Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Unattached and Non-Resistant

In Zen we talk about no self and freedom from suffering, but what are these things? What is no self, really, and why are we suffering from a self? In order to answer these questions we must seek for them through our experience or else they are just nihilistic terms that have no actual weight in the reality of our everyday lives. We must embody the everyday reality in order to realize no self and no suffering.

When I talk about Raw Mind I say that it is all inclusive. This means that there is nothing to experience as self and nothing to experience as not self. This does not mean that there is no experience. If there were nothing to experience than there would be no reason to do zazen and no reason for us to say anything about freedom at all. It is true that there is nothing to learn in Zen but this doesn't mean that there is nothing to unlearn.

I spend a lot of my time in zazen unlearning. I heard that Master Rinzai said zazen is nothing more than untying knots and breaking down barriers. Last March while I was in Florida for retreat I was able to get there a day early and have day of zazen to myself. Afterwards I met with Sensei and we discussed my day. I told him that I was working with doubt all day. When he asked me what I meant by doubt I told him that I meant a sort of self doubt. A way of experience that fundamentally says,"I doubt I am that, I doubt I am this." I don't actually hear a voice or notice a thought that tells me this, rather I recognize that it's ultimately what I'm experiencing on an unconscious level. I can tell this by my karma. Now the word karma means action. So what I mean is that when something arises in zazen, say a sensation or a thought, a corresponding action wants to arise. This is an indication of the way I am experiencing my zazen. The action is motivated by an emotion which is fueled by an idea or concept. Which is why we experience pain and tension in zazen when we are emotional. It is these ideas and concepts which create separation, which create a separate self. Thus we can say it is the wheel of karma that keeps us suffering time and time again. Maybe now it is a little clearer why JUST sitting, or non action is the way out of the the wheel of karma. By working with karma I am ultimately working with doubt which means I am letting go of the notion of a limited separate self.

It is very interesting to see how this plays out in relationships. It is one thing to be one with the sound of a temple bell but another to be one with another human being. Recently my father had a stroke. One would think that my dominate emotion in this situation would be one of concern or maybe some fear. But if I am honest I will say that is was anger that was dominate. Because of my practice I was able to get close to my anger and examine it to see what the root was. Of course there was the reasoning that said," It's his fault. He doesn't take care of himself. For only being 60 yrs. old and already having three strokes!?!?!?! He sure is in bad shape." All this reasoning just made me more angry and wasn't helping with anything. It's funny actually, the only time we can reason with something is when it has already happened in one way or another. So it never really helps with anything rather it tries to change the way we feel about it. Which is exactly what it was doing for me in this case. I didn't want to feel this instance with my father. I didn't want to change the way I felt about him. The anger I felt towards my father was a resistance which kept his vulnerability from penetrating my being. I didn't want to be vulnerable. After he was released from the hospital I was able to speak with him on the phone. By the mere sound of his voice I was then able to allow him in and I became vulnerable. This is when I was able to just love him for who he is and the situation he is in. No judgments and no reason.

Suffering is the inability to embody a given moment due to the self and its reason, ideas and concepts. No Self is the shedding of these reasons, ideas and concepts which throw us into an automatic emergence with the present moment, thus freeing us from the suffering of our inflexibility. No Self is definitely something though you cannot put your finger on it and suffering is that which points the finger.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Everything is a Koan

I am between gates at this point of my practice. I have finished a list of koans, and am sitting without koans for three months before starting on the Mumonkan. This period has left me to reflect on what the practice of koans really is. I have felt a sense of accomplishment from solving them, and I have had some eye openers. I have acquired a certain way of looking at things in order to answer them. The question is, can I make this skill applicable? Can I see the natural koans arising within each moment?

To work with a koan, one learns to drop the story of it. The story that is evoked from logic, which is based on dualism. In short, the ego perspective. The ego perspective is not wrong, just incomplete, or out of balance. Each one of us has our own story, and this can be quite beautiful. It can also be full of pain and suffering. Even if it is not so bad, comparatively, if left out of balance it is bound for suffering. The reason for this is because the ego is limited, and small. This feeling of limitation leads to the need to be in control. In control of what? In control of reality. Everything has its place, has its role to play. If a shift begins, which always does, then this egocentric perspective is threatened. This is caused by the sense of identity being fixed on a moment in time, of which is gone. We need to allow the ego to pass away and be reborn again in a new light. We must learn to look at things a different way in order for this balance, this awakening to occur. Therefore we have the practice of koans.

