"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

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Once Upon a Time

“The Buddha’s principal message that day was
that holding on to anything blocks wisdom.
Any conclusion that we draw must be let go." 
---Pema Chodron

"We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release 
our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

There is no doubt about it.  I'm a Geek.  I often have my nose in a book of spiritual teachings of some sort.  There are usually stacks of books on my nightstand, my kitchen table -- and elsewhere.  Some of them are new.  Some of them are old friends.

I had occasion to hang out with one of these old friends the other day.  

IMHO, The Wisdom of No Escape: and the Path of Loving Kindness is a must read.  Between its covers, Pema Chodron tells it like it is.
In this book, this venerable American teacher of Tibetan Buddhism presents us with a useful and practical way to carefully, gently, and persistently alter the way we experience our lives.  Rather than scurry ahead in the tunnel vision of our own conditioning, we are invited to open up, come to our senses, and walk ahead into the vast and mysterious beauty of Life as it is.

How cool is that? 
No Such Thing as a True Story

Even if I can't convince you to read the entire book, go to the library and take a peek at
Chapter 8.   Entitled "No Such Thing As a True Story," there Pema Chodron describes the way that we co-create our own world, moment to moment, largely as a result of the "story lines" that frame our experience. 

Those thoughts arise, unbidden, quite mysteriously from a cauldron that contains our individual and collective conditioning.  Over the course of our lives,  we each have developed a set of  habitual narratives.  (Many of them were developed in the first years of our lives as we learned to develop concepts.) These narratives are fundamental in creating our lives as we experience them.  Often, they dominate our attention.  Others whisper to us below the level of our conscious awareness.  All the while, they are operating to shape the world as it appears to us.

With Mindfulness Practice, we can come to see this operate directly.  Then, we can learn to expand our focus.   Rather than remain "lost in our thoughts," we can shift our awareness from our heads to the boundless space of our own hearts.  There, the thoughts are seen as just thoughts, not as the Truth.   We see clearly that these thoughts are insubstantial, transitory, impermanent.  Paying close attention, opening to the space from which they emerge, we find ourselves dancing with the wondrous array of energies at play in the vast spaciousness of each moment.  Instead of allowing the thoughts to continuously play the re-runs of our own individual movie day after day, we are free to experience life directly, to become who we truly are.
 In Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron describes a form of Practice that is useful in the midst of our day to day life.  She sees it as a three-fold process: 
Let go of the storyline.
   Feel what is in your heart.  
Open to the next moment with no agenda.
  She counsels us to do it "again and again and again."  Taken to heart, this can change everything.

It just takes Practice.


Saturday, November 19, 2022

Good Work

"When you see ordinary situations with extraordinary insight, 
it is like discovering a jewel in rubbish."  
-- Chogyam Trungpa, 
The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation

“So if you do something, you should be observant, and careful, and alert.”
―Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
I was inspired to devote more time and effort to a Spiritual Practice in 1971 when I read Be Here NowWritten by the late American spiritual teacher Ram Dass, this book touched millions of us. 
Several years before, Ram Dass, (then know as Dr. Richard Alpert) had been fired, along with Dr. Timothy Leary, from the Harvard faculty.  These pioneering psychologists had run afoul of the powers that be for their study (and advocacy) of LSD and psilocybin as therapeutic drugs -- and as a means of inducing valid mystical experience.  Leading the way for many, they had "turned on, tuned in, and dropped out."
And what had they tuned into?  Like many other young people at the time, I was off to find out.  By that point, it was clear to me that there was more to Life than the mainstream society presented as Reality. 

As I child, I was quite curious about the spiritual dimension to life.  One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting at the table being intrigued by the empty chair at the Passover meal.  I remember asking who Elijah was, and then wondering how -- and why -- he might stop by to join us.  A few years later I picked up on a friend's invitation and went to Catholic mass a few times.  (Holy Mary, Mother of God!? WTF does that mean?)  Then during the summers after my 3rd and 4th grades, I sat in a pew and squirmed my way through the fire and brimstone services of a Baptist minister in the chapel of a summer camp for poor kids.  I was drawn to the idea of love and kindness, but I wondered why Reverend Nelson and his God seemed so damned angry. 
To be sure, I was drawn by something in those settings.  I did sense, however, that what was happening in those places didn't ring true to me.  Wandering around outdoors seemed more to the point.  And being a boy in the America of the 1950's, I didn't give it much thought. I spent more time learning to throw, catch, and hit a baseball than exploring the meaning of those experiences. 
In the late 60's and early 70's, I had another bite at the apple.  With psychedelics and Asian spirituality becoming commonplace in the world around me, it was time.  The idea that you could actually do something (besides taking psychedelics) to cultivate a deeper connection to the spiritual dimension of life was inspiring.  I began to do yoga.  I meditated.  I was ready for more.  
In Be Here Now, there was more.  I poured through the book.  Ram Dass devoted the entire third section of the book, entitled "A Cookbook for a Sacred Life," to a multitude of spiritual practices.  
One of them leapt off the page as I read it.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Way hOMe

