"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Saturday, March 6, 2021

How Sweet It Is

"Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment.
It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation."
 --  Rabindranath Tagore

"“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek 
and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

When I woke up that morning over 50 years ago, I had no idea that the trajectory of my life would be profoundly influenced that afternoon.

It was the summer of 1965.  I had just finished my freshman year in college and was back home in a small town north of Chicago, working in a factory again for the summer.  As I had done since my sophomore year in high school, on Friday I cashed my paycheck, pocketed $5, and deposited the rest in the bank to fund my college education. 
I spent three dollars of that week's "personal entertainment" budget in a matter of moments, as I pawed through at a table of used books at the annual Lion's Club White Elephant sale in the park near the center of town.

For years now, I've realized that two of the books that I bought that day had a profound influence on me. The first, The Wisdom of Buddha, published by a Buddhist organization in Japan was my first introduction to Buddhism.  When I flipped it open and scanned a few pages, I thought, "Wow.  That's interesting.  Greed, hatred and ignorance don't cut it.  This sounds like what Jesus was teaching in the Bible!" This was my first introduction to the Buddhist teachings and practices that were to inspire and sustain me over the years.

The second book was another small tome, The Wisdom of Gandhi.  Deeply touched by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, I had read that Dr. King had been deeply touched by Gandhi.  That was good enough for me.  I poked my nose into the book.  One of the first passages I read described an encounter between a British journalist and the Mahatma.  When Gandhi was asked if he was a Hindu, he replied, “Yes I am.  I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.”   
I got goosebumps Something stirred deep inside me.  His words rang True.  I Immediately brought forth another 20% of that week's allocated "mad money."

It was only today, after a compelling experience yesterday, that I remembered that there was a third book that I bought that afternoon. 

Connecting the Dots

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you probably know that the Lojong teachings of Tibetan Buddhism have been part of my path for the past seven years.  I've read and re-read a handful of commentaries, and spent countless hours in the study and practice of the 59 slogans that comprise this system of mind training.  Each morning, I cast a slogan to focus on for the day. (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Lojong:Training the Heart and Mind).  
Yesterday, it was back to square one.  I cast slogan 1: Train in the Preliminaries.  The preliminaries include a contemplation of the Four Reminders:
    1. Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
    2. Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone.
    3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around.
    4. Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.  ( -- Pema Chodron in Lion's Roar)
Although the horror of the COVID pandemic has put the Second Reminder, "Be aware of the reality that life ends for everyone," front and center these days, I was reminded today of the importance of the First Reminder.  What would my life look like if I really did maintain an awareness of how precious life is?  Sitting there at the computer, allowing my mind to flow gently down the stream of this contemplation, relaxing to focus on and soak in the Preciousness of Life, a title for this post emerged: How Sweet It Is!

I had no idea where that would lead.
Gently Down the Stream

The phrase "how sweet it is" had emerged in my mind stream as black and white images.  Center stage in my mind's memory lane theater was comedian Jackie Gleason's sketch character Ralph Kramden and his wife Alice, played brilliantly by Audrey Meadows.  Kramden was a bus driver in New York City whose bumbling macho bravado and perpetual scheming would invariably create some sort of hilarious havoc each week in The Honeymooners, a pioneering TV sitcom.   Week after week, Alice, a rock solid blend of street smarts, patience, sarcasm, and unflinching assertiveness, would finally rein Ralph in -- and save the day.  Sitting here pecking away at the keyboard, my heart glows again with the images of Alice delivering her wisdom and wisecracks, deadpan, with arms folded and toes tapping -- and the look on Ralph's face as he finally got it
"How sweet it is", was Ralph's reoccurring exclamation of gratitude for Alice and the life they shared in their bare bones working class apartment in Brooklyn.
And then...
Immediately downstream from the Google search I had engaged to jiggle my aging brain cells about Gleason's TV offering (it first aired when I was 6 years old), I found the YouTube listing for James Taylor's irresistible cover of the Motown song "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)".  I immediately hit "play".  
Within moments I had picked up the 12 stringer and was playing along. 

Within another few moments, my chest was heaving and tears of profound gratitude were flowing freely.  How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You!) Indeed!  
Although there was a slight whisper of nostalgic "me and you baby" romantic emotional energy and memories involved in those tears, that wasn't the heart of the matter.  The profound feelings of gratitude and devotion that coursed through me flowed from more than the romantic scenery of my own journey.   Beyond and within the tears that flowed freely, at the source of life itself, there shone the Ultimate Beloved.

The Being whose embrace and understanding made my heart sing "I want to stop and thank you, Baby" was none other than the same Beloved that evoked the mystical poetry of Rumi and Hafiz. In those moments, in my hearts of hearts, I was embracing, and being embraced, by the One Love that permeates heaven and earth!  Awash In Love, tearfully Ecstatic in those moments, I was, once again, a freakin' Mystic!

Damn.  I guess this admission blows my cover as a staid, solid, respectable practitioner of Mindfulness, huh!? Oh well.  At least I am in good company.

Paths are Many.  Truth is One.

Although it is true that the Practice for me has primarily focused on the teachings and meditative disciplines of the Buddhist tradition for the better part of fifty years now, I am well aware that Buddhism is not the only path to the Realization of the Sacred Oneness.  I had felt the Truth of the One Love that exists within and beyond all that is as I read Gandhi's words long ago. 

Over the years, I've studied the scriptures of many of the world's religions, participated in their rituals and services, and investigated a variety of spiritual techniques.  I've touched the One in meditation during sesshin.  I've communed with the One Love in the golden tones of dawn and as the pastels of sunset skies dissolved into vast and mysterious embrace of twilight.  I've blissed out in the Bhakti of Kirtan Practice.  I've danced with Sufi's, sweated in Native American lodges, ingested psychedelics with kindred spirits.  I've had profound encounters with Jesus as well.   

Yet, I've found that those peak moments of Essential Oneness come and go.  Although one can be launched into a direct personal experience of the Divine, of Eternity, of Perfection, of Boundless Love and Absolute Truth, like everything on this place of existence, these experiences are impermanent.  
I also know, in my bones, this: Although these peak experiences are wonderful places to visit, I wouldn't want to live there -- even if I could.  How can a compassionate human being just punch out and go hOMe when others are still suffering?   (Besides, if the truth be told, in Our Essential Oneness, there really isn't any "other" anyway, right?) That's why the Way of the Bodhisattva presented in Mahayana Buddhism drew me in, long ago. 
 It just makes sense. 
The Real Deal

We each live and breath amidst the day to day activities of family, work, and relationships, of washing dishes and taking out the garbage.  Immersed in the mundane and ordinary moments of life as it is, embedded in a world full of both incredible beauty and excruciating suffering, we each travel this path from birth to death moment by moment. What the Practice offers is the deepening ability to embrace the Reality of each moment with a clear mind and an open heart. 

Through time, effort, and patience -- on and off the meditation cushion -- the subconscious patterns that operate to separate us from ourselves and from one another are increasingly seen for what the are. As their energies are experienced directly they can be transmuted. They no longer dominate the way that we see and react to the world.  Healing into our True Nature, we become Healers -- in whatever small way that we can.  If you're paying attention,  you'll notice -- and act.  Sometimes, a simple smile may bring a soul out of hell.  It's clear that the Practice needs to happen in the midst of our day to day lives.  An open heart and clear mind are needed on Main Street not just in the Monastery. 

Gently Down the Mind Stream

Oh. Where was I?  Ah, yes...

Standing at the table in the park that day in the summer of 1965, I had picked up a third book.  

Amidst those Moments yesterday, I remembered that I also bought  Gitanjali (Prayerful Offering of Song) by the Hindu Mystic Sage and Poet, Rabindranath Tagore that day.  I had no idea who Tagore was at the time, but this beautifully bound small book had an introduction by William Butler Yeats, who I'd heard of --and it was printed before WWI in London! It was a treasure, both antique and exotic!

I had no idea how this book, too,  would open to touch what would lay between the covers of my own life story.

A working class kid at age 19, it would be years and years before I was exposed to the mystical poets, Rumi and Hafiz -- or even begin to understand a Walt Whitman that I had been required to read in high school.  (I was more interested in the real leaves of grass outside the classroom window that day. LOL) 

Yet, when I opened Gitanjali, I was deeply touched by the first poem.  Although I didn't quite understand the Totality of what Tagore was pointing toward at the time, something deep within me stirred.  I pulled out another dollar bill, put the third book in the bag, and walked home.  

Still on my journey hOMe years fifty years later, having once again blissed out on the Grand Beneficence as I sat at the computer scribing this post, I surfed the web to look at the first poem that I read that day.  It now makes perfect sense.  It takes One to know One.
Here it is:


Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.

At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.

1 comment:

from the void said...

Dear lance, thank you for this great story