"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

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Wing and a Prayer

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake 
is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”
― Pema Chödrön


``Do not be afraid," the Voice called to him. ``Hang on to the wind and trust!"
-- from "Tale of the Jumping Mouse", 
in Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

Back in 1970, my kid brother David, who was in many ways my Guru long before I knew much about gurus and the Practice, sent me a handwritten copy of the "Tale of the Jumping Mouse".  A denizen of Haight-Ashbury for years, David had come across it before it appeared in Hyemeyohsts Storm's book, Seven Arrows

I was transfixed.  

"Tale of the Jumping Mouse" was one of those stories.  It resonated deeply with the Heart of the Matter for me.  Stirred to the core, my heart chakra opened through a torrent of tears.  (Those were the days, huh.)

An allegory, "Tale of the Jumping Mouse" traces the journey of a simple mouse who heard something one day, a faint roaring sound that the others didn't appear to hear amidst the scramble of their day to day existence.  His Essential Curiosity stirred, this mouse summoned up the courage to take the Grand Leap to discover the Source of the sound.  He left the confines of his normal life to discover a world of great beauty and wonder.  

With the help and guidance of other creatures, through repeated acts of courage and the willingness to serve others again and again, Mouse developed his Medicine as Jumping Mouse.  In the end, (or perhaps, the beginning), Jumping Mouse became Eagle.  

Years ago, I read of a society in the South Pacific where the children were taught to fly in their dreams as the main spiritual practice. Psychologist Carl Jung believed that flying dreams symbolized the basic human desire for liberation.  Although, I probably personally identify more with Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (another spiritual allegory of the early 1970's) than with an Eagle, it seems that the symbol of flight captures something essential about the Spiritual Path.  It certainly did for me.

So what does Sitting have to do with Flying?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Journey of Five Thousand Miles

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
-- Lao Tse

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back...
They’re like messengers that show us, 
with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. ”
Pema Chödrön

OMG! The Grand Canyon was even grander than all the hype.

In case you hadn't noticed, this is the first post here in about five weeks.  What's up with that?

Well, in case you are interested -- or even if you're not -- here's the scoop:

I hadn't taken a real vacation since I was asked to teach a meditation class seven and a half years ago.  Within the first year of offering Monday Morning Mindfulness, I was then asked to begin Mindfulness Circles elsewhere.  At this point, I facilitate four weekly meditation groups, participate in the community life of two peer support networks, and have been posting an article here each week.  For a retired old coot, I am pretty busy.  

I'm also a recovering workaholic.  I tend to overdo a feeling of responsibility.  Except for a couple of weeks each year spent traveling to visit my children, and a few long holiday weekends, I've pretty much been "on duty," day in, day out, holding space with my CircleMates  and communards as we share Life and Practice. 

It's kept me off the streets and out of trouble -- at least most the time.

Go West, (not so) Young Man 

When Migdalia decided to retire from her full time social work position, she immediately pitched me to join her for an extended vacation.  At the time, I couldn't come up with a good reason not to take a Sabbatical and join her for a journey in the Southwest.  Decades ago, I had wandered into New Mexico a couple of times and, although one of these times was during a particularly dark night of the soul episode in my life, I clearly remembered that the state's motto, the Land of Enchantment, rang true to me at the time.  There was an aura of magic in high desert air of the Colorado Plateau.  A palpable sense of a vast and majestic mystery sang silently through the landscape.  I loved the gentle warmth of a culture strongly influenced by the hispanic and indigenous majority.  Buoyed by those memories, I was ready to let go -- and Go for It! 

Or so I thought.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, October 19, 2019

For Now

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is 
 to be continually thrown out of the nest. 
To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, 
to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. 
― Pema Chödrön

“For things to reveal themselves to us, 
we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

 
After raining heavily all night, the sun broke out moments ago.  Streaming through the window, it played across the floor as I entered my bedroom.  The windblown dance of light and shadow, woven of sun, tree, and partially open blinds brought a smile to my face.

Then, as quickly as it had emerged, the sun disappeared into the thick sea of gray clouds.  

That brought a smile to my face as well.  

I walked over to raise the blinds, expecting to see the glistening, now pink-brown, late autumn leaves of the crab apple tree outside the window waving in the wind.  Startled, I found I was face to face with the stark gray brown of mostly empty branches.  It was now Fall!  Only a few leaves, scattered among the wet branches, remained.  "Oh yeah," I thought. "It rained hard all night.  Duh."  

I smiled again.

I guess I'm pretty easy these days -- at least much of the time.  I blame it on the Practice.

Once the fundamental Impermanence of what Uchiyama Roshi called "the scenery of our lives" is directly seen -- and accepted -- we have the opportunity to embrace Life itself as it emerges each moment with an increasing degree of ease, grace and kindness.  Within the ever-flowing energies that we encounter, we see that there is always nothing more, and nothing less, than Life as it is this very moment.

