Saturday, December 10, 2016

Step Twelve is a song...

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.

Amidst the grassland

Sings the skylark

Free and disengaged from all things

 Matsuo Bashō

Early on, this koan/verse got its way with me, bringing about all sorts of visuals and inter-weaving with Step Twelve.

Amidst the grassland: I thought about our country when it was young and expanding westward.  The Great Plains, an immense grassland spreading as far as the eye could see, at times a challenge and full of obstacles, becoming some of the best and most productive farmlands in the world.  Without the Great Plains, our country would not have grown and prospered as it did. Our ancestors had to pay attention while they worked their way through this land and learning what it had to offer.

Wheat, corn and other grains are grasses.  No wonder these crops grew so well when their seeds were sown in the deep grassland soils. Bread, the staff of life.  Just as we have “worked” the Steps and coming to Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” we begin to experience the benefits from all our work. The Steps have given us a new life.

Sings the skylark: My vision was a meadowlark, since the Great Plains is its home. The skylark is not native to the U.S.  No matter what species of bird though, the message is in the singing. We tried to carry this message to alcoholics…this is our song.

Free and disengaged from all things comes when we practice Step 12.  By finding freedom from the bondage of self, we can better help others. When I’m in the thick of helping another person, I’m disengaged from selfish thoughts.

Yes, Step 12 is a song.  It’s a song of attraction, a song of freedom, a song of optimism, a song of purpose, and a song of gratitude.  Gratitude was flowing in my veins on this drizzly Friday evening with my friends – it was my birthday, 30 years now a member of this fellowship.  Why does the skylark sing? Birds sing to make their presence known to other birds, to attract a mate, to produce, to extend the species one more generation.  Step 12 is a song of duty.  We must sing this message of recovery to others;  the absolute survival of the fellowship depends upon our song.

Bill K.

P.S. When Dale H. heard this koan/verse, the first thing that came to his mind was the 1941 song, Skylark, with Helen Forrest singing with the Harry James orchestra.  This, too, had a way of leaving me free and disengaged from all things…enjoy...

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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Step 10 -- Every day is a good day...

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

Koan: Unmon said:  “I do not ask you about fifteen days ago.  But what about fifteen days hence? Come, say a word about this!” Since none of the monks answered, he answered for them: “Every day is a good day.”

Grapevine Quote of the Day, October 13: “Seeing my defects is not enough to make them improve or go away – the solution seems to be following awareness with action.” “Daily Reminder,” Coldwater, Michigan, December 2006

When we read about Step 10 in the Big Book and 12 and 12, we are urged to review our day – to see if there are any instances regarding our behavior that day where we need to make amends.  This is where the awareness comes in. We do need to look upon just this day. There’s no need to look at what happened fifteen days ago since we did Step 10 on that day, too.  Amends were taken care of on that day or shortly thereafter.

In the morning we plan our day in a thoughtful manner.  Steps 4-9 have given us an awareness of who we are and what we’re capable of, the good and the not so good. So what about today? Well, we could say that this day only is a safe distance of time for us to be looking into the future -- anything beyond, not so useful.  And during the day is a time for taking “spot checks” concerning our behavior to see if we’re staying true to ourselves and others.

For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,

But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day. 
From a Sanskrit Proverb

Step 10 helps me to clear away the hindrances that keep me from seeing what is true.

“Every day is a good day” to work Step Ten.  This is where the results occur.  This is where we put our awareness into action.  Practicing Step 10 each day is like opening a door, an open doorway and effortless passage to Step Eleven.

And better said from the Twelve and Twelve (Page 98): "There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer.  Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit.  But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life."

From afar Nina writes:  "Time is a sort of slippery thing, but, regardless, program suggests we try to live in the present- maybe time is just a series of nows...that yesterday and tomorrow won't do us any good in keeping our side of the street clean....its now that counts.   now is a good is always and now and now and now......and owning our stuff is the activity we need to focus on. and nothing but good can come from   no losers in this ongoing situation of personal responsibility.   good advice for those  prone to selfishness and ego-driven behaviors. poor little ego.....doesnt stand a chance! but then, happiness and peace of mind do have a really good chance...and that is good news. "

Bill K.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Steps 8 and 9, a natural sequence...

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: A monk said to Chao-chou, “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”
         Chao-chou said, “Have you eaten your rice gruel?”