“The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.”
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
“For things to reveal themselves to us, 
we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

After raining heavily all night, the sun broke out moments ago.  Streaming through the blinds, it played across the floor as I entered the bedroom.  A windblown dance of light and shadow, it brought a smile to my face.

Then, as quickly as it had emerged, the sun disappeared behind the thick sea of gray clouds.  

That brought a smile to my face as well.  

I walked over to raise the blinds, expecting to see the glistening, pink-brown, late autumn leaves of the crab apple tree dancing in the breeze outside the window.  Instead, momentarily startled, I stood face to face with a stark display of gray clouds and wet, empty branches. 
"Oh yeah," I thought. "It rained hard all night.  Duh."  Although the weather had been unseasonably warm, the change had happened.  It was now Fall

I smiled again.

I guess I'm pretty easy these days -- at least most of the time.  A bit less attached to always having it my own way, I'm usually, more or less, at peace, content.  I blame it on the Practice.

Once the fundamental Impermanence of what Uchiyama Roshi called "the scenery of our lives" is directly seen -- and accepted -- the opportunity opens.  We can experience our lives differently. Within the ever-flowing energies that we encounter, we can see that there is always nothing more, and nothing less, than life as it is this very moment. Opening to the moment, wholeheartedly, we open to Love.

Although the thoughts and emotions that emerge in our lives can make it appear otherwise, what is right there in front of us is a constant invitation.  We can either open our hearts and minds to embrace the miracle that exists within and beyond each and every moment-- or not.  It's just that simple.

Of course, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy. 

It takes Practice.

Friday, November 4, 2022

A Love Affair

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You're able to keep your eyes open,  
your heart open, and your mind open.
 ― Pema Chödrön, 
Practicing Peace in Times of War

We now see that the only way that we could love ourselves is by loving others, 
and the only way that we could truly love others is to love ourselves. 
The difference between self-love and love of others is very small, 
once we really understand.”
― Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

First: The Good News.
As I've mentioned before, here and elsewhere, I think the Hippies actually had it right.  It IS all about Peace, Love, and Freedom.

In the Collective Kensho of that era, many of us were catapulted to the mountain top.  Whether it was being touched by the heart and soul of the civil rights and antiwar movements or the direct impact of psychedelics, whether it was the influence of one of the Asian teachers who came to the West or the communal baring of souls (and bodies) at Woodstock or elsewhere, our hearts were opened and our minds were blown.  
The Spirit was upon the land. 
In that era, many of us glimpsed directly, if only for a moment or two, the Real Deal.  We realized that not only are we all in this together, we are all this -- together.  In those days, we saw clearly that on the most fundamental level we were inseparable from all that has been, is, and can possibly be.  We saw that each of us were emanations of the One Love that permeates and transcends the Universe.  We knew that Love was the answer.

And, Then.
As time went on, it became quite clear that seeing it -- and even believing in it -- isn't enough.  The task of freeing the mind from it's deeply conditioned patterns, the process of opening the heart to actually BE a peaceful and loving human is no mean feat.  It takes deep commitment, effort, discipline, courage, skill, time,  --  and patience.

It takes Practice.

In the Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist worlds the term "Love" isn't generally used to refer to the Ultimate State of Being. They approach the Ineffable with different concepts and understandings. I think that is actually helpful to us Westerners.  We are incredibly sloppy with the word love.  It has a wide range of meanings.

In English, love could be the word that attempts to describe the spiritual glow that emerges from the ethereal domain of unconditional, unselfish agape on the one hand.  Or,  just as readily, the word could be used to indicate the self-absorbed fiery emotion that erupts from the nether realms of green eyed monsters and wrathful, jealous gods.  
So, what's the deal? It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, and then you," isn't exactly what Jesus and Buddha had in mind when they taught about Love.  Right?

Saturday, October 29, 2022

A Good Cry

“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer.  Crying includes all the principles of Yoga.”

