Saturday, December 30, 2017

Step One Koan and 2018 ...


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

Koan: My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.

Mizuta Masahide  1657-1723

As usual, we'll be meeting on the second Friday,  January 12th.

Bill K.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Step 12, Buddha nature and Fire Buddhas

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.

“What is spiritual awakening?  It is waking to the flow of the moment and living in harmony with it.”  Rami Shapiro Recovery – the sacred art

Dale pointed out that the Big Book has a description of spiritual awakening: “We have ceased fighting anything or anyone…” P. 84

Koan: Since we all have Buddha nature, why do we practice?

The short answer, because we are human.  “Because I forget,” said Dale this evening.

— Hakuin Ekaku

All beings by nature are Buddha,
just as ice and water are the same;
apart from water there is no ice,
apart from beings no Buddha.

I read an article in one of the Buddhist magazines where the author mentioned Christianity’s doctrine of original sin and then wondered if Buddhism was about original good.  This notion has stuck with me ever since – for me it’s realizing that we all have Buddha nature.  It’s always available to us.  “Right now, it’s like this”…we’re buddhas, we’re awake, we’re alcoholics, we help others who are suffering, this is why we practice.

It reminded Dale of the book Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. He said there’s God Eminent “out there” and God Immanent within myself – the way I view Buddha nature.

“Buddha nature pervades the whole universe, existing right here now.”

My friends John and Rebecca lost their home to the October Tubbs Fire. Last week he had asked Bob C. to come over to the ashes and debris to haul some things away.  It was there that Bob noticed a scorched Buddha and Kwan Yin in the rubble.  “Don’t you want these” he asked? John said he could take them if he wanted.  When Bob first set eyes on these statues, he knew deep down they were special.

He sent me a photo of the statues and I agreed, they had a powerful effect on me, too.  Something about them resonated to my core – “Buddha nature pervades the whole universe, existing right here now.”

“What shall I do with them,” he asked?  Let me just say they have found the perfect home.  When Roshi heard about these special statues, he immediately offered up his zendo as a home, where they can speak to us if we're open to it.

Another way to look at this, I draw from my (small “s”) source; from the things around me like the 12 Steps and meetings; and there’s also the (great “S”) SOURCE, where I seek God consciousness, my Higher Power within, my True Self, Buddha nature.

“Buddha nature:  The true, immutable, and eternal nature of all
beings.  Since all beings possess this Buddha nature, it is possible
for them to attain enlightenment and become a Buddha.”
Then there are those times when I feel disconnected and not a part of what is happening around me…and perhaps drop into a “poor me” state of mind.  The Big Book warns us of this, the consequences of self-centeredness.  Tapping into my Buddha nature brings me back to what is. Dale reminded me of this when he said, “I practice to transcend separateness -- we are all connected.”

"Until I understood and accepted my status as a human being, my effort toward seeking God was in vain."

Nanaimo, British Columbia, February 2003 ("My Name Is Gary and I'm a Human Being," from Spiritual Awakenings

 As Bill Wilson puts it, "When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone."  Buddha nature is my source.

Why do I practice?  So I can remember this.

Bill K.

[Koans] are “…doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Step Twelve and Buddha nature

...we'll be meeting on December 8th.  Here is what we'll be sitting with.

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.

“What is spiritual awakening?  It is waking to the flow of the moment and living in harmony with it.”  Rami Shapiro, Recovery – the sacred art

Koan: Since we all have Buddha nature, why do we practice?


All beings by nature are Buddha,
just as ice and water are the same;
apart from water there is no ice,
apart from beings no Buddha.

“Buddha nature pervades the whole universe, existing right here now.”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Step 11 -- You may need to call for a plumber

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: “The answers will come if your own house is in order.“ Page 164 Big Book

We had to call a plumber the other day after my wife noticed water a puddle of water on top of the dryer. Something was amiss; our house was not in order.

Delving into the matter, I had to pay attention to what was happening. Paying attention – it’s the operative word for solving this plumbing problem, as well as how to go about integrating Step 11 into my daily life.

We started another load of laundry.  As the washer discharged water I could see water bubbling out of the drainpipe onto the dryer.  We have a plugged pipe somewhere, but where is the stoppage?

Opening the clean-out pipe outside the kitchen window I discovered that (1) water flowed freely from our kitchen sink into the outside pipe and (2) it flowed freely outside when I took a hose and ran water into the washer’s drainpipe.

