Sunday, November 20, 2016

Step Eleven, Picking and Choosing...

A coin is flipped high in the air.  “Call it!” I say heads.  “Tails you lose.”

How often it seems, when we were “out there,” we lost as a result of the choices we made. Not so with Step Eleven.  We’re not asked to make a choice.

In my first ten years of sobriety, I made the choice to only pray.  Meditation seemed so foreign and certainly not something familiar to me, or my family, while I was growing up.  I was reading Step Eleven as prayer or meditation. Fortunately, prayer was enough to keep me sober then.

I didn’t feel complete though.  Something was missing and what do you do when something is missing?  You go searching.  I began reading about Buddhism and meditation.  Intellectually stimulating I suppose, but it didn’t satisfy. 

Then some fellowship friends beckoned, suggesting that I check out this sangha where they meditated.  The rest is history – I have twenty years in this Zen tradition.Yes, it’s prayer and meditation, like two sides of the same coin.  The choice is Step 11, not prayer or meditation.  Like in-breath and out-breath is called breathing.  Step 11 is truly without difficulty when I embrace it in its entirety.

·      One person this evening said, “I pray only for guidance.  When I’m in prayer I feel like I’m being guided.  Since God is leading me, I don’t have to choose.”

·      The ultimate path for me in this koan is the conscious contact I have with God and my fellows.

·      The picking and choosing, that’s my will, my judgments.  “Prayer and meditation keep me from being swept away by it all.”

·      “God’s gift to me in this process is peace.  Power un-opposed is peace.  Avoiding picking and choosing is peace.”

·      This “without difficulty thing” …when I can detach from my thoughts, prayer and meditation help me to deal with outrageous matters without becoming outraged.”

·      Step 11 is an investigation with God as I understand him. I keep investigating this matter, let go of my responsibilities, and see what is happening – to say “yes” to everything, to stand up and be ready.

As this evening together was drawing to a close, one person said, “So great to grow old with the Steps.”


Bill K.










Friday, November 11, 2016

This Election -- What to do now?


Since I choose not to be on Facebook, etc., this blog is my only outlet.  I hope you don't mind mixing Zen and politics.  Zen is life.  I feel that I need to say something about what has just happened and this is my outlet.

 If ever I needed comfort food, it would be now; just after this heart-mind numbing election like no other producing a president like no other. Our meal tonight was simple – Oliver’s Kale and Bean Soup + one can of Trader Joe’s Cuban Style Black Beans + leftovers from the night before and sour dough bread.   Ahhh, to simply call out a “time out” and rest in the savory warmth of soup.

 A day later, I’m actually optimistic over it all.  Part of me wants to be angry; but it’s not happening.  Somehow I’m finding myself saying, “Now what can I do?  What is my role now?” I can do something to better my world.

I’m optimistic about California and the direction it’s headed.   When watching the election results they introduced someone from our local PBS station and made the comment, “And now to the alternate universe, California!  The morning’s paper read “Nation goes to the right, California to the left.”  Politically, this is where I’ll now be focusing my energy.  California has the wherewithal to show the rest of the Nation that progressive politics works better for the people and environment. We choose a new governor in two years. I see no reason why California cannot put together a statewide healthcare system. We can do this!

And let’s not forget that California is also a divided state --the haves (mostly coastal counties) and the have-nots (mostly inland counties).  The state’s progressive mission needs to address these inequalities.  Imperial County has an unemployment rate of 22.7%, Tulare County 10.2 %, Colusa County 9.5%.  In San Mateo County it's 3.1%, Marin County 3.3%,  and here in Sonoma County 3.8%.  It’s about helping those less fortunate; that the rich counties financially help out the poorer counties.

My single voice is not much of a pushback when it comes to national policies; and I’m not going to just sit around and let the new president run roughshod over my principles.  But outside groups, non-profits and otherwise, can do the pushing for us.

Beth and I are pretty generous when it comes to donating to charities.  We contribute to more than seventy-five organizations – most in the $10-$50 a year range and some others $500. I’ll reluctantly be trimming out many of the $10-50/year donations in order to give higher amounts to organizations best suited to push back on what’s to come from our new president and congress.

