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11th Hour Mindfulness Workshop Oct. 3 & 17: Preparing for Death and Dying

This online two-part workshop on death and dying on Oct. 3 & 17 from 9:30 a.m. – noon each day will focus on preparing for your death, including planning and making decisions about advance directives. Advance directive planning will include medical power of attorney, living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders. The workshop will also focus on being present and prepared for your own death and dying process, and will include time to reflect on your death, what you need to be prepared emotionally and spiritually, and what is important at end of life. There will be a guided death meditation, teachings, activities and time for dialogue during these sessions.

The workshop will be led by ZCD member Ginny Swenson, a longtime educator and social worker in hospice. She has developed this 11th-hour training for volunteers in hospice centered on how to be present and be with someone who is dying in their final hours. She also teaches at the Community College of Denver on the psychology of death and dying.

Please sign up in advance via Meetup.com at https://www.meetup.com/Zen-Center-of-Denver-Events/events/273140437/ . There is no set fee for the workshop, but a donation of your choosing to help support the Center is much appreciated. Donate via Paypal at https://zencenterofdenver.org/donate-2/ or via Zelle to office@zencenterofdenver.org. Thank you for your support!

You Have to Say Something

By Karin Ryuku Kempe

I feel that all of us are practicing pretty hard right now and much of what we are experiencing is our difficulties, our differences. We try to practice right speech, speech that is truthful yet respectful, timely and clear. It would be nice I suppose if our words could always soothe, support harmony and never cause pain. But there are times when even our most sincere efforts may hurt, even sow division, and when it appears that there is no way forward without potential harm – times when, as Katagiri Roshi said, “You have to say something.”

As a community, we are struggling with this now. Probably some of you, like me, can only sleep every other night. We second-guess ourselves, and even more, we second-guess our practice and this training path and where it leads. We may feel disillusioned, angry and reactive, or misunderstood, ignored. Where is our place of refuge, how do we hold our seat? You already know the answer. It’s right here, right in the flame where we find ourselves.

Dogen has a quote important to me: “When the truth does not fill our body and mind, we think that we have enough. When the truth fills our body and mind, we realize that something is missing.” When we think we have all the answers, especially if there is a subtle sense of being righteous, we need to ask, have we stepped off the path? And when we very much feel that something is missing, that sense that something may be incomplete or off? There, right there is our place to look with patience and trust, the place to question.

What is it we don’t want to see? What is fueling our strong opinions and reactions, the ones that arise with such immediacy that we are overrun? Is it grief, loss, an aching heart? A sense of injustice, estrangement or our own secret shame? Or just feeling overwhelmed? Is it possible to look with open eyes, become transparent to ourselves, so that we can see ourselves, even see the cloud of our own conditioning? This doesn’t mean that we are off the hook and don’t respond, that we don’t do our best to come forth in a difficult situation. But it does mean that we speak from a place which is open to possibility, filled with heart, respectful of life and of others.

This is the time to practice with great gentleness, with love. To let your posture be relaxed and receptive, maybe with open hands, to appreciate the many small beauties of each day, to be in contact with family and the friends you love. To reach out, if you can, to those who are suffering. And yes, to stay aware of the wider discussion. Because a community can only heal through upheaval by the doorway of kindness aligned with honesty in our relationships. Through remembering and risking to trust…and making amends.

Facing who and what I am, facing who and what you are, can be one of the deepest forms of exertion, because it asks of us to give up our limited labels and ideas about ourselves and about other people. Can we remember that, as John Welwood wrote, “We are not just humans learning to become buddhas, but also buddhas waking up in human form, learning to become fully human?”

Another teacher sent me a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye (from Words Under the Words), good for these times:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Longing to Heal

By Peggy Metta Sheehan

Mosquitos love me. And last week I was doing a good deal of scratching, scratching in my sleep, at work, in the shower. There is something quite satisfying about scratching an itch, too hard to stop at times. I would stop only to feel a stronger urge that I could not resist, and scratch away again. However, I could begin to notice when I’d crossed the line: Uh-oh, now it’s bleeding and oozing. Okay, stop! And I could. Often I can catch myself before that point, but not always.

You might be familiar with Pema Chödrön’s wonderful teaching on shenpa in Getting Unstuck. Shenpa refers to becoming hooked, and to this urge to move, to scratch the itch, and to reinforce the habit of moving and scratching by moving and scratching. Tibetan teachers have described the human condition as children having a bad case of scabies, being old enough to scratch, but not old enough to know that scratching spreads the scabies.

Most importantly, it is said that two conditions are needed to heal. First, a desire to heal. Second, enough love for oneself to begin the process.

Most find their way to a meditation center such as ours having touched the first, a deep and profound longing to heal, to find a true place of refuge that is the ultimate healing. Yet, this deep and profound longing, though it exists within each of us, does not belong to us as individuals. We awaken together in community, as community. This sangha and the mahasangha, the earth, moon and stars, rely upon each other, cannot stand alone and will only awaken together. I hope you find that a relief. It’s not up to you alone—never has been, never will be.

Now, how about the second necessary ingredient—enough love for oneself to get started? What is enough love? Well, just enough to get started. That’s all you need, and from there it grows exponentially in community, in sangha.

