"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, February 27, 2021

Body of Wisdom

 “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
― Thích Nhat Hạnh, Being Peace

"When you listen to your body in this way, you can also feel that it’s the Earth’s body. Its bones are made of Earth minerals, calcium and magnesium, and there is seawater in your blood. Your body is everything you eat. It’s not just your body but part of something bigger: you are the Earth come alive."
-- Jack Kornfield

Reverend Gyomay Kubose (1905 - 2000)
When I observed my first Zen teacher dry mopping the wooden floor of the Zendo at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago years ago, I was awestruck.  
I hadn't seen anything like it before. 

There was a simple grace in his bearing, a Presence in his slow mindful steps that was astonishing. 

It was obvious to me that Reverend Gyomay Kubose, in his 70's at the time, was connected to his body, to the smooth wooden floors of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago -- and to Life itself -- in an entirely different way than I'd seen before.  

Embodied Practice

The first of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of Body, is a concept that stretches back to the earliest texts of Buddhism.  The Anapanasati and Maha Satipathana Suttas spell out the details of meditative techniques which have been widely taught for about 2,500 years.  In these teachings, the development of a fuller awareness of our bodies is seen as a means of cultivating a calmer and clearer sense of the entire realm of our own experience.  

Beginning with focusing our attention on the process of breathing, attention can be directed in a number of ways to more fully experience our bodies.  As Mindfulness Practice deepens and we become more fully present to what we are experiencing on deeper and subtler levels, Reality asserts itself.

At a certain point, the Real Deal becomes self-evident.  
Getting From There to Here

Conditioned as we are, most of us are "in our heads" most of the time.  Although we are always breathing, and our bodies and our sensory apparatus are operating to generate a whole realm of experiences, most of this occurs without our full presence of mind.  Generally, conditioned as we are, the focus of our attention is primarily on the thoughts running through our head.

Fueled by emotional energies, subconscious beliefs, and conditioned filters that we are largely unaware of, these thoughts dominate our awareness in a way that sweeps us along the stream of our own conditioned ego patterns most the time.  Mindfulness Practice, both on and off the meditation cushion, offers us a means to  expand our range of awareness to include a universe of experience that we generally aren't aware of.  Without Practice we are liable to "sleepwalk,"only half-awake,  throughout our lives. 

Reverend Kubose, most definitely, was not sleepwalking that day.  He was awake to the present moment, to the Oneness of Life Itself. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Be Still and Know

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” 
 -- Zen Koan
"Be still and know that I am God. "
Psalms 46:10

In all the major religious traditions that I've studied over the years, there is a deep recognition that Stillness is important to connect with the sacred dimension of life.  The core mystical experiences of many of the sages, seers, and saints involved retreating from the noise and busyness of life, and Simply Sitting Still.
This is not only emphasized in the religions of the East, it is central to the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well.  Making time to withdraw from the incessant noise and activity of "business as usual" is seen as crucial.  Even the OmniProductive God of the Old Testament, working hard enough to create the entire freakin' Universe in only six days, then took a day off.  He proclaimed it as Holy!

Of course, as God Almighty, Yahweh could just kick back and settle right into the Stillness.  In fact, God being God, he/she is the Stillness, the Infinite Source at the foundation of all sound, all activity.
Yet, for most of us, being still is not that easy.  It takes a commitment, some skill, and some discipline to cultivate our own ability to slow down the seemingly incessant chatter of our mental activity.  It takes time and effort to become Present to what my first Zen teacher, Reverend Gyomay Kubose, called the Soundless Sound.
It takes Practice.  
The Way It Is

Immersed in the buzz of contemporary society (which, itself, could be diagnosed as ADHD), most of us have internalized the incessant noise and relentless activity of a social system build on greed, fear, and ignorance. The noise and activity doesn't just exist "out there." It lives on in our bodies, our emotions and, perhaps most of all, in our thoughts.  Even at relative rest, our minds are usually abuzz.  Lost in our thoughts, we often feel stressed.  It is often acted out (and reinforced) through constant movement.  Even "at rest", there is liable to be gum chewing, toe tapping, hair twirling, nail-biting, etc. 

Even if we are sitting still in an incarnation as couch potatoes, internally we continue to bop until we drop. We keep our minds busy.  Turning toward the distractions of "news and entertainment," our attention is consumed by video and audio stimulation.  It never is allowed to settle into the deep tranquility available to us -- until we finally fall into a deep sleep. Even that, for many, seems to be difficult to do.  So-called sleep disorders are more and more prevalent.

