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Talking with friend…

In a conversation with a friend this morning I found myself in the usual position of offering my take on an observation about daily life, and realizing simultaneously, that I was actually talking to myself. I was saying something about the resolutions we all make to change some aspect of our life, in this case regarding an over-all plan for directional change; I realized what I was offering was advice that I would do well to apply to myself. And, the advice I was offering was eminently do-able.

Start by changing my big plan into a little plan that I can do now.

If I want to explore the potentials that my current ideas are pointing out to me, then why don’t I start by taking the time right now, to arrange a moment today, for me to sit down and compose myself and try to gather inward and be still enough to see, if I can state the situation, problem or hope in the form of a question. The simpler the better.

It seems paramount to first ask. Why? What is my motive?

That is a complex question and needs to be addressed as to why am I engaged in a process to make myself feel better? Isn’t all desire for change based on dissatisfaction with the current moment of state of affairs, health, wealth, etc?

In that frame of exploration I put into motion a process that tends more towards awareness than mere satisfaction, or the old standby of change-for-the sake-of-change. Just sitting still regularly gives us about all we can handle regarding the unrelenting and sometime torrential fact of everything changing, even when we least want it too.

Yes, we end up in deep territory when we openly explore our wanting something that’s better than what we have; and we can also end up in new territory where we can see further and clearer than ever before.

Not a bad spot to be in if we want to explore our future plans, hopes and designs from a more realistic and truer place.

So, slowing down and examining our present seems a sound foundation for looking towards the future, which we can’t examine as such, yet a sense of our truer place in the wider array of things seems helpful and somewhat practical and difficult.

Going carefully means also knowing where we’ve been and not being stuck there.

If I do not know where

I have been there is no

Way to know where I

Am going. Nor the

Reason why.

The path I am on

Does provide a clue,

Going slowly and

Seeing where I step,

A path is just a Way

With a Where and Why?

A process, not Event.

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This. Here. Now…what?

An interesting couple of months for me with my time and how I choose to spend it.

A steady gathering in of various fragments of my self that seem to be the most persistent and need help and attentiveness that only I can give.

Care fully. Care less.

Care Fully. Caring less.

Carefully and careless are two words that could be used in the place of some other “opposites” that can be troublesome when seen through stand-alone observations about the basic natures of perception, being, doing and all activities that set things or processes into motion.

Some things are set into motion that result in largely good/positive outcomes and some other combinations of things may result in bad/negative outcomes. The original intention may not provide the desired effect.

To be careful is a deliberate act (or refraining) that partakes of intention, will, willingness and effort to accomplish helpful tending towards the good, but not necessarily so, results.

To be careless is to be generally unaware or un-concerned as to results of activities or intentions tending towards obstacle creation, intention sidetracked or needful things undone; but not necessarily so.

‘Good’ can be readily associated with being careful and ‘Not-So-Good’ can readily be seen as the result of being careless.

What I prefer in this way of looking at Good and Not-Good is that both ways of stating these outcomes, or conditions, tend to describe the results of action, doing or setting into motion, i.e. choices made before acting.

Karma is also the word used for setting anything into motion. Whatever the intention, the results may vary, and those results may leave vestiges, residues, a fragrance, or stink, behind that will be felt, seen, smelled, incorporated or appear later elsewhere; as feelings or tendencies in other beings, situations or forms (lives).

So, being careful has far reaching consequences from a spiritual and practical point of view, and conversely being careless is a main contributor to all the variety of feelings and situations we experience as humans. We do have choices, although we may not be aware of them and don’t even know we are being careless.

I’ve become more aware of these choices as part of my aging process and have reconstituted a simple method of bringing myself to awareness during the day or night, as needed or just when I remember to do it, It’s never out of place or time. These are the four words I’m currently finding vey helpful.

This! As I sit or want to collect myself a bit I say (inwardly usually) this word to remind me of my body, my mind, my ability to look and see myself and to increase my awareness of my place in the world of things.

Here! The place or situation of where This is and the setting and feelings and availability of choices that This has.

Now! A sense of being in the ever-changing flow of space and time, and that the flow of it all is the only thing that matters. This, can’t stay Here, or Now.

What? Is this activity. What is good to know. What is good to do.

I am willing

Please help

Me to see

That there Is

A way at my

Feet in all


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a strategic withdrawal…

I yelled at some poor dithering and confused old coot to ‘Shut the fuck up and sit down!”, at a noon meeting I go to. He was interrupting my flow of wisdom as I was sharing on a topic which I can’t remember, but was probably something like “Peace and Ease Within”. It didn’t feel good to do something like that to someone else who is trying to stay sober and has long-term sobriety and is just another old guy at the meetings who is starting to unravel a bit at the ends. Like certain parties of the first part.

