"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, February 20, 2021

Be Still and Know

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” 
 -- Zen Koan
"Be still and know that I am God. "
Psalms 46:10

In all the major religious traditions that I've studied over the years, there is a deep recognition that Stillness is important to connect with the sacred dimension of life.  The core mystical experiences of many of the sages, seers, and saints involved retreating from the noise and busyness of life, and Simply Sitting Still.
This is not only emphasized in the religions of the East, it is central to the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well.  Making time to withdraw from the incessant noise and activity of "business as usual" is seen as crucial.  Even the OmniProductive God of the Old Testament, working hard enough to create the entire freakin' Universe in only six days, then took a day off.  He proclaimed it as Holy!

Of course, as God Almighty, Yahweh could just kick back and settle right into the Stillness.  In fact, God being God, he/she is the Stillness, the Infinite Source at the foundation of all sound, all activity.
Yet, for most of us, being still is not that easy.  It takes a commitment, some skill, and some discipline to cultivate our own ability to slow down the seemingly incessant chatter of our mental activity.  It takes time and effort to become Present to what my first Zen teacher, Reverend Gyomay Kubose, called the Soundless Sound.
It takes Practice.  
The Way It Is

Immersed in the buzz of contemporary society (which, itself, could be diagnosed as ADHD), most of us have internalized the incessant noise and relentless activity of a social system build on greed, fear, and ignorance. The noise and activity doesn't just exist "out there." It lives on in our bodies, our emotions and, perhaps most of all, in our thoughts.  Even at relative rest, our minds are usually abuzz.  Lost in our thoughts, we often feel stressed.  It is often acted out (and reinforced) through constant movement.  Even "at rest", there is liable to be gum chewing, toe tapping, hair twirling, nail-biting, etc. 

Even if we are sitting still in an incarnation as couch potatoes, internally we continue to bop until we drop. We keep our minds busy.  Turning toward the distractions of "news and entertainment," our attention is consumed by video and audio stimulation.  It never is allowed to settle into the deep tranquility available to us -- until we finally fall into a deep sleep. Even that, for many, seems to be difficult to do.  So-called sleep disorders are more and more prevalent.

Thankfully, in this day and age we also have access to an entire world of Spiritual Teachings, and to meditative practices developed through the ages to free us from this vicious cycle of incessant physical and mental activity.  I'm grateful to have stumbled across this vast pool of wisdom as a young man.  I have maintained a regular meditation practice for decades.
This I do believe: If a extremely neurotic, addictive, and workaholic personality like mine can experience what St. Paul called "the Peace that passeth all understanding," anybody can.  If someone takes the time and makes the effort, they can learn to slow it all down, to let all of that go, to Be StillSimply Sitting Still, we can connect with the vast, expansive, glowing, spacious stillness that exists at the heart of Reality.  

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Light Reading

"There is a vast store of energy which is not centered, which is not ego's energy at all.  It is this energy which is the centerless dance of phenomena, the universe interpenetrating and making love to itself"
--  Chögyam Trungpa
Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.
-- Meister Eckart
Christian Mystic

Sitting here, I realized, yet again, that I'm a strange old coot. (If you've been following this blog for awhile, you probably have known that all along. LOL)

An inveterate bookworm, a perpetual student, I'm a Spiritual Geek of the first order.  There are several full bookcases, and stacks of books on a number of horizontal surfaces in my apartment.  

Lately, I've been thinking it's about time to re-read  Chogyam Trungpa's The Myth of Freedom: and the Way of Meditation.

There's nothing like a little light reading, right?

This book was my first exposure to Trungpa Rinpoche. and his presentation of Tibetan Buddhism.  I first read it back in 1976.

By then, I'd already been swept up in the collective kensho of the late sixties and early seventies. Yet most of my actual contact with Buddhism at that point had been with the Zen tradition and the Hippy Zen of Stephen Gaskin. Along the way, I'd already experienced a number of openings and peak experiences   -- as had many of us. By then, I knew that there was a spiritual dimension to life.  

The Good Old Daze

I was recently asked how I "got into" the a life of spiritual study and practice. As best as I can tell,  I didn't get into it.  It got into me.  My teen years and young adulthood spanned the 1960's and 1970's.  This was the era of the Civil Rights Movement, the Peace Movement, the Summer of Love, and Woodstock.  I was born at the right place and in the right time. 

