Sunday, May 13, 2018

Step 5 -- The Whole World is Medicine

Step 5:  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Koan:  Yun Men, teaching the community, said, “Sickness and medicine correspond* to each other: the whole world is medicine, what are you?”


*Various translations: “Correspond to, subdue, heal or in accord with each other…”

Our friend Dale is in the hospital again.  But the good news is,  he’s supposed to come home tomorrow! So far he’s had a stent put in at his heart, another stent at his gallbladder to go around gallstones. There probably will be other surgeries in the near future.  And all throughout this hospital stay, he has been sitting with this koan. He has a good story for us:

Lying quietly in bed, his eyes gently closed, he was saying this koan to himself.  “Sickness and medicine correspond to each other…the whole world is medicine… what are you?”

Immediately after he had said the phrase, “what are you?” he was startled,  hearing a loud voice, “You are one sick person!” It was one of his doctors, the one who will be putting two more stents into his left leg later on. There was Dale's answer.

Dale laughed…and had to tell the doctor what had just happened.  Yes, right now he is sick and he is open to all the medicine they offer.


My sitting with this koan and Step began with what appeared as various opposites:  Sickness - medicine, ourselves - another human being, sponsee – sponsor … then eventually took me to an entirely different place.

My sickness, of course, would be my alcoholism and resulting behavior. The medicine I have learned (and through experience) is the sharing with another human being.  The effectiveness of this medicine comes from being completely honest with my sponsor and myself. So right now, my whole world is Step Five.

Elsie commented that she can’t be cured of alcoholism, but can find a modicum of peace and serenity.  “When I balk at a Step or with problems," she said, “I become sicker.”

Oh,  the perceived barriers I have heard over these years, real and imagined. To the sponsee, Step 5 can feel sickening…while the sponsor sees the “medicinal” qualities of this Step in the form of changes before his/her eyes.  But not always; there are those who refuse to do Step 5 – their alcoholic sickness festers with many returning to drinking in an attempt to forget or cover up these wounds.

Initially the medicine may seem worse than the sickness for a sponsee; but their trust in their Higher Power (and sponsor) carries them on, the necessity to tell the sponsor everything about their past.  To not reveal all,  to leave certain things out, is like not following through with a doctor’s prescription, as in,  “If one pill in 4 hours is prescribed, then two will be even better!” Too much medicine leads to more sickness.

There is no light without the dark; there is no medicine without sickness. If the whole world is medicine, then the whole world must also be sickness.  The world is sickness AND medicine.


Now, where do I fit in here?  What are you?  I’m just an alcoholic trying to find sobriety and get well.  The object then is to do right things to maintain recovery momentum.


Am I feeding my sickness?  Am I looking at ways to find relief from my sickness?  Am I the medicine that puts my sickness into remission?

Deep in my disease, not only am I sick, I’m spreading sickness.  Deep into Steps 4 and 5 I’m turning things around. Not only do I admit that I’m sick, now I’m doing something about it –
more than taking my medicine, I become the medicine for myself and eventually for others.

Elsie said, “I’m sick -- is my first thought.” It’s in the 5th Step that I found forgiveness, understanding, peace and courage to go on.

That sounds like medicine to me.

Bill K.

Monday, April 30, 2018

May koan and Step

Hello All:

It's almost May.  Time to begin sitting with our next Step and koan.  Locally we'll be meeting Friday, on May 11th.

Bill K.


Step 5:  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.



Koan:  Yun Men, teaching the community, said, “Sickness and medicine correspond* to each other: the whole world is medicine, what are you?”


*Various translations: “Correspond to, subdue, heal or in accord with each other…”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Step 4 and Making yourself beautiful.



Step 4:  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Koan: For whom do you bathe and make yourself beautiful?
Dongshan (807-869)



Dongshan and Linji lived around the same time during the latter part of the Tang Dynasty, a time when Chán flourished. Dongshan is considered the founder of the Caodong School (that became the Soto School in Japan) and Linji the founder of the Linji School (Rinzai School in Japan).

Buddhism in China had its rough times, too.  The first large-scale purge of Buddhism took place in 446 “and major imperially sanctioned persecutions took place again in 574 and 842-845.” Dongshan had experienced the worst of times and the best of times for Chán when he gave us this koan.

