"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, August 29, 2020

A Love Affair

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. 
You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open.
 ― Pema Chödrön, 
Practicing Peace in Times of War

We now see that the only way that we could love ourselves is by loving others, 
and the only way that we could truly love others is to love ourselves. 
The difference between self-love and love of others is very small, 
once we really understand.”
― Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong
 

As I've mentioned before, here and elsewhere, I think the Hippies actually had it right.  It IS all about Peace, Love, and Freedom.

In the Collective Kensho of that era, many of us had been to the mountain top.  There, we were touched deeply by the One Love that permeates and transcends the universe.  We saw the Real Deal. 

But seeing it -- and even believing in it -- isn't enough.

The task of freeing ourselves to actually BE peaceful and loving human beings became the mission -- and we quickly learned that it is no mean feat.  It takes deep commitment, effort, discipline, courage and patience.

It takes Practice.

In the Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist worlds the term "Love" isn't generally used to refer to the Ultimate State of Being. They approach the Ineffable with different concepts and understandings. I think that is actually helpful to us Westerners.  We are incredibly sloppy with the word love.  It has a wide range of meanings.

In English, love could be the word that attempts to describe the spiritual glow that emerges from the ethereal domain of unconditional, unselfish agape on the one hand.  Or, just as readily, the word could be used to indicate the self-absorbed fiery emotion that erupts from the nether realms of green eyed monsters and wrathful, jealous gods.  (It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, and then you," isn't exactly what Jesus and Buddha had in mind when they taught about Love.) 

It seems that a bit more precision would be helpful.
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Saturday, August 22, 2020

Sad But True

This world- absolutely pure
As is. Behind the fear,
Vulnerability. Behind that,
Sadness, then compassion
And behind that the vast sky.
 --Rick Fields

 “Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”  
― Chögyam Trungpa 


Sometimes, insight and healing emerge slowly during the course of Practice.   

Like spring unfolding across the palette of April and May, our world slowly greens and blooms.  What was tan, stark, and frigid, slowly brightens, softens and warms.  At a point we notice:  It's different now than it was before.

At other times, insight and healing emerge like a bolt of lightning in a late summer thunderstorm!

 Zap! 


Sometimes bursting forth with a torrential downpour of tears, sometimes not, a Grand Gestalt crystallizes in a heartbeat.  In a flash, in an instant, we really get It! Or perhaps -- more accurately-- It gets us.  

We notice.  It's different now than it was before.

The Genuine Heart of Sadness

Several years ago, I had the good fortunate to stop by Himalayan Views, a spiritual gift shop/bookstore, to hear a woman describe one of those moments.  She was sitting in the back reading area of the store and, as is often the case, I found myself chatting with her about the book she was reading, then comparing notes on our lives and spiritual practice.  

Her eyes were clear, her voice gentle yet strong as she shared her story.  In her mid-thirties at the time of her awakening, suffering from what had been diagnosed as "clinical depression" since adolescence, she had come across a book of Pema Chodron's teachings.  When she read of what Pema's teacher, Chogyam Trungpa had called "the genuine heart of sadness, her life was transformed.

Zap!

As the woman read that passage that day, the awakening had come in a flash.  Reality asserted itself.  At that very moment, She knew
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Friday, August 14, 2020

Me and My Shadow

“…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

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, 
but by making the darkness conscious...
Knowing your own darkness is the best method
for dealing with the darknesses of other people."”
-- C.G. Jung

Many folks experiencing a lot of stress in their lives are drawn to meditation.  It's only natural to want to chill out and, to be sure, Mindfulness Practice can provide many moments of deep calm and clarity.

Yet -- and this is generally not proclaimed in the slick internet ads  -- it is also true that a regular mediation practice can bring to the surface a lot of feelings that we have assiduously managed to repress, deny, or otherwise avoid as we scurry ahead in our lives.

Conditioned to operate in a fast-paced materialistic society, one that keeps us focused outwardly for fulfillment, we are programmed to just keep moving.  So, once we slow down and sit still for awhile to focus inwardly, our world changes.  Although we can experience greater calm, it is also not uncommon to encounter darker, more distressing emotions at times.

Contrary to what we might think, this is a Good Thing.  It's a sign that the Practice is working!

In the process of a deepening Practice, we no longer skim across the surface.  We actually begin to get in touch with the aspects of our conditioning that have subconsciously operated to create the way we see and react to the events of our lives.  (How often have you winced and thought "damn.  Why did I say/do that!?)  

The good news is that, with Practice, we are able to make conscious what had been subconscious.  Over time, we are able to observe and navigate the more troublesome aspects of ourselves with increasing clarity and ease. 

Truth in Advertising

Adrift in momentary delusions of grandeur, I sometimes joke about beginning a high profile advertising campaign for Monday Morning Mindfulness.   Full page bold print ads, billboards, and television commercials would proclaim something like:
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Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Final Frontier

"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 Hanh

“Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes 
to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view.”
― Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation



When I was growing up, being called a "space cadet" was not a good thing.  

Unless you were an astronaut-in-training at NASA (or, perhaps, a Trekkie), the term was a put-down.  Not appearing to pay a lot of attention to the seemingly endless concerns and hassles of what most people called the real world, being a space cadet just wasn't cool. 

Although I didn't realize it at the time, it's now obvious that some of these space cadets were actually marching, perhaps even dancing, to the beat of a different drummer.  They were tuned into something real.

In doing so, they actually had a leg up on the rest of us.  The rest of us were fully engaged in spinning our hamster wheels in an invisible, but very compelling, mind cage.  
  
