as meditation allows us to do, we learn how to truly taste this tender and
Quite often over the years, I had made QUITTING SMOKING my first New Year's resolution -- and decades of failures shrieked like banshees through my mind as Day One loomed.
It was not a pretty picture.
Now, with a brand new 2018 sparkling across the gleaming white snow outside my window, the scenery of my life has changed substantially. I haven't smoked a cigarette in years.
Today, the shrieking banshees have disappeared. Or, perhaps, they've been transformed into the gleaming white seagulls that I saw this morning pirouetting overhead in the crystalline blue sky. As I sit here at the laptop, this moment emerges like each moment: unique, complete, and --when I'm really paying attention -- full of beauty, mystery, and wonder.
I haven't sought to make New Year's resolutions in quite awhile.
Day by Day
Although, admittedly, I have made special commitments during Fall Ango for the past few years, my fundamental commitment to Practice seems to have been made long ago. It informs each and every day.
Today, like most days, l woke up without an alarm. I did a few simple stretches before I got out of bed, then I cast a Lojong Slogan for the day. After the usual bathroom ablutions and recycling operations (and, sometimes, a cup of coffee), I returned to the altar, bowed, settled onto the zafu, set the timer, and meditated for an hour. Towards the end of that hour, I mentally recited the Four Bodhisattva Vows three times, a practice I picked up years ago as I wandered through the world of Zen on my way here. I then did a few more simple yoga stretches on the zafu before I rose to move into the day.
Although this may be called a commitment to a regular daily Practice, the True Commitment is deeper than any of these activities and rituals. It emerges as an aspiration that has been ringing silently in my Heart of Hearts for a long, long time, emerging from a place so deep within me that it is beyond me. I experience it as a simple, heartfelt yearning to be of Service, to be Present to each moment with an open heart, a relaxed and clear mind -- and a helping hand. (In some circles that is known as Bodhichitta)
Of course, actualizing that aspiration is no easy task. It takes Practice. Ceaseless Practice.
Just A Bad Habit
It seems that our basic hard wiring as human beings includes a level of mind that turns back on itself to take a peek. This, in itself, isn't necessarily a bad thing. A mirror can be useful. We don't want to walk around in public with a piece of leftover spinach accompanying our smile, right? Yet, when we fixate on that mirror image and take it to be a real "thing" rather than the moment to moment appearance of a particular point of view emerging from an infinite web of energy sparkling throughout space and time, we run into a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Most of us, especially since we've been raised in a very materialistic, deeply clueless capitalist society, have been conditioned to experience ourselves and all of reality as separate, isolated "things" engaged in a "dog eat dog" competition with one another. Although some of that conditioning may be hardwired into the biological development of our species, most of our current conditioning emerges in the matrix of the life that we have experienced. It runs deeply into our childhood, has been reinforced by our society, and has formed a set of habits that we experience as a "point of view" created out of belief structures, thoughts, bodily sensations, and and bevy of often debilitating emotions. This conditioning determines how we habitually "see" and react. In fact, without Practice, most of us are nothing more, and nothing less, than a bad habit! Who we are is a collection of patterns unconsciously set in place in an attempt to produce happiness and avoid pain. This set of habits usually doesn't do such a good job of it. As most of us have found out, a life lived this way is sort of a drag at best. At worst its a freakin' nightmare.
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way.
As many of us have discovered, with Practice, each of us is capable of changing it up. We can transform the conditioning that serves to create our lives as an incessant struggle of "I. me. mine." With commitment, time, skillful effort, and patience, we can move through the layers of our own conditioning, stop, and look so deeply into that mirror that we experience the vastness beyond it. Rather than running along in the same rut, we can actually groove.
Along the way, we may encounter deeply challenging emotions, pain, anger, fear, etc. Yet, with patience and effort we can relax through these energies to we see clearly that we've been barking up the wrong tree. The "conventional wisdom" of the "real world" is illusory. The Universe isn't "dog eat dog." In fact, dogs actually don't eat dogs as a general rule. We can see for ourselves that dogs (and cats, etc.), like us, have a fundamental connection to Life, to everything else, and to the One Love that permeates Reality.
There is an old Zen koan where Master Chao-Chou was asked "Does a dog have Buddhanature? There are volumes of commentary on the answer. Both yes and no have been recorded as the "correct" answer in the various versions of this classic teaching story. WTF? How can that be? With Practice you may see for yourself. You may end up joyfully howling at the moon! (Deep down, you've known this all along, Dog!)
There are many meditation techniques and other practices available among all of the major spiritual traditions. I have found great value in many. At this stage of the journey, though, I've found that the Mindfulness (Shamatha and Vipasyana), Brahmavihari (Four Aspects of True Love), Tonglen Practice, and the Lojong Slogans of Buddhism, as taught by Pema Chodron and others, are my most helpful, day-in, day-out, "go to" tools. As well as the links embeded above, there are numerous teachers and teachings available on the web and, increasingly, in person throughout the world. Most of these teachers recommend the development of a Daily Practice. (I, myself, prefer the term Regular Practice. Missing a day here and there is okay. Life happens.)
Yet, whatever Spiritual Path, you (or, more correctly, that aspect of your mind that experiences choice) choose, it is clear that Practice takes a commitment. No less than Olympic Sport, it takes serious training. Enlightenment is a matter of time on task. (Although, the task becomes not-doing more than doing. lol) With Practice, experiencing your life with a Clear Mind and an Open Heart increasingly becomes a habit!
Even if you start with just a few minutes a day, you are actively cultivating the ability to access a quality of consciousness that will blossom and grow within your own experience -- both on and off the meditation cushion. If you, like so many of us, begin a regular daily practice for awhile, then falter. It's no big deal. Just begin again. (And yet again, if necessary.)
Then, at another point, it becomes obvious that the Practice is doing you more than you are doing the Practice. Wonder of wonders, getting out of your habitual rut of "I, me, mine", to engage the moment with an open heart and clear mind becomes positively habit-forming!
As 2018 unfolds, it seems like today might be a good day to begin -- or continue. In fact, you could turn away from the screen, take three conscious breaths and get started. There is no Time like the Present !
Happy New Year!