Although the thoughts and emotions that emerge from the causes and conditions of our personal and collective histories can make it appear otherwise, what is right there in front of us is a constant Invitation to the Dance.  We can either explore the possibility of opening our hearts and minds (and our eyes and ears and arms, etc.) to accept and appreciate the Absolute Miracle of the Mystery that we are part of each moment-- or not.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  

It takes Practice.
(READ MORE)

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Lojong: Training the Heart and MInd

"True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those
less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
---Pema Chödrön, Awakening Loving-Kindness

"Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation."
---The 16th Lojong Slogan

I've had my nose buried in books a lot this past week, diving once again into a stack of works on the Lojong Trainings.

Although the 59 slogans of this Tibetan Buddhist system of training the Heart/Mind were passed on as secret teachings in Tibet by the ninth century emigre Indian teacher, Atisha, they were codified and then opened to a wider audience in the 12th century by Tibetan teacher Geshe Chekawa.

Now, in the 21st century, that audience has become worldwide.  Here, in the melting pot of American Buddhism, there are numerous translations and commentaries on these Teachings in English -- and not only by teachers in the Tibetan tradition of  Pema Chödrön and her teacher Chögyam Trungpa.  In fact, these days my favorite book on Lojong is that of Zen teacher, Sensei Norman Fisher.  His book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, rocks!

In print, in digital media, and on the web, viewing the vast array of material on Lojong available today is like peering at the rainbow facets of a diamond while slowly spinning it around in the sunlight.  It's dazzling.

How cool is that?

The Theory and the Practice

Of course, studying is one thing.  Unlearning the habits of a lifetime is another.  Since we were in the womb (if not before that,) we've all been immersed in a pool of energies, conditioning us in ways that disconnect us from our Heart of Hearts.  The effort to uncover our natural compassion and wisdom takes commitment, energy, and patience.  

It takes Practice. 


(READ MORE)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

For Crying Out Loud!

“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer.  Crying includes all the principles of Yoga.”


“In the Lakota/Sioux tradition, a person who is grieving is considered 
most wakan, most holy."

Emmet Kelly 1898-1979
Some time ago,  I came across the above quote by Swami Kripalvanandji while preparing for a yoga class that I was going to teach later that day.  I immediately emailed it to a dear friend who was having a rough time.

She replied that it helped -- a lot.  After reading it, she had headed out to her garden to have a good cry.  It was exactly what she needed.

Growing up in today's society, most of us have learned to avoid crying like the plague.  Widely characterized as a sign of unacceptable weakness and frailty, we are conditioned to keep a stiff upper lip, to steel ourselves against this natural expression of heartfelt feeling.  Although this pattern is pervasively seen as a "male" characteristic, in my experience, many of the women I know are also  conditioned to avoid crying.  As a result, our patterns of resistance to crying are pretty pervasive. 

That being said, I actually hesitated for a moment to plunge ahead here.  After all, you don't see too many glitzy promotional materials  on Mindfulness Practice promising to bring you to tears. Maybe I'd better "lighten up" a bit?  After all, isn't Buddha's Third Noble Truth the freakin' Cessation of Suffering?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

'Tis the Season

"Commitment is at the very heart of freeing ourselves 
of old habits and old fears."
― Pema Chodron

 “I think what everyone should be doing, before it's too late, is committing themselves to what they really want to do with their lives.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh


Photo by Migdalia Vazquez
The Fall has been my favorite season for as long as I can remember.

Yesterday, during my morning's walking meditation through the neighborhood, I came upon a flock of monarch butterflies in a neighbor's garden. Assembled for their remarkable journey to Mexico (or Florida,) they stopped me in my tracks. 

Walking meditation became "standing and marveling" meditation.

Joined by an assortment of other butterflies, moths, and bees, they danced in the brilliant sunshine through the myriad colors of the garden as the trees continued their own colorful transformation into an autumn blaze here in New England. 

As September's song proceeds toward October, and the days dwindle down to a precious few ( I am 73 years old after all,) my thoughts have sometimes turned to those times in my life that the Grand Mystery of Life and Death emerged amidst the fall colors to evoke a deep sense of the profound poignancy of our shared human condition.  

My first experience of that occurred in the fall of my senior year in high school.  That day, for the first time, I knew.  I saw the Reality of it. I felt it in my bones: None of us is going to get out of here alive!  Someday, I will age if I'm fortunate.  Then, just as certainly as the leaves surrounding me wlll fall to earth, I will die.  

Yet, my heart was full. With the leaves alive in fall colors in the dazzling sun and crisp cool air of this September afternoon, I was awestruck by the surreal beauty of the day, of life itself.  I was grateful to be alive. 

Years later I first entered residency at Zen Mountain Monastery in the fall, aware of the Grand Mystery, knowing that intensifying my commitment to Practice was, once again, essential.  As it turned out, the Fall Ango was beginning and the entire community began a period of intensifying Practice.  (Like being in the Monastery on the strict monastic schedule wasn't intense enough. LOL)

Commitment and Intense Practice 

In Buddhism, like many of the world's religions (Ramadan in Islam. The High Holy Days in Judaism.  Lent in Christianity,  etc.), there are extended periods of time each year that people move beyond "business as usual" to make a special commitment to their Spiritual Practice.    

In Buddhism, the tradition of the Rain's Retreat (Vassa or Ango) goes back to the time of the Buddha.  Traditionally beginning the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month (June/July), it lasted about three months, the period of time that  the monsoon season in India made travel difficult.  During that time the monks, who generally were homeless wanderers, would gather in one place to hear the Buddha's teachings and engage in intensive meditation practice.  

To this day, this period of intensive practice is widespread in Theravadan Buddhism, and is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and in Zen as well.  Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, it often seems to have evolved into periods of intensive practice that occur in the Fall and/or the Spring. 

At Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, the Rain's Retreat has become the 3 Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year.  One year, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.  
(READ MORE)

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Love. Love. Love.

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love: in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles

We have it on good authority. 

Jesus and Buddha, as well as the other sages and saints of the world's religions seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering and why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks have learned to believe is love, the terrain of much music and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  What is presented as love is a very human blend of desire, biological attraction, and attachment.  It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what JC, Buddha and others had in mind, right?

The form of  "love" that our culture promotes has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own individual ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the quality of consciousness that emerges from what Pema Chodron calls an Awakened Heart.  True Love is not the profound passionate grasping of deep attachment. True Love is much grander than that.  

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from, Pure Being.  It is identical to the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of disconnection that characterizes the realm of relative reality.  Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love emerges as the compassion, joy, and clarity that exists in our heart of hearts. 

Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something we just fall into (and, so often, out of),  in the Buddhist tradition, love is seen as a mode of consciousness.  Our connection to that love can be consciously cultivated.  Although we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "the other" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- ultimately, True Love emerges from a fundamental choice to embrace Life itself, to let go of who we think we are and open our hearts and minds to the actual experience of the present moment.  

Although this can happen with the very next breath, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen.  It is a Practice.  Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving.  Like any discipline, True Love takes commitment, a set of skills, effort -- and patience. 
READ MORE

Saturday, September 14, 2019

It's Only Words

The secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts,
in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh,
  Buddha Mind, Buddha Body:
Walking Toward Enlightenment

"The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
"

―  Tao Te Ching,
Chapter One


In the world of Zen, words and concepts are not generally held in high regard. 

It's not surprising that some students even got smacked by crotchety old Zen masters for their "loose lips."   Words can be pretty damn tricky.

A case in point:  The realm of words creates a world of thought where the word "swearing" could either describe what emerges when a person angrily launches into a foul-mouthed condemnation of something    -- or what happens when a person wholeheartedly takes a sacred oath.

So what does the word "swear" actually mean?  (For that matter what does "mean," mean? I mused about a bit in Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call: What's Love Got To Do with It?)

Over the years, it's become clearer and clearer to me that any particular word, or even a whole string of those slippery devils, at best, can only hint at the Truth.  Most often, they just lead to a more complicated web of endless definition. 


Like Life itself, meaning is inseparable from context.  It emerges from an essential connection to a whole matrix of experiences which, in turn, are ultimately inseparable from the Whole Universe.   

This makes True Communication extremely interesting. It involves myriad factors beyond the exchange of words.  In fact, if you are really paying attention during a conversation, what is not said may be more meaningful than what is said.   The devil isn't merely in the details.  The devil is the details -- when those slippery devils are devoid of a Connection to the Truth of the Matter.  Truth, I have found, is ultimately a matter of Heart, not the thinking mind.

For me, staying Connected to the Heart takes Practice.  And Practice takes courage, effort -- and Commitment.

Commitment!?

Oh no, not that!
(READ MORE)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Step by Step

Walking with ease and with peace of mind on the earth 
is a wonderful miracle.  Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle.
--Thich Nhat Hahn


"Every path, every street in the world is your walking meditation path." 

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

A number of times in the past few years of MMM, I've witnessed someone experiencing formal walking meditation for the first time.  

After sharing a few words about the various forms of meditation (it's not Just Sitting after all), I introduced the South Asian "slow motion" walking meditation that I had learned when I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society years ago.  

Then we took a slow, conscious, stroll across the glistening wooden floors of the studio at Community Yoga. 

It only took a few minutes.

In a couple of instances, I had the privilege of seeing a childlike sense of wonder emerge. I was eyeball to eyeball with a person who had just experienced, at least for a moment or two,  what Suzuki Roshi called"Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind."  

Meeting their eyes, it was obvious.  Their eyes sparkled.  During the course of this relatively brief walk, they had been Present to Life in a fuller and more complete way than usual. 

I love it when that happens. 

Walking and Waking Up

The spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff claimed that most humans are "sleepwalking" through their lives.  I think he nailed it.  Sleepwalking is a perfect metaphor for the semi-conscious manner in which most of us have learned to move through our lives.  

In a materialistic society that stresses speed, production, and the accumulation of goods and status, we have been conditioned to scurry and stagger ahead without being fully aware of the present moment.  Distracted, lost in our thoughts much of the time, the miraculous sea of sensations and energies that constitute Life As It Is each moment remains beneath the level of consciousness.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way.  We don't have to sleepwalk through our lives.  We each have the ability to awaken. It can happen with the very next step.
(READ MORE)

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Promises, Promises

Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”
Suzuki Rosh

“Daily sitting is our bread and butter, the basic stuff of dharma. 
Without it we tend to be confused.”
Charlotte Joko Beck


There were quite a few of us that were first drawn to Zen back in the 60's because of its seemingly irreverent and iconoclastic tenor and tone.  

