"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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Starting Where You Are

"If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, 
then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them. 
True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate 
than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
-- Pema Chodron

I certainly was no "newbie" to Spiritual Practice back in 2006.

I was sixty years old.   I had practiced meditation, lived in several spiritual communities, attended numerous intensive retreats in various traditions, and had a regular daily practice for large swathes of time for 35 years.  Although I had experienced a number of "peak experiences" --on and off the zafu -- little did I know that my mind was about to be blown once again.  

I had never heard of Pema Chodron when Betsy handed me a paperback copy of Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living that fine fall day.  Longtime Director of Gampo Abbey, an American student of Chogyam Trungpa, Ani Pema had me hooked with the very first sentence of the Preface:



I couldn't put the book down.  

Although I had read Chogyam Trungpa's classic works back in the day, and spend a bit of time with Tibetan Buddhist communities in Madison WI and Woodstock NY over the years, my primary focus had never turned to Tibetan practices.  To be honest, as I had experienced in some Hindu settings, I was pretty turned off by the somewhat gaudy opulence and what appeared to be a "guru-driven," highly ritualistic approach to spirituality.  The relative simplicity of the American incarnations of both Zen and Theravada seemed much more in tune with my own, working class, moderately Marxist, sensibilities.

Yet, as I poured through Start Where You Are that day, I was transfixed.  As an American female monk steeped Tibetan practice, Pema Chodron offered a fresh, accessible, down to earth presentation of the traditional Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.  Although many of the concepts were familiar old friends, something shifted.  Chapter by chapter, her approach to this ancient form of "mind training" (Lo = mind, Jong = train, purify or refine) helped me to establish a new and deeper relationship to the these teachings, to practice -- and to life.  

Starting Where I Was

I had always considered myself a pretty compassionate dude, dedicated to service.  The Bodhisattva Vow had been part of my personal practice for decades.  Yet, I had also struggled through a series of burnouts during that time.  The reality of our essential Oneness was part of my own experience, but it was clear -- I didn't have a clue as to how to live that out through my life in a sustainable way.  
Most importantly, I could "be there" for others pretty well, but I couldn't be here for myself.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Dance

"We are already what we want to become."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Life is the dancer.  You are the dance."
-- Eckhart Tolle

I didn't Sit this morning.  

The heat apparently didn't come on last night, leaving the room frigid, with a stiff northwest wind rattling the window alongside my bed as I came awake.  I got up, and as is the ritual, went to the bathroom.   

Then, I strode back across the cold floor and immediately grabbed the heating pad and an extra blanket  -- and crawled back into bed. I didn't plan on falling back to sleep. 

As I often do, as soon as I laid down I placed my awareness on my body and breath, consciously stretching and relaxing a bit, noticing some thoughts and feelings spin through my awareness as well.  Predictably, the first bevy of thoughts was a rather daunting "things to do list".  

When I let those thoughts go and turned my attention to the underlying feelings, I noticed a tightness in my chest and belly.

As I lay there, I could easily label that collection of thoughts and feelings as "me" being anxious and fearful.  "I" was worried about not accomplishing all that "I" wanted to get done today.  In the old days, that collection of thoughts and feelings could capture my attention to the point of distraction, disarray, and despair.  Totally identifying those thoughts and feelings as me, I would ride that train at full throttle -- until it derailed.  A number of times over the years, those clusters of mind states even consumed me over the course of months, and my life became an utter train wreck. 

Then and Now

As I lay there this morning it was different.  Within a moment or two, no longer attaching a lot of attention to the thoughts, I was breathing the underlying feelings deeply into my heart with the wish that I could feel those feelings for all of us, and that we all would be free from such suffering and the roots of such suffering.  My heartfelt aspiration that all of us be at peace rode the long, slow release of the out breath.  I didn't have to choose to Practice at that moment.  After about a decade of working with Tonglen, more and more it has become a habitual response. 

Floating on the breath of Tonglen Practice*, embraced in the gracious spaciousness of Mindfulness and Awareness, the fear and stress quickly morphed into a pang of deep sadness for the struggle that is part of the human condition.  Then that sadness dissolved into a feelings of deep gratitude for the nobility of our collective efforts to be kind and compassionate, then a sense of wonder about Life and Practice. 

Then,  there was just breath and body, the wind howling outside the window.  

Then a few dream bubbles danced into my awareness -- and burst.  

When I awoke later, I was warm and well rested.  I looked at the clock.  It was too late to Sit  -- but I was ready to Dance into a busy day.

A Devoted Fan of Life and Practice

One of my favorite Zen stories comes at the end of Dogen's Genjokoan: Actualizing the Fundamental Point.   Here it is:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

When You Wish Upon a Star

"Fate is kind.
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing."
-- from "When You Wish Upon A Star" 
Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, 1940

The important point is to realize that you are never off duty.”
-- Chogyam Trungpa

Over a decade ago, I sat on the front porch of an A frame on the ridge at Zen Mountain Monastery gazing at a star-filled Catskill Mountain sky.  I was certain that I was going to leave the monastery after six months in residence.  

I had absolutely no idea what my next move would be.  Over the years, I had often thought, "once the kids are grown, I can finally DO IT!  I'd get to the monastery or ashram and find The Teacher -- then really get spiritual." 

So much for that idea.  

Now what?

Although I had again experienced a number of deep "openings" in the cauldron of Zen Training as envisioned by Roshi John "Daido" Loori, I knew that the rigid, hard-driving, and unabashedly hierarchical nature of the Roshi's "Eight Gates of Zen" didn't ring true for me.  Though I respected many of the folks involved, and saw that the monastic life appeared to work for some, I now knew I wasn't going to get off that easy.  I was going to have to get out there on the streets and figure it out for myself -- again.

As I sat there, absolutely clueless, an image of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull came to mind. Then, like that intrepid avian seeker of perfection, I thought, "Just hang onto the wind and trust!"  At that very instant, a shooting star flashed across the night sky directly in front of my eyes to then disappear into the tapestry of countless stars and fathomless blackness reaching overhead.


I wish it was always that easy.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Just a Few Thoughts...

"One can appreciate and celebrate each moment -- there is nothing more sacred.
There is nothing more vast and absolute.  In fact, there is nothing more."
-- Pema Chödron, 
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” 
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

March Snow 2014
After days of warm, springlike weather, it seems that Mother Nature is poised to dish out a few single digit overnights again here in Western Massachusetts.

If history repeats itself, we could still get some serious snow before She rolls up her sleeves to sow spring hereabouts.

Then again, maybe not.  Then again, maybe...

Ah.  "thinking, thinking".  

Tending to to speculate, compare,  exaggerate, "thinking mind" can create all sorts of story lines about the weather -- or anything else imaginable.

All too often, it's just another snow job.

Yet, when I pause to gaze at the sun and shadows playing across the tawny world outside the window, when I open to the sounds of the birds twittering,  the wind whispering through leafless trees, and the traffic humming in the distance, when I let go of the storylines and just feel myself sitting here breathing, the world immediately expands.  Not constrained by the fetters of thought, Life becomes becomes vast and wondrous.

It happens every time I pause and stop typing.  (You could, perhaps, pause here for a moment or two and open up to those other channels of your own experience right now before moving on to click READ MORE