"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."

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The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

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.

Really!?

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?"
(READ MORE)

Though it does certainly seem to defy logic, the answer, for me at least, is pretty clear: Both on and off the cushion, Practice doesn't make perfect.  Practice is perfect.  Each and every moment of our lives unfolds with the opportunity to open to our True Nature.  With an ongoing sense of curiosity and openness, Life becomes Ceaseless Practice. Like Love, Practice ultimately is a verb, not a noun.  It's the where the rubber meets the road.

Sitting Still on the zafu and really paying attention is part of it.  So is everything else in my life. Moment to moment, Practice continuously flows from my Heart's yearning-- and returns to it's fulfillment.  In the grand unity that resides within each moment encountered with an open heart and clear mind, these are not two separate things.  In ultimate reality, there is only the One Love.

A Matter of Heart

It seems to me that the heart of the matter is that it is all a matter of heart.  In the gentle and caring diligence of Practice, our hearts open and our minds clear.  On the meditation cushion and in our lives, we connect more deeply.  Our understanding expands to see both the details and the larger picture of what is going on.  Moment to moment, we may actually be able to be kind and helpful to others -- and to ourselves.  It's that simple.  But, once again, simple doesn't mean easy.  It takes commitment, energy, effort -- and patience.  It takes Practice. 

I'm grateful to the Teachers and Teachings that I've stumbled across over these past decades for pointing this out--and for all the Teachers and Teachings that continue to grace my life each day.    
But, please, don't take my word for any of this.  See for yourself.  Practice.

I think I'll go Sit now.

How 'bout you?

Originally Posted, September 2013. Revised. 

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