Riding to Retreat…

I remember when I turned twenty-five in 1972, thinking it was cool that I was a quarter of a Century old. Now I’m close to being 3/4 of a century old. That’s pretty cool too. A lot of water has passed under that bridge. And in 1972 I was somewhat sophisticated in underworld ways, and a total idiot socially, culturally and sexually. Although I had been steeped in the ways of the streets and had experienced many things I was still a child in terms of society and how most people experience life. I had done a lot of things by that age that most people can’t imagine doing or having done too them. I was an innocent, a fool and fairly clueless. Still am, and I’ve been very very fortunate, all things considered.

After I got sober in 1983 and started getting serious about my Buddhist practice for a number of years, I had occasion to be on a ten hour drive up to the Six Rivers National Forest to go on a week-long retreat at a Hermitage of our Order of monks. I had as passenger a Zen Buddhist Master whose lay disciple I had become. On the drive I had opportunity to divulge huge amounts of burdensome things that I had done, committed or had done to me. As my recitation was winding down, The Master commented, “You have had some astoundingly good merit in your life” or words to that I effect.

I sputtered, “Haven’t you been listening to all the stuff I’ve been telling you? You consider that ‘Good Merit’?”

He said, “Look where you are and where you are going”.

I got it!

Sometimes I forget it for a bit, but regain my perspective.

Gratitude and Compassion

Flowing Inward. In time it

Flows Outward and then

Continues On and on and on.

Set into motion Compassion

Flows in all directions. That

Is Its Basic Nature and

Condition. I can’t aim it.

The Heart pumps In.

The Heart pumps Out.

It’s a life…

I am surrounded by and in touch with many good, nice, intelligent and spiritually oriented people in my life that I can consider close friends; some relatively new and older ones for 20, 30, 40, 50 and even 60 years. Yet, I feel alone and lonely, because I don’t have that day in, day out connection that I had when Linda and I were together for 30 years. Someone to come home too. I was quite surprised when I realized that just in the last few days.

Always I was the loner, with acquaintances and friends everywhere, that I connected with in a variety of ways. I could spend lots of time by myself and was drawn to meditation and various aspects of solitude as a way of Being. Part of my ‘Practice’ and a way of styling myself for the world. So I was busy playing several roles at all times, because that was what active, intelligent, busy and well-adjusted people did.

Yet, here I am, alone. It is not how I thought I would end up. I actually had no thoughts about ‘how’ I would end up. I just assumed there would be a comfortable long-term settling into whatever changes precede that dying at a ripe old age, unforeseeable years into some future, seemed fair. It still seems fair. It just feels empty.

Did I really piss away a lifetime having no plan no ambition just doing the next thing that seemed interesting? The first half of it was all self-serving and criminal and drug and alcohol addled. The second half still fairly self-serving but with the intention of ‘doing good’ and becoming a ‘good’ person. OK! Now what?. Soon 75 years on a carousel? That’s what it kind of feels like.

From my Buddhist viewpoint I think I’ve been useful in converting loads of Karma, so that perhaps less is left behind for other beings that follow after me, to clean up. That seems fair and good and just. And it seems, that will have to be sufficient. Adequate actually, all things considered. Contentment is a mild off-shoot, so that’s sort of good; I just want more.

That may be the clue to the real human condition. We do our best and settle for ‘it coulda been worse’… and for many it is. And then get out of the way and let everything move on. It may just be that simple.

We come to life, we declare an I,

A Me and a Them and then off

We Go, to go, to do, to be, to

Come and sit and stay and

Move and roll and play and

Role and act and wonder. Is

All this worth the effort and

Time it takes to do, then to

Think, wonder and wish we

Knew more than

We know we do.

Sitting still facing a wall

Sitting Still facing a wall. Sitting still facing the person giving the Dharma talk. Letting the breath circulate, inhaling from base of the spine to top of head and allowing exhalation to naturally descend from Buddha crown at top, down the forehead and to the place where the front teeth and gums meet. Let it go inward and descent through the Heart into the Tan-Tien; three fingers below the bellybutton, near the cupped hands in the Cosmic Mudra. The Water of the Spirit flows freely.

The ears are hearing out to farthest reaches, the Sound of Silence appears and All is There, Different and One. The speaker glows a soft gold, as does the air in the room and there are infinitesimal movements of the Universe flowing and being still, simultaneously and all is well. Nothing special. The teaching enters and there is hearing but not listening there is receptivity but no holding. There is being and doing and non-doing, all together because that is how things are. For now.

A moment. Nothing special. The memories come in crowded, unbidden and smothering the willful effort of trying to meditate. Yet, there one is and there is no worry. Just sitting. Being still. Still. Allowing all things. God is either Every Thing or No Thing. Yes and No are not. Opposite they become maybe This, maybe That. It does not Matter. This shall pass. As will That. Neither coming nor going. Deep waters are still and alive within. No Thing stands still, everything seems Still.

The opposites arise and create apparent movement but once those oppositions are next to each other, there is no conflict no resolution. Its just how things are. Right now. Whoops there goes another Now. Where? Over there. Where? I can’t see It. Ok.

Response by Ryokan…

Ryokan, the hermit monk and poet and Zen Master, often treated as a wandering fool by villagers as he passed through one, was lonely all his life.

That didn’t preclude him becoming a Master of Buddhism and one of the most respected figures in the history of Japanese Zen. His calligraphic poetry is considered a national cultural treasure, and he was not a trained calligrapher. He spoke and wrote from a heart that was deeply entwined with his mind which he trained assiduously under all conditions.

Loneliness and vague longing were present in much of his writing. Yet, it was not despair. It was seeing clearly with a full heart. That is Compassion.

At a small gathering once, someone recited a poem for him.

It went like this:

“The breath goes out, the breath coming in

Over and then over again

Only leaves me to reflect

What a fleeting world this is.”

To which the Master replied:

“The breath going out, the breath coming in

Over and then over again

Know that this is itself the proof

That the world never ends.”

To be in the position of ease within is no small thing, and that was what informed Ryokans writing;

Yes, ease can hold the sorrows and

Rregrets of the world the way a

Blade of grass can hold a drop of

Dew long enough for it to fall from the

Blade, or dry in the sun. Sufficiency and

An adequacy that appears to be

Contentment, if anyone is

Looking and seeing

That, which Is.

Fear, Doubt and Worry…

There has been a lot of fear and worry and tremendous doubt coming up for me in relation to cognitive diminuendo and a burgeoning deep personal connection appearing, seemingly, out of the air. Five months ago I didn’t know this person.

Huge complicated mixture of feelings, and nothing ‘pencils out’ on a reality basis, in terms of a relationship. Yet there is a strong attachment and deep drawing towards a situation which is an interesting one to say the least.

I am aware that at a deeper level this is all a gathering/swirling of old karmas asking for peace and resolution in this life as conditions seem ripe to help all that “stuff” along. And, I must be mindful of the larger picture which indicates that I go very carefully and not act from deluded interpretation of insights into the past, that ‘feel’ correct. Each day for several months my appreciation for this gift deepens and is becoming an acceptance and going toward an opportunity to see the reality that all life is a teaching presented to me for my own well-being. And, an opportunity for seeing more clearly by including the discomforts of change and uncertainty and the reality of old age, disease and death. Right view.

I’m deeply appreciative that all this is presented to me at a time when I may be the most capable, spiritually, to proceed correctly and thus help the cleansing of these complex and wide ranging karmas involved. Then again, the previous sentence may be a textbook example of what delusion sounds like when its trying its hardest to sound sane and equanimous. The appearance of something precious and unexpected is a gift of open-handed teaching, learning and loving and living within the Three Treasures.

This time is one of many opportunities because next week I’m scheduled to go for a retreat guided by the Zen Master whose lay disciple I’ve been for almost 25 years, and with whom I’ve had a rocky past year as he allowed me to go SPLAT (during deep period of a depressing and confusing ‘fugue’ state I experienced), and then reassemble aspects of my delusions into workable parts of on-going training, and becoming a movement towards some sort of deeper grasp of how karma works. In other words, something has been examined and I feel I can be more truly helpful to myself and to others.

So, going to the Monastery and entering retreat mode in a mix of old friends, fellow trainees and monks who I know for certain are the ‘real thing’ because I can see how they live, and have trained with them on numerous occasions for thirty years or more; I know how they live, eat, act and comport themselves in their lives. I can rely on them to teach what the Buddha taught.

They are not that “guy’, man or woman, who shows up at the Community Center for Tuesday evening Meditation and ‘Dharma’ talks. and then goes back to whatever his or her life is the other 22 hours of the day. Consequently I can for sure trust the community to provide a safe place for refuge, teaching, stillness and advice on any decisions, quandaries wonderings that are looming in my future.

In the midst of all that fear, worry and doubt is a certainty and sense of deep good fortune (Merit), that I am able to face seeming complexities like this and see it all as an opportunity and teaching for my own good, so that I can be helpful to others.

At one point I was ready to throw away this life I had been given. Forty years ago I surrendered sufficiently to finally accept the help offered to me. Today my worries, fears, doubts and hopes, revolve around trying to live a life that tends towards the Good. Gratitude.

What a quandary!

I never knew and don’t

know now, how exactly ,

things work; and the good

news is, I don’t need to.

I just need to go

Care Fully and Allow,

Allow, Allow and