         The monk said, “Yes I have.”
         Chao-chou said, “Then wash your bowl.” The monk understood.

We all agreed.  Day-night, up-down, Step 8-Step 9, eat a meal-wash the dishes; all of these are natural sequences.

One person stressed how inventory in Steps four through nine are the bedrock of his program.  Taking various inventories have become a daily routine for him.  This paying attention is a skill to be practiced in order to have a decent life. “I have to grind them out of my everyday experiences in order to free myself from the bondage of self.  These inventories set me free.”

At sesshins of late (retreats), I’m usually the breakfast cook.  Usually I’m in the kitchen before anyone else is awake.  It helps that I’m a morning person.

The Tenzo (head cook) usually has a list of things for me to prepare – gathering and measuring ingredients, chopping fruit, heating the large pot of water for morning tea, and making sure the coffee is brewed before the first sitting period at 0500, all before there’s any actual “cooking”.

All this preparation is necessary for the breakfast experience to be a success.  This is Step 8 – to be prepared.

Step 9 is utilizing the prepped work is the best ways possible.  In other words, following the directions/suggestions in the Big Book and from my sponsor, doing so without harming others.

As breakfast cook I’m following the directions from the Tenzo, along with my own cooking experiences, to present a good breakfast for all, on time.

I know how it feels to present a successful breakfast; I know when I’ve sincerely made amends to another person.

The sponsee said to her sponsor, “Teach me about Steps 8 and 9.”

         Her sponsor said, “By remembering your Steps 4 and 5, do you know who the people are that you’ve harmed?  Are you ready to go beyond Step 8?

         “Yes, I’m ready,” the sponsee said.

         The sponsor said, “Then make amends to those people wherever possible. being sure not to harm them or others.”

Bill K.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Pot Luck" Time...What Step Will You Bring?

It’s “Pot Luck” time.  “Pot Luck”, not as in bringing food, but instead, bringing a Step with you instead.

What Step(s) comes to you when sitting with this koan?  This is what you’ll bring to the group for discussion.  

Koan: A monk asked Tung Shan, “When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?
Shan said, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?
The monk said, “What is the place where there is no cold or heat?
Tung Shan said, “When it’s cold, the cold kills you; when it’s hot, the heat kills you.”

Remember that gave we played when we were kids, where something was hidden in a room? One person was “It” (that would be you) looking for the hidden piece.  Getting nearer to it brought the shouts of “You’re getting warm.” The closer you got, the warmer you would become.  Very close brought, “You’re getting very very hot!”

And the opposite was true.  As you moved away from the hidden piece, “You’re getting cooler,” was the call. “You’re freezing,” meant you were nowhere close to finding the prize.

This searching game was where the koan took me.  A silly kid’s game.

Then Step 4 appeared, to be in the thick of things, going through my past. The heat intensifies.  No time for shortcuts, I’ve got to endure this heat, knowing that it’s the heat that’s needed to cook the ingredients. Think of Step 4 as gathering the ingredients for a stew and turning up the heat.  If I don’t look at my past in an honest fashion, the stew isn’t going to be very nourishing for Step 5.  There nothing more satisfying than a bowl of hot stew.

Some can’t stand the heat of Step 4 and leave the fellowship, only to remain in the cold – going back to the old ways that we know may lead to a cold corpse, your own corpse.

“What is the place where there is no cold or heat?” Not being afraid of the past nor wishing to shut the door on it.

One of our “regulars” was could not attend this month because he was in the hospital. He had been carrying this koan around with him before the hospital experience:  “I was thinking of the koan in terms of attachment and aversion.  Go to the place where there is no hot or cold?  In other words let go of your desire to be cool when your environment gets hot.  And vice versa.  And I was relating that to "practicing these principles in all our affairs."

After his hospital experience:  I found myself going to a place of non-perception.   That is what seemed to happen to me. It wasn't just that I lost consciousness (which I did).  But in the (probably) nano-seconds of return, I found myself seeing but not seeing, hearing but not hearing.  And then consciousness would return.  These episodes repeated quite a number of times, and each time I went thru that "seeing, yet not seeing; hearing, yet not hearing," experience.

See, our regular friend who  wasn’t with us, was really with us, koan and all.

