"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

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 shift my attention from the thoughts running through my head to the feelings coursing through my body.  Then I breathe into my heart the difficult and challenging darker emotions that had emerged.  There in my heart of hearts I get in touch with reality that countless people are feeling   this same form of energy and my aspiration that we all be free of such suffering.  Then, at a certain point, I'm able to send out a sense of relief and healing energy on each exhalation.

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?