"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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Don't Just Do Something --  Sit There.
Then Do Something! 
Notes on The People's Climate March 

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
―Martin Luther King Jr.

Betsy and I had set the alarm for 3:45 AM -- and only hit the snooze alarm once.  It was Time.

After coffee, a bit of breakfast, and a bit of last minute packing, we were in the car, driving an hour to Greenfield to join 52 other folks on a charter bus for the long drive to New York City.  Clusters of folks wielding placards, backpacks and coffee cups were already in the Big Y parking lot as we arrived, somewhere on Mr. Sandman's side of 6 AM.  

A few moments later, a whoop went up as a bus appeared, gleaming in the eerie lights of the parking lot.  Then a bit of confusion emerged as another coach arrived.   Then another.  Then another.  It seems that there were two buses full of People's Climate Marchers making a pit stop en route from Brattleboro, VT and another bus that would also depart from Greenfield now in the parking lot.  I was also aware that a couple of my 108 Housemates were traveling on yet another bus, one of several, leaving from UMass-Amherst a few miles to the south.   As the heroic bus captains sorted it out and we climbed aboard, I thought, "This is going to be big!"

I had no idea.  Big was an understatement. 

Although the first reports of the mainstream media attempted to downplay the numbers with headlines like "Thousands gather.......", by evening it was obvious.  Even the stridently right wing Fox News conceded that upwards of 310, 000 people had gathered on the streets of New York City, other accounts had it upwards of 400, 000.  With another estimated 200, 000 participating in events in other locations throughout the world,  the Peoples Climate March was the largest environmental demonstration in history. 

For me, the most striking moments of an long, long day filled with striking moments began at 12:58 PM when, as planned, the multicolored river of humanity that stretched for miles through the streets of Manhattan went totally silent.  Amazingly, nobody had to say "hush".  The sounds of silence itself swept over us -- in an instant.  What had in one moment been a exuberant throng of drumming and chanting and singing and whooping climate marchers was now a Silent Presence.   In the distance a solitary siren wailed momentarily, a fitting reminder of the situation which we are facing on this planet.   Then, it too disappeared, embraced by the Stillness. 

In those moments the One Love was obvious.  In that Silent Presence, the Heart of our concern for this planet and all its miraculous beings beat as One.

Then, at 1 PM, hundreds of thousands of human voices and church bells and drums and musical instruments erupted with a resounding roar.  With the speed and power of a bolt of lightning, sweeping uptown like a tsunami of sound and energy, that roar cascaded up Central Park West lifting the throng of us gathered at 86th Street into the One Voice that had emerged.

Though wordless, the message was clear:  It is time.  Our Planet must be Healed.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Cup of Coffee at the Pearly Gates

 "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
― Saint John (Lennon)

“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose

Greenfield Coffee from the Town Commons
I arrived at Greenfield Coffee in plenty of time.  Even though I would have to interrupt my session at the laptop for a walk to the chiropractor's office and back (because my aching back was making it hard to walk), I would have hours to sit with this week's blog post before the noon #OMG! (#Occupy Meditation Group!) Peace Vigil across the street on the town commons. 

That was the plan.  I already had chosen the topic and had a title for a piece on Tonglen Practice.   It would be a piece of cake.

When I asked the women next to me to move over a little so I could plug in my ancient dinosaur of a Mac at the outlet at her feet,  little did I know that I'd soon be engaged in an animated conversation with Liza Knapp, the new Pastor of the Belchertown United Church of Christ -- and that time would stand still. (although the digital display on my iPhone later indicated otherwise)

It's like that sometimes.

I feel blessed to be living in a time and space where Mindfulness Practice is becoming readily accepted within broad sectors of the Christian Community. Although the fundamentalism of certain sects within each of the world's religions still is dreadfully destructive, the man-made walls separating the practices and insights of the world's spiritual traditions are dissolving among countless people of faith and goodwill.  Pastor Liza and I  excitedly compared notes on our experiences with Spirit and Service.  Although the focus of my personal spirituality has been within the traditions of Buddhism for the past few decades, it was obvious to me that she and I  were cohorts, two kindred spirits fully engaged in the ongoing miracle, the unfolding mysticism of the current age that emerges in the wonder of the Eternal Now.

At one point, when I mentioned that I was going to offer "Be Still and Know: An Interfaith Day of Mindfulness" at the Community Church of North Orange and Tully next month Pastor Liza did a double take.  It turns out she had a profound experience in guiding a woman into the Stillness of meditation with a sequence taken from Psalms 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.   (The woman was a roommate of a hospitalized parishioner she was visiting and had asked for a few moments of her time.)

I, myself,  had learned that particular way of initiating a period of meditation from the venerable Reverend Armand Prouixl who, walking alongside Trappist monk Thomas Keating in the 1970's, was one of the pioneers of the Centering Prayer Movement. A Catholic priest at the time, the Regional Director of the LaSalette Missionary Order, Armand continued the exploration of Contemplative Prayer and Spirituality as he left the priesthood and took on Householder status to raise a family.   He then returned to Christian ministry, ultimately becoming the Pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Greenfield before his retirement in 2012.

Beginning with "Be Still and Know that I am God",  the phrase is repeated, call and response style, with words removed in sequence:
"Be Still and Know that I am God"
"Be Still and Know that I am"
"Be Still and Know"
"Be Still"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Don't Just Do Something. Sit there!*

“When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Nonviolence which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

In a few hours I'll be hopping on a bus.  It will head through downtown Greenfield,  then climb up and over the ridge west of town before descending along the Mohawk Trail to snake along the Deerfield River into what the locals call West County.  To the north and south lie the hill towns perched in the foothills of the Berkeshire Mountains.  By the time all is said and done, I'll be driving up a dirt road tomorrow morning with my old dharmabum buddhy Peter to Valley Zendo above Charlemont, Massachusetts to join Reverend Eishen Ikeda for part of the September Sesshin.  

It's been too long.

As I envision sinking into 12 hours of meditation tomorrow and rising to start at 5:10 AM on Saturday amidst the silent splendor of late summer, I am also aware that on this date 13 years ago, along with millions of others, I stood transfixed in front of the television as the second jet descended to slam into the World Trade Center in New York City. 

Sometimes it's best to just sit.

The Valley Zendo was created in the mid 1970's through the efforts of three monks from Antaiji Monastery in Japan and several American lay practicioners.  Students of Roshi Kosho Uchiyama, Antaiji's founder and abbot, they brought a clean and simple form of Soto Zen with them.  As well as a daily practice, students in this lineage conduct a 5 day intensive retreat ten months out of the year.  Uchiyama believed in a sesshin "without toys".  Unlike intensive retreats offered in other Zen lineages now practicing in the United States, there is no formal oryoki (a highly ritualized formal meal), dokusan (a private interview with a Zen teacher complete with bows and bells), and, until recently, no chanting during sesshin.  (Evidently Reverend Ikeda, like his dharma brother Shohaku Okumura of the Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington, IN, have now begun one simple chanting practice each morning in deference to the larger Soto Zen community.) The day consists of sequences of 50 minutes of sitting meditation, then 10 minutes of walking meditation beginning at 5:10 AM and ending at 9 PM.  The only "interruptions" are the three simple meals eaten in silence and a brief period afterwards to clean up.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ya Think?

“The secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts,
in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking Toward Enlightenment 

Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone.
Without practice, nothing can be achieved.
Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras

After a couple of weeks in which I encountered some degree of sadness and angst regularly -- on and off the zafu -- the weather shifted dramatically and I have experienced many moments of bliss and wonder amidst the late summer heat and humidity here in Western Massachusetts.  

Obviously the external weather wasn't the primary cause of the shift.  I much prefer cool and crisp.  

Yet, there it was, again and again: a sense of Boundless Amazement permeated my experience.  As I opened to the Gracious Spaciousness of Mindfulness and allowed my thoughts to wander off into stillness, it was obvious to me that you don't have to die to go the Heaven.  This is the Pure Land.  It dances and sings to us, vividly, in the silent contentment of our hearts.