"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, December 24, 2016

Be Still and Know

As the holiday season continues, I looked back at a few Posts of Christmas Past to get some perspective and, hopefully, alleviate any tendency to incarnate as the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge this year.  This post, written the day after Christmas three years ago, was a helpful reminder of what the Real Deal is.  I hope you find it helpful as well. 
One Love, Lance
Originally Posted, December 26, 2013   

“Be still.  Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.
When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself”
― Lao Tzu

“Space and silence are two aspects of the same thing. The same no-thing. They are externalization of inner space and inner silence, which is stillness: the infinitely creative womb of all existence.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment 



In the midst of the holiday season  scurry, often adrift in a sea of   noise and activity, I was especially aware of how precious each morning's meditation was to me this past week.  (I'd forgotten that many folks leave their televisions on, running in the background.  Sigh.)

Flowing through days and evenings full of visitations and gatherings and meals and excited flurries of paper-ripping, my meditation cushion seemed like an oasis.

Touching Stillness, even for a few brief moments, is like sipping clear, crisp, spring water on a steamy summer day.  Paradoxically, it's also like feeling the warm glow of a fireplace, snuggling at home on a snowy evening peering through the window at the moon.  In Stillness, the Presence emerges.  In a silent whisper, it sings of the Ineffable, that space where the fundamentally mysterious and completely ordinary meet to form the fabric of Life itself.  

Although I use a variety of meditation techniques, I've found that the foundation of Practice for me these days is to simply Sit Still for a period of time, allowing my attention to rest lightly on the actual experience of breathing.   Also aware of the other ongoing sensations of body/mind and the space that holds them, I simply sit upright with the experience of what  Zen teacher Norman Fischer calls "the basic feeling of being alive."

More often than not these days, this serves to bring me into deeper contact with the ordinary magic of the present moment. 
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Friday, December 16, 2016

For Unto Us a Child is Born

Exactly three years ago today, Keaton Izzy entered this incarnation.  As miraculous today as she was then, she is a on-going reminder of the Preciousness of Life.  As Christmas 2016 approaches,  with three more Grandchildren aboard for this Amazing Ride, I thought that I would again share Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: For Unto Us a Child is Born.  
One Love,
Lance 
December 16, 2016

"Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. "
--- Thich Nhat Hahn

"Every child born is a living Buddha.  Some of them only get to be a living Buddha for a moment, because nobody believes it."
 ---Stephan Gaskin in Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin

Originally scheduled for a Christmas Day debut, Granddaughter Keaton arrived in the wee hours of Monday morning, in plenty of  time to avoid head to head competition with Baby Jesus.  

Sporting all ten fingers and toes, sparkling with Buddhanature, her birth, like all births, is another obvious Affirmation of the Miraculous.  As she peered from Betsy's face to mine following the sound of our voices later that day, I could feel her Presence as pure, unadulterated Life Force.  

Touched by the Great Mystery once again,  I felt a deep joy -- and a deep sadness.

Even as a child, the Christmas season always brought with it a certain sadness.  Something seemed more than slightly askew.   The messages of "peace on earth" and "goodwill to all", the prevailing story line proclaiming this to be a special time of mirth and merriment,  didn't resonate with what I was experiencing.  I imagined it was just the chaos and uncertainty of my own childhood that left me feeling somehow "out of the loop".  As the years have rolled by,  I have thought that less and less.
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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Good Vibrations

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand 
like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”
― Albert Einstein

"Attention is energy.  What you pay attention to you get more of."
-- Stephen Gaskin


As a kid I was extremely curious. I think we all were--although many of us were quickly conditioned to stifle it and "get with the program. " Somewhat clueless themselves, many parents and schoolteachers couldn't deal with our incessant questioning.  It scared them.

I remember stumbling across a broken camera in an alley when I was about ten years old.  I took it home and immediately took it apart.  

Then, I wondered why the heck the world was upside down when I viewed it through the single lens I extracted from that camera! After fooling around for awhile with the various lenses I then collected, I figured out how to right the image and make it larger.  I made a telescope.  I then made a log of the motion of Venus as it passed over the rooftop of the building across the alley. 

Later that same year, I discovered that an electric car I'd received as a Christmas gift made static on the radio's speakers whenever its path took it close to the radio.  Again curious, I took the car apart and discovered that the sparking of its electric motor created radio waves! Before all was said and done, I had cobbled together a homemade keying device and learned morse code so that I could send messages through space using these invisible waves of energy.   

This early interest in invisible waves of energy continued.  

In junior high school I became a ham radio operator -- and a musician.  Sound waves, radio waves, light waves.  They all fascinated me.  The idea that these waves operated at different frequencies, at different rates of vibration became clear to me. I learned how to tune my guitar.  I learned how to tune my homemade transmitter to deliver maximum power at a particular frequency.  When the electronic attributes of a circuit hit a point where the rate of vibrations synched up perfectly, Shazam!  With the same amount of power that it took to light up a 75w light bulb, invisible radio waves could radiate from my wire antenna near Chicago, reflect off the freakin' ionosphere, bounce back to earth and back to the ionosphere a few times -- to be heard in Antarctica!  How cool is that?

Good Vibrations

By the time the Hippies were happening in Haight Ashbury a handful of years later, even at a distance, I was quite inclined to believe in the term "the vibes."  I didn't find it odd at all to believe that there was a dimension of experience that involved invisible energies.  I'd been experimenting and playing with invisible energies for years.  Experimenting with mind-altering drugs was just an extension of my own curiosity about the nature of reality.  I was soon exploring yoga and meditation practice as well. 

