Thursday, December 29, 2011

Step 12 and Christmas

Continuing on the topic of the twelfth month and Step Twelve, the holiday season is drawing to a close. Holiday season? It's Christmastime for most people in the U.S.. There, I said it in a Zen blog. Christmas ... which fits quite nicely into the scheme of things. Here is a message that one of our PZi teachers (David Weinstein) posted online:

The first time that Christmas ever meant anything to me, other than the popular culture meaning of gift giving and having parties, was the Christmas I spent at the Kopan Monastery outside of Kathmandu, on a hill overlooking Bodhnath, the largest stupa in Nepal. When the Lamas were asked why they celebrated Christmas, complete with a tsampa nativity scene, they said, 'Jesus was a great bodhisattva, why wouldn't you celebrate his birthday?' I think of it as a way of celebrating the diversity of the manifestations of awakening. Merry Awakening! -- David

Jesus as a great bodhisattva ... sounds quite reasonable to me. And what did he teach? Good will to all; love thy neighbor as thyself; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. These sound like bodhisattva features. The Buddha's teachings can be condensed down to three words, "Do no harm". And Step 12 can easily take its place in this setting, where we find our freedom by helping others. By working the Steps a transformation takes place. We learn that it is "better to understand than to be understood." We learn to give more of ourselves and take less for ourselves.

Here is the other koan that we apply to Step 12, Case 8. Entangling Vines:

Lingyun Zhiqin of Fuzhou was enlightened upon seeing the blossoms of a peach tree. In a verse he said: For thirty years I sought a sword-master How many times have leaves fallen and new buds appeared? But since having seen the peach blossoms, I have never doubted again!

"Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps..." is no different from Lingyun's experience upon seeing the peach blossoms. He didn't set out by saying that when he sees some peach blossoms that he would be awakened. But at that moment he was not thinking of himself.
He was completely open to whatever came next. At that moment he was peach blossoms.

So yes, Jesus, Buddha, Christmas, bodhisattvas, Step Twelve, and koans seem right for each other.

Bill K.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Step 12, Saving All Beings

We have the Four Boundless Vows, the first being "to save all beings." Appearing in different translations, "Beings are numberless" I vow to save them, I vow to liberate them, I vow to be one of them, I vow to wake them. Really now? It's easy to save all puppies; but for one person to save all beings? Impossible. But we do.

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."

To carry our message, our truth, our principles, isn't this how we save others? It's not about rescuing or propping them up in a codependent sort of way, it's about attraction rather than promotion. An attraction of how we live our lives. By practicing the 12 Steps the best I can, is to save all beings. By practicing my Zen the best I can, is to save all beings. It's not to be thought of in a quantitative way either, as in "I saved so-and-so 10% today. The operative words of Step 12 are to carry and practice. If we are carrying, if we are practicing -- we are saving.

We just had our monthly 12 & Zen gathering a few days ago. This being December, we were doing a koan with Step 12.

Chao Chou, teaching the assembly, said, “The Ultimate Path is without difficulty; just avoid picking and choosing.”

Merrily along I went throughout the week carrying this koan with Step 12, only to eventually realize that I had copied the koan we use for Step 2 instead of the one for Step 12. But it was working for me! The breadth of a koan's workability never ceases to amaze me. Our evening went well using this koan.

It's probably not a surprise to you that "awakening" arrives from within. It's available to us any time, any place, still we think it's elsewhere and attempt to grasp for it outside ourselves. Just try to pick your next awakening experience. There's no way we can pick and choose our awakenings; but we try nonetheless.

Step 12 is about our own awakening having worked the Steps with our sponsor. Of course we aren't done with it all ... it's the beginning of our journey of helping (saving) others. We've become givers instead of takers, giving of ourselves, by practicing " ...these principles in all our affairs." When our words and thoughts and actions reflect the 12 Steps, we save all beings, including ourself.

Bill K.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


"The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything." Albert Schweitzer

In a way this posting is deviating a bit from the blog's 12 Step/koan dialog, still, no matter what Step we're with, the act of being thankful is always available, running in our recovery veins. At November meetings around here, "This is gratitude month," is almost always acknowledged, with that being the topic du jour. It was the topic of a planned PZi one day retreat; but because the teacher became ill, the retreat was cancelled. Not to be forgotten, when our Monday evening rolled around the gratitude koan from the cancelled retreat appeared.

