"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, May 18, 2019

Standing at the Gateless Gate

"With continued practice and the right kind of firm yet gentle effort, 
calmness and mindfulness and equanimity develop and deepen on their own..."
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn,  Wherever You Go, There You Are: 
Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life 

 "As the mind becomes a little more quiet the sacredness of everything 
within and without becomes clear to us.”
-- Norman Fischer,  In an interview with Kate Olsen



Rain clouds at the bus stop
Gratitude came easily that morning.

Unlike this year's incessant springtime showers, we had been in a drought for months.  Overnight, Mother Nature had graced us with rain and was promising more. 

The birds seem to have noticed.  The overcast morning echoed with their animated songs. 

Living in South Deerfield at the time,  I had just arrived at the bus stop en route to an appointment with the eye doctor, when I realized that I had forgotten to slip my insurance card into my wallet before leaving the house.  A quick look at the cellphone verified that there wasn't enough time to return to the house to get it.  At that moment I realized that I would have to appear at the receptionist's counter to face the moment where I'd be asked, "Can I see your insurance card, please?"

My fate was sealed. 

At this point, you might wonder where the hell gratitude comes in here-- unless, of course, I am outing my own masochistic tendencies.  Which I'm not.  (I don't think.)
(READ MORE)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Getting Down to It

"Taking the bodhisattva vow implies that instead of holding our own individual territory and defending it tooth and nail, 
we become open to the world that we are living in. 
It means we are willing to take on greater responsibility, immense responsibility.  In fact it means taking a big chance."
-- Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

“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

Stephan Gaskin at the Helm in early 70's
Even in retirement, living a lifestyle that is relatively uncluttered by modern American standards, I still find myself pretty darn busy much of the time.  Sometimes I find myself yearning for more downtime.

At first glance that may seem surprising. After all, I spend hours and hours each week Sitting Still Doing Nothing. 

To wit: I meditate for an hour most every morning.  Since the heyday of #Occupy Wall Street! I also meditate with some other folks for another half hour at noon most days on the Greenfield Town Commons.  I also Sit with four Mindfulness Circles each week.   I participate in Be Still and Know: An Interfaith Day of Mindfulness one Sunday each month. 

So, you'd think that I'd have downtime down at this point.  And yet...

Out to Save the World

One thing that drew me to Zen and Mahayana Buddhism in the first place was the ideal of the Bodhisattva, the person who forestalls personal Nirvana in order to address the suffering of the world.  This idea resonated deeply with the inspiration I felt as a young teen with the quest of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.  A few years later, the emergence of the Anti-War movement and the anti-materialistic spirituality of the youthful "counter-culture" set a trajectory for my life that continues to this day.  

Each morning I recite the Bodhisattva Vow as I finish morning meditation.   I first came across a Hippy Zen version of these four statements of commitment in Hey Beatnik: This is the Farm Book in 1974.  I was transfixed.  I got goosebumps.  In that moment, I knew that there wasn't anything better to do with my life.  (Here is a link to an on-line .pdf version of this classic work.)

By then, like many of us who were navigating our way through the confluence of Eastern Spirituality and the Psychedelic Revolution, I had experienced a number of "Awakenings."  The Most Profound One had nothing to do with anything in my bloodstream except the byproducts of meditation, breakfast, and lunch.  

For a few precious moments, I had a glimpse of Our Perfect Oneness.   What had been theoretical and abstract, became totally real and tangible to me.  (I only wish I had had a spiritual mentor at the time-- or even been more inclined to listen to my friends at that point. It may have made things a lot easier along the way.  Even knowing what the bottom line is, over the years I've made most every dumb mistake possible.  LOL )

Although I have read (and recited) other versions and translations of the Bodhisattva Vows (Some of the Tibetan versions are quite poetic and beautiful), this is the passage I read that day years ago: 

"I don't have an ultimate goal in life. I believe in the vow of the Bodhisattva. And that says that sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all. The deluding passions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them all. The way of the dharma is impossible to expound, I vow to expound it. It is impossible to attain the way of the Buddha, I vow to attain it. And that keeps you busy. "
-- Stephan Gaskin, Hey Beatnik!

Excuse me.  My chest is heaving and tears are streaming down my face -- again.  I gotta go get some kleenex.  I'll be back.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Body of Wisdom

 “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
― Thích Nhat Hạnh, Being Peace

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, 
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
― 1 Corinthians 6:19, The Bible,  New International Version

When I observed my first Zen teacher practice kinhin, the walking meditation of his tradition, I was dumbfounded.  I hadn't seen anything like it before. 

There was a grace in his bearing, a Presence in his slow mindful steps that was awe-inspiring.  

It was obvious to me that Reverend Gyomay Kubose, in his 70's at the time, was connected to his body -- and to the smooth wooden floors of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago -- in an entirely different way than I'd seen before. 

