Zen 101

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Eighth Grave Precept

The Eighth Grave Precept

The Eighth Grave Precept is: Do not be stingy with the Dharma or property. In my Order we use: I will be generous with what I possess. Other translations are much simpler, "I vow not to be greedy."

Another koan: how can we be greedy with what we possess when, in truth, we can possess nothing?

This precept, like all of them, can be read at least in two levels: the ordinary and the extraordinary, with Small Mind or with Big Mind.

On the Small Mind level we are talking about actually sharing what we hold in our hands, our houses, our banks, and our heart/minds. As we realize aspects of the Dharma, we should share when asked or when needed.

On a Big Mind level, we realize there is nothing that we can possess, so we have nothing to offer, but more, nothing is needed. All is perfect just as it is. We just are not able or willing to perceive this and let it rise up.

A harmful thing happens, we engage it without attachment or emotional investment and make it better. This is the Bodhisattva Way. Our way is to bring harmony into being.

The deluded mind sees property as a possession, something one can hold onto forever. Greed has taken over much of our country: finance, mortgage, Wall Street, all manner of business. Profit is all. (Please, I grant there are some companies, etc., that do not behave poorly.) In such an atmosphere everyone is vulnerable, trust is eroded, civil society is threatened. This is why greed is considered one of the Three Poisons.

The antidote to greed is generosity. If we catch ourselves being greedy, we should automatically give. Better to give in error than build and maintain a greedy heart.

Its all practice.

Be well,

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Seventh Grave Precept

The Seventh Grave Precept

This precept says that we vow not to praise self and slander others. This precept points us to treating everyone as equals, a very challenging precept to put into practice. Equality is a key reality from a Zen Buddhist point of view. When we see our true nature as One, than how can we not see others as ourselves and treat them as ourselves? The need to elevate ourselves is a need of the ego. By slandering others, insecure people feel they are placing themselves on a better footing. When if fact, that footing is illusion.

As we witness a person mistreating another, do we feel some bit superior? We would not do that. As we speak to a waiter or waitress, how do we speak to them? As equals?

We practice to become sensitive to our own internal processes and do the work we need to do as a result of what we discover.

Equality demands that we trust each of us is able to listen and process what we communicate and is communicated to us; it demands that we do not hold others, accountable for our own feelings, and that we will trust ourselves to deal with them.In the end,, practice to speak kindly and with compassion..

Be well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Sixth Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The Sixth Grave Precept

The first five precepts are those taken in some traditions by lay practitioners. The next five, then, separate lay practitioners from those who are stepping up and traveling along the way of the Bodhisattva. They represent an increased demand for mindful attention.

The Sixth Grave Precept: I vow not to criticize others. In my order we use a slight variant: I vow to speak kindly of others. This precept is a precept that points directly to right speech. We should always try to say kind things about others and avoid unkind things. Yet, teachers often say things that are critical of a student. Parents say critical things of a child. Society says critical things about its outlaws. This precept points to idle chatter, to gossip: speech that has little value in that its aim is to spread rumors.

We have a positive obligation to criticize wrong, especially harmful behavior. We have an obligation to stop harm.

It is a difficult balance.

For example I was recently banned from a online blog because I spoke against an industry that promotes violence through video games. I said his company produced useless products that people wanted and that this was a waste of resources. I spoke directly to the manufacturer and told him I hoped his business would fail. I would say the same to gun companies, bomb companies, chemical weapons companies.

Some of this was hyperbole to make a point. Teachers do that. He could easily transform his business into one that produces no violent games, does not promote warfare, but instead produces products that nurture humanity. So, in essence, I do believe we should work to transform or close businesses that produce products that are harmful.

Did I criticize this man? No. I criticized his business.. Was it a violation of the sixth precept? I don't think so.

Since then, I have read numerous criticism of my conduct on that blog. They remind me of all the snide remarks made to me during the early phase of the Iraq war as I was sitting zazen holding a sign asking for peace.

We must stand for our values.

On the other hand, to say harmful things about a person without the aim of benefit is not acceptable.

Be well..

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Fifth Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The Fifth Grave Precept: Do Not Deal in Intoxicants.

The Fifth Grave Precept is our vow not to cloud our minds with intoxicants. Hmmm. Does this mean no wine with dinner? Not really, the point of this precept is that we vow to live with a clear mind. The problem comes in the fact that wine and other drugs have effects on our perceptions. But its not just drugs. We can intoxicate our minds with video games, television, news stories, books, magazines, foods, sex, etc. Too much of anything leads to a distorted version of reality. Its a cloudy mind that is the issue.
Drugs and alcohol we understand in terms of their intoxicating power. Yet, the power of electronic media, print media, and the entertainment industry has similar effects. When wee are inundated with images, messages, and invitations to meet every pleasure need, we seem to crave more. People can become what are now called "News Junkies", pornography is a multi-billion dollar business, violent or sexually explicit video games are at the fingertips of children and adults everywhere. Our brains are being transformed in the process. A result of this transformation is a need for more, on the one hand, and a distorted view of reality, on the other hand.
We must practice with this. As we sit, we should notice the thoughts and images that come up. Are these in any way connected to the "real" world? Are they a result of our desire to see in a certain way?

When we see a news story on violence somewhere in the world, like those this morning of Israeli counter attacks against rocketing Hamas, do we feel good or ill as a result?

The fact is violence is violence and yields a physical, emotional and psychological response. We must commit to a practice that enables us to see these effects clearly, sort them out and set ourselves free from them. A disciplined spiritual practice would have us reduce or eliminate our exposure to such images while working on replacing such images with healthy, wholesome ones.

Some might say this approach does not meet the litmus test of reality. I say reality is what we make it. It is true the world is a place with danger in it, but it is also a place with tremendous love and compassion. I believe it is time we give much fuller attention to the latter and far less to the former.

May you practice to develop a clear mind.

Be well.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fourth Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The Fourth Grave Precept is: Do not lie.

This precept, like all the others,is geared toward what makes for a civilized world. One of the foundations of civil society is trust. In order for us to function together we must trust that what is said to us is honest. Lying about, distorting, and otherwise "handling": the truth erodes this trust.

Yet, we have a similar paradox as with other precepts. What is the truth? Truth is subjective. It is perception and perception can (and is) distorted by experience. so, if we have been robbed by people of a certain background, we may perceive people from that background to be "suspect" when in fact, they are not.

Better then, that we focus our attention on our own speech. We should speak only honestly with right thought and right understanding. We should not try to deceive.

Yet, always we should have in mind the maxim, 'do no harm'. Sometimes telling the truth can be harmful, such as telling an angry person with a gun who is chasing another person which way that person fled. Sometimes remaining silent is the best practice.

It turns out that precepts are not as easy as one, two, three.

Be well.

Third Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning we address the Third Grave Precept: Do not commit sexual misconduct. This precepts points directly at us and our society. We reflect ourselves in our art forms, if we can call them that: Desperate Housewives, The L Word, Californication...even Boston Legal. So much television is devoted to attracting viewers through sexual content that it is nearly impossible to turn the box on without seeing one seductive Victoria's Secret woman or a Hanes commercial, etc., etc. Then we are to walk away and keep our eyes to ourselves...whoops did you see that woman wearing nothing but lingerie at K-Mart? Or how about yesterday when a lady wearing pajamas walked past me in Wal-Mart. Eyes in head, head straight.

Sexual misconduct is all in the mind. Its also all about relationships. Its about health. Its about trust. Its about caring. Its about loving. Its about everything that is so challenging in our culture.

Another way to frame this precept is: I vow to use my sexuality to nurture and enhance my life and the lives of others.

We use this version in many of our Jukai Ceremonies. It places sexuality in a positive light and asks us to be positive about it. It also takes it somewhat out of the prurient mode and into the mode of healthy living.

To view sexuality in this way makes the steamy sort of understanding put forth in the media in a unhealthy light. Sex is not about self fulfilment; its about nurturance of others.

Just like any other aspect of humanity we can use it toward an evil end or a good end: the choice is always ours. What is important to remember, in my opinion, is that it is not the tool that is the "problem", but how and to what end that tool is used.

Be wise.

Second Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning we explore the Second Grave Precept: Do Not Steal. To accept what is not given speaks to a breakdown in social and personal boundaries. It suggests a profound disrespect for the property rights of others. But more than that, it points to our own greed.

Stealing takes so many forms it is easy to violate this precept without care. Accepting more change than you are entitled to at a cash register for example. Accepting a mistake on the sale price of an item at the department store, for another example. These are forms of stealing. One does not have to hold someone up or slip something into one's pocket in order to be a thief.

This precept asks us to be diligent in our dealings with people, things, and money. A borrowed, but never returned book, for example is a kind of stealing. Loans are time-limited. And so on. So, it is our responsibility to do our own due diligence in returning things borrowed in a timely manner.

It would seem of late that our society is leaning toward gain regardless of the ethics involved as a base value. When we commit to a disciplined spiritual path, this can no longer be the case.

May you be a blessing in the universe.

The First Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The other day, I addressed the The Pure Precepts. This morning I would like to talk about the first of the Ten Grave Grave Precepts, do not kill. This precept is first among the Ten Grave Precepts. It is a very challenging precept for many reasons. Like most precepts its paradoxical. We must live, in order to live we must eat, in order to eat we must kill, yet here it says: do not kill. How can this be?

