Monday, October 13, 2014

Attention, Attention, Attention

Step 10:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
 KOAN:  HERE'S AN OLD ZEN STORY: a student said to Master Ichu, "Please write for me something of great wisdom." Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: "Attention." The student said, "Is that all?" The master wrote, "Attention. Attention." The student became irritable. "That doesn't seem profound or subtle to me." In response, Master Ichu wrote simply, "Attention. Attention. Attention." In frustration, the student demanded, "What does this word 'attention' mean?" Master Ichu replied, "Attention means attention."

For "attention" we could substitute the word "awareness." Attention or awareness is the secret of life and the heart of practice. Like the student in the story, we find such a teaching disappointing; it seems dry and uninteresting. We want something exciting in our practice! Simple attention is boring: we ask, is that all there is to practice?

First, the student asks for “something of great wisdom”.  Here we are, sitting with Step 10 and it’s great wisdom and all that it has to offer – when we pay attention.

The teacher says “attention” once, twice, three times.  Oh how it is when we don’t pay attention.  Sometimes it takes three times.  This reminds me of one of the meetings I go to where the secretary announces, “Only bottled water is allowed in the room.”  Then it’s not uncommon, during the rest of the meeting, to see people amble in from the kitchen with a cup of coffee in their hands.  I was thinking if maybe I ought to give this koan to the secretary.

There’s a lot to pay attention to with Step 10:

·      By going about my day, and really paying attention to what’s going on regarding my actions and behavior.

·      There’s that section if the Big Book beginning with “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day.”  This requires attention.

·      By paying attention to what others are saying and noticing their body language.

·      By listening.

·      By noticing this relationship with others.

·      By noticing, perhaps I can head things off before a situation goes bad.

Master Ichu reminds me how it is when I’m not paying attention, how he eventually had to tell his student “attention -- attention, attention -- attention, attention, attention.”  By not paying attention I have missed out on things, missed hints and clues of what is happening right in front of me that would point to the next right thing.  Instead, I take a different direction; make a different choice, usually something to do with selfishness, which causes a problem to others (and myself).

There is great wisdom in Step 10, which allows us to make things right with the world.  When I am paying attention, this wisdom is right there and readily available…to promptly admit my wrongs. 


Monday, September 15, 2014

One Leads to the Other

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:  "Just as surely as the tick bird follows the rhino." *

*Julius Nyerere, The first president of Tanganyika (now Tanzania)

Here’s a koan from outside our Zen tradition that came to me via NPR (National Public Radio).  I was just driving about town, heard this quotation, and it wouldn’t leave me.  This is what koans do.  As I was sitting with tick bird and rhino, Steps 8 and 9 joined in.

Do Steps 8 and 9 really deliver as advertised? Deliver freedom?  “Just as surely as the tick bird follows the rhino.”

 ·      The story begins when the rhinos bed down at night in the thick brush.  This is a safe place for them while they sleep.  But this is also the place where ticks hang out, waiting patiently for their free meal ticket.  They climb aboard the sleeping rhinos.  In Step 8 we begin by making our list of the people we have harmed.

·      Clinging to the rhino, the ticks begin to feed on the rhino’s blood.  Even though rhinos have a thick skin, there are many tiny capillaries near the surface.  Their blood sucking is irritating to the rhino.  The list we have made is not comfortable for us to sit with either –the things we did, and the people we have hurt eats at us.

·      Along come the tick birds who specialize in eating ticks, one-by-one, upon the rhino’s back.  Because we have become willing, each amend we make relieves us from our pain.  We begin to heal.  Making amends benefits us all. It brings about our freedom.

Bill K.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Getting Drenched


August --- Potluck

Koan:  “This is the stone, drenched in rain, that points the way.”

If you recall, “Potluck” here means that instead of sitting with one particular Step, this time we sat with all the Steps, all twelve of them.  We sat for 25 minutes.

It was a small but earnest group this past Friday, six of us, who seemed to really enjoy this koan and what it brought up.  As I suspected, several of the Steps came to mind for us. 


