The Hidden Singer

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The Hidden Singer

“The gods are less for their love of praise.
Above and below them all is a spirit that needs nothing
but its own wholeness, its health and ours.
It has made all things by dividing itself.
It will be whole again.
To its joy we come together —
the seer and the seen, the eater and the eaten,
the lover and the loved.
In our joining it knows itself. It is with us then,
not as the gods whose names crest in unearthly fire,
but as a little bird hidden in the leaves
who sings quietly and waits, and sings.”

Wendell Berrry

Itʻs so easy to take sides.  Our political system seems to be crazy right now with principles of truth and decency getting lost in the haze - a perfect recipe for taking sides and creating anger.  

And I must admit that I have felt very angry during the current Supreme Court Justice hearings.  But I was also curious about my anger and able to notice it instead of blindly reacting and doing or saying something stupid because of it.  This little distance from which I saw my anger made a big difference.  

But what about depression and feeling overwhelmed?  Can I also be curious about sadness and how it feels in my body?  I noticed depression recently in the midst of packing up one of our apartments.  I felt an indescribable sense of being very tired mentally and physically.  My body felt tight, and my shoulders felt heavy as if a great weight was upon them.  

I decided to just sit and let myself feel these sensations in my body.  I had to work with my attention to stay focused on the feelings because I knew I was resistant to bearing witness to them.  I could easily have jumped up into my head and indulged in stories to distract me from my dis-ease.  

Just noticing my thoughts, without judgment, and returning to the uncomfortable feelings in my body is one process of hoʻomanawanuʻi (being patient) and kind to yourself.   It means bearing witness with loving, respectful attention to what is happening in your body without being distracted by the many stories of your mind.  Thatʻs the pause that heals.  Mindfulness meditation helps with this ability to pause.

Going to my mind when Iʻm upset is the path to circular ruminations about how Iʻm not good enough or how others are wrong.  Iʻve gone down that path before and know that it only fuels the fire of depression and anger.  It does nothing for truth.

Can I notice how I feel without having to change the feeling?  Can I be curious about my reactions?  After calming down, can I feel angerʻs transformation into something else - perhaps determination? Meditation truly helps my focus on where i want to pay attention.

I was impressed with Dr. Christine Blasey Fordʻs testimony - how she wove neuroscience, her specialty, into descriptions of her traumatic experiences.  Her honesty, intelligence and vulnerability were evident during her presentation and the subsequent questioning.   She was very courageous to come forward as she said, "to do her civic duty."

I liked what Zen priest and teacher Norman Fischer said about Judge Kavanaugh and the commotion around him.     "None of this would be happening if he had said, ʻyeah I did drink a whole lot when I was young, I had so much pressure to succeed and knew I would have to so needed to blow off steam while I could. Like other young men in my world I was insensitive to women. But my Catholic upbringing kicked in finally and I really did become a different person. I can't remember having done this but if I did I am truly mortified and deeply sorry.  I also would like to know the truth.ʻ"

Itʻs a beautiful warm October day.  The breezes are blowing, leaves are changing color.  Meditation helps me clearly see how truth, integrity and compassion are essential.  Determination helps me be courageous and vulnerable like a little bird who sings quietly and waits, and sings - even as the environment and my thoughts swirl about like falling leaves.

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

Sensei June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue

Kumu Hula and Sensei


Pathways to Violence

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"We live in a world in which distrust and greed and violence masquerade as common sense and in which the pathways of distrust and greed and violence are rapidly becoming self-validating. By following those pathways we create the social and international structures, the premises upon which we must live. By choosing the "common sense" of distrust, we choose also the progressive truth of distrust. We cause horror to become the only pathway to wisdom." Gregory Bateson

Spiritual Practice for Difficult Times

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Difficult times are an opportunity to deepen the spiritual path and practice, to dig down and ground yourself in your meditation. Take time to be still, to be quiet and listen.

Then get up and go outside. Take a walk. There are seasons for everything. The rhythms of change may be large or small, slow or fast. Appreciate the cycles of light and dark, gain and loss. The dharma is timeless and vast. It can be a source of truth for you during times of uncertainty and rapid change. All humans are intrinsically awake, sane and good. Express your basic sanity by refraining from acting in anger or fear. Manifest your own goodness through acts of kindness and generosity towards others. 

Don't settle for anger, fear or reactivity. You are responsible for your behavior. You are free to choose hatred. You are free to choose love. And remember, hatred never was cured with more hatred. 

Maintain the precepts. Practice the paramitas of generosity, discipline, patience, effort, meditation and wisdom. Practice personal integrity. 

Proclaim the dharma by being gentle but firm. Let your true nature shine forth with courage and bravery. And seek to disarm anger by giving no fear. Listen. Learn. Plant seeds of goodness and water and nurture these seeds as often as possible. May all beings be free of suffering.

