Sally Stovall’s Passing

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Rest in Peace
Sally Stovall

April 16, 1949 to May 21, 2019
Co-Founder of Green Community Connections
Founding Member of One Earth Film Festival


Our dear friend and colleague Sally Stovall died Tuesday, May 21, surrounded by family and friends after a massive stroke Monday evening. Join us in remembering this compassionate leader at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 25, for a Memorial Service at Euclid Ave. Methodist Church, 405 S. Euclid Ave., in Oak Park. In honor of Sally’s bike-centered living, we encourage people to ride their bikes to the service, if they are able.

Video by Cassandra West

A tribute in photos to Sally Stovall, co-founder of Green Community Connections and a founding member of the One Earth Film Festival. Sally stood up for justice and the environment and contriibuted tirelessly to Oak Park's civic life. She passed away on May 21, 2019.

Memories of Sally

By Lisa Files

When most people retire, they kick back, take cruises, and visit the grandchildren. Sally Stovall was not most people. She did, indeed, relish visiting her grandchildren, but after she retired from a career in organizational development, Sally embarked on a new, vibrant career as climate activist and community organizer.

In September 2010, Sally and her partner, Dick Alton, were worried about global warming and decided to hold a community meeting to see if others felt the same way. Out of the woodwork poured a cohort of people with the same concerns --no real surprise in progressive Oak Park.

Together, they formed Green Community Connections and started holding meetings to talk about how individual actions can help reverse climate change. Sally took the helm, enlisting volunteers to create a website with a blog and resources pages. Monthly newsletters followed, along with community meetings about native plants, edible gardens, food waste, organic lawn care and more. Her efforts helped spur a steady and sustained green revolution in Oak Park and River Forest.

One project near and dear to Sally’s heart was “Mobilizing for Monarchs.” After she learned the monarch butterfly population had declined dramatically over the past 20 years, she developed a plan to use Green Block Parties to disseminate news about planting milkweed, an essential food for monarch caterpillar survival.

Lately, food waste became another major concern. Sally had read Paul Hawken’s book “Drawdown,” which ranked reducing food waste as the third most effective of 80 solutions to reverse global warming. Again through Green Block Parties, she taught people about sustainable eating and composting.

In 2015, Sally and Dick challenged themselves to give up their car for 90 days in order to lower CO2 emissions. In 2018, they stepped up this challenge to a whole new level by giving up their car entirely. At events and meetings, they regularly arrived with pink cheeks from bike riding.

The One Earth Film Festival, which began in 2012, is the largest program of Green Community Connections. Sally, who was instrumental in the success of the Film Festival over the years, led the charge to spread the Film Festival to Lake County, expanding its reach from the original boundaries in Oak Park/River Forest. This year she took on double-duty, managing several of the screenings in the Oak Park area.

One of our favorite blog posts by Sally was “A Posthumous Appreciation for an American Elm Tree.” In it, she remarked on her alarm at exiting her church to see a tree stump instead of a majestic elm tree. She wrote:

”On reflection, I realized that what was really bothering me is that I had not noticed that tree until it was gone! It was part of the familiar landscape that I passed a couple of times a week but never fully appreciated its beauty and all the many benefits it brought to the block at the corner of Washington and Euclid. Since I work with a group of about 8 elementary age children at the church, perhaps we will have a mini memorial service for our tree to say ‘thank you’ for all that it has done for us and the birds, the insects and other living creatures that it supported over the years!”

Somehow, this absent elm tree echoes our collective experiences with Sally and her work with Green Community Connections. We will mourn and weather her sudden absence, the absence of a fervent advocate for the birds, the insects, and other living creatures.

At her family's request, donations in Sally's memory may be made to Green Community Connections here.

To share your remembrances or stories about Sally,
go here.

Setting Sail in Stormy Waters

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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.

WAITING

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.

UNCONDITIONAL WORTHINESS

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.

FACING DIFFICULTIES

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.

GRIEVING

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.

LIVING BY VOW

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

The Fruits of Your Generosity Come Due

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Our New Home Fund Campaign will conclude at the end of this month, April 2019. So now it’s time to say thank you. Thank you to the hundreds of you who supported us with your generous gifts and your kind support. Thank you to all of you who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make this dream a reality. Thank you to the artists who generously donated your art so that we can now enjoy the beauty of our Sangha together in this new home. We are so grateful for our strong and warm-hearted sangha community. We have a magnificent community of dedicated Zen practitioners. We also are unique in that we are further enriched by the aloha and open hearts of our beautiful Hula community which has worked, danced, and performed to raise funds to help us make this purchase.

Our goal was to raise another $50,000 to help us close and move into our new home at 46 Lake Street in Oak Park, and we raised $34,000 of that amount. Since we began our first fundraising campaign to purchase this property last year, we have now raised $184,000. It’s amazing how much we raised in such a short time.

Once we close on April 29, 2019 and take possession of the property another kind of work begins. Preparing the property and moving. And here too, we have many stepping forward to volunteer with hands and feet to paint walls, clean, pack and carry boxes and furniture to our new home.

So, all we want to say now is thank you. We were surprised, delighted and humbled by the strength of your generosity and now you are about to see the fruits of your gifts and kindness. We plan to have an Eye-Opening Ceremony and Celebration on Saturday, June 29th. Details and invitations will be forthcoming.

With deepest respect, and gratitude,

The GEM Circle

and Co-founders, Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue
and Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse

“The Pattern that Connects” Art Exhibition at ZLMC of Roshi Robert Althouse's Paintings

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Roshi Robert Althouse will have an exhibition of some of his paintings at Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago for the next month called “The Pattern that Connects”. The exhibition will open on Sunday, March 24, 2019 with his Teisho at Sunday Morning Zen on “Seeing Wholeness Where there is Division and the Bodhisattva Path”. The exhibition will run through April 20, 2019. All paintings will be for sale ranging from $195 to $225. All proceeds will go towards the New Home Fund Campaign for ZLMC’s new home at 46 Lake Street.

Artist Statement:

A sacred thread weaves a tapestry of blood and bones, skin and hair, wings and feathers, leaves and branches, mountains and rivers. Layer upon layer. Thread upon thread. Strings and holes are always whole and laced together in a web of ever-changing circumstance.

Works in this exhibition are selected from six bodies of work including: The Pattern that Connects, Evolution, Metamorphosis,, Pamsula, 10 Ox-herding Pictures and Seasons of Zen. The larger collection of my other works may be seen on my website at
www.althouse-art.com.