Here is my preliminary list where we will be increasing our donation amounts:

  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), https://www.aclu.org/
  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State, http://www.au.org/
  • California League of Conservation Voter, http://www.ecovote.org/
  • Center for Biological Diversity, http://biologicaldiversity.org/
  • Center for Climate Protection, http://climateprotection.org/
  • Earth Justice, http://earthjustice.org/
  • Equal Justice Society, https://equaljusticesociety.org/
  • Environmental Defense Fund, https://www.edf.org/
  • Natural Resources Defense Council, https://www.nrdc.org/
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/
  • Reporters Without Borders, https://rsf.org/en
  • Southern Poverty Law Center, https://www.splcenter.org/
  • Union of Concerned Scientists, http://www.ucsusa.org/

When you find yourself thinking our future looks bleak, let me remind you of what early Chan (Zen) practitioners were going through in China in the mid 700s. Peter Hershock writes in his book Chan Buddhism, “…Tensions reached critical mass over the decade from 755 to 764, when a combination of rebellion and famine left two out of every three people in the country either dead or missing, cutting the official population from 53 million to only 17 million…It is impossible to overestimate the utterly devastating effect such a catastrophic loss of life must have had on the spiritual resources of the Chinese people.”

And we know the Zen tradition has survived to this day!  Zen survived and we will survive.

I don’t know what will be, especially since the new president won’t be taking office until two months from now.  Listening to all the gloom and doom being broadcasted right now is not useful.

I’ve just told you what I’ll be doing:  (1) To focus on California and the direction our legislators are going (this includes city and country) and (2) To contribute to certain organizations who are already geared up and supporting my national interests.  This is my role today.

What role will you take?

I’ll be having more comfort food this evening.  We have leftover soup I’ll be spooning over buttered egg noodles, asparagus and grilled cauliflower, too.


Bill K.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Step 10 -- Every day is a good day...

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

Koan: Unmon said:  “I do not ask you about fifteen days ago.  But what about fifteen days hence? Come, say a word about this!” Since none of the monks answered, he answered for them: “Every day is a good day.”

Grapevine Quote of the Day, October 13: “Seeing my defects is not enough to make them improve or go away – the solution seems to be following awareness with action.” “Daily Reminder,” Coldwater, Michigan, December 2006

When we read about Step 10 in the Big Book and 12 and 12, we are urged to review our day – to see if there are any instances regarding our behavior that day where we need to make amends.  This is where the awareness comes in. We do need to look upon just this day. There’s no need to look at what happened fifteen days ago since we did Step 10 on that day, too.  Amends were taken care of on that day or shortly thereafter.

In the morning we plan our day in a thoughtful manner.  Steps 4-9 have given us an awareness of who we are and what we’re capable of, the good and the not so good. So what about today? Well, we could say that this day only is a safe distance of time for us to be looking into the future -- anything beyond, not so useful.  And during the day is a time for taking “spot checks” concerning our behavior to see if we’re staying true to ourselves and others.

For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,

But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day. 
     
From a Sanskrit Proverb

Step 10 helps me to clear away the hindrances that keep me from seeing what is true.

“Every day is a good day” to work Step Ten.  This is where the results occur.  This is where we put our awareness into action.  Practicing Step 10 each day is like opening a door, an open doorway and effortless passage to Step Eleven.

And better said from the Twelve and Twelve (Page 98): "There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer.  Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit.  But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life."

From afar Nina writes:  "Time is a sort of slippery thing, but, regardless, program suggests we try to live in the present- maybe time is just a series of nows...that yesterday and tomorrow won't do us any good in keeping our side of the street clean....its now that counts. so...today   now is a good time....now is always on...now and now and now and now......and owning our stuff is the activity we need to focus on. and nothing but good can come from that.....so   no losers in this ongoing situation of personal responsibility.   good advice for those  prone to selfishness and ego-driven behaviors. poor little ego.....doesnt stand a chance! but then, happiness and peace of mind do have a really good chance...and that is good news. "

Bill K.










Saturday, September 10, 2016

Steps 8 and 9, a natural sequence...

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 said to Chao-chou, “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”
         Chao-chou said, “Have you eaten your rice gruel?”

         The monk said, “Yes I have.”
         Chao-chou said, “Then wash your bowl.” The monk understood.

