"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."
“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,
soul feels itself profoundly and finds itself." ―
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.
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?)
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?
"Nothing is more natural than grief, no emotion more common to our daily experience.
It's an innate response to loss in a world where everything is impermanent."
-- Stephen Levine, Unattended Sorrow
"The problem, therefore, lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it."
-- Joanna Macy, Coming Back to Life
Last Sunday, January 17, poet, author, and Spiritual Teacher, Stephen Levine died at home after a long illness. I was fortunate enough to attend a Conscious Living, Conscious Dying retreat with Stephen and his wife Ondrea years ago, and to experience, first-hand, his ability to create a Community of Healing in the midst of three hundred people over the course of 5 days. (About one third of those attending were terminally-ill, another third their loved ones.) A key to that Healing was Levine's talent of crafting and delivering guided meditations that allowed participants to touch and melt the armor that shields the heart from the sometimes painful realities of our shared human condition. The Collective Heart Space I experienced during that retreat was astounding. In my humble opinion, Opening the Heart through embracing grief, through embracing forgiveness, is the primary work to be done along the Path of Awakening. With Levine's passing, the world lost a Master Guide.
(Although, the following re-post* also speaks the work of another gifted Teacher of the Open Heart, Joanna Macy, I'm sure that Stephen won't mind sharing the limelight. In my experience his light was inseparable from The Light!)
*Originally Published, November 21, 2014
the events of the past month, the emergence of grief in my life seems
to be a reoccurring theme. I awoke in tears from a lucid dream a few
minutes ago. As I transitioned from dreaming to the waking state, I
felt my heart open through grief into the boundless spaciousness of the
One Love. I came fully awake feeling energized, grateful -- and at
peace. I was ready to face the day. I'm no expert practitioner, but it seems that my
renewed focus on Dream Yoga is working. It's nice to be able to sleep
on the job.
the recent dreams I've had of levitation and flying have been a lot
more "fun", I'm deeply grateful to have had this dream emerge from the
cradle of an afternoon nap. (At age 68, I've found Napping Practice to
be quite wonderful.) The dream gave me an opportunity to further
process the losses that have incurred in my life, and to move through
personal grief to connect more deeply with the genuine heart of sadness
that is part of our shared human condition. I've found that tears are
often the key that unlocks the Gateless Gate to the One Love. A good cry
can be the portal to boundless beauty, joy and gratitude. As Jesus
proclaimed long ago, "Blessed be those who mourn, for they shall be
comforted." In the Dream State, I did -- and I was. Alhamdulillah.
Grief is rarely that
easy, but thankfully, it's become easier over the years. I've had lots
of help. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to attend retreats
with two contemporary American Buddhist masters of a "good cry": Joanna Macy and Stephen Levine.
Although the focus of their work is different (Macy empowers Ecological
Activists. Levine works with Death and Dying.), each of these gifted
Teachers gets to the Heart of the Matter with incredible grace, insight
and skill. Through meditation, guided mediation, talks, and
interpersonal exercises, they each have the ability to skillfully guide their retreat participants
toward an experience of Open Heartedness. True spiritual elders (Macy
is 85. Levine, 77), they bring the essence of the Teachings out of the
Sutra books, to place the limitless energy of love, compassion and
forgiveness squarely in the reality of one's own personal experience. It
is high and holy magic. (READ MORE)
“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
"Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual
bliss, or tranquility, nor is it attempting to be a better person. It is
simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo
our neurotic games,
our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes. "
― Chögyam Trungpa
I guess I've always been a bookworm.
Although I also loved riding my bicycle, wandering through fields, and playing baseball as a kid, I read -- a lot.
One summer in Chicago, as often as I could,
I would climb up on the flat roof of a garage in the alley behind the
three-flat we lived in at the time, to pour through book after book. As
I remember it, Huckleberry Finn was my favorite. In the midst of a
rather troubling and chaotic childhood, Mark Twain invited me to join
Huck, and journey down the river on my rooftop raft to a different -- and seemingly more alluring -- world. Nowadays, I don't read much fiction, but there is still usually a stack of books close at hand. Most of them are related to meditation and spirituality.
At this point, pouring through books isn't jumping on a raft to escape
the realities of my life. This ongoing journey through the Teachings is
a means to stay in touch with those realities. The book at the top of the stack these days is Chögyam Trungpa'sCutting Through Spiritual Materialism. This is my fourth or fifth
time through it in the past forty years. Once again, I find myself marveling at the depth of insight presented -- and the new
layers of understanding that seem to emerge with each reading. (I
imagine another decade of daily meditation Practice and a number of meditation intensives between this reading and the last may
have helped. LOL)
I found myself grinning from ear to ear. Again and again. (READ MORE)
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake
is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”
``Do not be afraid," the Voice called to him. ``Hang on to the wind and trust!"
-- from "Story 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 "Story of Jumping Mouse". A denizen
of Haight-Ashbury at the time, David had come across this Native American allegory before it appeared
in Hyemeyohsts Storm's Seven Arrows in 1972.
I was transfixed. It was one of those stories.
It resonated deeply with the Heart of the Matter for me. Stirred to the
core, my heart chakra opened once again through a torrent of tears. (Those
were the days, huh.)
A tale of the Spiritual Quest, "Story of 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 leave the safety of his
normal life to discover a world of great beauty and magic. With the
help and guidance of other creatures, through repeated acts of courage
and sacrifice, and the willingness to serve others again and again, he developed his
Medicine as Jumping Mouse. In the end, (or perhaps, the beginning), the
Jumping Mouse became Eagle.
I probably personally identify more with the Jonathan Livingstone
Seagull (another spiritual allegory of the early 1970's) than with an
Eagle, I think that the symbol of flight captures something essential
about the Spiritual Path. 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. Carl Jung believed that flying dreams symbolized the basic human desire for liberation. It seems pretty deep and universal.
“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....."
---from the Fourth Precept of Thich Nhat Hanh's Tien Tiep Order
friend, who attended MMM Beginner's Mind and Beyond when a break
in her schedule gave her the opportunity, was struck by the openness
displayed by folks in the MMM Circle that day. "Folks were so honest" she said with her eyes glowing a bit "--painfully honest!" I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo!" --and felt a deep gratitude for what emerges on Monday mornings these days. The
opportunity to converse openly and honestly about what is nearest to
our heart 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 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. (READ MORE)