The Raw Mind perspective is all inclusive due to the fact that it does not have a fixed sense of self. It is amazing to me, when doing zazen, how the ego is constantly grasping on to each object as it arises, and letting go can be very difficult. I remember when I was working on Mu. One night after a sitting, I went to bed. After being asleep for awhile I suddenly woke up, and the ego had completely let go. Well maybe not completely, but enough for me to truly loose my sense of identity. I was everything that crossed my mind. My sense of self was floating around so fast that I really had no idea who I was. Then this huge feeling of fear came up. I quickly gained "control" of the situation and was able to calm down. Later I discussed this with my teacher. "It was like having an identity crisis", I said. "Zen is the ultimate identity crisis", he said. Eventually I have learned to sort ask the ego permission to let go. After all I do not want to get rid of the ego, just balance out the perspective. This has completely changed the way I sit. It can be very nice. When I hear the clock ticking, I am ticking. The chirping of a bird, I am chirping. There is no need for anything to be any different. There is nothing more to see, and that's the beauty of it. There is truly nothing else to find out. Everything is perfect.

My marriage, my job, friendships, the car I drive, my income, a cup of coffee. These are all koans, I am a koan. They all threaten to cloud me with doubt, yet all are speaking the dharma.
When looked at through the eyes of doubt........ "I want more, or I need less." The Raw Mind just sees. When they're here, they are here. When they are gone, they're gone. No lamentation or lust. Why would you lust after yourself anyway? This is not to say I wouldn't be sad if my wife was gone, but that I don't want anymore from her than she is. I would be sad. I would be so sad that I would be happy being sad. Whats wrong with being sad?

Koans show me what I already have, what I already am. The practice of koans reject all doubt.
Which results in freedom. The freedom to laugh. The freedom to cry. The freedom to love.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One and Two

How often do we find ourselves stuck in a way of perceiving a thing, others or self? Certainly it helps to see the deficiency of my bank account if it motivates my to get to work or ask for that raise I have been long overdue for. Perhaps it also would be beneficial to be content with my financial status if I become obsessed about it. It would even better if we had the freedom to use both sides of the coin when ever we deemed necessary. When I say both sides of the coin I am not secluding myself to my bank account. I am also referring to the way we view the entire universe. And when I say view, I am not meaning an idea or belief. I'm not talking about a fake way of existence. I mean something we can feel, something we can be.

From the moment we are born, the moment we become separate, we long to reconnect to our empty nature, our unborn state, yet we cry and claim our indiviDUALITY. Nothingness is constantly calling for us and yet answering sustains the ego. We may then say that one is not two and two is not one, but this is a misunderstanding. We may go on to say that duality comes from unity or that unity is only possible through duality. Again this is not true understanding.

Here is a Poem from the Mumonkan;

If you understand "it," all things are One.

If you do not, they are different and separate.

If you do not understand "it," all things are One.

If you do, they are different and separate.

It may seem here that the emphasis is on Oneness, but if you look closer it is also about things being different and separate. Be that as it may, what is "it?" In order for the practice of Zen to be worth it's salt. It must manifest into our flesh and bones. We must have the freedom and confidence to embody "it" at all times. This means embracing one and two.

If you have ever witnessed a baby crying you may have notice the freedom in the which she did so. It seems to me that this is the original state of the ego and it is not until later that it learns to be ashamed. Due to our environmental influences, as children, we begin to take doubt in one form or another. This means we deny our ego. We deny our self. This causes us to live, if that's what you want to call it, not in a dualistic state but in a state of insecurity. I am not referring to a healthy type of insecurity, say the type that causes you to wear a seat belt, rather a type that effects the state of being. A fear so strong that you seize to live. It is one thing to have enough fear so that you put on your seat belt, but another to have so much fear that you cannot drive. So the practice of Zen is not to loose fear but to feel confidence in fear. This is when fear flows and transforms. When "it" becomes alive.

I have become very interested in energy. At our Zen and Breath Monthly retreats we incorporate some breath work. Breathing is directly linked to the flow of energy through our bodies. The exercise is very powerful and I get many positive responses from it. I myself have have had very strong experiences from it hence my my interest in "it." Recently I took a Level 1 Reiki class. I have been wanting to see if I can sense my own and others energy in order to work with it on a therapeutic level.

It was an all day attunement as they say. The initial message I got was, Reiki is Love. I thought, "Oh how lovely." During my first attunement I remember trying to feel, trying to sense this Reiki. It was quite interesting trying to sense something that is beyond my senses. But then I thought, "this is no different from my Zen practice." I even said to Ruth the Reiki Master, "this feels like Zen." She didn't understand what I meant. During the second attunement I went into this Samadhi and really felt the presence of love. Then a light went off, "Reiki is Love!" Then I thought, "What is Love?" Its funny now that I think about it. "Energy" or "Reiki" has been this big Koan for me and I didn't even realize it. All this time I have been thinking energy this, reiki that. As if it was something different, or something I need to understand. But I have known it all along."It's" not different at all.

We can give love. We can receive love. And we can be love. Not at separate moments, but with an awareness that integrates them all in the same present moment.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Unconscious Stress Epidemic

If you Google stress you will find 160 million findings. Over two thirds of doctors' visits are stress related. Stress aggravates conditions such as alcoholism, drug abuse, obesity, diabetes, domestic violence, and many more. Inefficiencies in businesses caused by low morale, frequent illnesses, and high employee turnover rate are all costly products of stress. Stress is a simultaneous internal and external attack on humanity's well being, or dhukka, as the Buddha called it. It would safe to say that most of us are suffering from chronic stress. This explains why we experience so much tension and physical pain during zazen.

When we say stress we are referring to a compilation of negative emotions and physical discomfort. We need to understand it more clearly if we are going to work it ourselves. Selye published a model dividing stress into two parts. When stress improves function, such as running, lifting weights, solving math problems or working on a koan, it can be considered eustress. Stress which is unresolved and persistent is known as distress. Distress is the type that leads to anxiety and depression. It is important to recognize what type of stress we are experiencing in order to know how to work with it. One may flea from a stressful event without knowing what type it is and in turn missing a chance to build. It's beneficial to continue working on a koan because the outcome is beneficial. Other times we may need to remove ourselves from a job or relationship because it is causing us distress.

Removing ourselves from a distressful situation may not always be the best move for our well being. We must determine if the stress is coming from something real or imagined. Lazurus made a valid argument by stating that in order for a situation to be deemed as stressful, it must be valued as such. This is to say, the object causing distress must be viewed in such a way to condition the distress. This process of appraisal then directs energy to either manging the problem, which would be function energy or managing the emotions which arise from the problem, which is a dysfunctional use of energy. From this we can see the importance in re-evaluating the stressor and directing our energy in a functional way. We must first recognize that we are stressed, then notice our habitual way of coping with the stress and decide if it's having the desired effect. This way of seeing stress can give us the opportunity to go further into examining our view of objects of which we deem the problem. This is where we can develop the wisdom which will grant us freedom form chronic stress.

Distress can accumulate into a constant worry and depression. This type of stressing is an obsession over the stressors and is also the type of stress we are referring to when we talk about relief. At this point we are conscious enough to know that the stress is dysfunctional. When I google stress relief it pulls up over 3 million results. There many effective ways to relax and let go. This is an important part of meditation practice. We must learn to release the tension and enjoy the moment. The Buddha refereed to this as the practice of serenity, but we must understand that this is only half of the practice. Over time the practice of serenity can become very intoxicating and if not balanced with insight can become highly addictive. The practitioner learns to recognize the stressor and abandons it instead of working with it. At this point it can start to develop problems in relationships and jobs and the practice becomes no more beneficial than that of a drug. In extreme conditions we can start to become deeply unconscious which results in attempt to have complete control over the environment and others. This non-violent passive aggressive form of control can be as equally dysfunctional and destructive as an aggressive form of dealing with stress.

The Buddha talks about developing a pair of skills;

Developing a Pair of Skills
Serenity and Insight

"Two things, O monks, partake of true knowledge. What two? Serenity and Insight.
"When serenity is developed, what benefit does one experience? The mind is developed. When the mind is developed, what benefit does one experience? All lust is abandoned.
"When insight is developed, what benefit does one experience? Wisdom is developed. When wisdom is developed, what benefit does one experience? All ignorance is abandoned.
"A mind defiled by lust is not liberated: and wisdom defiled by ignorance is not developed. Thus, monks, through fading away of lust there is liberation of mind: and through fading away of ignorance there is liberation by wisdom."

In the Words of the Buddha, pgs 267-268

Here the Buddha recognized that a discernment of weather to stay and work with the stressor or to let go must be made in each moment. If we get stuck in one mode that there is no freedom at all. From my point of view both of the practices are wide spread and does not belong solely to Buddhism. Mindfulness has gained a great amount of popularity in the U.S. and science has probed into the cellular level of stress. Research Robert Sapolsky's work with Baboons. This can help us on a conceptual level but not fundamentally. We must dive into our own stress directly if we want to develop any wisdom. The reason for this is that we normally experience stress on an external level. We notice the storm but can't see the clouds forming. By the time the storm hits it's time to take cover. The scientific attitude can be turned inward toward our own being. Obsessions are so strong because they have a strong amount of energy invested in them. We need to remove the energy then naturally the obsession will seize. Removing the energy is easy once we see exactly how it is invested. This is why zazen is so important. We give ourselves the time to watch the clouds form over and over until we find the very moment of creation.

Not everyone is ready for the development of Insight. I have ran across many that do not like the frustration and stress that a koan can evoke. This is OK. It is important to be completely honest with ourselves and get want we want out of practice. But eventually must work with a teacher that holds us responsible to the whole self.

The stress epidemic is huge! This is largely due to it being unconscious stress. We don't need to run from our own consciousness. After all it's only us!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Big Let Down

All of us come to Zen for our own reasons. Though on the outside our reasons may seem different, we all have some form of suffering we looking to release. When I could no longer blame others for the anger and depression I was carrying, I found Zen. Some may come to the practice in order to develop a skill to deal with stress, which is getting in the way at work. Others may want to control their mind due to the unpleasant thoughts they are experiencing. There are many reasons.

Whatever the reasons, the gut reaction of the ego is to escape from suffering. To the ego, Zen or the practice of mindfulness seems like an excellent method for this escape. Looking at the story of the Buddha we see this promise. The Buddha left his family, his royalty, the protection of the palace life and the luxuries it provided. Sometimes the desire for escape can manifest in a desire to control. We can look at the Zen story of the Ten Ox Herding Pictures. The little boy looks for the ox only in hopes to tame it, to control it, and this appears to be what he does. But what is really going on in these stories? To answer this we must see what the Ox or the Buddha really is.

Normally when we think of an escape from suffering, we think of a serene way of experiencing life. From the outside it may seem this is what Zen or Buddhism is promising. Look at the statue of the Buddha. He is very calm and serene. But Zen isn't always a serene practice. Sometimes zazen can be pretty challenging and frustrating. I think it would be cool to have a double sided Buddha Statue. On one side a be nice and calm Buddha and the other side would show maybe some sweating or maybe the Buddha pulling out his hair. This would more accurately represent real practice. I say this because to many times I talk to people explaining how discontent they are with the non-blissful states of zazen. One person said to me, "Once in awhile I have a Zen moment, but they are few and far between." This just isn't a true understanding of Zen. This perspective is no different than the one he had before he came to the practice. Actually the training of Zen is to work with that perspective directly. We must let go of what we are wanting to happen, what we are wanting to see and just see what's happening. So I ask you, when do Zen moments happen? To answer this we must discover what Zen is really about. We must arrive to the heart of the Buddha.

I am not saying here that there is no freedom from suffering. I am saying that all to often the negative states are confused as suffering. So naturally we try to escape these negative aspects of life. The truth is we also suffer from the positive states of mind. Suffering is very powerful yet subtle. In fact, here comes the let down, in order to understand how suffering actually happens we must get very close to the negative as well as the positive states of mind.

A friend told once, "I haven't been coming to practice lately because I have been really depressed." "Be more depressed," I said. " Be so depressed that you don't even know you are! Be one with depression!" These days we talk a lot about stress and depression. This focus is actually a simultaneous resistance and attachment. When we are stressed out about something there is another part of us that naturally doesn't want to be stressed. This type of focus on stress becomes an obsession. The obsession sustains the stress. In order to be relieved of these heavy emotions we must merge with what ever it is we are stressed out about. This way we stay with the flow of what is happening and we stay engaged with the present.

Shit happens! How profound.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Plunging into the abyss

Standing at the edge and looking into the abyss is frightening. The body is surged with fear in hopes to motivate a retreat. Why is this? What is it hiding, and where is this fear coming from? Normally I would tighten up and hold on for dear life, but this time was different. I was ready to discover the unknown.

Zen requires us to look deeply into the reality of the present moment. Though it may not always be easy, we must learn to open and accept the present moment for what it truly is. In fact sometimes it can be down right scary. But fear is just one of the defense mechanisms we can face when attempting to be present. We can experience hatred, or doubt, or lust, or even laziness. If we look at the many threats we encounter as humans, as animals, then these emotions all seem necessary. But in zazen, the practice of being present, we see them as hindrances. The closer we look, we begin to see they are moving us away from feeling something. Something we may have been avoiding for awhile now.

In the Open Mind Zen School, one of the methods used to bring us to the present is Zen Dialogue. Zen dialogue is a process of becoming more conscious of the various aspects of the self. In this process we give the different aspects names and voices and one of the voices we dialogue with is the controlling ego. We name the ego as the controller because that's exactly what it wants to do. Though not everyone would want to admit this. The ego would love to have complete control and until we realize this, we have no hope in letting go. See, the ego's controlling nature only really works if it remains a secret. Once the ego awakens to the reality of it not being in control it can then begin to break free of its controlling tendencies. I recently discovered that my tendency to blame was an attempt to shift responsibility. And this was simply because I did not want to experience these certain emotions that were flowing through me at the time. The story of blame and responsibility was just a cover up, a distraction if you will, of something much deeper. This emotion was something I have been hiding for awhile now. So at some time my controller formed. It formed because I felt out of control, and at that time I could not deal with that feeling. The controller was developed in secret and this zen dialogue has given it a chance to tell its story and in doing so, giving my controller the chance to let go.

While I was doing zazen during our retreat at the Osage Forest of Peace this past weekend, I noticed the tendency of tensing up. This would cause a lot of pain after awhile. After some time, watching this pain arise and fade, I began to see that there were times when there was no tension at all. But once I realized this space and flow of energy, I would automatically tighten up. I also noticed a contracting in my chest just before this tension. So I began to work on opening my chest and soon it started to feel as if I was choosing the pain and tension. Along with this space for choice also came a feeling of uncertainty and vulnerability. But the more I moved into the pain it began to change and evaporate. Still this took a great deal of effort. The tightening in my chest was being conditioned by something that was not yet within my awarness.

During retreats with Sensei there is always some time set in the schedule for some alternative methods of practice. On Saturday we had in the schedule some Zen Breathwork. Breathwork is a powerful sustained breathing technique which helps the practitioner experience how energy flows through the body/mind. While I was breathing I noticed the tightness in my chest again. It was restricting my breathing so I decided to put more effort in to the exercise. I would breath harder and deeper. As deep as I could. I began to notice a strong vibration in my body accompanied with heat. Then I started to have these memories of childhood in the form of pictures. Nothing in particular about the memories other than they were of my childhood. The vibration and heat increased. Then I broke into a spontaneous full body cry. I cried like a baby. I can't remember the last time I cried like that. I remember having this sense of freedom, an awareness accompanying the cry. Then with the cue of Sensei I was able to release and relax. I relaxed deeply and my chest was then open and expansive.

With all this I realized that the controlling nature of the ego was an attempt to soften the edge of the reality that control is not possible. A feeling of vulnerability that goes back to infancy. A feeling that I wanted to forget. Something Zen has asked me to remember and merge with. To merge with it so deeply that there is no resistance. When there is no need to control life, there is simply just life and all its wonders. Life is free, so join it. This is how we find freedom.