Stop Separating Immigrant Families — Buddhist Statement

 John Moore/Getty Images

John Moore/Getty Images

As Western Buddhist leaders, we unreservedly condemn the recently imposed policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the US-Mexican border.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of children have been inhumanely taken from their parents by US Customs and Border Protection, in a policy that has been condemned by the United Nations and many international human rights observers. Indeed, no other country has a policy of separating families who intend to seek asylum.

Whatever the legal status of those attempting to enter the US, separating children from their parents is a contravention of basic human rights. Parents seeking asylum make long, dangerous and arduous journeys in an attempt to find safety and well-being for their precious children. Ripping these vulnerable children from their parents is cruel, inhumane, and against the principles of compassion and mercy espoused by all religious traditions. From a Buddhist perspective, it is the close bond between parents and children that nurtures not only the physical well-being of children, but their psychological health and their moral formation.

Separating children from their parents and holding them in detention inflicts terrible and needless trauma and stress on young children that hampers and damages their development, causing long-term damage. This policy being employed on United States soil is morally unconscionable. That such egregious actions be employed as a deterrent for families seeking entry and/or asylum in the U.S. – using the sacred bond between innocent youth and their parents – is unjustifiable on any level. We suggest that our current defenders of this policy visit some of these border crossings and child detention centers so they can experience for themselves the present effects of their decisions. It is difficult to conceive that anyone having compassion for our world’s children and their families, and who witnesses such pain and anguish for themselves could continue to uphold such a practice.

As people of faith and conscience, we feel that it is important that we speak out clearly in defense of basic human rights at this time, calling for an immediate end to this heartless practice. In doing so, we join the voices of many religious leaders and congregations that have unreservedly condemned this policy of separation. This policy is a serious violation of the rights of the child and must be stopped today.

 

Signed: 

Rev. Robert Joshin Althouse
Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago - Abbot

 

Click Here for a Full List of 200 Buddhist Leaders who have Signed

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How to Be a Friend Until the End by Frank Ostaseski

 Photo © Victor Torres / Stocksy United.

Photo © Victor Torres / Stocksy United.

A friend or family member shares the news of a life-threatening diagnosis or we see them stumble on a curb or over their words, and in that moment we realize that we’re about to become a companion to someone facing death. Perhaps it’s a conscious choice. Maybe we feel we have no choice.

It’s important in the beginning to remember that we already know how to care. We’ve extended a helping hand hundreds of times in a thousand meaningful and loving ways. Caring is a natural expression of our humanity. We can trust our good hearts to be reliable guides.

Offering care is like meditation, there’s no one right way, but some basic guidelines and practice can help.

Embrace Impermanence

Recognition of the transience of life is a central tenet of Buddhism. Impermanence is an essential truth woven into the very fabric of existence. It’s inescapable and perfectly natural. How we meet that truth makes a world of difference.

One of the most exquisite of Japanese terms, mono no aware, expresses an aesthetic sensibility that’s challenging to translate. It speaks to a gentle sadness—to being deeply moved by the transient, finite nature of things. It doesn’t deny loss or bypass grief but reminds us that the beauty of things and our appreciation of those dear to us is heightened by our awareness of their ephemeral nature.

Isn’t it the fragility and brevity of the cherry blossom, or morning light, or cresting wave that captivates us and invites us into wonder and gratitude?

Enter Mindfully

In the Zen tradition, we have the practice of dokusan, a face-to-face meeting with the teacher. The student is instructed to wait outside the teacher’s door and gather herself. She has no idea what’s waiting for her on the other side of the door. She has no idea what the teacher will ask, or perhaps even what she most needs. She does her best to be ready, flexible, and open.

Going into the room of someone who’s ill or dying is like going for dokusan. Empty your mind, open your heart, and enter with fresh eyes. Once in the room, sit down, talk less, and listen more. Touch when appropriate.

Be a Calm Presence

When we’re caring for someone who’s sick, we lend them our body. We use the strength of our backs and arms to move them from the bed to the commode. In the same way, we can also lend them the strength of our mind. We can help to create a calm and accepting environment. We can be a reminder of stability and concentration. We can expand our heart in such a way that it can inspire the individual who’s dying to expand theirs. One calm person in the room can ease the entire experience for everybody.

You Are Enough

We’re always messing with ourselves—telling ourselves what we should be experiencing, trying hard to be someone special, hoping we’re doing it all in the right way. Often in spiritual practice and in caregiving, we set some goal of where we think we ought to be and then use that to not be where we are.

I’m guided by the counsel of Carl Rogers, the great humanistic psychologist:

“Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man, this woman has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin.”

No Advice

Some of us reach too quickly for our version of a prescription pad, doling out unsolicited advice. While our intentions may be genuine, we can be blissfully insensitive to the way we impact others. The attachment to the role of helper runs deep for most of us. If we’re not careful, it will imprison us and those we serve. Let’s face it: if I am going to be a helper, then somebody has to be helpless.  

Wise speech is a mindfulness practice. Words can heal or harm. Before speaking, pause. Silence has the benefit of slowing things down. Ask yourself, is what you want to say true? Is it helpful? Is it the right time? And, maybe most important, is it wanted? If the other person doesn’t want to hear it, you may not need to say it. But at times we do need to speak whether the other person likes it or not. In such situations it’s more likely to go well if you follow the other guidelines covered in this article.

Turn Toward Suffering

An integral part of healing is letting go. But there’s no letting go until there’s letting in. As James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that can be faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed that is not faced.”

Suffering is exacerbated by avoidance. Our attempts at self-protection cause us to live in a cramped corner of our lives. We accept a limited perspective of the situation and a restricted view of ourselves. We cling to what’s familiar in order to reassert control, thinking we can fend off what we fear will be intolerable. When we push back, hoping to get rid of a difficult experience, we’re actually encapsulating it. In short, what we resist persists.

Suffering will only be removed by wisdom cultivated through inquiry, not by drenching it in sunshine or attempting to bury it in a dark basement. Compassion manifests through the medium of fearless receptivity.

Love Heals

The boundlessness of love is made evident when the veils between this world and the invisible world are thinnest. At birth and death, love can melt division, allowing us to move beyond what we thought possible.

When someone is sick, when their body is ravaged by illness, when they can no longer function in their familiar roles, when their identity is shifting daily, many people feel un-loveable. When someone believes they’re beyond love, you cannot convince them to love themselves. But you can show them that they’re loved.

When someone is sick or suffering, love them. Just love them. Love them until they can remember to love themselves again.

 

This article was originally published on www.LionsRoar.com.

How to Deal with a Narcissist
By Karolis Žukauskas

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I’ve been reading accounts from the American press written by journalists stunned to find Trump is worse beyond their expectations. I obviously don’t share their sentiments. I’m an abuse survivor, grew up with a (much less wealthy) Donald Trump in the house, and have the misfortune of currently working with a Donald Trump heading my place of employment. Over the years, I’ve seen what sort of madhouse network dances about men like our president.

Get used to it, America. We are now an abusive family.

Abusive families have three primary players: the abusers, the enablers and the victims. If it isn’t clear, the abuser (Trump) dishes it out while the enablers (the establishment) make excuses for it, attempt to rationalize it, sometimes to benefit from it, thereby supporting it, while the victims (citizens) take insults and deal with disorienting confusion, even chaos.

It’s more complicated and shaded-gray in reality. All sorts of professional people have broken these roles down further. Obviously, there’s overlap between them.

Most abusers were once victims, and still perceive themselves, like Trump does, as mistreated or unfairly targeted. Some enablers also abuse, but all enablers are victims of the abuse, at least to some degree, if even by virtue of needing to depend on it to play a role, complete some task or access a resource. From my point of view, victims are enablers until they remove themselves from the system, decompress, gather their bearings and accept, with as much clarity as possible, what the abuse was truly like. This requires admitting it. They have to make a conscious decision that the abuse stops with them or it simply won’t.

Most of us are nowhere close to that point yet. This is new and bizarre; we’ve been dropped into the madhouse and can’t tell where to focus our attention. It explains why so many of our journalists and other professionals are staring ahead wide-eyed, mouths agape, making delusional claims like “this might lead to totalitarianism” when a totalitarian is already in control, when reporters are being arrested for doing their jobs and protests outlawed in the wake of idiotic, distracting tweets and abject falsifications of reality.

It’s important for everyone in a position of influence, from every level of our government to the whole of our press, our institutions of education, social services, our courts and our legal professionals to understand something unequivocally. Our president is an abusive madman, a narcissist with no capacity to change, no ounce of empathy, no motivation beyond his own aggrandizement.

Showing him photographs to contradict his delusional claims is pointless. Narcissists cannot be “managed” or “influenced.” In my experience, there are only a few ways to deal with a narcissist, none easy or comfortable.

The first is a war of attrition, the arsenal merciless, consistent insult. The insults do not have to be exotic, vulgar or vindictive; speaking about reality, consistently and in a sustained effort, is enough. You’re not very well liked. Most people abhor you. They disagree with your values. They think you’re uncivilized, deranged, mentally ill and unable to grasp reality.Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Do it in shifts, like an oiled hockey team crashing the net. He makes a false statement, so you dismiss it, call it a lie and immediately set about ridiculing it in every possible channel, making certain he sees it.

