Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Hard, Easy, or Neither

This August koan, there is no Step in particular. What Step or Steps come to you while sitting with this koan?

One day, while Layman P’ang was meditating in his sitting hut, he suddenly cried out, “”It’s hard, hard, hard! And I’ve put ten coats of linseed oil on this platform, too!”

His wife said, It’s easy, easy, easy! Just turn your eyes to the floor, lower your feet to it, and be on your way!”

Ling-chao said “It’s neither hard nor easy! The mind of the Ancestors* is in every blade of grass!”

* Referring to Hsin-hsin ming who wrote:  “Though the Great Way is expansive, treading upon it is neither hard nor easy.”

Friday:  We had a small but earnest group…of three. One-third of our group said this koan brought up Step 10 for her. “Continued to take a personal inventory,” E-V-E-R-Y day.  Just deciding to do this can be a hard at times, a chore, easier for another day.

But over time and practice, the daily inventory becomes an ongoing process, going deeper and deeper, beyond just naming things.  O.K., what if person X just grates on my nerves and I was snappy with her…I need to apologize.  But really now, what was behind my behavior?  The more I practice my self-inventory, it’s no longer something that has to be done, it’s something I want to be done, to bring harmony to both parties.  It’s becoming second nature to  do this, to look at my part, easy, just like getting out of bed.

In a way though, with all the Steps (1 thru 12), aren’t we taking a form of inventory when acknowledging and examining our thoughts and actions?

Two-thirds of us thought this koan engaged with all of the Steps.  At times, the Steps can seem so hard and difficult for us; that’s usually when we resist something.  Resist comes from the Latin resistere, re-sistere, which means: “to take a stand.”

Oh how we alcoholics can take stands – “I’m not going to do that!” Why? Because we think it’s too hard (or lame or stupid or scary, or fill-in-the-blank). It’s the resistance that’s the problem.  When I say, “Boy is it hot today,” I can guarantee that I will feel hot.

Like we hear at meetings, AA is a simple program for complicated people. We complicate matters when we resist what is presented to us.  What can be more simple than rolling out of bed with feet touching the floor? We don’t give this a thought.  One moment we’re in bed, the next we find ourselves standing by the bed… then walking about.  One moment we are working the Steps, at other moments we feel as if the Steps are working us. How could this be?

“It’s neither hard nor easy,” said Ling-chao, “The mind of the Ancestors is in every blade of grass.”

This is where our practice of the 12 Steps take us.  By definition, a PATH means that others have tread upon this same route, and over time a PATH is created.  In our case, a 12 Step “path”.

Part of my morning prayers goes like this:  “I pray that I may hear my teachers and the 10,000 bodhisattvas who have gone before.  I pray that my teachers, past present and future, hear their teachers and the 10,000 bodhisattvas who’ve gone before…”

The thousands upon thousands of men and women who have worked the 12 Steps before you and I came along have contributed to clearing the AA path for us.

“The mind of the Ancestors is in every blade of grass.”  The mind of awakened alcoholics are in every one of the Steps.  And those times where I feel the Steps are working me – I’d like to think it’s my AA Ancestors helping out.  With their help, “It’s neither hard nor easy.”

Bill K.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

August "Potluck" Koan

Offering to you our August koan.  Sit with all of the 12 Steps.  What Step (or Steps) come to you while sitting with this koan? 

Koan: Three Views of Hard and Easy

One day, while Layman P’ang was meditating in his sitting hut, he suddenly cried out, “”It’s hard, hard, hard! And I’ve put ten coats of linseed oil on this platform, too!”

His wife said, It’s easy, easy, easy! Just turn your eyes to the floor, lower your feet to it, and be on your way!”

Ling-chao, his daughter,  said “it’s neither hard nor easy! The mind of the Ancestors* is in every blade of grass!”

* Referring to Hsin-hsin ming who wrote:  “Though the Great Way is expansive, treading upon it is neither hard nor easy.”

In August we'll be meeting on the usual second Friday, the 10th.  This is our 12 & Zen "potluck" koan;  what Step will you be bringing to the table?

Bill K.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Wait and See, Watch and Follow -- Step 7

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Koan: Let’s wait and see.

This month’s koan is an exception to what I normally present here, that is, traditional koans from the Chinese masters. I do this every so often, but not deliberately; words come to me as a koan, as something to work with my everyday life.

