"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, 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.....
No Such Thing as a True Story

There is no doubt about it.  I'm a Religion 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." 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? 
Pema Hits a hOMe Run

Another pitch.

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 hits it out of the park.  In this chapter,  she 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 narratives arise, unbidden, quite mysteriously from a cauldron that contains our individual and collective conditioning.  These habitual narratives are fundamental in creating our lives as they appear to be.  Sometimes, they dominate our attention.  Sometimes, they operate just below the level of our awareness.

Yet, with Mindfulness Practice, we can come to see them clearly.  Instead of allowing these thoughts to continuously write the screenplay of our individual movie, 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 that, like all conditioned existence, they are impermanent.  They come and go of their own accord. 
In Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron describes this Practice as a three-fold process:  Let go of the storyline. Feel what is in your heart.  Open to the next moment with no agenda.  Again and again and again.

Taken to heart, this can change everything.

It Just Takes Practice

Of course, for most of us, the "habit" of focusing most of our awareness on the content of our thoughts is deeply ingrained.  We pride ourselves in knowing who we are and what we are doing.  We've learned to stay in our head to avoid what Pema Chodron calls the fundamental ambiguity of being human.  We've learned to "harden our hearts," to shield ourselves from the inevitable feelings of pain and fear that are part of the human condition. 

Our "thoughts about the matter," our beliefs and opinions,  then become the primary foundation of our identity.  The "I" that we experience is, in large part, the sum total of the conclusions we have drawn about the nature of reality and how we fit into it.  Even if that "I" is generally stressed and unhappy, we cling to it.  It is familiar terrain.  It can be scary as hell to throw it all up for grabs and realize we don't know really know who we are or what is actually going on. 

Yet that is precisely the Gateway to the Real Deal. 

Mindfulness Practice, both in formal meditation and off the cushion, gives us a chance to get out of our head to notice what we are actually experiencing in the moment.  It increasingly offers us the opportunity to come to our senses.  With time, effort, and gentle persistence, we begin to open to Life in a fuller, kinder, clearer, and more complete way.  In time, we come to see clearly that we are way more than we thought we were.  

In fact, at times, we can close the book,  take a deep breath, relax, look around us, and see that we are the entire Universe! 

At that point, it's a whole new ball game!


Cie said...

Perfect timing Lance. I needed to reinforce that in my life today. Have written Pema's 3 steps in my journal for repetition. Bless you.

Anonymous said...

Synchronicity, Lance! The day before yesterday I pulled The Wisdom of No Escape from my shelf, put a bookmark in chapter 8 and placed it on my bedside table. I have been experiencing 3:00-5:00 a.m. insomnia off and on for a number of years now and use the time to read Buddhist teachings. This book and The Magnanimous Heart by Narayan Helen Liebenson are my current companions while navigating the wee (often haunted) hours. I will add my copy of Living Beautifully...to the pile. Thanks for the reminder on this. (())

Lance Smith said...

Hey Cie,
I'm so glad that there continues to be such Synchronicity as we each wend our way forward on our Heart Journey. Please continue to keep me in the Loop.

Lance Smith said...

Hey Anonymous,
Again, Synchronicity among Kindred Spirits! (Although, there are a few longtime Anonymous's in the Circle here, and I don't have enough clues to know for certain which Anonmyous you are. Seems like a number of us are experiencing similiar themes along the Way of Love. LOL)

I, too, have experienced that wee hours "insomnia" on and off for years. Like you, I now can choose to accept it as a constructive time for study and practice. In fact, in many contemplative traditions the predawn hours are seen as "prime time" for Spiritual Practice.

Yes. Pema's "Living Beautifully..." was my major tome for a swath of time. I haven't read The Magnanimous Heart, yet, but when I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society I sat with her and her mentor Larry Rosenberg a number of times. It's been wonderful to see her blossom from the role of an Assistant Teacher to her service today.

I'll put her book on my list.

Thanks for chiming in! If you wanna go a step less anonymous, shoot me an email at thishazymoon@gmail.com. I love comparing notes with kindred spirits.