Moreover, even as we breathe or walk we kill. As we drink water we kill. Even if we are vegetarian, we kill. So how can we follow this precept?

Killing is more than simply taking a life, although that is its meaning. This precept is about the wanton killing of beings for no purpose, but to kill them. We are asked not to kill for the joy of killing, as a game, or a sport. We should try to avoid killing unintentionally, as well.

To meet this precept we must act mindfully around all beings. We should not kill for any reason but to sustain ourselves. So, we often frame this precept in the positive, that we vow to respect all life. This leads us to consider the many ways we may nurture life, to be in-service to life, and to appreciate life.

Each of us is responsible for our own decisions regarding this precept. some of us eat only vegetables and grains. Others allow fowl or fish. Still others allow for red meat. The what is less important than the appreciation we give to the being who gave its life that we may live. It is so easy to be mindless about the food we eat. Not recognizing the many hands and many lives that went into its preparation. Zen is about noticing and appreciating. This is the first grave precept.

On a personal note: Last night we were blessed with the arrival of our daughter, her partner, and our grandson Tate. We were also blessed with the presence of our son, his partner, and granddaughter Olivia. Lastly, we were blessed by the Hanukkah lights, the first of many during this festival of lights. Our other son is to arrive sometime this afternoon and so, for the first time in many, many years we will have all our heartbeats under the same roof.

Be well

Three Pure Precepts

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I would like to talk to you about the Three Pure Precepts. In Zen Buddhism, these three precepts are core. These are: Cease doing evil; Do good; Bring about abundant good for all beings. It takes a lot of personal work to enact these precepts, even more to make them our own.

The reason these precepts are so challenging is that they point to a way of being as a Buddhist that is selfless and always in service.. In contemporary society this is difficult as we are constantly reminded to acquire, protect our acquisitions, and let others be responsible for themselves. But this is not the Zen way.

The Zen way is to release the self of its grip on us by practicing to realize its true nature as empty, with no permanent existence at all. We are dust made into form and will return to dust again. When we break through and realize this truth we can see that all that is left is our function as human beings.

True human beings function out of compassion for others. We are social beings who live in groups. We are dependent upon each other for our existence, as well as our self-worth.

The child cries; we take care of her. The dog wants out, we let him out. The community needs help, we help. We do these without real self reference. We do them in reference to the other. To actually meet the needs of the other. This is the Zen way.

To follow this Way is a challenge. We must first become aware of ourselves and our internal responses to others. We must then work with these responses, turning them from a internal focus to an external focus. We must be willing to see without our own basic assumptions clouding the picture.

Some of those basis assumption have to do with what we are taught about others. Strangers are suspect, Homeless are lazy and willfully homeless. Mentally ill people are dangerous or just plain faking it to get people to feel sorry for them. People should work for a living and not be dependent. Me first, others second. I do not have enough myself. And so on.

While some or all of these may contain some degree of truth, they are judgments, mental constructs, that inhibit our willingness to step out of ourselves and work for the common good. Moreover, such concerns should not be the concern of the bodhisattva. ; Our vows are to cease doing evil, do good, and create abundant good for all beings. We don't get to decide in what situations we will cease doing bad things or do good things. We decide to become the embodiment of these precepts.

Now, does this mean that we give dollars to everyone with their hand out? Not necessarily. Compassion doesn't work that way. Our help is real help. Help that is pragmatic; help that works to actually benefit beings. Giving alcoholics money to buy booze is hardly helpful. A bodhisattva with a clear mind will see the big picture and act accordingly, naturally.

As it states in the Shushogi, "Those who receive the precepts verify the unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment verified by all buddhas of the three times, the fruit of buddhahood, adamantine and indestructible. Is there a wise person who would not gladly seek this goal?"

Be well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Relax and Be Free

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning was a chilly 45 degrees according to my thermometer as we headed out the door to meet friends Eve and Allen for a brisk morning walk. Actually, I needed less brisk, but then there was a morning breeze with that chilled air, so we naturally had a quick pace. Somewhere along the way I asked Allen to slow down. It was a rest/easy walk day for me.

In practice it is important to know the aim of your practice. Its part of the discipline. This is the meaning of that old saying, "When sitting, sit; when walking, walk: above all don't wobble". We do not sit zazen then in the middle of a sitting period decide to begin chanting practice. Likewise, if running a long, slow run, we don't in the middle decide to do speed repeats. Each practice has its place and its purpose.

Many of us are impatient, however, and think more is better. In training this leads to injury or burnout. In Zen practice, the same: we become so goal focused that we are caught in the goal. Like tugging on a Chinese puzzle, the harder we try to get free, the tighter the weave holds us in place. Relax and we are free.

Be well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Team Zen

Good Morning Again,

A Team Zen Update: This morning I did a hard hill repeat workout (8 repeats) in the desert on sandy trails and steep hills. I completed 1.75 miles in total. My modest training schedule is as follows: Sunday, long run; Monday easy walk; Tuesday, desert hill repeats with a trail run base; Wednesday, easy walk; Thursday, interval run; Friday, easy walk; Saturday, off.

Shortly I will add a little biking, easy kick boxing, and some free weight training again, but I need to get a base established first. (Our garage is almost ready to act as a gym.)

I plan to increase my distance, repeat numbers, and interval numbers by 10% or so weekly, with the goal of completing the 15 mile portion of the Bataan Death March in March 2009.

For those of you who don't know, we had a "Team Zen" at the Zen Center for a couple of years and did local races. We made t-shirts that had "Stillness in Motion" printed on the backs. It was a lot of fun.

Fitness Training is an excellent Zen practice as it requires focused attention in repetition. The practitioner places his/her complete attention on the body and breath, integrating that with the physical environment while in motion. Some, while doing long distance running, get a sense of "zoning out" which is not exactly a good thing, nor is it good Zen. Zen training, whether seated Zen or Zen in motion, requires moment-to-moment attention. It is not about an altered state, but about waking up and being present.

I would be interested in hearing about your training. Maybe we can reestablish a team and find a race in the future to do together.

Be well.

A Refuge Weekend

With Palms Together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Our weekend went well in the mountains. As we arrived there was a person there looking at the property. The refuge is still for sale, technically, as there is a real estate contract in place, but we will only accept a very good (close to asking price) offer for the place and I would have many regrets selling it. On the other hand, it does require a degree of work we are no longer able to commit to (or do) on a regular basis. Its nearly six acres of fenced forest with a meadow, a wood burning cook stove requiring chopped wood, and water to be pumped from holding or collection tanks to the gravity feed tank on the ridge behind the house. The vegetation nearly took over the place this summer. I am anticipating fence repair as trees inevitably fall across fences in the winter. This means getting out the chain saw. Goodness.

On the upside, son Jason and daughter-in-law Maggie did a great job doing much of the work. Jason got the 4 wheeler going and used it to flatten out much of the rampaging Russian thistle. He then got out the scythe and began swinging it. Maggie and Jason both chopped wood. Maggie and I rolled some cut rounds down off the ridge that Ken Roshi had cut a couple of years ago to age.

We did lots of laundry. Judy cooked. Olivia played and played. She is one fearless and rambunctious 3 year old.

In between I had time to do sitting-in-the-recliner meditation. Every once in a while I would light a stick of incense, bow, and sit unobtrusively in the recliner and settle my attention. Occasionally, this would result in a nap.

At the conclusion of the visit, Maggie, Olivia and Judy left very early. Jason packed up and winterized; I cleaned the house, mopped, and polished the floors. He loaded up the ATV on a trailer (he wants to do some work on it here in Cruces and (of course) ride it in the desert) and we drove down off the mountain and across the desert.

Last night we practiced meditation at Temple Beth El. It is a smaller and smaller group. I am considering ending it so that I can free up Monday evening for regular Zen Meditation at Clear Mind Zendo. What do you think?

Be well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Becoming a Sage

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday we spent the morning with friends at the hospital. Our friend, Ken Kessen, underwent another major oral surgery to remove areas of his mouth affected by cancer and other issues. Please keep him and his wife, Deana, in your thoughts and prayers.

Being with friends as they struggle is something we are becoming quite familiar with. I think it is a sign of our particular age and place in the life-cycle. I was talking with someone at Temple yesterday who is witnessing her parents age and deteriorate in these, their final years. She said she wished God had set things up so that we live until we go out like sparklers. I understand the sentiment. Some of us are for sure fortunate if we die in our sleep with little to no warning. Yet, on the other hand, a process of dying has its advantages, as well.

While I would not wish long periods of painful suffering on anyone, I do think, aging itself is a stage of life that can be useful to all. We learn so much from each other about the nature of life, about friendships and family, and about our relationship with our bodies. In essence, we have the opportunity to become sages.

Events in our lives, painful events, can lead us to curse God and life itself. We ask the eternal questions, all beginning with "why?!" Yet, there are no answers really, at least none that are satisfying. It is in our nature, though, to ask. We want to make sense of our experiences. Yet, the sense we can make is limited to our tools, our senses, our brain, etc. Some things are just out of their scope.

When we encounter such things, it is best, in my opinion, to see them for what they are, processes of life, rather than part of some plan of an Infinite being. When we experience without judging the experience, knowing all experience is passing, I think we can more easily attend to the experience itself. Attending to experience is the essence of life. That, friends, may be its true meaning: it is the essence of being a sage.

