Monday, November 16, 2015

Step 11: Sought through prayer and listening...

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: Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.

This koan comes from the story of Ryonen, a remarkable woman Zen teacher, living in 17th Century Japan.  Commemorating when Master Hakuo accepted her as a disciple, she wrote this poem on the back of a mirror:

In the service of my Empress I burned incense to
perfume my exquisite clothes,
Now as a homeless mendicant I burn my face to
enter a Zen temple.

When Ryonen was about to pass from this world, she wrote this poem:

Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld the changing
scene of autumn.

I have said enough about moonlight,
Ask no more.
Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no
wind stirs.

The other day I read a piece about Christian meditation techniques, where it said the word meditate or meditation is mentioned only twenty times in the Bible.  It explained meditation as a cognitive process, “…focusing on biblical thoughts and reflecting on their meaning.”  This is my understanding what the writers of the Big Book meant, too – meditation was to reflect upon. Today, just as we choose our own Higher Power,  we also choose our own kind of meditation, something that suits us.  Meditating with Zen koans in a non-traditional way, as we do here, is one of countless varieties of meditation practiced by our twelve step members. The choice is yours, the 11th Step suggests doing it.

I often say at meetings, “I can't listen when I’m talking,” and the same is true in Step Eleven.  I absolutely have to say my prayers, and equally important, I must listen. This got me wondering -- what if Step 11 began with, "Sought through prayer and listening?"

What are my distractions?  Mostly everything in my head ... my thoughts and the stories I tell myself.  These are the winds in my life. “Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.”  Sought through prayer and listening…

Have you ever ridden in a hot air balloon?  This koan reminds me of when I took a balloon ride.  I had do idea what to expect.  First, there’s the deafening noise of the burning propane, blasting hot air to fill up the balloon.  When all was right with the balloon pilot, we had reached suitable altitude, he turned the propane off.  Instantly it was quiet...pure quiet.   It was even more amazing to experience the balloon (and us) moving above the landscape and not feeling any breeze against my face.  No resistance. Then I realized it was because we were traveling exactly the same speed of the wind.  How could we do otherwise? We were literally riding the wind.  We were experiencing what the wind experiences. No resistance, we were in harmony with the present conditions. We were balloon.

The wind is always a part of my life whether I feel it or not.  The wind of chatter in my head, the stories I tell myself, the distraction from whatever is happening at the moment. And when riding aloft it was just balloon – when no wind stirs, just the voice of pines and cedars.  When no wind stirs, just my Higher Power and listen to... Whatever needs to be heard will be heard.

- - -

These koans have their way, no matter how we sit with them.  A friend has been pretty stressed out from work for a while.  When he heard the koan we were using, not much happened.  Then it began appearing at unexpected times.  Just waking up, his mind already lining up all sorts of errands and places to go in the day collapsed into "...the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs." He laughed, took a breath, and noticed the pine tree in his backyard.

In the book The Hidden Lamp, Wendy Egyoku Nakao writes about Ryonen (who burned her face with a hot iron in order to be admitted into a Zen temple) and asks us, "What would you be willing to sacrifice in order to awaken and find freedom?"

And so, as usual, we practice this in all our affairs...

Bill K.