"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."
"A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life
depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must
exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am
-- Albert Einstein
"Be grateful to everyone."
-- The 13th slogan of the Lojong Trainings
I'm sometimes amazed -- and often amused -- as I observe my heart/mind floating down the stream of consciousness as I sit here at the keyboard in the attempt to write something helpful for the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call each week. Today, I sat for a few moments facing the relatively blank New Post screen, then wandered around a bit on the web tracing the word "gratitude" along various strands of thought, trying all the while not to get too far afield.
Now I'm sitting here with my chest heaving, tears rolling down my cheeks,with images of Bing Crosby as freakin' Father O'Malley playing across the screen at Memory Lane Theater.
WTF? How in the world did I end up here? (CONTINUED)
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
Thích Nhat Hạnh,
"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
― 1 Corinthians 6:19, The Bible, New International Version
When I observed my first Zen teacher practice kinhin, the walking meditation of his tradition, I was dumbfounded. I hadn't seen anything like it before. There was a grace in his bearing, a Presence in his slow mindful steps that was palpable. It was obvious to me that Reverend Gyomay Kubose, in his 70's at the time, was connected to his body -- and to the smooth wooden floors of the Chicago Buddhist Temple -- in an entirely different way.
The first of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of Body is a concept that stretches back to the earliest texts of Buddhism. In the Theravada tradition, the Anapanasati and Maha Satipathana Suttas spell out the details of meditative techniques which have been widely taught for about 2500 years. Now, through the efforts of Jon Cabot-Zinn and others, western medical science has been able to verify that mindfulness meditation has a significant positive impact on health, both physically and psychologically. A primary emphasis of these techniques is developing a fuller awareness of our bodies as a basis of cultivating a calmer and clearer sense of the entire realm of our own experience. With this comes a clearer sense of the nature of reality.
Conditioned as we are, most of us are "in our heads" most of the time. Although we are obviously always breathing; although our eyes are seeing, our ears hearing, our bodies moving, most of that happens without our full presence of mind. Most of the focus of our attention is on the thoughts running through our head. Oftentimes fueled by emotions that we are, at best, minimally aware of, these thoughts dominate our awareness in a way that sweeps us along the stream of our own conditioned patterns. Without a commitment to Practice, we are liable to "sleepwalk" through our lives, rarely awakening to the Sacredness of Life that permeates our existence each and every moment.
In this week's MMM Circle, I found myself mentioning that it may be helpful to create a specific
“Discipline is important. When we sit down to meditate, we are
to stick with the technique and be faithful to the
but within that container of discipline, why do we have to
be so harsh?"
Tuesday morning the world turned white in the foothills of the Berkeshires. In the crisp pre-dawn air, with the cracking of a small woodstove in the simple meditation hall of the Valley Zendo as a soundscape, I caught my first glimpse of winter. As I turned the corner during the first walking meditation of the morning, there it was outside the window. I was awestruck, surprisingly joyful.
That came and went, of course. The day unfolded as I continued Sesshin with Reverend Eishen Ikeda, the Soto Zen teacher in residence at this simple, rustic center in Rowe, MA. In the style of Antaiji, where Ikeda had practiced with the late Kosho Uchiyama Roshi in his native Japan years ago, a day of the monthly five day Sesshin begins at 4:10 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. I had entered sesshin with my friend Peter the day before at 3 p.m. and was committed to sitting the final day which ended at 5 p.m. It was "easy duty." I was only facing ten hours of meditation that day. Except for the meals and clean-up, each hour consisted of 50 minutes of sitting and ten minutes of the slow walking meditation known as kinhin.
I can't really say with any degree of certainty at this point why I was drawn to travel out there to face the predictable physical discomfort and the entire gamut of feelings that would emerge during that day and a half. Yet, I can say with certainty that I felt it to be valuable. I'm now thinking of doing this a monthly part of my personal Practice. I think it may have something to do with exploring the nature of discipline. A full day of Sitting can likely involve moments of "not wanting to do it."
For good reasons, I think most of us have a difficult relationship with the whole idea of discipline. (CONTINUED.....)
"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."
"What we expect is to be truthful; to be kind; to try to share; to try to
love one another. Some folks don’t recognize that as a discipline: They
say, "Oh, that old stuff…." And it may not sound too difficult, unless
you’ve ever tried it. But if you ever try it, you’ll know it’s an
--Stephan Gaskin, This Season's People
The only time I saw a somewhat severe Burmese Buddhist meditation master (and his entire coterie of attendants) break down into belly laughs was when he pointed out that most Westerners seem to think that their mind is in their heads. After a few moments, regaining his composure, he then raised his hand to his heart and continued. Although I don't remember the exact words his interpreter used, the point seemed obvious. It resonated with what I had felt years before as I sat in tears of joy during one of those perfect moments that Life seems to grace us with now and then.
Jesus had it right. It's all about Love.
As I learned it from my first Zen teacher, heart, mind, spirit are the same word in Japanese. Derived from a chinese character, the word shin makes no distinction between these three realms of existence. They are seen as inseperable, one and the same. In the Oneness of Being, beyond any words we use, our bodies, our minds, and our spirit are a seamless whole. It's why I practice meditation. I'm trying to "get it together", to live a life of Integrity as best I can.
Over the years, I've found that as we spend the time to observe carefully how heart/mind/spirit operates within our own experience, as we commit ourselves to the Practice both on and off the cushion, we can not only develop a clearer and more appreciative understanding of the exquisite and intricate Web of Life that we are, we can actually begin to get a handle on how to slowly and gently become the person that, in our heart of hearts, we wish to be. Then, at a certain point, we can even realize that we actually ARE the person we wish to be--and always have been! We find that, even with all our flaws, with all our neurosis and conditioned patterns, we are absolutely perfect as is--and so is everybody else! There is nowhere and nobody that is beyond the embrace of the One Love, whatever the karmic "predicament" may be at that moment.
The major question that propelled Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen, to leave Japan (CONTINUED...)
"While we are sitting in meditation, we are simply exploring humanity
and all of creation in the form of ourselves."
---Pema Chödrön, Awakening Loving-Kindness
"Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation."
---The 16th Mind Training Slogan of Atisha
I've had my nose buried in books a lot this past week. No longer on the road with Daddy and Papa duties predominating, my time had opened up again and, of course, I seemed to fill it right back up.
Although, admittedly, some of that time involved taking long morning walks amidst fall splendor and making the time to take additional periods of Just Sitting Still Doing Nothing, the discussion in Wednesday's Midweek Mindfulness Circle did propel me to dive into a stack of books to re-familiarize myself with Lojong Practice, based on the Mind Training Slogans of Atisha.
Although these slogans emerged and were passed on as secret teachings in Tibet by the emigre Indian teacher, Atisha, they were codified and then opened to a wider audience in the 12th century by Tibetan teacher Geshe Chekawa. Now, in the 21st century, in the melting pot of American Buddhism, I not only get to read a number of commentaries of teachers from the Tibetan tradition (Chögyam Trungpa, Pema Chödrön and B. Alan Wallace), I get to read the commentaries of an American disciple of Japanese Zen, Sensei Norman Fisher.* It's like peering at the facets of a diamond while slowly spinning it around.
How cool is that?
At one point years and years ago, after having been struck by Ram Dass's teachings in Be Here Now, (CONTINUED...)