A narcissist will try to exhaust you until you give in, until putting up with whatever the narcissist is doing becomes easier than listening to his assault on reality, or hearing the insults. It’s exhausting, obviously, to tell the narcissist, “No. The tablecloth is white, not yellow,” every time you deal with him. But that is what we must expect. When the president speaks, he is fabricating a delusion in an effort to exhaust our imaginations and mental capacities. He wants to shell-shock us into submission.

Trump will not stop lying. In fact, he’s going to need to lie more as his administration unravels, as people begin abandoning him. He will not respond to reason or rational conversation, and he will continue sending his representatives to meet the press and lie that they intend to tell the truth, one second after they lie.

This seems counterproductive, even masochistic. A narcissist does not lie merely because he can or because it provides him attention (narcissistic supply). A narcissist’s lie gives him power over others’ imagination and feelings. The lies become the parameters of the discussion—we argue over the delusion instead of weighing the reality—and anything the narcissist doesn’t like he’ll claim has been invented by his victims. The technique renders reason useless and obliterates the basic agreements among the educated; you cannot argue with someone who makes up numbers, contradicts himself constantly or tells you your information is fake, what you’ve witnessed is false.

This latter point is most important. An abuser will beat you up or molest you but then accuse you of imagining it. He’ll accuse you of being unfair, of trying to make him look bad when you show everyone your bloody nose. What’s true is what he says; he is the center, the ultimate reference point. Everything, including reality, is subject to his power.

Attacks on a narcissist, in the short term, only increase his bluster. Eventually, however, the embarrassment of enabling him becomes a liability. At that point, exile becomes an option, but it requires a critical mass of enablers to stand up and say they’ve had enough.

The press cannot in good faith come to press conferences and ask Trump’s secretary, “What lies have you for us today? What bullshit of yours should we share?” However, our legislative branch can, and rather quickly, exile Trump to someplace outside the White House. Currently, Congress is Trump’s greatest enabler, far worse than the press, and getting worse as this horror show blusters on.

What will it finally take for our leaders to say they’ve had enough? Well…the usual thing. Massive opposition from an intrepid, inexhaustible, furious (but also clever) populace.

Hippos on Holiday

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is not really the title of a movie
but if it was I would be sure to see it.
I love their short legs and big heads,
the whole hippo look.
Hundreds of them would frolic
in the mud of a wide, slow-moving river,
and I would eat my popcorn
in the dark of a neighborhood theater.
When they opened their enormous mouths
lined with big stubby teeth
I would drink my enormous Coke.

I would be both in my seat
and in the water playing with the hippos,
which is the way it is
with a truly great movie.
Only a mean-spirited reviewer
would ask on holiday from what?

Billy Collins

Part-time Contract Position Available

We want to thank everyone who applied and inquired about this position. We've had man highly qualified applicants apply. We have chosen the person, so the position is no longer available. Thank you to everyone for your interest and your inquiries. 

The Zen Life and Meditation Center of Chicago (ZLMC) is seeking to engage an individual for a part-time contract position with responsibility for marketing, event management, ecommerce and some general administrative activities. A partial listing of responsibilities includes:

  • Managing the Center’s social media activities;
  • Maintaining the Center’s website;
  • Designing and developing marketing flyers and brochures;
  • Responding to email and phone inquiries;
  • Managing course registration activities including responding to participant inquiries; and
  • Assisting with the planning and execution of workshops and events.

This 15 – 20 hour/week contract position pays $20/hour and offers flexible hours. Following a period of training, most activities can be performed from a home office. Occasional evening and weekend hours at the Center are required. The qualified individual will have and maintain his/her own computer with internet connectivity (Macintosh is preferred). 

The responsibilities of this position require the mastery of a number of proprietary software applications (such as Tula, Campaign Monitor, and Square Space), as well as facility with Google, desktop publishing, and other software. The ideal candidate will have previous experience with similar programs and/or be able to demonstrate a strong aptitude for learning software programs. 

____________________

Qualifications include:

  • Excellent customer service, communication, and interpersonal skills
  • Strong organizational skills with an exceptional eye for detail
  • Aptitude for learning, using, and troubleshooting software applications; previous experience with software similar to that listed in the above description is strongly preferred
  • Previous experience with web maintenance, social media, and desktop publishing preferred 
  • Demonstrated self-starter with ability to work both independently and collaboratively
  • Ability to exercise discretion and confidentiality 
  • Previous event planning experience strongly preferred

If you are interested in being considered, please send a brief cover letter and resume to: 

info@zlmc.org


Through its public meditation offerings, courses, workshops and other activities, the Zen Life and Meditation Center, Chicago, seeks to cultivate a community of openness, generosity and wisdom. For more information about the Center, please see our website at: 

www.ZLMC.org

Co-Founder's Statement

 Ryushin Sensei and Joshin Roshi

Ryushin Sensei and Joshin Roshi

June and I have been running Zen Centers for most of our lives. We founded the Zen Center of Hawaii in 1992.  We began a Zen Center out of our home on Humphrey Avenue in May 2004.  We transformed it into the Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago in 2010 that pioneered the approach to teaching and practice that we currently enjoy in Oak Park, Illinois. 

Over the last seven years, we have seen the Center grow from 8 to 115 members. Over 2500 people have benefited from our Core Curriculum Primer and Gateway classes. As a result, our sangha community has grown vital and strong.. 

After great care and thought, June and I announced at our last Board of Director meeting on February 25, 2018, that we will step down from all of our administrative duties and responsibilities by February 25, 2020. We intend to continue teaching and leading ZLMC, and will do our best to help the community make this transition over the next two years. 

June and I are aging, and as such, we are moving into the next phase and journey of our lives. On March 20, 2018 we will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary during our Spring 7-day Meditation Retreat. On March 29, 2018, Roshi will turn 69 and on June 6, 2018, Sensei will turn 68. 

As teachers we are modeling self-care. We want to spend our time differently. So we are asking the sangha to help us make this transition. We believe this change will be healthy for us, and also healthy for the sangha. When our teaching and administrative duties are clearly separated we will be better able to continue teaching and holding the vision that carries the Center forward into the future. 

The Center is strong enough to make this transition. We plan to hire our first administrative manager within the next few months. We are farming out our marketing tasks to a company, Jumpfly in Elgin. We may also consider working with a local bookkeeper to do our accounting.

We know that change will bring challenges and we are up for the task ahead. We ask you to join us. One way you can help make this change and transition smoother is to join our Shared-Stewardship Circle and become active stake-holders in the health and well-being of our sangha community. 

Should you have any questions about this, June and I are open to answer them. We value openness and transparency so we want to make sure everyone is fully aware of our decision and what lies ahead. It has been the honor of our lives to bring forth this Zen Center and we are forever grateful for your practice and commitment to living a Zen-inspired life. 

Thank you,

Zen Master, Robert Joshin Althouse
Abbot, Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago

 

Mindfulness: Mystery and Not Knowing
by Susan Sensemann

 Susan Sensemann, Sky-glimmers (blue-green), acrylic on paper, 2012

Susan Sensemann, Sky-glimmers (blue-green), acrylic on paper, 2012

In Primer 4, Living a Life of Openness, we speak about the first of the three tenets of a Zen Peacemaker: Not Knowing. What it is to not know something? In this culture of quick response time that technology demands, we react fast and faster. We cannot count to two between opinions spoken at a faculty meeting, board meeting, or family gathering. We speak over each other. Opinions fly. To be smart is to be at the ready with information and views that we have solidified into rock formations in our minds. We believe what we know we know. We rush to a Got it!  or Gotcha! response. Our hearts race as we fill a momentary lapse in the conversation as quickly as we can. And everyone goes home tired and dull.

What about not knowing? Admitting to oneself that there is something new to learn. Being teachable is a humbling experience as we step away from our mental encampments. However, not knowing allows us to be expansive and creative with our thinking, because we take the time to listen. We allow for possibility. We breathe into a feeling of openness and mystery that is intriguing and fresh. I delve into the word mystery with novels in mind, whodunits, that are plot-driven and unfold to a certain resolution. The reader is witness to the protagonist’s logical and reasonable mind as she ferrets out clues and then, clap, the book is shut tight. The reader grins with satisfaction, I knew it!,

But, what if mystery is simply and profoundly beyond our grasp? A friend recently mentioned Thomas Merton’s consideration of mystery as the certainty that some things are true even if they defy our ability to understand them or explain them. Can we locate truth within a mystery that we cannot grasp? Are our minds open or closed? 

Imagine, for a moment, an old man sitting on his porch in a rocking chair on a summer night. His granddaughter asks, “PaPa, how do those fireflies light up?” The old man rocks back and forth, takes a deep breath, looks out at the pasture, and says, “Child, that’s just stars getting closer for a bit.” 

