"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:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Judge Not

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
― J. Krishnamurti

“We sow the seeds of our future hells or happiness by the way
 we open or close our minds right now.
 ― Pema Chodron

I don't think there is any greater freedom than being Present, engaging life as it is without the distortion caused by Judgment Mind.  

Growing up immersed in a society that is highly judgmental, most of us have been deeply conditioned to experience our lives in terms of good/bad, right/wrong, should be/shouldn't be.  In fact, our ego sense, with its perceived separation and isolation from "the other" is maintained by the thoughts, opinions, and various mind states that emerge from this conditioning.  Even in its mild form of liking/disliking, Judgment Mind can generate thoughts and feelings that serve to separate us from the peaceful, calm, and caring Presence we have access to in every moment.  
 
If we are overly self absorbed, distracted, stressed, moving too fast, it's easy to get lost in our conditioned reactions to Life.  Adrift in Judgment Mind, we loose Presence.  We create an alternative reality and forget that the world is really not as it appears to us at that moment.  This deeply ingrained process of evaluating what we experience as bad, wrong, condemnable, is part of our social conditioning.  It appears as discontent, complaints, blame, and self-blame.  If we aren't paying attention, it can and will dominate our lives, moment to moment.
 
Seeing For Yourself
 
One of the fruits of meditation is that we can see how that process works directly.  We can see for ourselves that Judgment Mind isn't only the thoughts going through our heads at the moment.  It's deeper than that.  It is embedded in the emotions we are experiencing.  It's embodied in the tightnesses and discomforts of our body.  It directly effects the quality of our consciousness, our state of mind.  
 
It is actually quite fun to see for yourself how that plays out on the meditation cushion.  
 
If you're paying attention, the emergence of Judgment Mind is obvious.  You'll know that you've have lost touch with the relaxed, warm, bright, open, spaciousness of a open heart and clear mind.  Instead of a profound sense of Connection, you'll collapse into the ego's self-protective reaction patterns.  The emotional energies of those patterns can be fiery hot or icy cold, yet there is a tightening, discontent, and a sense of disconnection.
 
This contraction can happen in a heartbeat.  We can be Present, aware of the sacred expanse of the moment.  Then, Zap!  The gracious spaciousness of an open heart and mind collapses and our attention is consumed by the ranting and raving and blaming of judgmental thoughts as they cascade across the surface of discordant feelings.  
 
As Practice develops, we get more adept at noticing exactly when the shift occurs.  Then,  sometimes, we can dispel Judgment Mind readily.  Taking a breath, bringing kindness and openness to our hearts and minds brings us into the moment more fully -- and Judgment Mind dissipates.  
 
In any one moment, this can literally be the difference between heaven and hell. 
 
Of course, sometimes we may get swept away for awhile.  Then a gentle patience with yourself is helpful.  In my case, the process often ends with me noticing that I'm being judgmental about being judgmental!  That moment of recognition often brings on a grin or a chuckle these days. The poignancy of the Divine Sitcom apparent, the energy of humor emerges -- and my heart opens.  I'm immediately Present again.  There I can feel the Presence of the One Love. 

In one of those meditation experiences awhile back, I saw how the thoughts "I don't like myself.  I'm bad." provided a wonderful opportunity to examine the experience carefully.  Having learned how to let go of the particular narratives generated by Judgment Mind, the experience became a kaleidoscope of sensations, feelings, and energies.   Moments of anger, fear, confusion, humiliation and pain emerged.  Yet, within the space of several breaths, they dissipated.  Without the support of the same old narratives, these energies had nothing to cling to.

Instead, what emerged was a relaxed, open, clear, warm, expansive quality of consciousness, -- and a sense of wonder.  A boundless sense peace and a warm-hearted appreciation permeated my breath and body. 

I can live with that.  Hopefully, I can die with that as well.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Tonglen Practice: Taking it to Heart

 “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion.  It is said that in difficult times, 
it is only bodhichitta that heals.”
 -- The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa
quoted by Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times

"So, when we are willing, intentionally, with this kind of attitude, this vision, to breathe in the suffering, we are able to transform it easily and naturally; it doesn't take a major effort on our part, other than allow it."
-- Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

I was chatting on the phone with an old friend, rambling on about my continued wonder at the Lojong Teachings in general, and Tonglen Practice in particular, when she stopped me in my tracks.

