Saturday, September 12, 2015

Steps 8 and 9 -- "Then wash your bowls."

Have you eaten?
Step 8:  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9:  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Koan: A monk made a request of Joshu:  “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?” 

Then wash your bowls.
The monk replied, “Yes, I have eaten.”
“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”  At that moment, the monk had an insight.

(Case #7, Gateless Barrier)

Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?” He’s already begun to teach the monk how to be a good host.

The group came together quickly with this koan, with similar insights.  Step 8 is like filling our sink full of dirty dishes.  The longer they sit, the worse off it will be, the harder to clean off dried food, and taken to the extreme, a yuck factor develops. The longer we avoid going to Step 9, the worse off it becomes, especially if we long for relief from our condition.

After cooking and eating a meal, the most natural thing to do is to clean things up. “Then wash your bowls,” said Joshu.  This is exactly the same dynamic Steps 8 and Step 9.  Instead of bowls, I’m cleaning up after myself; I’m attempting to clean up my past deeds.  This is the next best action.

Most of our Step 8 list comes from our Step 4 and 5 experiences.  And more often than not, when compiling the Step 8 list, we remember new items to add.  All of this is like a sink full of dirty dishes.  Relief only comes from washing one dish at a time. 

This is being a good host, too; treating myself well, and doing the things I need to stay sober.  In time, I'm rewarded with a cupboard full of clean, usable dishes; ready for serving others.

Bill K.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Where are you going?

This month, instead of sitting with one particular Step, we sat with all twelve Steps and this koan.  I wonder what Step(s) will resonate for you?

Koan: Where are you going?

The first five minutes, we sat with this.  Then I read the full koan story:

Zen teachers train their young pupils to express themselves. Two Zen temples each had a child protege. One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other on the way.

"Where are you going?" asked the one.

"I am going wherever my feet go," the other responded.

This reply puzzled the first child who went to his teacher for help. "Tomorrow morning," the teacher told him, "when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question. He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: 'Suppose you have no feet, then where are you going?' That will fix him."

The children met again the following morning.

"Where are you going?" asked the first child.

"I am going wherever the wind blows," answered the other.
This again nonplussed the youngster, who took his defeat to the teacher.

Ask him where he is going if there is no wind," suggested the teacher.

The next day the children met a third time.

"Where are you going?" asked the first child.

"I am going to the market to buy vegetables," the other replied.

Roger:  I think the cumulative effect of the Steps provide three things; to diminish ego, to connect to Spirit, and to live in the present moment.  Tonight, no single Step came to me.

I’m a “on-the-go” kind of person, going places and doing things all day long.  This koan posed a different question for me.  What if I’m not going anywhere?  Just being…being in the moment.

Elsie: Part of my daily ritual is to ask myself, Who am I, What am I, and Where am I going? So this koan is comfortable for me.  I’m also a busy person and miss the peace in the moment.  I rush too much.  A teacher once said to me, “The small things I tell myself are the big things that are barely there.”  Step 8 came to me this evening, as I attempt to tell myself that I’m going to become willing to be at peace, to stop rushing matters.

Dale:  I start my day recognizing that I’m on a path.  Breathing in and out, taking a moment to consider where I’ll be going.  Not a shopping list, but more like I’ll be going to a meeting, I may drop by that store, my sponsee will be coming by, etc.  Steps 3 and 11 came to me this evening.  I’ll be going where my Higher Power wants me to go is the Step 3 part.  In Step 11 it begins with “Upon awakening…,”  we think of our day, we think of where we may be going.

The longer version of this koan seemed to set the tone of where I went this evening.  The one boy replied, “I’m going wherever my feet go.”  A perplexing answer, it morphed into, I’m going to consider all the Steps tonight.  This became a circular room with 12 doors, each door numbered with a Step.

“I’m going wherever the wind blows,” was another answer.  Perhaps I’ll be blown into one or more of the rooms.  Sitting, sitting, some doors seemed ajar while others remained closed. Then the Step 12 door flung open.  I was blown inside.  That’s where I went.