But first came the Monday morning news when I was told of an horrific event -- a 12 Step friend of mine had been stabbed to death by his mentally deranged son.

My heart was heavy as I walked into the zendo. My only plans were to sit with this tragedy and later to call out Mark's name at the dedication sutra. Jacqueline was leading the evening sitting and offered this koan:

"Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever."

Did I have some complaints on my mind? You bet I did. This shouldn't have happened to Mark. What a senseless killing? His daughter had called 911, oh the pain she must be going through. And the troubled son, his life now ... and the county, why did they choose to close down the only emergency mental health facility? Oh yeah, I have some complaints here, and not feeling much gratitude at all. And given more time I might have included complaints about not having anything to be grateful for.

Clearing my mind, coming back to the koan, clearing my mind, coming back to the koan, I sat.

I would rather be thankful for something agreeable where it's easy to have no complaints... you know, where everything is going your way. Not tonight. Things aren't going my way. Is there room for thankfulness here? Nope. But as the evening progressed my thoughts shifted to what it was like to know Mark. Such a gentle man. He had more than three decades of recovery, too. His words have helped me along the way, his actions have shown me how to live more fully, using the 12 Steps in my life. Thank you very much for having Mark in my life, I have no complaints whatsoever. While "being" with Mark on my cushion, I realized the complaints had vanished, there was no room for complaints to appear. Complaints only narrow my vision and taint my mind. Is this what my Higher Power wants for me?

This koan can be viewed as a barrier-like rigid statement (akin to "you should be doing it this way") -- or as the catalyst for a stretching, integration and flexibility of thoughts, conflicting thoughts not in conflict, a freedom supported by the Universe. There even came a thankfulness for not complaining; for it's thankfulness that opens up my heart and mind to what this life is really made of, something I don't want to miss.

Bill K

Saturday, November 12, 2011

God and Zen, Can This Work?

Many years ago when I was the registrar for PZi, I contacted a local (mainline) protestant church to see if we could post a flyer on their bulletin board about our upcoming retreat . The secretary was very pleasant saying that she had to clear this request with her pastor, that he was away right now and would get back to me. A few days later, since I was in the neighborhood I dropped by the church to see about our request. The secretary informed me that we could not post our flyer. Then she said her pastor told her that "...Buddhists are people who worship trees...that our flyer would be inappropriate for their bulletin board."

We worship trees? His response surprised me at its ignorance. Had he also called us pagans, that too would have been an inadequate response.

Most 12-Steppers have a God in their lives. Regarding the book Alcoholics Anonymous, since "Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem" (P.45). Finding a Higher Power is critical for recovery, and at the same time, there are those who come to believe by not believing. There's a story around here about the weekly Atheists and Agnostics Group that was started more than 20 years ago. The joke is that all they talked about at this meeting was God.

God and Zen, can this work?

That there are Zen Masters in the United States who also happen to be Rabbis or Catholic Priests is evidence that absolutely YES, we can have a God in our life and practice Zen, too. One of our PZi members is the minister of a local protestant church where, besides his ministry, he also teaches Zen koans and is creating Christian koans to boot. I don't try to figure out who God is, nor how Zen works. What I have found is that this God/Zen combination is extraordinarily beneficial -- a symbiotic relationship for me -- where no longer can I practice one and not the other.

Here's a photograph of David, a United Church of Christ minister, meditates in the warm morning sun at a 7-day Zen retreat held at a Catholic facility.

Nyogen Senzaki (1876-1958) was one of the early Japanese Zen Masters to come to the United States. He used to wonder why Americans kept asking him, "What do you believe in? Who do you worship?" His reply went something like, "We in Zen don't believe in anything, we understand. We don't worship anything, we practice."

How fortunate for us! Zen doesn't tell us we have to believe in something and Twelve Step programs tell us that we may choose what to believe. By practicing the Twelve Steps and Zen Koans, we've been given the gift to believe and understand, which just may put us at a distinct advantage for finding joy and freedom in our lives.

Bill K.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Creating Space Between Thoughts

I'm working with a sponsee who's been in recovery for quite some time now -- still he hasn't placed much of a priority on meditation. He told me he meditates a few minutes at a time here and there during the day. It's good that he's doing this; but I've found that a daily block of time produces better results. Surely anyone can set aside 2% of their day to meditate -- that's only 30 minutes. Any amount of meditation is beneficial, right?

"There is really no benefit to meditation ... but the side effects can be great." -- Zen student Jurek Dumchowski *

I can't hear or experience any messages from my Higher Power when I'm talking. I can't hear or experience any messages from my Higher Power when I'm thinking, for thinking is but talking to myself in my head. "Selfishness -- self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles." The self-centered are always thinking about themselves.

I've got to make space for God's messages, the Universe's messages, a koan's message. This is why a BLOCK of meditation time is so important. Revelations come to me in-between the words of my thoughts and meditation widens that space between words. Slivers of meditation time give but slivers of reception while blocks of meditation provide the potential to give full reception to what's being offered.

Thinking, thinking about thoughts, not criticizing yourself for this, letting go of those thoughts, returning to the moment -- Thinking, thinking about thoughts, not criticizing yourself for this, letting go of those thoughts, returning to the moment -- Thinking, thinking about thoughts, not criticizing yourself for this, letting go of those thoughts, returning to the moment -- Thinking, thinking about thoughts, not criticizing yourself for this, letting go of those thoughts, returning to the moment... this is all you have to do for full reception.

I was taught to count my breath in meditation, keeping my eyes about one-quarter open. When I find myself telling stories to myself, to let them go and return to my breath.

"In zazen, leave your front door and your back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don't serve them tea." Shunryu Suzuki

Koan practice is really a kind of meditation practice. When I find my mind wandering, when I notice that I'm thinking about my thoughts, to let them go and return to my koan. Any part of the koan will do -- koan meditation ... coming back to your koan, just like coming back to your breath.

Establishing a daily half-hour block of meditation is like having regular workout sessions at the gym except here you're building up your meditation muscles and endurance. This will increase the effectiveness of any meditations during the day. By increased effectiveness I mean better "reception" is created for any messages coming your way. An enhanced meditation practice is preparation for great side effects. How? A new-found ease in your meditation appears. No longer is it a chore or "homework" that your sponsor gives to you; instead, it will become a lifesaving tool that you'll reach for without even knowing that you're reaching.

And all this will happen by setting aside only 2% of your day to meditate.

Bill K

* "Zen On Sonoma Mountain ..." -- The Press Democrat Newspaper, Published on May 3, 1998

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Stopped Looking and a Treasure Appeared

In this blog's background material you may recall how a particular koan came to me as Step Three. Two other people (so far) have told me about their koan/Step experiences, one with Step One and the other with Steps 6/7. Over the months I went through several books in search of appropriate koans to "match up" with the Steps. This has proven useful to a small extent -- at least we have something to work with since all koans have their way with us regardless of whether one is working with the Steps or not.

I've now stopped looking for these "special" koans. It was like me trying to make things happen and you all know how well this works (self will). Instead, just like in the beginning, I've realized that it's better to allow the koans to come to me. This usually happens in a variety of ways; either it's a koan I hear at a retreat or Monday evening, or it's one I happen to be working with in our PZi curriculum, or it just appears.

Student: "Where do I find the Way?"
Teacher: "Enter here."

This most recent example came to me this way. Like a teeter-totter, "Enter here" became balanced with "Came to believe." Enter here, came to believe -- came to believe, enter here -- enter here, believe -- believe, here -- here, believe...

For sure, the Second Step Prayer.

"God, I'm standing at the turning point now. Give me your protection and care as I abandon myself to you and give up my old ways and my old ideas just for today." P. 59

Standing at the turning point? Enter here. And it gets better!

Try this as a call and response prayer/koan.

"God, where do I find the Way?" God: "Enter here."

I must admit the joy I felt carrying Step 2 and this koan about for the next few days. It felt just right, like all the pieces fit together. But this koan had more to say. There were more pieces to it. While mulling over "Where do I find the Way," Step One replaced "Came to believe." Where do I find the way to embrace Step One? Enter here. Where do I find the way to work Step 10, 11 or 12? Enter here!

