"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, 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. 
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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. 
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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."  
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