To a bunch of us erstwhile hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, stories of ancient monks kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, unabashedly proclaiming that Buddha was a "shit stick", etc., it seemed "far out."  They seemed like our kind of guys. 

Little did we know.

Once I actually connected with a teacher and a sangha, a different reality emerged.  I found that the foundation of Zen Buddhism, like that of other spiritual traditions throughout the world, rests squarely on a set of vows and precepts.  Rather than becoming a member of another tribe of free form hippies, I found out that engaging in formal Zen training with a teacher meant making a commitment to a set of clearly stated intentions: Taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, the Three Pure Precepts, and the 10 Essential Precepts was expected.  It was part of the deal.

WTF?  

Jeez.  Growing up I only had to worry about the Ten Commandments! Now? Do the math. This is twice as many.  So much for being hip and cool, for "doing your own thing!"

Or so it seemed. 
(READ MORE)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Take a Hike, Buddhy!

"Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle. 
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, "A Guide to Walking Meditation

"I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, 
works at about three miles an hour. 
If this is so, then modern life is moving faster 
than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness.”
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking 

Thich Nhat Hanh leading walking meditation at Plum Village
This morning's meditation was buzzy 

It was one of those days when even a few moments of clear, calm and open awareness, unconstrained by the high volume prattle of discursive monkey-mind, was greatly appreciated.  

For the most part though, it seemed like I was doing a mantra practice more than Mindfulness Practice.   

Unfortunately, the chosen mantra wasn't something exalted like the Tibetan Buddhist "Om Mani Padme Hum" or Zen's "Gate, Gate, Paragate" Today's mantra was the simple mental note, "thinking thinking," repeated over and over.  

And over.  

And over again.

And Then

Fortunately, after the bells sounded, I had places to go and things to do around town.  Since they were all within walking distance, I left the car keys on the counter.

I'm so grateful that I made this choice.  I came to my senses as soon as I walked out the door.  The morning air was cool and crisp.  The neighborhood birds were singing their praises to a clear blue sky.  Just opening to the sights and sounds and smells of the world altered my reality immediately. 

Mindful of body and breath, mindful of the sensations of sight and sound and smell, I was again made aware of the Ongoing Miracle.  I felt a great gratitude for the practice of walking meditation in my life. 
(READ MORE)

Saturday, August 17, 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 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, Mindfulness 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 conform more closely to my aspirations to be kind and compassionate.

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.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trouble in Mind

"Trouble in mind, babe, I'm blue,
but I won't be blue always
Yes, the sun gonna shine,
in my back door someday
-- Big Bill Broonzy, "Trouble in Mind"

“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."
-- Pema Chödrön, Practicing Peace in Times of War


Over the years I've learned that labeling a particular meditation session "good" or "bad" is missing the point.  

Although I certainly notice my own tendency to prefer the pleasant sensations of a bright, calm, and spacious quality of consciousness over the claustrophobic feeling tones of a doom and gloom melodrama or the buzzy feeling of endless discursive prattle, I've learned that this is precisely where Practice begins.  When I open beyond my reflexive reaction and just sit with the unfolding experience, things shift.  It is there that insight and healing emerge.

I suppose this is a primary lesson of Mindfulness 101.  A whole lot of needless suffering seems to emerge from our conditioned habit of mindlessly grasping onto the pleasant and reflexively rejecting the unpleasant.  Bringing that entire process into the light of Mindfulness, opening to the fluidity of our own actual experience and the underlying energies involved, a new world emerges.

Sometimes we see quite clearly that the "trouble in mind" is "merely" mindstuff.  Created in the cauldron of our subconscious, it has no real substance.  It is quite ephemeral.  Oftentimes, it is just held in place by the narrative dominating our thinking at the moment. 

When we are able to let go of what Pema Chodron calls "the story line," the underlying feelings can be experienced as the changing, shifting energies that they are.  Sometimes, just noticing that I'm thinking has changed things immediately.  In a heartbeat, I've seen the blues dissolve, the world expand,  and the sun return to my back door.  

At other times,  there are more deeply troubled waters involved.  Mindfulness Practice then becomes the bridge to a deeper understanding. 
(READ MORE)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Grave Matter of Life and Death

Originally posted: December 23, 2017
Dear Folks,
Danny Cruz would have been 27 years old on Tuesday, July 30.  This week, in deep appreciation of this wonderful human being and the Grand Mystery, I bow deeply to Danny and again share "The Grave Matter of Life and Death."


Let me respectfully remind you:
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
 Awaken!  Take heed!  
Do not squander your life.
-- Dogen Zenji
This gatha is chanted each evening 
at Zen Mountain Monastery

I think it is clear.  Danny Cruz, who blessed us with his committed Presence in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, did not squander his life. 

