"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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Both Sides Now

“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

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. 
You need to accept yourself.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

Although it is nearly 50ºF outside with spring birdsong and brilliant sunlight pouring through the open window, a 20 mph northwest wind that occasionally gusts as high as 40 mph doesn't make it a day for lollygagging and lounging outside. 

I guess I'm grateful for that.  I'm committed to a blog post today -- and one less temptation is helpful.       (I just looked down at my cup.  It's empty.  I'm tempted to run down for some more tea.  It's going to be one of those kind of days. LOL)

Although this morning's hour long Sit was quite focused, I can sense that there is a bit of restlessness as I sit here at the computer.  Pausing to breath and observe this restlessness more closely as it plays across the rising and falling of my abdomen, it seems to mirror the wind.  Windblown leaves of mild fear, confusion, anticipation, excitement scurry past the window of my attention and disappear.  Like the wind outside there is movement, then stillness, then movement.  Like my breath, there is movement, then stillness, then movement.  

In the gaze of Mindfulness, sitting here at the screen observing what emerges each moment, it becomes clear that there is also stillness within the movement -- and movement within the stillness.  Stopping to notice, the world expands -- and glows.

It's nice when that happens.

It seems that the a number of folks in this week's Mindfulness Circles, myself included, reported that it was being a pretty "rough" week.  Although I was tempted to surf over to one of my favorite astrological websites to check out what in the world (or what out there) was going on, I don't think an extraterrestrial explanation is necessary.  As the Practice develops, we get more directly in touch with the human condition, more in tune with the way it IS.

Although there is no doubt that there is a greater sense of spaciousness and ease that emerges as we take the time and make the effort to meditate regularly, over time it's probable that we will also get in touch with a lot of subconscious emotional patterns and the narratives and unconscious beliefs (i.e., I'm a really inferior human being, all human beings are mean, etc.) that hold them in place.  Both on and off the meditation cushion, as we open our hearts and gaze more deeply at our experience, at times it may seem that all hell is breaking loose.  

It is.

This is actually a good thing.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

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!


Sometimes bursting forth with a torrential downpour of tears, sometimes not, a Grand Gestalt cyrstallizes in a heartbeat.  In a flash, in an instant, we really get It! Or perhaps, more accurately-- It gets us.  It's different now than before.

The Genuine Heart of Sadness

Awhile ago, I was fortunate enough to be at Himalayan Views, a nearby spiritual gift shop/bookstore, to hear a woman describe one of those moments.  Suffering from what had beeen 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. "


As the woman read that passage that day, an awakening had come in a flash.  Reality asserted itself.  She knew

Friday, April 7, 2017

Always Maintain a Joyful Mind?

It's been another busy week.  With hours of Doctor's appointments and long, complicated telephone calls, one hour commutes, and chores and errands for two, I didn't find much time to work on this week's post.  So, in anticipation of our first REAL sun sparkler spring day,  I'm sharing this early April post from three years ago again.  It brought a smile to my face
 -- and,  I hope Mother Nature takes the hint!
One Love,

Always Maintain a Joyful Mind?
Originally Posted, April 3, 2014

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a deep joy.” 
-- Rumi

 "Notice everything. Appreciate everything, including the ordinary. 
That's how to click in with joyfulness or cheerfulness."
-- Pema Chodron

I actually didn't mind the long, intense winter at all this year here in Western Massachusetts.  The abundant snow and ice were just fine with me.  Even a frigid February that extended its way through the month of March didn't seem to phase me.  It was what it was.  In fact, it was often quite grand.

That being said, Tuesday here in the Pioneer Valley was different.  Although Spring had occasionally whispered in our ear for weeks, on Tuesday she stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed in no uncertain terms, "I'M HERE!"

And everybody knew it.

On the sun washed sidewalks of Greenfield, good cheer was ubiquitous.  Steps were lively.  Joyful Mind was in the air, palpable -- and shared.  Strangers greeted one another with nods and smiles.

Although I was acutely aware that here in Western Massachusetts the strains of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" could quickly morph into "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in the grand soundtrack of Mother Nature's movie, it didn't matter.  It was a done deal.  Mother Nature could turn on a dime to blow yet another Nor'easter in our face (it was April Fool's Day after all),  and I'd just blow her a kiss.  We were home free.  Spring had arrived!