The old man may not have known the answer to her question. He did not open his laptop and google what illuminates fireflies?  His conjecture about stars twinkling nearby and far off in the night sky satisfied her ten year old mind. She liked being surrounded by stars - it felt like they tickled her shoulders. In fact, his answer is true. Every element on earth was formed at the heart of a star. The old man took a moment to be with those stars and then he enfolded his grand-daughter with a bit of mystery and magic.  

Susan Keijo Sensemann

November 15, 2017

An Empty Day
by Vivienne Lund

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 I snuggle in the warm, clean
sheets of routine
and sigh to myself, "ah! an empty day
to count the colorful threads of
my blessings
to court and woo the many
happinesses that are my life.

Thought this life doesn't give
me sexy black-lace stockings
filled with wiry–healthy limbs,
straight, happy toes,
fertile, hilly arches,
the crafty spry silence of bending knees,

I can always leave them
locked in their closets
and plant myself in the
whirleygigs, corkscrews and
madness of life,
know that I belong,
to hear the flowers sing
their arias to the sky.

When darkness shadows
my heart
and I hunger for sunshine
to veil peoples' plastic stares
and all their wasted time,

My landscape is lit up
painted by the innocent
giggles of a grandchild's play
through heady fields
of bright flowers,

My imagined empty day
brims with the joy
of practice in creating
our symphony of two.

© 4/12/2013, Vivienne Lund
 

THE ILLUSION & THE AFTERMATH:
a six-hour, durational performance for a meditating audience

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The Illusion & The Aftermath is a performance of live music that unfolds slowly over the course of six-hours for a meditating audience.

Meditation cushions and headphones are provided for the audience, who may come and go as they wish, staying for only as long as they would like. For someone in the room without headphones, the performance is virtually silent.

The audience has complete freedom to move about the space, stretch their legs and change where they are seated to experience a different view. As a metaphor for spectatorship, meditation is meant to evoke an appreciation of conscious awareness while experiencing live art. We are calling this approach: contemplative performance.

The performance itself provides the audience with a much-needed break from the addictive patterns of how smartphones, social media, and corporations are changing contemporary consciousness by monetizing our attention. The performance asks that we seek cultural experiences that help us reconnect with our ability to look and listen deeply, before the social,cultural, and political consequences of not doing so become too great.

TEMPORARY DISTORTION’S APPROACH

As artists, we believe that a deep awareness of any experience holds within it the possibility of transformation; because, if we look closely, we discover the quality of all attention is a choice. The way we pay attention (and what we pay attention to) characterizes how we experience our life. In fact, what we pay attention to is our experience of life; therefore, if we can change the ways we perceive, we can actually change our lives. Realizing this potential involves cultivating opportunities for focusing and sustaining attention. We are calling this approach: contemplative performance.

The purpose of contemplative performance exists somewhere between meaning and being. The goal is to provide a potentially transformative moment for the audience by giving them the space, in their otherwise busy lives, to practice deep viewing and singular focus, in order to recognize the subtle ways we each engage with our perceptions that often go unnoticed. At the heart, is a belief in art’s ability to spark self-transformation through self-examination and understanding. The performance provides a break to see more deeply into our experiences than our workaday world often allows and the chance to bring that sensitivity of perception back into our lives with new ways of thinking.

Our work uses the performance event as an object of contemplation. The truth is: everything we experience, we experience through our minds, so contemplative performance involves working with the mind. On a day-to-day basis, most of us are working with our minds in a very different way. Those studying attention today are observing a new age of interruption and information overload. Along with multitasking, this has been shown to shift information processing from the memory center of the brain’s hippocampus to the rote task engine of the striatum, making it harder for us to remember or learn from the information we are processing. Multitasking, which we think of as doing two or more things at once, is really an act of the brain rapidly alternating between tasks, and has been linked to chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and an “artificial sense of constant crisis.” It has been associated with newly labeled states like “continuous partial attention.” Some have called this the meta-problem of our time, due to its capacity to ripple outward into industry, culture, politics, and our personal relationships.

Taking control of our minds opens up the possibility of choice. It trains us to see the power dynamics at play in how our experiences are labeled by others and reveals the true freedom we have over how we relate to ourselves and those around us. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we gain a better understanding of how our mind functions, for if we gain a greater awareness of how we perceive—how we assign meanings to things—we can leverage that awareness to change the way we deal with the world. This is a tool that can be used to recognize every situation in our lives is actually flexible, capable of being understood in a variety of ways, and holds within it the potential for change. Contemplative performance requires a different level of attention from us and can perhaps serve as (just a bit of) an antidote to these destructive cultural patterns.

TEMPORARY DISTORTION’S HISTORY

Temporary Distortion explores the potential tensions and overlaps found between practices in visual art, theater, cinema, and music. The group works across and between disciplines to create performances, installations, films, albums, and works for the stage that have been shown in over 20 cities in Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United States.

Essays discussing Temporary Distortion’s work have been published in numerous international magazines and newspapers, including: The New York Times, Le Monde, Les Inrockuptibles, TimeOut, The Theatre Journal, The Drama Review, Contemporary Theatre Review, TheatreForum, Yale’s Theater Magazine, American Theater, and Chance Magazine; as well as in the books, Emergency Index, Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field, Theatre Today, and Utopii performative: Artisti Radicali ai Scenei Americane in Secolul 21 (Performative Utopias: Radical Artists on the American 21st Century Stage).

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UPCOMING PERFORMANCES
The Chicago Cultural Center – January 19 to 28, 2018

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The Illusion & The Aftermath will premiere at The Chicago Cultural Center on January 19, 2018, where it will run for two weeks (Wednesday – Saturday, 1pm to 7pm & Sundays, 10am to 4pm).

As the nation's first free municipal cultural center, the Chicago Cultural Center is one of the city's most popular attractions and is considered one of the most comprehensive arts showcases in the United States. Each year, the Chicago Cultural Center features more than 1,000 programs and exhibitions covering a wide range of the performing, visual, and literary arts.

Temporary Distortion has been invited to return to the Chicago Cultural Center in 2018 after the success of our six-hour performance, My Voice Has an Echo in It, at the center in 2016.

The Chicago Cultural Center is located on Michigan Avenue, directly across from Millennium Park.

Tears are Bundles of Love
by Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue

Puʻolo waimaka a ke aloha.
Tears are bundles of love. 

Love brings tears to the eyes.

~"Olelo Noʻeau - Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings #2750

Mary Kawena Pukui  

 

There is a crack in everything, thatʻs how the light gets in. 

~Leonard Jikan Cohen

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In early December, my husband and I traveled to sunny Quintana Roo, Mexico for two weeks of warmth.  This was our first trip to Mexico.  The plane ride was surprisingly short - just 3 hours from Chicago.  I found the warm sunny climate to be very similar to Hawaii. 

Renting a car was easy and economical.  Most people speak English and I tried out my high school Spanish (mahalo Mrs. Montgomery!) whenever possible.  We drove a half hour past Cancun to a smaller fishing community called Puerto Morelos.  We checked into to a basic hotel right on the beach.  Then we walked outside to swaying coconut trees, the cry of seagulls and the sandy beach.  Inhaling the salt drenched air was the first thing that really made my heart soar as did seeing the blueness of the sea and sky. 

The wind was brisk and the ocean choppy.  Black Iwa (frigate) birds glide about in the air currents.  There were mounds of sargasso seaweed on the shore emitting that special aroma that comes from being in the ocean.  Every morning, Mexican men came to pick it up using machines and rakes.  By afternoon the seaweed was back. 

By the time we left there 10 days later, the ocean was calm and the seaweed had stopped piling up on the beach leaving clear shores with gently lapping water.  We saw many different kinds of sea birds: sandpipers, pelicans, herons, cormorants.  There were gorgeous bright bougainvillea trees, delicate naupaka blossoms, and lovely plumeria trees.  We saw magnificent sunrises and sunsets. 

Our hotel was a block from the central square of Puerto Morelos.  There was an abundance of restaurants, shops and one small bookstore laid out around the square. There was also one Catholic church - Iglesia de San Jose.  We were there for the Feast Day of our Lady of Guadalupe so I decided to go to mass that day. 

I got to the small airy church early.  There were only a few people so I sat up front near the altar.  Pretty soon the deacon, an American from Indianapolis, came up to me and asked if I would be willing to do a reading during the mass.  I said sure, though I felt a little funny since Iʻm a Buddhist.  But I did go to St. Joseph High School in Hilo so I was familiar with mass.  He told me to read a passage from Revelations that was on his ipad.  It was entitled, "The Woman and the Dragon."  He pointed to the podium where I was to read with a microphone. 

My Buddhist name is Ryushin which means Dragon Heart.  My husband, who is also my Buddhist teacher, named me that because of the way I performed Hawaiian chants so of course I loved the title of the passage. 

The mass began.  I was the first one to do a reading.   I walked slowly up to the podium which was near the altar.  The deacon gave me the microphone and his ipad. 
I faced the congregation which had filled up with quite a few Mexicans families by then.   

I began to read, " A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head..." Suddenly, tears sprung to my eyes, and I choked up.  The image was so beautiful!  I managed to get through reading about the dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads and how itʻs great tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth and its encounter with the Woman. 

After the mass, I thought about the line that caused my tears to spontaneously arise.  What were those tears about?  They definitely had to do with the heart and beauty.  I finally realized the deep abiding love that Our Lady of Guadalupe represents is in each one of us, whether we see it or not. 

For me Hula and Zen are the practice of this love.  Hula and Zen practice include lifeʻs joy, anger and sorrow.  It requires patience and forgiveness, generosity and wisdom.  The practice nurtures and opens the sore and tender parts in our hearts to ourselves and to others.  Thatʻs how we heal. 

We who dance together are like a family because dancing is a very intimate thing.  Itʻs hard to dance when we hold mistakes, grudges, anger and insecurity in our hearts and thus close off to life.  These qualities freeze us into a certain mindset and keep us from finding our true purpose in this life.  

Finding our purpose and meaning is a deep spiritual practice and requires an intentional cultivation of patience, forgiveness and wisdom. The foundation of all these blessings is aloha (love).  Honor the cracks in life, for they let the light in. 

Best wishes for the New Year! 

Malama pono (take good care of your body, mind, heart),

June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue
Kumu Hula and Sensei
 

P.S.  Warm up with our slideshow of photos from our trip to Mexico and the beautiful Carribean ocean!  Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year) to you and your ʻOhana (family)! 

Saved from Freezing:
the Spirituality of Art

by Norman Fischer

 Photo by Leonie Wise

Photo by Leonie Wise

I’m in my car, on the highway. I turn off the news reports and the baseball game I’ve been listening to and switch to a Beethoven violin sonata that’s loaded in the CD player. Listening to the music, my mind gradually starts to release, like a hand that had been grasping something tightly and is beginning to let go. Another mind appears, a mind completely engaged with the pattern the music weaves. A moment before, I’d been frozen into the shape of a self in a world. Now, the music has thawed me out. 

The world and the self really do appear to us as frozen. Our personal problems, our self-definitions, what we hear from those around us—all these convincing and compelling experiences invite us to clutch at concepts, positions, worries. We naturally build vast structures of ice to hold in place the world and the self, chilly and confined. But the experience of art can shake us free of all that. Art can save us from freezing. 

Spiritual practice can, too. It can provide us with a much larger view of our lives, a warming, melting view. At least this is the theory. But anyone who’s done spiritual practice for a while can tell you that it doesn’t always work that way. In fact, spiritual practice too often hits us with an arctic blast, icing us over, if we are not careful, into more grotesque shapes than the ones we were in before we began practice. Why? Because we tend toward ice: We crave a secure sense of self, a truth we can depend on, a world we can tame and understand. We want to be frozen, even as we long desperately to thaw. Religion is problematic because we are problematic. 

But that snatch of music, that poem, that picture—these can make a big difference. The imagination situates us in a reality wider, deeper, and more mysterious than we can directly sense or rationally know. Imagination can see into and through the apparent world to something luminous and significant. Without imagination there is only plodding on in a two-dimensional world, merely surviving, getting through the day. Without imagination we feel only the world’s dead weight, like an albatross around our necks, hanging there without rhythm, without quickness, without a beating heart. 

But imagination is tricky and wild. It does not play by the rules; it cannot be controlled or second-guessed. No surprise, then, that imagination is depicted as a goddess, a muse, who comes when she wants to and leaves without notice. From the point of view of the rationally organized world, imagination is dangerous, for it holds that world in supreme irony, as a mere backdrop for its colorful activity. No wonder Plato wanted to exclude the poets from his Republic. And no wonder religion almost always mistrusts and fears the imagination, which is forever evoking energies—sexual and creative energies—religion would just as soon forget: they are just so messy and hard to control, and they are not usually polite. 

Imagination draws its energy from a confrontation with desire. It feeds off desire, transmuting and magnifying reality through desire’s power. Fantasy does the opposite; it avoids desire by fleeing into a crude sort of wish-fulfillment that seems much safer. Fantasy might be teddy bears, lollipops, sexual delights, or superhero adventures; it also might be voices in one’s head urging acts of outrage and mayhem. Or it might be the confused world of separation and fear we routinely live in, a threatening yet seductive world that promises us the happiness we seek when our fantasies finally become real. Imagination confronts desire directly, in all its discomfort and intensity, deepening the world right where we are. Fantasy and reality are opposing forces, but imagination and reality are not in opposition: imagination goes toward reality, shapes and evokes it. 

So although spiritual practice seems necessarily to be, and historically has been, at odds with imagination, the truth is that spiritual practice requires imagination. If we really want to go beyond the surface of things to the deeply hidden, actual experience of being alive (as spiritual practice encourages us to do), we need imagination as an ally. The senses, reason, even our moral and emotional faculties are not enough.

Small children have an easygoing and natural sense of imagination. For them there’s no serious difference between the world of matter and the world of dreams; they crisscross and mix all the time. But children have to learn to freeze the world, to get it to hold still, so they can figure out how to be persons in it in some organized way. 

Spiritual practice ought to be childish. It ought to help us recapture something that gets lost in the process of growing up. It ought to foster a sense of play, a sense of magic, a sense of humor, so as to avoid the occupational hazard of freezing. Probably it’s too hard to cultivate these qualities within the normative forms of any spiritual tradition, so working with the imagination through art is good for spiritual practitioners. And the reverse holds as well: spiritual practice is good for artists. As a Zen priest I have been saved from freezing by my practice as a poet; as a poet I have been driven deeper by my practice of Zen. Zen has probably saved me from myself; poetry has probably saved me from Zen. 

Working with the imagination through art requires discipline. This is developed through an encounter with the materials. At first, you approach art out of passionate personal need to express your inexpressible feelings. But once you wade in, you find that the medium—the words or paint or sounds—is extremely resistant to your self-expression. Things don’t just fall into place. You have to grapple with the materials, reshaping yourself to suit them. It turns out that making art is not so much self-expression as a dialogue between what we think we want to express and the materials that seem to have their own demands. Engaging in this dialogue moves you to a degree of attentiveness and concentration beyond the private and the personal. It also moves you to encounter art’s own traditions, constructed on terms much different from those of spiritual traditions. 

Art practice gives us a path into the rich and unique content of our own lives. I don’t need art to know what I think and feel. But without art, what I think and feel quickly becomes circular, self-centered, and limited. Making or appreciating art gives me a way to start with what I think and feel and then to plunge deeply enough into it that it becomes not only what I think and feel but also what anyone thinks and feels and, even beyond this, what isn’t thought or felt at all. When I write or read poems I am met, through my own thought and feeling, by what’s outside my thought and feeling. In this sense, art practice promotes a profound empathy, a widening of my sphere of awareness. 

Art practice can help us overcome the weakness we all have for religious doctrine and dogma. Art provides a way to discover truth, but not the sort of truth that is handed to us already vetted. Instead, we must find it ourselves anew. This is a much more difficult and intimidating proposition. 

We who are engaged in spiritual practice should never forget how painful and destructive such practice may become when our enthusiasm for the truth of whatever tradition we are pursuing becomes exclusive. Not only does narrowness of view cut us off from others who practice and believe differently than we do, it also cuts us off from ourselves, as we slash away at our thoughts and feelings in an effort to fit them to the shape of the doctrines we hold dear. 

Art practice can move the inner life of the spiritual practitioner out from under the dictates of tradition and challenge it with a demand for freshness. This has been my experience. My lifelong involvement with poetry has kept me sane within a fairly narrow and rigorous life of religious practice. 

We need art as a form of recreation, re-creation of ourselves and our world, a freshening of what goes on day by day in our ordinary living. Viktor Shlovsky, the Russian formalist critic, arguing for attention to formal detail in art, said, “To make a stone stony—this is why there is art.” Art defamiliarizes the familiar, and thereby makes it new. Artists know this, but not only artists. We all sense that in looking at the world outside our own personal interests and habits we can feel something of the divine, of the whole. We can, therefore, approach our daily tasks with this heightened sense of things, taking care of our homes, our relationships, our communities, and ourselves with attentiveness and love—that is, as if we were artists grappling with our materials. 

Being human is a big job. So much to do! Taking care of body, mind, soul, taking care of ourselves and each other emotionally and physically, repairing the world, earning a living—it’s endless. There’s no use worrying about finishing the job or even doing it all that well. But to brightly begin, and then, having begun, to continue: that’s the great thing.

THE NIGHT IS RED

currents and portends
so many tears in the bogs
the rabbis continue to contend
and Syliva—where is Sylvia?—
who is Sylvia?

reward perhaps for the horses
around here, they look Korean
as only Chinese horses can

and cleaning up round the corners
myself the famous poet no one’s heard of
except to say there was a rumor

he was a poet, had crossed the line
in bridge when he came to that page
a monk tossed like a ball
in the streaming bumpy current

left with th eproblem of the practice
of how not to have faith in anything
sufficient regard
of course so as long as Jack agrees
and as long as the night is red

From Slowly But Dearly, © 2004 by Norman Fischer. Published by Chax Press in June 2004. Reprinted with the permission of publisher.

Mindfulness Road Map
by Susan Sensemann

 photo by Susan Sensemann

photo by Susan Sensemann

At the Zen Life and Meditation Center we speak of mindfulness meditation as intentional awareness that is embodied and non-judgmental. 

Intentional means a course of action that is deliberate, purposeful and based on a willful decision to shift gears. Intention is the roadmap we design for ourselves to move us from being stuck in the same spot by the side of our perceived road to a new highway that moves us forward. Maybe that highway leads us home, or possibly, it leads us to adventure. Intentionality is not like requesting an Uber driver to take us somewhere as quickly as possible. Our teachers remind us that the map is of our own design. We’ve done some research and we need the discipline to sit down on the cushion and draw our map. Then we need the courage to trust our map and hit the road full throttle ahead.

Awareness doesn’t come cheap either - no easy drive-through at McMindfulness for a juicy burger.  And we won’t find True North at McMindfullness.com. Awareness requires sustained focus. Awareness necessitates the discipline to practice seeing seeing what is outside, all around, and inside of us.  Awareness is also the practice of feeling our way through terrain that we thought we knew. We have unexpected roadblocks ahead. How do we alert ourselves to danger? How do we know when to put on the brakes or to drive free on an open road with our hair blowing in the wind? How do we learn to turn on a dime? How do we discern when to slow down and smell the exquisite pleasure of salt in the air of the Jersey shore?

Embodied means being willing to ask the body, the one that carries our heads from place to place, what it has been trying so hard to tell us. Our bodies cry out to us - they hurt, they ache.  The colitis, chronic colds, knee pain, the racing heart. These bodies that we have inhabited - young and vital and full of hormonal energies, middle-aged and aching from too much work and too many demands, and old and feeling the residue of many years of heart-ache and sorrow, pleasures and joy. Can we slow down and ask our bodies to share their wisdom?

Non-judgmental means cutting ourselves some slack. Being gentle with ourselves and taking a vacation from blame, guilt and shame. It means allowing ourselves a long-deserved rest, guilt free, into feeling new states of intention, awareness and embodiment. That means sending the inner critic, in my case, a scarlet red parrot who squawks on my shoulder to a beach in Puerto Vallarta for a sustained vacation. She will drink margaritas, chit-chat with the handsome young bartender, and enjoy a well-deserved break from me, too.

This is what we mean by intentional awareness that is embodied and non-judgmental - to make the space and take the time to sit on our cushion every day and count our breath to ten on the exhale. To notice when we mentally meander down a side street and then we come back to our breath and the count. To recognize that we sit behind the wheel that we steer. To know that we are, in fact, in the driver’s seat. On our cushion.

may 2018 be an open road.

Susan Keijo Sensemann

December 2, 2017

Your Own Heart, There is the Practice Hall
by Sensei June Tanoue

Brad Lewis volcano.jpg

Ua ola loko i ke aloha
Love gives life within
Love is imperative to one's mental and physical welfare
Mary Kawena Pukui

Iʻm on day 4 of a 7-day Zen silent meditation retreat called Sesshin.  Sesshin means to unify the mind-heart.  Iʻve noticed how far apart my mind and heart can become.  So Iʻm always thankful when sesshin time comes around. These retreats are so restorative and nurturing for me.  I can just sit and come home to my heart and spirit.

The first few days of sesshin can be hard as you transition from daily hectic life into a slower and more sane pace.  There are less distractions to pull your attention away from the core of the matter.  What is the core of the matter?  Thatʻs a good question. : )

So letʻs start at the beginning. Noticing how you feel is first.  I found I was exceedingly crabby the first three days of sesshin.  Nothing seemed to be right.  Everyone seemed to be doing something wrong or not the way I wanted it to go. I kept trying to find something or someone to blame for my discontent.  Itʻs an easy recipe to cook, and many people use it because itʻs really satisfying to blame someone else for your discontent.  But does it really work to end the distress that youʻre in?

Blaming others is not helpful because youʻre looking in the wrong place for an answer.  Plus, especially if youʻre a Buddhist, itʻs breaking the Buddhist precept to not speak of othersʻ errors and faults.  Itʻs not how to get to the heart of the matter.

In my case, I could easily project my discontent onto others and fall into a kind of victim mentality.  I was waiting for others to change so I could feel better about the situation.  But I have no control over others.  

I tried pushing my feelings away and hoped my annoyance would just disappear or magically change.  But your mess is still there if you donʻt clean it up.  Itʻs your mess after all.

I tried wishing my crabbiness away with thoughts like, "Iʻm a Zen Buddhist teacher not to mention a kumu hula (master hula teacher). I shouldnʻt be irritable and out of sorts!  I should be serene, magnanimous and full of aloha.  Go away crabbiness - I donʻt want you here!"  But of course negativity stuck to me even more when I tried to push it away.  It pervaded my body, mind and heart with its sticky tentacles.  I was the picture of suffering - like that guy in Peanuts with the dark cloud over his head all the time.

On the evening of the third day, I decided to face my discontent, instead of trying to wish it away. I remembered that our Zen practice is about including everything - even things we donʻt like.   

So I took a moment that night to say to my crabbiness, "Ok crabbiness, I see you.  Iʻm not going to push you away any more.  Iʻm going to bear witness to you, pay attention to you, and surround you with some loving kindness and empathy."  I focused on the feelings in my body and when thoughts arose, I noticed the thoughts but returned to the feelings in my body.

I realized that there was a hard little ball of irritation located somewhere in the middle of my chest area - inside my body.  I focused on surrounding this little dark ball with warmth and care.  Maybe just a few seconds passed - maybe more - and then the image of my heart came into my consciousness - a very sad and tender heart.  I really felt it.   

It surprised me because I didnʻt realize that my heart was so sad and tender until just that moment.  Thereʻs an exquisite, subtle pain that a sad and tender heart releases.  Something that we seem to want to avoid feeling at all costs.  But if we avoid it, we canʻt integrate it, canʻt welcome it into our experience and heal.

Such work with your heart is spiritual practice.  Itʻs about building patience, discipline, courage and love.  Itʻs important for waking up.  Your own heart, the practice hall.   

Malama pono (take good care of your body, mind, heart),

June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue

Kumu Hula and Sensei

P.S.  Hereʻs 2017 Halau i Ka Pono Year in Review slideshow.  Happy Holidays to you and your ʻohana (family)!

 

Blue Pancake
by Roshi Robert Althouse

 painting by Robert Althouse

painting by Robert Althouse

Ummon said, "The world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your robe at the sound of the bell?" Each morning, as we finish meditation, a bell is rung, and we chant the verse of the okesa as we put our rakusu robes on top of our head. We chant,

Vast is the robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction
I wear the Tathagata teaching
Saving all sentient beings.

Don't you long to be liberated by this vastness? Isn't your deepest desire to be complete and whole in this way? We speak of this experience as spirit, knowing that all words and concepts get in the way. You must let go of knowing for this experience is beyond time and space. This is given. You will not attain it no matter how hard you try. You may discover it and if you do, it will change everything. It has always been here and it is your deepest, truest self. Here there is no coming or going. 

If you see this, you can answer the questions, "Show me your original face before your parents were born?" 

In the early years of my practice at Zen Center of Los Angeles, Douglas Harding came and gave a talk about a little book he had recently published called "On Having No Head". In a room of 12 people, he'd ask, "How many heads are in the room?" And someone would say "12". So he'd ask again, "How many heads do you SEE in the room?" And someone would say, "Well, actually I only see 11." And that is an intriguing discovery because now you are no longer in the room, but the room is in you. And this is a glimpse of spirit. 

I encourage you to try this out for yourself. It will be helpful if you sit still with yourself before and after this so you can take it in as deeply as possible. Trungpa said it very well: "The sky is a blue pancake that plops on your head."

I hope you glimpse this for yourself. It's not difficult really. Just let go of "knowing" and it's right here; has always been here. It was here as the light met your eyes for the first time, and it will be here as the light leaves your eyes with your last breath. 

© 2017 Roshi Robert Althouse

Mindfulness:
Clarity vs. Certainty

by Susan Sensemann

 photo by Susan Sensemann

photo by Susan Sensemann

I had the pleasure of dining with two brothers who love each other and appreciate their family of origin. However, they do not share political, ideological or spiritual points of view. The younger of the two is a practicing Catholic and political conservative. The older has a meditation practice, forty years of TM using a mantra, and is a liberal/progressive. As the evening wound down, the older brother initiated a discussion about religion.

I sat back for a moment as I considered each man’s body language and tone of voice. The younger brother smiled. I could see that he was breathing calmly. The older of the two leaned in. His voice rose as he dismissed organized religion, calling it hokus pokus, ridiculous, and naive. The younger did not pick up the rope to engage in a tug of war to defend his beliefs. He was clear about that. Clarity is a focused awareness that is paradoxically expansive.  He seemed to be breathing into his faith and breathing out loving kindness to his argumentative older brother whose opinion was fixed. Closed - not only in disbelief, but with an edge of contempt for the religion. 

It occurred to me that a certain view is a closed view. Fastened tight and shut off. Certainty is fixed and frozen with no wiggle-room for engagement. I realized that the brothers would not have a discussion to share ideas. I did suggest Bernie Glassman Roshi’s adage: “It’s just my opinion, man.” Lighten up, bro. Certainty is boring, opined.

I have been in recent dialogue with a Catholic friend as we have explored similarities and differences between Catholicism and Buddhism. He explained the literal, the situational and the aspirational aspects of the Trinity: God, the Holy Spirit and the Son as an embodied man. I shared with him the Three Kayas (Bodies) of Buddha: Absolute, Energy, and Physical Body. We agreed that God/Absolute, Spirit/Energy and Jesus/Buddha ring in harmony.

Our conversations are both probing and laughter-filled. We have agreed not to be right. Not to hold our views and beliefs in higher regard than the other’s. We did not have to agree to disagree, because we know that disagreement would shut down the conversation - each to his/her corner. We are sharing a dialogue that helps each of us gain a clearer perspective of our own beliefs and doubts relative to the other’s. It’s not all theology - we’re having fun.

My friend explained the purpose of the story of the New Testament Doubting Thomas, a skeptic who would not believe without direct experience. He wanted proof. He told me of various Catholic rites, pilgrimages and rituals that are steeped in embodied physicality.

I told my friend that direct experience is what Living a Zen Inspired Life simply is. Embodied. Direct. On the ground. Domestic. He wanted an example of being Zen and I told him: wash a plate. Is it that simple? Yes. The smooth white ceramic plate is in your left hand, you adjust the water temperature and notice that water is wet. This is called Prajna Wisdom - things are as they are. Notice that. You take up the soapy sponge and begin to exert a small circular motion that starts in your spine to shoulder and moves to your fingers. You notice the sudsy water drip from the plate and the small yellow smear of egg yolk floats on the bubbles and disappears into the drain. What’s to doubt? You wash a plate. 

Susan Keijo Sensemann

November 16, 2017

 

 

  

Mindfulness: Ephemeral Art
by Susan Keijo Sensemann

 photograph by Susan Sensemann

photograph by Susan Sensemann

I’ve made art everyday for fifty years. The accumulated racks of paintings, flat-file drawers full of drawings and stacks of photomontages weigh me down now. I continue to make ‘my art,’ but I have also begun to construct ephemeral art that requires no storage at all - mandalas of fallen leaves, flower petals, sticks, shells, stones and recently, colored sand and salt. My meditative art practice begins as I gather flowers, separate the petals from the stems, pick up fallen leaves, and sort everything by shape and color. I dye sand, salt, and lavender seeds with vegetable pigment for mandalas that are particularly intricate.

I place one flower in the center of the given space - yard, floor, table - and make concentric circles until I have used up my materials. Two feet to twelve feet in diameter for various kinds of celebrations and rites of passage: an eightieth birthday, a wedding, a passing, a remembrance. After I sit with the completed piece, I sweep up the component parts, put them in a woven bag, and release it all into a nearby river, ocean, lake or pond. 

I document the process and am surprised by what my camera catches: red rose petals floated into the shape of a heart the day my dog died and lavender seeds seemed to hug a reflection of a tree as I remembered the death of a friend’s granddaughter. In my tribute to Western medicine for saving a friend’s life, the wind carried one zinnia blossom out into a small lake and the flower’s soft landing created concentric ripples well off the shore. The petals and leaves eventually float with the current, but sometimes they cling to the bank or shoreline before they sail away. I sit on the water’s edge and witness transformation and ephemerality as what was tangible joins a greater ebb and flow until it disappears entirely. As an artist making pieces that are impermanent, I surrender my control and will to what is unpredictable, spacious and magical. I am always reminded to go with the Flow.

Today I gathered autumn leaves for a mandala to mark the one-year anniversary of the passing of Leonard Jikan Cohen - poet, songwriter, performer, scholar, prophet and ordained Buddhist monk. I began making my tribute mandala with a Buddhist verse that calls for benefaction and liberation of all other beings.  Then, I cranked up Jikan’s music and danced as I arranged the leaves to “Traveling Light,” “True Love Leaves No Traces” “Dance Me To The End of Love,” and “Hallelujah.”  Leonard wrote that everything is in flux. Nothing is permanent. Thank you, Jikan.

True Love Leaves No Traces, 1977, Leonard Cohen:

As the mist leaves no scar /  On the dark green hill /  So my body leaves no scar /  On you and never will /  Through windows in the dark /  The children come, the children go /  Like arrows with no targets  / Like shackles made of snow .  As a falling leaf may rest /  A moment on the air /  So your head upon my breast / So my hand upon your hair.  And many nights endure /  Without a moon or star /  So we will endure  / When one is gone and far .  True love leaves no traces /  If you and I are one /  It's lost in our embraces  / Like stars against the sun.

 

 

Mindfulness: Facing Fear
by Susan Sensemann

 photograph by Susan Sensemann

photograph by Susan Sensemann

We face tests of one sort or another many times a day, some of greater consequence than another: the driver in front of us turns without a signal or our dog pushes through the gate. Other situations are more complicated: a family member wrongly casts blame, a partner gives us the heave-ho, an opportunity for a promotion requires a move to another city. Some decisions are met with a turn-on-a-dime reflex - our brain stems takes care of that.  Others require clear communication as well as thoughtful and skillful means to best sort through possible outcomes. 

When met with the unexpected, we might be flooded with fear. Will I make the right decision? What if I don’t? Why doesn’t the pro and con list add up to a clear answer? You hear a voice in your head “This is a TEST!” You panic and cringe away from the circumstance with a cold, grey feeling of dread. A possible response is to flee from the situation, to fill our time with more television, sports, food or drink. Carbs are good for distraction as we avoid our fears and push our sadnesses and discomforts onto the other end of the sofa and hand them adult beverages. Hiding from fear is not unusual. We don’t like the sweaty palms that accompany uncertainty. 

A mindfulness meditation practice trains us to be proactive rather than reactive. We take time to sit. Spine and head are tall as we breathe into the fear. We bear witness. We Name that Emotion like a 50s television quiz show. We breathe into the reality that our fear is not real. It certainly feels real. So, we name it again: Fear. Big old Medusa-headed Fear. What is the trigger for that basic human emotion? Do we need to recoil from a snake? Take shelter from a tree that’s about to topple? Or is our fear based in mental projections that the worst is bound to happen. We catastrophize.  A mindfulness meditation practice reminds our body to sit still as we count our breaths. And, within our stillness, the monsters in our mind’s eye head to the hills.

It is within this pause of sitting and breathing that we have the opportunity to become a Spiritual Warrior. Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche wrote that the term Warrior refers to one with open-hearted courage; one who embodies basic human wisdom that arises through relaxed confidence, joyful awareness and gentle, ever-loving generosity. Being an open-hearted warrior can hurt, but we bear that pain with gratitude, too. We are alive. Spiritual Warriors embody the courage to face fears and very possibly, to dance with them to the edge of the forest. 

Mindfulness and the Gap
by Susan Keijo Sensemann

 photograph by Susan Sensemann

photograph by Susan Sensemann

The ups and downs that are inherent to being human come to us at break-neck speed. I wrote ‘to us’ and not ‘at us.’  Each event that causes us to stop, pause, take stock, evaluate a way forward and push on through is a lesson when we take the time to bear witness to what is happening at any given moment. What I mean by ‘bear witness’ is to sit with the feelings that arise within our bodies as we muddle through shock, grief, sadness, loss and sometimes the awe of something as ordinary as watching a red maple leaf pirouette to the earth in late October. We weep with the leaf - its perfect spiral as it dances with the wind or dances to its own music. We might weep because we know that winter is bearing down. Some of us prefer warm beaches to wrapping scarves and wearing boots, but the earth is simply asking for a blanket until she yawns, stretches and pops forth with shades of green in April. That is poetic. 

What about the conversation, one word, that changes the course of life as we thought we knew it? Famine or feast. Angel or beast. The unknown. The not known. That which is not prescribed pre-planned, prepared as we expected or hoped. The diagnosis. The simple word “not.” Maybe the words “I love you.” Maybe the last breath of a beloved dog. Maybe the first breath that a granddaughter breathes as we question what sort of grandmother we might be. It’s all new.

It is a matter of stopping, noticing, feeling what is occurring in that very moment. To see and feel what is happening at any given time is mindfulness. To appreciate the possibility inherent to any moment’s unexpected presence might be called the Gap.

Mindfulness, our practice of meditation, helps us learn to stop, pause, breathe, and pay attention. We learn to swim in the gap. Bask in it if we like palm trees and warm waters, 

dance in it if we love rhythm and music. Or, sit in stillness and silence if that is where we locate our hearts. The Gap is the unexpected. To be in the Gap is our practice. Not knowing, bearing witness to whatever arises, knowing within the sacred space of our open hearts what it is that is arising and choosing to move with the flow that simply is an open heart. Sometimes that open heart hurts so much that we can hardly bear it. The sorrows, the joys. Mindfulness prepares us to dance with the unknown. Leonard Cohen wrote: There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. That is the Gap.

Warm Data by Nora Bateson

We are grateful for Nora Bateson's permission to publish this ground-breaking article on our Zen Life Blog. 

Contextual Research and New forms of Information

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Recognizing that complex problems are not susceptible to predetermined solutions, the International Bateson Institute has taken up the task of generating a category of information specifically dedicated to description of contextual relational interaction, calling it “Warm Data”. The units of knowledge by which reasoning and calculations are made namely, data, information, and facts, suggest processes of research into which we place our hopes for better understanding of the world we inhabit. But the subject being perceived must dictate the necessity of understanding in different ways, therefore producing different kinds of information. Warm data is the product of a form of study specifically concentrated on (trans)contextual understanding of complex systems. Utilizing information obtained through a subject’s removal from context and frozen in time can create error when working with complex (living)systems. Warm data presents another order of exploration in the process of discerning vital contextual interrelationships, and another species of information.

“Warm Data” can be defined as: Transcontextual information about the interrelationships that integrate a complex system.

Information can come in many forms, depending on what is being studied. There is a need now for a way to gather and impart relational information when what we need to study is relational in nature. Warm Data is a category of information to develop in tandem to existing forms of data. This kind of information is a slippery mess of variables, changes, and ambiguities. It does not sit nicely in graphs or models, and it takes longer to produce. Since Warm Data describes relational interdependencies it must also include the necessary contradictions, binds (double-binds and more), and inconsistencies that occur in interrelational processes over time. Warm Data is the delivery of these multiple descriptions in active comparison, usually in a form that permits and even encourages the subjectivity of the observer within which it is possible to make meta connections.

This essay is an exploration of how and why Warm Data is developing as a form of documentation of relational and contextual information. Here the discussion does not go into the ways in which Warm Data are produced, or what do with Warm Data in terms of “actions”.

Making Sense & Science:

In early 2012, I was at a session on Big Data at the SAS Institute in North Carolina when I declared to my colleagues that there is a need for “contextual information” and first referred to it as “Warm Data.” That moment marked the beginning of conceptualizing and exploring the possibilities of producing an approach to research, and then imagining what the delivery of “Warm Data” research might look like.

I was not clear what it was yet, I was only certain of one thing: that a new kind of information was needed to balance the information produced by research that decontextualized its subjects of inquiry. In short, the way in which we make sense of the world has everything to do with the way we behave in it, so I saw a need for another sense-making as a necessary component of shifting behavior. Five years later the International Bateson Institute is now utilizing “Warm Data” in our research and findings on addiction, how systems learn, health and ecology.

Science, the systematic pursuit of knowledge, is at the center of the post-trust, post-truth meltdown. It appears that information as a product of knowledge, is now on trial. Every research study it would appear, is perforated with holes of distrust and met with counter evidence. Research bias and funding-based conflicts of interest have undermined public confidence in scientific research results, even though good research remains the best (and only) possible way forward as we look for ways to reduce our negative impact on the world around us. Subsequent public confusion and division is resulting in binary argument fueled by information that has been derived without the complexity required to actually make sense of it contextually. The damage is vast.

In this era, it is nearly impossible to get through a day without contributing to the destruction of our world. By lunchtime most people have participated in: further disruption to the ecology, an increase in the wealth gap, the demise of social justice, and the vengeful division between cultures. Breakfast cereals are laced with chemical pesticides that are known to be toxic both to our bodies and to the soil. They also contain damagingly high amounts of refined sugar. Yet these harmful practices have been approved by the institutional authorities of science and society. How has it come to this? And how can new patterns of interaction in our societies be encouraged to emerge? Our social deference to authorized institutions in the interest of collective safety has evolved over centuries. But that safety has been contaminated, along with our trust in the institutions that are supposed to provide truth and justice. How can science evolve to contribute to greater trustworthiness of our socio-economic institutions? How can sense be made of this tangle?

Part of the problem is that, globally, nationally and personally, we face crises that can be described as “complex” or “wicked” problems. Complexity is recognizable in situations which have multiple variables in ever shifting contexts of interdependency. Some examples of complex living systems are oceans, cities, families, economic systems, culture, the health of our own bodies, and the medical systems we expect to support them.

In each of these systems, vitality is produced by multiple processes in contextual interaction. To study a jungle is to recognize that the jungle itself is not an isolated “thing” but instead exists in the interrelationship between soil, foliage, animals, weather patterns, bacteria and so on. The same contextual linkings can be found in all living systems; approaching the system without an understanding of this holism will create short circuits in the complexity and countless unintended consequences. Making sense of the vitality of a complex system is an inquiry into its way of making contact. A study of the relational patterns gives entirely different understanding of the way in which a system is cohering.

“At present there is no existing science whose special interest is the combining of pieces of information. But I shall argue that the evolutionary process must depend upon such double increments of information.

Every evolutionary step is an addition of information to an already existing system. Because this is so, the combinations, harmonies, and discords between successive pieces and layers of information will present many problems of survival and determine many directions of change.”

Gregory Bateson, Mind & Nature, 1979

Why Warm Data?

Although statistical data is useful, it is also limited by the common practice it often accompanies: decontextualizing the focus of inquiry. To study something is usually to pull it out of context and examine it in isolation. Rarely is the study re-contextualized to look at the complexity of its larger web of relationships. Warm Data circumnavigates the limitations inherent to statistical analysis by engaging a transcontextual research methodology, bringing not only context, but multiple contexts into the inquiry process. In order to interface with any complex system without disrupting the cohesion of the interdependencies that give it integrity, we must look at the spread of relationships that make the system robust. Simply using analytic methods focused on parsing statistical (cold) data will often point to conclusions that disregard the complexity of the situation at hand. Moreover, information that does not take into account the full scope of interrelationality in a system is likely to inspire misguided decision-making, which compounds already “wicked” problems. Warm Data is not meant to replace or in any way diminish other data, but rather it is meant to keep data of certain sorts “warm” — with a nest of relations intact.

 

 Photo by Jeff Bloom

Photo by Jeff Bloom

 

Transcontextual Research & the Rigor of Ambiguity:

Warm Data provides cross-sector interrelational information because it is the outcome of a research approach premised upon the transcontextual interaction inherent in any system. This sort of inquiry is daunting and perpetually in its pioneering stages. This research is has as its basis humility for the un-knowability and ambiguity inherent in these forms of study. However, these inevitable uncertainties we recognize do not lead us to an abandonment of deep study. On the contrary, studying relational information from multiple contextual perspectives, produces more work, takes more time, and requires larger teams. The rigor of this research is not to be underestimated. For example, if one wants to study the ways in which food impacts our lives, a multifaceted study of ecology, culture, agriculture, economy, cross-generational communication, and media is needed. This transcontextual platform provides a wider contextual framework for further inquiry into what forms and constitutes certain international contemporary issues such as eating disorders, starvation, and other health problems associated with diet. Or in a family study, to better understand an individual family member the Warm Data of the family culture, and other contextual information is enormously productive. The meanings of behavior differ greatly from family to family and from culture to culture, therefore contextual information can provide needed insight into otherwise line item analysis, diagnostics and understandings of causation. People migration, the changing banking industry, and the challenges facing mechanical and civil engineering are all topics that would benefit from an increase in contextual, relational information.

Warm Data is generated through a Batesonian[1] approach of comparing interrelating processes in a given system. This approach needs us to reconsider our prevailing epistemology, to foreground the study of interdependency, to observe the observer and to look for “the pattern that connects”.

Pattern:

What is the pattern that connects? This question, famously posed by Gregory Bateson (father of the author), draws the inquirer and researcher to another level of description. It is an invitation to reach behind the perceived separations of knowledge to get to the contextual knitting together of definitively inseparable processes.

Epistemology:

A majority of current scientific research tools and methodologies pull “subjects” from their contexts in order to derive detailed, specialized, quantifiable information. To complement, and yet support, this specialized type of science, a wider practice of science in the future might develop ways to utilize information derived from both detail and interdependency. However, for now, the cultural habit of decontextualizing information, or, reductionism, is the standardized, authorized, and empirical norm.

An evolution in the realm of science is needed to foreground, and find ways to communicate (and “deliver”) another form of information, one that is less likely to be riddled with errors deriving from hidden contextual consequences. But it will require a significant shift in epistemology to begin to perceive the interrelationality in addition to the parts and wholes of any given system. A shift in the way information is derived will, in turn, inform the actions we take to protect society and ecology.

The Scientific Revolution of the 1600s brought us the scientific method and the bounty of mechanistic thinking. It brought us the notions of induction, empiricism, hard evidence, quantitative measurement, and objectivity. All of these have been enormously useful: skyscrapers, aircraft, computers and EKG machines are all manifestations of this form of scientific research and development. But not all studies are served by the empirical and inductive quantitative method. There are some forms of understanding that resist measurement and elude objectivity: these can include understanding of what is necessary for raising children well or understanding the ramifications of culture on climate change. Reductionism, or the habit of isolating information from its context(s), has been good to us, and it has been deadly.

Interdependency:

If there is a concerted effort and demand from the scientific community and from society at large, we may witness a shift in scientific practices to include another form of research that will deliver information that includes the interdependency within complex systems. But this is not an easy shift. The habits of studying things through silo-ed disciplines is deeply entrenched in our culture.

In the mid 1950s the beginnings of a new way of understanding systems emerged in the study of “cybernetics”. Cybernetics offered the tools to look at how the “parts” of systems came together. But this tool was not easy to bring into the fold of scientific notions of isolating objective truth. The logic of “cause and effect” within the study of complex living systems defies the confines of existing methodologies. Interrelationships whose combined processes create the conditions for a particular consequence, such as an addiction, or economic wealth gap, or racism are impossible to quantify without distortion.

Observing the observer:

It takes a team of people to study in this new way. It also takes an open-ended declaration of “outcome” because this form of scientific research will produce only unforeseen “deliverables”. Stabilized, standardized “objective” science is fine for the study of some subjects, but not all. In the case of living systems and complex problems the “facts” are not always enough. The facts according to whom? Through what cultural, and methodological lens were they looking?

The observer matters, and teams of observers matter. Since data are always derived through the particular lens of the researchers, descriptions of their filters of perception are vital information and must not be sterilized out of findings.

As we currently witness the melting of trust in science, politics, law, medicine, social systems and economics, it is clear that this era will require a reclaiming of trustworthiness. Lamenting the postmodern condition of multiple relative truths and impossible clarity is only partially useful in regaining trustworthiness. Beyond the cynicism that the postmodern dilemma delivers is the practical need for better questions, and more rigorous inquiry into complexity.

We can remember that at the same time as the scientific revolution of the 1600s there was a corresponding period in art in which the techniques for rendering perfect replication of still life were constantly improved. Yet in the ensuing centuries it became clear that perfection was not enough. Baroque still lifes may have pursued a photographic realism, but later art movements such as Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Modernism and Postmodernism were responses to a need for a different envisioning of information, as not only “about the chair” but about who is seeing the chair, and how it might be possible to perceive “chair-ness.” Now perhaps it is time for science in its turn to adopt a parallel course of discovery around what perception and information are.

Historical antecedents:

Warm Data is not really new. Throughout history people have used aggregated information toward a natural history approach. Often these findings were often metabolized into other forms of information more readily recognized by the society. It would seem that devolution of natural history is part of the natural history, as it gets sucked back into the cultural paradigms of credibility. The limits of rationale hold particular sense-making habits in place, while others remain threatening. However, there has been a stream of inquiry that has always existed in which relational information was produced. This introduction of the notion of Warm Data is offered here in response to the need for this type of information to be strengthened and honored.

The alchemists, Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe, William Blake, people producing case law, Pythagoras, anthropologists, and artists like Shakespeare, Hokosai, Bjork and countless others have used their own means of bringing together multiple forms of information and rubbing them together to find new perspectives. Currently qualitative research teams and methods are becoming increasingly popular. They may benefit from the naming of another form of information in which to place their findings.

Characteristics of Warm Data:

To more effectively meet the challenges of this new sort of rigor, we require studies that generate understanding of contextual systemic data. The information generated makes a difference not only in scientific research, but also in the contextual influences considered in decision-making. Here are six characteristics of Warm Data.

1. Multiple description: This is a way to illustrate processes and contexts of interdependency. Multiple description both blurs the distinctions between contexts, and describes them through difference, comparison and relational perception. While it might appear that this process would lead to an untenable and infinite collection of perspectives, the Batesonian notion of information as “difference that makes a difference” is way to study the relation between perspectives, through contrasting qualitative characteristics. The information is not located but diffused into the contextual contacts and boundaries.

2. Looking for pattern: We compare findings from one context with findings of similar patterns in other contexts, to generate hybrid information. This is very much in keeping with Pierce’s Abduction. The findings from pattern comparison across contexts are conceptual, and indirect. For example, the patterns of ecological relationships in a tide pool can be compared to the patterns of relationship in a family, but the needs of survival for the tide pool are clearly different in detail than those of the family. Understanding the patterns comparing ecological systems is useful for studies of other systems, even though the systems may be not be alike in their details.

3. Paradox, inconsistency and time: Scientific research premised upon the complexity of a system in relation to its environment will produce paradox and inconsistency, by necessity. In order to keep the complexity intact, results should feature these dilemmas without resolving them. In fact these instabilities are sources of information about the relationships that are highly generative. Relationships over time change, and aggregated relationship such as a forest or society must produce responses to responses that are disruptive. The disruptions are rich with Warm Data.

4. Holism and reductionism: Information derived by zooming out to study context is as important as the information derived by zooming in on detail. These two forms of information are not alike. One is relational and overlapping, the other is isolated and (sometimes) linear. Both are needed in relation even when they produce contradictions. Smaller and larger contexts are tangled up mutually calibrating interactions. They are not concentric nor are they separable; rather they are steeped in interdependency.

5. Cultural epistemological responsibility: Science and culture are deeply entwined. Development of inquiry that is simultaneously inclusive of multiple generations, cultures, and sectors is useful to keep observers’ frames relevant. Information is only as perceivable as the sensorial limits of the observer. A variety of perceptions lessens blind spots.

6. Aesthetic/mood/rhythm: In any inquiry of life, the aesthetic matters — perhaps above all else. This vital condition of any interrelational context is often ignored in favor of misplaced rationality. Given that complex systems are interrelational, the nature of the relationships needs to be noticed. The aesthetic is the conduit through which relation occurs. While the aesthetic need not be valuated, it must be noticed to better assess relational information. Keeping in mind that the opposite of aesthetic is anesthetic, it is clear that increasing sensitivity is preferable to numbness as it increases receivable information.

Just as the methodology for generating Warm Data is characterized by transcontextual research, the end-product and delivery of this information will be characterized by multiple description (though all aspects of Warm Data involves both transcontextual research and multiple description). I need look no further than my own hand for an illustration of how multiple description can increase the scope of understanding within a system and between systems of understanding. To illustrate this, let us ask, “What is a hand for?” Different contexts provide contrasting contexts for understanding. A violinist’s hands hold the muscle memory and learning of a lifetime of practice. But a sculptor’s hands know weight and texture and pressure in another way. People who use sign language express not only words but also emotion through their hands. In this sense, the contexts that the hand exists within, (anatomy, music, memory, language, cognition) each provide a realm of relational data to be explored. This is just one simple example of the possibility of transcontextual research. At present the International Bateson Institute is currently researching the Warm Data of: Addiction, Health Care Systems, Education, Climate Change, Emergency Population Relocation, Double Binds within Political Discourse and more.

The Theory:

There are several theories at work within this process. Here are a few:

Patterns that connect

2. Difference that makes a difference

3. Multiple description

4. Symmathesy: Contextual Mutual learning and calibration

5. Autopoiesis, and Mind (Maturana, Varela, Thompson and Bateson)

6. Systems and Complexity Theory

7. Ecology of communication

8. Double binds

9. Conscious purpose

10. Epistemological frames

11. Change in complex systems

12. Interdependency

13. Abduction (Pierce)

14. Transcontextual Research

Meet the Hydra:
 
Beyond the conventional problem solving techniques of reducing and resolving, problem solving in complexity further requires an understanding of the interdependencies that are generating the issues. We must address these even in addition to our ever more acute and urgent responses to rising situations. Like the heads of the mythological Hydra our crises are many now. But in our silo-ed world the crises that we perceive and address are also silo-ed, as is the habit of finding silo-ed solutions. Much like chopping off the Hydra’s heads, the resulting solutions that do not address the complexity seem only to generate more consequences.

The most serious problems facing us now are not in any particular institution, but rather in the relationship between them. If change is made it is a consequence of a shift not only in the problematized part, but in the combined conditions in which the system exists, be it a person, organization, forest, or society. Like an ecosystem the interdependencies of the institutional systems are interlinked and steeped together in patterns that make it difficult to create whole systems change. To address our socio-economic and ecological crisis now requires a level of contextual comprehension, wiggly though it may be to grok the inconsistencies and paradoxes of interrelational process. Far from solving these dilemmas or resolving the conflicting patterns, Warm Data utilizes these characteristics as its most important resources of inquiry.

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The Hydra grows new heads every time one is chopped off.

References:

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2000. Print.

Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Cresskill: Hampton, 2002. Print.

Bateson, Nora, “Warm Data.” The International Bateson Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

A Moment of Peace, A Day of Peace, A World of Peace

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Today is the United Nations International Day of Peace (IDP). Each year this day is observed around the world on September 21. The United Nations Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. An invitation to all nations and people to honor a cessation of hostilities for the Day. 

"By opening our hearts, joining hands and reaching out to refugees and migrants, we can move closer to attaining peace, prosperity, and protection for all." UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

Please set aside a moment of silence at noon today and join millions of others around the world focusing their intentions on peace. 

Roshi Robert Althouse
Abbot, Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago

http://www.contemplativelife.org/practice/international-day-of-peace/all