"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, December 24, 2015

All Is Calm, All Is Bright

With deep gratitude to the Teachers and Teachings that brought Tonglen Practice into my life.

Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior 
can make a proper cup of tea.”
― Chögyam Trungpa

 “When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.”
― Pema Chödrön

Outside the window, an early morning lemon white sun glistened across snow tinged in blue as I took my seat for morning meditation today.  The overnight temperature had dropped to 5 degrees overnight, so the official beginning of winter at 11:19 p.m. here in Western Massachusetts seems appropriate enough.  

Yet, I had noticed that they are predicting sunshine and a temperature of 45° the day after tomorrow!

Immediately thoughts arise and I notice myself face to face with the spectre of Global Warming.  My heart aches as a deep sadness emerges.  

Allowing these thoughts to dissolve, knowing that others feel this sadness also, I breath the fullness of this feeling into my heart as I recite two of the traditional Brahmavihara phrases:  "May all beings be safe. May all beings be free of suffering and the roots of suffering".  

As the in-breath continues, I notice a sense of spaciousness re-emerge as first my belly, then my rib cage expands.  My tender, warm, achy breaky heart is comforted in the embrace of a calm, clear, expansive open awareness that seemingly extends throughout and beyond space and time as the in-breath continues.  

As in-breath becomes out-breath, the words "May all beings be at peace" float on that breath as it dissolves into the Essential Oneness, radiating outward on the wings of a translucent visualization of the clear and brilliant eyes of countless beings gleaming in full awareness of their Buddhanature. 

I continue breathing and Practicing for awhile, and my heart glows as a deep joy mingles with a soft melancholy.  The world continues to glisten outside the window.  

All is calm, all is bright.

The words of this traditional Christmas carol ring through my consciousness, whispering of the vast expansiveness of the One Love which resides deep within us -- and infinitely beyond us.  

As we turn toward the celebrations of this holiday season, may we all rest in the embrace of this One Love.  

Sitting here now, I renew my vow to be clear enough and kind enough to help bring about the changes needed to create a sustainable, cooperative, peaceful world.

(For more on Tonglen Practice, see The Practice of Tonglen by Pema Chodron)

Friday, December 18, 2015

For Unto Us a Child is Born

 "Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. "
--- Thich Nhat Hahn

"Every child born is a living Buddha.  Some of them only get to be a living Buddha for a moment, because nobody believes it."
 ---Stephan Gaskin in Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin

First Posted, December 18, 2013

Keaton Izzy
Originally scheduled for a Christmas Day debut, Granddaughter Keaton Izzy arrived in the wee hours of Monday morning, in plenty of  time to avoid head to head competition with Baby Jesus.

Sporting all ten fingers and toes, sparkling with Buddhanature, her birth, like all births, is another obvious Affirmation of the Miraculous.  As she peered from Betsy's face to mine following the sound of our voices later that day, I could feel her Presence as pure, unadulterated Life Force.  Touched by the Great Mystery once again,  I felt a deep joy -- and a deep sadness.

Even as a child, the Christmas season always brought with it a certain sadness.  Something seemed more than slightly askew.   The messages of "peace on earth" and "goodwill to all", the prevailing storyline proclaiming this to be a special time of mirth and merriment,  didn't resonate with what I was experiencing.  I imagined it was just the chaos and uncertainty of my own childhood that left me feeling somehow "out of the loop".  As the years have rolled by,  I have thought that less and less.  It's pretty clear that a  lot of folks have a difficult time during the holiday season.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Be Still and Know

As the holiday season accelerates, I looked back at a few Posts of Christmas Past to get some perspective and, hopefully, alleviate any tendency to incarnate as Ebenezer Scrooge this year.  This one, written the day after Christmas a couple of years ago, was a helpful reminder of what the Real Deal is.  I hope you find it helpful as well. 
One Love, Lance
Originally Posted, December 26, 2013   

“Be still.  Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.
When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself”
― Lao Tzu

“Space and silence are two aspects of the same thing. The same no-thing. They are externalization of inner space and inner silence, which is stillness: the infinitely creative womb of all existence.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment 

In the midst of the scurry of the holiday season; often adrift in a sea of activity and noise (I'd forgotten that many folks leave their televisions on, running in the background), I was especially aware of how precious each morning's meditation was to me this past week.  Flowing through days and evenings chock full of visitations and meals and excited flurries of paper-ripping, my cushion seemed like an oasis.

Touching Stillness, even for a few brief moments, is like sipping clear, crisp spring water on a steamy summer day.  Paradoxically, it's also like feeling the warm glow of a fireplace, snuggling at home on a snowy evening peering through the window at the moon.  In Stillness, the Presence emerges.  In a silent whisper, it sings of the Ineffable, that space where the fundamentally mysterious and completely ordinary meet to form the fabric of Life itself.  