Embodied Practice

The first of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of Body, is a concept that stretches back to the earliest texts of Buddhism.  The Anapanasati and Maha Satipathana Suttas spell out the details of meditative techniques which have been widely taught for about 2,500 years.  In these teachings, the development of a fuller awareness of our bodies is seen as a means of cultivating a calmer and clearer sense of the entire realm of our own experience.  

Beginning with focusing our attention on the process of breathing, attention can be directed in a number of ways to more fully experience our bodies.  As Mindfulness Practice deepens and we become more fully present to what we are experiencing on deeper and subtler levels, REALITY asserts itself.

At a certain point, the Real Deal becomes self-evident.

Getting From There to Here


Conditioned as we are, most of us are "in our heads" most of the time.  Although we are always breathing, and our bodies and our sensory apparatus are operating to generate a whole realm of experiences, most of this occurs without our full presence of mind.  Generally, conditioned as we are, the focus of our attention is primarily on the thoughts running through our head.

Fueled by emotional energies, subconscious beliefs, and conditioned filters that we are largely unaware of, these thoughts dominate our awareness in a way that sweeps us along the stream of our own conditioned ego patterns most the time.  Mindfulness Practice, both on and off the meditation cushion,  offers us a means to  expand our range of awareness to include a universe of experience that we generally aren't aware of.  Without Practice we are liable to "sleepwalk,"only half-awake,  throughout our lives. 

Reverend Kubose, most definitely, was not sleepwalking that day.  He was awake to the present moment, to the majesty of Life Itself. 
(READ MORE)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

When It Rains...

"The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face...
When we want to complain about the rain, we could feel it's wetness instead."
-- Pema Chodron

“The best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain. ” 
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It's been one of those weeks.  

Although I'm relatively busy for a retired old coot, it's not like I have to punch in for forty hours a week and then hustle to take care of everything else in the midst of this hyped-up version of human  society 

These days I often have the time and space to wander aimlessly a bit, maybe even take a nap in the afternoon a few days a week.  

Not so this week.  

Time and time again, when I thought I could finally get some down time, something else came up.  I even found myself crawling under a car to take a look for the first time in years.  (I have lived without a personal vehicle for the past six years or so.)

When it rains, it pours.

Rainy Days and Mondays... 

Not content with metaphor, Mother Nature again got serious with her April Showers this week.  Although we were graced with the splendor of one sunny day, it showered on and off the rest of the week.  Mother Nature poured her heart out to ensure that next week will bring abundant May flowers. 

There was a time that "rainy days and Mondays would always get me down."  As a child, I had felt trapped inside.  As an adult, my mood would descend into melancholy and depression in the grasp of a rainy spell.  A brief tour of Washington State during the rainy season years ago made it clear to me that I would never chose to live in a place that would seasonally deliver fog, gloom, and rain for long stretches of time.

That was then.  It's different now. 

These days I actually don't mind rain.  In fact, if the truth be told, I usually love it.  Connecting with Mother Nature as she does what she does is always a chance to get real.

Whether it's a soft foggy drizzle or a thunder-booming rip-snorting whizz banger -- or anything in-between -- once I'm just present for the actual experience, there is something immensely alive and vibrant about the rain.  Dancing beyond our ability to control it, Mother Nature just is.  She will just do what she will do -- no matter how we think or feel about it.  Why not relax and dig it!? 

At This Very Moment

I feel a lot of gratitude for Mindfulness Practice at this very moment.  

As I sit here with fingers dancing across the keyboard, I see the sun playing hide and seek with storm clouds through the window. Through the open window I hear the wind singing in the trees, a collection of birds twittering.   Occasionally, a car hisses and splashes along the wet pavement of High Street.

Pausing, letting go for a moment of "thinking mind," I'm aware of my breath and the sensations of my body as I sit here at the computer.  I feel the wind dancing across my skin through that same open window.  A chorus of sounds ebb and flow.  Placing my awareness on my bodily sensations,  these sensations also ebb and flow.  Relaxing and opening to this dance of energy, my breathing slows and deepens of its own accord.

Life is simply being Life.  
(READ MORE)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

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 is 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 own 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.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

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 our lives. 

Like spring unfolding across the palette of April and May, our Practice deepens, and the world slowly greens and blooms.  What was tan, stark, and frigid, slowly brightens, softens and warms.  Green shoots appear.  Buds opens.

At a certain point we notice.  Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. 
It's different now than it was before.

At other times, Zap! Insight and Healing emerge like a bolt of lightning!

Sometimes, this bursts forth with a torrential downpour of tears. Sometimes not. Yet, in a heartbeat there is a Grand Gestalt.  In a flash, in an instant, there is Crystalline Clarity.  We really get It! Or perhaps -- more accurately-- It gets us.  

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed.  Yet, 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 made the effort to say smile and hello.  (A childhood rebel, I never agreed with "don't talk to strangers.")  Soon, I  found myself chatting with a her about the book she was reading, and comparing notes on our lives and spiritual practice.  

