"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, January 23, 2015

The Sounds of Silence

(The energies and activities of the past week here in Chicago haven't given me the time and head space to create a new post this week.  So, as I've done a few times over the past months, I decided to re-publish a previous writing.  Having driven by the hospital where my dad passed away 40 years ago with my sister a couple of evenings ago, I thought that I would use a post I wrote during a previous visit about my experience of meditating on the grounds of that hospital.  Dad was on my mind.

So, I read the post, but, for whatever reason, it didn't feel quite right at this point in time.  I then surfed through a number of other posts before finally using the "I Ching" technique I've used a couple of times in the past.  I just clicked to a random date and said "this is It!"

As you'll see, Synchronicity once again prevailed.  The Universe is a most amazing place. 
-- One Love, Lance) 

"Be still and know that I am God."
-- Psalm 46:10

"The quieter you become the more you can hear."
-- Ram Dass 

I remember my dad yelling, angrily, demanding that we kids shut up so he could get some "peace and quiet."  The threatening tone of his voice and likelihood of imminent violence usually did shut us up--at least for awhile. 

Dad loved to fish.  One of my strongest visual memories of him is of the day I looked out the front window of our apartment and saw him silhouetted against the sunsparkles of the lake a couple of hundred feet offshore, sitting quietly in his beloved rowboat, fishing pole in hand. 

Dad could sit like that, motionless, surrounded by the stillness of that small Northern Illinois lake for long periods of time just peering at the red and white bobber.  Most often, he returned to shore seemingly in a good mood, calmer, quieter, more content. 

I noticed. 

It wasn't at all surprising that when his doctor advised him to finally retire and "just go fishing", my dad did just that. He bought himself a camper and a trailer, and for much of final year and a half of his life, he traveled and fished from coast to coast.

I think the quest for "peace and quiet" is probably universal.  Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote that even the businessman's smoke break was an attempt to stop and breath, to find a moment's peace within the busyness.  The promise of the Practice is that we that we can engage in that journey with some degree of skill, that there is actually some method to our madness.

As today's quote from Ram Dass points out, there are deeper and fuller realms of experience available to us.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Day by Day

“The gift of learning to meditate is the 
greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.” 
-- Sogyal Rinpoche

“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

I awoke this morning stiff and sore, a bit out of sorts.  I'd strained a chronic lower back injury earlier in the week and  a bad bug making the rounds here had taken me down preventing me from getting to my friend Stephan's table for an adjustment.  Slowly moving toward the bathroom, I noticed thoughts of my inevitable, if not imminent,  doom and demise floating through my mind.  I am 68 years old after all, with two stents in my heart forestalling the day when this ole body gives up the ghost.

There were times in my life that coming out of the starting blocks in that frame of  mind and body on a frigid winter day could have led to a serious bout of doom and gloom.  Dark mood and dark thoughts could have wrapped themselves around one another and held one another tightly for days at at time. 

This morning, like most mornings now,  I brushed my teeth, did a couple of slow stretches, then staggered over to the zafu -- and Sat.  Within moments, it was different.

There in my little corner of the world, floating on the Breath of Practice, I watched as the ripples of thought, feeling and bodily sensations dissipated into the distance across the surface of a clear, calm pool of bright, spacious energy.  Sitting still, no longer grasping or pushing away, I became both the pool and the ripples. 

By the time I arose an hour later, I felt just fine.  Energized, I even bundled up and headed out for a brief walk before heating up the coffee pot and making breakfast.

I like it when that happens.

I have begun most every day with a period of meditation for a long time now.  Although there are

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mission Impossible

"May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may the people think of benefiting one another”
― Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva

Stephen Gaskin, February 16, 1935 - July 1, 2014
Although the teachings of Pema Chodron have been the strongest influence in my own practice for the past decade, I'd have to say that Stephen Gaskin, who passed away on July 1 at age 79, is really my "root guru".  More than anyone else, he seemed to capture the essence of the Collective Kensho that occurred during the Hippie Pentacost of the 60's and 70's.  A master alchemist, he transformed that energy from tripping with friends into a bustling community that at one point included over a thousand people.    (He also was a central part of an inexplicable occurrence in my life the week after he died.  (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Lighten Up!, July 12, 2013)

When I first saw that Gaskin's Hippified Greyhound Scenicruiser had "Out to Save the World" boldly displayed in the destination window, it brought a grin to my face -- and stirred something deep in my heart.
I thought, "Of course.  What else is there to do?"