Although I use a variety of meditation techniques, I've found that the foundation of Practice is to simply Sit Still for a period of time allowing one's attention to rest on the actual experience of breathing.   Aware of the ongoing sensations of body/mind, to simply sit with what Zen teacher Norman Fischer calls "the basic feeling of being alive" brings us to the present moment.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Empty Handed

 "Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end." 
― Nagarjuna

 “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”
 ― Pema Chödrön

Mahakala: Wrathful Protector of Tibetan Buddhism
Years ago, when I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society, my Dharmabum Buddhy Jimmy grabbed me by the shoulders, and with eyes as big as saucers,  asked me "have you had a direct experience of the VOID?!"

"Damn!". I thought.  The stark horror in his voice didn't incline me to want to do any such thing.

Unlike Jimmy, at that point I had not spend much time with the Teachers and Teachings of the Tibetan tradition where the term the Void (or Great Void) seemed to be more commonly bandied about.  Although I'd read a couple of translations of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, my wanderings through the Yankee Dharma world of the 70's and 80's had primarily been focused on Zen -- and the Hippie Zen of Stephen Gaskin.

Like Jimmy, though, I had then been drawn to practice with the folks at IMS, who drew their inspiration and practice from teachers in the Theravadan tradition where Nirvana was, perhaps, seemingly a more palatable ultimate destination for practitioners.

Little did I know.

As I've come to see, there really is no destination!

Empty Promises

The term shunyata, most commonly translated as "emptiness" or "voidness" seems to freak a lot of folks out.  At age 69, having continued to peer into this particular diamond from every direction imaginable, it's become quite clear to me that the teachings regarding shunyata, expressed through the teachings of Pema Chodron and others -- and another 25 years of taking time to sit still doing nothing on the zafu most every day -- have been gently and inexorably transforming my heart's desire to truly serve from aspiration to moments of realization, from theory into an ongoing Practice.

In a recent on-line course, Pema Chodron used the term "positive groundlessness" to try to capture in words what the actual heart of shunyata may be.  At the time she said she wasn't convinced she'd continue to use that term, she was just "trying it out."  (That, in itself, is a great teaching.)  The term actually works for me just fine these days.  I often find a sense of wonder and great joy as I relax, more and more, into the exquistite free fall of Life as it is.

Life as it is?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Attitude of Gratitude

Since childhood, holidays have been difficult for me.  I always intuited that something Spiritual was hovering over my shoulder, hiding in the shadows cast by dazzling lights and the hollowness of the widespread, often drunken, merriment.  A child often SEES.  The disparity between "the way it's 'spozed to be" and "the way it is" becomes striking. 

The approach of Thanksgiving brought my identical twin brother Lefty to the computer to share his thoughts on this traditional American holiday, in a post entitled "Thanks -- and No Thanks." It seems he couldn't face the image traditionally presented about Thanksgiving without pointing to the reality of our history.  (You can find his thoughts at Rambling On with Brother Lefty Smith, S.O.B.*).  

Today, I could expand on his offering to go on a rant about the rampant commercial insanity of Black Friday as well.  But I won't.  As Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "suffering is not enough."  Sometimes you have to consciously turn your gaze toward the good things that light up your life.  No matter what the "darkness" brings, they are ALWAYS there to acknowledge.  I wrote about the Saving Grace of Gratitude on Thanksgiving 2013,  and I'd like to share it with you again today.  Happy Thanksgiving.  -- One Love, Lance

Originally published November 29, 2013 (Revised)
"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 still receiving.”  
-- 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 sitting here at the keyboard in the attempt to write something helpful for the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call.  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 Mind's Memory Lane Theater.   
WTF? How in the world did I end up here?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sacred Space (Reprise)

(After an intense run of heightened activity, with family matters and the Save the RLC's Greenfield Center campaign bringing up a burst of emotional clouds at one point, the skies have cleared once again.  Taking a bit of space to delight in the Gracious Spaciousness of it all, I'm offering forth, once again, a previous post.  I hope you find the space to appreciate it.  One Love, Lance)

 "When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, 
our understanding of what is going on deepens, 
and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

“Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes 
to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view.”
― Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation

When I was growing up, being called a "space cadet" was not necessarily a good thing.   Unless you were in the astronaut training program at NASA or something like that, being called a space cadet generally meant that you had a hard time staying in touch with "reality".   A space cadet tended to drift off somewhere, not paying much attention to the elements of the "real world".  Things like being at the right place at the right time doing the right thing weren't exactly a space cadet's forte.

Yet, it could very well be that many space cadets had a leg up on the rest of us.

Being conditioned in the rat race of the modern world, our legs were usually fully engaged spinning the hamster wheel of an invisible, but very captivating, mind cage that most people call "the real world."  The space cadet seemed not to take all that so seriously.  He or she would frequently step off the mainstream merry go round to see what else was happening, peering into an "inner realm" that seemed much more interesting.

Nowadays, I choose do something like that for about 13 hours a week.  I call it a formal meditation practice.

I would gladly accept the title of space cadet at this stage of the journey, because in a very real way that is exactly what the Practice is.  Our "inner space" is the final frontier.  In examining the nature of my own experience, in exploring what had previously been subconscious, I've seen directly that there is a whole lot more to reality than meets the eye -- or at least the two eyes we generally have been trained to use in the conventional way.  ( I won't get into a discussion of third eyes and supernatural vision and Visions here, but...)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Silence is Golden

 “Be still.  Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity. 
When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself” 
― Lao Tzu

 "Be still and know that I am God."

