"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, July 25, 2020

One Step at a Time

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


"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

In Friday morning's Heart Council,  one of the CircleMates shared her first experience of walking meditation.  Linda's eyes were aglow.  I could feel her energy as it sparkled with enthusiasm-- even on Zoom.  

Although she'd never been instructed in "formal" walking practice, she obviously hadn't needed it.  Linda was experienced in meditation, and she had been an aerobics instructor for years.  This woman knew how to bring her full attention into her body -- and ZAP!  She was there!

As she spoke of her upright posture feeling regal, and the walking itself feeling sacred,  I thought, "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.  I love it when this happens. "  

I'd experience that same glow, the look of wonder in a person's eyes back at Community Yoga and Wellness Center a few years ago.  After a brief instruction in South Asian slow-walking meditation, she and I walked slowly across the polished wooden floors of the studio for about ten minutes. That's all it took. 

Zap!  

The same glow, that look of wonder in her eyes.  A shift in consciousness had occurred.  At that moment, she was Present to Life in a fuller and more complete way.  

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 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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Friday, July 17, 2020

Heart to Heart

“The intimacy that arises in listening and speaking truth is only possible 
if we can open to the vulnerability of our own hearts. ”
--- Tara Brach,  
True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others 
and relieve others of their suffering....."
--- Thich Nhat Hanh
from the Fourth Precept of  the Tien Tiep Order



In the first year of Monday Morning Mindfulness, a friend who had just participated in Heart Council Practice for the first time approached me after the Circle.

"Folks were so honest" she said,  her eyes glowing with amazement, " -- painfully honest!" 

I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo! We've co-created a space where people can be real. "

At that moment, I felt deep gratitude for what emerges in the Mindfulness Circles that I facilitate.  Sitting here, eight years down the road, I still do.  Meeting regularly with folks gathered to share meditation practice and hold space for one another in the Heart Council is an absolute blessing. 

The opportunity to speak openly and honestly about what is nearest to our hearts and soul is a rare and precious thing today.  In the hustle bustle of our sped up, noisy,  materialistic society,  openly sharing the challenges and wonders of the deeper dimensions of our Lives and comparing notes on a Spiritual Practice doesn't happen all that much.  

In fact, when I was a kid we were told not to ever talk about religion--or politics.

I didn't follow the rules.  

I majored in political science in college and have been an activist for much of the past 50 years.  Having been inspired by the Civil Rights movement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi, I've considered the human movements for peace and justice to be a Spiritual Quest.  Being swept up in the Collective Kensho of the late sixties and early seventies as well, the mysticism and meditation practices of the world's religions and how they play out in the reality of our day to day lives continues to be profoundly interesting to me.  

So, religion and politics?  I can't think of anything I'd rather yak about.

Of course, communication, in it's deepest sense, is much more than just talking. 
(READ MORE) 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Tonglen Practice: Taking It to Heart

 “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion.  It is said that in difficult times, 
it is only bodhichitta that heals.”
 -- The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa
quoted by Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times

"So, when we are willing, intentionally, with this kind of attitude, this vision, to breathe in the suffering, we are able to transform it easily and naturally; it doesn't take a major effort on our part, other than allow it."
-- Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

"That's backwards isn't it? You meant breathe in the good and send out the bad, right?" she said, not unkindly. Being gracious, she was making a space for me to realize that my aging brain cells had gone dyslexic.

I had been chatting on the phone with an old friend for first time in quite awhile, talking about my continued wonder at the Lojong Teachings in general, and Tonglen Practice in particular.  After a moment's pause, taking a breath to relax -- and to make sure that I hadn't verbally zigged when I had intended to zag -- I continued.

"No.  I actually did mean that I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that have emerged.  This could be my own sadness, fear, frustration, or the perceived suffering of others.  In fact, when I consider that there are countless others who have felt or are feeling what I'm feeling, my heart naturally expands with that in-breath and the energy is transformed in the boundless space of the One Love.  Then I breathe out a sense of relief, a healing energy of light and love with the aspiration that myself and others be healed, at peace, resting in their True Nature.  I imagine that that as radiating from my heart.

She paused for awhile (perhaps also to relax and reconnect with a basic openness of mind herself in light of my rant), and simply replied, "Oh?" She didn't sound convinced.

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly materialistic capitalist society, the basic premise of this ancient Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training seems "counter-intuitive."Rather than grasping at the "good" and pushing away the "bad,"we do the exact opposite.  Opening our hearts to the entire gamut of human emotions is seen as a path of Awakening.  Crazy?  It most certainly is. 

Crazy like a fox.

The Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which consist of 59 training aphorisms are supported by two meditation practices: Basic Sitting Meditation (Shamatha-Vippasyana) and Tonglen.  Although I had practice Basic Sitting Meditaton in several traditions over the course of thirty six years, I had never been exposed to Tonglen.  It has changed my life.  For the past 15 years, Tonglen has continued to expand my ability to better engage the world with an open heart and an open mind.  

Although I still struggle at times with the various wounds of my conditioned personality, and am sometimes deeply saddened and confounded by the energies of greed, hatred, and ignorance that are all too prevalent in the world today, my life has changed for the better.  I now experience many moments of deep wonder, appreciation, and gratitude for the sacred miracle that sings silently within and beyond us.  I'm convinced that the One Love is always present. 

As I sit here and pay attention, I become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness.  Pausing to breath and feel my body, I can rest in its embrace.  Proceeding, still connected to this invisible, formless, seemingly limitless expanse of awareness, the dance of my fingers along the surface of this keyboard continues to fling words across the screen of this old Mac laptop.  

Becoming aware of my body and my breath,  I see that milliseconds before the fingers move, thoughts emerge instantaneously, seemingly from nowhere in particular.  Although, these thoughts are most certainly prompted by my intention to write this blog post, and connected to the long lineage that crafted the English language -- an everything else -- they appear to be emerging by themselves, quite mysteriously.  

Although Western science claims that they are merely "epiphenomena," brain secretions of some sort, at this moment this process feels much grander than that.  There is a Presence, a boundless sense of wonder and joy that emerges from the luminous silence that embraces me as the letters emerge on the screen.  The sensations of my body, my breath,  the clicking contact of my fingers on the keyboard, the soft humming of the computer, the traffic outside the window are reminiscent of a being engaged with various psychedelics back in the day.  (Oops. TMI? LOL)

But, I digress -- sort of.
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Saturday, July 4, 2020

High Times: In Memory of Stephen Gaskin

"There is a plane of experience, other than the three dimensional plane, which can be felt by a human being...If people never get above the merely signal level of communication, and don't become telepathic, they haven't explored their full human birthright."
-- Stephen Gaskin


"We are all parts of God.  Each one of us has an electrical body field that surrounds us, and a mind field that goes on to infinity."
--Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin (February 16, 1935 - July 1, 2014) and his wife, Ina May
In meditation, the subjective nature of Time becomes obvious. 

Sometimes, an hour zips by.  At other times, I've felt like a dazed prizefighter hanging onto the ropes of a painful existence waiting forever for the bell to ring.

And that's only one hour.

As I get older, it becomes increasingly impossible to grasp the nature of concepts like a "year." It feels easier, at times, to sense the mysterious nature of the Timeless in the boundless expansiveness of each moment.

I guess my head goes to that place whenever Stephen Gaskin crosses my mind.  Interestingly, he came to mind for the first time in awhile just the other day.  Looking at the calendar, I realized it was the sixth anniversary of his passing -- to the day.  (I wrote about another such synchronicity involving his death here.)  Although I have only had three conversations with him over the years, Stephen's teachings had a profound impact on my ideas about the nature of Reality and the work to be done during our sojourn on this planet.  I came across his rendition of the Bodhisattva Vow for the first time in The Farm's first book Hey Beatnik!  I was hooked.

At that moment the vow took me.

A decade older than many of the young folks who flocked to San Francisco in the mid-sixties as part of the psychedelic revolution, Stephen always maintained he was more of a beatnik than a hippie.  Yet, wearing tie-dyes til the end, Gaskin was a central figure in the burst of spiritual energy that encircled the globe during the 1960's and 70's. It was a Collective Kensho that transformed many of our lives.  Claiming that they were "out to save the world," Gaskin and 60 bus loads of Hippies left San Francisco to tour the country on a journey known as the Caravan.  After returning to San Francisco, they decided to acquire land, finally circling in for a landing in Tennessee.  There, in 1971, they created what became the largest hippy commune in the world.  Although the size and structure evolved over the years, The Farm is still there.

Although I was a lightweight when it came to psychedelics, those were High Times.  The Collective Consciousness was so energized that even without drugs in my system, I had a number of compelling out of body experiences, saw aura's, and experienced powerful moments of synchronicity and telepathy that were mind-boggling.  Ultimately, in the spring of 1972, I had an experience of Perfect Oneness that fulfilled my deepest aspirations and dispelled the fear of death. (Admittedly, I also had some very powerful moments while under the influence of various powerful medicinal herbs and compounds back in the day.)
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