"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, December 29, 2018

I Swear...

"I vow to understand living beings and their suffering, 
to cultivate compassion and loving kindness,
and to practice joy and equanimity."
Thich Nhat Hanh, from "Refuge Poem"

"Give me an F.....
Give me a U.............."
Country Joe McDonald, Introduction to "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag"

Country Joe McDonald
I swear.  Sometimes a lot.  It can be embarrassing. 

Although I usually (not always) refrain from allowing "four letter words" to roll out of my mouth when I'm upset, the closer I get to a spontaneous expression of awe and joy and gratitude for the Absolute Wonder of Life, the more likely am I to launch forth an "F bomb" -- usually in its forms as an adjective or adverb.   (For example: How F***ing cool is that?)

I guess, more than anything, this tendency to be somewhat foul-mouthed shows my true colors.  I am the prototypical product of the 1960's.  

For sure, the language that I used freely on the streets on the south side of Chicago as a child was certainly ladden with a lot of expletives to be deleted in "polite company." Yet, the ubiquitous use of the F bomb really didn't develop in my life until the late 60's.  By then, a whole bunch of us were was using it quite freely.  Depending on the context, it functioned as a noun, a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.  

Although I began practicing yoga and meditation during my senior year of college in 1969, becoming "spiritual" didn't seem to effect the language that had become part of my normal vocabulary.  Moments of Awe and Wonder could and would still elicit an exuberant "Far F***ing Out!"

Telling It Like It Is

In the "youth culture" of that era, a whole bunch of us came to see what Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others had seen: War is blasphemy.  Using napalm is a profanity.  Launching F bombs?  Not so much.  

In fact, "colorful" language, like colorful clothing, long hair,  and psychotropic drugs, was an integral part of the youth culture.  We were intent on breaking the monochromatic norms of a mainstream society that worshiped the false gods of white supremacy, materialism, competition, environmental degradation and warfare.  We rejected the norms of a "polite society" that was praising Jesus in one breath and supporting the extermination of people halfway around the planet with the other.  

Killing innocent children to "preserve our way of life?"  I mean, like WTF!?

We chose, instead,  to try to pursue a life based on the values of freedom, peace and love.  "Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven" wasn't just something that folks were supposed to recite in church on Sunday.  We believed we were supposed to be living the life of love and compassion that Jesus lived.

And sometimes that just didn't look or sound like we had learned in "polite society." Like the medieval Zen monk Guishan, we knew that kicking over the water jug and stomping out of the temple was sometimes the appropriate move. Rather than live a life of hypocritical piety, we were intent on having some serious fun.   

Country Joe McDonald's infamous call and response introduction to "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" (Give me an F -- Give me a U...) exhibited the spirit of the times.  His"foul mouth" not only spiced things up, it got to the heart of the matter.  The iconoclastic spirit of Zen was in the air.  As one of my guiding lights, the late Hippy Guru, Stephen Gaskin, put it at the time: "We're out to raise hell -- in the Bodhisattvic sense." 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

Five years ago this week, Keaton Izzy was born.  As miraculous today as she was then, she is a on-going reminder of the Sacred, the Preciousness of Life.  As Christmas 2018 approaches, with three more Grandchildren now aboard for this Amazing Ride, I thought that I would again share the post I wrote the week of her birth. 

"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

Originally scheduled for a Christmas Day debut, Granddaughter Keaton 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 one face to another, following the sound of our voices, I could feel her Presence as the Incarnation of 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 story line proclaiming this to be a special time of mirth and merriment,  didn't resonate with what I what I saw around me.  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.  Sadness is an integral part of the human condition.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

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 

The leaves are gone now.  There is no doubt about it.  Mother Nature and Old Man Winter are dancing, hand in hand,  toward the winter solstice 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.  Pausing to take a slow deep breath, my eyes feast on the dance of stark branches silhouetted against the boundless expanse of the  predawn sky.  A deep Silence rings soundlessly as I sit here.

For that matter, the scene inside the window is Just Perfect as it is.  My zafu, a familiar friend who has shared morning meditations with me almost very day for a long, long time, returns my gaze with a bow.  At this moment, even the clicking of the keyboard don't disturb the silence as these letters dance across the screen of this old beat-up MacBook.  

Feeling my breath and my body, I come to my senses.   Life is Just Perfect as it is.

I blame the Practice for that.

