Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Step Four -- A fire alarm is sounding!

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

Koan:  Put out that fire across the river.

It takes courage to be a fire fighter, and courage as we know, is the principle of Step Four.

As I was sitting with this koan, it was my past, my selfish actions that became the fire. I became the Fire Captain.  My job was to put out the fire of my past that burned inside me.

Searching is the first thing we do.  I had to first notice that there is a fire, then go out and find it. Then there’s the process of getting to what’s burning inside.  This can take some time, time in reflection.

The river could be considered a barrier of sorts; what is this river anyway?  I had to figure out how to cross it.  Do I swim across alone?  Do I ask for help from others to make it across?

Then, upon reaching the other side I must assess the fire.  Actually it turns out to be many fires.  Some are little spot fires; others are much larger and growing.  I realize that they are all growing.  Step 4 is about seeing that I don’t add any more fuel to my fire.  There are ways to reduce the fuel load right now.  Already the fire seems a bit under control by doing this.

But how do I put it out?  Step 4 is the fire fighting, the process of putting out all these fires and keeping the fire from spreading.  It takes courage to grub out all those potentially dangerous embers.  I think we’ll have to wait for Step 5 for the fire to be put out.

We had twelve people attending last Friday, and as usual, the koan took us in many directions:
  • The fire was my anger and resentments on the shore of the River of life.
  • OK God, this is a serious directive … to put out the fire…please help me with this Fourth Step, I can’t find the fire.
  •  The fire…ashes…the Phoenix rising from the ashes…my rebirth.
  • I need help to get this fire out.
  • Responding without questioning this?  Who is this anyway, telling me to put the fire out?
  • In this river of recovery, it took me a while to put my toe in the river…then I found myself swimming and the fire went out!
What came up for you?
Bill K.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Life After Your Barn Has Burned Down

The mere thought of thinking about making a decision requires attention – to in some way notice the process unfolding.  For God or our Higher Power to enter into this, the conversation only happens
in real time.

“Truth [God, awakening, koans, etc.] is only discovered in the moment and cannot be carried over to the next moment, the next day, or the next year …memory never contains truth.”  From an Adyashanti retreat ad.

“My barn having burned to the ground…” brought about a wide array of responses to our group last Friday.  What is the barn?  “It’s me... my ego... my past... protection from my fears,” they said.  The moon represented "light on my path...peace...and no matter what, God is always here."

Hearts Crack Open
When I was drinking, my life was full of burning barns, and burning bridges.  Hitting bottom was when I admitted I had a problem – admitting was noticing my life as it was.  My awakening (the Moon) began showing it’s face after I entered a rehab facility.  I was beginning to awaken to reality, hope, inspiration, beauty ... my heart began to crack open – my life began to change for the better.

In the Big Book on page 62 it reads “God was going to be the Director.”  And later on page 68 we ask God “to…direct our attention to what He would have us be.”  I think the Universe does this by providing us with each moment.  Direction, messages, signals, hints, clues, signs, warnings, all happen right here.  Now.  To turn my will and life (my actions and thoughts) “over to the care of God” is about paying attention to my life in this very moment -- just for the moment, casting aside my judgments and stories and all, to be open to what the Universe is presenting to me.  Isn’t this turning my life over?  Paying attention to my life is way different from paying attention to what my mind tries to tell me about life.  To shift from what I think is happening to actually notice what is really happening.  To awaken in the moment is all I need for a good life.

Being Attentive
On page 77 of the Big Book, “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”   To fit ourselves compatibly with whatever is going on. Before recovery, we more often were square pegs trying to fit into round holes.  So how do we make ourselves fit into life now?  We pay attention and allow the Universe to guide us. Having a “glass half-full” attitude really helps, too.

Saving the best for last [I think], a koan appeared to me on the morning of our 12 & Zen gathering.  It goes like this:  “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.” Page 84.  Sound familiar?

A good answer to this koan would be, “My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.”

Bill K. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Our Twelve AND Zen Culture

This article by John Tarrant (my teacher and founder of Pacific Zen Institute) comes to you from the Spring 2014 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly.  What John is telling us is exactly what Pacific Zen Institute (PZI) is doing and how it is doing it.  We are building a culture.

But I can't help but think about my 12 Step program and fellowship.  This, too, is a culture.  When I read his seven parameters,   I thought, "This is what we do in meetings!"  We look behind the "no trespassing" signs, we speak from the heart, we listen to all the voices in the room,  new people count, and we have very few rules.

When people ask me about my "program", I tell them about 12 & Zen...the Twelve Steps and Zen koans, this is my practice... This is the culture that we have here.

Lots to be grateful for,



Saturday, March 1, 2014

Deciding to change

Some say it’s time for March Madness (college basketball).  I say it’s time for March Gladness!  Time for us to sit with Step 3 and a new koan.  Of course, begin sitting with this now...continue doing this
for the entire month;  what we are doing here is portable, accessible, and a good thing.

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


Hint:  In Zen koans, often the moon is a metaphor for "awakening"...

 - - -

Also I’d like to share an email I received.  It’s about what we are doing here together, this 12 & Zen project, and its affect (koans and the Steps) upon people.

“thank you bill for tugging at my sleeve....koans from last year visit me often. it is nice to be with them....and sometimes too, they are like a stone in my shoe.

i have not been meditating and don’t seem to care or worry about it. a seed has been planted in what seems right now a reluctant soil.  "how’s that workin for ya     an old sponser used to say of my    perhaps  poorly chosen  behaviors" she knew i was not a quitter...but more, just habituated to the comfort of my bad habits.

so it goes. However, koans are tucked in some hidden place in me     and/or emanate  from  seemingly random stimulus (usually the beauty of nature or art)....and then move with me and i with them....it is really consoling  how much less lonely i feel when one of them arrives....i feel kinda like i did when i had imaginary friends  for whom i would make tea, save a space in my bed or pray when they were having trouble.... a little "ahhhh" happens. nice.

my mom is still battling cancer. it has been three tumultuous years now  living with a woman I don't like, yet somehow can find ways to admire......when teachers speak of the transitory and irrefutable beauty of life or the fact that a thing holds its opposites as well ..it helps me to    see  the bigger picture of her and me.   i live so close to the intimate and  constant hard requirements of advocating for a delusional  stubborn and very angry 90-year-old woman  that i forget    we are  part of something   else…and even in our uglier moments  (which happen frequently when our wills collide or our feelings get hurt and egos race forward to protect their interests)   there is   something tender sweet    laughably human about our sad little treacheries.  It feels   living with her   like we are both on a rollercoaster ride. I want to puke, refuse my ticket, grip the rail, hunker down on the floor as low as i can get, evacuate my seat. I did not design the ride but i did chose to get onto it...so... I am learning a lot. It is rich, but feels at times   more demanding than I can meet.  We forge ahead.

so. i write  as i do    to say how it is here. Koans do a lot to help me. Unlike other many other dialogues they allow me the fullness of time and space to build with them a new way of seeing and being   or ignore them or fight with them   or....there is great relief  in having the possibility of relationship  with something  kind and open   not agendized  and very elastic and forgiving . i need courage and koans give me that.  so there it is.   i am not up for much more socially than helping my mom, taking care of what our days require and visiting with koans and other poetry i read. (check out mary oliver if you have not already...she is  both zen   and christian. and artist  ...like that one zen monk whose name i cannot spell)…so, once again, ONE has sent what I need      zen and poetry together to help me just be ok with it all. and sometimes  to also remember the possibility of joy.

hope you are well.

see you  on the second friday...thank you   for   patience  warmth   non-judgment and glee...

-wobbly zen  student of what if  and howsthatworkingforya?"  N.C.

Bill K.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Step 2: The Mind Comes Forth


Last Friday was Valentines Day.  I thought we might not have our “usual” number of people attending 12 & Zen, but I was wrong.  Twelve people showed up.  Step Two was our Valentine.  We had a good time of it all.

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

Koan:  Abiding nowhere, the mind appears.

The prior posting is still with me, especially the “turning the corner” aspect.  It seems to fit nicely into Step 2 and this koan, beginning with the word Came.   Came has this sense of movement…from there to here.  Turning the corner is moving, too.  So coming to believe, we're bouncing along in this vehicle we call the self,  traveling from one belief to another – from not the way I used to be, to not yet the way I will be.  Where is this place?

Abiding.  It means continuing for a long time or to stay or live somewhere for a long time.  Nowhere.  Not here, not there, but still abiding is taking place somewhere; that place of no thoughts of “where”.  One person said abiding nowhere was when they were not attached to beliefs, and stories, etc. 

