"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

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

When You Wish Upon a Star

"What you are looking for is already in you…You already are everything you are seeking."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
"The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment." 
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn

Sometimes, it seems like a previous lifetime.  
Almost twenty years ago, I sat on the front porch of a rustic A-frame perched on a ridge overlooking the campus of Zen Mountain Monastery. It was nearing midnight.  Inside, my housemates, also in Zen Training at ZMM, were asleep.  
We''d all been up in time to walk down to the first meditation at 4:30 am that morning.   
Then, after a long full day, I'd walked up the ridge in the dark, alone.  As if a high pressure deadline day of producing a set of CD's during "work practice" wasn't enough, I had been assigned the service position of Evening Jikido.  I was in charge of ringing, banging, and clacking a collection of wooden blocks, bells, drums, and gongs to announce the evening service, time the meditation periods, lead the walking meditation, and close the service.  Then, as others headed back to their quarters, I had to straighten up the coffee service counter, clean out the coffeemakers, and set them up for morning coffee.  It was well after the obligatory "lights out" at 9:30 pm by the time I climbed back up the ridge.  Exhausted, I crawled into bed as soon as I arrived.  
I couldn't sleep. 

After about an hour, I  slowly and silently made my way outside into the crisp, clear,  mountain air.  There I Just Sat Still, breathing, and gazing into the deep blue-black infinity of a  star-filled Catskill Mountain sky.  
At that point, I knew ZMM wasn't working for me.  
Moving Right Along
Over the course of the past six months, it had become increasingly clear that the rigid, hard-driving, and unabashedly authoritarian nature of the Roshi's Eight Gates of Zen Residential Training didn't ring true to me.  For sure, I was grateful to have experienced some openings at ZMM and made some new friends.  Yet, to be honest, the community culture at Zen Mountain Monastery wasn't all that different than the outside world. It seemed like the same old story. Business as usual in a capitalist society.
At Zen Mountain Monastery there was a "big boss. " He ruled the roost and ran the show. His word was the law. He, his protege, and a few senior monk/supervisors told us what to do, when and how to do it.  Being a spiritual training program, they told us what to believe in, to boot.  (I was incredulous when one of the senior monks --who has since become a "transmitted" teacher -- snarled at me that Thich Nhat Hanh wasn't teaching Real Zen!  WTF?) 
The senior monk/supervisors, and the worker-bees put in long, often quite strenuous, days on a strictly timed schedule keeping the retreat center and grounds, publications operation, and the mail-order businesses going -- as well as attending the mandatory daily meditation periods and zen services. 
It was stressful. 
As well as our "work practice" assignments, we each were required to rotate through ritual service positions which could require intricate and demanding physical moves performed in public.  Supervisors and meditation hall monitors barked out orders and corrections, even during silent meditation practice.  We were "on," with very little down time between required activities, through days that began at 4:30 am and ended with lights out 9:30 pm.  
It was exhausting.   
Meanwhile, the Roshi, had his own space and seemed to come and go as he pleased.  He rarely was around at early morning meditations, communal mealtimes, or evening services.  He showed up in the Zendo to give talks on Sunday, to meet privately with students in Dokusan a few times a week, to preside over special ceremonies, and to hold court during the monthly sesshin.  Of course, as the Top Dog, he also met with his managers and the board when he thought it was necessary.  There was no doubt that this guy was in charge.  At one point during my residency, he unilaterally changed the entire organizational structure to conform more closely to what he had just come to believe was the structure of Dogen's medieval monastic community. 
The rest of the time (if he wasn't traveling to teach/recruit elsewhere, including New Zealand,) he appeared to hang out doing what he wanted to do in his modest, but spacious, home. It's large yard fronted on the Esopus, a beautiful mountain river.  As well being the Roshi, he was a pioneer digital photographer.  (The first iteration of ZMM was the Zen Arts Center that he founded on that site.)  
The couple of times I was sent down to do his yard work as "work practice," I saw that he had two state of the art Mac computers running .  As I picked up winter downfall and raked leaves, he spent hours and hours at the computer screens doing what he was doing.  He had articles, books, and interviews in publication.  His art was on the newly emerging world wide web. 
Right across the road, the rest of us were living communally in cramped quarters, spending hours in the zendo each day, and working away under the close, and sometimes verbally abusive supervision of the senior monk/department managers.  I was on a scholarship, but -- believe it or not -- folks were paying for the privilege of being in residence.
Looking back, I guess this was not a big surprise.  
We live in a capitalist society that prides itself as "democratic," yet operates in hierarchical,  authoritarian patterns.  There are inequalities of power and privilege in all areas of life. Our families, schools, churches, and workplaces are all set up that way.  But, unlike the usual workplace, where folks had the opportunity to bitch about things when the boss wasn't around,  those types of conversations didn't take place at the lunch table.  (Such behavior violated a number of the traditional Bodhisattva Training Precepts).  We also, couldn't look forward to punching out and going home -- although we did have a couple of days off schedule each week.
When I entered residency, I knew that this would be the deal.  I'd been involved in the community for over a year.  I already had spent a month in residence during the Fall Ango training period before entering residency in the Spring. Yet,  at the point that I entered -- at age 59 -- I thought that I might be able to suck it up and ride it through for a year's commitment. 

