Friday, November 29, 2019

Step 12 and December Koan

Here is what we will be sitting with in December, just two weeks away.

Bill K.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Koan: “We and everything we perceive are woven and interwoven

And this interweaving continues on and on,

While each thing stands in its own place.”

    ~ Shitou Xiquan

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Layman P’ang Gobsmacked Me!

Isn’t it amazing the times we notice seemingly unrelated events unfold, only to discover their chain of events are not only related, but life changing? This is one of those times.

My teachers say koans are transformative. They are. In one fell swoop my formal koan practice with Layman P’ang and what I call 12 & Zen (where, in a small group, we sit with a Step and a koan) merged.  Included in this mix are three friends, meeting level with Suzanne’s words, the 10th Step, the 7th Step, and a newly exposed character defect of mine.

At this past October’s 12 & Zen group we sat with Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it;” but it was Layman P’ang’s koan that rocked my boat, not the one we sat with that Friday evening.

As many of you know, besides 12 & Zen, I continue with my formal Zen practice working with several teachers in koan study. I was moving onto the next koan from the book “The Sayings of Layman P’ang” translated by James Green and his dialogue with P’ u-chi entitled “Open or Closed?”  For those who are not familiar with koan study, please remember that the koan is always about you. You are at the center of each koan.  Another aspect when sitting with koans is that any part of a koan, even a small phrase or single word is still the koan.

As I began reading, I couldn’t get past the first sentence. I was blown away when I read: “I don’t care to see old man know-it-all today.” Not only am I an old man (I’m 75), I realized I-AM-A-KNOW-IT-ALL! And because of this, I suspect there are people out there who don’t want to see me today. A surprising relief washed over when I took ownership and admitted this to myself --because I know there’s something I can do about it.

Then three of my friends came to mind. The very ones that at different times within the past few months have said in effect, “You’re such a know-it-all. One of them said, “You really know a lot, don’t you?” I made some feeble reply that I try to know the facts. At the time, their words didn’t resonate. But all of their responses must have been residing in the back of my mind like a kind of software that reveals clues of itself then disappears, only to pop up another day.

The more I read on, the more I realized how this koan was overlapping in my life and conditions. 

“How do you know whether it’s Open or Closed?”
  •        I’m right and you’re wrong. You’re right and I’m wrong.
  •       When I’m open to not getting in the last word, our conversations usually remain open and free flowing.
  •       When I insist on proving I have the right answers, our exchange contracts. I’m closing the door to our conversation.
  •       I’m open to not being a know-it-all and closed to being a know-it-all.

“You’ve been playing me for a fool all along.”

  •       I’m only fooling myself being a know-it-all.
  •       There’s no way I help others this way.

I don’t need to be “right” all the time. I don’t need to get in the last word. It’s not my job to correct others’ statements. I don’t have to play Captain FactCheck anymore. The thought of being a know-it-all is uncomfortable for me now. It’s not like I plan my day around it.  What is this about me that insists that others hear my facts? As the Big Book often points out, it probably has to do with a self-centered fear. I’m an alcoholic. I don’t want to be a know-it all anymore.

In Step 10 it states, “When we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”  I know what to do. When the time came, I said to my friends, “First, I’d like to thank you for pointing out a character defect of mine, and secondly, I need to apologize for my behavior. I am a know-it-all.”

Then, remembering Step 7, if I truly want to improve upon my character, I need to humbly ask my Higher Power to remove my shortcomings.  All of this requires daily attention and is now integrated into my spiritual practice.

And speaking about spiritual practice brings up what Suzanne said, from something she saw on Facebook.  It was another Ah-HAH moment that ties all of this together.

The most important spiritual growth
doesn’t happen when you’re meditating or on a yoga mat.
It happens in the midst of conflict  -- when you’re frustrated,
angry or scared and you’re doing the same old thing,
and then you suddenly realize that you have a choice to do it differently,
or think about it differently,
or “be” about it differently.

My Dear Friends,

If, in the past you have thought of me as a know-it-all, I sincerely apologize. And since old habits are hard to change, every now and then I may again fall back into past behavior.  If I happen to be with you at the time, where you recognize my know-it-all habit returning, please give me a spiritual nudge by saying, “Hey Bill, is your door open or closed?” Then, hopefully we'll have a good laugh together.

Formal koan practice, Layman P’ang’s koan, 12 & Zen, three friends calling me out, admitting my shortcoming, Step 10, Step 7, a meeting and Suzanne’s words -- It’s been quite a ride these past few weeks.

Thank you my friends and thank you Mr. P’ang. This is truly living!

Bill K.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

What is the key to Step 11?

