Just returning from Winter Sesshin, from Hoenji, if asked to describe the experience, I could say... Zen gives us access to our personal temperature controls that sit in a box of circumstances beyond our control... karmic results, and our respond-ability to them. Yet because so many don't have the consistency or regularity of a practice, today I will open up about the nature and experience of having direct access to our "Thermostat," to help keep our temperature regulated when our situations aren't.
Before entering Sesshin... which means to "Gather attention with completeness in our Original Presence," I hadn't noticed it, noticed it, so to speak, because my tendency is to focus only on what's directly facing me. I don't have a real need to go back into the past or leap into the foggy future. The timezone of the present is more than enough. Yet in the extended sitting in Zazen for 14 hours a day, I noticed I've faced a lot. It's then that experiences can look very differently than when we're in motion. Valuable, valuable, valuable! Hindsight really can offer sharp clarity.
Over the past few months, when people ask me how I'm doing, I answer honestly and consistently, "My temperature doesn't change very much." We're all going through all kinds of things... big, medium, and small life circumstances. As a result physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual temperatures can go up and down, by a little or a lot in the rolling weather patterns of life.
When we don't have a consistent practice such as Zen, Recovery from addiction practice, and the related support that can come through those communities, how we meet the situations can vary wildly. We may not have direct access to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual temperature controls... sometimes not wanting to accept personal responsibility, we intentionally or unintentionally hand them over to other people, places or things hoping they'll regulate our temperature for us. On the other hand, I know a lot of people who wake up and "Wing-it," pretty much hoping for the best, meaning minimal amount of drama for the day. And sometimes for whatever reason, we turn off the power to our temperature control through various expressions of addiction or checking out, walking or running away, cutting ourselves off from valuable tool-sets, that can help us to keep our temperature steady moment-to-moment, within our circumstances that allow us to be healthy.
Before going on Sesshin, I was talking to one of the people I get to sponsor in recovery from addiction. I asked him how he was doing. Smiling and laughing over the video link he said, "Crazier than fuck! I know I need to get to a meeting. Hearing people tell their stories helps me to relate to where I'm at with me. It's like drinking coffee, everything gets really clear for a minute." Meetings are a version of Zazen that helps many to set the thermostat, regulate our temperature, helping us better harmonize with circumstances, offering us a better opportunity to meet present moment with sanity rather than unsoundness of heart and mind. Been there, seen it, and done it 100,000 times... literally and not figuratively.
And so I've been doing what I do. I practice "Street and gutter Zen," with people who usually won't make the time to practice Zen, or may not be attending recovery meetings consistently or meaningfully. Woe to thee who shows up in a Zendo or Recovery meeting, being there, but not authentically engaged in the practice of the moment. It's a lot like having a bow and arrow, pointing it straight up in the air and releasing the string, hoping that it will land on the bullseye of a target. As my sponsor likes to say... "Let me know how that's working out for ya! It may not be leading you where you'd truly like to be."
Coming back to the weather patterns of the moment.... Two friends died of cancer. One friend died of a heart attack. Another died from COVID-19. I've know more than 48 people who have been ill with COVID-19, with a crazy range of results. The most strange expression from three was, the "Throat of fire." Another friend recently complained of being a COVID-19 long-hauler, having contracted it two years ago, but still suffering powerfully from it's results. Going deeper, people are having relationship difficulties, with family, friends, romantic and otherwise... there's been more than a few breakups. There's been a staggering amount of domestic violence. There's been innumerable relapses, and people who at various points have contemplated suicide, and a couple that have actually completed them. People are having work difficulties... financial difficulties... medical difficulties... societal difficulties related to versions of inequality and not being seen as "American's," but an American with a hyphen. Trouble, trouble, trouble.
In each circumstance, I've gotten to be in the moments of difficulty, holding space in my own street monk, sherpa way. The thermostat of Zen and/or Recovery from addiction practice doesn't just help us when things are good, but helps to regulate and keep the temperature steady, for self and so-called other, when the conditions go extreme.
Some people have the habit of never checking the weather. they dress how they dress, go outside and yell "WTF, I wasn't ready for this," or "It didn't seem that cold (or hot) looking out the window," and so they get blindsided by appearance, and not necessarily prepared for the reality. Zen.... Recovery from addiction practice... is a way of stepping outside the door of delusion, and into reality, and whether we checked the temperature or not, we have the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual clothing to meet the circumstances, and adjust accordingly and spontaneously to circumstances because we have a practice that helps us to meet the moment from our feet rather than just our head.
My dear mentor and sponsor Ruth Friscoe who transitioned about 6 months ago once told me... "Instead of trying to go out and collect happiness, how about bringing yourself as happiness everywhere you go." My personal definition for happiness is being friendly with myself. When I'm friendly with myself, it's much easier to be friendly with other people; and that influences happiness. That's my thermostat control... working with the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of who I am. It tends to keep my temperature functioning within a healthy range; in most... not all of the weather patterns and conditions that I encounter. The weather is what the weather is going to be. I'm powerless of all of that. What I'm not powerless over is the clothing of Zen and Recovery that I carry within me. It is through the mutual solidarity and support of others, that I have learned how to pick my clothing and live.
Sunday morning, I was in Dokusan with Shinge Roshi. We discussed the innumerable Genjo koan's passed through recently... koans of everyday life that I've practiced with so many. It was a lot like Monk Hotei, being in the market place with the gourd and sack of emptiness on my person, offering what is to be offered with helping hands. Tears fell like heavy rain. The mind was cool, the heart warm, and feet planted firmly on the ground... walking... doing my part to manage my temperature controls with friendliness. Her response was... "So good to honor and be in solidarity with our tears, not denying the Realities of fragile existence, and what Is not fragile." It's the personal responsibility and accepting to be friendly with myself, and by extension allow for friendliness that results in a kind of happiness everywhere I go, no matter what the weather. Please confirm where your own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual temperature controls are... accept responsibility for them... and with generosity, goodwill, patience, perseverance, mindfulful presence and intutitive wisdom... adjust accordingly. This could be practices of completeness as completeness. Merge!
一Dignity and Grace