"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.

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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Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Solid Grasp of Reality

“In reality there are no separate events. Life moves along like water,
it's all connected to the source of the river is connected to the mouth and the ocean.”
-- Alan Watts, The Essential Alan Watts

"It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance 
to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation."
-- Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change

All I could do was grin.  At a Mindfulness Circle this week, eight of us had gathered  to meditate and explore the second slogan of the Lojong Trainings: "Regard All Dharmas As Dreams".

Although all assembled, myself included, are essentially beginners in the study of these Teachings, I imagine that the energetic, sincere, often profound, sometimes amusing, discussion that emerged could have been a conversation among senior monks somewhere.  Although a couple of folks, perhaps quite aware of the limitations, perhaps even the inadvisability, of placing our collective attention on words and discursive thought didn't participate, the rest of us jumped right in. 

As I understood it, what materialized was no more, no less than a conversation about the true nature of reality and our individual ability to actually experience the truth of our existence. Although none of us is really a Buddhist scholar and many of us may not even consider ourselves Buddhists,  assertions about Emptiness, Impermanence, Non-Self, Co-dependent Origination, Interdependence and Oneness, were offered and explored,  then dissected and re-assembled.  In about half an hour we covered a lot of ground exploring the "groundlessness" of existence.

I loved it.  

At several points the fundamentals of Zen were touched on as phrases were turned, then turned on their heads without altering the meaning!  Even when there was apparent "disagreement" with a presentation or the mode of presentation, it still felt like we were all basically on the same page.  There was an underlying fabric of good will and good heart all the while. 
It was an absolute hoot -- relatively speaking. 

It made my heart glow.

Oh, Get Real!

Gaining a "solid grasp of reality" is considered one of the important aspects of growing up in
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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Body of Wisdom

 “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
― Thích Nhat Hạnh, Being Peace

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, 
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
― 1 Corinthians 6:19, The Bible,  New International Version

When I observed my first Zen teacher practice kinhin, the walking meditation of his tradition, I was dumbfounded. I hadn't seen anything like it before. There was a grace in his bearing, a Presence in his slow mindful steps that was awe-inspiring.  

It was obvious to me that Reverend Gyomay Kubose, in his 70's at the time, was connected to his body -- and to the smooth wooden floors of the Chicago Buddhist Temple -- in an entirely different way than I'd seen before.

The first of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of Body, is a concept that stretches back to the earliest texts of Buddhism.  The Anapanasati and Maha Satipathana Suttas spell out the details of meditative techniques which have been widely taught for about 2500 years.  In these teachings, the development of a fuller awareness of our breathing and our bodies is seen as a means of cultivating a calmer and clearer sense of the entire realm of our own experience.  Then, as Mindfulness Practice deepens and we become fully present to what we are experiencing on deeper and subtler levels, REALITY asserts itself.

The Real Deal becomes self-evident.

Getting From There to Here


Conditioned as we are, most of us are "in our heads" most of the time.  Although we are obviously always breathing, and our bodies and our sensory apparatus are operating to generate a whole realm of experiences, most of that occurs without our full presence of mind.  Generally, conditioned as we are, the focus of our attention is primarily on the thoughts running through our head.

Often fueled by emotions that we are mostly unaware of, these thoughts dominate our awareness in a way that sweeps us along the stream of our own conditioned ego patterns most the time.  Mindfulness Practice, both on and off the meditation cushion,  offers us a means to  expand our range of awareness to include a universe of experience that we generally aren't aware of.  Without  Practice we are liable to "sleepwalk", only half-awake,  throughout our lives.
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