Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Essential Source of Step 3

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

Koan: “…with whatever meets your eye being nothing other than the essential source.”  Daoxin (580-651) The 4th Zen ancestor

This Step and koan has, over the past two weeks, taken me all over the map.

It was one of those times when my words were not enough; and not finding a corresponding definition to my experience. Then, of all places while reading an NPR article on my iPad, the answer appeared.

·      “…praying to the ultimate power behind all things.”

No longer feeling stuck, these words made sense to me, and my working with Step 3 and a Higher Power of my understanding.

Bill W. wrote: "The phrase 'God as we understand him' is perhaps the most important expression to be found in our whole AA vocabulary.”

I had a similar experience when coming across the sentence fragment that became the koan we’re sitting with today.  What our eyes meet is the essential source?  Of course! It corresponds well with the Big Book: “…I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, or thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” came to mind. The essential source of ultimate power is in each and every moment.  This is what God, the Universe, is giving to us.

·      Higher Power, essential source, ultimate power, at this moment

Being in my 70s now, health matters seem to be coming at me faster than I would prefer.  My cardiologist said my A-fib has returned so not only increased the dosage of my blood pressure med, he added a “blood thinner” to boot.  My family doctor says I am at a pre-diabetic level and need to start doing something about that (or more meds).  And then there’s surgery coming up at the end of the month for an inguinal hernia.  I’m falling apart.

One morning late in February on my usual walk with Ryla, maybe I was thinking of my mortality when I wrote O vast Ocean.


Ryla, about 8 weeks old
It brought me comfort actually, as the verse would appear while walking on following days. One thought came up though, that it’s only the wave’s shape or “waveness” that’s returns.  The wave is the ocean; the ocean is the wave; another view of the essential source of Step Three.  It’s all happening at the same time, from a Zen perspective, form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

Which brings me to our beloved Ryla, while walking about the neighborhood on the first day of March, I’m abiding in the ocean and waves and the Source, when I stopped to and say hello to Norm.  I had seen him before but just learned his name.  He was loading up his SUV, to drive to UC Davis with Maggie, one of his dogs.  Maggie has cancer and goes to Davis for treatments.  Norm was telling me of how he is spoiling Maggie and feeding her chicken-apple sausages as “enhancements” for her meals, so she’ll feel better.

“Ryla is having health issues, too,” I said.  I could feel the lump in my throat growing as I told him that she has Liver Storage Disease, and how it’s become incredibly stressful for us all.

Things seemed to be going well.  She had gained some weight back (47 to 50).  But of late she decided she didn't like the dry dog food anymore.   She stopped taking her meds no matter how we tried to hide them, so I had to pry open her mouth and stuff them way back in her mouth, close it shut and see if she swallowed (4 times a day). 

I couldn’t go on speaking and lost it.  We hugged each other.  We understood each other because we’re dog people. I continued on our walk.

Then it struck me, the verse wasn’t about me; it was about Ryla and her condition.  In Step 3 there’s a lot about my will and God’s will, with the object being, of course, to align with God’s will, the will of the essential source, as I see it now.  There was a time when Ryla would eat the dog food and accept the pills readily.  All was good.  But for whatever reason, Ryla began telling us she doesn’t like her present condition of nasty-tasting pills and dog food.   I wasn’t paying attention.

Ryla, March 2017
Thanks to Norm and my bumpy conversation, there came a total shift in attitude.  When we got home, I told Beth what had happened.  We didn’t have to convince the other – we both knew the decision -- we immediately stopped all of Ryla’s meds and special dog food.  That evening Ryla gobbled down some chicken-apple sausages in warm broth.  She loved it.  We knew we had made the right decision.  This is what she wanted.

The next day our household was in a different dimension, we all were happier and our hearts lighter.  We fixed Ryla scrambled eggs for brunch.  We shower her with extra belly rubs and scratching her ears a certain way.  She returns wags, nudges, and brings me one of her toys to play with.  We still walk every morning. This we will continue to do…until one day, she will tell us that she’s had enough.   She will leave us one day, but not from our hearts. I must remind myself that her essential source is always right here before my eyes.



Bill K.







Saturday, February 11, 2017

Give me the reaching...



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

Koan: A student said to Yunmen, “I’m reaching for the light. Please help me.
Yunmen replied, “Forget about the light, give me the reaching.”


 “Came to believe…

Out of college, we moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains in August, 1970.  It was that summer when I saw that huckleberries were ripe, and nearby.  Sure, I had tasted huckleberries before, a few berries at a time; but now I wanted to bake a whole pie.

With a one-pound coffee can in hand I begin to pick berries.  They aren’t very large you know, the largest only a quarter inch or so in diameter.  Reaching for the berries, plink, plink, plink as they bounced off the bottom of the can. 

After a while I looked down at the can of huckleberries – geez, there’s only an inch of berries at the bottom, "It's going to take me a very long time to fill the can," I muttered.  But I kept on picking, reaching for the dark maroon-colored “orb-lets”, and of course sampling a few before they made it into the can. Slowly the can filled, only by my reaching for the next cluster.

"Came to believe that the can would eventually become filled.... 

Long story short, I filled the can and we had one great tasting huckleberry pie.


Now, about this reaching for a power greater than I,  and that I’m supposed to believe in?  What I’ve found:

  •       Reading the Big Book is reaching
  •       Working with a sponsor is reaching
  •      Talking with friends is reaching
  •    Being patient is reaching
  •       Listening is reaching
  •    Paying attention is reaching

Prayers and meditation are like this, too; even the feeblest ones…they are all reaching.  And if we continue the reaching, our lives will be full.


