"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Day by Day

"In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion."
-- Albert Camus

“Every day and every hour, one should practice mindfulness. That's easy to say,
but to carry it out in practice is not."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
from "A Day of Mindfulness", The Miracle of Mindfulness

Taking the time each morning to Simply Sit Still has been the foundation of my own spiritual journey for a long, long time.  It's like drinking a tall glass of cool water.  I generally arise refreshed, at ease, and ready for the day.

It only makes sense.

Who we experience ourselves to be, how we think and feel about the world is largely a result of our conditioning.  In fact, even how we see the world emerges as a result of the set of interactions we've experienced in our lives. That is the view of most modern psychology -- and the view held by most Buddhists for two thousand five hundred years.

I think many people recognize, sometimes quite acutely, the existence of their so-called "bad habits." The whole ritual of New Year resolutions generates lists and lists of commitments to change these aspects of our lives.  Yet many of us haven't quite realized that, in actuality, our "normal " everyday, egocentric way of being in the world is, itself, just a "bad habit." 
Encountering our lives through what Albert Einstein called an "optical delusion" of consciousness, we experience ourselves as isolated beings, fundamentally separate from the rest of the Universe.  Lost in our thoughts and feelings, all too rarely actually Present to the deeper dimension of life that exists in every moment, the noise in our heads and the noise in the world around us consumes our attention -- and we suffer.

Yet, all this is nothing more, and nothing less, than a habit.  Each day, we reinforce patterns that continue to operate consciously and subconsciously to dominate our awareness.  We have spent years feeding that habit.  It creates our day-to-day life as the struggle it appears to be in a world propelled forward by a competitive, capitalist economy, religious institutions that prioritize judgmental attitudes, and a militaristic socio-political culture that glorifies violence. 
Many of us have been harmed and limited by this conditioning.  Wounded puppies, believing that we live in a dog eat dog world, we are habitually barking up the wrong tree.  And all the while, in the Still and Silent Space that lies deep within us and infinitely beyond us, we are all connected in Sacred Unity to what some wisdom traditions call the Tree of Life.
Many names are used over the years to identify Ultimate Reality.  I've communed with people that conceptualize it as God, the Tao, the Great Spirit, Buddhanature, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, Krishna.  These days One Love seems to work best for me.  By whatever name it is known, it has become mysteriously clear to me that there is an infinite source of unlimited potential.  From that, flows a Way of Being that is truly clear, calm, kind, compassionate and wise.  

Mindfulness Practice offers us the opportunity to see that for ourselves.  Through Practice we can connect with, and increasingly maintain, this open-hearted and clear-minded quality of consciousness.  Being a Compassionate Presence can become our habitual way of being.  
This is largely a matter of time on task.  It's just like going to the gym. Over time, the discipline and effort of a regular daily meditation practice releases the knots and rewires the pathways of our conditioning.  It's as simple as that.
Yet, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  Over time we will have to face a lot of emotional energies and subconscious belief structures that we have repressed. avoided, and denied. Fortunately, the Practice affords us the opportunity and skills to do that with increasing ease.  Simply Sitting Still each day, we learn to embrace the entire gamut of the human experience.  In doing so, we gain the freedom and agency to live life wholeheartedly.
And there's more...

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

How Sweet It Is

"Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment.
It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation."
 --  Rabindranath Tagore

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek 
and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

When I woke up that morning almost 60 years ago, I had no idea that the trajectory of my life would be profoundly influenced that afternoon.

It was the summer of 1965.  I had just finished my freshman year in college and was back home in a small town north of Chicago, working in a factory again for the summer.  
As I had done since my sophomore year in high school, on Friday I cashed my paycheck, pocketed $5, and deposited the rest in the bank to help fund a college education. 
As it turned out, I spent three dollars of that week's "personal entertainment" budget in a matter of minutes the next day at the annual Lion's Club White Elephant sale in the park near the center of town.
For years now, I've been quite aware that two of the books that I bought that day had a profound influence on me. The first, The Wisdom of Buddha, published by a Buddhist organization in Japan was my first introduction to Buddhism.  When I flipped it open and scanned a few pages, I thought, " Wow. That's interesting. This sounds like what Jesus was teaching in the Bible." It was my first introduction to the Buddhist teachings and practices that would later inspire and sustain me over the years.