Her eyes were clear and kind.  Her voice was gentle, yet powerful and strong, as she shared her story.  

She was in her mid-thirties at the time of her Awakening.   Suffering from what had been diagnosed as "clinical depression," medicated 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, Reality asserted itself.  At that very moment, She knew
(READ MORE)

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Always Maintain a Joyful MInd!?

s "Notice everything. Appreciate everything, including the ordinary. 
That's how to click in with joyfulness or cheerfulness."
-- Pema Chodron

"Always maintain a joyful mind."
--  The 21st Lojong Slogan


I used to hate winter.

Yet, thanks to Practice, I actually didn't mind the lingering winter weather this year here in Western Massachusetts.  The reoccurring bouts of snow and wintry mixes were just fine with me.   Some were even quite beautiful.  

They sure didn't deter the neighborhood cardinals either.  They've been singing Spring's praises weeks for weeks.    

Yet, that being said, today was different.  Although Spring had whispered in our ear on and off for weeks, today she stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed in no uncertain terms, "I'M HERE!"

And everybody knew it.

Here, on the sun washed sidewalks of Greenfield, good cheer was ubiquitous.  Steps were lively.  Strangers greeted one another with nods and smiles.  Joyful Mind was in the air!  It was palpable -- and shared. 

Although I am well aware that the strains of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" could quickly morph into "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in the grand soundtrack of Mother Nature's movie, it doesn't matter.  Even if She turns on a dime to blow another Nor'easter in our face, I'll just blow her a kiss.  The sun will rise the next day, there will be diamonds glittering in the melting snow,  and the Cardinals will keep singing.  We're home free.  It's a done deal.

Spring has arrived!

Time Flies...

Six years ago this spring, I was asked by one of the irregular regulars of Monday Morning Mindfulness to jump into a study of the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism.  Although I had been struck by the heart centered teachings of Pema Chodron and had adopted her Tonglen Practice for a number of years, I hadn't really picked up on her tradition's "slogan practice." 

In fact, with decades of devotion to the Zen path, I had been a decidedly uppity and rejected the idea that studying and using a series of slogans could be useful.  I huffed to myself, the Real Deal is beyond mere"words and letters" -- and kept moving.

Yet, this time something resonated.  I paused and took a breath or two.

After all, I had been asked to teach meditation by the director of Community Yoga and Wellness Center a couple of years before.  I said I'd have to teach it for free (some of the other teachers there weren't too happy with that), and I'd barter for the space as the Coordinator of the Caretaking Crew. (a fancy title for being the head, and often only, janitor. LOL).  She agreed.

So I did.

Then a year later, a MMM CircleMate asked me to offer a Mindfulness Circle at the Recovery Learning Community.  

So, I did.  

Now, a Mindfulness CircleMate was asking me to apply myself to studying, practicing, and sharing the Lojong Trainings.  Interestingly, I had picked Norman Fischer's Trainings in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong off of my son's bookshelf in his guest bedroom two weeks before that, and I had loved it! I couldn't resist that type of synchronicity. So, I was asked take on and share a Lojong Practice.

So I did.

A Layman Looks at Lojong

The Lojong Slogans are a series of aphorisms that are memorized, studied, and used in training the mind to expand beyond it's usual conditioned patterns.  (Lojong means Mind Training in Tibetan.)  These 59 slogans operate as mental reminders to frame our experience in particular ways -- both on and off the meditation cushion.  The stated goal is to cultivate wisdom and compassion.   

Being a Spiritual Practice Geek at heart, I've now studied the commentaries of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron, Traleg Kyabgon, B. Alan Wallace, as well as that of Zen Teacher Norman Fischer.  It's been part of my daily practice for six years.  

And, of course, the way I go about it looks a bit different than it was approached in medieval Tibet.  Currently, I use a random number generator on my phone to select a daily slogan, then click another icon to read the commentary by Acharya Judy Lief that Tricycle has made available online .  Often I will re-read another commentary or two over a cup of coffee before setting the meditation timers on my iPhone and taking my seat in front of my hOMe altar for an hour.

It's been an amazing ride. 

At times, the synchronicity of slogan and life-situation seem mind-boggling.  At other times, I'm left with scratching my head about why I'm staying with this particular practice.  Yet, in all honesty, I've found Lojong to be extremely helpful in examining my own conditioning and cultivating an open heart and a clear head.  The Practice continues to deepen.

Some of the Lojong slogans seem quite familiar: Don't be jealous, don't malign others, etc.   We probably have heard them from our parents, Sunday school teachers, from our kind and upstanding friends.  

Others, like "regard all dharmas as a dream" or "rest in the nature of alaya," call for an understanding of the terminology and teachings of Mahayana Buddhism or of some of the unique notions of Tibetan Buddhism.  I've found, though, that reading the commentaries by contemporary teachers helps bring them into focus.  

Then, there are some like slogan 21 (which I cast this morning):  

"Always Maintain A Joyful Mind!"