I’ve had a cough since last December. Still have it. This is not normal, so I contacted my doctor, who has prescribed various tests over the past three or four months. What I know today is that I do not have any suspicious mass in my lungs.  A good thing.  But each test seems to point to something else that needs looking into, thus another test.  Tomorrow it will be an ultrasound of my abdomen.

Back to this koan and the latter part of last month, I attended a 7-day sesshin with CityZen (Santa Rosa, CA). I went into the retreat with really not knowing what was going on inside my body.  A CT scan was scheduled 2 days after the retreat.

Human nature as it is, my first thought was, “I have cancer, I’m going to die, why is this happening to me?”  A millisecond later a voice in my head said, “Why not me? What makes me so special to think I should somehow avoid things like this?” Actually I felt a sense of relief, bringing me back to the present.

On the first day of the sesshin when meeting with my teacher, I told her that she probably wouldn’t be seeing me for interviews during the week.  I explained a little what was going on and that my plan was to just sit with my condition. I told her a few koans and phrases had already appeared to me, Not knowing is most intimate and Sickness and medicine correspond to each other.

It was mostly the not knowing that I sat with for 6 days, putting aside thoughts about my health conditions, especially the what ifs and my future when they came up; and relax into a wait and see mode.  This month’s koan had just entered my world.

Entering the sesshin already acknowledging “why not me” freed up any worry about death.  Death is big in Zen; a gimme; no one escapes it. O.K. that’s settled, right now I’m sitting with being alive.

I trust in what happens in sesshin. Things are revealed when they’re revealed. This sesshin was no exception. Relief and answers came from many sources, all seemed to reinforce that I have a good life today, no matter what happens in the future! Simply amazing, all I did was sit and wait and see.  Examples:

·      The great Way is by nature calm and large hearted, not easy, not difficult…Accept your nature, accord with the Way and stroll at ease, free from annoyance. Reading from our Sutra Book, “Relying on Mind” by Seng-t’san.

·      Out of the blue, the Practice Leader would give us short messages of support.  Sometimes I go about pitying myself – and all the while a great wind is carrying me across the sky, or

·      Be patient …what you are looking for is looking for you.

·      Over and over again. Around and around. Up and back down. Sit in the bottom of the bowl, head in your hands, cry, moan, feel sorry for yourself.  Or. Look around. See your fellow bugs. Walk around. Say, “Hey, how you doin’? Say, Nice Bowl! “  From a poem, Bugs in a Bowl by David Budbill.

One afternoon, in all its richness, The St. Francis Prayer came to mind.

How often have we said as a matter of passing, “The fog lifted around 2PM?” At sesshin, over a two hour period, I watched the fog lifting.  The fog and I were both lifting.

And more.  I left this sesshin feeling alive and ready for anything that comes my way.

And what does this have to do with Step Seven?


First and foremost, we try to remain humble.  Humble people don’t try to force the issue.  Humble people don’t know the outcome or when it will happen. Humble people are patient…and willing to wait and notice what the Universe has in store for them.

Dale said, "The state of humility is being teachable and not trying to manage things...and it also has a relationship to gratitude." Elsie said, "Being humble is being truthful.  I'm aware of my shortcomings and accept that I'm not perfect

Upon asking my Higher Power to remove my shortcomings, how do I prepare myself for God’s answer? It’s not like I can kick back on the couch and simply wait for a response.  “I never just sit and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do. Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done…” (Big Book, Page 420), I wait while being mindful of what’s happening around me, all the while attending to the moment.

And what will clear the way to realizing my prayer has been answered? By attending to my H.O.W. (Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness).

After working with this month's koan, Dale has inserted it into his morning ritual:

Each day it seems I start upon a path,
Each moment a vigilant step,
Each breath points the way.
Wait and see, watch and follow
Each moment, each breath, each day.

Bill K.

P.S. A brief update on my health condition.  No red flags! I've had two kinds of CT scans and an ultrasound since the retreat. I have a hemangioma in my liver which we'll look at again in six months.
The other internal body parts look pretty good for an old guy.  Still trying to figure out what's causing my cough.  In the mean time, I'm feeling well and enjoying life.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

July Koan

We'll be meeting in about two weeks.  Here is what we'll be sitting with in July:

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Koan: Let’s wait and see.

Bill K.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Step 6, Near at hand ...

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

Koan: “Coming and going we are never astray.”

From the Heart Sutra

  • In Step 2 we came to believe.  This would be like sitting in a new and different car, looking around, then realizing where the gear selector is.

  • In Step 3 “we made a decision. In taking this new car out for a spin, we release the brake.

  • In Step 6, we’re entirely ready to go and put the car into DRIVE.

Isn’t our readiness for Step 6 totally contingent upon working the first five Steps? Every so often I hear about our AA toolbox at meetings, meaning the 12 Steps are our tools for success.  Being at Step 6 now, we have at least some experience with these first five.  Our toolbox isn’t fully stocked so we have to use what we have in order to go on. What we have is adequate.

Not only do we have these five new tools, we are realizing that they are available to us no matter where we are or what we’re going through.  I still, in all these years, forget this.  Mired in what to do, back and forth conversations with myself, angst as a result of my own actions, then it will dawn on me, “I forgot my Higher Power today!” There’s a tool in my toolbox that I forgot was there – it’s Step 6.

Recently I read about the new U.S. computer called Summit, now the speediest computer in the world.  It can do mathematical calculations at the rate of 200 hundred quadrillion per second, or 200 petaflops.

________    = RSN (Really Small Number)

 200 Petaflops

The point I’m trying to make is … I may have wandered off the path; but I’m never astray from my HP… Step 6 is always near at hand.  How near at hand?

Closer than RSN.

Bill K.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Step 6 Koan

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

Koan: “Coming and going we are never astray.”
From the Heart Sutra

- - - -

Here is what we will be sitting with in June.

Bill K.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Step 5 -- The Whole World is Medicine

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

Koan:  Yun Men, teaching the community, said, “Sickness and medicine correspond* to each other: the whole world is medicine, what are you?”

*Various translations: “Correspond to, subdue, heal or in accord with each other…”

Our friend Dale is in the hospital again.  But the good news is,  he’s supposed to come home tomorrow! So far he’s had a stent put in at his heart, another stent at his gallbladder to go around gallstones. There probably will be other surgeries in the near future.  And all throughout this hospital stay, he has been sitting with this koan. He has a good story for us:

Lying quietly in bed, his eyes gently closed, he was saying this koan to himself.  “Sickness and medicine correspond to each other…the whole world is medicine… what are you?”

Immediately after he had said the phrase, “what are you?” he was startled,  hearing a loud voice, “You are one sick person!” It was one of his doctors, the one who will be putting two more stents into his left leg later on. There was Dale's answer.

Dale laughed…and had to tell the doctor what had just happened.  Yes, right now he is sick and he is open to all the medicine they offer.

My sitting with this koan and Step began with what appeared as various opposites:  Sickness - medicine, ourselves - another human being, sponsee – sponsor … then eventually took me to an entirely different place.

My sickness, of course, would be my alcoholism and resulting behavior. The medicine I have learned (and through experience) is the sharing with another human being.  The effectiveness of this medicine comes from being completely honest with my sponsor and myself. So right now, my whole world is Step Five.

Elsie commented that she can’t be cured of alcoholism, but can find a modicum of peace and serenity.  “When I balk at a Step or with problems," she said, “I become sicker.”

Oh,  the perceived barriers I have heard over these years, real and imagined. To the sponsee, Step 5 can feel sickening…while the sponsor sees the “medicinal” qualities of this Step in the form of changes before his/her eyes.  But not always; there are those who refuse to do Step 5 – their alcoholic sickness festers with many returning to drinking in an attempt to forget or cover up these wounds.

Initially the medicine may seem worse than the sickness for a sponsee; but their trust in their Higher Power (and sponsor) carries them on, the necessity to tell the sponsor everything about their past.  To not reveal all,  to leave certain things out, is like not following through with a doctor’s prescription, as in,  “If one pill in 4 hours is prescribed, then two will be even better!” Too much medicine leads to more sickness.

There is no light without the dark; there is no medicine without sickness. If the whole world is medicine, then the whole world must also be sickness.  The world is sickness AND medicine.

Now, where do I fit in here?  What are you?  I’m just an alcoholic trying to find sobriety and get well.  The object then is to do right things to maintain recovery momentum.

Am I feeding my sickness?  Am I looking at ways to find relief from my sickness?  Am I the medicine that puts my sickness into remission?

Deep in my disease, not only am I sick, I’m spreading sickness.  Deep into Steps 4 and 5 I’m turning things around. Not only do I admit that I’m sick, now I’m doing something about it –
more than taking my medicine, I become the medicine for myself and eventually for others.

Elsie said, “I’m sick -- is my first thought.” It’s in the 5th Step that I found forgiveness, understanding, peace and courage to go on.

That sounds like medicine to me.

Bill K.