The stoppage was somewhere between the kitchen and our sewer. I called our plumber.  His "roto-rooter" device reached its end, fifty feet and still had not reached the obstruction.  One more try, he went under the house and tapped on the pipe where the blockage was.   Luck was on our side, the trapped gunk broke free and "whooshed" down the pipe into the sewer line. He cleaned out the affected pipe; our house is in order (at least pipe wise).

At the end of our 11th Step meeting we read the St. Francis Prayer.  It begins with, “Lord, make me a channel of thy peace…”

There’s a company that used to be called Clear Channel.  The name "Clear Channel" came from AM broadcasting, referring to a channel (frequency) on which only one station transmits.  This meant no interference from any other channel.  That’s what I want in my mind with the 11th Step…no interference from distracting thoughts, a mind that is in order.

A clear channel, an open, unhindered flow between my Higher Power and me is Step 11 at its best.  This comes about by noticing, paying attention, and attending to what is present (reality). When something is obstructing this channel, my house is not in order.  Instead of calling a plumber, I’ll talk to a sober friend or call my sponsor, of course, who is more than happy to do some tapping on my behalf.

The subconscious topic of the evening seemed to entail “pipes”.  Daniel took us back to when he was new in the program.  One evening, after he came home he heard a hissing sound.  Walking around he eventually found himself under the house.  His home was on a hillside so it was easy to walk under part of his rented house.  There it was, a pipe hissing and spraying water.

There were pipes leading in every direction and multiple valves – the scene was overwhelming to him.  He didn’t know where to begin, so he went back inside thinking, “This isn’t my house, it’s the owner’s job to fix this…I’ll call him in the morning.”

I just don’t understand what to do, he thought. A little time passed.  He got up and went under the house thinking, “If there’s anything I can do, show me.” He turned the first valve, no change; then the second valve, no change; then the third valve, when he turned the handle, the hissing stopped.

This experience made an impression.  “This goofy prayer showed me something,” he said, “I learned something about prayer.”

In his case, the answer came, then his house was in order.

My mind finds orderliness when I practice the 11th Step on a regular basis.  Even just a little bit of order is all I need to find answers appearing in the form of being at peace with whatever is happening.

Bill K.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Step 11 and a Big Book Koan

We're back and looking forward to meeting together again... and ready for this month's Step and koan:

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: "The answers will come if your own house is in order."
Page 164 Big Book

What does order look like for you?

Bill K.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

12 & Zen Cancelled As Santa Rosa Burned

A little change from the ordinary -- actually a large change.  For the first time I had to cancel our 12 & Zen gathering this month.  One of those out-of-my-control situations in the form of an outbreak of several wildfires burning nearby. Briefly, here is our story:

October 16, 2017

Dear Friends and Family,

As you well know, we’ve had several fires burning in Sonoma County  [which has turned out to be the most devastating fires in California’s history]. The fire that threatened our home was the Tubbs Fire. 

We are safe and all of the homes on our street have been untouched; but we have more than twenty friends who have lost everything.

Early last Monday, the 9th, I woke up around 2AM.  I could smell something and got up and looked around the house.  I couldn't identify what the smell was. Then I went outside and smelled the smoke. I climbed on top of the roof and this is what I saw, a red glow with the wind blowing from left to right.. 

The hillsides were hidden by the smoke.  We heard propane tanksexploding.

Walking down our street I met a neighbor who was evacuating.  We quickly collected some important papers, the computer’s external hard 
drive, clothes, photo albums and such and put 
them in our camper van.  We drove to nearby Oliver’s Market and waited until daylight.

At daybreak we returned home. I saw some neighbors on top of their roof and I joined them.

About 10AM we heard our area of town had been put on a mandatory evacuation order.  Time to leave.

The arrow shows where our home is.
Incredible how fast this fire spread from the town of Calistoga, 10 +/- miles away to Santa Rosa.  Even the freeway Highway 101 failed as a firebreak. The fire jumped the freeway and totally destroyed Coffee Park, hundreds of homes gone.

The winds, winds, winds.  The closest the fire came to our street was about a block away.  Into the van we went and drove to (son) Matt and Susan’s home in San Rafael.  It was so fortunate to have such a wonderful “evacuation center”. And there we stayed, eyes glued to the TV news and online maps and all.

 As I said, there were fires all over the County.  Upper left is the Tubbs Fire (map below) which affected us. Then two fires merged into one called the Nuns Fire. You can see how it has burned perhaps 2/3rds of Annadel State Park.  Since this picture it has expanded to include Sugarloaf Ridge SP and Hood Mountain Regional Park.  


The south part of Nuns Fire was threatening the town of Sonoma.

This fire to the right is the Atlas Fire in Napa County.  All-in-all I think these fires have burned somewhere around 150,000 acres and over 6000 homes lost.  About 40 people have died from these fires.