Thankfully, in this day and age we also have access to an entire world of Spiritual Teachings, and to meditative practices developed through the ages to free us from this vicious cycle of incessant physical and mental activity.  I'm grateful to have stumbled across this vast pool of wisdom as a young man.  I have maintained a regular meditation practice for decades.
This I do believe: If a extremely neurotic, addictive, and workaholic personality like mine can experience what St. Paul called "the Peace that passeth all understanding," anybody can.  If someone takes the time and makes the effort, they can learn to slow it all down, to let all of that go, to Be StillSimply Sitting Still, we can connect with the vast, expansive, glowing, spacious stillness that exists at the heart of Reality.  

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Light Reading

"There is a vast store of energy which is not centered, which is not ego's energy at all.  It is this energy which is the centerless dance of phenomena, the universe interpenetrating and making love to itself"
--  Chögyam Trungpa
Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.
-- Meister Eckart
Christian Mystic

Sitting here, I realized, yet again, that I'm a strange old coot. (If you've been following this blog for awhile, you probably have known that all along. LOL)

An inveterate bookworm, a perpetual student, I'm a Spiritual Geek of the first order.  There are several full bookcases, and stacks of books on a number of horizontal surfaces in my apartment.  

Lately, I've been thinking it's about time to re-read  Chogyam Trungpa's The Myth of Freedom: and the Way of Meditation.

There's nothing like a little light reading, right?

This book was my first exposure to Trungpa Rinpoche. and his presentation of Tibetan Buddhism.  I first read it back in 1976.

By then, I'd already been swept up in the collective kensho of the late sixties and early seventies. Yet most of my actual contact with Buddhism at that point had been with the Zen tradition and the Hippy Zen of Stephen Gaskin. Along the way, I'd already experienced a number of openings and peak experiences   -- as had many of us. By then, I knew that there was a spiritual dimension to life.  

The Good Old Daze

I was recently asked how I "got into" the a life of spiritual study and practice. As best as I can tell,  I didn't get into it.  It got into me.  My teen years and young adulthood spanned the 1960's and 1970's.  This was the era of the Civil Rights Movement, the Peace Movement, the Summer of Love, and Woodstock.  I was born at the right place and in the right time. 

Riding on the waves of  what was called "the generation gap" at the time, I was one of many.  A large number of  youth throughout the world rejected "business as usual." Yearning for something beyond the nationalism, racism, materialism, senseless violence, and warfare, we intuited that there was more, much more, to life.  And, just like the Beatles, many of us turned to the teachings of Eastern religion to better understand just what that "more" might look like.  This cultural revolution was so widespread that by the early 70's, I was practicing yoga and meditation, and was able to buy paperback books like "The Sermon on the Mount According to VedantaHow to Know God, and a translation of the Bhagavad Gita right off the bookshelves in the local supermarket! I was also able to read the works of Father Thomas Merton and other Christians who were establishing an interfaith dialogue.  

In this Hippy Pentecost, a lot of us had mystical experiences.  Although some of these were related to the various psychedelics and medicinal herbs available in those days, many emerged from meditation and other spiritual practices.  It was an amazing time. Whether it happened in a meditation hall, around a campfire in the Rockies, in a rock hall, or elsewhere  -- for at least a few moments -- many of us touched the Sacred and the Sacred touched us. 

With those experiences, we knew: There is an Ultimate Reality.  We discovered, first hand, that there is a dimension in which we are not only all in this together -- we are all this together. We saw that the Universe is a unitary field of energy, an interconnected web of life dancing in an infinite expanse of luminous space.  Inseparable from all that is, we knew we were each like waves dancing along the surface of an infinite sea. 

I have come to call this Ultimate Unity the One Love. 

Getting Real

Yet, glimpses of the One Love were one thing.  Actually becoming an unconditionally loving human being is quite another.  Although the systems of ethics and morality that were embedded in every religious tradition provided some guidance, I came to understand that there was a lot more involved.  Although I sensed that commitment to a life of service was essential, I discovered  that it was going to take commitment, study, and specific tools and practices to really get my act together.  I needed to uncover, and then heal, the conditioning that prevented from actualizing the Love in my heart and bringing it into my day to day life.  It became clear that Moksha, the liberation alluded to in the Eastern traditions, just like the "Truth that shall set you free" proclaimed by Jesus, wasn't just about a set of beliefs.  It was beyond belief and dogma. It called for a way of being.  

Chogyam Trungpa 1939-1987

I had been exploring meditation for about seven years, and had just turned 30 when, I first came  across The Myth of Freedom: and the Way of Meditation in 1976.  As a young man who had entered the Hindu, then the Buddhist paths of Practice with the goal of  "liberation," the title that Trungpa chose was mind-blowing.  The MYTH of Freedom?  WTF?  Wasn't Freedom the ultimate goal?