I think a common first reaction to that slogan is "WTF?  Are you kidding me!?"
(READ MORE)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Once Upon a Time

“The Buddha’s principal message that day was
that holding on to anything blocks wisdom.
Any conclusion that we draw must be let go." 
---Pema Chodron, 

"Don't know.  Straight ahead."
Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn, 1927-2004
Founder, Providence Zen Center

The irony is exquisite.  

I'm sitting here at the laptop poised to sprinkle some thoughts across the screen in an effort to capture the essence of the thought that thoughts can't really capture the Essence. 

To be honest, after choosing the two quotes for this post, my next thought was, "Ah, I'll just leave it at that, choose a graphic, and hit "send." But, that seemed a bit too cutesy.   It smacked of what Roshi Daido Loori used to call the "stink of Zen."

I am, after all, making an attempt to live what Roshi Kosho Uchiyama characterized as "a life of vow."  As well as the Bodhisattva Vow and a number of other personal commitments that frame my life, I've committed to publishing a weekly post here in cyberspace -- although for quite some time I've been going back through a couple of hundred previously written posts and polishing them up.  

When I pause to think about it, it seems to me that a set of commitments is all that I really have to bring to the plate.  The rest is in the hands of the Cosmic Pitcher.   All I can really do is commit to showing up, step up to the plate, and then take my best swing if it appears to be in the strike zone -- or let it go by if it ain't.  (Egads, I'm thinking in baseball metaphors. It must be Spring!)

And here's the Pitch.....
(READ MORE)

Saturday, March 23, 2019

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 to be touched by the One Love during that era's Collective KenshoWe saw the Real Deal.  

But seeing that-- and even believing that -- isn't enough.

The task of freeing ourselves to BE a peaceful and loving human being became the Mission -- and we quickly learned that it is no mean feat.  It takes deep 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.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

When You Wish Upon a Star

"Fate is kind.
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing."
-- from "When You Wish Upon A Star" 
Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, 1940

The important point is to realize that you are never off duty.”
-- Chogyam Trungpa

Sometimes, it seems like a previous lifetime.  

Fifteen years ago, I sat on the front porch of an A-frame perched on a ridge at Zen Mountain Monastery gazing at a star-filled Catskill Mountain sky.  At that point, I was certain that I was going to leave. 

I had absolutely no idea what my next move would be, though.

For decades, I had thought, "once the kids are grown, I can finally DO IT!" I would leave the chaos of contemporary life and head for the hills.  There I'd find the Teacher and a sangha -- and really get spiritual. 

Now, after only six months of residency, I knew I was done.

So much for that idea.  Now what? 

Clueless...

Although I had, again, experienced a number of deep "openings" in the cauldron of Zen Training as envisioned by Roshi John Daido Loori, I discovered that the rigid, hard-driving, and unabashedly hierarchical nature of the Roshi's "Eight Gates of Zen Training" didn't ring true for me.  A peace activist, I placed a high value on egalitarianism and the shared power experienced in consensus democracy.  I knew that a monastic life wasn't going to be that.   Yet, I believed that I was ready to get with the program.

I wasn't. 

Though I respected many of the folks involved, and saw that the monastic life appeared to work for some, I now knew I wasn't going to get off that easy.  The Truth for me was beyond that container.  I was going to have to get out there on the streets and work it out for myself -- again.

As I sat there, absolutely clueless, an image of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull came to mind. Then, like that intrepid avian seeker of perfection, I thought, "Just hang onto the wind and trust!"  The very next instant, a shooting star flashed across the night sky directly in front of my eyes to then disappear into the tapestry of countless stars and fathomless blackness reaching overhead.

Zap! 

I wish it was always that easy.  
(READ MORE)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

One Love, One Heart

“In Chinese, the word for heart and mind is the same -- Hsin.
 For when the heart is open and the mind is clear 
they are of one substance, of one essence.” 
-- Stephen Levine

"Love is not what we become but who we already are."
-- Stephen Levine

I slept in this morning for the first time in quite awhile.  

Although I did awaken at around 5:30, as usual, to participate in my early morning recycling project, I immediately returned to bed.  There, I followed my breathing into "dozing/dreaming meditation." A long, rather vivid, dream quickly emerged.  It was moderately unsettling.  It rang with the  sadness of personal "failure."

When I awoke the clock read 7:45.  Picking up my phone to cast today's Lojong slogan, I quickly discovered that spring had, indeed, sprung ahead.  It was "really" 8:45!  

"Yikes!" I thought.  "I've got to deal with the blog today."

Having dragged myself out of bed so late, with the echoes of memories of numerous "personal failures" ringing through my mind, I just kept moving.  After all, it was late.  The hiss of the traffic on High Street concurred.  Keep moving!  I set out to pack up the laptop and head down to Greenfield Coffee.  There, I'd quaff some added energy and get to it.