Pawing through the stack of books on the table, I then came across  The Wisdom of Gandhi.  I had been deeply touched by by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in High School.  I had discovered in a history class, that Dr. King had been influenced by Gandhi's Satyagraha Movement in India.  That was good enough for me.  
I picked it up and flipped it open.
One of the first passages I read described an encounter between a British journalist and the Mahatma.  When Gandhi was asked if he was a Hindu, he replied, “Yes I am.  I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.”   
I got goosebumps Something stirred deep inside me.  His words rang True.  It was definitely worth another dollar.

It was only today, after a compelling experience yesterday, that I remembered that there was a third book that I bought that afternoon. 

Connecting the Dots

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you probably know that the Lojong teachings of Tibetan Buddhism have been part of my path for the past ten years.  I've read and re-read a handful of commentaries, and spent countless hours in the study and practice of the 59 slogans that comprise this system of mind training.  
Each morning, I cast a slogan to focus on for the day. (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Lojong:Training the Heart and Mind).  
Yesterday, I was back to square one.  I cast slogan 1: Train in the Preliminaries.  As well as the cultivation of a meditation practice, the preliminaries include a contemplation of the Four Reminders:
    1. Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
    2. Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone.
    3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around.
    4. Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.  ( -- as presented by Pema Chodron in Lion's Roar)
Although the horror of the COVID pandemic has put the Second Reminder, "Be aware of the reality that life ends for everyone," front and center since 2020, I was reminded today of the importance of the First Reminder.  
What would my life look like if I really did maintain an awareness of how precious life is?  Sitting at the computer, allowing my mind to flow gently down the stream of this contemplation, relaxing to focus on and soak in the Preciousness of Life, a title for this post emerged: "How Sweet It Is!"

I had no idea where that would lead.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Silence is Golden


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

 "Never miss a good chance to shut up."

― Will Rogers

Sometimes the magic happens when you are sitting alone in silence.  The thin veil dissolves. The Connection is made.  

Sometimes the magic happens when you are meditating with others.  In the silence, the illusion of our fundamental separateness evaporates.   The "I" becomes "we" -- and we know it.

I think it's even sweeter when it happens that way.

I remember one of those times distinctly.  Sitting here now, it seems like it happened in a different world, a long, long time ago.  I guess it was.  The year was 6 B.C.  Six years Before COVID. 

There were fifteen of us gathered to Simply Sit Still during the Wednesday Evening Mindfulness Circle at the Recovery Learning Community's Greenfield Center that night.  As was our Practice, I rang the bell three times and we sat in silent meditation for twenty minutes.

At a certain point, it happened.  It got really quiet.  Really, Really -- Quiet

In the silence,  a Presence emerged.

When I rang the bell to end the meditation and begin the Heart Council, the air was electric.  I knew that what I had just experienced wasn't just a subjective personal event occurring within the confines of my own skull.  I could see it in people's eyes.  

As we went around the Circle to compare notes on what we had each experienced during our meditation, the first person exclaimed, wide-eyed, "you could actually hear the silence!" 

"Yes.  The Silence was deafening!" a second added.  Others nodded.  

The magic had occurred.  In the silence, what my first Zen teacher called the Soundless Sound had emerged as a shared experience.   Whenever that happens, even for a  few moments, our Essential Oneness within the embrace of the One Love becomes less theoretical.   Reality Asserts Itself.  You can feel it in your bones.  In the stillness our shared silence, we know:

                             We are not only in this together -- we are this together!

I love it when that happens.

And yet...

Scurrying Through the Matrix

In a society that places a high value on individualism, competition, speed, achievement,  and acquisition, Simply Sitting Still can be challenging.  We have been conditioned to experience our world through mental and emotional states that manifest a lot of mental activity, a feeling of restless motion -- and, whether we are aware of it or not,  a profound sense of separation 

As the profit motive and the technology of late stage capitalism increasingly captures and commodifies our attention, it's only gotten worse.  With the proliferation of cellphones and video screens, We are bombarded with incessant visual and auditory stimulation.  Our minds are habitually filled with incessant noise and chatter -- inner and outer.  

In today's world, most of us have spent much of our lives being constantly distracted and disconnected from our True Nature. 