I am a painter and my medium is the computer, where I draw using a stylus on a wacom tablet and then print to various surfaces such as paper, canvas, or as in the case for this exhibition, metal. 

~Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse

W.S. Merwin's Passing

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W.S. Merwin has passed away at the age of 91. In the early 90’s when we first started our Zen Center of Hawaii in Kamuela (Waimea) on the Big Island of Hawaii, he came and gave a wonder poetry reading at our Zen Center. He was a formidable poet who had left behind a large and evocative body of work such as “The Rain in the Trees”, “The Shadow of Sirius”, “The Moon Before Morning” and many more. Here is one small example . . .

Berryman
by W. S. Merwin

I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don't lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you're older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write

Path of the Spiritual Warrior - The Dragon

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This is the fourth and final post on the four dignities of the Spiritual Warrior. This fourth dignity is the dragon of inscrutability. The warrior's spiritual path is rigorous and thorough, beginning with the work of the Tiger of meekness. It continues with the Snow Lion of perkiness inspired by discipline that is uplifted and joyful. The Garuda of outrageousness helps the warrior go beyond the dualities of hope and fear to trust an unconventional wisdom that is in service to awakening and healing suffering. Here we will appreciate the Dragon of Inscrutability. 

Dragon of Inscrutability

In Eastern traditions, the dragon is viewed as a symbol of vitality and a liveliness. The dragon enjoys resting in the clouds and the wind. Trungpa says, "According to tradition, the dragon abides in the sky in the summer and hibernates in the ground during the winter. When spring comes, the dragon rises from the ground with the mist and the dew. When a storm is necessary, the dragon breathes out lightning and roars out thunder." So the dragon is a dynamic archetype for the movements of seasons and weather; predictable within a context of unpredictability. This kind of strength and flexibility could be very useful for us in our current chaotic political environment. 

Inscrutability here does not mean being tricky or devious. It means giving birth to fearlessness. The previous stage of the Garuda has helped the warrior go beyond conventional conditioning. Fearlessness is expressed through gentleness and empathy for others. This allows the warrior to be patient and to allow situations to develop. The warrior can afford to be noncommittal with a sense of humor. 

Confidence

Inscrutability is an expression of confidence. You are settled within your experience so you have no hesitation or fear. You can be noncommittal, yet follow through. You don't have to spell everything out because you can be with uncertainty. Truth arises from the situation. You don't need any confirmation so you also don't have to be the center of attention. You are not in any great rush, so you can begin with the basics. You are not calculating according to some idea of gain or loss, but you are working with the situation, bearing witness to whatever arises, and doing so, always with sympathy and compassion for those around you. So this unconditional confidence comes from giving and extending yourself 

Heart of the Warrior

We've been appreciating qualities of the spiritual warrior which arise from not needing to defend any territory. This selfless, open and gentle conduct is the heart of the true spiritual warrior. Such a warrior is not aggressive, bombastic or arrogant, but humble, kind, gentle and extremely accurate in whatever they do or say. Without a pre-set of rules, they still manage to conduct themselves appropriately in whatever situation they find themselves. I hope through the regular practice of meditation and your commitment to this spiritual path of the dharma, you will find your footing in this way and help to awaken and inspire others around you, even if the times seem chaotic and dark.

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse

 

The Irony of American History - Reinhold Niebuhr

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“We cannot expect even the wisest of nations to escape every peril of moral and spiritual complacency for nations have always been constitutionally self-righteous. But it will make a difference whether the culture in which the policies of nations are formed is only as deep and as high as the nation’s highest ideals, or whether there is a dimension in the culture from the standpoint of which the element of vanity and all human ambitions and achievements is discerned. The realm of mystery and meaning which encloses and finally makes sense out of the baffling configurations of history is not identical with any scheme of rational intelligibility. The faith which appropriates the meaning and the mystery inevitably involves an experience of repentance for the false meanings which the pride of nations and cultures introduces into the pattern. Such repentance is the true source of charity and we are more desperately in need of genuine charity than of more technocratic skills.” from The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr

Path of the Spiritual Warrior - The Garuda

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This is the third of four posts on the Spiritual Warrior. The Tiger of meekness has laid the ground for the path. The Lion of perky has brought forth the discipline and energy for walking the path itself. 

Warrior of Outrageous

The garuda is said to be the king of birds. It is said to hatch full-grown from the egg, stretch it's wings and soar into outer space. So the state of mind here is vast and spacious. From a conventional point of view, we are always limited by hope and fear. But the warrior of outrageous has gone beyond these, does not compare or measure her behavior in any way, so her action is free and fearless. Hers is a wisdom with no reference point. 

Truth of Impermanence

For the warrior of outrageous, change is not simply an intellectual concept but a deep truth at the heart of the human experience. So the warrior of outrageous is free from the fear of dying. The Buddha said, "You may be in a good situation, but it won't last. Everything you see is impermanent. Everybody experiences birth, aging, sickness, death." Coming to terms with impermanence frees you from the grip of hope and fear. When you don't fight reality, you find within yourself enormous resources of richness for working with yourself and others. 

Letting Go

The biggest obstacle to freedom is our attachment to "me". Our self-referential fabrication of ourselves is based on fear. The warrior of outrageous sees through the hypocrisy of ego's game and gives birth to a vast and spacious awareness. She has no territory to defend since she trusts a non-referential intelligence that cuts through the conventional notions of self and other. As a result she can act without hesitation.

Equanimity

The warrior of outrageous is free from negative emotions so she is able to face whatever arises skillfully and fearlessly. This kind of confidence operates on an even-keel. This kind of equanimity is free from picking and choosing and treats everyone with respect and care. The warrior trusts in the basic goodness of human beings which is unconditional and free dualistic polarizations. As a result her actions are skillful and in proportion to the whatever context she finds herself.

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse

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Path of the Spiritual Warrior - The Snow Lion

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This is the second of four articles I'm writing on the "Path of the Spiritual Warrior". And this second aspect is that of the Snow Lion which represents joyful discipline. You may well have negative associations with discipline, remembering the times you were forced to stay indoors and practice a musical instrument when all your neighborhood friends were playing outside. Such discipline, if imposed from the outside, might seem to be suffocating. But we are speaking here of a discipline that arises organically from the meekness of the Tiger.

Snow Lion of Perky

In Tibet it's said that the Snow Lion is found in meadows at high elevations. He roams freely among wild flowers and fresh air. He's perky because he is uplifted and cheerful. If you are grounded in your practice through the meekness of the Tiger, your discipline arises as an organic, uplifted quality. And because this discipline is not dependent on any circumstances, it is unconditional. 

