Saturday, April 28, 2012

I don't know quite why...

... but when I see something like this, I wonder if this is not a little bit closer to what I see inside both Aikido and Zen exchanges.

As new posts on an old thread, "On being a female in an Aikido Dojo" hit my inbox at 3 a.m. every morning, I wonder if some people will ever understand the point of all of this training...

Consider it... and tell me what you think.

[Link to AikiWeb thread here.]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Long Dharma Talk

The monk began late as usual, but this time went on well beyond the hour's tail.

Word after word after word... Koan after koan... exchange after exchange... Really, it's hard to say: I was eating my dinner, helping with the dishes, and finally tending to my son when suddenly he was still talking through the earbuds.

When is this talk going to end?


Shorts - Tuesday 24 April 2012


While I was checking messages this morning, the following came via a post to one of my Google+ threads:
I searched google+ for #Gratitude to see what I would find, your Blog (among other things) came up. Some good thoughts to start my day. Thanks.
His kind words were a good start for my day. I am grateful...

MDA Clinic Day

Perspective: The view of Baltimore
from Neurology (Johns Hopkins)
Yesterday was a cool, cloudy Monday yesterday. Given that it was MDA Clinic Day, we probably didn't notice. For several years we've been living in the MDA's Baltimore district--working with their staff, attending camp with them, and so forth--but making our twice-a-year clinic visits at Children's Hospital in Washington, DC. Our pediatrician told us several years ago that we'd be well-served at either location, but he had a particular place in his heart for "Doctor Bob," the clinic's head neurologist at Children's. Doctor Bob has since retired, as has his amazing administrative assistant who shepherded us through the processes. Suddenly, the place felt as foreign as anywhere else--so we tried something new.

There's a lot to compare and contrast between Johns Hopkins and Children's clinics, but that's neither here nor there. In the end, with a little more experience under our belts, a little more sense of what we have as a philosophy and want as a regimen for care, we have a good feeling about the switch. When we were ready to put aside the personal frustrations of where we were and accept that we could change, the MDA crew made it happen effortlessly for us.

I think there's an Applied Zen lesson in there somewhere...


There's something some might consider "dark" in studying Zen, particularly if you are prone to finding insights about how concepts such as "ethics" shape our lives. Suddenly, you may find people using others' understanding of ethics in quite an unethical way. That is, someone wants to accomplish something, and "ethics" is in his toolkit as either a weapon or a shield; or perhaps ethics is something he must dissolve when it is pointed at him. It's up to you to see the situation as it is, looking past the smoke and mirrors, seeing the true intention.

Welcome to the field of dharma combat

For some, it's a matter of control and a single-minded pursuit of what they want with anything and everything as fair game. For other's it's simply a study of those in the first category, sometimes from the perspective of their victims. If you are flexible within these extremes--pursuing a "middle way"--perhaps you can do well to navigate your circumstances without having others trip you up too often.

Did you forget that we opened with "ethics"?

Sometimes it is better to live holding some ideas as sacred. These ideas shape how you see everything around you, how you experience your life. The Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" has far more reach than you can imagine...

Enough for this morning. I'm grateful for your reading and your comments!

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I recall hearing that formal correspondence, announcements, and so forth in devout Muslim countries, whatever the topic, begin with the “Bismallah” invocation: “In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful.” Devout Jews place the mezuzah on the door, and as one enters, there is a reminder that it is God and the Torah that are entering the room. Each session of the U.S. Congress begins with the Chaplain’s prayer. We take off our shoes and bow before entering the dojo or zendo.

It is simple to allow such actions to fade into empty ritual, but if we work actively to keep them alive, consider their significance: From wherever we have come, with whatever intentions, agendas, or even baggage, we arrive at this point and we stop

Dutifully reminded that your very next words represent God, the nation, the people you serve, the teachings, or some other ideal for which we have all come together, what will you say next?

And how will you hear and interpret what comes in response?

Now, proceed

Monday, April 16, 2012

Am I Alone in This ?

I've had several exchanges over the weekend wherein I've heard this sentiment expressed, sometimes using those very words... but not as a question, but rather as a fact: "I feel I'm in this alone." "I'm lonely." "I'm doing this without any help." "Others wouldn't understand."

