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Focus of the Month -Mindfullness Practice

Hudson Geese at Sunset
As though the bell was rung by the master
Cushions laid out
Incense lit
The temple doors closed
They settle on the still skin of the water
Rising and falling
Rising and falling
In soft
-Donna Sherman

I remember the moment in vivid detail: The sun was lowering in the west sky as I sat on a bench, alone at Esopus Meadows Lighthouse Park along the banks of the Hudson. My journal was on my lap and I moved it aside because I knew that I didn't want to write about the moment but instead I wanted to surrender to it. The colors of river meeting sky transformed from moment to moment while I watched the surface of the water. The geese were settling in- preparing for their night on their liquid bed. I was alone at the park and all got very quiet, very still...there was only the moment-my breath and the subtle rising and falling of the buoyant geese...just this...

Sometimes it just happens on its own-we seem to sink into the timeless and profoundly peaceful moment at hand, and when we do it is as if our awareness is a diamond that is highly polished so that light enters, fills and refracts from us and..it's a sweet moment indeed. However, more often than we might care to admit, our awareness is blunted and occluded with so much "mind stuff" (Yes, that is a term used to describe the myriad of mind modifications in the yoga sutras!) that we forget that it is our intrinsic nature to be clear, open and still.

We often act on the mistaken belief that we need to seek the peace we hunger for. Seeking implies a kind of grasping which is antithetical to the subtle workings of mindfulness practice. Many of the wisdom practices that address peace (peace of heart, mind and body) teach that peace is intrinsic to us, deep within us and not a quality we need to chase after outside of ourselves. Furthermore, what becomes apparent when we practice awareness through mindfulness, yoga and meditation is how we unconsciously venerate, fortify and give credence to our mistaken assumptions. What assumptions am I referring to? Beliefs that are born from unconscious habits of mind, behavior, body, breath and emotions. When we are unaware of our operating assumptions in our day to day life we have left our seat behind the wheel and let our habits do the driving. Yikes.

But there is good news in all of this. That is, when we begin the deliberate process of paying close attention to the moments of life as they arise and dissolve (both the external and internal phenomenon) we are inviting in the practice of mindfulness. In the act of inviting mindfulness into our daily life, we have switched tracks from the reactive "I AM my emotions, thoughts and actions and therefore am at their mercy" train and have stepped onto the more discerning, wisdom-based responsive "I have emotions, thoughts and behaviors but I am NOT them" train. The first track promises much of the same old, same old. The second track offers us the world �the good, bad, beautiful, boring, ugly, terrifying, loving, painful, deeply peaceful, the transformative and the whole heap of life lived in a wakeful state. I know which train I prefer to ride but it isn't always easy to switch those tracks!

I began this piece with a description of a soft sweet moment along the banks of the Hudson. But in all fairness to myself, to you and to the practice of mindfulness, I have to cop to the fact there have been, and still are, many immensely difficult (and anything but sweet) moments in my life that profoundly affect my process of waking up to life's multitudes of experience. A teacher of mine once said: "Mindfulness practice is not for the faint of heart". A dear friend once said: "Consciousness isn't all that it's cracked up to be." How true. Being awake brings us face to face with messes and pain that we would rather sweep under the rug. Our practice tenderly assists us in generating an open and brave stance when it comes to accepting the moment as it is and not necessarily as we would like it to be. The roses might smell sweeter with our refined attention directed on them but the rotting garbage is going to stink to high heaven at the same time. And one is not better than the other' in fact the garbage and the roses are experiences in a ceaseless, infinite loop of experience that we tend to measure as discrete moments. One moment might be far more pleasant than the other but the other can, with the light of mindfulness turned onto it, evolve into some fertile and life- sustaining compost.

Here are a few words from Chogyam Trunga Rinpoche that sum it all up:

"Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness; it comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart."
Donna Sherman