Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Step 1, "We have come to our real work."

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

Koan: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work”   

From The Impeded Stream by Wendell Berry

From Dale:  "My real work is to learn about myself by doing the inventory steps. The deeper meaning of Step 1 begins with I don’t know, then admitting that I need help.  It’s still this way after all these years of sobriety."

Impede: to interfere with or slow the progress of.

If alcoholism isn’t an impediment in our lives, I don’t know what is. Alcohol absolutely impedes our lives, ultimately in the most severe ways. Eventually it shows up as incomprehensible demoralization, utter despair, hopelessness and a fear of impending doom. If we’re fortunate, the time will come where we find “we no longer know what to do.”

Pam: "I always had a plan, knew what to do, a scam, could do something in that righteous place. In Step 1 it was about sitting with my failure. I can step back and find acceptance and stop trying to figure it all out. I really don’t know what to do."

I was there once. I didn’t know what I could do. My way wasn’t working. I couldn’t stop drinking. I gave up. The tiniest voice hesitantly told me, “You are probably an alcoholic.” There weren’t any arguments anymore.

Elsie: “The Steps help us to get out of our own way.”

I knew very little about AA then. My mother had found AA and would send me little notes like the Serenity Prayer. I ignored her attempts as not applicable to me.  And I knew there were places like treatment centers, too. Early in December 1986 I told my wife that I think I need to go to one of those treatment centers. No argument there, either.

This is where my real work began. I didn’t know it at the time that I had opened the door of recovery and taken Step One, at least in a general way. From that point on, recovery’s momentum grew as my working continued, doing what I was asked to do at the center.

Kirsten: “At 22 months clean, I’m now actually working on my insides now! When I was out there, I never gave a thought about this, it was chasing after all the external things."

What I’ve experienced in sobriety with Step 1 is that is no longer a barrier. Perhaps, though, that’s what many of us have to work through -- the discovery that Step 1 changed from a barrier to an impediment.

Could Step One be an offering from the universe? “Hey, you might want to take a look at this.”

In our sutras we have Bodhisattva’s Vow by Torei Enji where he says:

“…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.”

Then Dale gave us a line about knowing from the Tao Te Ching: "He who regards his intellectual knowledge as ignorance has deep insight. He who overrates his intellectual achievement as definite truth is deeply sick.”
-  Translated by Hua-Ching Ni, 1995, Chapter 71

By getting a sponsor and doing the Steps, the working continues; and now it’s not a burden.  AA is my life’s work today; still, impediments happen daily. Something comes up that I resist or don’t like. Something seems to be getting in the way of my wants. GASP! When I recognize this I know I need to get to work on the matter.

John said, “This koan was very apropos to what I’ve been living these past few weeks. I’ve been driving myself to think I can do more than what I can actually do.” It begins by thinking “I can do this. I force myself to do more until I find myself stuck [an impediment] and have to admit I’m powerless. This is the place where I can actually begin to work by realizing I can only do so much."

When a stream meets an obstacle, the water always takes the path of least resistance. May you find the Steps to be the easier way.

Bill K.

Friday, December 27, 2019

January koan and Step 1

Dear Friends,

Hard to believe that January 2020 is just around the corner... and two weeks away, with our local
(Sonoma County) 12&Zen meeting on January 10th.

What better way than to begin the New Year with Step One. Time to get to work.


- - - -

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

Koan: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

                we have come to our real work”

From The Impeded Stream by Wendell Berry

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Step 12 -- Woven and Interwoven

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Koan: “We and everything we perceive are woven and interwoven

And this interweaving continues on and on,

While each thing stands in its own place.”

    ~ Shitou Xiquan

We and every one of the Steps are woven and interwoven. What happens when our actions show that we’ve embraced the 12 Steps into our lives? This interweaving continues on and on.

Each Step stands in its own place, ready for engagement and our full attention, open with no barriers.
“We and everything we perceive are woven and interwoven” – Seeing this is the result of our “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…”

“And this interweaving continues on and on” as we “tried to carry this message to alcoholics.” In the larger picture, we’re carrying the spirit of AA into all we meet. This weaving continues no matter what.