Last Friday I offered the group to sit with this koan and then tell me what Step came up for them. One said Step 2, another Step 4, and a few said ALL of the Steps.

We may have a universal koan for the 12 Steps! Any Step! What a great tool for my toolbox. I can stop looking now.

How does this work for you?

Bill K.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

With Much "Vigah"

For those of my age, perhaps you recall President John F. Kennedy with his New England accent speaking these words with much "vigah?" Invigorate ("to give life and energy to"), this is the word that's been missing from my description of what koan practice has done to my 12
Step practice.

Practicing with koans -- carrying them about in my day, meditating with them, being distracted then returning to the koan -- has evolved into me using these same techniques with the 12 Steps. This was not my plan. It seems to be just another way how koans work.

Koan practice at PZi looks very different today than what it was when I arrived some years ago. "After 20 years of teaching koans in a classical way, John Tarrant, the founder of PZi developed a new way of teaching koans in a setting that requires no experience with meditation or Zen. The emphasis is on taking one step into freedom. Everything we do is directed to that end." *

This more expansive and inclusive view of koan practice is reflected in the different experiments/projects happening at PZi: One member is exploring, via the internet, by giving koans to Moms to work with and discuss, another member has begun using koans with hospice training, a third member who happens to also be a Protestant minister is introducing koans at his church, and not only Zen koans but also Christian koans he's discovered, and here I have melded koans to the 12 Steps.

In my case it's become less "thinking" about the Steps or dissecting meaning from the Big Book and more about how koans have "given life and energy" to the Steps in my life.

Just as a small phrase or snippet of a koan can appear to me, transforming whatever I was thinking into an ah-ha moment of being; now small bits of a Step are appearing more often with their way of transforming awareness to the moment. This is good. It leads to less thinking of the small "me", and as we all know, "Selfishness-self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles."

Bill K.

*From a PZi Announcement

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Host and Guest

"The head monks of two parts of the meditation hall caught sight of each other and simultaneously gave a shout.

A monk asked the Master, 'In this case, was there any guest and any host, or wasn't there?'

The Master said, 'Guest and host are perfectly obvious!' Then the Master said, 'All of you -- if you want to understand what I have just said about guest and host, go ask the two head monks of the meditation hall.' "

This passage comes from The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi, translated by Burton Watson.

John Tarrant Roshi gave us a koan, the continuation of Lin-chi's voice:

"Wherever you are, just take the role of host, and that place will be a true place."

So began my sitting with this koan for a while, and it returned to my consciousness from time to time. What does it mean to be a good host? What do I get out of this experience? What does it mean to be a good guest? What do I get out of this experience?

"...and to practice these principles in all our affairs." Some say the principle of Step 12 is charity and love -- isn't this a pretty good example of being a good host? Whatever (or whoever) comes into our life, "Welcome, come on in ... how may I serve you?"

It wouldn't surprise me to one day experience this koan working in all the Steps. Each Step offers a principle: Step 1 Acceptance, Step 2 Faith, Step 3 Surrender and Trust ... Step 11 Patience.

Could this be the Steps taking on the role of host? And I am the guest?


Host and guest, Steps and Koans, welcome.

Bill K.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Teaching What?

  • I received a very sincere email the other day where the sender referred to my teaching.
  • A different emailer had "When the student is ready..." as the Subject Line.
  • In a casual conversation, a discussion about the upcoming October discussion group, I was asked if it was a classroom setting where one needed prior knowledge.
All of this has me thinking about the word "teaching" and where it fits into the scheme of things here. At PZi we have "official" teachers. John Tarrant Roshi is the main teacher. He has acknowledged others as dharma teachers or in training to become one. We also have senior leaders who give talks on Monday evenings, some who very well one day become a dharma teacher. I suppose I'm referred to as a senior student, and am given a few opportunities to lead discussions and facilitate groups, which entails a little small "t" teaching. You might consider me like the grad student teaching a lab class. We're in the 12 Step/Koan laboratory!

