Monday, October 16, 2017

weekly theme :: Difficulties in the BEGINNING

Warp and woof together form fabric; similar to how yin and yang together create tai chi. 

The expression is often used as a metaphor for the underlying structure on which something is built or started.  The warp and woof entangle, forming a web.  A web entangles yet something else. And so on.  Warp/woof had their beginnings among weavers of various stripes. Puns aside, the warp are the row of vertical strings on a loom that weavers weave first.  The warp fibers are the original framework fibers. Simply put, warp is the structure.  “Warp” in Chinese is written “Ching” as in the “I Ching” or the “Tao Te Ching”. Warp is what you tie all other parts to. 

Which brings us to woof.  The woof makes it all sing.  They are the notes between the bars.  The dancer on the stage.  All shapes and colors and hallelujahs.  The woof holds all the magic and chaos as it weaves and swerves through the warp. 

However, the important first step of framework (warp) cannot be stressed here enough.  Rare is the artist/creator who paints right off her canvas onto her frame and onto the wall and onwards across the room into the hallway.  No.  The boundary of the creative act is clearly demarcated in the beginning.  Without that boundary, unbridled and stunted growth is the result.  Think about the bass line in a piece of music.  That bass line usually carries the song.  It is what the rest of the players start from and return to.  The bass line is the pulse of the song.  Same goes for the warp.  It is the pulse of things.  It sets a beat.  With a steady rhythm, we can start riffing on and exploring and creating harmonies and expressing who we are.  Without the warp?  Just a lot of lovely noise.  Constant aimless noise with no end and no frame. 

Without the woof the warp would just be rules, rules, rules. 

Things would get boring real, real fast.  The two work together in an exquisite existential harmony.  Providing exactly what the other cannot even imagine.
Last thought. Warp means “that which is thrown away” from an Old English word.  Meaning, we do not need the structure once we have completed the weaving.  The warp is only useful in the beginning.  Like the soft pencil lines an artist sets down first and then erases once the piece is finished. Thrown aside.

With that said, this week’s theme is about “Beginnings”.  Starting a new life in recovery is not easy.  Where do we start?  Where do we begin?  The desire to not drink is certainly not enough.  Last thing we tried not to do we accomplished with ease.  All kidding aside, we cannot start fresh in a life with a goal of “Not” doing something.  We want to DO things. Not not do things. Doesn’t even sound right.  But what do we do?  What happens first?

Beginnings are rocky.  

In fact, beginnings are beset by difficulties.  Easy beginnings are not beginnings at all by our definition.  No beginning is easy.  Want proof?  From the ordeal of birth to those first unsteady steps, to taking off the training wheels.  There is nothing easy or amusing at birth.  It’s bloody serious business entering the world.  Not for the squeamish at all.  Learning to walk ends in a high-speed bumbling face-plant most attempt (graceful and lovely are not adjectives that spring to mind).  Riding a bike for the first time free is as amazing of a feeling as one could ask for.  Followed by a very abrupt and high-friction situation no one asked for.  Riding a bike in the beginning is about as unsafe as you can be perched up off the ground on two shaky wheels downhill...then the rock you never saw becomes starkly noticeable as you face-plant (remember walking?) into the pavement.  A familiar feeling the face-plant. 

The Chinese have a word we do not have. 

It’s called “Chun.”   Chun means Difficulties in the Beginning.  Make special note to the fact that “difficulties” has an “s” at the end.  There is not just one difficulty lurking ominously for the beginner, but many.  So many. Makes a fellow not want to try new things, that’s for certain.  However, by setting principles first, like the warp, we can weave the life we wish. 

Chun has a few secret meanings too. Chun is the image of a tiny green sprout popping up from the ground.  This sprout, that was a seed just a few days ago, had to undergo the daunting task of being born and then racing toward the sun and simultaneously grow roots to attach itself down and get water and also dodge any obstructions that may be in their way as they push upward.  But the sprout won’t know about the obstacle part until he gets there and that’s just way the cookie crumbles.  All that effort to get born could be all for nuttin’.  Blam, obstacle.  However, chun is not deterred by these obstacles.  Chun just grows slowly and keeps moving around, over, or through the obstacle.  One way or another.  This is an old word with lots of secrets. 

In closing, in the beginning of things, basic principles (warp) come before specific goals (woof).  We cannot head off in a direction before we establish our principles for heading off in the first place.  Our principles are what we believe and practice.  Once we have established our principles then we discuss goals and plans.  So, the beginning is about setting up what we practice.  Who we are. Which is never easy.  Then goals.  Then freedom.  Otherwise we put the woof before the warp and we all know what happens then...

