Unmoored in a good vessel…

So, apparently I write a new post on this blog every five months whether I need to or not.

When I restarted this blog I was moving to the Bay area in June of ’14 Now it’s almost May ’16, and I’m going to move back up North in September. Lots of movement, lots of changes and lots of hecticity on some levels but mostly leveling out.

 

This time of actually re-entering the world since my wife Linda’s death in Jan.’14, has been very rich and discomfiting, things are always like that when I have to face uncomfortable aspects of myself. My childishness, my yearning, my unwillingness, my being stuck; and the dichotomy that exists in that I also contain the exact opposites of those aspects of my Self. The serious grown-up who accepts his age and place in the culture and is comfortable in his own skin and sees those yearnings as the old habit patterns of a lost boy, the Zen practitioner who is sometimes so willing that he feels almost completely un-moored and drifting in concert with That Which Is.

All those seeming opposites just part of the whole. All is one. All is different.

I’m going to get back in the habit of writing for my own pleasure and practice  the Way of Being Teachable. There are so many things and people in my life that teach me constantly, I just have to remember that a good student can see connections that hint at meaning; that point one in a direction where there is no solution, no closure, no surety, no “I’ve got it.”; but rather to “That’s interesting.”

An old friend told me she had read all of my posts on this blog, so I reread them myself and was surprised what a shallow self-involved twit I can be, but also somewhat relieved to see that I was trying to Reach Out from that Self. And that’s OK.

I was sitting in meditation in the little Meditation Hall

At Kanzeon Home, where I live; and offering my practice

For the benefit of all beings because

I don’t know what else to do.

Everyone has to be somewhere, and

Everyone has to be doing something.

 

This Moment. No Worries…

” To be without a reference point is the ultimate loneliness. It is also called enlightenment. The mind with no reference point does not resolve itself, does not fixate or grasp. How could we possibly have no reference point? To have no reference point would be to change deep-seated habitual response to the world: wanting to make it work out one way or the other. If I can’t go left or right, I will die! When we can’t go left or right, we feel like we are in a detox center. We are alone, cold turkey with all the edginess that we’ve been trying to avoid by going left or right, That edginess can feel pretty heavy.”

The above is a quote from Pema Chodron in a portion of one of her books where she writes about the Six Kinds of Loneliness (or Aloneness, as I like to think of it).

She writes about the process of becoming unstuck and how difficult that is. Unstuck from our dependence on always trying to find relief, comfort, cessation of of dis-ease and generally trying to avoid “yucky”, and all of those consternations that can range from a Pimple on the Nose on Prom Night, to Nuclear Holocaust, to This is Not What I Ordered, to Diagnosed With About Two Months To Live, etc:

The question of how to come to terms with all our discomforts. When we desperately want a reference point. That reference point usually partaking of some relief or dissociation from the perceived “problem”. This last Saturday at a day long retreat at our Berkeley temple we spend time in meditation and discussion about cultivating the 6 Kinds of Aloneness ( formulation with word “aloneness” being one that I find more resonant than the “loneliness” referred to by Pema Chodron, but that’s a personal thing, we all have to work with certain concepts for a while and allow our own minds and hearts to address a teaching in our own way). Pema Chodron offers the Six Kinds as being states that we can cultivate within ourselves, they are;

Less desire; contentment; avoiding unnecessary activity; complete discipline;; not wandering  in the world of desire and, not seeking relief from ones own discursive (rationalizing), thinking.

I found all of these aspect very challenging. I won’t go into the heart of her writings here, they can be found through a simple Google search and in her books. She is a profound teacher and a perfect example of a committed trainee who continues to explore the Dharma despite daunting obstacle. A true profile in courage.

What I found most challenging, as usual is the simple fact of the matter, that once I get through reading, meditating with and discussing and ruminating over these concepts, they are nothing until I try and try, and try again, over and over, to apply these teachings, even in the smallest way, to my daily life. That is where the challenge lies for me. I am so conditioned to experience Big Ideas, Big Movement, Big Shifts, Big Drama, Big Finish, Bigger is Better in Everything, that I forget this most basic and useful little idea.

The longest journey begins with one step. Then continues with another. Then another, and so, forth…

I have to remember that change takes

Place at the imperceptible level.

The Big is always comprised of

Many Smalls bound Together in a

Concert that has Objectives that are

Not Apparent within the Thing Itself.  

The White Snow in the Bright Moon

Hides. Resemble’s each the other,

Yet these two are not the same. 

5th of the Five Thoughts

This last of the Five Thoughts sort of roll together all of them and the key word is acceptance.