Reality is an Open Book

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 widely accessible.  It was an era when even a working class kid from Chicago like myself had an odds on chance of experiencing altered states of consciousness that freed us to apprehend the Sacred.  Although, some of us didn't seem to"get it"at the time, others realized that these experiences were not just the product of magical herbs and modern chemistry.  These experiences connected us the Truth of the Matter.  Many of us saw that here is a Reality that exists within and beyond the conditioned appearances we'd been programmed to consider as the "real world".  

With the influx of Eastern teachers drawn to the United States during the Collective Kensho of that era, I learned that mystics, seers, sages and saints of all the world's religions had been exploring this terrain for a long, long time -- and some of them kept notes. There was a vast ocean of literature on the matter.

I had always been an avid bookworm.  Without leaving Chicagoland, I had traveled the world and explored the human condition through the magic of the printed page throughout my childhood.  There was always a stack of books on my nightstand.  By my senior year of college in 1969, I was beginning to fumble my way through learning hatha yoga and meditation -- by the book.

Although I experienced a number of profoundly impactful moments -- both on and off the meditation cushion -- it was years before I sat with a "real" meditation teacher.  Now, almost a half century later, after having explored a variety of meditation techniques with a number of gifted teachers, attended numerous meditation intensives, and spent time in residence at a couple of meditation centers,  I find that I'm still a nerd, a Spiritual Geek.  

There are still stacks of books on my nightstand.  

By the Book

A number of books have determined the trajectory of my own spiritual journey over the years.  Back in the day, Ram Dass's Be Here Now brought me to a deeper understanding that specific practices were important in one's spiritual life.  I came to see that Spirituality wasn't solely a matter of Grace.  Life wasn't just happenstance. There was something we could actually do to cultivate our Connection to the Sacred.  I was drawn to the idea that we could more fully embody the qualities we valued by spending time engaged in yoga, meditation, study, and service.

Although I continued to explore a wide variety of literature on the matter (and still do,) I was drawn to the specifically Buddhist teachings and practices found the Zen tradition in the early 70's.  Then, in the 80's,  I spent time with the insights and practices that emerge from the Theravada before gravitating back to Zen, ordaining in Thich Nhat Hanh's lay Order of Interbeing at one point, then going into residence at Zen Mountain Monastery once my youngest child had graduated from college.  

For a number of reasons that I won't go into here, that really didn't work out.  As is always the case, whether we realize it or not, there is always more to learn about our own relationship to what some folks may term God. The path to the Infinite is, well, infinite.  Duh.

The Pick of the Litter

About thirteen years ago, a new friend handed me a copy of Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are.  When I read the epigraph, my mind was, once again, completely blown.  It read, simply:
     This book is about awakening the heart.

Awakening the heart!? WTF!? It's not all about Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind? At that moment, something clicked.  Thinks shifted.

Over the decades, I'd been to the mountaintop any number of times in brilliant moments, only to plunge down in an avalanche of deep confusion and despair.  I'd roller-coastered through several decades of my life without having found a means for translating my heartfelt aspirations to be of service, to be a kind, compassionate human being into a sustainable lifestyle. I'd soar.  Then crash and burn.

Although I had practiced meditation for years, I picked up Start Where You Are -- and started where I was. I was soon transfixed by Chodron's teachings.  Since then, 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!  This has now become more and more doable.  (Another 4745 or so days of regular meditation practice have probably helped as well.  LOL)


Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Final Frontier

"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 Hanh

“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 a good thing.  Unless you were an astronaut-in-training at NASA (or, perhaps, a Trekkie), the term was a put-down.  Not appearing to pay a lot of attention to the seemingly endless concerns and hassles of what most people called the real world, the space cadet just wasn't cool. 

Although I didn't realize it at the time, it's now obvious that some of these space cadets were actually marching, perhaps even dancing, to the beat of a different drummer.  

In doing so, they actually probably had a leg up on the rest of us. Being conditioned into the rat race of the so-called real world, our legs were usually fully engaged spinning the hamster wheel of an invisible, but very captivating, mind cage.     

Lost in our thoughts and feelings about doing it right, going for the gold, being all we can be, etc., most of us were continually scrambling to get with the program. We had internalized the values and norms the mainstream society long before we had the experience or the skills to realize that our society's "conventional reality" was a house built on the ever-shifting sands of endless time.

