"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, July 3, 2024

Mama Said There'll Be Days Like This

"Our thought now being no-thought, even our singing and dancing 
are the voice of the Dharma."
-- Hakuin-zenji, Song of Zazen
 "Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this mama said."
-- The Shirelles

For decades now, silent meditation and mindfulness practices have been the central focus of my spiritual life.  Yet, me being me, I've continued to explore a number of practices from a variety of traditions.  
In the early 70's, I was introduced to the Chant of Chenrezig by a friend of mine who had absorbed it as he pushed a huge prayer wheel with a group of Tibetan Buddhist practioners in Northern India months before.  Looking into his eyes, standing about five feet away, I could feel the energy of Om Mani Padme Hum as he related the experience.   Coming across the chant again in Ram Dass's spiritual classic Be Here Now a few months later, I filed it away for future reference.  

Later that year, I had the means and opportunity to Practice this chant a bit more deeply.  Unlike my friend who experienced it in India, my prayer wheel was the steering wheel of a canary yellow VW camper.  I was cruising along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado on Interstate 25 at the time.  Using the mile markers as visual reminders to re-focus, I chanted Om Mani Padme Hum for several hours.  At a certain point, I experienced a Shift.  I connected with the larger pool of energy and the Presence. Reality asserted itself.  
The Universe hummed along in harmony with the mantra as I drove down the road.

In the eternal now, this moment embraces that moment.  In the seamless whole of One Love, Time and the Timeless dance as One.  There is no separation.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Even Our Singing and Dancing
Over the years, I've practiced various other forms of mantra meditation.  I've chanted with Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, and Christians.  I've come to see quite clearly that words can ring with meaning and power well beyond their conceptual content.  Whether vibrating in sound or in silence, when we experience words we attune to, and resonate with, a  larger pool of energy and connection -- whether we realize it at the time or not.

And then -- although certain fundamentalist strains in many religious traditions may frown at the idea -- it gets even better for me when those words dance in the arms of music. Over the years, I've sung (and danced) bhajan and kirtan with the Hare Krishna's, Neem Karoli Baba's folks in Taos, NM, and a number of local Kirtan walahs.  I've drummed and sang with Native Americans.  OMMM'd with 10,000+ Hippies at Rainbow National Gatherings.  I've sang, danced and drummed with Sufi Universal Dances of Peace gatherings and with other Spiritual Circles.  In full confession, I've also danced freely at Dead shows and Raves (sometimes with, sometimes without medicinal herbs or concoctions in my system. LOL).  In all those times, places, and spaces I've often felt the Grand Connection to my fellow human beings in the embrace of Universal One Love. 
Yet A Different Tune
Ten years ago, when I was still blogging as weekly mindfulness practice, the Universe graced me with an unexpected, deeply healing, musical incantation just before I sat down at the laptop to begin.   Then, like now, I had recently returned from an unsuccessful attempt to help my older brother through a life crisis in Oklahoma.  It was a tough time in my life.
The source of this healing music wasn't one of the mystical spiritual traditions.  This music didn't come from one of compositions of New Age music that I sometimes use to inspire me or chill me out either.  Emerging spontaneously in my mind's memory lane theater were the voices of a quartet of young women from New Jersey. singing the refrain of a 1961 recording.  It just as well may have been a heavenly chorus of angels.
Instantaneously, a grin emerged on my mug.  My heart glowed. The quality of my consciousness became brighter and lighter.  The Mystical Magical Musical Chant that altered my state of mind was the from the Shirelle's:

"Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this mama said."

"Duh," I thought with a grin.  "Of course!  It's just Life being Life as it is.  I can live with that!"

 Life As It Is
"Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. 
One inspires us, the other softens us. 
They go together.” -- Pema Chodron

That week, ten years ago, had been a real doozie.  Like my return from Oklahoma last month, I came home pretty beat up emotionally.  Beyond that, my body had taken a real hit.
I injured my lower back the day before I left.  Then I spent a wicked long travel day, with severe storms causing four flight delays. 
After the entire ordeal, I thought I could just say, "Honey, I'm hOMe" to my life back in The Happy Valley of Western Massachusetts -- and relax a bit.
No such luck.

The next morning,  my housemate glanced at the back of my left thigh and then exclaimed in alarm, "What's THAT!?"

THAT turned out to be a large red splotch with a darker angry looking center.  Not seeing a tick, not feeling any discomfort beyond a bit of itchiness, I wasn't really concerned. 
We drove the hour to town to address what was really bothering me: a stiff and sore lower back that emitted razor sharp pains if I moved incorrectly.  Or coughed. Or laughed.  
Often, my friendly chiropractor can straighten me out in a single visit. 
Not so much that time.  My back still hurt.