“We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.”

I think the basic premise in this thought is to remind ourselves as to our real purpose in life. What could be more important than to become aware of our True selves, our actual purpose for life; to really come to know a peace and depth that we did not know was possible.
We accept this food so that we may stay healthy and continue our training and practice to become as the Buddhas and Ancestors, for they were once as we are now, and we will become as they are now.
We accept this food so that we may become more than the small roles we have assigned (or resigned), ourselves to.
The Truth is never far away, it just seems that way because we can’t imagine it.
We accept this food because we intuitively know that the whole of life is contained in our attitude towards sustaining all of life and seeing the inevitable end to that condition. If we can accept this we can get at the root of our own suffering.
We accept this food because there is more and we want to see …

It is good to remember that these Thoughts are just helpful pointers to keep in mind during our daily activities. I have tried to substitute these Thoughts when engaging in a variety of human activities, and they have the same use as before a meal.
Stop and look!
Stop and see!

Accepting this food and linking it to “becoming” enlightened is the big hint towards the Truth that we already are Enlightened, we just may not be aware of it because we are hampered in our awareness by how we act.

These Five Thoughts can be the beginning on how we act, interact, look at, see, treat and allow the various conditions in our lives to be our teachers. They can be the beginning because we have a consistent opportunity to practice and look at them every time we eat.
Accepting is accomplished with hands and heart open, and trying to see that everything in our lives is a gift.
Accepting is not receiving, getting, or acquiring something.
It is acknowledging a gift with small smile and a slightly bowed head or sometimes, with a full prostration and an aching heart; and all the various possibilities between the slightly bowed head and the full prostration(with or without aching heart); depending on the situation or circumstance. 

Acceptance and Gratitude….Horse and Carriage.

4th of Five Thoughts…

Although this 4th Thought is aimed at the practice of depriving oneself of good health through extreme physical practices, it is also an invitation to take a good look at our relationship that we have with our physical self. Meditation is primarily a method of using our minds (Our six senses; taste, smell, hearing, seeing, feeling and consciousness (the latter being a Huffington Post-like aggregator of the other “news” that the body sends to the mind), to become aware of how we relate to ourselves, to others and to the world we exist in. What are getting from our food? How are we using food?

” We will eat lest we become lean and die”
The Buddha during his early years followed many aesthetic practices to his physical detriment. One of his realizations concerning the Middle Way was that it also applied to nourishment and being aware of the physical body. That to deprive or hurt the body did nothing to bring one closer to the truth; it is not necessary to be uncomfortable in order to make progress in the spiritual life. There’s plenty of discomfort (mental) coming up as one delves deeper anyway.
This thought reminds us that we must nourish ourselves properly and to take good care of ourselves, We must not be too greedy (#3) nor must we be too abstemious in our food intake. The middle path is the way.
In some Buddhist traditions, like the Theravaden schools, they do not eat after the noon hour. In our tradition we practice the “medicine meal” which is a light optional repast in the evening so that one doesn’t go to bed hungry.
The main idea is not to drift into either extreme. This hold true in all things. The Buddhist trainee tries to adhere to the middle in all things. For most of us it’s probably a good idea to…
Eat! (Not too much).
Enjoy! (Not too much).
Be Content! (as much as possible).

The activity of practicing of adequacy, sufficiency, and contentment are always good boundary guides in the development of Right View, which is the first step on the Eight-fold Path.
We need to have a sense of where, and why, we are going before we set out on a journey.
What is Adequacy? What is Sufficiency? What is Contentment?

 

3rd of Five Thoughts…

The excluding greed part may initially just consist of cutting back a little on our greeds and indulgences. We are trying to change in accordance with Right View and Right Understanding and Right Effort. This means being practical and not harsh or extreme in our efforts to change. I like to formulate it as refraining from doing something and then using restraint and then after some effort the activity or greed is naturally excluded.