Riding on the waves of  what was called "the generation gap" at the time, I was one of many.  A large number of  youth throughout the world rejected "business as usual." Yearning for something beyond the nationalism, racism, materialism, senseless violence, and warfare, we intuited that there was more, much more, to life.  And, just like the Beatles, many of us turned to the teachings of Eastern religion to better understand just what that "more" might look like.  This cultural revolution was so widespread that by the early 70's, I was practicing yoga and meditation, and was able to buy paperback books like "The Sermon on the Mount According to VedantaHow to Know God, and a translation of the Bhagavad Gita right off the bookshelves in the local supermarket! I was also able to read the works of Father Thomas Merton and other Christians who were establishing an interfaith dialogue.  

In this Hippy Pentecost, a lot of us had mystical experiences.  Although some of these were related to the various psychedelics and medicinal herbs available in those days, many emerged from meditation and other spiritual practices.  It was an amazing time. Whether it happened in a meditation hall, around a campfire in the Rockies, in a rock hall, or elsewhere  -- for at least a few moments -- many of us touched the Sacred and the Sacred touched us. 

With those experiences, we knew: There is an Ultimate Reality.  We discovered, first hand, that there is a dimension in which we are not only all in this together -- we are all this together. We saw that the Universe is a unitary field of energy, an interconnected web of life dancing in an infinite expanse of luminous space.  Inseparable from all that is, we knew we were each like waves dancing along the surface of an infinite sea. 

I have come to call this Ultimate Unity the One Love. 

Getting Real

Yet, glimpses of the One Love were one thing.  Actually becoming an unconditionally loving human being is quite another.  Although the systems of ethics and morality that were embedded in every religious tradition provided some guidance, I came to understand that there was a lot more involved.  Although I sensed that commitment to a life of service was essential, I discovered  that it was going to take commitment, study, and specific tools and practices to really get my act together.  I needed to uncover, and then heal, the conditioning that prevented from actualizing the Love in my heart and bringing it into my day to day life.  It became clear that Moksha, the liberation alluded to in the Eastern traditions, just like the "Truth that shall set you free" proclaimed by Jesus, wasn't just about a set of beliefs.  It was beyond belief and dogma. It called for a way of being.  

Chogyam Trungpa 1939-1987

I had been exploring meditation for about seven years, and had just turned 30 when, I first came  across The Myth of Freedom: and the Way of Meditation in 1976.  As a young man who had entered the Hindu, then the Buddhist paths of Practice with the goal of  "liberation," the title that Trungpa chose was mind-blowing.  The MYTH of Freedom?  WTF?  Wasn't Freedom the ultimate goal?

As I remember it,  I poured through the book, intrigued and haunted by the imagery, but mostly confused.  I didn't yet understand the frame of reference, and I wasn't able to grasp the subtleties of his descriptions of various meditative states.  

Having heard via the grapevine of Trungpa's "unconventional" lifestyle, I was also quite skeptical. Then, when I got to the final section of the book, which proclaimed the importance of devotion to a guru, I put the book down. Although I revered the folks that I considered to have been my teachers, I had come to believe that all hierarchical structures were fundamentally dis-empowering and could lead to exploitation and abuse. (Jesus had reportedly said that we should call no man Teacher, no man "Father," which certainly challenges the way most religion is institutionalized. ) 

I didn't get back to The Myth of Freedom for another thirty years.

During those decades I stumbled my way forward through relationships, numerous jobs, successes and failures, even homelessness. Yet, through the peaks of valleys of my life, I continually returned to meditation as the foundation of my spiritual practice.  And, although I maintained a connection to other spiritual traditions through study and shared worship services, my primary focus continued to be Buddhism.  Like institutional Christianity, Buddhism had evolved into separate several different branches, and I practiced with both Theravadan and Zen Buddhists.  Along he way I spent time in residence at Insight Meditation Society and Zen Mountain Monastery before again launching off to continue a daily meditation practice and my own interfaith exploration of the Bodhisattva Vow, and a life of service.

And Then 

Friday, February 5, 2021

One Love. One Heart.

“In Chinese, the word for heart and mind is the same -- Hsin.
 For when the heart is open and the mind is clear 
they are of one substance, of one essence.” 
-- Stephen Levine

"Love is not what we become but who we already are."
-- Stephen Levine

I slept in this morning for the first time in quite awhile.  

