Mindfulness: Falling Into the Eternal Moment
The bad news is you are falling through the air; nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there is no ground.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
When we meditate, we only follow our breaths. We feel the air fill our lungs, center on our rising stomach and then experience the breath exhale, the emptying of our lungs. We have no other motive; we are not seeking Enlightenment. We just sit and breathe, mindfully.
As easy as this may sound, it actually takes much practice. Thoughts, plans, regrets cascade into our minds, sometimes drawing away our attention from our breath. This is not because we’re ‘doing it wrong’. We don’t judge ourselves; we acknowledge the thoughts and gently follow our next breaths.
Before long it becomes easier to catch our minds drifting. If we carry this mindfulness into our day, when we find our thoughts ‘racing’, we can use our breath ‘lifeboat’ to refocus. Three deep, mindful breaths; our ‘rescue inhalers’. But how do we continue to be present throughout our day; to live completely in the Moment?
We die to ourselves, moment by moment. We refuse to identify with our histories, our accumulated stories. We let each moment present itself anew. With no judgment based on our past stories and no projections of historical events into the future, we can fully embrace each moment ‘with fresh eyes’. One moment gives birth to the next, unclouded by ego. After all, ego is simply our interpretation of and identification with our stories.
Try it. See if it’s true. For a few moments, refuse to entertain any thought based on your history. Die to your past. Let your mind become blank. You’ll find each moment presenting itself anew, with unlimited possibilities. One eternal moment, giving birth to itself over and over again. How radical.
It can be intimidating. We lose a sense of who we think we are. We are not our stories, we are more than our plans. Our thoughts do not define us. Scary stuff, but ripe with potential. If we can give ourselves fully, unconditionally to the moment as it is, we experience an unparalleled present moment awareness.
One anonymous mystic Christian called this ‘The Cloud of Unknowing”. The apostle Paul described dying to himself daily. Jesus taught of taking no thought of the morrow, of being born anew, of becoming like children. Small children haven’t become identified with their histories. Fighting one minute, they play the next as if nothing happened.
Lao Tse Tung wrote about the deep, fathomless ‘Tao’. Without clinging to our expectations we sense the mystery. When viewed through preconceived notions, the wonder is lost and we see ‘things’. We’ve become anchored, even bound, in our own minds. Buddhists talk of the ‘void’; Hindus of the Brahman. Some modern theologians call it “The Ground of Our Being”.
Whatever it’s called, there is no sense of separate self when we give ourselves unconditionally to the Now. Without the anchor of our stories each moment is born anew. There are no limitations, no expectations. There is only This, to be experienced Now. We are indeed falling, nothing to hold onto, no parachute. But all we are falling into is another newborn Moment, the eternal beginning of the Now.
Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. And this is how we have to live.
May we have the courage to fall into Life fully moment by moment
If you have the privilege of being with a person who is aware at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple: “Did I love well?” “Did I fully live?” “Did I learn to let go?”
Jack Kornfield - “A Path with Heart”
I had the privilege of being with a wonderful person at the moment of his death; my life partner of nineteen years, Bruce. He was 51 years old. He died in our home February 20th, 2010.
Bruce had late stage lung cancer. There was no possibility of a cure. The best we could hope for was a few months more by treatment with radiation and chemotherapy. Bruce chose to forego treatments and to die at home.
Recently I came across a Tumblr blog by a nineteen year old (pictured) named Noah who is suffering from Ewing’s Sarcoma; a form of cancer that usually appears in young people, mainly boys, around his age.
I’ve been following his blog. He also gave up treatments and entered hospice in his home.
Last night he wrote in his blog:
“Cancer is rough. I’ve always been self-kept and generally quiet. I became the center of attention, I became needy, I became a really sick person trying to make my way in a world where everybody else was healthy and living the dream.
If there’s one thing that I wish that I could share with the world, it would be basically simple.
It’s not that hard. Don’t lie, don’t judge, have an open mind and an open heart. Follow your heart until you’ve achieved your dream. Listen to other people and do the best you can for them. Hug your mother, father, sister, brother. Hug strangers. Look people in the eye. Tell them you love them, tell them that you care. Look past physical features. Smile at people who look sad. Always try your hardest. Give. Free yourself of the past.
Forgive. Always, always, always forgive. Always.” (emphasis mine)
Bruce was not one to express his feelings. He didn’t tell me what he was going through in the weeks leading up to his death. But he made contact with family and friends he hadn’t spoken to or seen in many years. It was very important to him to make those connections. I think he understood what Jack Kornfield and Noah are talking about.
Two words keep jumping out at me from what Noah wrote; “Be compassionate.” He equates compassion with kindness and forgiveness.
He’s in good company. All the sages and wise teachers of all the ages have taught the same thing. The Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Apostle Paul, Mother Teresa…the list is endless. Be compassionate
For those of us who don’t learn this lesson in our lives, I believe we’ll have a ‘crash-course’ on letting go, forgiving, being kind on our death beds. Hopefully, some of us will learn to practice compassion while we are still very much alive.
Noah, thank you for your wise words. Bruce, thank you for your fine example.
May all beings become compassionate today, right now, on our next breath.
It really is that simple.
“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning.”
After working overnight I came home this morning to a cold house. The temperature rarely drops to the low thirties here in Florida but drop they did last night. My windshield was iced over when I left work this morning. My house was cold when I came home.
The central air/heating unit went out last night. Another repair. It’s tempting to rail against the situation; to think Life’s unfair.
The more skillful response is to say, out loud or to oneself, “Yes, and this also.”
I learned this lesson the hard way. Once I was in a dispute over something very important to me. I railed, I fretted, I worried; I spent a lot of time warring against the way things were.
In a phone conversation with someone I trusted I frantically laid out all my fears and all the injustices I felt. Gently. when he got the chance to speak, my trusted friend said, “David, you are getting so tied up in the outcome you’re paralyzing yourself. You aren’t doing any good for anyone this way.”
Immediately I recognized the truth and listened instead of talking. He went on to urge me to take the steps I needed to secure a favorable outcome and let that be enough.
“Don’t let the resolution of the problem define your success or failure. You have no control over how things work out.” he said. “The only thing you can control are the steps you take now. Take the correct steps and let the consequences go.”
In that moment a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. The conclusion was not my responsibility. My only job was to go through the motions, taking each step skilfully, and then allowing chips to fall where they may. In the end the situation was resolved favorably.
When I tried and tried, I found myself spinning my wheels and paralyzed with fear. I was not getting anything done. When I let go of any feelings of responsibility for the outcome, and fully concentrated, each moment, on the next step, ‘things’ did themselves.
Tomorrow morning my next step is to call the AC/Heating unit repairman. I’ve no control over whether the problem is minor or something major. So tonight I’ll take a deep breath, let my worries and fears go. Tomorrow, whatever the outcome, I’ll say, “Yes, and this also.” It’s all part of Life.
Trust that things will be as they are…because they will.
Letting Go: New Year’s Resolutions
A student asked his Zen master how long it would take to reach enlightenment. “Ten years,” the master said. But, the student persisted, what if he studied very hard? “Then 20 years,” the master responded. Surprised, the student asked how long it would take if he worked very, very hard and became the most dedicated student in the Ashram. “In that case, 30 years,” the master replied. His explanation: “If you have one eye on how close you are to achieving your goal, that leaves only one eye for your task.”
—Zen story from “The Case Against Grades”
It’s the second day of the new year. Already some of us have broken our New Year’s resolutions. With our inability to live up to our newly imposed standards, we’re tempted to judge ourselves failures, again.
Maybe the problem isn’t with us. Our resolutions, or more precisely, the standards we set for meeting our new resolutions, may be unreasonable.
Solution? Why not give up trying to reach the goal instead?