“In the Lakota/Sioux tradition, a person who is grieving is considered 
most Wakan, most holy."
Tara Brach,  

Emmett Kelly 1898 - 1979

Some time ago, I came across the above quote by Swami Kripalvanandji while preparing for a yoga class that I was going to teach that day.  I immediately emailed it to a dear friend who was having a rough time.

She called me later to tell me it helped -- a lot.  After reading it, she immediately headed out to her garden to have a good cry.  She said it was exactly what she needed. 

Big Boys (Girls) Don't Cry
Growing up in contemporary society, most of us have learned to avoid crying like the plague.  Widely seen as a sign of unacceptable weakness and frailty, we are conditioned to keep a stiff upper lip, to steel ourselves against this natural expression of heartfelt feeling.  Although this conditioning is considered to be a "male," thing, most of the women I know often fight back their tears as well. 
(Strain's of the Four Seasons singing "Big Girls Don't Cry-yay-yay"just ran through my inner iPod)

Hmmmm.  Maybe I shouldn't plunge ahead here.  Although I'm an amateur and would never charge for yakking about Mindfulness Practice, I might get sued by the Commercial Mindfulness Cartel.  Although the pro's may give a nod to Buddha's first noble truth, the suffering baked into the human condition, they tend to skip right ahead to Buddha's Third Noble Truth: the Cessation of Suffering.  You don't see any glitzy promotional commercials proclaiming -- Mindfulness Practice: Guaranteed to Make You Cry!  It might be bad for business.

And yet...

Saturday, October 22, 2022


We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out, 
either way making things worse for ourselves and others.
Or we can practice patience: wait,
experience the anger and investigate its nature.
---Pema Chodron

“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”
---Thich Nhat Hanh

The Universe is exquisite.  

Once you hitch your wagon to Practice and roll out, you are going to get the lessons along the way that are needed to take you deeper --whether you like it or not!  
This might be especially true if you have the unbridled chutzpah to publicly ramble on about your experiences. 

More than once here in this blog, I've spent time presenting the notion that simply "cutting loose of the story line," is an immediate fix to disturbing emotions.  I've found that when I have the presence of mind to expand the sphere of my attention from the realm of discursive thought to include what is going on in my breath, body, and heart, sometimes hell dissolves and heaven is revealed in the blink of an eye.  (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Once Upon a Time...)   

The operative word here is -- sometimes.

As the years roll by and the Practice deepens, I have experienced such an instantaneous transformation quite often.  Yet, it seems a bit of Karmic Comeuppance was necessary.  A few weeks ago, I found myself swirled up in an angry outburst for the first time in a couple of years.  It's certainly been enough to remind me that it can take a lot of work and a whole lot longer than a "blink of an eye" to learn something from a situation -- and regain a sense of wonder about it all.  

The lesson?  
For some of us, being a calm and kind, clear and compassionate, human being is NOT that easy.  It is a daunting discipline.  It takes commitment, courage, patience, skill, time, and effort.  It takes Practice.

Then and Now

As a child and a young man I had what folks might call an extremely bad temper.  Having grown up in the midst of a lot of anger and physical violence, I would react to things in my world with bursts of violent emotions -- and even violent behavior.  Throughout childhood, I could fly into a rage and smash things and strike out with the worst of them.  My kid brother and I fought like cats and dogs.  Our last furniture breaking brawl took place when I was in college.  

It would take years to quell those patterns.

Perhaps, the deepest gratitude that I have to the Practice is that I am no longer likely to get extremely angry.  Annoyance and irritation usually is about as bad as it gets.  I'm grateful that it usually doesn't spill out of my mouth.  Even then, there is usually an immediate recognition, and I'm able to come into the moment with a deeper sense of openness and relaxation.

Yet, life being life, usually doesn't mean never.  A few weeks ago, I dove into a deep pool of anger for the first time in quite awhile.  I was angry.  Really angry.  I could feel it in the muscles of my jaw, in my torso over the course of a minute or so.  Then, as I launched an explosive "F*# @  Y#@! You're driving me crazy!!!' the look on my beloved Migdalia's face was enough to wake me up.  I knew that she wasn't "driving me crazy."  I was.  My own deep conditioning had spun me out.  I had gotten deeply attached to my own point of view.  It was time to pause, withdraw, and re-calibrate.  (Thankfully, Migdalia helped that process by refusing to engage in even my toned-down defense of my self-centered position.  It wasn't just my own effort that helped save the day.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Love. Love. Love

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love: in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles

We have it on good authority. 

Buddha and Jesus, as well as many other sages and saints throughout the ages, seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering and why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks have learned to believe is love, the terrain of much music and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  What is presented as love is a very human blend of desire, biological attraction, and attachment.  It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what JC, Buddha and others had in mind, right?

The form of "love" that our culture promotes has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own individual ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the quality of consciousness that emerges from what American Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron calls an Awakened Heart.  True Love is not the profound passionate grasping of deep attachment. True Love calls for surrendering the deep fixation on "I, me, mine" that is the source of human suffering.

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from, Pure Being.  It is identical to the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of disconnection that characterizes the realm of relative reality.  Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love emerges as the compassion, kindness, joy, ease, and clarity that exists in our heart of hearts. 

Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something we just fall into (and, so often, fall out of),  in the Buddhist tradition, love is seen as the naturally emerging qualities of an awakened consciousness.  Existing within and beyond our human conditioning, a connection to that love can be intentionally cultivated.  Although we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "the other" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- ultimately, True Love emerges from a fundamental choice to embrace Life itself, to let go of who we think we are and open our hearts and minds to the actual experience of the present moment.  

Although this can happen with the very next breath, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen.  It is a Practice.  Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving.  Like any discipline, True Love takes commitment, a set of skills, effort, persistence -- and patience.  It takes Practice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Judgement Day -- Not!

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
― J. Krishnamurti

“We sow the seeds of our future hells or happiness by the way
 we open or close our minds right now.
 ― Pema Chodron

I don't think there is any greater freedom than being Present -- engaging life as it is -- without the distortion caused by Judgment Mind.  

Growing up immersed in a society that is highly judgmental, most of us have been deeply conditioned to experience our lives in terms of good/bad, right/wrong, should be/shouldn't be.  In fact, our ego sense, with its perceived separation and isolation from "the other" is maintained by the thoughts, opinions, and various mind states that emerge from this conditioning.  Even in its mild form of liking/disliking, Judgment Mind can generate thoughts and feelings that serve to separate us from the peaceful, calm, and caring Presence we have access to in every moment.  
If we are overly self-absorbed, distracted, stressed, moving too fast, it's easy to get lost in our conditioned reactions to Life.  Adrift in Judgment Mind, we loose Presence.  We get lost in the alternative reality we have created -- and forget that the world is really not as it appears to us at that moment.  This deeply ingrained process of evaluating what we experience as bad, wrong, condemnable, is part of our social conditioning.  It appears as discontent, diatribe, enmity, blame, and self-blame.  If we aren't paying attention, it can and will dominate our lives, moment to moment.
Seeing For Yourself
One of the fruits of meditation is that we can see how that process works directly.  We can see for ourselves that Judgment Mind isn't only the thoughts going through our heads at the moment.  It's deeper than that.  It is embedded in the emotions we are experiencing.  It's embodied in the tightnesses and discomforts of our body.  It directly effects the quality of our consciousness, our state of mind.  
It is actually quite fun to see for yourself how that plays out on the meditation cushion.  

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Getting Real


“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
-- Albert Einstein
"Compassion and resilience are not, as we might imagine, rarefied human qualities available only to the saintly... In fact, these essential and universally prized human qualities can be solidly cultivated 
by anyone taking the time to do it." 
-- Norman Zoketzu Fischer,
Trainings in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

Really, Dude?
"Yikes.  I did it again," I thought.  

Moments before, I had proclaimed with utter certainty that MY take on the facts at hand was absolutely the truth of the matter.  I was even a bit uppity about it.  

Then, quite quickly, Reality asserted itself.  

My certitude that my friend was "wrong," and that I was "right," disintegrated in the clear light of a sunny day.  


Thankfully, she was gracious and didn't skewer me for, once again, not immediately noticing the tightness in my chest -- and shutting up to pay better attention to the emergence of ego's hard headed clinging to its limited point of view.  As it emerged, the tightness in my voice was the first clue.  My eyes soon verified that I had to give it up.  My interpretation of what was happening was clearly mistaken.


Once again, the Universe had pointed out that who I am at any one moment, how I'm seeing things, how I'm reacting, is likely to be just a bad habit.  Thankfully, these days I can bow to that reality with a grin.  

I blame the Practice for that.

The Real Deal

Over the years, it has become more and more obvious to me how much of our lives are dictated by habit.  Although it may not feel like it, who we are is not a fixed, free standing, independently existing, reality.  Our current "point of view" emerges from a cauldron of causes and conditions, many of them beyond our ken -- or our control.  Encountering our lives through what Albert Einstein called an "optical illusion" of consciousness, we learn to experience ourselves as fundamentally separate from everything -- and everybody -- else. 

