"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, May 21, 2016


"All ego really is, is our opinions, which we take to be solid, real, and the absolute truth about how things are.  To have even a few seconds of doubt about the solidity and absolute truth of our own opinions, just to begin to see that we do have opinions, 
introduces us to the possibility of egolessness." 
-- Pema Chodron

“Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.”
-- Seng-ts’an, Third Zen Patriarch

I love when the Universe is kind enough to double down on feeding me a specific lesson.  I can be extremely dense at times, so structure and repetition can be especially helpful.  It happened a couple of mornings ago.

After my morning Sit, I had read the chapter entitled "Opinions", in Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart before heading to town for coffee.  Following the lead of one of the irregular regulars of the Tuesday Mindfulness Circle,  I've been re-reading this incredibly helpful book again, one chapter a day.  

In this chapter, Pema suggests that noticing our opinions as opinions, just like noting our thoughts as "thinking", can be extremely helpful.  IMHO, this chapter, in itself, can be transformative. 

It certainly made my day.

Just "Thinking"

I had been meditating on and off for over twenty years, attended a couple of Zen Sesshins, and had some fairly compelling experiences both on and off the zafu, before I was introduced to "noting practice" by a  teacher trained in the Theravadan tradition.  To be honest, the instruction to make the mental note "thinking" when noticing that thoughts are dominating my attention seemed quite clunky and unnecessary.  (Likewise, the instruction to  label other sensations, feelings, etc.)  I shrugged it off, and spent the remainder of the seven day retreat at Insight Meditation Society practicing Shikantaza, the Soto Zen practice of Just Sitting.

It was another ten years before I was re-introduced to this instruction in the teachings of Pema Chodron.  This time it took -- and it took me deeper.  With her teaching to pay close attention to the tone of voice that we use as we make this mental note, a new dimension of practice opened as well.  I was able to actually cultivate a kinder, calmer, less judgmental quality of consciousness toward myself -- and others.  The noting practice became a regular part of Sitting Practice.

Now, I've seen for myself clearly how we create the appearance of a solid reality out of thin air.  Lost in our thoughts, as we often are, the vast and flowing sacredness of Life As It Is, escapes us.  Instead, we are imprisoned, oftentimes in a non-existent past or future, in a world created out of a haphazard hodgepodge of concepts, beliefs, and opinions about life.  Now, both on and off the meditation cushion, the mental note "thinking" can open the way to a moment that is brimming with the miraculous Presence of life itself.  

A Day's Lesson: The Theory and Practice

As it turned out, I ran into an old Zen DharmaBuddhy on the bus that day.  Together, we headed to the coffee shop to continue the discussion.  As the conversation turned to the current Presidential campaign, all hell could have broken loose.
But it didn't.

Having just read Pema's presentation, I was primed to see my opinions as just opinions.  It was easy to see how clinging to them as some sort of absolute truth would have help create something quite different than the interesting discussion that emerged.  Again and again, I was able to let go of my own strong, well-rehearsed positions, take a breath, and let go into the moment.  There, I could feel my friend's deep caring, his sincerity, and his concern.  There, I could even see the logic of several of his arguments.  

Rather than adding more aggression to the world, the inevitable result of ego-clinging, the Practice allowed us to touch a bit of Basic Intelligence.  In doing that, we channeled a bit more respect and understanding into this old suffering world.  

I like it when that happens.

*Internet jargon for "In My Humble Opinion" 


Cynthia said...

I love your musings. I've meditated on and off for over ten years, but A LOT more so in the past few years.
The ego is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, no?
And I love the part about neuroplasticity here. That's so interesting. (I was looking at two blog posts at once...
As a result of meditating long term, I am slow to get mad, deal with stressful situations much more effectively, and it's much easier to see the kindness and love in others. I would love to build up to 8 hours a day sometime...when I don't have a lot of other things going on.
And I came over here for the first time in February (I have the Contemplative Coloring and Pictimilitude sites) but my work as an after school director has me quite busy...
I'm so glad to find another dedicated "meditator" - I don't know many of us. :)

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Anonymous said...

Yes, It is so true that we loose ourselves by giving power to ego thinking. As in...what good is it to gain the world and lose ones soul.
To know the thinker of form life, is not who we are,... is to know the sacred self,.. the formless. Seems the more often we are conscious of this , the more faith and freedom to be nobody grows, the more courage and joy grows from the knowing, as more power and peace to live in balance of the form and formless shines more fully, resulting in our ability to feel more truly the oneness of all that is and that we are part of. Opinions are what drives us to discover our own consciousness, our oneness, Our soul.
Crazy easy isn't it, when we think about it? LOL!

Lance Smith said...

Hi Cynthia,
Nice to hear from you again. It's always wonderful to Connect with other folks into the Practice. Yes, it is a blessing to find yourself "mellowing out" and softening over the time as a result of meditation.

One thought: If you can't fit a full 8 hour day of Silent Practice into your life right now, maybe a Morning of Silence sometime where you don't plug into anything or anybody and just Sit and Walk for a two or three hours may be useful? I did that once in awhile a years ago when I was still quite busy with work and family stuff, and even that little bit of "momentum" seemed to have a beneficial effect. Then again, sounds like you're doing just fine, anyway. LOL
One Love,
PS I passed your Contemplative Coloring info on to a few friends back when we connected a few months back.

Lance Smith said...

Hey Anonymous,
Well said. Crazy, Indeed!
One Love,