I was wrong. 
Toward the One
I had come of age in the late 60's and early 70's.Like many others, I was part of the widespread counter-cultural ferment of that era.  By the time I had graduated from college with the infamous Class of 1969, I had experienced altered states of consciousness (with the various medicines available).  I soon began an exploration of meditation and Eastern mysticism.  
I had a peak experience in 1972 that affirmed to me the existence of the One Love that is the ground of our being.  It was experienced with an outpouring of tears of joy and wonder at the Perfect Beauty embedded in the fabric of existence.  It only lasted for about twenty minutes or so. I wasn't on drugs at the time.  I was actually sitting at my desk writing up a lesson plan for the High School Civics class I was to teach the next day. 
It blew my mind.  It was beyond belief. 
By then, being the geek I am, I had poured through volumes of literature on the nature of mind and mysticism, including the scriptures of the world's religions and numerous commentaries . It had become clear to me that there was spiritual dimension of being that had been experienced by seers, sages, saints, avatars throughout the ages.  Intellectually, I had accepted that there was a direct experience of Divine Oneness at the heart of reality.  Now, I felt it in my bones.   
I now knew, in my heart of hearts, that we are not only all in this together -- we are all this, together!  

Unfortunately, even a trip to the Mountaintop wasn't enough to heal the deep wounds of a traumatic childhood.  Radicalized, I wasn't able to accept the American Dream as the path to happiness.  My marriage collapsed.  Addicted to romantic love,  there were more marriages and more kids. I  still experienced bouts of anxiety and depression. I suffered a number of serious "career" burnouts and returned to low status jobs as a matter of principle.
Yet through it all, I still continued to return to mediation.  I studied and practiced with a number of teachers, mostly in the Buddhist tradition.  I read extensively, corresponded and compared notes with kindred spirits.
So, when I was finally in a position to retire and become independently poor, I had followed the longstanding, and fundamentally disempowering convention that it was necessary for an "authority" to validate my own experience of the Sacred for it to be real.  I thought I still might be missing something essential

I wasn't. And, as best I can tell, neither are you!  

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Nothing Special. No Big Deal. (Part Two)

“One can appreciate & celebrate each moment — there’s nothing more sacred. There’s nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there’s nothing more!”  
-- Pema Chodron

“Living Zen is nothing special: life as it is. Zen is life itself, nothing added.” 
-- Charlotte Joko Beck

There's a first time for everything.  

I suppose there is a last time for everything as well.  Each unique moment arises and passes away within the flow of eternity.  It occurs so quickly that we can't actually grasp it.

With any luck at all, though, we can notice it, And, it seems to me, being Present, without judgement or commentary, is where the Real Magic exists.

Of course, this is easier said than done -- especially when I'm sitting at the computer intent on scribing a blog post.   

Usually I complete a piece and let it go.  Last week, I came to a point where I realized there was much more to say about the notion that there is really Nothing Special, that each moment of experience is No Big Deal.  I judged the commentary as incomplete.  Although what I was trying to communicate was beyond words, I still wasn't done.
Such is the human condition.

Which brings me to the Present.  Sort of...

Looking back to that post, I see that I wasn't satisfied with having proclaimed that in my Heart of Hearts I believed that everyone and everything should be loved and appreciated.  I then immediately went on to say that this was no big deal.  Seemingly, I'd proclaimed that Unconditional Love was nothing special.  Another way of saying that is "God is No Big Deal!" That sounded a bit blasphemous, no?

And yet, as I Sit here this morning with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds in a crisp blue sky,

Monday, March 6, 2023

Nothing Special. No Big Deal. (Part One)

"Though my heart burns like a glowing hot coal, 
my eyes are as cold as dead ashes"
--  Soyen Shaku, Roshi

"If nothing is special, everything can be."
-- Charlotte "Joko" Beck, Nothing Special, Living Zen

Mother Nature's roller coaster ride continues.
In the past few weeks, she blasted us with sub-zero windchill, then turned on a dime to above average temperatures.  This past week, she's dumped two significant snow storms on us  -- then quickly began to wash them away with a mix of rain and sunshine.  It seems a bit more like April than the beginning of March.

Gazing at the melting snow outside the window, my mind can readily create a rant about the specter of global climate change. There certainly appears to be ample scientific evidence that we humanoids are stewing in our own juices.  We're melting glaciers and an ice pack that has been around for eons. Damn.

On the other hand, having seen lots of my friends suffer through some sort of nasty respiratory bugs (including COVID) again this winter, I can readily forget about the global condition and narrow my horizons. What about a freakin' personal climate change!? 
Why in the world don't I move my tail to warmer winters? 
But, wouldn't that be selfish?  Shouldn't I get off my tail and try to do more about the proposed change in the local zoning ordinance that may bring on more environmental degradation? What about all the kids willing to get arrested in an effort to bring about the needed change in public policy?

Buzz. Buzz. Yada yada yada.

Jeez Louise!

A Breath of Fresh Air
Ah!  A moment of Recognition emerges.  Then a grin.  Then, one slow, deep breath  -- and "poof!"  

Sitting a bit straighter at the computer, feeling the sensations of my breath and body, I come to my senses and gaze out the window.

It's beautiful out there!  The sun-splashed tapestry of color outside the window is dazzling.  A deep silence, occasionally augmented by the twitter of a sparrow, washes over me.  In its embrace, it's easy to let the troublesome story lines dissolve.

The weather?  Nothing special.  No big deal.  It simply is.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Keeping It Real

"Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove 
the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear...
All that I can, in true humility, present to you is that Truth is not to be found by anybody who has not got an abundant sense of humility."
-- Mahatma Gandhi

The truth is the truth, whether or not it is accepted by the majority.” 
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Mahatma Gandhi 
Although I haven't seen him in awhile, and the entire course of our friendship emerges from a few dozen conversations, mostly at an upstairs table at Green Fields Market Co-op, I still consider Gary to have been one of my most valuable teachers.  
A few times during our first conversations, Gary had challenged me to clarify what had slipped out of my mouth -- often as a quip or facetious comment. (It seems I often default to my youthful personality as a Chicago street kid, a wannabe wise guy, the perennial, if not all that proficient, class clown).  
I learned.  
In Gary's presence,  I had to slow down and be more mindful of what propelled my words, what the words may mean, and how they may land.  I'd have to listen deeply to him, feel his energy, meet his eyes.  With an open sense of humility, he was sincerely trying to communicate, to listen carefully, to speak with care.  He did his part to make a true human connection, not just pass the time of day. 
What a blessing!
Whether we were talking Co-op Policies (he sat on the Board), world events, the in's and out's of daily life, or spirituality,  when I was sitting with Gary, I had the opportunity to engage in a sincere, shared exploration about the truth of the matter at hand.  In Gary's Presence, I had to be Present.  I imagine sitting with Gandhi would be something like that.

In one of our interactions, Gary thanked me for the fundraising effort I'd made a on behalf of two friends, codgers like myself, who were facing eviction as a result of ill health and their extended unemployment benefits being cut by the Republican-controlled US Congress.

When Gary first brought up the topic, my first reaction was a subtle feeling of fear in my solar plexus.  The week before, with my heart in my throat, I had bombarded each and every one on my email contact list, google+ circles and Facebook friends with that fundraising appeal not once, but twice. Even though I had feared that some folks may roll their eyes or maybe even get pissed at me for this blatant appeal -- I had done it anyway. Trying to help out a couple of folks in need felt that important to me.

When I told Gary about that fear, that I was set to apologize for bothering him, our eyes met and we Connected, heart to heart.   He smiled and said " It's okay man.  Thanks for keeping it real."
At that moment, there was communion in its true sense. 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Good Vibrations

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand 
like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”
― Albert Einstein

"Attention is energy.  What you pay attention to you get more of."
-- Stephen Gaskin

As a kid I was extremely curious.  I think we all were open and curious at first.  Then most of us were quickly conditioned to drop it and "get with the program." It seems that many parents and schoolteachers couldn't deal with our incessant questioning. A simple "why?" seemed to agitate them.

I remember stumbling across a broken camera in the alley when I was about 9 years old.  I took it home and immediately took it apart.  I then wondered why the heck the world was upside down when I looked through the lens. Why? I then extracted the other lenses from the viewfinder, and after fooling around for a while, I figured out that if I lined two lenses up,  I could make it right side up -- and bigger! I had discovered  the telescope.  I then plotted the movement of the brightest star, which I learned from my teacher was really a planet across the sky outside my bedroom window for a couple of weeks.

Later that same year, I discovered that a battery-powered car I'd received as a Christmas gift made static on the radio's speakers whenever its path took it close to the radio.  What? 
Again curious, I took the car apart and discovered that the sparking of its electric motor created radio waves! Before all was said and done, I had extricated the motor from the car, cobbled together a homemade keying device, and learned Morse code so that I could send messages through space using these invisible waves of energy.   

This early interest in invisible waves of energy continued.  In junior high school I became a ham radio operator -- and  I learned to play the guitar.  Sound waves, radio waves, light waves.  They all fascinated me.  The idea that invisible waves operated at different frequencies, at different rates of vibration was fascinating to me. 
I learned how to tune my guitar.  I learned about resonance. I found that if I sang a G, that my guitar would sing back at me from across the room.  I learned how to tune up my homemade radio transmitter to deliver maximum power at a particular frequency.  When I did, the power it took to light a 75 watt light bulb could send radio waves from my homemade wire antenna, cut to a specific length to radiate them most efficiently.  Those invisible waves would then bounce off the ionosphere and back to earth allowing me to communicate with hams thousands of miles away.   
Learning the principles involved and applying them was magical to me.  
I'm picking up good vibrations
By the time the Hippies were happening in Haight Ashbury a handful of years later, even at a distance, I was quite inclined to believe in "the vibes."   I didn't find it odd at all to believe that there was a dimension of experience that involved invisible energies.  Experimenting with marijuana, I accessed new realms of experience.  I found that I could feel good vibes and bad vibes in situations.  Other folks said they could do.  You could see some dogs bark at certain people and not at others.

Being the geek I am, I began pouring through the books about mystical experience and spirituality.  It seemed clear that there were ancient systems designed to get in better touch with the spiritual dimension of being -- and live a better life as a result.  I began to explore yoga and meditations.

In the course of the next few years, with the support of a number of friends/kindred spirits (we actually formed a short-lived "commune" in the early 70's), I saw clearly that one didn't even have to do drugs to be in touch with that subtle dimension of consciousness.  If I paid attention, at times "the vibes" were (and are) as perceptible as the wind on my skin.  Then, I came to see that, just like in music and radio, there were certain principles at work.  Some attitudes and behaviors created peace and harmony -- on every level.  Others didn't.

Monday, February 13, 2023

What's Love Got To Do With It?

"Hatred never ceases by hatred. It is healed by love alone. 
This is the ancient and eternal law."
-- Buddha

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your strength and with all your mind. 
Love your neighbor as yourself.”
--  Jesus of Nazareth

With the candy-coated, commercialized carnival of Valentine's Day coming up,  I find myself again musing about True Love. 

I don't know how it plays out in other languages, but it seems to me that in English the word "love" is astonishingly imprecise.   

The very same word is used for both the ultimate self-sacrifice that Jesus spoke of when he proclaimed, "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life, "AND the most possessive and jealous form of desirous, grasping imaginable.  The very same word, love, casts a net that includes both the enlightened activity of the Bodhisattva Green Tara -- and the painful, jealous flailing of folks ensnared by the Green Eyed Monster!

Yet, we have it on "good authority" (see introductory quotes above) that the key to the Real Deal is Love.  So, what does the word "love" really mean? 


Yikes.  Here we go again: What does the word "mean" really mean?  

Its "meaning" runs the gamut from ultimate significance and purpose, to simply being nasty!  It reaches from the perfection of Aristotle's (and Buddha's) Golden Mean to the obnoxious underwater antics of the Blue Meanies.!?


It's Only Words...

Love? Meaning? 
These words certainly seem important, yet using these word to get at the Truth seems a bit problematic, no?  Conditioned as we are in a culture that stresses the importance of conceptual thought, much of our awareness is tied up in the stream of words that dominate our attention.  Yet it's obvious that words can be quite sloppy, their meanings even paradoxical.  Perhaps, words are not all that useful in our quest for fundamental clarity.

The Zen tradition points this out.  Repeatedly. 

During a teisho in sesshin years ago at the Rochester Zen Center, Bodhin Kjolhede Sensei asserted, "Every time I open my mouth,  I'm lying!"  He had obviously -- and very passionately -- opened his mouth.  I sat there bemused. 

Was Sensei telling the truth in that assertion -- or was he lying?

You tell me!?

Friday, February 3, 2023

The Facts of the Matter

Gazing at tonight's full Snow Moon as it sails into a sky that promises sub-zero wind chills before morning, I recalled a post written after a similar night eight years ago.  I have tweaked it a bit and am reposting it this week.  Have a look?

One Love,

"Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view."
— Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom

"Please understand, you have inherent in your very Mind a huge potential, an incalculable brilliance, an ability to see the reality of this moment clearly."
-- Harada Roshi, opening talk,
Rohatsu Sesshin, Sogenji Monastery, 2011

My Little Corner of the World
An old coot, I rarely sleep through the night these days.

Generally, at least once a night, I have to roll out of bed and walk a few steps into the adjoining room. There, I participate in one aspect of this grand recyling project known in some circles as Samsara.  

Then, depending on a multitude of factors ranging from things like the phases of the moon, to what happens to be on my mind at the moment, I usually plop right back into bed and quickly meditate back to sleep.  With any luck at all, a bit of lucidity happens, and I catch a few dream bubbles along the way.  

Sometimes, something else happens.

Last night, as I crawled into bed, I heard the winds howling outside the window.  I then felt a bit of coolness on my skin as a draft found its way under the blanket that hangs over the window alongside my bed for nights like these.  

Curious, I pulled a corner of the blanket up to take a peek. 

I was awestruck.

Outside the windows, the wind howled eerily as the stark silhouettes of winter's barren trees danced wildly in the moonlight.  Not to be outdone, their shadows played across the blue-white snow of the yard beyond the stubble of the gardens.  Under the influence of a brilliant full moon, the entire world outside the window was luminous.  It seemed to glow from within.

Thoughts, being incapable of grasping the majesty of the moment, became irrelevant.  They just went on their merry way unattended -- leaving wordless wonder and sheer delight in their wake.  Mindful Awareness did it's thing.  I was all eyes and ears -- and Heart!  
Spellbound.  Enchanted.  I was aware of the boundless and mysterious One Love that exists within and beyond each moment. 
I don't know how long I was Present for that particular miracle.   It seems that Time had called "time out," and was huddling with the Timeless.   At some point though, the buzzer sounded.  The Grand Referee blew the whistle -- and samsara resumed play.  Tired, I let the blanket fall back across the window and rolled over.  

Grinning ear to ear, I stretched out, relaxed, and returned to sleep. 

Upon Awakening

Sitting here, recalling the experience,  another truth embedded in the stark reality of last night's weather comes into clear focus.

According to the National Weather Service, the raw temperature at 4 a.m at a small airport near here was -13°F.  The windchill was -22°.  Given different circumstances, that scene I gazed at outside the window wouldn't have been delightful.  It would have been deadly. I have experienced homeless in my life. I am well aware that unprotected, I could have died out there -- and the trees and wind and moon would've just danced on. 

Yet, in the grand scope of things, that's the real deal.  Even though I am sheltered and warm at the moment, Life itself is always a deadly proposition.  It's a terminal condition.  Nobody gets outta here alive.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Tonglen Practice: Taking It to Heart

“You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart 
and you turn it into compassion. It is said that 
in difficult times, it is only bodhichitta that heals.” 
-- The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa quoted by Pema Chodron, 
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times 
"So, when we are willing, intentionally, with this kind of attitude, 
this vision, to breathe in the suffering, we are able to transform it 
easily and naturally; it doesn't take a major effort on our part, 
other than allow it."
-- Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion: 
Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

A grin comes to my face as I remember her voice on the telephone.

"That's backwards isn't it? You meant breathe in the good and send out the bad, right?" she said, not unkindly. Being gracious, she was making a space for me to realize that my aging brain cells had gone dyslexic.

I had been chatting with an old friend for first time in quite awhile, talking about my continued wonder at the Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism in general, and Tonglen Practice in particular.  

After a moment's pause, to relax and reconnect with the basic openness of mind -- and to make sure that I really hadn't verbally zigged when I had intended to zag -- I continued.

"No, I actually did mean that I get in touch with my aspiration that we all be released from suffering and the roots of suffering.  Then I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that had emerged at the moment.  Then I breathe out a sense of relief and healing energy.

She paused for awhile (perhaps, to relax and reconnect with a basic openness of mind herself? LOL)  Then she simply replied, "Oh?" 

She didn't sound convinced.

Hers was not an uncommon response.  Raised in a highly individualistic and materialistic society, the basic premise of this ancient Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training seems counterintuitive.  Making the decision to open our hearts to the entire gamut of human emotions, rather than always grasping at the "good" and pushing away the "bad?  Seems a bit crazy, right? It most certainly is. 

Crazy like a fox.

The Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which consist of 59 training aphorisms are supported by two meditation practices: basic sitting meditation (Shamatha-Vippasyana) and Tonglen.  Each of these practices has a role in cultivating our Connection to the essentially miraculous nature of life.  Each contributes to our deepening ability to be Present moment by moment -- with clarity and compassion -- to the Sacred Perfection in which we are immersed. 

To wit:

As I sit here and pay attention, I become aware of a clear, bright, vast, and open sense of spaciousness beyond the tunnel vision of my thoughts.  

As I pause and expand my attention to become aware of my body, my breath, and the sights and sounds of the room that I am sitting in and of the world outside the window, there a palpable shift in my consciousness.  As I come into the present moment more fully,  I can feel its expansiveness in my heart.  I can relax and rest in its embrace. 

Sitting here, breathing in, breathing out,  I'm aware of the dance of my fingers along the surface of this keyboard.  I see that milliseconds before the fingers move, thoughts emerge instantaneously, seemingly from nowhere in particular.  Although, these thoughts are most certainly prompted by my intention to write this blog post, they appear to be emerging by themselves, quite mysteriously.  

Although Western science claims that these thoughts are merely epiphenoma, just brain secretions of some sort, at this moment they appear to be connected to something much grander than that.  My heart feels that connection.  I have come to trust that feeling.  A boundless sense of wonder and joy emerges from the luminous silence that embraces me as I embrace it.   Aware of my feet on the floor, the clicking contact of my fingers on the keyboard, the soft humming of the computer, the wind outside the window, the vast, open spaciousness of a clear and boundless open mind, my heart opens.  I feel the Presence of the Sacred.

But, I digress -- sort of.

Friday, January 20, 2023

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.”
― Swami Kripalvanandji

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

"Blessed be those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
-- Yogi Jesus of Nazareth

Emmett Kelly 1898 - 1979

Some time ago, I came across the quote by Swami Kripalvanandji cited above.  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 just sitting still with folks and comparing notes on our experiences with 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, that suffering is 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...

Thursday, January 12, 2023

What Were You Expecting?

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage 
and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
Pema Chödrön

"Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, 
spiritual bliss, or tranquility, nor is it attempting to be a better person. 
It is simply the creation of a space in which 
we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games,
our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes. "
― Chögyam Trungpa  

I guess I've always been a bookworm.  

Although I also loved riding my bicycle, wandering through fields, and playing baseball as a kid, I read -- a lot.  

One summer in Chicago, as often as I could, I would climb up on the flat roof of a garage in the alley behind the three-flat we lived in at the time, with a book in hand.
Looking back, I think Huckleberry Finn was my favorite.   In the midst of a troubling and chaotic childhood, Mark Twain invited me to join Huck in his journey.  I spent days on my rooftop raft floating down the Mississippi River -- far away from the unsettling realities of my life.
Nowadays, there is still usually a stack of books close at hand.  Yet, for decades now, I haven't read much fiction.  For entertainment and a bit of escapist relaxation, a good movie or television series works for me.  I appreciate the absorption of my attention into the artistry involved -- although, even then, I try to choose films that open my heart and relax me rather than feed my fears or jar my senses and sensibilities.   
My choice of books is also intentional.  Most of what I read has to do with meditation, mysticism, and spirituality.  Pouring through these books isn't jumping on a raft to escape the realities of my life.  I'm placing my attention on information that supports my commitment to face Reality, in all its dimensions, with greater wisdom and compassion. 

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is a book that has worked its way to the top of my stack again and again.  Each time, I find myself marveling at the depth of insight presented -- and the new layers of understanding that seem to emerge with each reading.  I imagine that decades of almost daily meditation Practice, hundreds of other books, and handfuls of intensive retreats may have helped as well.  😉

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Matter of Heart

"My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness."
--Dalai Lama

"What we expect is to be truthful; to be kind; to try to share; to try to love one another. Some folks don’t recognize that as a discipline: They say, "Oh, that old stuff…." And it may not sound too difficult, unless you’ve ever tried it. But if you ever try it, 
you’ll know it’s an exacting discipline."
--Stephen Gaskin, This Season's People

The only time I saw U Pandita, a somewhat severe Burmese Buddhist meditation master, break into a belly laugh was when he raised his hand to his head and pointed out that Westerners believe that their mind is in their heads.  His translator and the entire crew of monks sitting behind him on stage at Insight Meditation Society also dissolved into laughter.

After a few moments, regaining his composure, he then raised his hand to his heart and continued. Although I don't remember the exact words his interpreter used, the point was made.  Our ability to perceive Truth resides in our Hearts --not our heads! 

That certainly resonated with my own understanding.  The bottom line? Love is all you need.  Jesus, Buddha -- and the Beatles -- had it right.  It's all a matter of Heart.  It's just that simple.  
Yet simple, doesn't mean easy.  Staying connected with our Heart, being truly kind and compassionate is, like one of my favorite teachers, Stephan Gaskin, pointed out years ago, an exacting discipline.

Getting It Together 

In 1976, I learned from my first Zen teacher that heart, mind, and spirit are actually the same word in Japanese. Derived from a Chinese character, the word shin makes no distinction between these three realms of existence.  Our bodies, our minds, and our spirit are a seamless whole. 


Conditioned as we are in society on materialistic overdrive, it sure doesn't feel that way for most of us much of the time, right? The restless and scattered nature of my mind --and my life -- is  what led me to meditation in the first place.  Following a deep yearning in my heart of hearts, I was intent on "getting it together"to live a life of Integrity.  
This process began, and continues on, with the commitment to spend time carefully observing how heart/mind/spirit actually operates within my own experience.  In particular, I continue be curious about the ways that my conditioning operates to separate me from my own heart, from others, and from the One Love that embraces all that is, has been, and could ever possibly be.  With Practice, both on and off the zafu, I began to get a handle on how to become the person that, in my heart of hearts, I yearned to be.  

Then, at a certain point during a meditation sesshin at Zen Mountain Monastery, I realized that I actually AM the person I wish to be--and always have been!  At those moments, in a torrent of tears, I knew that with all my flaws, with my abundant neuroses and conditioned patterns,  that I was absolutely perfect as is--and so is everybody else!  Over the years, I had opened my heart to others as best I could.  Now I had opened my heart to me!  In the embrace of these moments something deep shifted. 
Now what?