Try to focus this week’s theme around how we Begin new things and new lives.  Try to present ideas and topics in group that give concrete ways people can start anew and be prepared for the setbacks that always haunt new beginnings.
“Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.” 
Margaret AtwoodThe Blind Assassin

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

weekly theme :: CONTEMPLATION

Author: Sifu Matt Carver

The contemplative state of mind is elusive.

The mind does what it does without ceasing.  It is a seemingly endless narrative of thoughts and ideas that materialize into actions and effects.  The contemplative state of mind is a mind that is content with just viewing or watching the cerebrations (workings) of the mind itself.  We reach this state of contemplation when all other attempts at grasping, and understanding, and making sense of, and ponderings, and musings, and unravelings, and thinking is exhausted.  When we arrive at the conclusion that thinking and not thinking will resolve anything.  When action and non-action bring about no change.  This “stumped” feeling where all you have left is to just sit and watch and wait, is contemplation.  

Kuan is the Chinese word for Contemplation.  

It also means view.  The old Chinese character for this idea is a tower.  From the tower, we command a view of all that surrounds us.  By sitting and watching from a height, we gain direct understanding of the innate order and laws of nature.  Allying with this force is a skill we hope to cultivate in the people we have committed to help. 

It is important to be aware of the effects we create in the world.  The right sort of self-examination consists not in idle brooding over oneself but in examining the effects one produces.  In other words, what is our offering to the world?  What do our actions and non-actions create in the world around us?  What do we produce?   Only by watching ourselves closely can we discover the end results of our actions and thoughts.  And adjust them accordingly.

“You do not need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, simply wait, be quite still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked,
it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
- Franz Kafka

Monday, October 2, 2017

weekly theme :: DISCOVER the Well Before You are Thirsty

Author: Sifu Matt Carver

Nourishing our bodies with viands (food) is an obvious way to sustain life and improve the quality of our lives.  What we put on our plates and eventually into our mouths determines the quantity and quality of what that nourishment fuels: production of skin cells, bone, blood, thoughts, emotions and life itself. 

In the exact same way, how we nourish our minds is of equal importance.  The people we choose to be with, the thoughts we choose to entertain, the things we seek out to watch, the “input” we receive on a daily basis, the patterns we establish on a daily basis.  The quality of these things affects our mental health and ultimate wellbeing more than anything else.  It’s always about getting the preverbal ball rolling — once you get motivated, you’ll notice it makes for a big difference.

This week we will learn different ways to nourish mind and body.  From basic nutrition to how we receive the outside world, we will break down and explore what we allow into our sphere of being and how we manifest that sphere and expand its reach and influence. 

In the I Ching there is a hexagram called “Ching”, which means The Well.  The Well is a vital resource in every culture on the planet.  Buildings change, dynasties change, governments change, but the Well remains a lasting fixture on the human cultural landscape. It is a limitless source of nourishment for all.  The Well supplies water, the cornerstone of life.  The Well is also extended as a metaphor for our Minds and suggests ways in which we can draw upon those flowing resources and manifest the life we choose to grow and live. 

You can spend a lifetime 
and still never come anywhere close 
to exhausting the resources
that are inside of you.

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks within, awakes. – Carl Jung

Friday, August 25, 2017

Faith, Belief and Practice

Zen Monk Abbot
Author: Sifu Matt Carver

A young man once entered a zen monastery and asked the head abbot "what do you all believe in?" The abbot replied, "we believe in nothing. Would you like to know what we practice?" Beliefs are not faith. Faith is open to receive whatever reality brings.

Belief, however, forces a perspective and maintains that perspective even in the face of a contradictory reality. Belief is more like hoping or wishing. What a person believes tells you very little about them. Practice, however, tells us everything. A person's daily routine and disciplines are far more useful and meaningful in shaping a life. By developing and engaging in a daily practice/discipline we connect with ourselves, our fellow practitioners and our community.

 Practice and faith are loyal allies. Belief is just a fervent guess. At Zen Recovery Path we faithfully rest confidently in practice

Monday, July 17, 2017

Discovering Personal Freedom

Author: Sifu Matt Carver

What a week we had at Zen Recovery Path.  Our alternative treatment method allows us to do things pretty different round here.  For example, we learned that with freedom comes responsibility.  On Tuesday for the 4th of July, we went deep sea fishing with all 20 of our students in recovery off the coast of Catalina Island in Southern California.  Legend has it, Catalina Island is an ancient scallywag hang-out as well as a pirate safe deposit box (i.e. buried treasure).  Arg, we didn’t find any treasure (in the shiny, shiny precious, precious sense) but we did unearth our connection with freedom, ironically, as we stumbled around a boat attempting to enslave unwitting barracuda, calico bass and bonita.  Yes, we rang in the liberation of America by capturing fish.  Two steps forward, one step back.  But wow what a haul!!  Our students got to keep their catches and had a cook out party the following day.  So, like good natives, at least we ate what we caught and shared our spoils among our community. J

We had an amazing time and Poseidon was generous.  Students had a chance to practice mindfulness and nowness in a completely unforeseeable present moment.  Learning how to be aware and connected in the present moment is one of the main practices we focus on at Zen Recovery.  Creating and sharing moments where we can practice this connection to the present is enlightenment.  Catching fish is fun too.  The smell of the salt water.  The sounds of the sea birds.  The uncanny ability of a sea lion to rob our hooks of bait leaving only the hooked part of the bait on the line.  These sea lions knew somehow that our bait had a hook in it and avoided the hook with a 100% success rate.  Those salty sea lions robbed us blind.  This worked out well though because it gave us an opportunity to discuss the difference between fishing with a hook and fishing with a net.  A net is a broad all-encompassing approach that just casts a big trap over all swimming creatures in an area.  You may catch what you are looking for but you will also catch a bunch of stuff you would have preferred to do without.  A hook, however, is a one bait for one fish sort of method.  You may not catch much but you catch what you seek.  Knowing what you want and how to capture it is an enriching thought and fun practice. 

Again, our theme for this entire week was Freedom.  The concept of freedom was explored in all our groups this week and the theme ran through many of our private dialogues and experiences together as well.  Freedom from the bondage of self was a popular topic.  How one finds this sense of liberation in their day to day experiences?  How one can give this gift of freedom to others?  How do we share freedom. A wise seeker of freedom once said, “Iron bars a prison does not make.”  In other words, many of us feel the cage around us but forget that we made the cage, and we have the key, and the door isn’t even locked anyways!  You can be free whenever you decide to want to be free. Solid week at Zen.  Stay in the Now.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Yin and Yang Defined

Yin and Yang

The above symbol of yin and yang is actually called Tai Chi.  Tai Chi means “the supreme ultimate reality.”

There is also a concept called Wu Chi.  Wu Chi looks like this:

It is just an empty circle, void, meaningless.  It also comes to represent chaos or non-order or the inconceivable.  It is only when this wu chi divides itself into two distinguishable poles (yin and yang) do we derive meaning, form and order.

Yin is classically written like this 阴.
Yang is classically written like this 阳.
The Chinese characters yin and yang are both comprised of two separate characters.  The character yin has the character for moon 月 in it.

The character of yang has the character of sun 日 in it.  This gives us an important clue into what these two words are meant to signify.

When literally translated, yin means “the shady side of the hill.”  Yang means “the sunny side of the hill.”  The yin side, or shady side, is associated with things that are at rest, introverted, calm, receptive, passive, cold and dark.  The yang side, or sunny side, is associated with activity, extroversion, excitement, unrest, creativity, chaos, action, heat and light.

To the casual observer the yang side of things may seem preferable, but it is important to point out that these two opposites depend upon each other.  They need each other to define their very existence.  All things are relationships.  What is up without down?  What is pleasure without pain?  What is awake without asleep?

Though our culture puts a high emphasis on activity and action, without rest and calm we will get ill and burnout.  Furthermore, what does a picture of a black bear at night drawn on a black piece of paper look like?  Nothing.  There is nothing to see.

However, if we put that picture on a white piece of paper we know instantly what it is.  In other words, we need a concept of ugly in order to distinguish beauty.  We need a concept of a hard day so we can appreciate a good day.

We live in a world of opposites joined together inexplicably in a great mysterious union.  This forms a mutual alliance between these two seemingly opposed energies.

Yin and yang are not a duality.  By duality we refer to the way Western Culture and the English language creates a kind of opposing duality in one’s mind.  Things are always good or bad, up and down, pretty or ugly, happy or sad.  This is not the way the Chinese language is constructed.

All seemingly opposite phenomena are really different sides to the same thing.  Day and night are always dependent upon each other to give the other meaning.  You cannot have saints unless you have sinners.  These seemingly opposing things are really united, inexplicably.

Trying to live a life only on one side of this balanced equation is a formula for disaster and disease.  Flowing within this inherent structure that comprises the phenomena of existence is a useful piece of advice.

As we will see, these two basic types of qi are further subdivided into the 5 Chinese Elements and then even further divided (though this is beyond the scope of this book) into the 8 Trigrams of the Ba Qua and then further into the 64 Hexagrams of the Ba Qua.  The division keeps going and going until the numbers reach so high into infinity that their very hugeness renders them obsolete and meaningless once more.  Try to conceive of a trillion of something.

Things cease to have meaning after they grow beyond a certain size, so we are plunged back into the Wu Chi from which once again yin and yang are formed and the process repeats itself.

“To shrink something, first allow it to expand.  To expand something, first allow it to shrink.”
– Lao Tzu

Our conscious mind is similar to this process.  Before we are born our conscious mind is present but it is empty, just like Wu Chi it is formless, a vast sea of potentiality but lacking a fixed point of reference from which to distinguish its' self.  As we prepare for our birth, our conscious mind begins to move and thrash.

As we open our eyes for the first time we are blinded by LIGHT.  In defense, we shut our eyes quickly.  Because we have seen light we now know darkness.  We take our first breath.  Air rushes into our lungs and then rushes out.  In and out. Yin and yang.  We feel hot, cold.  We learn good and bad.  The two poles of yin and yang are firmly established.  The world of Tai Chi becomes manifest with our senses and the dangers of separateness begin to take root.

“In separateness lies the world's greatest misery;
in compassion lies the world's true strength.”
                                                                  ― Siddhārtha Gautama

As we gain more knowledge and experience, our conscious mind expands and further subdivides, separates and categorizes.  Our attention is spread out into worrying about our careers, relationships, money, our health, bills, etc.  Our conscious mind just keeps spreading and dividing and growing larger and larger.  As time goes on we feel spread thin and tired.  Nothing seems very clear anymore.  Right and wrong become confused and indistinguishable.  Our consciousness has grown like a weed and now obscures the original garden of simple yin and yang.  Life has plunged itself into a modern, meaningless void.

Realizing that our conscious mind has gotten “too big for its own britches” is our signal that ENLIGHTENMENT is fast approaching.

Enlightenment is a word often associated with Zen yet widely misunderstood in American culture.

Enlightenment means liberation from one’s self.  It means that we have realized that something has gone wrong and we vow to bring this wrong back into balance and harmony.  This realization is the state of enlightenment.  The active participation in rebuilding of one’s self.  Enlightenment is a spring cleaning.  It is the embracing of change on all levels.  It is an affirmation of life.  Enlightenment is the conscious act of saying yes to life, I will play!

Recognizing the mess and chaos usually stirs a person into trying to clean it up.  We try to find a way out of this growing confusion and convolution.  So we grasp onto religion and meditation or mind/mood altering drugs as a way to resolve or deal with this frightening mess.

However, the very thought of this Enlightened moment where we recognized the mess plunges us right back into to spreading and dividing our consciousness.  Then the second enlightenment hits “Holy shit!  There is no way out of this flippin’ mess!!  And the harder I try to clean it up, the worse it becomes!”

This is a KEY turning point in our conscious evolution.  Knowing we are stuck.  At this point, we must put on the brakes and stop moving forward grasping at more and more understanding.  We must start to move backward along the path we just traveled.  Unlearning as we go.
We move backward towards our original understanding of yin and yang when the world was first distinguishable to us.  Moving forward only causes more confusion and subdivision.  Only by moving backwards, by stripping away and simplifying our lives can we arrive at this final enlightened state of being.  We moved from a state of complexity to a state of simplicity.  It is only then that we gain the understanding and insight we seek.

Everything is yin and yang.  The linear mind longs to move forward, progress, onward, bigger, better, faster.  This leads to only more confusion.  Man is overworked.  He builds a computer to lessen his load.  However, with the spare time now available, he works harder, makes more progress, and gets tired again.  Invents a faster, better computer.  Work becomes easier again.  With the spare time, he takes on more projects, and more work, soon he is worn out again, a newer, better computer is invented…on and on and on it goes…

The solution is to move toward the beginning.  Simplify.  Stop making complexity where there is none.  Life is simple, easy and free for the giving.  All that we need to do is step into the dark forest and realizing that there is no path, we make a path where one never existed.  This is the call to adventure that, in effect, IS life, traveling an unknown path, rich with surprise, mystery, suffering and joy.  Leaving a fresh wake behind us where other travelers will point and say, “That was her path.  Well traveled!”  

If we could only remember this.  We all knew this truth inherently at one time in our lives but quickly lost sight of it.

An Orphean boy once said “The instructions for life are scratched onto our mother’s wombs when we are still yet to be born.”  Like ancient cave paintings pointing us toward the direction of the roaming herds, we knew the way.  But somehow we forgot the instructions.  We hastily exited the cave, directionless.

Regain this valuable insight.  Search your mind, it is still there.

The Five Elements

The Chinese Five Elements are also referred to as the five phases, the five transformations, the five manifestations or the five agents of change.  The Five Elements represent patterns of movement which support, nurture, unite, control, divide and destroy one another.

The Five Elements are:

木  wood
火  fire
土  earth
金 metal
水  water

Included here is a short quiz that will help us determine our Element tendencies.  It is important to remember that no one is exclusively one element.  Everyone is a rich, complex blend of ALL Five Elements.  The goal is to recognize our natural elemental persuasions and use that wisdom to guide us through all of life’s many permutations, phases and cycles.  The goal is NOT to balance all the elements within ourselves, instead the point is to cultivate certain elements during certain times of our lives.  To be appropriate to the situation and to adapt to an ever-evolving landscape is the value of understanding the Five Elements.

Wood and Fire are considered yang elements.  Metal and Water are considered yin elements.  Earth holds the middle ground and is where the yin and yang elements overlap, mingle, embrace, shove and fight.

Each Element corresponds with an archetype, which is a basic, generalized kind of person.  For example, if we think about the captain of the football team.  A similar mental image pops into our collective brains.  If we think about a cheerleader, a clear image emerges in our minds.  Class clown, nerd, mamma’s boy, all are modern day archetypes.  These standardized snap shots were primarily pioneered by famed Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung.  The Five Elements are likely the oldest of such archetypes!

We will peal back several layers of detail for each Element: from the season it is associated with, to the internal body organ it represents, to the chemicals/substances most likely abused by each.  Bare in mind, these are generalizations.  No one person fits into a single elemental category.  The human experience is far too rich and varied.  Humanity defies any simple categorization.  We all change and our dominant Element changes with us.

This is not a hard science.  Wandering with the Five Elements is more akin to poetry.  Knowledge of it gives each of us a new flavor to ponder, a different perspective to consider and a fresh scent to tickle our senses and stimulate our minds.  The human condition is lavish and textured.

There is a much-misunderstood concept in Eastern thought regarding “wandering.”  It was said by a youthful, old man once that a good traveler has not set destination.  They just wander.  When our hearts are pure and we love our own company, no matter where we go we will find success, friendship and open arms.  This is what is meant by being a good traveler.  We have no preconceived notions, no expectations and no resentment.

The destination is the same for all.  We all arrive at the same mysterious end.  It is the quality of how we walk our path toward the mystery that has meaning.  There are so many ways to live a life, so many ways to love and be loved, so many stones that need unturning and so many mountains that cannot be turned no matter how hard we try.  Try anyway.  Try with every ounce of vigor and passion you possess.

All of it is waiting there for us.  Like ironic, warm-hearted Sirens beckoning us to the shore, but instead of rocky harbors and false hopes, a calm port and a warm embrace awaits us.

Certain things can only have significance in the current moment.  Dancing, wandering and compassion are only meaningful as they exist right now, in the present.

To dance we only dance.  Good dancers are immersed in the moment; enthralled in the whirlwind and the rapture.  A devilish, English philosopher with an infectious laugh once said that dancing has no goal in mind, no destination.  We just dance for the sake of dancing.
In wandering, we accept the moment as it is, with no regret; completely uneditted and raw.  Whatever crosses our path, we accept it, for we crossed its path too!  When the road leads to odd places and strange faces, we welcome both with an open heart.

Compassion is the greatest of human emotions.  To have compassion for another means we suffer their pain with them.  We join them in their suffering and take a bit of it ourselves so that they can breathe a little easier knowing they are not alone.  “We are here with you,” whispers the compassionate.  Compassion does not stand across the room empathizing from a safe distance.  It is right there with us, holding our hand as we plunge into the bitter suffering that always, always, always leads us to rebirth, joy and sweet redemption.  This is what it means to be truly human.

We just wander.    Compassion is wealth.  Join the dance.

“In separateness lies the world's greatest misery;
in compassion lies the world's true strength.”

                                                              ― Siddhārtha Gautama