Jun 122014

“Living and Dying in Zazen – Five Zen Masters of Modern Japan”
by Arthur Braverman

Living and Dying in Zazen

I love how this book came to me at this point in my practice where I am just sitting with my clients.

A lot of great simple wisdom in this book, wisdom straight from the mouths of five Zen Masters.  Through the investigative work of Arthur Braverman we get to hear what these five extremely devoted Zen masters taught about zazen.  Not much more to say; this book is full of rich insights which are as mundane and boring as every sunset.

Here are some quotes:


All the troubles in this world, political, economic and so forth, are created from situations in which the awareness of one’s ordinariness is absent.

My teacher said, “Don’t spare any effort.  People always hold back something when they make any kind of effort.  When you hold something back, no matter what you are doing, your effort never amounts to anything.  You are holding back when you say, ‘It’s no good’ or ‘I can’t do it.
When you say, “This is it!” exerting the effort required to make nine times nine eighty-two, there is nothing you can’t do.  This is because we humans as primates are supposed to be able to exert effort beyond our normal capacity.  In Buddhist terms we would say that the secret of whether one has awakened the Buddga mind is a question of whether one has the will to act….
 – Sodo Yokoyama

mistrz_kodo_sawakiKodo Sawaki

The universe and I are of the same root.  The myriad things and I are one body.  That is zazen.

Zazen is like the vast sea, a world without limits; it shines like the moon, spreading its limitless light.” This is [Dogen] Famously extolling zazen.

When I’m asked what is the purpose of zazen, I have to say no purpose.  As I’ve often said, sit, body upright, backbone stretched, breathing through your nose, mouth closed, eyes open, sitting resolutely…. Zazen is basically becoming intimate with the self–the Dharma of becoming you.  All the sutras are literally extensions of zazen.

Dogen Zenji expressed it as “In non-thinking it [Buddha Dharma] manifests.”  When you are just sitting, there are no thoughts like, “enlightenment will come little by little.”  That’s where Buddha Dharma manifests.  As long as you just sit, that is where the Way is.  This does not only apply to sitting.  When you are helping someone, you just help.  You don’t say, “If I help her I will gain merit” and you don’t take care of someone because it’s beneficial.  Without thinking such things, you just help whether it brings you benefit or not.

Our bodies do not belong to us.  They are the true activity of the life of the great universe.  That is to say, our bodies are the great universal life.  The proof that this body is the life of the universe is in zazen.  In zazen, you place your hands like this and cross your legs and do nothing at all with regard to yourself.  By doing zazen in this manner, your body will become the reality of the great universe.
Zazen is an activity that is an extension of the universe.  Zazen is not the life of an individual; it is the universe that is breathing.
 – Kodo Sawaki

There is no expression with deeper meaning than that of the word “just” in “just sitting.”  No matter what, throwing away the activity born of ignorant doings, you sit there, which means you are not being fooled.  You stop delusion and sit.

We have to transcend cause and effect.  That is zazen.  Zazen is ceasing to create karma.  That’s the reason we sit, isn’t it?  To stop creating karma and only that.
That’s the only reason for sitting.  Never mind what will happen next.  This wholeness will act on us from within.

Since we are simply being allowed to do what we do, whatever happens is fine.  If in an encounter I am acting in accord with my inner calling, there is no need to inquire into the results.

Repentance is not saying, “I was wrong.” When someone says, “I was wrong,” it means nothing.  Single-minded zazen, even for a minute, is the correct response.  Sit true Tathagata Zen….  In this you will have repented.  It is said, “If you want to repent, practice zazen and understand reality.”  That is repentance.  If you feel you’ve wronged someone, you should sit earnestly.  In that way you will build [a foundation for] yourself.
 – Motoko Ikebe

Sitting was not some kind of excitement to him.  It was sitting in boredom, pain, fatigue, dissatisfaction, or whatever came up.  Enlightened living for him was living with the mundane.

