"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, March 22, 2020

When Things Fall Apart

“We awaken this bodhichitta, this tenderness for life, when we can no longer shield ourselves from the vulnerability of our condition, 
from the basic fragility of existence."
-- Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

"This practice trains us to see and feel that our pain and difficulty in this life, 
and the pain and difficulty of others, is the gateway 
that will lead us down the path of love."
--  Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

For years now, my life has seemed relatively stable within the flux of impermanence.   Samsara was samsara, of course. Yet things seemed to change incrementally, moment to moment.  Life had its ups and downs, but it appeared fairly predictable. 

And Then.

Zap!

The world was turned upside down by the COVID19 pandemic.  The unimaginable has happened.  And it is clear. It is only going to get worse before it gets better here in Western Massachusetts.

To be honest, I'm fried.  This post will be brief.  I've spent hours and hours over the past ten days reaching out to network with friends and family.  Hours and hours, at times tied in knots, sitting here learning Zoom and other programs, tying together the technological strands of the web, so that my Mindfulness CircleMates and I can close the distance in this time of "social distancing."

Yet, at this moment, after days and days spending too much time in front of a computer screen, the Practice still sustains me.  I can still breathe deeply and feel the sacred space of the Present moment beyond the buzz.  Sitting here this moment, I can feel my Heart.  Grateful to the Teachers of Tonglen Practice, I can breath in the turmoil, the pain, the fear, and let it heal within the boundless space of our shared heart.  In the pause between the in-breath and out-breath, I can touch that place in my heart of hearts that wishes to alleviate our suffering.  Then, I can allow its release with my out-breath into the gracious spaciousness of life as a prayer.

Chinese Nurses Shave Heads and Carry On
I come to tears here.  But these tears are not of grief alone.  

They also are tears of profound appreciation for the work of those on the front lines of this pandemic.  For the doctors and nurses, of course.  Their efforts are heroic.  

Yet, these tears are also for the grocery store workers, drug store staff, the countless millions of people across this vast planet who continue doing what they do because what they do is essential to the support of life.  These tears are for the nobility central to the human spirit, for Italians serenading one another from their balconies, volunteers delivering food to their homebound elders.  These are tears of gratitude and appreciation for the awesome and fragile majesty of the human condition.

Now, more than ever, it is obvious.  Not only are we in this together.  We are this together. We, and all beings, are -- beautifully and terribly* -- inextricably woven together into an unimaginably intricate tapestry.  A tapestry grander than words can express.

May all beings be safe.  May all beings be at peace.  May all beings rest in our True Nature. 



* this phrase is from the poem "Pandemic" by Reverend Lynn Ungar.  You can view the entire poem here:

Saturday, March 7, 2020

When You Wish Upon a Star

"The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment." 
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn

The important point is to realize that you are never off duty.”
-- Chogyam Trungpa

Sometimes, it seems like a previous lifetime.  

Fifteen years ago, I sat on the front porch of an A-frame perched on a ridge at Zen Mountain Monastery gazing at a star-filled Catskill Mountain sky.  At that point, I knew it wasn't working out.  I was going to leave. 

I had absolutely no idea what my next move would be.

For decades, I had thought, "once the kids are grown, I can finally DO IT!" At long last,  I would leave the chaos of contemporary life and head for the hills.  There I'd find the Teacher and a sangha -- and really get spiritual. 

Now, after only six months of residency, I knew I was done.

So much for that idea.  Now what? 

Clueless...

Although I had, again, experienced a number of deep "openings" in the cauldron of Roshi John Daido Loori's version of Zen Training, I discovered that the rigid, hard-driving, and unabashedly hierarchical nature of the Roshi's "Eight Gates of Zen Training" didn't ring true for me.  A longtime peace activist, I deeply valued egalitarianism and the shared power experienced in consensus democracy.  I knew that a monastic life wasn't going to be that.   Yet, I thought that I was ready to "get with the program."

I wasn't. 

Though I respected many of the folks involved, and saw that the monastic life appeared to work for some, I now knew it wasn't for me.  I wasn't going to get off that easy.  I was going to have to get out there on the streets and work it out for myself -- again.

As I sat there, absolutely clueless, an image of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull came to mind. Then, like that intrepid avian seeker of perfection, I thought, "Just hang onto the wind and trust!"  That very instant, a shooting star flashed across the night sky directly in front of my eyes.  As it disappeared into the tapestry of countless stars and fathomless blackness reaching overhead, I knew.

I wish it was always that easy.  
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