In the Lojong Training of Tibetan Buddhism, a series of aphorisms is memorized, studied, and used in training the mind to expand beyond it's usual conditioned patterns.  Operating as mental reminders to frame our experience in particular ways -- both on the meditation cushion and off -- these 59 slogans, arranged as 7 main points, can be quite helpful in cultivating an open heart and a clear head.  Prompted by one of the regulars at Monday Morning Mindfulness, I've jumped into an exploration of Lojong for eight or nine months now.  Being at heart a Spiritual Practice Geek, I've read and re-read the presentations of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron, and Zen Teacher Norman Fischer, surfed through the on-line course of commentaries by Acharya Judy Lief, poked around for other commentaries.  (In the past year, I've also poured through the commentaries by B. Alan Wallace and Traleg Kyabgon)

Some of these slogans seem pretty obvious: Don't be jealous, don't malign others, etc.   We probably have heard them from our parents, Sunday school teachers, from some of our kind and upstanding friends. Others call for an understanding of the basic principals and teachings of Mahayana Buddhism or some of the unique notions of Tibetan Buddhism.   Reading the commentaries by contemporary teachers usually brings them into focus pretty quickly and makes them accessible and applicable.

Then there are some like slogan 21:  Always Maintain A Joyful Mind!

I think a common first reaction to that is "WTF?  Are you kidding me?"

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Starting Where You Are

"If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, 
then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them. 
True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate 
than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
-- Pema Chodron, 

I certainly was no "newbie" to Spiritual Practice back in 2006.

Sixty years old, I had practiced meditation, lived in several spiritual communities, attended numerous intensive retreats in various traditions, and had a regular daily practice for large swathes of time for 35 years.  Although I had experienced a number of "peak experiences" over the years --on and off the zafu -- little did I know that my mind was about to be blown once again.  

I had never heard of Pema Chodron when Betsy handed me a paperback copy of Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living that fine fall day.  Longtime Director of Gampo Abbey, an American student of Chogyam Trungpa, Ani Pema had me hooked with the very first sentence of the Preface:



I couldn't put the book down.  

Although I had read Chogyam Trungpa's classic works back in the day, and spend a bit of time with Tibetan Buddhist communities in Madison WI and Woodstock NY over the years, my primary focus had never turned to Tibetan practices.  To be honest, as I had experienced in some Hindu settings, I was pretty turned off by the somewhat gaudy opulence and what appeared to be a "guru-driven," highly ritualistic approach to spirituality.  The relative simplicity of the American incarnations of both Zen and Theravada seemed much more in tune with my own, moderately Marxist, sensibilities.

Yet, as I poured through Start Where You Are that day, I was transfixed.  As an American female monk steeped Tibetan practice, Pema Chodron offered a fresh, accessible, down to earth presentation of the traditional Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.  Although many of the concepts were familiar old friends, something shifted.  Chapter by chapter, her teachings helped me to establish a new and deeper relationships to the teachings, to practice -- and to life.  

Starting Where I Was

I had always considered myself a pretty compassionate dude, dedicated to service.  The Bodhisattva Vow had been part of my personal practice for decades.  Yet, I had also struggled through a series of burnouts during that time.  The Reality of Our Essential Oneness was part of my own experience, but it was clear -- I didn't have a clue as to how to live that out through my life in a sustainable way.  I could "be there" for others but I couldn't be here for myself.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Dance

"We are already what we want to become."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Life is the dancer.  You are the dance."
-- Eckhart Tolle

I didn't Sit this morning.  

The heat apparently didn't come on last night, leaving the room frigid, with a stiff northwest wind rattling the window alongside my bed as I came awake.  I got up, and as is the ritual, went to the bathroom.   

Then, I strode back across the cold floor and immediately grabbed the heating pad and an extra blanket  -- and crawled back into bed. I didn't plan on falling back to sleep. 

As I often do, as soon as I laid down I placed my awareness on my body and breath, consciously stretching and relaxing a bit, noticing some thoughts and feelings spin through my awareness as well.  Predictably, the first bevy of thoughts was a rather daunting "things to do list".  

When I let those thoughts go and turned my attention to the underlying feelings, I noticed a tightness in my chest and belly.