The direct experience of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls Interbeing, our fundamental interconnection with one another and the entire Web of Life , is rarely encountered on a conscious level.  Yet it is always there -- always here, more correctly -- in the embrace of what contemporary spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle and others have called the Eternal Now.

Monday, February 19, 2024

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.” 

"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 "wee hours" 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.  

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 spot on.
I could feel a deep sadness welling in my chest  -- but, damn,  it was LATE!  The hiss of the morning traffic on High Street concurred.  It was rush hour.  I had a long list of things to do.  I felt propelled to just keep moving! 
Day In. Day Out.

For decades now, I've begun my day with an hour of meditation. The commitment to a daily practice made sense to me.  The momentum of this commitment has become a habit. It carries me along.  At times, I feel like an autumn leaf floating on the surface of a dancing brook heading toward the sea. 
This commitment seems natural to me. Through repetition, certain mind states and behaviors have become habits. At this point, the Practice is doing me as much as I'm doing it.  Life flows on.  I flow on.  
During the day, in the midst of the things to be done, I'm reminded to be mindful every twenty minutes with the peal of a meditation bell on my iPnone.  I also have an old three minute egg timer that catches my eye now and then.  I flip it over and Simply Sit Still.  Aware of my breath and body, the sights and sounds surrounding me at the moment, and the gracious spaciousness and stillness that appears to permeate each present moment, I hit the reset button.
Then, as the twilight fades into night, I often watch an hour or two of media. Then, an inveterate bookworm, I pick up a book.  These readings run the gamut from the scriptures and commentaries from the world's religions, to contemporary works in history, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and physics.  The book usually joins me in bed for a bit.
Then I meditate in shavasana for awhile, before turning on my side and meditating into sleep.  I wake up in the wee hours to pee, practice a dreamy, dozy, death meditation in shavasana and fall back into the arms of sleep.  At times, the Dream Yoga Practice produces an awe-inspiring lucid dream.  (The flying dreams are the most fun.) 
More often, more mundane concerns appear in my dreams.   When I awaken, within a dream or afterwards, I practice opening and embracing even the more frightening, frustrating, and painful assortment of energies that may emerge. 
Then, at about 5:30, I wake up. I brush my teeth.   I cast a Lojong Slogan for the day. Then, after a few moments of prayers, prostrations, and bows, I Simply Sit Still.

That bedrock morning ritual became a bit rocky this past week, though.  
To Sit or Not to Sit?

I actually missed a morning meditation one day last week for the first time in a long, long time.  Then the next day, I only sat for 20 minutes before setting up to host the Morning Mindfulness Meditation Circle on Zoom. There, thankfully, I did have the opportunity to Just Sit Still for another 20 minutes, and practice mindful movement for another 10 minutes before beginning the sharing session we call the Heart Council.  Then I was ready to launch into a busy day.
So. What's the big deal about establishing a daily meditation practice?

For sure, most of the meditation teachers I've practiced with recommended it.  It seem logical that our minds, like our bodies can be trained to experience a healthier relationship to life.  
I'd been an athlete in high school and college.  I'd seen the positive results of devoting time and effort to physical training.  Yet, beyond the medals and trophies I acquired, I also sensed that there was much more to life.  My heart led the way to explore the deeper meaning, purpose, and possibilities of our journey.
With the recent advances in neuroscience it is clear that our minds, even the biological component of the brain and nervous system can be changed to operate with greater concentration and clarity through mindfulness training. 
Most every morning, I don't think about it. I just do it.

Yet, this morning, that didn't happen. I woke up late and was off and running!  Having jumped into a number of new volunteer projects, I had things to do! I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down in front of the computer, ready to tackle the first thing on the list.  
Then, I came to my senses.  I looked at the sunlight playing through the bare branches of the trees outside the window.
I stopped.  
I sat up a bit straighter and took a long, slow, deep breath.   Sitting there, I relaxed and sensed that place in me that appears to make choices.   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,  it became clear to me.  First things, first.  The list will be there when I return.  I stood up and headed back to in the bedroom.  I faced the altar.  Although the preliminary ritual has transformed over the years, I set a timer for an hour.  Then, as I have done for a long time,  I Simply Sat Still.