May we all be free from suffering,

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mood

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Feeling good about the market rebound yesterday, I cautioned myself. It is important not to let our emotions determine our mood. What? Our emotions are our mood, you say. Not so.

Our mood may be a reflection of our emotional state, but our mood, it seems to me, is much more complex than that. Mood and attitude: our stance with regard to ourselves and our world is an aggregate of thought, feeling, behavior, and core beliefs. Our mood, then, is a dynamic reflection of our core beliefs, our core selves.

Mood. I really do not like that word so much. I prefer not to be in a mood or moody. I prefer to be present. If I am happy, I am happy; if angry, angry. An overflow of feeling into mood is not comfortable, nor is it good for us.

One of the best ways to make our mood stable is to recognize that thoughts and feelings are not us; they are transient reflections of our core beliefs. Our brains produce thoughts, we respond with feelings, and the whole complex filters through our core beliefs. I am of the opinion, that our core beliefs can be changed, can be "watered" as Thich Nhat Hahn points out and grown into magnificent flowers of loving-kindness, balance, and beauty, thus allowing us to be at peace even in the midst of unhappy circumstances.

When we practice to nurture the seeds of compassion, we become compassionate. When we water the seeds of loving-kindness, we become loving-kindness. And when we water the seeds of equanimity and non-attachment, we become balance itself.

The skeptics might say at this point, "No, actually, you become all wet!" But in truth, we can never get enough nurturance. We are social beings who grow through love.

So, if I am not my mood, my thoughts, my feelings, or my core beliefs as these are in constant flux, then what am I?

Be well.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Varieties of Religious Experience

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night we had Sunday dinner with our son, Jason, his wife Maggie, and our granddaughter, Olivia. Sunday dinner is a family tradition that began when our children moved out of the house after high school. They were invited to come to dinner on Sunday and could bring friends with adequate notice. Over time we amassed a few ex-girlfriends and an occasional ex-boyfriend, who would continue to visit even after they were "ex's". Our dinners were always open and inviting and we truly appreciated getting to know the people in our children's lives. Now that we have children once again in the neighborhood, we are delighted to continue this tradition.


Anyway, last night Olivia discovered the Zendo. At three years old, she was quite impressed with its emptiness. The gong and small bell delighted her, the mokugyo made her stop and take notice with its deep, wooden sound. I taught her to sit, gassho, and bow. But most of all we enjoyed the sounds of the instruments of Zen. Earlier in the day, Olivia attended our Temple's "Training Wheels" program, a sort of early preschool program to get children and parents ready for the Religious School. This is a true variety of religious experience. I wonder what William James would have thought of this.

In truth, the Infinite lives in every experience.

Be well,

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Crisis

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Nothing is forever. Oh, how we resist this simple truth! Beaches erode, we attempt to shore them up; age takes its toll, we attempt to repair or prevent it; our economy goes to the dogs and, yes, we try to buttress it, prevent the loss of our fortunes. Everything changes: its the nature of the universe.

Yet, our safety is threatened. Our comfort and security is in question, not in some far off desert, but right here on Main Street.

What to do.

A few months ago I was threatened with a serious reduction in my pension. I freaked. We were in the process of our credit review and the closing processes on our new house. My mind was not as elastic as I had hoped.

What I did: I saw my psychiatrist; I took time to sleep, to practice meditation, but I also took the time to engage the VA and the DAV. I was committed to health regardless of outcome.

Zazen helps us see clearly that life is a full process of birth and death...to the point that we see there is no real birth or death, just universal process. In this we come to relax a bit. Life goes on. We really have all that we need. Like trauma teaches, we learn to value this moment itself regardless of its particular flavor.

Counseling helps us as we begin to sort and organize: we develop priorities, we learn to respond appropriately.

Engaging the problem directly, with as little emotional tidal wave behind us as possible, is also wise. We must assume responsibility for our priorities, our decisions, and the consequences of those decisions.

Lastly, we must be willing to teach ourselves to let go of that we cannot change. We cannot be responsible as individuals for the world and the world's economy. We can only do what we can do on our own level, then let the rest go.

So difficult. We are addicted to news, to up to the millisecond computer reports, and a thought that if we are only fast enough and wise enough, we can save ourselves. Perhaps.

The greater truth is that we are not our wealth or our possessions; we are not our status in the world or the power of our armies. We are just people, little buddhas, who need to awaken.

Practice mindful attention, practice zazen, practice life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Day

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

It is early morning. The air is incredibly still. Pete-kitty has joined me on my desk and Tripper is at my feet. Shortly I will leave them for the Zendo, but for now they are wonderful furry company.

We have just completed our yearly "Days of Awe" where we open ourselves to a New Year and work hard to examine ourselves and our relationships so that we might repair them, address wrongs we might have done, and close things out so that we might begin our new year with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. Sometimes we are more successful than other times.

In Zen we chant a verse of Atonement daily. A new translation from Soto Shu says it this way:

All my past and harmful karma,
born from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion,
through body, speech, and mind.
I now fully avow.

It is very important for us as human beings to examine ourselves, to know ourselves intimately. We should know what makes us tick. We should connect the dots between thought, feeling and behavior and everything in between. We should avow these connections, see them for what they are, and forgive ourselves and others as we move through this complex and often deeply ambiguous life.

This is a daily process. One which must really be moment to moment. We should ask ourselves often how we are doing. Have we been thoughtful, kind, compassionate? Have we been courageous and stood our moral ground against oppression, discrimination, or other toxins in society?

To be human is not to sit around navel gazing: it is to be fully engaged with the universe. Its best to do this while awake.

Be well.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

High Maintenance

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In the morning, the early morning, the air has a stillness that is just so inviting to the soul. There is a clear sense of the earth having rested, settled, and in the east a rising sense of expectation. Of course these "senses" are not real, they are perceptions of a mind joined with that earth.

Perceptions are a funny thing. They come in different shapes and sizes and, more than likely, are fairly distorted by a perceiver's point of view. In Zen we work to cut through these distortions, to see as clearly as is possible what is actually there, only to discover nothing, a vast emptiness of process. Even this process is not real, it is but a mental construct, and explanation our mind offers to name what we experience.

Recently, My Little Honey and I had a few words over whether or not I was "high maintenance." It seems others who know us have commented that I am a high maintenance sort of person. I took great offense at this perception and actually was deeply hurt by it. My understanding of the phrase refers to a rather shallow, self absorbed being who demands much care and attention.

Through our discussion, though, another point of view emerged. It seems My Little Honey recognizes my needs as a person with challenges, sets herself aside, and takes care to meet my needs all without a word. This point of view suggests that high maintenance does not refer to the shallow nature of a demanding materialist, but rather to a person with special needs.

Either view is a challenge for me as I have prided myself in being able to take care of myself and steadfast refusal to seek the assistance of others. Competency is a high value in my lexicon.

Yet here it is: we are all aging, gradually loosing our abilities to be independent and in a relationship, as My Little Honey wisely points out, we should care for each other and pick up the slack for each other. We call this nurturance.

Sometimes a desire to be independent and competent is an obsession that no longer is a virtue, but rather becomes an obstacle to a loving life.

Be well.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Creation

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Clearly fall is upon us here in southern New Mexico. The early morning sky was seriously overcast as the mountains were nearly hidden in them. Lightning flashed in the pre-dawn. It has rained a coldish, miserable sort of rain and much of the landscape has that gray look that always seems to accompany a seasonal temperature drop.

I stood outside by the rock wall cleaning i-robot of this morning gatherings of dust and dog hair. It was pretty wet and nippy. Marvelous light on majestic mountains was my backdrop. Robot is recharging now and I am enjoying a little coffee. Zazen went well, if not a tad droopy. Of late, I seem to have little energy.

Here's the thing: such things come and go and I firmly believe they are tightly connected to our inner self. When we are purposeful, we feel better; when we are in motion, we feel better. The key is to have an aim and be in motion at the same time while then re-enforce the positive thoughts and feelings as they naturally arise in the process.

Today is a good day to begin. Its the beginning of a new week, I teach my last Jewish Spirituality class for this session, and the clouds are supposed to break in the afternoon.

"For you see,
We are the result of the desire of awareness,
And the prayer of the Creator,
To comprehend itself."
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Clear Mind Zendo

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Clear Mind Zendo had a crowd last night. Hmmm. Two people, Bobby and John, came up from El Paso, very gracious of them both! And two local students, Rev. Kajo and Colette, were present. My maximum seating is six including myself, so it was a good test of the Zendo to accommodate a "full house" :)

This Zendo is intended for Zen students to come and sit with me. It is not a Zen Center, per se. I do not intend on incorporating, filing church papers with the state, or any other such nonsense. It is only a place to practice zazen and touch the Dharma.

So, I woke this morning with a sense of accomplishing a purpose. We all should have an aim in our lives, not an obsession, but a direction.
Mine I suppose is to be a religious teacher to any who approach me knowing I have nothing to teach. For a student to know this he must have some basis in practice already. Zen is like that.

Be well.

