"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, March 10, 2018

How Sweet It Is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting the Dots

I had climbed in front of the computer to begin work on this week's post with the thought that a number of recent posts have focused on the importance of contemplating the inevitability of death (Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:"Reality Asserts Itself",
Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call: The End Game).  Although this contemplation is, I think, quite fundamental in sustaining a commitment to Practice, there is the flip side: the cultivation of a deep awareness of the utter Preciousness of Life. 

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

The First Reminder, as translated by Chogyam Trungpa is: "Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life."  This contemplation, when taken to Heart, can change everything. Those moments in which we personally experience the Preciousness of Life are worth the price of admission, which in this case is free, but may require some time and effort.  (Contemplation doesn't mean thinking about something for a minute and then having your mind scurry on to an unrelated focal point.)

Sitting there at the computer, allowing my mind to flow gently down the stream of this contemplation, relaxing to soak in the Preciousness of Life, a title for this post emerged: How Sweet It Is!

I had no idea where that would lead.
Gently Down the Stream

The phrase "how sweet it is" had emerged from childhood memories of the comedian Jackie Gleason and his sketch character Ralph Kramden, whose bumbling bravado, macho working- class egotism, and perpetual scheming to inflate his bank account (or his ego) would invariably create some sort of mayhem in the world of The Honeymooners each week.  It was generally his wife Alice, a rock solid paragon of patience and unflinching assertiveness (usually delivered with razor sharp sarcasm), who, with arms crossed and toes tapping, would finally rein Ralph in and save the day. "How sweet it is", was Ralph's reoccurring exclamation of gratitude for Alice and the life they shared.

The mindstream meandered on.  

Immediately downstream from the Google search to jiggle my brain cells about Gleason's TV offering (it first aired when I was 6 years old), I found the YouTube listing for James Taylor's irresistible cover of the Motown song "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)".  I immediately hit "play".  Within moments I had picked up the 12 stringer and was playing along. 

In another few moments, my chest was heaving and tears of profound gratitude were flowing freely.  How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You!) Indeed!  Although there was a slight whisper of nostalgic "me and you baby" romantic emotional energy and memories involved, that wasn't the heart of the matter.  The profound feelings of  Gratitude and Devotion that coursed through me flowed from beyond the romantic scenery of my own journey.   

Beyond life's lovers, there shone the Beloved.

Zounds! The Being whose embrace and understanding made my heart sing "I want to stop and thank you, Baby" was none other than the same Beloved that evoked the mystical poetry of Rumi and Hafiz. In those moments, in my hearts of hearts, I was embracing, and being embraced, by the One Love that permeates heaven and earth!  Awash In Love, tearfully Ecstatic in those moments, I was, once again, one of those Freakin' Mystics!

Damn.  I guess that blows my cover as a stable, staid, solid practitioner of Mindfulness, huh? 

Paths are Many.  Truth is One.

Although it is true that the Practice for me has primarily focused on the teachings and meditative disciplines of the Buddhist tradition for the better part of forty years now, I am well aware that Buddhism is not the only path to the Realization of the Sacred.  One of the first quotes from Gandhi that I read that day in the park long ago was a response to the question, "Are you a Hindu?"  Gandhiji replied, "Yes I am. I am also a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a Jew.” 

I got goosebumps.  For me, that statement held a Truth that I've now been exploring for a long, long time. 

Over the years, I've studied the scriptures of many of the world's religions, participated in their rituals and services, and investigated a variety of spiritual techniques.  I've blissed out in the Bhakti of Kirtan Practice.  I've had my moments with Jesus as well.  I've danced with Sufi's, done psychedelics and sweat lodges.  The One is the One.  I am deeply grateful to have experienced the One Love in a number of Peak Experiences, big Ones and little Ones, over the years.

Yet, I've found that the Peak Moments are just that.  They are moments. Although one can be launched into personal experiences of the Divine, of Eternity, of Perfection, of Boundless Love and Absolute Truth, they are just moments.  Though they are Wonderful places to visit, I wouldn't want to live there -- even if I could.  How can you punch out and go hOMe when folks are still suffering?  If nothing else, a practicing Bodhisattva has job security.

We each live and breath amidst the day to day activities of family, work, and relationships, of washing dishes and taking out the garbage.  Immersed in the mundane and ordinary moments of life as it is, embedded in a world full of both incredible beauty and excruciating suffering, we each travel this path from birth to death moment by moment. What the Practice offers is the deepening ability to embrace the Reality of each moment with a clear mind and an open heart. 

Through time, effort, and patience -- on and off the meditation cushion -- the subconscious patterns that operate to separate us from ourselves and from one another are increasingly seen for what the are. As their energies are experienced directly they can be transmuted. They no longer dominate the way that we see and react to the world.  Healing into our True Nature, we become Healers -- in whatever small way that we can.  If you're paying attention,  a simple smile may bring a soul out of hell.  It's clear that this needs to happen in the midst of our day to day lives, on Main Street not just in the Monastery. 

Gently Down the Mindstream

Oh. Where was I?  Ah, yes...

Standing at the table in the park that day in the summer of 1965, I picked up a third book.  

Amidst those Moments yesterday, I remembered that that I also bought  Gitanjali (Prayerful Offering of Song) by the Hindu Mystic Sage and Poet, Rabindranath Tagore that day.  I had no idea who Tagore was at the time, but Gitanjali had an introduction by William Butler Yeats who I'd heard of --and the small hardback treasure was printed before WWI in London! It was antique and exotic!

I had no idea how this book would touch what would lay between the covers of my life story.

A working class kid at age 19, it would be years and years before I was exposed to Rumi and Hafiz -- or even begin to understand the Walt Whitman I had been required to read in high school.  (I was more interested in the leaves of grass outside the window that day. lol) 

Yet, I opened Gitanjali that day to be deeply touched by the first poem.  Although I didn't quite understand the Totality of what Tagore was pointing toward at the time, I was hooked.  I pulled out another dollar bill, put the third book in the bag, and walked home.  

Still on my journey hOMe years fifty years later, having once again Blissed out on the Grand Beneficence as I sat here at the computer this morning, the first poem read that day in Tagore's Gitanjali now makes perfect sense.  Here it is:


Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.

At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.


Anonymous said...

Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment.
It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation."
-- Rabindranath Tagore
And....not so easy to attain when we aren't silent or listening. We all could practice more 'human being'and less 'human doing' each and every day.!

Lance Smith said...

Amen to that! <3