Exchange after exchange, there it was, clear as day: "I am alone in this." And beyond there, look at how they all behave when they believe it! Look at the angst, the aggravation, the suffering, ... One is alone bearing the burden; the other is alone, locked out from being able to help. One feels removed from a community; others do not want to be a bother. On and on, pulling the thread, finding so many examples... If only one knew that the other was feeling the same.

But wait: Is it really possible that the entire world feels alone? With whom could I even discuss this question?


How can I really be alone when I'm spending all of my time with this idea or feeling that is very much alive? If I become single-minded in seeing Alone, when would I even have the time to see anyone else? Moreover, if I cannot place that sense of aloneness within myself, won't I be prone to seeing it everywhere around me? Have you been introduced to the "Zen mirror"?

Whether it begins in hearing others say they're alone (a concept) or whether it begins with your own sense of loneliness (a feeling), you should take care to identify it and treat it carefully. After all, if you become infected, you see how it can be instantly contagious to everyone around you.

Need help? Remember: Don't Suffer Alone.

If you've been through it or you understand, consider making a donation to support our outreach.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Running Late!

Yesterday around lunchtime I received a message that hooked my attention and was clearly going to require some dedicated time to formulate a good response. In the back of my mind, though, was a 1 p.m. meeting...

Time faded as I sorted my thoughts, every so often sitting back in my office chair, every so often bumping the mouse habitually to keep the screensaver from launching, when suddenly I noticed I had only two minutes to catch the shuttle! I logged off and flew out the door to the lobby! Elevator or stairwell? The elevator is too slow. What if I miss this shuttle? Maybe catch the next, miss a short lunch break, be a few minutes late. I forgot the sticky note with the room number! Wait, I think I remember; besides, I know the corridor--allow a few minutes to search if I'm wrong... I should have hit the bathroom! It can wait...

What happened?

I caught the shuttle, which was running a minute or two behind. I found the first bathroom on arrival. I grabbed a quick lunch. I remembered the room number and was on time.

No, I don't mean that. What happened?

Ahh... For a while, my singular focus was to provide a good answer to that message. The office, the computer, the desk and chair: these were all as they should be, assisting in this task. The meeting looming on the horizon? I was tracking that light hindrance, checking in on it periodically...

In an instant, singular focus shifted exclusively to "be at the meeting on time!" Suddenly, my being logged into the computer was a delay and the comfortable place to think was far away from where I should be. Even the desk was an obstacle, standing between me and the door!  "I have plenty of time to catch the shuttle" became "Out of my way! I'm going to miss the bus!"

My body is running down four flights of stairs and out the door while my thoughts are checking alternative plans, yes, but they did not change that I was on my way. Everything from the bathroom stop to catching lunch were considered from the "Be on time!" place.

I don't even know what happened to that message's reply...

Anyway, from one full-bore Zen emptiness perspective, not even a "meeting" exists since that would just be a characterization of a bunch of people in a room... that is if even the "people" or the "room" existed to hold the meeting... (Don't worry, those people will be so late thinking about all that emptiness that they can't interfere with your meeting anyway.) But look at all that transpired given those ideas!

More importantly, take note of that moment when "provide a good response" became "be at the meeting on time!" I don't mean a switch from thinking "provide a good response" to thinking "be at the meeting on time!" like we're doing now--both of these thoughts appear in a different context--rather, consider the actual shift itself. What decided to release one state and appear in the next, recasting my entire world in a new view?

Can you simply change the context? Can you trust your body and thoughts to follow you?

Then how about this: Along the way, the thought "You probably don't have to be at that meeting anyway..." did in fact occur to me. What was it that rejected that thought and carried on?

What is what you see in light of where you are? Catch up!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Art and Koan: What does it Mean?

When I drive, it's very rare that I have the radio on. So, when I did happen to turn the radio on on my way to the office, I was captivated by this song:

I used one of my phone's music identifying apps to bookmark it for later. By the end of the day, I had spent the $1.29 in the iTunes store and had the song on a continuous loop as I did my two-mile after-work lap around the local lake.

