"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.

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.  
In with the Bad.  Out with the Good.

Tonglen Practice, like the Lojong Teachings from which it arises, turns what is seen by our highly individualistic and competitive society as "common sense" on its head.  Rather than racing ahead in a continuous effort to strengthen and fortify our egos in a misguided attempt to achieve lasting happiness, we slow down and allow ourselves to Be Touched, to open to the soft, vulnerable, "achy-breaky', tenderness that exists in our Heart of Hearts.  Cultivating a gentle kindness toward ourselves and others, through Tonglen Practice we learn to turn towards and breath into our hearts the more "disturbing" emotional energies of the human condition with the aspiration to relieve the suffering involved in those energies for ourselves and others.  Then, on the out breath, we send out a sense of release, relief, and healing towards ourselves and others.  (There are many variations and instructions regarding the ways to conceive and visualize Tonglen Practice. Two YouTube presentations of Tonglen Practice by Pema Chodron are linked below.  A simple Google search will bring you many more.)

Breathing in the Darkness. Breathing out the Light.  In a way, it's just that simple.  

Yet simple doesn't mean easy. 

Maybe that's why I find myself rambling on about Tonglen again. (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Taking It to Heart)   At this point in the journey, I need to keep reminding myself that the thrust of my own conditioning leads me to turn away from fear and sadness, from anger and jealousy, from feelings of humiliation, shame, guilt, etc.  Why would I want to feel that stuff? "Taking on" these energies, my own and those of others, seems counter-intuitive.    

Yet, through Tonglen, as with the Lojong Teachings in general, I've come to see for myself, that as my heartfelt aspiration to heal expands beyond the narrow limits of my individual concerns to embrace the joys and suffering of others, something shifts.  Our Essential Oneness becomes self-evident. 

The Real Deal?

Over the past decade of working gently and persistently with Tonglen, I've come to see more clearly that my Heart and the boundless and limitless expanse of the One Love are inseparable.  Breathing in, we Connect to the Boundless Space and Energy of the Sacred.  Breathing out, we Connect to the Boundless Space and Energy of the Sacred.  In the Embrace of the One Love, beyond our own personal agendas, Life with all its grandeur -- and all its messiness -- simply is what it is.  

Although we will find ourselves closing again and again, experiencing ourselves as limited and disconnected beings, for some of us once we've been Touched by the One Love, we know it's the Real Deal.  We realize that the Open Heart is both the means and the ends of our journey.  It is our Connection to the Sacred Mystery of Life itself.  Sound a bit touched in the head?   Perhaps.  IMHO though, Touched in the Heart is a bit more accurate.  

Yet, don't take my word for this.  If this resonates with you, check it out for yourself.


Stephanie said...

Thanks Lance. I understand how the darkness of winter can affect one's inner world (though I also remember you saying early on in my practice that seasonal affectedness disorder doesn't bother you nearly so much anymore, and I found that really inspiring at the time!). I appreciate your gentle, insistent reminders to practice tonglen; being conditioned to avoid pain, I rarely remember to practice it, in favor of awareness, metta, and concentration practices instead. But I'm off to go practice some, now, and later this week I'll listen to one of the linked presentations. Happy Thanksgiving!

Lance Smith said...

Hi Stephanie,
So good to hear from you and to know that Practice is still an important part of your life! I hope your Thanksgiving went Well! I dove into the Other Side and attended the 48th National Day of Mourning in Plymouth. It was intense and inspirational to gather with Indigenous folks from all over the hemisphere, lots of old hippie, and throngs of college age youth. The energy at the Gathering wasn't mournful, really. It was more about Resistance today. I grabbed a rock from Plymouth Beach afterwards and placed my Plymouth Rock on the altar as the central focus of my Morning Meditation. Tonglen and Tears were definitely in order to embrace the Tragedy of our nation's own Holocaust -- and the Passionate energy for Justice I'd experienced on Thursday. I feel blessed to be in a position to do this type of work at this stage of the Journey.

Thanks again for Reaching Out. Be Well and Stay in Touch!
One Love,