On Thursday we decided to drive up to see how things were in the neighborhood.  Matt kindly drove us up. 

We took advantage of this and retrieved our two other cars, parking my car in the Oliver’s Parking lot and driving Beth’s back down to San Rafael.

We also packed up some more clothes and grabbed some other photos and papers.  Getting back to Matt’s we would think of other items we forgot to grab.

The ferocity and losses from this wildfire have been matched by the generosity and selflessness of first responders and regular citizens countywide. Wonderful to witness this!                 

Bill (and Beth)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Step 10: Respectful and Insulting Words

In about two weeks (October 13th), some of us around here will be sitting together with Step 10 and this koan...

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

Koan: Both roots and branches must return to their origin, and so do respectful and insulting words. 

Shitou Xiiqian

I think I'll begin sitting with this today.

Bill K.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Step 8 Step 9 -- Wet Feet Dry Feet

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

~ Shaku Soyen

Finding the stone seems to indicate we are moving on a path, a route, going somewhere to somewhere else ... moving from this stone to this stone to this stone -- from a wet stone to a dry stone. We are moving to an opposite condition.  We do this all the time, moving from:

·      Hot to cold

·      Danger to safety

·      Angst to relief

·      Sorrow to joy

·      Step 8 to Step 9

Writing down my 8th Step, the names of people I hurt, thinking what I did to them, it can feel like slogging in wet and muddy conditions, wondering when will this end.

In the 9th Step, the slogging disappears; through courage and an honest effort at making my amends, I realize my angst turned to relief -- my foot isn’t wet anymore (at least with this particular person).  The 9th Step is finding the stone.

Before taking any one of the 12 Steps, in a way we are in the dark; not knowing what to expect, not knowing if we can do this.  It could be fear, too.  This is perhaps especially true with Step 8.  The mere thought of contacting people we have harmed and making amends is a dark place full of what ifs.  So dark that one person this evening said she purposefully left some people off her list the first time she did the Steps so she wouldn’t have to include them in her Step 9.  This did not solve the problem.  “By leaving people off my list,” she said, “my foot stayed completely wet and I still felt miserable.”

The word “harm” stood out for another person.  In the Three Pure Vows or Precepts, the first is Do no harm. “When I was drinking, I harmed people in many ways.  Listing these people on my 8th Step, I was acknowledging to myself that I had not been following this precept.  By being willing to take action on this path, experientially moving from Step 8 to Step 9,  I was learning how to recognize the harm I caused --  to notice if my foot was wet or dry, to know when to make amends, to know when relief appears.”  After making an amends, he went onto say that if he still felt a resentment toward this person, “my foot is still wet.”

We are “Creatures of Pain and Joy…” writes James Ford in this blog posting:

In this splendid article about working with koans, he writes, “There is no escape on the koan way. Our whole lives are explored, all facets of the real. And our experience of it, now every thing is holy, now no thing is holy.”

As humans, this pain and joy is something we can’t avoid.  We revert to our old ways and do harm to others, we find our feet wet again. Sooner or later we’ll remember how Steps 8, 9 AND 10 have worked for us in the past, then follow their direction.  We know they will lead us to the moment of discovery – “Hey, my feet aren’t wet anymore, I’ve found the stone!”

Bill K.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Canine Consequences

When we got this dog

I didn’t read the fine print.

It’s only when she died last Thursday

did I realize what was due.

A balloon payment of deepest sorrow

to be paid immediately!

It cannot be postponed

even for a second.

I accept this charge in its entirety.

No way shall I avoid this moment

or this moment or this moment…

It is the price I pay

for what I received from Ryla.

But embedded in every sorrow

is a bright memory.

Inside every fond memory

a dark sorrow looms.

“Bright and dark are a pair

like front and back foot walking … *

When Ryla and I would come home from our walk

while bending down I would say to her

“Kiss that pretty girl on the nose,”

which I did.

This is how it is, just now.

Shitou would say, “Don’t throw away your time.”

Bill Krumbein
September 2017

* Taking Part in the Gathering by Shitou Xiquan (700-790)
   Shitou taught that “what meets the eye is the Way.”

See September 2, 2017 post

Saturday, September 2, 2017


Dear 12 & Zen Family,

Ryla 11/4/2002 - 8/31/2017
As many of you know, I am not on Facebook.  When there are times I want to share something that is dear to me with the "world", I'll do it on my blog here. Such is the case today.

Our beloved dog Ryla passed away two days ago. We have spent hundreds of hours meditating together for more that twelve years. 
 Many of you at Pacific Zen Institute (and even the 11th Step Meeting) have met Ryla. You know what a good meditation practice she had. Or when I drove out to St. Dot's to deliver or retrieve all the retreat supplies, I would bring her along.

One day I was waiting in line to have a face-to-face meeting with my teacher, Rachel. These meetings are called dokusan. Ryla was with me of course. The bell rang, it was my turn to enter the interview room.  But instead of me entering the room, unbeknownst to my teacher, I opened the door slowly and sent Ryla in. A fun time for sure.  I understand Ryla and Rachel had a fine dialog together.

Ryla had a mission.  She was a breeder for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).

In August of 2004, Beth and I volunteered to become CCI breeder caretakers.  Little did we realized what an impact Ryla would have on our lives and many others. 

What an honor and privilege it has been to care for and nurture Ryla’s five litters of puppies until they were 8 weeks old; and then to experience the joy of seeing how almost 50% of her puppies graduated and became service dogs, facility dogs, or hearing dogs, etc.  Ryla’s daughter Wyla was chosen as a breeder.  And then Wyla’s Dyla became a breeder. What a legacy.

It goes beyond words to try to describe how Ryla touched our hearts; but calling her a family member is a good beginning.

Even though she greeted us every morning, wagged her tail daily, and loved her treat after fetching the newspapers, we suspected something was amiss with her teeth.  Last week the Vet took a look and said she needed a good teeth cleaning and possibly 3 teeth to be pulled. This seemed reasonable to us.

Last Thursday I took her in for the appointment.  As they were about to take her back, I bent over, kissed her and said, “Kiss that pretty girl right on the nose.” I would do this same ritual every time we got home from our daily walk.

A little later I received a telephone call from the Vet.  She was still in the operating room under anesthesia.  Basically, the X-Rays revealed a lot more going on – twelve teeth had to come out.  I felt this was too much for this old dog to endure, coupled with her other health issues, so I authorized euthanasia.

With Ryla’s other health issues this past year, Beth and I promised her quality of life.

People who met Ryla would often exclaim, “Her eyes, they’re so expressive!” When she got me up on that morning I looked into her eyes. Wagging her tail and a nudging nose was her way saying, “Time to get up, it’s another good day.”

I didn’t know I’d be kissing Ryla, right on her nose, for the last time.  So much to be grateful for.

We use koans with 12 & Zen, so it's apropos (upon hearing of Ryla's passing) that one of my teachers, David Weinstein, sent "...the dew drop world is the dew drop world, and yet...and yet..."

I responded, "And yet...and I feel incredible happiness, sadness, and gratefulness at the same time.  A good day for sure."

Dogs are wonderful people.

Bill K.

See September 7 post.

September Koan

Greetings All,

Here is what we'll be sitting with this month:

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.

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

~ Shaku Soyen

We'll be meeting in only 6 days.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

“It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”

This month it was a Potluck … We sat with this koan to see what would happen with the Steps. What Step(s) will this koan bring to you?

Koan: One day when Dongshan and a monk were washing their bowls, they saw two crows fighting over a frog. The monk asked, “Why does it always have to be like that?”

Dongshan replied, “It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”

[Dongshan (807-869) founded the Caodong School in China, which developed into the Soto School in Japan by Dōgen. He lived during Linji’s time.]

I was on my morning walk, wondering what koan we would be using for our August meeting. About two minutes later this koan appeared, and a few minutes after that Step 2 came to mind – I would be bringing Step Two into our “potluck” conversation.  As I continued on my walk, Step 2 became more clearly a benefit for me.

Then this koan brought three Steps into our conversation, Steps 2, 3 and 4. “With koans,” E.A. began, “There’s always more.  Koans help to understand reality and to really identify what’s going on in my world. The ‘working’ Steps came to mind (especially Step 4); with all the balking and resistance in those early days of sobriety, I came to realize they’re all for my benefit.”

D.H. said that during the week it was with Step 3 that this koan was mostly engaged with; “But tonight, Step 4 was the main focus.  The monk was judging this situation when he asked, “Why does it always have to be like that?”  Judging ourselves -- that’s what we do.  “How I see myself becomes very apparent in Step 4.  Examining my insane existence in Step 4,” D.H. said, “Is for my benefit.  Reality begins to appear when I give up my judgments.” He passes on what Pema Chodren said about waking up:

"Life's work is to wake up, to let the things that enter into your life wake you up rather than put you to sleep.  The only way to do this is to open, be curious, and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will."

Most of us know what the Big Book says about acceptance: “Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God today.  I never just sit and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do.  Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and leave the results up to Him; however it turns out, that’s God’s will for me.”

