"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, February 27, 2016

Know What!?

“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times 

"It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew,
and in that there is joy.
― Jiddu Krishnamurti

Bodhidharma by Shokei, 15th Century
It's been awhile since I sat down to court the Mindfulness Muse here at the screen without at least a shred of a clue as to what I was going to write about.  Although a number of ideas emerged during the week, I didn't grab the proverbial (and possibly metaphorical) bull by the horns to document any of them.  All my aging memory cells can do is whisper "oh yeah, there was this cool title...and then there was that idea about............something."

Of course, not having a clue rarely stops me these days.

In fact, at age 68, it seems to be the best stance to take in any given moment.  It certainly seems the most appropriate.  The presumption that we really know what is going on is most often only just that, a presumption.  Clung to, it can be patently presumptuous.

And even that's being a bit charitable.

My first boss, Charlie Winchester, foreman of the maintenance department at a small factory in a small town north of Chicago, had a decidedly less delicate way of making the point.

I started working at Clayton Mark and Company as a high school sophomore.  Dutifully eschewing summer days splashing in the local lake to save for the obligatory college education (neither of my parents were college graduates), I was going to have to "work my way through."  As good fortune would have it, I ended up in the maintenance department where my tasks ranged from mowing the extensive grounds to learning how to fix things. Charlie was a kind and able mentor.

One particular lesson on the nature of reality began as Charlie came around the corner one afternoon to find me standing in front of a machine gone amuck.   Lurching erratically and making tortuous noises after my attempt at repair, it threatened to self-destruct in a cloud of smoke.  The afternoon's production quota now in question, I quickly (and sheepishly) explained what I had done and why.  With the ever present cigar stub in his mouth, Charlie quickly shut the machine down as he listened, then took a ballpoint pen and small spiral notebook from his shirt pocket. Letter by letter he printed the word "ASSUME" and held the page up right in front of my nose.

"You know what happens when you assume?" he asked.
(READ MORE) 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Tough Job, But...

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
― Pema Chödrön

“Where ever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars you see. You are one with everything. That is more true than I can say, 
and more true than you can hear.”
― Shunryu Suzuki


One of the most interesting edges of Practice that emerges for me these days is the continuing examination of the dance of energy that emerges in the interplay between what we think of as "self"  and "other".  When I slow down, chill out, and pay close attention to my mind on the meditation cushion things get pretty mysterious.  When I  then look carefully to grasp a distinct, solid boundary between myself and everything else in the Universe, I'm left empty handed.

Although "I" readily can think in terms of an "I" that can think in terms of an "I", beyond those thoughts there is a seemingly seamless reality where "inner" and "outer" aren't so clear.  Beyond the conceptual designations, a strict boundary between "me" and "that" (and the "space" between me and that and surrounding me and that) isn't discernible.  What remains just is.  A vivid display of energy and space, seemingly infinite. 

Nowadays, that seems to happen more and more off the zafu as well.  In those precious moments, as I feel the dance of sensations that exists in what appears to be the inside of my body, the presence of a vast spaciousness within and beyond the apparent "confines" of that physical form becomes more obvious.  Paradoxically, the more solid and grounded I feel in the moment, the more transparent I feel. 

This state of affairs certainly makes it easier to lighten up -- much the time.

Of course, there are still those moments where life appears to get very HEAVY.  Two of weeks ago it happened a number of times over the course of a couple of days .  Most of those moments were quite clearly the times when I was, once again, "self-absorbed".  The bulk of my attention had been commandeered by patterns of thought/emotion characterized by my own fear and grasping.  At those times, I found myself repeatedly rewriting a recent past event I had deemed "unacceptable" and/or projecting it into the future in screenplay dialogues where I either created a "successful" outcome (the word for ego in Tibetan translates as "me victorious") -- or,  in other instances, creating an image where I once again, "blew it" and failed to say or do the "right" thing.

In those moments, it became obvious: I was HOOKED.  Rather than relax into the clear, blue sky that exists within every moment, I'd become condensed into a cloud of "self-concern."  Although those clouds can be appealing at times (especially when my fantasy is of "triumph"), I've found that they usually thicken and darken, blocking the sun.  Having seen, again and again, that oftentimes those clouds will then lead to lightning and thunder, it has generally gotten easier to choose to let go of the thoughts and emotions that hold those clouds in place.  More and more, it has gotten easier to just turn my focus elsewhere to take care of the business at hand.

In this case, though, that particular array of thought clouds kept returning.  In this case I chose to focus on examining the whole process more carefully during my regular daily periods of meditation for a couple of days.  Looking deeply,  it became clear that underlying this particular inner drama was the energy of an entire history of experiences where, in my eyes, I just didn't "cut it" (i.e. events didn't emerge according to my model of good/bad, success/failure).  At a number of times in my life, I had identified so strongly with that set of mindstates that I was quite incapable of shaking the obsessive thoughts and feelings involved in any consistent manner.  Having developed an acute form of workaholism  (itself propelled, paradoxically, by the attempt to avoid those feelings), I then burned myself to a crisp, even blowing a fuse pretty dramatically a couple of times. 
(READ MORE)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Light Reading

"There is a vast store of energy which is not centered, which is not ego's energy at all.  It is this energy which is the centerless dance of phenomena, the universe interpenetrating and making love to itself"
--  Chögyam Trungpa

"Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquillity, nor is it attempting to become 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


Chogyam Trungpa 1939-1987
I realized, yet again, that I'm pretty far gone.  An inveterate bookworm, a perpetual student, a Dharma Geek of the first order, the "I" that sometimes thinks I am me, grinned as the decision was made to do some recreational reading -- and I found myself picking up Chogyam Trungpa's The Myth of Freedom: and the Way of Meditation

There's nothing like a little light reading, right?

Back in the day, this book was my first exposure to Trungpa Rinpoche and his presentation of Tibetan Buddhism.  By then, I'd already been swept up in the collective kensho of the late sixties and early seventies, but most of my actual contact had been with Zen tradition and the Hippy Zen of Stephen Gaskin and his tribe.  Along the way, I'd already experienced a number of "openings" and "peak experiences" -- as had many of us.  It was a time that the collective consciousness of an entire generation was steeped in the teachings and meditation practices of the East -- and the mind altering herbs and medicines of the psychedelic revolution.

In a grand warping of the space-time continuum, many of us, at least temporarily, had gone on Retreat from the pervasive rat race of our capitalist society, to spend some timeless time exploring Life Beyond the confines of the business as usual concerns of mainstream society.  At some point, whether it happened in a meditation hall, around a campfire in the Rockies, in a rock hall, or elsewhere many of us had "Been There".   Awestruck, awash in the Boundless Presence of Eternal Perfection, the One Love -- for at least a few moments -- we knew: there was a Spiritual Dimension to life!  Depending on the setting, we may have even awakened the next day without feeling tired and burned out, and realized that this all had something to do with "the pearl of great price" that Jesus had spoken of. 

In my case, I cashed it in as best I could -- and pocketed that pearl.  Glimpses were one thing, but seeing my way clear to be a kind, compassionate and clear-minded person in any sort of consistent way was another. Although I sensed that commitment to a life of Study and Practice and Service was essential, I didn't have much of a clue of what that would really look like for me.  (That would only take another 40 some odd years. LOL)

As a young man who had entered the Buddhist stream swimming toward "liberation", the title of Trungpa's book, itself, was mind-blowing.  The MYTH of Freedom?  WTF?  What's this got to do with meditation? Wasn't Freedom the ultimate goal?  Wasn't that the escape from suffering that the Buddhist's promised? 

As I remember it,  I poured through the book, intrigued and haunted by the imagery, but confused, not ready to grasp the underlying subtleties of his presentation of meditation and the Buddhdharma.  And, having heard via the grapevine of Trungpa's rather "unconventional" lifestyle, I was a bit skeptical.  When I got to the final section on devotion to the guru, I thought, "no way, buddy" -- and moved on. 

I didn't get back to it for another thirty years.

I did keep practicing though as the zig-zags of my life continued through stints in residence at Insight Meditation Society and Zen Mountain Monastery, numerous jobs, relationships and family, successes, failures, even homelessness.)

And Then 
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Sunday, February 7, 2016

One Love! One Heart!

“In Chinese, the word for heart and mind is the same -- Hsin. For when the heart is open and the mind is clear they are of one substance, of one essence.” 
-- Stephen Levine

"Love is not what we become but who we already are."
-- Stephen Levine

Originally Posted: March 12, 2014
This is one of those times.  The computer screen sat here and stared blankly at me for quite awhile. Neither of us seemed to have a clue as to what today's "MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call" might be.

I slept in this morning for the first time in quite awhile.  Although I did awaken at around 5:30 as usual, I read for a bit, then turned over and did  "dozing meditation" in and out of dreams and sleep until 9:45.  I guess the 17 hour drive back from Chicago and a couple of full days of catching up with everything except sleep finally caught up with me. 

Having dragged myself out of bed so late, I noticed feelings and thoughts emerge that tended towards making a decision to skip this morning's Sit.  I heard warm chatter and laughter down in the kitchen, and the image of heading downstairs to join Michael and Miriam, quaff some coffee, engage in an intelligent conversation,  and eat breakfast was quite appealing.   Then, in this scenario, I'd sit right down with the laptop to begin the blog post.  I was late, after all.  There were many things on the to do list.  There were lots of reasons to keep moving.

I Sat instead.

These days settling into that one hour morning meditation comes quite naturally most the time.  Sometimes, of course, a "decision" has to be made.  I need to whomp up a bit of discipline to override the impulse "to do", to tackle something on the list.  After all, there is a lot of conditioning to propel me on the way toward "achieving" something.

Thankfully, these days, the momentum of Practice usually just carries me along like an autumn leaf floating on the surface of a dancing brook.  I just get up, go pee, then Sit.  The real "decision" was apparently made a long time ago.  Since then, Morning and Meditation have become one and the same.  I awake and meditate for the awakening of all sentient beings.