Even though I don't consider myself a big "T" teacher, I do know, from my experiences that what I'm presenting to you is unique to the Zen setting and thoroughly worthwhile.

Who Might Be My Audience?

  • Zen practitioners in 12 Step recovery seeking different ways of experiencing the Steps
  • 12 Step practitioners seeking out Zen as a possible path
  • Zen practitioners looking outside the 12 Step group meeting arena
  • Zen practitioners unsure if the 12 Steps are for them
  • Can you add something new here?
What I've found in our group is an opening up, a more spacious (and safe) container for discussion without the usual constraints at a 12 Step meeting. Yet, as lively and intimate the discussion, it's afterwards where realization (ah-ha moments) most often appear.

It's when the koan appears from nowhere, revealing an aspect of one's life or with a Step that's never been experienced before. Call it going deeper, expanding horizons, or awakening, it's not something anyone has taught you. It's you being aware of that moment without the usual story-line in your head -- you and the universal truth -- which, after all, includes all things.

Bill K.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Body Exposed

The teacher last night gave us the "Golden Wind" koan, Case 27 from the Blue Cliff Record. This is the koan we use for Step Three.

A student of the Way asked Yunmen, "How is it when the tree withers and the leaves fall?"

Yunmen said, "The golden wind is revealing itself."

There I was, a slight smile on my face, ready to let this familiar koan engulf my meditation when my thoughts suddenly got thrown for a loop. He gave a different translation of the last line:

Yun Men said, "Body exposed in the golden wind."

"But, but, but," my mind chattered. Back and forth I went between the two translations, then my smile returned as I sat with "body exposed".

I like to think that in Step Three when it says, "made a decision," that this is really a prediction of things to come. Lord knows all the stories we've heard about three frogs on a lily pad and that we don't have to make the decision right now. But there comes a time when we become vulnerable to our Higher Power. We expose ourselves fully. It just happens one day ... that time where we stop trying to shield ourselves. OK God, let's begin to work things out together. I'll stop resisting and let you do the heavy lifting.

And later on in my meditation, the word "golden" brought to mind something beautiful, elegantly timeless, and warmly rich. "Golden wind," something that I can become completely and comfortably wrapped up in.

I have to be willing to allow my Golden Wind in. This can happen only when I'm fully exposed to this very moment.

As you may recall, it was this koan (the first version) that started my process of discovering how koans can affect my 12 Step practice. Now I can see how this different translation offers a deeper meaning to Step Three.

Bill K.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"What is zen?" asked the monk.

"Attention. Attention. Attention," replied the master.

Here is a koan that is fully encompassing. OK, they all are. What I meant is I didn't initially relate this koan to the Steps or recovery. Lately we've been having a PZi email dialog about "What is zen?" and responses have been all over the map.

This koan came from an old Zen story: a student said to Master Ichu, 'Please write for me something of great wisdom.'

Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: 'Attention.'
The student said, 'Is that all?'

The master wrote, 'Attention. Attention.'
The student became irritable. 'That doesn't seem profound or subtle to me.'

In response, Master Ichu wrote simply, 'Attention. Attention. Attention.'
In frustration, the student demanded, 'What does this word attention mean?'

Master Ichu replied, 'Attention means attention.'

Source: Charlotte Joko Beck. 1993. Nothing special: Living Zen. New York: HarperCollins. 168.

In keeping with my interest in the 12 Steps and koans, this particular koan leaked into my
consciousness appearing this way:

Attention to what? Practice! Paying attention to practice is a good thing. So zen is also Practice. Practice. Practice. We know that ... to practice these principles in all our affairs. Even when we screw up, that's practice. Noticing that we have screwed up, that's practice. Making amends, that's practice.

"What is zen?" asked the student.

"Sobriety. Sobriety. Sobriety," replied the master.

This is our practice. This is what we are attending to... our recovery.

Some time passed when another story question arose.

"What is sobriety?" asked the student.

"Zen. Zen. Zen," replied the master.

And there you have it. Proof positive that the path we are walking together, our practice of the Steps and koans, is something to be grateful for.

Bill K.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

There Is a Solution

When I was asked to be the speaker at a meeting this past week (not one of my favorite activities), my mind took it's usual discourse ... "What will I say? What can I offer? Other people could do a better job."