To Sit or Not to Sit

For decades now, settling into a one hour morning meditation has come quite naturally most every day.  Usually, the momentum of a Life of Practice just carries me along like an autumn leaf floating on the surface of a dancing brook under a clear blue sky.  Life flows on.  I flow on.  It's nightime,  I head to bed.  It's morning, I awake. Then I get up and pee. Then, I Sit.    

That bedrock ritual became a bit rocky this past week, though.  

I actually missed three days in a row, then only sat for 20 minutes the next day.  I even considered that, perhaps, I had become too "attached" to my morning meditation.  After all, since my name is on the schedule, I arrive to meditate with other folks several times a week, and often head up to the Town Commons at noon to meditate as well.  So. what's the Big Deal about my personal morning meditation?

To be honest, I don't know.

What I do know is that I was up and running this morning.  I actually had my hand on the door handle before pausing to take a deep breath.  Rather than float along this morning, I had to stand in the way of my own momentum.  A real decision had to be made.  
 
After a few more conscious breaths, I turned around, took off my coat, and headed back to the altar.  As I've done thousands of times before, I bowed, set the timer, and Sat.
(READ MORE)

Sunday, March 3, 2019

A Few Thoughts About Thought

"One can appreciate and celebrate each moment -- there is nothing more sacred.
There is nothing more vast and absolute.  In fact, there is nothing more."
-- Pema Chödron, 
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” 
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace


A Friend's Window, Rowe, MA
It snowed again this week.  Twice.  There are mountains of snow at the edges of parking lots all over town.  And the National Weather Service is predicting another 4"- 8" tonight.   

Some of my friends and relations have been complaining about the latest forecast for a couple of days.  They seem to be taking it quite personally.

And so it goes.  

The thinking mind, conditioned as it is, spins on to judge, to compare, to exaggerate, to speculate, creating all sorts of storylines about a possible future event.  It can and will do that as a matter of habit.  All too often, it's much ado about nothing.  All the fretting and complaining is just another snow job.  Like a good con man, these thoughts create an alternative reality -- and steal from you the richness of the present moment.

Here and Now

When I stop typing, take a full breath, and gaze through the window at the sunlight strewing diamonds across the snow, when I open to the melody of the neighborhood cardinal's morning song and the sound of traffic emerging, cresting, and disappearing like an ocean surf along High Street, everything shifts.  The world immediately expands.  Freed from the fetters of thought, each moment becomes vast and wondrous.

It happens every time I pause and stop typing.  (You could, perhaps, pause here for a moment, take a deep breath or two, and gaze out the window or around the room right now before clicking  READ MORE.)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Nothing Special. No Big Deal. (Part Two)

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”  
-- Rumi

There's a first time for everything.  

I suppose there is a last time for everything as well.  Each unique moment arises and passes away within the flow of eternity, so quickly that we can't actually grasp it.

With any luck at all, though, we can notice it, And, it seems to me, being Present, wihout judgment or commentary, is where the Real Magic exists.

Of course, this is easier said than done -- especially when I'm sitting at the computer intent on scribing a blog post.   

Usually I complete a piece and let it go.  Last week, I came to a point where I realized there was much more to say about the notion that there is really Nothing Special, that each moment of experience is No Big Deal.  I judged the commentary as incomplete.  Sigh.

Which brings me to the Present.  Sort of...

Looking back to that post, I saw that I wasn't satisfied with having proclaimed that in my Heart of Hearts I believed that everyone and everything should be loved and appreciated --and then immediately went on to say that this was No Big Deal.  Seemingly, I'd proclaimed that Unconditional Love was Nothing Special.  Another way of saying that is "God is No Big Deal!" That sounded a bit blasphemous, no?

And yet, as I Sit here this morning with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds in a crisp blue sky,
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Friday, February 15, 2019

Nothing Special. No Big Deal. (Part One)

"Though my heart burns like a glowing hot coal, 
my eyes are as cold as dead ashes"
--  Soyen Shaku, Roshi

"If nothing is special, everything can be."
-- Charlotte "Joko" Beck, Nothing Special, Living Zen

Mother Nature's roller coaster ride continues.

After another significant snow storm this past week, She turned on a dime and started to rain.  

Now, a couple of days later, the National Weather Service is peering at a day in the lower 50's in their computerized crystal ball.  (We've already seen the temps swing from -11°F to 62°F over the course of four days earlier this month!) 

WTF?

Gazing at the melting snow outside the window, my mind can readily create a rant about the specter of global climate change. There certainly appears to be ample scientific evidence that we humanoids are stewing in our own juices.  Damn.

On the other hand, having seen lots of my friends suffer through some sort of nasty respiratory bug again this winter, I can readily forget about the global condition and narrow my horizons. What about a freakin' personal climate change! Why in the world don't I move my tail to warmer winters?  

But, wouldn't that be selfish?  Shouldn't I get off my tail and try to do something about the proposed change in the local zoning ordinance that may bring on more environmental degradation.