In the course of the next few years, with the support of a number of friends/kindred spirits (we actually formed a short-lived "commune" in the early 70's), I learned that one didn't have to do drugs to be in touch with a subtle dimension of experience where other energies were at play. If we pay attention, "the vibes" are as perceptible as the wind on our skin.  Then, I came to see that, just like in music and radio, there were certain principles at work. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Wing and a Prayer

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake 
is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”
― Pema Chödrön


``Do not be afraid," the Voice called to him. ``Hang on to the wind and trust!"
-- from "Tale of the Jumping Mouse", 
in Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

Back in 1970, my kid brother David, who was in many ways my Guru long before I knew much about gurus and the Practice, sent me a handwritten copy of the "Tale of the Jumping Mouse".  A denizen of Haight-Ashbury for years, David had come across it before it appeared in Hyemeyohsts Storm's book, Seven Arrows.) 

I was transfixed.  

"Tale of the Jumping Mouse" was one of those stories.  It resonated deeply with the Heart of the Matter for me.  Stirred to the core, my heart chakra opened through a torrent of tears.  (Those were the days, huh.)

An allegory, "Tale of the Jumping Mouse" traces the journey of a simple mouse who heard something one day, a faint roaring sound that the others didn't appear to hear amidst the scramble of their day to day existence.   His Essential Curiosity stirred, this mouse summoned up the courage to take the Grand Leap to discover the Source of the sound.  He left the confines of his normal life to discover a world of great beauty and wonder.  

With the help and guidance of other creatures, through repeated acts of courage and the willingness to serve others again and again, Mouse developed his Medicine as Jumping Mouse.  In the end, (or perhaps, the beginning), the Jumping Mouse became Eagle.  

Years ago, I read of a society in the South Pacific where the children were taught to fly in their dreams as the main spiritual practice. Psychologist Carl Jung believed that flying dreams symbolized the basic human desire for liberation.  Although, I probably personally identify more with Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (another spiritual allegory of the early 1970's) than with an Eagle, it seems that the symbol of flight captures something essential about the Spiritual Path.  It certainly did for me.

So what does Sitting have to do with Flying?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Visible to the Naked Eye

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 

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



The trees across the way are shrouded in mist this morning. Although there is still a hint of green and red brown in the butterfly bush at the edge on the garden the world is awash in grey tones.  There was a time when a grey day like this would invariably send my spirits spiraling downward.  

That doesn't happens so much these days. I blame the Practice for this turn of events. 

Awhile back,  I ran into one of my dharmabum buddhies on the bus to Orange.  Like me, a regular daily practice is a central part of his life these days.  We proceeded to compare notes on Life and Practice.  (I can't think of anything else I'd rather hear about.)

At one point, I characterized him as "a Lifer" and he grinned and alluded to the many times he's fallen off the wagon.  Yet, to him at this stage of the journey, Life and Practice are "not two".  The look in his eyes was unmistakable. He was aware of the Real Deal.  I think, deep down, we all are.  Manifesting the truth of it in our own lives is only a matter of time, effort -- and Grace*.

As I sense it, Mindfulness Practice is nothing more, and nothing less, than getting in touch with the Truth as it exists in each and every moment of our own experience. 

Although as the Practice unfolds, there can and will be moments of outright wonder and gratitude and bliss, all the experiential big bang moments of human consciousness imaginable, they aren't the Heart of the Matter.  In fact, an attachment to going for the gold and getting all the goodies can hang you up as much as any other grasping.  It's much more about just "assuming the position" --again and again.  It's much more about paying full attention to this very breath, this sight, this sound, this feeling.

Then, at a certain point, it becomes obvious.  

There just isn't anyplace to go other than where you are.  There is nothing more extraordinary than the ordinary.  If you look deeply, Infinity is visible to the naked eye. 

Looking up from the keyboard, taking a breath and relaxing my shoulders, I gaze out the window.  

The mist out there is clear as a bell.

I love it when that happens.   


* I think it's wise to embrace Grace as an essential part of the picture and remember that the individual "I" didn't set the Universe up this way.   It's the boundless and infinite One Love, unadorned by this individuated costuming, that's responsible.  Alhamdulillah 

Originally posted December 2013.  Revised

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Attitude of Gratitude

Since childhood, holidays have been difficult for me.  I always intuited that something Spiritual was hovering over my shoulder, hiding in the shadows cast by dazzling lights and the hollowness of the widespread, often drunken, merriment.  A child often SEES.  With that insight, the disparity between "the way it's 'spozed to be" and "the way it is" becomes striking. 

The approach of Thanksgiving brought my identical twin brother Lefty to the computer to share his thoughts on this traditional American holiday, in a post entitled "Thanks -- and No Thanks." It seems he couldn't face the image traditionally presented about Thanksgiving without pointing to the reality of our history.  (You can find his thoughts at Rambling On with Brother Lefty Smith, S.O.B.*).  

Today, I could expand on his offering to go on a rant about the rampant commercial insanity of Black Friday as well.  People getting into brawls in their frenzy to acquire gifts to celebrate the upcoming birthday of the Prince of Peace seems pretty far from the mark, no?

But I won't.   

As Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "suffering is not enough."  Sometimes you have to consciously turn your gaze toward the good things that light up your life.  No matter what the "darkness" brings, they are ALWAYS there to acknowledge.  I wrote about the Saving Grace of Gratitude on Thanksgiving 2013,  and I'd like to share it with you again today.  Happy Thanksgiving.  
One Love, 
Lance

"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, with Thanksgiving on the horizon, 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 Mind's Memory Lane Theater.   
 
WTF? How in the world did I end up here?
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Friday, November 11, 2016

In Sickness and In Health

"In this world, hate never yet dispelled hate.  Only love dispels hate.  
This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible. "
-- Buddha

"I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
-- Jesus

After a long day, I fell asleep election night at about 9:40 PM with Amy Goodman and her Democracy Now! guests discussing what appeared to be an extremely close contest for President of the United States.  When I awoke, it was 12:30. and the iPhone craddled on the pillow next to me had gone to standby.  When I brought it to life, before I heard a word, I knew.  The shock, sadness and fear etched on the face of the African-American commentator made it clear.  

Living in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, none of my personal friends and acquaintances voted for the man who will become President on January 20.  In fact, some of them didn't vote for his Democratic opponent, either.   They chose the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, a person who more clearly reflected their views -- and mine.  

Buddha spoke of the Three Poisons. In his Teachings,  Greed, Hatred, and Delusion are seen as the root source of human suffering.  I believe that the materialism, militarism, and close- minded, mean spirited hyper-individualism that increasingly characterize America today, are exactly that.  Conditioned as we are to experience ourselves as isolated and separate beings rather than as the fundamentally interdependent manifestations of One Universal Energy, we all are prone to view and react to our world in ways that have us collectively heading towards hell in a hand basket.  It's sick.

And yet...
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Monday, October 31, 2016

Lojong: Training the Heart and Mind

"True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those
less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
---Pema Chödrön, Awakening Loving-Kindness

"Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation."
---The 16th Mind Training Slogan of Atisha

I've had my nose buried in books a lot this past week.  No longer on the road with Partner, Daddy and GrandPapa duties predominating, my time had opened up again.  Of course, I seemed to fill it right back up.

Although, admittedly, some of that time has involved taking long morning walks amidst fall splendor, and observing a personal Day of Mindfulness each week for Fall Ango, I've also been diving into a stack of books again on Lojong Practice.

Although the 59 slogans of this Tibetan Buddhist system of training the Heart/Mind were passed on as secret teachings in Tibet by the ninth century emigre Indian teacher, Atisha, they were codified and then opened to a wider audience in the 12th century by Tibetan teacher Geshe Chekawa.

Now, in the 21st century, that audience is worldwide.  Here, in the melting pot of American Buddhism, there are numerous translations and commentaries on these Teachings in English -- and not only those of teachers in the Tibetan tradition like Pema Chödrön and her teacher Chögyam Trungpa.  In fact, my favorite book on Lojong is that of Zen teacher, Sensei Norman Fisher.  His book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, rocks!

In print, in digital media and on the web, accessing the vast array of material on Lojong available today is like peering at the rainbow facets of a diamond while slowly spinning it around in the sunlight.

How cool is that?

Of course, studying is one thing.  Unlearning a lifetime of habit is another.  The effort to uncover our natural compassion and wisdom takes commitment, energy, and patience.  It takes Practice.

At one point years and years ago, after having been struck by a suggestion by Ram Dass's in Be Here Now,
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Saturday, October 22, 2016

For Now

"Life will give you whatever experience is helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.
How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience
you are having at the moment."
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose

“…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 teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
― Pema Chödrön


After raining heavily all night, the sun broke out as I came upstairs a few minutes ago.  Streaming through the south facing windows of my room here at 108 House, it played across the floor as I entered.  The windblown dance of light and shadow, woven of sun, tree and partially open blinds brought a smile to my face.

Then, as quickly as it had emerged, the sun again disappeared into the thick sea of gray clouds.  That brought a smile to my face as well.  

I walked over to raise the blinds, expecting to see the glistening, now pink-brown, late autumn leaves of the maple tree outside the window waving in the wind.  Startled, I found I was face to face with the stark gray brown of empty branches.  Only a few leaves, scattered among the wet branches remained.  "Oh yeah," I thought. "It rained hard all night.  Duh."  I smiled again.

I guess I'm pretty easy these days -- at least much of the time

Once the fundamental Impermanence of what Uchiyama Roshi called "the scenery of our lives" is directly seen -- and accepted -- we have the opportunity to embrace Life with an increasing degree of ease, grace and kindness.  Within the ever-flowing energies that we encounter, we see that there is always nothing more, and nothing less, than Life as it exists in the Present Moment.  

Although the thoughts and emotions that emerge from the causes and conditions of our personal and collective histories can make it appear otherwise, what is right there in front of us is a constant Invitation to the Dance.  We can either explore the possibility of opening our hearts and minds (and our eyes and ears and arms, etc.) to appreciate the Absolute Miracle of the Mystery that we are part of -- or not.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  
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Saturday, October 8, 2016

And the Seasons Go Round and Round

(The death of a dear friend's dear friend Niki, brought to mind the loss of our Chico two years ago.  In memory of these two precious Chihuahua's, I'm republishing this post today. )
 
"Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and death are of supreme importance."
-- from the Evening Gatha recited each evening at Zen Mountain Monastery

"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 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 often not taken.  

