"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.

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. 
(READ MORE) 

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!
(READ MORE)

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.  
(READ MORE)

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.)
(READ MORE)

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"
(READ MORE)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Here Comes the Sun?

 "Things are not as they seem - and nor are they otherwise."
-- Lankavatara Sutra
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake 
is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”
― Pema Chödrön


I'm awake at 4 a.m. and the birds are beginning to stir in the darkness outside the window -- an hour before sunrise. 

Sunrise? 

Calling that moment "sunrise" is, of course, a classic case of our human propensity to conceptualize things from a limited perspective.  That isn't really a problem.  The problem is that we then tend to grasp onto the words that describe those relative positions as the absolute truth.  This leads to a whole lot of delusion and suffering.

I imagine any number of Zen students over the years have been whacked by their teachers along the way for being so sloppy in their use of language as to appear to be claiming that they really know what is going on -- while missing the point entirely.

If I choose to believe what I learned back in science class in elementary school -- and in this case I do because it seems that we have actually had some folks brave enough (or crazy enough, perhaps) to place themselves on top of a huge tin can full of explosive chemicals to be then catapulted high enough into the sky to look over their shoulders and take snapshots of our situation from a different perspective-- the sun isn't actually rising at all.  It's got a different set of motions through space.  We could just as readily call that magic moment of cosmic peek a boo "earth-fall" -- although that doesn't seem nearly as promising. 
(READ MORE)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Sky's the Limit

 “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
― Pema Chödrön

“As the mind becomes a little more quiet the sacredness of everything 
within and without becomes clear to us.”
― Norman Fischer

 


Yesterday morning, I had yet another occasion to thank my lucky stars for having stumbled into the Practice years ago.

I awoke from a bevy of somewhat haunted dreams feeling quite sad.  Thanks to the Practice, a few moments later, I was plucked from my homemade rowboat as it skimmed across the River Styx hellbound for Hades, and wisked to seventh heaven by a guardian angel sent by God.  

No lie!

WTF?

Lest I risk blowing any shred of credibility I may have garnered and/or being plucked from this perch at my favorite coffeehouse by burly men brandishing straight jackets, perhaps I better reword that.

So:

When I first awoke on the embers of a dream to a gloomy, overcast morning yesterday, I was aware that I was feeling sad.  Having spent many hours Sitting Still Doing Nothing over the years, it seems that these days at least a modicum of Mindfulness is generally available.  So, I was aware that my first thought was "something's wrong".  This was quickly followed by the thought "I'm depressed", which evoked fear and fleeting memories drawn from earlier experiences of burn-out and despair.  The next thought was "these are just thoughts."

I then shifted the focus of my attention to what I was hearing.  A bird outside the window began to sing.  It was Beautiful.  My mood lifted immediately.

I can still thank my lucky stars, right?

(Although I still may have not recouped any semblance of credibility, the burly guys just shrugged and left.)
(READ MORE)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Me and My Shadow

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back...They’re like messengers that show us,
with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck."
 --  Pema Chödrön

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, 
but by making the darkness conscious...Knowing your own darkness is the best method
for dealing with the darknesses of other people."”
-- C.G. Jung

Many folks experiencing a lot of stress in their lives are drawn to meditation.  It's only natural to want to chill out and, to be sure, Mindfulness Practice can provide many moments of deep calm and clarity.

Yet -- and this is generally not proclaimed in the slick internet ads  -- it is also true that a regular mediation practice can bring to the surface a lot of feelings that we have assiduously managed to repress, deny or avoid as we scurry ahead in our lives.

Conditioned to operate in a fast-paced materialistic society, one that keeps us focused outwardly for fulfillment, we just keep moving.  Once we slow down and sit still for awhile to focus inwardly, our world changes.  Although we can experience greater calm,  it is also not uncommon to encounter darker, more distressing emotions.

Contrary to what we might think, this is a Good Thing.  It's a sign that the Practice is working!

In the process of a deepening Practice, we no longer skim across the surface.  We actually begin to get in touch with the aspects of our conditioning that have subconsciously operated to create the way we see and react to the events of our lives.  (How often have you winced and thought "damn.  Why did I say/do that!?)  The good news is that, with Practice, we are able to make conscious what had been subconscious.  Over time, we are able to observe and navigate the more troublesome aspects of ourselves with increasing clarity and ease. 

Truth in Advertising

Adrift in momentary delusions of grandeur, I sometimes joke about beginning a high profile advertising campaign for Monday Morning Mindfulness with full page bold print ads, billboards and television commercials proclaiming something like:
(READ MORE)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Trouble in Mind

"Trouble in mind, babe, I'm blue,
but I won't be blue always
Yes, the sun gonna shine,
in my back door someday
-- Big Bill Broonzy, "Trouble in Mind"

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent,
dynamic nature of your own being and of reality,
you increase your capacity to love and care about other people
and your capacity to not be afraid."
-- Pema Chödrön, Practicing Peace in Times of War


I Sit for an hour most mornings.  That's been the case for a long, long time.  