Buzz. Buzz. Yada yada yada.

Jeez Louise!

A Breath of Fresh Air

A grin.  One slow, deep breath  -- and "poof!"  

Sitting a bit straighter at the computer, feeling the sensations of my breath and body, I come to my senses and gaze out the window.

It's beautiful out there.  The gentle tapestry of soft color outside the window is soothing.  A deep silence, occasionally augmented by the twitter of a sparrow, washes over me.  In its embrace, it's easy to let the troublesome storylines dissolve.

The weather?  No big deal.  It simply is.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

What's Love Got To Do With It?

"Hatred never ceases by hatred. It is healed by love alone. 
This is the ancient and eternal law."
-- Buddha

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your strength and with all your mind. 
Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-- Jesus


An octogenarian friend of mine told me the other day that she was making Valentine's Day cards again this year to send out to some of her special friends.  

My first thought was, "How cool is that?"  Since she is quite a collage artist, I must admit my next two thoughts were, "I hope I make the cut," and "I'd love to get one."

Love to get one? Hmmmm...?

I don't know how it plays out in other languages, but it seems to me that in English the word love is amazingly imprecise.  The very same word, "love," applies to both the ultimate self-sacrifice that Jesus spoke of when he proclaimed, "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life, " and the most possessive and jealous form of desirous grasping imaginable.  The very same word, love, casts a net that includes both the enlightened activity of the Bodhisattva Green Tara -- and the painful flailings of folks ensnared by the Green Eyed Monster!

Yet, we have it on "good authority" (see introductory quotes,) that the key to the Real Deal is Love.  So, what does the word "love" really mean? 

 Mean?

Yikes.  Here we go again: What does the word "mean" really mean?  

Its "meaning" runs the gamut from ultimate significance and purpose, to simply being nasty!  It reaches from the perfection of the Aristotelean  (and Buddhist) Golden Mean to the obnoxious underwater antics of the Blue Meanies.!?

Damn.  I mean give me a break here. 

It's Only Words...

Love? Meaning? These words certainly seem important, yet getting to the Truth of the Matter seems a bit problematic, no?  Conditioned as we are in a world that stresses the importance of conceptual thought, of words, much of our awareness is tied up in the stream of thoughts that dominate our attention.  Yet it's obvious that those words can be quite sloppy, even paradoxical.  Perhaps, words are not all that useful in our quest for fundamental clarity.

The Zen tradition stresses this point.  

At one point, during a teisho in sesshin years ago at the Rochester Zen Center, Bodhin Kjolhede Sensei asserted, "Every time I open my mouth,  I'm lying!"  He had obviously -- and very passionately -- opened his mouth at that moment.  I sat there bemused. 

Was Sensei telling the truth in that assertion -- or was he lying?

You tell me!
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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Good Vibrations

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand 
like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”
― Albert Einstein

"Attention is energy.  What you pay attention to you get more of."
-- Stephen Gaskin


As a kid I was extremely curious. 

I think we all were.  An open, questioning mind is part of our essential equipment.  Watch any toddler at play.  

Sadly, it seems that most of us are all too quickly conditioned to stifle that curiosity.  We are programmed to accept the prevailing beliefs about reality,  and "get with the program. " 

Somewhat clueless themselves, most parents, and even many schoolteachers, couldn't deal with our incessant questioning.  

It scared them.

Lest Ye Be Like Children

I spent a lot of time wandering around alone as a kid.  I remember coming across a broken camera in the alley that ran behind our apartment building in Chicago when I was about ten years old.  What a find!  

I took it home and immediately took it apart.  

Then, I wondered why the heck the world was upside down when I viewed it through the single lens I extracted from that camera?! After fooling around for awhile with the various lenses I then collected, I figured out how to right the image.  Soon, I was able to make objects appear larger.  Before long, I had made a telescope.  Then, I began logging the motion of Venus as it passed over the rooftop of the building across the alley night after night.  I noticed that it wasn't in the same place at the same time each evening.  Why not?

The question "why?" didn't scare me or frustrate me.  It evoked curiosity and a sense of wonder.

Later that same year, I discovered that an electric car I'd received as a Christmas gift made static on the radio's speakers whenever its path took it close to the radio.  WTF? Again curious, I took the car apart and discovered that the sparking of its electric motor created the noise in the radio's speakers.  There was an invisible energy traveling between the motor and the radio.  I'd discovered radio waves! Before all was said and done, I had cobbled together a homemade keying device and learned morse code so that I could send actual messages through space using invisible waves of energy.   

This early interest in invisible waves of energy continued.  

In junior high school I became a licensed ham radio operator -- and a musician.  Sound waves, radio waves, light waves.  They all fascinated me.  The idea that these waves operated at different frequencies, at different rates of vibration became clear to me.  I learned how to tune my guitar.  I learned how to tune my homemade transmitter to deliver maximum power at a particular frequency.  

