"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

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Once Upon a Time

“The Buddha’s principal message that day was
that holding on to anything blocks wisdom.
Any conclusion that we draw must be let go." 
---Pema Chodron

"We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release 
our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

There is no doubt about it.  I'm a Geek.  I often have my nose in a book of spiritual teachings of some sort.  There are usually stacks of books on my nightstand, my kitchen table -- and elsewhere.  Some of them are new.  Some of them are old friends.

I had occasion to hang out with one of these old friends the other day.  

IMHO, The Wisdom of No Escape: and the Path of Loving Kindness is a must read.  Between its covers, Pema Chodron tells it like it is.
 
In this book, this venerable American teacher of Tibetan Buddhism presents us with a useful and practical way to carefully, gently, and persistently alter the way we experience our lives.  Rather than scurry ahead in the tunnel vision of our own conditioning, we are invited to open up, come to our senses, and walk ahead into the vast and mysterious beauty of Life as it is.

How cool is that? 
 
No Such Thing as a True Story

Even if I can't convince you to read the entire book, go to the library and take a peek at
Chapter 8.   Entitled "No Such Thing As a True Story," there Pema Chodron describes the way that we co-create our own world, moment to moment, largely as a result of the "story lines" that frame our experience. 

Those thoughts arise, unbidden, quite mysteriously from a cauldron that contains our individual and collective conditioning.  Over the course of our lives,  we each have developed a set of  habitual narratives.  (Many of them were developed in the first years of our lives as we learned to develop concepts.) These narratives are fundamental in creating our lives as we experience them.  Often, they dominate our attention.  Others whisper to us below the level of our conscious awareness.  All the while, they are operating to shape the world as it appears to us.

With Mindfulness Practice, we can come to see this operate directly.  Then, we can learn to expand our focus.   Rather than remain "lost in our thoughts," we can shift our awareness from our heads to the boundless space of our own hearts.  There, the thoughts are seen as just thoughts, not as the Truth.   We see clearly that these thoughts are insubstantial, transitory, impermanent.  Paying close attention, opening to the space from which they emerge, we find ourselves dancing with the wondrous array of energies at play in the vast spaciousness of each moment.  Instead of allowing the thoughts to continuously play the re-runs of our own individual movie day after day, we are free to experience life directly, to become who we truly are.
 
 In Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron describes a form of Practice that is useful in the midst of our day to day life.  She sees it as a three-fold process: 
Let go of the storyline.
   Feel what is in your heart.  
Open to the next moment with no agenda.
  She counsels us to do it "again and again and again."  Taken to heart, this can change everything.

It just takes Practice.

(READ MORE)

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Good Work

"When you see ordinary situations with extraordinary insight, 
it is like discovering a jewel in rubbish."  
-- Chogyam Trungpa, 
The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation

“So if you do something, you should be observant, and careful, and alert.”
―Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
 
I was inspired to devote more time and effort to a Spiritual Practice in 1971 when I read Be Here NowWritten by the late American spiritual teacher Ram Dass, this book touched millions of us. 
 
Several years before, Ram Dass, (then know as Dr. Richard Alpert) had been fired, along with Dr. Timothy Leary, from the Harvard faculty.  These pioneering psychologists had run afoul of the powers that be for their study (and advocacy) of LSD and psilocybin as therapeutic drugs -- and as a means of inducing valid mystical experience.  Leading the way for many, they had "turned on, tuned in, and dropped out."
 
And what had they tuned into?  Like many other young people at the time, I was off to find out.  By that point, it was clear to me that there was more to Life than the mainstream society presented as Reality. 

As I child, I was quite curious about the spiritual dimension to life.  One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting at the table being intrigued by the empty chair at the Passover meal.  I remember asking who Elijah was, and then wondering how -- and why -- he might stop by to join us.  A few years later I picked up on a friend's invitation and went to Catholic mass a few times.  (Holy Mary, Mother of God!? WTF does that mean?)  Then during the summers after my 3rd and 4th grades, I sat in a pew and squirmed my way through the fire and brimstone services of a Baptist minister in the chapel of a summer camp for poor kids.  I was drawn to the idea of love and kindness, but I wondered why Reverend Nelson and his God seemed so damned angry. 
 
To be sure, I was drawn by something in those settings.  I did sense, however, that what was happening in those places didn't ring true to me.  Wandering around outdoors seemed more to the point.  And being a boy in the America of the 1950's, I didn't give it much thought. I spent more time learning to throw, catch, and hit a baseball than exploring the meaning of those experiences. 
 
In the late 60's and early 70's, I had another bite at the apple.  With psychedelics and Asian spirituality becoming commonplace in the world around me, it was time.  The idea that you could actually do something (besides taking psychedelics) to cultivate a deeper connection to the spiritual dimension of life was inspiring.  I began to do yoga.  I meditated.  I was ready for more.  
 
In Be Here Now, there was more.  I poured through the book.  Ram Dass devoted the entire third section of the book, entitled "A Cookbook for a Sacred Life," to a multitude of spiritual practices.  
 
One of them leapt off the page as I read it.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Way hOMe

“The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.”
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
 
“For things to reveal themselves to us, 
we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

 
After raining heavily all night, the sun broke out moments ago.  Streaming through the blinds, it played across the floor as I entered the bedroom.  A windblown dance of light and shadow, it brought a smile to my face.

Then, as quickly as it had emerged, the sun disappeared behind the thick sea of gray clouds.  

That brought a smile to my face as well.  

I walked over to raise the blinds, expecting to see the glistening, pink-brown, late autumn leaves of the crab apple tree dancing in the breeze outside the window.  Instead, momentarily startled, I stood face to face with a stark display of gray clouds and wet, empty branches. 
 
"Oh yeah," I thought. "It rained hard all night.  Duh."  Although the weather had been unseasonably warm, the change had happened.  It was now Fall

I smiled again.

I guess I'm pretty easy these days -- at least most of the time.  A bit less attached to always having it my own way, I'm usually, more or less, at peace, content.  I blame it on the Practice.

Once the fundamental Impermanence of what Uchiyama Roshi called "the scenery of our lives" is directly seen -- and accepted -- the opportunity opens.  We can experience our lives differently. Within the ever-flowing energies that we encounter, we can see that there is always nothing more, and nothing less, than life as it is this very moment. Opening to the moment, wholeheartedly, we open to Love.

Although the thoughts and emotions that emerge in our lives can make it appear otherwise, what is right there in front of us is a constant invitation.  We can either open our hearts and minds to embrace the miracle that exists within and beyond each and every moment-- or not.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy. 

It takes Practice.
(READ MORE)

Friday, November 4, 2022

A Love Affair

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You're able to keep your eyes open,  
your heart open, and your mind open.
 ― Pema Chödrön, 
Practicing Peace in Times of War

We now see that the only way that we could love ourselves is by loving others, 
and the only way that we could truly love others is to love ourselves. 
The difference between self-love and love of others is very small, 
once we really understand.”
― Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong
 


First: The Good News.
 
As I've mentioned before, here and elsewhere, I think the Hippies actually had it right.  It IS all about Peace, Love, and Freedom.

In the Collective Kensho of that era, many of us were catapulted to the mountain top.  Whether it was being touched by the heart and soul of the civil rights and antiwar movements or the direct impact of psychedelics, whether it was the influence of one of the Asian teachers who came to the West or the communal baring of souls (and bodies) at Woodstock or elsewhere, our hearts were opened and our minds were blown.  
 
The Spirit was upon the land. 
 
In that era, many of us glimpsed directly, if only for a moment or two, the Real Deal.  We realized that not only are we all in this together, we are all this -- together.  In those days, we saw clearly that on the most fundamental level we were inseparable from all that has been, is, and can possibly be.  We saw that each of us were emanations of the One Love that permeates and transcends the Universe.  We knew that Love was the answer.

And, Then.
 
As time went on, it became quite clear that seeing it -- and even believing in it -- isn't enough.  The task of freeing the mind from it's deeply conditioned patterns, the process of opening the heart to actually BE a peaceful and loving human is no mean feat.  It takes deep commitment, effort, discipline, courage, skill, time,  --  and patience.

It takes Practice.

In the Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist worlds the term "Love" isn't generally used to refer to the Ultimate State of Being. They approach the Ineffable with different concepts and understandings. I think that is actually helpful to us Westerners.  We are incredibly sloppy with the word love.  It has a wide range of meanings.

In English, love could be the word that attempts to describe the spiritual glow that emerges from the ethereal domain of unconditional, unselfish agape on the one hand.  Or,  just as readily, the word could be used to indicate the self-absorbed fiery emotion that erupts from the nether realms of green eyed monsters and wrathful, jealous gods.  
 
So, what's the deal? It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, and then you," isn't exactly what Jesus and Buddha had in mind when they taught about Love.  Right?
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