Zen 101

Thursday, August 28, 2008


With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

The mountains are a delightful mix of sun and cloud with raindrops falling from time to time. I have been steady at work on getting my book edited. The process is, well, good practice. I am using one single year of my teishos from December to December and editing each of them. They are from my great year of transitions from Zen Center to Clear Mind Zen to streetZen with a twist of Zen Judaism. As you each know by now, my teaching typically begins with a few details in my life and moves out from there. I see this as an experiential application of Zen and an unfolding of my own story in the process.

There will come a time when I will need to present to a publisher a market. I was wondering if any of you could write a short note back to me as regards your willingness to purchase such a book. You are, of course, NOT obligated. But I will keep all such notes and use them to persuade a publisher that there might be a market for this book.

As to my day to day: I have taken on a monastic practice. I get up early, practice zazen, prepare tea, clean, then work. Afternoon practice period, lunch, clean, then work. I go to bed pretty much at sunset after evening zazen. This is a good cycle for me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

And, of course, if you are in the neighborhood of the Refuge, please feel free to drop in!

May you each be a blessing in the universe.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Begin and Be

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

The best way to begin a disciplined spiritual practice is to actually begin. We can read about such practices all day and night, but until we actually begin, we are no where. Of course, in a manner of speaking, there is no beginning and no end. In truth we are all involved in a spiritual practice and will be until the day we die. We may not be aware of it, we may not be very disciplined about it, but we are involved with every breath we take.

Yet, a true, disciplined spiritual practice, a practice that opens one's heart to the Infinite, is a practice that requires a commitment and a practice.

So, what does it mean to begin a disciplined spiritual practice? It might mean setting a daily time for meditation. This meditation might be seated or walking or even lying down. It might mean deciding to light the sabbath candles at sunset on Fridays. It might mean the we decide to recite the morning prayers from the siddur. Or we could recite blessings through the day, taking note of all the wonder in our lives. In the end, the commitment to a disciplined spiritual practice is a commitment to mindful living.

As we sip our tea or coffee, we should take a breath and settle down enough to actually sip that beverage, experience it as if we've never tasted such a thing before. When we walk, we could deliberately slow the pace, feel our feet touch the floor or ground, sense its resistance to our weight. As we sit down we can feel our body as it comes to rest, filling the space of the chair or sofa. Every moment in every place offers us an opportunity to be awake.
It is our responsibility to be open to it.

Be well

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It Takes a Community

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Apparently it rained overnight as we woke to raindrop spattered windows and high humidity. Clouds are hanging on the mountains. In spite of this overwhelming beauty, we have decided not to go for our morning walk. Both of us have a busy day today. We will be at Temple Beth El assisting with the Open House. The Religious School, the Academy, the Sisterhood, the Mensch Club, the Board and Rabbi, will all be present to welcome individuals and families to our community. We are both excited.

Community is so important. We cannot live our lives as rugged individualists, as romantic as it might sound. We are human beings and we require community to maintain and refine our humanity. Our schools, churches, mosques and synagogues, community centers, parks and recreation centers, are all human communities established not only to nurture us, educate us, entertain us, distract us, but to humanize us, as well. We cannot be full and complete human beings without community. Isolation helps us to look inward, community helps us look outward. Some of resist this outward glance. We do not want to feel obliged to modify our behavior, meet standards, or otherwise have our lives channeled by others. We would rather live in the fantasy that we are individuals, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and living with our own two feet planted firmly on the ground. Yet it takes a world of human beings living in various communities to make this fantasy a reality, thus it is no reality at all.

Since we have moved down from the Mountain Refuge, we have learned to open ourselves to community. And community has responded likewise: a blessing. I feel all of us are more fully human, enriched, and uplifted in the process. Study, prayer/meditation, and acts of lovingkindness do not exist in a vacuum,. It takes a community.

Be well.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Life is Change

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Our living room is looking very strange. Paintings that once adorned the walls are stacked now against them, boxes are stacked with markers telling us to what part of our house they belong. The kitchen has been packed. The library has been packed. The bathrooms have been packed. We are left with the odds and ends necessary to continue to live in this condo until Tuesday when son Jason arrives to move in. Over this weekend we hope to move the boxes and the furniture to the garage, then on Monday we will thoroughly clean the place.

Our new house will not be ready for a few weeks yet. So we will be living in Jacob's apartment in Old Mesilla for that time. The house is looking good, though. The stucco is done. The tile floors are pretty much done. The kitchen cabinets are nearly finished. The interior has been painted. The fireplace is done. Still to do: the rest of the tile, the carpeting, the rest of the cabinets, the granite counter tops, and all the plumbing fixtures. And lastly, the exterior tile, driveway, and partial landscaping.

My hope is that this will be our last move.

Living in the midst of transition points to the truth that nothing is certain and nothing lasts forever: we are always changing. Its just that the pace of the change is normally quite slow. But life transitions like moving, marriage, divorce, these are in your face fast. Unmistakable. We see that what we thought of as solid is not really. Its a facade we erect to create an illusion of stability. We all "know" that life itself is change, but how often are we living its truth?

Zen practice, the practice of serene reflection meditation, is a practice that considers change the very basis of life. We contemplate in stillness to realize there is no stillness, only to awaken in universal stillness. Its like finally realizing in Big Mind, there is no motion. Motion, itself, is a Small Mind phenomenon.

The so what of this is a centered acceptance of life as it actually is, changing, evolving, deveploping. There is nothing to hold on to and no reason to hold on.

Let go. Enjoy.

Be well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Appreciate Your Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

When we appreciate our lives our lives assume meaning. Appreciation requires us to stop, open, and experience. We stop our self talk, that constant chatter going on in our mind by directing our attention to something outside of ourselves, then we experience that something. We can experience with all of our sense organs: our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and mind. These organs become gates and we should practice to keep them open, not closed.

Our sense organs are conduits, not containers. We should not hold onto our experiences, try to possess them, retain, them, or even treasure them. In holding on to an experience, we deny new experience by a constant comparative process. We discriminate. We hoard. We suffer. We fail to truly appreciate.

Often we try to experience. We set out with great deliberation to have an experience. Our mind becomes charged with anticipation. And while anticipatory joy can be nice and can actually extend our experience, it can also be a cause of not actually being able to experience the thing we really set out to experience. Our anticipatory thoughts become a sort of litmus test: is this the real thing? The thing we imagined?

We experience this often when we read a new book or watch a new film. But sometimes we experience it with far more devastating consequences, such as having a baby or getting married or adopting a pet. The imagining does not meet our expectations. We suffer. Our children can suffer. Our pets become disposable.

To avoid this, we should try to keep the conduits open and selfless. We are anticipating only to experience the anticipation, not to retain it and call upon it later to test reality.

Live your life to be a blessing.

Be well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Daily Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In another day or so I will continue my brief commentary on the Faith Mind Poem. I find this poem to be a clear reminder of how we should make our lives our practice. Its a challenging life, the Zen Way. Open, flowing, without attachment, yet at the same time, in the very midst of things. We practice to love without possessing, care without concern for being cared about, and do these with no self. A tall order in a materialistic, self-absorbed culture.

This is why it is practice. No one can live it all the time and without fail. What we can do is practice to stay self-aware. This is the core of mindfulness practice. We lift a cup knowing we are lifting a cup, knowing the cup is not a cup, but just what we call a cup. We listen to others knowing we are listening to others, recognizing when our ears turn to our own thoughts and away from the person in front of us. We gently return our attention to the other.

This is excellent practice. It is a practice that can, and should, be done every moment of our waking day.

Be well.