Roshi Robert Althouse

Hope, Optimism, Cynicism or Engagement

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"Hope is not the belief that everything will turn out well. People die. Populations die out. Civilizations die. Planets die. Stars die. Recalling the words of Suzuki Roshi, the boat is going to sink! If we look, we see the evidence of suffering, of injustice, of futility, of desolation, of harm, of ending all around us, and even within us. But we have to understand that hope is not a story based on optimism, that everything will be ok. Optimists imagine that everything will turn out positively. I consider this point of view dangerous; being an optimist means one doesn’t have to bother; one doesn’t have to act. Also, if things don’t turn out well, cynicism or futility often follow. Hope of course is also opposed to the narrative that everything is getting worse, the position that pessimists take. Pessimists take refuge in depressive apathy. And, as we might expect, both optimists and pessimists are excused from engagement."
~ ROSHI JOAN HALIFAX

One Who Remains Calm in the Face of Difficulty

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The poʻi na kai uli, kai koʻo, ʻaʻohe hina pukoʻa.
Though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing.
Said of one who remains calm in the face of difficulty.
~Mary Kawena Pukui #904
ʻOlelo Noʻeau, Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings

"Every life is a work of art, and if it does not seem so, perhaps it is only necessary to illuminate the room that contains it...If you learn to listen, you will find that each life speaks to us of love."
~Andrea Bocelli

 

I started volunteering again at the Cook County Dept of Corrections - the county jail - teaching mindfulness meditation to incarcerated women awaiting trial for whatever crime they were accused of committing. 

Since early July Iʻve been going every Tuesday from 12 noon to 1 pm.  My friend Ruth goes with me to volunteer.  Itʻs nice having a second person with me.

The approximately 30 women we work with live on the 2M Tier of Division 5 at Cook County Jail.  Some have been there for many years.  This is the maximum security tier where after their trial date, most will go on to a federal penitentiary.

I was a little nervous when Ruth told me she was going on vacation last week.  I thought about emailing the administrators and telling them I couldnʻt make it.  But my Zen practice is about sometimes sitting with difficult situations (including emotions like fear) and by breathing bearing witness to them and not turning away.

When I confided my nervousness to my friend Ruth, she looked at me square in the eye, and said, "you know you are absolutely safe there."  I knew then my fear was something good to practice with, and I decided that of course I would go.

Division 5 is big and houses about 200 women.  The 2M tier we go to is lit by florescent lights.  There are some 15 cells for the women - housed two to a room.  Thereʻs no door to the bathrooms so when someone flushes the toilet, the sound reverberates through the tier.  I always stopped talking when someone flushed because I couldnʻt compete with the volume.

There are three rectangular tables where most of the women sit on cold steel benches.  Robinson was the name of the African-American guard who opened the door to the tier. She  yelled at a few women to get off the pay phones because I was there.  She was a no-nonsense woman who gave me a brief smile as she nodded for me to enter.

I noticed a small flat screen TV high up on the wall where inmates watched movies.  The women were busy talking to each other.  A few recognized me and started to settle down.  I managed to get their attention and talked to them about the Path of Freedom - Fleet Maullʻs excellent workbook teaching mindfulness for prisoners.  I reminded them that even though they were physically incarcerated, their minds did not also have to be imprisoned.  Mindfulness meditation can free anyoneʻs mind.  This is the Path of Freedom.

About 1/3 of the women were listening to me.  About 1/3 were zoned out - maybe on prescription drugs for anxiety.  The rest were talking quietly to each other.  I gave them some basic meditation instruction, and then we practiced meditation for a few minutes.  I heard some laughter and talking, toilet flushes, and then more talking.  I reminded them that just noticing sounds is good - making it part of your meditation is good - and just coming back to your breathing is the practice.  

Carol, a tall, thin older African American woman, got really into it.  After we ended meditation, she said sheʻd been practicing, and it had helped her tremendously.  I could see that she was one of the most relaxed, calm, and clear woman there.  Itʻs not easy living on this tier!  One young Latina woman, Tracy, kept asking me questions about meditation.  She asked, "Can it really help? My thoughts are all over the place."  She was visibly tense - her shoulders all hunched up, her face drawn and worried.

Yes I assured her that it could help.  I said, "you have to do the practice.  Thatʻs the hard part.  Itʻs simple but not easy to do.  But it gets easier like any new habit you try to incorporate."  The tier was getting noisier.  My hour was just about up.  As I was walking out, Tracy came up to me and burst into tears. My heart just about broke. Tracy said, "I hope meditation helps because I just found out that I need to be here a little longer." 

I assured her that it would.  Carol was next to me thanking me for coming and wondering if she could get a copy of the book The Path of Freedom.  I gave her a copy of the first chapter I had with me - called Training the Mind - The Power of Mindfulness.  When Carol saw Tracy, she gave her a hug, and said, "Iʻll help you."  

Carol was like the coral rock in a rough sea.  I saw love in that dark place.  I knew that every life there was a work of art.