Although I did awaken at around 4:30, to participate in my early morning recycling project, I immediately returned to bed.  There, I followed my breathing into "dozing/dreaming meditation." 
A long, rather vivid, dream quickly emerged.  It was unsettling.  
With echoes of my many "personal failures" ringing through my mind, I awoke again.  I glanced at the clock.  It read 6:45! That's wicked late in my world.  Yikes!

Feeling harried and hurried, I went into the bathroom to do a bit more recycling.  Then I picked up the iPhone and cast my Lojong Slogan for the day: Number 49. "Always meditate on the difficult emotions that emerge."

That sounded right on, I could feel a deep sadness welling in my chest  -- but, damn,  it was LATE!  I had a long list of things to do today.  The hiss of the morning traffic on High Street concurred.  It was rush hour.  Just keep moving! 
To Sit or Not to Sit

For decades now, settling into a one hour morning meditation "first thing in the morning" has come quite naturally most every day.  I committed to it long ago.  Usually, the momentum of this commitment carries me along like an autumn leaf floating on the surface of a dancing brook under a clear blue sky.  Life flows on.  I flow on.  When it's night time, I read a bit of dharma.  Then I meditate into sleep.  When it's morning, I awake. Then I get up and pee.  Then, I Sit Still for an hour.    

That bedrock ritual became a bit rocky this past week, though.  

I actually missed my morning meditation three days in a row, then only sat for 20 minutes the next day.  Yet, what's the big deal? After all, I still meditate -- a lot.  
Since the COVID pandemic made in-person meetings a health hazard, I Zoom into the Morning Mindfulness Meditation Meeting that I facilitate at 9 AM, Monday through Friday.  I facilitate three other Mindfulness Heart Circles on-line each week as well.  (BTW.  All these are free and open to all.) Although, wintry ice and an unmaintained parking lot have prevented me from dawn meditations at Unity Park on the Connecticut River, I still occasionally make it to the Noon Meditation Vigil on the Greenfield Town Commons as well during the week.  So. What's the big deal about my personal morning meditation?

To be honest, most of time, I don't know.  I just do it.

What I do know, though, is that this morning, I woke up late and was off and running!   I actually had sat down in front of the computer, ready to tackle the first thing on the list, before I hit the pause button.  I stopped, sat up a bit straighter and took a long, slow, deep breath.   Sitting there, I sensed that place in me that appears to make choices.  It became clear to me.  Rather than just "go with the flow"this morning, I had to stand in the way of my own momentum.  A real decision had to be made.  
After a few more conscious breaths, I stood up and headed back to in the bedroom.  I faced the altar.  As I've done thousands of times before, I bowed, set the timer for an hour, and Sat.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Mission Impossible

"May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may the people think of benefiting one another”
― Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva
"Taking the bodhisattva vow implies that instead of holding our own individual territory and defending it tooth and nail, we become open to the world that we are living in. It means we are willing to take on greater responsibility, 
immense responsibility. "
-- Chögyam Trungpa

Although the teachings of Pema Chodron have had a profound influence in my own practice for the past fifteen years, I'd have to say that Stephen Gaskin is my "root guru".  

I came of age in the late sixties.  The Spirit was on the land.  More than anyone else, Stephen Gaskin seemed to capture the essence of the Collective Kensho that occurred during era.  A marine veteran of the Korean War who went on to become  an English instructor at San Francisco State, he transformed the energy of tripping with friends in Haight-Ashbury into a bustling community in Tennessee that at one point included about 1700 people.    (He also was a central part of an inexplicable occurrence that touched my life the week after he died in 2014.  (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Lighten Up!, July 12, 2014)

When I first saw"Out to Save the World"boldly displayed in the destination window of Gaskin's Greyhound Scenicruiser, it brought a grin to my face -- and stirred something deep in my heart.  I thought, "Of course.  What else is there to do?"

As I reflect on it here at age 74, I sense that I had already been propelled in that direction by a series of events in my youth.  In the midst of the trauma and pain of a chaotic childhood, I had been touched deeply by the kindness and courage of "strangers" more than once.  There was a type of energy in those interactions that was palpable.  I felt it.

Then, one day in eighth grade during recess, I discovered something about the nature of reality that still rings true.  Standing alone, once again the new kid in school (I had gone to ten different schools by then), I was watching the schoolyard interactions on a surrealistically gorgeous autumn day.  A dance of color and sound, Life played out in front of me like a movie.  Some kids were being kind.  Others were not.  Some kids appeared to be having fun.  Others were not.  At a certain point  -- Zap!  I got it.  It was obvious.  Through our attitudes and actions, we humanoids are individually and collectively creating the world we experience each moment!

Seeing that clearly, the key to life seemed like a no-brainer.  What Jesus was preaching in the Bible was just plain, common sense.  (It would be another ten years before I read that Buddha had a similar take on things.) As you sew, so shall you reap.  If we would just get our act together and love one another, the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  

Easier Said Than Done

Of course, I quickly learned that a lot of folks hadn't quite seen that yet.  I also saw that consistently being kind was not all that easy.  Fear and doubt and confusion were powerful forces. It was going to take some serious work to pull it off.  It would take a real commitment. 

Stephen Gaskin brought that point home as I discovered his teachings in my mid-20's. Although I'd read about the ideal of the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, I hadn't actually seen the four fold Bodhisattva Vows until I read Gaskin's rendering of it in Hey Beatnik*:

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.
The deluding passions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them all.
The way of the Dharma is impossible to expound, I vow to expound it.
It is impossible to attain the way of the Buddha, I vow to attain it.

I got goosebumps when I read that.

Although I was a couple years away from sitting with my first embodied Zen teacher, those four lines seemed to capture the essence of what I felt my life to be about, and it pointed out the work to be done.  A few years later, when I discovered the Mahayana Buddhist teaching that there could be no final and perfect enlightenment until everyone was enlightened, I broke into tears.  It just made sense.  Like many of us back in the day, I'd already peaked out (even without LSD) to experience our Essential Oneness.  It just made sense that a Bodhisattva wouldn't punch out and go home to Buddhahood until everyone was covered. 

Rather than me taking the Bodhisattva Vow at that point, the Vow took me.  Looking at the condition of the world around me, I couldn't see anything more worth doing then to get my act together and try to help out.  Now, fifty some odd years later, it seems even more important as our species continues to careen toward disaster.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Heart of the Matter

"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."
--Dalai Lama

"What we expect is to be truthful; to be kind; to try to share; to try to love one another. Some folks don’t recognize that as a discipline: They say, "Oh, that old stuff…." And it may not sound too difficult, unless you’ve ever tried it. But if you ever try it, 
you’ll know it’s an exacting discipline."
--Stephan Gaskin, This Season's People

On of my favorite moments at Insight Meditation Society years ago was when the severe looking Burmese meditation master, U Pandita, raised his hand to his head during a dharma talk and begin to laugh. The entire crew of monks in his entourage sitting behind him on stage dissolved into a cacophony of hoots, snorts, and belly laughs
After a few moments, U Pandita regained his composure.  He placed his hand to his heart and continued.  The translator (who had also lost it) caught his breath and caught up with the venerable monk's discourse.  I don't remember the exact words used but the point was clear: Westerners believe that the mind, that aspect of a human being that perceives what is true and correct, is in the head.  We, of course, know that  it resides in our heart. 
That certainly resonated with my own understanding.  Jesus, Buddha,  -- and the Beatles -- had it right.  It's all a matter of heart.  Love is the way.  Love is all you need
It's just that simple.  But, of course, simple doesn't mean easy.  Staying connected with our Heart, being truly kind, clear, and compassionate is, like Stephan Gaskin pointed out years ago, an exacting discipline.

Getting It Together 

In 1976, I learned from my first Zen teacher, Reverend Gyomay Kubose, that heart, mind, and spirit are actually the same word in Japanese.  Derived from a Chinese character, the word shin makes no distinction between these three realms of existence.  Our bodies, our minds, and our spirit are seen as a seamless whole. 

Although we may conceptualize them as distinctly different, I've come to see for myself that in Reality there is no such separation.  They are one.  So is everything else that is, has been, and could possibly ever be.


Conditioned as we are in a materialistic society on overdrive, it sure doesn't feel that way for most of us much of the time, right?  We experience ourselves as separate, isolated beings in a competitive and stressful world.  Disconnection is the operative word.  Often, our bodies are doing one thing and our minds another.  In our heart of hearts we know what is right, yet we stumble ahead doing the opposite much of the time.   It's disheartening.  

That's what led me to meditation. Following a deep yearning in my heart of hearts, I was intent on getting it together.  I knew there was more.  I wanted to connect the dots and live a life of Integrity.  

This process began, and continues on, with the commitment to spend time regularly, Sitting Still, carefully observing how this heart/mind/spirit operates.  I wanted to discover the ways that my conditioning operates to separate me from my own heart, from others, and from the exquisite and intricate Web of Life.  With Practice, both on and off the zafu, I began to get a handle on how to slowly and gently become the person that, in my heart of hearts, I yearned to be.  

Then, at a certain point in meditation at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, I realized that I actually AM the person I yearned to be--and always have been!  At that moment, in a torrent of tears, I knew that with all my flaws, with my abundant neuroses, conditioned patterns, and quirkiness, I was absolutely perfect, and lovable, as is--and so is everybody else!

Nothing had really changed.  I was still sitting there in the meditation hall with sunshine streaming through the windows.  But, everything had really changed.

It Just Takes Practice 

Zen Master Suzuki-roshi once said:  Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”  I've noticed that smiles and laughter often emerge when I've shared this quote in the Mindfulness Circles. In his own inimitable style, Suzuki-roshi had reached beyond logical paradox (how can you improve on perfection?), to express the heart of the matter.  In fact, the major question that propelled Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen, to leave Japan and seek a teacher in China was "If we are all already perfect, why bother practicing meditation?"

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Oh, Good Grief!

"Nothing is more natural than grief, 
no emotion more common to our daily experience.  
It's an innate response to loss in a world where everything is impermanent."
-- Stephen Levine, Unattended Sorrow

"The problem, therefore, lies not with our pain for the world, 
but in our repression of it."
-- Joanna Macy, Coming Back to Life

Five years ago, on January 17, 2016. poet, author, and Spiritual Teacher, Stephen Levine, died at home after a long illness.  I was fortunate enough to attend a Conscious Living, Conscious Dying retreat with Stephen and his wife, Ondrea, years ago.  There, I experienced, first-hand, his ability to create a Community of Healing over the course of five days.  
About 300 people were gathered there at Mount Madonna Center.  About one third of those attending were terminally ill.  Another third were their loved ones.  I was a member of the final third, people involved with the emerging hospice movement.
What I experienced during that retreat was astounding.  Levine's talent of crafting and delivering guided meditations and interactive experiences allowed me, and many other folks, to access the Open Heart of Awareness.  With Levine's passing, the world lost a Master Guide.

I wrote the following post two years before his passing.  The piece also highlights the work of another gifted Teacher, Joanna Macy that I had the privilege to practice with along this long and winding trail of Practice.  She, too, continues to be a guiding light for me.  I'm sure that Stephen won't mind sharing the limelight here.  In my experience his light, and hers, are inseparable from the Boundless Light!

*Originally Published, November 21, 2014. 

With the events of the past month, the emergence of grief in my life seems to be a reoccurring theme.  I awoke in tears from a lucid dream a few minutes ago.  As I transitioned from dreaming to the waking state, I felt my heart open through grief into the boundless spaciousness of the One Love.  I came fully awake feeling energized, grateful --  and at peace.  I was ready to face the day.

I'm no expert practitioner, but it seems that my renewed focus on Dream Yoga is working.  Extending Practice into the borderland of mind states that emerge in and out of dreams has been rewarding.  It's nice to be able to sleep on the job.

Although the recent dreams I've had of levitation and flying have been a lot more "fun," I'm deeply grateful to have had this dream emerge from the cradle of an afternoon nap.  At age 68, I've found Napping Practice to be quite wonderful.
The dream gave me an opportunity to further process the losses that have incurred in my life, and to move through personal grief to connect more deeply with the genuine heart of sadness that is part of our shared human condition. I've found that tears are often the key that unlocks the Gateless Gate to the One Love. A good cry can be the portal to boundless beauty, joy and gratitude.  As Jesus proclaimed long ago, "Blessed be those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

In the Dream State, I did -- and I was.

Grief is rarely that easy, but thankfully, it's become easier over the years. I've had lots of help.  I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to attend retreats with two contemporary American Buddhist masters of a "good cry":  Stephen Levine and Joanna Macy.  Although the focus of their work is different (Levine serves in the field of death and dying. Macy empowers ecological activists), each of these gifted Teachers gets to the Heart of the Matter with incredible grace, insight and skill.  Through periods of silent meditation, guided meditations, talks, and experiential exercises, they each have the ability to skillfully guide their retreat participants toward an experience of the Open Heart of Awareness.  True spiritual elders (Macy is 85. Levine, 77), they each are able to bring the essence of the Teachings out of the Sutra books and into real, lived experiences.  Through their being and the gatherings they create, they each bring the limitless energy of love, compassion and forgiveness to Life.  
It is a high and holy magic.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

In It for the Long Haul

  “Be still.  Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.
When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself.”
― Lao Tzu

"As the mind becomes a little more quiet the sacredness of everything 
within and without becomes clear to us.”
-- Zen Teacher Norman Fischer

Well,  the 12th Day of Christmas has come and gone.  I'm pleased to finally bid farewell to the holiday season.  
Even with the traditional travels and family gatherings reduced to telephone calls, texts, Facebook, and fleeting moments on Zoom, it's been a busy, and oftentimes unsettling, holiday season.

In the midst of the scurry of the past couple of weeks, I was especially aware of how precious each morning's meditation was to me.  
Although this year I was able to avoid the energy of the "over the top" Christmas morning paper ripping rampages that characterize our cultures distorted and materialistic celebration, I'm still a parent and grandparent.  I hopped on-line -- and went a bit crazy.  
There, in the realm of clicking mice and cyber-versions of real goods, a series of on-line buying misadventures added hours and hours of sometimes stressful re-do's to my world.  It took a long time before everything was finally signed, sealed and delivered.  Thankfully, I was able to fall back on the tradition of the Christmastide and give myself a bit of elbowroom.
Sitting here now, mindful of my breath and body, relaxing into the space that surrounds these sensations, I come to rest in this moment's open awareness.  In my mind's eye,  I can see light at the end of the tunnel.  Continuing to relax and open, the tunnel and the light dissolve into the clear, luminous brilliance that is beyond endings and beginnings.  Sitting still, my heart glows in gratitude for Practice.  
Touching Stillness, even for a few brief moments, is like feeling the warm glow of a fireplace, snuggling at home on a snowy evening peering through the window at the moon.  Paradoxically, it's also like sipping clear, crisp spring water on a steamy summer day.  In Stillness, the Presence emerges.  In a silent whisper, it sings of the Ineffable, that infinite space where the fundamentally mysterious and completely ordinary meet to form the fabric of Life itself.  

Just Sitting Still
Although I use a variety of meditation techniques, the foundation of my personal practice for decades has been shikantaza: Just Sitting Still.  Seated erect, my attention is allowed to rest in the moment to moment experience of breath, body, and the expansive spaciousness of an open heart and mind.  I simply Sit with what Zen teacher Norman Fischer calls "the basic feeling of being alive."  This is often easier said than done.  It takes Practice.

Conditioned as we are, our attention is usually drawn into the thoughts and images and memories and daydreams cascading through our mind.  Rather than sitting still, observing the present moment with a relaxed open gaze, we find ourselves scurrying along the sidewalks of New York City, or rewriting a scene from yesterday's argument to put us in a better light, or working out the budget for the month...
This happens, again and again and again.  

Yet, the moment we simply notice this, a moment of Practice emerges.  If that noticing is clear, open, calm, and non-judgmental, we have engaged Mindfulness, a qualitatively different mode of consciousness.  Mindfulness becomes the Gateless Gate to Pure Awareness.  As Practice deepens, there are times that Reality Asserts Itself.  In a flash, we are Present in a qualitatively different way -- and we know it.  Ultimately, we come home to our True Nature.  We realize that that we are inseparable from the Universe.  
At times, it is just that simple.  Yet, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.

Throughout our lives, we have developed complexes of thoughts and emotions that have a great deal of power over us.  They arise, unbidden, to dominate our attention.  Without Practice, we are unconsciously propelled into each moment by our past, again and again. 
Much of who we are at any one moment, the way we "see" and react to our experience, is just a bad habit.  We are, literally, creatures of habit.  Most of the time, we don't choose to think what we are thinking or to feel what we are feeling.  It just bubbles up from our subconscious.  Without Practice, without a conscious commitment to put in the time and effort to discover who we really are, we are held in bondage by our past.  Without Practice, moment to moment, we are likely to continue to create a future that contains the same old, same old, suffering that characterizes much of the human condition.   
Thankfully, there is Practice.