So, I needed some spiritual belt-tightening; I’ve had other signs of that need in the previously, yet decided I could coast my way through; i.e. neglect the basics and presume achievement. Yay! Verily what mortal Schnooks and Schmoes we be!

So, I went to the Monastery where I took my ordination as a lay Buddhist thirty years ago and the Sangha within which I’d been training in Soto Zen for a bit longer than that.

Refuge. The Three Refuges of The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha.

12 Steps and Zen, a combination I’ve been practicing in tandem and am deeply grateful for. Still, I forget. I misplace, neglect and presume, and then, I suffer and cause others discomfort and suffering. At some point, usually sooner than later, I get back to the basics and find my real way back again. To the person that wants to change for the benefit of all beings, that wants to help, not improve, rather than hinder or bind.

I drove through the gates and joined the community of Monks for two weeks as a visitor and worked, ate, slept and meditated and participated in all activities according to the daily schedule. Reciting and doing the ceremonies and recitations that go back 2,500 years to the time of the Buddha. Watching the monks, many of whom have been training there for 30, 40 even 50 years; day in and day out doing the quiet difficult work of transforming their lives and ways of being for them selves and for all others.

The principles of Buddhism and 12-Step recovery are based on doing and participating in learning how to “be” different, not think different, but change how one does things, and over time the thinking changes. In both setting one learns how to live one’s way into another way of being, rather trying to just think one’s way into another way of living.

As my memory and mind are starting to make mistakes in perception and “…where the hell was I going?”, some things remain familiar. I can sit quietly, and I can participate in practicing these principles in all my affairs (as a goal:).

I can be still within

Turbulence and discomfort.

I can put my hands

Together; look up and

Ask for guidance.

May I Know what is good to know.

May I Do what is good to do.

Please help!

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Dithering; Unconsummated efficiency…

I sure have been crabby lately.

A deep need to scuttle along ocean floor, searching and seeking and looking just not very patiently.

And, I have no idea what I’m looking for. So, a good clue that I need to take refuge in all the things I’ve set aside to make room for worry and doubt and hesitancy. Later this week I’m going up to our Monastery at Mt. Shasta to spend a little time with the monks in their daily activity and let things settle down a bit, within.

These past two years have been variously difficult for everyone I know or have come into contact with, and my presumption is that many people just didn’t have the necessary tools at hand to help them cope with change, pending disaster, upheaval of the norm and all the ‘usual’ unpleasantness. What I didn’t notice was that my presumption of having tools nearby and at hand did not mean that I was reaching for or using them in a useful way for my circumstances.

I recognize that approaching life and its offerings as something to be manipulated by tools one has acquired, is pretty shallow, yet can be useful and necessar, although a bit like driving with one flat tire because three can still get you there, and when things get worse, fix it all. That feels like a strategy, almost a solution, albeit temporary; yet it is merely avoiding. Compounding delusions later on by following hope.

Even so, we can acquire skills, outlooks, practices and ways of doing, being and thinking, that may move us in the right direction when distracted, lost or dreaming. Help and outlook can provide us with practices and ways of doing that influence our being and thinking into more kind and helpful lives. Helpful and kind to others and ourselves, perhaps in equal measure.

I have noticed and it has come to my attention (subtle differences in applicability), that when one of my tires gets low I will adjust my driving for a time out of compensatory driving habits, but at some point I continue as it gets more noticeable and just hope it gets better, or there is a gas station/service center ahead…The tire may then go flat and my choices are still the same and have greater probability for real disaster, if I continue on in just pure hope and a sense of luck.

Better to stop and wait for some help. I have been down this road before…There’s a fair amount of local traffic.

I wait by the roadside, a warm evening

Ticking sounds as the engine

Cools down and I remember

A bottle of water I have and

Go and check the Owners Manual

And “How to Fix a Flat”

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Old Growth Sentients…

Hope for the Best. Expect Nothing. Do the Possible.

Almost half way through the first half of the last third (with any, luck?) of my life and some of my views have changed.

Most days are a bit overcast, with some drizzle or showers in the morning, the setting Sun a relief of another day and cautious expectations of the next.

Clouds, some small and scudding along, others slow, growing and gathering only to disperse as they move along, rather than across, the horizon.

Weather in the Fall, predicable within the context of the climate I am in. Four seasons and the world is changing. It would be changing without the drama too, but it sure is easier to apprehend the impermanence of life from my multi-directional vantage point. Earth in upheaval. Cognitive re-ordering and memory/truth re-ordering some becoming more clear some more fixed. And, still the ability to not only learn new things but to help the new re-order the old. That’s a good thing.

