"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! The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Nothing Special, No Big Deal: Part One

"If nothing is special, everything can be."
-- Charlotte "Joko" Beck

"Though my heart burns like a glowing hot coal, my eyes are as cold as dead ashes"
-- Zen teacher Soyen Saku


March is still being march as time marches on towards April showers.   Gazing into the the National Weather Service's 10 Day Crystal Ball we've got it all: below freezing overnights, snow showers, rain, cloudy days, sunny days, and if the prediction holds (which it probably won't), I'm peering at a sunny day at the end of the tunnel promising 58°! 

Sitting here, I can readily imagine myself generating all sorts of soliloquies about the weather again.  With the world through the window now a pastel landscape of organic brown tones and pale blue skies, my mind could take center stage to create any number of rants about the specter of global climate change.  There certainly appears to be ample scientific evidence to indicate we're stewing in our own petrochemical juices, and it is an important issue to contemplate. 

On the other hand, having suffered through some sort of respiratory bug several times this season, I could narrow my horizons and spin off fantasies of personal climate change and dreams of moving my tail to a gentler and significantly warmer clime.  The delightful monkeys of monkey mind have spent a number hours in that jungle, playing with the thoughts and the imagery of such a move.

Yet, when I just return to this present moment with all my senses engaged, 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 a car hissing by or the twitter of a bird outside the window, 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.  Life is quite beautiful, right here and now.  This moment is sweetly sufficient as it is.

The weather?  No big deal.  It simply is. 
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No Big Deal

In contemporary American Buddhism, the notion of "no big deal" seems to be a big deal actually.  In my first visit to The Farm* in the mid 1970's, I was introduced to this phrase in a way that spun my head around.  Apparently the Farm's Teacher, Stephan Gaskin, had picked up that term up from Suzuki Roshi at the San Francisco Zen Center.  (Chogyam Trungpa and his primary disciple Pema Chodron also teach about the importance of "no big deal.") 
As was common practice, a small group of us were "rapping" in one of the single men's tents on the Farm that evening after a full day's work.  I had come to tears as I poured my heart out about the utter shambles of my life (a marriage in disarray, a teaching career in question, bouts of depression), and was sitting there sobbing.  After few moments, a clear-eyed young man  replied softly, "no big deal."

"NO BIG DEAL!!?" 

"No big deal."

I was confounded. That the excruciating drama of my life could be perceived as "no big deal" was totally mind-blowing.  At first my stomach fell.   I felt totally invalidated." Yet, in the very next instant something shifted.  A space opened.  In that moment, I saw clearly that the extreme drama I was experiencing wasn't solid.  It was transparent and shifting, a collection of thoughts and emotions.  Seeing that, I realized there was an element of choice involved.  Rather than rub salt in my own wounds, I saw clearly that I take even my own thoughts and feelings with a grain of salt.  That seemed to help.  

It still does.

And yet...

The Real Deal

Being a neophyte in the Practice, much of the time stumbling ahead without the support of a teacher or a sangha, it took me a couple of decades to get a better sense of what is actually involved with the terms "no big deal" and it's close cousin, "nothing special."  Like all too many meditators here in the West, I believed strongly that the goal of Spiritual Practice was to become"unattached", to transcend the "drama" of my life. 

Able to muster up a semblance of sustained calm through meditation, mistaking meditative quiescence for enlightened insight, I then managed to avoid, suppress, and repress a lot of emotion backed conditioned patterns and deep set belief structures. Driven deeper underground, they, of course, then rose up to bite me -- and others -- again and again.  

Oftentimes, it wasn't a pretty picture.

As the Practice matured, I came to see that "no big deal" and "nothing special" had been largely just intellectual understandings to me.  Although helpful at times, all to often these phrases had surfed along the crest of my rational mind.  Underneath that, there was still a vortex of un-examined pain, fear and resentment resulting from an unfulfilled childhood desire to be loved and appreciated and acknowledged as very special, a big deal.   (I still can"wipe out" readily on that one when I'm not paying attention.)

Here is where it gets even more interesting, where words can only point to, not capture the Heart of the Matter.

After all these years, I still think that I should be loved and appreciated and acknowledged as very special.  In fact, in my heart of hearts, I strongly believe that everyone on this planet (me included) should be loved and appreciated and acknowledged as Very Special.  We each are, after all, manifestations of Divine Being.  Whether it is called Buddhanature, or the Light, or the One Love -- or something else or nothing at all -- getting my act together enough to serve that, is still my primary commitment in life.  

So, in that sense, it is Very Special, a Big Deal to me.

Harvest on The Farm, circa 1975
Yet, I can also say, without hesitation, the exact opposite!  The heartfelt aspiration that each of us can love and be loved is nothing special.  It's no big deal! 

No kidding.

How can that be?

(Stay tuned.  An answer may emerge in the next post, a comment here--or, perhaps, in your next meditation!)

*The Farm is an intentional community in Tennessee.  I spent a couple of months there a couple of times in the mid-70's.  At that point, it numbered about 1700 people and was conceptualized as a Spiritual School with Stephen Gaskin as its Teacher.

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