The space cadet seemed not to take it all that seriously.  It seemed that he or she could frequently let go, relax -- and journey elsewhere.  

Aboard the Starship Enterprise

These days, I will gladly accept the title of space cadet.  I've found that space, what some folks may call "inner space," is the final frontier.  In fact, as we voyage to the precise edge of this ever-unfolding frontier, the present moment, there is actually no such thing as elsewhere.  Inner and outer are two sides of the same coin.  Although I've had to encounter some space monsters along the way,  I grateful to have signed on for the voyage.  Most every day I choose to step off the hamster wheel for at least an hour -- and go into free fall.  

Some people call what I do meditation. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

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) were commonly bandied about.  Although I'd read a couple of translations of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, my wanderings through the Yankee Buddhist world of the 70's and 80's had primarily been focused on Zen.

Like Jimmy, though, I was then drawn to practice with the folks at IMS, who drew their inspiration and practice from teachers in the Theravadan tradition.  There, Nirvana seemed to be a more palatable ultimate destination.

Little did I know.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Atttitude 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 -- but 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.  (deep, conscious breath...) 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.  -- 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 10, 2018

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

A grin comes to my face as I remember her voice on the telephone.

"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 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 with the aspiration that myself and others be free from such suffering and the roots of such suffering. Then I breathe out a sense of relief and healing energy. " 

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

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly individualistic and 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 -- moment to moment -- to the Sacred Perfection in which we are immersed .

To wit:

As I sit here and pay attention, I become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness.  Pausing, aware of my body and breath, eyes and ears wide open, 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.  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.  I have come to trust that feeling.  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 wind outside the window, the soft humming of the computer. 

But, I digress -- sort of.

In a Flash
(Read More) 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Bit Touched

 "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 in the head."

These days, I spend much of my time meditating, studying spiritual texts, and comparing notes about matters of spirit, heart, and mind with as many folks as I can.  

I even let slip in some settings that I've felt the Presence of, sometimes even heard the Voice of God -- although some folks may call this Shunyata or the Tao or Buddha or Allah or Krishna or a myriad other names for the Groundless Ground of Being that will always dance beyond our ability to name it.

Over the years I've learned to be a a bit discrete about yakking about these experiences, though.

I try not to mention these Openings where it is likely to lead to an embarrassed silence, furtive glances toward the nearest exit -- or maybe even somebody dialing 911!  And although I say that lightly, in all seriousness this has been an unfortunate reality for all too many of my fellow mystics in a society that doesn't understand such things.  I was quite fortunate, really.  I was usually able to "pass."

Looking back, I guess I've always been a bit touched.  Often dismissed as a dreamer or an idealist, sometimes with obvious scorn by those who considered themselves to be"realists," I had dedicated my life to attempting to be kind and helpful, to serve "all sentient beings." It was important to me even before I heard of the Bodhisattva Vow.  It just seemed to make sense to be me.  Why not be kind and giving rather than engage in the selfishness and cruelty I saw in the world around me?

For much of my life, I've stumbled ahead in a sometimes quite bizarre, sometimes crazed, effort to understand the Real Deal.  I wanted to be able to lend a helping hand in a way that may make a difference.  I wanted to get to the Heart of the Matter, to discern the Truth.

To be sure, I've often crashed and burned in the process, blowing a fuse trying, all too desperately,  to serve.  I hadn't truly appreciated how the natural inclinations to seek approval and security and defend myself from anything unpleasant had operated since childhood to distort my vision and "harden my heart"  with layers and layers of frozen childhood trauma, sadness, fear and anger.  Hell, I always thought I was a real softy!  

Little did I know.

Live and Learn

Although my journey continues to involve a variety of practices emerging from several spiritual traditions, for the past decade one of the most useful tools in my roadside service toolkit has been Tonglen Practice as taught by American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron and others.  Like many of us 'back in the day," having experienced a number of compelling visions and rapturous openings of my heart chakra, I was convinced of the existence of a boundless and mysterious energy that I now call One Love.  

Yet, in the day to day reality of my life I discovered that actually being a loving person wasn't all that easy.  Blinded by the subconscious patterns of a deeply wounded ego, immersed in the energies of a patently neurotic society, I made a lot of mistakes.  Much the time I could be a real jerk, failing miserably to help others, or even myself free themselves from suffering.  Even after experiencing the Infinite Grace of Our Oneness, I still didn't have much of a clue about the sheath of armoring around my heart that operated to distance me from others -- and, perhaps more crucialy, from myself. 