 "That's backwards isn't it? You meant breathe in the good and send out the bad, right?" she said, not unkindly.  I think she was politely trying to point out that my aging brain cells had gone dyslexic.

After a moment's pause, taking a breath to relax -- and to make sure that I hadn't verbally zigged when I had intended to zag -- I continued.

"No.  I actually do mean that I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that have emerged.  This could be my own sadness, fear, frustration, or the perceived suffering of others.  In fact, when I pause to consider that there are countless others who have felt or are feeling what I'm feeling at the moment, my heart naturally expands with that in-breath and the energy is transformed.  Then I am able to breathe out a sense of relief, a healing energy of light and love with the aspiration that myself and others be healed, be at peace.  I visualize that as an energy radiating from my heart.

She paused for awhile -- perhaps to relax and reconnect with a basic openness of mind herself in light of my rant.  Then she simply replied, "Oh?" She didn't sound convinced.

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly materialistic capitalist society, the basic premise of this ancient Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training seems "counter-intuitive." Rather than grasping at the "good" and pushing away the "bad,"we do the exact opposite.  Opening our hearts to the entire gamut of human emotions is seen as a path of Awakening.  Crazy?  It most certainly is. 

Crazy like a fox.

The Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which consist of 59 training aphorisms are supported by two meditation practices: Basic Sitting Meditation (Shamatha-Vippasyana) and Tonglen.  Although I had practice Basic Sitting Meditaton in several traditions over the course of thirty six years, I had never been exposed to Tonglen.  

It has changed my life.  

For the past 15 years, Tonglen has continued to expand my ability to better engage the world with an open heart and an open mind.  To be sure,  I still struggle at times with the blindness of my Aries, male ego and the various wounds of my conditioned personality.  And, at times, I am deeply saddened and confounded by the energies of greed, hatred, and ignorance that are all too prevalent in the world today.  Yet, my life has changed for the better.  I no longer plunge into the long periods of depression and anxiety that plagued my younger years.  Instead,  I now am fairly content and at ease most the time.  I also experience many moments of deep wonder, appreciation, and gratitude for the sacred miracle that sings silently within and beyond us.  I'm now convinced that the One Love is always present. 

Bringing It hOMe Here and Now

As I sit here now and pay attention, pausing to become aware of the sensations of my breath and feel my body, I also become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness.  Sitting here, I can rest in its embrace.  Proceeding, still connected to this invisible, formless, seemingly limitless expanse of awareness, the dance of my fingers along the surface of this keyboard continues to fling words across the screen of this old Mac laptop.  

Becoming aware of my body and my breath,  I see that milliseconds before the fingers move, thoughts emerge instantaneously, seemingly from nowhere in particular.  Although, these thoughts are most certainly prompted by my intention to write this blog post, and connected to my own experiences over time, they are also connected to the long lineage of human beings that crafted the English language -- and to everything else.   They appear to be emerging by themselves, quite mysteriously.  

Although Western science claims that our thoughts are merely "epiphenomena," brain secretions of some sort, at this moment this process feels much grander than that.  There is a Presence, a boundless sense of wonder and joy that emerges from the luminous silence that embraces me as the letters emerge on the screen.  The sensations of my body, my breath,  the clicking contact of my fingers on the keyboard, the soft humming of the computer, the traffic outside the window are woven into a tapestry of experience that is reminiscent of dabbling with psychedelics back in the day.  (Oops. TMI? LOL)

But, I digress -- sort of.
(READ MORE) 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Listening with the Heart

"Listening is a very deep practice.You have to empty yourself. 
You have to leave space in order to listen...
In deep listening we listen with the sole purpose of 
helping the other person feel heard and accepted." 
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Healing comes from our innate capacity for deep listening.  
This deep listening or seeing is not through our eyes or ears, 
but through our heart and soul."
-- Jack Kornfeld 

There is, perhaps, no more important form of meditative discipline than what Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh calls deep listening.  It connects us to ourselves, to one another -- and to our true nature.

Our time on the cushion in formal meditation is essential.  Yet, it is what happens next that really matters. It is there, in the midst of our day-to-day lives, that kindness, clarity, ease, and compassion are actualized -- or not.  

Beans in our Ears

Most of us have learned the prevailing form of listening in our society.  Much of the time we don't really listen.  Rather than listen to connect deeply with the experience of another, we listen to reply.  Rather than listen with undivided attention, we are often thinking of what we are going to say next. 

