"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call! The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Saturday, April 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.  
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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Kicking the Habit

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

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
― Pema Chödrön,  
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

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

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

How cool is that!?

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

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

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

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

In my own experience,  the Practice has been a means to kick start, and maintain, some dramatic changes in the way I am in the world.  With Practice I have brought an awareness to what had previously operated subconsciously, and, by doing so,  I've been able to "rewire" my responses.  

To wit: I had a violent temper.  Raised in a family where this type of behavior was the norm, I could readily fly into a rage and lash out verbally-- or even physically.
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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Sad but True

This world - 
absolutely pure
As is. 
Behind the fear,
Vulnerability. 
Behind that,
Sadness, 

then compassion
And behind that the vast sky.
 --Rick Fields

 “Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”  
― Chögyam Trungpa 


Sometimes, insight and healing emerge slowly during the course of our lives. 

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

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

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

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

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed.  Yet, it's different now than it was before.

The Genuine Heart of Sadness

Awhile ago, I had the good fortunate to stop by Himalayan Views, a nearby spiritual gift shop/bookstore, to hear a woman describe one of those moments.  She was sitting in the back reading area of the store, and as is often the case, I made the effort to say smile and hello.  (A childhood rebel, I never agreed with "don't talk to strangers.")  Soon, I  found myself chatting with a her about the book she was reading, and comparing notes on our lives and spiritual practice.  

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

She was in her mid-thirties at the time of her Awakening.   Suffering from what had been diagnosed as "clinical depression," medicated since adolescence, she had come across a book of Pema Chodron's teachings.  When she read of what Pema's teacher, Chogyam Trungpa had called "the genuine heart of sadness," her life was transformed. 

Zap!

As the woman read that passage that day, Reality asserted itself.  At that very moment, She knew
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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Always Maintain a Joyful MInd!?

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

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


I used to hate winter.

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

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

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

And everybody knew it.

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

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

Spring has arrived!

Time Flies...

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

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

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

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

So I did.

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

So, I did.  

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

So I did.

A Layman Looks at Lojong

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

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

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

It's been an amazing ride. 

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

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

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

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

"Always Maintain A Joyful Mind!"

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