That has been obvious in these past few weeks. There is love and there is longing. Something essential is occurring in our community. It is not to be feared but rather welcomed and embraced. There is love and there is longing. There is love for each other, for our strengths and our weaknesses, for heartaches, miscommunications, for integrity and principles, for standing together and supporting one another in uniqueness and difference. And there is longing. Longing to stand up, to grow our hearts and our humanity. Longing to heal the disease of separation and the sickness of injustice and delusion. The forces of love and longing are converging, and we can trust what will unfold. Together, we and all beings heal.

Seeing Water

By Peggy Metta Sheehan

Once there was a fish who had heard tales of the Source of Life, which would bring whoever found it their heart’s desire. The fish swam to every corner of the ocean, asking: “Where is the Source of Life? How can I find it?” She kept getting pointed toward different tasks and to more remote parts of the sea—farther, deeper, higher.

After many years of seeking, the fish arrived back at the place where she had first started. Entering her home waters, she encountered an older fish who asked, “What is going on with you, my friend? Why do you look so worried and dejected?”

“I’ve spent years looking for the Source of Life,” the fish explained. “I can’t even begin to tell you how many things I’ve tried or the number of places I’ve searched—all in vain. I don’t suppose you know where I could find it?”

The old fish smiled and said, “I’ve heard many names for the Source of Life in my day, but the simplest is ‘water.’” (Loch Kelly, Shift into Freedom)

I know we can all relate to this and even profess to how hard it is to see! The path of Zen is fairly simple and straightforward. Sit quietly, unmoving even, so as not to create waves, and water will be revealed. Once we see water, a radical shift in perspective has occurred, and we now know for ourselves that everything, everything is water. And that includes the waves themselves. In fact the waves may even show you the way to water.

The blessing here is that once we see, we can’t not see. Even if our view becomes clouded at times, we still know water. We know we are swimming in it.

And I’d like to suggest that in the same way our Zen practice opens or exposes the way of water, it is long past time to acknowledge the waters of racism that our culture has been swimming in for centuries. Once we see it, we can’t not see any longer. That is a radical shift. And as with any first glimpse, it is just the beginning. Immense work, dedication and ruthless honesty will need to follow. This is our Work, the Way of courage, humility, patience, listening, and genuine inquiry. Will we still be stupid, insensitive, oblivious, hurtful at times? Yes. But we now know this water and we’ll begin to behave and act differently, for it is the natural consequence of true seeing.

We can change. It is absolutely possible to change these tides. It happens again and again in the practice of awakening. In an instant eighty thousand teachings are fulfilled.

There is finally a deep crack in the structure of systemic racism because, at last, enough of us see. Cracks have occurred before, but this time we will not allow it to be covered over again. May we forgive and be forgiven for how long it has taken. From this right view, with openness, inquiry, and letting go over and over of unfounded defensiveness (ego clinging) we will step into water that holds and cares for us all and always has.

Summer Blooms: Temple Landscaping

With summer here, we have made great strides toward completing the landscaping around the temple. Under the guidance of Desirae Wood of Dobro Design, who travelled from Portland, Oregon, to help supervise the project, the crew from Phase One Landscapes spent days placing literally hundreds of xeric plants, including blue and golden columbine, yarrow and snow-in-summer.

In coming weeks we look forward to planting drought-resistant buffalo grass around the yard’s perimeter and to the final placement of gravel in the enclosed Zen garden, which will essentially complete the landscaping. As the years pass and the garden becomes more established, the temple grounds will truly be transformed into a place of beauty and serenity.

Our deep thanks to Desi and the crew from Phase One, who worked so hard to make this dream a reality. Thanks also to the members of our landscaping committee, who have likewise been investing much labor and energy in maintaining and making improvements to the grounds of the main temple and to our adjoining property at 1852 S. Columbine. Gassho!

Compassion Can Be the Cure

By Dennis Sienko

Due to Covid-19, we are living in a heightened sense of unknowing that escalates nervousness in our society and ourselves. This in turn, affects our health almost as much as the virus itself and affects how we relate to others. We see people arguing and getting violent about social distancing precautions, whether to wear a facemask or even to attend a large church or spiritual gathering. How a person acts in relation to other people depends on one’s internal sense of well-being. If one is excited and nervous, they will tend to act irrationally and with judgement.

One of the best cures or remedies for this excited, nervous and irrational condition is zazen. Zazen allows the nervousness, worry and sorrow from these times to become more manageable by calming the mind. After regular periods of zazen, one begins to become more peaceful and poised. We begin to cultivate a deep, wonderful inner quiet from which compassion naturally arises. This compassion helps us to accept life’s experiences as they are. It helps us relate to others in a way that does not escalate into violence.

Yúnyán asked, “The bodhisattva of great compassion uses the many hands and eyes for what?” Dàowú said, “As if it’s night and a person gropes with their hand behind their body for the pillow.”

In other words, compassion flows naturally, without effort. It flows without expecting something in return. Compassion is always present. The secret is to allow it to flow.

You are by nature compassionate. Use your many hands and eyes and bring forth that compassion. First, start by using many of those hands to give yourself a hug. See the world through the eyes of others. Compassion is the cure to this virus. We need to show compassion to people we agree with and to those we disagree with. We need to show compassion to all sentient beings, small and large.

If we can become more compassionate, we as individuals can make the world a better, safer place. Start with daily zazen practice, trust the process and all will be as it should be.