This is the way I see and experience my Higher Power.  Elsewhere in the Big Book it says there are no mistakes in this world.  When I am in the moment, I am experiencing God.  In fact, that is the only place where God appears – in this moment.  Whatever is happening right now, this is what the Universe is giving me.  It’s up to me on how I will respond. “My actions are my only possession.” (This comes from our Remembrance sutra).   Not only do I strive for acceptance in the situation, but also willingness to accept the consequences for my actions.

It was the Third Step came to R.M. and also the Serenity Prayer, to accept what we cannot change.  I liked how he phrased his situation by saying, “God’s plan for us is spiritual evolution.” No matter how we label things, good/bad, etc., “Everything,” R.M. said, "Is a part of a higher good."

The evening began with discussing these various Steps, yet the koan kept leading us to “what is” – REALITY.  Two crows fighting over a frog for their food, is reality.  Truly working the Steps, to the best of our ability, can only happen in reality. Rami Shapiro writes in his book Recovery – the sacred art, “God is Reality.” When I turn my thoughts and actions over to the care of Reality, I’m alive! It’s all for my benefit.  It’s all part of a higher good.  Everything is here to wake me up.


Then something else came up for me afterwords; not the all-out fighting of two crows over a frog, but a tugging none-the-less.  Tonight was a perfect example of how koans bring about revelations; in our case how at least three different Steps appeared to us while sitting with a single koan.  Tugging against this notion was the thought of next month when we’ll be sitting with Steps 8 and 9 – making amends…then there was this remembering of a moment many years years ago very early into this 12 & Zen project. I was leading a group this Friday night.  I don’t even recall the specific Step we were sitting with. During the audience participation a man began telling us of his experience with a different Step.  In a fit of thinking I needed to control things, to stay on topic, I reminded him that we were discussing a different Step now, and steered the group back to that evening’s Step.

I was so wrong in doing this. Right Speech is a part of the Buddhist Eightfold Path. When I got home that evening I recognized my response was definitely wrong speech.  I learned from my behavior and don’t think I have ever made an error like this since.  So I suppose realizing my poor judgment was to my benefit later on.

But it was too late for the man since I didn’t catch my shortcoming soon enough.  I had hoped the man would return the following month; but he didn’t.  He never returned.

Corralling the Steps and koans together as we do here is a non-traditional way of working with koans and good things come from this.  But koans cannot be controlled.  And just as E.A. said earlier, “With koans there’s always more.”

Had this man returned the following month, I was ready to make amends. Maybe one day my words here will come before that gentleman’s eyes. Sir, if you're reading this, I regret what I said to you that evening; I ask for your forgiveness.  You were simply expressing your relationship with that koan way back then.  Everything you said was true to where the koan was pointing for you and I interfered with the process.

Honored ones, Blessings and Benefits for you...

Bill K.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Potluck … What Step comes to you with this koan?

Koan: One day when Dongshan and a monk were washing their bowls, they saw two crows fighting over a frog. The monk asked, “Why does it always have to be like that?”

Dongshan replied, “It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”

Hello All,

Our August koan. What Step or Steps does this koan bring to mind? 

Are you a crow or the frog?



Sunday, July 16, 2017

Step 7 -- When the time comes to do so...

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Koan: When the time comes to do so, put on your clothes. If you want to walk, walk.  If you want to sit, sit.

At a meeting the other day, Nick said that his sponsor asked him, early on, to put the word t-h-e-n after each Step -- to work Step One, then go onto Step Two, then Step Four, etc.  This makes the way one views the 12 Steps be a body of one.  In Step 6, it’s about being entirely ready.  Ready for what? Ready to do Step 7.  In Step 7, we proceed to do what we’ve decided to do. It can be as easy as deciding to get dressed.

Any reluctance or procrastination here, for some, may have more to do with having doubts that it will work in my situation; but believing right off the bat, I think, is not as critical as the doing part.  Step 7 has more to do with the doing, the asking.  As we do it, again and again and again, we come to believe.

I think kind words grow kindness, and angry words grow anger.  I can’t take words back after they have left my lips.  So it is with Step 7.  Humble words grow humility.  As I ask my higher power to remove my shortcomings, when I am sincerely humble in the asking, this is what creates the power of Step 7.

This evening we talked a lot about getting dressed, with DH saying there are two ways to get dressed here.  We can put on our “old” soiled clothes, these being our old ideas and old beliefs; and by noticing this, paying attention, engaging in the moment, we can take inventory of the situation.  Being aware of my old pattern(s), I don’t like the way I am feeling right now.  I don’t like the way I look in these old clothes.

Arrgh, it’s time for me to change out of these old clothes. “God, please help me to get out of these old clothes and put on fresh new ones.”

I decide to get dressed again, get dressed, now I’m ready for the day.  I decide to do Step 7, do it to the best of my ability, then onto Step 8.

One person brought it all to what is challenging for him today.  He’s in his 70s and has health matters that are not going away.  No longer can he do things today that he could six months ago.  He called his sponsor yesterday to say that now “I realize I must change the way I do things today.”  In his case he is experiencing physical shortcomings.  Not asking God to remove them, he said he’s asking for help in living with the way his body works today.  “If I’m out of breath, then sit down, rather than physically pushing myself too far.”

As much as I’d rather not admit, I sometimes “forget” how readily Step 7 is available to me…until the time comes when I do it.  When the time comes is the natural sequence of things. 

Like right now, finishing up here,  it will be time to take a walk.

Bill K.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Time for Step Seven this month...

Hello Everyone,

Something to sit with.  July brings us Step 7 and this koan:

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Koan: When the time comes to do so, put on your clothes. If you want to walk, walk.  If you want to sit, sit.

Bill K.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Step 6: "It's dark, dark."

It's dark, dark...
Step 6:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Koan: A teacher and student talked far into the night. “It’s getting late,” said the teacher, “time for you to leave.”  The student opened the door, looked out saying, “It’s dark, dark.” The teacher lit a candle and handed it to the student.  Just as the student was about to take the candle, the teacher blew it out.

Gateless Barrier #28

…It’s dark… There’s the turning out of lights at bedtime. Trust, no fears, no doubt, just the ease of falling asleep.

…dark… and we see here, dark, dark… the the fear and doubt of the darkness outside.  Am I unsure my defects of character can be removed…that my H.P. could do this?

…the teacher lit a candle… A sense of gratitude may have appeared in the student, the candle will help ease the fear of what is out there in the dark.  I am ready to go now.  My sponsor is a teacher of sorts.

…the teacher blew it out…  Oh no, I’m scared again.  Why did the teacher blow out my candle and put me back into a state of fear? There must be a lesson in this.

Perhaps the teacher (my sponsor) is telling me that I don’t need the candle, to have faith in myself. When I’m ready, God is ready.  When I’m willing to put my life into the hands of God, what is there to fear? By doing this I’ve discovered that I have my own light that comes from within -- candle of trust, a light of readiness.

…time for you to leave… to leave that feeling of being left in the dark, to leave the feeling of what could happen, that I’m not prepared -- to leave the conversation with my sponsor about Steps 4 and 5 and move on. . My H.P. and Step 6 (and 7) shine brightly.

All of this happens, simply by flipping the switch of readiness. I still need to be reminded of this all the time.  What or who can I rely upon in situations of darkness?  Step 6 reminds me, its my Higher Power of course! Step 6 is putting Step 3 into action.

In sitting with koans, any part of a koan will do.  This time it was the word “dark” that kept appearing.  This, in turn brought to mind Shitou xiquian and an excerpt from his “Taking Part in the Gathering” as it appears in our sutra book:
The darkness is inside the bright,
But don’t look only with the eyes of the dark.
The brightness is inside the dark,
But don’t look only through the eye of the bright.
Bright and dark are a pair,
Like the front foot and back foot walking.

Bill K.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Step 6

 Start your sitting... Here is what we will be sitting with this month:

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


A teacher and student talked far into the night. “It’s getting late,” said the teacher, “time for you to leave.”  The student opened the door, looked out saying, “It’s dark, dark.” The teacher lit a candle and handed it to the student.  Just as the student was about to take the candle, the teacher blew it out.
Gateless Barrier #28

Bill K.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Step 5, Growing from the mud...

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

Koan: “From the mud grows the lotus.”

Our society has a thing about dirt and mud, equating it to germs and something that may harm us.  Mud is bad. There is the striving for the cleanest laundry, carpets, floors, countertops, glassware, and cars, etc.

Then again, I’ve read that kids who grow up on farms and ranches, because of being exposed to myriad forms of bacteria, microbes, and yes, “germs”, have a stronger and more robust immune system than city kids.  It’s because these kids are exposed to more dirt, mud and manure. So bad mud can be good mud.

We come into AA caked with varying amounts of our “muddiness” and dirt, accumulated over our drinking years.  In Step 4 we uncover the muddy and dirty parts of our being.  In Step 5 we air our dirty laundry not in public, but with our sponsor, perhaps wondering what any of this has to do with staying sober.

“No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experiences can benefit others.” (p. 84)

  • No matter how much mud and dirt we’ve accumulated
  • We will see how our muddiness can help others
  • If our 4th Step is mud
  • Then our 5th Step is a way to boost the spiritual immune system

Step 5 is the beginning of acknowledging and letting go of our muddy past actions (character defects and wrongdoings). From this we are on our way in becoming a different person, principally by putting others before self.

“In Buddhism the lotus is a symbol of the true nature of beings, which remains unstained by the mud of the world.”  And there are other ways to look at this.  Take light and darkness – we cannot have one without the other.  The lotus needs mud for its very survival.  No mud, no lotus.  This saying would be quite fitting, hanging on the wall at any 12 Step meeting.

In Step 4 we become aware and take ownership of our truth.  Muddy parts and all, this is life.  What Roger said he finds helpful comes from Eckhart Tolle, something to the effect:  "Life – it’s all part of a higher good.”  In Step 5, it’s the higher good of truth that sets us free.

Think about 1934.  Alcoholics Anonymous did not exist yet.  The first 100 members of AA were still deep into their full-blown self-centered alcoholic disease, muddying their lives and those around them.  In a short four or five years, growing from the dedicated work of these very same people, a lotus flower bloomed -- the AA Big Book became reality.  This flower of sobriety continues to bloom each time a 5th Step is completed – from our muddy past grows a flower.

Bill K.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


It's springtime, May is just around the corner...

What comes up for you with this koan and Step 5? 

We'll be meeting, as usual, on the second Friday of May, the 12th.

Is your practice growing? 

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

Koan: “From the mud grows the lotus.”

Bill K.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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

Koan: Someone asked his teacher, “But what about during disasters?”

She responded, “That’s it, too.”


And there are disasters that occur solely between my ears.
When we find ourselves in a situation we deem disasterous, it usually is, or becomes one. Doing Step 4 was not disasterous for me; but many a time I’ve heard where others bolted from AA at the thought of taking a moral inventory.  This could very well be the greater disaster than looking at one’s past actions.

In no way am I discounting disasters like bombings or tornados, etc. In these cases,
a majority of people rise to their highest level, risking their own life in helping others.  This koan applies to all disasters, including the stories we make up in our minds. That’s it, too.

I was drawn to the “it” in this koan. I have to show up for my life – this is it.  The landscape of reality, my life as I know it right now – this is it. Watching my landscape go by or ignoring it altogether, this is it.  Step 4 gave me an awareness of and insight to my behavior.  Yes, it was uncomfortable for me.  Sometimes it feels like sobriety is sending me to the front lines of my life. It is the Steps that show me how to respond.

I believe every one of the Twelve Steps is an awakening of sorts, but I didn’t always realize it at the time. The Steps are in order to facilitate these awakenings. Without taking the Step 4 inventory to the best of my ability at the time, I wouldn’t have anything available to go onto Step 5. “Step 4 is getting to know yourself,” said E., “And eventually being OK with who we are.  The “it” is the OK-ness.

H. was not focusing on “it” at all.  And on the topic of disasters, said he didn't think he has ever been in a disaster,  “Dangerous situations, yes, but not any disasters.” He calls Steps 4-10 his inventory Steps.  His ongoing prayers and practice are looking at himself and his role on a daily basis.

The “it” for M. was about rewards and payback for doing each Step.  In this case, Step 4, “Am I going to be OK after doing this?  Does God still have my back?”  For her, the answer has been yes.

In my Zen practice I’ve worked with the koans in a book called The Gateless Barrier. The same book by a different author is called The Gateless Gate.

As I continued sitting with this koan, I realized that “It” goes beyond my personal landscape of life, deeper into what is. You see, these dharma gates are always available to me under any condition. Others might say this is God’s message being revealed.  It can happen at any circumstance.

·      What about during fun times?  That’s it, too.

·      What about when working Step 4?  That’s it too.

“It” is the gate to awakening.  Some may think Step 4 is a barrier.  No, no, no.  Looking back on it now, it was the gate that opened up the rest of the Steps.

H. spoke again at the end of our meeting, telling us that, as a child he suffered from horrendously abusive parents. “I just realized that my childhood was a disaster. For countless years I wrestled with my role, questioning my relationship with my parents. It was when I worked the Fourth Step that I acknowledged I was the victim.   That’s it!  I found my true self in this matter and could move on.

On the drive home, H. was still wondering, “What was it for me to talk about my childhood tonight? The words just came out.”

I assured him that what he said was a perfect example of tonight’s koan in action.  And fortunately for the rest of us, we got to share his experience.

Bill K.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Time to Play With Our April Koan...

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

Koan: Someone asked his teacher, “But what about during disasters?”

         She responded, “That’s it, too.”

This thing I call 12 & Zen;  and by using koans in a non-traditional way, we play.

Playing a Step off a koan and playing a koan off a Step can bring about a new awareness. 

It’s like hitting the refresh button on your computer.  Twelve and Zen is a 12-Step refresh button!

Are you ready to play?

Bill K.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Essential Source of Step 3

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

Koan: “…with whatever meets your eye being nothing other than the essential source.”  Daoxin (580-651) The 4th Zen ancestor

This Step and koan has, over the past two weeks, taken me all over the map.

It was one of those times when my words were not enough; and not finding a corresponding definition to my experience. Then, of all places while reading an NPR article on my iPad, the answer appeared.

·      “…praying to the ultimate power behind all things.”

No longer feeling stuck, these words made sense to me, and my working with Step 3 and a Higher Power of my understanding.

Bill W. wrote: "The phrase 'God as we understand him' is perhaps the most important expression to be found in our whole AA vocabulary.”

I had a similar experience when coming across the sentence fragment that became the koan we’re sitting with today.  What our eyes meet is the essential source?  Of course! It corresponds well with the Big Book: “…I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, or thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” came to mind. The essential source of ultimate power is in each and every moment.  This is what God, the Universe, is giving to us.

·      Higher Power, essential source, ultimate power, at this moment

Being in my 70s now, health matters seem to be coming at me faster than I would prefer.  My cardiologist said my A-fib has returned so not only increased the dosage of my blood pressure med, he added a “blood thinner” to boot.  My family doctor says I am at a pre-diabetic level and need to start doing something about that (or more meds).  And then there’s surgery coming up at the end of the month for an inguinal hernia.  I’m falling apart.

One morning late in February on my usual walk with Ryla, maybe I was thinking of my mortality when I wrote O vast Ocean.

Ryla, about 8 weeks old
It brought me comfort actually, as the verse would appear while walking on following days. One thought came up though, that it’s only the wave’s shape or “waveness” that’s returns.  The wave is the ocean; the ocean is the wave; another view of the essential source of Step Three.  It’s all happening at the same time, from a Zen perspective, form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

Which brings me to our beloved Ryla, while walking about the neighborhood on the first day of March, I’m abiding in the ocean and waves and the Source, when I stopped to and say hello to Norm.  I had seen him before but just learned his name.  He was loading up his SUV, to drive to UC Davis with Maggie, one of his dogs.  Maggie has cancer and goes to Davis for treatments.  Norm was telling me of how he is spoiling Maggie and feeding her chicken-apple sausages as “enhancements” for her meals, so she’ll feel better.

“Ryla is having health issues, too,” I said.  I could feel the lump in my throat growing as I told him that she has Liver Storage Disease, and how it’s become incredibly stressful for us all.

Things seemed to be going well.  She had gained some weight back (47 to 50).  But of late she decided she didn't like the dry dog food anymore.   She stopped taking her meds no matter how we tried to hide them, so I had to pry open her mouth and stuff them way back in her mouth, close it shut and see if she swallowed (4 times a day). 

I couldn’t go on speaking and lost it.  We hugged each other.  We understood each other because we’re dog people. I continued on our walk.

Then it struck me, the verse wasn’t about me; it was about Ryla and her condition.  In Step 3 there’s a lot about my will and God’s will, with the object being, of course, to align with God’s will, the will of the essential source, as I see it now.  There was a time when Ryla would eat the dog food and accept the pills readily.  All was good.  But for whatever reason, Ryla began telling us she doesn’t like her present condition of nasty-tasting pills and dog food.   I wasn’t paying attention.

Ryla, March 2017
Thanks to Norm and my bumpy conversation, there came a total shift in attitude.  When we got home, I told Beth what had happened.  We didn’t have to convince the other – we both knew the decision -- we immediately stopped all of Ryla’s meds and special dog food.  That evening Ryla gobbled down some chicken-apple sausages in warm broth.  She loved it.  We knew we had made the right decision.  This is what she wanted.

The next day our household was in a different dimension, we all were happier and our hearts lighter.  We fixed Ryla scrambled eggs for brunch.  We shower her with extra belly rubs and scratching her ears a certain way.  She returns wags, nudges, and brings me one of her toys to play with.  We still walk every morning. This we will continue to do…until one day, she will tell us that she’s had enough.   She will leave us one day, but not from our hearts. I must remind myself that her essential source is always right here before my eyes.

Bill K.