"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, September 27, 2020

Give It a Rest, Buddhy!

 

"We seem to have lost the ability to just be quiet, 
to simply be present in the stillness that is the foundation of our lives. Yet if we never get in touch with that stillness,
we never fully experience our lives."  
-- Roshi John Daido Loori,  
Finding the Still Point

"Breathing in, I calm body and mind. 
Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment
 I know this is the only moment."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

I grin when I find myself sometimes talking about "the good old days." 

As a teen, I used to roll my eyes whenever Dad proclaimed "progress" had distinct problems. 

Sometimes, he'd launch into telling me (once again) that his  grandfather believed that the automobile would be a destructive force in the world.  A man who had witnessed their emergence on the roads of southern California at the turn of the 20th century, he thought people were moving much too fast.  Sped up in their own self-contained worlds, they were loosing touch with nature -- and with one another.

Now, decades later, I get it.  As Bob Dylan once sang, "Ah, but I was so much older then.  I'm younger than that now."  My great-grandfather had a pretty clear idea of the direction we were heading.

As I glance at the cellphone sitting alongside the keyboard and notice that I'm currently sitting here with 6 tabs of information on this browser awaiting my beck and call (quotes, pictures, Wikepedia, dictionary, email, blogger), I am quite aware that there is something deeply unsettling about the nature of "life as we know it" on planet earth today -- at least here in 21st century America.  Having compared notes with other geezers, it seems there is a consensus: The rat race has only gotten worse.

Although, I can't speak about how it may feel in other parts of the world today, I do remember having a conversation with an immigrant from Vietnam years ago.  A minor bureaucrat, he had left the country when the Communist government took power.

We were co-workers at a spiffy New Age natural foods restaurant, bakery, retail store complex in Madison, WI.  As we sat in the alley out back taking a break(with one eye out for the manager), he lamented that the entire pace of life in the U.S. was unhealthy, uncivilized and inhumane.  Staying in touch with his relatives, hearing of their lives, he had decided to return home.  He had come to believe that the entire fabric of life in his homeland, Communist or not, was much better than what he and his family was experiencing in the US. 

And that was thirty-five years ago!  

That was before everyone had a PC , a cell phone, the internet, and a gazzillion cable channels to choose from.  Back then, I still had the time and space to sigh and stretch out when I got home from work.  If I wanted stimulation, I would reach for the TV Guide and look through the listings, then get out of the chair to stroll across the room to select the channel. If I wanted to change the channel, it was a decision that required me to stroll back across the room.

Nowadays? 

It seems that most of are on remote control, bombarded with stimuli and activity, sped up and wired for action in most every waking moment --or thinking about it.  Our cellphones can capture us at the blink of an eye.  

Even at rest, our minds are constantly on the move with a dizzying kaleidoscope of images and sounds and thoughts zipping through our awareness continuously.  Awash in constant stimulation, scurry, and noise, time seems to have collapsed -- leaving no time at all.  

And -- surprise, surprise -- most of us are often feeling a bit breathless; increasingly stressed out, restless and anxious.     
 

Give it a Rest, Buddhy!

In all the major religious traditions that I've studied over the years, there is a deep recognition that Stillness and Rest are not only important -- they are crucial.  

As mystics throughout the ages have proclaimed, at the core of Reality, there is Quiescence, a Vast, Spacious, Profound Stillness.  It is an essential part of Our Being.  Although we can get swept up in the activity and constant sensory bombardment of today's world, I think it's important to remember that even the OmniProductive God of the Old Testament, working hard enough to create the entire Universe in only six days, then took a day off  --and proclaimed it Holy!

Of course, as God Almighty, Yahweh could probably kick back and settle right into the Stillness.   For most of us, it may not be that easy. 
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Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Times They Are A-Changing

 

“One of my favorite subjects of contemplation is this question: “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?””
― Pema Chödrön

"I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence..."
–– David Bowie, "Changes"

I was never really much of a David Bowie fan.  Yet, as I sat down to the computer to begin this week's post, strains of "Ch-ch-ch-ch changes..." started running through my brain.  
 
Curious, I surfed over to YouTube  and played the song a few times.  I then brought up a copy of the lyrics, and grinned as I read Bowie's personalized rendition of prototypically first-world existential angst facing itself in the mirror.
 