Strongly recommended

Jun 112014

Walking a Sacred Path – Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool
by Dr. Lauren Artress

I walked into the Friends of the Library booksale in Gainesville, Florida, a glorious event which just happened to coincide with my month-long sabbatical in Gainesville.
My wife and daughter quickly appropriated shopping carts and began filling them up with books and magazines.  I took one walk around and, right at the beginning of the walk, came across the only book I was to buy: Walking a Sacred Path:

Walking a sacred path

I am extremely curious and constantly find myself wanting to learn a million different trades, yet, at the same time, I have learned to become aware of the channel or thread in my life, of the river I’m flowing along and how its currents give me a sense of the turns ahead.  Shortly before this I had turned for the first time.  I had visited a Sufi family and, in their beautifully simple and sacred livingroom, had learned to turn or whirl for the first time.


I told the lady, Hilal, right from the beginning that I get dizzy fast (takes less than 2 spins with my daughter or son to feel like the world is all wrong) yet I handed over my person to this age-old practice.  That night I was invited to turn and I did so twice for 30 minutes each time.  I could feel my body grow cold and sweaty/clammy; I turned until I stopped turning and the world began turning around me; I turned together with others and I lost myself in the practice and came out changed.
Sufi’s work hard in their spiritual practice.  It is hard work.  Physically and mentally.

The similarities between the Sufi practice of turning and the Christian-mysticisms practice of walking the labyrinth are evident.  Both practices involve a surrender to the present moment, to a loss of attaining a goal because the practice itself is so hard that only staying in the very instant will get you through; both involve circling or spiraling, a loss of linear external orientation and an entering into an internal compass; both are physical practices for spiritual goals.

This book felt small, concise, sharp (for the most part… sometimes felt a little convince-y) and written from a passionate and knowledgeable perspective.  I definitely recommend it.  Dr. Lauren Artress found herself drawn to the labyrinth in her personal life path and then worked to understand it in the context of Christian spiritual practice and did extensive work to divulge/reanimate it.
I strongly agree with the author’s emphasis on spirituality being a personal experience and a personal endeavour and what we need is tools for assisting the individual’s connection to spirit, to their spiritual path, rather than an an external entity dictating our spiritual path.  The labyrinth is one tool for connection to spirit.

“To walk a sacred path, each of us must find our own touchstone that puts us in contact with the invisible thread.  This touchstone can be nature (as it was for me early on), sharing with our friends, playing with our children, painting on our day off, or walking in the country.  It may be the Sunday-morning liturgy and Eucharist.  Walking a sacred path means that we know the importance of returning to the touchstone that moves us.  The labyrinth can serve as a touchstone.”

“It is a container for the creative imagination to align with our heart’s desire, it is a place where we can profoundly, yet playfully, experience our soul’s longing and intention.”

“The experience is different for everyone because each of us brings different raw material to the labyrinth.”

“We need to be shaken out of our complacency and begin to use our short time here creatively so we don’t look back in regret.  …  To be pilgrims walking on a path to the next century, we need to participate in the dance between silence and image, ear and eye, inner and outer.  We need to change our seeking into discovery, our drifting into pilgrimage.”

Enjoy this book

Jun 102014

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 8.37.24 PM

I’ve been meaning to write about this movement towards stillness that my work has recently taken and, particularly, about my experience during a recent session in this Stillness Project.  The session first.

There was very little initial check-in other than the most important points such “is there anything I need to know?” and then I sat down cross-legged and the client lay down resting their head on my hands.  And it could be said that the session both started and ended right there as between beginning and end we find story and action where here there was none.

There was no story, no action, and no intention either.

And in this goal-lessness there arose a strong connection to my heart.  Without looking or asking or searching I noticed the presence of Heart in and around me.  I would venture to say that the lack of looking and asking and seeking allowed me to notice the presence of Heart that was there in the deeper fabric of experience.

From stillness arises heart.