Although I was blessed to be able to attend retreats along the way with Stephen and Ondrea Levine and Joanna Macy that provided opportunities to access and melt that armoring in precious moments, our early conditioning and its constant reinforcement in the world around us are powerful. years later, I still stumble ahead noticing daily how quickly I can disconnect from boundless, tender, openness that always exists in our Heart of Hearts. 

The Practice of Tonglen has been a godsend.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

For Now

“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.   
― Pema Chödrön
“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

After raining heavily all night, the sun broke out moments ago.  Streaming through the window, it played across the floor as I entered my bedroom.  The windblown dance of light and shadow, woven of sun, tree, and partially open blinds brought a smile to my face.

Then, as quickly as it had emerged, the sun disappeared into the thick sea of gray clouds.  

That brought a smile to my face as well.  

I walked over to raise the blinds, expecting to see the glistening, now pink-brown, late autumn leaves of the crab apple tree outside the window waving in the wind.  Startled, I found I was face to face with the stark gray brown of mostly empty branches.  It was now Fall!  Only a few leaves, scattered among the wet branches remained.  "Oh yeah," I thought. "It rained hard all night.  Duh."  

I smiled again.

I guess I'm pretty easy these days -- at least much of the time.  I blame it on the Practice.
Once the fundamental Impermanence of what Uchiyama Roshi called "the scenery of our lives" is directly seen -- and accepted -- we have the opportunity to embrace Life itself as it emerges each moment with an increasing degree of ease, grace and kindness.  Within the ever-flowing energies that we encounter, we see that there is always nothing more, and nothing less, than Life as it is this very moment.

Although the thoughts and emotions that emerge from the causes and conditions of our personal and collective histories can make it appear otherwise, what is right there in front of us is a constant Invitation to the Dance.  We can either explore the possibility of opening our hearts and minds (and our eyes and ears and arms, etc.) to accept and appreciate the Absolute Miracle of the Mystery that we are part of each moment-- or not.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  

It takes Practice.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

For Crying Out Loud!

“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
Some time 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.  I immediately emailed it to a dear friend who was having a rough time.

She replied that it helped -- a lot.  After reading it, she had headed out to her garden to have a good cry.  It was exactly what she needed.

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.  Although this pattern is pervasively seen as a "male" characteristic, in my experience, many of the women I know are also  conditioned to avoid crying.  As a result, our patterns of resistance to crying are pretty pervasive. 

That being said, I actually hesitated for a moment to plunge ahead here.  After all, you don't see too many glitzy promotional materials  on Mindfulness Practice promising to bring you to tears. Maybe I'd better "lighten up" a bit?  After all, isn't Buddha's Third Noble Truth the freakin' Cessation of Suffering?

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Ya Think?

“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.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking Toward Enlightenment 

Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone.
Without practice, nothing can be achieved.
Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras

On the Way to the Bus
After a couple of weeks in which I encountered some sadness and angst regularly -- on and off the zafu --my internal weather shifted dramatically.

In the past week,  I have experienced many moments of bliss and wonder amidst the ever-changeable changing of the season here in Western Massachusetts. The external weather wasn't the primary cause of the shift.  It's been all over the place. We cruised through getting drenched and cold, then an 80 degree day, then more rain and an overnight in the lower 40's. 

Yet, again and again, here it was: a sense of Boundless Amazement permeated my experience.  As I opened to the Gracious Spaciousness of Mindful Awareness and allowed my thoughts to wander off into the infinite Space and Stillness, it was obvious to me that you don't have to die to go the Heaven.  This is the Pure Land.  It dances and sings to us, vividly, in the silent contentment of our hearts. 

As is often the case,  a walk in the country made it relatively easy.  

It happened  a couple of days ago as I walked to the bus.  I was awestruck.  The clouds and sky and hay fields and ridges made the words "white" and "blue" and "golden"and "green"  woefully inadequate.  As Jesus and Lao Tsu and Walt Whitman and a host of other seers and saints recognized: Mother Nature rocks!  

