"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

Friday, July 26, 2013


We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out,
either way making things worse for ourselves and others.
Or we can practice patience: wait,
experience the anger and investigate its nature.
---Pema Chodron

“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”
---Thich Nhat Hanh

The Universe is exquisite.  Once you hitch your wagon to Practice and roll out, you are going to get the lessons you need to take you deeper--whether you like it or not!  (That might be especially true if you have the chuzpah to sit down each week and try to say something about how Life really IS and suggest ideas about what we can do about that.  LOL)

Last week, I spent time here presenting the notion that simply "cutting loose of the storyline", the process of refocusing our awareness on other aspects of our experience (preferably what we are feeling in our heart), can sometimes take us from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.  Although I certainly have experienced something approximating that more than once, Life has interjected a pretty dramatic bout of upset apple carts and broohaha over the course of 24 hours or so to remind me that it certainly can take a bit longer to regain that sense of wonder about it all.  It may seem like a hell of a long time, even.

As a child and a young man I had what folks call an extremely bad temper.  Having grown up in the midst of a lot of anger, I would react to things in my world with bursts of violent emotions and even physical violence.  I could yell and smash things and strike out with the worst of them.  Perhaps, one of the deepest gratitudes that I have to the Practice is that I no longer am likely to inflict harm on others due to "loosing it".  

Yesterday, I hit a deep pool of anger for the first time in quite awhile.  Mixed with fear and pain, no amount of cutting loose of the storylines was about to dispel it rapidly.  Although it certainly helped,
what was called for was the willingness and ability to make some time and space to allow the anger to run its course within as much mindfulness and heart as I could manage.  Ultimately it took me a couple of  hours in the evening, then a couple more in the early morning to bring it to the point where I felt safe to re-engage with Betsy and the rest of my life in a clear and kind way. 

During that time, both Shamatha/Vipashyana and Tonglen practice seems to have afforded me the opportunity to feel and examine the nature of the patterns involved in that anger, to stay with it rather than withdraw.  First in little bursts, then with a slow and gentle expansion I felt that gracious spaciousness return.  Slowly I felt my heart open again.  Whew!

Shambala Sun, a magazine which offers a "Buddhist view for people of all spiritual traditions who are open, inquisitive, passionate and committed" has two articles that may be helpful to you if you are interested in ways to look at and work with anger (and the whole continuum of aversion). "The Answer to Anger and Aggression is Patience" by Pema Chodron and "Loosening the Knots of Anger" by Thich Nhat Hanh are both available on-line and can be quite useful.

I'm certainly grateful that Life embraces the possibility of Love, Forgiveness, and Good Will.  I'm grateful that we have the means to bring that into our world individually and collectively.  I'm grateful to the Practice and all it provides.

Friday, July 19, 2013

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, 
The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

"The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao."
---Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching

The irony is exquisite.  I'm sitting here at the laptop poised to sprinkle some words across the screen in an effort to capture the essence of the notion that words can't really capture the Essence.  (Fat chance, eh!?)

After choosing the two quotes for this post, the next thought was, "Ah, I'll just leave it at that, choose a graphic, and hit "send" and head out for today's adventure: my first visit to Laurel Lake.  But, that seemed a bit too cutesy, a tad too easy.   I am, afterall, making an attempt to live what Roshi Kosho Uchiyama has characterized as "a life of vow."  I've committed to a weekly post as part of my commitment to Monday Morning Mindfulness.

When push comes to shove, a set of commitments are all that I really have to bring to the plate. The rest is in the hands of the Cosmic Pitcher.   Although I have certainly put in my time in the batting cage, all I can really do is be Present as best I can and take my best swing if it appears to be in the strike zone,  let it go by if it ain't. 

And here's the next pitch.....

In chapter 8 of The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness,  Pema Chodron not only
offers what I sense is a valid "take" on the Way It Is, but gives us a useful and practical way to carefully, gently and persistently alter the nature of the way we experience Life.  Entitled "No Such Thing As a True Story", she points out that we create our own world moment to moment as a result of the way we think, what we believe.  

This notion probably isn't new to anyone who has been exploring Eastern Spirituality.  Yet, it's not the "belief" about how beliefs alter our perceptions of things that is most important.  What is important is realizing that we have the option--moment to moment--to let go of the thoughts that are spinning through our brain.  We can, instead, focus on the underlying experience of our life in that moment: the actual sensations of sight and sound and touch and feeling, the experiencing of the energies at play within our own bodies and beyond.  We can actually shift our awareness from our heads to our hearts.  That's where the real action is.

Although making the choice to let go of the "storylines" that tend to run through our brains takes having the courage and gentle persistence to explore even what is painful and scarey with a great curiosity, that's where all the Miracles exists.  With Practice, simply remembering the mental note "thinking",  ultimately can shift our experience of reality dramatically.  Sometimes it can take us from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.

Of course, for most of us, the "habit" of focusing most of our awareness on the content of our thoughts is deeply ingrained.  It is, after all, the major means we use to "control" our world.  We create a superstructure of "knowing" to protect us from the sometimes queasy, achy-breaky sensations that emerge from of the ultimate uncertainty of it all.

Oftentimes we've learned to stay in our head to avoid what is in our hearts. 

Our "thoughts about the matter" are also the primary foundation of our identity as we experience it.  The "I" that we experience is, in large part, the sum total of the conclusions we have drawn about the the nature of reality and how we fit into it.  Even if that "I" is generally stressed and unhappy, we cling to it.  It can be scarey as hell to throw it all up for grabs and proclaim, as the founder of the Providence Zen Center Korean Zen master Seung Sahn often did, "Don't know.  Straight ahead!" *

Yet. that is precisely the gateway to the Real Deal. 

Mindfulness Practice, both in formal meditation, and in those moments that we actually "notice" what we are experiencing, increasingly offers the possibility of exercising more conscious control over how and where we focus our attention.  With gentle persistence, we begin to open to Life in a kinder, clearer, and more complete way.  We come to see that we are way more than we thought.

And that's my story and I'm sticking to it--or not!

* In Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema describes this as a three-fold process:
Let go of the storyline. Feel what is in your heart.  Open to the next moment with no agenda.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Gateless Gate*

"You knock at the door of reality,
Shake off your thought wings,
Loosen your shoulders,
And open.

"And you shall know the Truth,
and the Truth shall make you free."
---Jesus of Nazareth

Last Monday's MMM Circle again provided some food for thought--and the impetus to move beyond thought--as a we compared notes on Mindfulness Practice.  At several points, as the group grappled with the various issues that had come up during the week as we worked to put the Practice into practice, the limits of discursive thought and "reasoning" became more than obvious.

I loved it.

At one point Michelle, in her own inimitable style, jumped with both feet into the apparent contradiction between the dictum to always "be here now" and the need to take care of life's necessary activities such as planning, paying the bills, etc.  She then moved on to the apparent contradiction between the notion that "we are One" and our individual uniqueness, adding, "I mean we're all one, but we're not.  We're the same, but we're different, ya know?"

I think Zen monks of old would have had a ball.

As it was, the Circle spiraled onward and we turned to the more apparently "practical" concerns of Practice, comparing notes, exchanging tips, etc.  Yet, as best I can sense it, the questions that Michelle had raised echoed themes presented in some of the fundamental koans of Zen.

It didn't surprise me, really.

It's become more and more obvious to me: when there is a commitment to live life consciously;  when there is any sort of willingness to examine our experience of Life in depth rather than allowing the messages we have internalized from our upbringing to create our realities,  Life Itself can and will provide us with the necessary questions--and the necessary answers. 

The fundamental paradoxes that Zen Koan study thrives on are inherent in the way conceptual thought operates.  With some time and effort, we each come to the Gateless Gate.  And, the good news is that we each have the ability enter into a deeper and richer reality than we've been conditioned to experience.  Like Jesus proclaimed, "Ask and you will receive. Knock and it will be opened."

Like Zen koan study, Life itself is designed to blow your mind.  It is designed to transform question marks into exclamation points.  All we have to do is really pay attention.  How else can we perceive the absolute Sacredness of our every day experience in the midst of a sunny summer day?  How else can we perceive Beauty in the eyes of a child?

The promise of Mindfulness Practice is that we increasingly become more able to answer these fundamental questions for ourselves from a quality of consciousness that embraces not only thought, but our bodies, feelings and intuition as well. Just because conceptual thought throws up it's hands and walks away without an easy answer, doesn't mean that answers don't exist. The most important ones just don't always come packaged in words.

As one's heart opens and the mind becomes calmer, the Truth can be as simple as experiencing the next breath.

How cool is that?

*The Gateless Gate is a classical collection of Zen koans compiled by Chinese Zen Master Wu-men in the 13th century.  In some forms of Zen, koan study is a primary practice.  Students have to demonstrate an understanding of what often appear as conundrums, ridicules and paradoxes.  
"What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is one of the most famous in the West. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Wherever Two or Three of You

"To begin a sangha, find one friend who would like to join you for sitting or walking meditation or tea meditation or sharing."
---Thich Nhat Hanh

 "Everyone has the seed of Buddhanature within themselves."
---Thich Nhat Hanh

These past few weeks of Monday Morning Mindfulness have certainly reaffirmed a belief that I've held for quite awhile now: Anyone who makes an effort to explore their own experience consciously and has the opportunity to compare notes on this effort with others similarly engaged will come to understand themselves and others at a deeper level.  The Practice works.

As the small group of us who have been meeting for Monday Morning Mindfulness "Beginner's Mind--and Beyond" have continued our exploration of Mindfulness Practice and our relationship to the question, "Why Bother?" it's only gotten better and better.  

As I sit here and turn my attention to the whisps of images that constitute the memories of the past couple of sessions, I am struck with a sense of awe and a feeling of gratitude for having shared those moments with other folks who have the heart and courage to explore Life in a way that is, I believe, crucial at this point in history.  At a time in which clinging to problematic institutional truths or the reaction to that, cynicism, threaten our very existence on the planet, the essential sincerity--and competence--of those gathered in the effort to Engage Life with an open heart and clear mind each Monday morning continues to amaze me.

It makes my heart glow.

Although I did my "teacher" thing this past week and made a point to share some ideas about commitment from the Buddhist traditions that I've worked with over the past few decades, it was again made obvious to me "The Teachings" are beyond any teacher or set of traditional teachings.  They emerge from Life itself.

Again and again during the past two sessions, the various members of the circle have offered forth, sometimes with tears in their eyes, powerful insights into the heart and mind.  These truths came forth as simple expressions of their own experience. I learned a lot.

How cool is that?