It doesn't have to be this way.
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Saturday, October 1, 2016

With Every Step

Walking with ease and with peace of mind on the earth 
is a wonderful miracle.  Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle.
--Thich Nhat Hahn


"Every path, every street in the world is your walking meditation path." 

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Several times in the past couple of years of MMM, I've witnessed someone experiencing formal walking meditation for the first time.  

After sharing a few words about the various forms of meditation (it's not Just Sitting after all), I introduced the South Asian "slow motion" walking meditation I had learned it when I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society years ago.  Then we took a stroll across the glistening wooden floors of the studio at Community Yoga from one wall to the other, turned, and returned.

It only took a few minutes.

In a couple of instances, I then had the privilege of seeing a childlike sense of wonder emerge in a person who had just experienced, at least for a moment or two, "Beginner's Mind."  Meeting their eyes, it was obvious.  During the course of this relatively brief walk, they had been Present to Life in a fuller and more complete way than usual. 

I love it when that happens. 

Walking and Waking Up

The spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff claimed that most humans are "sleepwalking" through their lives.  I think he nailed it.  Sleepwalking is  a perfect metaphor for the  semi-conscious manner in which most of us have learned to move through our lives.  

In a materialistic society that stresses speed, production, and the accumulation of goods and status, we have been conditioned to stagger ahead without being fully aware of the present moment.  Distracted, lost in our thoughts much of the time, the miraculous sea of sensations and energies that constitute Life each moment remain beneath the level of consciousness.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way.  We each have the ability to awaken. It can happen with the very next step.
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

"The highest form of human intelligence is to
observe oneself without judgment."
Jiddu Krishnamurti

“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

Sometimes a mirror is worth a thousand words.

Although at one point back in the 1970's I actually practiced Mirror Gazing Meditation as a way to explore aspects of my subconscious, these days I don't spend much time in front on a mirror.  

Why bother?  

Being retired now,  I don't have to appear with the proper clothes and haircut at the proper place at the proper time each day. Sporting little hair on the top of my head, a washcloth is usually a good enough brush--and Betsy is generally quite expressive at the points at which I cross the line between un and kempt, periodically coming at my beard and mustache with scissors --  and great zeal. 

These days, it seems that Sitting Practice is my primary mirror. 

Taking the time to gaze steadily and kindly at the flowing river of Mind as it merrily meanders along is increasingly interesting at this stage of the journey.  In fact, with a bow to the Fall Ango practice I observed at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, I recently upped the ante.  I've committed to going off the grid and observing a Day of Mindfulness each week, as well as Sitting outside to observe the sunset daily when I can this fall.

I didn't leave the Monastery because I don't like to Sit.  Meditation practice is often the most interesting part of my day.

It is also, I think, the most helpful.

As the Practice deepens, I'm grateful to acknowledge that even the more gnarly emotional whirlpools that swirl through my awareness don't seem to rock the boat all that much.  Even the momentary bursts of violent self-hatred and anger that still sometimes emerge are usually just experienced as waves crashing over the rocks.  These days those feelings readily become water over the dam--on and off the zafu.  Just around the bend, the river generally forms a clear, deep pool mirroring the grandeur of the emerging autumn foliage and a brilliant clear blue sky.
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Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Heart of the Matter

"My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness."
--Dalai Lama

"What we expect is to be truthful; to be kind; to try to share; to try to love one another. Some folks don’t recognize that as a discipline: They say, "Oh, that old stuff…." And it may not sound too difficult, unless you’ve ever tried it. But if you ever try it, 
you’ll know it’s an exacting discipline."
--Stephan Gaskin, This Season's People

 
The only time I saw a somewhat severe Burmese Buddhist meditation master break into a belly laugh was when he raised his hand to his head and pointed out that most Westerners believe that their mind is in their heads.  The entire crew of monks sitting behind him on stage also dissolved into laughter.

After a few moments, regaining his composure, he then raised his hand to his heart and continued.  Although I don't remember the exact words his interpreter used, the point seemed obvious.  The One True Mind resides in our Heart.  

That certainly resonates with my own understanding.  It's all a matter of Heart.  It seems to me that Jesus -- and the Beatles -- had it right.  Love is all you need.  It's just that simple.  But it ain't easy.  The Practice of True Kindness and Compassion is, like the Stephan Gaskin pointed out years ago,  an exacting discipline.

In 1976, I learned from my first Zen teacher that heart, mind, and spirit are actually the same word in Japanese. Derived from a Chinese character, the word shin makes no distinction between these three realms of existence.  Our bodies, our minds, and our spirit are a seamless whole.  They are seen as inseparable. 

Conditioned as we are in society on materialistic overdrive, it sure doesn't feel that way for most of us much of the time, right? That's what led me to meditation. Following a deep yearning in my heart of hearts, I was intent on "getting it together"to live a life of Integrity. 
 
This process began, and continues on, with the commitment to spend time carefully observing how heart/mind/spirit actually operates within my own experience, to discover the ways that my conditioning operates to separate me from my own heart, from others, and from the exquisite intricate Web of Life.  With Practice, both on and off the zafu, I began to get a handle on how to slowly and gently become the person that, in my heart of hearts,  I yearned to be.  

Then, at a certain point in meditation, I realized that I actually AM the person I wish to be--and always have been!  At that moment, in a torrent of tears, I knew that with all my flaws, with my abundant neuroses and conditioned patterns,  that I was absolutely perfect as is--and so is everybody else!  