Ego you know. Then I snapped out of it and said, "Yes, I'll be there."

I find no use in trying to script my talks at meetings; but I do sometimes have a note with several key words jotted down. No words came to me until I was showering the day before the meeting, when the name of the meeting popped up, "There is a Solution Group." I love that name. It seems so promising -- a way out of where we are coming from.

Solution. Solution. What has been a solution to my recovery? Hmmm. It probably won't surprise you what came up for me. Practice!

Practice was at the heart of my message that day. In Step 12 we "... practice these principles in all our affairs."

It's an example of how the Steps have, at times, come to work me. This only can happen when I'm present to the moment and allow the Step to enter my consciousness. When I'm trying to ignore the moment, or squabble with the moment, or make up a story about the moment, my life becomes more painful. But when I accept what is really present, then something like "This reminds me of Step One" might arise, or "This would be a good time to ask my Higher Power for some help," or "I shouldn't have said that, time to make amends."

In the beginning of recovery we do have to think about these matters, and think about solutions, as in reading a chapter of the Big Book and declaring, "Now I know what to do! " In maintaining a practice, the Steps appear to me rather than my thinking arriving at the solution, thus practicing is a solution to my problems.

I suspect most of you have had this experience of the Steps working on you. Now we've added koans to the mix. Practicing with koans adds another dimension to our survival kit. Practicing with both the Steps and koans gives us an added advantage to finding solutions. Sometimes the appropriate Step will appear, at other times a koan will appear, in either case, pay attention. The solution is right here.

Bill K.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Next Time Will Be Different

For almost two years now PZi has offered the 12 Steps/Koan discussions in blocks of 3+ consecutive weeks. We've held them in spring, summer, fall and winter months with varying attendance, 3-5 on some evenings and up to 12+ at other times. As I wrote last time, our numbers practicing the Steps and koans are relatively small. Attracting large numbers is not my goal; but I can see a value in having a consistent number participating.

Another aspect that was lacking was the ability to go through all the 12 Steps in sequence. A 12-week format seemed too much to ask especially when it became apparent that most people couldn't commit to three weeks. We lead busy lives. Being able to attend two out of three was more the norm.

So here's what we're planning to do. In October we'll begin a once-a-month format. The exact day has yet to be determined but probably the first or second Friday of each month. Since October is the tenth month, we will sit with Step 10 that evening, in November the 11th Step, December the 12th month, etc.

This format seems to be working well with one of our other PZi members, Jenny, who lives several hundred miles away. Another activity that PZi engages in is called "small groups" where people gather to sit with a koan then have a discussion. Jenny's small group meets monthly.

It's certainly worth a try. This monthly format provides a continuity that we haven't had before, to sit with all the Steps each year, along with a constant time/day reliability. Meeting once a month will give people more koan time, too. By that, I mean more time to carry one's koan around and more time for the koan to do its work... more practice!

Bill K.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When a small portion of a little thing is a big deal

We know that the number of people who are in 12 Step programs is very small compared to the number who could use the Steps. Likewise, the number of Zen groups who practice koans is very small compared to the total number of Zen groups. For that matter, there really aren't many people in the U.S. practicing Zen. These thoughts brought me to the directories of three popular Buddhist magazines, Tricycle, Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma. I counted 50 Zen Centers.

Then I looked at the centers that mentioned Rinzai or koans as a part of their ad. There were about 11 of these. So I'll ball park it by saying about 20% of the Zen centers use koans in their practice.

James Ford has a recent book out called Zen Master Who? With all the research he did to write this book about "people and stories of Zen" in the United States, surely he would know about the popularity of koan practice. He wrote to me:

"A seat of the pants sense of percentages?

I don't know, not a quarter of Zen teachers. Maybe ten percent are serious about it. Possibly fewer.

Very, very tentative."

So there you have it. There aren't very many of us doing koans ... and fewer yet practicing koans and the 12 Steps. But this doesn't get me down one bit. It's about introducing quality in our lives... whether passing on the 12 Steps or passing on koan practice (or both!), if a single person's life changes for the better as a result of reaching out to another, then it's all worth it. I've helped save another being -- you've helped save another being.