“We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds”

This third thought, at its most basic level addresses our attitude towards that food and eating in general.
Wanting too much. Wanting only “good” food. Wanting food we like. Wasting food when we have put too much on our plate. To make eating a central part of our daily existence, etc;
Lots of mistakes come from being greedy about food and drink.
This thought also questions our other desires; i.e. wanting approval, sex, relationships, money, status and the myriad other natural inclinations that can tip into greed or overindulgence.
Many mistakes come from being greedy in those areas.
So, greed is a problem; but also our trying to exclude greed from our minds can be problematic.
Some examples are the alcoholic, the over eater, the sexual compulsive, and those other categories where we overly and overtly indulge, often to our detriment. Ask anyone with those issues how easy they are to control, even when they are aware of them.
In Buddhist practice the way we can approach these “greed” aspects of ourselves, is to be willing to look at and try to change the behavior, without being harsh and judgmental to ourselves, by attempting to actively refrain from indulging in them.
When we make these efforts over a period of time we often find some relief. Willingness seems to be the key.
There are other greed’s that can be very tricky because they seem to be good greed’s.
Spiritual greed. Do-gooder/helper greed. Greed for justice and fairness, etc;
We have lots of historical examples of those greed’s getting out of hand.
In the Five Thoughts, we are looking at greed’s that cause personal difficulties. Those greed’s that come between us and a healthier body, a healthier mind, better relations with other people and with our families.
The greed’s that come between us and The Eternal, or our higher sense of purpose.
Like the previous two “thoughts” there is a whole range of meaning and fruitful endeavor to be considered in the activities of our lives.
These “Thought” questions bring up feelings of insurmountability at times, but in the greater context of “Today I undertake to train myself to refrain from…..”, they are logical challenges to be faced and they become part of the woof and warp of daily life; just like getting gas for the car, tending to plumbing problems, brushing my teeth and generally “getting on with it”.
Within all of these daily efforts moments of pure joy can just arise.

Through these mundane small endeavors a sense of sufficiency, adequacy and contentment can appear, and those three results are a more stable base from which to approach daily life rather than seeking mere circumstantial happiness.

 

Five thoughts revisited…

   Below is a portion of a blog post from five years ago. I will post parts of it for the next five days, it is about the “Five Thoughts”. previously I published in an altered form of these posts on the “Five Thoughts” in the Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.    Current thoughts I’ve added in this color.

Before every meal I say the “Five Thoughts”, a portion of the formal mealtime ceremony in Soto Zen. I say the 5 Thoughts to put my life into perspective. It is one of several ritual observances that I find helpful and comforting on a daily basis.

Before I begin eating, I arrange my food so that it is tidily in front of me. If utensils are required I put the main one on the opposite side of the food plate from me, with the handle pointing away from me. This is to indicate that I am willing to share my food with others.
I then recite:

We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.
We must consider our merit when accepting it.
We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.
We will eat lest we become lean and die.
We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.

“We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.”   This first thought has to do with truly looking at the food we are having, seeing it for what it is, where it came from and how it got here. It also invites us to look at the forms of life that have to die in order for us to have sustenance. It asks that we pay attention to this food in front of us as if it is our last meal, and to honor the life that was taken/given to provide us with the where-with-all to continue our own life.

I may also reflect on the plates and chairs and tables and the people I’m eating with. How they got here? How I got here?
One can indeed go very deep with this first thought about food.
We are not asked to think of all of these things each and every time we eat but we are asked to recognize the reminder that there is more going on than “fueling the machine”. There are of course times when we do indeed ponder deeply this idea of our actual lives in reference to other lives. Those that are eaten and those that do the eating.
We are asked to see interdependence as the only way that we can live, grow, survive, learn and be aware of what it takes to be alive.
This is the way to compassion for all living things.
Without their offering, we just wouldn’t be. Here.  Furthermore, it enjoins us to not be wasteful with these lives that have been offered .

   It is also a good starting point for practicing this view in relation to all of the things that come into our lives. Just substitute anything for “food”. People, places, things, the phenomena of our world; of our minds, our bodies and how they change; sometimes, just as we thought we’ve learned the “truth”of the matter. It is always good to reflect that we can learn the truth of the matter, much more thoroughly if we see the change as an inherent part of all existence. Change is a major component of the truth. A component not all of it.

Being whatever and wherever…

Below is a portion of a response to friend who was sharing about the recent death of his father. As is so often the case for me, when I’m talking/writing to someone about real things, I am really talking to myself and letting some inner aspect dictate (in the truest sense), an answer or insight (either large or small), about something that is personal to me experientially, and universal.

Sadly, so often when I’m talking to myself like this, there is  an innocent bystander trying to extricate themselves from my self-knowledge pronouncement. Oh, well. At least its helpful to somebody.

 

Thank you for sharing the obituary as well as some of your thoughts and feelings regarding this rich, precious, unavoidable and deeply touching time in your life. We are fortunate when we can experience the fullness of these “later” life lessons, they are sometimes much more difficult because they are so unpredictable. All our suppositions and musings can get a good trouncing from the dormant and sometimes cleverly disguised feelings, memories, perhaps even wounds and often the unintended glancing blows that families impose/visit on each other. 