― Proverbs 46:10 

There were fifteen of us gathered to Sit Together in Stillness at the Recovery Learning Community's Greenfield Center last night.  The Silence was Golden.  As I rang the bell to end our first period of meditation, bowed and looked around the room, I knew that I wasn't alone in feeling the Presence.  The energy was palpable. As one person mentioned as we went around the Circle to compare notes on Practice, "you could hear the silence!" Others nodded. Everyone knew exactly what she meant.

I love it when that happens.

Our essential Oneness becomes less theoretical.

Immersed as we are in a patently materialistic society, a milieu that fosters greed, speed, fear and frustration, we have been conditioned to experience our world through mental and emotional states that manifest a lot of noise and motion.  Bombarded with stimulation and stress, our minds habitually filled with incessant chatter, most of us have spent untold hours being constantly distracted and disconnected from our True Nature.  

Coming to rest in the clear, open and spacious quality of consciousness that emerges as we Sit in Stillness is a precious experience.  Unfortunately,  it's all too rare. That has enormous consequences -- and not only for our individual happiness.  A glance at the evening's news makes it obvious: the future of our planet hangs on it.  More of us need to get our act together.  

Thich Nhat Hanh and thousands Sit in Silence, London, 2012
Thankfully, this does seem to be happening. What we experienced in that room yesterday is happening more and more around the world. And as more of us turn toward the Practice (in whatever form it takes), as more of us take the time to Sit Still and rest in the embrace of the Silence, we just might be able to manifest the type of kindness, compassion and wisdom that is needed to save this ole suffering world.

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it, right?
Passing the Hat for the RLC's Greenfield Center

The Wednesday (and Tuesday) Mindfulness Circles take place at the Recovery Learning Community's Greenfield Center, the hub of a vibrant and very special peer support community here in Western Massachusetts.   It's existence has been threatened by a recent shift in the town's priorities for CDBG funding.  With a bit more compassion for my friends in the clergy who have to do this all the time, I'd like to "pass along the donation basket" and ask you to consider to join in the effort to Save the RLC's Greenfield Center. 

If you'd like know more about this: Here's a guest column I wrote for our local daily:

Here's a 5 minute video on the effort:
(You can also make a donation at that link or the button to the left) 

and, if you still want more:
In his own inimitable -- and a bit more blatantly political -- style,
my identical twin Brother Lefty blogged about it yesterday as well!
Rambling On with Brother Lefty Smith, S.O.B.*

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Try A Little Tenderness

 "When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.”
― Pema Chödrön

 “Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”
― Chögyam Trungpa

I suppose in some people's eyes, I'm definitely "a bit touched."  

These days, I spend much of my time meditating, studying spiritual texts, and yakking about matters of spirit, heart, and mind.  I even let slip, in some circles, that I've felt the Presence of what some folks call God, others may call Buddhanature or Allah.  (I try not to mention it where it is likely to lead to an embarrassed silence, the shuffling of feet, furtive glances toward the nearest exit, etc. ) 

Having dedicated my life to "all sentient beings" before I even knew that what I was doing was known as the Bodhisattva Vow, I've stumbled ahead for a long while now in a sometimes crazed, but generally sincere, effort to get my act together well enough to at least not cause too much harm -- and, perhaps, even help out a fellow traveler once in awhile.

For the past decade now, one of the most useful tools in my own roadside service toolkit has been Tonglen Practice as taught by American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. Although, like many of us 'back in the day", I had experienced a rapturous opening of my heart chakra at various points and was firmly convinced of the existence of Transcendent Love, I found that actually being a loving person wasn't all that easy.  Blinded by the subconscious patterns of an ego conditioned in a patently neurotic society, much the time I could be a real jerk.  I didn't have much of a clue about the sheath of armoring around my heart that distanced me from others -- and myself. 

Although I had put in a lot of time on the meditation cushion and was not a stranger to various "exalted states", I hadn't truly appreciated how the natural inclination to seek security and the natural tendency to defend myself from anything unpleasant had operated since childhood to "harden my heart".  (Hell, I always thought I was a real softy!)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Taking It to Heart

 “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion.” It is said that in difficult times, it is only bodhichitta that heals.”
 -- The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa
quoted by Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times

"So, when we are willing, intentionally, with this kind of attitude, this vision, to breathe in the suffering, we are able to transform it easily and naturally; it doesn't take a major effort on our part, other than allow it."
-- Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

"That's backwards isn't it? You meant breathe in the good and send out the bad, right?" she said, not unkindly.   Being gracious, she was making a space for me to realize that my aging brain cells had gone dyslexic.

I had been chatting on the phone with an old friend for first time in quite awhile,  talking about my continued wonder at the Lojong Teachings in general, and Tonglen Practice in particular.  After a moment's pause, to relax and reconnect with the basic openness of mind -- and to make sure that I really hadn't verbally zigged when I had intended to zag -- I continued.