Bill K.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 4th Weekend

Yesterday I chaired a meeting, a Steps and Traditions meeting using the 12x12. The book is passed around the room, each person reading a paragraph or so, until the entire chapter is read.
Then it was time for me to speak.

All that was requested of me was to talk (10-15 minutes) about my experience with Step Two.
Yes! When I learned that my topic was Step Two,
I knew I would somehow bring a koan into the discussion.

For a moment I had the fleeting thought that someone might jump up and exclaim, "No, no! You're about to read some unauthorized literature." No one did. I was sticking to their request regarding my experience by briefly mentioning what happened at the January retreat when we meditated with the "Litttle Jade" koan (see the Step Two tab above)... and how it was for me when I feel the love from someone
else just by hearing them call my name.

Feelings of being loved by my Higher Power didn't happen right away, at least this is my experience. Time together had to pass ... a period where I "came to believe" it was so.

My story this day related the kind of love I have felt from another person to that of the love I feel from my Higher Power, and how this particular koan seemed to be the catalyst here.

I don't recall ever even saying the word "Zen" as I spoke; but I did say koan several times.

After the meeting, I was pleasantly surprised when 6 or so people asked me about koans. It was obvious that they were intrigued with this process of how a koan brought me deeper into
Step Two.

Next Friday I'll be holding the first of three sharing sessions of Steps and Koans. Hopefully I'll see a few of these people who were at the meeting. As I've said before, koan practice is not for everyone; but for those who give it a sincere try, the results are amazing.

blistering hot days
watching the zucchinis grow
july 4th weekend

Bill K.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Who is hearing?

It's back to everyday-as usual now; back from the 7 day retreat.

We were given a koan to sit with for the week:

"Who is hearing?"

Just three words, but my how they would manifest themselves
differently each day -- how far reaching and expansive they could take me... up ... and down. I was working on other koans, too,
the ongoing koans in our curricula. No problem ... the koan of the week crept into there as well.

It began as a question. This is how it was first presented to us.
But then it would transform into "Who is hearing." Of course, there has to be a "who" that is hearing, right? Who is this who anyway?

Always evolving, moving, changing perspectives, koans aren't static. "Who is hearing" would melt into Who is seeing? Who is talking? Who is thinking? Who is sitting? Who is hungry? Who is in pain?

It seems natural then to ask yourself, right now, sitting in front of your screen, "Who is reading?"

Sit with this for a spell to see where your "who-ness" takes you.

The 12 Steps and Zen koans are the topic still. Who is recovering?

Bill K.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A little of this, a little of that ...

Lake Ilsanjo, Annadel State Park, Santa Rosa, CA

We have a sesshin (Zen retreat) beginning on June 18th thru June 25th. I plan to be there, so won't be coming near my computer. I try to participate in at least two sesshins a year -- it's a time to really step away from my day-to-day activities and pay more attention to what's available inside. Mind you, I'm not trying to escape from anything ... it's more about an opportunity for me to better hear and feel what the Universe is offering.

Of course the Steps will find a way to enter into my koan practice. This seems unavoidable for me. And who knows, maybe this will give me something to pass on to you. I've had sort of a writer's block it seems, at least as this blog is concerned.

Speaking of passing it on, in July on three consecutive Friday evenings ( 8th, 15th and 22nd ) I'll be offering 12 Step/Koan sharing sessions.

7- 8:30 PM at our Santa Rosa Zendo. Check the PZi website for more details.

Of course, most of you don't live near Santa Rosa, so this would be a good opportunity for you to extend our PZi experiment to your practice center or even to a gathering of a few friends. I keep things very simple. We start on time, there's a brief introduction, then we begin sitting. For the first 5 minutes the group sits with a Step (posted on the wall), the next 20 minutes it's sitting with the Step and the selected koan for that Step. I'll say the koan about three times during the meditation.

After 25 minutes of sitting it's open for discussion around what came up for you during the meditation. It's a group-driven dialog, not a teacher/student relationship. Unlike a 12 Step meeting, we don't announce our names or anything like that. I do make the point that we treat what is said in the evening with respect; understanding that people do sometimes bring up some very personal information about themselves; that we need to assure everyone that this is a safe container to do so.