Bill K.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Step 7 and an Overturned Water Bottle

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.  [Humility]

Case 40 from The Gateless Barrier, Kuei-shan Kicks Over the Water Bottle

When Kuei-shan was with Pai-chang’s assembly, he was cook of the monastery.  Pai-chang wanted to choose a founding teacher for Mount Ta-kuei.  He invited all his monks to make a presentation, saying, “The outstanding one will be sent.” Then he took a water bottle and set it on the floor, and said, “Don’t call this a water bottle. What would you call it?”

         The head monk said, “It can’t be called a wooden clog.”

         Pai-chang then asked Kuei-shan his opinion.  Kuei-shan kicked over the water bottle and walked out.

         Pai’chang laughed and said, “The head monk loses.” Kuei-shan thereupon was made the founding teacher at Mount Ta-kuei.

 “At first I resisted this koan because I couldn’t relate it to Step Seven,” one person said, “But then I found the koan following me around.  A word here, a phrase there would pop into my head.  You could see the head monk wanted to win.  His response seemed so calculated, as if he spent a lot of time trying to come up with just the right words to please his teacher and ultimately win.

But the second monk, the cook, his response was obviously ‘outside the box’.  This is how I need to respond to Step 7. I need to stop playing these duality games; this is my old way of thinking (I am good or I am bad). Good-bad, right-wrong, God accepts all of me.  That’s what God is taking away.  I need to accept all of me, too, the good and the bad.  God is Love.  He doesn’t care about good and bad, he cares about all of me with no judging.”

I’m presently working with a sponsee on this Step, so I found myself reading in the 12 and12 where it reads:

1)      “…the attainment of humility is the foundation principle of each of AA’s Twelve Steps.”  (12 x 12. Step 7)

2)      Buddhism sees humility as a virtue where only a humble mind can readily recognize its own defilements (shortcomings, defects of character, etc.).

I see this, as the head monk feeling pretty good about himself and the “thought” of his brilliant response, his intellect and ego the driving force, thinking of himself as better than Kuei-shan. He was not acting in a humble nature.

Kuei-shan, on the other hand, expressed in his actions what the water bottle really is, in its highest form.  You want to really see water bottle, look at this! Tumbling in the air, water scattering everywhere.  THIS is not calling it water bottle – This IS water bottle!

Kuei-shan’s response came not from his thinking, but from his heartfelt response to the question.  This is how we go about asking our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings. Not by using a bunch of clever words; instead, we’re beginning to learn how to "kick over" our old ways of looking at our shortcomings and ourselves and trusting our HP that who I am today is OK.  Step Seven puts me on the winning side.

Bill K.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Step 6:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.  [Willingness]

Koan:  Who is hearing?

We came about this koan in two different ways on Friday.

I came to focus upon "hearing".  When I’m talking to someone standing in front of me, I expect that person to hear what I say, mainly because I am seeking a response. I pretty much know if they hear what I am saying by looking in their eyes and noticing their expressions and gestures; and especially if they respond accordingly.

Let’s say I’ve been told someone is nearby but I can’t see them.  Calling out, I think they hear me but I can’t be sure. I call out again because it’s important that they hear me.   This is what it’s like to pray to my Higher Power. It’s where faith appears, even the tiniest smidgeon will do…not knowing but ready to do this anyway; then wait to see where the results take me.

I confess, this is a Step where I can easily forget its importance.  When wrestling with my defects it eventually dawns on me.  Yes, Step Six! I can ask my HP to remove these barriers.  Step 6 is a wisdom gate.

But there’s more.  After my conversation with God, “I pause.” Now is the time to listen in order to hear.

Others in our group focused upon the “Who”. “Who is experiencing the experience?  Who is experiencing the barriers between self and God?

When I can summon up the God consciousness within, it raises my own consciousness where I can practice Step 6 and not act out with old habits.

“Teach me how to listen, teach me what to hear,” Dale said.  We can’t really hear when we’re judging what others are speaking.

From the GRAPEVINE: "When I begin to look where the answer really is -- inside of me -- I get a sense of 'rightness' when I speak or hear the truth. Step Six helps me develop a sense of intuition that I can truly count on."

Fort Myers, Fla., June 2009
"I'm No Saint!," Step By Step

Bill K

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Retreating Resentments -- My 12 & Zen in Action

When 12 & Zen met in May, I posted Step 5 and the koan we used; but I didn’t have time to write a commentary because I was off to a five-day sesshin (Zen Retreat). What follows is an example of how my 12 & Zen practice came to my rescue, saved me from certain angst, and provided me a rejuvenated outlook in “having joy in each other’s joy.”

I had been sitting about a day with following two koans from a second cycle of the 5 ranks of Dongshan, koans that Daiun Harada had added to his curriculum in the early 20th century.  They are a separate series of poems of Dongshan, not originally linked to the first series. 

Koan 4. Enlightenment of all beings

Ordinary beings and Buddhas don’t mingle together.
Mountains are naturally high, waters are naturally deep.
The infinite distinctions, the endless differences show –
where partridges sing, the flowers are in bloom.

Koan 5. Enlightenment upon enlightenment

When your head sprouts horns, you can’t stand it anymore,
When you think “I’ll seek the Buddha,” it’s time to watch out.
In the era of emptiness, the view is clear, there is no one to see –
why go south in search of the sages?

I was soaking in these two koans, feeling as close to them as a lid fits its box, and asking myself, “Is anything missing now?”

Then, while up in my room, just before we were to meet again in the zendo for a talk, I took a peek at my iPad, mainly to see if there was a message from my wife.  She did.

“Missing you...mostly my part at this moment is with the girl [our dog] snoring softly next to me. XXXOOO to you on your cushion.


Then I noticed a message from my blog, a comment from someone, so I took a look.

Oh my… I thought, “How did he ever draw this conclusion?” The bell rang.  I needed to hurry downstairs to the zendo for the afternoon talk.  I felt a resentment brewing…and gaining momentum.

Early in Megan’s talk I heard the words, “…we all have Buddha-nature.”  I gazed about the room and thought, “I do have Buddha-nature; everyone in this room has Buddha-nature; even, even, even Antlion has Buddha-nature!  How did that thought pop into my mind?  He does have Buddha-nature, and with that thought I could feel the supports being kicked out from under the resentment platform I was building.  What transpired was even more amazing.

·      One of the earlier koans kicked in:  “When your head sprouts horns, you can’t stand it anymore.”  How quickly resentments appear, under all conditions.

·      Next Torei Enji appeared in his Bodhisattva’s Vow:  Even though someone may be a fool, we can be compassionate.  If someone turns against us, speaking ill of us and treating us bitterly, it’s best to bow down: 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.”

These were not mere words.  Flowing over me like warm honey, I felt the Buddha and realized what was shown to me.  The resentment left me.  Even when I tried to bring it up, each feeble effort wouldn’t stick to anything.  There were no ill feelings toward Antlion anymore.

The next day during the “Remembrance” sutra, the Chant Leader ends with, “We especially dedicate our service to: (each person in the room speaks names of personal dedications). It’s incredibly moving and powerful to speak out loud the names of people I care about to hear the names being spoken by others.  Without thinking I heard myself say, “Antlion.”

I truly wish him the greater good and thanked him for what he gave to me at this retreat; and to realize his generosity by giving the book to the Goodwill.

Regarding Antlion’s comments about my book, perhaps he missed where I wrote, “If you are in a Twelve Step program, any 12 Step program, then this little book is for you.”

And, “…what I offer here is not a substitute for an official 12 Step meeting nor a replacement of working the Steps with a sponsor.”

In the chapter “The Steps and Koans Working Together,” only the original AA Steps are used.

“But included here are two other versions of the 12 Steps.  I think you will see the value in them, especially when speaking to a mixed audience.” In the chapter “Other Possibilities” under “Working with a Mixed Audience” is an example of using a koan with the other versions.

By mixed audience I mean people in and out of 12-Step programs.  Some people are just curious. When I introduce 12 and Zen to an audience, I make it very clear that what we are doing is not an AA meeting.

Yes, AA put together the Twelve Steps, borrowing a little here and a little there from other sources.  We know that working these 12 Steps can bring joy and fulfillment to lives.  Why shouldn’t people who are not alcoholics or addicts benefit from a version of the 12 Steps?

May the next reader(s) of that book find what I have found – that koans will help broaden their relationship with the 12 Steps.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the contributors emphasized the importance of reading the book with an open mind by including the warning paragraph about contempt prior to investigation.  There’s an old Zen saying, “Don’t disparage the sky by looking at it through a tube.” This is exactly the same way I hope you would read my book; looking for the greatest possibilities with a big mind.

Student:  What is Zen?
Teacher: It’s alive!

Sponsee:  What is a 12-Step program?
Sponsor:  It’s alive!

It’s our practice that brings us happiness, joy, and freedom.  Isn’t it great to be alive?

Bill K.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Step 5:  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Koan:  The moon is bright, the water is pure, the autumn sky is clear; Is there a single cloud which stains this vast clarity?

Poem: Case 32, Transmitting the Light

It’s another “admitted” Step (like Step One).   Admitting is another recognition of powerlessness and because of this, I’m actively building upon my relationship with my Higher Power.

Whatever amount of trust, it only takes a smidge. Sitting with my inventory, I have two choices:  Do I hold back and hide certain parts, not telling my sponsor everything?  Or do I again surrender, this time to a brightness that’s present in Step Five (although we can't see this yet)?

Here we have a koan that’s painting a beautiful picture, one we've all seen.  Step 5 is laying down a foundation for building our lives.  We can’t see it yet, much less experience how our life will be.  It certainly doesn’t feel beautiful, carrying around our undisclosed Fourth Step material.  In our discussion, Daniel exclaimed, “I’m the stain!”

Is there a single cloud which stains this vast clarity of completing Step Five? The dedicated old timers will tell you their lives are as beautiful as this koan.

When working the Steps with my sponsor, this was the first Step where I felt a relief.  I no longer had to carry my burden alone.  A weight was lifted.

 Bill K.

NOTE:  Regarding the comment from Antlion below, please see my 5/22 posting: "Retreating Resentments -- My 12 & Zen in Action" commentary.

Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Hot In Here!

Step 4:  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Koan: A monk asked Tung Shan, “When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?
Shan said, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?
The monk said, “What is the place where there is no cold or heat?
Tung Shan said, “When it’s cold, the cold kills you; when it’s hot, the heat kills you.”

Some say Step 4 is the first action Step; where we begin doing something that will lead to a better life, by changing our old ways.  Otherwise, if we’re lucky, our old transgressions will continue gnawing away at our heart.  Not wanting to feel this way, we attempt to lock these thoughts away in a deep freeze. In Step 4, we stir things up – stirring produces friction – friction produces heat – this heat produces pain.  Arrrgh! Where can I go where there is no cold or heat?

·      Looking into the actions of my past is uncomfortable and troublesome. It’s too hot! The fire fighter, with appropriate equipment, resources,  and protection, plunges into the burning building.  This is what we're doing first,  taking inventory of the "burning" landscape and conditions of our past because they are affecting my feelings today.  And I don't like what I'm feeling!

·      Doing Step 4 is another acknowledgement of the "unmanageability" we recognized in Step One and the insanity we would like relieved in Step Two.

·      It’s when I can admit my part, accept what happened, see my faults, and be willing to continue the Steps – This is the place where the discomfort changes.  The heat or cold of my past actions begin to dissipate.

·      By accepting my past as it truly was, the person complaining has died.  The new recovering "me" has been reborn.

Regarding right speech, the Buddha suggested we ask ourselves three questions: Is what I am about to say kind? Is it the truth? Is it necessary?  As we search within, these same three questions are helpful in setting the tone for our Step 4 inventory.  In our discussion, we all agreed.  Finding a kind heart for ourselves as we continue working the Steps is right thought and action.

Bill K.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Not thinking of anything good and anything bad

Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Koan: When you're not thinking of anything good and anything bad, at that moment, what is your original face? Show me your original face before your parents were born.

This koan (and Step Three?) is about dissolving duality?

- - -

Our free will works very well in certain situations. Say I’m standing on a corner, a bus is coming, and I choose not to step in front of this moving bus.  Good choice!

What are we being asked here, a riddle?   “…Not thinking of anything good and anything bad,” it’s a set up, of course, we all judge things.  And then the koan asks us to go to a place before our parents were born, which doesn’t at all seem possible.

Oh, now I remember, original face -- this is my true self.  It can only be found right here.  Not only that, my true self is already completely aligned with God’s will, and it’s not.  Said another way, form is emptiness; emptiness is form.  The bus I mentioned earlier, we could say that it’s empty of form; but had I stepped into the path of this formless bus, it would have shmooshed me. Form and emptiness happen at the same time – this is life.  God’s will and my will are happening at the same time, this is also life.

Since my true self only occupies this present moment, my personal view of the “will of the Universe” or “God’s will” etc., is to notice what is happening in the moment. The Universe is presenting itself to me through my mind and senses.  This is God’s will appearing to me.  My job is to pay attention and be aware of my surroundings.

When I’m “not thinking of anything good and anything bad” is a pretty good place to be – perhaps we could call it neutral will, and a gate to God’s will.  When I’m in God’s will; surrendering to the moment; it’s like going with the flow; there is no inner conflict; my mind is clear. The Buddhist Eightfold Path comes to mind, such as practicing right thought, right action, right intentions, etc.; when I feel in my gut that my thoughts and actions are matching the Eightfold Path (to the best of my ability), I find myself in a place of non-duality and peace.

Continuing from last month with the topic of birth, something much bigger was present. Myriad forces about, working in all directions when we were born. The mother reacts to the elements of giving birth and surrenders to the forces at hand. Mother and child are completely practicing the Way.

Aren’t we being [re] born every second of the day?  Each new moment is a birth – this moment, now this moment, now this moment. Isn’t this our only place of practice?  This is what I believe in, every unfolding minute is my life.  This Great Unfolding is what I’ve come to believe in.  And at the same time realizing when I’m in conscious communion with my Higher Power (the Great Unfolding), there is no separation between the Way and me.

Bill K.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

To Believe In

Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Koan:  Dogen said, “To believe in Buddhism* is to believe one is inherently within the Way.”

* or God or AA or ...

Came to believe …

Isn’t it interesting how beliefs do not require any fact-finding or solid evidence; they're multi-layered, sometimes fleeting,  from the trivial to the profound. We simply find ourselves believing something (or not believing something). In a way, not believing is a kind of believing.

Has anyone here never changed their mind on a subject?  Never changed from believing this to that?  Believing is fluid, it can happen in a millisecond.  With Step Two, the “came to believe” doesn’t have to happen before going to Step Three. Just saying there is a possibility that I might come to believe is good enough for today.

What we learn about this Higher Power thing from the Big Book, in order for it to work, the HP has to be (1) larger than ourselves and (2) outside of ourselves.

·      To believe in Buddha,

·      To believe in God,   (Big Book page 164: "Abandon yourself to God as you understand God.")                                                                                                                     

·      To believe in any power greater than ourselves,

·      To believe in AA…

…this is what can restore us to sanity or, if you choose, restore us to right thought (from the Eightfold Path). Come to think of it, probably we all could use a daily dose of restoring. It's an ongoing process – to restore us to an acceptable level, a level that is helpful to others.

·      To believe one is inherently within the Way.

I had to laugh about how I first read this statement, thinking about how I was when I was out there; I was inherently in the way of most everything I did. But it reads “…within the Way,” I think, basically means going with the flow, because we are the flow.

We’ve all been born human.  Something much bigger than we was present and working during the birthing process.  The only thing the mother can do is react to the elements of giving birth. We were within the Way then and are still within the Way today.  Every minute of the day, every second of the day, aren’t we being reborn?

Whatever this “Way” is working in my life; this what I’ve come to believe in; it’s the way things are right now. And at the same time realizing there is no separation between me, and the Way.

Bill K.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

When Buddhism Came To AA?

Let me begin by repeating what I’ve said several times on this blog; that Twelve & Zen is available to everybody no matter what 12-Step program you follow.  I often refer to AA and the Big Book, mainly because this is the source from which all 12-Step groups have risen.

We know “Buddhism” isn’t mentioned in the original Big Book at all.  It’s no wonder some Buddhists today may feel their spiritual path was overlooked. But what if I told you, by citing a 1940s AA pamphlet (commissioned by Dr. Bob no less), you could begin chanting the Eightfold Path at your meeting?

I’ve got to say “Thank you” to Joanie L. for tipping me off to what might be the most important “official” mention of Buddhist thought in AA literature, and to Kevin Griffin for his input and encouragement. Joanie told me about The Akron Pamphlets after reading about them in Kevin’s latest book, Recovering Joy: A Mindful Life After Addiction. Dr. Bob, the co-founder of AA, was responsible for the publishing of these pamphlets. One pamphlet in particular, Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous, has a jewel within for Buddhists:

Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindedness and right contemplation.  The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute or an addition to the Twelve Steps.  Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than consideration of self are basic to Buddhism. *

I found this exhilarating, to see our Buddhist “scripture”, The Eightfold Path, mentioned in the early years of AA, especially this sentence: The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute or an addition to the Twelve Steps. We haven’t been overlooked – Buddhist input came to AA early in its history.  It’s just been hidden away in the archives. 

Without ever seeing this pamphlet, Dale H. has been applying the Eightfold Path to the 12-Steps for many years.  It’s a very simple and effective practice for him.  Steps 1, 2, and 3 are about relinquishing control.  He relates this to Wisdom Training -- Right View and Right Intentions (or aim).

Steps 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are about transcending self.  He relates these Steps to Ethics Training -- Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood (or living).

Steps 10, 11, and 12 are about Living Consciously.  He relates these to Meditation Training -- Right Effort, Right Mindfulness (mindedness) and Right Concentration (or contemplation).

The Big Book was written as a reflection of the U.S. culture of the mid to late 1930s. In 1940, 91% of the U.S. population identified themselves Christian. It’s only until the second edition came out in 1955 where it mentions “…a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists” are members.  Buddhism was just beginning to become known to the public. Even today in the U.S., as far as religions are represented, Buddhists comprise only 0.7%.

We know that AA began in 1935; and apparently there weren’t any Buddhists amongst the first 100 members when the book of Alcoholics Anonymous was being written. Buddhist philosophy never made it into the book.

Now imagine, had there been some Buddhists among the first 100 members, surely texts such as the Eightfold Path would have been integrated into the Big Book! This certainly would have made AA more accepting to Buddhists early on.  And later when the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book was published, the Eightfold Path might have been printed along with the St. Francis Prayer on page 99 in the 11th Step Chapter.

With the Spiritual Milestones in my hand, showing the 1935 AA Akron Intergroup circle and triangle plus the 2014 copyright, Akron Area Intergroup Council Of Alcoholics Anonymous, it seems to me if a meeting decided to read the Eightfold Path as part of it’s format, this would be no different than reading the St. Francis Prayer.

We have the evidence in this Akron Pamphlet.  No longer can others say AA is not for Buddhists. Buddhist philosophy found its way into AA literature long ago. We now have proof from our AA ancestors, a validation and approval that AA and Buddhism can be practiced successfully together. There are Buddhists who’ve been doing this for many years. In the Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlet it states, “… the Twelve Steps of AA give us a program of dynamic action…” Right action indeed with the inclusion of the Eightfold Path!

Bill K.

* To order a copy of Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous and more, go to:

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Step 1: Step by step in the dark...

Koan: Step by step in the dark – if your foot’s not wet, it found the stone

~ Shaku Soyen

Admitting to something can come quickly, or slowly to us.  Tonight we asked ourselves, “What is this admitting?”  We all came to the similar conclusion that we don’t do this ourselves using our brains – it comes from somewhere else. Then, without notice, we realize that we’ve effortlessly made that change from "no" to "yes".  Something impossible one day has become reality the next day. Dale called this our moment of clarity.

This koan took me to December, 1986, and the Sacramento Marathon.  My friend and I left on Saturday, and the race was Sunday.  I knew I had a problem; I was just shy of turning 43 and had never heard of the 12 Steps, so I didn’t know what Step 1 was.  On the drive over, all I could think about was my problem.

We ran the race (running my best time ever) and drove home.  Of course I felt good about breaking 4 hours in the race.  Other than that, I don’t remember many details from Sunday night except for one very important decision I made to myself ( I didn’t even tell my wife), I was going to call a treatment center on Monday! How could this be?  Saturday, treatment center was not in my mind. Sunday I had made a decision.

In that undefinable place of change, as if a switch has been flipped, came the discovery that my foot is not longer wet. It was later on when I read an important part of “my story” in the Big Book (in “It Might Have Been Worse”) where the writer said, “It wasn’t how far I had gone, but where I was headed.” I felt, for the first time in many years, that I was headed in a better direction.  In the treatment facility I realized that I had taken Step 1.

Roger talked about the times when he’s running his life as he sees fit and isn’t in touch with his higher power at all.  That even in those times, things happen, a shift takes place, where he discovers his foot is no longer wet.  Something for his benefit took place without notice or his input.

We’re on this journey, step by step in the dark, and the koan doesn’t say we stepped up on the dry stone as a conscious act, it simply asks, if your foot’s not wet.

A moment of clarity comes by realizing my foot is dry. If it’s dry, I’m no longer wandering in the dark -- I’ve found a different place that’s safe and firm.

It’s the wondrous nature of this koan that reminds me the “admitting” comes from a sacred place – and it doesn't come from my self will.

Bill K.