Although the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy that ultimately ended his precious life at age 25 may have limited the freedom of his body, Danny was the quintessential Free Spirit.  His creativity, energy, revolutionary zeal, and passion for life appeared to be limitless.  

Through his copious artwork, through his unbridled musical expression with the Flaming Dragons of Middle Earth, and, perhaps even more importantly,  through his encounters with members of his beloved community, Danny's upbeat exuberance and good will were boundless.  

It touched all those knew him.  

Chogyam Trungpa once described the "crazy wisdom" that is revered in Tibetan Buddhism as "an innocent state of mind that has the quality of early morning—fresh, sparkling, and completely awake. " 

The 10,000 volt sparkle I often saw in Danny's eyes comes to mind.

The fresh, unfiltered honesty and the immensity of Danny's goodwill towards others were extraordinary.  Although many of us experienced shock at the suddenness of his death, and grieve the loss of his Presence on this plane of existence, the Generosity of Spirit that Danny exuded freely transcends his death.  

It still touches me.  

Although I, admittedly, rolled my eyes when Danny described himself as a Zen Master in our first encounter in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, I came to appreciate the unique nature of his Mastery.   It manifested in his ability to stay positive in the midst of circumstances that would have crushed the spirits of many.  It manifested in his unwavering aspiration -- and unparalleled ability -- to Connect with those around him.  It manifested in his ability to rise, again and again, to the defense of anyone or anything that had been criticized in his Presence.  

Like any Zen Teacher worth his salt, Danny ceaselessly challenged the concepts and attachments that serve to separate us from ourselves, from one another, and from the miracle of the present moment.  I learned a lot with Danny in the Circle.

Jai Guru Dev Danny Jai 

Healing Into Life and Death

There is no doubt about it.  Losing a loved one is extremely painful.   Yet, taking the time and making the space to mourn can be a deep and richly empowering Practice.  As one of my teacher's once said "honest grief is a noble thing."  I'm grateful that it has allowed me to maintain the Connection with Danny beyond his physical death.
 
The process of opening the heart fully to the death of a loved one can be a Holy Experience, connecting us to the One Love that embraces both life and death.  It is there we are Healed.  This is, I believe, exactly what Yogi Jesus was getting at when he proclaimed "Blessed be those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  
(READ MORE)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Me and My Shadow

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back...
They’re like messengers that show us,
with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck."
 --  Pema Chödrön

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, 
but by making the darkness conscious...
Knowing your own darkness is the best method
for dealing with the darknesses of other people."”
-- C.G. Jung

Many folks experiencing a lot of stress in their lives are drawn to meditation.  It's only natural to want to chill out and, to be sure, Mindfulness Practice can provide many moments of deep calm and clarity.

Yet -- and this is generally not proclaimed in the slick internet ads  -- it is also true that a regular mediation practice can bring to the surface a lot of feelings that we have assiduously managed to repress, deny or avoid as we scurry ahead in our lives.

Conditioned to operate in a fast-paced materialistic society, one that keeps us focused outwardly for fulfillment, we just keep moving.  Once we slow down and sit still for awhile to focus inwardly, our world changes.  Although we can experience greater calm,  it is also not uncommon to encounter darker, more distressing emotions at times.

Contrary to what we might think, this is a Good Thing.  It's a sign that the Practice is working!

In the process of a deepening Practice, we no longer skim across the surface.  We actually begin to get in touch with the aspects of our conditioning that have subconsciously operated to create the way we see and react to the events of our lives.  (How often have you winced and thought "damn.  Why did I say/do that!?)  

The good news is that, with Practice, we are able to make conscious what had been subconscious.  Over time, we are able to observe and navigate the more troublesome aspects of ourselves with increasing clarity and ease. 

Truth in Advertising

Adrift in momentary delusions of grandeur, I sometimes joke about beginning a high profile advertising campaign for Monday Morning Mindfulness with full page bold print ads, billboards and television commercials proclaiming something like:
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Saturday, July 20, 2019

As It Is

“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

"Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, 
spiritual bliss, or tranquility, nor is it attempting to be a better person. 
It is simply the creation of a space in which 
we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games,
our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes. "
― Chögyam Trungpa  

I guess I've always been a bookworm.  

Although I also loved riding my bicycle, wandering through fields, and playing baseball as a kid, I read -- a lot.  

One summer in Chicago, as often as I could, I would climb up on the flat roof of a garage in the alley behind the three-flat we lived in at the time, to pour through book after book.  As I remember it, Huckleberry Finn was my favorite.  In the midst of a rather troubling and chaotic childhood, Mark Twain invited me to join Huck, and journey down the river on my rooftop raft through a different -- and seemingly more alluring -- world.

Nowadays, I don't read much fiction, but there is still usually a stack of books close at hand.  Most of them are related to meditation and spirituality.   At this point, pouring through books isn't jumping on a raft to escape the realities of my life.  This ongoing journey through the Teachings is a means to stay in touch with those realities.  