Resonance seemed like high magic to me.  When the electronic attributes of a circuit hit a point where the rate of vibrations synched up perfectly, Shazam!  With the same amount of power that it took to light up a 75w light bulb, I could generate invisible waves that would radiate from my wire antenna hanging between two trees in Illinois to contact other ham operators.  One night, those waves reflected off the invisible charged particles in the freakin' ionosphere, then bounced back to earth and back to the ionosphere a couple of more times -- to communicate with a station at the South Pole!

How cool is that?  

It gets better.
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Monday, January 28, 2019

A Moment's Peace

"The quieter you become the more you can hear."
-- Ram Dass

"Be still and know that I am God."
-- Psalm 46:10

I remember my dad yelling, angrily, demanding that we kids shut up so he could get some "peace and quiet!"  

Sometimes his demand was even more desperate. 
"Just give me a moment's peace!" he'd plead.  

At those times, the threatening tone of his voice and likelihood of imminent violence usually did shut us up--at least for a few moments.   

Kids will be kids. Sigh.

I ache now with the memory of his anguish and my own fear.  I wish I knew then what I know now.  I'd given him that moment's peace gladly -- out of compassion, not fear.

Gone Fishing...

Dad loved to fish.  

I remember the day I looked out the front window of our apartment and saw him silhouetted against the sun sparkles of the small lake we lived on.  He sat there in his beloved rowboat a couple of hundred feet offshore, fishing pole in hand.  Dad could sit like that, motionless, surrounded by the stillness of that lake, just peering at the red and white bobber for quite awhile.  He seemed at peace.  He'd return to shore afterwards, seemingly in a good mood, calmer, quieter, more content.  

I noticed.  Forty three years after his death, it is one of my strongest visual memories of him.

Yet, those moments were, unfortunately not all that common.  My dad worked hard at the factory all day, and then, a single parent, he would prepare dinner before we kids would take over to do the dishes.  Beyond that, he kept himself busy with other activites as well.  (He was an avid ham radio operator and a boy scout council commissioner.)

Unfortunately, he suffered from atherosclerosis and cardiac disease.  He had hit the trifecta.  Longevity wasn't his genetic strong suit.  His mother, Vera, had died at age  42.  His father, Harold,  had died of heart disease at age 57.  Dad was also a longtime smoker.  And, as we saw above, stress management wasn't his forte.  He lived "with gusto" -- and was uptight and angry frequently.  (Although years of Practice have allowed me to chill out more readily these days, I, myself smoked for nearly forty years -- and had two stents installed in my heart eight years ago.  (Oak trees and acorns come to mind...)

After a heart attack, strokes, and uncontrollable high blood pressure, our family doctor had advised dad to retire and "just go fishing."  At age 59, he did just that. He bought himself a camper and a trailer, and for much of final year and a half of his life, he traveled and fished from coast to coast. 
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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Reality Asserts Itself

Gazing at tonight's Super Blood Wolf Moon sail into a sky that promises sub-zero wind chills before morning, I recalled a post written after a similar night five years ago.  Have a look?
One Love,
Lance  

 
"Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view."
— Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom

"Please understand, you have inherent in your very Mind a huge potential, an incalculable brilliance, an ability to see the reality of this moment clearly."
-- Harada Roshi, opening talk,
Rohatsu Sesshin, Sogenji Monastery, 2011


My Little Corner of the World
An old coot, I rarely sleep through the night these days.

Generally, at least once a night, I have to roll out of bed and walk a few steps into the adjoining room. There, I participate in one aspect of this Grand Recyling Project known in some circles as Samsara.  

Then, depending on a multitude of factors ranging from things like the phases of the moon, to what happens to be on my mind that night, I usually plop right back into bed and meditate back to sleep, often catching a few dream bubbles along the way.

Sometimes, something else happens.

Last night, as I crawled into bed, I heard the winds howling outside the window.  I then felt a bit of coolness on my skin as a draft found its way under the blanket that hangs over the window alongside my bed for nights like these.  

Curious, I pulled a corner of the blanket up to take a peek. 

I was awestruck.


Outside the windows, the wind howled eerily as the stark silhouettes of winter's barren trees danced wildly in the moonlight.  Not to be outdone, their shadows played across the blue-white snow of the yard beyond the gardens.  Under the influence of a brilliant moon that was only a sliver past full, the entire world outside the window was luminous.  It seemed to glow from within.

Thoughts, being incapable of grasping the majesty of the moment, became irrelevant.  They just went on their merry way unattended -- leaving wonder and sheer delight in their wake.  

I was all eyes and ears.  Mindful Awareness did it's thing.

Transfixed, I don't know how long I was Present for that particular miracle.   It seems that Time had called "time out," and was huddling with the Timeless.  At some point though, the buzzer sounded, and samsara resumed play.  Tired, I let the blanket fall back across the window and rolled over.  

Grinning ear to ear, I stretched out, relaxed, and returned to sleep. 

