.  Each has a role in cultivating our Connection to the essentially miraculous nature of life.  Each contributes to our deepening ability to be Present to the Sacred Perfection in which we are immersed -- moment to moment.

As I sit here and pay attention, I become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness.  Pausing, I can rest in its embrace.  Proceeding, still Connected to this invisible, formless, seemingly limitless expanse of awareness, the dance of my fingers along the surface of this keyboard is flinging words across the screen of an old Mac laptop.  Becoming aware of my body and my breath,  I see that milliseconds before the fingers move, thoughts emerge instantaneously, seemingly from nowhere in particular.  Although, these thoughts are most certainly prompted by my intention to write this blog post, they appear to be emerging by themselves, quite mysteriously.  Although Western science claims that they are merely brain secretions of some sort, patently epiphenomal, at this moment it feels much grander than that.  There is a Presence, a boundless sense of wonder and joy that emerges from the luminous silence that embraces me, the letters emerging on the screen, the clicking contact of my fingers on the keyboard, the soft humming of the computer. 

But, I digress -- sort of.

In a Flash
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Friday, October 23, 2015

Love Love Love

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love: in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles

We've had it on good authority.  Jesus and Buddha, as well as many of the myriad seers, sages and saints of the world's religions seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering and why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks have learned to believe is love, the terrain of much music and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  What is presented as love is a form of desire and energetic attraction that has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the quality of consciousness that emerges from what Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron characterizes as an Awakened Heart.  Love is not the profound passionate grasping of deep attachment. True Love is much grander than that. (It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what JC and the others had in mind, right?)  

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from, Pure Being, the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of separation that characterizes the realm of relative reality.  Known in Buddhism as Buddhanature, True Love is the fundamental kindness, compassion and clarity that always exists in our heart of hearts.  Our innate ability to access True Love is the Ultimate Connectivity. 

Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something that someone just "falls into",  in the Buddhist tradition, love is seen as a quality of heart, a mode of consciousness that can be consciously cultivated.  Although, we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "Otherness" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- True Love emerges from a fundamental choice to embrace Life itself, to let go of who we think we are and open our hearts and minds to the actual experience of the present moment.  

Although this can happen with the very next breath, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen.  It is a Practice.  (Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving.) True Love takes commitment, time, and effort.  Like any discipline, it takes knowledge and understanding -- and patience.  I hope to still be Practicing with my final breath.
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Saturday, October 17, 2015

And The Seasons Go Round and Round -- and Round

“I have seen many die, surrounded by loved ones, and their last words were ‘I love you.’ 
There were some who could no longer speak yet with their eyes and soft smile left behind that same healing message. I have been in rooms where those who were dying 
made it feel like sacred ground. ”
― Stephen Levine,
A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
― Jesus of Nazareth


Chico
I could see it in his eyes.  Something had shifted.  Chico was different. 

After accepting the constraints of the backyard fence for years, our beloved bundle of canine energy had learned how to climb the fence and escape.  For the past couple of days, whenever he and his sidekick Pedra were released into the backyard, Chico would immediately run to the corner of the yard and inelegantly, but effectively,  hoist his chihuahua/terrier frame over the man-made barrier to run freely through the fields and forests surrounding the house.  Although with his newfound wildness he had uncharacteristically ignored my calls and commands to "come",  I had always been able to coax him back -- eventually.

Unfortunately, Betsy and I hadn't fully appreciated what his new found wildness meant.  The other night, we let Chico and Pedra out to do their business in the evening and Chico didn't return.  Although we didn't realize it until the next morning, our newly reincarnated creature of the wild had shed the fetters of his domestication.  A Free Being, his senses fully alive in the crisp air of the night, our precious Chico was off to meet his Destiny

To Every Thing There is a Season

Betsy spied his lifeless body a couple hundred yards away from the cottage the next morning and asked me to retrieve it.   With a heavy heart I walked down the hill.  It appeared Chico had encountered another creature of the wild during the night.  Within the wildness, it was simply a matter of Life --  and Death.

As I returned with his body, Betsy had already begun digging his grave amidst the flowers in the garden behind the house.  I sobbed as I completed the task of burying his body.  For us humanoids, Life and Death is not such a simple matter -- especially in our society, where we are conditioned to assiduously avoid facing the inevitability our demise.   

The stark truth is that none of us are going to get out of here alive.  Death is an unavoidable tragedy.  The greater tragedy is that the opportunity to truly open our hearts to ourselves, one another and to the miracle of life itself through an deep and honest exploration of death and dying is generally not taken.  

It doesn't have to be this way.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Staying Power

 "It's only when we begin to relax with ourselves that meditation becomes a transformative process.  Only when we relate with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, 
without deception, can we let go of harmful patterns. "
-- Pema Chodron

“Just continue in your calm, ordinary practice
 and your character will be built up.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, 




Although there is still a taste of green in the maple tree outside the window, most the leaves are now yellow and brown -- and many of them lie strewn across the grass.  There is no doubt about it.  Fall has fallen upon us here in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.  

There was a time when that realization would have immediately brought on a stream of troubling images. My shoulders would have hunched up alongside my ears and a feeling of deep dread and discomfort would have emerged with the thought "WINTER is coming!" (string of expletives deleted...)

Nowadays?  Not so much. 

Being Present to what actually is, is usually a whole lot more fun.  The scene outside the window at this very moment is Just Perfect as it is.  For that matter, so is the scene inside the window.  So are the letters dancing across the screen of this old beat-up MacBook. 

I blame the Practice for that.

I am extremely grateful to have come of age in the rarefied atmosphere of the late 60's and early 70's, when the spiritual teachings and practices of the the world's religions became so widely accessible.  It was an era when even this working class kid from Chicago not only had an odds on chance of experiencing altered states of consciousness, he had a chance to quickly learn that they were not just the product of magical herbs and modern chemistry.  Mystics, seers, sages an saints had been exploring that terrain for a long, long time -- and some of them kept notes!

Like many of us back in that day, I began the Practice pretty much on my own.  Always an avid bookworm, I poured through the literature on Spirituality and tinkered with the meditation techniques offered.  By my senior year of college in 1969, I was fumbling my way through learning hatha yoga and meditations.  Like many of us, it was years before I sat with a real meditation teacher.  

Now, years later, after having explored a wide variety of meditation techniques with a number of gifted teachers, attended numerous meditation intensives, lived in residence at a couple of meditation centers,  and even experienced a handful of "peak moments",  I've continued to be an avid bookworm.  

About a decade ago, I again struck gold.  A dear friend of mine handed me a copy of Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are.  Although I had practiced meditation for years, I picked it up -- and started.  I was soon transfixed by Chodron's teachings.  Although I have never practiced with her, it seems that the approaches and practices presented through her numerous books and articles finally have driven home the fundamental point: Meditation isn't about getting High.  It's about Being Real!  (Another 3650 or so days of regular meditation practice probably helped as well.  LOL)

(READ MORE)

Friday, October 2, 2015

For Crying Out Loud! (Reprise)

“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?