"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

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.
The Facts of the Matter

We are each born.  We each die.  

Most of us have grown up in a society that tries to assiduously avoid those facts.  As a result, an incredible amount of psychic energy is bottled up in repressed fear and grief, or dissipated in vicarious entertainment and adrenaline rush "recreation."

It's unfortunate.  

The denial of death creates an incredible lack of perspective -- and focus.  If we are willing, instead, to fast-forward ahead to see that the screen inevitably reads THE END, we can then decide whether we are playing the current scene in a way that makes any sense.  A lot of senseless activity, discord, and pettiness dissolves immediately when the Big Picture is brought into view.  

In the Buddhist tradition, the inevitability of Death is seen as a fundamental truth to be contemplated deeply -- and regularly remembered.  When this aspect of the human condition is faced squarely, our ability to appreciate the preciousness of life deepens, and our motivation to realize our True Nature heightens.  Reminders of Death are widespread among the teachings, practices, and chants of all the Buddhist traditions. 

When I was in residence at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, the Eno (chant leader) would recite the Evening Gatha at the end of each day's final meditation service.  With dark eyes flashing, she ardently delivered the traditional exhortation:

Let me respectfully remind you.
Life and Death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.

Awaken! Take heed!
Do not squander your life.

Reality asserts itself.  

The Zendo at Zen Mountain Monastery
Although the passionate "striving" to Awaken that was evoked in the stirring words of the Evening Gatha years ago has been transformed through another twenty years of life and mindfulness practice into a much gentler heartfelt aspiration, the bottom line is clear:  Practice is a matter of Life and Death.   
Rather than freak me out, though, this realization actually soothes my soul.  It enables me to connect often with a boundless sense of the sacred.  No longer afraid of death, I am able to approach the events of my life wholeheartedly.  

These days, after decades of daily practice, blessed with the regular support of friends and kindred spirits, l'm grateful to experience a sense of ease and clarity, even delight, as most days flow by.  Life being Life, I also have plenty of opportunity to witness and explore my own reactivity, angst, ignorance, and confusion as they emerge.  

More and more, though, even those moments are welcomed as the warp and woof of the same grand tapestry.  At this stage of journey, they don't tie me in knots.  I realize that all I can do is weave together the various strands of my life, as it is, with as much diligence, kindness and compassion as I can muster.  I can generally remember to pause, take a conscious breath or two, feel my heart, and come to my senses.

It just takes Practice. 

I can live -- and die -- with that. 

Originally Posted, January 2015. Revised.


Dharma Bum69b said...

I know it well . . .

spiritual awakening
peace for the heart
serenity for the soul
sitting in full consciousness
my eyes
with tears
of thought
sights and sounds
like reflection on a still pond
something has
fallen into place
i can not say exactly
it is

Lance Smith said...


Mary Rose said...

You are a gifted writer and your words and stories always lift my spirits. Thank you Lance.

Stephanie said...

Ironically, my Lojong slogan for today was "Practice for death as well as for life." One Love,


Lance Smith said...

Irony or synchronicity? LOL
Thanks for chiming in Stephanie. So good to hear from you. I trust you're well!
(Are you still sharing Practice with folks at your church?)

Anonymous said...

I saw exactly what you were talking about and was able to get a few pictures of that beauty. Thank you for that I actually needed to hear all of that today. Shannon