The book at the top of the stack these days is Chögyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.  This is my fourth or fifth time through it in the past 40 years. Once again, I find myself marveling at the depth of insight presented -- and the new layers of understanding that seem to emerge with each reading.  (I imagine another decade of almost daily meditation Practice and a number of meditation intensives between this reading and the last may have helped. LOL)  

I found myself grinning from ear to ear.  Again and again. 
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Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lighten Up!

Stephen at Monday Night Class, San Francisco circa 1969
IMHO, Spiritual Practice isn't about bright lights and all that fancy magical "woo woo" stuff.  Nothing should insult our basic intelligence.  Yet, sometimes the Universe  really does lay one on you.

It happened almost exactly five year ago one morning as I struggled to write a fitting memorial to Hippie Spiritual Teacher Stephen Gaskin who had recently made the Grand Transition.

With another deep bow to Stephen -- and to a Most Amazing Universe -- I want to share, once again, the post from that day.   Beyond the Mysterious Magic Manifested, it's encouragement to "lighten up" bears repeating.

Lighten Up!   
Originally Posted July 12, 2014

This morning, I was quaffing my first cup of coffee in a couple of days watching bubbles of confusion and angst float through my awareness.  I still was struggling with an attempt to put into words my thoughts and feelings about the passing of Stephen, a man whose Presence and Teachings had a  profound impact on my life.

Then, (probably with a furrowed brow), I decided to reach for my cell phone to check my email -- and perhaps just fall back and select an old post to republish.

At that very moment the phone "dinged"with an incoming email. Peering down I read the notification:
"Monday Morning Mindfulness
Lighten Up! Posted 18 January 2014"

WTF!!!???

I have no idea what strange permutation of the Google space time cyber continuum could have possibly generated and delivered to me the email version of a post I'd written six months before -- especially at that very moment!  It had never happened before.  (and hasn't since)

How could I not lighten up?  

I broke into a bemused grin as I clicked it open.  Just receiving this unsolicited and inexplicably"cosmic" MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call would have been enough to make my decision (just read, introduce and re-post this one for sure) -- and make my day.  

I began reading the post.

It got even more mind blowing!

As I often do, I had begun the post with two quotes.  The first was from my current Dharma mainstay, Pema Chodron.  The second quote was from from Stephen Gaskin! (who I've rarely quoted here.)

Try as I may, I have no rational explanation for any of this.  All I can do is grin, offer a deep gassho to Stephen, and to the Primordial Comedian of the Cosmic Mystery Medicine Show -- and renew my commitment to lighten up!  Here's that post!

Lighten Up!
Originally posted January 18, 2014

  "The key to feeling at home with your body, mind and emotions, to feeling worthy to live on this planet, comes from being able to lighten up. When your aspiration is to lighten up, you begin to have a sense of humor. Things just keep popping your serious state of mind."
---Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

"Get your mind unbound and free; and then from the loosest, highest, best place you have, with the fastest and most humorous mind you can get together, you can reach out and make a try at  understanding Spirit."
---Stephen Gaskin, This Season's People

All too often, it seems like those of us who are sincere spiritual seekers can get a bit too stodgy.  It's not surprising, I suppose.

Although some of us may have experienced lives of relative comfort and success, to then realize that there was still something lacking, I think many of us were drawn to the Practice because we'd had a hard go of it.  We'd led lives that included serious trauma and/or significant emotional distress.  

So, when we stumbled across Buddha's First Noble Truth, it rang true.  We knew suffering to be real in our lives.   Reading on, we learned that this Sage had also proclaimed that there was a reason for suffering. -- and, even more importantly -- a freakin' way out!!?

Seriously?  Damn.  Sign me up!

Even if we were drawn to other spiritual traditions as we entered the Practice, I think there was often a similar dynamic.  Whether we were seeking nirvana or heaven,  sat chit ananda or atonement, we were looking for Light at the end of the tunnel, some form of release from this "veil of tears".  Then, whatever our path, at a certain point we knew that if we "wanted out" we had to get serious about it.  

Very, very, serious.

Unfortunately, some of us then got deadly serious about it.  I, for one, know that at one point my friends used to hate to see me coming.  I could quickly squeeze the life out of any party.  I was so serious!  I didn't realize that the Practice could involve having some serious fun.  I didn't realize that in order to really see the Light, it is helpful, maybe even crucial, to Lighten Up.

Although some forms of humor can be mindless and cruel, I think humor, at its best, is High Magic.  It's a Holy Balm, a Healing Art.  If some future Worldwide Buddhist Conference was considering the addition of a ninth element to the Eightfold Path, Right Humor would get my vote. Although I don't think that the College of Cardinals would go for it at this point, I'd also recommend that any candidate for Pope should be able to master appropriate "one liners" -- preferably off the cuff.   I'm hoping that at some point an archeologist will unearth ancient scrolls containing the Jokes of Jesus to educate future Popes -- and, of course, strengthen my case.

But I digress...
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Sunday, July 7, 2019

High Times: In Memory of Stephen Gaskin

"There is a plane of experience, other than the three dimensional plane, which can be felt by a human being...If people never get above the merely signal level of communication, and don't become telepathic, they haven't explored their full human birthright."
-- Stephen Gaskin

"We are all parts of God.  Each one of us has an electrical body field that surrounds us, and a mind field that goes on to infinity."
-- Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin (February 16, 1935 - July 1, 2014) with his wfe, Ina May
In meditation, the subjective nature of Time becomes  obvious.  Sometimes, an hour zips by.  At other times, I've felt like a dazed prizefighter hanging onto the ropes of a painful existence waiting forever for the bell to ring.

And that's only one hour.  

As I get older, it becomes increasingly impossible to grasp the nature of concepts like a "year".  These days it feels easier at times to sense the mysterious nature of the Timeless in the boundless expansiveness of each moment.

I guess my head sort of goes to that place whenever Stephen Gaskin crosses my mind as it did this morning.  It seems surrealistic to me that it has been five years since he passed away at age 79 at his home on the Farm, the intentional spiritual community he had helped to found in rural Tennessee in 1971. 

More than anyone, Stephen's teachings informed my ideas about the nature of Reality and the work to be done during our sojourn on this planet.  I came across his rendition of the Bodhisattva Vow for the first time in The Farm's first book Hey Beatnik!  I was hooked.  

At that moment the vow took me.  

A decade older than many of the young folks who flocked to San Francisco in the mid-sixties as part of the Psychedelic Revolution, Stephen always maintained he was more of a Beatnik than a Hippie.  Yet, wearing tie-dyes til the end, Gaskin was a central figure in the burst of spiritual energy that encircled the globe during the 1960's and 70's, catapulting many of us into a Collective Kensho that transformed our lives.  Claiming that they were "out to save the world," Gaskin and 50 bus loads of Hippies left San Francisco to circle in for a landing in Tennessee to form what was, for a time, the largest hippy commune in the world.  Although the size and structure evolved over the years, The Farm is still there.

Although I was a lightweight when it came to psychedelics, those were High Times.  The Collective Consciousness was so energized that even I had a number of compelling out of body experiences, saw aura's, and experienced powerful moments of synchronicity and telepathy that were mind-boggling -- even without drugs in my system at those times.  Ultimately, I had an experience of Perfect Oneness that fulfilled my deepest aspirations and dispelled any fundamental fear about death. (Admittedly, I also had some very powerful moments while under --or perhaps, over --the influence of various powerful medicinal herbs and compounds.)
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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Child's Play

In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.
― the 6th Lojong slogan

“I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”
-- Yogi Jesus of Nazareth

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain, and crisp, cool air floating through the windows alongside my bed.  Undettered, the chorus of songbirds sang their parts in the predawn symphony as I rolled over and set the alarm to 6:30 AM to give myself a couple of more hours of sleep.  Moments later, I rolled over again and turned the alarm off.  Although I had thought otherwise, I was ready -- or so I'd thought. 

Today was blog practice.  I got up and sat down to the laptop to stare at a blank screen -- and waited.  

And waited.  

And waited some more.

After awhile, I got up again, set the timer, and walked over to the altar in the corner of my bedroom.  There, I  lit a stick of incense and Sat down in front of a different blank screen.

Now, an hour later, I'm ready -- I think.

There is a well known Zen story from the Meiji era (1868-1912) about a prominent university professor who visited master Nan-in to inquire about Zen.  As the professor prattled on, demonstrating his vast knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, the master began pouring his guest a cup of tea.  He continued pouring as the cup overflowed onto the table and floor.  

No longer able to restrain himself, the professor shouted, "Stop. The cup is overfull! No more will go in!".  Nan-in replied, "You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup." 

I first read that story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones back in 1970. I now realize I had only glimpsed the rim of that empty cup.  

Even as a 24 year old, fresh out of college and engaged in my first year of teaching school, I certainly "got" that there is a difference between the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom.  By then, I'd run into factory workers during my seven years of summer employment that appeared to have a much better handle on the Real Deal than most of my college professors.  I also sensed from the story that arrogance probably wasn't going to cut it with a Zen master, a fact that I've had verified any number of times number of times over the years as I ran into brick walls with Aries male bravado.

Little did I know, though, that this teaching, like the coffee down at Brad's Place, was being served in a bottomless cup.  

Then and Now

For several years now, I've been studying the Lojong Slogans.  After reading a number of commentaries a number of times, I began casting a daily slogan from among the 59 slogans for contemplation and practice last year.  I continue to be amazed at how helpful they have been.

Today, I cast the 6th slogan of the Lojong Teachings today: "In post-meditation, be a child of illusion."  One of the most haunting of the 59 aphorisms that make up this Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training, it is also, perhaps, one of the most radical.  It seemingly flies in the face of conventional wisdom.  Rather than exhorting us to "grow up and get real", we are encouraged, instead, to recapture the open and spacious sense of wonder that characterizes the mind of the child as we arise from our meditation cushion to move through the day to day activity of our lives. 