As I lay there, I could easily label that collection of thoughts and feelings as "me" being anxious and fearful.  "I" was worried about not accomplishing all that "I" wanted to get done today.  In the old days, that collection of thoughts and feelings could capture my attention to the point of distraction, disarray, and despair.  Totally identifying those thoughts and feelings as me, I would ride that train at full throttle -- until it derailed.  A number of times over the years, those clusters of mind states even consumed me over the course of months, and my life became an utter train wreck. 

Then and Now

As I lay there this morning it was different.  Within a moment or two, no longer attaching a lot of attention to the thoughts, I was breathing the underlying feelings deeply into my heart with the wish that I could feel those feelings for all of us, and that we all would be free from such suffering and the roots of such suffering.  My heartfelt aspiration that all of us be at peace rode the long, slow release of the out breath.  I didn't have to choose to Practice at that moment.  After about a decade of working with Tonglen, more and more it has become a habitual response. 

Floating on the breath of Tonglen Practice*, embraced in the gracious spaciousness of Mindfulness and Awareness, the fear and stress quickly morphed into a pang of deep sadness for the struggle that is part of the human condition.  Then that sadness dissolved into a feelings of deep gratitude for the nobility of our collective efforts to be kind and compassionate, then a sense of wonder about Life and Practice. 

Then,  there was just breath and body, the wind howling outside the window.  

Then a few dream bubbles danced into my awareness -- and burst.  

When I awoke later, I was warm and well rested.  I looked at the clock.  It was too late to Sit  -- but I was ready to Dance into a busy day.

A Devoted Fan of Life and Practice

One of my favorite Zen stories comes at the end of Dogen's Genjokoan: Actualizing the Fundamental Point.   Here it is:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

When You Wish Upon a Star

"Fate is kind.
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing."
-- from "When You Wish Upon A Star" 
Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, 1940

The important point is to realize that you are never off duty.”
-- Chogyam Trungpa

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.  

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 really get spiritual." 

So much for that idea.  

Now what?

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

As I sat there, absolutely clueless, an image of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull came to mind. Then, like that intrepid avian seeker of perfection, I thought, "Just hang onto the wind and trust!"  At that very instant, a shooting star flashed across the night sky directly in front of my eyes to then disappear into the tapestry of countless stars and fathomless blackness reaching overhead.


I wish it was always that easy.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Just a Few Thoughts...

"One can appreciate and celebrate each moment -- there is nothing more sacred.
There is nothing more vast and absolute.  In fact, there is nothing more."
-- Pema Chödron, 
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

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

March Snow 2014
After days of warm, springlike weather, it seems that Mother Nature is poised to dish out a few single digit overnights again here in Western Massachusetts.

If history repeats itself, we could still get some serious snow before She rolls up her sleeves to sow spring hereabouts.

Then again, maybe not.  Then again, maybe...

Ah.  "thinking, thinking".  

Tending to to speculate, compare,  exaggerate, "thinking mind" can create all sorts of story lines about the weather -- or anything else imaginable.

All too often, it's just another snow job.

Yet, when I pause to gaze at the sun and shadows playing across the tawny world outside the window, when I open to the sounds of the birds twittering,  the wind whispering through leafless trees, and the traffic humming in the distance, when I let go of the storylines and just feel myself sitting here breathing, the world immediately expands.  Not constrained by the fetters of thought, Life becomes becomes vast and wondrous.

It happens every time I pause and stop typing.  (You could, perhaps, pause here for a moment or two and open up to those other channels of your own experience right now before moving on to click READ MORE

Friday, February 24, 2017

Nothing Special, No Big Deal: Part Two

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”  
-- Rumi

There's a first time for everything.  

Looking closely, I suppose there is a last time for everything as well.  Each unique moment arises and passes away within the flow of eternity quite distinctly, so quickly that we can't actually grasp it at all no matter how hard we try.  

With any luck at all, we can relax and notice it, though.  And, it seems to me, is that is where the Real Magic exists.

This is the first time since I took on the task of scribing a weekly blog piece that I actually set myself up to continue writing about a "theme".  Usually I finish a piece and let it go.  Then when the next Thursday morning rolls around, I pull out the laptop and start fresh.  Sometimes I might have a theme in mind, or I've latched onto a title as a starting point before I begin.  Often, I just sit facing a blank screen -- and wait.

This week it's different.  I came to a point last week where I realized there was much more to say about No Big Deal and Nothing Special.  There was no way that I could keep the post at a reasonable length.  (Some of my friends have already complained that these weekly musings can be too damn long)  So, I took a deep breath, scrolled up to the title window,  and typed a colon, then P-a-r-t  O-n-e.  

What was I thinking? When I hit publish, I knew my goose was cooked. 

Looking back to that post, I can see that I wasn't satisfied with proclaiming that in my Heart of Hearts I believed that everyone and everything should be loved and appreciated, to then immediately say that this was No Big Deal.  It seemed that had come awfully close to proclaiming that the manifestation of Unconditional Love was Nothing Special.  Another way of saying this is: God is No Big Deal.  

That sounds a bit blasphemous, huh!?  How could I leave it there? LOL

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Nothing Special, No Big Deal: Part One

"Though my heart burns like a glowing hot coal, my eyes are as cold as dead ashes"
--  Soyen Shaku, Roshi

"If nothing is special, everything can be."
-- Charlotte "Joko" Beck, Nothing Special, Living Zen

After two significant snowfalls this past week, storms that left huge mounds of plowed snow along the highways and byways of my life here in Massachusetts, it seems that Mother Nature is now moving to melt her way into spring. 

If the National Weather Service's ten day crystal ball is to be believed, the daily high temperatures will be moving through the upper 40's into the 50's over the course of the next week.  Not bad for February, no?

Or is it?

Sitting here I could get lost in all sorts of thoughts about the weather.  Once again, we've had an unusually temperate winter.  Gazing at the melting white snowfields outside the window, my mind could create a long rant about the specter of global climate change in a heart beat.  (There certainly appears to be ample scientific evidence, after all.)  

On the other hand, having seen lots of my friends suffer through some sort of respiratory bug again this week, I could narrow my horizons and spin off fantasies of personal climate change -- conjuring up dreams of moving my tail to a gentler and even warmer clime. 

Yet, when I just return to my senses here and now; feeling the sensations  of my breath and body as I sit here, watching the tapestry of soft color outside the window, listening to the deep, deep silence occasionally augmented by the twitter of a bird, it is quite easy to let go of those particular story lines.  Just Sitting Still and letting the thoughts drift away, there is no problem.  

The weather?  No big deal.  At the moment, it simply is.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What's Love Got To Do With It?

"Hatred never ceases by hatred. It is healed by love alone. This is the ancient and eternal law."
-- Buddha
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind
 and with all your strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-- Jesus

An octogenarian friend of mine told me the other day that she was making Valentine's Day cards again this year to send out to some of her special friends.  

My first thought was, "how cool is that?"  Since she is quite a collage artist, I must admit my next thoughts were, " I hope I make the cut. I'd love to get one."

Love to get to get one? Hmmmm...?

I don't know how it plays out in other languages, but it seems to me that the word "love" in English is amazingly imprecise.  It covers a vast range, from the "greater love hath no man than to lay down his life" style of sacrificial selflessness to the most possessive and jealous form of desirous grasping imaginable.  The word "love" casts a net that includes both the enlightened activity of the Bodhisattva Green Tara -- and painful flailing of folks ensnared by the Green Eyed Monster.  

Yet as the quotes above indicate, we have it on "good authority" that the key to the Real Deal is Love.  So, what does the word "love" really mean? 


Here we go again: What does the word "mean" really mean?  Its "meaning" runs the gamut from ultimate significance and purpose, to simply being nasty, from the Golden Mean to the Blue Meanies.  Damn.  I mean give me a break here.  LOL

It's Only Words...

Love? Meaning? These words certainly seem important, yet getting to the Truth of the Matter seems problematic, no?  Conditioned as we are in a world that stresses the importance of conceptual thought, of words, much of our awareness is tied up in the stream of thoughts that dominate our attention.  Yet it's obvious that words can be quite sloppy, perhaps not all that useful in our quest for fundamental clarity.

The Zen tradition stresses this.  At one point, during a teisho in sesshin years ago at the Rochester Zen Center, Bodhin Kjolhede Sensei asserted, "Every time I open my mouth,  I'm lying!"  

