"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

Monday, January 15, 2024

Mindfulness and Mission


“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love
will have the final word in reality... Man must evolve for all conflict 
a method that rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.  
The foundation of such a method is love.” 
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment,
our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be
filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

I awoke this morning stiff and sore, a bit out of sorts.  The holiday season, with it's ghosts of Christmas past, health concerns, and other challenges among family and friends, was long, difficult, and demanding.

Although my energy had returned after a couple of months of wending my way through COVID, my 77 year old body, with its failing eyesight, bevy of inflammations, dental difficulties, achy joints and the resultant doctor's appointments, still needs a lot of maintenance time and attention.

As I plodded slowly toward the bathroom,  the whole world -- inner and outer -- seemed shrouded in gray tones of doom and gloom. 
Images of my inevitable, if not imminent, demise floated through my mind as I limped along.  Through the wonders of modern medical science, I've already beat the genetic odds of my lineage. My dad was dead at 61.  His dad was gone at 57.  I've got two stents in my heart forestalling the day when this aging body gives it up to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
There were times in my life that beginning the day in this frame of mind on a frigid winter morning would have thrown me for a loop.  A dark mood and dark thoughts would have wrapped themselves around one another and held onto one another tightly -- sometimes for hours, sometimes for days.  Sometimes for weeks at a time.  

In fact, there were times in my life that I had spiraled down into deep depression, anxiety, and total burn-out.

That was then.  This is now.

This morning, like most mornings these days, I brushed my teeth, washed my face. took a deep breath, and felt my heart. Then, with compassion and curiosity, I looked my mirror image straight in the eye for a moment or two.  Then, I wobbled over to the altar in my bedroom.  There, I spent a few moments in a sequence of ritual prayers and bows.  Then, as I've done for decades, I bowed, lowered myself to the zafu and Simply Sat Still. 

Within moments, it was different.

There in my little corner of the world, with my body comfortable and upright on the meditation cushion, with eyes open and unfocused, I floated on the breath of Practice.  In the expansive gaze of Open Awareness, I relaxed and watched as ripples of thought, feelings, and bodily sensations emerged and dissipated along the surface of a clear, calm, vast pool of bright spacious awareness.  Simply Sitting Still, no longer grasping or pushing away what I was experiencing, I breathed, relaxed, softened, and opened.  

Almost immediately, my heart and mind opened to the fact that a lot of old coots were feeling these same aches and pains and sadness.  Deeply aware that bodily pain and the emotional clouds of doom and gloom are being experienced by countless other human beings, young and old, at that very moment, I relaxed and opened to our pain. 

As I have learned to do in Tonglen Practice, I simply allowed painful bodily sensations and emotional energies to emerge and breathed them directly into my heart chakra.  There, in my heart of hearts, the gracious spaciousness of the One Love that exists within and beyond all that is embraced my sincere aspirations for our collective freedom from suffering.  In the Compassionate Presence that emerged, the dark ripples of painful energy began to dissipate and dissolve.  I stayed with it.  Soon, with each out breath, I was able to release my heartfelt aspirations as prayers for peace, liberation, and healing. 

Over the years, I've found that sometimes tears will emerge as I practice Tonglen.  I've learned to trust in the tears. They are actually a good thing.  It is the body's natural response to the grief that is inherent in the human condition.  Released, the tears wash away the hardness of heart that we've been taught to wear as a shield against the painful aspects of life.  As tears flow, the heart opens.  Sometimes gratitude, even joyous wonder, emerge as well.  Love embraces it all.

At other times, when facing strong emotional energies, I've found that it's been wise to "back off" a bit.  It can be overwhelming at times.  Having been touched by the teachings of Pema Chodron, I've found that being gentle and patient with oneself is, perhaps, the most important quality of heart to bring to Practice.  If need be, I'll focus my attention elsewhere for awhile.  I'll zero in on the sights and sounds of the space I'm in, or a return to a tighter focus on my breath.  Sometimes, I will turn to a mantra, metta recitations, or prayer.  Sometimes, it's been time to just let go and take a walk. 

Yet, this morning, I simply sat still breathing. Tonglen Practice emerged and, after a time, receded. Then I Simply Sat Still in open awareness again. Time danced with the Timeless, as the sounds of traffic ebbed and flowed outside the window.  

The hour flew by.  The bells on my iPhone rang.  I recited the Four Bodhisattva Vows as I have done for decades -- and rose to face the day.

But, that was then, this is now.  

Here I am, sitting at this old Mac Laptop watching letters and words tap dance across the screen.  Remembering to take a couple of deep breaths, I feel my heart and sit up a bit straighter. I relax and come to my senses.   Settling into a fuller awareness of the sights and sounds and sensations and gracious spaciousness of Life as it emerges moment to moment, I relax and open.  Words seem to just appear and find their way into my fingers.  It's quite mysterious really. Being present, I feel a Presence. In the midst of a wondrous, somewhat dreamlike beauty, Reality asserts itself. The sacred and the ordinary dance hand in hand.

So, now what?


Defusing Armageddon

Once we get calm and clear enough to see what's going on, it gets pretty obvious: We're in a pickle here on this planet.  If nuclear warfare doesn't do us first, the destruction of our eco-system just may just do the trick.  These are difficult and dangerous times.

It's clear. As a species, we humanoids need to get our act together. 

do this, we have to "become the change we wish to see happen."  As one iconic hippie slogan proclaimed: Fighting for peace is like fucking for chastity.  The blindness, greed, fear, condemnation, and anger that fuel the flames of our environmental demise, social conflict, and warfare cannot be dispelled by more of the same.  

All too often, even those of us who are committed to creating a world based on peace and justice react to the world in a way that doesn't help.  In our arrogance, distrust, fear, and anger we resonate with and reflect the energy of those who we deem our enemies.  Throwing stones at one another, we create waves that become tsumanis.

It doesn't have to be this way.

I came of age during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's.  The life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. touched me deeply and set the trajectory of my life.  His vision continues to resonate in my heart of hearts as the Real Deal.

Like Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh, Dr. King's message was clear:  

To bring about the type of world where peace is possible, our actions must flow from hearts that have the courage to love -- and the skill to act without spiteful anger or violence. With hearts that are open, and minds that are clear, we each are able to connect with the moral power of Satyagraha, the collective Soul Force that emerges when we rely on Truth and Love.  

The movement that Gandhi and Dr King lived for -- and died for -- is not solely "political." It is a way of life based on a deep spirituality.  It calls for cultivating our ability to act in the world non-violently.  This takes a deep commitment, and the skills necessary to maintain clarity, equanimity, and compassion.  If we are to align ourselves with the Soul Force of Love, we must do as Jesus of Nazareth, Buddha, Gandhi, Dr. King, Thich Nhat Hanh, and countless others, taught: We must learn to love even those who appear to be our enemies. 

This, of course, is no mean feat.  It takes Practice.

It's Simple, but Not Necessarily Easy

I know that in my own life, a daily meditation practice has been essential. The trauma of my childhood conditioning effected me deeply.  I've struggled in my life -- a lot.  Without a daily meditation practice, the pain, horrors, and stressors of our times would continue to trigger reactions that shut me down and/or spin me out.  To "be the change," I need to stay calm enough and clear enough to engage the world wholeheartedly as best I can.

This takes Practice.

Sitting still to meditate regularly is simple, but it isn't easy.  It took time and effort to withstand the momentum of my own conditioning.  Freeing oneself from the pervasive distractions, over-stimulation, speed, and noise of our increasingly fast-paced, capitalist society doesn't happen overnight.   It takes a commitment and a sustained effort over time.

Over the past dozen years, many newcomers to the MMM Circle have mentioned -- often somewhat sheepishly -- that they hadn't been successful in establishing and sustaining a daily practice.  Even though they had noticed that when they had meditated there was an obvious improvement in the quality of their consciousness -- and in there lives --  creating a daily structure in time and space to meditate regularly didn't happen.

With a grin, I've often asked the others in the Circle to raise their hands if they've had a similar experience.  It's usually been unanimous.  (In fact, some of us are still grappling with maintaining a regular practice over a long period of time.)

It only stands to reason. 

Creatures of habit, we are individually and collectively awash in habitual patterns of noise, stimulation, speed, and activity.  There is a momentum that propels us ahead even when we take our foot off the accelerator.  It takes time to coast to a stop.  So patience is in order.  Lots of patience. 

Yet, at the risk of seemingly ridiculous, each of us can do our part to save this ole suffering world by learning how to Simply Sit Still.  Opening our hearts and minds to the Real Deal, we can allow the unlimited power of Love to do its thing.  We can heal and engage the world around us with greater kindness, clarity, compassion, energy and ease.

You could start right now by sitting up a bit straighter. Then, closing your eyes if you wish, pay attention to the sensations of a long, slow, full breath -- and feel your heart.  When you're ready, open your eyes and look around you. Get the beans out of your ears and listen carefully the sounds emerging and receding in each moment.  Being present to the energy of life as it flows within and beyond you, allow yourself to relax into the gracious spaciousness of an open heart and clear mind. 

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it! 

It just takes Practice.

PS.  If some structure and support for your Practice -- and your life -- may be helpful, I continue to facilitate Morning Meditation Circles on Zoom, Monday through Friday, 9:00 - 10:00 am. Attendance is free and open to all.   If interested, email me at: mondaymorningmindfulness@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

That was refreshingly beautiful and much needed..
Sincere thanks 🙏 and namaste

Anonymous said...

See you Monday

Lance Smith said...