Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mid-Practice period - Refinement

We have about three weeks left of the Clouds in Water Practice Period.  This is an individualized at-home practice period of our commitments in spiritual life.  It is a revision of what the traditional practice period was like.  Traditionally, the practitioners would commit to a certain schedule that would be done communally, all together in the zendo.  It was definitely a stretch of our usual practices, usually more sitting, and more study and a surrender to travel time to come to the Center.

In some ways, the old style was an external structure that you surrendered to and in exchange, you received the support of the whole group doing it together.  If you weren’t in your assigned seat at zazen, everyone knew that you didn’t show up.  This was a great incentive to keep your commitments – peer pressure and teacher pressure.

The way we are doing practice period now is also hard in a very different way.  It is an internal structure with the power to accomplish our commitments coming from inside.  No one knows if we don’t do our evening zazen.  No one knows if we haven’t said the morning gatha for three days.  It is entirely integrated with the rest of our lives, our home life, our work and our families.  It is NOT compartmentalized at all.  In this sense, it is quite a difficult practice and can be particularly strengthening to our mindfulness and our inner commitment to spiritual life.

But, because there is not so much accountability, it is easy to fail or slack off or even to quit.  So mid-practice period is a time of refining our commitments, forgiveness of our failings and looking for a boost of energy to reapply ourselves to go to the end, which in this case is Sunday April 26th.

It’s very important to learn to practice with failure.  It is one of the 8 worldly winds blowing through our life of appearances constantly.  Success and failure.  How do we deal with a failure and in this instance, perhaps, a failure to adhere to the disciplines you set up for yourself at the beginning of practice period.

May I be at peace with success and failure.

There is a great spiritual song that expresses this:  “When I fall down, I get up.” I dust myself off, and try again.  This is the spirit of practice and Resilience!  Perhaps our commitments need to be refined.  Our ideas at the beginning of practice period did not actually fit the conditions of this time.  They were too grand or too small.  Now, mid-practice period you can adjust to fit more clearly the circumstances.  Refine your commitments so that you can finish practice period with a sense of accomplishment.  After all, we are not doing this for other people.  We are doing this to strengthen our over-all surrender to spiritual disciplines and to strength our commitment to see life through Buddha’s eyes.  Whatever amount of practice that we can do, which continues with our goal of strengthening our practice, is worth it. Don’t succumb to discouragement and give up.  If you need to refine things to fit circumstances better, do it!  If you need some outside encouragement, get it!
Get renewed energy from:
·      Coming to the center on Sundays.  April 5th we are in our new space on Farrington.
·      Help with volunteering to put together our new space
·      Call a friend in the sangha; to encourage yourself, to share your refined commitments and to encourage them

·      Make another practice meeting with your teacher and share your successes and your failures.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Practicing with Confusion

Ken Mcloed has always been one of my inspiring teachers.  He has a great e-newsletter and website.  Check him out at unfetteredmind.org.

In his February newsletter he wrote about a practice tip:
Find peace and clarity in the confusion, not by getting rid of it.

He takes us through a process of taking a tradition slogan or teaching and adjusting it or expanding it so it makes very practical sense in our ordinary day-to-day life.

The traditional translation is:

May confusion arise as timeless awareness.

It seems when I am in confusion or in a fog and I notice my state enough to come back to the activity of the moment, somehow the confusion seems to evaporate as I focus on what I’m actually doing right now.  What confusion is there to resolve? The confusion is all in my thinking.  What is beyond thinking, here?  Just do, as Katagiri-Roshi would say.

Next, he has a looser translation:

May confusion become timeless awareness.

His aim was to put the emphasis on transformation.  Not that we can WILL transformation but just by being with and accepting our confusion, it changes.

His latest variation is:

May I find clarity and peace in the difficulties I experience.

He writes:

“This is not really a translation.  I’ve replaced the technical term timeless awareness with the more experiential phrase clarity and peace.  Instead of confusion, I put difficulties I experience. Difficulties are only difficulties because they elicit confusion in us.  And I’ve moved away from the vocabulary of arising and transformation to the vocabulary of discovery.  This variation is based on my own experience.  I have found that as long as I retain the slightest wish to be rid of an unpleasant or difficult feeling, the reaction mechanism stays firmly in place.”

This brings us back to our teaching of Radical Acceptance.  In order to release our reactive emotions we have to feel the underlying fear or pain that produces them.  I often work with the phrase:  Experience releases itself.   If I am willing to receive or sit with the difficult feelings or experiences, they will naturally have their duration and then move into something else in the flow of life.  It is when I resist feeling what I need to feel, that the movement is stopped.  I extend the “duration” of phenomena by refusing to feel it.  This is one of the wonders of sesshin, a long intensive retreat, where, because there is no escape, one learns to sit with whatever is coming up and just be it.  Eventually one observes the impermanence of the state of mind and can see how it changes to something else.

McLoed writes:
Even so, I cannot say that I decide to experience it.  I can only decide to keep facing it, and I face it by resting in all the different experiences, the physical sensations, the emotional storms and the often conflicting narratives, it throws up.  At some point, something changes, but not because of an act of will or anything “I” have done.  Rather, it’s when the “I” gives up, which is definitely something I don’t decide to do.  Then there is a peace and a clarity in the confusion, in all the difficulties.  The difficulties don’t go away.  The pain or fear doesn’t necessarily go away, but it’s possible to be completely clear and at peace in those feelings.  And that is quite an extraordinary experience, something that doesn’t seem possible, yet it is”

Ken Mcloed is coming out with a new book called “A Trackless Path” in the Fall.  Along with his current book on the market “Reflections on Silver River.”  He also has a blog called Reflections on Infinite Space.