Lost in our thoughts and conditioned feelings, driven by a set of deeply ingrained, often subconscious, beliefs about ourselves and the world, we rarely are Present to the deeper dimension of life that exists in each and every moment.  The noise in our heads resonates with the noise in the world.  It dominates our attention.  Oblivious to the subtle energies dancing within the infinite space and silence of each and every moment, we suffer.   

All this is nothing more --and nothing less than -- a bad habit. 

Awash in a culture where capitalism, scientific materialism, and religious dogma have been woven into most every nook and cranny of human life for generations, we have spent years feeding this habit.  Each individuated point of view emerges from this collective pool of awareness.  It then creates our day to day life as the struggle it appears to be.  Most of the time this operates quite subconsciously.  
And all the while, in our "heart of hearts," there is a still and silent space of clear, open awareness.  From there, emerges a way of being that is truly clear, calm, kind, compassionate and wise.  This is our True Nature. 
But, here's the rub.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Once Upon a Time

“The Buddha’s principal message that day was
that holding on to anything blocks wisdom.
Any conclusion that we draw must be let go." 
---Pema Chodron

"We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

The irony is exquisite.  

I'm sitting here at the laptop poised to sprinkle some thoughts across the screen in an effort to capture the essence of the thought that thoughts can't really capture the Essence. 

To be honest, after choosing the two quotes for this post, my next thought was, "Ah, I'll just leave it at that, choose a graphic, and hit 'send.'"
But, that seemed like a cheap shot, a bit too cutesy.  When I was in residence at Zen Mountain Monestery, Roshi Daido Loori would just roll his eyes at such stuff, claiming it had "the stink of Zen."

I have, after all, been committed to publishing a weekly post here in cyberspace for the past seven and half years.  Although for quite some time now I've been going back through a couple of hundred previously written posts and polishing them up,  this weekly commitment is part of what Uchiyama Roshi called a "life of vow." 

It seems to me that a set of commitments and the actions produced is all that I really have to bring to the plate.  The rest is in the hands of the Cosmic Pitcher.  All I can really do is commit to showing up, stepping up to the plate, and taking my best swing if it appears to be in the strike zone -- or let it go by if it ain't.  (Egads, I'm thinking in baseball metaphors, again.  It must be spring.)

And here's the Pitch.....

Saturday, April 2, 2022

A Love Affair

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. 
You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open.
 ― Pema Chödrön, 
Practicing Peace in Times of War

“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  

As I've mentioned before, here and elsewhere, I think the Hippies actually had it right.  It IS all about Peace, Love, and Freedom.

Although most of us were too young and crazy to pull it off at the time, many of us had been to the mountain top to be touched by the One Love.  
During that era's Collective Kensho,
we saw the Real Deal. 

But seeing that-- and even believing that -- isn't enough.

The task of freeing ourselves to BE a peaceful and loving human being became the Mission -- and we quickly learned that this is no mean feat.  It takes deep commitment, effort, discipline, courage, persistence --  and patience.  Lots and lots of patience.

It takes Practice.

In the Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist worlds the term "Love" isn't generally used to refer to the Ultimate State of Being. They approach the Ineffable with different concepts and understandings. I think that is actually helpful to us Westerners.  We are pretty sloppy with the word "love". 

In English, what we call "love" has a wide range of meaning.  Love can be the warm glow that emerges from the ethereal domain of unconditional, unselfish agape -- or it can be the fiery emotion that erupts from the nether realms of green eyed monsters and wrathful, jealous gods.  It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, and then you,"  isn't what Jesus and Buddha had in mind when they taught about Love, right?  
So, what is Love?

Saturday, March 19, 2022

When You Wish Upon a Star

"The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment." 
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn

"What you are looking for is already in you…
You already are everything you are seeking."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh 

Sometimes, it seems like a previous lifetime.  
Almost twenty years ago, I sat on the front porch of an A-frame perched on a ridge at Zen Mountain Monastery gazing at a star-filled Catskill Mountain sky.  At that point, I knew it wasn't working out.  I was going to leave. 

I had absolutely no idea what my next move would be.

For decades, I had thought, "once the kids are grown, I can finally DO IT!" At long last,  I would leave the chaos of contemporary life and head for the hills.  There I'd find the Teacher and a sangha -- and really get spiritual. 

