"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

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.