Monday, June 1, 2020

Two Steps, Two Months, One koan


 
 Dear  12 & Zen Friends:

 With what's going on in my town, county, state, nation and the world -- I'm feeling exhausted these days.  

I'm stretching things out a bit. Yes, we're
still sitting in our respective homes with this June koan, and for July, too.

Two Steps, two months, one koan. 



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

Step 7:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.



Koan: A monk made a request of Joshu:  “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have eaten.”
“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”  At that moment, the monk had an insight.



Please be kind to yourself and in service to others.

Bill K.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Suffering through Step 5



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


Koan: Layman P’ang said: “From out of the clear blue, suffering arises.”

The Sayings of Layman P’ang,  #30 - Sung-shan’s Staff


Uncovering the things I did to others in the past, at minimum brought me shame, regret and sorrow. It didn’t paint the picture of who I thought I was, nor who I wanted to become. This was distressing.

The suffering that arose from writing down my 4th Step often came from out of the blue – an incident, an accompanying thought would spring up with new information to reckon with, usually pointing directly to my actions exclaiming, “what you did was wrong!”

And now, in Step 5, I have to tell someone else about what I’ve done? Another form of suffering appeared. Oh swell, now angst is added to my already uncomfortable distress.

The Buddha taught that life is dukkha. The Pali word dukkha is often translated as suffering in English; but there is no tidy translation since dukkha has a range of meaning and connotation. One of the categories of dukkha includes physical, emotional and mental pain. Suffering. Robert Aitken Roshi (in the lineage I practice) used angst as his definition of this kind of suffering.

Angst brings together the feelings of anxiety, apprehension and insecurity.

It sure did for me – with angst coming from what the Fifth Step would entail (especially the other person part) and distress coming from what I thought of myself while doing Step 4.

“From out of the blue, suffering arises.”

Is this what my life is to be, carrying around the gnawing baggage of my past?

Of course not! Step 5 is part of the process that showed me there is an end to my suffering here (or at least a substantial reduction). With my sponsor I was actually participating in the act of recovering. Relief can come from out of the blue, too.

Without dark there can be no light. Without wet there can be no dry. Without life there can be no death. Without suffering there can be no serenity, peace and freedom.

So it was with my Step 5. With each admission and then my sponsor’s reply and the telling of his experiences, little by little I began feeling less “bad”. I left his apartment feeling lighter – no longer was I carrying the entirety of my heavy load of shame and suffering. My sponsor, in the spirit of AA was carrying a portion, too.

And in the following years when I occasionally found myself in morbid reflection of my past, I would remind myself by saying, “No, no, no, I’m not doing this alone anymore – I have help here. I admitted this to my sponsor years ago – he’s still helping me with this.”

Little did I realize, that coming up next with Steps 6 and 7,  I’d find an ever-present and effective technique for turning my troublesome thoughts and actions over to my higher power -- PRN (nurse talk* for “as needed”).

Bill K.

* My wife was a nurse for 40+ years.

Wendy following the rules.



Here we are, about to enter our seventh week of sheltering in place.
Please take care of yourself and others.

COVID-19 came out of the blue bringing suffering...and by experience we know that relief and good will arise, too.


Thursday, April 30, 2020

12 & Zen for May



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

 Koan: Layman P’ang said: “From out of the clear blue, suffering arises.”


From The Sayings of Layman P’ang,  #30 - Sung-shan’s Staff

- - -

In our homes here, or there, or in far-away places,  no better time than to sit with Step 5 and this koan from Layman P'ang.

Stay well,

Bill K.




Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sitting with Step 4 amid the VIRUS









Here we are, in the thick of Sheltering-in-Place, practicing 12 & Zen in our homes instead of meeting in the Zendo. Yesterday, around 6:45 PM, I said to Beth, "I should be sitting in the Zendo right now with others."  Instead, we're all sitting with COVID -19 in our hospitals, communities, on the street, for some in our homes. "Hi COVID-19, I'm keeping my distance from you. We have important things to do right now,  like sitting with Step 4."
 


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



Koan: From Bodhisattva’s Vow – Torei Enji

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.



Tackling Step 4 requires courage, action, and a willingness to, perhaps for the first time, take an unvarnished look and uncovering of who I am today – and to remember that working the Steps will change me for the better.

  • This is about bringing my best self to every moment.
  • My practice is about solving division.
  • Do I add to this division?
  • How can this other person make me a better person? This is the Buddha appearing, showing me...
  • What am I learning from others?
  • Buddha said, “Victory breeds hatred?”

 

If someone turns against us, speaking ill of us and treating us bitterly: Whatever they did, real or imaginary, we alcoholics can come to resentments in a self-centered heartbeat -- a place we dare not stay for long.

it’s best to bow down: We take it easy,  loosening the reins…we pause… we humbly ask our HP for some  guidance in hopes of finding a little empathy and understanding for this other person.  Relief comes when we eventually put them in our prayers, "Bless them, change me."

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:
Look what the Universe is showing us! It’s in recognizing our resentments, that we return to our HP, to show us the things we can do while navigating the process of Step Four.

Resentments are the #1 cause for relapsing, so it’s imperative that I (1) recognize them early on, (2) see my part in a situation, and (3) become willing to take the appropriate action to dissolve my resentment in conjunction with God, Buddha, HP…


They joke about how sausages are made. The process can look pretty repulsing. So can Step 4; but with my sponsor as my guide, he is like the production manager in the sausage plant, I am the worker following his directions.

I had to trust his experience that all my efforts would bring me freedom to complete my inventory and move onto Step Five.

“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.” Dalai Lama

Blessings to you all during these COVID-19 times. No better time than to "practice these principles in all our affairs."

Bill K.









Monday, March 30, 2020

Step 4 and April Koan






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






KOAN: From Bodhisattva’s Vow – Torei Enji 

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.

Please take care of yourself and others.  I look forward
to hearing from you.

Bill K.



Monday, March 16, 2020

Step 3 -- Just this cuts through fantasy





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

Koan: Just this.

Step 3 is absolutely crucial for my sobriety, for when I’m unwilling to turn things over to my Higher Power, I’m into self…and it’s self that got me into this mess in the first place! It would be delusional to think otherwise. Josh's point, “Just this” cuts through fantasy.  As the Big Book says, it’s the root cause of my problems. It’s that simple. 


It’s about surrendering, letting go and turning it over. I took this koan, “Just this,” into my morning readings today. At one point there was a word-of-the-day – surrender – Step 3 is surrendering. Dale H.



Thank God our founders came up with the concept of a “God as we understood Him.” You don’t like the word Him? No problem. How about God as we understand? You don’t like the word God? No problem. How about Higher Power or a higher power as we understood? You don’t like the word Higher Power? No problem. How about any power that’s greater than you? It’s all up to you and your imagination to find your own.

It took me a while to find a God of my understanding. Early in my sobriety, of all places, lying in a hammock was a turning point for me, and a beginning of understanding Step 3.  It was about surrendering, letting go, and turning my very body over to the hammock, trusting it would support me. I could enjoy just this moment completely.  John S.

Rami Shapiro writes in his book, Holy Rascals: If God is infinite, God is everything. If you say, “This is God but that it not,” your God is too small, yet not so small as to do no harm.”

Living with just this is living with God


 How do I make this decision? By paying attention to what I’m doing. This evening, Good Orderly Direction came up for me. All I need is just this to move onto what is next.  Elsie



In order for me to come to terms with my Higher Power, I had to answer these questions. This didn’t happen in one sitting -- over time, the answers came.     
  •     Where can I find my Higher Power?      
  •     Where can I see my Higher Power?
  •     Where can I hear my Higher Power?      
  •     Where can I smell my Higher Power?
  •     Where can I touch my Higher Power?
  •     Where can I access my Higher Power?
  •     Where do I notice the presence of my Higher Power’s activity?
 - - - - -

The following was posted from Jon Joseph Roshi’s blog:
https://www.sanmateozen.org/single-post/2020/02/29/A-World-At-Play

...Where his friend wrote:

Over the last few days I have been feeling like the world is my playground. Somehow, I was given this life and put in this place and each moment is new and a gift.
Now I get to see a shadow.
Now my head hurts.
Now Calvin is writing poetry.
Now there are colorful cups on the shelf.
Now my mind is solving puzzles.
Now my eggs taste salty.
Then today, it is not so much that way, but different.
Now each moment is different.




No matter what’s happening, Jon’s friend seems to be fully engaged with just this.  He finds there’s nothing to add, and nothing to remove in each moment. He is showing me what it’s like when I turn my will and my life over to the care of just this …just now…just God.

Just this is a statement of what I’m doing and how I’m present in the world. Morgan

Bill K.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Step 3 and our March koan



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


Koan: Just this.


That's it.  Just this little koan.

Enjoy!

Bill K.


https://12stepsandzenkoans.blogspot.com/

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Step 2, Came to believe in peach blossoms...



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

Koan: Lingyun was wandering in the mountains and became lost in his walking. He rounded a bend and saw peach blossoms on the other side of the valley. This sight awakened him and he wrote this poem:

For thirty years I searched for a master swordsman.
How many times did the leaves fall
and the branches break into bud?
But from the moment I saw the peach blossoms,
I’ve had no doubts.


Centuries later the Japanese teacher Keizan responded with his own poem:

The village peach blossoms didn’t know
their own crimson
but still they freed Lingyun

from all his doubts.
Like so many things in my life, Step 2 is an example of how fruitless it is to intentionally go after something. I can’t say to myself, “Today I’m going to believe that a Power greater than I will restore me to sanity,” and then go make it happen. This would be like Lingyun saying, “Today on my walk I’m going to become enlightened.”

This is what he was saying in his poem after he had become awakened by seeing the peach blossoms – For thirty years I searched for a master swordsman…Is it over there? Is it behind that tree? Is it at night? How about if I hold my hands thusly? Searching, searching, searching to no avail.

 Lost in his wandering was a form of meditation. Lingyun saw a power greater than himself in the peach blossoms. They relieved him from his fears. It’s all peach blossoms!  But I HAD to first admit in Step 1 that I am powerless. Being powerless opened the door for me to find a power greater than myself.  Miles O.

In his searching, he had an agenda, a goal he yearned for. We could say there’s such a thing as speed searching, which would be the sport of orienteering. There’s no such thing as speed wandering, though. The key may be in giving up the search and not trying to take everything in, dare I say know everything? He became lost in his wandering – perhaps not knowing his whereabouts and not even knowing what he was looking for.


“For me, sanity means clarity, clear seeing.” There was nothing sane about my upbringing at all, an insane childhood, insane parents, insane growing up, and insane adulthood. So how could I be restored to something I had never had? The whole thing about sanity was huge for me. I had to be taught over many years how to be sane – how to find clarity, clarity seeing the truth, clarity seeing the peach blossoms in my life. For the first 10-15 years in my sobriety, everything was a power greater than myself. Dale H.

Unconsciously getting out of his own way and putting down the obstacles in his mind was all it took to be open to the sight of the peach blossoms. Lingyun had no doubts. He came to believe.



Lingyun was completely in the moment when he saw the peach blossoms, awakening to ultimate awareness. In Step 2, we “come to” awareness, an awakening, where all this makes perfect sense. There IS a solution here.   John S.

There’s something else going on here, too. Long dormant on a shelf, I threw an old book into my car for reading before meetings. It’s The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau.

Early in the Editor’s Introduction section, it reads: “Zazen can in fact be effective [attaining awakening] even in a chair or on a bench or while kneeling…” (and Lingyun has shown awakening can happen when wandering.

It goes on to say, “What ensures success in the quest for enlightenment is not a particular position but an intense longing for truth for its own sake.” Lingyun had this longing and so do we in working the Steps in our quest to find sobriety and find our Higher Power.




Sitting here with my eyes closed, I noticed a slit of light coming through my eyelids. It reminded me of fire. I thought of the recent wildfires we’ve had here. Fires are certainly a power greater than me.
  • I survived my fire experiences.
  • Why do I always wonder if I’m OK?
  • Is it OK to feel this way?
  • Then I brought in my H.P. and these thoughts vanished.
  • I am OK.   Morgan

In Step 1 we set ourselves up, in a good way, by admitting we are powerless over something (people, places and things). By admitting we are powerless we are also admitting there are things in the universe that are more powerful than we are. We believe in a perfectly working universe, yes? The universe, right now, is “universing” the only way it can.

That there is a force (or forces) behind all things is easy to acknowledge; but comprehending this force is beyond my capacity.

Step 2 is taking a beginning step onto a path to believing.
You will come to believe – guaranteed – when the time is right.

Bill K.













Friday, January 31, 2020

February Koan and Step 2



It's February tomorrow, and with it comes sitting with Step 2 and the following koan. It may seem wordy to you but it isn't.  Whatever part(s) of this koan stick to you, it's the whole koan and all of Step 2.

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

Koan: Lingyun was wandering in the mountains and became lost in his walking. He rounded a bend and saw peach blossoms on the other side of the valley. This sight awakened him and he wrote this poem:

For thirty years I searched for a master swordsman.
How many times did the leaves fall
and the branches break into bud?
But from the moment I saw the peach blossoms,
I’ve had no doubts.

Centuries later the Japanese teacher Keizan responded with his own poem:

The village peach blossoms didn’t know

their own crimson
but still they freed Lingyun
from all his doubts.

Bill K.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Step 1, "We have come to our real work."



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

Koan: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work”   


From The Impeded Stream by Wendell Berry


From Dale:  "My real work is to learn about myself by doing the inventory steps. The deeper meaning of Step 1 begins with I don’t know, then admitting that I need help.  It’s still this way after all these years of sobriety."

Impede: to interfere with or slow the progress of.

If alcoholism isn’t an impediment in our lives, I don’t know what is. Alcohol absolutely impedes our lives, ultimately in the most severe ways. Eventually it shows up as incomprehensible demoralization, utter despair, hopelessness and a fear of impending doom. If we’re fortunate, the time will come where we find “we no longer know what to do.”

Pam: "I always had a plan, knew what to do, a scam, could do something in that righteous place. In Step 1 it was about sitting with my failure. I can step back and find acceptance and stop trying to figure it all out. I really don’t know what to do."

I was there once. I didn’t know what I could do. My way wasn’t working. I couldn’t stop drinking. I gave up. The tiniest voice hesitantly told me, “You are probably an alcoholic.” There weren’t any arguments anymore.

Elsie: “The Steps help us to get out of our own way.”

I knew very little about AA then. My mother had found AA and would send me little notes like the Serenity Prayer. I ignored her attempts as not applicable to me.  And I knew there were places like treatment centers, too. Early in December 1986 I told my wife that I think I need to go to one of those treatment centers. No argument there, either.

This is where my real work began. I didn’t know it at the time that I had opened the door of recovery and taken Step One, at least in a general way. From that point on, recovery’s momentum grew as my working continued, doing what I was asked to do at the center.

Kirsten: “At 22 months clean, I’m now actually working on my insides now! When I was out there, I never gave a thought about this, it was chasing after all the external things."

What I’ve experienced in sobriety with Step 1 is that is no longer a barrier. Perhaps, though, that’s what many of us have to work through -- the discovery that Step 1 changed from a barrier to an impediment.

Could Step One be an offering from the universe? “Hey, you might want to take a look at this.”

In our sutras we have Bodhisattva’s Vow by Torei Enji where he says:

“…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.”

Then Dale gave us a line about knowing from the Tao Te Ching: "He who regards his intellectual knowledge as ignorance has deep insight. He who overrates his intellectual achievement as definite truth is deeply sick.”
-  Translated by Hua-Ching Ni, 1995, Chapter 71

By getting a sponsor and doing the Steps, the working continues; and now it’s not a burden.  AA is my life’s work today; still, impediments happen daily. Something comes up that I resist or don’t like. Something seems to be getting in the way of my wants. GASP! When I recognize this I know I need to get to work on the matter.

John said, “This koan was very apropos to what I’ve been living these past few weeks. I’ve been driving myself to think I can do more than what I can actually do.” It begins by thinking “I can do this. I force myself to do more until I find myself stuck [an impediment] and have to admit I’m powerless. This is the place where I can actually begin to work by realizing I can only do so much."

When a stream meets an obstacle, the water always takes the path of least resistance. May you find the Steps to be the easier way.

Bill K.