Chogyam Trungpa says there are two stages of perkiness. The first is having an uplifted and joyful mind. The second stage of perky is never being dragged down by doubt. When you are ungrounded you begin to doubt yourself. This creates anxiety, paranoia, and arrogance. The Snow Lion overcomes this doubt and keeps you from descending into further negativity which in Buddhism is referred to as the lower realms. No matter how difficult your circumstances you can lift yourself up; you can cheer yourself up, and your ability to do this brings enormous confidence in your own sanity. 

Trungpa says there are three kinds of living in the lower realms. One is living purely for the sake of survival. It's living at the level of pure animal instinct. The second is having a poverty mentality where you experience constant hunger and fear of losing your life. The third is living in a state of constant warfare,  and turmoil. You are at war with reality itself. The Snow Lion of perky frees you from the lower realms and gives birth to a joyful and friendly relationship with your world. 

No One to Blame

When you doubt yourself, you can easily become defensive and strike out at others through anger, jealousy or severe judgments. The discipline of the Snow Lion guards against this kind of unskillful behavior. When you work with your projections with integrity, you own them. In this way you become a dignified human being proclaiming the dharma not just in words but in your conduct and behavior.

Heart of the Matter

The Tiger of meekness grounds and orients you to a clear and meaningful spiritual path. This translates into the joyful and uplifted perkiness of the Snow Lion. You discover rich resources within yourself and a capacity to love and help others. Your own self-preoccupation obscures the vastness of the highlands, where the Snow Lion prances among the fresh wildflowers. You are inspired to let go further and to trust your sad and tender heart. 

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse 

 

 

Path of the Spiritual Warrior - The Tiger

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In the Buddhist tradition, the path of the spiritual warrior is well laid out. It is usually referred to as the path of the Bodhisattva. There are many such teachings in Asian cultures. What are now known as the Shambhala teachings developed by Chogyam Trungpa, were first taught by the great teacher, Tibetan king Gesar of Ling. These teachings are known as the four dignities. 

In a time of uncertainty and confusion, we need these teachings more than ever. These are advanced spiritual teachings. They require that you see through the illusion of ego, that you have the courage to live your life without creating any territory whatsoever. If you are inspired to let go in this way, then these teachings can help deepen and actualize your realization. It goes without saying that appreciating unconditional basic goodness and a steady diet of meditation is foundational. 

We are speaking here of four metaphors for the qualities of the spiritual warrior. These four dignities are the tiger of meekness, the snow lion of discipline, the garuda of outrageousness and the dragon of inscrutability. 

Tiger of Meekness

Meekness is not a word we often associate with strength, but in fact, the spiritual warrior's strength arises from gentleness, not arrogance. It's about being simple, grounded and embodied. Trungpa lays out three stages in the development of meekness. The first stage is modesty. Modesty here has to do with being simple, without pretense in a way that is completely genuine. The second stage is that of unconditional confidence. The mature tiger moves through the forest easily, with a natural rhythm. She is in no rush. She plants her paws slowly and surely. She is relaxed, yet aware of her surroundings. This ease and embodiment of the tiger is an expression of unconditional confidence. The third stage overcomes any hesitation because one's mind is vast and boundless. Having given up both ambition and any sense of a poverty mentality, the warrior's mind is stable and uplifted. 

Discernment

The tiger's relaxed awareness allows her to see clearly what to keep and what to avoid. This quality of discernment is critical in developing wisdom. Without discernment, it's not possible to develop virtuous behavior. The tiger is not at the mercy of our mass cultural manipulations. She can see what leads to awakening and what does not, and she has the intention and the courage to follow what leads to awakening and let go of negative emotions which embroil one in further turmoil and chaos. The tiger understands that her actions matter. Everything you do is consequential. So she cultivates virtuous actions that lead to awakening and avoids those that lead to suffering. 

Exertion

Nothing is accomplished on the path of warriorship without great exertion. Exertion creates both stability and joy. While many might exert themselves for the wrong reason, the tiger always exerts herself for the sake of awakening, so she is able to overcome doubt and create a powerful presence. This quality of tenacity allows the tiger to bear witness, remain grounded in working with difficult situations and conflicts. 

Overcoming aggression, desire, and ignorance requires great determination and effort. The tiger is willing to put in the hard work on the meditation cushion to work with herself. The spiritual warrior is brave, not because she conquers and controls others, but because she is willing to face herself. And in this way, the tiger expresses open, genuine presence and tender-heartedness. 

Regret

The tiger does not linger in regret. She makes full use of her time in service to helping others. Regret is a sign that you have lost your discipline and focus. It leads to confusion and hesitation. One of the most painful things people often express on their death bed is their sense of regret that they didn't do what they could have done while alive. The tiger does not die with this kind of regret. She doesn't worry about her own happiness. By serving others and putting them first, she lives with a more sustainable joy and wholeness. 

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse

 

 

 


 

"The Circle of the Way"     Art Exhibition - Paintings of Lori Shinko Snyder

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Art Exhibition: March 3–17, 2019

I started painting Enso's in 2017 while in retreat (sesshin), after being inspired from reading Kazuaki Tanahashi. I realize that in order to paint the Enso, I need to be completely present for the brush, the paper, and the paint, and then the Enso paints me. I am changed from each one I paint, and surprised by what shows up each time. It is a practice of watching your mind, and being alive for the moment as it is. ~ Lori Shinko Snyder

All paintings are for sale, and all proceeds will go to the New Home Fund. The exhibition will take place at 38 lake Street in Oak Park.

Many Hearts Make One Home

Our Launch Party in 2018 at 46 Lake Street in Oak Park, IL

Our Launch Party in 2018 at 46 Lake Street in Oak Park, IL

We’re Back on Track

For the last 8 years, ZLMC has rented a small storefront on the east-side of Oak Park, Illinois. Because of our growth and success, we have out-grown this space. We began searching for our new home in early 2018 and found a mixed-use space at 46 Lake Street, Oak Park that met our needs and with excellent upgrades to the building’s infrastructure.

In order to secure a loan and make a downpayment, we mounted a fundraising effort with a goal of raising $150,000 last fall. In a remarkable show of support, we raised this amount in just ten weeks from some 200 plus donors. Through this process we have learned that our location in Oak Park matters, and that this space will meet our needs for future growth and service to our community.