I think back to high school and middle school, hearing the teacher ask, "What was the artist trying to convey?" or some variant, where "artist" might mean "poet," "author," "composer," "painter," or anything else. "What does it mean?" I remember the sometimes surprising variety in answers from the class, thinking "Interesting. I would not have thought that." On another occasion, though, I thought to ask, "Isn't the author still alive? Why do we not just ask?"

Today I still hear--and now ask--that question: "Why did the master answer that way?" We hold up a koan, a "public case," for examination and ask what it means to each of us... and I am still often surprised by the surprising variety of answers from the class.

The practice seems exotic, but at one level it's something that we've done all of our lives, both inside the classroom and outside: We observe, we interpret, and we respond--questioning and answering, a continuous process.  It's no big deal... except within koan practice.

But what is this koan practice?

I like these lyrics:
Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
Part of me believing it was always something that I'd done
But I don't wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know
A Zen practitioner could sit for a lifetime with this song--or walk mile after mile around the lake with it on continuous loop--looking for the meaning beyond simple interpretation. What will you find there?

It's time to put the song down and get myself to the office! I'll check your answers later after a $2 contribution to my Viral Music Interpretation Fund--see the Donate button on the right ;-)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nine Years Facing the Wall

Bodhidharma, Nine Years in the Cave
This morning my attention was called to a news story entitled "Iran plans to cut itself off from the Internet permanently." The gist: A country will sever its people's ties from the outside world, replacing basic services such as search and email with its own.

Sounds crazy, right?

Bodhidharma is said to have spent nine years sitting in a cave, facing the wall, speaking to no one. For some people, he's the big legend in patriarchal zen and even martial arts circles. Other people say he never existed at all...

... and that makes some people pretty angry.

I'm told that if two people independently perform the same Google search, they may receive different results, tailored to the individual, the location, the computer being used, and so forth. The distinctions may be appreciated; after all, they're tailored to what I want to see, showing me more of what is relevant to me and less of what I don't want to see--even completely rejecting what I may find offensive (e.g., "safe search").

Of course, when the Chinese Google search for "Tienanmen Square" produced different search results than the same search in America, there was outrage. I tried it myself; there were different results...

Of course, when I performed that search as the news story suggested, I was on a computer in America. If my Internet experience was modified or "shaped" by someone else, would I recognize it?

How do you react to different things, including news stories, given what you know? How do you know what you know? Are you sure?

I came home and told my family about my tough day at work. I asked how their day went. They looked at each other and said, "Fine." We ate dinner in peace.

[The Iran story can be found here.]

Monday, April 9, 2012

Searching for Your Teacher's Reincarnation

If I asked you for a spoon to stir my coffee, I would not expect you to bring me this:

If you say instead that you are looking for a teacher, though, ... Well now it all makes sense!

... doesn't it?

If you understand, then tell me the meaning in your teacher's own words.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What are You when You're not "Being Zen"?

It sounds like a koan question, doesn't it? It's actually a more practical question centered on social media and living an integrated life.

I tend to segregate different dimensions of my life across the different social media services:

  • Facebook holds the bulk of my "in real life" connections, the family and friends categories. The connections are generally local. There's where the pictures of the kids and updates about what we had for dinner go. There's generally nothing particularly exciting or racy there.
  • Twitter and now Google+ hold more the madness, including koan-ish discussions that most of the others would not appreciate let alone understand. These contacts are scattered worldwide with very few if any found locally.
  • LinkedIn holds the professional connections with coworkers and is largely limited to people doing things just like me. That is, there are very few social contacts in there who just happen to share what they do for a living.

[As noted before (link), I did the same with a few blogs, posting not simply to different categories but rather to completely different sites, and have been working slowly since to consolidate relevant posts here.]

Those three dimensions are almost completely mutually exclusive. If I am connecting with you on one service, it's not likely were are connected on another. I can't say that it was my intention to partition my contacts this way, but it's undeniable that that's what has occurred and that I've shared limited aspects of myself along those same lines.

All and all, it's been very, very unsatisfying. It turns out that I really don't enjoy connecting with people on only one dimension. It's just too shallow, especially while I'm focused upon integration and consolidation. Worse, none of it is particularly beneficial to anyone when everyone is compartmentalized like this, with communications of a particular type limited to particular channels. Even the want to chat koan over coffee can be quite challenging to satisfy with the current arrangement.

