Blog

Awakening in Time

By Karin Ryuku Kempe

Some weeks ago my watch stopped working. Because I wasn’t able to get it fixed, it’s been in the top drawer of my desk and I’ve had a chance to be without it. Actually, I find I don’t need it, although at first I did check my bare wrist from time to time. After all, time measured out minute by minute, hour by hour, is an external construct, and there are plenty of clocks about the house if I need to keep track.

The experience of time passing, especially the tyranny of time, is something else altogether. During these weeks at home, some of us have had the sensation of everything slowing down; more of our life is unscheduled. Those of us who work online may feel keenly the difference between the rigidity of the virtual landscape, or even face-to-face demands, and those unfilled stretches which seem to unfold and fill themselves. And those of us who make our own schedules notice the tendency to fill the spaces with plans or maybe a conscious decision to let the day unfold organically. It feels a bit like falling.

The Israeli historian philosopher Yuval Noah Harari wrote in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century that the Buddha “taught that the three basic realities of the universe are that everything is constantly changing, nothing has any enduring essence, and nothing is completely satisfying…You can explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy, of your body, or of your mind, but you will never encounter something that does not change, that has an eternal essence, and that completely satisfies you.”

True…and yet we find we can be satisfied, we can be at ease. What makes that ease possible is our capacity to come to awareness, to be attentive, awake in the midst of this stream we call time. We might call it mindfulness, but that word implies someone who is being mindful of something, a pulling apart of that organic mix into a subject-object relationship. Maybe whole-hearted awareness lives more like a verb; we experience ourselves as what we are experiencing. I seem to remember a quote about Chao-chou: “Most people are used by the twenty-four hours; I use the twenty-four hours.” More like, “I am the twenty-four hours.”

One monk asked his teacher, “What is the everlasting reality?”

“Moving.”

“When moving, what then?”

His teacher said: “Then you can’t see the everlasting reality.” (Book of Equanimity, Case 75)

Like diving into water without knowing its temperature, we are always jumping in. Remember learning to dive? You can’t hold on. Try taking off your watch for a bit. What then?

Spring

By Ken Tetsuzan Morgareidge

The gnarled and ancient silver maple has burst forth

with a thousand thousand leaves.

The lilac blossoms out in glowing royal purple

gems far too many to count.

Tulips emerge in colors from winter’s frozen crypt

and open to the risen sun.

The roses, roused at last from storm-caused dormancy,

send shoots among the dried out canes.

Pruning, trimming, mowing, planting, feeding, watering,

all the loving labors of spring.

Birds flit past in search of a branch on which to nest,

lay their eggs, transmit their dharma.

Just look!—every leaf, blossom, new blade of grass

is nothing but your own true being.

Mindfulness Workshop May 16: Love Is an Awesome Power

The Zen Center of Denver will again be co-sponsoring a half-day mindfulness workshop on Saturday, May 16, from 9:30 a.m. – noon on Zoom with our friend Janet Solyntjes, a certified mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) teacher and co-founder of the Center for Courageous Living.

Love Is an Awesome Power

janet
Janet Solyntjes

“We all need love and encouragement. We need to feel it personally and we need to be able to express it to others.”

In this workshop we will explore how the practice of meditation is the basis for accessing and strengthening the power of heartfulness and love. Specific meditation and contemplation practices will bring focus to the innate qualities of loving-kindness and compassion, allowing for a felt sense of how these qualities can become the undercurrent of our daily lives.

Join in an onlive “live” session which will include meditation practice, teachings, exercises and dialogue.

Saturday, May 16, 9:30 a.m. – noon (MT) on Zoom

Suggestion donation: $50 (sliding scale available)

To register or for more information, please email janet@thecenterforcourageousliving.com.

The Sweetness of Today

pooh

By Peggy Metta Sheehan

Good morning, friends. I thought I might continue the thread of Pooh and friends. The photo and caption really say it all, so feel free not to read anymore.

Feel free to simply enjoy the sweetness of today, the warmth and tenderness of connection. Whether you live alone or with family, roommates, pets, or plants, drop beneath the surface of interaction and truly enjoy connection to one another, to one’s self, to birds, trees and clouds.

Feel the support of your home and the earth as you gently and thoughtfully move within it. Tread lightly and carefully with all of the “things” that support you today – your toothbrush and dishes, your books and computers, your socks and shoes, your chairs and countertops. Be nourished not just by the food and drink that you take in, but also by each breath that you inhale and by each sight, sound, smell and touch that invites you again and again to this day.

A Good Day

By Karin Ryuku Kempe

Winnie the Pooh, a bear of little brain, had a friend who was a donkey. His name was Eeyore, and he was a confirmed pessimist. He used to say, “If it is a good day… which I doubt.” When I was a young girl, Eeyore was my nickname in my family. I was a serious little girl, sensitive to the negative; there was a sense of unspoken and dark suffering in the world which I absorbed from a young age. As the oldest child of a man who had fled the holocaust at age fifteen and carried significant survivor guilt, perhaps some of this was second generation trauma—I don’t know. But in this you will also easily recognize our old friend, the negativity bias, the way we are as human beings wired to look for potential problems and danger, and to prepare for them.

We all have this tendency, some more than others. Scientists at the University of Glasgow have identified four distinct basic expressions across cultures associated with primary emotions: fear/surprise, anger/disgust, sadness/grief and happiness/joy—a bit more developed on the negative side. This bias has evolutionary benefit, keeps us safe and prepared, but can undermine our natural sense of joy, confidence and satisfaction. All of us have different personalities and early conditioning, of course, but for those of us who tend to the negative, there are specific exercises to help us to stay in balance. I’ll just mention one: the Three Blessings, or Three Good Things. Within two hours before bedtime, bring to mind three things that went well, that gave you pleasure, that you enjoyed or are grateful for. Doing this regularly for a few weeks helps to reframe our negative bias, and the effects can be long lasting. And we sleep better too.

But at a deeper level, an optimist who imagines and counts on positive outcomes is just as deluded as a pessimist… because we actually don’t know the future; we can’t even fully know the present. Our practice is not to hold onto our ideas of the future or the past but to meet today. Our path is not concerned with cultivating a particular bias but is the absence of bias; it’s the discovery of our Not-knowing Mind, the mind that has not already decided. Our Beginner’s Mind, fresh and open and unlimited, is the antidote to despair and indifference; it is attentive, interested and awake in each moment our real life offers us, and it’s always available.

Master Yunmen said, “Every day is a good day.” This “good” is lived as we enter into this day today, as a mystery, as the unique day which it is—letting our judging, our hopes and our fears slip away by bringing our actual experience to the fore. Rachel Carson wrote: “One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’” Because each day is a new day, we haven’t seen it before, and of course, we won’t see it again. It’s unique, a gift. A pale yellow tulip standing straight in a mound of snow, the dialogue of morning bird calls. Our glasses fogging up above our mask. Hopeful dreams and dreadful fears arise but float away in the crisp air. It’s a good day.

Practice in the Time of the Virus

By Ken Tetsuzan Morgareidge

I have on my bookshelf a volume entitled Zen Under the Gun. It records the teachings of four Chinese masters who lived in the turbulent 13th century when Mongol tribes were dismembering China. The remarkable thing about these teachers was that they were unremarkable, in the highest sense. They did not talk about war or invaders or famine or chaos. They simply got on with teaching the Dharma. They realized something that maybe we should consider: This coronavirus is not a unique or unprecedented situation; it simply casts a light on the human condition that we cannot ignore.

Our human life has always been lived in uncertainty, on the edge of the abyss. But if we put our lives and our practice on hold until we are secure, we will never do anything. To compare our lives now with “normal life” is a mistake. Life has never been “normal.” Periods that we think of as normal, if we examine them closely, have always been filled with disasters, emergencies and crises, here and the world over.

There are always plausible reasons to put off life or practice. But as human beings we have the freedom to ignore those reasons. Human beings conduct everyday lives in besieged cities, read and write books on death row, make jokes in the midst of a bombing raid, and care for children during the plague. That is not denial or sang-froid; it is our nature.

The newscasters have given themselves over entirely to the virus, as if it were somehow selfish or morally wrong to think of or do anything else, and therefore they have actually distanced themselves from reality. The coronavirus will not end humanity. The virus cannot absorb our whole attention because it is finite and therefore cannot support the full attention that our Zen practice requires of us. This is not to make light of anything. People have died; more will die. And when has that reality ever been suspended?

If we allow ourselves to be overcome by fear and frustration we have lost the moment, this moment of practice. To let go of your frustration and fear is to save all beings from frustration and fear. The more narrow our focus in time and in space, the closer we are to reality. Narrow your focus to this moment and this place; that is where we are truly free.