Lost in our thoughts and feelings about doing it right, going for the gold, being all we can be,  being "cool," etc., most of us were continually scrambling to get with the program in what society presented to us as the pursuit of happiness.  Yet, we didn't realized the the deck was stacked against us.  We had internalized the values and norms the mainstream society long before we had the insight or the skills to realize that our society's "conventional reality" was a bum deal.  It was merely a house of cards.

The space cadet seemed not to take the game so seriously.  Less driven, less engaged in being "with it," he or she could frequently let go, relax -- and journey elsewhere. One guy I knew quit the football team after one practice saying "that's crazy!"  He spent his autumn afternoons wandering through the woods, alone, instead.  Another friend almost always had her nose in a book, and would sit gazing outside the window with a Mona Lisa smile on her face for swaths of time.

I thought they were wierd.  Actually they were delightful.  Who knew?

Aboard the Starship Enterprise

These days, I will gladly accept the title of space cadet.   

Fortunate to have come of age in an era where many folks managed to "turn on, tune in, and drop out," I  found that "inner space," is the final frontier.   In fact, as I've journeyed through the vast, open expanse of consciousness, the boundary between inner and outer dissolves.  What remains is merely the eternal, pristine, immensity of the present moment.  Here, all that is, is simply all that is. 

It's been a remarkable voyage.  And, for sure, I've encountered some space monsters along the way.  Yet, in seeing them for what they are, I've seen that loving acceptance transforms them.  The beasties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, embraced in compassionate awareness, can then become able and helpful fellow travelers on the journey.

So, for decades now, most every day I make the choice to step off the hamster wheel for at least an hour, bow, take a deep, conscious breath -- and go into free fall.   Some people call what I do meditation. 
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Saturday, August 1, 2020

Child's Play

In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.
― the 6th Lojong slogan

“I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change 
and become like little children,
you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”
-- Yogi Jesus of Nazareth

I awoke today to the sound of a gentle rain.  With crisp, cool air floating through the window above my bedroom altar, the neighborhood songbirds chimed in.  They sang their parts in this predawn symphony as I rolled over to set the alarm to 6:30 AM.  I thought I needed a couple of more hours of sleep.  Moments later, I rolled over again and turned the alarm off.  I was ready -- or so I'd thought. 

Today was blog practice.  I got up and sat down to the laptop to stare at a blank screen -- and waited.  

And waited.  

And waited some more.

After awhile, I got up again, and walked over to the altar. There, I lit three LED candles (there are no flames allowed here in senior subsidized housing.)  Then I turned to the four directions, gathering in the energies as I had learned from a Native American friend. Then, as I have done for decades of practice in the Zen tradition, I bowed to the zafu, then turned to bow to "the assembly."  Then, I and took my seat.   

Another, much more fulfilling, blank screen appeared.

Now, an hour later, I'm ready. 

There is a well known Zen story from the Meiji era (1868-1912) about a prominent university professor who visited master Nan-in to inquire about Zen.  

As the professor prattled on, demonstrating his vast knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, the master began pouring his guest a cup of tea.  He continued pouring as the cup overflowed onto the table, then the floor.  

No longer able to restrain himself, the professor shouted, "Stop. The cup is overfull! No more will go in!".  Nan-in replied, "You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup." 

I first read that story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones back in 1970. I now realize I had only glimpsed the rim of that empty cup.  

Even as a 24-year-old, fresh out of college and engaged in my first year of teaching school, I certainly "got" that there is a difference between the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom.  By then, I'd run into factory workers during my seven years of summer employment that appeared to have a much better handle on the Real Deal than most of my college professors.  I also sensed from the story that intellectual arrogance probably wasn't going to cut it with a Zen master, a fact that I've had verified any number of times number of times over the years as I ran into brick walls with Aries male bravado.

Little did I know, though, that this teaching, like the coffee down at a local diner, was being served in a bottomless cup.  

Then and Now

Several years ago, one of my CircleMates, knowing that I was an inveterate spiritual geek, encouraged me to study the Lojong Slogans and let her and the other folks in the Wednesday Evening Mindfulness Circle know what I'd come up with.  I took the bait.  I poured through five different translations and commentaries on this traditional Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training several times, taking notes, journaling, contemplating.

In my own inimitable style, I hit the books hard.  Yet, it was clear that study and knowledge were one thing.  Practice is another.  It was time to let go and explore how each day's slogan felt, how it played against the fabric of my life at the time.  So, for almost four years now, I've cast a slogan each day. I serve it up with a random number generator on my iPhone.  (How 21st century is that?)

There are times that a slogan absolutely nails an issue that has presented itself in my life at that point.  At other times, I've thought "Oh, I don't need that one anymore," to have a situation arise that clearly shows that I do.   At still other times, its relevance escapes me.  As always is the case in life, it is what it is.  I continue to be amazed at how helpful they have been.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

I cast the 6th slogan of the Lojong Teachings: "In post-meditation, be a child of illusion."  One of the most haunting of the 59 aphorisms that make up this system of mind training, it is also, perhaps, one of the most radical.  It seemingly flies in the face of conventional wisdom.  Rather than exhorting us to "grow up and get real," we are encouraged, instead, to recapture the open and spacious sense of wonder that characterizes the mind of the child as we arise from our meditation cushion to move through the day-to-day activity of our lives.

As Mindfulness Practice develops and we become more acutely aware of the fluidity and transparent nature of our own thoughts and emotions, the essentially ephemeral nature of "mind stuff"becomes more obvious.  With Practice, our perspective widens and deepens, and in the vast expanse of deepened Awareness, something shifts.
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