Sunday, June 9, 2013

Twelve Steps For Everyone?

My "Study"
Here I am, typing away about something that hasn't happened yet.  Next month I may be giving a talk to our regular PZi Monday evening gathering; and they've asked me to talk about this 12 & Zen project of ours. As the old Chinese saying goes, "Talk won't cook rice," 12 & Zen is a practice, not something to be talked about.  Here are my plans...well, maybe not exact plans, at least notes though.

Members, non-members, people who are curious about PZi, this will be a group made up of all sorts of people, and not just those who have a 12 Step practice.  Lucky for me that there are other renditions of the 12 Steps available, Steps coming from a different source.  Here are three examples of Step One:

  • (From AA) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

  • (A Zen Practitioner’s Twelve Steps by Roshi Bernie Glassman) I admitted I was powerless over my attachments to my ego and not in control of my actions.

  • (12 STEPS FOR ‘NORMAL’ PEOPLE by Herb Eko Deer at Sweetwater Zen Center)  Admit we have issues and we are un-happy because of them.  Herb’s group sits with his steps as if they are koans.

Of course I’m not about to tell everyone that are addicts; so I plan to give them this from Dr. Andrew Weil: I maintain that the essence of addiction is craving for an experience or object to make yourself feel all right…I also feel that addiction is something that’s fundamentally human; it affects everybody. Or explained in another way, we all have our addictions.  There are small "a" addicts and there are capital "A" ADDICTS in this world.  We get to choose who we are!

The Buddha said life is suffering. We suffer because of our attachments.  The suffering he was talking about is when we think something is missing or not "right" in our lives. Dr. Weil uses the word cravings.  Step One is how we can address our cravings, no matter what kind of life we have led.
Just as we do on our 12 & Zen evenings, I will ask everyone to sit with one of these Step One examples (or any part of all of them for that matter).  Then I’ll introduce the koan for the evening.

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.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

The Steps are not complicated
What is this tiger you’re running from?                             
The tiger below, waiting for you, where is it in your life?

Who are the two mice and what are they doing?

What is your strawberry?


I told a friend what I was planning to do, showing her these alternative Steps, and she replied, “Well those steps are pretty interesting, and from a seasoned 12 stepper, they seem like an easier softer way to investigate. Which is fine, if the person is not faced with an alcoholic death :)”  I assure you that I don’t intend to dilute what 12 & Zen is doing here by using “different” Steps than the originals.

But still, a little voice is reminding me how people find their way into 12 Step groups. I’ve met alcoholics who began their journey in Al-Anon because they thought it was the “other” person in their life who had a problem with alcohol; but after hearing the stories there, they realized that they just might be the alcoholic.

By offering this mixed audience the opportunity to practice sitting with these three varieties of Step One, anything can happen.  One person may begin sitting with the “normal people’s” Step but end up with the AA Step. Another person my resonate with the "Zen" example.  And still another person may simply come to terms with their small “a” addiction.  It’s all good.

- - -

For your reference, here are the two examples of alternate Steps.

A Zen Practitioner’s Twelve Steps

1. I admitted I was powerless over my attachments to my ego and not in control of my actions.

2. I came to have faith in an Enlightened Way.

3. Without understanding it, I made a decision to practice an Enlightened Way.

4. I made a searching and fearless assessment of my ego.

5. Together with my sponsor, I made a commitment to a personal Zen practice.

6. I came to realize this practice as a lifetime discipline.

7. I came to realize the importance of seeing the effects of ego-centered actions.

8. I came to realize the importance of the role of forgiveness.

9. I made a commitment to work on my relations with others.

10. I started to study the role of personal reflection.

11. I made a commitment to deepen my realization of the Enlightened Way.

12. Having raised the Bodhi Mind, I came to realize that a commitment to serve others is an expression of the Enlightened Way.

This version of the Twelve Steps is an adaptation from the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was created by Roshi Bernie Glassman in 1987 at the Zen Community of New York as part of a study program.


1) Admit we have issues and we are un-happy because of them

2) Become willing to do these steps, believing we can heal if we do

3) Let go of “controlling” our issues, ask for help with them

4) Make a thorough list of all the resentments we have caused or have gotten, listing our part in them as well as our issues and triggers around them

5) Share this list with someone who can support and encourage us in this process

6) List our emotional issues and triggers, taken from the 4th step

7) Ask for help with these issues

8) Make a thorough list all the people we’ve hurt, especially those mentioned in the 4th step

9) Apologize to them all, making amends appropriately, unless it would cause more harm than good.

10) Continue these steps regularly, perhaps daily, as a spiritual practice

11) Meditate and pray about this process, letting go of selfish goals

12) Help others to heal their lives

 You may find more information about Herb Eko Deer's project:

And one more thing, if you've been wondering how to introduce 12 & Zen to your entire Zen community,  throwing out a wider net like this may be worth trying.  Let me know how it works for you.

Bill K.

1 comment:

  1. I am not really a regular at the Friday night sits but I know that for someone who is in a place of wondering...koans and steps are a wonderful way to open the door to a deeper, more enlightened part of oneself...for me , there is a longing for that deeper connection that I cannot readily bring forth when I don't practice being still...I also so enjoy the sharing about the steps and koans with others because the diversity of experiences are so intriguing...sharing our experience strength and hope is what we are doing here and that is what brings us closer to our heart place that reminds us that we are all connected...