"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, September 5, 2020

'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 HαΊ‘nh

Buddhist Nuns at Amaravati Monastery

The sultry days of August have given way to September now, and the first hints of autumn have appeared here in Western Massachusetts.  The thermometer has already dropped into the upper 40's a couple of times.  Patches of orange leaves have emerged in a few of the maples inviting their neighbors to join them.  

It won't be long.

As they often do as autumn announces its presence, 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.  It is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen as well.  Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, the rain's retreat 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 Three Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year.  In 1991, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.  

At Insight Meditation Society, this commitment meant existing in silence for that 30 days, and meditating in one form or the other from 5:30 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. each day.  Except for listening to an evening dharma talk, sometimes receiving a few words of instruction during a period of work, and engaging in a brief interview with a teacher every few days, the entire world was wordless.  Even reading was discouraged.   An inveterate bookworm, this made me squirm.   Yet, this proved to be a powerful support for dissipating the momentum of habitual thought.

My mind got really quiet.  Really...really....quiet.

Being speechless for weeks and weeks left me speechless.  In Silence, a deep sense of awe emerged.  To a mind freed from the fetters of thought, it became self-evident that the wind whispering through the trees said all there was to say about the nature of Reality.

To Every Thing There is a Season

Although at this stage of the journey I don't sense a need to head for the hills for an extended period of time, I think one patch of orange leaves had something to say to me as I walked through the neighborhood a few mornings ago.  Nestled in a silent choir of green maple leaves, it was whispering:

'Tis the season.  

As summer wanes and the world rolls toward the Autumnal Equinox, I feel the emergence of a commitment to intensify my personal practice once again.  The energy is there to hunker down and heavy up a bit.

I'm not sure exactly what this will look like yet.  I don't know what form this intensification
may take.  But, these days, "not knowing" is particularly sweet. 

It makes me shut up -- and pay even closer attention to the Silence!


Jackie Rose said...

Thanks Lance your such a bright guiding sign post. And brotherly light. So what do you want to do with the rest of your life ? ☮️πŸ™πŸ’œ☮️πŸ™☮️

KD said...

Thank you Lance. Contemplating and rambling about: inquiring about the stages and variations of how to make commitment and how to commit to what? Do commitments adjust to awarenesses? Is there a different kind of commitment because of impermanence? Or does that engage the yearning for a bedrock of commitment below the shifts of life? What is it to make one commitment that is fully inclusive? Commitment to Commitment ? What is this? Commitment to Health? Liberty? Inner freedom? Equanimity? Society? Compassion? Right livelihood? Becoming Aware? Leadership? Spoken Words? Thoughts? Education? Family? All the above and open for evolutionary shifts? The embrace is as large as life....one breathe at a time. Is the vast and infinite holding me without “commitment”. Not applicable? Being is. There’s that stretch and far reach to know. Hmmm. Reign the thoughts in. Ground omg. Allowing to observe big, allowing to be small and behold equanimity at all times. One size fits all. That’s grace. I feel relieved. Looking at the lives of Buddha, Socrates and Confucius and what urged them to look deeply into the nature of all of life? Fascinating. 507 BC Democracy Experiment is born. Commitment to be free from suffering. Commitment to clear thinking, understanding, knowing truth, social conduct, education and most of all compassion for our complexities because there is suffering amidst the wonder and beauty of it all. Having a meaningful and purposeful life and how to do that? How to be there in the here and now no matter what levels of chaos, change, pleasure, joy etc are vibrating in the present. Sitting quietly. Knowing thyself. Becoming an agent of choice and virtue. Contributing to the greater good. The timeless ongoing pursuit to know how to be happy and wise and live on purpose.
How to be seems to be an invitation and education on humanities inner wilderness. How to take action. What is Awareness. How to develop the human self for the greater good. Sit quietly. Breathe. Consciousness grows. Patience needed. Steadfast. Endurance. Determination. Focus. Intention. Step by step characteristics of steadfast compassion is born.
Seems to me cultivating conscious relationships with the elemental and staying in close relational proximity to this to be primary. Breathe in. Exhale out. Both evolve. Our breathe of life stays the same as our meaning and use expand. Potential Tool for transformation.
Lately, in my cycles of contemplation I have been noticing what when where how about moments I may be at greater distance from my heart. Either a push or a pull toward or away and noticing my cellular response. Can use my breathe to calm my wandering and allow my wondering to stay near. Noticing the belonging experience, the “home” within and then the extended sense of that. Like Maitre practice....in its wishing that all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness so too wish that all beings experience and know belonging, all beings experience home within and meaningful relationships that bring greater meaning and connection to the unknown. I muse at the term that encapsulates this for me.. a commitment to “Occuoy Myself”. To tenaciously stick to and show up for this one precious gift. The gift of life.����������

Carol said...

Transformation 'is' the never ending happening. Interesting, how a season can have a positive or negative affect on the human experience, the mind, to feel joy or sad. To the instinctive animals of this seasonal changing planet it means 'to move' to go with the flow, no emotions needed to be part of the whole. Clinging to the human aspect of this adventure can be mind over matter. As in what really matters? Nothing we do here as a human accomplishments matters. Only what we do in the knowing we are souls, energy fields, of one spirit, one super energy that creates matter. That....boils down to 'love', love for souls, for endless recyclable energy of all life. Diplomas, status in society, outer beauty, etc. It's troubling to realize that the common sense of love must be taught, that the influences of human importance have taken rise over reality of the nothingness that we came from and will return to. How well we live here is only based on how much we recognize love, as it is only love that creates, and when we leave here it is only how much we recognized that one thing, that will matter. Earth 'is' part of the whole, earth 'is' heaven. No one needs anything or anyone to experience the energy of love. Just be in it, with it, and it will be with you and keep you, and graduating learning what is important will come much faster than any human can teach, as all human teachers are the
students, all life forms are the teacher. Droplets of water hold more wisdom than the human mind can explain. Autumn, for me, seems to be the easiest time to 'know' what is real and let go of the illusions. Each of us has a built in time/season, that we awaken to reality stronger than any other time,/season as the world turns.

Lance Smith said...

Wow! Thank you KD and Carol for your amazing words! Each of you continue to blow me away!

And Jackie, to answer your question " "So what do you want to do with the rest of your life ?" Pretty much doing what I'm doing. How about you?