Setting Sail in Stormy Waters


We are living through chaotic, unprecedented and unstable times. It can be hard to find your bearings. It seems we may have taken the values of our democracy too much for granted and now they need to be defended. We need to stand not only for core values but for each other.

There are so many ways we can separate ourselves from each other. If you believe life is a zero-sum game then you will fight to win at all costs, no matter how much suffering results. And this is indeed the political environment we find ourselves in. So why is the Zen spiritual path relevant in such times as these?

Zen was born in early China and came to prominence during the decade-long An Lushan Rebellion. It’s said that 1/3 of the population of China was wiped out by violence, disease and hunger. And yet Zen flourished because it rose to the occasion by helping people turn towards the suffering rather than avoiding and running away from it.

So there are five ways Zen might help you navigate these choppy waters to reach the other shore.


The spiritual path begins with waiting. You must be patient. You can not begin the journey with impulsive or ill-conceived action, no matter how good your intentions. Before you unfurl your sails and set forth on the high seas of the unknown, you need to be prepared. Fishing nets need to be mended. Leaks in the boat need to be caulked. The boats need to be sanded and painted. You have to wait for all of the crew to arrive.

Waiting can teach you many things. It can teach you to listen, to rest, and to pay attention to small things. You begin to appreciate the crew that have joined you for this journey.

In Zen practice, meditation teaches us how to wait. It teaches us how to hang out with ourselves and with others. It teaches us how to be with our experience, directly, intimately. It teaches us to let go of our attachment to the outcome. It teaches us to respect ourselves and our world.


Waiting teaches you to listen to your own experience with greater care and kindness. And what you may discover is that you are often in the grip of what Tara Barch calls the "trance of unworthiness". Another word for this is "shame". It's one of the most common sufferings I see. Shame cripples any positive initiative or creative impulse. It is highly correlated with depression, aggression, violence, bullying, addiction and sleep disorders. It's message is, "I am bad". "I am not OK as I am". Shame always has a prerequisite. "I'll be OK once I ____________." And you can fill in the blank for yourself.

In the grip of shame you find yourself working hard to fit in, to always please others and to do everything perfectly. You spend enormous amounts of energy trying to avoid being shamed or humiliated by others. The fear of rejection is often at the fore-front of your consciousness.

Ironically, it seems to me the prerequisite for entering the spiritual path is overcoming shame. As you work with this, you gradually realize that there is something in the heart of your experience which is rich, sane and worthy, and it's unconditional. It does not depend on other peoples' approval of you. It does not depend on how much money you earn, how smart you are, or how many friends you have on Facebook.

So there is some wholeness in you that is lovable and good. This wholeness is not divided in any way. So it includes everything. It includes your world, your neighborhood, your government, and yes, even politicians. The spiritual path of living a Zen-inspired life returns you to the wholeness of who you are. And in coming home, you make friends with your world.


Once you trust your own sanity, you're ready for the journey. And the basic principle that applies here is that you should approach difficulties. This may be counter-intuitive. You have developed habits of avoiding suffering, which contribute to your dissatisfaction. You discover that the journey is headed straight for the rocks. But now instead of freaking out, and pretending a crisis is not happening, you take this as another opportunity to wake up, and to be more skillful. You don't stop loving someone because they are suffering. You show up and spend time with them. You are present with their suffering, without pity, without judgement. Some fortitude is being born in your own sad and tender heart. Some tenderness and care for the enormous suffering of the world around you.


Grief is how you know that you've set sail on the high seas. Adventures are to be experienced. And yet, it's surprising to discover that an important part of this journey is returning home again and again.

You've started make friends with yourself and your world, and you discover this soft spot in yourself, this sad and tender heart that has been disappointed, hurt and betrayed so many times before. Your own sanity, inspires you to stay, to grieve, to open your heart further to this incomprehensible and insane world you find yourself living in. You don't need to wall off your heart any longer.

I still remember 9/11 vividly. I remember the loneliness I felt and the need I had to be with other people, to share my pain and my confusion. I believe that if we as a country had been able to properly grieve this tragedy, we might have transformed ourselves as a country. But we unable to do this. We rushed to judgement and reaction that led us into two wars, one of which we are still trying to extricate ourselves from.

We could grieve for our planet, for the species that are rapidly disappearing. We could greave for our oceans where the coral reefs are dying. We could grieve for the hundreds of children being shot and slaughtered in their own schools. We could grieve for our own divided nation and the impasse we have reached politically.

Grieving is how we come to our senses, how we wake up and embrace our world. It takes courage to remain open hearted and face a world which seems to have gone crazy. What's born from this brave, open heart is a vow, an aspiration to live your life for the sake of healing suffering wherever it resides in the human heart.


Ordinary people live by the habits of their karmic actions. Those who live a Zen-inspired life live by vow. They aspire and orient their life around serving and giving of themselves so that others may wake up and be liberated from suffering. They are freed from the constant self-preoccupations that plague others. They are inspired to engage with the suffering in the world. They do not run away from suffering. They don't try to fix it. They have tremendous power and fortitude born from the strength of compassion. They are able to show up with kindness and care and respect.

The only obstacle to living a Zen-inspired life in this way, is your own doubt, your own fear that you are not worthy or good enough or brave enough to live in this way. Face your fear, and then go beyond it. Live a larger life and make a difference in the world around you. Live your life as if it mattered.

No matter how crazy the world seems, its still possible to show up here, sane and open. In Zen practice we renew this practice daily through the practice of meditation. Meditation is our base-line practice that helps us keep our ship upright and sailing through rough seas. Please take good care of yourself, your family, your community, your country and the planet. May all beings be free of suffering.

Robert Joshin Althouse, 2019

Breaking the Trance of Unworthiness

People have so many exotic ideas about what Zen is and isn't. It's not really so important what you think Zen is. It's more important that you find a way to appreciate Zen in your everyday life through how you work with yourself, how you preform daily routines and how you relate to others. In the end this amounts to trusting in your own natural openness which is based on a mindful awareness that is not something we can grasp in a merely conceptual way. Trance of Unworthiness In her book, "Radical Acceptance", Tara Brach says "Because so many of us grew up without a cohesive and nourishing sense of family, neighborhood, community or 'tribe,' it is not surprising that we feel like outsiders, on our own and disconnected. We learn early in life that any affliction–with family and friends, at school or in the workplace–requires proving that we are worthy. We are under pressure to compete with each other, to get ahead, to stand out as intelligent, attractive, capable, powerful, wealthy." So it's no wonder that you might feel inadequate and unsure of yourself.

When you are disconnected from yourself through this trance of unworthiness it's easy to get stuck in your mind, with increasing thoughts and ruminations about the nature of your problem. This trance of unworthiness is accompanied by a strong "inner critic", an inner voice in yourself that is constantly keeping score and judging you when you fall short of the mark.

Living a Life of Openness Breaking the trance begins by cultivating a quality of attention born from a regular mindfulness meditation practice. This embodied awareness is anchored to the breath which continually bring your attention back to the present moment. This is refreshing as you don't bring along with this the baggage of self-incrimination that is fueled by your constant ruminations and thoughts.

There is some richness within yourself, waiting to be discovered. It is unconditional so it doesn't need anyone else's confirmation. Opening is enough. You can learn to trust this kind of awareness that doesn't rely at all on your conceptual mind. This is how living a life of openness begins to break the trance of unworthiness.

Connecting with Others We live in a complex world. So it's easy to understand how you might be overwhelmed. When you contract into the trance of unworthiness this vicious cycle feeds on itself and its easy to become increasingly isolated, lonely and alienated.

