"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

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?

It Just Takes Practice 

Zen Master Suzuki-roshi once said:  Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”  In his own inimitable style,  Suzuki nailed it.  

In fact, the major question that propelled Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Japanese Zen, to seek a teacher in China appears to have been, "If we are all already perfect, why bother practicing meditation?"  I've seen that question asked in any number of ways over the years.  Though it does certainly seem to defy logic, the answer, for me at least, is pretty clear: Both on and off the cushion, Practice doesn't make perfect.  Practice is perfect. 

Simply Sitting Still and really paying close attention to the experience of the present moment is both the means and the end -- in and of itself.  Ultimately,  you're not trying to do something or get something.  You're just Sitting Still -- being.

Of course, that's easier said than done.  It takes time and effort and patience to open to all the conditioning and resistances that disconnect us from Loving ourselves and one another.  It takes time to let the knots unravel, to relax and ground into a more wholehearted and compassionate experience of our lives.  Yet, sitting meditation is only a part of Practice.   

In Zen, they speak of ceaseless Practice.  I've tried to take that to heart. 

It's clear that most of life happens before and after times of formal meditation.  That is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.  Each breath becomes an opportunity to practice. 

Centering my attention on the experience of the present moment, staying in touch with my heart in the midst of the activities of life is where the real action is.  If I'm paying attention,  I can tell whether I'm in touch with the expansiveness of an open heart -- or not.

If not, I can take a deep breath, relax, and re-calibrate.  Being open, relaxed, and present, I may actually be able to be kind.  Being Present, I may be able to see what I can do to help out.  More and more, when I'm really paying attention, I see that this may mean NOT doing anything.  It can be as simple as that.  

It just takes Practice.  

Originally Posted, September 2013. Revised.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Wonderful ❣️👍

Dharma Bum69b said...

Why do we believe that we can’t meditate while chopping wood, hauling water, raking the yard, or any other activity? The belief that we have to sit down and half close our eyes to find clarity limits us as to when we can meditate. For most people there is no reason for such a limitation, other than the fact that we believe that meditation must be done a certain way. So long as we hold such beliefs, our development as individuals is greatly limited. To reach our potential it is necessary to question beliefs, assumptions, teachers, and traditions.

Imagine how much more powerful meditation could be if we released ourselves from the strictures of form and rules, and instead turned our daily activities into a form of meditation.

When the ordinary is given the same attentive mindfulness as 'Zazen', that everyday moment becomes the stillness of sitting meditation. There is no duality, no division between now and some other time, between what is being done at that moment and what might or ought or should be done. There are no hypotheticals. A total, undivided presence transcends the duality of here and somewhere else. When packing water, there is only packing water. When chopping wood, there is only chopping wood. When sitting there is no wobbling. Without a separation between inner and outer, between self and non-self, we dwell in the eternal present moment. A state of being 'Of' the world, but not caught up 'In' the world. Everyday Zen stresses the ordinary as the expression and realization of Zen. This is the 'Method of no method” a process that shifts the emphasis from 'Sitting Zazen' to chopping wood or packing water. Ordinary activity becomes meditation so that, in effect, the practitioner is always doing the equivalent of 'Sitting Zazen'.” This is how 'Non-attachment' can be attained. This was a big stumbling block for me – How could non-attachment be attained when Zazen MUST be devotedly practiced? Which in essence is a form of attachment itself.

Unknown said...

Thank you! This reminds me of hearing that when Thich Nhat Hahn was asked in an interview if we meditated every day, he replied, "I meditate every moment of every day." I think during "Mindful Movement" we are practicing taking our meditation off the cushion and into our daily life.

Lance Smith said...

Yes, indeed. a MUST oftentimes emerges from external messages, internalized by the ego conditioning. MUST's and SHOULD's operate to separate us from the heart of the matter, which is simply being present each moment to the experience of being alive. Connected wholeheartedly to our lives, we do what we are, we are what we do. What's not to love?

That being said, I'm gonna go Sit. 😘

Cie said...

So much easier to be present in each moment if I am willing to love and accept myself right then.