What an absolute Hoot! 

It Just Takes Practice 

Of course, as Zen Master Suzuki-roshi once said:  Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”  In fact, the major question that propelled Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen, to leave Japan and seek a teacher in China seems to have been, basically,
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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Silence Is Golden!

 “Be still.  Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity. 
When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself” 
― Lao Tzu

 "Be still and know that I am God."

― Proverbs 46:10 

There were fifteen of us gathered to Sit Together in Stillness at the Recovery Learning Community's Greenfield Center that night.   

The Silence was Golden.  

As I rang the bell to end our first period of meditation, bowed, and looked around the room, I knew that I wasn't alone.  I could see it in folks' eyes.  The Presence was palpable.  

As we went around the Circle to compare notes on what we had each experienced during our meditation, the first person exclaimed, wide-eyed, "you could actually hear the silence!" Another added, "the Silence was deafening!" Others nodded.  Everyone knew exactly what they meant.

When we share the Silent Presence, even for a few moments, our Essential Oneness within the embrace of the One Love becomes less theoretical.

I love it when that happens.

The Theory and the Practice

Immersed as we are in a patently materialistic society, a milieu that fosters individualism, greed, speed, fear and frustration, we have been conditioned to experience our world through mental and emotional states that manifest a lot of noise, restless motion -- and separation.  Bombarded with stimulation and stress, our minds habitually filled with incessant chatter, most of us have spent much of our lives being constantly distracted and disconnected from our True Nature.  Disconnected from ourselves, we are disconnected from one another.  A direct experience of what Thich Nhat Hanh terms Interbeing, our fundamental interconnection with one another and the Web of Life, is rarely encountered on a conscious level. 
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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Shelter from the Storm

"There is a foundation for our lives, a place in which our life rests. That place is nothing but the present moment, as we see, hear, experience what is. If we do not return to that place, we live our lives out of our heads. We blame others; we complain; we feel sorry for ourselves. All of these symptoms show that we're stuck in our thoughts. We're out of touch with the open space that is always right here.”
― Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. 
Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
 
A few days ago, I experienced some stormy inner weather as I sat at Greenfield Coffee quaffing my morning brew.

Although "life as usual" for me is always rather unusual, this has been a rather unsettled and, at times unsettling, passage through time and space.  Clouds of restlessness and discontent careened across my inner skies as I sat at the computer screen.

For the past few years, my "normal" life has had me, a 70 year old retiree, facilitating three Mindfulness Circles and doing some other low-key volunteer projects during the week in Greenfield, an old factory town in Western Massachusetts.  Then, on Thursday or Friday each week, I head out of town to spend long weekends in the country east of the Quabbin Reservoir with my Beloved Betsy.

For almost two months, though, this changed dramatically.  A stress fracture to Betsy's ankle prevented her from driving and limited her ability to live her "normal" life.   I was re-incarnated as a "householder", commuting an hour back and forth to her place most days to share the load -- which includes caring for twin five year old grandchildren several days a week, and two dogs, four cats, a two bedroom cottage and extensive flower gardens, 24-7.

As I've kept moving to help out, most of my usual routines, other than sitting with the Mindfulness Circles and MMM have dissolved.  Even my usually rock solid, one hour daily morning meditation, a practice that I had sustained for years, dissolved substantially to be replaced by hours in a car commuting hither and yon.  (I'd grab 20 or 30 minutes when I was lucky.)  Rather than sit with others most weekdays at noon for a half hour with #OMG! (#Occupy Meditation Group!) Peace Presence*, I was lucky to sit one or two days a week.  More often, I was an hour away at that time of day, picking up the twins from pre-school  -- or at the supermarket.  

In the midst of all this activity, my carefully cultivated Napping Practice disintegrated entirely!

Although, for the most part, I was actually enjoying the action, feeling quite vital and useful, as I sat at the computer that day, I was feeling quite stormy and out of sorts.
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Down in the Valley

"The valley spirit never dies.
It is the unknown first mother,
whose gate is the root
from which grew heaven and earth.

It is dimly seen, yet always present.
Draw from it all you wish;
it will never run dry."
-- Tao Te Ching (tr. Waley, 1934)

"When conditions are sufficient things manifest. When conditions are no longer sufficient things withdraw. They wait until the moment is right for them to manifest again."
-- Thich Nhat Hahn, No Death, No Fear



Across the Road from 108 House
Yesterday's drizzle turned into a more substantial rain last night here in the Pioneer Valley.  

I came awake at about 4:30 AM, then rolled over to face the open window.  I then listened as the rain's song wove itself in and out of dreams for a couple of hours.  It was simply luxurious. 

By the time I emerged to shower and Sit, the rain was, once again, a whisper of a drizzle.  A few moments later, as I ambled out to trek across the field in pursuit of a cup of coffee at Atlas Farm Store, that whisper faded into a few puffs of mist wandering silently along the ridge.  Spellbound, I then watched as one, then another, faded from view, disappearing into the arms of the gentle breeze sweeping along the ridge.

Now you see it.  Now you don't. 

That brought to mind the time that Betsy and I sat on the shore of a pond north of here a few years back and watched in amazement as white puffs of clouds emerged from the womb of a clear blue sky.  One by one, flowing from north to south, each took form to stream across the sky for a few moments before again disappearing from view.

Mother Nature couldn't have painted a clearer picture of the Real Deal.  

As Practice develops,  it becomes more and more apparent that we are of the nature of clouds emerging and disappearing in the vast sky of existence.  Watching closely, we see this is happening each and every moment of our lives in the stream of sensations, feelings, and thoughts that play through our awareness.  They emerge and disappear.   

As we take the time and make the effort, we are able to sustain a semblance of calmness and clarity to then embrace the pain and fear that may surface at the cusp of this perception of the ephemeral nature of all phenomenon. Beyond that, we come to sense directly the insubstantial and impermanent nature of our own personal existence.

That, I suppose, doesn't necessarily sound like good news.  And, yet...
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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Being There

“One can appreciate & celebrate each moment — there’s nothing more sacred.
There’s nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there’s nothing more!” ― Pema Chödrön

“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else,
but simply to realize where you already are.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

There are those Perfect Moments.

As I sat in meditation this morning, a male ruby-throated hummingbird zipped from behind me, passing over my left shoulder to feed on the lavender blossoms of a hosta plant in Betsy's back yard garden.

Hovering about three feet in front of my nose, it spent a few moments there dancing from flower to flower before moving to the monarda to my right for a few moments.   It then flew straight towards me before stopping to linger for a moment about six inches off my my right cheek.

Convinced, I suppose, that I wasn't in the same league as Betsy's amazing array of multi-colored sweetness, he then kicked it in gear and disappeared, passing within a few inches of my right shoulder.

"Whirrr............Silence."

Enough said?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Child's Play

“The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind 


"I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children, 
you will never get into the kingdom of heaven."
--Jesus, Matthew 18:3, ISV


I awoke this morning to the sound of rain and crisp, cool air floating through the windows alongside my bed.  Un-detered, the crickets and katydids of late summer sang their parts in the pre-dawn symphony as I rolled over and set the alarm to 6:30 a.m to give myself a couple of more hours of sleep.  Moments later, I rolled over again and turned the alarm off.  Although I had thought otherwise, I was ready -- or so I'd thought. I got up and sat down to the laptop to stare at a blank screen -- and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.

After awhile, I got up again, set the timer, walked over to the altar in the corner of my bedroom,  lit a stick of incense and Sat down in front of a different blank screen.  I meditated.

Now, an hour later, I'm ready -- I think.

A Tea Party: Zen Style


There is a well known story from the Meiji era (1868-1912) about a prominent university professor who visited master Nan-in to inquire about Zen.  As the professor prattled on, demonstrating his vast knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, the master began pouring his guest a cup of tea.  He then continued pouring as the cup overflowed onto the table and floor.  No longer able to restrain himself, the professor shouted, "Stop. The cup is overfull! No more will go in!".  Nan-in replied, "You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup." 

Although I first read that story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones back in 1970,  I now realize I had only glimpsed the rim of that empty cup.  Even as a 24 year old, fresh out of college and engaged in my first year of teaching school, I certainly "got" that there is a difference between the accumulation of knowledge and actual wisdom.  By then, I'd run into factory workers during my seven years of summer employment that appeared to have a better handle on the Real Deal  than my college professors. I also sensed from the story that arrogance probably wasn't going to cut it with a Zen master.  (I've personally had the opportunity to have that verified a number of times over the years.  Sigh.)

Little did I know, though, that this teaching, like the coffee down at Dolly's Diner, was being served in a bottomless cup.  
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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ya Think?

“The secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts,
in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking Toward Enlightenment 

Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone.
Without practice, nothing can be achieved.
Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras



On the Way to the Bus
After a couple of weeks in which I encountered some degree of sadness and angst regularly -- on and off the zafu -- the weather shifted dramatically.

In the past few days,  I have experienced many moments of bliss and wonder amidst the late summer heat and humidity here in Western Massachusetts.  Obviously the external weather wasn't the primary cause of the shift.  I much prefer the cool and crisp weather that will emerge as the day's continue to shorten.

Yet, again and again, here it was: a sense of Boundless Amazement permeated my experience.  As I opened to the Gracious Spaciousness of Mindfulness and allowed my thoughts to wander off into the Stillness, it was obvious to me that you don't have to die to go the Heaven.  This is the Pure Land.  It dances and sings to us, vividly, in the silent contentment of our hearts. 

As is often the case,  a walk in the country made it relatively easy.  It happened  a couple of days ago as I walked to the bus.  I was awestruck.  The clouds and sky and hay fields and ridges made the words "white" and "blue" and "golden"and "green"  woefully inadequate.  As Jesus and Lao Tsu and Walt Whitman and a host of other seers and saints recognized: Mother Nature rocks!  

Getting Out of Your Head

When you come to your senses beyond the constraint of the thoughts running through your mind,  and really pay attention the lilies of the field, or the valley spirit, or the leaves of grass, the Ineffable Presence emerges.  Although I can sometimes wax poetic about clouds and sky and hay fields and ridges (e.g. "multicolored dancing", "vividly deep crystalline", "shimmering", "muted softly into grey green by the heavy breath of summer", etc.),  it is quite clear to me as I sit here at the keyboard: words can only hint at, not capture, the majestic and mysterious Essence of Life as it flows through the eternity of such moments.  Life, as it is, is nothing short of a Holy Miracle.