There’s no bad thing. There are uncomfortable things and things I wish were different, yet all things either come to me as teaching or as some perceived reward or punishment. Of course reward and punishment are teachings, but only if I don’t take them personally. The Good and Bad are merely opinions that I tend to cherish, if I’m not careful.

I am not the problem. I am the opportunity to see things differently. I have an array of choices.

At some point I chose to change my life by letting go of the problems that alcohol and drugs caused in my life. As I started out on that process I thought if I stopped drinking and drugging my life would get better and I would see with more clarity what I needed to do. Yikes! Did I ever.

I saw that I had to change everything about me, and lot of it in tandem (A type of simultaneous but different.), between what I thought, believed, and what I did. Inwardly and outwardly.

Turns out, that’s a lifetime process and a purpose.

Here I sat last night, after some months of spiritual, mental and physical discomforts; listening to the Giants vs. Dodgers, Giants lost:(There’s always tomorrow), and reading TYRANT Shakespear on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt; a terrific book that gives a deeply historical, literary and understanding compassionate view of modern times which seem to have many of us befuddled and at odds within and without, as of old. There is nothing new under the Sun.

It struck me as as contradictory with what I espouse as a way of being, but when have any of us never been full of contradictions which tend to resolve themselves by their very existence? Never, that’s when.

Choosing to be and to try and

See contradiction within and

Without, between you and me,

All is One, All is Different.

So plain, so close, so far, so me.

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…has come too..

It has come to my attention that my mind is starting a process of being a bit of a bother to me personally.

Formerly I took a bit of pride in being able to see situations and their context clearly (for the most part, also some huge mistakes), and to be able to formulate a view of the world that seemed informed and rational (me being the rationalizer of course), and that clarity was present except for those years when I chose to not accept its presence.

These days, in the last year especially, there is a decline in memory and energy which often results in a type of lassitude that I’m not entirely comfortable with since it is not in my control, yet I am aware when it arises of itself.

I use all the usual strategies that aging folks do and like to talk about how those strategies don’t work so well because I forget to implement them in a timely fashion. As in beforehand.

So, this morning while musing on this, a new possibility opened up for me in how to see this situation as opportunity rather than an encroaching problem. It’s probably a combination of both aspects.

The way my mind is worryingly presenting itself of late is actually my seeing for the first time, on an on-going basis what my mind has been doing forever, its just that I’ve never noticed it before except during the process of mediation.

Through meditation I saw my awareness of the chattering mind as a plus, in order to orient me towards a different way of seeing what my thinking and mind really are, and that I have choices I hadn’t previously been aware of. Choices in how to think, what to think, what to believe when I’m thinking or what I believe without thinking. As well as the astounding number of different ‘minds’ that exist within me, which often don’t really communicate so much as just natter on and on.

So, I see my current/encroaching predicament as an opportunity to investigate and incorporate (mind/body), this awareness as a prompt to explore more thoroughly the place and use of this mind in positing spiritual questions, awareness and activity within the context of a more vibrant awareness that forgetfulness and sense of less-ness can offer.

It’s a matter of perception and choice, and I suspect I’ll have to learn, and see, if I can manage a consistent intention to view this process as a natural outcome of old age. One that has natural possibilities with positive outcomes being offered and which may just be mis-understood in our culture and society.

Anyway, that’s what’s coming to mind today. Everything in our lives comes to us a teaching if we make small shift in orientation and attitude and intention.

Columbus apparently was searching for India and got lost, said that he didn’t, and then realized he’d stumbled on to something quite unexpected that might useful. He wasn’t a genius he was someone looking for a place he’d heard about and was told it was “thataway” and found some support and went. We still don’t know the end of that story, because we are still living it.

Life is a journey

Destination inexplicable

Purpose difficult to see

Meaning hard to assign

Every day we wake up and

Wonder why where when

Loading the horses, camels,

Boats, carts and bags or

Pockets, look ahead and go.

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Can’t say names…

On the 20th of June 1983, I was headed out of Napa, CA in a 1966 Chrystler New Yorker headed to San Francisco prepared to continue my near-death experience of the previous year when I grudgingly, yet not fully, accepted help to get me off the streets of The City, where I was sleeping and drinking myself to death. I ended up in a Salvation Army program out on Army Street and then a half-way house on 9th Street & Mission from which I used the wall phone to arrange for a job interview at Silverado Country Club in Napa. After three trips out there (driven by an old friend who had found me at that half-way house by contacting my mother back in DC), I was hired as a manager in their Food and Beverage Department and given a Condo to live in which was cleaned daily by maids and I became the supervisor of about forty people in the Restaurant at the club. That night I slept on good linen; the night before, at the half-way house on well-washed and worn cotton sheets. There. Everything was going to be fine! Stolen clothes, lies and fear.