Announcements: We will sit this Saturday morning at 8:00 AM as it is the first Saturday of the month. If you wish to sit with me, please call in advance to reserve a space. Also, consider attending Rohatsu sesshin the first weekend of December. We will be in retreat at the Refuge in Cloudcroft. The sesshin will begin at 7:00 PM on Friday evening on the 5th and close at noon on the 7th. Phone reservations at 575-521-3711.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Peace

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

I woke a little late this morning, passing by my wrist alarm as if it were a pesky fly. So, zazen will come after this missive. It is Wednesday. Today we sit at the peace vigil at 4:30 PM and again in the Zendo at 7:00 PM. For reasons I cannot recall other than the vague sense of family and moving issues, I have not been at the vigils for several weeks now. So, I look forward to returning to this practice. Especially now that the weather is not quite as hot. Besides, this is a new year for me and an opportunity to re-commit to peace action.

Peace is a tricky thing. Peace activists cover the waterfront from complete pacifists to those who are simply opposed to this war (the one in Iraq). Some Zen Masters might say we can be at complete peace while swiftly cutting the head off an opponent. Most others might say, surrender all violence and consider all alternatives to violent action in the cause of peace. I am somewhere in there. To not kill also means to support and defend life.

We must understand that there are those who do not believe in peace or hold it in esteem as a virtue. These are dangerous people who do not value life for itself but only life in service to a belief system, a state, or a practice. It makes no sense to surrender one's life to them in the cause of peace. On the other hand, it does not make sense to kill them either or celebrate their deaths.

We should strive to find a middle way, a path between violent action and complete surrender. A commitment to peace is a commitment to life itself. Let this be a guiding principle.

Be well.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Life As It Is

With palms together,
Good Morning and L'Shana Tova,

Last night was the beginning of the Jewish Days of Awe, the High Holy Days. Judy and I were blessed to be invited to sit at the bimah during the service as we each read parts of the liturgy. I must say, it was a wonderful experience!

I wasn't so sure I was going to be able to get through it. My body and mind do not do so well as evening approaches. We had been graciously invited to join friends at a New Year's Eve dinner celebration which began at 5:00 PM. I had taken part of my evening meds so that my leg would not go spastic during the evening service and they kicked in, masking it even more difficult for me to be both alert and physically stable. I ended up resting in my friend's study before and after the meal.

It is interesting to witness these changes in my body and mind. I used to be such a night person, often staying awake until near dawn only to go through the next day with a high degree of energy. At this point I feel good if I am able to be alert until 8:00 PM. My leg is giving out on me. I find it more and more challenging to get it to move, let alone move correctly. And so on.

Its not me I feel so much about, and I do not fear the future, what does nag at me is the sense I have that others are so worried about me. The Rabbi last night made spoke to me after the service saying he would try to have me be more involved in the mornings. My friends are understanding, but I see concern in their eyes and hear it in their voices. I have always been such an independent cuss. And this independence and desire to take care of myself has been good for me, but not always so good for those around me. I do not easily ask for help, and am not as gracious as I would like to be in receiving help.

Life is as it is: I do not prefer it to be otherwise. I would like to be free to chose to accept or decline a task or an invitation rather than have it taken from me by the concern of others. Yet, I know this will not always be possible: we cannot control other's feelings or need to be of help.

In the end, I have great faith in my practice and my ability to be flexible, although these are not always so readily apparent to those closest to me. These challenges are offering me many practice opportunities. I am sure each of you have such opportunities, as well.

May we each be waves at one with the water we are, and in this way, be peace even in the midst of a storm.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Moon in a Dew Drop

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Koans are an interesting form of Zen practice. In the Soto school, we do not use them very much, but there are many Soto teachers who are also trained in the Rinzai sects' methods and use them more extensively. Master Loori of Zen Mountain Monastery in New York state comes to mind. Soto's reluctance to train with koans is not to be taken as dogma. Master Dogen himself was thoroughly conversant with the various koan collections and, indeed, created a collection himself. Master Dogen founded the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism.

What we should not do is replace koan practice with shikantaza. Shikantaza, the practice of just sitting, is foundational to our way. Sitting with a koan in mind is not shikantaza. On the other hand, we have ample opportunity throughout our day to examine life itself: the most profound of koans. And everywhere it presents itself to the mind that sees.

Master Dogen had a phrase, 'moon in a dew drop'. This phrase penetrates deeply the true state of things. Consider it. Is the moon in the dew drop or not?

Be well.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Zazen, the Pause that Refreshes

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Ancient traditions have us practice zazen several times daily. I suppose the old ones, beggars that they were, had little else to do! Today we sit often zazen begrudgingly. We feel as though we steal time from activities or loved ones in order to gather ourselves together in a Zendo just to be still. So precious do we feel our actual presence in everything actually is! Oy.

So, sit zazen we must. Learning to take the time to bring ourselves to a stillpoint, allowing the universe to continue without our hustle and bustle, is incredibly important. Such a stillpoint is the seat of the Infinite. In this stillpoint we open like flowers and receive. It is very nurturing.

Not only do we receive, but we offer, as well: we offer our peace, love, and compassion, all rolled up into one practice, the practice of zazen.

In the quiet of the morning, it is good to sit zazen. In the quiet of the late evening is a good time to practice zazen. At odd times during the day, perhaps at your desk, in your sofa, at your kitchen counter: take just a few breaths with eyes half closed. This sort of thing is a real pause that refreshes. As the pause brings us back to ourselves and our true nature.

May you each be a blessing in the universe!

A Good Week!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What to Do!

With palms together,


Strong Zen: we are now wireless and untethered from a hard-line to the laptops, but one of our phone jacks is inoperable. Thank goodness for wireless, walkaround, phones. So, our bedroom is a maze of wires and blinking lights, but I am able to sit at the desk in the living room and write to you.

This was a several day, many continuous hour process. I am pleased that it is over, but also pleased that we managed to get through it with a minimum of serious stress.

I look forward to getting back to short dialog and daily posts.

I was studying koan case Number 36 in the Gateless Gate collection translated and commented upon by Senzaki roshi outside on the patio this morning in the pre-dawn hours. The case is entitled, Meeting a Master on the Road.

Gaso said, "When you meet a Zen master on the road, you cannot say speak, you cannot remain silent. What will you do?

Dear Zen students, what is your answer?

Be well.

Monday, September 22, 2008

To Be a Better Person

With palms together,Good Morning everyone,

Today brings a new day. Fresh with possibility to make ourselves better people in each moment. What is a "better" person? One who is good? What's that? One who cares about others? What's that? Terms like these beg the question of right living. We say better but only understand it dualistically: better than I was, perhaps, or better than others perhaps, or better as opposed to worse, meaning what? More good than bad? What does that mean? These are all references to relative standards. Usually relative to some Absolute we imagine or read about or are taught.

Some say we just need look at the Torah or Bible to find the good, the rules of conduct that will bring us closer to God. These are the "deontologists" of the world who see right in following a set standards of rules. Yet, opponents of this ethical point of view will quickly point out the difficulties of rule based ethics: they are typically relative to a particular culture, they are often difficult if not impossible to apply fairly in given situations, but worst of all, they reify good. That is to say, they make good a rigidly defined thing in an extremely fluid world.

So, when we look deeply into the nature of things we see no absolute standard, save change. Everything changes. In this context, what would it mean to make oneself a "better" person? Oh those pesky koans!

Be well.
PS, Going around the cycle of good and bad with Qwest. Maybe we'll have a telephone and Internet sometime in my lifetime :)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Still Not Online

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We still have no Internet or telephone at the new house. It seems that the house line is not connected to the rest of the world. I assume this is a temporary setback. It took a lot of Zen to get through that setback. :)

Anyway, I have a few changes to make to Clear Mind Zen's weekly schedule.

First, the Zendo is open to my formal students only on a daily (M-F) basis at 5:30 AM to sit with me as we practice morning zazen.

Second, I am changing the public Thursday evening zazen practice period to Wednesday evening at 7:00 to 8:30 PM.

Third, I will host a monthly half day Zazenkai on Saturday morning from 9:00 AM t 12:00 PM. This will occur on the first Saturday of each month except those months involving sesshin.

Please call the night before to let me know if you are coming to any of these opportunities to practice with me.
I hope to be online at the beginning of the week sometime. Until then, /\

Be well.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Well Worn Paths

With palms together,Good Morning Everyone,
This morning I am back at Daihoji Refuge. I drove through a raging rain storm coming up the mountain, but arrived safely and this morning it appears less cloudy. I woke at 5:30, started a fire in the cook stove, lit my candle and incense, and sat zazen. One of the pleasures of a day, to brings things to a stop and just listen.
Just before I woke, I had a thought, "If you don't like ritual, try driving without a road." I rolled over and wrote it down in my journal. In truth, I've done both and a road is much better. I wonder were the thought came from in the first place? I have been resisting ritual off and on for some time, favoring a much wider application of mindfulness practice, but including short periods of zazen, morning prayers, reciting the Sh'ma, etc.
I remember being a kid and walking through meadows where others had made a path before me. We used to call them "deer paths." There was something wonderful about these paths: pressed dirt, just narrow enough for your body to go between the flowers. We knew we were going somewhere, but were not entirely sure where. Ritual offers us such well-beaten paths. The wheels roll easier. We do what is familiar. The familiarity resonates. And though we travel these paths daily, we are never quite sure where they will take us.
May we each begin a trek down such a path today.
Be well.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cloudcroft

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

The mountains are a delightful mix of sun and cloud with raindrops falling from time to time. I have been steady at work on getting my book edited. The process is, well, good practice. I am using one single year of my teishos from December to December and editing each of them. They are from my great year of transitions from Zen Center to Clear Mind Zen to streetZen with a twist of Zen Judaism. As you each know by now, my teaching typically begins with a few details in my life and moves out from there. I see this as an experiential application of Zen and an unfolding of my own story in the process.