Living a Zen-inspired life begins by learning to slow down and find time to be still. When you keep company with yourself in this gentle way you begin to restore some natural balance and sanity. A regular practice of mindfulness meditation goes a long ways towards encouraging you to take the time to honor and acknowledge this space of empathic awareness.

This kind of personal attunement can help you begin to be more empathically connected to others. You can even learn to remain connected to others when you disagree with them.

You are a social being, and living a Zen-inspired life actually helps you strengthen your interpersonal relationships by improving the quality and richness of your interpersonal communications. Contrary to what many think, a Zen-inspired life is highly relational and will improve and enrich your social life immeasurably, strengthening your network of friends, family and community.

Contributing Yourself to the World While many people may think Zen is a  passive withdrawal from the world, nothing could be further from the truth. The fruits of mature Zen practice are an enriched and engaged life with the world around you. You discover some deep aspiration within yourself to be of service to others, and this leads to some sense of confidence and worthiness that breaks the back of the trance of unworthiness completely.

There is no victim or poverty mentality left at all. You live and practice a profound spiritual path that brings you constantly into your daily life with gift bestowing hands. You become so humble and ordinary, noone may even notice you, but that doesn't matter. You don't need anyone's confirmation. A Zen-inspired life is the confirmation you've been seeking.

Robert Althouse



Dare to be Ordinary

In a time when self-promotion, selfies and social media grab much of your attention it may be refreshing to hear a teaching that allows you to simply be yourself. In fact, given that narcissism seems to be of epidemic proportions in our culture, perhaps such a teaching that helps you appreciate your life in such a simple, non-referential way is, in fact, revolutionary. Dharma is a word used in Buddhism that has different meanings. The most basic meaning of dharma is that of a system or way. We could speak of the dharma of tea or the dharma of flower arranging. It's simply a system or norm of how some activity is organized. In early Indian thought, dharma simply meant "thatness" or "isness" of things. The dharma of water or the dharma of fire. So the meaning is very simple and straightforward. It's just how things work or function. So this is the simple, mundane meaning, and then there is a deeper meaning sometimes referred to as saddharma. In the West, we don't seem to have a good word for this. We might call it doctrine, or dogma or truth, but these terms seem to have some religious connotation that don't exist in the word saddharma. Saddharma has to do with how you use your mind. You might say it is the spiritual path you create for making sense of your life. And path seems necessary as some reference point, or else you needlessly complicate your life.

So this dharma is the real thing. It's been practiced, taught and appreciated for 2500 years. The Buddha added the term, "satya" to dharma, which becomes saddharma. This dharma is beginning to speak of truth in a deeper way, rather than stirring up more turmoil in your life.

Saddharma is a path of practice which tames the mind. It pacifies and cools off the passions and aggressions of your neurotic mind. The dharma offers the possibility of liberating you from your endless drama and confusion.

Instead of occupying yourself with constant discursive thoughts, opinions and judgements, the dharma helps you let go of the business and reactiveness that often have their way with you.  At first it may seem threatening because it doesn't seem to have anything to do with your schemes and agendas. It doesn't offer you the usual comfort or reassure you by solidifying the ground of your ego.

The dharma is pure because it is not stained by your ego's agenda. At first you have your own interpretation of what the dharma is, and at the same time some deeper intuition is cutting through that. And practice is a sorting out process whereby you begin to trust and listen to the deeper intuition which doesn't provide you with any comfort necessarily, but at the same time is uplifting and inspiring because it is so sane and reasonable.

Traditionally all training in the dharma takes place through discipline (sila), meditation (samadhi) and wisdom (prajna).

You begin to appreciate that in order to tame your mind, you need discipline. Otherwise your mind is given over to impulses and judgements which stir up trouble and chaos. Discipline requires that you be willing to be alone. It's really up to you and no one is going to save you, not even your teacher or the sangha community.

With discipline you can begin to practice mindfulness meditation. You are able to sit with yourself in a very simple way; to let your mind settle. This practice of one-pointed attention (shamatha) brings a sense of precision to whatever you do. You find that you can land on one-spot. You let go of the constant obsession with distracting and entertaining yourself.

Discipline and meditation help you develop prajna wisdom which is not wisdom about something else nor is it theoretical in any way. It's very direct and cuts through any sense of your own territory as well as your constant attempt to solidify and objectify the world around you. It's a sort of bull-shit free zone you find yourself in. At first this could seem completely threatening but you are surprised that it actually brings you a sense of relief and upliftedness in your life. You are becoming a genuine human being. You are soaked in the dharma and there is no gap. The dharma is your life and your life is the dharma.

So the dharma, the deeper intuition that has very little if anything to do with your opinion or interpretation of it, becomes the path you walk on. And it's completely inspiring. Nothing could be more satisfying than this fundamental truth. When you walk, you walk. When you sleep you sleep. When you eat, you eat. You become genuine and open-hearted.

So dare to be ordinary. In our culture today, that's an extra-ordinary thing to do.

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse ©2015








Heart of Steel

Two Junes Photo by Peter Cunningham 

I am still digesting my time at the Zen Peacemakers first Native American Bearing Witness Retreat held a couple of weeks ago in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It was a huge experience and in the next couple of months, I will recount some of what happened there.


The Black Hills, known as Pahá Sápa to the Lakota, translates as Heart of Everything That Is and as Sacred Place of the Heart.  It's the entrance to Heaven. It's an area covered with dark green Ponderosa pines. Looked at from above, the Black Hills has the shape of a big heart surrounded by red soil.  Native Americans have lived there since 7,000 BC.


"Truly be here with the land and all the creations that will speak up.  Allow your hearts to break wide open.  Let's live like that this week," said Grover Genro Gauntt, a major coordinator and one of the spirit holders of the Zen Peacemakers Native American Retreat.  So, I did.


The first night we all stayed in Rapid City's Motel 6 right next to a busy highway.  There were many motels in that area.  I slept well that night. Maybe because there were so many peacemakers in the motel?  That evening it drizzled, and a beautiful red rainbow appeared.


The next day we rode in an old bus (with a manual clutch) traveling from Rapid City to the Pine Ridge Reservation, the poorest reservation in the nation with an average income of $4,500 - 5,000 per year. Next we traveled on to the Badlands and finally to Wounded Knee.


It was a hot sunny day, dry and dusty.  We passed a few homes and many churches. In the Sioux Nation Grocery Store's parking lot, an older native woman with a weathered face was selling a few beaded items.  I learned that her name was also June.  Our Native tour guide told us that youth suicide is epidemic.  Infant mortality is six times the nation's average.  Alcoholism is rampant.  Homes can house up to 10 - 12 families.


Then we drove past the Badlands - beautiful buttes, pinnacles and spires in the midst of grasslands. Among the buttes is the Lakota Stronghold Table where the last Ghost Dances were held.  Many Sioux thought that by wearing special "Ghost Shirts" the ghost dancing warriors would be unharmed by the white man's bullets and could openly defy the soldiers and white settlers.  They believed their dance could bring back the old days of the big buffalo herds.


At Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, as winter closed in, a band of Minneconjou and Hunkpapa Sioux  (106 warriors and 250 women and children) led by Chief Big Foot, were surrounded by 470 soldiers of the U.S. 7th Calvary.  The troops attempted to disarm Big Foot's band. Gunfire erupted. Before it was over, nearly three hundred Indians and thirty soldiers lay dead.


The Wounded Knee Massacre was the last major clash between Plains Indians and the U.S. military until the advent of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, most notably in the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.


