"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, December 28, 2019

The Heart of the Matter

"My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness."
--Dalai Lama

"What we expect is to be truthful; to be kind; to try to share; to try to love one another. Some folks don’t recognize that as a discipline: They say, "Oh, that old stuff…." And it may not sound too difficult, unless you’ve ever tried it. But if you ever try it, 
you’ll know it’s an exacting discipline."
--Stephan Gaskin, This Season's People

 
The only time I saw a somewhat severe Burmese Buddhist meditation master break into a belly laugh was when he raised his hand to his head and pointed out that Westerners believe that their mind is in their heads.  The entire crew of monks sitting behind him on stage also dissolved into laughter.

After a few moments, regaining his composure, he then raised his hand to his heart and continued.  Although I don't remember the exact words his interpreter used, the point was obvious.   The Truth of Who We Are resides in our Heart.  

That certainly resonated with my own understanding.  Jesus, Buddha -- and the Beatles -- had it right.  It's all a matter of Heart.   Love is all you need.  It's just that simple.  But it ain't easy.  Staying connected with our Heart, being truely kind and compassionate is, like the Stephan Gaskin pointed out years ago, an exacting discipline.

Getting It Together 

In 1976, I learned from my first Zen teacher that heart, mind, and spirit are actually the same word in Japanese. Derived from a Chinese character, the word shin makes no distinction between these three realms of existence.  Our bodies, our minds, and our spirit are a seamless whole.  They are seen as inseparable.  

Really!?

Conditioned as we are in society on materialistic overdrive, it sure doesn't feel that way for most of us much of the time, right? That's what led me to meditation. Following a deep yearning in my heart of hearts, I was intent on "getting it together"to live a life of Integrity.  
 
This process began, and continues on, with the commitment to spend time carefully observing how heart/mind/spirit actually operates within my own experience, to discover the ways that my conditioning operates to separate me from my own heart, from others, and from the exquisite intricate Web of Life.  

With Practice, both on and off the zafu, I began to get a handle on how to slowly and gently become the person that, in my heart of hearts,  I yearned to be.  

Then, at a certain point in meditation at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, I realized that I actually AM the person I wish to be--and always have been!  At that moment, in a torrent of tears, I knew that with all my flaws, with my abundant neuroses and conditioned patterns,  that I was absolutely perfect as is--and so is everybody else!  

Nothing had really changed.  But, everything had really changed.

What an absolute Hoot! 

It Just Takes Practice 

Of course, as Zen Master Suzuki-roshi once said:  Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”  In fact, the major question that propelled Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen, to leave Japan and seek a teacher in China seems to have been, basically,
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Saturday, December 21, 2019

All is Calm. All is Bright.

With deep gratitude to the Teachers and Teachings that brought Tonglen Practice into my life. 
 
Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior 
can make a proper cup of tea.”
― Chögyam Trungpa


 “When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.”
― Pema Chödrön


Outside the window, an early morning lemon white sun glistened across snow tinged in blue as I took my seat for morning meditation today.  The overnight temperature had dropped to 5 degrees overnight, so the official beginning of winter at 11:19 p.m. here in Western Massachusetts seems appropriate enough.  

Yet, I had noticed that they are predicting sunshine and a temperature of 45° the day after tomorrow!

Immediately, thoughts arise and I notice myself face-to face with the specter of the Global Climate Crisis.  My heart aches as a deep sadness emerges.  

Allowing these thoughts to dissolve, knowing that others feel this sadness also, I breath the fullness of this feeling into my heart as I recite two of the traditional Brahmavihara phrases:  "May all beings be safe. May all beings be free of suffering and the roots of suffering."

As the in breath continues, I notice a sense of spaciousness re-emerge as first my belly, then my rib cage expand.  My tender, warm, achy-breaky heart is comforted in the embrace of a calm, clear, expansive open awareness that seemingly extends throughout and beyond space and time as the in-breath continues.  

As in-breath becomes out-breath, the words "May all beings be at peace" float on that breath as it dissolves into the Essential Oneness, radiating outward on the wings of a translucent visualization of the clear and brilliant eyes of countless beings gleaming in full awareness of their Buddha nature. 

I continue breathing and Practicing for awhile, and my heart glows as a deep joy mingles with a soft melancholy.  The world continues to glisten outside the window.  

All is calm, all is bright.

The words of this traditional Christmas carol ring through my consciousness, whispering of the vast expansiveness of the One Love which resides deep within us -- and infinitely beyond us.  

As we turn toward the celebrations of this holiday season, may we all rest in the embrace of this One Love.  

Sitting here now, I renew my vow to be clear enough and kind enough to help bring about the changes needed to create a sustainable, cooperative, peaceful world.
(For more on Tonglen Practice, see The Practice of Tonglen by Pema Chodron)

Originally posted December 2015. Revised.

Friday, December 13, 2019

A Grave Matter of Life and Death

Dear Folks,
Our beloved friend and CircleMate, Danny Cruz, left this dimension two years ago today.  This week, with deep appreciation of this wonderful human being and of the Grand Mystery, I turn again to share my memorial post"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
-- The Zen Evening Gatha

Daniel Atilio "Danny" Cruz
July 30, 1992 - December 13, 2017
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 many 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 that school of Tibetan Buddhism as "an innocent state of mind that has the quality of early morning—fresh, sparkling, and completely awake. " 

The ten thousand 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 us.  

Although I, admittedly, rolled my eyes when Danny described himself as a Zen Master in our first encounter in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, over these past years 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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Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Wing and a Prayer

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


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

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

I was transfixed.  

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

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

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

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

So what does Sitting have to do with Flying?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Journey of Five Thousand Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go West, (not so) Young Man 

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

Or so I thought.
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