We all agreed.  Day-night, up-down, Step 8-Step 9, eat a meal-wash the dishes; all of these are natural sequences.

One person stressed how inventory in Steps four through nine are the bedrock of his program.  Taking various inventories have become a daily routine for him.  This paying attention is a skill to be practiced in order to have a decent life. “I have to grind them out of my everyday experiences in order to free myself from the bondage of self.  These inventories set me free.”

At sesshins of late (retreats), I’m usually the breakfast cook.  Usually I’m in the kitchen before anyone else is awake.  It helps that I’m a morning person.

The Tenzo (head cook) usually has a list of things for me to prepare – gathering and measuring ingredients, chopping fruit, heating the large pot of water for morning tea, and making sure the coffee is brewed before the first sitting period at 0500, all before there’s any actual “cooking”.

All this preparation is necessary for the breakfast experience to be a success.  This is Step 8 – to be prepared.

Step 9 is utilizing the prepped work is the best ways possible.  In other words, following the directions/suggestions in the Big Book and from my sponsor, doing so without harming others.

As breakfast cook I’m following the directions from the Tenzo, along with my own cooking experiences, to present a good breakfast for all, on time.

I know how it feels to present a successful breakfast; I know when I’ve sincerely made amends to another person.

The sponsee said to her sponsor, “Teach me about Steps 8 and 9.”

         Her sponsor said, “By remembering your Steps 4 and 5, do you know who the people are that you’ve harmed?  Are you ready to go beyond Step 8?

         “Yes, I’m ready,” the sponsee said.

         The sponsor said, “Then make amends to those people wherever possible. being sure not to harm them or others.”

Bill K.















Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Pot Luck" Time...What Step Will You Bring?

It’s “Pot Luck” time.  “Pot Luck”, not as in bringing food, but instead, bringing a Step with you instead.

What Step(s) comes to you when sitting with this koan?  This is what you’ll bring to the group for discussion.  

Koan: A monk asked Tung Shan, “When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?
Shan said, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?
The monk said, “What is the place where there is no cold or heat?
Tung Shan said, “When it’s cold, the cold kills you; when it’s hot, the heat kills you.”


Remember that gave we played when we were kids, where something was hidden in a room? One person was “It” (that would be you) looking for the hidden piece.  Getting nearer to it brought the shouts of “You’re getting warm.” The closer you got, the warmer you would become.  Very close brought, “You’re getting very very hot!”

And the opposite was true.  As you moved away from the hidden piece, “You’re getting cooler,” was the call. “You’re freezing,” meant you were nowhere close to finding the prize.

This searching game was where the koan took me.  A silly kid’s game.

Then Step 4 appeared, to be in the thick of things, going through my past. The heat intensifies.  No time for shortcuts, I’ve got to endure this heat, knowing that it’s the heat that’s needed to cook the ingredients. Think of Step 4 as gathering the ingredients for a stew and turning up the heat.  If I don’t look at my past in an honest fashion, the stew isn’t going to be very nourishing for Step 5.  There nothing more satisfying than a bowl of hot stew.

Some can’t stand the heat of Step 4 and leave the fellowship, only to remain in the cold – going back to the old ways that we know may lead to a cold corpse, your own corpse.

“What is the place where there is no cold or heat?” Not being afraid of the past nor wishing to shut the door on it.

One of our “regulars” was could not attend this month because he was in the hospital. He had been carrying this koan around with him before the hospital experience:  “I was thinking of the koan in terms of attachment and aversion.  Go to the place where there is no hot or cold?  In other words let go of your desire to be cool when your environment gets hot.  And vice versa.  And I was relating that to "practicing these principles in all our affairs."

After his hospital experience:  I found myself going to a place of non-perception.   That is what seemed to happen to me. It wasn't just that I lost consciousness (which I did).  But in the (probably) nano-seconds of return, I found myself seeing but not seeing, hearing but not hearing.  And then consciousness would return.  These episodes repeated quite a number of times, and each time I went thru that "seeing, yet not seeing; hearing, yet not hearing," experience.

See, our regular friend who  wasn’t with us, was really with us, koan and all.

Bill K.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Step 7 and an Overturned Water Bottle



Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.  [Humility]

Case 40 from The Gateless Barrier, Kuei-shan Kicks Over the Water Bottle

When Kuei-shan was with Pai-chang’s assembly, he was cook of the monastery.  Pai-chang wanted to choose a founding teacher for Mount Ta-kuei.  He invited all his monks to make a presentation, saying, “The outstanding one will be sent.” Then he took a water bottle and set it on the floor, and said, “Don’t call this a water bottle. What would you call it?”

         The head monk said, “It can’t be called a wooden clog.”

         Pai-chang then asked Kuei-shan his opinion.  Kuei-shan kicked over the water bottle and walked out.

         Pai’chang laughed and said, “The head monk loses.” Kuei-shan thereupon was made the founding teacher at Mount Ta-kuei.

 “At first I resisted this koan because I couldn’t relate it to Step Seven,” one person said, “But then I found the koan following me around.  A word here, a phrase there would pop into my head.  You could see the head monk wanted to win.  His response seemed so calculated, as if he spent a lot of time trying to come up with just the right words to please his teacher and ultimately win.

But the second monk, the cook, his response was obviously ‘outside the box’.  This is how I need to respond to Step 7. I need to stop playing these duality games; this is my old way of thinking (I am good or I am bad). Good-bad, right-wrong, God accepts all of me.  That’s what God is taking away.  I need to accept all of me, too, the good and the bad.  God is Love.  He doesn’t care about good and bad, he cares about all of me with no judging.”

I’m presently working with a sponsee on this Step, so I found myself reading in the 12 and12 where it reads:

1)      “…the attainment of humility is the foundation principle of each of AA’s Twelve Steps.”  (12 x 12. Step 7)

2)      Buddhism sees humility as a virtue where only a humble mind can readily recognize its own defilements (shortcomings, defects of character, etc.).

I see this, as the head monk feeling pretty good about himself and the “thought” of his brilliant response, his intellect and ego the driving force, thinking of himself as better than Kuei-shan. He was not acting in a humble nature.

Kuei-shan, on the other hand, expressed in his actions what the water bottle really is, in its highest form.  You want to really see water bottle, look at this! Tumbling in the air, water scattering everywhere.  THIS is not calling it water bottle – This IS water bottle!

Kuei-shan’s response came not from his thinking, but from his heartfelt response to the question.  This is how we go about asking our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings. Not by using a bunch of clever words; instead, we’re beginning to learn how to "kick over" our old ways of looking at our shortcomings and ourselves and trusting our HP that who I am today is OK.  Step Seven puts me on the winning side.

Bill K.







Sunday, June 12, 2016

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

Koan:  Who is hearing?


We came about this koan in two different ways on Friday.

I came to focus upon "hearing".  When I’m talking to someone standing in front of me, I expect that person to hear what I say, mainly because I am seeking a response. I pretty much know if they hear what I am saying by looking in their eyes and noticing their expressions and gestures; and especially if they respond accordingly.

Let’s say I’ve been told someone is nearby but I can’t see them.  Calling out, I think they hear me but I can’t be sure. I call out again because it’s important that they hear me.   This is what it’s like to pray to my Higher Power. It’s where faith appears, even the tiniest smidgeon will do…not knowing but ready to do this anyway; then wait to see where the results take me.

I confess, this is a Step where I can easily forget its importance.  When wrestling with my defects it eventually dawns on me.  Yes, Step Six! I can ask my HP to remove these barriers.  Step 6 is a wisdom gate.

But there’s more.  After my conversation with God, “I pause.” Now is the time to listen in order to hear.

Others in our group focused upon the “Who”. “Who is experiencing the experience?  Who is experiencing the barriers between self and God?

When I can summon up the God consciousness within, it raises my own consciousness where I can practice Step 6 and not act out with old habits.

“Teach me how to listen, teach me what to hear,” Dale said.  We can’t really hear when we’re judging what others are speaking.

From the GRAPEVINE: "When I begin to look where the answer really is -- inside of me -- I get a sense of 'rightness' when I speak or hear the truth. Step Six helps me develop a sense of intuition that I can truly count on."

Fort Myers, Fla., June 2009
"I'm No Saint!," Step By Step


Bill K