"Ch-ch-ch-ch changes.  Turn and face the strange." 

The Dharma in drag?
 
I would never had imagined that David Bowie would make an appearance in today's blog post.  How'd I end up here?  
 
Perhaps our first frost warnings of the season had something to do with this odd collection of firing neurons.  Summer is fading in the rear view mirror.  Today's high is predicted to be in the low 60's.  As September continues to prance toward the inevitable, it's "ch-ch-ch-ch changes," indeed.

The Fall Rising
 
The ensuing winter notwithstanding, autumn is my favorite time of year.  But it's not just the multi-colored majesty of the foliage and cooler temperatures that bring its music to the top of the charts.  
 
I wish it were that easy. 

Spring is easy to love. After the starkness of a New England winter, the world begins to explode with new life.  With warm breezes teasing us and daffodils poking their way through the snow, the irrepressible growth and greenery sings of "Ch-ch-ch changes" full of delight.  Fall, on the other hand, modulates the whole world into a minor key as leaves burst into color -- then die and cascade to form burial mounds on the forest floor. 
 
The dance of the seasons underscores the trajectory of our lives.

In the teachings of traditional Buddhism, human existence is said to have three basic characteristics: impermanence, non-self, and suffering.  Everything changes. We are not permanent, static, individuated beings, and we will die.  It hurts.  

Fall puts that right in our face. 
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Friday, September 11, 2020

Promises, Promises

Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”
Suzuki Rosh

“Daily sitting is our bread and butter, the basic stuff of dharma. 
Without it we tend to be confused.”
Charlotte Joko Beck


There were quite a few of us that were first drawn to Zen back in the 60's because of its seemingly irreverent and iconoclastic tenor and tone.  

To a bunch of self-styled hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, the stories of ancient monks kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, unabashedly proclaiming that Buddha was a "shit stick", etc., were extremely cool.  Those Zennies seemed like our kind of guys. 

Little did we know.

Once I actually connected with a teacher and a sangha, a different reality emerged.  I found that the foundation of Zen Buddhism, like that of other spiritual traditions throughout the world, rests squarely on a clear ethical framework.  Rather than becoming a member of another tribe of free form hippies, I found out that engaging in formal Zen training with a teacher meant making a commitment to a set of vows and precepts.  I was faced with studying and practicing Taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, the Three Pure Precepts, and the 10 Essential Precepts.  It was part of the deal.

WTF?  

Jeez.  Growing up I only had to worry about the Ten Commandments! Now? Do the math. This is twice as many.  So much for "doing your own thing!"

Or so it seemed. 
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Friday, September 4, 2020

'Tis the Season

 

"Commitment is at the very heart of freeing ourselves 
of old habits and old fears."
― Pema Chodron

 “I think what everyone should be doing, before it's too late, is committing themselves to what they really want to do with their lives.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh


Buddhist Nuns at Amaravati Monastery

The sultry days of August have given way to September now, and the first hints of autumn have appeared here in Western Massachusetts.  The thermometer has already dropped into the upper 40's a couple of times.  Patches of orange leaves have emerged in a few of the maples inviting their neighbors to join them.  

It won't be long.

As they often do as autumn announces its presence, my thoughts have turned to those times in my life that I have engaged in Intensive Practice in the fall.   

In Buddhism, like many of the world's religions (Ramadan in Islam.  The High Holy Days in Judaism.  Lent in Christianity,  etc.), there are extended periods of time each year that people move beyond "business as usual" to make a special commitment to their spiritual practice.    

In Buddhism, the tradition of the Rain's Retreat (Vassa or Ango) goes back to the time of the Buddha.  Traditionally beginning the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month (June/July), it lasted about three months, the period of time that the monsoon season in India made travel difficult.  During that time the monks, who generally were homeless wanderers, would gather in one place to hear the Buddha's teachings and engage in intensive meditation practice.  

To this day, this period of intensive practice is widespread in Theravadan Buddhism.  It is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen as well.  Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, the rain's retreat seems to have evolved into periods of intensive practice that occur in the Fall and/or the Spring. 

At Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, the Rain's Retreat has become The Three Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year.  In 1991, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.  
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