"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, June 27, 2014

Mama Said There'll Be Days Like This

"Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this mama said."
-- The Shirelles

"Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. 
One inspires us, the other softens us. 
They go together.”
―  Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

Although for decades now meditation and mindfulness practice have been the central focus of my spiritual life, over the years I've explored a number of practices from a variety of traditions.  In the early 70's, I chanted Om Mani Padme Hum until I could feel the Grand Hum, practiced other mantra yogas. 

Over the years, I've sung (and danced) bhajan and kirtan with the Hare Krishna's and Neem Koroli Baba's folks, participated in Sufi and Sacred Dance circles.  Over the years I've found a great value in various aphorisms, affirmations and prayers, as well. Yet, for me,  the combination of music and words can sometimes be High Magic.

Although I maintained my daily sitting practice (and continued examining the Lojong slogans) this week, the Universe also brought forth an unexpected, deeply healing, musical incantation.  It emerged not from the Sacred Sounds of an eastern spiritual tradition, but from the first "girl group" to top the Billboard Top 100.  Softy singing in my "mind's ear" this heavenly chorus of young women from New Jersey immediately transformed my state of mind.  I had been pretty funked out at that moment, then, instantaneously, a grin emerged on my mug, the quality of my consciousness became brighter and lighter.  All it took was the Shirelle's simple refrain:

"Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this mama said."

Duh,  Of course.  It's Life as it is. 

The  past week has been a real doozie.  Hurting my lower back 24 hours ahead of what turned 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It's a Family Affair

(Once again, this week's workload helping my brother Hal through the challenges of creating a "new life" here in Oklahoma prevented me from spending Thursday morning with my "blog meditation".  I decided to reprint a post from the past once more, going back a year this time to see what was going on at that point in my life.  Amazed by the Grand Synchronicity, I discovered that last year about this time I had written "It's a Family Affair", a contemplation about my experience of meditating on the grounds of what had been St Therese's Hospital, the site of the birth of my first child -- and the death of my father.  

Poised to return hOMe to Western Massachusetts tomorrow morning, full of gratitude for the richness of this Life, the Web of Being that extends from the genetic foundation of "blood family" through our kinship with all sentient beings, I offer you this week's "golden oldie."
 -- Lance)

First published, June 14, 2013

 "Let me respectfully remind you, life & death are of supreme importance.   Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost.  Each of us must strive to awaken.  
Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your lives." 

---A traditional Zen Exhortation recited by the Eno at the end of Evening Service  at Zen Mountain Monastery

Today I meditated under a tree about a hundred yards or so from where I saw my eldest daughter Persephone born in 1972--and witnessed the death of my father in 1975.  Though I sat in formal meditation for only ten minutes or so (my son Joshua was walking nearby with a sleeping Granddaughter Amelia in the her stroller), I had the opportunity, at least momentarily, to once again open my heart to the Profound Immensity of Life/Death in a way that most folks in this society probably haven't allowed themselves to consider possible--or even desirable. 

I'm incredibly grateful to the teachers, teachings and practices that have allowed me to experience even the tears that flowed during those moments as an outright blessing, to feel again the utter Preciousness of Life.

Afterwards, Josh, sleeping Amelia and I continued walking the grounds of what was once St. Therese Hospital (Now owned by Vista Health System) in Waukegan, IL talking about our rather tumultuous family history.  It's been that sort of week.

All too often within families, the death of a loved one is accompanied by a great deal of "unfinished business".  Rarely is there a willingness and ability to engage in the type of deep, open, and honest communication about our lives--and our deaths--that could serve to heal the inevitable wounds inflicted and incurred in the course of a normal life.  In a society that, in the main, has lost sight of the Sacred possibilities of Forgiveness and True Human Love, the grief of the ultimate loss is often compounded by the anguish of guilt and regret.

When I read Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living, Conscious Dying by Stephen Levine years ago, I took the first step toward approaching my death intentionally, as an integral part of my life and practice.  Although I had already had a set of "peak experiences" that had dissolved a fundamental fear of death, I saw pretty clearly that there was a lot of work to be done within my own family.  It was going to take a deepening of my own personal practice and a lot of communication with my loved ones before I would be able to "let go" and take that last breath "in peace". 

A couple of years later, I was fortunate enough to attend "Healing Into Life and Death", a five day retreat presented by Stephen and Ondrea Levine.  The two of them were masterful in creating a sense of community among the 300 or so folks gathered there, about a third of whom were terminally ill. Amidst the hours of meditation, guided meditations, interpersonal exercises, talks and discussions, I first touched an essential form of forgiveness: the ability to forgive myself for the countless ways that I had caused harm to those I loved, intentionally or unintentionally.

As time has gone on it has, once again, become clear that even the deepest experiences are ephemeral as I've stumbled and bumbled ahead in life.  Yet,  although I still blunder quite regularly--and I can and do feel moments of guilt and shame emerge and dissolve--it is also quite clear that something had shifted, something had healed.  That experience has enabled me to more quickly extend and accept forgiveness.  This has helped me to slowly and carefully engage in the needed conversations over the years with those I love. 

The work, of course, isn't done.  I don't suspect it will be until I do take that last breath. 

But, at this point, that seems fair enough.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

You Say You Want a Revolution?

“We have the ability to effect a great positive change in the world, starting with the training of our own minds and the overcoming of our deluded conditioning. Waking up is not a selfish pursuit of happiness; it is a revolutionary stance from the inside out, for the benefits of all beings in existence.”
Noah Levine, Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries

"There's a rebel within you.  It is the part of you that already knows how to break free from fear and unhappiness.  This rebel is the voice of your own awakened mind.  It's your rebel Buddha, 
the clear intelligence that resists the status quo."

Noah Levine
My brother Hal and I played a doubleheader Wednesday evening.  After sitting with the Prairie Wind Sangha at Windsong Innerspace, we stayed around to sit with Refuge Recovery, a nascent OKC group inspired by the teachings and work of Buddhist teacher Noah Levine, the self-described "Dharma Punk" founder of Against the Stream Meditation Society.  

It made this old hippie/yippie child of the 60's heart glow.  

I came across the work of Noah Levine a couple of years ago and got my hands of a copy of Meditate and Destroy, a documentary film featuring his life -- and his life's work with incarcerated youth and drug addicts in Los Angeles.  As the old saying goes, "it takes one to know one."  

The son of Buddhist teacher Steven Levine, the years of Levine's youth had been immersed in drugs, violence, incarceration -- and attempted suicides.  As he hit emotional rock bottom in a padded detoxification cell at age 17 he turned toward the meditation practices that he now shares widely.  Going forward to obtain an MA in counseling psychology and train with meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, Levine's blending of the traditional Buddhist teachings with the process of Recovery continues to touch thousands of lives.

Although there were some tatoos in evidence, the Oklahoma City group was much more diverse in age and appearance than I may have guessed.  I think that this speaks to the widespread appeal of Buddhist practice to members of the Recovery community.   Hot off the presses, Levine's book Refuge Recovery was the central focus of the meeting which also included a period of guided meditation and a period of personal sharing.  I was impressed to the point of tears by the clear-eyed sincerity and openness of the ten or so folks gathered to share Practice.

Not unlike the 12 step Practice of AA,  a central piece of the process of healing detailed in Refuge Recovery is a comprehensive self-inventory of the many ways which we create our own suffering.  The unflinching exploration of the deep, unconscious attachment to the myriad cravings that operate to control our lives is, of course, the essence of Buddha's 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  Although, the extreme form of suffering that can be involved in alcoholism and drug addiction is the focus of Refuge Recovery, I think the outline of Practice offered by Noah Levine and Against the Stream Meditation Society can be universally helpful to anyone who is committed to Awakening. 

The language of Revolution offered by Levine, resonates deeply with me, of course.  The roots of my

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Wherever Two or Three of You Are Gathered.....

(Once again, the reality of my current life here in Oklahoma hasn't given me the elbow room to sit down and spend a morning with the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call post.  In the midst of long days of effort, Hal and I did have a chance to drive down to Oklahoma City to Sit with the Prairie Wind Sangha, a Thich Nhat Hahn inspired group facilitated by Maurice Hoover at Windsong Innerspace on Wednesday evening.  That experience, and the powerfully positive impact of some recent email encouragement from members of the Mindfulness Circles back home, reminded me once again of the importance of Sangha.   A community of spiritual support is an essential part of my Life.  With deep gratitude to those whose commitment to Practice continues to inspire me,  here's another "golden oldie".) 

Originally Published July 5, 2013

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

"Everyone has the seed of Buddhnature 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? 

For information on Prairie Wind Sangha and the other offerings at Windsong Innerspace: