"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, November 20, 2021

Empty Handed

 "Emptiness wrongly grasped is like 
picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end." 
― Nagarjuna
 
 “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”
 ― Pema Chödrön

Mahakala: Wrathful Protector of Tibetan Buddhism
Years ago, when I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society, my Dharmabum Buddhy Jimi (not Hendrix) grabbed me by the shoulders, and with eyes as big as saucers,  asked me "Have you had a direct experience of the GREAT VOID?"

"Damn!" I thought.  The stark horror in his voice didn't incline me to want to do any such thing.

Unlike Jimi, at that point I had not spend much time with the Teachers and Teachings of the Tibetan tradition where the term Great Void was commonly bandied about.  Although I'd read a couple of translations of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, my wanderings through the gringo Buddhist world of the 70's and 80's had primarily been focused on Zen.

Like Jimi, I was then drawn to Insight Meditation Society.  Most of the teachers at this retreat center in Barre, MA drew their inspiration and practice from Theravada Buddhist teachers.  In that tradition, Nirvana seemed to be the goal.  It seemed like a much more palatable destination.

Little did I know.
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Saturday, November 13, 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

A grin comes to my face as I remember her voice on the telephone.

"That's backwards isn't it? You meant breathe in the good and send out the bad, right?" she said, not unkindly.   Being gracious, she was making a space for me to realize that my aging brain cells had gone dyslexic.

I had been chatting with an old friend for first time in quite awhile,  talking about my continued wonder at the Lojong Teachings in general, and Tonglen Practice in particular.  

After a moment's pause, to relax and reconnect with  an Open Mind -- and to make sure that I really hadn't verbally zigged when I had intended to zag -- I continued.

"No, I actually did mean that I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that have emerged with the aspiration that myself and others be free from such suffering and the roots of such suffering. Then I breathe out a sense of relief and healing energy. " 

She paused for awhile (perhaps to relax and reconnect with a basic openness of mind herself ), and simply replied, "Oh?" She didn't sound convinced.

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly individualistic and materialistic society, the basic premise of this ancient Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training, that opening our hearts to the entire gamut of human emotions, rather than grasping at the "good" and pushing away the "bad,"is actually the path of Awakening to our True Nature, seems a bit 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 Practice (Shamatha-Vippasyana) and Tonglen.  Each has a role in cultivating our Connection to the essentially miraculous nature of life.  Each contributes to our deepening ability to be Present -- moment to moment -- to the Sacred Perfection in which we are immersed .

To wit:

As I sit here and pay attention, I become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness.  Pausing, aware of my body and breath, eyes and ears wide open, lowering my center of attention into my heart, 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 is flinging words across the screen of an old Mac laptop.  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, they appear to be emerging by themselves, quite mysteriously.  

Although Western science doesn't really know what to make of these "brain secretions," labeling them some sort of  "epiphenoma,"  this moment feels much grander than that.  I have come to trust that feeling.  There is a Presence, a boundless sense of wonder and joy that emerges from the luminous silence that embraces me, the letters emerging on the screen, the clicking contact of my fingers on the keyboard, the wind outside the window, the soft humming of the computer. 

But, I digress -- sort of.

In a Flash
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Saturday, November 6, 2021

Love. Love. Love.

 

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, 
perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love:
in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles

We have it on good authority.  
 
Jesus and Buddha, as well as many of the other gurus, seers, sages, and saints of the world's religions seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering?  Why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks call love, the subject of myth, music, and Hollywood Movies -- isn't Love.  Instead, what is pursued in the name of love is actually a form of desire, biological and energetic attraction, and attachment.  This "love" has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the love that flows from the spiritual dimension.  True Love, instead, is the quality of consciousness that emerges from what the Buddhist Teacher, Pema Chodron, calls an Awakened Heart.  

True Love is not limited to the profound passionate graspings of deep attachment to the "other." It is much grander than that. (It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what J.C., Buddha and the others had in mind when they spoke of love, right?)  

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of isolation and separation that we've been conditioned to experience.  Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love is experienced as the open heart's capacity for kindness, compassion, joy, and clarity.  It is a Presence experienced directly when you are truly Present in the moment with an open heart and a clear mind.  True Love is the our ultimate connectivity. 

Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something that someone just "falls into," in the Buddhist tradition, human love is seen as a quality of heart, a mode of consciousness that can be consciously cultivated.  Although, we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "the other" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- True Love is vaster than that.  It emerges from a fundamental choice to open our hearts and clear our minds, to embrace Life itself.  It involves the willingness to let go of who we think we are, lay aside our agendas, and get it touch with our experience of the present moment as it is.

Although we may get glimpses of this again and again, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen.  It is a Practice.  Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving.  Like any discipline, the cultivation of True Love takes commitment, time, effort -- and patience. 
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Sunday, October 31, 2021

For Now

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is 
 to be continually thrown out of the nest. 
To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, 
to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. 
― Pema Chödrön

“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 window, it played across the floor as I entered my bedroom.  The windblown dance of light and shadow, woven of sun, tree, and partially open blinds brought a smile to my face.

Then, as quickly as it had emerged, the sun disappeared into 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, now pink-brown, late autumn leaves of the crab apple tree outside the window waving in the wind.  Startled, I found I was face to face with the stark gray brown of mostly empty branches.  It was now Fall!  Only a few leaves, scattered among the wet branches, remained.  "Oh yeah," I thought. "It rained hard all night.  Duh."  

I smiled again.

I guess I'm pretty easy these days -- at least much of the time.  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 -- we have the opportunity to embrace Life itself as it emerges each moment with an increasing degree of ease, grace and kindness.  Within the ever-flowing energies that we encounter, we see that there is always nothing more, and nothing less, than Life as it is this very moment.

Although the thoughts and emotions that emerge from the causes and conditions of our personal and collective histories can make it appear otherwise, what is right there in front of us is a constant Invitation to the Dance.  We can either explore the process of opening our hearts and minds (and our eyes and ears and arms, etc.) to embrace the Absolute Miracle of Being that exists within and beyond each moment-- or not.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  

It takes Practice.
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