"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart 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, December 23, 2017

The Grave Matter of Life and Death

Let me respectfully remind you:
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
 Awaken!  Take heed!  
Do not squander your life
-- The Zen Evening Gatha



Daniel Atilio "Danny" Cruz
July 30, 1992 - December 13, 2017

I think it is clear.  Danny Cruz, who blessed us with his committed Presence in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, did not squander his life. 

Although the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy that ultimately ended his precious life at age 25 may have limited the freedom of his body, Danny was the quintessential Free Spirit.  His creativity, energy, revolutionary zeal, and passion for life appeared to be limitless.  

Through his copious artwork, through his unbridled musical expression with the Flaming Dragons of Middle Earth, and, perhaps even more importantly,  through his many encounters with members of his beloved community, Danny's upbeat exuberance and good will were boundless.  

It touched all those knew him.  

Chogyam Trungpa once described the Crazy Wisdom that is revered in that school of Tibetan Buddhism as "an innocent state of mind that has the quality of early morning—fresh, sparkling, and completely awake. " 

The ten thousand volt sparkle I often saw in Danny's eyes comes to mind.

The fresh, unfiltered honesty and the immensity of Danny's goodwill towards others were extraordinary.  Although many of us experienced shock at the suddenness of his death, and grieve the loss of his Presence on this plane of existence, the Generosity of Spirit that Danny exuded freely transcends his death.  

It still touches us.  

Although I, admittedly, rolled my eyes when Danny described himself as a Zen Master in our first encounter in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, over these past years I came to appreciate the unique nature of his Mastery.   It manifested in his ability to stay positive in the midst of circumstances that would have crushed the spirits of many.  It manifested in his unwavering aspiration -- and unparalleled ability -- to Connect with those around him.  It manifested in his ability to rise, again and again, to the defense of anyone or anything that had been criticized in his Presence.  

Like any Zen Teacher worth his salt, Danny ceaselessly challenged the concepts and attachments that serve to separate us from ourselves, from one another, and from the Miracle of the Present Moment.  I learned a lot with Danny in the Circle.

Jai Guru Dev Danny Jai 

Healing Into Life and Death

There is no doubt about it:  Losing a loved one is extremely painful.   Yet, taking the time and making the space to mourn can be a deep and richly empowering Practice.  As one of my teacher's once said "honest grief is a noble thing."  I'm grateful that it has allowed me to maintain the Connection with Danny beyond his physical death.
 
The process of opening the heart fully to the death of a loved one can be a Holy Experience, connecting us to the One Love that embraces both Life and Death.  It is there we are Healed.  This is, I believe, exactly what Yogi Jesus was getting at when he proclaimed "Blessed be those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  
(READ MORE)

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Attitude of Gratitude

Since childhood, holidays have been difficult for me.  I always intuited that something Spiritual was hovering nearby, beckoning.  Yet it remained hidden in the shadows cast by the dazzling lights and the hollowness of the widespread, often drunken, merriment.  A child senses these things.  The disparity between "the way it's 'spozed to be" and "the way it is" was striking.

I suppose that it was no surprise that the approach of Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago brought my identical twin brother Lefty to the computer to share his thoughts on the traditional American holiday, in a post entitled "Thanks -- but No Thanks." It seems he couldn't face the traditional Thanksgiving mythology without pointing to the stark reality of our collective history.  He then headed out to Plymouth to participate in the 48th National Day of Mourning, sponsored by the United American Indians of New England.  (You can find his thoughts before he headed out there at Rambling On with Brother Lefty Smith, S.O.B.*).

I suppose I could expand on his offering to go on a rant about the lack of spiritual values present amidst the commercial insanity of Black Friday as well.

But I won't.  

Although gazing fearlessly at the darkness in our world (and in ourselves) is crucial, sometimes it is wise to change the channel.  Rather than incessantly spin our wheels in the mud of our own mayhem and misery, it can be quite helpful at times to consciously turn our gaze toward those things that light up our livesAs Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "suffering is not enough." 

At this moment, I am grateful to acknowledge this as True.  No matter what the darkness brings, there are ALWAYS good things to acknowledge.  I wrote about the Saving Grace of Gratitude during the Holiday Season back in 2013. I've reworked it a bit here, and would like to share it with you again today.
One Love,
Lance

Originally published November 29, 2013 (Revised)  
"A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself 
in order to give in the measure as I have received
and am still receiving.”  
-- Albert Einstein

 "Be grateful to everyone."
-- The 13th slogan of the Lojong Trainings


I'm sometimes amazed -- and quite often amused -- as I observe my heart/mind merrily floating down the stream of consciousness.   

Today, I stared for quite awhile at the blank New Post screen here on this old Mac laptop.   Trying to connect with a theme for this week's musings, I just sat -- and waited.

Not unlike the Soto Zen practice of Shikantaza,  I held my torso upright, aware of my body, my breath, and an open field of spacious awareness.  Poised here with a precise, but relaxed attention, hands on the home row of the laptop instead of the formal zazen mudra, I waited -- profoundly curious about what might emerge.  

Breathing in.  Breathing out...

Blank screen.

Breathing in.  Breathing out... 

Blank screen.

