"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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

When You Wish Upon A Star

"Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing."
--from "When You Wish Upon A Star" 
Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, 1940

"“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people 
who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
― Pema Chödrön

Over a decade ago, I sat on the front porch of an A frame on the ridge at Zen Mountain Monastery gazing at a star-filled Catskill Mountain sky.  I was certain that I was going to leave the monastery after six months in residence.  

I had absolutely no idea what my next move would be.  Over the years, I had often thought, "once the kids are grown, I can finally DO IT!  I'd get to the monastery or ashram and find The Teacher -- then just cruise!"  So much for that idea.

Now what?

Although I had again experienced a number of deep "openings" in the cauldron of Zen Training as envisioned by Roshi John "Daido" Loori, I knew that the rigid, hard-driving, and quintessentially hierarchical nature of the Roshi's "Eight Gates of Zen" didn't ring true for me.  I had great respect for many of the folks involved, and saw that the monastic life appeared to work for some, but I now knew I wasn't going to get off that easy.  I was going to have to get out there and figure it out for myself -- again.

As I sat there, absolutely clueless, a quote from the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull emerged and, like that intrepid seagull seeker,  I thought, "I just have to hang onto the wind and trust."  The very next instant a shooting star flashed across the night sky directly in front of my eyes -- instantly disappearing into the tapestry of countless stars and fathomless blackness reaching overhead.


I wish it was always that easy.  
Moving On 

The next morning, I ate crow (I had made a year's commitment), and announced my intention to leave.  My favorite monk and mentor there, Ryushin, who would later become the Abbot of ZMM*,  challenged me directly about breaking the commitment I'd made.  "How can you live with yourself?" he demanded.  

I replied that although I may have sometimes bailed too early on a commitmentin the past, the truth of the matter was that my usual modus operandi was to stick with something long after it was obvious that it made no sense to do so.  I wasn't going to do that again.  It was time to go.  I don't know that he agreed with my decision but, bless his heart, he hugged me as I departed.  

I think for a lot of us, the notion of "breaking free" from the incessant busyness and demands of life and heading to the hills to escape from the myriad responsibilities that seem to tie us up in our own knots seems quite appealing.  For some of us geezers who had experienced that widespread Spiritual Awakening of the 60's, "the hills" often meant heading to the ashrams and monasteries, or the hermit's huts and caves to find someone that would provide us with the Ultimate Answers to Life.  I, myself, had made a number of such journeys over the years as I stumbled ahead.  My tour of duty at Zen Mountain Monastery was, I think, the final time I barked my shins on the way up the wrong tree. 

Once again, I realized in a fundamental way the true spiritual journey for me was one of the integration of, not separation from, the "full catastrophe" of Life.  To borrow another notion from Jon Kabat-Zinn, I finally realized that wherever I went, there I was. 

This doesn't mean that I don't think there are Teachers and Teachings and Spiritual Communities that can provide us with a degree of support and guidance along the way.  The opportunity to engage in intensive meditation retreats is a blessing and I am so grateful to have been able to dive deeply into days, weeks, and months of such settings over the years.  I honor and respect the efforts of those who have dedicated their lives to these efforts and will continue to sing their praises. (In fact, I highly recommend that you attend a meditation retreat if you haven't yet.  Even a full day or a weekend can be transformative.)

Yet, for me (and I think many other folks), the True Spiritual Journey doesn't involve heading to the hills forever.  It involves diving ever more deeply into our lives as they are with as much skill and grace as we can muster. 

Once we discern that our deepest yearning is to love and help out as best we can, our Practice unfolds as both the means and the ends of cultivating the clarity, kindness, understanding,  compassion, and equanimity to do that. With Practice we learn to be more fully Present, to engage life with all our sensory apparatus functioning.  Rather than sleepwalk through our lives lost in our thoughts and daydreams, we awaken with a full and open heart --ready to rock!

At that point, everyone and everything becomes the Teacher and the Teaching!

What more could one wish for?


Anonymous said...

One couldn't ask for more I don't believe. Wonderful analogy. I truly love the bends and turns along the journey. life is 'fresh' in each moment. To be up close and personal with it, for me, the trials fold into the joys, the joys glow and sends me forward in appreciation. Warm pic. Joy!

Lance Smith said...