Now, in order to purchase the 46 Lake Street building and cover start up costs such as professional services, signage, appliances, furniture and minor repairs we aim to raise $50,000 for our New Home Fund. A generous donation of $20,000 from an anonymous donor has jump-started reaching this goal! We want to raise the remaining $30,000 by late Spring.

We hope that you’re as happy as we are and will contribute to our New Home Fund. You’ll deepen ZLMC’s roots of peace and spread our branches within Oak Park and the greater Chicago-lands community. Please help us now in our push to the close!

Many Hearts make one home,

GEMS Circle

Susan Keijo Sensemann, Co-Steward
Rev. Diane Myogetsu Bejcek, Co-Steward
Gina Eshin Bilotto
Moira Bryan
Ian Jokai Davis
Skye Lavin
Vivienne Lund
Lori Shinko Snyder
Linda Gyokuzan Warring
Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue
Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse

Give Now. Give Today.

The Complete Guide to the Science of Meditation

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What is meditation? What do we know about its benefits? And what kinds of questions still need to be answered? We scoured the literature, read the meta-analyses, and talked to scientists studying meditation in labs around the country. Here’s what science has to say about meditation.

Originally published at Elysium Health on Aug 23, 2018.

Over the past two decades, a Buddhist contemplative tradition spawned in India and Tibet thousands of years ago has found its way into living rooms and classrooms all across the West. Millions of people in the U.S. and Europe now meditate regularly, whether via online apps or guided in person courses. Schools, corporations and prisons have begun to offer regular meditation trainings. Even the U.S. Marines have implemented the practicegiven preliminary evidence of benefits for attention, mood and possibly PTSD.

Meditation is now routinely touted as a kind of cure all, a boon for happiness and productivity, a salve for chronic pain, stress, anxiety and depression, an antidote for inflammation and high blood pressure, a fix for addiction. Countless research studies have been conducted to support these claims. But lately some scientists have begun pushing back, countering that meditation’s powers are overblown — that it might even cause harm in certain individuals with mental illness or, say, lead to narcissism. Late last year, Wired magazine ran a story that asked whether meditation was “B.S.”

So what is meditation, what do we actually know about its benefits, and what kinds of questions still need to be answered? We scoured the literature, read the meta-analyses and talked to scientists studying meditation in labs around the country. Here is what we found out.

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What’s the Difference Between Meditation and Mindfulness?

The terms meditation and mindfulness are sometimes used interchangeably, but the first refers to a complex family of Eastern cultural practices for training mental attention, and the second is the quality of mind that one of these traditions, called mindfulness meditation, aims to cultivate. Mindfulness meditation is the tradition most widely studied by researchers today, but other meditation traditions include mantra meditation, transcendental meditation, yoga, tai chi and chi gong.

In their 2017 book The Science of MeditationHow to Change Your Brain, Mind and Body, science writer Daniel Goleman and neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who have been studying meditation since the 1970s, write that “mindfulness” is simply the most common English translation of the word “sati,” the first step towards enlightenment in the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism. Sati also translates as “awareness,” “attention,” “retention,” or “discernment.”

There are two primary types of mindfulness meditation in the Buddhist tradition. The first is Vipassana, which translates as “insight,” and is meant to promote a clear awareness of our internal experience as it occurs, without judging or reacting to that experience. The second is Samatha, which is synonymous with “concentration” or “tranquility,” and it encourages focusing the attention on a single thing — the breath, a mantra — and limiting wandering thoughts. A third popular kind of mindfulness meditation, called loving-kindness meditation, aims to cultivate compassion.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Brian Ulrich

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Brian Ulrich

How Do Scientists Study Meditation?

Meditation’s popularity among the public and among research scientists really took off in the early to mid 2000s, according to Nicholas Van Dam, a research fellow at the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia, who studies meditation. The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso had been promoting the study of meditation since the late 80s, when he partnered with neuroscientist Francisco Varela and lawyer and entrepreneur Adam Engle to create the Mind & Life Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, a non-profit focused on the study of the mind. But Van Dam says it was Mind & Life’s 2004 launch of the Summer Research Institute, in Garrison, NY, which really got things going, and granted broader legitimacy to the subject. The Summer Institute brings together scholars from many different disciplines each year to try meditation in a retreat setting and discuss the science behind it.

The gold standard today for mindfulness-based intervention studies is modeled after an 8-week course in mindfulness-based stress reductionpioneered by Jon Kabat Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts. That program, initially developed to treat chronic pain patients, involves 20 to 26 hours of formal meditation training during eight weekly group classes (1.5–2.5 hours/class), one all-day (6 hours) class, and home practice (about 45 minutes/day, 6 days/week). Formal training addresses focused attention on the breath (Samatha meditation), open monitoring of awareness in “body-scanning” (Vipassana meditation), loving kindness meditation, and gentle hatha yoga.

Dozens of spin-offs of the MBSR have been spawned. These include mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for treatment of depression, mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) for drug addiction, and mindfulness-based relationship enhancement (MBRE) for improving relationship functioning. Scientists have also developed intensive retreat programs that last from three days to three months, three to four day lab-based interventions, as well as briefer mindful attention experiments. And there is a glut of Internet and smartphone based mindfulness meditation apps, including Headspace, which has over 30 million active users worldwide, promotes and participates in scientific research, and recently declared its intention to seek FDA approval for the treatment of chronic diseases.

Headspace is currently working on several highly ambitious large-scale meditation trials. One workplace study with the British National Health Service of 2,000 participants across multiple sites will examine the app’s impact on health and business outcomes including stress, anxiety, depression, and sickness absence. A University of California-system study led by UCSF will recruit employees from multiple campuses to examine how Headspace use influences various metrics of health and well being. And a UK College of Policing study will recruit 3,000 police officers to measure the meditation app’s influence on stress, productivity, and engagement.

Something as subjective as mindfulness meditation does not yield easily to the tools of science, and concerns about the quality of research in the field have repeatedly been raised over the past two decades. Most recently, in a literature review titled “Mind the Hype” published in October in Perspectives on Psychological Science, an interdisciplinary group of 15 scholars found that most studies of meditation are poorly constructed, plagued by inconsistent definitions of meditation, small sample size, weak controls and short follow up times.

“When you do a comprehensive assessment of everything that’s out there, the story is basically that we just don’t know enough yet,” said lead author Nicholas Van Dam of the University of Melbourne. Only nine percent of the studies reviewed used active controls, for instance.