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

June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue
Kumu Hula and Sensei

Your Three Feet of Influence

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By Sharon Salzberg
Submitted by Robin Sheerer

When I ask myself or workshop attendees to name what each values most, people commonly say things like fairness, honesty, generosity, honor, and compassion. I often feel they say them almost wistfully, as if they exist in their imagination or in some world to come. Yet the world we can most try to affect is the one immediately around us. I’ve come to see that we will feel happier and more secure if we try, to the extent that we are able, to bring fairness, generosity, and kindness into our dealings with others.

My friend’s son Frank tried to put this idea into practice during his daily commute on the New York City subway, a place where he often encountered people who, like him, were frazzled and quick to speak sharply to each other. He’d often ended up responding that way too, and he wanted to stop, to not spread the things that were upsetting him to strangers who, he thought, had their own lives to worry about.

As he went down the stairs and through the turnstile he thought about what he was bringing into the station with him that morning. He’d had a fight with his girlfriend, and he faced a difficult meeting when he got to work. Also his back was hurting again, and his steps were jagged. Along with his anxiety about the morning news, he recognized how cranky he was and that he was he was spoiling for a fight to let some of this loose. As it turns out, he was also bringing a book he was reading, one I’d written, Lovingkindness.

There were big crowds on the platform. There had been some snafu, and three packed trains passed his station without stopping, to the jeers of the others on the platform. He was angry that, through no fault of his own, he would be late to work.

Finally a train stopped. When he maneuvered through the crowd at the door, he saw it was packed with rowdy middle schoolers on a field trip. They were boisterous and physical. He turned up the volume on his headphones to drown them out.

At the next stop a woman holding two heavy bags in one hand and a child’s hand in the other pulled the little girl through the crowd to the pole where Frank was standing. Immediately she berated him, saying he was taking up too much space, his big hand was blocking out too much of the pole, and how did he expect her little girl to get a grip?

Frank wanted to bark back at her, but instead he paused to take her in. Likely she would be even later to work than he. She had to drop this child off at school or day care. Literally she was carrying a heavy burden, two of them, and objectively this transit situation was frustrating them all. “You know, you’re right,” Frank said, moving his hand higher. “Sorry about that.” One of the students careened into Frank from behind, right at the tender spot in his back. Again his first impulse was to yell at the boy, tell him to watch where he was going. Frank looked at him before he spoke and saw genuine concern in the boy’s face when Frank winced from the pain in his back.

“Hey, buddy, slow down,” Frank told the boy with a smile. “This train is crowded.”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry. What’s the book you’re reading?” the boy asked.

“It’s a book about how to be kinder to each other,” Frank said.

“They write books about stuff like that?” the boy said, and turned back to his friends.

Think of the difference if Frank acted on his first impulse. He’d be glowering at the woman and child, and likely the woman would be staring at him with the same fury while the child looked confused and frightened. He would have made the boy feel guilty and clumsy. Instead the space around Frank was calmer because he’d paused before adding to the friction. He had done his part not to enhance the misery in the three feet around his body that were his to influence.

Few people are powerful enough, persuasive, persistent, consistent, and charismatic enough to change the world all at once, but everyone has the ability to affect the three feet around them by behaving more ethically, honestly, and compassionately toward those they meet. Just picture it: If more people acted from this space of love, there would be more and more terrain covered.

Yes, it may be tough to hold to these values when you may feel them under threat. Close quarters, like a crowded space, automatically engage our defenses. When someone breaches that imaginary boundary, our first reaction is to push back without pausing for a moment to examine the nature of the intrusion. Is it an act of aggression, someone who wants to harm us? Or is it a reflexive rebuke, like the woman at the subway pole, who was more frustrated than she was menacing? Or is it, as it was with the young boy, just clumsiness? When we consider the three feet of space around us as our canvas, we can more and more make those assessments and act creatively in a way that deescalates conflict.

None of us can do this perfectly. Sometimes you are the one who is the aggressor because the unfolding of your day, or year, has you the one feeling you are alone. Committing to speaking truthfully and without the intention to do harm, to listening carefully to what others have to say and to remembering that all of us are struggling to make sense of a changing world, will allow us to stand strong amid the chaos. You cannot control the world, the country, your town, the mood swings of those you love, but you can try to create around you a little bit of space that is all your own, a place where the rules of interaction you’ve chosen make sense and your actions have integrity.

We can be the kind of people who lead with their hearts and behave to those around them in an ethical, honest, and kindly manner that creates for those who enter that three feet around us a feeling of peace that also serves to steady the self.

Message from the Hopi

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell them this IS the Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living? What are you doing with your life?
How are your relationships doing?

Are you in right relation with those around you?
It is time to speak your truth, to create your community.
Be good to each other, and look within to find your guide.
This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and so
swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart.
And they will suffer greatly. Be there for them.
And know that the river has its destination.

The Elders say that we must let go of the shore,
Push off into the middle of the river, and
Keep our eyes open and our head above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all ourselves.
For the moment we do, our spiritual journey comes to a halt.

Banish the word "struggle” from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in the sacred manner
and in celebration
We are the ones we have been waiting for.

 The Elders, Oraibi, Arizona. Hopi Nation

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

Sign the Change.org petition

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

Our Lady of Guadalupe.JPG

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)!