Step 1 came to two of us – The first thing I thought of was when, at a meeting, there is someone who is obviously drunk.  “There’s a wet one over there.”  Yes indeed.  I was a wet one once.  I am the stone.

Who hasn’t been drenched in a sleeping bag?  Miserable conditions, cold, soaking wet and still hours away from dawn.  And it’s miserable to be drenched in our disease, drenched in selfishness, drenched in all that had rained down on me because of my addictive actions.

And if we’re lucky, our misery will point us to Step One.

One woman saw a glistening granite wall, the glistening being her tears.  “Much of my life has been full of tears.  Step three came to her as never before.  Her relationship with Step Three this evening was profound, “Way deeper than I have experienced before,” she said.  It’s about making a rock-solid decision! A decision that will give me a new life!

And Step 4… it’s [rock]hard to look at all my character defects…[rock]hard to realize how I have hurt others (and myself). But as these wash over me as I’m doing my 5th Step, I can see that I am pointing in the right direction…what a relief!

“I am the stone,” another said, “All my past, present and future lie in that stone. Stones just lay there on the ground.  They’re humble, just being a stone.”  She went onto say how it is when looking at a dull, dry stone; then put water on it, brings out all sorts of colors, showing the rock’s true colors and beauty…true self.  My shortcomings arise out of this beauty, too, and these revelations point the way as in Step Seven.

We have a drought right now in California, one of the worst on record.  We need rain!  The other day we had a smidgeon of dampness, not even rain; but it was enough to moisten the streets.  Just the thought of this moisture and Step 12 brought this man gratitude.  Gratitude is always nearby.

Bill K.This evening of Twelve and Zen, drenched in recovery, brought smiles to us as we departed the building.

Bill K.
P.S.  How was this koan for you?  Don’t be shy…please tell me what Step came up for you as it related to this koan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Through the torn paper screen

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.


how beautiful

through the torn paper screen
the Milky Way

What is torn for you?  What do you see when looking past your “torn-ness”? We come here torn up.  The fabric of our “self” is torn apart… hitting our bottom.  But it’s through this tear, even because of this tear, where recovery and healing begins.

With Step 5 we pray, “Take away my difficulties...” Step 7 is also about doing, an action verb, we are asking our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings.  This is where we find relief.  By doing this, we are also building our faith in our Higher Power…our Milky Way.

When we met last Friday, here is what others said about Step 7 and this koan.

·      Looking beyond the tears in my screen; with the screen being my shortcomings and the untidiness in my life.

·      With a paper screen I only see the shadows, my character defects.  The tear lets me see things in the light.

·      Low self-esteem is my character defect.

·      The paper screen is my shortcomings.  Through the hole (tear) I can see a better way (the Milky Way).  “Take the whole screen away!” A paper barrier is better than a rock barrier, I suppose.

·      Moving from wounded to wholeness, gratitude to appreciation, broken me to me the whole person, in awe of the universe – wholly participating in the Universe.

·      Shortcomings come from my shortsightedness.  I’m moving from a place of separation to connectedness.

·      I have a filter that doesn’t see the good things.  I turned this koan around. The Milky Way, through the torn paper screen, how beautiful.

Being sincere and going about our lives in a humble way is a good place to be when asking
God for help.

Bill K.

P.S. Next month will be our "pot luck" koan.  I'll give you a koan and you tell me what Step came  up for you.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Remembering the Ancestors

We all have ancestors or we wouldn’t be here today.  How fortunate this is, that we are sitting in front of a computer screen this very moment! Every single ancestor of ours survived long enough to produce offspring.  It’s really quite remarkable that we are here – that our ancestors survived saber-tooth tigers, broken legs, diseases, famine, wars, the Black Plague, monsoons, and falling off horses.

Just as our biological ancestors were survivors, so were those who brought us Zen. Not only did they have to survive as our ancestors did, there were also great obstacles in the survival of Zen Buddhism.  A couple of examples from Peter Hershock’s book Chan Buddhism will give you an idea of this.  From 755 to 764, only ten years, “…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 (P. 32).”  There were several purges of Buddhism in China, one taking place from 842-845; where “…the Tang emperor Wuzong forced over a quarter of a million monks and nuns back into society at large and destroyed nearly five thousand temples and forty-thousand shrines across the country (P. 31).” Linji, our Zen ancestor, died in 866, so he experienced this large-scale purge of Buddhism. He was a survivor.  Our Zen lineage survived.

Being grateful for ancestors is important to me, and to my spiritual practice. My ancestors give me a sense of space, as in where my life fits in the jigsaw puzzle of human history. When I put on my rakusu, I feel a connection to all the ancestors in our tradition, as well as to my teacher’s dharma heirs.  My ancestors give me a sense of belonging, continuity, purpose in this life, and hope for the future.

We have biological ancestors, spiritual ancestors and there are figurative ancestors, too.  I had a career as a state park ranger for twenty-seven years. As I left home each day to go to work, stepping out the door I donned my Stetson (aka Smokey the Bear hat).   The feeling was similar to when I put on my rakusu, except it was the ranger ancestors I was feeling now, the ranger spirit from those who came before me as well as my brother and sister rangers in the world right then.

All Twelve Step programs have ancestors, too, beginning with the first 100 AA members who left us with the Big Book.  I sponsor men, I have a sponsor, he has a sponsor, and so it goes…ancestors reaching back to Bill and Bob who started AA – two drunks who wanted to stay sober but could not do it by themselves. Working together and then with newcomers, they discovered how to stay sober and live good lives.

Even our dog, Ryla, has brought her ancestors into the family.  Ryla is a product of Canine Companions for Independence (; an organization that trains dogs to be service dogs, facility dogs, hearing dogs, etc.  Not only do they train their dogs, CCI has their own breeding program in Santa Rosa, CA.  They choose the smartest and healthiest dogs to become breeders. We volunteered to become Breeder Caretakers.  Ryla had five litters in our kitchen.  We cared for the puppies until they were about 8 weeks old – then the pups are sent all over the U.S. to volunteer Puppy Raisers for about a year and a half.  After that the dogs go into advanced training at the nearest CCI facility.  Almost 50% of Ryla’s puppies graduated to become service dogs.

Kyra, Ryla, Wyla and Dyla
The ancestor part began by meeting Ryla’s mom, Kyra and her Breeder Caretakers.  Then, from Ryla’s third litter came Wyla who was chosen to become a breeder with a different family. And Wyla, from her fifth litter had Dyla.  Yes, you guessed it; Dyla is now a breeder.  In fact, she just had her first litter a few weeks ago.  Kyra, Ryla, Wyla, Dyla, and the legacy continue – thanks to their ancestors and those who cared for them.

My family, my Zen family, my 12-Step family, my parks family and even my CCI family – I can’t have family without ancestors.  This collection of ancestor wisdom is always available to me, when I listen and pay attention. Remembering ancestors or those who feel like ancestors is a good thing.   Thanking them for all they went through and having conversations with them is a powerful gesture of love that, in some ways, connects us all.

Thank you Grandma Moore; thank you Linji; thank you Park Director Mott; thank you Bill W.; thank you Kyra.

Bill K.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Step by step ...

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

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

~ Shaku Soyen

Don’t you just love it when you have it all “mapped out” – then finding yourself going in the opposite direction – AND it’s still OK?  This is how it went for us last Friday, when I thought this koan would take us in one direction; then two people flipped the subject with opposite views.  This was just another affirmation of the many ways koans show up in our lives.

There’s just so much activity in this koan:

Step by step brought a smile to my face since working the Steps is paramount to my recovery. I have worked the Steps, we are sitting with Step 6, and step by step indicates that we are going somewhere, headed in a direction, and hopefully making some progress.  Entirely ready indicates willingness, a willingness to take steps in some form or another. In the beginning we find ourselves in the dark.  Of course, this is where we begin, in our disease, separated from who we really are.

Not only did I find myself in the dark, I was slogging in a wet swamp of darkness.  I’ve ended up on dry ground, my feet are dry now (well, most of the time).  There’s that point in time, a realization when I became willing or entirely ready.

