Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The last 12 & Zen koan for 2020

 Dear Friends:

We are here…December…and the last 12 & Zen koan for 2020.

Enjoy!

Hope you are safe and well.

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:  A student asked Yunmen, "What does it mean to sit and contemplate reality?"

Yunmen answered, "The coin lost in the river is found in the river."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Step 11 -- Finding Home, Seeking Home

 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.

Koan: “You’ve already found your home – although you still must seek it.” *

I feel like I'm one of the fortunate ones – early on in my sobriety, even though I’m introverted by nature and always avoided large gatherings, I felt “at home” in the meetings. This was a pleasant surprise.  Whatever was going on in my life I knew I could find refuge in a meeting. All I had to do was sit there…and listen. Little did I know that my entire world would change.

Then I learned about having a home group; the meeting to never miss; and if I did, people would call me to see if I was OK. Friendships have grown over these past decades, in many ways we're like family.

I was also pretty much at home with the Steps with my sponsor, becoming more comfortable with them and no longer wondering if they could really help me. By now I had some experience, proving what they could change things for the better.

By the time my sponsor and I were at the 11th Step together,  I had acknowledged a home group. I think I was their coffee maker, too. The group relied on me to make the coffee and bring some cookies; and in return, I could rely on the group to help keep me sober. This is the AA family in action. A family dynamic means helping the other.

Above all, I was sober! My home life was improving, my health was improving, there was more serenity, too.  I knew that this was a process and I was headed in the right direction. When I was drinking I knew I was headed in the wrong direction; but didn’t know how to “not drink”.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Step 3 is like an insurance policy to stop drinking and bring about recovery. As with all insurance policies, one must pay the premiums. Step 3 comes with a price. Step 11 is the premium I must pay.  If I stop paying my premiums (practicing Step 11) this valuable insurance policy (Step 3) will eventually drop to the wayside…and bad things will return.

I’ve found a home in AA and I’ve found my home in the 12 Steps. To maintain these homes I must seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with my Higher Power, my ultimate home of homes.

Prayer and meditation are spiritual exercises to be practiced daily. 

Toggling between acceptance and gratitude provides a wonderful home life indeed.

 

 

From Sutra: PRAISE SONG FOR MEDITATION — Hakuin Ekaku

Truly is anything missing now?
Nirvana is right here, before our eyes;
this very place is paradise,
this very body, the Buddha.


Bill K.

 

*  Gary Brandt gave this koan to us one Monday evening.  He adapted it from “Memories of a Catholic Girlhood” by Mary McCarthy—specifically, from the foreword “To the Reader.” The quote in the edition I have is on pages 22-23 (she just refers to him as “an older priest”): “I do not suggest to you where you will find your spiritual home—but you will find it—of that I am certain—the Spirit will lead you to it. Indeed, for me you have already found it, although you still must seek it.”

 

 



 

 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

N-O-V-E-M-B-E-R and Step 11

 Greetings All:

 Are you ready for a little break? 

How about a Step 11 break and koan? 

Here's something good to sit with.

 

 

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.
 

Koan: “You’ve already found your home – although you still must seek it.”

 

Bill K. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Step 10 -- Am I giving life or killing?

 Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Koan: Freely we give life; and freely we kill.

(Possibly a capping phrase to koan, heard from a Monday night talk.)

 
How critical is Step 10 to our wellbeing?  This koan leaves no doubt. 

Step 10 is about choices. In any given situation, what shall I do? If I’ve been keeping up with my spiritual exercises, my decision will be for the greater good.

Choice #1: It’s being suggested that I continue. Continue to take personal inventory. This implies an ongoing practice. Am I aware of my behavior? Am I taking my personal inventory throughout the day?

Choice #2: “…and when we were wrong…” shows that I’m paying attention to my behavior, to my actions, and I probably need to make a decision.

Choice #3: Promptly admitting it, brings life to the situation and the possibility of growth.  When I delay Step 10 actions (or worse ignore), on several levels I’m killing myself, killing a relationship, feeding resentments, and killing any chance for peace.

The sum total of Choices 1, 2, and 3, are of course Step 10.  Step 10 was written because we are human and don’t always behave well.  This  reminds me of Purification, the first sutra we chant at every Monday night Zen gathering:

                                  

We’ve been given free will, still the Big Book states that we pray to our Higher Power for “Thy will not mine be done.” Running the show is not our strong suit.

My decision to follow Step 10 as written is a formula for right action.

                                     

The extent to which I practice Step 10 has a direct relationship with Steps 11 and 12, so the giving life and killing continues. Practicing Step 10 well gives life to Step 11; and practicing Step 11 well gives life to Step 12.

We often hear that Steps 10, 11, and 12 are the Maintenance Steps – the actions needed for living this day forward well, in service to others.

Bill K.

 P.S. I apologize for being a little late with this post. Sixty percent procrastination and forty percent writer's block. Hope you are all safe and well during these interesting times.

- - - - - 

And this comment from Christine S. -- 

The ground on which we stand... a truly important thought.

Once we thought we had to cover up our past. We wished to excise parts of it we didn’t like and only keep the “good” parts.

Now with a bit of spiritual growth we realize the complete folly of a that kind of thinking. What we missed was a simple truth: that an unexamined life is not worth living as Plato wrote, citing the words of his great teacher Socrates. The truth is that we stand on a complex foundation all of which made us who we are now. Our choice is to be who we are right now and to benefit ourselves and others by making the most creative use of that foundation.



 


 

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.