At this point, I have no idea whether this is a sign of advanced practice, personal inadequacy -- or outright addiction. 

I suppose it could be said that this daily ritual is a result of my personal commitment to Practice. It doesn't feel like that anymore.  It's just what happens when I roll out of bed.
For Better or for Worse 
Over the years I've learned that labeling a particular meditation session "good" or "bad" is missing the point.  Although I certainly notice my own tendency to prefer the pleasant sensations of a particularly bright, calm and spacious quality of consciousness over the claustrophobic storm clouds of doom and gloom or the buzzy feeling of endless discursive prattle, it is precisely there that Practice begins and ends: we notice.

I suppose this may be the primary lesson of Buddhism 101: A whole lot of needless suffering seems to emerge from the conditioned habit of mindlessly grasping onto the pleasant and reflexively rejecting the unpleasant.  Bringing that process into the light of Mindfulness opens a new world of possibility.  As we bring Mindfulness to the present moment, oftentimes we see quite clearly that the "trouble in mind" is quite ephemeral.  Most often, it is just held in place by the current story line, the narrative we carry on in that section of mind that emerges as thought.  

Seeing that clearly, the skies clear, the sun returns -- sometimes instantaneously.  

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Yet, it is true that there are deeply troubled waters in life.  Mindfulness Practice then becomes the bridge to a deeper understanding.  Gently and courageously opening our hearts and minds to the horrors and sadness of life, exploring and embracing the human condition as we experience it with diligence and care, brings forth a deep transformation.  And, wonder of wonders,  it increasingly allows us to open to deeper levels of joy and peace and amazement as well. 


When we are no longer deeply invested in grasping for one thing and pushing away another, a new sense of ease and appreciation emerges.  When we aren't attempting to dam the river of life to suit our own, generally un-examined,  preconceptions,  the flow gets to be even more deeply interesting and worthwhile.  

At times, the river of life dances and sparkles, reflecting the brilliant sun. At times it glowers. brandishing storm clouds as it broils downstream.  It is still the river.  As we taste our True Nature, we see that we, too, are the river.  At that point, as we flow inexorably to merge with the sea, True Love becomes increasingly possible. 

It just takes Practice.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Gateless Gate*

 Originally Posted July, 2013.  Revised.


"You knock at the door of reality,
Shake off your thought wings,
Loosen your shoulders,
And open.
---Rumi

"And you shall know the Truth,
and the Truth shall make you free."
---Yogi Jesus of Nazareth



Last Monday's MMM Circle again provided some food for thought--and the impetus to move beyond thought--as a we compared notes on Mindfulness Practice.  

At several points, as the group grappled with the various issues that had come up during the week as we worked to put the Practice into practice, the limits of discursive thought and "reasoning" became more than obvious.

I loved it.

At one point one of the Irregular Regulars, in her own inimitable style, jumped with both feet into the apparent contradiction between the dictum to always "be here now" and the need to take care of life's necessary activities such as planning, paying the bills, etc.  

She then moved on to the apparent contradiction between the notion that "we are One" and our individual uniqueness, asserting:
      "I mean we're all one, but we're not.  We're the same, but we're each different, ya know?"

I think  Zen monks of old would have had a ball.

As it was, the Circle spiraled onward and we turned to the more apparently "practical" concerns of Practice, comparing notes, exchanging tips, etc.  Yet, as best I can sense it, the points that Michelle had raised echoed themes presented in some of the fundamental koans of Zen.

It didn't surprise me, really.

It's become more and more obvious to me: when there is a commitment to live life consciously, when there is a willingness to examine our experience of Life in depth rather than allowing the messages we have internalized from our upbringing to create our realities from beneath the level of our awareness, Life Itself can and will provide us with the necessary questions -- and the necessary answers!

The fundamental paradoxes that Zen Koan study thrives on are inherent in the way conceptual thought operates.  With some time and effort, we each come to the Gateless Gate of Zen.  And, the good news is that we each have the ability enter into a deeper and richer reality than we've been conditioned to experience.   You don't have to be a formal Zen student to approach and gain admission.  You don't even have to be a Buddhist.

It's like Jesus proclaimed, "Ask and you will receive. Knock and it will be opened."
(READ MORE)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Take a Hike, Buddhy!

Originally posted August 2014.  Revised.

"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 Hanh, "A Guide to Walking Meditation

"I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, 
works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster 
than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness.”
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking 

Thich Nhat Hanh leading walking meditation at Plum Village
This morning's meditation was buzzy 

It was one of those days when even a few moments of clear, calm and open awareness, unconstrained by the prattle of discursive monkey-mind, was greatly appreciated.  

For the most part though, it seemed like I was doing a mantra practice more than Mindfulness Practice.   Unfortunately, the chosen mantra wasn't something exalted like the Tibetan Buddhist "Om Mani Padme Hum" or Zen's "Gate, Gate, Paragate" Today's mantra was the mental note, "thinking thinking," repeated over and over.  

And over.  

And over again.

And Then

Fortunately, this is one of the mornings that my choice to give up a personal vehicle was worth its weight in gold.  

After this morning's one hour Sit, the walk from 108 House toward the bus was wonderful.  It allowed me to connect quite directly, once again, with the Ongoing Miracle.  Although it was abbreviated by the offer of a ride by one of my neighbors, I felt a great gratitude for the practice of walking meditation in my life.

Mindful of body and breath, mindful of the sensations of sight and sound and smell, I was again made aware that the Pure Land and the Kingdom of Heaven are to be experienced in this very life. 
(READ MORE)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

For Where Two or Three of You Are Gathered...

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

"Mostly we think of awakening as an individual affair. The teachings can make it sound like that. But in Buddhism we practice together, awaken together, and understand together. "
 -- Norman Fischer

These past few weeks of Monday Morning Mindfulness have certainly reaffirmed a belief that I've held for quite awhile now: 

Anyone who makes an effort to explore the nature of their own experience consciously, and then has the opportunity to compare notes on this effort with others similarly engaged, will come to understand the reality of the human condition, the nature of suffering, and means of its release at a deeper level.  

Sharing the Practice works.

As the small group of us who have been meeting for Monday Morning Mindfulness "Beginner's Mind--and Beyond" have continued our exploration of Mindfulness Practice and examined the question "why bother?" together for the past several sessions, it's only gotten better and better. The essential sincerity--and competence--of those gathered on Monday morning continues to amaze me.   

It makes my heart glow.

As I sit here and turn my attention to the memories of those sessions, I am struck with a sense of awe and a feeling of gratitude for having shared those moments with other folks who have the heart and courage to explore Life and Practice in this way.  At a time in which clinging to problematic institutional truths (or living out our  un-examined reactions to those traditional worldviews) threatens our very existence on the planet,  I believe such efforts to share Practice are crucial.  

The survival of our species, and many others on this planet, may well depend on it.  
(READ MORE)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Solid Grasp of Reality?

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

It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance 
to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation.
All I could do was grin.  Eight of us had gathered at our Mindfulness Circle that week to meditate and then explore the second slogan of the Lojong Trainings: "Regard All Dharmas As Dreams".

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

As I understood it, what materialized was no more, no less than a conversation about the true nature of reality and our individual ability to actually experience the truth of our existence. Although none of us is really a Buddhist scholar and some of us may not even consider ourselves Buddhists with a capital B,  assertions about Emptiness, Impermanence, Non-Self, Co-dependent Origination, Interdependence and Oneness, were offered and explored,  dissected and re-assembled.  

In about forty minutes we covered a lot of ground exploring the "groundlessness" of existence.

I loved it.  

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

It made my heart glow.

Gaining a "solid grasp of reality" is often considered to be one of the important aspects of growing up in
(READ MORE)

Friday, April 28, 2017

When It Rains...

"The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face...When we want to complain about the rain, we could feel it's wetness instead."
-- Pema Chodron

“The best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain. ” 
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It's been one of those weeks.  

Although I'm relatively busy for a retired old coot, it's not like I have to punch in for forty hours a week anymore and then take care of all the rest of the basic elements of life in this hyped-up version of human "civilization."  These days I often have the time and space to wander aimlessly a bit, maybe even take a nap in the afternoon a few days a week.  

Not so this week.  

Time and time again, when I thought I could finally get some down time, something else came up.  When it rains, it pours.

When it rains, it pours.  

Not content with metaphor, Mother Nature made that old adage literal this last week of April as well.  In the midst of all the unanticipated busyness, She even upped the ante to soak us with another old maxim.  It showered on and off all week.  She poured her heart out to insure that next week will bring abundant May flowers.  As a result, the sun disappeared for days at at time -- and I often had to juggle an umbrella along with my toolbox.

There was a time that "rainy days and mondays would always get me down."  If the truth be told, though, these days I actually don't mind rain.  In fact, I usually love it.  It is always a chance to get real.

Whether it's a soft foggy drizzle or a thunder-booming rip-snorting whizzbanger -- or anything in-between -- once I'm just present for the actual experience, there is something immensely alive and vibrant about the rain.  Dancing beyond our ability to control it, Mother Nature just is.  She will just do what she will do -- no matter how we think or feel about it.  Why not relax and dig it!? 

At this very moment

I feel a lot of gratitude for Mindfulness Practice at this very moment.  

As I sit here with fingers dancing across the keyboard, I see the sun playing hide and seek with storm clouds through the skylight. Through the open window I hear the wind singing in the trees, a collection of birds twittering .  I also hear the sounds of Betsy's twin grandkids chattering towards a nap downstairs.  

Pausing, letting go for a moment of "thinking mind", I'm aware of my breath and the sensations of my body sitting here.  I feel the wind dancing across my skin through that same open window.  The sounds ebb and flow.  The sensations ebb and flow. 

Life is like that, too.  
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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.
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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!

 Zap! 


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. "

Zap!

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

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?"
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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:

"THIS BOOK IS ABOUT AWAKENING THE HEART."

OMG!  

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.
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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:
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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.

Zap! 

I wish it was always that easy.  
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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? 

Eeek! 

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?
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