Upon Awakening

As beautiful as the scene outside my window was last night, I also knew its stark reality.  

According to the National Weather Service, the raw temperature at 4 a.m at a small airport near here was -13°F.  The windchill was -22°.  Given different circumstances, that scene I gazed at outside the window wouldn't have been delightful.  It would been deadly.  Unprotected, I could have died out there -- and the trees and wind and moon would've just danced on. 

In the grand scope of things, that's the deal:  Life itself is always a deadly proposition.  It's a terminal condition.  Nobody gets outta here alive.
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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Playing for the hOMe Team

“The gift of learning to meditate is the 
greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.” 
-- Sogyal Rinpoche

“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment,
our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be
filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh


I awoke this morning stiff and sore, a bit out of sorts.  The holiday season with all it's busyness and travel, compounded by the stress of some serious health concerns among family and friends, was long, difficult, and demanding.

Amidst the scurry of the past few weeks, dealing with my own body has been no picnic either. With a bevy of eyelid inflammations and infections and appointments, and most every joint in my body making its painful presence known, it's been a long haul.

Slowly moving toward the bathroom, I noticed my whole world was colored in shades of doom and gloom.  Images of my inevitable, if not imminent, demise floated through my mind as I limped along.  I am almost 73 years old after all.  I've got two stents in my heart forestalling the day when this ole body gives up the ghost.

To be honest, there were times in my life that coming out of the starting blocks in that frame of  mind and body on a frigid winter day could have led to a serious bout of doom and gloom.  A dark mood and dark thoughts would have wrapped themselves around one another and held onto one another tightly -- sometimes for hours, sometimes for days or weeks at time.  In fact, there were times in my life that I spiraled down into abject despair and total burn-out.

That was then.  This is now.

This morning, like most mornings these days, I peed, brushed my teeth, then wobbled over to the altar in my bedroom, bowed to the four directions, then to the zafu, and then turned around to bow to all sentient beings.  Then I Sat.  

Within moments, it was different.

There in my little corner of the world, floating on the Breath of Practice, with my body comfortable and upright, I sat and watched as ripples of thought, feelings and bodily sensations emerged and dissipated along the surface of  a clear, calm deep pool of bright spaciousness.  Just Sitting Still, no longer grasping or pushing away, I breathed, relaxed, softened, and opened.  There, in the Gracious Spaciousness of Loving Awareness, I just sat.  And sat.  

At times I became the pool.  At times, I became both the pool and the ripples.  At times I became neither.

At other times, the ripples would draw my attention.  Without hesitation, my heart and mind would open to the reality that a lot of us old coots are feeling these same aches and pains and sadness, that the universal human condition includes sickness, aging and death.  I sat, softened, and opened.  At this stage of the journey, this was no big deal.

As I have learned to do in Tonglen Practice, I simply allowed the pain to emerge, and breathed its energy into my heart with the aspiration that myself and others be free of suffering and the roots of suffering.  In the expansiveness of each in-breath, with my heart open, the Gracious Spaciousness embraced the pain and allowed it to dissipate and dissolve.  My heart's aspiration that we all be at peace rode on each out-breath as it was released into the boundless expanse of the One Love in which we exist. 

As Time danced with the Timeless, I sat as the sounds of traffic ebbed and flowed outside the window.  The hour flew by.

When the final bell sounded on my iPhone (this is the 21st century after all), I silently recited the Bodhisattva Vows three times as I have done for decades, bowed, then did a brief series of yogic stretches.   When I arose, I felt just fine.  Energized, I bundled up and headed out for a brief walk in the crisp morning air, before heating up the coffee pot, and sitting down to watch words appear like magic along the screen of this old Mac laptop.  

And here's the pitch....

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Long Haul

  “Be still.  Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.
When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself”
― Lao Tzu

“Space and silence are two aspects of the same thing. The same no-thing. They are externalization of inner space and inner silence, which is stillness: 
the infinitely creative womb of all existence.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment 


With the 12th Day of Christmas upon us, the final family gatherings and bestowing of presents happens this weekend.  It's been a busy, and sometimes unsettling, holiday season.

In the midst of the scurry of the past couple of weeks, with hours spent in cars, buses, and subways, others in doctor's offices and hospitals, I was especially aware of how precious each morning's meditation was to me.  Flowing through days and evenings full of travel and visitations and meals and excited flurries of paper-ripping, my cushion has been an oasis.

Touching Stillness, even for a few brief moments, is like sipping clear, crisp spring water on a steamy summer day.  Paradoxically, it's also like feeling the warm glow of a fireplace, snuggling at home on a snowy evening peering through the window at the moon.  In Stillness, the Presence emerges.  In a silent whisper, it sings of the Ineffable, that space where the fundamentally mysterious and completely ordinary meet to form the fabric of Life itself.  

Although I use a variety of meditation techniques, I've found that the foundation of Practice is
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