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


A sponsee asked, “What is the key to Step 11?”

Her sponsor leaned in.

At our Sunday 11th Step Meeting (It's actually called the Moment of Silence Meeting) a while back, the speaker used “Lean in” as a mantra for how she addresses Step 11. So I "made up” this koan.

Dale and his sponsee were talking about this koan earlier in the day. He was amused that both he and his sponsee came up with the same words in response to leaning in – listen and attention.

And then, laughing aloud he said, “Leaning in also means ‘Let me tell you a secret.’”

He found this evening gratifying by simply listening. First it was listening to the silence. The heater would occasionally make clicking noises and there was the faint drone of traffic going by; but what developed for him was an enveloping field of silence. “I would sense my heartbeat and then the pulse in my head,” he said, “becoming very aware of my body, leaning into myself, which I believe is also leaning into my Higher Power. This was my conscious contact this evening.”

“Conscious contact is the key to Step 11, which is synonymous with attention.”
My friend Larry exclaimed this at our 11th Step Meeting. It comes from our Twelve and Twelve, Page 98

Leaning in is an action, it takes effort; and it’s through effort that we improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power. When I’m leaning in, I’m getting closer to the object that matters, closer to the things I am thankful for. We lean with our senses, yes?

·      Seeing with our eyes -- Did you see that cute little baby over there?

·      Hearing with our ears -- Did you hear that melodious bird calling?

·      Smelling with our nose -- Can you believe the smell of that rose?

·      Tasting with our mouth -- That’s the best apple pie I have ever tasted.

·      Touching with our skin – If you could only feel how soft my dog Wendy’s ears are.

In other words, it’s by paying attention to our surroundings that we notice what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. What’s happening here is we’re paying attention to what the Universe has presented to us in this moment. These are gates to God.

For me, the accelerant, the catalyst, the “Special Sauce” to Step 11 and “…improving my conscious contact with God” is gratitude. Gratitude is the surest gateway to God that I know. And it all comes about when I lean into my life and notice.

Leaning in also reminded me of a recent YouTube video I watched, “It Looked Impossible: New film follows free climbers up the ‘Dawn Wall’ - NPR


The mountain climbers were absolutely leaning into the rock’s face (along with gravity, a power greater than themselves), as close as they could, paying attention to every nook and cranny. Paying attention to their every movement. Their lives depend upon this closeness to the rock face. It was holding them up.

This, a perfect metaphor for practicing Step 11…when we fully lean into our lives with prayer and meditation, the leaning can be so deep into our HP, it takes us to a place where we notice there is no separation between us.

"You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop." Rumi (1207-1273)

Bill K.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

What is the key to Step 11?


Quite a week we've had here in Sonoma County coping with the Kincade Fire. I hope you are safe.

We meet early in November on Friday the 8th. I wonder what sitting with Step 11 and this koan may bring to you?

Bill K. 

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


A sponsee asked, “What is the key to Step 11?”

Her sponsor, without saying a word, leaned in.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Step 10 -- Promptly Clean Up My Mess


 Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.  

Koan: Both roots and branches must return to their origin, and so do respectful and insulting words.  Shitou Xiiqian

Healthy roots and branches, run through a chipper, are added to the soil as mulch to eventually break down and provide nourishment for future plants.

Diseased roots and branches need to be destroyed or burned to prevent the spread of pathogens.

Respectful words beget respectful relationships. Insulting words, like diseased roots and branches, spread insult and anger.

As soon as words leave my lips, respectful or insulting, I cannot take them back.  They are irretrievable, spreading forth their intended message.

Reviewing my day, or at any moment of the day, when I realize I have wronged someone, these wrongs are my diseased roots or branches needing attention.  Following this realization with Step 10 offers good news when I promptly admit my wrongs. The intensity of the fire I build needs to be hot enough to destroy the diseased branches.  By this I mean fired up in a good way – intent on correcting the situation. Or will my words fall short, leaving patches of still-diseased wood?

Early in my sobriety, maybe 5-6 years sober, I was running with my dog on a golf course cart path, not on the fairways.  It was an early week day morning, no one around, the sun just coming up ... and I knew there were signs saying “No Dogs” allowed.

Then I met up with one of the groundskeepers.  He yelled at me to take my dog off the course.  Unfortunately, the first words out of my mouth were insulting words.  I wasn’t hurting anything, right? I started to walk away, only to have that gut feeling of knowing that not only was I in the wrong, I needed to apologize for my verbal response, right now! I spun around and approached the groundskeeper.  Initially I think he thought I was coming back to reengage or even fight.  “No, no,” I said, “I mean you no harm.  My behavior was over the top, I’m sorry for this, I will never bring my dog on the course again.”  We shook hands, even smiled, and I sincerely wished him a good day.  It was a good run that day.

