"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, April 24, 2014

Now What?

"We are already what we want to become."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Life is the dancer.  You are the dance."
-- Eckhart Tolle

I didn't Sit this morning.  The heat apparently didn't come on last night as the temperatures dropped into the lower 30's and a stiff northwest wind was rattling the window alongside my bed as I came awake.

I got up, went to the bathroom.   Then, I strode back across the cold floor and immediately grabbed the heating pad and an extra blanket  -- and crawled back into bed. I hadn't planned on falling back to sleep. 

As I often do, as soon as I laid down, I placed my awareness on my body and breath, consciously stretching and relaxing a bit, noticing some thoughts and feelings spin through my awareness as well.  Predictably, the first burst of thoughts was a rather daunting "things to do list".  When I let those thoughts go and turned to the underlying feelings, I noticed a tightness in my chest and belly.

As I lay there, I could pretty easily define the that collection of thoughts and feelings as "me" being anxious, fearful, worried about not accomplishing all that I wanted to get done today. In the old days, that collection of thoughts and feelings often could consume my attention to the point of distraction and disarray.  In fact, a number of times in my life similar collections of mind-states contributed to a dramatic "burn-out."

As I lay there this morning, though, within a moment or two I was breathing the feelings into my heart with the wish that I could feel those feelings for all of us.  My heartfelt aspiration that all of us be at peace, free of such suffering, rode the release of the out breath.  I didn't have to choose to Practice at that moment.  More and more it has become a habitual response.

Floating on the breath of Tonglen Practice, embraced in the gracious spaciousness of Mindfulness and Awareness, the fear and stress quickly morphed into a pang of sadness.  Then sadness quickly dissolved into a feelings of gratitude, then a sense of wonder about Life and Practice. Then there was just breathing, the wind howling out the window.  Then a few dream bubbles danced into awareness and burst.  Then I fell asleep.

I awoke an hour or so later, warm, well rested -- and ready to dance. 

One of my favorite Zen stories comes at the end of Dogen's Genjokoan: Actualizing the Fundamental Point.   Here it is:

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Genuine Heart of Sadness

This world- absolutely pure
As is. Behind the fear,
Vulnerability. Behind that,
Sadness, then compassion
And behind that the vast sky.
--Rick Fields

Sometimes, insight and healing emerge slowly during the course of Practice.   Like spring unfolding across the palette of April and May, our world slowly greens and blooms.  What was dark, harsh and frigid, slowly brightens, softens and warms.  At a point we notice:  It's different now than before.

At other times, insight and healing emerge like a bolt of lightning!


Sometimes coming with a torrential downpour of tears, sometimes not, a Grand Gestalt comes together in a heartbeat. In a flash, in an instant,  we really Get It! (Or perhaps, more accurately-- It Gets Us.)  We can't help noticing.  It's different now than before.

I was at Himalayan Views, a nearby spiritual gift shop/bookstore a few years back, when I was fortunate enough to hear about a woman's experience of one of those moments. Suffering from what was diagnosed as "clinical depression" since adolescence, she had come across one of Pema Chodron's teachings on the genuine heart of sadness.  As she told it, an awakening had come in a flash.  In an instant she knew.  At that instant she discovered a whole new way to hold her experience.  


In a burst of tears -- and then with rainbows glistening through her tears -- the whole world had shifted.  She clearly saw that her deep sadness about the human condition wasn't a sickness, it was an essential Connection to Bodhichitta, the soft and tender core of our Spiritual Heart.  She had felt that as a child, but nobody in her life knew what it was.  She now understood that sadness wasn't a personal flaw, an illness,   She now knew that in her heart of hearts that she had touched what the Buddha had touched.  Now, she just needed to learn how to work with it.  

With the assistance of a supportive counselor and a regular meditation practice, she successfully decreased and then discontinued her use of antidepressant medications -- and at the point she was sharing her story, had been successfully, sometimes quite joyfully, navigating her life for a couple of years, drug free.

Please understand: My point here is not that medications are always the wrong approach.  (As a child of the sixties, how could I ever claim that drugs are always a bad thing?  Stephan Gaskin and Ram Dass weren't the only ones who learned a few things under the influence.)  Drugs simply are what they are.  Over the years, I have had dear friends whose quality of life has been dramatically improved through the use of prescription drugs to address their psychological and physical health. 

Instead, what I am pointing to here, is that there is a great value in exploring what our society

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Starting Where You Are: First, Train in the Preliminaries

"If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, 
then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them. 
True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate 
than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
-- Pema Chodron, 

Last week, the folks in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, soundly outvoted me and we decided to focus on the Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism for the foreseeable future.  Two of the MMM regulars, Michelle and Stephanie, who've been quite patient with my meanderings for just over a year now, led the charge and I committed to assembling an annotated bibliography and posting the text of one slogan the week before each twice monthly meeting.  At that rate it will take a little over two years to cover the 59 slogans used in Lojong Training.  After working with them for awhile now myself, it seems like a worthwhile thing to do.