“Having had a spiritual awakening …” this is my starting point. Before one goes to somewhere, one has to come from somewhere.  What a great place to start, spiritually awakened! And where am I going?  I’m going “to carry this message to alcoholics...” That’s not all – I’m going “to practice these principles in all [my] affairs.”

The second boy’s final response, “I’m going to the market to buy vegetables.”  I’ve worked Step 12 and now it’s working me, providing me with a sack-full of benefits.

Bill K.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What is the Way?

A reminder of the Way 

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Koan:  “What is the Way?  A clearly enlightened person falls in a well.”

What is the Way?

What way comes to you?  Is it he supreme Way?  We’re told that the way to stay sober is to integrate all the Steps into all aspects of our life.  And here we’re asking, what is the way to do Step 7?

Is there a special, top-secret way to do Step 7?  Not really … experience shows us that we can be working this Step and not realize it. In the beginning, when we are new, we’re given a tip to what works, what helps in efficiency and effectiveness and gets better results to working this Step.  To be humble in this matter as we relate to our Higher Power and, I think, being sincere is also helpful.

After all, in Step 3 it tells us that selfishness and self-centeredness is at the root of our problem.  Now that we’ve gone through Steps 4-6, we would hope that some of the “self” has been whittled away.

A clearly enlightened person – a clearly God-conscious person -- who is this?

It’s you and I of course.   Buddha means the enlightened one.  Whatever this enlightenment is, we already have it. We are already enlightened, we are already Buddhas.  From another perspective, we already have God-consciousness.  It’s just that most of the time we don’t realize this.

But I don’t feel enlightened.  I don’t feel close to God.  I’m not perfect; I make mistakes; I’ll always have shortcomings AND I fall in a well at times.  This is what clearly enlightened people do.  Just when I feel a shortcoming has been removed, some person will push my buttons and BAM, the shortcoming returns in all its glory.  I’ve fallen into the well again.

We're human beings.  We fall down.  We're always falling down.

What do I do when I find myself at the bottom of the well…again?  Climb out, of course!  Just realizing where I am is a good thing.  It’s during the climbing out when my whispered 7th Step prayer has more sincerity.

It’s establishing a contact with my Higher Power who will help me get out of the well. Once out, I can go about my life with a new perspective at what just took place, as well as more engaging practice of Step 7. Then, the next time it happens, and it will, when I find myself at the bottom of the well, my practice of the Way pays off.

Bill K.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Not the Wind, Not the Flag That Moves

Step 6:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Koan:  The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks were having an argument about it.  One said, “The flag is moving.” The other said, “The wind is moving.”  They argued back and forth but could not reach the truth.  The sixth ancestor said, “It is not the wind that moves.  It is not the flag that moves.  It is your mind that moves.” The two monks were struck with awe.

The Gateless Gate # 29

The flag is moving …no, the wind is moving – Take all my defects … You don't really mean ALL of them.  Really?  I can keep "that" one a little longer?  My mind is moving...

“Were entirely ready…”

I’m not ready until I’m ready.  This is very much like “admitted I was powerless …came to believe and made a decision…” Conditions have to be met, just as conditions have to be met before winds appear; but for me, the condition comes from somewhere outside myself, and certainly not my self will. 

Here it’s my mind that’s moving.  Moving from today to tomorrow, from subject to object, from this story to that story.  My mind seems to be always moving –but there are times when it’s still.  Meditation helps still my mind.  In reality, my mind is moving AND still; but the moving part drowns out the still part. Perhaps it’s in the stillness where we become ready, in the stillness of  prayer.

“…to have God remove all these defects of character.”

This is my prayer in the 7th Step.  In Step 6 I’m just getting ready.  How do I get ready?  I think this goes back to our 3rd Step, where at least a thin layer of trust is growing. This gives me the wherewithal to be entirely ready.

But even when my prayers are sincere, there’s my self will to reckon with, and sooner or later I find that I’ve taken something back, even before giving it to the universe – much like the two monks, “The flag is moving … the wind is moving...”

It is my mind that is moving.  It all comes back to my mind – this wonderful, habitual, delusional mind of mine.  In our discussion yesterday evening, we seemed to be in agreement with this.  “When I’m ready,” one person replied, “I’m ready to open up to things, yes, open to change!”

The wind is blowing, Nicky's hair is blowing...

Bill K

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Light Comes To a Dark Place

We were at Step 4 last month.  That can be a dark place, going over our past deeds – drenched in guilt, shame and remorse.

Step 5:  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Koan:  Step by step in the dark—
if your foot’s not wet, it found the stone.

~ Shaku Soyen

I see movement here in both the koan and Step 5.

·      In the koan it’s dark, we’re not sure where we are going…but we are moving -- only to realize that our foot is not wet anymore!

·      In going from Step 4 and now working Step 5, we are also moving.  Those who never finish Step 4 remain in the dark – those who complete Step 5 move beyond the dark, toward freedom.

·      Eventually completing our Steps (I know, I’m jumping way ahead), we come to realize, now we own our history instead of that history owning us.

Remember the last time, crossing a creek, when you accidentally slipped off the rock?  Plunge! Instantly from dry to frigid wet! For the moment, there’s no going back to dry.  The universe is wet foot.

The opposite may be happening when our sponsor says it’s time to go onto Step 6.  The dark and drenched feeling of Step 4 has been lifted by working Step five -- as if reaching high ground, high, dry, solid ground.

I asked D.H. to write down some thoughts from yesterday’s 12 & Zen meeting:

“For the week before the meeting, I found myself trying to "sit" with the step and the koan.  It was a disjointed experience, as if I couldn't piece together the parts of a puzzle, despite knowing that, in truth, the parts did fit together.  So I wasn't at all sure where the meditation on Friday night would take me ... if anywhere.

At the start of the meditation Bill referenced Step 4 -- the inventory we make of the "darkness" of our drinking and using lives.  As I began my meditation, the reference to step 4 seemed to become a springboard.  As my meditation deepened I experienced a recognition that for years into my sobriety I was "doing" steps 4 and 5 around the darkness of my history -- dealing with the Post Traumatic Stress resulting from childhood sexual and physical abuse, with my discovery of drugs and alcohol, and with 26 years of acting out and becoming, in effect, the abuser of myself.

As I moved through the meditation, it seemed as if the koan became a moment-by-moment, breath-by-breath guide.  I was able to acknowledge being with the darkness (perhaps observing it is a better explanation) without dipping my foot into it (my foot did not get wet).  And so in each moment and with each breath I found the stone on which to safely plant my foot.”

- - -

This same koan on a little different perspective brought a smile to my face.

Step by step in the dark = Do the Steps!
-- if your foot’s not wet, = If you’ve stopped drinking and using,
it found the stone. = Life will get better.

The more I sit with this koan, the more it seems to fit any Step.  If you have Type O blood, you are considered a universal blood donor.  Give this koan a try with all the Steps.  Keep it handy.  More will be revealed.

Bill K.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Look! There's a Fire!

Step 4:  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Koan: Put out that fire across the river.

Who or what started this fire?  What is it consuming?  Who is it consuming?
These are the questions to ask while sitting today.


This seems serious with a command sounding, “Put out that fire across the river!”  There’s a burning fire; and it’s a threat to something or someone.  Uncontrolled fires are serious.  Fighting fires takes courage, stamina, and special skills.  Do you remember the fire triangle?

But the fire is across the river and no threat to me, right?  The river is a barrier between the fire and me. Why do I need to fight it if it’s over there?  Remember, this koan and Step 4 is all about you.  Can you recall any barriers (or rivers) when you were doing Step Four:

  • The river of fear?
  • The river of denial?
  • The river of procrastination?
  • The river of delusion?
  • The river of dishonesty?
Step Four is about digging into our past actions and finding how we have wronged and hurt others and ourselves.  That’s the fire that’s burning within us all.  In Zen Buddhism, we have what are called The Three Poisons:
  •  Greed
  •  Hatred
  •  Ignoranc3

These three easily translate into selfishness, resentments and close-mindedness.  This is the triangle we use to discover how to put out our Step 4 fire(s)…fires that have been burning for way to long.  We examine our past to see where we’ve been greedy or selfish; to see where our hatred and resentments affected or decisions; and to realize our close-mindedness has kept us in the dark.

Our Step 4 (and 5) inventory is HUGE to recovery.  Completing them, we’re now building upon our 12-Step foundation, not only for ourselves, but also supporting what holds the fellowship together, bring us the triangle of Unity, Service, and  Recovery.

We never know where koans will take us.  For one person at Friday 12 & Zen, this koan took him to all the work projects he has on  his plate...projects that have been keeping him away from meditation.  "I need to get back to my daily meditation," he said, "Thinking about work all the time was my fire this evening.

And another fellow emailed me the next day:  "In my morning meditation today, the thought came that all of my "fires" at first always appear to be across the river.  Someone or something else to blame for starting them.  Someone else's responsibility to put out.  But upon doing inventory work (i.e. 4th step work), I get to see my part in setting the fire and to recognize my responsibility (to my Self) to cross the river and put out the fire.

Bill K.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Only the vine sustains you, only Step Three sustains you.

Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Koan: You are being chased by a tiger.  Coming to a cliff, you grab the root of a wild vine and swing yourself over the edge. The tiger you were fleeing from is sniffing at you from above; at the bottom of the cliff is another tiger waiting to eat you.  Only the vine sustains you.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little start to gnaw away the vine.  Nearby you see a luscious-looking strawberry.  Holding tightly to the vine with one hand, you pluck the strawberry with your other hand and pop it in your mouth.  How sweet it tastes.

My sponsor once said to me, “I’m not in charge of what you say; but I am in charge of what I hear.”  So went our evening on Friday with people hearing this story in different ways.  I love it how koans do this.

Beginning with our experiences with Step One, we found ourselves being chased by a tiger of a different form:  By our disease.  Our conscience. Or by something we made up…the stories we tell ourselves, or being stalked by "a hundred kinds of" fear.

Having to make a decision has, in the past, brought on fear in me.  If I make this decision this will happen.  If I make that decision that will happen.  This is where the koan took me, a tiger of fear of making a decision was in the chase.  With sobriety comes the ability to make Step Three decisions more promptly – it can almost become a default mode: grab the nearest vine and jump; grab Step Three and jump.  It’s in the jumping where we are totally at the whim of the Universe.  “Only the vine sustains you.”  Only Step Three sustains you. It’s in Step Three where we learn to trust our Higher Power; that when our decision is aligned with what is right living (God’s will), we can be at ease.

And the tiger down below, “waiting to eat me?”  Can we be sure about that?  If the chasing tiger can take on many forms, so can the tiger below.  Maybe it’s Tony the Tiger.  We really don’t know since that part of the story has not unfolded yet.  As another person said, the chasing tiger is our past, the tiger down below is the future.

The two mice – black or white, good or bad, the way we usually see things (duality)…and then, of course, carry these thoughts into the future, usually to bad outcomes.  But it says one white mouse and one black mouse.  Either one or both could play a part in my future; but right now, they’re just gnawing. Lots of things in our life are being gnawed on, aren’t they?  Another person solved her anxiety of gnawing mice and decided her “vine” was really thick and no need to be concerned right now.

Strawberry… only this is what’s noticed.  No tigers, no mice, no cliff, no past, no future…just a luscious, ruby-red strawberry…in this moment the strawberry is what the Universe has given to us to partake in.  Taking Step Three has a way of changing our mind’s default mode for the better…no matter what the “strawberry” in life looks like today. Actually, the whole world is strawberry. "How sweet it tastes."

Bill K.