National Historic Landmark - Wounded Knee Cemetery Photo by Peter Cunningham


Wounded Knee is located in the center of the Pine Ridge Reservation on a little hill.  We walked silently on a dusty, uneven dirt road up to the top of the flat, to a small cemetery.  Halfway up the hill a small golden dragonfly caught my eye.  It was flying stationary alongside the path.  I paused to take in it's beauty as fully as I could.  How amazing - beauty in the midst of great sadness!


At the top of the hill stands an old archway that leads into the cemetery.  The first thing we saw was a chain link fence surrounding the rectangular mass grave of the 300 massacred Indians.  Our guide's wife, Doreen Two Bulls, was standing at the fence, silently weeping.  The sky was a clear, powder blue with a few white clouds that bore witness as did two hundred of us - to this awful massacre of men, women and children.  It was hard to take in.  There was a hush.


After leaving Wounded Knee, our bus started shaking a little, and our guide said, "You're gonna experience a regular Rapid City occurrence - broken down on the side of the road."  Luckily the bus made it to the Red Cloud Indian School Visitor Center where we were able to shop for Native art and handicrafts while they change the buses.  This eased my heart.


After nearly 12 hours, we got to the Flandreau Santee Sious campsite in the Black Hills.  It was dark.  There was a big bright, white tent where a solo generator hummed to provide electricity for the lights.  A sweet scent of pine trees and mowed grass greeted me. It was dark and hard to see our luggage.  There was a chill in the air.


We slept in a big women's tent for the evening. The ground was lumpy with grass clumps and  small rocks here and there.  We used flashlights to see.  There were no mosquitoes or ticks. The spider nation was present however, with numerous small spiders that thankfully didn't bother us. Eventually I found them to be quite sweet and gentle. I wonder if it's because they are honored here.


At about 6 am the next morning, I was the first to awaken in the tent where about 8 of us slept.  I dressed quickly and eagerly walk outside the tent.  I wanted to see these sacred black hills that I'd heard so much about.  Once outside I gasped, was overwhelmed by the natural beauty that greeted me - my heart broke open and tears fell!

There was a little knoll to the south outlined with white morning mist.  It looked like a Hawaiian moon-bow to me. I stood as if in a dream.  A silver crescent moon hung in a pale blue sky low in the east.  The mist did a slow-motion dance moving down the hill and then up again as I silently watched.


To the left of the hill was a circular area where the Sioux perform their Sundance ceremonies.  We were instructed not to walk into that area out of respect.  Tiokasin Ghosthorse said that sundancers are men who commit to dancing the rest of their lives - metaphorically - first as a service to all life and also to keep that consciousness alive for those who do not have a voice.


Melodic Native American flute tones emanated from the main tent and echoed through the woods.   It was Tiokasin playing his flute - gentle yet undeniably strong.  That was our wake up call.  We had been instructed to leave our watches at home and to turn off our cellphones since there's no reception there.  We were now officially on Indian time on the Flandreau Santee Sioux sacred land - the heart's land.


Malama pono (take care of your body, mind and heart), 
Sensei June Kaililani Tanoue
Zen Teacher, Kumu Hula

P.S.  Here's a slide show of photographs of my Bearing Witness trip. Thanks to Peter Cunningham and Darrell Justus for the photos and music by Tiokasin Ghosthorse.  Here are Peter and Darrell's complete photos and Jadina Lilien's photos of the retreat.


Beginning a Conversation on Race and Racism

transcribed talk by Robert Joshin Althouse Roshi given at ZLMC on June 7, 2015.

(Intro) We have Robert Joshin Althouse talking to us today about a very complex subject, that's so ... it's the water we are swimming in, so it's hard to even know how racism is affecting the way we are and think. So I'm really happy that he's talking to us today about this subject.

(Robert) Thank you, June.

So, welcome. The title of this talk is "Beginning a Conversation on Race and Racism." And this is a sensitive issue, and as June said, it's complex as well. There are two issues I can think of that are really sensitive: gender and race.  I've been in council circles around gender that have been really difficult, and I think race is also one of these really sensitive subjects that we don't really know how to talk about.  Ferguson happened, Baltimore happened, but they're no longer in the news. But that doesn't mean that what gave birth to the violence in those cities is still not occurring on a daily basis in all of our inner cities.

So, I think to have a conversation on something as sensitive as this, we need some ground rules so that we can feel safe and we can be ourselves. The first ground rule I would say that operates here is the three tenets of a peacemaker: not knowing, bearing witness, and loving action.

We start with some humility about what we know and how we know it—I would call not knowing "epistemological humility"—that's a big word, epistemology; it's just "how we know things" in philosophy. So, having some humility about how we know things. I'm a white guy, and I read this book, which I'm basing the talk on, "The New Jim Crow."  Ok, one person's point of view. And I read a few other things.  But I think when we have this kind of a subject, we have this kind of conversation, and I hope we can have more of them, there are going to be many points of view. And you're not going to agree with everything that I say. There are going to be many points of view, and I think we need to respect all of them, even if we disagree. So, no knowing becomes a guideline.

And then bearing witness becomes another guideline, in terms of our practice, and we can talk about bearing witness in a lot of different ways. We can talk about bearing witness to those aspects of ourselves that are disowned, but we can also talk about bearing witness to those aspects of our community which are disenfranchised. We all draw some kind of a circle around ourselves in our imagination about who we are, and who we aren't—and who we aren't is outside the circle. We all draw the line in different places but if you're really honest, there are groups of people in the culture and in the world that you really don't think about too much—we all do this—and that you're more or less indifferent towards because you don't have, maybe you don't have any common experience with that group of people, and we draw the line in different places. Maybe you draw the line and homeless people are outside the line because you have a house, or maybe they're not—maybe they're within the circle of who you consider yourself to be. But maybe outside the line are gay people, or trans-gendered people, or maybe people of color, or poor people, or people in prison. Oh, there's a good group—out of sight, out of mind. How often do we see prisoners? I don't see them, so... put them outside the circle of my concerns. You understand what I'm saying? So, when we're bearing witness, I think it's important to sort of be honest about where we draw the line. We are the world, we can say that theoretically in terms of Zen teachings—this is my world, it's your world, it's a sacred world, we're all interconnected, and yet we do tend to draw a line around how far out we extend who we think we are. So bearing witness is the practice of acknowledging those aspects in our community which are disenfranchised.

And then loving action arises out of practicing not knowing and bearing witness. Loving action arises because we are fundamentally compassionate beings, and when we connect in a proper way to whatever situation we're working with, through not knowing, not just imposing our assumptions on something, but really being open-hearted and brave, and opening to the situation and then staying and bearing witness to what comes up, then we're in a better situation to do something. Loving action is action, healing action. What can we do skillfully that will reduce suffering about the situation we're in?

So I'd say those three tenets are a ground rule. Obviously I think a ground rule is to respect all points of view. I think, from my point of view, a ground rule should be allowing ourselves to be politically incorrect. I think there's a fear when we wade into a subject like this that we're going to say the wrong word. And when you enforce political correctness, you drive our stereotypes and prejudices underground, and it's much better when they're out on the table. And this doesn't mean, we all have some prejudice and stereotypes about race. It doesn't mean we're necessarily racist; it depends on how you define that word. But we all have prejudices and biases and stereotypes, and I occasionally say things that are politically incorrect. And what I would like to suggest here is that we would feel a lot safer if we allow ourselves to say something that's not necessarily politically correct, to not have to worry about using exactly the right word, and maybe that will reveal, the way you say that, that you have some bias. And it might be embarrassing, but we're here to be a genuine community and open-hearted and to be loving towards each other, so we could say to someone, "That wasn't very skillful, how you said that" or something. But to enforce political correctness then drives prejudice and stereotypes underground, and then they become a ghost in the room, and then we can't work with it, or it's much harder to work with. It's much easier when people are openly racist and just come out and say so. It's the white liberals we have to worry about, you and me. We're all so correct. Ok? Does that make sense? Alright.