“While each thing stands in its own place”
– ready for our attention, we “practice these principles in all our affairs”
  • One day at a time
  • One hour at a time
  • One minute at a time
  • One second at a time
  • Just now
And yet each thing is in relationship with each other thing:

 The individual,

         The family,

                  The community,

                           The district,

                                    The region

                                             The state,

                                                      The country,

                                                               The continent,

                                                                        The world,

                                                                                 The solar system,

                                                                                          The galaxy

                                                                                                   The Universe

Early on I thought of the Steps as being linear – 1,2,3,4,5, etc. Now I know they’re not only interwoven, they build upon each other. Step 12 is the consummation of all the Steps, where all possibilities exist, ever expanding in all directions.

From "This Floating World", Lion's Roar, August 1, 2018
Since the Steps are so much a part of my day-to-day consciousness, I’d be amiss not to include the communal dreaming that Joan writes about.  This is part of the ever expanding. The Steps bring about awakening, what about when we’re asleep?

Part of his daily morning prayer

Near the end of the evening we talked about dreams. I know I dream, but seldom remember them.  Dale said he’s been a lucid dreamer all his life. We know dreams are important; so it seems natural that the Steps are also part of our dreamscape.

Bill K.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Step 12 and December Koan

Here is what we will be sitting with in December, just two weeks away.

Bill K.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Koan: “We and everything we perceive are woven and interwoven

And this interweaving continues on and on,

While each thing stands in its own place.”

    ~ Shitou Xiquan

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Layman P’ang Gobsmacked Me!

Isn’t it amazing the times we notice seemingly unrelated events unfold, only to discover their chain of events are not only related, but life changing? This is one of those times.

My teachers say koans are transformative. They are. In one fell swoop my formal koan practice with Layman P’ang and what I call 12 & Zen (where, in a small group, we sit with a Step and a koan) merged.  Included in this mix are three friends, meeting level with Suzanne’s words, the 10th Step, the 7th Step, and a newly exposed character defect of mine.

At this past October’s 12 & Zen group we sat with Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it;” but it was Layman P’ang’s koan that rocked my boat, not the one we sat with that Friday evening.

As many of you know, besides 12 & Zen, I continue with my formal Zen practice working with several teachers in koan study. I was moving onto the next koan from the book “The Sayings of Layman P’ang” translated by James Green and his dialogue with P’ u-chi entitled “Open or Closed?”  For those who are not familiar with koan study, please remember that the koan is always about you. You are at the center of each koan.  Another aspect when sitting with koans is that any part of a koan, even a small phrase or single word is still the koan.

As I began reading, I couldn’t get past the first sentence. I was blown away when I read: “I don’t care to see old man know-it-all today.” Not only am I an old man (I’m 75), I realized I-AM-A-KNOW-IT-ALL! And because of this, I suspect there are people out there who don’t want to see me today. A surprising relief washed over when I took ownership and admitted this to myself --because I know there’s something I can do about it.

Then three of my friends came to mind. The very ones that at different times within the past few months have said in effect, “You’re such a know-it-all. One of them said, “You really know a lot, don’t you?” I made some feeble reply that I try to know the facts. At the time, their words didn’t resonate. But all of their responses must have been residing in the back of my mind like a kind of software that reveals clues of itself then disappears, only to pop up another day.

The more I read on, the more I realized how this koan was overlapping in my life and conditions. 

“How do you know whether it’s Open or Closed?”
  •        I’m right and you’re wrong. You’re right and I’m wrong.
  •       When I’m open to not getting in the last word, our conversations usually remain open and free flowing.
  •       When I insist on proving I have the right answers, our exchange contracts. I’m closing the door to our conversation.
  •       I’m open to not being a know-it-all and closed to being a know-it-all.

“You’ve been playing me for a fool all along.”

  •       I’m only fooling myself being a know-it-all.
  •       There’s no way I help others this way.

I don’t need to be “right” all the time. I don’t need to get in the last word. It’s not my job to correct others’ statements. I don’t have to play Captain FactCheck anymore. The thought of being a know-it-all is uncomfortable for me now. It’s not like I plan my day around it.  What is this about me that insists that others hear my facts? As the Big Book often points out, it probably has to do with a self-centered fear. I’m an alcoholic. I don’t want to be a know-it all anymore.

In Step 10 it states, “When we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”  I know what to do. When the time came, I said to my friends, “First, I’d like to thank you for pointing out a character defect of mine, and secondly, I need to apologize for my behavior. I am a know-it-all.”

