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.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Look! There's a Fire!

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

Koan: Put out that fire across the river.

Who or what started this fire?  What is it consuming?  Who is it consuming?
These are the questions to ask while sitting today.


This seems serious with a command sounding, “Put out that fire across the river!”  There’s a burning fire; and it’s a threat to something or someone.  Uncontrolled fires are serious.  Fighting fires takes courage, stamina, and special skills.  Do you remember the fire triangle?

But the fire is across the river and no threat to me, right?  The river is a barrier between the fire and me. Why do I need to fight it if it’s over there?  Remember, this koan and Step 4 is all about you.  Can you recall any barriers (or rivers) when you were doing Step Four:

  • The river of fear?
  • The river of denial?
  • The river of procrastination?
  • The river of delusion?
  • The river of dishonesty?
Step Four is about digging into our past actions and finding how we have wronged and hurt others and ourselves.  That’s the fire that’s burning within us all.  In Zen Buddhism, we have what are called The Three Poisons:
  •  Greed
  •  Hatred
  •  Ignoranc3

These three easily translate into selfishness, resentments and close-mindedness.  This is the triangle we use to discover how to put out our Step 4 fire(s)…fires that have been burning for way to long.  We examine our past to see where we’ve been greedy or selfish; to see where our hatred and resentments affected or decisions; and to realize our close-mindedness has kept us in the dark.

Our Step 4 (and 5) inventory is HUGE to recovery.  Completing them, we’re now building upon our 12-Step foundation, not only for ourselves, but also supporting what holds the fellowship together, bring us the triangle of Unity, Service, and  Recovery.

We never know where koans will take us.  For one person at Friday 12 & Zen, this koan took him to all the work projects he has on  his plate...projects that have been keeping him away from meditation.  "I need to get back to my daily meditation," he said, "Thinking about work all the time was my fire this evening.

And another fellow emailed me the next day:  "In my morning meditation today, the thought came that all of my "fires" at first always appear to be across the river.  Someone or something else to blame for starting them.  Someone else's responsibility to put out.  But upon doing inventory work (i.e. 4th step work), I get to see my part in setting the fire and to recognize my responsibility (to my Self) to cross the river and put out the fire.

Bill K.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Only the vine sustains you, only Step Three sustains you.

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

Koan: You are being chased by a tiger.  Coming to a cliff, you grab the root of a wild vine and swing yourself over the edge. The tiger you were fleeing from is sniffing at you from above; at the bottom of the cliff is another tiger waiting to eat you.  Only the vine sustains you.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little start to gnaw away the vine.  Nearby you see a luscious-looking strawberry.  Holding tightly to the vine with one hand, you pluck the strawberry with your other hand and pop it in your mouth.  How sweet it tastes.

My sponsor once said to me, “I’m not in charge of what you say; but I am in charge of what I hear.”  So went our evening on Friday with people hearing this story in different ways.  I love it how koans do this.

Beginning with our experiences with Step One, we found ourselves being chased by a tiger of a different form:  By our disease.  Our conscience. Or by something we made up…the stories we tell ourselves, or being stalked by "a hundred kinds of" fear.

Having to make a decision has, in the past, brought on fear in me.  If I make this decision this will happen.  If I make that decision that will happen.  This is where the koan took me, a tiger of fear of making a decision was in the chase.  With sobriety comes the ability to make Step Three decisions more promptly – it can almost become a default mode: grab the nearest vine and jump; grab Step Three and jump.  It’s in the jumping where we are totally at the whim of the Universe.  “Only the vine sustains you.”  Only Step Three sustains you. It’s in Step Three where we learn to trust our Higher Power; that when our decision is aligned with what is right living (God’s will), we can be at ease.

And the tiger down below, “waiting to eat me?”  Can we be sure about that?  If the chasing tiger can take on many forms, so can the tiger below.  Maybe it’s Tony the Tiger.  We really don’t know since that part of the story has not unfolded yet.  As another person said, the chasing tiger is our past, the tiger down below is the future.

The two mice – black or white, good or bad, the way we usually see things (duality)…and then, of course, carry these thoughts into the future, usually to bad outcomes.  But it says one white mouse and one black mouse.  Either one or both could play a part in my future; but right now, they’re just gnawing. Lots of things in our life are being gnawed on, aren’t they?  Another person solved her anxiety of gnawing mice and decided her “vine” was really thick and no need to be concerned right now.

Strawberry… only this is what’s noticed.  No tigers, no mice, no cliff, no past, no future…just a luscious, ruby-red strawberry…in this moment the strawberry is what the Universe has given to us to partake in.  Taking Step Three has a way of changing our mind’s default mode for the better…no matter what the “strawberry” in life looks like today. Actually, the whole world is strawberry. "How sweet it tastes."

Bill K.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Home Departures, Came to Believe

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

The fourth patriarch was Upagupta.  He was the attendant for Shanavasa for three years before becoming a monk.


Shanavasa: “Did you make your home departure physically or in spirit?”
Upagupta:  “Truly, I made my home departure physically.”
Shanavasa: “How can the Wondrous Dharma of the Buddhas have anything to do with body or mind?”
On hearing this, Upagupta was greatly awakened.

By “home departure”, Upagupta is referring to becoming a monk.  And there are many ways we can depart from home.  What home(s) are you departing from when we “came to believe”?

What are the Wondrous Dharma of the Buddhas in your life?

- - - -

“Came to believe” is like acceptance, it doesn’t happen until it happens.  When it comes, it comes suddenly.  Acceptance comes when I put down my discriminating mind, my ego… a space opens up in preparation for Step 2.  This is one example of home departure, departing in spirit.  One person said "the home" was her false self.   This was the home she left.  The leaving was unintentional.  "I just gave up."

"Departing was changing my way of thinking," another said.

Dale asked, "Where am I departing from?"  I'm always coming home.  Taking refuge... in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha.  In his daily meditations, he changes his refuge ceremony to the First Step, the Second Step, the Third Step.  I can see how this would  work for us, thus I've swiped his idea today.

“A Power greater than ourselves…”  Back in my drinking days, a bottle (or several) of red wine was a power greater than myself.  Today, certainly I can find a power greater than a bottle of wine to help me.

Restoring my sanity?  Believing I can do everything myself is insanity.  I need other sources of Power.  My home departure choice of mine, physically, mentally, or in spirit gives me the wherewithal to pay attention to my life.  I am being shown the Way of right living (sanity) in each moment. 

"I found a new definition of sanity.  It was bigger than any definition I had heard concerning Step Two, but it was also bigger and better than my wildest imaginings.  This sanity offered serenity, a feeling of wellness or well-being, possession of a center of balance from which to operate, and a feeling that my place in this world was just right."

Bowie, Md., February 1999 Grapevine
"Beyond Sanity,"
Step By Step

Surely this is the Wondrous Dharma of the Buddhas,  here right now.

Bill K.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Step One -- A wagon with no wheels

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

Master Gettan said to a monk, “Keichu made a cart whose wheels had a hundred spokes.  Take both front and rear parts [wheels] away and remove the axle: then what will it be?”  Gateless Barrier #8

“…whose wheels had a hundred spokes.”

 ·      Back in the day…100 spokes…the best of the best.  Some might have said, “This is the perfect cart.”  Like driving the most popular car and being the center of attraction.
·      I am this cart.  Wheels or not, it’s perfect the way it is.  Aren’t we all perfect human beings?  Born that way.  In Zen we say we ALL have buddhanature.

We also have our dis-ease.  In Step-1, to various degrees, don’t we arrive here only to realize that our wheels have fallen off—or one has fallen off and the others are about to wobble off—and still others it may only be loose lug nuts?  We come here broken, or soon-to-be broken.

·      “Take both front and rear wheels away…” Who or what is responsible for the taking?

No wheels, just the axels, power gone, lack of control, “that our lives had become unmanageable.”  We make our own cart.  My cart is my life.  There’s the cart that brought me to A.A.; there’s the cart I move around in today.  What are you driving today?

What others said:

·      Humbleness came to mind.  I don’t need 100 spokes.  It was only after they have been taken away that I can realize this.  Maybe four spokes are enough.
·      My life right now …everything seems to be crumbling around me and still I have been able to stay sober.
·      Our 15-year old grandson died in November.  It was cancer.   Part of me feels like this dismembered wagon.  All that is left is the wagon’s “box”.  But there are times where the wagon’s box is full of good things, like the good times I remember with my grandson.  All of this is happening at the same time and slowly the wagon is being put back together; but it will never look the same.

In addition, Zen teacher Barry Dogo Graham sent me this:  "What becomes vividly apparent is that he did not make a hundred carts, or even one cart. He found the carts in wood, metal and space. You do not make yourself - you only find yourself. This question - What becomes vividly apparent when wheels and hub are removed? - is a personal question, directed specifically at you. It asks you who you are."  See Barry's link to the right.

Bill K.

BTW, on Friday we held 12 & Zen at our new home, at Rocks and Clouds Zendo in Sebastopol, CA. Daniel Terragno Roshi was there to greet us... all nine of us! We always seem to leave with more than we came with.  What a great start for 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

New 12 & Zen Location for 2015

12 & Zen,  WE'VE MOVED!
Walk down this driveway, the zendo is behind the house.
New Location effective January 9, 2015
7 PM

Fortunately for us, Daniel Terragno Roshi has generously provided his Rocks and Clouds Zendo for our 12 & Zen group to hold its usual second Friday of the month gathering. 

Rocks and Clouds Zendo
618 South Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472

(See "links" to the right.)

On South Main Street (one way), look for the white picket fence on the Maple Avenue corner, and the huge oak tree towering above.  Park on S. Main Street, the 618 driveway is just past this tree.

Hope to see you in January.

Bill K.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Buddhists and That 12-Step “God” Thing

"...with God as we understood Him..."
This topic has been on my mind lately, that is, Buddhists finding their way in A.A. or any other 12-Step group.   After all, Buddhists don't believe in God, right?  Here is the way I see it.

There’s plenty of room for success for Buddhists (or anyone) in twelve-step programs -- that is, if one is open-minded and willing to find acceptance in other people’s choices in their Higher Powers.  This is my experience and I see it in others every day.

On the surface it would appear that twelve-step programs, with the Christian influence and theistic language, would be incompatible for Buddhists. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people’s stories at meetings where, upon seeing the word “God” in the twelve steps hanging on the wall, would mutter to themselves, “I’m screwed.  This isn’t going to work for me.” Then they go on to say, “But I stuck around, listened, followed some direction and the ‘God’ obstacle eventually disappeared.”

Regarding this reliance on a God or Higher Power, clearly the founders of A.A. came up with a brilliant way to include all humanity.  Yes, they use the word “God” throughout the book of Alcoholics Anonymous; after all, it was written in 1935 when close to 95% of people in the U.S. considered themselves Christian.  But they also insisted that this Higher Power be of your own understanding.  Be creative, use your imagination, follow your heart – it’s your choice, not the choice of others.  “I chose to set aside my fears and just let see what happened,” said Christine S., Tibetan Buddhist nun with 29 years of sobriety, only to discover that “A.A. though theistic in language is clearly not theistic in spirit.”

And with a God comes prayer.  There’s not one among us who has not been thankful: the birth of a child, escaping injury in a car wreck, gazing upon the spectacular beauty of mountains, rivers, and stars, or feeling the snuggly warmth of your bed.  Who or what do you give thanks to?  Thank you Universe, thank you Dharma, thank you Tao, thank you Ancestors, thank you all Oneness of reality, or simply thank you.  Vajrayana teacher Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel writes, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know whom you’re praying to.  The very act of asking for help allows the heart to open and invite the world in.” We recite vows, “…which are a kind of prayer-wrapped intention,” writes Jan Chozen Bays Roshi.

Roger H., 19 years sober, who lives by the tenets of Buddhist traditions, told me, “Early on… having patiently waded through my resentment of A.A.’s clear and apparent Christian God peer pressure, I knew God was nothing but a delusion; I am an atheist.  Today, the ultimate purpose of my spiritual practice is to uncover and make contact with my essentially pure nature.” Roger has found his higher power!

In 1965 Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote, “Newcomers …represent almost every belief and attitude imaginable.  We have atheists and agnostics. We have people of nearly every race, culture and religion.  In A.A. we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a common suffering.  Consequently, the full individual liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy whatever should be a first consideration for us all.  Let us not, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views.  Let us instead accord each other the respect and love that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way toward the light.  Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive…”

My friend Tom C. with 33 years of sobriety told me, “A.A. and Buddhism -- as I've encountered it -- are gloriously compatible. To me, being sidetracked by A.A.'s often Christian-influenced vocabulary risks missing out on the inner, wordless, powerfully healing music, whose truth can't be defined with human words. Both A.A. and Buddhism are technologies in some sense. In my experience, Buddhism is a marvelous technology for experiencing the universe's music, and A.A. is an empirically efficient technology for getting us in good enough shape that we can hope to hear anything besides the incessant rumblings and shrieks of our addiction.”

In the beginning I mentioned the importance of being open-minded.  For me, this has meant that when I hear a person speaking about “God”, I understand this person is talking about his/her God or Higher Power.  When I read the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, these writers are telling me how they found and have a relationship with their Higher Power.  When I’m asked to speak at a meeting, I’ll talk about my relationship with my Higher Power. It’s as simple as that.  As Bill W. said, we are not to “pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views”. If I hear something as pressure, I need to reflect upon the situation.  If someone actually tells me that I must do or think or believe what they do, then that goes against the A.A. Traditions.

“Our book [Alcoholics Anonymous] is meant to be suggestive only.” It’s a wise book, written through the experiences of many; open to one’s principled interpretations and widely adaptable to our lives today, no matter whom you think you are.

In April, 1961, AA Co-Founder Bill W. wrote: “Faith is never a necessity for AA membership … sobriety can be achieved with an easily acceptable minimum of it …our concepts of a higher power and God as we understand him afford everyone a nearly unlimited choice of spiritual belief and action.”

“God As We Understand Him: The Dilemma of No Faith,” The Language of the Heart.

One can only wonder if the founders of A.A. ever came across the 1902 book Varieties of Religious Experience by Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James.  In it he writes, “The only thing that it [religious experience] unequivocally testifies to, is that we can experience union with SOMETHING larger than ourselves, and in that union find our greatest peace… All that the facts require is that the power should be both other and larger than our conscious selves.  Anything larger will do, if only it be large enough to trust for the next step.  It need not be infinite, it need not be solitary.” (Postscript, Page 283).

Bill K.