"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, April 17, 2021

Getting Real

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
-- Albert Einstein
 
"Compassion and resilience are not, as we might imagine, rarefied human qualities available only to the saintly... In fact, these essential and universally prized human qualities can be solidly cultivated 
by anyone taking the time to do it." 
-- Norman Zoketzu Fischer,
Trainings in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

Good Grief
 
"Yikes.  I did it again." I thought.  

Moments before, I had proclaimed with utter certainty that my take on the facts at hand was absolutely the truth of the matter.  Then, quite quickly, Reality asserted itself.  My certitude that my friend was "wrong," and that I was "right," disintegrated in the clear light of a sunny day.  

Duh.

Thankfully, she was gracious and didn't skewer me for, once again, not immediately noticing the tightness in my chest -- and shutting up to pay better attention to the emergence of ego's hard headed clinging to its limited point of view.  

The tightness in my voice was the first clue.  My eyes soon verified that I had to give it up.  My take was clearly mistaken.

Whew.  Once again, the Universe had pointed out that who I am at any one moment, how I'm seeing things and being, is likely to be just a bad habit.  Thankfully, these days I can bow to that reality with a grin.  

I blame the Practice for that.

The Real Deal

Over the years, it has become more and more obvious to me how much of our lives are dictated by habit.  Although it may not feel like it, who we are is not a fixed, free standing, independently existing, reality.  Our current "point of view" emerges from a cauldron of causes and conditions, many of them beyond our ken -- or our control.  Encountering our lives through what Albert Einstein called an "optical illusion" of consciousness, we learn to experience ourselves as fundamentally separate from everything -- and everybody -- else. 

Lost in our thoughts and conditioned feelings, driven by a set of deeply ingrained, often subconscious, beliefs about ourselves and the world, we rarely are Present to the deeper dimension of life that exists in each and every moment.  The noise in our heads resonates with the noise in the world.  It dominates our attention.  Oblivious to the subtle energies dancing within the infinite space and silence of each and every moment, we suffer.   

All this is nothing more --and nothing less than -- a bad habit. 

Awash in a culture where capitalism, scientific materialism, and religious dogma have been woven into most every nook and cranny of human life for generations, we have spent years feeding this habit. It then creates our day to day life as the struggle it appears to be.  Most of the time this operates quite subconsciously.  And all the while, in our "heart of hearts," there is the still and silent space of clear, open awareness.  From there, emerges a way of being that is truly clear, calm, kind, compassionate and wise.  This is our True Nature.
 
But, here's the rub.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Defense Rests

"There is a vast store of energy which is not centered, which is not ego's energy at all.  It is this energy which is the centerless dance of phenomenon, the universe interpenetrating and making love to itself." 
Chögyam Trungpa
 
"Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you can not bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain."
-- Khalil Gibran
 
Attributed to Hieronymus Bosch 1450-1516
I'll admit it.  These days, I'm a real softie. 
 
Of course, it's taken me years to get here.  
 
After all, I am a 75 year old, white, working class, cis male.  A freakin' Aries, ex-collegiate wrestler, too boot.  I launched into adult life heavily programmed by my upbringing to defend my ego at all costs.  
 
A "little guy" at 5'2", having survived a traumatic childhood (sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, physical abandonment, time in institutional settings and foster care, etc.), "proving myself," became a full-time job.  Most of my conditioned propensity toward over-achievement, chronic workaholicism, and behaviors that ranged from unbridled argumentation to throwing objects -- and even fists -- operated subconsciously.  Even as I came of age in the late sixties and early 70's, heavily influenced by the non-violent civil rights movement, the peace movement, and Woodstock, I didn't have a clue about the nature of ego.  I didn't really know how to be peaceful -- or truly loving.
 
To this day, if I'm not paying attention, I still get caught up at times in those ancient patterns. Thankfully, a day in, day out, commitment to the Practice usually allows me to sense fairly quickly when the attachments that create and reinforce ego emerge.  I can usually detect the sparks of disappointment, fear, and frustration soon enough to keep them from roaring into flames.  Most often, I am able to notice what is going on, take a few conscious breaths, get in touch with my heart, and clear my head.  This usually allows me to make better choices on how and where to focus my attention, and decide what to do -- or, oftentimes, better yet -- not do,

Unfortunately, usually doesn't mean always.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

One Day at a Time

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

“Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
 
I was looking forward to it.
 
Although  a regular daily meditation practice is the foundation of Life and Practice for me, I've also experienced, first hand, the transformative power of silent meditation retreats.  
 
For months now, I had planned to take a three day personal retreat on the weekend of the Vernal Equinox as I had done in the past.  I even penciled it in on my kitchen wall calendar in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS.

The Best Laid Plans...

As Saint John (Lennon) once proclaimed, "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."  It was a good thing that I had used pencil.  As it always does, Life happened.
 
With two Pfizer shots in my arm, and the strict isolation of the past year beginning to disappear in the rear view mirror, two out of my four children reached out for Papa Lance to jump into grandpa duty, including some in-person child care.  So, in a couple of blinks of an eye, not only was my weekend scuttled, my ritualized flow through a weekly schedule that had evolved over the past year was up for grabs.
 
I guess Springtime has a way of shaking things up. 
What was only a hidden potential unfolds its wings and takes flightNew sprouts push their way toward the sun.

In fact, within a week, a new sprout emerged.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

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

 "Be still and know that I am God."

― Proverbs 46:10 

Sometimes the magic happens when you are sitting alone in silence.  The thin veil dissolves. The Ultimate 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.  You know --  six years Before COVID. 

There were fifteen of us gathered to Just Sit Still during the Wednesday Evening Mindfulness Circle at the Recovery Learning Community's Greenfield Center that night.  As is 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,  I could feel our Shared Presence.

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.

I love it when that happens.

The Theory and the Practice

Immersed as we are in a patently materialistic society, a milieu that fosters individualism, greed, speed, fear and frustration, Just Sitting Still can be challenging.  We have been conditioned to experience our world through mental and emotional states that manifest a lot of noise, restless motion -- and a deep sense of separation.  Bombarded with stimulation and stress, our minds habitually filled with incessant chatter, most of us have spent much of our lives being constantly distracted and disconnected from our True Nature.  Disconnected from ourselves, we are disconnected from one another.  A 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.
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