Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Hot In Here!

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

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.”

Some say Step 4 is the first action Step; where we begin doing something that will lead to a better life, by changing our old ways.  Otherwise, if we’re lucky, our old transgressions will continue gnawing away at our heart.  Not wanting to feel this way, we attempt to lock these thoughts away in a deep freeze. In Step 4, we stir things up – stirring produces friction – friction produces heat – this heat produces pain.  Arrrgh! Where can I go where there is no cold or heat?

·      Looking into the actions of my past is uncomfortable and troublesome. It’s too hot! The fire fighter, with appropriate equipment, resources,  and protection, plunges into the burning building.  This is what we're doing first,  taking inventory of the "burning" landscape and conditions of our past because they are affecting my feelings today.  And I don't like what I'm feeling!

·      Doing Step 4 is another acknowledgement of the "unmanageability" we recognized in Step One and the insanity we would like relieved in Step Two.

·      It’s when I can admit my part, accept what happened, see my faults, and be willing to continue the Steps – This is the place where the discomfort changes.  The heat or cold of my past actions begin to dissipate.

·      By accepting my past as it truly was, the person complaining has died.  The new recovering "me" has been reborn.

Regarding right speech, the Buddha suggested we ask ourselves three questions: Is what I am about to say kind? Is it the truth? Is it necessary?  As we search within, these same three questions are helpful in setting the tone for our Step 4 inventory.  In our discussion, we all agreed.  Finding a kind heart for ourselves as we continue working the Steps is right thought and action.

Bill K.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Not thinking of anything good and anything bad

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

Koan: When you're not thinking of anything good and anything bad, at that moment, what is your original face? Show me your original face before your parents were born.

This koan (and Step Three?) is about dissolving duality?

- - -

Our free will works very well in certain situations. Say I’m standing on a corner, a bus is coming, and I choose not to step in front of this moving bus.  Good choice!

What are we being asked here, a riddle?   “…Not thinking of anything good and anything bad,” it’s a set up, of course, we all judge things.  And then the koan asks us to go to a place before our parents were born, which doesn’t at all seem possible.

Oh, now I remember, original face -- this is my true self.  It can only be found right here.  Not only that, my true self is already completely aligned with God’s will, and it’s not.  Said another way, form is emptiness; emptiness is form.  The bus I mentioned earlier, we could say that it’s empty of form; but had I stepped into the path of this formless bus, it would have shmooshed me. Form and emptiness happen at the same time – this is life.  God’s will and my will are happening at the same time, this is also life.

Since my true self only occupies this present moment, my personal view of the “will of the Universe” or “God’s will” etc., is to notice what is happening in the moment. The Universe is presenting itself to me through my mind and senses.  This is God’s will appearing to me.  My job is to pay attention and be aware of my surroundings.

When I’m “not thinking of anything good and anything bad” is a pretty good place to be – perhaps we could call it neutral will, and a gate to God’s will.  When I’m in God’s will; surrendering to the moment; it’s like going with the flow; there is no inner conflict; my mind is clear. The Buddhist Eightfold Path comes to mind, such as practicing right thought, right action, right intentions, etc.; when I feel in my gut that my thoughts and actions are matching the Eightfold Path (to the best of my ability), I find myself in a place of non-duality and peace.

Continuing from last month with the topic of birth, something much bigger was present. Myriad forces about, working in all directions when we were born. The mother reacts to the elements of giving birth and surrenders to the forces at hand. Mother and child are completely practicing the Way.

Aren’t we being [re] born every second of the day?  Each new moment is a birth – this moment, now this moment, now this moment. Isn’t this our only place of practice?  This is what I believe in, every unfolding minute is my life.  This Great Unfolding is what I’ve come to believe in.  And at the same time realizing when I’m in conscious communion with my Higher Power (the Great Unfolding), there is no separation between the Way and me.

Bill K.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

To Believe In

Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Koan:  Dogen said, “To believe in Buddhism* is to believe one is inherently within the Way.”

* or God or AA or ...

Came to believe …

Isn’t it interesting how beliefs do not require any fact-finding or solid evidence; they're multi-layered, sometimes fleeting,  from the trivial to the profound. We simply find ourselves believing something (or not believing something). In a way, not believing is a kind of believing.

Has anyone here never changed their mind on a subject?  Never changed from believing this to that?  Believing is fluid, it can happen in a millisecond.  With Step Two, the “came to believe” doesn’t have to happen before going to Step Three. Just saying there is a possibility that I might come to believe is good enough for today.

What we learn about this Higher Power thing from the Big Book, in order for it to work, the HP has to be (1) larger than ourselves and (2) outside of ourselves.

·      To believe in Buddha,

·      To believe in God,   (Big Book page 164: "Abandon yourself to God as you understand God.")                                                                                                                     

·      To believe in any power greater than ourselves,

·      To believe in AA…

…this is what can restore us to sanity or, if you choose, restore us to right thought (from the Eightfold Path). Come to think of it, probably we all could use a daily dose of restoring. It's an ongoing process – to restore us to an acceptable level, a level that is helpful to others.

·      To believe one is inherently within the Way.

I had to laugh about how I first read this statement, thinking about how I was when I was out there; I was inherently in the way of most everything I did. But it reads “…within the Way,” I think, basically means going with the flow, because we are the flow.

We’ve all been born human.  Something much bigger than we was present and working during the birthing process.  The only thing the mother can do is react to the elements of giving birth. We were within the Way then and are still within the Way today.  Every minute of the day, every second of the day, aren’t we being reborn?

Whatever this “Way” is working in my life; this what I’ve come to believe in; it’s the way things are right now. And at the same time realizing there is no separation between me, and the Way.

Bill K.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

When Buddhism Came To AA?

Let me begin by repeating what I’ve said several times on this blog; that Twelve & Zen is available to everybody no matter what 12-Step program you follow.  I often refer to AA and the Big Book, mainly because this is the source from which all 12-Step groups have risen.

We know “Buddhism” isn’t mentioned in the original Big Book at all.  It’s no wonder some Buddhists today may feel their spiritual path was overlooked. But what if I told you, by citing a 1940s AA pamphlet (commissioned by Dr. Bob no less), you could begin chanting the Eightfold Path at your meeting?

I’ve got to say “Thank you” to Joanie L. for tipping me off to what might be the most important “official” mention of Buddhist thought in AA literature, and to Kevin Griffin for his input and encouragement. Joanie told me about The Akron Pamphlets after reading about them in Kevin’s latest book, Recovering Joy: A Mindful Life After Addiction. Dr. Bob, the co-founder of AA, was responsible for the publishing of these pamphlets. One pamphlet in particular, Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous, has a jewel within for Buddhists:

Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindedness and right contemplation.  The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute or an addition to the Twelve Steps.  Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than consideration of self are basic to Buddhism. *

I found this exhilarating, to see our Buddhist “scripture”, The Eightfold Path, mentioned in the early years of AA, especially this sentence: The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute or an addition to the Twelve Steps. We haven’t been overlooked – Buddhist input came to AA early in its history.  It’s just been hidden away in the archives. 

Without ever seeing this pamphlet, Dale H. has been applying the Eightfold Path to the 12-Steps for many years.  It’s a very simple and effective practice for him.  Steps 1, 2, and 3 are about relinquishing control.  He relates this to Wisdom Training -- Right View and Right Intentions (or aim).

Steps 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are about transcending self.  He relates these Steps to Ethics Training -- Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood (or living).

Steps 10, 11, and 12 are about Living Consciously.  He relates these to Meditation Training -- Right Effort, Right Mindfulness (mindedness) and Right Concentration (or contemplation).

The Big Book was written as a reflection of the U.S. culture of the mid to late 1930s. In 1940, 91% of the U.S. population identified themselves Christian. It’s only until the second edition came out in 1955 where it mentions “…a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists” are members.  Buddhism was just beginning to become known to the public. Even today in the U.S., as far as religions are represented, Buddhists comprise only 0.7%.

We know that AA began in 1935; and apparently there weren’t any Buddhists amongst the first 100 members when the book of Alcoholics Anonymous was being written. Buddhist philosophy never made it into the book.

Now imagine, had there been some Buddhists among the first 100 members, surely texts such as the Eightfold Path would have been integrated into the Big Book! This certainly would have made AA more accepting to Buddhists early on.  And later when the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book was published, the Eightfold Path might have been printed along with the St. Francis Prayer on page 99 in the 11th Step Chapter.

With the Spiritual Milestones in my hand, showing the 1935 AA Akron Intergroup circle and triangle plus the 2014 copyright, Akron Area Intergroup Council Of Alcoholics Anonymous, it seems to me if a meeting decided to read the Eightfold Path as part of it’s format, this would be no different than reading the St. Francis Prayer.

We have the evidence in this Akron Pamphlet.  No longer can others say AA is not for Buddhists. Buddhist philosophy found its way into AA literature long ago. We now have proof from our AA ancestors, a validation and approval that AA and Buddhism can be practiced successfully together. There are Buddhists who’ve been doing this for many years. In the Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlet it states, “… the Twelve Steps of AA give us a program of dynamic action…” Right action indeed with the inclusion of the Eightfold Path!

Bill K.

* To order a copy of Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous and more, go to:

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Step 1: Step by step in the dark...

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

~ Shaku Soyen

Admitting to something can come quickly, or slowly to us.  Tonight we asked ourselves, “What is this admitting?”  We all came to the similar conclusion that we don’t do this ourselves using our brains – it comes from somewhere else. Then, without notice, we realize that we’ve effortlessly made that change from "no" to "yes".  Something impossible one day has become reality the next day. Dale called this our moment of clarity.

This koan took me to December, 1986, and the Sacramento Marathon.  My friend and I left on Saturday, and the race was Sunday.  I knew I had a problem; I was just shy of turning 43 and had never heard of the 12 Steps, so I didn’t know what Step 1 was.  On the drive over, all I could think about was my problem.

We ran the race (running my best time ever) and drove home.  Of course I felt good about breaking 4 hours in the race.  Other than that, I don’t remember many details from Sunday night except for one very important decision I made to myself ( I didn’t even tell my wife), I was going to call a treatment center on Monday! How could this be?  Saturday, treatment center was not in my mind. Sunday I had made a decision.

In that undefinable place of change, as if a switch has been flipped, came the discovery that my foot is not longer wet. It was later on when I read an important part of “my story” in the Big Book (in “It Might Have Been Worse”) where the writer said, “It wasn’t how far I had gone, but where I was headed.” I felt, for the first time in many years, that I was headed in a better direction.  In the treatment facility I realized that I had taken Step 1.

Roger talked about the times when he’s running his life as he sees fit and isn’t in touch with his higher power at all.  That even in those times, things happen, a shift takes place, where he discovers his foot is no longer wet.  Something for his benefit took place without notice or his input.

We’re on this journey, step by step in the dark, and the koan doesn’t say we stepped up on the dry stone as a conscious act, it simply asks, if your foot’s not wet.

A moment of clarity comes by realizing my foot is dry. If it’s dry, I’m no longer wandering in the dark -- I’ve found a different place that’s safe and firm.

It’s the wondrous nature of this koan that reminds me the “admitting” comes from a sacred place – and it doesn't come from my self will.

Bill K.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Step 12: Finding "your self" in Step Twelve

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.

‘What is your self?’
     ~ Yunmen, fragment from Case 87, Blue Cliff Record

     “This fragment comes from a famous koan, one of my favorite: ‘Medicine and sickness heal each other; ‘The whole world is medicine; What are you?’ Indeed, what and who are we? There probably is no more important question in our lives.”
-- Jon Joseph Roshi

I began by sitting with Step 12 and this koan fragment, just as Jon Joseph did.  Little did I know that the others in the room were drawn to the entire koan of “The whole world is medicine; what are you?” 

Do you remember the board game CLUE? “It was Col. Mustard in the library with a knife…”
This is where I found my self.  As in solving a mystery, I had to ask questions… Who? What? When? Where? How? And Why? With each question, a little more of my self was revealed. How would you answer these?

·      Who is working Step 12? 
·      What am I doing here?
·      When am I ready to do Step 12?
·      Where does this take me?
·      How thoroughly am I doing this Step?
·      Why (reason for) am I doing this?

December 8  [Grapevine Quote of the Day]

"The reason we try to carry the message is so that we stay sober. If the person we are helping stays sober, that's an extra bonus."

Austin, TX, May 2003 
    "What I Learned From My Sponsor"  
                                                                                          I Am Responsible: The Hand of AA 

Dale’s usual approach to 12 and Zen is to move from the Step to the koan.  This week it was turned around -- he started with the koan. This wasn’t planned.  It was simply how it happened.

So, medicine and sickness heal each other.  The whole world is medicine. What is your self?  As I sat with the koan it seemed it was channeling me toward identifying my self as sickness.  Identifying my self as "sickness" was really uncomfortable for me.  It was being in a state of dis-ease.  But I stayed with this and gradually I moved to focusing on healing.  And I realized that medicine and sickness represent two aspects of the healing process.  So my focus shifted to "healing."  Then I saw my "self" as being that which heals.  Both the object of healing and the subject that takes healing out into the world. At that point I was able to move to Step 12: We become sober through the 12 steps.  In other words we heal.  We then try to share that healing with others.  As it says in A Vision for You, ask in your morning meditation "what you can do each day for the man who is still sick."

Elsie, found herself taking a different approach, and a different Step, too.  When she thought about “the self”, she went to Step 4.  “That’s where I really discovered who I had become,” she said, "In order to get sober I had to begin with the self I had discovered in Step Four. 

What a journey we’re on!.  In our own way we find ourselves climbing onto the caboose of a 12-Step train (Step 1); and eventually, with the help of a sponsor, make our way to the engine (Step 12). How we’ve changed by working the Steps, and awakened to what it means to be who we are …who we have become.

Bill K.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Step 11: 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.