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Haikus for broken bones

Two weeks ago while on vacation in colorado skiing, with many exhilarating moments, i had one moment of a crash with resulting consequences.  I broke the head of my humerus which is the part of the upper arm bone that goes into the shoulder and secondarily, contusions on my knee and ankle.  Thankfully, i didn't need surgery, but the last two weeks have been very very slow.  I am now walking and I smile, I walk like Thich Nhat Hanh, very very slow.  I haven't been able to drive or move really well or should i say at all, and pain management requires a lot of concentration.  I can't do much of what i usually do, anything to do with two hands, though right now i am typing! But each day I am getting better, remarkable.  What a miracle the healing body is. Sickness can actually be much like meditation and the greatest teacher.  Your life is stopped, or cessation of the schedule, for a chunk of time, and the naked truth of life shows through.

One thing I have been able to do is meditate in a chair and write haiku.  I am a member of Insight Haiku group which is on the app Insight Timer and having a lot of fun with writing haiku.  In the spirit of fun, I share my rather poorly conceived haikus that i have written while being in a broken bone hiatus of my life.


Broken bones happen
slowing my pace to naught
Life stript to beauty


slowed down by sickness
pain pivots into beauty
Time to see spring come


This minutes small growth
Broken shoulder draining ache
healing miracles


Silhouettes of trees
against silver lime sky
squirrels and birds move


The dog and I look
out the window together
communion in Now

Friday, March 13, 2015

Greg Kramer's hungers

I have been studying the Four Noble Truths lately in preparation for writing a piece about them.  I found this very interesting interpretation to the three desires of the 2nd noble truth. 

The classic three desires in Buddhist teaching are:
1.     The desire for sensual pleasure
2.     The desire for being.
3.     The desire for non-being.

Greg Kramer, “Insight Dialogue”, has reinterpreted these three desires from the perspective of interpersonal relationships.  I find these very helpful when I am being mindful of my psychology and my relationship to people.  Each of these hungers has an associated fear.

Interpersonal desires:
·      Desire and attachment to pleasurable interactions –
o    fear of pain in relationship with its corresponding loneliness and aversion
o   wanting relationships with no conflict.
·      Hunger for being seen – fear of invisibility
·      Hunger for escape – the fear of engagement and intimacy
The root of each fear is the terror of emptiness or self-anniliation

This has been very fruitful to work with in my intimacy with people.  How can I have Awakened Awareness and presence with people?  My mindful curiousity has to discover the issues in my psychology that degenerate my sense of presence with people. 

I seem to bounce back and forth between wanting to be seen by people and wanting to escape people.  This dichotomy presents first as wanting to be fully engaged with life and seen in public with the preference for being praised or being liked.  Simultaneously or sequentially, I want to be a hermit and avoid all the complications of relationships. I fantasize about living on a mountain top with no visitors or meditating on the shore of a lake with no other responsibilities. (a permanent vacation. Smile).  Sticking to either of these sides interfere with my presence in life and my real communication with real people. 

The fear of conflict can really diminish my field of relationships and my sense of who I am.  I work with, in Greg Kramer’s vocabulary, trusting the emergence of the dialogue and the openness to work things through.  I have noticed if I don’t enter a conflict with my shame in the forefront or my defensive stance of “protecting my so-called self and her opinions”, problems with people can get resolved one way or the other.  This is where the understanding of no centralized self can really help our everyday behavior.  We are less defensive and more capable of listening and allowing change.  We see ourselves as a network of inter-connectedness and not an isolated unit that needs protection.

On a subtler level, I can see the desire for being and non-being playing out within my zazen.  To do zazen with a goal in mind is to be attached to one side or the other.  For many years I was attached to the energetic system of the body; wanting the rapture of an open energy system.  For me now, I regard this as attachment to the body or desire for being.  That view is to be attached to the beauty and mystery of form life (and it is beautiful and mysterious. Ah, our precious human birth) but our attachment to it creates suffering.  Than I swung the other way.  I tried to annihilate the sense gates and nest in silence, darkness or emptiness;  a place where nothing is happening.  My zazen became a test of whether or not I could find and maintain emptiness.  The “I” being the operative word in that sentence and “concepts” of dharma being hidden within it.  The idea of a “test” or a right way and a wrong way, produced an extreme fatigue in meditation, and belies the reality that we are always, even without trying, connected to the universe.  Now I see that both clinging to being and clinging to emptiness or non-being, is not the Way.  Let go and be with what arises, either side.  Don’t evaluate.  From Dogen’s Fukanzazengi – “If there is a hairsbreath deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth.”  Trust in the co-arising of the opposites, and don’t control. Be the universe without thought.

Much of our practice is to learn or reteach ourselves not to cling to pleasure and have aversion to pain.  This is the transformation of pain spoken about in the Four Noble truths.  How do we do this?  We cultivate in ourselves the ability to bring Awakened Awareness to whatever is happening without evaluation.  Truly, learning to Live our Life.  The “Trust in the Big Mind” sutra is truly an inspiration for this.

                        The way is not difficult
                        For those who do not pick and choose

If we are open to the process of life itself.
            With its ups and downs, pains and pleasures, successes and failures
If we can see our “self” as an open, interdependent network
If we can accept the “losses” that come with the inevitable changes in life

Then, we can
As the Four noble truths suggest
Transform this very suffering into freedom.