"No, I actually did mean that I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that have emerged.  Then I breathe out a sense of relief and healing energy with the aspiration that myself and others be free from such suffering and the roots of suffering." 

She paused for awhile (perhaps also to relax and reconnect with a basic openness of mind herself in light my rant), and simply replied, "Oh?" She didn't sound convinced.

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly materialistic society, the basic premise of this ancient Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training, that opening our hearts to the entire gamut of human emotions rather than grasping at the "good" and pushing away the "bad", is actually the path of Awakening to our True Nature, seems a bit crazy.  It most certainly is. 

Crazy like a fox.

The Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which consist of 59 training aphorisms are supported by two meditation practices: Basic Sitting Practice (Shamatha-Vippasyana) and Tonglen.  Each has a role in cultivating our Connection to the essentially miraculous nature of life.  Each contributes to our deepening ability to be Present to the Sacred Perfection in which we are immersed -- moment to moment.

As I sit here and pay attention, I become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness.  Pausing, I can rest in its embrace.  Proceeding, still Connected to this invisible, formless, seemingly limitless expanse of awareness, the dance of my fingers along the surface of this keyboard is flinging words across the screen of an old Mac laptop.  Becoming aware of my body and my breath,  I see that milliseconds before the fingers move, thoughts emerge instantaneously, seemingly from nowhere in particular.  Although, these thoughts are most certainly prompted by my intention to write this blog post, they appear to be emerging by themselves, quite mysteriously.  Although Western science claims that they are merely brain secretions of some sort, patently epiphenomal, at this moment it feels much grander than that.  There is a Presence, a boundless sense of wonder and joy that emerges from the luminous silence that embraces me, the letters emerging on the screen, the clicking contact of my fingers on the keyboard, the soft humming of the computer. 

But, I digress -- sort of.

In a Flash
(Read More) 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Love Love Love

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love: in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles

We've had it on good authority.  Jesus and Buddha, as well as many of the myriad seers, sages and saints of the world's religions seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering and why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks have learned to believe is love, the terrain of much music and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  What is presented as love is a form of desire and energetic attraction that has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the quality of consciousness that emerges from what Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron characterizes as an Awakened Heart.  Love is not the profound passionate grasping of deep attachment. True Love is much grander than that. (It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what JC and the others had in mind, right?)  

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from, Pure Being, the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of separation that characterizes the realm of relative reality.  Known in Buddhism as Buddhanature, True Love is the fundamental kindness, compassion and clarity that always exists in our heart of hearts.  Our innate ability to access True Love is the Ultimate Connectivity. 

Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something that someone just "falls into",  in the Buddhist tradition, love is seen as a quality of heart, a mode of consciousness that can be consciously cultivated.  Although, we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "Otherness" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- True Love emerges from a fundamental choice to embrace Life itself, to let go of who we think we are and open our hearts and minds to the actual experience of the present moment.  

Although this can happen with the very next breath, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen.  It is a Practice.  (Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving.) True Love takes commitment, time, and effort.  Like any discipline, it takes knowledge and understanding -- and patience.  I hope to still be Practicing with my final breath.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

And The Seasons Go Round and Round -- and Round

“I have seen many die, surrounded by loved ones, and their last words were ‘I love you.’ 
There were some who could no longer speak yet with their eyes and soft smile left behind that same healing message. I have been in rooms where those who were dying 
made it feel like sacred ground. ”
― Stephen Levine,
A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
― Jesus of Nazareth

I could see it in his eyes.  Something had shifted.  Chico was different. 

After accepting the constraints of the backyard fence for years, our beloved bundle of canine energy had learned how to climb the fence and escape.  For the past couple of days, whenever he and his sidekick Pedra were released into the backyard, Chico would immediately run to the corner of the yard and inelegantly, but effectively,  hoist his chihuahua/terrier frame over the man-made barrier to run freely through the fields and forests surrounding the house.  Although with his newfound wildness he had uncharacteristically ignored my calls and commands to "come",  I had always been able to coax him back -- eventually.

Unfortunately, Betsy and I hadn't fully appreciated what his new found wildness meant.  The other night, we let Chico and Pedra out to do their business in the evening and Chico didn't return.  Although we didn't realize it until the next morning, our newly reincarnated creature of the wild had shed the fetters of his domestication.  A Free Being, his senses fully alive in the crisp air of the night, our precious Chico was off to meet his Destiny

To Every Thing There is a Season

Betsy spied his lifeless body a couple hundred yards away from the cottage the next morning and asked me to retrieve it.   With a heavy heart I walked down the hill.  It appeared Chico had encountered another creature of the wild during the night.  Within the wildness, it was simply a matter of Life --  and Death.

As I returned with his body, Betsy had already begun digging his grave amidst the flowers in the garden behind the house.  I sobbed as I completed the task of burying his body.  For us humanoids, Life and Death is not such a simple matter -- especially in our society, where we are conditioned to assiduously avoid facing the inevitability our demise.   

The stark truth is that none of us are going to get out of here alive.  Death is an unavoidable tragedy.  The greater tragedy is that the opportunity to truly open our hearts to ourselves, one another and to the miracle of life itself through an deep and honest exploration of death and dying is generally not taken.  

It doesn't have to be this way.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Staying Power

 "It's only when we begin to relax with ourselves that meditation becomes a transformative process.  Only when we relate with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, 
without deception, can we let go of harmful patterns. "
-- Pema Chodron

“Just continue in your calm, ordinary practice
 and your character will be built up.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, 

Although there is still a taste of green in the maple tree outside the window, most the leaves are now yellow and brown -- and many of them lie strewn across the grass.  There is no doubt about it.  Fall has fallen upon us here in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.  

There was a time when that realization would have immediately brought on a stream of troubling images. My shoulders would have hunched up alongside my ears and a feeling of deep dread and discomfort would have emerged with the thought "WINTER is coming!" (string of expletives deleted...)

Nowadays?  Not so much. 

Being Present to what actually is, is usually a whole lot more fun.  The scene outside the window at this very moment is Just Perfect as it is.  For that matter, so is the scene inside the window.  So are the letters dancing across the screen of this old beat-up MacBook. 

I blame the Practice for that.

I am extremely grateful to have come of age in the rarefied atmosphere of the late 60's and early 70's, when the spiritual teachings and practices of the the world's religions became so widely accessible.  It was an era when even this working class kid from Chicago not only had an odds on chance of experiencing altered states of consciousness, he had a chance to quickly learn that they were not just the product of magical herbs and modern chemistry.  Mystics, seers, sages an saints had been exploring that terrain for a long, long time -- and some of them kept notes!

Like many of us back in that day, I began the Practice pretty much on my own.  Always an avid bookworm, I poured through the literature on Spirituality and tinkered with the meditation techniques offered.  By my senior year of college in 1969, I was fumbling my way through learning hatha yoga and meditation Like many of us, it was years before I sat with a real meditation teacher.  

Now, years later, after having explored a wide variety of meditation techniques with a number of gifted teachers, attended numerous meditation intensives, lived in residence at a couple of meditation centers,  and having experienced a handful of "peak moments"(both on and off the cushion),  I've continued to be an avid bookworm.  

About a decade ago, I again struck gold.  A dear friend of mine handed me a copy of Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are.  Although I had practiced meditation for years, I picked it up -- and started.  I was soon transfixed by Chodron's teachings.  Although I have never practiced with her, it seems that the approaches and practices presented through her numerous books and articles finally have driven home the fundamental point: Meditation isn't about getting High.  It's about Being Real!  (Another 3650 or so days of regular meditation practice probably helped as well.  LOL)


Friday, October 2, 2015

For Crying Out Loud! (Reprise)

“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer. 
 Crying includes all the principles of Yoga.”

“All the books of the world full of thoughts and poems are nothing in comparison to a minute of sobbing, when feeling surges in waves, 
the soul feels itself profoundly and finds itself."
― Hermann Hesse, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse 

Emmet Kelly 1898-1979
A couple of days ago I came across the above quote by Swami Kripalvanandji while preparing for a yoga class that I was going to teach later that day.  Amazed, I immediately emailed it to a dear friend of mine who was having a rough time.

She replied that it helped -- a lot.  She was heading out to her garden to have a good cry.

Growing up in today's society, most of us have learned to avoid crying like the plague.  Widely characterized as a sign of unacceptable weakness and frailty, we are conditioned to keep a stiff upper lip, to steel ourselves against this natural expression of heartfelt feeling.  As a result, our patterns of resistance to crying are pretty pervasive.  (Maybe Fear of Crying is a good title for another novel of self-discovery?)

That being said, I actually hesitated to plunge ahead here.  After posts concentrating on death, pain and sadness the past couple weeks, I thought that maybe I was being too much of a downer, that maybe I'd better "lighten up" a bit.  After all, isn't Buddha's Third Noble Truth the freakin' Cessation of Suffering?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sometimes the Snooze Button is Best

 “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. 
You need to accept yourself.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect 
to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

After making multiple attempts over the course of the past few hours to come up with something to say for this week's MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call, I realized that I needed to hit the snooze button, roll over, and give it a rest --  again and again.

Finally, I knew it was time to just reset the dang alarm and make a new plan.
It's been a long week, full of activity and challenge for myself and for a number of my friends.  As well as spending time on a number of urgent volunteer efforts, I've spent a lot of time sitting with my own "stuff" and that of others.  

Now, I'm spent.  

So, at this point on Saturday evening, I thought that, perhaps, it would be helpful (to me at least) to do as I've done a number of times over the past couple of years.  I Ching style, I just randomly picked a previous post. 

Are you kidding me?! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Rest is Easy

"So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it 
God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. 
-- Genesis 2:3

“Everyday we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: 
a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child - our own two eyes. 
All is a miracle.”
― Thích Nhat Hanh

Fall arrived on Sunday. 

It was three days ahead of schedule – if you’re paying attention to the conceptual structures and devices we humanoids create in our attempt to divide the seamless flow of reality into discrete and identifiable chunks of somethingness. 

Sunday, I wasn’t so inclined.

It was one of those days when any sort of box or label seemed dreadfully inadequate. Even words like Awesome and Astonishing and Sacred and Miraculous seemed way too tame. They paled in comparison to the Reality that gleamed outside the window.  There, a brilliant sun and crystalline blue sky soared over trees that danced and swayed wildly to the free-form music of a crisp northwest breeze.

As I sat for the first period of meditation at my bedroom altar, that same breeze whispered through the open window, “come out here.” When the bell rang (I time my sessions with an excellent laptop program), I donned long pants and a sweatshirt for the first time in ages, rolled up a makeshift zabuton, a blanket, and my zafu, and headed down to spend most of this week’s Day of Mindfulness outside. 

There, it once again became obvious: You don't have to die to go to Heaven!

Resting in Peace

If you've been following these meandering missives on mindfulness, you'll know that one of my Practice commitments for Fall Ango this year is to spend one day a week in Silence.  (See "'Tis the Season"and "Promises Promises"). Unplugged from the Matrix and it's various devices (even the printed word), from daybreak until the time I crawl away to sleep, the entire day is dedicated to the cultivation of Mindfulness.

I didn't invent this idea, of course.  

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Promises Promises

Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”
Suzuki Rosh

“Daily sitting is our bread and butter, the basic stuff of dharma. 
Without it we tend to be confused.”
Charlotte Joko Beck

A Carmelite Monk and his Vows
There were quite a few of us back in the day that were first drawn to Zen because of its seemingly irreverent and iconoclastic tenor and tone.  To a bunch of us erstwhile hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, those ancient monks kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, proclaiming Buddha was a "shit stick", etc., seemed like our kind of guys. 

Little did we know.

Once I actually connected with a teacher and a sangha, a different reality emerged.  I found that the foundation of Zen Buddhism, like that of other spiritual traditions throughout the world, rests squarely on a set of vows and precepts.  Rather than becoming a member of another tribe of free form hippies, I found out that engaging in formal Zen training with a teacher meant making a commitment to a set of clearly stated intentions: Taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, the Three Pure Precepts, and the 10 Essential Precepts was expected.  It was part of the deal.


Jeez.  In the Judeo-Christian world, we only had to worry about the ten commandments! Now? Do the math. This is twice as many.  So much for being hip and cool, for "doing your own thing!"

Or so it seemed. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

'Tis the Season

"Commitment is at the very heart of freeing ourselves 
of old habits and old fears."
― Pema Chodron

 “I think what everyone should be doing, before it's too late, is committing themselves to what they really want to do with their lives.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh

Buddhist Nuns at Amaravati Monastery
As the sultry days of August melt into early September, my thoughts have turned to those times in my life that I have engaged in Intensive Practice in the Fall.   

In Buddhism, like many of the world's religions (Ramadan in Islam. The High Holy Days in Judaism.  Lent in Christianity,  etc.), there are extended periods of time each year that people move beyond "business as usual" to make a special commitment to their Spiritual Practice.    

In Buddhism, the tradition of the Rain's Retreat (Vassa or Ango) goes back to the time of the Buddha.  Traditionally beginning the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month (June/July), it lasted about three months, the period of time that  the monsoon season in India made travel difficult.  During that time the monks, who generally were homeless wanderers, would gather in one place to hear the Buddha's teachings and engage in intensive meditation practice.  

To this day, this period of intensive practice is widespread in Theravadan Buddhism, and is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and some traditions of Zen as well.  Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, it often seems to have evolved into periods of intensive practice that occur in the Fall and/or the Spring. 

At Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, the Rain's Retreat has become the 3 Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year.  One year, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

It's Only Words

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.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh,
  Buddha Mind, Buddha Body:
Walking Toward Enlightenment

"Be Still and know that I am God!"
―  Psalm 46:11

In the world of Zen, words are not generally held in high regard. 

It's not surprising that some students even got smacked by crotchety old Zen masters for their "loose lips."   Words can be pretty damn tricky.  

A case in point:  The realm of words creates a thought world where the word "swearing" could either describe what emerges when a person angrily launches into a foul-mouthed condemnation of something -- or a what happens when a person wholeheartedly takes a sacred oath.

It seems to me that any particular word, or even a whole string of those slippery devils, at best, can only hint at the Truth.  If you are paying attention, what is not said may be more meaningful than what is said.  Like Life itself:  It's all a matter of context.  The devil isn't in the details.  The devil is the details -- devoid of a Connection to the Heart of the Matter.

For me, staying Connected to That takes Practice.  

And Practice takes Commitment.

Oh no, not that!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Stormy Weather Blues

"Engaged Buddhism is just Buddhism. When bombs begin to fall on people,
you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. 
Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on 
--not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Many of us think that compassion drains us, but I promise you
it is something that truly enlivens us."
--Roshi Joan Halifax, Abbot of the Upaya Zen Center

Although there is no doubt that the cultivation of Mindfulness has generally brought a deeper and more consistent ease and clarity to my life, the past couple of weeks have brought forth a bevy of vivid and disturbing dreams.  On two successive days, the intensity of the emotions that emerged didn't vanish as I awoke to face the day.

