Monday, November 16, 2015

Sought through prayer and listening...

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.
Koan: Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.

This koan comes from the story of Ryonen, a remarkable woman Zen teacher, living in 17th Century Japan.  Commemorating when Master Hakuo accepted her as a disciple, she wrote this poem on the back of a mirror:

In the service of my Empress I burned incense to
perfume my exquisite clothes,
Now as a homeless mendicant I burn my face to
enter a Zen temple.

When Ryonen was about to pass from this world, she wrote this poem:

Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld the changing
scene of autumn.

I have said enough about moonlight,
Ask no more.
Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no
wind stirs.

The other day I read a piece about Christian meditation techniques, where it said the word meditate or meditation is mentioned only twenty times in the Bible.  It explained meditation as a cognitive process, “…focusing on biblical thoughts and reflecting on their meaning.”  This is my understanding what the writers of the Big Book meant, too – meditation was to reflect upon. Today, just as we choose our own Higher Power,  we also choose our own kind of meditation, something that suits us.  Meditating with Zen koans in a non-traditional way, as we do here, is one of countless varieties of meditation practiced by our twelve step members. The choice is yours, the 11th Step suggests doing it.

I often say at meetings, “I can't listen when I’m talking,” and the same is true in Step Eleven.  I absolutely have to say my prayers, and equally important, I must listen. This got me wondering -- what if Step 11 began with, "Sought through prayer and listening?"

What are my distractions?  Mostly everything in my head ... my thoughts and the stories I tell myself.  These are the winds in my life. “Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.”  Sought through prayer and listening…

Have you ever ridden in a hot air balloon?  This koan reminds me of when I took a balloon ride.  I had do idea what to expect.  First, there’s the deafening noise of the burning propane, blasting hot air to fill up the balloon.  When all was right with the balloon pilot, we had reached suitable altitude, he turned the propane off.  Instantly it was quiet...pure quiet.   It was even more amazing to experience the balloon (and us) moving above the landscape and not feeling any breeze against my face.  No resistance. Then I realized it was because we were traveling exactly the same speed of the wind.  How could we do otherwise? We were literally riding the wind.  We were experiencing what the wind experiences. No resistance, we were in harmony with the present conditions. We were balloon.

The wind is always a part of my life whether I feel it or not.  The wind of chatter in my head, the stories I tell myself, the distraction from whatever is happening at the moment. And when riding aloft it was just balloon – when no wind stirs, just the voice of pines and cedars.  When no wind stirs, just my Higher Power and listen to... Whatever needs to be heard will be heard.

- - -

These koans have their way, no matter how we sit with them.  A friend has been pretty stressed out from work for a while.  When he heard the koan we were using, not much happened.  Then it began appearing at unexpected times.  Just waking up, his mind already lining up all sorts of errands and places to go in the day collapsed into "...the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs." He laughed, took a breath, and noticed the pine tree in his backyard.

In the book The Hidden Lamp, Wendy Egyoku Nakao writes about Ryonen (who burned her face with a hot iron in order to be admitted into a Zen temple) and asks us, "What would you be willing to sacrifice in order to awaken and find freedom?"

And so, as usual, we practice this in all our affairs...

Bill K.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

It's only for your benefit

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

Koan: One day when Dongshan and a monk were washing their bowls, they saw two crows fighting over a frog. The monk asked, “Why does it always have to be like that?”
Dongshan replied, “It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”


Crows, tearing apart the frog – it’s a picture we don’t want to look at.  But we have to.  We’ve all experienced that “tearing-my-guts-out” feeling.  When I realize what I said or did to someone else, knowing I was wrong in doing it, that now I need to make amends ASAP, it is only then where the pain begins to subside.  So actually, we do want to look at this picture in all its gore, the picture we have drawn.  My feelings of remorse in situations like this tear me up; I am the frog.

Eventually, one or both of these crows end up eating the frog.  The frog is nourishment, a natural process for survival.  Step 10 is also a natural process leading to our own well-being, a necessity for our very survival lest resentments develop and we return to drinking and our old behavior.

Knowing that a situation has developed where I need to do a Step 10, but not doing it, this is a form of self-inflicted violence. Hopefully more sooner than later, I choose to apologize to the person I’ve hurt – make amends – attempt to set things right.  For the most part, having done a Step 10, the feelings that were tearing me up usually subside and eventually die. Dale H. refers to Step 10 as a spiritual axiom, where “I always have to look at my role, my own defects no matter what has happened. Looking at self is absolutely to my benefit."

Page 84 in the Big Book: No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.  It doesn’t say just good experiences, or successful experiences, or extraordinary experiences – just experiences – all of them. Who among us has not learned from the person who returns to drinking?

Dale emailed me today saying he wanted to share a few lines from his Pema Chodron reading for this morning:

"Instead of asking ourselves, 'How can I find security and happiness?' we could ask ourselves, 'Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away?  Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace --- disappointment in all its many forms --- and let it open me?' This is the trick.

This is the benefit as I understand it.  Can I allow the violence and suffering of life as I perceive it to "open" me?"

Step 10 and all it touches is absolutely for my benefit ... and for others, too.

And then at the end, Dongshan ends his sentence, addressing the monk as "honored one".   What's this about?  Oh yeah...what a privilege it is to be sober (alive), to be able to experience the benefits we receive from the universe.

Bill K.

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.