My friend Dan Kaplan sent me one of his recent talks at the Rockridge Zendo that was on this koan. Then, with a little inquiry, I came across Sensei Megan Rundel’s blog piece on it, too.  Megan writes, “For whom do you feel desire, and how do you make yourself desirable? There is a strong sense of eros here.” While Dan said, “I take it to be about what do you truly love, what gets you out of bed in the morning. In the end, for me, it’s about ME, and that vastness that IS me.”

“I think it’s both,” I wrote back.

In asking the question: “For whom do you bathe and make yourself beautiful?“, the desire comes in many layers.  At one level it’s the bathing as a desire to please another.  At another level, in the context of what we are doing here, the Third Tradition comes to mind, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

Step 4 is about coming clean, with ourselves and our past behavior; bathing in a tub of willingness; washing with a soap of honesty; and scrubbing where there’s the most dirt and grime.

·      For whom are you taking this inventory?
·      For whom are you coming clean?
·      For whom do you wish to present yourself today?
·      For whom are you getting sober for?

Jump into the tub! Step Four, a spiritual scrubbing, an awakening to our new self.

Others this evening:

It’s my soul enjoying the physical body – not only ego – but a process of freeing and connecting to eventually take that fearless and thorough moral inventory.  Roger.

A light is shown when taking a fearless and thorough moral inventory; it’s a sacred act to make ourselves shiny and new; where a new life begins for us each day.  Susan.

Such a simple sounding koan, I smiled.  It provoked my ability to see myself in fleeting ways.  After many years in the program, my favorite word in Step 4 has become “ourselves”. That’s what we end up with the more we work Step 4 – we end up with our self, in whatever way it presents itself in this moment.  Elsie.

Our koan and Step 4 threw a larger loop around Kate’s experience tonight.  She said she just returned to college and is taking a class in Privilege. “This Step and koan are taking me on a whole different level; where I’m asking myself not about my past behavior, but instead, where is my place in life today around privilege? What a fantastic question she asks?

Here is the full verse Dongshan wrote:

For whom do you bathe and make yourself beautiful?
The cry of the cuckoo is calling you home;
hundreds of flowers fall, yet her voice isn’t stilled;
even deep in jumbled mountains, it’s calling clearly.

Who is calling you to get sober?  Who is calling you to stay sober?

Bill K.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Step Three Decision -- Centers in the mind



Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Koan:  The wind was flapping a temple flag.  Two monks were arguing about it.  One said the flag was moving; the other said the wind was moving.  Arguing back and forth they could come to now agreement.  The Sixth Patriarch said, “It is neither the wind no the flag that is moving.  It is your mind that is moving.” The two monks were struck with awe.  #29 The Gateless Barrier


Such arguing!  One monk has decided that the flag is moving while the other monk has decided that the wind is moving the flag; and each being cocksure his own decision is right, and the other’s is wrong. We do this, too, with our everyday decisions cloaked is duality.  “It is your mind that is moving,” said the Sixth Patriarch.

Deciding on a God or god or Higher Power or higher power or simply a power of our own understanding requires a different outlook beyond duality. We find higher powers of all makes and models in AA – the Christian God and Jesus, Islam’s Allah, Higher Power, pagan gods, Nature, no god, or simply a force or power that’s indefinable.  Daresay, a 12-Step group of a hundred people has a hundred corresponding higher powers.

What do I understand? I understand what an automobile does; I know how to use a car; but I understand very little about its inner workings.  The Big Book tells us what a higher power will do for us; we learn how to use our higher power and hopefully grow in proficiency; but I know very little about the inner workings of my higher power.

The Higher Power that I rely upon is not an entity; it’s a magnificent force; the ultimate power behind all things.  “God is everything or else He is nothing,” written on page 53 of the Big Book. I go with the “everything” part. It’s about turning my life over to everything in the moment. And deciding to turn my will (thoughts) and my life (actions) over to this power sounds like something I have to initiate myself.  Not really. There’s a Zen phrase I’ve heard, “doing by not doing.” Decisions can be made from not doing.

Of late I’m enjoying the phrase “just wait and see” as another way of submitting to the Universe and trusting in my Higher Power – trusting in the dharma. When I can get out of the way, stop the old behavior, take it easy, step back with an open mind, not only can I see what transpires, I become what is transpiring. This is Step Three.

Back to the arguing monks…had they turned their will and their lives over to the care of the Universe, the power behind all that’s there in that moment, they might have seen a flag moving in the wind. Actually, their whole world would have become a moving flag in the wind.

Doing by not doing, when not being fixated upon resentments or outcomes, my mind stops flapping.  When my mind stops flapping and the winds die down, the world opens up. This happened to me a few days ago when I was on my way over to the skilled nursing facility where Dale is recuperating (he’s doing very well by the way and now at home).  I was stopped in the left turn lane, waiting for the light to change.  The afternoon traffic was quite heavy.

Then this person appeared in the road, struggling to cross the intersection.  A short gray haired man, he was gripping crutches like those who have had polio use and dragging his feet slowly with each forward push on his crutches.  It was agonizing to watch as now he changed direction.   Instead of staying in the crosswalk he turned at a 45-degree angle and headed for the far corner, jabbing his crutches forward then painfully dragging his legs to catch up.  He almost made it to the corner when he stopped short by eight feet.  Exhausted, catching his breath, he stood there looking bewildered.

A car suddenly appeared, turning left where the man had just walked…and stopped.  Bending down, the man peered into the car as the passenger window rolled down. He and the driver appeared to be talking to each other. Then ever so slowly he dragged himself to the car, fumbled then opened the door, and was struggling to get in as the left turn arrow turned green and I had to continue on.

Waiting at the intersection I could have been flapping my mind over all the traffic, or the light is taking too long to turn green, or declaring all of this is wasting my time.  And what a crock that is, blaming the world for wasting my time. Instead, I was blessed and rewarded simply for waiting in a left turn lane.

For a few short moments my entire world was struggling man while witnessing his anguish, pain, courage, fatigue, despair, and the human kindness of others -- and this intersection of automobiles and people became the entire Universe.

- - -

Unable to come to 12 & Zen in person, Dale contributed this from his hospital room:

Step 3 Thoughts: “A daily (sometimes more often) decision to let go, to surrender, a daily decision to move with the will (direction) of my Higher Power, can ‘I’ stay out of the way?  Can ‘I’ move into the wisdom of allowing and a shedding of judgments?”

Moving into the koan: “Trying to ‘decide’ what my Higher Power’s will is, is like the two monks arguing about the flag and the wind. Is it this? Is it that? When in reality it is neither this nor that. What is *one* cannot have separate parts. My Higher Power will manifest in all things. It is the moving mind – it is the flag and wind.”

















Saturday, February 10, 2018

Step 2, It's all in the landing...

Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Koan - Viewing the Snow:  Layman P’ang pointed to the falling snow and said, “The snow is so beautiful; each flake lands in the same place.”

Yamada's translation is: "Beautiful snow flakes! They don't fall on any other place."


I view “Came to believe” as not something to strive for.  Instead, it’s sort of a forecasting of what is to come, predicated on continuing to work the Steps. It’s like building strong muscles.  I’ll never simple wake up one day with stronger muscles.  Only after I have worked my muscles with exercise and lifting weights will my muscles become stronger.

Each flake … falling, swirling, updrafts, eddies, totally at the whim of wind and temperature, completely powerless over its destiny and not in control of anything.  Does it know when or where or even if it will land?  No.  All each snowflake can do is fall and wait and see what happens, falling only on the place where it lands.

I’m that snowflake falling, completely powerless over my destiny and not in control of anything.  The falling is the coming to believe part. Coming to believe that I will cease falling and land in a place.  Where or when, I don’t know.  All I can do is wait and see…and enjoy the ride.

This reminds me of a story from a Buddhist teacher; unfortunately I cannot recall his name -- You are falling from a great (un-survivable) height.  As you fall, spinning and rotating toward earth, what a shame it would be to not enjoy the spectacular view in all directions.

I’ll know I’ve landed in the right place when I have come to believe in Step 2. This may happen as soon as I embrace Step 3? Or later on…

The evening went a little differently for us this time.  I learned earlier in the day from a note that my wife had left, that Dale (who seldom misses 12 & Zen) would not be attending.  He was in the emergency room at Memorial Hospital. 

Of course he was on my mind and in my prayers. There was nothing I could do for him and I remained sane as I went about the rest of my day.  Concern yes, but no worries. He was being taken care of where he was and I am being taken care of where I am, because I trust in a Power greater than myself.

We missed Dale's presence yesterday evening.

Today I paid him a visit. He smiled as I walked in. His recovery may take months.  Beautiful Dale has landed in the same place.

"As the koan slipped into my body, I did not need to find a meaning outside of this very moment and this very place."*


Bill K.

* I  just swiped this from something my friend Jon Joseph Roshi just sent.  It seems a fitting closing here.
Thanks Jon.








Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Sitting with Step 2 and Layman P'ang

February in a few days.  Time to sit with Step Two...

Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
...and this koan:

Viewing the Snow:  Layman P’ang pointed to the falling snow and said, “The snow is so beautiful; each flake lands in the same place.”

Yamada's translation is: "Beautiful snow flakes! They don't fall on any other place."


We'll be meeting on February 9th for sitting and discussion and a commentary here.



Bill K.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Step 1, This is our new normal



Step 1:  We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [or something] -- that our lives had become unmanageable.

Koan: My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.    
Mizuta Masahide  1657-1723

If there is a disclaimer for my blog, it’s the coupling of koans and the Steps. We are using koans in a non-traditional way, and yet…we never know what koans will stir in us.

We don’t know the cause of this fire; what if I started the fire, then couldn’t put it out and my barn was destroyed?

·     Now my winter hay is gone.
·     Now my animals have no food or shelter.
·     Now my tools are ruined.
·     My life, its so unmanageable.

In other words, look what a mess this is, all because of me. Isn’t this Step One?  Step One, ultimately about cause and effect, we’re addicted to something and our life gets unmanageable. We admit our powerlessness over alcohol (and many other things) and continue working the Steps and our lives get better.

Over time, I became an everyday drinker.  Never missed a day, even when I promised myself in the evening that I wouldn’t drink tomorrow.  My promise was made in earnest. Still I would find myself drunk the next evening wondering how that happened. It went on like this for many years.

On page 354 in the Big Book, the writer describes his situation: “It wasn’t how far I had gone, but where I was headed.” This is my story. I didn’t have to experience some of the consequences of those in the “They Nearly Lost It All” stories. At the time, the part that I was unsure about was the alcohol. I was not 100% sure that alcohol was my main problem and at the same time couldn’t come up with any other plausible reason. I think this was a product of my alcoholic mind still trying to sway me. And then, like a flipped switch, one day I was drinking and the next day I placed myself into a treatment facility. 

After being there four or five days, a change occurred – it dawned on me that I wasn’t yearning for a drink that day.  The compulsion to drink had left me!  This made a huge impact. Something within me fell away, “burned to the ground”, and I was free.

The moon is a subject in many Zen sayings, often a metaphor for enlightenment or awakening.  Realizing that I was no longer promising to myself to stop drinking the next day was the proof I needed; deep inside, I am an alcoholic. Surely this was my awakening at the time.

It’s the remaining Steps where I learn more about my burning barn; the role it has played in my life; and seeing my life changing for the better having had it burn down. Come to think of it, all the remaining Steps are a product of cause and effect.

This past Friday, when we were meditating, I could see that one person seemed uncomfortable.  After I rang the bell I asked him, “Are you OK?”

“No, I’m not,” but he told us to go on with the evening’s discussion.

Later he spoke of his condition.  He’s 75, has emphysema, there are side effects from medications, “…and I’m dying actually, just not all at once.” He talked about his body not functioning as well as it used to; always out of breath with heavy fatigue, and it’s discouraging not being able to do things right now when they need to be done. “My doctor has told me that I have a strong heart, that it’s the rest of my body that’s falling apart. He told us that this is my new normal.”

He smiled a bit saying his body is the barn and it’s burning down as we speak.  “I accept this,” he said, “I am ready to die [He paused] but its probably not going to happen this evening.” He went on to say that his total acceptance of Step One over all these years, and his total powerless over alcohol is no different than his powerlessness over the demise of his body.

“I can see the moon now,” he said, as he referenced the Steps, that they are such an integral part of his life, that he has awakened to the fact that this is my new normal.  He accepts situations where “things” won’t get done right now.  “I’ll do that tomorrow, or I’ll take a nap and see how I feel or I can ask for help. This is how it is now.

He spoke for ten or fifteen minutes, and we listened. "Wow," he exclaimed, "I've never even been able to speak to my doctor like this." Then he attempted to apologize for going on so long but we interrupted, “No, no, not only did you need to get this out, we needed to hear you.”

Oh my, the Universe, cause and effect, or happenstance put us here this evening to hear how this koan awakened our friend to his new normal.  The next day we saw each other at a meeting.  We laughed together.

Bill K.