"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, May 29, 2016

Suffering Is Not Enough

"Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time."
--Thich Nhat Hanh

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, 
we enter the warrior's world.”
--  Pema Chödrön

                     
I awoke this morning well aware that the weather service is predicting 90+° temperatures for today.  When I first saw the prediction a couple of days ago, I found myself cringing.  Images of being very uncomfortable ran through my mind.

That happened again just now as I surfed to the National Weather Service local weather page.  I would even say that a sense of "dread" emerged as I stared at the details:  High temperatures.  High humidity.  Damn.  It's going to be a journey to the freakin' hell realms!

Argh!

Then, I remember.  I let go of the thoughts careening through my head, take a long, slow, conscious breath, relax my shoulders -- and turn to my attention to the very next moment:

Right now, a cool, gentle breeze is blowing through the bedroom window.  I can feel it's caress on the skin of my arms.  Rather than the fiery furnace of thought that my mind had created moments ago, I notice that I'm a bit chilled and that the warmth of this laptop feels quite grand on my thighs as I sit here with my back propped up against the pillows.  Outside the window leaves dance and birds sing.

Life actually feels quite wonderful at the moment.
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Saturday, May 21, 2016

IMHO*

"All ego really is, is our opinions, which we take to be solid, real, and the absolute truth about how things are.  To have even a few seconds of doubt about the solidity and absolute truth of our own opinions, just to begin to see that we do have opinions, 
introduces us to the possibility of egolessness." 
-- Pema Chodron

“Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.”
-- Seng-ts’an, Third Zen Patriarch


I love when the Universe is kind enough to double down on feeding me a specific lesson.  I can be extremely dense at times, so structure and repetition can be especially helpful.  It happened a couple of mornings ago.

After my morning Sit, I had read the chapter entitled "Opinions", in Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart before heading to town for coffee.  Following the lead of one of the irregular regulars of the Tuesday Mindfulness Circle,  I've been re-reading this incredibly helpful book again, one chapter a day.  

In this chapter, Pema suggests that noticing our opinions as opinions, just like noting our thoughts as "thinking", can be extremely helpful.  IMHO, this chapter, in itself, can be transformative. 

It certainly made my day.

Just "Thinking"

I had been meditating on and off for over twenty years, attended a couple of Zen Sesshins, and had some fairly compelling experiences both on and off the zafu, before I was introduced to "noting practice" by a  teacher trained in the Theravadan tradition.  To be honest, the instruction to make the mental note "thinking" when noticing that thoughts are dominating my attention seemed quite clunky and unnecessary.  (Likewise, the instruction to  label other sensations, feelings, etc.)  I shrugged it off, and spent the remainder of the seven day retreat at Insight Meditation Society practicing Shikantaza, the Soto Zen practice of Just Sitting.

It was another ten years before I was re-introduced to this instruction in the teachings of Pema Chodron.  This time it took -- and it took me deeper.  With her teaching to pay close attention to the tone of voice that we use as we make this mental note, a new dimension of practice opened as well.  I was able to actually cultivate a kinder, calmer, less judgmental quality of consciousness toward myself -- and others.  The noting practice became a regular part of Sitting Practice.

Now, I've seen for myself clearly how we create the appearance of a solid reality out of thin air.  Lost in our thoughts, as we often are, the vast and flowing sacredness of Life As It Is, escapes us.  Instead, we are imprisoned, oftentimes in a non-existent past or future, in a world created out of a haphazard hodgepodge of concepts, beliefs, and opinions about life.  Now, both on and off the meditation cushion, the mental note "thinking" can open the way to a moment that is brimming with the miraculous Presence of life itself.  

A Day's Lesson: The Theory and Practice

As it turned out, I ran into an old Zen DharmaBuddhy on the bus that day.  Together, we headed to the coffee shop to continue the discussion.  As the conversation turned to the current Presidential campaign, all hell could have broken loose.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Breaking the Habit

"Compassion and resilience are not, as we might imagine, rarefied human qualities available only to the saintly.  Nor are they adventitious experiences that arise in us only in extraordinary circumstances.   In fact these essential and universally prized human qualities can be solidly cultivated by anyone willing to take the time to do it."
― Norman Fischer, 
Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

“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

I think one of the most exciting discoveries to emerge from medical science is neuroplasticity.  

Even in cases where there has been fairly severe physical damage to the brain, research now indicates that new neural pathways can be created. It appears that with proper stimulation, undamaged neurons actually sprout new nerve endings.  Certain functions can even be transferred from a severely damaged hemisphere of the brain to the other!

How cool is that!?