But that doesn’t mean that all of the findings on meditation are bogus. In the early 2000s, there was a dramatic increase in randomized controlled trials that compare mindfulness interventions to treatment as usual, wait-list control, or active comparison interventions, according to a literature review published in 2016 by J. David Creswell, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. A wait-list control is a standard control group in psychotherapy research, where a group of participants assigned to a waiting list receives the intervention after the active treatment group does, while active comparison interventions are ones that are similar in structure but without the actual meditation component, such as an eight-week course in relaxation or health enhancement. “Researchers have made impressive efforts to develop active treatment comparison programs that control for non-mindfulness-specific treatment factors,” he wrote, such as group support, home practice exercises, relaxation and placebo expectancies, i.e., prior belief in the power of meditation.

And as the field matures, better funding is allowing for larger sample sizes and longer follow-up periods, according to Eric Loucks, a meditation researcher at Brown University’s School of Public Health who did not participate in the Mind the Hype review. In the future, he expects to see more studies featuring multi-site randomized controlled trials, long-term follow-up of at least one year, more objective measures of outcomes, and replication of findings by independent groups, he wrote in an email. “I believe the field of mindfulness holds strong potential to influence health,” he wrote.

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Can Meditation Improve Mental Health?

Mental illness has historically been one of the most difficult categories of sickness for medicine to successfully treat, and this is one area where mindfulness meditation seems to hold the greatest promise. The most definitive clinical benefit researchers have thus far been able to link to mindfulness meditation intervention is a significant reduction in depression relapse. An eight-week course modeled after Jon Kabat Zinn’s MBSR program that combines mindfulness meditation with cognitive therapy has been found in repeated studies to reduce the incidence of relapse for people at greatest risk for it — those with a history of at least three episodes of depression.

A 2004 follow-up to the initial study, conducted over two decades ago, found MBCT was more effective than cognitive therapy alone or standard psychiatric medication by approximately 50 percent at 12 months and two years. A more recent review and meta-analysis, published by the University of Oxford’s Willem Kuyken and colleagues in JAMA Psychiatry in 2016, provided further support for this finding.

Even ordinary depression and anxiety disorders seem to yield to MBCT treatment — though it is no better in this regard than medication. (These findings are significant, however, when you consider that many people have avery hard time getting off of antidepressants.) “If mindfulness-based interventions work about comparably to CBT or antidepressants, that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” said Van Dam. “It may be that people like the mindfulness stuff better. If that’s the case, what you need to show is that people will commit and follow through with the intervention better than the other therapies.” MBCT is now endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association for preventing relapse in patients who have suffered three or more episodes of depression, but not for regular depression and anxiety. The U.K. National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence also recommends it over more conventional treatments for preventing depressive relapse.

The picture is more mixed when it comes to the mental health benefits of straight mindfulness-based stress reduction courses, without the cognitive behavioral component. One widely-cited meta analysis published in Jama Internal Medicine in 2014 by Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Madhav Goyal and colleagues reviewed 47 trials with 3,515 participants and found moderate evidence that eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction practice could improve anxiety, depression and pain, but that it did no better than exercise, drugs, or other behavior therapies. They also found low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health quality of life and low or insufficient evidence of improved mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, or weight.

Further complicating the story, some researchers have identified potential adverse effects of mindfulness meditation, though the study of these effects is only in its infancy and the incidence is so far low. Over 20 individual case reports and observational studies have identified various forms of clinical deterioration associated with mindfulness meditation, including meditation-induced “depersonalization” as well as retriggering of trauma, mania, panic and psychosis. As a result, numerous authors have recommended that individuals with any indications of suicidality, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and risk factors for psychosis, should not participate in a meditation-based intervention that is not specifically tailored to one of these conditions.

An ambitious seven-year study is currently underway to look at the impact of meditation on the mental health of 7,000 teenagers aged 11 to 16 from 76 secondary schools, given that many mental disorders begin to emerge at these ages. The research study is led by Oxford’s Willem Kuyken in partnership with other psychologists and neuroscientists from Oxford University and University College London (UCL) and is funded by The Wellcome Trust. Starting in 2016, around 3,000 British youth received training in mindfulness techniques via a 10-week course involving a weekly 30-minute lesson plus up to 20 minutes’ daily home practice. A second group of around 3,000 individuals received standard personal, health and social training lessons. Over the following two years both groups are being monitored for depression and other mental disorders.

Another 600 students will be tested by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at UCL before and after mindfulness training to assess self-control and emotional regulation. Blakemore wants to find out exactly at what point during adolescence, a period of great reorganization of the prefrontal cortex, mindfulness has the most effect, she recently told The Guardian.

At the other end of the age spectrum, a five-year $15 million National Institutes of Health study launched in 2015 is examining strategies, including meditation, that can help older adults prevent or reverse age-related cognitive decline. The study team, led by Eric J. Lenze, includes a cross-disciplinary group of 14 researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis from fields such as psychiatry, medicine, radiology, neurology, biostatistics, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. The researchers recruited 580 people over age 65 who have significant problems with thinking and memory, but have not been diagnosed with clinical dementia common to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Another $3 million, five-year National Institutes of Health study launched in 2015 is looking at stress management strategies, including mindfulness meditation, for reducing loneliness in older adults.

Another large-scale interdisciplinary study funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by 12 basic science and clinical mindfulness researchers at four U.S. universities — Harvard, Brown, University of Massachusetts, and Georgetown — will attempt to examine how mindfulness influences self regulation, which is critical to a number of health problems influenced by behaviors like excessive eating, lack of physical activity, addiction and poor adherence to medical regimens. The project, to be conducted in four stages, will attempt to identify behaviors associated with self regulation that can be manipulated through therapies, identify the therapies that can influence them, and ultimately pilot test these in two separate mindfulness-based intervention trials for managing chronic medical conditions: the Mindfulness-based hypertension study and the mindful primary care study.

Does Meditation Improve Physical Health?

How states of mental perception influence physical health has become a hot topic of research in recent decades. In particular, researchers have found that high levels of cognitive stress can contribute to poor health and mental health — as can the very perception that stress is detrimental to health.

In September of 2017, the American Heart Association recommendedmindfulness meditation for lowering heart disease risk. That recommendation, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, was based on evidence that mindfulness meditation may reduce stress and help with other metrics of cardiovascular risk, such as smoking cessation, blood pressure reduction, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, endothelial function, and myocardial ischemia. The authors noted that while the evidence is modest and quality of research is mixed, the intervention carries low costs and low risk.

Emerging evidence suggests that other stress-related illnesses may also respond to mindfulness meditation. One randomized controlled trial of 154 patients found that mindfulness meditation treatment could reduce the number of self-reported sick days and the duration of illness during flu season relative to a no treatment group. Initial randomized controlled trials also suggest mindfulness interventions may reduce symptoms and improve quality of life for some stress-related conditions, such as fibromyalgia, IBS, breast cancer, and psoriasis. And in one recent study, researchers including Dr. Elissa Epel, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, examined a cohort who had undergone an intensive one-month insight meditation retreat and found improved telomere regulation, which is associated with cellular aging and may play a role in linking psychological stress to disease.

Chronic pain was one of the first conditions that mindfulness meditation was used to treat, back in the 1980s, and some researchers have found evidence in brain scans that mindfulness meditation influences the emotional suffering associated with pain if not the physical sensation of pain itself. In one of the largest mindfulness intervention randomized controlled trials to date, with 342 participants, MBSR reduced functional limitations due to pain among chronic back pain participants at both four-month and 10-month follow-ups (61%) compared to treatment as usual (44%). It was not found to be superior to a matched cognitive behavioral therapy program (58%), however. In a separate randomized study of 75 healthy human volunteers, a sham mindfulness meditation procedure used as a control did not provide the same pain relief benefits as actual mindfulness meditation training.

Immune system function may also benefit from mindfulness meditation, if preliminary findings from three well-controlled studies hold up. These studies found reduced biomarkers of inflammation associated with mindfulness meditation interventions: circulating blood markers of C-reactive protein,interleukin 6, and the stress-induced inflammatory skin flare response. Another three randomized controlled trials found that mindfulness meditation interventions could reduce declines or even increase counts of certain white blood cells critical to immunity in stressed AIDS patients, both at post-treatment and follow-up periods up to nine months.

How substance abuse is influenced by meditation is also a good subject for further research. In one of the largest studies to date on this subject, 286 substance-abusing individuals were randomly assigned at a treatment facility to either MBRP, a cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention program, or a 12-step program. Researchers then monitored their self-reported substance abuse during a 12-month follow-up period. Compared to the standard 12-step treatment group, both the MBRP and cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention groups demonstrated a 54% reduction in drug relapse and a 59% reduction in relapse to heavy drinking. The cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention program delayed the time to the first drug relapse relative to the MBRP program, but the MBRP program appeared to reduce the number of drug use days at the 12-month follow-up time. The findings were published in Jama Psychiatry in 2014.

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What’s the Right “Dose” of Meditation?

With most therapies and medications, dose matters. More intensive periods of mindfulness meditation training may provide more measurable cognitive and other health benefits, but few studies have specifically examined dose response or studied the longitudinal effects of intensive meditation retreats. One recent study from the University of California-Davis, however, sent 60 healthy volunteers on an intensive three-month mindfulness meditation retreat, where they received five hours a day of training in samatha, or focused attention, meditation. (The study authors initially hoped to enroll participants in a three-year meditation retreat — this is what Buddhist monks who are about to embark on official monastic training complete — but funding was only available for three months.)

“We really don’t know much at all about how much practice people should do daily, or for how long, and what the benefits are over the life span,” said Anthony P. Zanesco, co-author of the University of California-Davis study.

After the treatment, participants were found to have improved tonic alertness (the ability to remain alert over time) as well as orienting towards a visual target in comparison to controls. In a recent seven-year follow-up study, these performance improvements were found to have been partially sustained. In particular, aging-related declines in response accuracy and reaction time were reduced for those who continued to meditate regularly during the follow up period, with better results associated with more time spent meditating. One drawback to the study design is that it is a special sort of person who is going to be able and willing to dedicate three months of their lives to a meditation retreat.

In individual case studies, Buddhist monks who have been practicing for decades have demonstrated extraordinary skills, such as an ability to alter body temperature by small amounts, for instance, or suppress the startle response. But it is difficult to study such skills longitudinally — i.e., before and after 30 years of monkhood — and difficult to know, similarly, to what extent someone drawn to that lifestyle might already have certain unusual neurological features. “What leads someone to be a monk in the first place?” asks Van Dam. “They live in a monastery. Their meals are prepared for them. Their job, essentially, is to meditate…that doesn’t necessarily then translate into your average Joe that comes in off the street and wants to pick up meditation to stave off Alzheimer’s.” Van Dam is now working on comparative study of individuals from different monastic traditions — Jesuit, Benedictine and Buddhist monks — in an attempt to isolate the effects of living as a monk from the practice of meditation.

Meditation style also matters, and more work needs to be done to isolate the effects of each of the major styles. Though studies of mindfulness meditation’s influence on levels of the so-called stress hormone cortisol have yielded mixed results, in one nine-month study that included three distinct training modulesand a control group, Veronika Engert of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues, found that training in loving-kindness meditation and another form of prosocial meditation cut cortisol levels by up to 51 percent during a stress task. Attention-based meditation practice did not influence cortisol levels. Participants in all three kinds of mindfulness meditation training reported feeling less social stress, however. The study was part of a major ongoing meditation research project at Max Planck Institute called the ReSource project.

Contemplative Neuroscience and Taking Better Pictures of the Brain

Scores of neuroscientists have tried peering into the brains of advanced and beginner meditators over the past several decades with fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to find out more directly how mindfulness meditation may influence our mental clockwork. This discipline has come to be known as contemplative neuroscience. Despite significant limitations to neuroimaging research both broadly speaking and in the specific context of the study of meditation, meta-analyses suggest the practice might cause neuroplastic changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion, and self-awareness.

Richard Davidson was one of the first to study the brains of expert meditators, such as Buddhist monks. One study from his lab in 2004 suggested that very skilled meditators with thousands of hours of practice had elevated levels of gamma oscillations in their brains even when they were not meditating compared to gender and age controls, Davidson told neuroscientist Sam Harris during an appearance on his podcast Waking Up. Such oscillations tend to be associated with flashes of insight.

Connections between the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPC) — involved in executive function — and the amygdala — which regulates the experience of emotion — have also been found to be strengthened, said Davidson. Likewise, fMRI studies have shown stronger connections between the DLPC and features of default mode network — in particular the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) — that are associated with self-narrative among experienced meditators versus controls, according to Davidson. Whether these neurological features are produced by years of meditation or predispose a person to take up intensive meditation training is not understood, nor do scientists know yet how these differences in brain structure might translate into behavior.