There will come a time when I will need to present to a publisher a market. I was wondering if any of you could write a short note back to me as regards your willingness to purchase such a book. You are, of course, NOT obligated. But I will keep all such notes and use them to persuade a publisher that there might be a market for this book.

As to my day to day: I have taken on a monastic practice. I get up early, practice zazen, prepare tea, clean, then work. Afternoon practice period, lunch, clean, then work. I go to bed pretty much at sunset after evening zazen. This is a good cycle for me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

And, of course, if you are in the neighborhood of the Refuge, please feel free to drop in!

May you each be a blessing in the universe.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Begin and Be

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

The best way to begin a disciplined spiritual practice is to actually begin. We can read about such practices all day and night, but until we actually begin, we are no where. Of course, in a manner of speaking, there is no beginning and no end. In truth we are all involved in a spiritual practice and will be until the day we die. We may not be aware of it, we may not be very disciplined about it, but we are involved with every breath we take.

Yet, a true, disciplined spiritual practice, a practice that opens one's heart to the Infinite, is a practice that requires a commitment and a practice.

So, what does it mean to begin a disciplined spiritual practice? It might mean setting a daily time for meditation. This meditation might be seated or walking or even lying down. It might mean deciding to light the sabbath candles at sunset on Fridays. It might mean the we decide to recite the morning prayers from the siddur. Or we could recite blessings through the day, taking note of all the wonder in our lives. In the end, the commitment to a disciplined spiritual practice is a commitment to mindful living.

As we sip our tea or coffee, we should take a breath and settle down enough to actually sip that beverage, experience it as if we've never tasted such a thing before. When we walk, we could deliberately slow the pace, feel our feet touch the floor or ground, sense its resistance to our weight. As we sit down we can feel our body as it comes to rest, filling the space of the chair or sofa. Every moment in every place offers us an opportunity to be awake.
It is our responsibility to be open to it.

Be well

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It Takes a Community

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Apparently it rained overnight as we woke to raindrop spattered windows and high humidity. Clouds are hanging on the mountains. In spite of this overwhelming beauty, we have decided not to go for our morning walk. Both of us have a busy day today. We will be at Temple Beth El assisting with the Open House. The Religious School, the Academy, the Sisterhood, the Mensch Club, the Board and Rabbi, will all be present to welcome individuals and families to our community. We are both excited.

Community is so important. We cannot live our lives as rugged individualists, as romantic as it might sound. We are human beings and we require community to maintain and refine our humanity. Our schools, churches, mosques and synagogues, community centers, parks and recreation centers, are all human communities established not only to nurture us, educate us, entertain us, distract us, but to humanize us, as well. We cannot be full and complete human beings without community. Isolation helps us to look inward, community helps us look outward. Some of resist this outward glance. We do not want to feel obliged to modify our behavior, meet standards, or otherwise have our lives channeled by others. We would rather live in the fantasy that we are individuals, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and living with our own two feet planted firmly on the ground. Yet it takes a world of human beings living in various communities to make this fantasy a reality, thus it is no reality at all.

Since we have moved down from the Mountain Refuge, we have learned to open ourselves to community. And community has responded likewise: a blessing. I feel all of us are more fully human, enriched, and uplifted in the process. Study, prayer/meditation, and acts of lovingkindness do not exist in a vacuum,. It takes a community.

Be well.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Life is Change

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Our living room is looking very strange. Paintings that once adorned the walls are stacked now against them, boxes are stacked with markers telling us to what part of our house they belong. The kitchen has been packed. The library has been packed. The bathrooms have been packed. We are left with the odds and ends necessary to continue to live in this condo until Tuesday when son Jason arrives to move in. Over this weekend we hope to move the boxes and the furniture to the garage, then on Monday we will thoroughly clean the place.

Our new house will not be ready for a few weeks yet. So we will be living in Jacob's apartment in Old Mesilla for that time. The house is looking good, though. The stucco is done. The tile floors are pretty much done. The kitchen cabinets are nearly finished. The interior has been painted. The fireplace is done. Still to do: the rest of the tile, the carpeting, the rest of the cabinets, the granite counter tops, and all the plumbing fixtures. And lastly, the exterior tile, driveway, and partial landscaping.

My hope is that this will be our last move.

Living in the midst of transition points to the truth that nothing is certain and nothing lasts forever: we are always changing. Its just that the pace of the change is normally quite slow. But life transitions like moving, marriage, divorce, these are in your face fast. Unmistakable. We see that what we thought of as solid is not really. Its a facade we erect to create an illusion of stability. We all "know" that life itself is change, but how often are we living its truth?

Zen practice, the practice of serene reflection meditation, is a practice that considers change the very basis of life. We contemplate in stillness to realize there is no stillness, only to awaken in universal stillness. Its like finally realizing in Big Mind, there is no motion. Motion, itself, is a Small Mind phenomenon.

The so what of this is a centered acceptance of life as it actually is, changing, evolving, deveploping. There is nothing to hold on to and no reason to hold on.

Let go. Enjoy.

Be well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Appreciate Your Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

When we appreciate our lives our lives assume meaning. Appreciation requires us to stop, open, and experience. We stop our self talk, that constant chatter going on in our mind by directing our attention to something outside of ourselves, then we experience that something. We can experience with all of our sense organs: our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and mind. These organs become gates and we should practice to keep them open, not closed.

Our sense organs are conduits, not containers. We should not hold onto our experiences, try to possess them, retain, them, or even treasure them. In holding on to an experience, we deny new experience by a constant comparative process. We discriminate. We hoard. We suffer. We fail to truly appreciate.

Often we try to experience. We set out with great deliberation to have an experience. Our mind becomes charged with anticipation. And while anticipatory joy can be nice and can actually extend our experience, it can also be a cause of not actually being able to experience the thing we really set out to experience. Our anticipatory thoughts become a sort of litmus test: is this the real thing? The thing we imagined?

We experience this often when we read a new book or watch a new film. But sometimes we experience it with far more devastating consequences, such as having a baby or getting married or adopting a pet. The imagining does not meet our expectations. We suffer. Our children can suffer. Our pets become disposable.

To avoid this, we should try to keep the conduits open and selfless. We are anticipating only to experience the anticipation, not to retain it and call upon it later to test reality.

Live your life to be a blessing.

Be well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Daily Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In another day or so I will continue my brief commentary on the Faith Mind Poem. I find this poem to be a clear reminder of how we should make our lives our practice. Its a challenging life, the Zen Way. Open, flowing, without attachment, yet at the same time, in the very midst of things. We practice to love without possessing, care without concern for being cared about, and do these with no self. A tall order in a materialistic, self-absorbed culture.

This is why it is practice. No one can live it all the time and without fail. What we can do is practice to stay self-aware. This is the core of mindfulness practice. We lift a cup knowing we are lifting a cup, knowing the cup is not a cup, but just what we call a cup. We listen to others knowing we are listening to others, recognizing when our ears turn to our own thoughts and away from the person in front of us. We gently return our attention to the other.

This is excellent practice. It is a practice that can, and should, be done every moment of our waking day.

Be well.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sitting Still

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night our small group of dedicated meditators sat Zazen at Temple Beth El. We sat upright, focusing our attention on our breath, and were simply present. The sanctuary has its own sounds. Temperature changes as the sun goes down cause buckling sounds to crack and pop slicing through the silence that otherwise pervades the building.

Two periods of Zazen, one period of Kinhin. I talked about moving our Zen mind from the cushion to our relationships, how self arises to defend, agree, or parry our partner. We talked a little about how thoughts seem to race sometimes, teasing us almost, to break away from our concentration. It was an open and easy discussion. Then we went into the social hall for tea and cookies.
Earlier in the afternoon, with the sun blazing and the temperature at about 100 degrees, I sat Zazen holding a small umbrella on the sidewalk at the Federal Building. I propped my small placard, which simply reads, "PEACE" against my knee. As I sat, I heard horns "Honk for Peace" , felt the sweat bead and flow down my nose, drip off my eye brows, and fall into the dark oblivion of my samue pants. The sweat seemed to measure the minutes.

These two periods of meditation were very different. One challenged me to sit still under very adverse conditions, the other challenged me to be present and not drift away into the wonderful stillness of the Temple sanctuary. In the end, our practice is like that, we practice according to the conditions of our lives. In this way, our very lives become our practice.

Be well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Zen of Relationship

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning Judy, Eve, Allen and me hiked through the desert, a desert saturated by summer rains. I have never seen our desert so lush, green everywhere. There were grasses growing on the desert floor and flowering plants in bloom everywhere. We took a trail we don't take very often and then went up an arroyo. The arroyo was a wide swath cut wider and deeper by the recent raging water coming down from the Organ mountains. From the arroyo we bush whacked across the ridges to get back to another trail that would take us to our starting point. By the time we were done, we were really feeling the effects of rugged hiking. After a breakfast of cold cereal we talked extensively. Judy and I do this from time to time. Sometimes its pleasant, sometimes not, but in the end, we feel closer together for it.
How does Zen fit into our relationships with each other? Buddhists are often accused of being self-absorbed naval gazers. Zen is often practiced in silence, facing a wall, and is known to be quite introspective. What then is the Zen of relationships? As My Little Honey has often pointed out, "There is the Zen of everything, why don't I ever hear about relationships?"