And lastly, does anyone know why, when I write this blog the sentences in the paragraphs are all nice and even but when it gets "published", some lines get shortened, not matching the way I typed it? I suppose I could read the directions maybe .....

So I'll be having three weeks of discussion here and maybe you will be doing the same where you live? If you do, I'd really like to hear how it went for you.

Until next time,

Bill K.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One word is enough.

There are koans of few words and koans of many words. It doesn't take much for a koan to stick to a Step -- one word or short phrase is enough. Koans work so effortlessly when we let them.

When thoughts arise telling you that the koan you are sitting with seems
a perfect match for "Part A" of a Step but has nothing to do with "Part B," that's the time to pause, take it easy, and let this notion go. This is a good example of how we critically think things to death; the quicksand of duality rearing its ugly head; the conflict between subject and object. If there is an answer here, it's no subject, no object, just practice.

This is how the koan I've assigned to Step Two came about -- a better way of saying this is how little Jade came to believe.

Koan: Little Jade

A woman calls out to her maidservant, "Little Jade, Little Jade," not because she wants something, but just so her lover can hear her voice.
We were given this koan at our January retreat (sesshin). During the week-long sesshin I'm working on other koans, too; but this one seemed to filter in and out during the day. The
evening talks by teachers usually revolved around little Jade.

Step Two we "Came to believe ...." Believing is an interesting concept in that it doesn't have to be backed up with facts. For me it's a feeling rather than a thought. Two phrases came up for me and began a dance ... "came to believe" and "lover." And yes, my thoughts tried to take me to the part of Step Two that says, "... could restore us to sanity" and begin a dialog about how could Little Jade have anything to do with restoring me to sanity... blah, blah, blah.

This brings me back to "came to believe" and "lover." I thoroughly believe (there I go again) that my Higher Power loves me. I also recall the time when I realized that I loved the person I was dating and she loved me (my wife, now). Just knowing that, in my heart was enough ... that I was loved. My wife's name is Beth. Seeing her, thinking about her, hearing her voice, hearing someone else say her name, all has the power of connectedness, a goodness from the heart that all is well.

For some of us then, isn't this the feeling of coming to believe? I don't think we can make ourselves come to believe in a Higher Power of our choosing; but we can allow for this belief to happen when we give it space to grow in our heart.

And the "could restore us to sanity" part? Simply put, that happens, in various degrees, heh, heh, heh, after coming to believe. Little Jade knows what I'm saying here.

Bill K.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Step 2 says that I'm insane?

In 12 Step groups we're told that it's insane thinking when we do the same thing(s) over again expecting different results. The Buddha said we suffer because of our delusional thinking. "So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making." P. 62 BB
We make up "our troubles" with our minds.

sane: "sound of mind, rational, showing good sense"

insane: "not sane; mentally ill or deranged; demented; mad; crazy"

delusion: "a false belief or opinion (not substantiated by sensory evidence)"

I suspect if we work on our insane thinking, we will also help tackle our delusions; and
likewise, if we work on our delusional thinking, we will also address our insane thoughts.

What is this "working on?" My proposal is that practicing with the 12 Steps and koans
together, we can help to resolve both matters, or at least lessen their impact upon our lives.
We do this by not thinking* of either steps or koans separately but as one practice.

It's much like the idea of striving for enlightenment (whatever that means). Awakening cannot be hunted down and captured -- it simply happens when we are doing the thing which allows it to happen -- not trying, not seeking, not striving and not looking outside ourselves.

In Step 2 we learn that our insane thoughts will be taken away; in other words, we cannot try ourselves to dispose of them. Delusions disappear via our meditation practice, not by thinking our way into clarity. We stop the struggle, we take it easy, we do what is required to make space for the Universe to speak to us. This can happen to anyone, at any time, anywhere. It's right here, right now!

When I hear a Step being read at a meeting, a koan often appears as its reflection;
when I'm working on a koan on my cushion, a Step may appear as its reflection. There's
no clinging to one or pushing the other away; instead they appear as one entity to
reflect upon -- helping my mind to become more rational and my opinions to fall away.

Bill K.

* See earlier post about colons and periods.