He had obviously -- and very passionately -- opened his mouth at that moment.  Was he telling the truth -- or lying?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

How Sweet It Is

"Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment.
It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation."
 --  Rabindranath Tagore

"What you seek is seeking you!"
-- Rumi

When I woke up that morning over 50 years ago, I had no idea that the trajectory of my life through time and space would be very much determined that afternoon.

It was the summer of 1965.  I had just finished my freshman year in college and was back home in a small town north of Chicago, working in a factory again for the summer.  As I had done for several summers, I would gave myself a $5 a week "entertainment" budget and saved the rest to fund my education.  I spent three of those dollars that afternoon in a matter of moments at a table of used books at the Lion's Club White Elephant sale in the small park near the center of town.

For years, I've realized that two of the books that I bought that day had a profound influence on me.  The Wisdom of Buddha, published by a Buddhist organization in Japan was my first introduction to Buddhism.  When I flipped it open and scanned a few pages,  I thought, "Wow.  That's interesting.  This sounds like what Jesus was saying in the Bible!? " This began the exploration of Buddhist teachings and practices that was to emerge, inspire, and sustain me over the years.

The second book was another small tome, The Wisdom of Gandhi.  Deeply touched by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, I had read that Dr. King had been deeply touched by Gandhi.  That was good enough for me.  Poking my nose into that book immediately brought forth another 20% of that week's allocated "mad money", and set the tenor and tone of my life's political activism.

It was only today, after a powerful experience yesterday evening, that I remembered that there was a third book I bought that afternoon. 

I had climbed in front of the computer to begin work on this week's post with the thought that since I had ended up focusing on the inevitability of death last week, (Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:"Reality Asserts Itself"), I should probably balance it off a bit with the flip side of that assertion.  As certain as there is Death, there is this very Precious Life existing here and now.

In fact, if you use the Four Reminders of the Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhist tradition as a frame of reference, last week's post had sort of put the cart before the horse.  An awareness of the reality that life ends is actually the Second Reminder of Point One of the seven training points that encompass this series of 59 training slogans.  (For more, see A Layman Looks at Lojong.)

The First Reminder, as translated by Chogyam Trungpa is: "Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life."   The teachings about this slogan are seen as support for a deep personal contemplation.  This contemplation, when taken to Heart, can change everything. Actually experiencing the Preciousness of Life is a wonderful gift.

Sitting there at the computer, allowing my mind to flow gently down the stream, quickly elicited the title "How Sweet It Is" for this post.  

I had no idea where that would soon lead.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Reality Asserts Itself

"...Please understand, you have inherent in your very Mind a huge potential, an incalculable brilliance, an ability to see the reality of this moment clearly."
-- Harada Roshi, opening talk,
Rohatsu Sesshin, Sogenji Monastery, 2011

"Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view."
— Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom

My Little Corner of the World
An old coot, I rarely sleep through the night these days.

Generally, at least once a night, I have to roll out of bed and walk a few steps into the adjoining room. There, I participate in one aspect of this Grand Recyling Project known in some circles as Samsara.  

Then, depending on a multitude of factors ranging from things like phases of the moon, to what happens to be on my mind that particular moment, I usually plop right back into bed and meditate back to sleep, often catching a few dream bubbles along the way.

Sometimes, something else happens.

Last night, as I crawled into bed, I heard the winds howling outside the window.  I then felt a bit of coolness on my skin as a draft found its way under the blanket that hangs over the window alongside my bed for nights like these.  

Curious, I pulled a corner of the blanket up to take a peek. 

Outside the windows, the stark silhouettes of winter's barren trees danced wildly in the moonlight as their shadows mirrored their moves across the blue-white snow of the yard behind the gardens.  Under the influence of a brilliant moon that was only a sliver past full, the surreal world outside the window was luminous.  It seemed to glow from within.

I was awestruck.  

Thoughts, being incapable of grasping the majesty of the moment, became irrelevant.  They just went on their merry way unattended -- leaving wonder in their wake.  I was all eyes and ears.  

Transfixed, I don't know how long I was present for that particular miracle before I let the blanket fall back across the window, rolled over, and returned to sleep through feelings of wordless wonder and soft, sleepy delight.

Upon Awakening

As beautiful as the scene outside my window was last night, I also know the stark reality.  It was brutally cold out there.  According to the National Weather Service, the raw temperature at 4 a.m at a small airport near here was -13°F.  The windchill was -22°.  Given different circumstances, that scene I gazed at outside the window wouldn't be delightful.  It would be deadly. 

Yet, in the grand scope of things, it is always like that, right? 

Although we don't like to face it, Life itself is a deadly proposition.  Without exception, our life is a terminal condition.  Nobody gets outta here alive.

Give It Up

"As long as you have certain desires about how it ought to be you can't see how it is.”
---Ram Dass

"Not-knowing is the first tenet of the Zen Peacemakers. Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any opinion, idea or concept. This means total openness to the situation,
deep listening to the situation."
---from the Zen Peacemakers website

A good question is like a good mirror.  You can sometimes see things about yourself that are otherwise hidden.

Although there are often quick answers that can seemingly take us off the hook, a really good question, if you take it to heart, can peel back layers and layers of "stuff".  It can shine a light on the unexamined assumptions and beliefs, subterranean feelings, and inner conflicts that so often keep us sleepwalking through our days.   

Last week, one of the CircleMates emailed me a question to discuss at the next session of MMM.   She wrote: "My question this week, Lance, is how do you let go without giving up?"

Although I did  come up with a quick answer -- and hit the snooze button -- this question started to churn again as I sat down to write this morning.

I love it when that happens.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Day By Day: Three Tips on Daily Practice

 “The gift of learning to meditate is the 
greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.” 
-- Sogyal Rinpoche

“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment,
our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be
filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh

I would say that 90% of the folks who have wandered into one of the Mindfulness Circles I facilitate have already tried mediation.  Comparing notes on Practice in the Circle, most of those folks have expressed that there was an obvious improvement in the quality of their lives when they meditated.  Yet, they found that they couldn't maintain a regular daily practice.

Sound familiar?

The inability to maintain a daily practice is, I think, quite widespread.  It's fun to see a newcomer to the Circle mention, often somewhat sheepishly, that they couldn't establish and sustain a daily practice, only to discover when I ask for a show of hands, that everyone there has had -- or continues to have -- a similar experience.

It only stands to reason.  

The entire thrust of our conditioning today operates against sitting still in silence.  Creatures of habit, we are individually and collectively awash in habitual patterns of noise, stimulation, and activity, often feeling quite stressed and fatigued.  Sometimes aware of a subtle, or not so subtle, discontent with ourselves and our lives, we race on yearning for it to be different.

The Good News is that it can.

More than anything, the establishment of a regular daily meditation practice may be the key to making the difference.  At this stage of the journey, I've learned that there are three things that  seem to have helped me and others to bring this about.  Perhaps, they can help you as well.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Time to Break Silence

"I speak as someone who loves America."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Speech delivered at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967,

As you may know, I meditate -- a lot. The Soundless Sound of Silence is a refuge for me.  In fact I will be offering Be Still: An Interfaith Day of Mindfulness, again on Sunday, January 15 here in Western Wisconsin.

Yet, as Dr. Martin Luther King proclaimed in his speech at Riverside Church, exactly one year to the day before his assassination in Memphis, there is a time to break silence. Like Mahatma Gandhi before him, Dr. King practiced the Spirit of Love and Truth through non-violent political action. 

Dr. King lived -- and died -- as a Bodhisattva.  His was a profound Spiritual Practice.  Like Jesus, Gandhi, and countless other Bodhisattvas, he paid for it with his life.   

With the celebration of Dr. King's birthday -- and the ascension of Donald Trump -- on the horizon, my identical twin, Brother Lefty delivers a rant and shares a recording of Dr. King's eloquent denunciation of the Vietnam War in this week's Rambling On with Brother Lefty Smith, S.O.B.*

Please listen deeply -- and share Dr. Kings message. It is a time to break silence, to speak out -- and join with others to act.  Our democracy and this planet depend on it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Though It Is Impossible...

"When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, 
like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart."
-- Pema Chodron
"If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, 
can be our teacher."
-- Pema Chodron

There is nothing like a weekend in New York City to bring you face to face with yourself.  

I generally consider myself to be pretty open-hearted, relatively unafraid, able to meet most folks eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart. That is, after all, the essence of the Bodhisattva Vow, right?

And then there are those times..........

As folks met for Monday Morning Mindfulness at Community Yoga in my absence this week, I had the opportunity to explore Practice quite differently.  The setting was a Manhattan bound R train heading for the notorious confines of Port Authority.  

At one point, a women, dirty, disheveled and smelling of urine, stumbled and fell across my lap.  Lost in a non-stop rant about everybody being "into her business",  she then recoiled from me, apparently aghast.   Regaining her balance, at least physically, she arose and then sat in the empty seat next to me.  All the while, she continued the agitated conversation with herself.

It took me a bit of time to move through the initial shock of the physical contact.   

Watching feelings of repulsion and fear arise and pass, observing thoughts emerge and dissolve (Eeek. I'm freaking infected with something, etc.), I took a long, slow breath and began to relax. 

After all, this was it--what my buddhy Peal might call "hard core Zen.  Here was another chance to do Tonglen on the front lines.  Absorbing what I could into the expansive space of  Heart on the in-breath, breathing out to extend my aspirations for peace and well-being--hers, mine, ours -- into the space within and beyond that subway car rattling through the darkness, I practiced.

Breathing in, breathing out. 

At one point, as I began to allow my gaze to turn toward her, I noticed that her agitation increased immediately.  Her ire at other folks "being in her business" was, after all, the locus of her current hell.  I cut loose of any attempt to engage her more directly--and that's when the real work began for me.  I felt completely and utterly helpless

Oh no, not THAT!

Ancient wounds

As a child I witnessed my mother's struggle with the demons of her own psyche, up close and personal.  Diagnosed at times as a paranoid schizophrenic, at times as manic-depressive, she was in and out of mental institutions throughout my entire childhood.  Her struggle to navigate through life were a painful journey that, of course, affected me deeply. 

Although I certainly enjoyed many perfect moments of childhood (wandering through fields for hours in awe of grasshoppers and butterflies, sitting on a hillside watching a rainbow emerge and dissolve, etc.), there were a lot of tough times.  I was often profoundly frightened and saddened as, again and again, my mother would disappear -- even when we were in the same room.

In the midst of all this, feelings of utter helplessness were not uncommon.  I ached to have Mom "re-appear"--and was powerless to bring that about.  On the R train that day,  could see those same feelings emerge--in spades--as I sat there that morning hurtling toward Port Authority.  Those feelings emerge now as I sit here at the laptop. 

Breathing in.  Breathing out.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Practice: It's Positively Habit Forming!

"Every moment is incredibly unique and fresh, and when we drop into the moment, 
as meditation allows us to do, we learn how to truly taste this tender and 
mysterious life that we share together."
-- Pema Chodron

Spiritual practice, exactly like training in a gym, takes time and effort. Just as there are stationary bicycles, treadmills, weight machines, and other devices, so in spiritual practice there is prayer, meditation, ritual, study, and other techniques.
-- Zoketsu Norman Fischer

Back when I was addicted to cigarettes, I was often haunted by the spectre of New Year's Day arriving.  By then I had usually made QUITTING my first New Year's resolution -- and decades of failures shrieked like banshees through my mind and body as Day One appeared.

It was not a pretty picture.

Now, with a brand new 2017 sparkling across the gleaming white snow outside my window, the scenery of my life has changed substantially.  I haven't smoked a cigarette in years.  Today, the shrieking banshees have been transformed into a glorious assortment of twittering birds at the feeder.   This moment emerges like each moment: unique,  beautiful and --when I'm really paying attention -- full of wonder.

I haven't made New Year's resolutions in quite awhile.  Although I have found myself making special commitments during Fall Ango for the past couple of years, my fundamental commitment has been made.  No calendar is needed.  It informs each and every day.

Day by Day

Today, like most days, l arose, cast a Lojong Slogan for the day, glugged a cup of coffee (lest I get too self-righteous about not being an addict), read some commentaries on the slogan I cast, then meditated for an hour.  Towards the end of that hour, I mentally recited the Four Bodhisattva Vows three times, a practice I picked up years ago as I wandered through the world of Zen on my way here. 

Yet, True Commitment is deeper than any of these activities and rituals. It emerges as an aspiration ringing silently in our Heart of Hearts.  Emerging from a place so deep within us that it is beyond us, it felt as the simple yearning to be of Service, to be Present to each moment with an open heart, a relaxed and clear mind -- and a helping hand.   (In some circles that is known as Bodhichitta)

Of course, actualizing that aspiration is no easy task.  It takes Practice.