Could mindfulness meditation mimic the effects of psychedelics on the brain, and vice versa? Some scientists think so. Though some connections between different regions of the brain seem to be strengthened by meditation, researchers have also found measurable deactivation of the PCC and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) among experienced meditators compared to meditation-naive controls. The PCC is, again, proposed to play a role in consciousness and self-identity and the mPFC has been shown to be hyperactive in depression. The deactivation of these two regions is precisely what scientists have found in volunteers who have received injections of psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. In a 2012 study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 30 healthy volunteers had psilocybin — the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms — infused into their blood while they were inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. In a recent episode of his podcast Waking Up, Sam Harris spoke with Michael Pollan about some of the similarities between the types of insight that might be gained during meditation and during a psychedelic trip. (Pollan just published a book on psychedelics.)

Even the brains of beginner meditators have been shown to experience training-related changes. For example, in 2010, Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues examined the brains of a group of just 16 meditation–naïve participants before and after an eight-week MBSR course, and compared them against 17 wait-list controls. Localized analyses confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, which is associated with memory. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared to the controls, regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Even three days of mindfulness training can reverse the effects of stress on the amygdala, a part of the brain involved in the regulation of emotion, according to findings from a randomized controlled trial published in 2015 by Adrienne Taren, a researcher studying mindfulness and brain structure at the University of Pittsburgh. But, as elsewhere in the field, further studies with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up are needed.

More Meditation, More Science, More Answers

Since the time of Aristotle, humans have been asking whether it is possible to improve our cognitive capacities, whether our memory, attention and ability to cope with stress are set by adulthood or can be improved upon with mental training. The father of American psychology, William James, tried to address this question 100 years ago when he asked some of his research assistants to memorize poetry to see if it could improve their memory span.

It’s a question we’re still trying to answer today, and a lot of researchers and individual meditators have their hopes pinned on mindfulness. We still have a ways to go to find out.

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"If my mind is weak, even a minor difficulty is oppressive." ~Shantideva

Oregon Coast, Wasim of Nazareth Photography

Oregon Coast, Wasim of Nazareth Photography

 He lani i luna, he honua i lalo.

Heaven above, earth beneath.

Said of a person who is sure of his security.  

The sky above him and the earth beneath his feet are his.

~Mary Kawena Pukui, ʻOlelo Noʻeau #718

Hawaiian Book of Proverbs and Poetical Sayings

"If my mind is weak, even a minor difficulty is oppressive."

~Shantideva

Iʻm really getting to appreciate my sitting meditation practice.  Iʻve just completed a 3-day intensive meditation practice period.  They are an important way that I get my mind in shape much like physical practice is for my body.

Meditation helps me in many ways.  It balances me from being mostly in my brain to equally being in my body. It helps me cultivate my attention by sitting with a focus on my breath.  I notice thoughts arising, let them go and return to my breath. I do this over and over again.  Like hula, itʻs a continuous practice for me. 
Our quality of attention is everything.  A focused attention helps me know that my two feet are firmly planted on the honua (earth).  Focus is also very important when dancing hula. Sometimes I forget and get stuck in my head. Itʻs very evident in hula when that happens.  Youʻre just off and canʻt dance very well.
Another clue that alerts me when Iʻm stuck is noticing when Iʻm feeling down on myself - ie Iʻm not a good writer, not a good communicator, not a good human - the list can be endless. I feel overwhelmed and Iʻm complaining, blaming and judging others or myself.

Shantideva, the brilliant 8th century Buddhist monk and scholar talks about the destructive habit of despair in the face of hardship. He says, "If there is a solution [to your problem], then what is the point of dejection?  What is the point of dejection if there is no solution?"  The text goes on, "There is nothing desirable in the state of dejection."  

Zen teacher Norman Fischer comments on Shantidevaʻs quote saying, "if you respond to difficulties primarily with depression and lamentation, with feelings of dejection or claims of unfair victimization, you will simply be wasting your time and deepening the wound.  For if something can now be done about the problem, get busy, do something constructive.  And if this happens to be an unavoidable situation, one completely beyond your control, there is still no point in wallowing in dejection - find some path of human well-being that you can control and get back into the movement of life.  Overindulgence in the emotions of loss brings about further loss."

Meditation is a body practice that bears witness without judgement to whatʻs going on inside.  Itʻs a practice of kindness.  When I notice that my body feels tight and my vision narrows thatʻs another clue that Iʻm stuck.  So, what to do?

It takes a certain amount of courage to sit with uncomfortable feelings in the body.  My usual mode is to distract myself from the anxiety in an effort to end the uneasiness.  But that generally doesnʻt end well and I find I only feel worse later.  Meditation is a practice of courage.

During the 3-day practice period, I tried bearing witness to anxiety that I noticed from time to time in my body.  It was quite subtle, but it was there - a tenseness in my throat and tenseness in my shoulders.  I brought my attention to this feeling, gently and just breathed with it.  I didnʻt try to fix anything or figure something out.  I just "hung" out with the feeling for maybe a minute or so and noticed that after a little while, it just disappeared.  I was giving myself loving kindness by just being with my feelings and breathing.
Bearing witness is a unique practice of staying, not judging or having to change or fix anything.  Itʻs staying steady and just breathing with challenging situations.  Itʻs a practice of opening my heart.  The more I meditate, the easier it gets.

So if youʻve never meditated before and want to do something about an unruly mind, I encourage you to try it, preferably with a good teacher.  While a simple practice, it can be quite hard to do regularly.  And if you know how to practice but have stopped, I hope this letter encourages you to begin again.  Meditation can be a powerful antidote to a weak mind. 

Happy Chinese New Year of the Pig!!!

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

June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue
Kumu Hula and Sensei

Sydney Musai Walter Roshi's Passing

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We are sad to announce the passing of Sydney Musai Walter Roshi on Friday, January 18, 2019. A Zen teacher in our White Plum lineage, psychotherapist, author, lover of nature and hiker, Musai Roshi studied with many great spiritual teachers including Maezumi Roshi, Suzuki Roshi, Trungpa Rinpoche, Jitsudo Roshi and Genpo Roshi.

In his book, Off the Path, The Zen of Mountains and Deserts, he says, ''I began my Zen practice in the midst of a life crisis, under the guidance of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. When I asked that Zen Master what I should do about my life dilemmas, he responded, 'Do zazen. Life without zazen is like winding your clock without setting it. It runs perfectly well, but it doesn't tell time.' I have been following that advice for over four decades. I have turned to wild places for reassurance and adventure since I was a child. When I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1980 I found, in the Four Corners states, vast areas of mountain and desert wilderness where I could wander year-round, shedding the concerns of life in society and opening to the earth. These two fundamental streams of my life merge in my hikes and solo wilderness retreats. I hope in these photos and journals I can share some of the wonder and release I have found in this Buddhist wilderness practice.''

I practiced with Musai Roshi in the early 70’s at Zen Center of Los Angeles and I will always remember his open and kind heart. Our condolences to his family and his sangha.

~ Robert Joshin Althouse Roshi

New Year's Message from Roshi and Sensei

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse and Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse and Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue

A New Yearʻs Message from Roshi and Sensei

2018 has been quite an intense and strengthening year!  All of us together - as one body - have supported and created a strong Zen Center that is open and welcoming. This place has encouraged so many to trust in their true nature and to live a Zen-inspired Life - a path of openness, empathy and clarity based on mindfulness meditation.
 
The Sangha is one of the Three Jewels of our Practice and we have seen the Sangha shine this year in terms of dana (generosity) contribution of funds, volunteer hours and support of one another.  This has contributed to a strong place of practice for a more peaceful world.

Have faith in your capacity for awareness and love for truly this will give you courage to be who you really are.  

Our best wishes to you and your family for a wondrous New Year of 2019!

Love, Joshin Roshi and Ryushin Sensei

Bearing Witness to the Oneness of Life by Roshi Bernie Glassman

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Dogen Zenji says of the first pure precept, “Ceasing from evil is the abiding place of laws and rules of all buddhas.” This abiding place is the state of non-duality, of not-knowing and non-separation. The Sixth Ancestor of Zen defines zazen as the state of mind in which there is no separation between subject and object—no space between you and me, up and down, right or wrong. So we can also call this precept “Returning to the One.”

It’s a very difficult place to be in, this place where we don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. It is the place of just being, of life itself. How many of us can say that we are open to all the ways of all lives? How many of us can say that we don’t have the answer? How many us can say that every way that’s being presented is the right way?

Zen is a practice that pushes us to realize what is. To me, zazen is a form of bearing witness to life, of bearing witness to the elimination of the denial of the oneness of our life. As human beings, each one of us is denying something. There are certain aspects of life we do not want to deal with, usually because we are afraid of them. Sometimes it is society itself that is in denial. Zazen allows us to bear witness to all of life. To me, that is the essence of the second pure precept, doing good. Dogen says, “Doing good, this is the dharma, supreme enlightenment. This is the way of all beings.” 

Bearing witness to things we are denying or that society is denying, bearing witness to the things we don’t want to deal with—this is the second precept. When we bear witness, we open to what is, and we learn. The things that we are in denial about teach us. We don’t go to them to teach them. When we can listen, when we can bear witness, they teach us.

For me, the flowering of zazen is the third pure precept, doing good for others. Dogen says, “This is to transcend the profane and to be beyond the holy. This is to liberate oneself and others.”

What good is it if we just make ourselves more holy? What’s the point? The point is to serve, to offer, to be the offering. Of itself the fruit is born. So we don’t have to worry about what to do. If we cease from evil, if we become that state of unknowing, if we become zazen, the offering will arise. The fruit will be born.
The question always comes up: how do we bring our Zen into our life? 

But Zen is life. What is there to bring? And into what? The point is to see life as the practice field. Every aspect of our life has to become practice. I was trained in a traditional monastic model whose forms are conducive to the state of not-knowing. 

he question for me is, what forms can we create in modern society that will be conducive to seeing the oneness of life? What are the forms that will make it easier for us to experience that state of nonduality? Almost anything we do will cause more dualistic thinking. How do we lead ourselves, our brothers, and our sisters into a state of nonduality?

That’s the question. That’s the koan.


Step Up Your Game

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For the rest of the month of November 2018, the Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago will hold daily meditations, Monday through Friday from noon to 1 pm. And on Thursday from 1 to 2 pm we’ll hold a special council circle to speak and listen from the heart. All of these are FREE and open to the public. We invite anyone (adults and teenagers) suffering from fear or anxiety, to join us for any of these sessions. In this way we can come together and support each other in this time of chaos and turmoil.

It used to seem like the violence and hatred was out there somewhere, far away. At first it was in Iraq and Afghanistan where we waged war to root out terrorists. Then it showed up on our own shores in America - at schools, at diners, bars, night clubs, entertainment venues, theaters, churches and synagogues. When we did our memorial service last week for the eleven people shot and killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh the hatred and the violence was still somewhere else but it seemed closer. Now it is no longer somewhere else but it is here in our own community of Oak Park. It’s time to take notice and step up our game.

One of our members, who’s son is a student at the Oak Park and River Forest High School, reports that there are increasing incidents of racism and hatred and anti-semetic graffiti, and vandalism taking place at the school. A teacher allegedly used racial slurs in the classroom that left students traumatized and crying. Rumors of violence have spread, and at a recent student assembly someone air-dropped a swastika onto students’ cell phones.

It wasn’t so long ago that white men marched with torches in the streets of Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us”. That should have been shocking but have we gotten used to it? Has the violence and the hatred become normalized? If you hear on the news that people were shot at a bar in Thousand Oaks, does it upset you or is it just another mass shooting? So far there have been 307 mass shootings in 2018 in America.

Our political environment is toxic and divided. Mussolini said that for a dictator to accumulate power, the best strategy would be to pluck a chicken, feather by feather, so that each squawk was heard apart from every other and the whole process was kept as muted as possible. So how many feathers have already been plucked from the chicken?

I don’t have any easy answer, but I do have a spiritual practice and a wonderful sangha community that supports me and others to open our sad and tender hearts, to practice the 3 tenets of a peacemaker of not knowing, bearing witness and loving action.

So we will step up our game. For the rest of November we will offer special noon time meditations (noon to 1 pm) Monday through Friday. We’ll also offer a special council circle each Thursday afternoon from 1 to 2 pm that is also open to everyone. You don’t need to be a member of our Zen community to join us - these events are open to you regardless of your religion, ethnicity or political persuasion.

Hatred grows in an environment of isolation, separation and social media that breed fear, hatred and conspiracy theories. So let’s ground ourselves by re-connecting with each other and affirming our basic sanity and unconditional love for ourselves and all beings.

May all beings, may our youth, and may all people regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, religion or political party be safe.

Respectfully,

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse