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.