Of course, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. A quick Google search will show lots of advice on setting our goals high and holding ourselves to rigid standards. But is this really helpful?
There’s a wonderful post on one of my favorite blogs, Zenhabits. The author of the piece lived for 100 days without goals. The results are here. The writer was less stressed, more productive and happier.
Here are three things you can do to ‘reset’ the good intentions you had when you made the resolutions for this year.
1. Look at what you’re already doing right.
New Year’s resolutions are usually based on what we feel we are doing wrong. There are many things we are already doing right. In fact, what we’re doing right is evidence of what’s really important to us. All we have to do is continue to expand the base of our right actions.
2. Give up any standard you set for yourself to meet your ‘goal’.
In fact, give up the goal. When our eye is on the goal, we can’t see all the steps we have taken. Take each moment as it comes. Act in harmony with your deep seated ethics. When you fail, forgive yourself. There’s no total loss until you give up.
3. Wait until the end of this year to evaluate yourself.
Of course, we always need to assess our lives. But instead of constantly holding up a goal and measuring how short we fall of it, why not wait until some specific time (like the end of this year) and see how far we have grown? We might be surprised at how much we have done ‘right’.
And what if we find we haven’t grown much in some area? Perhaps the area just isn’t important to us. There’s nothing ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ about what matters to us. Its just important we understand what we really do care about.
Be gentle with yourself, friends. If you didn’t bite or hit anyone, it was a good day.
Its been a year since the end of 2010. That was a year of loss for me; both my life partner of 19 years and my 23 year old daughter died.
This year has trudged past. Waves of grief at times, a few laughs along the way but mostly a prominent feeling of ennui; listlessness, discontent, apathy. Letting go is difficult.
My zazen practice (Zen Buddhist meditation) stopped when Bruce, my partner, entered hospice in our home. I took it back up December of this year.
Looking forward into this year, I’m extremely happy to live in Florida. Warm weather suits me best.
New Years Eve I’ll be working overnight at the same job I’ve had for nearly twelve years. For that I’m also grateful.
My daughter died of an accidental drug overdose last year. Her brother, my son, is attending school for Addiction Counseling. I’m proud of him.
Both my grandsons are fine; healthy, bright and well supported by their parents and grandparents.
My parents are well, my siblings and their children are thriving. A new addition to our extended family is on the way.
My five pound Chihuahua is becoming an old lady; close to twelve years old this year. She’s good company for me.
This year is nearly gone. A new year is on its way. Hope springs anew, plans rekindled, a fresh start. This could be the start of something great.
Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.
Happy New Year.
Letting Go: Watching the Thinker
It’s been almost one month since I began ‘sitting’ regularly; my daily meditation or zazen practice. I’ve become keenly aware of my undisciplined mind. Though I’d like to think I control my thoughts, its difficult to train my mind to simply follow my own breath. I’m forced to realize, rather than using my mind to think, my thoughts think me.
That’s not the problem, though. Thoughts come and go, like ripples on water, vanishing without a trace. But we give them life. We think they mean something. We identify with them, either positively or negatively.
Thoughts we like we encourage. We believe they tell us something good about ourselves. Thoughts we judge as bad we discourage. We push them away. We search our mind to dump unpleasant thoughts. We project them elsewhere; onto someone or some event that caused us to think this.
Either way we’re holding an internal conversation with our own thoughts. It’s a little piece of insanity we accept in our lives. After all, everyone else is doing the same thing.
But our mind is keeping us from what is happening now, right in front of us. Thoughts are always about the past or the future. Simply following our breath in the present doesn’t hold our interest very long.
The key is to disengage. Like when a child acts out to get attention, don’t respond. Neither identify with nor resist the thought. Just watch. Simply take notes, like an unbiased reporter. Don’t own random thoughts. Don’t engage them in a mental conversation.
Detach, and bring your focus back to the present. It’s as easy as following your next breath.
Be well, friends.
Do everything with a mind that lets go.
If you let go a little, you will have a little peace.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.
If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom.
Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.
I’ve had the priviledge of ministering to the elderly. When I was in bible college, a fellow student and I held services on Sunday mornings at a local retirement home.
The people I met there fell into two broad categories. There were those who had very sweet, accepting dispostitions. They had come to terms with Life, with all its failures and disappointments. They were truly wonderful to be around.
Then there were folks who ‘clung’ to what they thought to be past injustices, slights, victimizations, let downs, etc. They seemed to bring those ‘stories’ up at every opportunity. When they would relive their stories, they would do so with intense anger; as if the ‘story’ happened just moments ago.
I thought how sad it was, here in what should be their golden years, they were still haunted and angry about things long past. I secretly vowed never to be like them.
But how? The method I use, when I am not so caught up I forget, is to let it go as soon as possible. Ideally, when I notice myself being ‘drawn into’ feelings of discontent, I take three deep breaths. With each exhalation I let myself ‘breathe out’ any attachment I have to want things other than they are.
That’s really the question we need to ask ourselves. Is the need to feel we have been wronged, victimized, hurt or any other ‘need’ to judge this event more important than our desire to live in peace with things as they are?
Those things we hold onto, as we age, can become harder to let go. By the time we are elderly, they have become so much a part of us, we can’t imagine Life without them.
What do you have today keeping you from enjoying perfect peace? What is the obstacle to living fully in the present right now?
You are only a breath away from letting it go. Hanging onto it will do no good.
Exhale your anger and judgement. Let it go, friend. True peace is available on your next breath.
Be well, friends.
Nobody gets anything for keeps.
And that’s how we’ve got to live.
Haruki Murakami , Japanese author
One year ago on Dec. 23rd, 2010, I found myself outside, in the cold, holding a candle in front of a picture of my life. In the picture was my unorthodox family.
I am on the left. In the middle is my daughter, Jennifer, holding her son, my grandson, Little Eddie. Behind her is Bruce, my Life Partner of 19 years. He and I owned our home together, we had raised Jenn and now we were part of Little Eddie’s life. We had future plans . We were playing for keeps.
On Thanksgiving 2009 Bruce broke his collarbone picking up Little Eddie. We wouldn’t know until January of 2010 his bone broke due to metastatic lung cancer. The cancer cells were eating his bones.
He was diagnosed as terminal at the age of 51; no chance of long term survival. He chose to die in our home, in hospice. We celebrated our 19th anniversary on Valentine’s Day. On Feb. 26th, 2010, Bruce died in my arms while I stroked his head, whispering in his ear things would be OK; and I loved him.
Within days of Bruce’s death it became apparent Jenn, my daughter, was having severe problems with drugs. Things were really rough for her. On Sept. 20th, 2010, Jenn died of an overdose of Oxycontin in a hotel in Orlando.
I’ve been in a state of uncertainty for over a year now. When I started this blog, I alluded to the great loss I have been feeling.
Last year I didn’t do anything for Christmas. Instead, I celebrated the end of 2010 on New Years Eve. My parents, my sister, my son and his fiance, their son and Jenn’s son, Little Eddie, all celebrated New Years with me. We had a holiday tree, gift exchanges and fireworks to ring in a New Year.
Little did I know the previous January, 2010, I would be celebrating the New Year without Jenn and Bruce. And on December 23rd, 2010, that cold night with the candle illuminating my life past, I couldn’t know this year on Dec. 22nd I would celebrate the Winter Solstice with Little Eddie and Big Eddie, his father.
We had a dinner with all the fixings, we exchanged gifts and played our new video games late into the night. It was the first full dinner I have cooked since Jenn died.
Everything does pass. Nothing really is for keeps. And that is exactly the way we have to live.
Mindfulness: One with the Moment
To practice Zen meditation (Zazen) is Zen Buddhism. There are no catechisms, nothing to memorize, no infallible Scriptures. Zen Buddhism is a practice, not in the sense of training to get it right, but in the sense of doing.
