Monday, September 14, 2020

Steps 8 and 9 -- How are you mending?

 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: DONGSHAN’S SEWING

Shenshan was mending clothes with a needle and thread. Dongshan asked, “What are you doing?”

Shenshan said, “Mending.”

Dongshan asked, “How are you mending?”

Shenshan said, “One stitch is like the next.”

Dongshan exclaimed, “We’ve been traveling together for twenty years now, and you can still say such a thing! How can you be so dense?”

Shenshan asked, “OK, then, how do you mend?”

Dongshan said, “As if the whole earth were spewing flames.”


 
I thought about my grandmother, Ruby Childs Moore, 1886-1978. I remember watching her stuffing a darning egg into a sock, mending, meticulously creating lines of thread to form the warp and weft of woven threads, ending with the sock “as good as new,” or at least substantially extending its life.

Shenshan was mending – “to free from faults or defects, to set right, to put into working order again. The socks my grandmother darned were certainly put into working order again, too.

Steps 8 and 9 call for the act of making amends (reparations) – “to put right, to improve, to reform oneself.” We learn that making our amends is not contingent upon how the other person reacts to our gesture. It’s by making our amends that we reform ourselves! My friend James put it another way at a meeting when he said, “We find freedom from bondage of self, separating from what I was to how I am today”

How do we go about our amending? “As if the whole earth were spewing flames!” “We subjected ourselves to a drastic self-appraisal. Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past.” BB page 76.

“…we tell him that we will never get over our drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.” Page 77

Right now, here in Sonoma County, the world is spewing flames with several wildfires raging unchecked. The yellow-orange air is polluted with smoke. People are evacuating. People are fleeing for their lives. This is the real deal.

Steps Eight and Nine are the real deal, too. If not attended to (we unfortunately see this far too often) these people return to drinking and are eventually consumed by the fires of alcohol.

Upon making our amends, we’re sewing our past and present together. This opens the door for us to consciously “... not regret the past nor wish to shut the door in it.” (p. 83)

One stitch is like the next.
We practice Step 8 and 9 principles in all our affairs.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
One day at a time.


Bill K.

 






 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

August and September Koan for Steps 8 and 9





Dear Friends,

Again, as we did in June and July, we will be sitting with two steps, two months, with one koan...






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: DONGSHAN’S SEWING



Shenshan was mending clothes with a needle and thread. Dongshan asked, “What are you doing?”

Shenshan said, “Mending.”

Dongshan asked, “How are you mending?”

Shenshan said, “One stitch is like the next.”

Dongshan exclaimed, “We’ve been traveling together for twenty years now, and you can still say such a thing! How can you be so dense?”

Shenshan asked, “OK, then, how do you mend?”

Dongshan said, “As if the whole earth were spewing flames.”


Bill K.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Steps 6 and 7, A Strategy



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

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.



Koan: A monk made a request of Joshu:  “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have eaten.”
“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”  At that moment, the monk had an insight.


That place where I’m having a one-on-one conversation with my Higher Power is a holy, sacred place, a monastery of mind.  When I’m engaged with Steps 6 and 7, I’ve entered a 12-Step temple. It’s in the asking in Step 7 where I’m becoming open to my HP’s teachings.

“Have you eaten?” Have I put spiritual nourishment into my body? Am I spiritually fit?

I think for those who haven’t yet worked Steps 1,2,3,4, and 5, it would be very difficult to become “entirely ready” and to sincerely “ask” one’s HP to remove shortcomings.

Wash your bowls. Joshu is telling the monk it’s time to get on with things. Why am I washing my bowls? It’s to be ready for my next meal, and the nourishment of Steps 6 and 7 give me the energy and sustenance to move on. “Wash your bowls.” Move on with the Steps.

Relax. The universe is always supporting me. I can’t force the issue and make my shortcomings disappear.  What usually happens comes out of the blue, when I realize my usual pattern didn’t appear where it used to – my shortcoming had been taken away, and replaced by principles in our program.