And if someone says something politically incorrect, please, do not walk out of the room. Do not walk out of the room if something upsets you here. That's an act of personal terrorism. You are terrorizing everyone else—"Oh, I don't like the way you're doing it, so I'm going to walk out of the room." Please don't ever do that here at the Zen Center if you are upset. Stay and bear witness. That's our practice. We're talking about something here that's going to bring up all kinds of stuff for each one of us. It's going to be uncomfortable sometimes, and sometimes you're not going to agree with me.

The other thing that I think it's important to understand is rank. Acknowledge rank when it's appropriate. Whenever we're talking about a subject like race, where there's power differentials and class stratification. I know we don't like to think that we have class in America, if you read any of the history books in school systems they never mention class—well, we'll talk a little bit about middle class, but we don't talk about lower class or upper class, or caste systems—we're highly stratified as a society in terms of class but we don't like to talk about it, any more than we'd like to talk about race. So rank—we all have, everyone has rank. You have some kind of privilege in terms of someone else.  And there's nothing the matter with rank, rank is a way that sociologists look at culture. So in any culture there's going to be a mainstream culture that has rank, and then people that are outside of that mainstream culture. So in our culture, the people that have rank are white folks, pretty much. Now there can be variations of this but, for the most part, white people have rank. White men generally have more rank than white women. So, I have rank, I'm a white guy. And I'm a Zen teacher. So I have quite a bit of rank, and I don't have to feel guilty about having rank, but I can acknowledge it. It's when we don't acknowledge rank that things get crazy. It's when the mayor of Ferguson stands up and says, "We don't have a racial problem in this city”, that's crazy-making. That's not exactly denying rank, but very often people that have rank are unconscious about it. And so it's important when we're in this kind of an environment where we're talking about race that rank be acknowledged. And often people that have rank feel very defensive about it. I have privilege, I'm happy that I have privilege. Police don't pull me over and frisk me when I walk down the street. I'm glad they don't. I have a pretty good relationship with police. There's a lot more we can say about rank but it's a dynamic that's going to be operating in any group that we're involved in here today, or any other, especially when we're talking about race.

The other thing I would say is that the victim, perpetrator, and savior dynamic is fundamentally disempowering. And we will slip into that when we have these kinds of conversations, we're bound to do it, but we can bring some mindfulness and awareness that when that does occur, that that's generally not going to be very helpful as a dynamic.

And then the last thing I want to say is the point about the dharma. I'm sure you've heard people talk about emptiness here now, the heart sutra, and maybe you've studied it. People for thousands of years have been studying this teaching and trying to grapple with it and come to terms with it. It is a deep and subtle teaching in our Zen tradition. And what I want to say about emptiness is that nobody is an island unto themselves, we're all interconnected here. In one sense we're all similar or the same—we're all in the same boat, so to speak. But another teaching about emptiness which is extremely important is that we're all unique as well. And in terms of the discussion we're having here today, I feel that the central teaching about emptiness is about diversity, about difference, acknowledging difference. There was a Chinese teacher in the early 7th-8th century China, Fau San, who talked about activating difference as a basis for generating patterns of mutual contribution for everyone to realize freedom from conflict, trouble, and suffering. When we talk about diversity, we're often using it in, I think, an unskillful way. What we often mean by diversity is variety, but diversity is not variety. Variety is something you can measure. I can look around the room and I can immediately see there are so many women in the room, there are so many men in the room, if there were people of color here I could say there are so many people of color. You can see variety at a glance. There are so many people with hair on their heads, and there are some people who don't have much hair on their heads. I don't see too many of them, where are they? So variety is something you can see, that you can measure.  Diversity is not like that. You can't measure diversity. Diversity is an emergent quality that arises when we acknowledge difference, our differences, and we allow that difference to be part of our relationship, so that we can differ well.  Diversity is how we activate and honor difference so we can make a difference together. It's an emergent quality, and we all have diversity, we all have resources and skills that are different from each other, and when we allow those differences to be here and be present, and honored, and heard, then we are ... to me that is one of the most important teachings about emptiness.  Any questions so far?

Audience: Can you say more about the triangle you mentioned earlier? The savior, the... I'm not that familiar with it.

Oh, the victim-perpetrator-savior?  Well, it can happen all the time but it's particularly easy to fall into this kind of dynamic when we're talking about a sensitive issue like race. It's easy to identify people as victims or to feel that we are a victim of some injustice. It's easy to... you might feel like you're the perpetrator of the injustice if you have rank, for instance, you might feel that I have privilege and I've benefited from that, that in some ways I've perpetrated racism because of my rank or privilege. Or, the other part of the dynamic is being a savior, falling into the trap of wanting to save the victim, and then demonizing the perpetrator. That's usually what happens, is that we're standing outside, instead of really bearing witness and being on the same level with all three of those aspects of the situation, we take sides. The policemen are the perpetrators, African-Americans in the inner city are the victims, and then we become the white liberal saviors. We're gonna go in and save them.  I don't think that's skillful. And it's very easy to fall into this trap. Does that make sense?

Audience:  Yeah, yeah. It seems like a lot of the dialog, or that's not even dialog, in our country or culture is kind of very much an Us versus Them. They're wrong; if they only felt like us, then everything would be great whether you're on the Right or the Left. And that's obviously going nowhere. 

Yes, I agree.

Audience: I think it (the victim-perpetrator-savior) also has to do with the concept of not taking responsibility for one's actions and blaming the other person. And that can happen on several levels, not only personal but societal and worldwide. They did this to me, or I'm not to blame, or poor me, that kind of thing. 

So this dynamic will come up a lot. Dan and I were talking to Charles Perry the other day, the wonderful black African-American man, who spent some of his life in prison, and is now actively working with Dan in Austin, and is a wonderful guy. And I started to talk to him about some of the stuff I'm going to talk to you about today, and he started pushing back. He started saying "Well we have choices in the ghetto, I have choices, I made bad choices." And I was telling Dan later, I realized the dynamic that got set up there was he's looking at me as a white liberal who's gonna talk about all the injustices which he actually, I'm sure, he agrees with, but in this context when he's talking to me, he's not a victim. He's overcome all that. He doesn't want me to see him as a victim of the injustice. So he's pushing back and saying "You know I had choices, I made choices, and I've come up, you know, I pulled myself up." And I totally got it. See, there's a dynamic that's going to go on in these conversations and we have to really be aware that everyone's got a different point of view, and everyone's gonna come from a different place. It was very helpful talking to him, because it took my own liberal righteousness and really dampened it down and made me feel much more humble about what I'm talking about today. I'm just telling you my point of view, and I do not have the truth with the capital T. I've read a book. Ok? I've read a few things.

Audience: Who’s the author of the book Joshin?

Michelle Alexander. I highly recommend the book. It's a little hard reading, but well-researched. What I would say, and I'm going to talk about what she said, is that she's painting this with a broad brush.

So I want to start this conversation saying that it seems to me that how we think about race today is that we are color-blind. We sort of value being color-blind. The idea is that we've gotten beyond race. Well, Barack Obama is an African-American and he's our President, and we can certainly point out other people of color that have excelled in extraordinary ways. Colin Powell. Oprah Winfrey. So in our heads we think well, if we've achieved that, if we have a African-American who's President, then we must have overcome race and race is really no longer something we should be talking about or pointing out because it's kind of, it's really not there anymore. We're an egalitarian democracy, you know, and everyone has a fighting chance, and so on. So we tend to be color-blind. I think that's not helpful. People define racism in lots of different ways. For the purposes of our conversation today, I'm going to define racism as a policy which is systemic to an institution, is embedded in the structure of an institution, which allows people within that institution or associated with it to act in ways which are discriminatory and racist. But without that policy, it would be very difficult for individuals to be racist. That's how I'm going to talk about it. Do you understand what I'm saying? So, you can say that in the South, when there were Jim Crow laws and things that created discrimination, that system of laws allowed people in the South to feel free to do things that were discriminatory and prejudiced against African-Americans. But if there hadn't been that system of Jim Crow laws in the governmental institutions, then it would have been harder for individuals to go out and put on white hoods and hang people, and do awful things. So that's how I'm going to define it. And I think it's useful, at least for the purposes of this discussion, to think of racism that is held in place by policies and institutional cultures. So it's not enough just to say we need to tweak something in the police department, like community policing. Let's put cameras on their heads. Well, that would be great, but that's not going to address the fundamental nature of racism in our culture. And I do believe, from my own reading, that racism is probably the most important shadow issue in the history and legacy of our country. It's the underbelly of who we are.

The notion of race began the minute we started colonizing the Americas and we said "The Indians are savages. They're in the way." We started slavery, and couldn't really enslave Indians because they have tribes and they can come and create a lot of trouble, but hey, you could import black people from Africa and divide their families, so they had very little power. They were easy to make slaves. So from the very moment that we founded this country and the notion of manifest destiny was brought up, you know, we have a right as white people, to take—we need more land. First of all, slavery is working, and there's these Indians in the way. We need land, and more slaves, and they're down there in the South and Southeast, down in Florida, and we've got to move them out. After all, they're savages. The moment we had the notion that we were superior over anybody because of race, we began the whole journey that we've taken as a country. So, race has been a part of our history from the very beginning.  So I'm not going to go through all the history, but obviously we had slavery, we fought a civil war to bring the union together and in some respects to end slavery. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and slaves were freed. And there was a Reconstruction period where the federal government occupied the South up to a point, that was until ... roughly from 1865 to 1877. And in 1877 the federal government withdrew from the South. And the South, after the war, was in shambles and ruins and disoriented, and didn't know how to proceed. Slavery had been a huge part of the economy. So, what happened is that from 1868 to 1963, Jim Crow laws started to be put in place, and these were laws on the books that could arrest African Americans, primarily, for vagrancy, or being uppity, or mischievous behavior. If you had a debt, you could be arrested and put in prison, and end up being contract labor. Basically, you would go to prison and you weren't called a slave, but they would send you out to a plantation every day and you would work. So they still had slavery through the Jim Crow laws. And there were all kinds of intimidations that went with the Jim Crow era—there was the Ku Klux Klan, there were councils, there were ways to intimidate. Even though black people could supposedly vote, it was pretty intimidating for an African American to go to the polls. They had poll taxes, they had all kinds of things that made it hard to vote. And they had these people around in scary white sheets that were anonymous and could kill you, and did. So the Jim Crow laws were actively racist, discriminatory, they were out in the open. Everyone knew what was being done. There was no ambiguity about it at all.

And then we had the Civil Rights movement, roughly from 1954-1968, in which we had extraordinary people—Martin Luther King is one very fine example—who really began to question the injustice of the discrimination against people of color, mostly in the South but also in the North. Martin Luther King came to Chicago and people threw rocks at him. Here. So, there was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which formally dismantled the Jim Crow laws, the Jim Crow system.

And then what's really interesting is that there was a kind of backlash against the Civil Rights movement. In 1982, Reagan declared the War on Drugs. At the time, and as part of that federal policy, he directed local and state law enforcement agencies to begin directing their resources toward arresting and putting in prison drug users—people that were using drugs. The only problem was that at the time he declared this War on Drugs there was not a drug problem in the inner cities. And so the law enforcement agencies would take a double-take and say "what? You want us to stop going after criminals and go after people that smoke marijuana or take heroin or something, but there's not that many of them here. Besides, it's a state's rights issue. You have no right to tell us what to do, you're the federal government. We're the states, and so we can do what we want to do. We don't like the federal government  telling us what to do." So in a very short period of time, the federal government realized that in order to make this War on Drugs work, they were going to have to give financial incentives to local and state law enforcement agencies to have them use their resources to go after drug offenses, which is what they did. They started pouring enormous sums of money into local and state law enforcement agencies and within a very short period of time, those agencies which had resisted the federal policy were now competing for funds and training and equipment. And within a couple more years after Reagan had announced the War on Drugs, lo and behold, crack cocaine starts flowing into the inner cities of America from South America. Guess where it was coming from? It was coming from the Contras, who were fighting a civil war in Nicaragua against the Sandinistas. Remember that? And in 1968 the CIA admitted that they were supporting the Contras. It's never been proved that the CIA was actively funneling drugs, or crack cocaine, into the inner cities, but Gary Webb wrote quite a few articles in the San Jose Mercury News about this as a kind of a conspiracy theory—that the CIA very much knew about drugs going into the inner cities and was actively supporting it. And he wrote a book on it called Dark Alliance. I think he eventually committed suicide. So, whether you buy into the conspiracy theory or not, what's the matter with this picture? We declared War on Drugs, and it's primarily being directed towards the inner cities—poor people, people of color—rounding them up, putting them in prison, not for violent crimes but for nonviolent drug offenses, drug possession of marijuana, and they're being put in prison, and at the same time our federal government, through the CIA, is supporting the Contras in South America, who are actively bringing crack cocaine into America. What's the matter with that picture? Does anyone feel some kind of disconnect here?

So, I don't want to quote a lot of figures because it will get overwhelming, but I need to just give you a picture of what happened with the drug war in terms of the amounts of money we're talking about. From 1980 to 1984, the FBI anti-drug funding increased from $8 million to $95 million. For the same period, the Department of Defense anti-drug budget increased from $33 million in 1981 in to $1,042 million in 1991. The Drug Enforcement Agency increased their budget from $86 million to $1,026 million. The FBI increased their budget from $31 million to $181 million for anti-drug activity. And the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which would be an institution that's trying to actually help people with addictions, their budget was *decreased* from $274 million to $57 million. So at the time that crack—make no doubt about it, crack cocaine is an awful, awful drug, let's be clear, it was a terrible drug—as crack cocaine was coming primarily into inner cities, into poor black neighborhoods, there was a huge, sensational media blitz about all the horrible drug crimes that were happening in the inner city. Do you remember this? Do you remember the Willie Horton ads? That was a very effective ad. So there was all this talk—and Nixon excelled at it, the coded words, "crack mothers," "welfare queens," "welfare mothers"—these are coded words for poor, black mother in the inner city that's lazy, and, you know, it's a coded word. Now they can't come out and say "black person in the inner city" but they can say "welfare mother"... or "predatory criminals." So instead of using out-and-out racist language, the War on Drugs became a new kind of Jim Crow system in which you're using language around crime as a kind of code for "poor black people in the inner cities."  And there was a lot of sensational media stuff about the scariness of crack and, primarily, the crack crime (which was not actually increasing), but the terrible people that were using that and how awful it was.

So if you're really honest, and you just thought for a moment, if you picture in your mind a criminal, what do they look like?

Audience: Big, dark and scary.

Audience: Wearing a hoodie.


And probably having a gun, too. And we pretty much all have that image if we're honest. No one says "Rod Blagojevich." So, once the drug war got underway—and what's really surprising and shocking is that at the time, in the beginning of the '80s, sociologists were talking about prison systems, that they were almost disappearing. They really weren't needed. We had some, we didn't have a lot, and though crime rates rose from the '60s and the '70s, after the '70s they sort of leveled out. So, the prison system blossomed and increased enormously once the War on Drugs was announced and got under way. More prisons were built—they had to build more prisons to house all the people they were rounding up in the inner cities and arresting. Once these people, primarily young black men but also other people of color, Latinos, Latinas, women, immigrants, Native American Indians, but mostly black people, African Americans, African-American young men, being rounded up and put into prison for the slightest offense, you know—possession of marijuana, they smoke crack, they weren't really going after or arresting the drug kingpins, they were arresting low-level, non-violent drug offenders, primarily. And they were giving them big sentences and they eventually had mandatory sentences which, for a first-time offense, you could get five, ten years in prison. Now that's not the worst part of this. Regardless of the amount of time someone spent in prison, whether it was 10 years or 20 years or 1 year or 1 month, they come out of that prison system and now they are labeled a felon, a criminal. That meant that they could not vote, they could not serve on a jury, they could not get food stamps, they could not get public housing, and if they went to apply for anything, a job, they had to check a box pretty early on in the application that they're a felon, or criminal. It made it very hard to get jobs. Well the condition of the parole, of getting out of prison, was you have to pay debts and money, fees to parole courts and on top of that you have to go get a job and get housing. Well this is a real double-bind. That's hard for someone coming out of prison, been in prison for 20 years, now they have to find a job, they don't get a lot of training, they have to get housing, they don't get public housing, and money was being diverted from public housing to build prisons. That's true. Yeah, the budget for public housing also decreased because they needed the money to build more prisons. That's where people were being housed. And so the recidivism rate of going back into prison was very high. So, you see, essentially this is a new Jim Crow system, disenfranchising African Americans, because once they come out of prison, they are an under caste in terms of the mainstream culture. They have very few rights.

Audience: And now that we have prisons that are being run by corporations, it's a very lucrative business and they just keep it going.

It is very lucrative; they are on the stock market. A huge part of our economy is this whole system based on the drug war. If we were to end the drug war tomorrow there would be a million people unemployed. So we do have a vested interest, now, this has become part of our economy. It's big money. Military equipment is being sent to police departments. With the help of the Supreme Court, you can't even sue for racial bias in any legal proceedings. Police departments can take property from people that have used drugs, their property, all their assets, cars—and a law was passed that police departments could keep that property, they don't have to hand it over or sell it or give it to the federal government—so here's another incentive, let's arrest someone and we can take their property and their car. And it turns out if you were falsely arrested, it doesn't really matter because they can still take your stuff. What's the matter with this picture?  And then they started having SWAT teams, and those grew enormously. And they were not nice, they were not polite. They come in the middle of the night, break your door down, run into your house with lights flashing and grenades and guns and yelling at kids. Does that remind you of any other time in history? When storm-troopers came to people's houses and...?

So what Michelle Alexander is saying—and as I said it's hard reading, I felt a lot of disconnection as I was reading this, I just couldn't believe what I was reading—is that this is the new Jim Crow. This is a systematic, racist policy that is perpetrated by our federal government and has been funded by every president since Reagan, including Clinton, including Obama. There is no politician that can get elected without being tough on crime. It's a "crime issue"—it's really not, but that's the propaganda. When people look and see "oh the prisons have expanded, it must be because crime is bad," no, the statistics don't say that. There's not a big increase in crime. That's why this is such a difficult issue to get at, because if you go and say let's stop imprisoning these people, then people will say well, but what are you going to do about the crime then if you don't put them in prison? It's really not about crime. It's about non-violent drug offenders. So it's a very, if you look at it from a kind of dispassionate point of view, it's a really good system for rounding up people of color and getting rid of them, essentially getting them out of the culture and disenfranchising them so when they come back in they're an under caste for the rest of their lives. It's not true in every case, there are some exceptions—in Illinois you can actually get your, Charles was telling me, he can vote, I was surprised—so in Illinois you can get your criminal record expunged depending on what you did, which means it's off and you don't have to check that box when you go to get a job. So there are exceptions to this, but I think it's important to appreciate that this is a large part of our economy, with a huge vested interest. The prison systems are often built in rural, white areas. People benefit by building the prisons, people have to run the prisons, there's a legal system from the judges on down to the prosecutors and the parole officers that is supported by this War on Drugs. They military gives equipment to the police departments, and the police departments have a vested interest in keeping this going.  It's a big system.

So, to me, that's a racist policy that our government is actively doing and I think it affects every one of us. I think it the issue of our time, it's the most relevant thing happening in our culture, and it's very hard to come to terms with it. But I think this is part of, we like to think of ourselves as egalitarian and without class, and a democracy, but in terms of this issue, we are as racist as we've always been as a country. We have more people in prison than any other country in the world per capita except for some tiny government, I'd never even heard of them, in Africa that has a population of 700 people or something. They have a higher per capita people in prison than we do. But other than them, for the rest of the world we have a higher per capita prison rate than anyone. As of 2007, we have less than 5% of the world's population and we have 23% of the world's prison and jail population.

I'm not going to give you a lot of quotes and figures but if you go and look into this yourself you'll see that African Americans are disproportionately represented in the prison as opposed to white people. There are different sentences for crack cocaine as compared to cocaine. Cocaine is primarily used in white communities; crack is used in poor black communities. There's the same amount of drug use in white communities as there is in black communities, in fact there may be more drug kingpins in the white community, but you don't see them going into the western suburbs here knocking down doors and SWAT teams in the middle of the night. If you did, there would be a total revolution. Everyone would start crying foul. So they cannot go into white communities and do what they do in the inner city, we would never accept that. That would never be allowed. They're not really arresting a lot of the white drug use, which is just as prevalent as black's. This policy is focused on the inner cities, on poor people of color, clearly discriminatory. I don't see how you could say anything other than that.

I think that's enough for now and we can start the conversation. I've kind of laid the ground, and it may be hard to know what to say, but I think it's important to get that this is more than just a violent outbreak in Ferguson. It's hard to keep track of all the black people that are getting shot. Almost every week, it seems like there's another one shot and killed. The young kid, Tamir, who was a kid playing with a toy gun in a park. And they showed the videos, the cops pulling up, jumping out of their cars, within 3 second he was dead. They shot him. How can that happen? So this is the country we're living in and I say as I have been reading this, I just have the sense of disconnect. There's another really excellent article in the Atlantic monthly called "A Case for Reparations" that was written in June of 2014, a very long article that focuses a lot on Chicago and red-lining practices. Up and through the '60s at least, mortgage companies actively had maps and they would paint areas of the city red that they considered high-risk for real estate, and they would not give them loans. And the FHA which was created in '64 or something to help people to get loans and better rates and buy houses; they did not give loans to black people. They could not get an FHA loan.

Audience: Wasn’t with HUD that also went along, I think it was on NPR?

Yes, HUD was connected with the drug war and crack cocaine. So I could go on and on but that's probably enough to chew on, and it's okay if you don't know what to say or how to proceed, but maybe this is why it's hard for us to have a conversation about this, because it's almost overwhelming to really come to terms with it.

Audience: I feel overwhelmed. 

Audience: I feel depressed and think what can I do? Oh my god, it's so big.

Audience: And where does it stop? You know I'm thinking about all this stuff about the National Security Administration and all the money that they're spending. And even if they no longer are able to listen in on everyone's conversation, or at least record them, is that connected with this whole process? Having information on us in case we don't go along with the program? 

It's hard not to feel a little paranoid about the government when you start looking into this. Maybe we'll all become Tea Party folks.

But what I would say, but we're running out of time and I wish we could have a longer conversation about this, but I am stewarding a new circle, we are calling it a social action circle, here at the Zen Center on race. We don't really know what the name of the circle is; we haven't yet met as a circle. If you would like to continue this conversation in the container of council, in a circle, then I will be the steward of that circle for the time being to get it going, and the vision will come out of the people in the circle but for me, just to give you a sense of how I think we're going to practice with this as a community in the circle is we're going to practice the three tenets. We're going to do council and listen to each other's story, and my hope is that we will get a lot of diversity within that circle.

We made a board decision at our last board meeting, I proposed that we differentiate circles in three ways: We have support circles like the women's circle, men's circle, listening circle, writing circle; we have administrative circles, the board is an example, we're really working on the shared stewardship model, so we do things through the circle process in terms of governance, so there might be a program circle, or a marketing circle; and then I'm proposing that we have a new category of a circle called social action circle, which is designed to do some action eventually, to do something. And I don't know what that would be yet. And I also proposed to the board, and the board voted and approved it, that that circle, social action circle, has to be run by a steward that we trust, and I hope that you trust me, and if we do more of these we might have to do training for steward eventually, but that we allow social action circle members to vote on whether they want to include non-members in their circle. And that's the only kind of circle we'll allow the possibility of non-members to be in there because, look, we're a block from Austin. And my sense is that if we're going to deal with this as an issue, we need to build relationships with people in the community, people in Austin. And they're not going to be members of our Zen Center—Baptists, different religions.

And my vision for the social action circle is that we create as much diversity in the social action circle as we can.  People in different parts of the justice system—judges, lawyers, prosecutors, probation officers, people that have been in prison, leaders in the community, maybe ministers—and that we build as diverse a circle as we can and then we listen to each other. We just listen to the stories. And I think that's very powerful. And I think we have a practice of doing that here, where we can hold that container, where it's safe for people to have a conversation about this and not be afraid that someone's going to blow you out of the water because you said something the wrong way. And I think there's a great deal of power in listening to people's point of view, and listening to stories, and I'm confident that if we really practice not-knowing and bearing witness that way in this circle, we will eventually know what to do. We will have something we can do. But it may take a long time.

I think that’s why we get overwhelmed about this; we think we need to do something right away, and I don't think we can skillfully do something right away. We need to first of all make some kind of commitment, those of us that want to work on this, to educate ourselves and learn as much as we can, to listen to as many points of view as we can, and really bear witness to it. And then, if we build relationships in the community, then we can do something. But until we've done that, realistically, we're not going to walk over there and say "hey we want to help you. We're going to give you a free mindfulness class." That's not gonna work! You walk into Austin and say "I'm a Zen master! I want to teach you about mindfulness to help you”…?  So we have to proceed slowly and thoroughly, and I think we have the tools to do that as a community and I think also what's included in the conversation is, as an organization, what do we do that is biased and discriminatory that we're unconscious about? Because I’m sure there are things that we do like that, things that I do. I think for the most part we are a pretty great, wonderful community, and we have a lot of diversity here and we try our best to honor it. But I think, probably, we have our own shadows, and those things are usually scary to deal with. And I think the best way to deal with shadows is in a circle, where we’re committed to being together in a way that is kind and respectful and loving, but committed to being with each other. And I think out of that commitment will rise some action. I hope.

Audience: During this session, I noticed my interest in windows kind of came up, and maybe gave me an awareness. And I saw two or three blacks go past, and not just walk past, but actually look in the window. And one person looked at one of the sheets that was put up there. I thought that was meaningful. 

So there’s a sign-up sheet here. I don’t want you just to come up to me casually and say I’d like to be in the circle, I want this to be really intentional. I want to know that you want to be in the circle. You can approach me , you can email me, you can call me, you can sign up on that paper, and if you’re on the list, then I’ll send out a Doodle thing when June and I get back from vacation, and we’ll schedule our first circle meeting. But I don’t want it to be casual or just curiosity. If you don’t really want to commit to this, please, don’t join the circle. It’s alright, we have lots of different circles and this circle is, I want people that are committed to grappling with this. So if you want to be in the circle, I’d love to have you in the circle, sign up there today and then you’ll certainly be on the list, or call me or email me. I can’t remember everything when people take me aside and tell me I want to be in the circle, there’s too many people around me. I might remember if you tell me by word, I might not, sorry. But if you call me, or email me, I’ll get it. Or if you sign the sign-up thing there, I’ll get that too. Ok?

Thank you so much for listening to a difficult subject and being willing to learn about it, and be open. Thank you.

Happy 85th Birthday to Gary Snyder

“As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth . . . the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and the wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.” Gary Snyder

No Cliff is so Tall it Cannot be Scaled

What is it about photographs of women standing together in unity that always draws my attention?

Perhaps it's because they are doing something seldom seen in any culture - taking a strong yet peaceful stand together.  When women speak wordlessly through their stance of strength and courage, they speak volumes that strike right at my heart.

Yet having a physical voice is also important.  In different cultures, many have been conditioned to believe women should not have a voice.  As a result many women today limit themselves when it comes to vocal self-expression. We don't feel worthy or smart enough to have an intelligent opinion.  Shame and fear are in rampant in our American culture.  How do we learn that we are enough in ourselves, that our opinions are worth sharing?

Participants of Women's Retreat, May 2015 at ZLMC

The first step is to recognize the habitual thought that we have about ourselves.  If we don't see what we're thinking, we can't ever change the pattern.  Changing deep-seated thought patterns may be difficult but not impossible.  We can replace it with new, wholesome thoughts about ourselves.  It will take patience and gentle perseverance to change.

My practice of meditation and mindfulness gives me a little space to notice what I'm feeling when I have to speak up in a group.  Sometimes I feel great anxiety or even real fear of speaking up.  I can notice my heart speeding up and my mouth getting dry.  Then I pay attention to the story I'm telling myself that causes these emotions.   The thought is that I'm not smart enough to speak up in a group.

Once I get worked up, it usually takes me about 15 - 20 minutes to calm down.  That's how long the brain stays flooded with neurotransmitters after an intense emotional experience.  And according to neuroscientific research, as much as we try to think our way through difficulties when we're upset -  thinking never helps but only extends the flooding of the brain.  So being in your body is a good thing and helps cut the story line that feeds the feelings.

Meditation is a process of being embodied.  We notice the mind and we keep coming back to the breath and body which brings us into the present.  That is the practice.  It is also a practice that builds courage and helps us to see that we are enough, that we are each unique and beautiful as we are.

Hula dancers know the wisdom of our bodies.  It's such a wonderful thing to experience our bodies dancing!  When we are really dancing, we are "in the moment," rather than evaluating or comparing or planning.  We're just dancing.  What a relief!

We can use a lot of energy playing mind games about shame and personal unworthiness or even blaming others.  These are dead-ends and lead to suffering.  We can use that same energy to dig deeper and begin the process of changing our thoughts.  This is a very brave and compassionate thing we can do for ourselves.  And when we can truly be compassionate with ourselves, then we can naturally be compassionate with others.

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

June Ryushin Tanoue Sensei

Self Respect

"People with character may be loud or quiet, but they do tend to have a certain level of self-respect. Self-respect is not the same as self-confidence or self-esteem. Self-respect is not based on IQ or any of the mental or physical gifts that help get you into a competitive college. It is not comparative. It is not earned by being better than other people at something. It is earned by being better than you used to be, by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation. It emerges in one who is morally dependable. Self-respect is produced by inner triumphs, not external ones. It can only be earned by a person who has endured some internal temptation, who has confronted their own weaknesses and who knows, 'Well, if worse comes to worst, I can endure that. I can over-come that.'" from The Road to Character by David Brooks

Interview with Roshi Eve Marko

I’m very much looking forward to our first Women’s Retreat that I co-lead with Roshi Eve Myonen Marko this Friday evening and all day Saturday. My first vivid memory of Eve was when we went to Bernie Glassman’s Auschwitz Bearing Witness retreat in the mid 90’s.  Along with Bernie, Eve was a key organizer of this ground-breaking retreat now in it’s 20th year.  In the midst of my retreat experience that was thick with fear, I remember Eve’s courage as she spoke eloquently about her own family’s experience in Auschwitz.

Then in 2001, Bernie invited Robert and me to work with his Peacemaker Community.  So we left Hawaii and joined the Peacemakers in Santa Barbara and then to Western Massachusetts.  Eve was a role model for me as to how a woman could be a leader in the Zen world.

Eve is a founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order and the resident teacher at the Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts.  She co-founded Peacemaker Circle International with her husband Bernie Glassman, which linked and trained spiritually-based social activists and peacemakers in the US, Europe and the Middle East.

I asked her to tell me what inspired her to help organize the Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreats twenty years ago.

Eve Myonen Marko:  I think it was part of my karma. Family members had died in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but it started me on a long, 20-year arc of confronting historical trauma that dealt with my family and my Jewish culture, and ended by raising what I feel was powerful bodhicitta that extended outwards, transcending the boundaries of family and nation. Auschwitz, which started off raising anger and pain, ended up nourishing my deepest wishes for this planet. This was also thanks to our retreat container there and the vision of Bernie Glassman. And of course, it then drew me to other places of trauma, like Rwanda, Bosnia, and our own Black Hills.

June Ryushin Tanoue:  What do you see clearer now in terms of your life as a woman and as a zen teacher?

Eve:  I’m 65 years old.  I am looking how to simplify my life and work with people who have a deep commitment.  I like to work with small groups of people - there’s trust - we can work on our lives together.  I have less and less interest in working with big groups.

As a woman - I spend more time taking care of my body and walking a lot.  I love to walk in the woods of New England.  I love looking at animals, looking at trees. I love to feed birds over the winter.   We had a harsh winter.  Care of the body and care of nature, and how the two come together, is becoming clearer at this point.

Speaking of women, and having worked in areas of conflict and pain, it’s also obvious to me that the roles that women play in these places are crucial.  In my experience, women often have less patience for blame because they have to take care of their families, they have to get back on the bandwagon and get to work. Sometimes they repress the trauma for years, but often they can heal faster and help others heal, too.

June: You were one of my first hula students when I began to teach hula. Why do you like the hula?

Eve: After a “diet” of Japanese flavored Zen, I found hula feminine and flowing. I always appreciated the tremendous discipline involved. I was surprised to see how unself-conscious I was, how I could plunge into those gorgeous movements. And of course, I had a great teacher.

In addition to the Women’s retreat on May 1st and 2nd, she will give the dharma talk at Sunday Morning Zen at 10 am.  Her talk is entitled, “The Practice of Wonder.”  Bring your Hidden Lamp books and have Eve sign the page with the koan “Ziyong’s Earth” that she reflected on in the book. I hope you’ll help me welcome her to Chicago.

Interview conducted by Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue

Meditation Without a Plan

"When you practice meditation, you should sit without a plan. It should be meaningful without it being a big deal. You simply sit on the floor or in your chair. If you question whether you are sitting properly or not, then you might begin to perch. Instead, just sit, very simply and directly. If you are waiting for something to happen, that is a problem of future orientation. If you are oriented to the present, you just do it. It's a very blunt approach to life, blunt and realistic. There's no romance involved, except for the joy of the present." Chogyam Trungpa

Facing Difficulties

Avoiding difficult situations or running away from them does not usually take much skill or effort. But doing so prevents you from testing your own limits and from growing. The ability to face difficulties can be crucial for your growth. However, if you are faced with a situation in which the difficulties are simply overwhelming, you should step back for the time being and wait until you have built up enough strength to deal with it skillfully. Sayadaw U Tejaniya


8 Steps for Working with Emotions

Life is too short to live on the surface all the time. Our depths are where all the richness is, even though it can be scary to dwell there. My Zen practice is about being brave and doing things that are hard to do. My Hula practice is just the same. Much inner growth can come from the practice of fearlessness. I'm not saying that anxiety doesn't ever arise. It does, but there is a way to work with it.

I've been learning about emotions and how they are designed to alert and move us to do something. If an emotion "gets stuck," a mood can settle over us. Regulating emotions isn't about repressing them or acting them out. It's about recognizing and working skillfully with them when they arise. There are eight core emotions: anger, sadness, fear, shame, jealousy, disgust, happiness and love.

And there are 8 steps to help you regulate these emotions.

  • First, identify the emotion
  • Second, rate the intensity on a scale from 1 to 10.
  • Third, identify the trigger—the situation from which the emotion arose.
  • Fourth, notice the interpretation—what you tell yourself about what happened.
  • Fifth, check how your body feel about what occurred.
  • Sixth, note the actions you want to take.
  • Seventh, note the actions you actually took.
  • Eight, notice the aftereffects.

Next, apply these basic steps to your emotions by writing them down in a journal.

Last week, at my writing group, we had an opportunity to write for five minutes on four questions. There we could read our responses aloud if we wanted to. There questions could be answered deeply or superficially—either was ok. Here were the questions:

  • What is an important goal for you?
  • What is something very fun that you'd like to do in your remaining time on earth?
  • What helps you bear the cold days of early spring?
  • Write about an important personal issue.

I decided to be brave and go deep with my writing—though five minutes isn't much time to write about subjects that could easily take much longer. But I felt safe diving deeply because I've been meeting with this group of women monthly for several years now.

When I returned home that evening, I felt that something had opened in me. I felt so energized. I decided to do the 8 step process and write in my journal. It was quite revealing. The trigger for my happiness was my feeling that this group of women listened deeply with empathy to thoughts I've revealed to few.

The power of listening is such a gift to others. I felt so nourished by how they listened without judgment or a misplaced desire to "fix me." What a wonderful way to transform the feeling of a cold wintry evening into a bright warm dawn.

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

Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue

Marshall Rosenberg Passed Away, February 7, 2015

One of the great teachers of our time has passed away. I had the good fortune of studying with him for several years beginning in 2002. Marshall's teachings have touched thousands of lives all over our planet. We have incorporated his Nonviolent Communication as a major part of our Core Curriculum at Zen Life & Meditation Center. Robert Althouse

Dear all,

It is with great emotion that I write to tell you that Marshall Rosenberg passed from this life 3 days ago, on Saturday, February 7th.

It was recently discovered that he had late stage prostate cancer. He passed peacefully at home, with his wife Valentina - who shared the news with me a few minutes ago - and all his children by his side.

I know no way to describe the impact this man had on so many people - for his work and for his being, and for the extraordinary power the balance between these two unleashed. He was a beloved teacher to countless people on every continent, people whose hearts were touched and shone with the possibility his work made tangible.

To many of you reading he was also an inspired and inspiring colleague who changed the course of your lives and brought an inestimable sense of meaning and the potential for transformation to every area of your world. And who, at each moment, did this with utmost simplicity, humility and humanness.

In great mourning, and with the most profound reverence and soaring gratitude for the spirit he released in us, and whose light we carry forwards,

Dominic President, CNVC Board