As I reflect on it here at age 68, I sense that I had already been propelled in that direction by a series of life events in my childhood, perhaps culminating in a lucid perception that I had as a junior high school student one day at recess.  A new kid in school (which was a commonplace experience in my tumultuous childhood), observing the interactions on in the schoolyard on a gorgeous autumn day,  I saw clearly that we humanoids are individually and collectively creating the world we experience each moment through our attitudes and actions.  Watching carefully, I saw that play out on the playground around me.

Seeing that, it seemed like a no-brainer.  What JC was preaching in the Bible was just common sense. Human Kindness trumps Cruelty.  If we could just get our act together and love one another, the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.

Of course, I quickly learned that a lot of folks hadn't quite seen that yet -- and that consistently being kind was no mean feat. It would take serious work to pull it off.  It would take a real commitment.

Stephen Gaskin brought that point home as I discovered his teachings in my mid-20's. Although I'd read about the ideal of the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, I hadn't actually seen the four fold Bodhisattva Vow until I read Gaskin's rendering of it in Hey Beatnik*:
Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.
The deluding passions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them all.
The way of the Dharma is impossible to expound, I vow to expound it.
It is impossible to attain the way of the Buddha, I vow to attain it.

Although I was a couple years away from meeting my first embodied Zen teacher,  those four lines seemed to capture the essence of what I felt my life to be about and pointed out the work to be done.  I got goosebumps.  When I then learned that the Mahayana Buddhist notion also included the proviso that the Bodhisattva wouldn't punch out and go home to Buddhahood until everyone was covered, I broke into tears.  The Truth of the Matter was self-evident.  Rather than me taking the Bodhisattva Vow at that point, the Vow took me.  Like many of us, I'd already peaked out (without LSD even) to experience our Essential Oneness by then.  Looking at the condition of the world around me, I couldn't see anything more worth doing then to get my act together in the context of trying to help out.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

One Step Forward. One Step Back.

(The causes and conditions that create what Uchiyama Roshi called "the scenery of our life" have kept me from sitting with the Blog again this week, so I turned back the clock exactly one year to the post of January 3, 2013.  Now, with snow transforming the world to white for a few hours before a front moves in overnight to reverse the process with rain and a 50 F daytime temperature tomorrow, it seems like last year's weather, like Life itself,  was about the same -- and quite different. 

Of course, as I relax into the Present Moment, both same and different are themselves obviously the same -- and different! 

I love it when that happens.

As the New Year unfolds, I hope it brings you Deep Tranquility, Sufficient Challenge and Boundless Love.   -- One Love, Lance)
Originally Published, January 3, 2013. Revised.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers
within yourself that you have built against it.”
― Rumi

"When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. ”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

It has been snowing steadily all morning and, once again, the world outside the window is being transformed.  In another cycle of what seems to be constant oscillation this winter, a predominantly brown world again fades to white, springlike temperatures plunge into the nether realms.  Perhaps, Mother Nature is doing her part to remind us of the nature of Life itself.

I've noticed that as I sit at the keyboard to muse about the Practice each Thursday morning, there is a particular quality of consciousness that emerges.  Although there are certainly moments of befuddlement and confusion, sometimes swaths of time in which I stammer and stumble ahead haltingly, only to hit the backspace key and take a few steps back, it seems that I generally return to being quite aware of a space beyond any of the thoughts find their way into my fingers.  I generally spend many moments being aware of Awareness itself. I like it when that happens.

There is a problem with it, though.

In reading over some of my past posts this week, I found myself wondering if I was too quick to present the high side of a Life of Practice without acknowledging how very difficult and challenging it can be to truly open one's heart to the reality of the human condition as it is actually lived in our day to day lives.  It seems to me that I can spend a bit too much airtime raving about the fact that Life is Miraculous and Beautiful, not enough time acknowledging that Life Sucks.