Although most schools of psychology agree that our basic personality is formed very early in our lives through the interplay of genetics and conditioning,  neuroplasticity now indicates that we can alter the elements of that personality in fundamental ways -- at a cellular level.  Recent research confirms that there are positive organic changes to the brain produced by meditation.

What this means is that, contrary to the old adage, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Breaking the Habit.

Most of us don't think that the way we view and react to our world as a conditioned sequence of synapses firing. (In layman's terms: a habit)  Yet, it certainly seems to explain the way many of us seem to go stumbling along entertaining deep yearnings to be a certain type of person -- and failing to meet our own standards again and again.  We want to be kind, caring, compassionate, constructive and productive people.   And we end up -- all too often -- being jerks!

Now Western Science affirm what all the major religious traditions having been saying: We can get it together.  With Practice, we can kick the habit of being who we have been in deep and fundamental ways. 

In own my experience,  the Practice has been a means to kick start, and maintain, some dramatic changes in the way I am in the world.  With Practice I have brought an awareness to what had previously operated subconsciously, and, by doing so,  I've been able to "rewire" my responses.  

To wit: I had a violent temper.  Raised in a family where this type of behavior was the norm, I could readily fly into a rage
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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Judgment Day

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
J. Krishnamurti

"Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”
― Pema Chödrön
I don't the think there is any greater freedom than being Present to our lives without the distortion caused by Judgment Mind, the conditioned mental/emotional process of evaluating what we experience as bad, wrong, blameable, condemnable. 

If one is paying attention, the difference between the warm, bright, spaciousness experienced as we maintain the clarity of an open heart, and the constricted, narrow, claustrophic texture of a quality of  consciousness imbued with judgmental thoughts and feelings, is obvious.  In any one moment, it can quite literally be the difference between heaven and hell.

Growing up immersed in a society that is highly judgmental, most of us have been deeply conditioned to experience our lives in terms of good/bad, right/wrong, should be/shouldn't be.  In fact, our ego sense. with is felt separation and isolation from "the other" is largely built on and maintained by the thoughts and various mind states that emerge from this conditioning.  Even in it's mildest form, that of liking/disliking, it can generate thoughts and feelings that separate us from ourselves and others in any particular moment. 

It is actually quite fun to see for yourself how that plays out on the meditation cushion.  

At times, we can clearly see Judgment Mind in full blown operation.  The gracious spaciousness of mind at rest collapses as the ranting and raving and blaming of judgmental thoughts cascade across the surface of discordant feelings.  

As Practice develops, we get more adept at noticing whether we can just take a breath and put some kindness and space around that and let Judgment Mind go it's merry way-- or whether we get swept away, ultimately getting judgmental about being judgmental!  Watching the process closely, it can pretty quickly become another obvious example of the Divine Sitcom that we humanoids are capable of co-creating.

In one of those episodes, I saw how the thought  "I don't like myself." provided a wonderful opportunity to examine the experience carefully, in the lens of Mindfulness.  Letting go of that particular narrative, the experience became a kaleidoscope of momentary feelings, variations of what we might label as anger, fear, and pain.  Without the support of the storyline, these soon dissipated.  At that point, exploring the the issue of just "who" the hell it is that doesn't like "who" eventually produced wonder -- and a chuckle.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sad But True

This world- absolutely pure
As is. Behind the fear,
Vulnerability. Behind that,
Sadness, then compassion
And behind that the vast sky.
 --Rick Fields

 “Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share 
your heart with others.”  
― Chögyam Trungpa 


Sometimes, insight and healing emerge slowly during the course of Practice.   Like spring unfolding across the palette of April and May, our world slowly greens and blooms.  What was dark, harsh and frigid, slowly brightens, softens and warms.  At a point we notice:  It's different now than before.

At other times, insight and healing emerge like a bolt of lightning!

 Zap! 


Sometimes coming with a torrential downpour of tears, sometimes not, a Grand Gestalt comes together in a heartbeat. In a flash, in an instant,  we really Get It! (Or perhaps, more accurately-- It Gets Us.)  

We can't help but notice.  It's different now than before.

I was fortunate enough to be at Himalayan Views, a nearby spiritual gift shop/bookstore awhile back, to hear about a woman's experience of one of those moments.  Suffering from what was diagnosed as "clinical depression" since adolescence, she had come across one of Pema Chodron's teachings years later that focused on what Pema's teacher, Chogyam Trungpa called "the genuine heart of sadness. "

Zap!

As the woman read that passage that day, an awakening had come in a flash.  She knew.  At that instant she 
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