From recent use, it seems Google+ is my social media platform of choice, best suited to sorting folks within one service, allowing me to "tune in" for conversations with my category of choice when I'm in that mood while also allowing them to merge. I'm looking forward to trying out "Hangouts" and the like for video exchanges and some of the location-based features for face-to-face contacts. If I can pull it all together, it will likely happen there. We'll see how it goes.

For now, though, I'd encourage people to circle me on Google+ and to actively engage at a level deeper than koan-ic quips. If that one dimension is your sole interest and you're shielding the rest, that's fine; but know that I've been watching myself shed more shallow connections over time and I don't see that trend abating. There's no doubt part of me is looking deeper for more open channels. Let me know if you're a like mind.

I'm trusting my instincts on this one. We'll see where it leads...

Thursday, April 5, 2012


There's a certain Zen truth that we are often living much of our lives like this poor schmuck in the picture to the right, captivated by our own reflection. Almost as amusing is when we find ourselves wrestling with our own reflections.

Still more amusing? When someone realizes all of that, posts it to a blog, and then watches for validation or challenges from others...

What is it when you skip stones across the surface but you see no ripples?

Suddenly, a tug on the leash. Right. Back to work, you handsome devil!

In the Wake

One way you are stopped from moving forward is having your attention return to what you will leave behind.

Whether your attention returns there habitually or whether you allow others call your attention back to it, the effect is the same: You are still there.

In reality, though, you are gone before you ever leave. So long as you can hold it, from your new vantage point you can see clearly what is happening as well as what must be done. It does not mean there is not work to do, nor does it mean you will leave nothing in your wake. Once you have taken that step, though, you may cease to see the reasons not to proceed and instead see how everything helps you on your path.

I wake up a bit early each day to spend some quiet time time in my "future state," contemplating how it will be to have more time with family, to investigate "Applied Zen" principles more deeply, and to share the results with anyone who might benefit. Then as 9 a.m. approaches, I head off to my current work, but now with an ever so slightly fresher view. So long as I can hold my new position, the old place is renewed and my experience serves a new purpose. Everything I encounter before 5 p.m. is evaluated in a new light. I feed what I have learned back into the workplace, hopefully benefiting everyone there. Finally, at the end of the day, I may take a little time to see where I may have stumbled and how the day moved my entire situation a little closer to where I stood in the morning.

As for today, there was some more blog consolidation, there is this post, and there is still some planning to do for new the new classes I'm considering.

Now, is this a departure from your understanding of Zen? If so, perhaps you should go back to the cushion or the koan until it is clear.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Classes to Resume in Columbia, MD 21045

It wasn't the hurricane or the earthquake, but rather the third event, a tropical storm last September, when, just after midnight, an old oak tree decided it had had enough.

We finally moved back in this past Friday.

The room that we keep empty for classes--the room to the right in this picture--was unharmed; however, as it was an empty room, it was put into service by us to store some household items and by the contractors to store supplies for the reconstruction. Heat and water were turned off for the winter. So many workers were coming and going. Since it truly was a disaster area, all gatherings here were halted for the duration; and since we were not living here for the bulk of the repairs, I did not advertise the fact too widely. Instead, I shifted focus to koan practice in public places and we made do.

The house is now functional though cluttered as we put everything back into its proper place, but the dojo / zendo area is back in service and ready for scheduling.

New Direction

If you haven't seen the new tab at the top of this page, you may have missed the one labeled "Three Zen Questions." If you're a fan of the koan, you may have heard "Who am I?" "Where am I coming from?" and "What does it mean?" more than once. I used those questions in a decidedly non-koan way to outline my own thinking. Go ahead and take a look if you haven't already. In particular, check the last line:

Where our intentions meet, I know we will all benefit.

What does that mean? Most importantly, it means that our intentions do not have to be the same. You don't have to share my vision; you may only want to find a quiet place to sit or a hand to improve your iriminage--and that's okay--but my priority is set and I am ultimately looking for resonance. The people who come and stay will form a crew that mutually supports one another in practice and in daily life, and that seems like a nice vision to me.

Sound good? As usual, discussion is welcome!

Next up: Scheduling, Pricing, Etc. Feel free to submit your preferences now.