Then, in time, the word "gratitude" appeared in my mind's ear and I was off and running -- or surfing, rather.  Wandering around the worldwide web for awhile, I traced the word "gratitude" along various strands of thought, trying all the while not to loose the original thread. 

And Then...!

ZOUNDS!  

I'm now sitting here with my chest heaving, tears rolling down my cheeks.  As the tears continue to flow, images of the crooner/actor Bing Crosby in his role as freakin' Father O'Malley play across the screen at My Mind's Memory Lane Theater.  (I'm sure this dates me as the septuagenarian I am. LOL)
 
 
WTF? 

How in the world did I end up here?  

Breathing in.  Breathing out...
(READ MORE)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Visible to the Naked Eye

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 

Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh



The trees are shrouded in mist this morning. Although there is still a hint of deep red in the almost bare burning bush across High Street from my new perch here at the Weldon Hotel, the sky has disappeared.  At this moment, the world is awash in somber tones of grey and tan.  

There was a time when a grey, gloomy morning like this would invariably send my spirits spiraling downward.  I could get really depressed.  Confined to the tunnel vision of my own thoughts and feelings, I would become oblivious to the Ongoing Miracle we are immersed in.

Today, that didn't happen. I blame the Practice for this turn of events. 

Although I would be dashed between the rocks and hard places of my own unexplored childhood trauma and dysfunctional conditioning any number of times over the years, the Collective Kensho of the late 60's and my own Peek Experience of Infinite Perfection gave me enough of a Jolt to propel me on a journey that turned towards Spiritual Practice again and again. 

Now, at age 71, although I am no stranger to Sadness, it seems I've found a way to Not-Do Depression so much.  The inner belief structures and narratives that could operate to lock it into my current reality just can't seem get a toe-hold in the Gracious Spaciousness of Awareness that I've found to be accessible much of the time.  (Of course, I put my butt on the zafu 12-17 hours a week, often with other people, during Fall Ango. )

The Theory and the Practice

So, here's the Deal.
(READ MORE)

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Bit Touched

 "When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.”
― Pema Chödrön

 “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


I suppose in some people's eyes, I'm definitely "a bit touched in the head."  

These days, I spend much of my time meditating, studying spiritual texts, and comparing notes about matters of spirit, heart, and mind with as many folks as I can.  

I even let slip in some settings that I've felt the Presence of, sometimes even heard the Voice of,  what some folks may call God (or Tao or Buddha or Allah or Krishna or a myriad other names for the Groundless Ground of Being that will always dance beyond our ability to name it.) 

Over the years I've learned to be a a bit more discrete about yakking about these experiences, though.

  I try not to mention these Openings where it is likely to lead to an embarrassed silence, furtive glances toward the nearest exit -- or maybe even somebody dialing 911!  (Although I say that lightly, in all seriousness this has been an unfortunate reality for all too many of my fellow mystics in a society that doesn't understand such things.)

Looking back, I guess I've always been a bit touched.  Often dismissed as a dreamer or an idealist, sometimes with obvious scorn by those who considered themselves to be"realists," I had dedicated my life to serve "all sentient beings" before I even heard that phrase or knew of the Bodhisattva Vow.  It just seemed to make sense to be kind and giving rather than engage in the selfishness and cruelty I saw in the world around me.

For much of my life, I've stumbled ahead in a sometimes quite bizarre, sometimes crazed effort to understand what the Real Deal was well enough to lend a helping hand where I could.  I've often crashed and burned in the process, blowing a fuse trying, all too desperately,  to serve.  I hadn't truly appreciated how the natural inclinations to seek approval and security and defend myself from anything unpleasant had operated since childhood to distort my vision and "harden my heart"  with layers and layers of frozen childhood trauma, sadness, fear and anger.  Hell, I always thought I was a real softy!  

Little did I know.

Live and Learn

Although my journey continues to involve a variety of practices emerging from several spiritual traditions, for the past decade one of the most useful tools in my personal roadside service toolkit has been Tonglen Practice as taught by American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron and others.  Like many of us 'back in the day," having experienced a number of compelling visions and rapturous openings of my heart chakra, I was convinced of the existence of a boundless and mysterious energy that I now call One Love.  Yet, in the day to day reality of my life I discovered that actually being a loving person wasn't all that easy.  Blinded by the subconscious patterns of a deeply wounded ego, immersed in the energies of a patently neurotic society, much the time I could be a real jerk, failing miserably to even help myself stay free from harm.  Even after experiencing the Infinite Grace of Our Oneness, I still didn't have much of a clue about the sheath of armoring around my heart that distanced me from others -- and, more importantly, from myself.  

Although I was blessed to be able to attend retreats along the way with Stephen and Ondrea Levine and Joanna Macy that provided opportunities to access and melt away some of that armoring, years later, I still stumble ahead noticing daily how much remains.  Now 71 years old, I've realized that there is no end point.  Opening the Heart is a Ceaseless Practice.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

For Now

"Life will give you whatever experience is helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.
How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience
you are having at the moment."
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose

"One can appreciate & celebrate each moment — there’s nothing more sacred. There’s nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there’s nothing more!”
― Pema Chödrön



After raining heavily all night, the sun broke out as I came upstairs a few minutes ago.  Streaming through the skylight, it played across the floor as I entered.  The windblown dance of light and shadow, woven of sun, tree and partially open blinds brought a smile to my face.