Carl Jung visited the Indians of New Mexico and met with Ochwiay Biano (Mountain Lake), a chief of the Taos pueblos.  He related this interaction with the chief:

“See,” Ochwiay Biano said, “how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think that they are mad.”

I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad.

“They say that they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why of course. What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.

“We think here,” he said, indicating his heart.

May we learn to be without seeking and thus allow for our heart to be our guide.

May 302014
Headshot 2
Summer 2014

Firstly, as last time, I want to thank all of you for supporting my practice by coming to see me!  Being able to make a living out of my passion is such a blessing and it wouldn’t be possible without YOU.
I just returned from my sabbatical month in Gainesville, Florida.  This was a time for being with the family, for reading, for meditating, for, to use a term I picked up from Carl Jung, reverie – unscheduled time.  Time for Being.  Sometimes I think that I meditate too much or that I emphasize JUST BEING too much, but then I remember that that is my job.  In this society of Go Go Go my job is, in part, to help you remember to settle down physically, emotionally, mentally.
I spent much of the month writing, thinking, visioning and sharing ideas with friends.  It is from that space that I have returned to my work here, refreshed and eager to dip my hands in the ocean.

Below are two projects that were born from this fresh perspective, I hope you can join me in them.  In addition to these projects I am, of course, offering loving, awesome bodywork.

The Stillness Project

This project was kept coming to me as I sat, meditating, in the early mornings.
I am aware that so much happens when I sit in meditation.  Cars drive by, airplanes fly by, people bustle to their jobs, and during all this I try to sit motionless for an hour and in that motionlessness I find much movement.
I let go of my neck (was I holding it) and it finds a better place; I feel fully settled, then I notice my upper lip (was I holding there?) I let go and it finds a better place; I feel fully settled, deeper than before then I notice my belly (really? how come I didn’t notice that tension) and I let go and a new sense of alignment and identity arises, and the process goes on and on and on.
This to say that there are many layers of tension to let go of, and these layers become clear through stillness.
Stillness is at the root of my work and I want some brave souls (YOU) to come explore stillness together.
The structure that I envision for these sessions is 90minutes: 30 minutes dedicated to talking and checking-in, possibly even a written or video interview followed by 45 minutes of 1 hold, followed by 15 minutes of transition back to the world.
Come STUDY stillness together.

1 Year – 50 Books
In this society of Go Go Go (I repeat myself) we have lost time to slow down and read.  We are often flicking the screen of our ipods/iphones/ipads and before we know it an hour has passed.  I want to encourage you to join me on a project I’m calling: “1 Year – 50 Books”.
Sounds daunting but it breaks down to 1 book a week.  This may seem unrealistic but, well, you know the saying “Aim for the stars and you may reach the Moon” (as an astrophysicist that would mean that you were unaware of some major errors).
Lets replace screen time with page time.  Lets reclaim bookreading!  Whenever you are going to reach for the gadget to check on the status of the world reach for the book instead.  I’m also writing a brief review of each book on my reading blog and my facebook site so drop by and tell me which books you are reading.

I look forward to being with you.

May 292014

“Thank you very much,” said Jumping Mouse.
“But you Know, it was very Frightening Running under you with only One Eye.  I was Constantly in Fear of your Great Earth-Shaking Hooves.”
“Your Fear was for Nothing,” said Buffalo.
“For my way of Walking is the Sun Dance Way, and I Always Know where my Hooves will Fall.  I now must Return to the Prairie, my Brother.  You can Always Find me there.”
- Hyemeyohsts Storm

Haya Trees1Chief Tsunka Wakan Sapa (Phillip Scott) holding Haya up to the the tall redwoods

Just a few days ago I got to attend a beautiful blessing ceremony for a baby girl, Haya, who turned 1.  The ceremony took place amongst tall redwoods and was led by Phillip Scott, a Chief in the Lakota tradition.

Blessings Haya!

May 072014
stars and bones 1

Sitting, just sitting.

So much is happening in the stillness, there is no need to go anywhere else.

The client lays their head on my hand and we Be together, that is all.