My experience is that meditation just opens doors. It’s not a solution as such. The solution, if there is one, can be seen as a by-product of meditation, not the purpose. Meditation allows us to experience our “Selves” in the raw, just as we are; changeable, vulnerable, reactionary, defensive, aggressive, knowing, un-knowing confused, competent, remarkably resilient and possessing a deeper core that we hadn’t needed to activate, yet. Yet, there we are in our miserable splendor. So much to be grateful for. Prayers of thanks spring to the heart of their own at these times. You are well placed.
I have just passed Linda’s 1st anniversary and it has taken that long for things to settle into their little places, now they have a chance to get some rest. Turns out everything just has to move through time and space; atoms and pyramids. The living and the dead.

As a Buddhist monk of my acquaintance says, “We all have to be someplace, and we all have to be doing something.”

Usually what and where we are and what we’re doing is not important, what matters is our state of mind while doing and being whatever and wherever.

early morning exchange…

“Sometimes I get these feelings of being completely out of place. Distant from understanding anything. Then they pass. I don’t get them often. I kind of like them because they help to re-order my thinking. Regain some perspective. Yet, they have an undefinable wistfulness them that seems important. So I try to honor the feeling because it seems like a type of teaching I am being given.
Actually the above paragraph (?) is truer than I thought it would be. I think I’ll use it as a taking off point for my blog and personal writings. I always feel truer around you . Weird, huh?….”

Isn’t that how the mind works? Thinking, feeling, assessing, worrying, and then revisiting some more and, sometimes, sharing. In the sharing the process changes from being inwardly convoluted (bound), to outwardly expository and revealing (loosening). A shedding of light by exposing intimate process to another. Similar to the experience one can have when involved and concentrating on a task at hand that has a private aspect to it; (Drawing, creating, sanding some wood to good finish, sewing, assembling something intricate and useful, any activity that draws us into it.) and, while we are in the activity we sense another person watching us intently. If we are connected in some way to the watcher it is slightly different than if the watcher is someone we either don’t know very well, or not at all. In either instance we get a heightened sense of awareness of ourselves, the activity, and the presence of the watcher. A fuller view of something.
This is the process of sharing.
When truly done, it has transformative potential for the doer, the observer, the exchange between the two, and the activity (the doing and the observing thereof), itself.

Yep, the above is how the mind works. One of them anyway.

The quote is from a text I sent to a longtime friend at 6:00 a.m. after I had texted earlier that I was feeling out of sorts and, in response, was asked, “Why out of sorts???”

That’s what friends do.

They ask?

We ask.

They respond.

We respond.

The small exchanges.

Cobblestones….

A quiet day yesterday. One year since my wife of 28 years (partner for 30) died in Tekoa, WA at the age of 66. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and for the last two years acute onset of end stage renal failure. She stopped dialysis and was told she would die in 4-6 days. 15 months later, she died, I think peacefully, right in front of me. Actually, that’s not totally accurate.

The day she died I had gone home from the care facility she was in for the last month of her life, for some dinner and to feed the dog and cat. On my way out the door to go back to care center, I thought, I’ll take the Big Book (AA tome), and read her something.

When I got to her room she was laying flat on her back, which was not correct, but they had just bathed her so I elevated the head of bed; I stood at the end of the bed and intoned one of the prayers from the Big Book to her. She had been quite tense and sort of grimacing from the bathing and being left flat on her back and was physically uncomfortable. Several days before she had been left her on a bed pan all night, which created a huge circular wound on her buttocks, so she was tense/apprehensive from all that activity too. She was being medicated so probably wasn’t in pain, the stress of dying after many years of enduring great pain was the issue at this point.  She hadn’t eaten in about five days and took only small amounts of water to wet her throat.

When I finished reciting the prayer to her, she relaxed visibly. She sort of settled into the mattress. It was a relief, all around.

I then set a chair next to her bed and just sat there watching her. There was a knock and and a call from the door; one of the nurses aides, a nice young guy with whom I’d only had one little conversation, came in and said he wanted to change the catheter bag. As he was doing that he started telling me a story of his experience with the death of two of his relatives. I forget the details but he was speaking form the heart as he worked, so I listened and watched him. At some point I turned to look at Linda and I realized, Oh, she’s dying, right now. and I turned to tell the young aide that we had a situation, but I saw that he was in the middle of opening his heart. I listened for about another minute and he finished his task and story and quietly left. When I turned back; Linda was dead.

I intoned some Buddhist scriptures, two Exhortations to the Mortally Ill and Dying, and the Scripture of Great Wisdom (Heart Sutra), and told the duty nurse that Linda had died and called our friend Reverend Master Zensho, a priest and monk of our Sangha/Order who lived over in Idaho. He had made all the preparation over a year before. He arrived through a snow storm about 2-3 hours later and we did the Buddhist funeral for a lay person. In that ceremony the deceased is ordained as a Buddhist monk and then prepared for the Funeral. The care center had given us permission to use incense and such and when we were done (it took about an hour and a half), we called the funeral home in town just a block from our house and the Funeral director came and we transported Linda to his place.

I want to say that the help Linda received at that care home was terrific and compassionate. A couple of mistakes were made, but those were all in the human realm. Everyone there did their absolute best. The Funeral director couldn’t have been more compassionate. He understood we were sort of “special needs” as Buddhists (they are not exactly thick upon the ground In far Eastern Washington State), and was caring, professional, attentive and flexible. We knew him and his wife because of the small town (pop. 886) in fact I can’t imagine a better place for Linda to have spent her last nine years of life.

God bless you, good folks of Tekoa!

Anyway, at some point I’ll write more about the process and funeral and cremation and ash distribution and the general aftermath of this death within the human condition. For this post, I just want to say that “they” are right. It takes about a year for things to settle down sufficiently in order to begin to grasp what the reality of the loss is.

I will say this. I went off the rails for a while and made some mistakes; but life and the help of good spiritual friends and the compassion of many good people in my life helped me to regain perspective and tread more carefully the path laid so compassionately under my feet.

Linda, I miss you.

We cobbled together a darn good 30 years. For a couple of drunks who met at an AA meeting and had nothing; we did magnificently. We both stayed sober. We helped each other to grow …

Thank you. I love you.

sc006d208a

(D)construction

A lot going on, as in a variety of things, forces, karma’s, opportunities, opening doors, doors closing, new doors and, some windows I hadn’t noticed before; Appearing.

It looks like it will be a busy year.

I expect to be involved in trying to set up a small retirement/affordable-housing community for serious religious (probably Buddhist but not necessarily), people who would like to live in a quiet setting in an urban environment, and are physically well enough to not require a “care” or medical living situation. So, a potential for doing good with lots of complex issues that would have to be resolved beforehand and with many unforeseen complications inherent.

I am also getting involved in trying to set a meditation group with a general orientation towards those people involved in 12-Step type of programs. This group would be under the auspices of a Buddhist group that is already organized and well attended in Napa. The view is that it may be good that the more secular or non-religious 12-Step folks can avail themselves of a meditation practice that is not presented as religious (i.e. Buddhist, or other), but has overt implications for the practice of the conscious contact with a power greater than themselves, component of the 12-Step process. So, this too has potential for good but, like all things, contains within itself the potential for the opposite, having within it room for a paralyzing array of opinion and mindsets.

Also, I am hoping to resolve the divesting of my house and property in Tekoa this year. I am (as I suspected) not really willing to be a “landlord”. I worry too much. Fortunately, the person who is renting the house wants to buy it and is a good friend who seems to feel very at home there.

I have made the decision to stay in the Bay area for at least for 2-3 years to work on the above endeavors and see what unfolds in terms of my spiritual life and training. I went to a serious Taoist practitioner of acupuncture the other day for a treatment and was a bit startled by the effects. I will go twice more to try and triangulate my experience and then decide whether to go on with this particular practitioner or explore others. This is all in conjunction of my ramping up of my Wushu Chi-gong practice. The ramping up is actually a refining, but I want to find the right person to guide me in that; Ive been at it for many years but I think I need to get a little more age appropriate.

In the meantime the feeling if gratitude continues to grow. To be alive and aware in a world that is presented to us for our own good is a miracle on the one hand, and oh so ordinary, on the other hand. The gratitude takes in and reflects both the everyday and miraculous aspects; and, here’s the beauty of it all.                                                              The common, and the miraculous, are one and the same.

                                                      The human body   is   85%

Water.  90%  is composed of

Bacteria, viruses, microphages

And little beasties that are not

Us, we, or me, or you. Without

 Them  there is no We, Me, You, I, 

Or Thou. Or It.

       Only ten percent of our body is our very own DNA.

 Within the common

 Miracle of existence  there  is  only  this

 Life.  For now.  Nothing special.  Yet,

  Something,  Is going on,  will always  go

   On,  and On;   and gravity is explained by

   What it does,   yet   no one knows  How  it, or

   Love,   for that matter,  works.

    What is the Mystery?    

  Why?   Why not?   I ask.