In my own inimitable style this propelled me to support the new effort with a new blog, A Layman Looks at Lojong.     http://alaymanlooksatlojong.blogspot.com/   If you're interested in the bibliography or the Full Disclaimer there you can surf there now if you'd like.  The post below is just a copy of that one!

A Disclaimer:  The Lojong Teachings emerge out of Tibetan Buddhism and have been passed down from guru to student for about a thousand years.  Except for a couple of weekend gatherings at Deer Park with Geshe Sopa and an evening's talk by the Dalai Lama in a huge auditorium in Madison, Wisconsin years ago, I have never been in the Presence of a Teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition let alone formally studied with one.  Furthermore, I am not now, nor have ever been, an authorized teacher -- except by the State of Illinois as a high school social studies teacher back in the 1970's.  That certification expired long ago.   (Read the Full Disclaimer at A Layman Looks at Lojong

Starting Where You Are: First, Train in the Preliminaries

 I had practiced meditation, attending handful's of intensive retreats in various traditions for over 35 years by the time Betsy handed me a copy of Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living nearly ten years ago.  Longtime Director of Gampo Abbey, a student of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron had me hooked with the very first sentence of the Preface:


Although I had certainly experienced a number of "heart openings" over the years, both on and off the zafu, I poured through Start Where You Are to discover a new approach to the Practice, a new way to examine the nature of heart and mind, and --more importantly -- a systematic method to approach the deep conditioning that separates us from one another and our own True Nature.

As well as offering forth guidance on two forms of sitting meditation, Shamatha-Vipashyana and Tonglen, the 59 slogans of the Lojong Teachings offer a means to approach our lives in a way that cultivates kindness, clarity and compassion.  Organized as 7 main points, I think that anyone who explores them and takes them to heart is in for a very interesting,  perhaps sometimes heartrending, but profoundly heartwarming, adventure toward the One Love we share.

Slogan 1: First, Train in the Preliminaries.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Always Maintain A Joyful Mind?

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a deep joy.”
-- Rumi

"Notice everything. Appreciate everything, including the ordinary. 
That's how to click in with joyfulness or cheerfulness."
-- Pema Chodron

I actually didn't mind the long, intense winter at all this year here in Western Massachusetts.  The abundant snow and ice were just fine with me.  Even a frigid February that extended its way through the month of March didn't seem to phase me.  It was what it was.  In fact, it was often quite grand.

That being said, Tuesday here in the Pioneer Valley was different.  Although Spring had occasionally whispered in our ear for weeks, on Tuesday she stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed in no uncertain terms, "I'M HERE!"

And everybody knew it.

On the sunwashed sidewalks of Greenfield, Joyful Mind was palpable -- and shared. Good cheer was ubiquitous.  Steps were lively.  Strangers greeted one another  with nods and smiles.  Although I was acutely aware that the strains of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" could quickly morph into "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in the grand soundtrack of Life's movie, it didn't matter.  It was a done deal.  Mother Nature could turn on a dime to blow yet another Nor'easter in our face (it was April Fool's Day after all),  and I'd just blow her a kiss.  We were home free.  Spring had arrived!

In the Lojong Training of Tibetan Buddhism, a series of aphorisms is memorized, studied and used in training the mind to expand beyond it's usual conditioned patterns.  Operating as mental reminders to frame our experience in particular ways -- both on the meditation cushion and off -- these 59 slogans, arranged as 7 main points, can be quite helpful in cultivating an open heart and a clear head.  Prompted by one of the regulars at Monday Morning Mindfulness, I've jumped into an exploration of Lojong for eight or nine months now.  Being at heart a Spiritual Practice Geek, I've read and re-read the presentations of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron and Zen Teacher Norman Fischer, surfed through the on-line course of commentaries by Acharya Judy Lief, poked around for other commentaries.

Some of these slogans seem pretty obvious: Don't be jealous, don't malign others, etc.   We probably have heard them from our parents, Sunday school teachers, from some of our kind and upstanding friends. Others call for some understanding of the basic principals and teachings of Mahayana Buddhism or some of the unique notions of Tibetan Buddhism.   Reading the commentaries by contemporary teachers usually brings them into focus pretty quickly and makes them accessible and applicable.

Then there are some like slogan 21:  Always Maintain A Joyful Mind!

I think a common first reaction to that is "WTF?  Are you kidding me?"