As Mindfulness Practice develops and we become more acutely aware of the fluidity and transparent nature of our own thoughts and emotions, the ephemeral nature of "mindstuff"
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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Listening with the Heart

"Listening is a very deep practice.You have to empty yourself. 
You have to leave space in order to listen...
In deep listening we listen with the sole purpose of 
helping the other person feel heard and accepted." 
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Healing comes from our innate capacity for deep listening.  
This deep listening or seeing is not through our eyes or ears, 
but through our heart and soul."
-- Jack Kornfeld 

There is, perhaps, no more important form of meditative discipline than what Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh calls deep listening.  It connects us to ourselves, to one another -- and to our true nature.

Our time on the cushion in formal meditation is essential.  Yet, it is what happens next that really matters. It is there, in the midst of our day-to-day lives, that kindness and compassion are actualized -- or not.  

Beans in our Ears

Most of us have learned the prevailing form of listening in our society.  Much of the time we don't really listen.  We listen, not to connect deeply with the experience of another, but to reply.  Rather than listen deeply, we are thinking of what we are going to say next. 

Although our ears and eyes and finer sensibilities are operational as we listen, much of our attention is locked into what is running through our discursive minds.   

As a matter of habit, we automatically analyze, compare, judge, relate it to an associated personal experience, advise, counsel, or otherwise react without a deep awareness of what is really going on -- either inside ourselves or the other person.  As a result, whole realms of emotional and intuitive energies remain beneath the level of our awareness.  Rather than really connect, we often end up bouncing of one another.

It doesn't have to be this way.

We can actually learn an entirely different way of listening to another person -- and to ourselves!  We can go deeper.  We can empathizeWe can listen with our hearts.    
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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Judgment Day

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
― J. Krishnamurti

“We sow the seeds of our future hells or happiness by the way
 we open or close our minds right now.
 ― Pema Chodron

I don't the think there is any greater freedom than being Present to our lives without the distortion caused by Judgment Mind.  

This deeply engrained process of evaluating what we experience as bad, wrong, condemnable can dominate our lives.  It is embedded in the language we use to describe and communicate our experience.

If one is paying attention, the difference between the warm, bright, spaciousness experienced as we maintain the clarity of an open heart and mind, and the constricted, narrow, claustrophic texture of a quality of  consciousness imbued with judgmental thoughts and feelings, is obvious.  

In any one moment, it can literally be the difference between heaven and hell.

Growing up immersed in a society that is highly judgmental, most of us have been deeply conditioned to experience our lives in terms of good/bad, right/wrong, should be/shouldn't be.  In fact, our ego sense, with its perceived separation and isolation from "the other" is largely built on and maintained by the thoughts, opinions, and various mind states that emerge from this conditioning.  Even in it's mildest form, that of liking/disliking, Judgment Mind  generates thoughts and feelings that serve to separate us from ourselves and others in any particular moment. 

It is actually quite fun to see for yourself how that plays out on the meditation cushion.  

At times, we can clearly see Judgment Mind in full blown operation.  The gracious spaciousness of mind at rest collapses as the ranting and raving and blaming of judgmental thoughts cascade across the surface of discordant feelings.  

As Practice develops, we get more adept at noticing whether we can just take a breath and put some kindness and space around that and let Judgment Mind go it's merry way-- or whether we get swept away, ultimately getting judgmental about being judgmental!  Watching the process closely, it can pretty quickly become another obvious example of the Divine Sitcom that we humanoids are capable of co-creating.

In one of those episodes, I saw how the thoughts  "I don't like myself.  I'm bad." provided a wonderful opportunity to examine the experience carefully, in the lens of Mindfulness.  Letting go of the particular narrative generated by Judgment Mind, the experience became a kaleidoscope of momentary feelings flowing through my awareness. Moments of anger, fear, and pain emerged -- and soon dissipated.  Without the support of the storyline, they had nothing to hold onto.

At that point, I was able to look deeply and explore the paradoxical nature of "Self. "  Just "who" the hell it is that doesn't like "who?" Peering at that brought a sense of wonder -- and a chuckle.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A Few Tips on Creating a Daily Practice

 “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.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh


I would say that ninety percent of the folks who have wandered into one of the Mindfulness Circles I facilitate have already tried mediation.  

Comparing notes on Practice, most of those folks have expressed that there was an obvious improvement in the quality of their consciousness --and in their lives -- during the times that they practiced, but they had been unable to maintain a regular daily practice.

Sound familiar?

The inability to maintain a daily practice is quite widespread.  It's fun to see a newcomer to the Circle mention, often somewhat sheepishly, that they hadn't been successful in establishing and sustaining a daily practice, only to discover when I ask for a show of hands, that everyone there has had -- or continues to have -- that same problem.

It only stands to reason. 

In today's world we are individually and collectively awash in noise, stimulation, and activity.  Creatures of habit, the entire thrust of our social conditioning operates against sitting still in silence.  Often feeling stressed and fatigued, we scurry ahead,  sometimes aware of a subtle (or not so subtle) discontent with ourselves and our lives.  Taking the time to notice to stop, relax, and get in touch with what is actually going on inside of us isn't widely supported. 

The Good News is that it can be.

More than anything, the establishment of a regular daily meditation practice may be the key to making the difference.  At this stage of the journey, I've learned that there are some things that  have helped me and others to bring this about.  Perhaps, they can help you as well.
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