Getting Out of Your Head

When we come to our senses beyond the constraint of the thoughts running through our minds,  and really pay attention the lilies of the field, or the valley spirit, or the leaves of grass, the Ineffable Presence emerges.  Although I can sometimes wax poetic about clouds and sky and hay fields and ridges (e.g. "multicolored dancing", "vividly deep crystalline", "shimmering", "muted softly into grey green by the heavy breath of summer", etc.),  it is quite clear to me as I sit here at the keyboard: words can only hint at, not capture, the majestic and mysterious Essence of Life as it flows through the eternity of such moments.  

Life, as it is, is nothing short of a Holy Miracle.

Yet,  you don't have to be outdoors surrounded by the majesty of Mother Nature to sense the inherent Sacredness of Life.  With Practice, is gets clearer that the same Presence flows through each and every moment -- wherever you happen to be. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

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 have 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.  Instead, what is presented as love is actually a form of desire, energetic attraction, and attachment.  This "love" 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 my favorite Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron calls 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, Buddha and others had in mind when they spoke of love, 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.  Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love is our Heart's capacity for fundamental kindness, compassion, joy, and clarity.  It is there, always,  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, human love is seen as a quality of heart, a mode of consciousness 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 is vaster than that.  It 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 effort, understanding -- and patience.  I hope to still be Practicing with my final breath.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Step by Step

Walking with ease and with peace of mind on the earth 
is a wonderful miracle.  Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle.
--Thich Nhat Hahn

"Every path, every street in the world is your walking meditation path." 

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Several times in the past couple of years of MMM, I've witnessed someone experiencing formal walking meditation for the first time.  

After sharing a few words about the various forms of meditation (it's not Just Sitting after all), I introduced the South Asian "slow motion" walking meditation as I had learned it when I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society years ago.  Then we took a stroll across the glistening wooden floors of the studio at Community Yoga from one wall to the other, turned, and returned.

It only took a few minutes.

In a couple of instances, I had the privilege of seeing a childlike sense of wonder emerge in a person who had just experienced, at least for a moment or two, "Beginner's Mind."  

Meeting their eyes, it was obvious.  During the course of this relatively brief walk, they had been Present to Life in a fuller and more complete way than usual. 

I love it when that happens. 

Walking and Waking Up

The spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff claimed that most humans are "sleepwalking" through their lives.  I think he nailed it.  Sleepwalking is a perfect metaphor for the semi-conscious manner in which most of us have learned to move through our lives.  

In a materialistic society that stresses speed, production, and the accumulation of goods and status, we have been conditioned to scurry and stagger ahead without being fully aware of our bodies in the present moment.  Distracted, lost in our thoughts much of the time, the miraculous sea of sensations and energies that constitute Life each moment remain beneath the level of consciousness.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way.  We each have the ability to awaken. It can happen with the very next step.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Heart of the Matter

"My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness."
--Dalai Lama

"What we expect is to be truthful; to be kind; to try to share; to try to love one another. Some folks don’t recognize that as a discipline: They say, "Oh, that old stuff…." And it may not sound too difficult, unless you’ve ever tried it. But if you ever try it, 
you’ll know it’s an exacting discipline."
--Stephan Gaskin, This Season's People

The only time I saw a somewhat severe Burmese Buddhist meditation master break into a belly laugh was when he raised his hand to his head and pointed out that Westerners believe that their mind is in their heads.  The entire crew of monks sitting behind him on stage also dissolved into laughter.

After a few moments, regaining his composure, he then raised his hand to his heart and continued.  Although I don't remember the exact words his interpreter used, the point was obvious.   The Truth of Who We Are resides in our Heart.  

That certainly resonated with my own understanding.  Jesus, Buddha -- and the Beatles -- had it right.  It's all a matter of Heart.   Love is all you need.  It's just that simple.  But it ain't easy.  Staying connected with our Heart, being truely kind and compassionate is, like the Stephan Gaskin pointed out years ago, an exacting discipline.

Getting It Together 

In 1976, I learned from my first Zen teacher that heart, mind, and spirit are actually the same word in Japanese. Derived from a Chinese character, the word shin makes no distinction between these three realms of existence.  Our bodies, our minds, and our spirit are a seamless whole.  They are seen as inseparable. 

Conditioned as we are in society on materialistic overdrive, it sure doesn't feel that way for most of us much of the time, right? That's what led me to meditation. Following a deep yearning in my heart of hearts, I was intent on "getting it together"to live a life of Integrity. 
This process began, and continues on, with the commitment to spend time carefully observing how heart/mind/spirit actually operates within my own experience, to discover the ways that my conditioning operates to separate me from my own heart, from others, and from the exquisite intricate Web of Life.  

With Practice, both on and off the zafu, I began to get a handle on how to slowly and gently become the person that, in my heart of hearts,  I yearned to be.  

Then, at a certain point in meditation at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, I realized that I actually AM the person I wish to be--and always have been!  At that moment, in a torrent of tears, I knew that with all my flaws, with my abundant neuroses and conditioned patterns,  that I was absolutely perfect as is--and so is everybody else!  

Nothing had really changed.  But, everything had really changed.

What an absolute Hoot! 

It Just Takes Practice 

Of course, as Zen Master Suzuki-roshi once said:  Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”  In fact, the major question that propelled Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen, to leave Japan and seek a teacher in China seems to have been, basically,

Friday, August 31, 2018

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

There were quite a few of us that were first drawn to Zen back in the 60's because of its seemingly irreverent and iconoclastic tenor and tone.  

To a bunch of us erstwhile hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, stories of ancient monks kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, unabashedly proclaiming that Buddha was a "shit stick", etc., it seemed "far out."  They 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.  Growing up I 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. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

'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 in 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.  

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Gone Fishing!

Dear Folks,
Life has been quite full and rich and mostly quite positive for quite awhile now. Yet this past week, I noticed I was roller-coastering through some dark energies, feeling some deep angst and confusion. I also saw that I was, once again, increasingly addicted to spending way too many hours glued to a video monitor, computer screen, or the iPhone.
I'm grateful to the Practice -- and being 72 years old.  There's been lots of time for trial and error.  Rather than allow my conditioneed reaction to these energies propel me into utter burn-out as I had a number of times over the years, I was able embrace them in mindfulness, explore them deeply, compare notes with a couple of my buddhies -- and then figure out what I needed to do.  

Although the external situation was quite different (that was the depth of winter and we are still in the midst of a serious summer here),  I encountered a similar internal condition a few years ago.  At that point I went off-line for a day and also decided to consider committing to a lifestyle that included, as Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, spending one day a week as a Day of Mindfulness.  Here's that day's post.  Stay tuned for more.
One Love,
Originally posted:  February 1, 2015.
"Somehow we must find a way to allow each worker a day of mindfulness. 
Such a day is crucial. Its effect on the other days of the week is immeasurable."
--Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness

"Blow up your TV.  Throw away your paper."
-- John Prine, Spanish Pipedream

I awoke Wednesday knowing.

After a week in Chicago with my son and his family (complete with daily overdoses of internet, iPhone and television), then a long delayed flight day back to the Pioneer Valley on the tail of one snowstorm, then two full days of non-stop activity on Sunday and Monday with Winter Storm Juno glowering on the horizon, I found myself spending  hours and hours on Tuesday plugged into the Weather Channel's livestream broadcast, immersed in the media excitement of the blizzard that pummeled the Northeast and dumped 36 inches of snow an hour east of here. 

Of course, well primed and pumped, I was multitasking all day as well.  Texting and instant messaging and emailing and FaceTiming and surfing the web in search of this bit of information or that bit of Facebook news or gossip, I was constantly "connected" to colleagues, family and friends, wired for action.  

I was Busy.  Buzzing.  Buzzed.

I bopped until I dropped, bone-tired, at about midnight.

On Wednesday morning when I rolled over to look at the silent snowscape outside the window and listened to the birds twittering within the silence of a brand new day, I knew immediately.  The decision emerged from my bones, not my head.

I was done.

I needed to pull the plug -- literally and figuratively.  I had spent way too many hours spread across way too many days immersed in my own version of the hyper-cyber modern mainstream mode.  It was time to turn off all the devices, hang a "gone fishing" sign on the door of my life, and spend the the day in silence. 

Of course, I couldn't just disappear.  (I'd done that once before in my life in a dramatic and extremely unskillful fashion. A long story best left for another time.)

So, I quickly checked the calendar.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I then scribed a note of explanation to my housemates to prevent any embarrassing confusion about my silence during possible encounters that day.  Being responsible, I quickly responded to two texts with a similar explanation and turned off the iPhone.  Being irresponsible, I decided against taking the time to do a general email, a Facebook post, etc.  ( I mean really!?)

Instead, I brushed my teeth, peed.  Then I walked across the room to my little corner of the world, bowed, lit a stick of incense -- and Sat Still Doing Nothing!

And I walked.  And I sat.  

And I walked.  And I sat.

By the time I crawled away to bed Wednesday night, I had spent about 5 hours on the zafu in formal meditation in my room and a half hour Sitting on the Greenfield Town Commons.  

Eschewing reading (even dharma books), I had done about an hour of Hatha Yoga, taken a walk, cleaned my room, watered and staked up a jade plant that had gone horizontal in search of the sun, prepared and eaten three meals and cleaned up afterwards and, of course, made a number of trips to the bathroom.   (My prostrate seems to be almost 69 years old, although I, of course, am much younger than that most the time.)  

For about 14 hours, I had not looked at a screen or a printed page or listened to any sound through any form of electronic device.  

The only spoken words exchanged all day were a with my Dharmabuddhy Paul to let him know that I was doing a day of silence when he connected to pick me up for our ride to the #OMG! Peace Vigil at noon in town -- and my brief response to  a very juicy "Hi! How are you?" from a bright-eyed young woman,

Friday, August 10, 2018

Suffering Is Not Enough

"Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time."
--Thich Nhat Hanh

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, 
we enter the warrior's world.”
--  Pema Chödrön

I awoke that morning well aware that the weather service was predicting 95+° temperatures for the entire week.  I cringed as images of being very, very, uncomfortable ran through my mind.

That happened again as I grabbed my morning coffee and sat at the computer.  Surfing to the National Weather Service local weather page, a sense of "dread" emerged as I stared at the screen.

For days on end: High temperatures!  High humidity! Severe thunderstorms!

"Damn!", I thought.  "It's going to be a journey to the freakin' hell realms!"

Then, I remembered.  (The pali word which we translate as mindfulness also means "to remember.")

I let go of the thoughts careening through my head, sat up a bit straighter, and relaxed my shoulders.  Taking a couple of long, slow, conscious breaths, I brought to my attention to the present moment.

Outside, the sun hadn't yet risen over the trees across the way, and a cool, gentle breeze was blowing through the bedroom window.  Sitting there, no longer lost in my thoughts, I could feel it's caress on the skin of my arms.  Rather than the fiery furnace of thought that my mind had created moments ago, I noticed that I was actually a bit chilled in the early morning air.  The warmth of the laptop actually felt quite grand on my thighs as I sat there with my back propped up against the pillows.  Outside the window leaves danced and birds sang.

Life actually felt quite delicious.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Heart to Heart

“The intimacy that arises in listening and speaking truth is only possible 
if we can open to the vulnerability of our own hearts. ”
--- Tara Brach,  
True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others 
and relieve others of their suffering....."
--- Thich Nhat Hanh
from the Fourth Precept of  the Tien Tiep Order

In the first year of Monday Morning Mindfulness, a friend who was attending  the Monday the Circle for the first time was struck by the openness displayed by those Present that day.

"Folks were so honest" she said with her eyes glowing with amazement, 
" -- painfully honest!" 

I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo! We've created a space where people can share their authentic selves, where open-hearted intimacy is possible." 

At that moment, I felt deep gratitude for what emerges in the Mindfulness Circles that I'm privileged to facilitate each week.  Sitting here, five years down the road, I still do.

The opportunity to speak openly and honestly about what is nearest to our hearts and soul is a rare and precious thing today.  In the hustle bustle of our sped up, noisy,  materialistic society,  openly sharing the challenges and wonders of the deeper dimensions of our Lives and comparing notes on our Spiritual Practice doesn't happen all that much.  

In fact, when I was a kid we were told not to ever talk about religion--or politics.

I didn't follow the rules.  

I majored in political science in college and, along with my identical twin Brother Lefty, have been an activist for much of the past 50 years.  Having been inspired by the Civil Rights movement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi, I've considered the human movements for peace and justice to be a Spiritual Quest.  Being swept up in the Collective Kensho of the late sixties and early seventies as well, the mysticism and meditation practices of the world's religions and how they play out in the reality of our day to day lives continues to be profoundly interesting to me.  

So, religion and politics?  I can't think of anything I'd rather yak about.

Of course, communication, in it's deepest sense, is much more than just talking.  At it's best, it becomes Communion. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Grave Matter of Life and Death

Originally posted: December 23, 2017
Dear Folks,
Danny Cruz, who passed away in December, would have been 26 on Monday, July 30.  This week, with deep appreciation of this wonderful human being and of the Grand Mystery, I turn again to share December's post, "The Grave Matter of Life and Death."