What the Big Book calls defects of character, Christine calls character adjustments. I like her view. How many of us come into AA feeling defective? I did.

We are not defective human beings. It's like calling undocumented workers illegal aliens. Humans aren't illegal either.

So another way of looking at Step 7 is that we’re asking our HP to adjust our character for the better. Washing our bowl (adjusting its level of cleanliness) for our next meal.

Early June when I put out the announcement that we’d be sitting with Steps 6 and 7 for two months, I wrote: “With what's going on in my town, county, state, nation and the world -- I'm feeling exhausted these days.” 

Here is Christine’s response:

“Thank you for writing what you wrote. I thought I was the only one feeling exhausted. Living alone I had no yardstick to measure things by until you wrote today. I don’t know whether I am just tired because I am getting older or whether it is the residual effect of having Covid-19 or heartbreak over what is happening in my country. So now I know: it’s all of that but—most importantly—I am not alone.

Becoming entirely ready to have god remove my sense of alone-ness is just noticing something as small as how others are feeling. Letting go of the habitual prison of isolation is leaving the door open just wide enough so that my old wooden bowl can be cleaned. I have all I need. Things constantly come and go. All I need to do is accept the sustenance and rinse my bowl with the messages that I am sent through companionships that always already enfold me.”

The other day on PBS NewsHour, the commentator made this point,  “Hope and rhetoric are not a strategy.” Hoping my shortcomings go away doesn’t work,  nor trying to talk myself out of a situation. Steps 6 and 7 are a strategy. I’m convinced of this! Together they are a careful method that leads to relief.

The strategy is in preparing ourselves, and the willingness to ask. 

Bill K.

P.S. My plan is to do the same in August and September as I did for June and July, one koan with the next two Steps. I'm still finding it a bit exhausting out there. Please take good care of yourself and others.










Monday, June 1, 2020

Two Steps, Two Months, One koan


 
 Dear  12 & Zen Friends:

 With what's going on in my town, county, state, nation and the world -- I'm feeling exhausted these days.  

I'm stretching things out a bit. Yes, we're
still sitting in our respective homes with this June koan, and for July, too.

Two Steps, two months, one koan. 



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

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.



Koan: A monk made a request of Joshu:  “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have eaten.”
“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”  At that moment, the monk had an insight.



Please be kind to yourself and in service to others.

Bill K.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Suffering through Step 5



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


Koan: Layman P’ang said: “From out of the clear blue, suffering arises.”

The Sayings of Layman P’ang,  #30 - Sung-shan’s Staff


Uncovering the things I did to others in the past, at minimum brought me shame, regret and sorrow. It didn’t paint the picture of who I thought I was, nor who I wanted to become. This was distressing.

The suffering that arose from writing down my 4th Step often came from out of the blue – an incident, an accompanying thought would spring up with new information to reckon with, usually pointing directly to my actions exclaiming, “what you did was wrong!”

And now, in Step 5, I have to tell someone else about what I’ve done? Another form of suffering appeared. Oh swell, now angst is added to my already uncomfortable distress.

The Buddha taught that life is dukkha. The Pali word dukkha is often translated as suffering in English; but there is no tidy translation since dukkha has a range of meaning and connotation. One of the categories of dukkha includes physical, emotional and mental pain. Suffering. Robert Aitken Roshi (in the lineage I practice) used angst as his definition of this kind of suffering.

Angst brings together the feelings of anxiety, apprehension and insecurity.

It sure did for me – with angst coming from what the Fifth Step would entail (especially the other person part) and distress coming from what I thought of myself while doing Step 4.

“From out of the blue, suffering arises.”

Is this what my life is to be, carrying around the gnawing baggage of my past?

Of course not! Step 5 is part of the process that showed me there is an end to my suffering here (or at least a substantial reduction). With my sponsor I was actually participating in the act of recovering. Relief can come from out of the blue, too.

Without dark there can be no light. Without wet there can be no dry. Without life there can be no death. Without suffering there can be no serenity, peace and freedom.

So it was with my Step 5. With each admission and then my sponsor’s reply and the telling of his experiences, little by little I began feeling less “bad”. I left his apartment feeling lighter – no longer was I carrying the entirety of my heavy load of shame and suffering. My sponsor, in the spirit of AA was carrying a portion, too.

And in the following years when I occasionally found myself in morbid reflection of my past, I would remind myself by saying, “No, no, no, I’m not doing this alone anymore – I have help here. I admitted this to my sponsor years ago – he’s still helping me with this.”

Little did I realize, that coming up next with Steps 6 and 7,  I’d find an ever-present and effective technique for turning my troublesome thoughts and actions over to my higher power -- PRN (nurse talk* for “as needed”).

Bill K.

* My wife was a nurse for 40+ years.

Wendy following the rules.



Here we are, about to enter our seventh week of sheltering in place.
Please take care of yourself and others.

COVID-19 came out of the blue bringing suffering...and by experience we know that relief and good will arise, too.


Thursday, April 30, 2020

12 & Zen for May



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

 Koan: Layman P’ang said: “From out of the clear blue, suffering arises.”


From The Sayings of Layman P’ang,  #30 - Sung-shan’s Staff

- - -

In our homes here, or there, or in far-away places,  no better time than to sit with Step 5 and this koan from Layman P'ang.

Stay well,

Bill K.




Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sitting with Step 4 amid the VIRUS









Here we are, in the thick of Sheltering-in-Place, practicing 12 & Zen in our homes instead of meeting in the Zendo. Yesterday, around 6:45 PM, I said to Beth, "I should be sitting in the Zendo right now with others."  Instead, we're all sitting with COVID -19 in our hospitals, communities, on the street, for some in our homes. "Hi COVID-19, I'm keeping my distance from you. We have important things to do right now,  like sitting with Step 4."
 


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



Koan: From Bodhisattva’s Vow – Torei Enji

If someone turns against us,
speaking ill of us and treating us bitterly,
it’s best to bow down:
this is the Buddha appearing to us,
finding ways to free us from our own attachments
the very ones that have made us suffer
again and again and again.



Tackling Step 4 requires courage, action, and a willingness to, perhaps for the first time, take an unvarnished look and uncovering of who I am today – and to remember that working the Steps will change me for the better.

  • This is about bringing my best self to every moment.
  • My practice is about solving division.
  • Do I add to this division?
  • How can this other person make me a better person? This is the Buddha appearing, showing me...
  • What am I learning from others?
  • Buddha said, “Victory breeds hatred?”

 

If someone turns against us, speaking ill of us and treating us bitterly: Whatever they did, real or imaginary, we alcoholics can come to resentments in a self-centered heartbeat -- a place we dare not stay for long.

it’s best to bow down: We take it easy,  loosening the reins…we pause… we humbly ask our HP for some  guidance in hopes of finding a little empathy and understanding for this other person.  Relief comes when we eventually put them in our prayers, "Bless them, change me."

this is the Buddha appearing to us,finding ways to free us from our own attachments
the very ones that have made us suffer again and again and again:
Look what the Universe is showing us! It’s in recognizing our resentments, that we return to our HP, to show us the things we can do while navigating the process of Step Four.

Resentments are the #1 cause for relapsing, so it’s imperative that I (1) recognize them early on, (2) see my part in a situation, and (3) become willing to take the appropriate action to dissolve my resentment in conjunction with God, Buddha, HP…


They joke about how sausages are made. The process can look pretty repulsing. So can Step 4; but with my sponsor as my guide, he is like the production manager in the sausage plant, I am the worker following his directions.

I had to trust his experience that all my efforts would bring me freedom to complete my inventory and move onto Step Five.

“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.” Dalai Lama

Blessings to you all during these COVID-19 times. No better time than to "practice these principles in all our affairs."

Bill K.