Then, remembering Step 7, if I truly want to improve upon my character, I need to humbly ask my Higher Power to remove my shortcomings.  All of this requires daily attention and is now integrated into my spiritual practice.

And speaking about spiritual practice brings up what Suzanne said, from something she saw on Facebook.  It was another Ah-HAH moment that ties all of this together.

The most important spiritual growth
doesn’t happen when you’re meditating or on a yoga mat.
It happens in the midst of conflict  -- when you’re frustrated,
angry or scared and you’re doing the same old thing,
and then you suddenly realize that you have a choice to do it differently,
or think about it differently,
or “be” about it differently.

My Dear Friends,

If, in the past you have thought of me as a know-it-all, I sincerely apologize. And since old habits are hard to change, every now and then I may again fall back into past behavior.  If I happen to be with you at the time, where you recognize my know-it-all habit returning, please give me a spiritual nudge by saying, “Hey Bill, is your door open or closed?” Then, hopefully we'll have a good laugh together.

Formal koan practice, Layman P’ang’s koan, 12 & Zen, three friends calling me out, admitting my shortcoming, Step 10, Step 7, a meeting and Suzanne’s words -- It’s been quite a ride these past few weeks.

Thank you my friends and thank you Mr. P’ang. This is truly living!

Bill K.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

What is the key to Step 11?

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


A sponsee asked, “What is the key to Step 11?”

Her sponsor leaned in.

At our Sunday 11th Step Meeting (It's actually called the Moment of Silence Meeting) a while back, the speaker used “Lean in” as a mantra for how she addresses Step 11. So I "made up” this koan.

Dale and his sponsee were talking about this koan earlier in the day. He was amused that both he and his sponsee came up with the same words in response to leaning in – listen and attention.

And then, laughing aloud he said, “Leaning in also means ‘Let me tell you a secret.’”

He found this evening gratifying by simply listening. First it was listening to the silence. The heater would occasionally make clicking noises and there was the faint drone of traffic going by; but what developed for him was an enveloping field of silence. “I would sense my heartbeat and then the pulse in my head,” he said, “becoming very aware of my body, leaning into myself, which I believe is also leaning into my Higher Power. This was my conscious contact this evening.”

“Conscious contact is the key to Step 11, which is synonymous with attention.”
My friend Larry exclaimed this at our 11th Step Meeting. It comes from our Twelve and Twelve, Page 98

Leaning in is an action, it takes effort; and it’s through effort that we improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power. When I’m leaning in, I’m getting closer to the object that matters, closer to the things I am thankful for. We lean with our senses, yes?

·      Seeing with our eyes -- Did you see that cute little baby over there?

·      Hearing with our ears -- Did you hear that melodious bird calling?

·      Smelling with our nose -- Can you believe the smell of that rose?

·      Tasting with our mouth -- That’s the best apple pie I have ever tasted.

·      Touching with our skin – If you could only feel how soft my dog Wendy’s ears are.

In other words, it’s by paying attention to our surroundings that we notice what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. What’s happening here is we’re paying attention to what the Universe has presented to us in this moment. These are gates to God.

For me, the accelerant, the catalyst, the “Special Sauce” to Step 11 and “…improving my conscious contact with God” is gratitude. Gratitude is the surest gateway to God that I know. And it all comes about when I lean into my life and notice.

Leaning in also reminded me of a recent YouTube video I watched, “It Looked Impossible: New film follows free climbers up the ‘Dawn Wall’ - NPR

Link: https://www.npr.org/2018/11/20/669573056/dawn-wall-climbers-gripped-razor-thin-edges-up-el-capitans-impossible-face

The mountain climbers were absolutely leaning into the rock’s face (along with gravity, a power greater than themselves), as close as they could, paying attention to every nook and cranny. Paying attention to their every movement. Their lives depend upon this closeness to the rock face. It was holding them up.

This, a perfect metaphor for practicing Step 11…when we fully lean into our lives with prayer and meditation, the leaning can be so deep into our HP, it takes us to a place where we notice there is no separation between us.

"You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop." Rumi (1207-1273)

Bill K.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

What is the key to Step 11?


Quite a week we've had here in Sonoma County coping with the Kincade Fire. I hope you are safe.

We meet early in November on Friday the 8th. I wonder what sitting with Step 11 and this koan may bring to you?

Bill K. 

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


A sponsee asked, “What is the key to Step 11?”

Her sponsor, without saying a word, leaned in.