"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 13, 2018

The End Game

"Healing is bringing mercy and Awareness 
into that which we have held in judgment and fear."
-- Stephen Levine,  
Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying

"At a fundamental level we can acknowledge hardening; 
at that point we can train in learning to soften. 
It might be that sometimes we can acknowledge but we can’t do anything else, 
and at other times we can both acknowledge and soften. "
-- Pema Chödrön, 
"Signs of Spiritual Progress", Lion's Roar

It seems that the death of my friend and CircleMate, Danny Cruz this past month was the harbinger of things to come.  Since then there have been more deaths and diagnoses of life-threatening illness among my circle of friends and their friends.

Sometimes, life is like that.  

In fact, when you take the long view, life is always like that.  As Suzuki Roshi once said, " Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink."  The moment we are born, we're headed on a trajectory that ends in death.  Although what happens at the end point is a Grand Mystery, one thing is pretty obvious:  Life itself is a terminal condition.   

Yet, in mainstream society today, it seems that most of us assiduously avoid bringing that aspect of the journey into the our awareness.  Until our boat (or that of a loved one) sinks, or is about to sink, we don't seem to want to rock that boat -- and face that sinking feeling that may emerge.  

Yet, it seems clear that death is an integral part of the fabric of life.  Until we actually face death's inevitablity, we may not be able to engage our lives fully and directly with an open heart and clear mind.  We'll always be somewhat haunted, skating over the thin ice of our own subconscious fear of one of the truths of our existence. IMHO, this is no way to live.

Buddhism makes no bones about this.  

If you are going to perceive the truth of our existence, death has to be acknowledged.  In the Theravadan tradition, Asian teachers still cite the Satipatthana Sutta of the Pali Canon and send monks off to meditate on corpses at the charnel grounds as a practice.  That may be a bit hard core for Western practitioners who, unlike their Asian counterparts, are generally shielded from the reality of death and dying.  Yet, even the Mahayana traditions that practice here in the West call for some focus on death.  A recognition of the inescapability of death is one of the Four Reminders in the preliminary contemplations seen as necessary to begin the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism.  The inevitability of death is also one of the Five Remembrances chanted regularly in Zen services.  

So what is the deal here?  Why is an awareness of our inevitable demise so important?
We can turn to the Shaman Don Juan as chronicled by Carlos Casteneda years ago for one insight.   Advising Castenada to keep an awareness of the presence of death accessible all times (over his left shoulder) he went on to say,  "An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you. "  

Talk about hard core values clarification!  

The point is clear, and quite helpful when I remember to stay in touch with the larger perspective.  When my vision expands to include an awareness of the End Game, the heart's wisdom naturally emerges.  As Practice has deepened, I've found myself not climbing as many mind-created mountains as I had in the past, more readily seeing them for the molehills that they are.

Here's the Deal!

I've found that in embracing the magnitude of death, in accepting the absolute finitude of my individual life in this particular body, the Exquisite Preciousness of Life in this very moment comes into clearer focus.  From a position of gratitude and wonder I can then bring myself to do what needs to be done as best my heart understands it.

It seems to me that this is the Heart of Bodhisattva Practice.

Moment to moment in the course of our everyday life, we can open our hearts, relax our grasping (and the tightness in our jaw, in our belly) and turn to engage our lives with as much kindness, care, compassion and skill as we can muster -- or not.  At a certain point you realize this a life choice you can make and you commit to it.  (See Bodhisattva Vows) Then, at a certain point you realize you have no choice.  It is built into the fabric of who you are this time around.

As we take on the Practice, we come to see that it takes time, effort and skill to actually be aware of -- and let go of -- the layers of armor that shield our hearts.   Conditioned as we are in a world where support for Love (as opposed to romantic desire) is in short supply, we have all learned to protect ourselves from actually feeling the tender vulnerability and accepting spaciousness that embrace one another in our heart of hearts.  We've learned to toughen ourselves, again and again.  Then all the congealed fears, judgments, graspings, and disappointments of a lifetime, like ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, operate to prevent us from experiencing our connection to the One Love.

Yet, this can be healed.  We can choose to be real softies instead. 

Day of the Dead Celebration in Mexico City
If we take the time to actually feel our hearts, if we make the commitment to explore our own moment to moment experience with courage, curiosity, gentleness -- and patience,  we will have the opportunity to see directly that our lives, as fragile and finite as they may be, are our direct connection to the incredible majesty and infinite miracle of Life itself.  Face to face with its ineffable but undeniable Presence, we realize that although who we think we are will certainly die, who we are actually shines on throughout space and time.

It just takes Practice.