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),
  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State,
  • California League of Conservation Voter,
  • Center for Biological Diversity,
  • Center for Climate Protection,
  • Earth Justice,
  • Equal Justice Society,
  • Environmental Defense Fund,
  • Natural Resources Defense Council,
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America,
  • Reporters Without Borders,
  • Southern Poverty Law Center,
  • Union of Concerned Scientists,

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.