"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, April 28, 2018

Kicking the Habit

"Compassion and resilience are not, as we might imagine, rarefied human qualities available only to the saintly.  Nor are they adventitious experiences that arise in us only in extraordinary circumstances.   In fact these essential and universally prized human qualities can be solidly cultivated by anyone willing to take the time to do it."
― Norman Fischer, 
Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

“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

I think one of the most exciting discoveries to emerge from medical science is neuroplasticity.  

Even in cases where there has been fairly severe physical damage to the brain, research now indicates that new neural pathways can be created. It appears that with proper stimulation, undamaged neurons actually sprout new nerve endings.  Certain functions can even be transferred from a severely damaged hemisphere of the brain to the other!

How cool is that!?

Although most schools of psychology agree that our basic personality is formed very early in our lives through the interplay of genetics and conditioning,  neuroplasticity now indicates that we can alter the elements of that personality in fundamental ways -- at a cellular level.  Recent research confirms that there are positive organic changes to the brain produced by meditation.

What this means is that contrary to the old adage, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Most of us don't think that the way we view and react to our world as a conditioned sequence of synapses firing. (In layman's terms: a habit)  Yet, it certainly seems to explain the way many of us seem to go stumbling along entertaining deep yearnings to be a certain type of person -- and failing to meet our own standards again and again.  We want to be kind, caring, compassionate, constructive and productive people.   And we end up -- all too often -- being jerks!

Now Western Science affirm what the sages, seers, and saints having been saying all along: We can get it together.  With Practice, we can kick the habit of being who we have been in deep and fundamental ways. 

In my experience,  the Practice has been a means to kick start, and maintain, some dramatic changes in the way I am in the world.  With Practice I have brought an awareness to what had previously operated subconsciously, and, by doing so,  I've been able to "rewire" my responses.  
To wit: I had a violent temper.  Raised in a family where this type of behavior was the norm, I could readily fly into a rage and lash out verbally-- or even physically.
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Saturday, April 21, 2018

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 tan, stark, and frigid, slowly brightens, softens and warms.  At a point we notice:  It's different now than it was 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 crystallizes 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 it was before.

The Genuine Heart of Sadness

Awhile ago, I had the good fortunate to stop by Himalayan Views, a nearby spiritual gift shop/bookstore, to hear a woman describe one of those moments.  She was sitting in the back reading area of the store, and as is often the case, I found myself chatting with her about the book she was reading, and comparing notes on our lives and spiritual practice.  

Her eyes were clear, her voice gentle yet strong as she shared her story.  In her mid-thirties at the time of her awakening, suffering from what had been diagnosed as "clinical depression" since adolescence, she had come across a book of Pema Chodron's teachings.  When she read of what Pema's teacher, Chogyam Trungpa had called "the genuine heart of sadness, her life was transformed.

Zap!

As the woman read that passage that day, the awakening had come in a flash.  Reality asserted itself.  At that very moment, She knew
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Saturday, April 14, 2018

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

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. 
You need to accept yourself.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
It's nearly 50ºF outside with spring birdsong and cloud-muted, lemon yellow sunlight pouring through the window.  

I won't get too excited though. 

The crystal ball gazers at the National Weather Service see a cold front descending on us later today with another round of sleet freezing rain, and rain.  I can feel it on the wind already.  Yesterday was a day to be lollygagging and lounging outside.  Tomorrow won't be. 

Such is spring in here in Western Massachusetts.  

Blowing in the Wind

Although this morning's hour long Sit was quite focused and calm, I can sense that there is now some restlessness stirring as I sit here at the computer.  Pausing to breathe and observe this restlessness more closely as it plays across the rising and falling of my breath, it seems to mirror the wind.  Windblown mind-leaves of mild fear, confusion, anticipation, and 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 a deep stillness within the movement -- and within that deep stillness, there is movement.  Stopping to notice that, the world expands immeasurably -- and glows.

It's nice when that happens.
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Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Love Affair

“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. You're able to keep your eyes open, 
your heart open, and your mind open. 
 ― Pema Chödrön, 
Practicing Peace in Times of War

We now see that the only way that we could love ourselves is by loving others, 
and the only way that we could truly love others is to love ourselves. 
The difference between self-love and love of others is very small, 
once we really understand.”
― Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong
 

As I've mentioned before, here and elsewhere, I think the Hippies actually had it right.  It IS all about Peace, Love, and Freedom.

Although most of us were too young and crazy to pull it off at the time, many of us had been to the mountain top during that era's Collective Kensho.  There we had seen the Real Deal.  But seeing that-- and even believing that -- isn't enough.

The task of actually being a peaceful and loving human being is no mean feat.  It takes commitment, effort, discipline, courage and patience.

It takes Practice.

In the Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist worlds the term "Love" isn't generally used to refer to the Ultimate State of Being. They approach the Ineffable with different concepts and understandings. I think that is actually helpful to us Westerners.  We are pretty sloppy with the word "love". 

For us, the word "love" is quite ambiguous.  In English, what we call "love" can be a warm glow that emerges from the ethereal domain of unconditional, unselfish agape, or it can be the fiery emotion that erupts from the nether realms of green eyed monsters and wrathful, jealous gods.  It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, and then you," isn't exactly what Jesus and Buddha had in mind when they taught about Love, right?  So, it seems that a bit more precision would be helpful.
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