"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, February 23, 2020

Know What?

“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times 

"It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew,
and in that there is joy.
― Jiddu Krishnamurti


Bodhidharma by Shokei, 15th Century
Not having a clue rarely stops me these days.  In fact, at age 73, it seems to be the best stance to take in any given moment.  It certainly seems the most appropriate.  

The presumption that we really know what is going on is most often only just that.  It's a presumption.  Clung to, it can be patently presumptuous.  

This can lead to all sorts of problems.

My first boss, Charlie Winchester, foreman of the maintenance department at a small factory in a small town north of Chicago had a decidedly less delicate way of making the point.  The memory brings a smile and warm glow to my heart.

I started working at that factory as a high school sophomore in the summer of 1962.  A working class kid, I had come of age.  Dutifully eschewing summer days splashing in the local lake, I needed to get serious and start saving money for the college education that would propel me up a notch in status, if not in income, as a public school teacher.

In those days, like many of us, I was able to get a relatively good paying union job for the summer at the factory where my dad worked.  Although I began as a stock handler on one of the assembly lines, I was soon able to transfer to the maintenance department where my tasks ranged from mowing the extensive grounds to learning how to fix things.  Although it was often noisy, dirty, and sometimes even dangerous, I loved it.  

My boss, Charlie, was a kind and able mentor.  That spirit pervaded the maintenance crew and during the seven summers I worked there, I learned a lot about how things work on many levels.

One particular lesson on the nature of reality that first summer began when Charlie came around the corner to find me standing in front of a simple piece of production machinery gone amuck.   Lurching erratically and making tortuous noises after my attempt at repair, it threatened mayhem.  The afternoon's production quota now in question, I quickly explained what I had done and why.  

With the ever present cigar stub in his mouth, Charlie quickly shut the machine down, then immediately took a pen from his shirt pocket pen holder and wrote the word "ASSUME" on a piece of paper.

"You know what happens when you assume?" he asked.
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Monday, February 17, 2020

What's Love Got To Do With It?

"Hatred never ceases by hatred. It is healed by love alone. 
This is the ancient and eternal law."
-- Buddha
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your strength and with all your mind. 
Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-- Yogi Jesus


With the chocolate-laced, commercialized carnival of Valentine's Day now disappearing in the rear-view mirror,  I find myself again musing about the true nature of love.


I don't know how it plays out in other languages, but it seems to me that in English the word love is amazingly imprecise.   

The very same word, "love," applies to both the ultimate self-sacrifice that Jesus spoke of when he proclaimed, "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life, " and the most possessive and jealous form of desirous grasping imaginable.  The very same word, love, casts a net that includes both the enlightened activity of the Bodhisattva Green Tara -- and the painful flailing of folks ensnared by the Green Eyed Monster!

Yet, we have it on "good authority" (see introductory quotes,) that the key to the Real Deal is Love.  So, what does the word "love" really mean? 

Mean?

Yikes.  Here we go again: What does the word "mean" really mean?  

Its "meaning" runs the gamut from ultimate significance and purpose, to simply being nasty!  It reaches from the perfection of the Aristotelean  (and Buddhist) Golden Mean to the obnoxious underwater antics of the Blue Meanies.!?

Damn.  I mean give me a break here. 

It's Only Words...

Love? Meaning? These words certainly seem important, yet getting to the Truth of the Matter seems a bit problematic, no?  Conditioned as we are in a world that stresses the importance of conceptual thought, of words, much of our awareness is tied up in the stream of thoughts that dominate our attention.  Yet it's obvious that those words can be quite sloppy, even paradoxical.  Perhaps, words are not all that useful in our quest for fundamental clarity.

The Zen tradition stresses this point.  

At one point, during a teisho in sesshin years ago at the Rochester Zen Center, Bodhin Kjolhede Sensei asserted, "Every time I open my mouth,  I'm lying!"  He had obviously -- and very passionately -- opened his mouth at that moment.  I sat there bemused. 

Was Sensei telling the truth in that assertion -- or was he lying?

You tell me!
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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Day by Day:Sustaining 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 sustaining a daily practice, only to discover when I ask for a show of hands, that everyone in the Circle 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.
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Monday, February 3, 2020

The End Game

"It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth - and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, will we then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.
  -- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"Healing is bringing mercy and Awareness 
into that which we have held in judgment and fear."
-- Stephen Levine,  
Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying



This past few weeks, a number of friends and Mindfulness Circlemates have lost loved ones.  Others have faced diagnoses of life-threatening illness. 

Sometimes, life is like that.  

In fact, when you take the long view, life is always like that.  

As the legendary Zen Master, Suzuki Roshi, once said, " Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink."  The moment we are born, we're headed on a trajectory that ends in death.  What happens at the end point may be a Grand Mystery.  Yet, one thing is pretty obvious: Life itself is a terminal condition.   

In mainstream society today, it seems that most folks assiduously avoid bringing that aspect of our shared human condition into the their awareness.  Until their boat (or that of a loved one) is about to sink -- or sinks -- most of us don't seem to want to rock that boat.  We don't want to face the sinking feeling that may emerge. 

Yet, until we actually face death's inevitability, it may not be possible to engage our lives fully and directly with an open heart and clear mind.  We'll always be somewhat haunted, skating over the thin ice of our own subconscious fear of one of the truths of our existence. IMHO, this is no way to live.

Buddhism makes no bones about this.  

If you are going to perceive the truth of our existence, death has to be acknowledged.  In the Theravadan tradition, Asian teachers still cite the Satipatthana Sutta of the Pali Canon, and sometimes send monks off to meditate on corpses at the charnel grounds to practice.  That may be a bit hard core for Western practitioners who, unlike their Asian counterparts, live in a society that shields us from the reality of death as much as possible. 

The Mahayana traditions also call for a focus on death.  A recognition of the inescapability of death is one of the Four Reminders in the preliminary contemplations seen as necessary to begin the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism.  The inevitability of death is also one of the Five Remembrances chanted regularly in Zen services.  

So what is the deal here?  Why is an awareness of our inevitable demise so important?
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