Now, after only six months of residency, I knew I was done.

So much for that idea.  Now what? 


Although I had, again, experienced a number of deep "openings" in the cauldron of Roshi John Daido Loori's version of Zen Training, I discovered that the rigid, hard-driving, and unabashedly hierarchical nature of the Roshi's "Eight Gates of Zen Training" didn't ring true for me.  A longtime peace activist, I deeply valued egalitarianism and the shared power experienced in consensus democracy.  I knew that a monastic life wasn't going to be that.  Yet, I thought that I was ready to "get with the program."

I wasn't. 

Though I respected many of the folks involved, and saw that the monastic life appeared to work for some, I now knew it wasn't for me.  I wasn't going to get off that easy.  I was going to have to get out there on the streets and work it out for myself -- again.

As I sat there, absolutely clueless, an image of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull came to mind. Then, like that intrepid avian seeker of perfection, I thought, "Just hang onto the wind and trust!"  That very instant, a shooting star flashed across the night sky directly in front of my eyes.  As it disappeared into the tapestry of countless stars and fathomless blackness reaching overhead, I knew.

I wish it was always that easy.  

Monday, February 21, 2022

Imagine That!

"So, with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world, spreading upward to the skies
and downward to depths, outwards and unbounded."
--- from Karaniya Metta Sutta of the Pali Canon*
"Imagine all the people living life in peace."
--- John Lennon, Imagine 

Margo Adair 1950-2010
Good fortune had me stumble across a copy of Margo Adair's Working Inside Out: Tools for Change, in the sale section of a local store a few years ago.  I immediately grabbed it, plunked down a dollar, and put it in my pack. 
That night I dove into it for quite awhile before rolling over, turning off the lights, and meditating into sleep.  

Then, in the wee hours of the morning, I experienced a quite wonderful sequence of lucid dreams.  For the first time in quite awhile I was able to experience the thrill of consciously leaving my body and taking flight.  
Although Margo passed to the other side twelve years ago, hers is a Gift that keeps on giving. Thanks, Margo.

Outside the Box
Being a bookworm, I'm grateful to all those who were led to offer their insights and practices through books.  Just reading about altered states of consciousness, whether it be Presence in the here and now -- or a lucid out of body experience --  can sometimes set the stage for their emergence.  
Although, Mindfulness Practice has tended to focus my attention more consciously on my "in-body" experiences, the times that I've experienced lucid dreaming, "astral travel," and other OBE have been powerful events in my life.  They have allowed me to experience directly a magical and much more expansive realm of human possibility than the constraints of "conventional" consciousness.  
Let's face it, we've been conditioned to perceive our world in a society steeped in scientific materialism and capitalism for several hundred years.  Add to this mix the systematic oppression of patriarchy, racism, militarism, ageism, etc.,  and we've each developed perceptual filters that determine what we take to be true, what we believe to be "real." 
This, of course, mostly operates subconsciously.
With Practice, we not only can see reality as it is, we can develop the insight and skill to change ourselves from the inside out.  As well as produce less suffering in our own lives, this gives us more agency to consciously influence the world around us. 
Here, too, is where Margo Adair's Gift keeps giving.

Engaged Spirituality
In the mid-1980's Working Inside Out: Tools for Change brought Margo's brilliant synthesis of Spirituality and Activism to a wider public.  It made quite an impact on many of us who were -- and still are -- convinced that Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the late Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh had it right.   
Even as a teenager, before I'd ever heard of the Bodhisattva Vow, my heart was inspired by the civil rights movement.  Confronting the racism at the heart of legal segregation just seemed like the right thing to do.  As time went this led to recognizing and working to overcome other forms of systemic oppression.  As I came of age, I realized that the quest for peace, equality, and social justice was a profound and challenging spiritual practice. 
Margo Adair, was a master theorist and practitioner in this tradition.  Terming her special craft "applied meditation," her life's work was dedicated to healing the wounds of racism, sexism, homophobia and environmental degradation.   Offering a rich collection of guided visualizations and group mediation practices, Adair's work dissolved the perceived differences between inner work and outer work.  Like others who emerged in the spiritual uprising of the era, her work was grounded in a non-dual perception of being.  It emerged and returned to a space beyond 
the perceived barrier that appears to separate the self and other, real and imagery, the momentary and the eternal. 

Although Mindfulness Practice focuses on bringing our attention more fully into the present moment, there are many meditative techniques in Buddhism and other spiritual traditions that  make use of mental visualizations.  With these practices, we use words and images to consciously bring to mind states of being and events that may or may not be here -- yet.  These techniques enhance our ability to influence the future.  This is the realm of prayer, affirmations, and visualization practices.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Passing of Thich Nhat Hanh

As Plumvillage.Org completes their livestream schedule of events memorializing the life of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, I share a recent article by Norm Stockwell, the publisher of the Progressive Magazine.  Norm and I were co-conspirators on a number of projects in the past, and I feel honored that my old friend reached out to me as he wrote the article.     

With a deep bow of appreciation to Thay, to Norm, and to all those who devote their lives to the welfare of this planet and its many beings, here is the article:

The Passing of Thich Nhat Hanh

Late monk used engaged Buddhism to build a foundation for a peaceful world.


Saturday, January 22, 2022

To Everything There is a Season


“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. 
All is a miracle.” 
 ― Thich Nhat Hanh

“Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.
So laugh with me, hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon...”

― Thich Nhat Hanh
No Death. No Fear.

Dawn today at St Benedict's Cemetery
The announcement that Thich Nhat Hahn had died today at Tu Hieu Temple, the monastery that he entered as a novice monk at age 16, didn't surprise or sadden me. 
The venerable Zen Master, stricken by a massive stroke in 2014, had obviously chosen to return home to his beloved Vietnam to make this transition.   
Instead, when I read my friend's message, a full and deep in-breath emerged naturally.  My heart was filled with an expansive sense of gratitude.  Thay's teachings and his kind, clear, wise, and peaceful presence has graced my life -- and the lives of countless others.    
It continues to do so.
I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Thich Nhat Hahn twice during the 1980's. I first attended a five day retreat where I took the 14 Training Precepts of the Tien Hiep Order from this wise and gentle soul.  Then I attended a one day retreat at a Thai Buddhist Temple west of Chicago.  There, I sat in the front row, about ten feet from him, as he stood at a chalkboard and displayed the depth of his scholarship with a gentle brilliance.  Yet, I never had a personal conversation with him.  
I had asked about meeting him during the five day retreat. 
"He's not that kind of teacher, "Arnie Koestler, Thay's disciple and founder of Parallex Press, explained as we chatted during a stroll in the woods of the Catholic retreat center that hosted the retreat.
"What kind of a teacher is he then?" I wondered.

I may have been given a hint the next afternoon at the end of the lay ordination ceremony.  There, I was given a folded slip of paper announcing the dharma name that Thay had selected for me.  As a couple of hundred other retreatants there had done, I'd submitted a photograph with my application for membership in the Order.  I was told that Thich Nhat Hanh would meditate for a few moments on the photograph then assign me the "appropriate" dharma name.  
Although I can be somewhat skeptical about such things, I was blown away as I opened the slip of paper to read the name he had chosen for me.  At that point in my life, as well as being the Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution, I was an on-again, off-again, folksinger/singer-songwriter.  There, inscribed in both Vietnamese and English was Thay's take on my path: True Heartsong.  When I returned home to Madison, Wisconsin, I took the instruments out of the closet and dusted them off. 
Then and Now

If you've been following this blog as I've meandered through the past ten years of Life and Practice, you may have noticed that the teachings and practices of the Lojong tradition of Tibetan Buddhism have often taken center stage in my life after I came across the teachings of Pema Chodron in 2006.  I cast a Lojong slogan each day.  I practice Tonglen often as I encounter the more troubling aspects of the human condition. 
During this past decade, I've also continued to integrate the experiences and practices I had in retreat and conversation with the venerable Joanna Macy, and with the late Stephan Levine years ago, as well as the experiences and conversations I've had with other teachers and students while I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society and Zen Mountain Monastery.  
Yet, sitting here right now, I realize that for weeks and weeks, the simple and clear mindfulness guidance that Thich Nhat Hanh offered in a 2010 Lion's Roar article that I re-read and shared with a friend in December has become my "go to" practice during each morning's meditation.  
It's felt like returning hOMe.
Distilling the Anapanasati Sutra to its essence, and adding instruction on walking meditation, Thay provided five basic practices in that article that have readily allowed me to bring my awareness to the sacred miracle of the present moment -- on and off the zafu -- each day.  Sitting here at this moment, breathing in and breathing out, hearing the crows stirring to greet the dawn emerging outside the window, feeling my fingers dance along this keyboard, the teachings that Thich Nhat Hanh presented in No Death. No Fear become self-evident.  There is no boundary between this moment and eternity, no barrier separating nothing and everything.  Who we truly are is nothing more, nothing less. than everything that has ever been, is, or could possibly be.  I know that in my heart.  
Death? What's to fear?
OMG!  You just can't make this stuff up.  Although Lion's Roar has published many articles over the years on Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings, I surfed over to their website just now to include a link to that particular article.  Guess what?  They've re-posted that very same article today with the announcement of his death.  Here's the link.  
Coincidence? Synchronicity? The Master playing hide and seek?
Maybe, Thich Nhat Hanh is that sort of teacher!
Perhaps, it's time to dust off the instruments again?

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Time to Break Silence

Yesterday, I spent much of the day in silence.  Today, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I'd like to share a piece my identical twin Brother Lefty posted at Rambling On with Brother Lefty Smith, S.O.B.* If you haven't heard Dr King's "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" -- delivered at Riverside Church, exactly one year to the day before his assassination, you can listen to it at the bottom of the page.

"When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, 
are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, 
extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
-- Dr. Martin King Jr.
Speech at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967

"It is my firm belief that Europe of today represents not the spirit of God or Christianity but the spirit of Satan.  
And Satan's successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips.  
Europe today is only nominally Christian.  
In reality, it is worshiping Mammon."
-- Mahatma Gandhi, 
Young India, August 9, 1920.
The Truth, The Whole Truth, and....

For decades now, the corporate media has celebrated Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech -- and assiduously buried Dr. King's views on economic justice, materialism, and militarism.  Like Mahatma Gandhi, King's message was essentially Spiritual.  They each saw clearly that Mammon worship, the soul-sucking evil of materialism/consumerism, was alive and unwell, lurking in the belly of capitalism.

Throughout history, racism and economic exploitation have always walked hand in hand.  The prosperity of the capitalist English Empire and that of it's rebellious offspring, the USA, were built squarely on the horrors of genocide and slavery.  Sadly, although its current forms (cultural genocide, systemic poverty, and jailhouse slavery) are widely ignored or explained away, this continues today.

Like my identical twin brother, Lance, I usually tend to be more Buddhist than Christian in my lingo.  Yet, I just gotta say it out loud:  Capitalism is the work of the freakin' DEVIL!  I agree with Mahatma Gandhi. Capitalism the dark side of the force.  It is built on exploitation, and it fosters greed.  It is capitalism that drives climate change -- and it is taking aim on the survival of the planet.

The Bottom Line

Dr. King, like Gandhi, was a Holy Man.  He sought to alleviate the suffering created by a political and economic system that feeds on greed, hatred, and delusion.  Like many other prophets throughout history, both King and Gandhi threatened the ruling order  -- and were martyred. 

Although Dr. King focused on the evil of racism in his "I Have a Dream" speech that late summer day in Washington DC, his words were delivered to the throng that had assembled for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  This effort, which he had helped organize, challenged economic exploitation and suggested bold governmental action to alleviate poverty. The FBI claimed the event was inspired by Communists and lobbied to prevent it from happening.

King continued to march.  He continued to preach love and championed a non-violent response to a system that has always used violence.  Like Jesus of Nazareth, and a myriad other martyrs, Dr. King knew full well that he would most likely be killed for challenging the ruling order -- and he chose Love instead.

Dr. King's assassination, five years after the "I Have a Dream" speech, occurred when he traveled to Memphis to support striking Afro-American municipal sanitation workers as the leader of the National Poor People's campaign.  That campaign demanded an Economic Bill of Rights which included five planks:

1. "A meaningful job at a living wage"
2. "A secure and adequate income" for all those unable to find or do a job
3. "Access to land" for economic uses
4. "Access to capital" for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
5. The ability for ordinary people to "play a truly significant role" in the government

When's the last time you saw the Economic Bill of Rights highlighted in the corporate media coverage of Dr.  King's life? 

A Time to Break Silence

These are unsettling times.  There is no doubt that Trump's legion of misanthropes, materialists, and military men waiting in the wings to reclaim power.  Now, more than ever, it is a time to break silence.  Dr. King did so, dramatically, on April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church in New York City.   

On that day, Dr. King proclaimed, "these too are our brothers," and came out against the US involvement in the Vietnam War with a passion and an eloquence that many believe caused his assassination exactly one year to the day later.

The corporate media today ignores this speech and remains silent.  I hope you don't.  Please listen and pass this along.  Then join some folks and speak out -- with love in your heart!

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it!  

(More Rambling on with Brother Lefty )

Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence