"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.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

When You Wish Upon a Star

Dedicated to Angela Mujaku Senjin Caponigro (1946-2016) who I practiced with at Zen Mountain Monastery in 2004-2005.  Unlike me, she continued on and ordained in the Mountain and Rivers Order and finished her life in service at Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn, NY  A brief video "A Glimpse of Senjin" appears below.

"Truth is one. Paths are many."
 --Mahatma Gandhi

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people 
who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
― Pema Chödrön

Over a decade ago, I sat on the front porch of an A frame on the ridge at Zen Mountain Monastery gazing at a star-filled Catskill Mountain sky.  I was certain that I was going to leave the monastery after six months in residence.  Yet I had absolutely no idea what my next move would be.  Over the years, I had often thought, "once the kids are grown, I can finally DO IT!  I'd get to the monastery or ashram and find The Teacher -- then just cruise my way to enlightenment!"

So much for that plan.

By then, I knew it wasn't going to be that easy.  Although I had again experienced a number of deep "openings" in the cauldron of Zen Training as envisioned by Roshi John "Daido" Loori, it was obvious that the rigid, hard-driving, and quintessentially hierarchical nature of the Roshi's "Eight Gates of Zen" practiced at ZMM didn't ring true for me.  Although I had great respect for many of the folks involved, and saw that the monastic life appeared to work for some, I wasn't going to get off that easy.  I was going to have to get out there and figure it out for myself -- again.

As I sat there, absolutely clueless, a memory of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull passed through my mind and I thought, "I guess I just have to hang onto the wind and trust."  At that very instant a shooting star flashed across the night sky directly in front of my eyes -- instantly disappearing into the tapestry of countless stars and fathomless blackness reaching overhead.  Zounds!
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Friday, March 18, 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 in feeling the Presence.  The energy was palpable. As one person mentioned as we went around the Circle to compare notes on Practice, "you could hear the silence!" Others nodded. Everyone knew exactly what she meant.

I love it when that happens.

When we share that Silent Presence, our Oneness in the One Love becomes less theoretical.

Immersed as we are in a patently materialistic society, a milieu that fosters greed, speed, fear and frustration, we have been conditioned to experience our world through mental and emotional states that manifest a lot of noise and motion.  Bombarded with stimulation and stress, our minds habitually filled with incessant chatter, most of us have spent untold hours being constantly distracted and disconnected from our True Nature.  

Coming to rest in the clear, open and spacious quality of consciousness that emerges as we Sit in Stillness is a precious experience.  Unfortunately,  it's all to rare in the most powerful nation on earth.  That has enormous consequences -- and not only for our individual happiness.  A glance at the evening's news makes it obvious: the future of our planet hangs on it.  More of us need to get our act together.  

Thich Nhat Hanh and thousands Sit in Silence, London, 2012
Thankfully, this does seem to be happening. What we experienced in that room yesterday is happening more and more around the world. And as more of us turn toward the Practice (in whatever form it takes), as more of us take the time to Sit Still and rest in the embrace of the Silence, we just might be able to manifest the type of kindness, compassion and wisdom that is needed to save this ole suffering world.

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it, right?  
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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Just One Day

"In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion."
-- Albert Camus

“Every day and every hour, one should practice mindfulness. That's easy to say,
but to carry it out in practice is not."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
from "A Day of Mindfulness", The Miracle of Mindfulness


Although a  daily mediation practice has been the foundation of my own spiritual journey for quite awhile now, I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in a number of solitary and group retreats over the course of the past several decades.  Engaged in today's noisy, fast-paced and increasingly stress-packed world, making the opportunity to relax into an extended period of Silent Practice can be deeply healing.  

It only makes sense.

Who we experience ourselves to be, how we think and feel about, how we even see, our world is largely a result of our conditioning.  Although many of us recognize, quite acutely, the existence of our so-called "bad habits", many of us haven't quite realized that, in actuality, our normal everyday way of being in the world is, itself,  just a "bad habit".  Encountering our lives through what Albert Einstein called an "optical delusion" of consciousness, we experience ourselves as isolated beings, fundamentally separate from the rest of the Universe.  Lost in our thoughts and feelings, all too rarely actually Present to the deeper dimension of life that exists in every moment, the noise in our heads and the noise in the world consumes our attention -- and we suffer.

All this is nothing more, and nothing less than, a habit.  We have spend years feeding that habit, creating and reinforcing the patterns that continue to operate consciously and subconsciously to dominate our awareness.  This habit then creates our day to day life as the struggle it appears to be.  And all the while, in the Still and Silent Space that lies deep within us and infinitely beyond us, is a Way of Being that is truly clear, calm, kind, compassionate and wise.  

Mindfulness Practice offers us the opportunity to see that for ourselves --and through what the Zen Buddhists call Ceaseless Practice -- create and increasingly maintain that quality of consciousness as our habitual way of being.  This is largely a matter of time on task, the discipline and effort of a regular meditation practice sustained through time.  Like going to the gym, it's a simple, though not easy,  matter of conditioning.
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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Just This Breath

“Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.”
― Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart: 
A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life

“Mindfulness isn't difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”
― Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation
 


Sir Lancelot in Armor
In a heartbeat, I was there.  Surprised and confused by the strength of the pain and anger that appeared to fuel the words directed at me, I did what I've been conditioned to do.  I "fought back", debating him point by point, for a few moments. Then, I mustered up whatever goodwill and good sense I could muster and said something like "Well, it's obvious that we aren't going to convince one another here.  Why don't we just let it go?"  And we did.  

Although I was able to reclaim a sense of ease fairly quickly, and open my heart up to my "antagonist" during the rest of the gathering, it wasn't over.   Compounded by a couple of more difficult encounters with others, the repercussions reverberated through a series of interactions (and my head and heart) -- for days.  Finally, it led to an even deeper recognition of the Real Deal.  Although ultimately quite mysterious (past lives? collective karma?), I have no doubt about it: Karma exists.  It is an inexorable force. 



Instant Karma

"What's coming down in our lives is a result of what we're up to -- and what we're up for!"
-- Yours Truly

Once we decide that we're up for it, the Universe will provide numerous opportunities to put up or shut up in the Mission Impossible quest to honor a commitment to the Bodhisattva Vows.  Although I have no clue as to the ultimate reverberations of the all of this, it's obvious that sometimes just shutting up and putting up with a passing comment is wisest.  I didn't do that at the time, and then my botched effort to process the event with my best friend later caused an even deeper personal morass.  Yet, sitting here now I can look at the whole sequence of events as being quite worthwhile. 

Hopefully, I even learned a thing or two.