Let me respectfully remind you:
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
 Awaken!  Take heed!  
Do not squander your life
-- The Zen Evening Gatha

I think it is clear.  Danny Cruz, who blessed us with his committed Presence in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, did not squander his life. 

Although the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy that ultimately ended his precious life at age 25 may have limited the freedom of his body, Danny was the quintessential Free Spirit.  His creativity, energy, revolutionary zeal, and passion for life appeared to be limitless.  

Through his copious artwork, through his unbridled musical expression with the Flaming Dragons of Middle Earth, and, perhaps even more importantly,  through his many encounters with members of his beloved community, Danny's upbeat exuberance and good will were boundless.  

It touched all those knew him.  

Chogyam Trungpa once described the Crazy Wisdom that is revered in that school of Tibetan Buddhism as "an innocent state of mind that has the quality of early morning—fresh, sparkling, and completely awake. " 

The ten thousand volt sparkle I often saw in Danny's eyes comes to mind.

The fresh, unfiltered honesty and the immensity of Danny's goodwill towards others were extraordinary.  Although many of us experienced shock at the suddenness of his death, and grieve the loss of his Presence on this plane of existence, the Generosity of Spirit that Danny exuded freely transcends his death.  

It still touches us.  

Although I, admittedly, rolled my eyes when Danny described himself as a Zen Master in our first encounter in the Wednesday Mindfulness Circle, over these past years I came to appreciate the unique nature of his Mastery.   It manifested in his ability to stay positive in the midst of circumstances that would have crushed the spirits of many.  It manifested in his unwavering aspiration -- and unparalleled ability -- to Connect with those around him.  It manifested in his ability to rise, again and again, to the defense of anyone or anything that had been criticized in his Presence.  

Like any Zen Teacher worth his salt, Danny ceaselessly challenged the concepts and attachments that serve to separate us from ourselves, from one another, and from the Miracle of the Present Moment.  I learned a lot with Danny in the Circle.

Jai Guru Dev Danny Jai 

Healing Into Life and Death

There is no doubt about it:  Losing a loved one is extremely painful.   Yet, taking the time and making the space to mourn can be a deep and richly empowering Practice.  As one of my teacher's once said "honest grief is a noble thing."  I'm grateful that it has allowed me to maintain the Connection with Danny beyond his physical death.
The process of opening the heart fully to the death of a loved one can be a Holy Experience, connecting us to the One Love that embraces both Life and Death.  It is there we are Healed.  This is, I believe, exactly what Yogi Jesus was getting at when he proclaimed "Blessed be those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Now You See It. Now You Don't.

“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”
― Alan W. Watts

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” 
― Pema Chödrön

Yesterday's drizzle turned into a more substantial rain last night here in the Pioneer Valley.  

I came awake at about 4:30 AM, then rolled over to face the open window.  I then listened as the rain's song wove itself in and out of dreams for a couple of hours.  It was simply luxurious. 

By the time I emerged to shower and Sit, the rain was, once again, a whisper of a drizzle.  A few moments later, as I ambled out to trek across the field in pursuit of a cup of coffee at Atlas Farm Store, that whisper faded into a few puffs of mist wandering silently along the ridge.  Spellbound, I then watched as one, then another, faded from view, disappearing into the arms of the gentle breeze sweeping along the ridge.

Now you see it.  Now you don't. 

That brought to mind the time that I sat on the shore of a pond north of here a few years back and watched in amazement as white puffs of clouds emerged from the womb of a clear blue sky.  One by one, flowing from north to south, each took form to stream across the sky for a few moments before dissolving and again disappearing from view.

Mother Nature couldn't have painted a clearer picture of the Real Deal.  

As Practice develops,  it becomes more and more apparent that we are of the nature of clouds emerging and disappearing in the vast sky of existence.  Watching closely, we see this is happening each and every moment of our lives in the stream of sensations, feelings, and thoughts that play through our awareness.  They emerge and disappear.   

As we take the time and make the effort, we are able to sustain a semblance of calmness and clarity to then embrace the pain and fear that may surface at the cusp of this perception of the ephemeral nature of all phenomenon. Beyond that, we come to sense directly the insubstantial and impermanent nature of our own personal existence.

That, I suppose, doesn't necessarily sound like good news.  And, yet...