Dale told us he’s very fond of Step Two.  It’s not always about finding the Big Kahuna type higher power; it can be very practical in his daily life.  Being restored to sanity is the important part and reaching this place is the core of this Step.  "Reaching a level of sanity and being restored to a state of peace so I can go on with matters.  A person can say something that brings about a re-centering and my obstacle is gone. In this moment, that other person is a greater power.  The funny thing is that much of the time, that person has no idea how much they helped me."

- - -

Nina from Oregon writes:

I love the koan you have chosen for step two.... and the mistaken idea that once you have god and he restores your sanity your problems are solved all is good   end of story. Faith is a relationship   malleable changeable.... we get peace serenity inner emotional maturity when we really work program are open to god's intention for us   and really work to live that plan god has made...and we also toss those things away when we decide to run our show ourselves.  Faith god serenity sanity    solid sobriety    all are things that have to be worked.... our sobriety is a lifelong process of   inviting god in to guide us   deciding to pay attention to what he tells us    and then either living by or not living by his plan.... its the reaching    that is important.... without reaching for god for faith for guidance for his intention     we are stuck in ourselves with our own small futile plans...and no sanity is possible....

Sanity might be one way god's grace (his working presence within us and in our lives) manifests...there are many other ways...

- - -

Keep on reaching and you'll see that your "can of life" is filled to the brim.  The spiritual ways we work the 12 Steps (more reaching) are as varied as our finger prints.

Bill K.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hello All,

Having had a bout with the flu, I'm back among the living!   The koan I had planned for January,  we'll see it again later on this year.  In the mean time ...

We'll be meeting on the second Friday in February, the 10th.  Here is what we'll be sitting with...


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



Koan:  A student said to Yunmen, “I’m reaching for the light. Please help me.

Yunmen replied, “Forget about the light, give me the reaching.”


Bill K.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

January 2017 Step and Koan

NOTICE

 I apologize for this additional email to you all -- it's the only way I can contact local people.  This is the first time we've cancelled.

12 & Zen is CANCELLED for January.  We plan to resume meeting in February (second Friday).

The reasons being:

The county is being hit particularly hard with the flu (influenza), I being one of them.  I'm well along recovering but that also means there are many others contracting this bug.  I'll give you an example, at our Tuesday meeting there are six of us who sit in this one corner --all of us caught it recently.
Rain. 

We're experiencing one of the strongest storm(s) in a decade.  Have had more than 7 inches in the past week.  Today's total (so far) is 2.65 inches.

High winds are toppling trees across roads and such, downing power lines in places.

Flooding is occurring throughout the county.  No problem in my neighborhood but definitely a problem for people who are trying to drive to neighboring towns.

Even though the rains are predicted to subside on Thursday/Friday, there are other treacherous situations out there. This is probably one of those "better safe than sorry" decisions where people would have to drive in these conditions at night in order to reach the zendo.

Take good care of yourselves, drink plenty of water, and stay home this coming Friday.


Bill

- - -


 Hello All:

A new year and a new change.  I'll be giving out each month's Step and Koan and posting it here instead of just sending it out to those on my reminder list.

This way everyone can begin sitting for a week or so before we meet locally on the second Friday.

And also, this is probably a good way to begin any month.

Bill K.

Step 1:  We admitted we were powerless over something -- that our lives had become unmanageable.


Koan: "Why can't the person of great strength lift their leg?"

  ~   Gateless Barrier, Case 20

 

 - - -

 

 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Step Twelve is a song...

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.




Koan/Verse:
 
Amidst the grassland

Sings the skylark


Free and disengaged from all things

 Matsuo Bashō


Early on, this koan/verse got its way with me, bringing about all sorts of visuals and inter-weaving with Step Twelve.

Amidst the grassland: I thought about our country when it was young and expanding westward.  The Great Plains, an immense grassland spreading as far as the eye could see, at times a challenge and full of obstacles, becoming some of the best and most productive farmlands in the world.  Without the Great Plains, our country would not have grown and prospered as it did. Our ancestors had to pay attention while they worked their way through this land and learning what it had to offer.

Wheat, corn and other grains are grasses.  No wonder these crops grew so well when their seeds were sown in the deep grassland soils. Bread, the staff of life.  Just as we have “worked” the Steps and coming to Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” we begin to experience the benefits from all our work. The Steps have given us a new life.

Sings the skylark: My vision was a meadowlark, since the Great Plains is its home. The skylark is not native to the U.S.  No matter what species of bird though, the message is in the singing. We tried to carry this message to alcoholics…this is our song.

Free and disengaged from all things comes when we practice Step 12.  By finding freedom from the bondage of self, we can better help others. When I’m in the thick of helping another person, I’m disengaged from selfish thoughts.

Yes, Step 12 is a song.  It’s a song of attraction, a song of freedom, a song of optimism, a song of purpose, and a song of gratitude.  Gratitude was flowing in my veins on this drizzly Friday evening with my friends – it was my birthday, 30 years now a member of this fellowship.  Why does the skylark sing? Birds sing to make their presence known to other birds, to attract a mate, to produce, to extend the species one more generation.  Step 12 is a song of duty.  We must sing this message of recovery to others;  the absolute survival of the fellowship depends upon our song.

Bill K.

P.S. When Dale H. heard this koan/verse, the first thing that came to his mind was the 1941 song, Skylark, with Helen Forrest singing with the Harry James orchestra.  This, too, had a way of leaving me free and disengaged from all things…enjoy...


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPZmB_seJNU

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.