Yet,  you don't have to be outdoors surrounded by the majesty of Mother Nature to sense the inherent Sacredness of Life.  With Practice, is gets clearer that the same Presence flows through each and every moment -- wherever you happen to be. 
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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Heart Communication

“The intimacy that arises in listening and speaking truth is only possible 
if we can open to the vulnerability of our own hearts. ”
--- Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others 
and relieve others of their suffering....."
--- Thich Nhat Hanh
from the Fourth Precept of  the Tien Tiep Order



A friend who attended  the MMM Circle for the first time this week was struck by the openness displayed in the Circle that morning.

"Folks were so honest" she said with her eyes glowing,  "--painfully honest!" 

I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo!" 

At that moment, I feel a deep gratitude for what emerges in the Mindfulness Circles each week.  

The opportunity to converse openly and honestly about what is nearest to our hearts and soul is a rare and precious thing today.  In the hustle bustle of our prototypically materialistic society, comparing notes on the Spiritual dimension of our lives doesn't happen all that much.  In fact, when I was a kid we were told not to ever talk about religion--or politics. 

Obviously, I didn't follow the rules.  I majored in political science in college--and have been an avid student of Spirituality for a long, long time.  The wisdom teachings that arise in the mystical traditions of all the world's religions and how they play out in the reality of our day to day lives in this world is profoundly interesting to me.  I can't think of anything I'd rather yak about.

Of course, communication, in it's true sense, is much more than conversation.  Communication happens on many levels.
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Sunday, July 24, 2016

I Swear

"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 usually refrain from allowing those "four letter words" to roll out of my mouth when I'm upset, 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. 
(For example: How F***ing cool is that?)

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, napalm 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 the youth culture.  We were intent on breaking the monochrome norms of a mainstream society that appeared to be worshipping the false gods of materialism, competition, consumerism, environmental degradation and warfare.  So called "polite society" was praising Jesus in one breath and supporting the extermination of people halfway around the planet with the other.  

WTF!?

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 folks were supposed to recite in church on Sunday.  We believed we were supposed to be living that way every day as best we could!   

And, as opposed to those folks who we saw as the purveyors of hypocritical peity,  we were intent on having some serious fun along the way.  A bit of "foul mouth" sometimes spiced things up.  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 fit into this picture?
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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Take a Hike, Buddhy

"Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle. 
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, "A Guide to Walking Meditation

"I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, 
works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster 
than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness.”
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking 

This morning's meditation was buzzy.  

 It was one of those days when even a moment or two of clear and calm awareness, unconstrained by the prattle of discursive monkey-mind, was greatly appreciated.  

For the most part though, it seemed like I was doing a mantra practice more than Mindfulness Practice.   Unfortunately, the chosen mantra wasn't something exalted like the Tibetan Buddhist Om Mani Padme Hum.  It was the mental note, "thinking, thinking," repeated over and over.  

And over.  

And over again.

Saved by the Bell

The hour lasted a long time.  I felt a bit like a dazed prizefighter hanging onto the ropes waiting for the bell.  It finally did ring.   (I had my doubts...)   I put my hands in gassho, recited my vows, stood up -- and shook it off.  After all, I've learned over the years that there really is no such thing as a "bad" meditation.  It's all time on task, slowly and carefully cultivating the ability to see and feel our experience fully -- and accept it for what it is: Nothing more, nothing less than Life itself.

As it turned out, this was one of the mornings that my choice to give up a personal vehicle was worth its weight in gold.  My journey into Greenfield for the daily #OMG! Noon Meditation Vigil* often involves a stroll of .3 mile down a country road to catch a bus into town.  Today, that walk was an absolute blessing.  It allowed me to connect quite directly with the Ongoing Miracle.  

Mindful of body and breath, mindful of the sensations of sight and sound and smell, I finally got out of my head and came to my senses.  It again became obvious that the Pure Land of Amitabha and the Kingdom of Heaven aren't merely something to look forward to when we die.  They are to be experienced in this very life.

The Joy of Walking

Walking meditation is widespread among the various traditions of Buddhism.  I see reflections
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Sunday, July 10, 2016

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.  I have no idea at this point whether this is a sign of an advanced practice, personal inadequacy, or addiction.  It's become a habit.  I just do it.

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 claustrophobic feeling tones of a doom and gloom melodrama or the buzzy feeling of endless discursive prattle, it is precisely there that Practice really begins.  Can i just sit with the experience, taste it fully,  and gently open further to accept whatever is happening?

I suppose this is a primary lesson of Mindfulness 101: A whole lot of needless suffering seems to emerge from our conditioned habit of mindlessly grasping onto the pleasant and reflexively rejecting the unpleasant.  Bringing that entire process into the light of Mindfulness, opening to the fluidity of our own actual experience and the underlying energies involved, a new world of possibility emerges.

As we bring Mindfulness to the present moment sometimes we see quite clearly that the "trouble in mind" is just that.  It is "mindstuff", quite ephemeral.  Oftentimes, it is just held in place by the narrative dominating our thinking.  As we let go of what Pema Chödrön* calls "the story line", the underlying feelings can be experienced as the changing, shifting energies that they are. Sometimes, just noticing that I'm thinking has changed things immediately.  I've seen the blues dissolve and the sun return to my back door in an instant.  

Yet, more frequently,  there are more deeply troubled waters involved.  Mindfulness Practice then becomes a bridge
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Thursday, June 30, 2016

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

Many folks experiencing a lot of stress in their lives are drawn to meditation.  It's only natural to want to chill out and, to be sure, Mindfulness Practice can provide many moments of deep calm and clarity.

Yet -- and this is generally not proclaimed in the slick internet ads  -- it is also true that a regular mediation practice can bring to the surface a lot of feelings that we have assiduously managed to repress, deny or avoid as we scurry ahead in our lives.

Conditioned to operate in a fast-paced materialistic society, one that keeps us focused outwardly for fulfillment, we just keep moving.  Once we slow down and sit still for awhile to focus inwardly, our world changes.  Although we can experience greater calm,  it is also not uncommon to encounter darker, more distressing emotions.

Contrary to what we might think, this is actually a sign that the Practice is working!

In the process of a deepening Practice, we no longer skim across the surface.  We actually begin to get in touch with the aspects of our conditioning that have subconsciously operated to create the way we see and react to the events of our lives.  (How often have you winced and thought "damn.  Why did I say/do that!?)  The good news is that, with Practice, we are able to make conscious what had been subconscious.  Over time, we are able to observe and navigate the more troublesome aspects of ourselves with increasing clarity and ease. 

Truth in Advertising

Adrift in momentary 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:
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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Getting It Down

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
― Pema Chödrön

“The only reason we don't open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don't feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else's eyes. ”
― Pema Chödrön

One of the things that has become more and more obvious over the years is that Reality embraces both Yin and Yang.  In this world of conditioned appearances, where there is sunshine, there is always shadow.  

This becomes quite obvious when words and concepts are involved. If I designate something as "right" there is immediately a "wrong" or a "left".  If I say "up" (or even think it), I have already created "down".  In thinking about the world, it is clear:  There is a high side and a low side to everything.  

After a rather passionate presentation of my personal connection to the Bodhisattva Vow here last week. (Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:  Getting Down to It ), I received an email from a Dharma Buddhy of mine, Richard Holmes, questioning the practice of taking that vow.  Apparently,  a friend of his had cautioned against doing so, because the Bodhisattva Vow had become a "tremendous burden" in his life. 

Although I don't know the specifics of his friend's experience, those words actually resonated deeply with my own history.  In fact, there were times over the years when my notion of the deep responsibility involved, coupled with my own personal patterns led to utter despair and profound burn-out.  Over the years, I blew a fuse a few times in my heartfelt effort to "save the world." In my quest to alleviate suffering, I had only caused more suffering -- for myself and others. 

Duh.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Getting Down to It

"Taking the bodhisattva vow implies that instead of holding our own individual territory and defending it tooth and nail, we become open to the world that we are living in. It means we are willing to take on greater responsibility, immense responsibility. 
In fact it means taking a big chance."
-- Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

“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. You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, 
and your mind open. "
-- Pema Chödrön

Stephan Gaskin at the Helm in early 70's
Even in retirement, living a lifestyle that is relatively uncluttered by modern American standards, the conversation between Betsy and I has again turned toward examining a reoccurring sense that what we are up to at this stage of the journey still doesn't provide us with enough downtime.

At first glance that may seem surprising. After all, I do Sit Still Doing Nothing  -- a lot. 

I meditate for an hour most every morning.  Since the heyday of #Occupy Wall Street!, I meditate with some other folks for another half hour at noon most days on the Greenfield Town Commons.  I also Sit with four Mindfulness Circles each week.   I participate in a Day of MIndfulness each month. You'd think that I'd have downtime down at this point.

If it only was that easy.

Out to Save the World

One thing that drew me to Zen and Mahayana Buddhism in the first place was the ideal of the Bodhisattva, the person who forestalls personal Nirvana in order to address the suffering of the world.  This idea resonated deeply with the inspiration I felt as a young teen with the quest of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.  A few years later, the emergence of the Anti-War movement and the anti-materialistic spirituality of the youthful "counter-culture" set a trajectory for my life that continues to this day.  

Each morning I recite the Bodhisattva Vow as I finish morning meditation.   I first came across a Hippy Zen version of these four statements of commitment in Hey Beatnik: This is the Farm Book in 1974.  I was transfixed.  I got goosebumps.  In that moment, I knew that there wasn't anything better to do with my life.  (Here is a link to an on-line .pdf version of this classic work.)

By then, like many of us who were navigating our way through the confluence of Eastern Spirituality and the Psychedelic Revolution, I had experienced a number of "Awakenings."  The Most Profound One had nothing to do with anything in my bloodstream except the byproducts of meditation, breakfast, and lunch.  For a few precious moments, I had a glimpse of Our Perfect Oneness.   What had been theoretical and abstract, a belief, became totally real and tangible to me.  (I only wish I had had a spiritual mentor at the time-- or even been more inclined to listen to my friends at that point. It may have made things a lot easier along the way.  Even knowing what the bottom line is, over the years I've made most every dumb mistake possible.  LOL )

Although I have read (and recited) other versions and translations of the Bodhisattva Vows (Some of the Tibetan versions are quite poetic and beautiful), this is the passage I read that day years ago: 

"I don't have an ultimate goal in life. I believe in the vow of the Bodhisattva. And that says that sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all. The deluding passions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them all. The way of the dharma is impossible to expound, I vow to expound it. It is impossible to attain the way of the Buddha, I vow to attain it. And that keeps you busy. "
-- Stephan Gaskin, Hey Beatnik!

Excuse me.  My chest is heaving and tears are streaming down my face -- again.  I gotta go get some kleenex.  I'll be back.
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