It’s at that point that I realized my foot wasn’t wet.  I found the stone; I found my way out of the darkness.  This is where trust comes in, trusting the direction I’m headed and realizing that now that I’m on firm ground, recovery is possible.  More than possible, it’s actually happening in my life.

Here are some short examples of what others had to say:

  •       I have to make myself ready by using the Steps and knowing I’m on a good path.  The spirit within me guides me as I’m stepping in the dark.

  •       The rock is a positive; the water a minus; darkness is my powerlessness.  You know, before doing something new, they say you have to first get your feet wet?  Just beginning to get my feet wet was me doing my Steps.

  •       Water played the main role.  Water equals emotion, and water equals the Tao.  My defects and up being a huge barrier, like a big rock.  Water can wear down a big rock.  My Higher Power can wear down my barriers … and this also reminds me of Step Seven.  [A couple of people said they didn’t like the word “defects” in the Steps and much preferred the word “barriers”.]

  •      I’m not slogging in the dark anymore.  This Step helped me to climb onto a large rock.  My practice is rock solid now.

  •       Willingness – I don’t want to be that person anymore (old behavior).  Step by step walking in the dark…I’m moving from darkness to sunlight, from wet to dry.

  •       I’m new here.  I try to figure everything out.  I don’t know about faith so I’m always walking in the dark.  But I’m getting a glimpse now … I have to feel it, I can’t figure it all out.  I’m trying to be in the moment and feel my emotions.

  •       I just learned that my grandbaby’s leukemia has returned after 6 months of remission.  My mother died last week and I was named her executor …where I live on the West coast and all my siblings on the East coast.  It’s about having good intentions no matter what is happening in my life.  Step by step in the dark.


Koan study is a practice.  Most of the people who are showing up at our zendo for 12 & Zen have very little practice with koans, so part of what I'm trying to do here is teach a little about sitting with them.

Any part of the koan will work for you.  I've said this from time to time.  And the koan is about you, right now.  In my own practice these phrases have leaked into my 12 Step practice.  I sit with the Steps differently now.  Any part of the Step I am sitting with will work for me.  I am in this Step right now.  I think this is what we are doing here.

This is also why I emphasize carrying this koan with you for a while.  It has more to give.  And over time, just as a Step will appear with a pertinent message for you, the koans will do the same.

Happy summertime,

Bill K.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

It's only for your benefit ...

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

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.”

Comments from our 12 & Zen gathering yesterday evening:

Life can be messy.

Dongshan and the monk are washing their bowls.   Remember, this koan is about you.  You and your sponsor are washing your bowls ...or doing any activity together ...or meeting together to do your fifth step.  

"Saw two crows fighting ..." This fighting is happening for all to see.  Is this impression good or bad for you?  Life can be messy, we can all vouch for this.  The poor frog is being torn apart is not good for the frog.  Or was it?  What if the frog was injured, couldn't get away, was suffering in pain.  The crows were ending this pain.  From the crows perspective, the frog is food.  They are fighting over their food.

"Why does it always have to be like that?"  Why do bad things happen?  I've looked at all my character defects in Step 4;  sure, I can admit  this to God and to myself,   but why do I have to tell someone else this?  We're back to the messy parts of life.

"It's only for your benefit, honored one."  There were three people in our group who are presently working on their 5th Step, one with just five months of recovery.  She is unsure yet continues on, trusting the process, trusting her sponsor.  All of the "stuff" in our Fifth Step, so messy -- but we all agreed that benefits abound.
"What a relief," said one person, "Like a giant weight taken off my shoulders when I did my Fifth Step."  And as a sponsor we receive the benefits of seeing the Steps in action, seeing them work in an other's life.  What an honor this is for us to experience.  Since the sponsee has benefitted as well as the sponsor, on a greater plane benefit expands outward to others around us, like ripples in a pond. "No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others." (P.84) This is the power of Step Five.  When we understand this, we are the honored one.

And the benefits from our koan today... it took us from something "bad" and messy to a place of relief and optimism.

Bill K.

“You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck!”