As I remember it,  I poured through the book, intrigued and haunted by the imagery, but mostly confused.  I didn't yet understand the frame of reference, and I wasn't able to grasp the subtleties of his descriptions of various meditative states.  

Having heard via the grapevine of Trungpa's "unconventional" lifestyle, I was also quite skeptical. Then, when I got to the final section of the book, which proclaimed the importance of devotion to a guru, I put the book down. Although I revered the folks that I considered to have been my teachers, I had come to believe that all hierarchical structures were fundamentally dis-empowering and could lead to exploitation and abuse. (Jesus had reportedly said that we should call no man Teacher, no man "Father," which certainly challenges the way most religion is institutionalized. ) 

I didn't get back to The Myth of Freedom for another thirty years.

During those decades I stumbled my way forward through relationships, numerous jobs, successes and failures, even homelessness. Yet, through the peaks of valleys of my life, I continually returned to meditation as the foundation of my spiritual practice.  And, although I maintained a connection to other spiritual traditions through study and shared worship services, my primary focus continued to be Buddhism.  Like institutional Christianity, Buddhism had evolved into separate several different branches, and I practiced with both Theravadan and Zen Buddhists.  Along he way I spent time in residence at Insight Meditation Society and Zen Mountain Monastery before again launching off to continue a daily meditation practice and my own interfaith exploration of the Bodhisattva Vow, and a life of service.

And Then 

Friday, February 5, 2021

One Love. One Heart.

“In Chinese, the word for heart and mind is the same -- Hsin.
 For when the heart is open and the mind is clear 
they are of one substance, of one essence.” 
-- Stephen Levine

"Love is not what we become but who we already are."
-- Stephen Levine

I slept in this morning for the first time in quite awhile.  

Although I did awaken at around 4:30, to participate in my early morning recycling project, I immediately returned to bed.  There, I followed my breathing into "dozing/dreaming meditation." 
A long, rather vivid, dream quickly emerged.  It was unsettling.  
With echoes of my many "personal failures" ringing through my mind, I awoke again.  I glanced at the clock.  It read 6:45! That's wicked late in my world.  Yikes!

Feeling harried and hurried, I went into the bathroom to do a bit more recycling.  Then I picked up the iPhone and cast my Lojong Slogan for the day: Number 49. "Always meditate on the difficult emotions that emerge."

That sounded right on, I could feel a deep sadness welling in my chest  -- but, damn,  it was LATE!  I had a long list of things to do today.  The hiss of the morning traffic on High Street concurred.  It was rush hour.  I felt propelled to just keep moving! 
To Sit or Not to Sit

For decades now, settling into a one hour morning meditation "first thing in the morning" has come quite naturally most every day.  I committed to it long ago.  Usually, the momentum of this commitment carries me along like an autumn leaf floating on the surface of a dancing brook under a clear blue sky.  Life flows on.  I flow on.  When it's night time, I read a bit of dharma.  Then I meditate into sleep.  When it's morning, I awake. Then I get up and pee.  Then, I Sit Still for an hour.    

That bedrock ritual became a bit rocky this past week, though.  

I actually missed my morning meditation three days in a row, then only sat for 20 minutes the next day.  Yet, what's the big deal? After all, I still meditate -- a lot.  
Since the COVID pandemic made in-person meetings a health hazard, I Zoom into the Morning Mindfulness Meditation Meeting that I facilitate at 9 AM, Monday through Friday.  I facilitate three other Mindfulness Heart Circles on-line each week as well.  (BTW.  All these are free and open to all.) Although, wintry ice and an unmaintained parking lot have prevented me from dawn meditations at Unity Park on the Connecticut River, I still occasionally make it to the Noon Meditation Vigil on the Greenfield Town Commons as well during the week.  So. What's the big deal about my personal morning meditation?

To be honest, most of time, I don't know.  I just do it.

What I do know, though, is that this morning, I woke up late and was off and running!   I actually had sat down in front of the computer, ready to tackle the first thing on the list, before I hit the pause button.  I stopped, sat up a bit straighter and took a long, slow, deep breath.   Sitting there, I sensed that place in me that appears to make choices.  It became clear to me.  Rather than just "go with the flow"this morning, I had to stand in the way of my own momentum.  A real decision had to be made.  
After a few more conscious breaths, I stood up and headed back to in the bedroom.  I faced the altar.  As I've done thousands of times before, I bowed, set the timer for an hour, and Sat.