"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.