Saturday, June 10, 2017

Step 6: "It's dark, dark."

It's dark, dark...
Step 6:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Koan: A teacher and student talked far into the night. “It’s getting late,” said the teacher, “time for you to leave.”  The student opened the door, looked out saying, “It’s dark, dark.” The teacher lit a candle and handed it to the student.  Just as the student was about to take the candle, the teacher blew it out.

Gateless Barrier #28

…It’s dark… There’s the turning out of lights at bedtime. Trust, no fears, no doubt, just the ease of falling asleep.

…dark… and we see here, dark, dark… the the fear and doubt of the darkness outside.  Am I unsure my defects of character can be removed…that my H.P. could do this?

…the teacher lit a candle… A sense of gratitude may have appeared in the student, the candle will help ease the fear of what is out there in the dark.  I am ready to go now.  My sponsor is a teacher of sorts.

…the teacher blew it out…  Oh no, I’m scared again.  Why did the teacher blow out my candle and put me back into a state of fear? There must be a lesson in this.

Perhaps the teacher (my sponsor) is telling me that I don’t need the candle, to have faith in myself. When I’m ready, God is ready.  When I’m willing to put my life into the hands of God, what is there to fear? By doing this I’ve discovered that I have my own light that comes from within -- candle of trust, a light of readiness.

…time for you to leave… to leave that feeling of being left in the dark, to leave the feeling of what could happen, that I’m not prepared -- to leave the conversation with my sponsor about Steps 4 and 5 and move on. . My H.P. and Step 6 (and 7) shine brightly.

All of this happens, simply by flipping the switch of readiness. I still need to be reminded of this all the time.  What or who can I rely upon in situations of darkness?  Step 6 reminds me, its my Higher Power of course! Step 6 is putting Step 3 into action.

In sitting with koans, any part of a koan will do.  This time it was the word “dark” that kept appearing.  This, in turn brought to mind Shitou xiquian and an excerpt from his “Taking Part in the Gathering” as it appears in our sutra book:
The darkness is inside the bright,
But don’t look only with the eyes of the dark.
The brightness is inside the dark,
But don’t look only through the eye of the bright.
Bright and dark are a pair,
Like the front foot and back foot walking.

Bill K.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Step 6

 Start your sitting... Here is what we will be sitting with this month:

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


A teacher and student talked far into the night. “It’s getting late,” said the teacher, “time for you to leave.”  The student opened the door, looked out saying, “It’s dark, dark.” The teacher lit a candle and handed it to the student.  Just as the student was about to take the candle, the teacher blew it out.
Gateless Barrier #28

Bill K.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Step 5, Growing from the mud...

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

Koan: “From the mud grows the lotus.”

Our society has a thing about dirt and mud, equating it to germs and something that may harm us.  Mud is bad. There is the striving for the cleanest laundry, carpets, floors, countertops, glassware, and cars, etc.

Then again, I’ve read that kids who grow up on farms and ranches, because of being exposed to myriad forms of bacteria, microbes, and yes, “germs”, have a stronger and more robust immune system than city kids.  It’s because these kids are exposed to more dirt, mud and manure. So bad mud can be good mud.

We come into AA caked with varying amounts of our “muddiness” and dirt, accumulated over our drinking years.  In Step 4 we uncover the muddy and dirty parts of our being.  In Step 5 we air our dirty laundry not in public, but with our sponsor, perhaps wondering what any of this has to do with staying sober.

“No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experiences can benefit others.” (p. 84)

  • No matter how much mud and dirt we’ve accumulated
  • We will see how our muddiness can help others
  • If our 4th Step is mud
  • Then our 5th Step is a way to boost the spiritual immune system

Step 5 is the beginning of acknowledging and letting go of our muddy past actions (character defects and wrongdoings). From this we are on our way in becoming a different person, principally by putting others before self.

“In Buddhism the lotus is a symbol of the true nature of beings, which remains unstained by the mud of the world.”  And there are other ways to look at this.  Take light and darkness – we cannot have one without the other.  The lotus needs mud for its very survival.  No mud, no lotus.  This saying would be quite fitting, hanging on the wall at any 12 Step meeting.