What might be the practice principles of relational Zen?

I suspect they are similar to all Zen principles: a focus on attending to the moment, as it is, and for the activity occurring within it. It is not about blanking out or zoning out when in the middle of a stressful conversation with a loved one. Nor is it about not being upset or angry. The Zen of relationships is about our relationship to our relationship. And its about being authentic in the process.

Are we present in our relationship? Do we open ourselves to our partner? Do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable? Are we compassionate or do we close the door to our open heart as soon as the going gets tough?

I know from my point of view, a view not always shared by My Little Honey, I am a compassionate and caring person, present in the moment most of the time. But I am not always there for her and I am not always open or compassionate. The balance is not just between who and what am I there for, it goes deeper than that.

We speak of non-self, of dropping away of self, of the fact that self is itself an illusion. Yet, wherever we go, there we are. Self is present. Its our relationship to it that matters so much. When we start with self, big problem. When we start with other, also big problem. Our start and finish really must be in our relationship with everything.

When I say "I", I am including the universe within that construct. I and other are one. Maybe we should replace "I" with "we" in most of our conversations, including internal conversations. Maybe "We" Zen is the Zen of relationship. Sort of like Martin Buber's I-Thou word pair. We must consider Big Mind and Small Mind as One Mind. Just so, "I" and "You" are "We", a singularity of its own, but complete and universal.

Yet all of this comes to nothing, is mere mental masturbation, if we do not have the willingness or develop the skill to apply it.

What do you think are the skills necessary to apply the Zen of Relationship?

Be well.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Getting Through

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I see the sun shining in through sporadic cloud cover. We have been flooded with rain over the last three days beginning Friday. I hear the Rio Grande is close to cresting near El Paso. A news story suggested we had nine inches of rain in the Sacramento mountains which includes Ruidoso and Cloudcroft. Our Refuge is in the mountains east of Cloudcroft.

We shared the weekend there with two other couples, close friends of ours. Who knew it would be such a weekend! Sheets of rain all day and night over two days left the dirt road a river. We spent the weekend reading and talking, cooking and eating. One set of friends had a camper, the other set, a tent. It turns out both camper and tent sprung leaks. The second night we spent together inside the refuge. I practiced much meditation, the non-apparent kid. Sitting in a recliner focusing on just being present. I read through Thich Nhat Hahn's wonderful little book on The Energy of Prayer, as well as several chapters from a book (Brave New Judaism) on the collision between science and scripture within Judaism. I also read through a few of Suzuki Roshi's teishos in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (I keep a hardcover copy of this at the Refuge). Other people read novels and whatever else they could find in the library. We had no radio, no television, and no computer Internet connection.

When it was time to leave we discovered the west exit was blocked by a river that eclipsed the road and followed it for some fifty or sixty feet nor could anticipate the flooding along the west exit, the same single lane dirt road that winds its way through the mountains down to the main road. We were prepared to spend additional days at the Refuge, but really were feeling a bit anxious about it all. A call to the Sheriff's office by us and a neighbor's ranch was responded to by a brave young man in a big Sheriff's truck. He informed the ranch people that the size of their vehicles (horse trailers and RVs) would prohibit their exit on the west exit. He thought we had a chance of getting out and he was willing to lead us out.

Our friend, pulling a camper, got seriously stuck on the muddy bottom of the refuge near the gate. We detached the camper and the Sheriff's Deputy was able to free him from the mud. We all then proceeded very gingerly out the west exit. There were moments when I really didn't think the little Honda Fit Judy and I were driving was going to make it. Some places the dirt road was a virtual river with six to eight inches of rushing water over fifty or sixty feet in length. Very scary stuff indeed.

We are now home safe and sound. I feel a great sense of relief. Yet I also feel very good about our group of friends, none of whom panicked, all of whom gathered together to meet the challenge.

Observant Jews are obligated to recite a prayer of thanks to God after surviving a harrowing circumstance like a flood. The prayer is as follows:

Transliteration: Baruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olam Ha-go-mel Le-cha-ya-vim To-vot She-ge-ma-la-ni Tov.
Translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who bestows kindness upon the culpable, for God has bestowed goodness to me.

Zen Buddhists, on the other hand, might have a somewhat different take. We might say there is never any danger, that danger is a mental construct built from fear and anticipatory thoughts. In circumstances such as driving through flooding waters on desolate mountain roads, we should just drive. In the end was it God who got us through? The cars? The circumstances? Our driving? The Sheriff? We should recognize and appreciate all of these. We are aware that everything is One. It is our faith in ourselves, God, and this interconnected universe that can get us through.

Be well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Three Prnciples of Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This week I go to Peace Village again to offer meditation instruction and practice to the younger children. I have found that young children can practice Zazen very well for short periods. They have open minds and are willing to learn. This openness is key. It is awareness itself. To be open with no closed openings is to allow everything to flow. One of the principles of Zen is open-mindedness.

A second principle is the principle of moving from inside out. We begin our practice, that is, come to Zen, with an interest in ourselves. We wish to improve, remove an obstacle, solve a problem, find happiness. As we develop our practice we discover our deep interconnected nature, we release our interest in ourselves and open ourselves to an interest in others. We come to an awareness, a recognition, that we and others are actually one. Taking care of ourselves is taking care of others: taking care of others is taking care of ourselves. The universe is our home and we are our universe.

The third principle, then, is the principle of deep caring. Deep caring is based in an opening that allows our compassionate heart to emerge and guide us through our daily activity. This compassionate heart is our Buddha-nature. Tenderness, love, a willingness to listen: these arise from our Buddha-nature. Zazen puts us in touch with these. Mindful practice allows us to touch these.

May you each be a blessing in the universe today.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stillness

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Its a gray morning this morning. Although the temperatures are lower, the humidity is higher, and things feel close. At 7:00 AM our neighbor, who just recently moved in, rang our doorbell. She held her kitty in her arms. The cat was dead, killed by accident in her garage door. We invited her in, listened, and helped by calling until we found a local veterinary clinic that was open. We took her and her cat to the vet to have it cremated. Life is so unpredictable.

From there, Talmud class and a discussion surrounding issues related to "times of danger" when Jews were vulnerable to having their newly wed wives deflowered by local rulers. Was she obligated to kill herself or submit? Legal discussions blend with morality and ethics, culture and culture clash, through a long history closely documented and richly discussed.

And now, at home with a cup of coffee and dogs sleeping at my feet, I am looking forward to being still for awhile. I have my living room windows open, a fan on, and the light is a wonderfully muted gray. It is Shabbat. A day of rest, study and prayer. I am reading two books simultaneously. A book on Jewish ethical issues related to science and a Thich Nhat Hahn book on prayer. One balances the other. We should always be willing to reflect and consider, bringing mercy and compassion into the equation.

Whether its Zen for a few minutes a day, or Judaism with morning prayers, or Christians in prayer, time in stillness is essential to making sense of both our world and our lives. May you each build stillness into your lives.

Be well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Zen Buddhism

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Zen Buddhism is the practice of the Middle Way. A way between extremes, the practice informs us, teaches us, and frees us from greed, hatred and delusion. It is, and isn't, a religion, a philosophy, a way of life. Its a way of being in the world.

We practice Zen Buddhism in order to be at peace. We practice Zen Buddhism to be present. We practice Zen Buddhism to live.

What do Zen Buddhists believe? Whatever they want. Zen Buddhism is not about belief or worldview or cosmic conflict: its about residing in peace.

Are there articles of faith? No. There are instead principles of practice. The focus is on experiencing the truth of your life as it is in this moment.

Zen Buddhism does not focus on the past or the future.

The principles of practice are simple. On the interior, be stillness. On the exterior, stop doing evil, do good, and work to bring about good for all. How hard is that?

Be well.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Making Peace

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,
This week I go to Peace Camp each morning to conduct a morning meditation with the children attending. I am looking forward to this. It is a delight to sit with children. They are always fresh and interested in something new. Peace Camp is hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Las Cruces, but is supported by several other churches, the synagogue, and Clear Mind Zen Sangha, as well as many local organizations and businesses.

So, we will sit in the sanctuary and be still. Starting the day with attention to our breath. We will make a vow to bring peace into the universe by making ourselves the very peace we desire.

I encourage each of you to sit in peace this morning then to get up from your cushions and make peace in the world.

Be well.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Life As It Is

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

To practice Zazen is to practice enlightenment itself. We take our seat with complete deliberation. We sit down, gather ourselves together, assume he cosmic mudra and remain present. This being upright, being present, is the heart of practice. It is life itself. In this practice there is no reliance on anything but your own willingness to stay in the moment. No text, no sutra, no mantra, no mandala: just this: life as it is.

In this presence, everything opens. The mind is not processing, appearance comes and goes. Sounds come and go, as do feelings and all other senses. Nothing gets stuck, everything flows.

When we look back on this experience we see its cosmic implication. If we are willing to set aside the "I", life itself can be seen clearly for what it is, a continuous, unfolding process. Our "I" is like a dam constructed to halt the flow. We want to keep this slice of the process, this life as it is. But stopping the process is impossible and our thoughts that we can an illusion.

Practicing Zazen teaches us to let go.

What enters when everything opens? Life itself. The Infinite. And in this moment we see how naming is counter-productive, even futile. The Infinite, the Absolute, Jesus, Allah, Big Mind...all are weak constructs that when used close us off to the actuality of experience. Buddhists try to avoid discussions of what this is. Jews rely on no-name names like "Ha Shem" (the name) to point without describing. Both focus on practice rather than belief

We are left with practice.

I invite each of you to take up this practice regardless of your religion. Zazen will not only deepen your relationship to the universe, but open your heart to it.
Be well.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Everyday

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I woke to the need to drive to the store to buy coffee. It seems we used the last of our coffee last night. Early morning store runs are always interesting. The grocery is just opening, few shoppers, clean floors, the beginnings of hustle and bustle. I chose a dark roast by Folgers, something called Black Silk. I am no coffee expert, clearly. I like ordinary coffee and avoid Starbucks altogether. We'll see how this new stuff tastes.

When we lived in the Refuge and made coffee in a stove top percolator, the aroma of the cedar woodfire seemed to add something to the coffee. And for the longest time we used a small French press here in the city, but my son recently bought us some sort of super duper coffee maker and now we are in the modern age.

I am not so sure the modern age is all its cracked up to be. Labor saving devices make us fat and lazy. Further, and most importantly, they take us away from the nature of the processes, divorcing us, if you will, from nature itself. When I was young, changing the channel on the television meant getting up and walking to the TV to manually turn the dial. And when I was really young, visiting my grandfather, our TV was the front porch of his farm house. Degrees of separation. Today we hardly move to entertain ourselves. It is truly a question as to whether this is an advancement.

The Zen way is the way of involvement in the process. Mindful attention to detail. When we make the coffee, even in a new, modern, coffee maker, we should be aware of the feel and smell of the coffee as we scoop it from the can. We should remind ourselves of the many hands and lives that went into bringing that coffee and the coffee maker to us. In this way we re-connect ourselves to the larger world, even to the universe itself.

In the Zen way, the everyday becomes our prayer.

Be well.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Enjoy the Everyday

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We so often look for wonder in the big places, the edge of the Grand Canyon, some mountain peak, the completion of a grand dream like running a marathon, and while these are wondrous to be sure, to seek wonder solely in them often blinds us to the wonder in the ordinary. We often here people say, 'what's so special' about this or that. We hear people talk with dreamy eyes about planned adventures, sometimes to exotic places, and I feel good for them, but at the same time, sad.

Each and every day has its wonder. We wake in the morning to see a sun rise. We see the darkness turn to light. We hear the world wake up. My Little Honey brings me a cup of coffee. It tastes really good. I watch Tripper as he dances in dogged excitement waiting for his turn to go outside and smell the world. Ordinary wonders.

As we sit in the stillness of Zazen, we begin to notice the details of the moment. These details are often obscured in everyday life by the sheer volume and variety of activity in our lives. How does my back feel just here, or my toes feel as they begin to go to sleep ten minutes into Zazen? How do I witness my response to thoughts or feelings as I sit without physical response, except to return to my breath? We might hear a clock tick or the air flow through the ducts in our building. On one level, the wonders of life go on with or without our involvement.

Yet it is equally true that there is no wonder in life without us. In a sense, we add wonder to our experience. And therein lies the problem: we become addicts. What we need isn't so much wonder, big or small, but rather, appreciation. Our practice isn't the seeking of wonder, but appreciating the actual moment. No special trips necessary.

When we appreciate, deeply appreciate, each moment, a moment becomes eternal.

Be well.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Just Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The sun rises over the mountains in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I often sit with it as it does. Its a marvelous transformation of night into day, sleep to awake, and stillness to motion. We appreciate both the stillness and the motion. Eventually we come to realize they are one.

The Zen of stillness is the Zen of being seated while the world swirls around us. The Zen of motion is the Zen of being the world swirling. Awake we know there is just Zen.

Be well.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Libertarian Food for Thought

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

I just read a study at livescience.com which reported that happiness in the world in increasing. The happiest, Denmark. The unhappiest, Zimbabwe. The United States ranks 16th.

The researcher, Ronald Inglehart of The University of Michigan, says, "The results clearly show that the happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives."

In a survey released last week, pointed to one reason the US is not closer to the top: Baby Boomers are generally miserable compared to other generations.

The livescience articles adds, "Further, a public opinion poll released by the Pew Research Center in April found that 81 percent of Americans say they believe the country is on the "wrong track." The response is the most negative in the 25 years pollsters have asked the question."

Link

Maybe we are finally getting the point that an open society is a living, dynamic, and happy thing. Efforts to make people follow this or that path are just efforts to close a system. We all know what happens to closed systems, don't we? They die.

Be well.

Monday, June 30, 2008

To be Worth Our Salt

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There are sixteen vows to being a Zen Buddhist. They are: Vow to take Refuge in the Buddha, Vow to take Refuge in the Dharma, Vow to take Refuge in the Sangha. Vow to Cease Doing Evil, Vow to Do Good, Vow to Bring About Good for all Beings, Vow not to kill, Vow not to steal, Vow not to misuse sex, Vow not to lie, Vow not to intoxicate the mind, Vow not to gossip, Vow not to elevate oneself at the expense of others, Vow not to be greedy, especially with the Dharma, Vow not to indulge in anger, Vow not to speak ill of the Three Treasures.

It is important to note that these vows are both positive and negative. We must not only vow to not kill, but also affirm life, for example. A religious life is not simply rule based, however. A religious life is a life devoted to being awake. From a Big Mind perspective, what is killing? What is supporting life? This planet is but an infinitesimal speck in an expanding, boundless universe. There is no number for the number of planets, stars, and celestial material. As Dr. Carl Sagan pointed out in his Varieties of Scientific Experience religion to be worth its salt must account for this vastness and the essentially small part of the vast universe we occupy.

Solar systems and galaxies are constantly being born and dying; just as the complex human body is born and dies. Yet, we say, in Zen, there is no birth and death. We say this because we often speak from Big Mind, the mind of the Infinite.

So, we accept life and death are both cycles, like the in-breath and the out-breath, but that the names we give them are not them, themselves. Living and dying are ultimately processes of eternal life, eternal life on a vastness of scale we cannot imagine. So, how do we reconcile the particular? If death is a part of life, just this, then why not die, kill, or otherwise not worry about it?

This is a koan for each of us.

Be well.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Pins and Needles

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I plan to meet my son in Old Mesilla for a bike ride. I have taken the last four days off from exercise in order to recover from a tweak in a hip muscle and an inflammation of my skin disorder (chronic folliculitis). I took a Zyrtec to relieve the terrible itching and it pretty much knocked me out for two days. Now the Zyrtec has worn off, I have some energy, and the itch is steadily returning.

I often sit with this itch. I watch it as what feels like pins stick my skin and remain there for awhile. I watch my response. Most of the time I float with it. When I am not mindfull, however, yikes, I scratch it...not good. Like a lion the thing roars. More follicles get inflamed and I am desperately searching for something to calm it down. These things used to be on my neck. I now have some on my forearm. They seem to be getting better overall. Fewer follicles are subject. But those two or three...goodness.

I sometimes am able to be thankful for them. Like sometimes I'm thankful that My Left Foot is what it is. This thankfulness is about appreciating being called to the present moment. Its a deliberate effort to come into alignment. Nothing wakes someone up like stumbling in front of people or having a flame war going on on your skin. Its when I start feeling sorry for myself that things go downhill.

We each have our issues, don't we? Some of us are in wheelchairs. Some have visual impairments. Some have hearing loss. Some are lost in nostalgia and fearful of the next day. What matters most, in my opinion, isn't the issues. Issues are part of the human condition. What matters most is our attitude toward them.

When we deal with issues directly, no problem. If my arm itches, it is my wishing it wouldn't itch, that's the real problem. That desire to be free from suffering causes the scratching, the medication taking, and the emotional irritation. When I am mindful, noticing the pins, I just wash the affected area, put something on it, place my attention back on my breath or whatever activity I was involved in, and the itch loses its power. This is Zen practice.

Zen practice is internal. It is how we orient our minds, hearts, and bodies to be in our environment as one.
Be well.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Fresh Face

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There is a sense of history being made, a turning of a corner in the United States with this election. Senator Obama's youthful, happy face and focus on change, the vibrant primaries with a very strong, very smart woman who ran a terrific campaign for the nomination for president, and on the other side a tired old man treading over the same old stories, supporting the same old industries, big businesses, and wars. In a word, its unsettling.

I like Senator McCain. I think he is a man of character. He fought for his country when many chose not to, was a prisoner of war for years, and yet had the willingness and fortitude to work with his previous captors to bring an end to hostilities post Vietnam War. Like John Kerry, he chose a career in politics to give something back to his country. Both men have been maligned in their careers by political opportunists and operatives.

Yet, here's the thing. Senator McCain is not the man of the hour. This is not his decade. He's in the wrong party, fighting for the wrong side of causes, and in nearly every photo opportunity, he appears tired.

We need a fresh face in America. Nearly eight years of idiocy, abysmal foreign policy, and a trashing of our constitution to address political agendas have wounded us deeply. Our economy is in the trash can, our housing market through deregulated craziness and market greed, is threatening to destroy the American dream, and oil...well just fill up that SUV and feel the hit on your overused plastic. We need a fresh face in America.