Although I did notice a shadow of resistance to the notion of intentionally sitting down to be with the undefined, but obvious anger one morning,  and again (what are you CRAZY?) to sit with the deep, deep sadness the next, the momentum of Practice prevailed.  Within moments, as is my habit, I had bowed to the zafu and begun Morning Practice.  I am extremely grateful that both days I was able to embrace the torrent of feelings and thoughts for an hour within the gentle arms of Simply Sitting Still and Tonglen Practice.  Both days, I rose from the zafu energized, calm, clear, and ready to engage Life.

So, what's the deal?

In the past few weeks, I've begun to reConnect directly with the movement to address racism and the continuing oppression of people of color in the United States.  I am extremely grateful to the young activists of Black Lives Matter and the others who helped kick my butt into gear.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Whenever Two or Three of You...

Originally Published July 5, 2013.  Revised.

"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 

"For where there are two or three of you gathered in my name, I am there amidst you."
-- Jesus of Nazareth 

These past few weeks of Monday Morning Mindfulness have certainly reaffirmed a belief that I've held for quite awhile now: 

Anyone who makes a commitment to explore their own experience consciously through meditation, and then has the opportunity to compare notes on Practice with others similarly engaged, will come to understand themselves, one another, and the nature of Reality at a deeper level.  

As we sit and share Practice, the Truth of our Shared Presence becomes palpable.

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.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

Standing at the Gateless Gate*

Originally Posted as The Gateless Gate*, July 17, 2013 

"You knock at the door of reality,
Shake off your thought wings,
Loosen your shoulders,
And open.

"And you shall know the Truth,
and the Truth shall make you free."
---Jesus of Nazareth

Last Monday's MMM Circle again provided some food for thought--and the impetus to move beyond thought--as a we compared notes on Mindfulness Practice.  At several points, as the group grappled with the various issues that had come up during the week as we worked to put the Practice into practice, the limits of discursive thought and "reasoning" became more than obvious.

I loved it.

At one point Michelle, in her own inimitable style, jumped with both feet into the apparent contradiction between the dictum to always "be here now" and the need to take care of life's necessary activities such as planning, paying the bills, etc.  She then moved on to the apparent contradiction between the notion that "we are One" and our individual uniqueness, adding, "I mean we're all one, but we're not.  We're the same, but we're different, ya know?"

I think Zen monks of old would have had a ball.  Trying to dock one's boat in a paradox can be a hoot.

As it was, the Circle spiraled onward and we turned to the more apparently "practical" concerns of Practice, comparing notes, exchanging tips, etc.  Yet, as best I can sense it, the questions that Michelle had raised echoed themes presented in some of the fundamental koans of Zen.

It didn't surprise me, really.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

ARGH!! (Revisited)

Originally Posted July 26, 2013. Revised

We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out,
either way making things worse for ourselves and others.
Or we can practice patience: wait,
experience the anger and investigate its nature.
---Pema Chodron

“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”
---Thich Nhat Hanh

The Universe is exquisite.  Once you hitch your wagon to Practice and roll out, you are going to get the lessons along the way that are needed to take you deeper --whether you like it or not!  (That might be especially true if you have the chutzpah to publicly ramble on about your experiences. )

Last week, I spent time here presenting the notion that simply "cutting loose of the storyline", the process of refocusing our awareness from discursive thought to other aspects of our experience (preferably what we are feeling in our heart), can sometimes take us from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.  (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Once Upon a Time...)  

Although I certainly have experienced something approximating that quite often, it's obvious I needed another round of lessons, another strong dose of humility and compassion.  During the last 24 hours or so, Life has interjected a pretty dramatic bout of upset apple carts and broohaha into the Grand Mix.  It's been enough to remind me that it certainly can take a bit longer than a "blink of an eye" to regain a sense of wonder about it all.  It may even take what may seem like a hell of a long time.

As a child and a young man I had what folks might call an extremely bad temper.  Having grown up in the midst of a lot of anger, I would react to things in my world with bursts of violent emotions -- and even physical violence.  I could roar and smash things and strike out with the worst of them.  Perhaps, the deepest gratitude that I have to the Practice is that I no longer am likely to inflict harm on others due to angry outbursts.  (Although I can still be pretty clumsy and stupid at times.  Sigh.)

Yesterday, I hit a deep pool of anger for the first time in quite awhile.  Mixed with fear and pain, 

Friday, July 24, 2015

As It Is

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage 
and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

"Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquility, 
nor is it attempting to be a better person. It is simply the creation of a space in which 
we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games,
our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes. "
― Chögyam Trungpa  

I guess I've always been a bookworm.  

Although I also loved riding my bicycle, wandering through fields, and playing baseball as a kid, I read -- a lot.  

One summer in Chicago, as often as I could, I would climb up on the flat roof of a garage in the alley behind the three-flat we lived in at the time, to pour through book after book.  As I remember it, Huckleberry Finn was my favorite.  In the midst of a rather troubling and chaotic childhood, Mark Twain invited me to join Huck, and journey down the river on my rooftop raft to a different -- and seemingly more alluring -- world.

Nowadays, I don't read much fiction, but there is still usually a stack of books close at hand.  Most of them are related to meditation and spirituality.   At this point, pouring through books isn't jumping on a raft to escape the realities of my life.  This ongoing journey through the Teachings is a means to stay in touch with those realities.  

The book at the top of the stack these days is Chögyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.  This is my fourth or fifth time through it in the past forty years. Once again, I find myself marveling at the depth of insight presented -- and the new layers of understanding that seem to emerge with each reading.  (I imagine another decade of almost daily meditation Practice and a number of meditation intensives between this reading and the last may have helped. LOL)  

I found myself grinning from ear to ear.  Again and again. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Once Again: Lighten Up!

Stephen at Monday Night Class, San Francisco circa 1969
Although, in my humble opinion, Spiritual Practice isn't about all the bright lights and fancy magical stuff, sometimes the Universe does really lay One on you, an event that defies any rational explanation.

It happened almost exactly a year ago one morning as I struggled to write a fitting memorial to Hippie Spiritual Teacher Stephen Gaskin. Stephen had recently made the Grand Transition at that point, and I was sitting there when...

Ooops. I almost let the cat out of the bag.

With another deep bow to Stephen -- and to a Most Amazing Universe -- I want to share, once again, the post from that day.   Beyond the Mysterious Magic Manifested, it's encouragement to "lighten up" bears repeating.

Lighten Up!   
Originally Posted July 12, 2014

A couple of night's ago, unable to get back to sleep after a nocturnal "nature call", I had tried to write a memorial to Hippie Spiritual Teacher Stephen Gaskin, whose Life -- and recent Death -- touched me deeply.   I got nowhere.  I gave it up and read a bit of a Tenzing Norbu Mystery before finally stretching out to meditate into sleep once again.

Still on the mend from the events of the past month, I've been mostly laying low, staying away from the computer and cell phone as much as possible, allowing myself to Heal after a couple of false starts had showed me quite clearly how energy depleting my addiction to these "devices" can be. 

This morning, I was quaffing my first cup of coffee in a couple of days (another addiction under modification) watching bubbles of confusion and angst float through my awareness, not quite sure what to do about my commitment to the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call this week.  I still was struggling with an attempt to put into words my thoughts and feelings about the passing of Stephen, a man whose Presence and Teachings had such a  profound impact on my life.

Then, (probably with a furrowed brow), I decided to reach for my cell phone to check my email, perhaps just fall back and select an old post to republish this time.

At that very moment the phone "dinged"with an incoming email. Peering down I read the notification:
"Monday Morning Mindfulness
Lighten Up! Posted 18 January 2014"


I have no idea what strange permutation of the Google space time cyber continuum could have possibly generated and delivered to me the email version of a post I'd written  almost six months before -- especially at that very moment!  

How could I not lighten up?  

I broke into a bemused grin as I clicked it open.  Just receiving this unsolicited and inexplicably"cosmic" MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call would have been enough to make my decision (just read, introduce and re-post this one for sure) -- and make my day.  

I began reading the post.

It got even more mind blowing!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Judgment Day

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
J. Krishnamurti

"Judge not and ye shall not be judged"
 ― Jesus of Nazareth

I don't the think there is any greater freedom than being Present to our lives without the distortion caused by Judgment Mind, the conditioned mental/emotional process of evaluating what we experience as bad, wrong, condemnable. 

If one is paying attention, the difference between the warm, bright, spaciousness experienced as we maintain the clarity of an open heart, and the constricted, narrow, claustrophic texture of a quality of  consciousness imbued with judgmental thoughts and feelings, is obvious.  In any one moment, it can literally be the difference between heaven and hell.

Growing up immersed in a society that is highly judgmental, most of us have been deeply conditioned to experience our lives in terms of good/bad, right/wrong, should be/shouldn't be.  In fact, our ego sense. with is felt separation and isolation from "the other" is largely built on and maintained by the thoughts and various mind states that emerge from this conditioning.  Even in it's mildest form, that of liking/disliking, it can generate thoughts and feelings that separate us from ourselves and others in any particular moment. 

It is actually quite fun to see for yourself how that plays out on the meditation cushion.  

At times, we can clearly see Judgment Mind in full blown operation.  The gracious spaciousness of mind at rest collapses as the ranting and raving and blaming of judgmental thoughts cascade across the surface of discordant feelings.  

As Practice develops, we get more adept at noticing whether we can just take a breath and put some kindness and space around that and let Judgment Mind go it's merry way-- or whether we get swept away, ultimately getting judgmental about being judgmental!  Watching the process closely, it can pretty quickly become another obvious example of the Divine Sitcom that we humanoids are capable of co-creating.

In one of those episodes, I saw how the thought  "I don't like myself." provided a wonderful opportunity to examine the experience carefully, in the lens of Mindfulness.  Letting go of that particular narrative, the experience became a kaleidoscope of momentary feelings, variations of what we might label as anger, fear, and pain.  Without the support of the storyline, these soon dissipated.  At that point, exploring the the issue of just "who" the hell it is that doesn't like "who" eventually produced wonder -- and a chuckle.