In Step 4 we become aware and take ownership of our truth.  Muddy parts and all, this is life.  What Roger said he finds helpful comes from Eckhart Tolle, something to the effect:  "Life – it’s all part of a higher good.”  In Step 5, it’s the higher good of truth that sets us free.

Think about 1934.  Alcoholics Anonymous did not exist yet.  The first 100 members of AA were still deep into their full-blown self-centered alcoholic disease, muddying their lives and those around them.  In a short four or five years, growing from the dedicated work of these very same people, a lotus flower bloomed -- the AA Big Book became reality.  This flower of sobriety continues to bloom each time a 5th Step is completed – from our muddy past grows a flower.

Bill K.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


It's springtime, May is just around the corner...

What comes up for you with this koan and Step 5? 

We'll be meeting, as usual, on the second Friday of May, the 12th.

Is your practice growing? 

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

Koan: “From the mud grows the lotus.”

Bill K.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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

Koan: Someone asked his teacher, “But what about during disasters?”

She responded, “That’s it, too.”


And there are disasters that occur solely between my ears.
When we find ourselves in a situation we deem disasterous, it usually is, or becomes one. Doing Step 4 was not disasterous for me; but many a time I’ve heard where others bolted from AA at the thought of taking a moral inventory.  This could very well be the greater disaster than looking at one’s past actions.

In no way am I discounting disasters like bombings or tornados, etc. In these cases,
a majority of people rise to their highest level, risking their own life in helping others.  This koan applies to all disasters, including the stories we make up in our minds. That’s it, too.

I was drawn to the “it” in this koan. I have to show up for my life – this is it.  The landscape of reality, my life as I know it right now – this is it. Watching my landscape go by or ignoring it altogether, this is it.  Step 4 gave me an awareness of and insight to my behavior.  Yes, it was uncomfortable for me.  Sometimes it feels like sobriety is sending me to the front lines of my life. It is the Steps that show me how to respond.

I believe every one of the Twelve Steps is an awakening of sorts, but I didn’t always realize it at the time. The Steps are in order to facilitate these awakenings. Without taking the Step 4 inventory to the best of my ability at the time, I wouldn’t have anything available to go onto Step 5. “Step 4 is getting to know yourself,” said E., “And eventually being OK with who we are.  The “it” is the OK-ness.

H. was not focusing on “it” at all.  And on the topic of disasters, said he didn't think he has ever been in a disaster,  “Dangerous situations, yes, but not any disasters.” He calls Steps 4-10 his inventory Steps.  His ongoing prayers and practice are looking at himself and his role on a daily basis.

The “it” for M. was about rewards and payback for doing each Step.  In this case, Step 4, “Am I going to be OK after doing this?  Does God still have my back?”  For her, the answer has been yes.

In my Zen practice I’ve worked with the koans in a book called The Gateless Barrier. The same book by a different author is called The Gateless Gate.

As I continued sitting with this koan, I realized that “It” goes beyond my personal landscape of life, deeper into what is. You see, these dharma gates are always available to me under any condition. Others might say this is God’s message being revealed.  It can happen at any circumstance.

·      What about during fun times?  That’s it, too.

·      What about when working Step 4?  That’s it too.

“It” is the gate to awakening.  Some may think Step 4 is a barrier.  No, no, no.  Looking back on it now, it was the gate that opened up the rest of the Steps.

H. spoke again at the end of our meeting, telling us that, as a child he suffered from horrendously abusive parents. “I just realized that my childhood was a disaster. For countless years I wrestled with my role, questioning my relationship with my parents. It was when I worked the Fourth Step that I acknowledged I was the victim.   That’s it!  I found my true self in this matter and could move on.

On the drive home, H. was still wondering, “What was it for me to talk about my childhood tonight? The words just came out.”

I assured him that what he said was a perfect example of tonight’s koan in action.  And fortunately for the rest of us, we got to share his experience.

Bill K.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Time to Play With Our April Koan...

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

Koan: Someone asked his teacher, “But what about during disasters?”

         She responded, “That’s it, too.”

This thing I call 12 & Zen;  and by using koans in a non-traditional way, we play.

Playing a Step off a koan and playing a koan off a Step can bring about a new awareness. 

It’s like hitting the refresh button on your computer.  Twelve and Zen is a 12-Step refresh button!

Are you ready to play?

Bill K.

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.