Although our ears and eyes and finer sensibilities are operational as we listen, much of our attention is locked into our thoughts about what someone is saying.

As a matter of habit, we automatically analyze, compare, judge, often immediately relating it to an associated personal experience.  On automatic pilot, we seek to advise, counsel, or otherwise react without a deep awareness of what is really going on -- either inside ourselves or the other person.  As a result, whole realms of emotional and intuitive energies remain beneath the level of our awareness.  Rather than really connect, we often end up bouncing of one another.

It doesn't have to be this way.

We can actually learn an entirely different way of listening to another person -- and to ourselves!  We can go deeper.  We can empathizeWe can listen with our hearts.    
 (READ MORE)

Saturday, May 22, 2021

A Helping Hand

"If you want to find Buddha nature, love someone and care for them."
--  Dainin Katagiri
 
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us
to an understanding of ourselves.”
― Carl Gustav Jung

Three days ago, Migdalia had surgery done on her right shoulder to repair significant tears of her rotator cuff, labrum, and biceps tendon.  

So, at this point, I'm her right hand man -- literally.  I have moved in with her full-time to provide the necessary care as she faces the significant pain and discomfort of a post-op rehab that may require 6-8 weeks of life in a sling.

In a relationship that has thrived for three years as we each maintained our own living spaces (I think a lot of marriages would still be alive if that was seen as an acceptable option), we are now sharing her place 24-7.

It's been intense.

Having committed to facing sickness, old age, and death as life-partners, we did manage to co-habitate during the first couple of months of the pandemic.  But, at that point, we were each able bodied.  Besides the various aches and pains of two folks whose average age is now on the high side of 70, we were each in relatively good health.  We could be alone together quite well.
 
This is different.  
 
Now, Migdalia looks like someone stomped on her shoulder then bound her up in a strange torture device that seems intent on poking her in the ribs, no matter what we do.  She also has to sleep sitting up.  She's black and blue and swollen and dealing with the effects of all the drugs required to allow them to punch five holes in her shoulder, insert a variety of cameras, medical instruments and paraphernalia in to her body, then stitch her up -- and send her home.
 
Hercules vs Hydra
 

One of the first challenges we faced was contending with the gazillion velcro straps and clasps of the sling/brace that is going to be her constant companion for the foreseeable future. The next morning, it had to be removed for a brief period of  physical therapy and then replaced immediately. 

I'm pretty sure that before the insurance companies and other profit driven corporations came to dominate health care in this country, Migdalia would have awoken that morning in a well-staffed hospital, and a skilled physical therapist would have arrived to cheerfully support her through the ordeal.  Now, after a fitful night's sleep propped up by pillows in a makeshift hospital bed, she had me: a similarly exhausted old coot with about ten minutes of "training," and a couple of pages of confusing and contradictory instructions.  
 
It was a Herculean task.  
 
Each of us is quite used to doing things "single-handedly" and taking the lead in moving through our lives.  So, now that "single-handedly" had become literal for one of us, Migdalia and I immediately butted heads over how to most effectively use our three good hands.  Me, an
Aries, white working-class cis male and his beloved, a fiery New York Puerto Rican female from the projects in Harlem, huffed and puffed for awhile, getting nowhere with what had become a tangled mess of velcro.  A helping hand only helps if it helps.  It wasn't.  I soon realized that we had to really slow down, take a few deep breaths, and learn how to communicate a lot more carefully -- or the many-headed Hydra would have her way with us.  
 
Thankfully, like Hercules and Ioalus, Migdalia and I were able to put our heads together and prove that two heads are better than nine.  
 
 
The Theory and the Practice
 
So, this is it.  It's showtime.  

Migdalia and I are having to learn how to move through space and time in very different ways, individually, and as co-conspirators.  We are having to learn how to communicate more skillfully.  

This is where the rubber meets the road.  Mindfulness doesn't have the elbow room to be mere theory.  It has to be a moment to moment Practice.  Rather than spin out or bounce off of one another, we've already seen the need to be more adept at taking the foot off the accelerator and tapping the brakes.  We've each had to make a special effort to listen deeply -- to ourselves and one another -- and to speak clearly and carefully as we navigate ahead.

This is a good thing.

It just takes Practice.