"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, September 27, 2013

Once Again: Why Bother?

"The study of the Buddha Way is to study the self.  To know the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things."
---Dogen Zenji, from the Genjokoan (Actualizing the Fundamental Point)

"Enlightenment is ego's ultimate disappointment."
---Chogyam Trungpa

More than ever, the world today needs a certain type of bravery.  As we go careening through the cosmos in what appears to be a helter skelter, mad dash toward our self-destruction as a species, the courage to sit still and examine the nature of our hearts and minds on a regular basis is, I think, crucial.  The actual commitment to do just that is no mean feat.  It's a rare and precious thing.

One of the stated intentions of most people who have wandered into MMM in the past 18 months has been to develop a regular meditation practice of their own.  Most, if not all,  had been exposed to meditation before, yet it hadn't "stuck".  Although there had been an intuitive draw to the exploration of Practice, and meditation did seem to make life work a bit better at that point, those special cushions ended up in closets and life rolled on.

I can relate, of course.  My zafu had gathered dust for months at a time over the past four decades as I bumbled and staggered ahead through my life.  Yet, inexorably-- and ultimately inexplicably--I found myself again drawn to Sit Still on a regular basis, again and again.  I haven't missed more than a handful of days in the past few years.  It can be the most interesting and wonderful, or the most confusing and disturbing,  part of my day!  At this point, it seems that the Practice is doing me as much as I'm doing it. 

One of the notions that propelled me to start MMM a year and a half ago was that I could help create a setting that would support others in the development of Practice.  For the most part I think that what has emerged does that to some extent.  Yet, it is clear that what one of my favorite MMM regulars characterized as "The Dilemma of Discipline" last week,  is a fundamental challenge along the path of Practice for us all.   

She and I just sort of bounced off of each other that day, getting hung up on debating external structures during the recent period of transition, rather than focusing on the central nature of commitment in the development of the Practice.  More than anything, it seems to me that commitment really is the Heart of the Matter. 

As we did back in June, it might be time for the Circle to again look at the essential question: "Why Bother?"--and compare notes on what we've found challenging and what we've found helpful in cultivating our practices.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we     love, they will bloom like flowers.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

The Universe is exquisite.  It provides us with lessons on letting go again and again.  Just when you think The Plan is in place--something shifts.  

Friday began normally enough.  I awoke before 5, set the meditation timer for an hour, and Sat to greet the day.  Usually, I would then grab a cup of coffee with Betsy before sitting down at the laptop to complete the weekly post for Your Courtesy Wake Up Call.  So much for that plan.

When I went downstairs after the Sit, Betsy was lying on the couch. It's not uncommon for her to stay down there after an early morning pee to give the two chihuahuas, Pedra and Chico,  some "puppy pile" time. When she stirred, though, I could tell she was not feeling well.  She said she felt lousy and needed to rest some more.  

It only got worse.  

Within a couple of hours, we were on our way to the Emergency Room at Heywood Hospital in Gardner.  After a series of tests over the course of the next few hours, we got the word: It was acute appendicitis!  Within a few minutes, at 4 p.m., the surgeon, the ER nurse and I were rolling Betsy down a series of corridors to the prep area of the Operating room.  (Thank God for small town hospitals. I was with her until the moment the team rolled her into the OR).  A little over an hour later she was in the ICU beginning her recovery from an appendectomy.  Soon her son Mark joined me at her bedside, and after she fell asleep, I left to drive back to Barre, tired and extremely grateful for the care and skill provided by the staff we encountered that day--and for the Practice.

During the course of that long day I had the opportunity to put the fruit of all those hours on the zafu to good use.  I was able be Present for my beloved friend.  As the hours rolled by, I was able to stay calm, caring, and clear as Betsy and I interacted with one another and the staff we encountered.  Experiencing the entire gamut of emotions (tears leaked through a few times), I had the opportunity to to breath and open my heart into each moment as it appeared without spinning off or turning away.  I was able to be there for her as Betsy experienced pain, be there with her fear--and mine.  One breath at at time, I watched as feelings emerged and dissolved in the spacious embrace of Mindfulness as my partner and I danced through this day along the edge of Life/Death.

Although these procedures are "routine", I had gazed out the window during the operation to see a windblown autumn leaf twirl through the sunlight and disappear into the shade.  I knew the deal.  Each moment is precious as it is. The next is not guaranteed.

So, obviously Friday's post never happened. It didn't happen Saturday as I cleaned house, shopped, made telephone calls to family and friends, then picked Betsy up from the hospital at noon.  Happy to have her safe at home,  I stayed at her side much of  the day, served as chief cook and bottle washer the rest of the time.  It was a blessing to see the color returning to her face.

Today. through the wonders of arthroscopic surgery Betsy is already able to move without a great deal of pain, to walk a bit. 

In fact she's stirring on the couch now after another nap--and it's a beautiful autumn afternoon. 

Perhaps it's time to do some walking meditation?

(Obviously, it has still taken me hours to finish up and get this on the web. The best laid plans.......)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Times They Are A-Changing

“One of my favorite subjects of contemplation is this question: “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?””
― Pema Chödrön

"I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence..."
–– David Bowie, "Changes"

I never really was a David Bowie fan, but as I sat down to the computer to begin this week's post, strains of "Ch-ch-ch-ch changes..." started running through my brain.  I even surfed over to YouTube and played it a few times, then brought up a copy of the lyrics.  "Ch-ch-ch ch changes. Turn and face the strain." Changes, indeed. Buddha in drag! (After all, Buddhanature is Universal, right? )

Although yesterday's sultry sizzler of an afternoon and last night's dazzling display of lightning, thunder, hail, and torrential rain seemed like a quintessential summer day, fall began whispering in our ear this past week.  My housemate Michael noticed it on the northwest breeze one relatively warm afternoon, enough to comment on it in the kitchen.  The next night the National Weather Service warned of scattered frost. "Ch-ch-ch changes..."

The fall has always been my favorite time of year.   But it's not just the multi-colored majesty of the foliage and cooler temperatures that bring its music to the top of the charts.  I wish it were that easy. 

Spring is easy to love. After the starkness of a New England winter, the world begins to explode with new life.  With warm breezes teasing us and daffodils poking their way through the snow, the irrepressible growth and greenery sings of "Ch-ch-ch changes" full of delight. Fall, on the other hand, modulates the whole world into a minor key as leaves burst into color--to then die and cascade to form burial mounds on the forest floor.

In the teachings of traditional Buddhism, human existence is said to have three basic characteristics: impermanence, non-self, and suffering.  These three Signs are said to be the inescapable fabric of our being.  Everything changes. We all die.  It hurts.  Fall puts that right in our face.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Listening With Our Hearts

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others 
and relieve others of their suffering....."
---from the Fourth Precept of Thich Nhat Hanh's Tien Tiep Order

“The intimacy that arises in listening and speaking truth is only possible if we can open to the vulnerability of our own hearts. ”
--- Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

A friend, who had attended  MMM Beginner's Mind and Beyond when a break in her schedule gave her the opportunity, was struck by the openness displayed by folks in the MMM Circle that day.  "Folks were so honest" she said with her eyes glowing a bit "--painfully honest!" I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo!" --and felt a deep gratitude for what emerges on Monday mornings these days. 

The opportunity to converse openly and honestly about what is nearest to our hearts and soul is a rare and precious thing today. In the hustle bustle of our prototypically materialistic society comparing notes on the Spiritual dimension of our lives doesn't happen all that much.  In fact, when I was a kid we were told not to ever talk about religion--or politics. 

Obviously, I didn't follow the rules.  I majored in political science in college--and have been an avid student of Spirituality for a long, long time.  The wisdom teachings that arise in the mystical traditions of all the world's religions and how they play out in the reality of our day to day lives is profoundly interesting to me.  I can't think of anything I'd rather yak about.

Of course, communication, in it's true sense, is much more than conversation.  Communication happens on many levels.