Zen 101

Sunday, May 27, 2012


With palms together,

It is 11:50 PM. Everyone (Kathryn, Suki, and Binky) are asleep. I am wide awake. Kathryn Soku Shin asked that I offer services in El Paso tomorrow while Rev. Tamra leads them here in Las Cruces. Rev. Soku Shin wants me to talk about how I spent my summer vacation, meaning, what did I learn from riding my motorcycle nearly 4000 miles in order to visit my son and his family.

At first I thought I could say something quite Zen like, but I soon recovered from that temptation. The most important thing I learned was not to make assumptions or promises. At each step in our daily life anything is possible. For me, the weather shifting and changing, my body’s unwillingness to adapt quickly or heal from the sciatic nerve inflammation, all came together to betray my promises. I wanted to visit the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, for example, but each way weather and timing conspired against a visit, to say nothing of the gigantic traffic nightmare which defines Atlanta as a place none of us should actually want to go.

I had assumed I could master the weather, get around things, predict things with my cyber gadgets. I did to a certain extent. I could see the storms, plot their direction, and so forth, but in the end, only the personal, actual experience of riding a motorcycle unprotected from the temperature changes that accompany an overcast day, could inform me.

My sense is that these lessons speak to the eternally spoken Zen message of “Be here now!” It is in this now, and in no other time or place, that we live. Climbing over high bridges, riding on rutted and freshly grated road surfaces, having to pay close attention to gasoline consumption, location of gasoline stations, and so forth was an experience of deep mindful practice. In the end, however, they are nothing special. We do not need a 4000 mile motorcycle tour to teach us this, we simply need to commit to our daily practice of living fully in each moment.

“Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering,” sings Leonard Cohen, “there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

In our life as Zensters there is no real place for assumptions and situation specific promises, there is only our global vow to live life awake. Be happy we have cracks. It is through these openings, we are able to begin to see clearly.

Be well

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

After riding nearly 500 miles yesterday I hobbled into a Days Inn to rest for the night. I was pleased with myself and my bike. Over the road I managed to avoid a few serious thunder storms, but did get rained on once. Fortunately, the cheapy rain suit I bought at a Wal-Mart on the way out to North Carolina worked. Somewhere in Alabama the over cast skies cleared and the sun shone down on me. After rain and cold, overcast skies, the son was a very welcome sight.

The ride itself was broken up into 100 mile pieces so I could fill my small gas tank and stretch out my tightened shoulder muscles. Road work is ubiquitous. Causing much caution to be needed. One detour in Jackson, Miss. took me out of my way and on a trek to find out how to get back on the closed Interstate. I am learning to relax a bit more, recalling an earlier time in my life when my motorcycle and I were partners on the road. It is a real pleasure when that moment arises. It makes itself know after the fact as in the ease of pulling up to a gasoline pump without worrying about falling off the bike! Also, I am getting more used to the Harley’s “Jiffy” stand, the kickstand that holds the bike up at rest. My old Shadow’s kickstand didn’t allow the Shadow to lean so far over.

On a different note, thus far I have been asked for money three times at gas stations. Each time a different story, each time I just gave what I had. People seem so grateful when we give without question and immediately.

In North Carolina, seeing my sister and brother at my son’s house was a real delight. I had only met Susan twice in my life. Once in Florida and once in Ohio. She was so young. My father was a person who hurt people. He hurt all of his children. I am happy that we have reconnected. It’s about time, for goodness’ sake.

Now, my focus is on getting home to the love of my life, the one who knows me most intimately and with whom I have chosen to share my life. We are family. Kathryn Soku Shin has been in my every thought along the way. I cannot imagine life without her. I still have two nights away, but I am on my way, and that is what matters most. I hope to be in Las Cruces by Friday evening.

Be well.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

With respect,

The day began early, 3:30 AM, to be exact, as I stepped out onto the porch to practice Zazen with the crickets first, then the birds. The east coast is a very humid place and in no time at all I feel the weight of the air on my skin. It feels as though I am swimming as I sit. Most interesting.

I will pack up and leave for New Mexico on Monday morning. I have an appointment for motercycle maintenance in Florece South Carolina at 10:00 AM that morning and will then head south to meet with Taiun Elliston at his Atlanta Soto Zen Center. From there, if time allows I will visit Inmo at his Zendo in Alabama, then head west. We will see. Between then and now my brother and sister will arrive for a family gathering on SaturdayI am very much looking forward to this. I haven't seen either in years.

Other news: son Jacob has left his restaurant in Wilmington to take a job as Executive chef at a very fancy restaurant in Austin, Tx. This is a good move for him...and for me, as it puts his family within fairly easy driving distance from Las Cruces. I am happy for him and his family.

I am feeling much better. Still walking with a limp, but do not necessarilly need the cane. This is very good!