The origin of the insulting words came from me, so too of the respectful words afterwards.  Had I not made amends, there would be two not very serene people going separate ways, perhaps each spreading more “disease”.

Step 10 saved my butt.  When I promptly clean up a sour situation (caused by me) and then reestablish a decent relationship with another person, it’s a good day.  Promptly doing a tenth step, in a way saves two (or more) lives.

Bill K.

Note: This last Friday the three of us began sitting a little after seven...for about 5 minutes...all seemed well until one person said, "I'm going to get sick," so we closed down shop early. Our 12 & Zen this month had no discussion period.  What's important is that my friend is OK now. We surmise this was a little bout of food poisoning.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

October Koan with Step 10

 Dear Friends,

October is near.  Time for Step 10 and the following koan.

Bill K.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Koan: Both roots and branches must return to their origin, and so do respectful and insulting words.  Shitou Xiiqian

Monday, September 16, 2019

Steps 8 and 9, Swept Away and Still Singing

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.



A bug on a branch

swept away down the river

still singing her song.

                  Issa (1763-1823)

I can’t remember when I saved this poem from one of Brother Toby’s weekly haiku postings. I knew I wanted to use this as a koan many months ago. Then [great timing!] a little more than a week ago, he used it again, this time from Brother Toby’s Friday Reflection, August 30, 2019. *

 “Jumping ahead a few years, we are in the age of my very favorite haiku poet Issa (1763-1928). When our beloved and deeply missed Sister Marti (1936-2016) was valiantly living with pancreatic cancer, she spent wonderful times writing haiku which were later collected in her little book FROM STARDUST TO STARDUST: HAIKU – A FINAL YEAR. She chose as a kind of introduction a poem of Issa which had been translated by our good friend Cliff Edwards at Virginia Commonwealth University, with a couple of minor changes.

                A bug on a branch

                swept down the river

                still singing her song.

Marti’s experience and this haiku bring to mind many people who were in one way or another defeated in the big life story but who, thanks to a little violet, were able to keep singing their songs in the most desperate of situations. The psychologist Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) found a little blue flower outside the barbed wire before she was murdered at Auschwitz. The university student Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) focused on the wind in the trees before she was beheaded at Munich. Anne Frank (1929-1945) stole up to the attic of her hiding place to look out at a tree before she was taken away and died at Bergen-Belsen. These people were slaughtered by the fascist regime of the 20th century. Yet each, like our Sister Marti would not let death itself defeat them. Even in those dire circumstances they all kept singing their song. And each one of us can do the same thing if we look for that little violet and the present moment, the now-moment, out of which it grows.”

- - -

Yes, I told my sponsor that I was willing to go to any length because I wanted this thing called sobriety. But Step 9 can feel like one is being swept away.  I know what needs to be done; but it’s scary not knowing how it will all turn out.  What will I do when there’s no turning back? I do know that prayer beforehand will help.

As the Big Book says, these conversations we have with those we have hurt don’t always go smoothly.  Still, we go through with it knowing we have the backing of our sponsor, the fellowship of AA and our Higher Power – this is the branch we are clinging to.

When I find myself face-to-face with this other person, I become that little bug being swept down the river. How fast is the current? How wide is the river?

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.” Big Book Page 83

We are singing our song!

This evening, not only were we a zendo of two sitting with the same poem, we were singing different songs.

Initially, Dale was simply not connecting these Steps to the haiku. So he paused, did some reading and thought about the people he had harmed (Step 8) and the phrase, “…except when to do so would injure them or others” (Step 9). This brought to mind the Eightfold Path and doing no harm. Then he wondered about this poem and what it says about Issa. “He seems to revere all life, “Dale said, “Even bugs. He doesn’t try to save the bug either and allows life to unfold. This is our version of right action – this is the program working you.”

Returning to the Steps he thought about being respectful of others by not harming people in the first place so we won’t have to do Steps 8 and 9. “After some time in the program, I don’t want to have to make amends."

Koans and haiku used as koans have a power to transform our lives. No matter what the circumstances we can find peace of mind, and even joy. We’re all floating down a river; where it will take us we don’t know; in this moment supported by a branch it’s time to sing our songs.

Thank you Brother Toby for your inspiration.

Bill K.

* "Starcross Monastic Community is a small, independent, autonomous, and ecumenical community of lay-people living peaceful lives in the contemplative tradition and offering encouragement and affirmation to gentle folks on all spiritual paths."

Starcross Community: