Monday, February 20, 2017

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of MeditationThe Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an almost indispensable guide toward establishing an understood meditation practice. Why, how and what: that is, why meditation, how to meditation, and what is meditation, actually. No nonsense, no hoo-ha, no mystification: this is a book my son uses In PRISON to help prisoners discover how they can avoid despair, rage, bitterness, and actually find compassion for themselves and others. Note that an affectionate title many of his students use to refer to the Zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh is "Thay," a Vietnamese term for teacher or respected teacher. Like calling someone "Maestro" or "Rabbi" or "Pastor."

Some people will say that "Thay" caters too much to Western middle-class desires for self-help and self-actualization and selfish personal happiness, but I say, okay, start there if that's where people are. And not only the middle-class craves help and personal development. It's just that the middle class generally has the time and the means to articulate it for themselves and "buy in" to retreats and books and DVDs and CDs. But youth at risk and people on the edge need it just as much if not more.

And many of Thay's books are at least accessible and straightforward. I myself have taken transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and have formally "Taken Refuge" in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, from/with Thich Nhat Hanh.  He is a poet, a scholar, a communicator,and the gentlest iron butterfly in the world.

This book is a great introduction to meditation and can pay off in almost instant if gradual changes.

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Cemetery, Isla Mujeres

A Poem for February: "IN WILDNESS"

                      IN WILDNESS

A dreary February day. Gray.
                                                 Dirty snow melting.
Then suddenly there are three yellow crocus, petals shining,
looking up expectantly for sun:
fresh, open, children waiting to be fed.
The leaves around them green and crystal clean
Thrust up through ground that only days ago
Was frozen solid. So suddenly flowers.
Sweet tears come. And then from above me
Come cries of snow geese hidden
In that sky the crocus blossoms look to:
Forms invisible in soft gray clouds until,
Abruptly, Seen!--those white far-flying
Creatures, shining wings tipped in black,
Wavering skeins of hundreds of birds
Skittering and slipping across the
Watery sky. Silvery confetti ,
Animate, feathered, aloft. Calling, urging.
Perhaps rejoicing?
Then atop the voices of the geese,
Shrill purling cries:
And sandhill cranes appear, rowing up high
Through the clean currents of the atmosphere,
In ancient ritual travel to the arctic north.

And then I too cry out! 
Some involuntary, throaty,
Foolish, inarticulate noise pressed out of me
So sharp I half expect a neighbor to call
And ask if I am hurt.  "Yes," I would answer.
                     Every time.

"In wildness is the preservation of the earth."
In wildness is it hidden—that which will wrench
Your bones, compress your heart in earnest:
Even the crocus, which we humans plant,
We do not, cannot cause
To live. To surge through icy mud
And show their colors, share their fragrances,
To skies and birds, to us, to secret others.

"In wildness is the preservation."  In wildness
Is it hidden, that which will wrench your
Bones, compress your chest, in earnest,
Not always pretty, as spring flowers, or awesome
As sandhill cranes migrating, but also sudden animal
                            Wounds that bleed dark blood,
Fountaining out: then the reflex gasp, the noise
In the lungs rattling, the russet feathers spread
Across the garden soil where something struck.

It springs upon us sometimes by surprise.
We take a breath, we start, we stop.

And when the hidden spring's revealed, again,
Again like children playing hide and seek
Who laugh and shriek,
                                    we sometimes even cry.
And don't know why,
                                    for even that is hidden
In our secret long-before-Pleistocene connections
To the core and secret motives of the earth.
Earth spells Heart.
                                   Look. It's true.
And the earth whirls our hearts through
Vast and inconceivable miles of space
At speeds that dizzy and blind our vision.
When the mother first sees the baby,
Newly born, one of these hidden connections
Tightens on her heart and impels a noise,
An opening of her throat,
      a blossoming at her breasts;
                            that motive power
Which hurls the earth away yet holds it fast
In always-close proximity to the sun,
Inhabits her.
                       And that's the hidden web
Which makes me gasp at spring and life
And holds me fast in fact of death and winter.
Nine sandhill cranes head north along
Invisible magnetic tracks, without
Our management or comprehension.
Flowers that rise from a dead-seeming root
In the icy dark.  Power unharnessed,
And self-sustaining, self-directed,
Outside and beyond the human social brain.

I cry out some involuntary thing,
Some inarticulate noise erupts,
So sharp I half expect someone to call
And ask if I am hurt.  "Yes," I would answer.
"Always."  This wound direct to the heart
To be a witness of this awe-full mystery,
Our world with all its wonders whirling
In unfathomable nebula-gleaming space.
This joyous hurt to the heart always to
Be a witness to these mysteries.  
Is this why also flying geese
Are crying, and cranes call out and dance?
Is this why tiny flowers in the snow
Open astonished eyes, coming to life?
Again?  And again surprised?  Is this why
Men and women fling their bodies together
And make such wildness in their voices
And with flesh and bone press together?
We serve the  hidden source of life
and do not own it, or know wherein it lies.
"In wildness is the preservation of the earth."
Jubilation and terror.

  --Juanita Rice, a February