To make matters worse, by Sunday the blotch had grown. Dramatically.  Bigger and nastier looking, it proclaimed -- along with my insistent housemate -- "get thee to the ER!"  Over the course of the next few days, I returned to the chiropractor again, then the ER a second time because the blotch had gotten even worse.  Then, I was finally able to see my PCP.  He scratched his head and said it's probably a venemous spider bite.  (The region in Oklahoma that I'd just returned from is known for it's black widow spiders.)   
The doc prescribed a sulfa drug.  Unfortunately, I had a severe reaction that was not unlike a bad acid trip.  It wasn't fun.  I stopped taking the sulfa drugs and began to feel more like myself.  I saw the chiropractor again.  Sigh.
It had been a long, long, week.

And Yet...

My spirits buoyed by the Shirelles expression of Truth, I sat at the computer that day ten years ago knowing that it was going to be a helpful to spend time with the blog "connecting the dots." Although I certainly have seen that Ultimate Reality can't be grasped entirely by words,  I also know that sometimes it can be really helpful to spend time expressing things conceptually.  Laying words down one after the other in a linear fashion, when done mindfully, is another form of contemplation.  You can climb up the ladder, rung by rung, and get a bit higher on the truth expressed.
Sometimes the swirl of my own thoughts and feelings create high volume screeching feedback loops that flood my consciousness.  In the past, the echo chamber of my own mind and its ongoing connection to the collective mind of a culture propelled by harsh, fearful, competitive, even violent, energies would overwhelm me.  Whirlpools of obsessive, repetitive, randomly sequenced narratives would ride on waves of emotional energy.  My mind running in circles, I would experience extended periods of high anxiety, or plunge into depression.  At other times, I would soar into elevated states that I couldn't integrate into a sustainable lifestyle.  
I struggled -- a lot.
Yet, like journal writing, blogging gives me an opportunity to express and clarify what is going on for me and place it in the context of other life experiences and the lessons I'd learned. When times are good,  I'm able to express and share my gratitude for various experiences and for the tools and teachings that continue to inspire me. When times are difficult, blogging gives me a tool to identify various ancient patterns of thought and emotion.  I can then take a breath, release some of the negative energy, and hit the reset button.  (Of course, if the truth be told, most days provide ample moments of both "light and dark," right?)
As I sit here now, I remember to take a couple of conscious breaths, sit up a bit straighter and feel my feet on the floor.  Coming to my senses, I hear the sound of passing cars outside the window. It rises and fall like the surf within the soundscape created by Iranian New Age Composer Bahramji that's playing in the background at the moment.  Looking to my right, I see the play of light and shadow across the drapes as the sun and clouds dance through the summer sky outside the window. 
I notice that I am grinning and my heart is glowing as Awareness expands to embrace it all.  As my fingers continue to cast words across the screen of this old MacBook (Yes, with Practice, we can chew gum and ride a bike at the same time. LOL), I feel grateful to be connecting the dots to that day ten years ago that I sat in a different room in front of this same screen.  Once again, the blog has given me an opportunity to see patterns play through the seasons of my life.  As Yogi Berra once said, "It's deja vu all over again.  As I come to the end of this piece, what I wrote then could have been written today.

Here it is:

"My time in Oklahoma was really difficult and sad.  My brain, heart, and body took a real hit trying to help my brother navigate a bit more comfortably through his life. Yet, Sitting here with birds twittering across the meadow and through the woods outside the window, I feel quite fine.   
All in all, I'm grateful to be hOMe...
I'm grateful to the Teachings and the Practice, for seeing clearly once again that there is a quality of consciousness that is available to us that embraces both "gloriousness and wretchedness" with equanimity, compassion, and loving kindness.  With Practice, we can gently and patiently open our hearts and minds to the entire gamut of our own experience, without clinging to the joys or pushing away the discomforts.  It actually is possible.  Our heart can open to it all.  We can be okay with being not okay. 
It just takes Practice.

I'm  Grateful to the Shirelles as well, for reminding me at the perfect moment that 'there'll be days like this.'  Of course, there'll be days like this.  There'll be days like that, as well.   In fact, following a certain philosophical tradition in Zen and the larger Mahayana, I should also add:  There'll be days that are both this and that.  There'll also be days that are neither this nor that.   After all, this and that themselves are just words that our conceptual mind cooks up to keep track of things. They can be quite useful.  
Yet, the words themselves pale in comparison to Reality.  The One Love from which we emerge and to which we return -- moment to moment -- silently sings and dances within and beyond it all.

Any way you (or your mama) say it -- or don't say it -- Life is always just as it is.  Sometimes heartwarming.  Sometimes heartbreaking.  Sometimes confusing.  Sometimes enlightening.  Life simply IS!  I'm so grateful to know that with Practice, I can increasingly become Present for it all with an open heart and a clear mind.

At this stage of the journey, I'm pleased to report that this is not just Theory.  It's Practice. "

No comments: