WTP? (Where’s the problem?)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I wanted to post anything. I am in middle of a retreat and also got quite sick for a couple of weeks. Several factors that resulted in quite a bit of discomfort, physical and otherwise; not to mention the endless quality of this Winter.

Sprinkle the above with a weird social/cultural/political uneasiness and one has the makings of smallish personal storms. The good news is that all of this exists within a context, like weather within a climate. Some assumptions regarding weather can be made within and about any given climate, we just shouldn’t be too surprised when the assumptions don’t run true to standard climate models.

So, discomfort and a need for understanding, along with a drive towards resolution and ultimately, a satisfactory explanation, of how, why and what, all went Wrong.

Sadly nothing is ever going Wrong, its just not turning out the way I expected.

Or, things have appeared for which I was not prepared, after all I am a…(Long description of me, my past, my understanding of life, my opinions, insights and a generous helping of blather to make me feel like I know anything; or that I have can control any aspects of life around me.) I can barely control the life within me; and within That, I can only moderately control my reaction to all this weather, let alone have any influence on the climate.

I guess I’m trying to say I’ve been quite uncomfortable for a while now and it is all just fine.

I am Man, hear me Grumble!

There is always learning going on in this torrent of teaching I’ve been offered, but at times it has all been a bit much. I couldn’t even retreat to comfort food or books; I had no appetite and reading hurt my eyes and my head. So, I just had to be by myself. Scary at times, but actually very do-able.

I have to remember that one of the basic premises of the Buddha’s teaching is the prevalence of dis-comfort and dis-ease in daily life, which is solely due to my own picking and choosing and insistence on things being a certain way. My way.

I am sure the “My” is the major clue as to where the problem, and the solution, are nested. Together.

Awakened by fear, doubt and worry. Some Trouble was brewing percolating inside. It

Seemed real, engaging with it, it grew. Realer. Even more than everything I knew to be true.

Going slowly to sit near my altar I glanced and saw.

Stillness at center. In the Buddha, 

On the left, determination in Fudo-myo,

On the right calmness in

Avalokiteshvarahe,  Regarder of the Cries of the World.

Within the nest of the Hara,

Peace at

Rest, and

Ease sharing

Space and time with 

Fear, doubt and worry. 

They look alike when sleeping.

 

 

 

Never metaphor I…

Last week a resentment swarmed up the stick I was using to poke at all the little ways the world and the people in it were not behaving in ways that pleased me.

At first, of course, justifications took precedence and those lasted for a good couple of hours; then the niggle that perhaps I was wrong and not seeing clearly arose and that took a couple of days and a sleepless night to become apparent as true. I also had to do some things. Sit still. Examine. Open my heart. Be willing. Be teachable. Give myself the Dharma. Accept the teachings as they came. Two dreams. One, pulling a large wooden splinter out of my right eyeball with tweezers in the bathroom mirror. The other, walking next to my teacher, and he, uncharacteristically, putting his hand around my shoulder as we walked and I felt only Love being transmitted.

He was one of the objects of my resentment because sometimes I don’t like the way he does things.

Almost twenty years of my accepting (haltingly and with bristling, carping and grousing at various times), this student/teacher- master/disciple intention experiment (“We’ll see how it goes…”) and having to remember my part. To examine, to accept; to make the teaching true for myself. That truth which transcends teacher and student, peasant and sage; and does not stand against itself.

My former father-in-law, a true Irish self-made-man, Joe L. used to say “You can’t have it every-which-way!” The truth.

Anyway, it takes what it takes and I have to remember that “one should always be disturbed by the truth”, because otherwise it’s just an agreement between what I know, what I think I know, and how the world appears in relation to all that, to me. Dead end.

Resistance is a many-headed dragon. It doesn’t need slaying, just some good nourishment and a safe place to rest and enough comfy pillows for all its heads. Luckily I have Resistance Whisperers in my life.

 

108 solid…

The swirl of youth

great fear and bravado

intermingled. In

side this very being

contemptuous of life

committed to no

thing or any one or two.

single action twenty

two shorts sub sonic

everyone a danger and

no one or thing safe

from this fear.

Oh, dear that never

was or could be. Me,

only means world

alone and no end in

sight. So.

Now, gratitude flows

no source or reason

for, just naturally

appearing at time

and situation with

no co relation but

connections deep to

fear drives aimlessly

in youthful night.

Now, know still, and solid in

this dream, molecules are

universes drifting

in purpose, fully.

 

 

The view is great from here…

Talking with a friend the other evening we got on the subject of being nice to others even though we don’t feel it. My friend thought that there was an aspect of in-authenticity or just being phony when we were nice to needy annoying co-workers. while not feeling that way, at all.

My thoughts were that the only thing that matters is how we act, not how we feel. Our feelings are extremely mutable; we feel rancor towards someone and they bring us a little gift when we have a birthday, now we like them. We feel friendly toward someone and they don’t respond to us in a way we want and now we’re on the fence about them; so on and so forth…

If we act in a kind or neutral way, despite how we feel, we are developing a mental/physical habit that will, in time, often change how we feel. This is good.

The phoniness comes from our intentions in acting nice. If our intentions are mostly selfish, then we are in phony territory, ready to homestead. But just a natural human aspect that could use a little help or tidying up.

Most of our “personality” and our general response system to the world, is just an accumulation of old habits (some of them older than we may know), that are so ingrained that we falsely use them to identify us, as “me”. One proof of this is the fact that many of us have had the experience of transforming some old and unhelpful habits that were not useful and during that process we were somewhat surprised that we had never noticed the negative aspects of that part of our “personality”. Hell, we may even have thought is was cute or manly.

The tricky part of this is to see the situation(s) clearly and our part(s) in it. We have to face and look very closely at our most cherished possession; our story of ourselves, and that many times, we just sort of scroll roll past those parts of the story that we know to be unhelpful, or just not fair, right, honest or even true. It’s tough to face the fact that mostly we are full of baloney; or just straw. We grow the straw, and lord knows we slice the baloney.

The good news is, that is not a problem, it’s the human condition. Not seeing clearly. Not being able to step back just a few inches, or feet, or miles from our insitence that our view may be blocked, or skewed and generally inaccurate.

That is the place where change is initiated, not just waited on while simultaneously waiting to die.

 

The view is great from here, its filled with me, 

I like what I see, except when I don’t;  and

A voice-over starts, just like in the movies,  that

Explains me, and how I act and feel, to me; and then

And there my view changes to go along with my story,

About me, you, them, those, this, that; and all them

Things that seem outside of the me, yet some-

How I know can’t exist without. How, how to

Connect? Is the truth just a glance away? Maybe?

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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.

 

Asking for guidance…

In the last few days I’ve had several interesting encounters that I would put under the heading of asking for guidance. In one instance someone asked me to be their mentor/sponsor in the spiritual realms of working a 12-step recovery program. Here I encounter the two fold issue of my learning to temper my input and make it suitable to the situation and the person, while at the same time being a little challenging, in the sense of there may be resistance to what I offer or suggest, because the person has some ideas that they cherish and want to hold on to. This usually takes the form of glib, well-worn stock phrases like “I’ve always felt, (thought, said, etc.), that…Or, “I’ve never heard of anything like that (in Buddhism in this case)…” Both of those attitudes are not the best for the ostensible “student”. Oh, how many times have I said or thought those things in my own process of learning. But, what I know today is that if I’ve said or thought things like that 1,247 times, then I have had to drop those opinions and be willing to learn; 1,248 times.

In the other case, an old time trainee and friend in our sangha called to ask for some advice regarding some family dynamics involving issues with which I have a raft of experience and training. Most of what I said was boiler-plate type of insight, but a few things were of direct experiential content. My friend listened to all of it and, I’m sure, was able to use some as new info, take some as reinforcement of his own knowledge and experience and incorporate it into his decision/action process.

In both of the above instances it was my opportunity to grow and learn. Even as I’m formulating what I’m saying I realize I’m formulating it for the purposes of my own clarification and learning, and whether someone else profits from it is strictly up to them. That, in turn, gives me more information in how very cautious I must be when proffering solicited advice/opinion.

I of course have a lot to learn in the unsolicited advice/opinion part of my interactions with people, but that’s the topic for a gigantic book I should be working on. Thank god for “Maybe tomorrow?”…

push/pull

I arrived in Bay area Saturday afternoon. I’m settling in slowly to the pace and activity of the temple. This week I’ll get up to speed on day to day doings and remembering various aspects of ceremonies and such, things we didn’t practice at home. But, like bicycle riding its in the memory somewhere. In my last minute rush of course I forgot some things and left a few things undone, luckily my friend who will be living in that house is helping to tie up loose ends, plus she was willing to take on the dog and cat care as well. She’s not  huge fan of cats but I’m sure will learn to love my adorable feline.

Moving from a small town in a rural setting into the Berkeley hub-bub is a bit of culture shock to say the leas,t so I think it will take a few weeks to settle in to the pace of everything; one block over is Solano Ave., and I would guess there are 30-40 restaurants in a ten block stretch. Only one of each Subway and Starbucks and the rest are just small enterprise. Everything from Nepalese/Tibetan, to Chilean, to Afghan/Cuban, and then there are some unusual ones. Same with stores, and the people. Any five people you see are all from different places in the world. A rather heady experience for this re-transplant.

I will be posting more often and get back to my previous blog’s practice of posting daily in a week or so, once I’m settled in physically and mentally (spiritually). I must say that when the time comes to make some choices in a year, that little town sure has lots of good memories going for it. I feel so fortunate to be able to have this type of quandary in my life, and even more so because any choice I make will be informed by the practice and training in Zen that keeps straightening my path, spine and convictions when I wander, feel weak, or am confused.

Propelled or pulled

No difference at all

When in motion trying

To be still, and at rest.

moving, as in motion…

This morning I drove 70 miles up the Clearwater River on the Nez Perce Reservation to the town of Kamia. Just west of it, I performed some Buddhist and personal rituals relating to the ashes of both my mother who died five years ago and those of my wife who died six months ago. It made for not only a very full day, since it was over a three hour drive each way, but also one of release and letting go . I have less than two weeks before I move back to the Bay area and lots of things still need to get done. I also have many qualms about the move concerning the care of my dog and cat and my house and belongings. It is very much a chance to practice trust in those that proffer their friendship; and that has always been difficult for me. A residue of the karma I created in my life before I got sober and went straight.

The whole reason for this move initially was the result of karma I created by being infatuated with someone and believing that there was a possible great future relationship  where everything seemed to click and appear do-able. Two mature grown-ups in love, who vowed that there was nothing that could not be talked through. Turned out there were things (or a thing, anyway), that couldn’t be talked through.  I had committed to moving there and the object of my affections refuses to talk to me because of… Well, now, I’m not really sure. It all seems so vapory. Almost like some sort of dream, or dare I say it, delusional. In my wisdom I thought that this was a different thing, that I could bypass the period of mourning and enter into a relationship that was founded on the principle of mutually caring about and being careful of my sick and then dying wife’s feelings, and the propriety of it all.

Not being greedy.

Letting things unfold.

Not ripping open the package.

All sorts of good ideas like that were individually, and mutually, quietly discarded as the heat and momentum built up to meeting and completing, in a way, the beginnings of something that looked very promising; a grown up thought out future with an open endedness to it; All that unfolding.

Seems there were some small details overlooked. I won’t go into those, but suffice it to say that “my nose was wide open”, as we used to say when I was coming up in New York, and I believed that a committed relationship was just that. Oh well. Close the nose and and don’t go crazy and you won’t be committed.

Where Oh Where did my middle-path go?

The things I set in motion for one set of reasons, are now in motion and I can readily assign another newer and more sane set of reasons. They are merely what I should have done in the first place after my wife died. Take a year and go someplace safe where I can practice in a more structured setting everything I’ve been learning, or at least been taught, for these last 30 years with my wife during that time; and see what really unfolds.

Egad! I’m a selfish and headstrong and a make big mistakes sort of fool; but, I am willing to learn. (Most things that I’ve learned that had true value, I learned the hard way.)

To make amends and rectify my mistakes and sit up in the presence of the Buddha’s and the Ancestors and try and actualize the teaching in my life (one more time), and step forward into the Eternal present moment. There is and must be an “Always going on, Always going on, Always becoming…” (A portion of the Prajanparamitta Sutra)

I Take Refuge in the Buddha, for he is my True teacher.

I Take Refuge in the Dharma, since it is the Medicine for all my suffering.

I Take Refuge in the Sangha, since its members, are Truly Wise and compassionate.

Indwelling…

 

In trying to prepare for this move I am put into the position of having to take a very careful look at my life. All the things I have to move are things that we either brought with us from the past, or acquired here; and some of them are things that only I brought along and acquired. The latter being generally in the realm of thoughts, ideas and so forth that felt personal to me.

Now, that I am committed to this change of process/venue I see that I must do more than glance at the baggage I’m choosing to take with me and that which I leave entrusted to a future, which currently is wide open. Of course the future is always wide open, we rarely see that because of our own  plans and designs having primacy in our view the world(s).

The earth revolves around the Sun and we think it also revolves around us and our concerns. Turns out, one of those is not true.

In dwelling I seek a refuge from

That, which doesn’t tarry:,Those

Thoughts, feelings, yesterdays,

Tomorrows, ideas and plans,

Hopes and dreams; the Stuff of

Distraction, the Unpresent where

I find only a me, a dock, a platform,

From which I dread to venture. Thus,

Yes, thus, is the road not taken…