The religious and spiritually inclined people of the United States have, according to a recent Pew poll, a sense of openness and mutual respect of other religions...with a few exceptions. We must see past the abuses of the religious right to honor each of us as children of God, whether that God is Adonai, Allah, Jesus, or simply, the Infinite.

Moreover, we the religious and spiritually inclined people of the United States have an obligation to bring about social change for the good of all. As religious people our focus is always on the greater good of the community. We address the social ills, the inequities, and the disgraces of greed, illness, war, and other forms of violence. We must focus on what brings us together as human beings rather than on the insidious issues that break us apart.

It is time to engage our communities in ways we have not been willing to do. We need to hold ourselves responsible and accountable for the mess we are in and, as a result, build a better world.

Be well.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Do Nothing Club

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The day is finally overcast. Clouds are offering us shade from a brilliant and hot summer southwestern sun. This morning we rose early to meet some friends at our new house under construction. The wall framing is up and we did a tour of the house. Its wonderful. From there we went to a yard sale, then on to our friend's home where My Little Honey served up a coffee cake she baked last night. We had a stimulating conversation where I showed myself a bit. Hmmm. Sometimes we need to vent a-little, I suspect. No worries.

So, home now I am faced with a day open and free...the kind I like. This evening we will go to Rabbi Kane's for Shabbat dinner. In between I will sometime do a run (or walk) and a weight workout with a swim (perhaps) to cool off. I also plan to draw out the presentation of my book club selection for Sunday. And still have time for nothing.

Having time for nothing is essential to us all, in my humble opinion. We have far too little time for nothing in this day and age. Everyone multitasks, keeps to schedules packed, sometimes over stuffed, with things to do and few have open expanses of time to do nothing.

Its in do nothing time that our creative energies begin to emerge. We are so often far too consumed with matters of consequence to be in touch with them, yet there they are just beneath the surface. I am convinced earlier ages were far richer because of this. Open expanses of time to do nothing... no TV, no radio, no computers... just this, encountering oneself in the natural world, are essential to our well-being.
Fellow meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests we get down on the floor at least once a day. He suggests that such a change in vantage point, coupled of course, with the obvious doing nothing, I am adding does wonders.

Perhaps we should start a new club, the Do Nothing Once a Day club. I'll be the first charter member.

See ya!

Be well.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Zazen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

On the Zen list there has been some discussion of sitting and stretches for sitting. For those of you who have access to Three Pillars of Zen, please consult the excellent advice in the back of the book. Posture, whether seated in a chair or on a cushion is critical. Some, oddly enough, such as the unorthodox Brad Warner, are strong proponents of the full lotus. Others argue that any position is OK as long as the back is upright. Still others, Jon Kabat-Zinn comes to mind, suggest that any comfortable position, including lying down, is good.

I do not favor the notion that position should be comfortable. Our purpose at Zazen is not to be comfortable, not to "zone out", go to some altered state of consciousness, or any other pleasant place. Our aim to to be awake, not feeling good. The lotus and half lotus position offers tremendous stability; the cushion offers the proper cant to the hips so that our knees are thrust down as our bellies are extended out and our backs arched so that our shoulders are open and we can breathe freely.

If using a chair, and most of my hitbodedut (Jewish meditation) students use chairs at the synagogue, we should try to sit on the forward third of the seat with our backs NOT resting. Knees should be shoulder width apart and feet planted solidly on the floor. The feeling should be one of stability: we sit like a mountain.

Our aim is to be fully and completely present without engaging any thing, any thought, any feeling, any noise, or any smell. We notice and return to our breath. Nothing more; nothing added.

I cannot stress enough the importance of daily zazen practice. It is eternal life.

Be well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Notes from the Mundane

With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

This morning we clicked on Robbie the Robot to sweep the floors. As Robbie was doing his (or is it, her(?) thing, I went down to the hundred year dam and did a speed workout through the grove beside it. Ended up doing two miles with 4 x 0.10 mile repeats. We then went to the audiologist and My Little Honey was fitted with new hearing aids! She now notices every sound including our kiss (she just left to have lunch with the ladies).

I am busily preparing for our Temple book club this Sunday. It is my turn to lead the discussion and I selected a book by Rabbi Karyn Kedar entitled, God Whispers: stories of the soul, lessons of the heart. The book is a collection of her reflections as a rabbi working with people. Its the sort of thing I write, actually. Stories of real life used as lessons for myself and perhaps others.

Writing is a great way to clarify. The act of putting words on paper...or in this case, a computer screen...is an act of simultaneous creation and organization. One must put thoughts together so they make sense and at the same time are both interesting and challenging for the reader. I sometimes wonder if I ever make sense. Maybe making sense is not optimal, I don't know. Rabbi Kedar suggests at one point that we must "expand our boundaries". By this she means we should not let artificial limits cut off our choices. I thought of comedian George Carlin as I re-read through that section recently. Carlin had a way of seeing outside the box that made the box itself an exemplar of our limits. He used this skill to great advantage as he just went right through the limits.

However, we cannot always do this and pushing limits must be intelligent and purposeful. Too often people act out just because they can, setting aside the question of whether they should or not. Not good enough. Civilization suffers. Still, we must get out of our habits of thinking, feeling, and seeing, as only then are truly new possibilities open to us.


Well, I now have to clean the bamboo flooring with wood cleaner...an easy job, and then get back to my book.

Be well.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Life Itself is the Verb

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

When we say, "Just this!" we point to the field of deep interdependence and oneness. Just this, the moment we see clearly, the moment the point is understood as both one and many, where near and far, birth and death, fall away, is also the moment to get off our butts and do something.

Awakening is just to open one's eyes; living is to be alive with those eyes open.

As living beings awake to the true nature of reality, we see what is to be done and we do it. There is no real room for should, would, or could. Oneness is seamless. No subject; no object: life itself is the verb.

If we want to live in peace, we just live in peace. Inner and outer are one. No separation. Separation is illusion. A mind at peace with doing is at peace, period.

One might say, but what if killing needs to be done? What if people are causing harm? An awakened person addresses such people with compassion, understanding such people are acting out of an interest to be free from suffering. They are taking short-cuts and creating suffering in the process. We model a peaceful, non-violent, and compassionate way. We know that as we are non-violent, the world is offered the gift of non-violence. It is very important to take a long view of this. In the short term many non-violent people may suffer at the hands of violent folk, but we see a trend, an evolution of sensibility and ethics, if you will, that points in the direction of enlightened living.

While we know something may be harmful, we may not yet be ready to stop doing it...but we do know better! This knowing is a seed that can be watered. As a global human culture, we are moving quickly together...some, especially the fundamentalist and conservative, kicking and screaming, into a progressive future, but we are evolving.

Be well.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Transitions

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night we attended our synagogue's annual Gala. It was our first...we are not really fancy party people...but, after last night, I can tell you, it will not be our last. Moreover, since I am now a board member, a page must be turned and I will have to do things I'm not necessarily comfortable with. This event is a fundraiser for the Temple and contributes mightily to our annual budget. Tickets are pricey and there is a large silent auction of donated gifts.

As we arrived, the wind was blowing very badly. The event was to be held outside under two large tents with the auction held inside. We have been having days of clear skies and triple digit temps so we anticipated being baked as we ate and danced and bid on gifts. Not so. Instead, the sky decided to develop massive clouds, thunder and lightening and, of all things, rain. Everyone in their finery were either windblown or rained on...so we hustled inside, moved the sanctuary chairs and brought in the tables from the tents! It was a close fit, but actually rather intimate.

After eating tons of delicious hors dourves, and great entrees, bidding, and great conversation, the rains let up (as did the lightening), so the band set up and we all went outside to dance under the stars. Judy and I went home around nine...I can't stay up much past that...and so we didn't see if we were successful on our bids. We'll see.

Anyway, I was thinking about turning pages. How difficult it is to move on from a past place to a new, uncharted place. One of the more challenging points in life to transition is from one role to another, such as in retirement or in a change of professions. I have gone from being a religious leader in my own right to a participant with no real expertise. To move from leader to member can be a challenge as we are used to being looked to, used to taking charge, and used to having answers. As a plain congregant, the situation is much different. I go to Temple and am often lost in the Hebrew, the liturgy, as it moved from one point to another. When to stand, when to sit, when to bow, when to rise up on our heels...a myriad of subtle and sometimes not so subtle liturgical events.

In Zen Centers the word is hushed silence, a turning inward, and long periods of sitting zazen. There I am "Roshi," a Zen Master. In synagogue, I am just Harvey, and the word is loud, with song, and in what amounts to a very strange and foreign language. I go from silence to making joyful noises to the Lord; I go from knowing myself as no self to knowing nothing and learning each day. I go from standing in front to sitting as close to the back as possible.

But here's the thing: the page is turned.

I must learn how to be a simple congregant. I must learn how to approach the daily life of a Jew as a simple Jew. Now, the good news is that this is exactly what Zen teaches us. To approach our lives in the most plain and simple and direct way possible. As I have been, and continue to be, a willing student of Zen; so to I will now be a willing student of Judaism and congregational membership.
As I open my zendo to others when our new home is completed, I will be a better Zen teacher as I will truly have nothing to teach.

Be well.