The clothes I’d stolen from the Salvation Army when I worked on their collection truck, and my last GA check from the City of San Francisco for $124.00. I couldn’t cash it at The Club because that truth was nowhere near what I told them about me in order to get the job. Once again living a lie, as I had done for many years.

In retrospect the time of living on the streets, in shelters and at half-way houses was the closest I’d been to my actual reality. No amount of lying can cover up that you’ve got soiled pants and are asking people for money on Geary Street for an $.85 bottle of Thunderbird.

Welcome to Silverado Country Club, Mr. Schatz.

One day having lunch at one of the restaurants there, the waiter asked if I wanted some wine. I said, “Sure, how about a half-bottle of the Far Niente Chardonnay”…Whoops!

A month later I was let go for being intoxicated at work and I was no longer living there. So, with a used Chrystler and my pilfered Salvation Army clothes I found a room to rent and another month later I was headed back to SF to finish my sure return to the hellish and presumably short life of a street drunk.

On the way out of town on Hwy 29, I was drunk at 11:00 a.m., and heading to S.F. I glanced at a small shopping center and saw a sign for a Sewing Machine/Vacuum Cleaner store. Something made me turn in and pull-up in front of the store in a tiny strip mall with plenty of parking and leaving my car running (It had an electrical problem that I couldn’t fix, so to avoid a jump-start I left it idling), I walked into the shop, reeking of booze and desperation, and asked an uncomfortable lady there if I could look at their phone book. She gave it to me and I looked up Alcohol Recovery in the Yellow pages and found the name and address for the Napa County program on Old Sonoma Road. The lady wrote out directions for me (we rarely see the Bodhisattvas we encounter continually), and I drove there.

I pulled up at the front door of the Program offices, left my car running and went inside and was taken to the office of the Director, whose window looked out on my New Yorker idling untended and was invited to sit down. I’d been through this routine a few times when I finally began asking for help to get off the streets and I knew what to expect and the twists and turns my story should take.

The director, Jack Malin (Thank you Jack, a saint in casual work wear:), got the picture and told me that I could stay there for the 90 day recovery program and that it was an experimental “Social Model” that left the clients at leisure during the day but that there were daily meetings with counselors and in groups, and I would have to go to one AA meeting each day. I countered and said the most AA I would do was three meeting each week.

He said, among the most life changing words I ever encountered, “Helmut, you don’t understand, if you want to stay here you Have To Go TO At Least One AA Meeting Every Day! if you want to stay here.”

I got itI I would have to follow directions in order to get the free and compassionate help I was asking for and I agreed, and then he said, “You can go out and turn off your car. You are safe here.

In retrospect, after several years of sobriety and following the path of Buddhist meditation in concert with my 12th Step, I became able to see that I had been living in fear all my life and had really never felt safe and that explained so much of my karma and the choices I make. Here, I was being being offered refuge.

Refuge. As in Three Refuges. A place out of the storm. Shelter. Safety. Time. And, help. Help that I had to act on. Help that I could act on, not merely ‘accept’ and then wait for things to change. I could begin see my active role in changing me. And there was more, a lot more and it continues.

So, I slept that night on a thick plastic sheet in their “intake” bed and woke up on the 21st of June1983 and have been sober ever since.

Allowing change (Inevitable reality)

and asking for help (taking refuge)

from something beyond me

yet within. Doing the best I can.

Hope for the best,

Expect nothing,

Do the possible.

Unclutching the hand…

unclenching the hand, the mind and heart,

loosening the grip of opinion and knowing

doing what needs doing and is good to do

at times staying in place and holding open

hands that receive as well as bestowing

a letting be, as prompting, allowing a trust

to grow. The road is dusty and clogged with

chariots and donkey carts, electric luxury-cars

Datsun pick-up trucks and no dividing lines or

direction signs. It all looks aimless and the result

of chance, and I may make my way, direction

not clear; destination will appear when time

place, heart and mind plus this little wanting

are willing to receive and give as needed and

useful. Distinction between near and far

allowed to arise and pass to go on and on,

those are my thoughts as I grow and shrink and

change and learn to stop and go, not wander

nor wonder, just doing as is good to do, in

gratitude to all who point and mind the Way.