"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, October 31, 2020

Visible to the Naked Eye

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern. -- William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle. " ― Thich Nhat Hanh


The world is shrouded in fog this morning. Although there is still a whisper of deep red in the burning bush and a muted yellow orange in the maple across High Street from my perch here at the Weldon Hotel, the sky has disappeared.

There was a time when a grey, gloomy morning like this could send my spirits spiraling downward.  Confined to the tunnel vision of my own thoughts and feelings, I would become oblivious to the Ongoing Miracle.  I'd get really depressed

Today, that didn't happen. I blame the Practice for this turn of events. 

Although I would be dashed between the rocks and hard places of my own unattended childhood trauma and dysfunctional conditioning many times over the years, I was fortunate.  The Collective Kensho of the late 60's and my own Peek Experience of Infinite Perfection in 1972 gave me a strong enough jolt of the Real Deal to get serious about a spiritual practice.  Although there were some fleeting dry spells, I've mediated regularly for a long time.

Now, at age 74,  it seems I've found a way to Not-Do Depression so much.  Although I am no stranger to sadness, the Practice has transformed my relationship to this emotional energy.  The inner belief structures and narratives that operated to lock depression in place just can't seem get a toe-hold anymore.  Instead, the story lines arise and disappear within the Gracious Spaciousness of Awareness that is readily accessible much of the time.  Of course, I put my butt on the zafu for at least an hour most days, and try to take an entire day of mindful practice at least once a month, and a do a three day fasting silent retreat at least twice a year.

The Theory and the Practice

So, here's the Deal.
 
Left without the continual mental chatter and conditioned reactions that create the "narrow chinks" of our habitual perception, sadness and the other elements of depression, like all phenomena, are impermanent.  They come and go of their own accord.   With Practice, I learned to see through what seems to be the fixed states of depression to the other side.  What remained was energy floating in the gracious spaciousness of Awareness.
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Saturday, October 24, 2020

A Bit Touched

 "When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.”

― Pema Chödrön

 “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


In some people's eyes, I'm definitely "a bit touched in the head."

These days, I spend much of my time meditating, studying spiritual texts, and comparing notes about matters of spirit, heart, and mind with as many folks as I can. 

I even let slip in some settings that I've directly experienced the Presence of God!  This, of course, can get me in trouble -- even (or maybe especially) in some of  the Buddhist circles I travel in.  
 
Yet, like Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley and the many others who subscribe to the Perennial Philosophy, I've come to see that there is a mystical experience of Reality, ultimately accessible to all, that underlies all the world's religions.  It's the Real Deal.  The rest is just window dressing.

Over the years I've learned to be a a bit more discrete about yakking about these experiences, though.

I try not to mention these moments of Being There -- or, more correctly, just Being -- where it is likely to lead to an embarrassed silence, furtive glances toward the nearest exit -- or, possibly, somebody dialing 911!  And, although I say that lightly, in all seriousness this has been an unfortunate reality for some folks in a society that doesn't understand such things.  I was usually able to travel under the radar.  I was lucky.  Even when I was homeless on the streets, I was able to stay out of jail or the psych ward. 
 
Live and Learn

Looking back, I guess I've always been a bit touched.  
 
As a child, at times I sensed clearly there was a profound beauty and magic in the world, a spiritual dimension to our being.  It was surprising and confusing to me that most folks didn't seem to notice.  In elementary school, I could also see clearly that the selfishness and cruelty I saw in the schoolyard created a living hell for all concerned.  Kindness and caring created its opposite.  I couldn't understand why everyone just didn't choose kindness.  It seemed pretty obvious to me that all we had to do was get our act together.  This was the Promised Land.  We could choose to create heaven on earth.

Needless to say, this was not the prevailing worldview.  I was often dismissed as a dreamer or an idealist, sometimes with obvious scorn by those who considered themselves to be"realists." Long before I had heard of the Bodhisattva Vows, I was stumbling ahead trying to be kind, to serve all sentient beings.  It just seemed to make sense to be me.  

Then, like many of the folks who came of age in the cultural revolution of the 60's and 70's, those childhood perceptions were reinforced again and again -- with and without the assistance of various ingested substances.  It was just like Jesus, Buddha -- and the Beatles -- proclaimed.  All we need is Love.  That was the bottom line of the Real Deal. 

Yet, in the day to day reality of my life, I discovered that actually being a loving person wasn't all that easy.  Blinded by the subconscious patterns of a deeply wounded ego, immersed in the energies of a patently neurotic society, I continued to roller-coaster through relationships and jobs.  I made a lot of mistakes.  Much of the time I could be a real jerk, failing miserably to help others, or even free myself from suffering.  
 
Even after experiencing the Infinite Grace of the One Love, I still didn't have much of a clue about the sheath of armoring around my heart that operated to distance me from others -- and, perhaps more crucially, from myself.  Even with a couple of decades of a regular meditation practice, including a significant time doing intensive meditation retreats with major teachers, layers and layers of subconscious patterns still dictated much of my life.  I could quickly disconnect from my aspiration to be a kind and loving person and get swept away in confusion.  I could get to the mountaintop again and again, but I couldn't sustain the clear vision needed to navigate my own life skillfully.
 
Then, about 15 years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are.   I opened the book to epigraph: "This book is about awakening the heart."  
 
Zap!  
 
Although, I had experienced a number of profound "heart openings" over the years, somewhere along the way I had thought that enlightenment was all about a state of Mind.  Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind had been one of my gateways to the Practice and I'd sat shikantaza for a couple of decades.  Now, Ani Pema's presentation of the Lojong Trainings and Tonglen meditation, changed everything.  I realized that I had now had the tools to begin working with the realities of my life in a more skillful manner.  I saw the possibility that with commitment, time, effort, patience -- and grace -- I could really serve.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Lojong: Training the Heart and Mind

"True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings." -- Pema Chödrön

"In all activities, train with slogans."-- The 9th Lojong Slogan

I've had my nose buried in books a lot this past week, diving once again into a stack of works on the Lojong Trainings.

Although the 59 slogans of this Tibetan Buddhist system of training the Heart and Mind were passed on as secret teachings in Tibet by the ninth century emigre Indian teacher, Atisha, they were codified and opened to a wider audience by Tibetan teacher Geshe Chekawa in the 12th century.

Now, in the 21st century, that audience has become worldwide.  Here, in the melting pot of American Buddhism, there are numerous translations and commentaries on these Teachings in English -- and not only by teachers in the Tibetan tradition of  Pema Chödrön and her teacher Chögyam Trungpa.  In fact, these days my favorite book on Lojong is that of Zen teacher, Sensei Norman Fisher.  His book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, rocks!

In print, in digital media, and on the web, viewing the vast array of material on Lojong available today is like peering at the rainbow facets of a diamond while slowly spinning it around in the sunlight.  It's dazzling.

How cool is that?

The Theory and the Practice

Of course, studying is one thing.  Unlearning the habits of a lifetime is another.  Since we were in the womb (if not before that,) we've each been immersed in a pool of energies that have conditioned us in ways that disconnect us from our True Nature.  Rather than face the world with an open heart and clear mind, we were taught to distrust ourselves, others, even life itself.  In light of this deep-set conditioning, the effort to recover our natural compassion and wisdom takes commitment, energy, and patience.  

It takes Practice. 
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Saturday, October 10, 2020

It's Only Words

The secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts,
in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh
 
"The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
"

―  Tao Te Ching

In the world of Zen, words and concepts are not generally held in high regard. 

It's not surprising that some students even got smacked by crotchety old Zen masters for their "loose lips."   

Words can be pretty damn tricky.

A case in point:  The realm of words creates a situation where the word "swearing" could either describe what emerges when a person angrily launches into a foul-mouthed condemnation of something or it's opposite.  Swearing is also what happens when a person wholeheartedly takes a sacred oath.

So what does the word "swear" actually mean?  (For that matter what does "mean," mean? I mused that Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call: What's Love Got To Do with It?)

Over the years, it's become clearer and clearer to me that any particular word, or even a whole string of those slippery devils, at best, can only hint at the Truth.  Most often, they just lead to a more complicated web of endless definition. 

I've found that, like Life itself, meaning is inseparable from context.  It emerges from an essential connection to a whole matrix of experiences which, in turn, are ultimately inseparable from the Whole Universe.   

This makes real communication extremely interesting.  It involves myriad factors beyond the actual exchange of words.  In fact, if you are really paying attention during a conversation, what is not said may be more meaningful than what is said.   The devil isn't merely in the details.  The devil is the details -- when those slippery devils operate to take us further and further away from the Truth.  Truth, I have found, is ultimately a matter of Heart, not the thinking mind.

Yet, staying connected to our hearts is not easy.  It takes Practice.  And Practice takes courage, effort -- and Commitment.

Commitment!?

Oh no, not that!
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Sunday, October 4, 2020

A Good Cry

“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer.  Crying includes all the principles of Yoga.”


“In the Lakota/Sioux tradition, a person who is grieving is considered 
most Wakan, most holy."

Emmet Kelly 1898-1979
Some time ago,  I came across the above quote by Swami Kripalvanandji while preparing for a yoga class that I was going to teach later that day.  I immediately emailed it to a dear friend who was having a rough time.

She replied that it helped -- a lot.  After reading it, she had headed out to her garden to have a good cry.  It was exactly what she needed.

Growing up in today's society, most of us have learned to avoid crying like the plague.  Widely seeen as a sign of unacceptable weakness and frailty, we are conditioned to keep a stiff upper lip, to steel ourselves against this natural expression of heartfelt feeling.  
 
Although this conditioning is considered to be a "male," thing, most of the women I know often fight back their tears.  In our society, these patterns of resistance to a natural human expression are quite pervasive. 

That being said, I actually hesitated for a moment to plunge ahead here.  After all, you don't see glitzy promotional commercials proclaiming: Mindfulness Practice: Guaranteed to make you cry! Maybe I'd better "lighten up" a bit?  I might get sued by the professionals promising peace and joy.  After all, isn't Buddha's Third Noble Truth the freakin' Cessation of Suffering?