"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, January 28, 2017

Reality Asserts Itself

"...Please understand, you have inherent in your very Mind a huge potential, an incalculable brilliance, an ability to see the reality of this moment clearly."
-- Harada Roshi, opening talk,
Rohatsu Sesshin, Sogenji Monastery, 2011

"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

My Little Corner of the World
An old coot, I rarely sleep through the night these days.

Generally, at least once a night, I have to roll out of bed and walk a few steps into the adjoining room. There, I participate in one aspect of this Grand Recyling Project known in some circles as Samsara.  

Then, depending on a multitude of factors ranging from things like phases of the moon, to what happens to be on my mind that particular moment, I usually plop right back into bed and meditate back to sleep, often catching a few dream bubbles along the way.

Sometimes, something else happens.

Last night, as I crawled into bed, I heard the winds howling outside the window.  I then felt a bit of coolness on my skin as a draft found its way under the blanket that hangs over the window alongside my bed for nights like these.  

Curious, I pulled a corner of the blanket up to take a peek. 

Outside the windows, the stark silhouettes of winter's barren trees danced wildly in the moonlight as their shadows mirrored their moves across the blue-white snow of the yard behind the gardens.  Under the influence of a brilliant moon that was only a sliver past full, the surreal world outside the window was luminous.  It seemed to glow from within.

I was awestruck.  

Thoughts, being incapable of grasping the majesty of the moment, became irrelevant.  They just went on their merry way unattended -- leaving wonder in their wake.  I was all eyes and ears.  

Transfixed, I don't know how long I was present for that particular miracle before I let the blanket fall back across the window, rolled over, and returned to sleep through feelings of wordless wonder and soft, sleepy delight.

Upon Awakening

As beautiful as the scene outside my window was last night, I also know the stark reality.  It was brutally cold out there.  According to the National Weather Service, the raw temperature at 4 a.m at a small airport near here was -13°F.  The windchill was -22°.  Given different circumstances, that scene I gazed at outside the window wouldn't be delightful.  It would be deadly. 

Yet, in the grand scope of things, it is always like that, right? 

Although we don't like to face it, Life itself is a deadly proposition.  Without exception, our life is a terminal condition.  Nobody gets outta here alive.

Give It Up

"As long as you have certain desires about how it ought to be you can't see how it is.”
---Ram Dass

"Not-knowing is the first tenet of the Zen Peacemakers. Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any opinion, idea or concept. This means total openness to the situation,
deep listening to the situation."
---from the Zen Peacemakers website

A good question is like a good mirror.  You can sometimes see things about yourself that are otherwise hidden.

Although there are often quick answers that can seemingly take us off the hook, a really good question, if you take it to heart, can peel back layers and layers of "stuff".  It can shine a light on the unexamined assumptions and beliefs, subterranean feelings, and inner conflicts that so often keep us sleepwalking through our days.   

Last week, one of the CircleMates emailed me a question to discuss at the next session of MMM.   She wrote: "My question this week, Lance, is how do you let go without giving up?"

Although I did come up with a quick answer -- and hit the snooze button -- this question started to churn again as I sat down to write this morning.

I love it when that happens.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Day By Day: Three Tips on Daily Practice

 “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.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh

I would say that 90% of the folks who have wandered into one of the Mindfulness Circles I facilitate have already tried mediation.  Comparing notes on Practice in the Circle, most of those folks have expressed that there was an obvious improvement in the quality of their lives when they meditated.  Yet, they found that they couldn't maintain a regular daily practice.

Sound familiar?

The inability to maintain a daily practice is, I think, quite widespread.  It's fun to see a newcomer to the Circle mention, often somewhat sheepishly, that they couldn't establish and sustain a daily practice, only to discover when I ask for a show of hands, that everyone there has had -- or continues to have -- a similar experience.

It only stands to reason.  

The entire thrust of our conditioning today operates against sitting still in silence.  Creatures of habit, we are individually and collectively awash in habitual patterns of noise, stimulation, and activity, often feeling quite stressed and fatigued.  Sometimes aware of a subtle, or not so subtle, discontent with ourselves and our lives, we race on yearning for it to be different.

The Good News is that it can.

More than anything, the establishment of a regular daily meditation practice may be the key to making the difference.  At this stage of the journey, I've learned that there are three things that  seem to have helped me and others to bring this about.  Perhaps, they can help you as well.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Time to Break Silence

"I speak as someone who loves America."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Speech delivered at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967,

As you may know, I meditate -- a lot. The Soundless Sound of Silence is a refuge for me.  In fact I will be offering Be Still: An Interfaith Day of Mindfulness, again on Sunday, January 15 here in Western Wisconsin.

Yet, as Dr. Martin Luther King proclaimed in his speech at Riverside Church, exactly one year to the day before his assassination in Memphis, there is a time to break silence. Like Mahatma Gandhi before him, Dr. King practiced the Spirit of Love and Truth through non-violent political action. 

Dr. King lived -- and died -- as a Bodhisattva.  His was a profound Spiritual Practice.  Like Jesus, Gandhi, and countless other Bodhisattvas, he paid for it with his life.   

With the celebration of Dr. King's birthday -- and the ascension of Donald Trump -- on the horizon, my identical twin, Brother Lefty delivers a rant and shares a recording of Dr. King's eloquent denunciation of the Vietnam War in this week's Rambling On with Brother Lefty Smith, S.O.B.*

Please listen deeply -- and share Dr. Kings message. It is a time to break silence, to speak out -- and join with others to act.  Our democracy and this planet depend on it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Though It Is Impossible...

"When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, 
like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart."
-- Pema Chodron
"If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, 
can be our teacher."
-- Pema Chodron

There is nothing like a weekend in New York City to bring you face to face with yourself.  

I generally consider myself to be pretty open-hearted, relatively unafraid, able to meet most folks eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart. That is, after all, the essence of the Bodhisattva Vow, right?

And then there are those times..........

As folks met for Monday Morning Mindfulness at Community Yoga in my absence this week, I had the opportunity to explore Practice quite differently.  The setting was a Manhattan bound R train heading for the notorious confines of Port Authority.  

At one point, a women, dirty, disheveled and smelling of urine, stumbled and fell across my lap.  Lost in a non-stop rant about everybody being "into her business",  she then recoiled from me, apparently aghast.   Regaining her balance, at least physically, she arose and then sat in the empty seat next to me.  All the while, she continued the agitated conversation with herself.

It took me a bit of time to move through the initial shock of the physical contact.   

Watching feelings of repulsion and fear arise and pass, observing thoughts emerge and dissolve (Eeek. I'm freaking infected with something, etc.), I took a long, slow breath and began to relax. 

After all, this was it--what my buddhy Peal might call "hard core Zen.  Here was another chance to do Tonglen on the front lines.  Absorbing what I could into the expansive space of  Heart on the in-breath, breathing out to extend my aspirations for peace and well-being--hers, mine, ours -- into the space within and beyond that subway car rattling through the darkness, I practiced.

Breathing in, breathing out. 

At one point, as I began to allow my gaze to turn toward her, I noticed that her agitation increased immediately.  Her ire at other folks "being in her business" was, after all, the locus of her current hell.  I cut loose of any attempt to engage her more directly--and that's when the real work began for me.  I felt completely and utterly helpless

Oh no, not THAT!

Ancient wounds

As a child I witnessed my mother's struggle with the demons of her own psyche, up close and personal.  Diagnosed at times as a paranoid schizophrenic, at times as manic-depressive, she was in and out of mental institutions throughout my entire childhood.  Her struggle to navigate through life were a painful journey that, of course, affected me deeply. 

Although I certainly enjoyed many perfect moments of childhood (wandering through fields for hours in awe of grasshoppers and butterflies, sitting on a hillside watching a rainbow emerge and dissolve, etc.), there were a lot of tough times.  I was often profoundly frightened and saddened as, again and again, my mother would disappear -- even when we were in the same room.

In the midst of all this, feelings of utter helplessness were not uncommon.  I ached to have Mom "re-appear"--and was powerless to bring that about.  On the R train that day,  could see those same feelings emerge--in spades--as I sat there that morning hurtling toward Port Authority.  Those feelings emerge now as I sit here at the laptop. 

Breathing in.  Breathing out.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Practice: It's Positively Habit Forming!

"Every moment is incredibly unique and fresh, and when we drop into the moment, 
as meditation allows us to do, we learn how to truly taste this tender and 
mysterious life that we share together."
-- Pema Chodron

Spiritual practice, exactly like training in a gym, takes time and effort. Just as there are stationary bicycles, treadmills, weight machines, and other devices, so in spiritual practice there is prayer, meditation, ritual, study, and other techniques.
-- Zoketsu Norman Fischer

Back when I was addicted to cigarettes, I was often haunted by the spectre of New Year's Day arriving.  By then I had usually made QUITTING my first New Year's resolution -- and decades of failures shrieked like banshees through my mind and body as Day One appeared.

It was not a pretty picture.

Now, with a brand new 2017 sparkling across the gleaming white snow outside my window, the scenery of my life has changed substantially.  I haven't smoked a cigarette in years.  Today, the shrieking banshees have been transformed into a glorious assortment of twittering birds at the feeder.   This moment emerges like each moment: unique,  beautiful and --when I'm really paying attention -- full of wonder.

I haven't made New Year's resolutions in quite awhile.  Although I have found myself making special commitments during Fall Ango for the past couple of years, my fundamental commitment has been made.  No calendar is needed.  It informs each and every day.

Day by Day

Today, like most days, l arose, cast a Lojong Slogan for the day, glugged a cup of coffee (lest I get too self-righteous about not being an addict), read some commentaries on the slogan I cast, then meditated for an hour.  Towards the end of that hour, I mentally recited the Four Bodhisattva Vows three times, a practice I picked up years ago as I wandered through the world of Zen on my way here. 

Yet, True Commitment is deeper than any of these activities and rituals. It emerges as an aspiration ringing silently in our Heart of Hearts.  Emerging from a place so deep within us that it is beyond us, it felt as the simple yearning to be of Service, to be Present to each moment with an open heart, a relaxed and clear mind -- and a helping hand.   (In some circles that is known as Bodhichitta)

Of course, actualizing that aspiration is no easy task.  It takes Practice.