Be well

Monday, May 14, 2012


Monday, May 14, 2012

Riding America’s highways outside of the box can be exhilarating, scary, and sometimes dangerous. I am in Covington, Ga. right now in a very cheap hotel. Hotels can be cheap, but adequate. This is skimming the bottom. The AC works, but barely, and not without a grinding effort. The room is musty. But the bathtub is clean and the sheets appear the same. So, I will stay the night, get up early, and try to make it to Wilmington tomorrow. I see by the weather report that it might storm there, so maybe another cheap hotel is in the picture.

This morning I had some orange juice and coffee at a Mickey D’s (they all have WiFi) and sat outside with some homeless men who were having some sort of gathering. They were quite salty in their language and one had a small dog. They were talking about what they needed. To a man, a V was high on the list. How often have I said with a little too much pride, that we don’t have a TV. With us it’s a choice, not so with them. The group dissolve each going in separate directions looking for rides to nowhere. As I headed on to the Interstate, the man with dog was walking up the ramp.

We are so fortunate.

Be well.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Wednesday, May 10, 2012

I pulled into Ozona, Texas hurting . The trek from Fort Stanton to Ozona was 108 miles. My body was aching from the morning side of the run in cold, overcast skies. Then the sun came out and this made all the difference. But, by this time I was already tense and my lower back and shoulders were on fire. Fun? Not! About twenty miles outside of Ozona, the overcast skies returned along with some rain and wet roads: tension returned.

Along the way I stopped for gasoline at a remote little store. A guy named Chris, sporting a skull-tee and jeans greeted me at the door (I am walking with a cane) and helped me in. I bought some aspirin and a cup of coffee. We sat outside on a stool he provided, and talked motorcycles. He was a genuine young man and spoke with love of machines. He pointed to his car and told me in detail all the work he had himself done. I was thoroughly impressed with his kindness. It made the misery of the rain and cold melt away. So far, everyone I have spoken to has been both curious and impressed with my ride. I put these words into the context that suggests America is a wonderful place filled with wonderful people…if we get to know them.

So, now, after writing this, chatting with Soku Shin and Disciple Dai Shugyo, and a hot bath, I am much revived. The weather looks better for tomorrow as I head to Lake Charles, LA.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


With palms together,

Tuesday, 7:30 PM

My leg has been healing, but tires easily when asked to support my weight. Just now, after a long day mostly on my feet, it is screaming. I let it scream. Disciple Daishugyo gave me a collapsible cane. I will store it on top of one of my saddlebags. My bags are nearly packed, the Sportster is finally ready, and it is raining. A check of the weather east of here reveals storms arising. They seem to be heading east, so it is relatively safe to say I will remain behind them. I am ready to begin this journey and face what arises along the way.

Wednesday, 2:40 AM

Packing my bags, checking them twice. It’s important not to over pack. I learned a long time ago not to take too much. Most everything I will actually need, I will have packed, then reduced, as these may be purchased along the route if they are really needed. I am taking three changes of clothes, shaver, deodorant, toothpaste & brush, flashlight, mini binoculars, 2 disposable chemical ice packs, my meds, extra gallon sized Ziploc baggies, device chargers, light jacket, leather MC jacket, and vest. I am also taking my sleeping bag and ground cloth.

I have checked the driving weather forecast for Mesilla to San Antonio and it looks good. As I saw last night, the storms are in front of me moving east. I will have fresh air, washed by the rain, and warm temperatures. My plan is to ride five to six hours in a day at about 60-65 mph, stopping every hour or so for a walk break. It is important on trips like this not to be in any hurry at all.

Evening. Weather could not have been more wrong. It began a light rain outside of El Paso and gradually got worse. Rain, wind and cold took its toll on me. I stopped in Sierra Blanca, about a hundred miles inside the Great State of Texas, and I took refuge in a cheap motel. The heater is drying my clothes and helping my body recover. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Along the way I couldn’t help thinking this was a little over the top.

Doing this ride will be a challenge. Am I up for it? Zen requires no thought, we simply do.In this case one mile at a time.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Approaching Perfection

With respect,

Good Afternoon Everyone,

Patience. It’s a wonderful thing, I think, but do I actually know it is so? Not really. I try to practice patience, but whenever I do its like other things Buddhist, I feel as though I am pretending. This is not correct, as our Japanese or Korean Masters would be quick to tell us. Paramitas, like the precepts, come from the inside out.

We say, “just be” the paramitas, fine, I should “just be” patience. Right. There are times, more often than I care to admit, that I am simply unable to “just be” anything approaching an “excellence,” I am just the person I am in the moment I am. From that point of view, that has to be enough.

Perhaps I am impatient, hurt, or angry. Perhaps sad, depressed, or jealous. The most important point is to be aware while not holding onto the feeling or thoughts about the feeling in the moment itself. This is authenticity.

We know from cognitive therapy that thoughts, feelings, and behavior are interconnected. Changing a behavior affects a thought or feeling. This lends much credence to the old saying, “fake it till you make it.” So, it doesn’t matter all that much, from this perspective, if we are faking patience, what matters is that we do patience and examine ourselves in the process. In the process itself, we become patience and sooner or later it becomes authentic.

Be well.