Another person said, “The mind appears;  but it’s not my mind.”  You could say God, or the collective consciousness of the Universe, or Big Mind (as opposed to our day-to-day little mind. It's a totally different view of things because we, the "viewer", are changing.

The mind comes forth – this is the appearance of sanity.  As an example, not drinking today is a sane choice for some of us.  We are seeing things in a sane perspective.  It's this different perspective that gives rise to a growing trust in a Higher Power of your understanding.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Step Two, Turning the Corner

A month or so ago at one of my regular meetings a young woman, (“C”) spoke up about being an avowed atheist.  This particular meeting is all about prayer and meditation, the 11th Step and “C” was relating what a struggle this has been to her program, you know, the “God” thing.  BUT she went onto say, “I think I’m turning the corner toward agnosticism.”  My heart broke open in hope for her.

Last week “C” chaired the same meeting.  What struck me as funny was here we had a person sharing about her “turning the corner toward agnosticism” and when it was time for people in the audience to speak we had one of the most expansive, spiritually animated, and heartfelt discussions about God that I have heard in a long time.

One brilliant comment came from Alison regarding the angst about the word “God”  and/or “Him” as its written in the Big Book. We hear this at meetings all the time.  She began be stating that we all know that Bill W., one of the founders of AA, had a personality  (Yes) – that all the other people who helped write the book Alcoholics Anonymous each had a personality, too (Yes) – therefore the book Alcoholics Anonymous also has a personality (Yes!).

“…ever reminding us to place principles before personalities” comes from Tradition 12.  This is a good thing to keep in mind when reading the Big Book.  Never mind that it uses old-fashioned language of the 1930s.  Never mind that it refers to God as a “Him”. Things like this aresimply personality traits of the Big Book and the way they spoke back then.  I accept this.

When I hear someone at a meeting describe their Higher Power contrary to my understanding, I must remember that they are telling me their story about their God.  My job is to listen to the underlying principles of the program in their message and not judge their personality traits or their choice of a Higher Power.

The way the 12 Steps are written, affording each one of us the gift of choice in finding a Higher Power, is what makes this process we call recovery work – if we are open to it.  “Turning the corner” is how we “came to believe”.  It’s what we all did to find a God of our understanding…or maybe a God not of our understanding... or maybe something out there we don't even want to call God.

All of which leads quite well to this month’s Step and koan.

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

Koan:  "Abiding nowhere, the mind appears."

As usual, we will be meeting on the second Friday of this month...

... On Valentines Day!


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Die Well

Step One:  We admitted we were powerless over something -- that our lives had become unmanageable.

Case 5 of the Mumonkan:  "Hsiang-yen: Up a Tree"

Everything here was once alive
The priest Hsiang-yen said, "It is as though you were up in a tree, hanging from a branch with your teeth. Your hands and feet can't touch any branch. Someone appears beneath the tree and asks, `What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?' (What is the meaning of Zen?).  If you do not answer, you evade your responsibility (break all the rules of common decency). If you do answer, you lose your life. What do you do?"

Thus began our 12 & Zen gathering this past Friday.  We had 18 people this evening, with three of them new.  What made it even more interesting to me was that more were coming from 12 Step programs other than AA.  New issues arose, and still I think we all came away with a common sense of accomplishment.

What life do we lose by letting go?
After first reading the koan as written above, I then made a few “adjustments” for the evening.

You are up in a tree, hanging from a branch with your teeth…from down below a person asks, “What is recovery? What are we doing here?”

If I don’t answer, I evade my responsibility, not only to others but also to myself.  By not answering, I’m not responding to the situation at hand.  We have this same dilemma with Step One.  How will I respond to this Step?

If I do answer, I’m engaging in my life, even though it means whatever happens next is unknown to me.  When I admit my powerlessness, I’m conceding that Step One is true or valid for me.

To fully engage in my life I recognize there is death all around me.  My in-breath passes (dies) onto the out-breath.  Each moment dies away and the next moment appears.  To admit my powerlessness over people, places, and things is (can be) the passing away of my delusions; conceding this to myself produces a shift from self will to aligning to the will of the Universe.

Our lives pass away every minute, every hour, every day.  To be fully engaged in my life, no matter what is happening around me, I must let go and fall into the next moment with awareness.  This is what living is!

Life is about coming and going.  Things come into our lives and then go.  To be happy, it helps to make the best of what comes and the least of what goes...to die well.

Bill K