"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 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.  
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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. 
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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!
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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.
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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. 
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