"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, 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:
(READ MORE)

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. 
(READ MORE)

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...
(READ MORE)

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.)
(READ MORE)

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"
(READ MORE)

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.    
 (READ MORE)

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.
(READ MORE)

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Where Two or Three are Gathered

"To begin a sangha find one friend who would like to join you for sitting practice or walking practice or tea meditation or sharing."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"For where there are two or three of you gathered in my name, 
I am there amidst you."
-- Jesus of Nazareth 


As I sit here with the memories of the past few weeks of Mindfulness Circles,  I'm struck with a sense of awe and a feeling of deep gratitude.   

In a peer setting, where none of us claims to be the "Teacher," I've often felt like I've been sitting in a Council of Buddhas.   

Although 73 years of Life and 50 years of Practice usually cause me to season my declarations of Truth with the proverbial grain of salt,  at the moment I'm inclined to proclaim something that seems Quite True to me:

Anyone who makes a commitment to explore their own experience consciously through meditation with a group, and then takes the opportunity to compare notes on their Lives and Practices with the others, will come to understand themselves, one another, and the nature of Reality at a deeper level.   

You Can Feel the Difference

Meditating with other people is different than meditating alone.  Everyone I've talked with in the Mindfulness Circles (and elsewhere) seem to agree.  It feels different to sit in silence with others.  Holding space for one another with an open heart and an open mind, we are held in the embrace of  the space we share.  Being Present, we can feel one another's Presence.  This Presence is the Presence.

It only makes sense. 
No matter what a culture fueled by capitalism proclaims, we are not merely isolated individuals pitted against one another.   

As Alan Watts wrote years ago, we are not "skin encapsulated egos."  We are each unique and different, but we are not separate.  In fact, we intersectEven modern science realizes that.  Not only are we "in this together" -- we ARE this together.  I find that being conversational about this Reality can be quite inspirational!   

It also feels different to give voice to our actual experiences in a setting that is committed to the practice of deep listening and the cultivation of a clear, non-judgmental quality of consciousness.  Through Council Practice, in the Mindfulness Circles we each have the time to speak openly and honestly about our lives as others listen mindfully without judgment or comment.  

As we do in basic sitting practice, the participants in the circle attempt to notice when we are thinking about what a person is saying, to let that go, and then return our attention to listening with our ears and eyes -- and our hearts.  Several times in the past couple of weeks, individuals have expressed their gratitude to the Circle for providing a space where they can be completely open and honest about their lives.  

As one member expressed it, "Here I know I can always be real!"  

The Real Deal

Again and again during the past couple of weeks, various members of the Circle have offered forth, sometimes with tears in their eyes, powerful insights into the heart and mind.  These Truths came forth as simple expressions of their own experience.   
 
Although I continue to be grateful to the teachings that I continue to pour through (there are always stacks of books on my nightstand, kitchen table, and elsewhere), it was again made obvious to me "The Teachings" are beyond any teacher or set of traditional teachings.  They transcend Buddhism or Christianity or Taoism or any of the traditions that have emerged. They emerge from Life itself.  

IMHO, we all have the on-board equipment to recognize Truth, to Love, to Heal.  That's the Real Deal.

It makes my heart glow.

Click here for a Brief (one page) Mindfulness Circle Facilitation Guide.  Why not start your own?  For more information, feel free to contact me at thishazymoon@gmail.com 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

ARGH!!

We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out,
either way making things worse for ourselves and others.
Or we can practice patience: wait,
experience the anger and investigate its nature.
---Pema Chodron


“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”
---Thich Nhat Hanh


The Universe is exquisite.  

Once you hitch your wagon to Practice and roll out, you are going to get the lessons along the way that are needed to take you deeper --whether you like it or not!  This might be especially true if you have the unbridled chutzpah to publicly ramble on about your experiences. 

More than once, I've spent time here presenting the notion that simply "cutting loose of the storyline," choosing to refocus our attention from discursive thought to other aspects of our experience (preferably what we are feeling in our bodies and heart), can sometimes take us from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.  (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Once Upon a Time...)  

Although I certainly have experienced this quite often, perhaps a bit of Karmic Comeuppance was necessary to burn my tail -- and, hopefully, burnish my humility and compassion a bit.   During the last past week, Life interjected a pretty dramatic bout of upset apple carts and broohahas into the Grand Mix.  It's been enough to remind me that it certainly can take a bit longer than a "blink of an eye" to regain a sense of wonder about it all.  

It may even take what may seem like a hell of a long time.   

The lesson?  Being a calm and kind, clear and compassionate, human being is NOT that easy.  It is a daunting discipline.  It takes commitment, courage, patience, skill, time and effort.  It takes Practice.

Then and Now

As a child and a young man I had what folks might call an extremely bad temper.  Having grown up in the midst of a lot of anger, I would react to things in my world with bursts of violent emotions -- and even physical violence.  My kid brother and I fought like the proverbial cats and dogs. 

Even into young adulthood, I could fly into a rage and smash things and strike out with the worst of them.  Hanging out with my college jock peers didn't help matters.    Luckily, a lightweight at only 5'2",  throwing my weight around wasn't all that successful.  It was usually a kamikazi mission, so I learned a little to cool it a bit.  Suppression, however, didn't really work.  I still could get really angry all too easily.  

Perhaps, the deepest gratitude that I have to the Practice is that I no longer am likely to get all that angry, no longer prone to lash out verbally or physically.  Annoyance and mild irritation usually is about as bad as it gets these days.  I'm grateful that it usually doesn't spill out of my mouth without immediate recognition. 

Yet, life being life, usually doesn't mean never.  Recently, I hit a deep pool of anger for the first time in quite awhile.  
(READ MORE)

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)