One of the results of Zazen is stilling the mind. Once our mind is still, we are able to ‘Be’ fully in the moment; completely One with All That Is.
Sounds ‘New Agey’, mysterious and silly? Truth is, we all have experienced Oneness with Everything, ever how brief, at some time.
Back when I was a teenager a stereo system’s ability put out good sound was related to the size of the speakers. Often, I would put an LP (Long Playing album, before CD’s), tilt my large rectangular stereo speakers against one another in an inverted V shape, and lie on the floor with my head under the ‘tent’ shape the amplifiers produced.
Lying on my back, I could experience the music as an ocean of sound. It was possible to distinguish every musical note, every instrument. The music seemed to fill the whole Earth.
From under my musical tent I knew nothing, except the sounds of keyboards, guitars, vocals. I was completely One with every note and, at the same time, One with the compostion as a whole.
Sometimes this happens in sports, in dangerous situations, in awe inspiring sights or life changing events. These moments are usually so rare and special we remember them for a lifetime.
It is this sense of Oneness with the Moment we experience when we are able to put aside our judgments on or beliefs about how things are or should be. When we become open to the experience, without reservation, we are able to experience Life beyond our tiny egos.
This can be experienced when we sit, mindfully following our breath.
After our sitting meditation, we slowly arise, keeping our mindset in the Moment. Throughout the day we can gently remind ourselves if we stray into doubt, fear, judgment; any thought which keeps us from the present. When we catch our ‘mind monkeys’ taking our Presence away from us, we can, with three mindful breaths, gently put ourselves into the never-ending Present.
Will you find out for yourself whether you can be One with this Moment? Perfect Presence really is just one breath away.
No past. No future.
Open mind. Open heart.
Complete attention, no reservations.
In the early 1990s, when I discovered the internet, a website was hosting some questions to and answers by a man named Scott Morrison.
Since then he’s died. The website he was on is now run by a very different group. His writings have nearly vanished from the internet.
He wrote a couple of wonderful short books still available in paperback;
Open and Innocent: The Gentle, Passionate Art of Not-Knowing
There Is Only Now - A Simple Guide to Spiritual Awakening, Unconditional Love, Liberation and Transformation
He wrote in one book a short piece he called “The Whole Teaching.” It sums up everything he taught.
No past. No future.
That sounds radical. No past? No future? What does he mean?
He explained, when you really think about it, the past doesn’t exist. We’ve had certain experiences, but when we think back on them we are present now. Those things we think about were happening in that present then. Where is the past?
Further, when we think back on those experiences, we are viewing them with the understanding we have now. It is only possible to view them through the filter our experiences since then; a constantly changing filter.
The past cannot ever again be ‘real’. All of the past is a mental picture, constantly edited in the viewer of our new experiences.
There is no future. There is only our thoughts in the present about events that have not yet occurred. We bring our present understanding and project past experiences onto future events.
Again, our mental picture of the future is constantly edited by our new experiences. So where is the future if we have no real, stable, non-changing past to project forward?
Open mind. Open heart.
Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”
When we bring our limited understanding to any situation we force the new experience to fit our view of how things are. We close off any real ability to freshly evaluate things. We’ve made our judgement before we even begin.
Having an open mind simply means allowing, without preconceived judgements, things to unfold. With an an open mind, our hearts are able to be open. In every situation we have a calm presence, no judgement, no preconceived ideas.
Complete attention, no reservations.
When we have put away the past and quit projecting our experiences onto the future, we allow ourselves space to take in present as it unfolds. We can become completely attentive, not jumping ahead of events nor judging things through the filters of experience.
If we can learn this, we can give ourselves to the moment, fully and without reservations. How radical! How life changing.
When we sit in meditation, following each breath as it comes, watching it in and out with a clear mind, we are training ourselves to remain present, discarding judgement and projection.
No past. No future.
Open mind. Open heart.
Complete attention, no reservations.