Then, as quickly as it had emerged, the sun again disappeared into the thick sea of gray clouds.  That brought a smile to my face as well.  

I walked over to raise the blinds, expecting to see the glistening, now pink-brown, late autumn leaves of the maple tree outside the window waving in the wind.  Startled, I found I was face to face with the stark gray brown of empty branches.  It was now November!  Only a few leaves, scattered among the wet branches remained.  "Oh yeah," I thought. "It rained hard all night.  Duh."  I smiled again.

I guess I'm pretty easy these days -- at least much of the time

Once the fundamental Impermanence of what Uchiyama Roshi called "the scenery of our lives" is directly seen -- and accepted -- we have the opportunity to embrace Life with an increasing degree of ease, grace and kindness.  Within the ever-flowing energies that we encounter, we see that there is always nothing more, and nothing less, than Life as it exists in the Present Moment.  

Although the thoughts and emotions that emerge from the causes and conditions of our personal and collective histories can make it appear otherwise, what is right there in front of us is a constant Invitation to the Dance.  We can either explore the possibility of opening our hearts and minds (and our eyes and ears and arms, etc.) to accept and appreciate the Absolute Miracle of the Mystery that we are part of -- or not.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  
(READ MORE)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

"The highest form of human intelligence is to
observe oneself without judgment."
Jiddu Krishnamurti

“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

Sometimes a mirror is worth a thousand words.

Although at one point back in the 1970's I actually practiced Mirror Gazing Meditation as a way to explore aspects of my subconscious, these days I don't spend much time in front on a mirror.  

Why bother?  

Being retired now,  I don't have to appear with the proper clothes and haircut at the proper place at the proper time each day. Sporting little hair on the top of my head, a washcloth is usually a good enough brush--and Betsy is generally quite expressive at the points at which I cross the line between un and kempt, periodically coming at my beard and mustache with scissors --  and great zeal. 

These days, it seems that Sitting Practice is my primary mirror. 

Taking the time to gaze steadily and kindly at the flowing river of Mind as it merrily meanders along is increasingly interesting at this stage of the journey.  In fact, with a bow to the Fall Ango practice I observed at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, I recently upped the ante.  I've committed to going off the grid and observing a Day of Mindfulness each week, as well as Sitting outside to observe the sunset daily when I can this fall.

I didn't leave the Monastery because I don't like to Sit.  Meditation practice is often the most interesting part of my day.

It is also, I think, the most helpful.

As the Practice deepens, I'm grateful to acknowledge that even the more gnarly emotional whirlpools that swirl through my awareness don't seem to rock the boat all that much.  Even the momentary bursts of violent self-hatred and anger that still sometimes emerge are usually just experienced as waves crashing over the rocks.  These days those feelings readily become water over the dam--on and off the zafu.  Just around the bend, the river generally forms a clear, deep pool mirroring the grandeur of the emerging autumn foliage and a brilliant clear blue sky.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Lojong: Training the Heart and Mind

"True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those
less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
---Pema Chödrön, Awakening Loving-Kindness

"Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation."
---The 16th Mind Training Slogan of Atisha

I've had my nose buried in books a lot this past week, diving once again into a stack of works on the Lojong Trainings.

Although the 59 slogans of this Tibetan Buddhist system of training the Heart/Mind were passed on as secret teachings in Tibet by the ninth century emigre Indian teacher, Atisha, they were codified and then opened to a wider audience in the 12th century by Tibetan teacher Geshe Chekawa.

Now, in the 21st century, that audience has become worldwide.  Here, in the melting pot of American Buddhism, there are numerous translations and commentaries on these Teachings in English -- and not only by teachers in the Tibetan tradition of  Pema Chödrön and her teacher Chögyam Trungpa.  In fact, these days my favorite book on Lojong is that of Zen teacher, Sensei Norman Fisher.  His book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, rocks!

In print, in digital media, and on the web, viewing the vast array of material on Lojong available today is like peering at the rainbow facets of a diamond while slowly spinning it around in the sunlight.  It's dazzling.

How cool is that?

The Theory and the Practice

Of course, studying is one thing.  Unlearning a habits of a lifetime is another.  We've all been immersed in a pool of conditioning that serves to disconnect us from our Heart of Hearts.  The effort to uncover our natural compassion and wisdom takes commitment, energy, and patience.  It takes Practice. 

At one point years and years ago, after having been struck by a suggestion by Ram Dass's in Be Here Now,
(READ MORE)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Opening the Hand of Thought

"To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away."
                                                         --Eihei Dogen, from Genjokoan

 "If we open the hand of thought that grasps "this person" (that is, our self) as the center of the world, then our lives broaden and our hearts open to all beings."
Shohaku Okumura, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo


Eihei Dogen (1200-1253)
No doubt about it: I'm a Spiritual Geek.  Although Sitting is at the Heart of Practice for me,  I am an inveterate bookworm.  I always have a stack of books on my desk and alongside my bed.  I generally spend some time most days going over spiritual teachings in their written form. 

For awhile now, I had been re-reading Pema Chodron's Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, digesting it a chapter at a time once again before retiring at night. (I also acquired a series of talks she gave during a retreat that introduced the book and listened to it while commuting from Barre to Greenfield several days a week.)

With these offerings, Ani Pema presented a three fold Practice for engaging life directly "off the zafu." Rather than spin out in the habitual patterns of reaction as we're accustomed to doing, we can remember to:
    Be fully present (perhaps using a few breaths and the sensations in our body as anchors to the present moment)
    Feel our hearts
    Engage the next moment without agenda

This Practice can change everything -- when I remember to do it.

More of the Same, Only Different

Several weeks ago, I spied a copy of Shohaku Okumura's Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo laying in the back seat of my buddhy Peel Sonier's car as we're driving to Greenfield for the #OMG! Noon Sit.  Having been hoodwinked into a bit of koan study by Daido Roshi during my residency at Zen Mountain Monastery (a funny tale which I won't go into here), I had been deeply touched as I studied Genjokoan with the Roshi.   Having been also touched by the writings of Okumura, one of the founding forces of the Pioneer Valley Zendo in neighboring Charlemont, and his teacher, Kosho Uchiyama,  I immediately asked Peel if I could borrow the book.  He smiled and said "sure." 

The timing was perfect.  Sometimes the right book at the right time can make all the difference.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Taking It to Heart

 “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion.” It is said that in difficult times, it is only bodhichitta that heals.”
 -- The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa
quoted by Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times

"So, when we are willing, intentionally, with this kind of attitude, this vision, to breathe in the suffering, we are able to transform it easily and naturally; it doesn't take a major effort on our part, other than allow it."
-- Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

"That's backwards isn't it? You meant breathe in the good and send out the bad, right?" she said, not unkindly.   Being gracious, she was making a space for me to realize that my aging brain cells had gone dyslexic.

I had been chatting on the phone with an old friend for first time in quite awhile,  talking about my continued wonder at the Lojong Teachings in general, and Tonglen Practice in particular.  After a moment's pause, to relax and reconnect with the basic openness of mind -- and to make sure that I really hadn't verbally zigged when I had intended to zag -- I continued.

"No, I actually did mean that I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that have emerged with the aspiration that myself and others be free from such suffering and the roots of suffering.  Then I breathe out a sense of relief and healing energy " 

She paused for awhile (perhaps also to relax and reconnect with a basic openness of mind herself in light my rant), and simply replied, "Oh?" She didn't sound convinced.

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly materialistic society, the basic premise of this ancient Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training, that opening our hearts to the entire gamut of human emotions rather than grasping at the "good" and pushing away the "bad", is actually the path of Awakening to our True Nature, seems a bit crazy.  It most certainly is. 

Crazy like a fox.

The Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which consist of 59 training aphorisms are supported by two meditation practices: Basic Sitting Practice (Shamatha-Vippasyana) and Tonglen.  Each has a role in cultivating our Connection to the essentially miraculous nature of life.  Each contributes to our deepening ability to be Present to the Sacred Perfection in which we are immersed -- moment to moment.

As I sit here, pause,  and pay attention, I become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness.  Pausing further, I can rest in its embrace.  Proceeding, still Connected to this invisible, formless, seemingly limitless expanse of awareness, the dance of my fingers along the surface of this keyboard is flinging words across the screen of an old Mac laptop.  

Becoming aware of my body and my breath,  I see that milliseconds before the fingers move, thoughts emerge instantaneously, seemingly from nowhere in particular.  Although, these thoughts are most certainly prompted by my intention to write this blog post, they appear to be emerging by themselves, quite mysteriously.  Although Western science claims that they are merely brain secretions of some sort, merely epiphenomena, at this moment it feels much grander than that.  There is a Presence, a boundless sense of wonder and joy that emerges from the luminous silence that embraces me, the letters emerging on the screen, the clicking contact of my fingers on the keyboard, the soft humming of the computer. 

But, I digress -- sort of.

In a Flash
(Read More) 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Love Love Love

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love: in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles

We've had it on good authority.  Jesus and Buddha, as well as many of the myriad seers, sages and saints of the world's religions seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering and why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks have learned to believe is love, the terrain of much music and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  What is presented as love is a form of desire, energetic attraction, and attachment.  This "love" has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the quality of consciousness that emerges from what my favorite Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron calls an Awakened Heart.  Love is not the profound passionate grasping of deep attachment. True Love is much grander than that. (It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what JC, Buddha and others had in mind, right?)  

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from, Pure Being, the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of separation that characterizes the realm of relative reality.  Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love is the fundamental kindness, compassion, joy, and clarity that always exists in our heart of hearts.  Our innate ability to access True Love is the Ultimate Connectivity. 

Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something that someone just "falls into",  in the Buddhist tradition, love is seen as a quality of heart, a mode of consciousness can be consciously cultivated.  Although, we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "Otherness" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- True Love emerges from a fundamental choice to embrace Life itself, to let go of who we think we are and open our hearts and minds to the actual experience of the present moment.  

Although this can happen with the very next breath, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen.  It is a Practice.  (Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving.) True Love takes commitment, time, and effort.  Like any discipline, it takes knowledge and understanding -- and patience.  I hope to still be Practicing with my final breath.
READ MORE

Friday, September 22, 2017

Step by Step

Walking with ease and with peace of mind on the earth 
is a wonderful miracle.  Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle.
--Thich Nhat Hahn


"Every path, every street in the world is your walking meditation path." 

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Several times in the past couple of years of MMM, I've witnessed someone experiencing formal walking meditation for the first time.  

After sharing a few words about the various forms of meditation (it's not Just Sitting after all), I introduced the South Asian "slow motion" walking meditation I had learned it when I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society years ago.  Then we took a stroll across the glistening wooden floors of the studio at Community Yoga from one wall to the other, turned, and returned.

It only took a few minutes.

In a couple of instances, I then had the privilege of seeing a childlike sense of wonder emerge in a person who had just experienced, at least for a moment or two, "Beginner's Mind."  Meeting their eyes, it was obvious.  During the course of this relatively brief walk, they had been Present to Life in a fuller and more complete way than usual. 

I love it when that happens. 

Walking and Waking Up

The spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff claimed that most humans are "sleepwalking" through their lives.  I think he nailed it.  Sleepwalking is a perfect metaphor for the semi-conscious manner in which most of us have learned to move through our lives.  

In a materialistic society that stresses speed, production, and the accumulation of goods and status, we have been conditioned to scurry and stagger ahead without being fully aware of the present moment.  Distracted, lost in our thoughts much of the time, the miraculous sea of sensations and energies that constitute Life each moment remain beneath the level of consciousness.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way.  We each have the ability to awaken. It can happen with the very next step.
(READ MORE)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Take a Rest, Buddhy!

"We seem to have lost the ability to just be quiet, 
to simply be present in the stillness that is the foundation of our lives. Yet if we never get in touch with that stillness,
we never fully experience our lives."  
-- Roshi John Daido Loori, Finding the Still Point


"Be still and know that I am God!"
-- Psalm 46:10



As someone who is halfway through my 72th year of life on planet earth, I grin when I find myself sometimes talking about "the good old days."  

I used to roll my eyes whenever Dad tuned into that particular channel to proclaim that what folks called "progress' had distinct problems.  Now, decades later, I get it.  As Bob Dylan once sang, " Ah, but I was so much older then.  I'm younger than that now."

As I glance at the cellphone sitting alongside the keyboard and notice that I'm currently sitting here with 6 tabs of information on this browser awaiting my beck and call (quotes, pictures, wikepedia, dictionary, email, blogger), I am quite aware that there is something deeply unsettling about the nature of "life as we know it" on planet earth today -- at least here in 21st century America.  Having compared notes with other geezers, it seems there is a consensus: The rat race has only gotten worse.

Although, I can't speak about how it may feel in other parts of the world today, I do remember having a conversation with an immigrant from Vietnam years ago, a co-worker in a spiffy New Age natural foods restaurant, bakery, retail store complex in Madison, WI.  As we sat in the alley out back (with one eye out for the manager), he lamented that the entire pace of life in the U.S. was unhealthy, uncivilized and inhumane.  Communist or not, he had come to believe that the entire fabric of life in his homeland was better than what he was experiencing in the US.  And that was thirty years ago, when I still had time to sigh and stretch after work, reach for the TV Guide, look through the listings, then get out of the chair to stroll across the room to change the channel. 

Nowadays, it seems that most of are on remote control, bombarded with stimuli and activity, wired for action in most every waking moment --or thinking about it.  Even "at rest", our thumbs twitch, and we are on the move with a dizzying kaleidoscope of images and sounds and thoughts zipping through our awareness continuously.  Awash in constant stimulation, scurry, and noise, time seems to have collapsed -- leaving no time at all.  

And -- surprise, surprise -- most of us are left feeling a bit breathless; increasingly stressed out, restless and anxious.     
 

Give it a Rest, Buddhy!

In all the major religious traditions that I've studied over the years, there is a deep recognition that Stillness and Rest are not only important -- they are crucial.  As mystics throughout the ages have proclaimed, at the core of Reality, there is Quiescence, a Profound Stillness.  It is an essential part of Our Being.  Although we can get swept up in the activity and constant sensory bombardment of today's world, I think it's important to remember that even the OmniProductive God of the Old Testament, working hard enough to create the entire Universe in only six days, then took a day off  --and proclaimed it Holy!

Of course, as God Almighty, Yahweh could probably kick back and settle right into the Stillness.   For most of us, 
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Friday, September 8, 2017

'Tis the Season

"Commitment is at the very heart of freeing ourselves 
of old habits and old fears."
― Pema Chodron

 “I think what everyone should be doing, before it's too late, is committing themselves to what they really want to do with their lives.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh


Buddhist Nuns at Amaravati Monastery
As the often stormy days of August gave way to September, my thoughts turned to those times in my life that I have engaged in Intensive Practice in the Fall.   

In Buddhism, like many of the world's religions (Ramadan in Islam. The High Holy Days in Judaism.  Lent in Christianity,  etc.), there are extended periods of time each year that people move beyond "business as usual" to make a special commitment to their Spiritual Practice.    

In Buddhism, the tradition of the Rain's Retreat (Vassa or Ango) goes back to the time of the Buddha.  Traditionally beginning the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month (June/July), it lasted about three months, the period of time that the monsoon season in India made travel difficult.  During that time the monks, who generally were homeless wanderers, would gather in one place to hear the Buddha's teachings and engage in intensive meditation practice.  

To this day, this extended period of intensive practice is widespread in Theravadan Buddhism, and is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and some traditions of Zen as well.  Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, it often seems to have evolved into periods of intensive practice that occur in the Fall and/or the Spring.  (I participated in Fall and Spring Ango while in residence at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago.)

At Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, the Rain's Retreat has become the 3 Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year.  One year, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.  
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Friday, August 25, 2017

Promises, Promises

Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”
Suzuki Rosh

“Daily sitting is our bread and butter, the basic stuff of dharma. 
Without it we tend to be confused.”
Charlotte Joko Beck


A Carmelite Monk and his Vows
There were quite a few of us back in the day that were first drawn to Zen because of its seemingly irreverent and iconoclastic tenor and tone.  To a bunch of us erstwhile hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, those ancient monks kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, proclaiming Buddha was a "shit stick", etc., seemed like our kind of guys. 

Little did we know.

Once I actually connected with a teacher and a sangha, a different reality emerged.  I found that the foundation of Zen Buddhism, like that of other spiritual traditions throughout the world, rests squarely on a set of vows and precepts.  Rather than becoming a member of another tribe of free form hippies, I found out that engaging in formal Zen training with a teacher meant making a commitment to a set of clearly stated intentions: Taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, the Three Pure Precepts, and the 10 Essential Precepts was expected.  It was part of the deal.

WTF?  

Jeez.  In the Judeo-Christian world, we only had to worry about the ten commandments! Now? Do the math. This is twice as many.  So much for being hip and cool, for "doing your own thing!"

Or so it seemed. 
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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Our Gang

"To begin a sangha, find one friend who would like to join you for sitting meditation or walking meditation or tea meditation or sharing."-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
-- Jesus, Matthew 18:20, Holy Bible (NAS)
 
Our Gang Contemplates Dog's Buddha Nature
Although these days I meditate alone for an hour in the morning as the day begins, and I seasonally observe a personal Day of Mindfulness weekly,  I also meditate with others.  A lot. 

It makes a difference.

In Buddhism, as in most of the world's religions, a community of kindred spirits is seen as an integral part of one's Spiritual Practice.  In fact, a commitment to Sangha (a group of one's fellow practitioners), along with "taking Refuge" in the Buddha and the Dharma, is one of the Triple Gems, the foundational vow of Buddhism.  In other faiths as well, a commitment to the fellowship found in churches, temples, mosques, ashrams and monasteries, etc. is also often seen as an important aspect of one's Path. 

I suppose that stems from the fact that humanoids, like most species of beings on this planet, naturally operate as members of groups.   We sentient beings travel through life, often moving as One whether we realize it or not, in packs, herds, flocks, prides, gaggles, colonies.  There are Buddhist, Islamic, Christian and Hindu schools and there are schools of tuna and salmon.  We live and breathe in concert with others.

Although human beings, especially here in the modern capitalist west, have a belief structure that reinforces the notion of "individuality", our fundamental interdependence plays out moment to moment.  Even when you are by yourself, alone in your room thinking, those thoughts are existing in a language you didn't invent that itself has been collectively evolving for a long, long time.  Even the structure and grammar of that language have a significant impact on your perceived world. The meanings emerge for you, not as isolated phenomenon, but in the context of your past interactions with other members of your family and tribe stretching back throughout time.  Most of this operates on a sub-conscious level.

With Practice, what had been sub-conscious increasingly surfaces into our awareness.  With time, effort and patience, on and off the meditation cushion, a whole new realm of experience becomes quite ordinary. As Practice unfolds we get a sense that Descartes seems to have gotten it "ass backwards." Rather than "I think, therefore I am", Reality is closer to "I am, therefore I think."  Then, looked at closely, even the notion of an distinct, solitary, isolated "I" independently existing becomes highly suspect.  

Getting It Together

Unlike most species, to some extent, we human beings have the ability to make a conscious choice about what groups to associate with.  Although we are born into a group, a clan, a village, a nation, if we are fortunate enough to realize and act on it, we then get to choose our gang, the folks we run with.  Unlike our fellow mammals, we human beings can choose our colors, costumes and customs.  For those of us on the Path, ideally, our gang is a group whose values, aspirations, and intentions support our own of cultivating wisdom and compassion, not one devoted to some sort of mayhem.  (although as Little Rascals, a bit of minor mayhem can be quite delightful, of course)  As myself and many others have found, the support and guidance provided by a meditation group can be  invaluable.   
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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Heart to Heart

“The intimacy that arises in listening and speaking truth is only possible 
if we can open to the vulnerability of our own hearts. ”
--- Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others 
and relieve others of their suffering....."
--- Thich Nhat Hanh
from the Fourth Precept of  the Tien Tiep Order



Quite awhile ago, a friend who attended  the MMM Circle for the first time was struck by the openness displayed in the Circle that morning.

"Folks were so honest" she said with her eyes glowing with amazement, 
" -- painfully honest!" 

I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo! We've created a space where open-hearted intimacy is possible." 

At that moment, I felt deep gratitude for what emerges in the Mindfulness Circles each week.  A few years down the road, I still do.

The opportunity to speak openly and honestly about what is nearest to our hearts and soul is a rare and precious thing today.  In the hustle bustle of our sped up, noisy,  materialistic society, comparing notes on the Spiritual dimension of our lives doesn't happen all that much.  In fact, when I was a kid we were told not to ever talk about religion--or politics. 

I didn't follow the rules.  

I majored in political science in college--and have been an avid student of Spirituality for a long, long time.  The wisdom teachings that arise in the mystical traditions of all the world's religions and how they play out in the reality of our day to day lives in this world is profoundly interesting to me.  I can't think of anything I'd rather yak about.

Of course, communication, in it's true sense, is much more than conversation. 
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Saturday, August 5, 2017

It's Only Words

The secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts,
in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh,
  Buddha Mind, Buddha Body:
Walking Toward Enlightenment

"The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
"

―  Tao Te Ching,
Chapter One


In the world of Zen, words and concepts are not generally held in high regard. 

It's not surprising that some students even got smacked by crotchety old Zen masters for their "loose lips."   Words can be pretty damn tricky.

A case in point:  The realm of words creates a world of thought where the word "swearing" could either describe what emerges when a person angrily launches into a foul-mouthed condemnation of something    -- or a what happens when a person wholeheartedly takes a sacred oath.

So what does the word "swear" actually mean?  (For that matter what does mean, mean? I mused about a bit in Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call: What's Love Got To Do with It?)

Over the years, it's become clearer and clearer to me that any particular word, or even a whole string of those slippery devils, at best, can only hint at the Truth.  Most often, they just lead to a more complicated web of endless definition.  (For example, is the statement "beauty is only skin deep" actually True?


Like Life itself, meaning is inseparable from context.  It emerges from an essential connection to a whole matrix of experiences which, in turn, are ultimately inseparable from the Whole Universe.  This makes True Communication extremely interesting. It involves myriad factors beyond the exchange of words.  In fact, if you are really paying attention during a conversation, what is not said may be more meaningful than what is said.   The devil isn't merely in the details.  The devil is the details -- when those slippery devils are devoid of a Connection to the Truth of the Matter.  That Truth, I have found, is ultimately a matter of Heart, not the thinking mind.

For me, staying Connected to the Heart takes Practice.  And Practice takes courage, effort -- and Commitment.

Commitment!?

Oh no, not that!
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Friday, July 28, 2017

ARGH!!!

We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out,
either way making things worse for ourselves and others.
Or we can practice patience: wait,
experience the anger and investigate its nature.
---Pema Chodron


“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”
---Thich Nhat Hanh


The Universe is exquisite.  Once you hitch your wagon to Practice and roll out, you are going to get the lessons along the way that are needed to take you deeper --whether you like it or not!  (That might be especially true if you have the unbridled chutzpah to publicly ramble on about your experiences. )

More than once, I've spent time here presenting the notion that simply "cutting loose of the storyline", the process of refocusing our awareness from discursive thought to other aspects of our experience (preferably what we are feeling in our heart), can sometimes take us from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.  (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Once Upon a Time...)  

Although I certainly have experienced something approximating that quite often, perhaps a bit of Karmic Comeuppance was necessary to burn my tail -- and burnish my humility and compassion a bit.   During the last past week, Life interjected a pretty dramatic bout of upset apple carts and broohahas into the Grand Mix.  It's been enough to remind me that it certainly can take a bit longer than a "blink of an eye" to regain a sense of wonder about it all.  

It may even take what may seem like a hell of a long time.   

The lesson?  Being a calm and kind and clear and compassionate human being is NOT that easy.  It is a daunting discipline that takes courage, patience, skill, time and effort.  It takes Practice.

Then and Now

As a child and a young man I had what folks might call an extremely bad temper.  Having grown up in the midst of a lot of anger, I would react to things in my world with bursts of violent emotions -- and even physical violence.  I could fly into a rage and smash things and strike out with the worst of them.  Perhaps, the deepest gratitude that I have to the Practice is that I no longer am as likely to inflict harm on others due to angry outbursts.  (Although, admittedly,  I can still be pretty clumsy and stupid at times.  Sigh.)

Recently, I hit a deep pool of anger for the first time in quite awhile.  
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Saturday, July 22, 2017

High Times: In Memory of Stephen Gaskin

"There is a plane of experience, other than the three dimensional plane, which can be felt by a human being...If people never get above the merely signal level of communication, and don't become telepathic, they haven't explored their full human birthright."
-- Stephen Gaskin

"We are all parts of God.  Each one of us has an electrical body field that surrounds us, and a mind field that goes on to infinity."
-- Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin (February 16, 1935 - July 1, 2014) with his wfe, Ina May
In meditation, the subjective nature of Time becomes all too obvious.  Sometimes, an hour zips by.  At other times, you feel like a dazed prizefighter hanging onto the ropes of a painful existence waiting forever for the bell to ring.

And that's only one hour.  

As I get older, it becomes increasingly impossible to grasp the nature of concepts like a "year".  These days it feels easier at times to sense the nature of the Timeless in the boundless expansiveness of each moment.

I guess my head sort of goes to that place whenever Stephen Gaskin crosses my mind as it did this morning.  It seems surrealistic to me that it has been three years since he passed away at age 79 at his home on the Farm, the intentional spiritual community he had helped to found in rural Tennessee in 1971. 

More than anyone, Stephen's teachings informed my ideas about the nature of Reality and the work to be done during our sojourn on this planet.  I came across his rendition of the Bodhisattva Vow for the first time in The Farm's first book Hey Beatnik!  Although it was to be years before I would "formally" take this vow, I was hooked.  

At that moment the vow took me.  

A decade older than many of the young folks who flocked to San Francisco in the mid-sixties as part of the Psychedelic Revolution, Stephen always maintained he was more of a Beatnik than a Hippie.  Yet, wearing tie-dyes til the end, Gaskin was a central figure in the burst of spiritual energy that encircled the globe during the 1960's and 70's, catapulting many of us into a Collective Kensho that transformed our lives.  Claiming that they were "out to save the world," Gaskin and 50 bus loads of Hippies left San Francisco to circle in for a landing in Tennessee to form what was, for a time, the largest hippy commune in the world.  Although the size and structure evolved over the years, The Farm is still there.

Although I was a lightweight when it came to psychedelics, those were High Times.  The Collective Consciousness was so energized that even I had a number of compelling out of body experiences, saw aura's, and experienced powerful moments of synchronicity and telepathy that were mind-boggling -- without drugs in my system.  Ultimately, I had an experience of Perfect Oneness that fulfilled my deepest aspirations and dispelled any fundamental fear about death. (Admittedly, I also had some very powerful moments while under --or perhaps, over --the influence of various medicinal herbs and compounds.)
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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Judgment Day

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

"Judge not and ye shall not be judged"
 ― Yogi Jesus of Nazareth

I don't the think there is any greater freedom than being Present to our lives without the distortion caused by Judgment Mind.  

This mental/emotional process of evaluating what we experience as bad, wrong, condemnable can dominate our lives.

If one is paying attention, the difference between the warm, bright, spaciousness experienced as we maintain the clarity of an open heart and mind, 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 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 its perceived separation and isolation from "the other" is largely built on and maintained by the thoughts, opinions, and various mind states that emerge from this conditioning.  Even in it's mildest form, that of liking/disliking, Judgment Mind  generates thoughts and feelings that serve to 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 thoughts  "I don't like myself.  I'm bad." 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 feeling states soon dissipated.  At that point, exploring the obvious paradox of just "who" the hell it is that doesn't like "who" eventually produced wonder -- and a chuckle.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Child's Play

“The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

"I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children, 
you will never get into the kingdom of heaven."
--Jesus, Matthew 18:3, ISV

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain and crisp, cool air floating through the windows alongside my bed.  Un-detered, the chorus of songbirds sang their parts in the pre-dawn symphony as I rolled over and set the alarm to 6:30 a.m to give myself a couple of more hours of sleep.  Moments later, I rolled over again and turned the alarm off.  Although I had thought otherwise, I was ready -- or so I'd thought. I got up and sat down to the laptop to stare at a blank screen -- and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.

After awhile, I got up again, set the timer, walked over to the altar in the corner of my bedroom,  lit a stick of incense and Sat down in front of a different blank screen.

Now, an hour later, I'm ready. I think.

There is a well known story from the Meiji era (1868-1912) about a prominent university professor who visited master Nan-in to inquire about Zen.  As the professor prattled on, demonstrating his vast knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, the master began pouring his guest a cup of tea.  He then continued pouring as the cup overflowed onto the table and floor.  No longer able to restrain himself, the professor shouted, "Stop. The cup is overfull! No more will go in!".  Nan-in replied, "You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup." 

Although I first read that story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones back in 1970,  I now realize I had only glimpsed the rim of that empty cup.  

Even as a 24 year old, fresh out of college and engaged in my first year of teaching school, I certainly "got" that there is a difference between the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom.  By then, I'd run into factory workers during my seven years of summer employment that appeared to have a better handle on what the Real Deal was than most of my college professors. I also sensed from the story that arrogance probably wasn't going to cut it with a Zen master, a fact that I've had verified a number of times over the years.

Little did I know, though, that this teaching, like the coffee down at Dolly's Diner, was being served in a bottomless cup.  

I cast the 6th slogan of the Lojong Teachings yesterday: "In post-meditation, be a child of illusion."   One of the most haunting of the 59 aphorisms that make up this Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training, it is also, perhaps, one of the most radical.  It seemingly flies in the face of conventional wisdom.  Rather than exhorting us to "grow up and get real", we are encouraged, instead, to recapture the open and spacious sense of wonder that characterizes the mind of the child as we arise from our meditation cushion to move through the day to day activity of our lives. 

As Mindfulness Practice develops and we become more acutely aware of the fluidity and transparent nature of our own thoughts and emotions, the ephemeral nature of "mindstuff"
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