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Posted in ch'an, zen

Addiction to Preferences

“The Great Way Is Not Difficult for Those Who Have No [Addiction to] Preferences” -Sengcan

Have you ever had the experience where someone says, “Where should we go eat?” and you say, “I don’t know, what do you want?” and you really mean it?

Sometimes this is a frustrating situation, one of the little things that really bothers couples. I want to apply that to “those who have no addiction to preferences”. Can we apply this sort of attitude to other areas of our lives? Can we reduce our preferences and stop having such strong opinions all the time? Or at least stop holding them so tightly? I think we can.

We cling tightly to our preferences, so much so that if something goes wrong, we obsess about it at times, instead of trying to work through whatever the problem is. We sometimes tend to think that if we got the right job, the right situation, or the right spouse…then we can finally be happy. Ironically, that kind of thinking can tend to stop us from being happy. It can stop us from taking opportunities and it can stop us from appreciating what we have.

When we’re self-obsessed, when we’re thinking too much and too often about the ways we wish our lives were different, that makes us unhappy. But we get caught up in those feelings. It’s really similar to feelings of “I’m not good enough.” We get so wrapped up in these things sometimes that we don’t even see them.

But, if we can learn to relax, to stop thinking about controlling things so much, then we can find a sense of ease. There is a lot of comfort in just relaxing and waiting to see what happens. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to improve our situation or better ourselves. Of course we should. But I wonder if, with practice, we can hold onto our preferences a little more loosely.

 

“When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised.”

When we pay attention to our preferences, we begin to realize that we’re trapped. We’re pulled around by these preferences, even when they don’t make sense to us. The mind distorts the way we see the world and keeps us obsessed with preferences and delusion. If we can bring some equanimity to the situation, then things can become more clear to us.

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* quotes are taken from “Trust in Mind” by Mu Soeng

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Want to come meditate with me?

Here’s your chance.

6/17/19: 7pm-8pm

Monday Night Meditation

Nelson Atkins Museum – South Lawn

4525 Oak Street

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating on the lawn of the Nelson Museum, just south of “The Thinker” statue. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

Facebook Event

Meetup

 

Posted in ch'an, zen

Your Mind is Moving

Huineng came upon two monks who were arguing. They were having a silly argument to try to prove how smart they were. They were watching a flag rippling in the wind.

The first monk said, “The flag is moving.”

The second monk said, “No, the wind is moving.”

Huineng saw them having this ridiculous debate and he said, “It’s your minds that are moving.”

We often don’t see things as clearly as Huineng. We are confused. Our neuroses and our baggage shape the way we perceive the world. We get distracted and have trouble being present in our lives. Because we don’t see things as they are and because we aren’t present in our lives, we suffer. We also suffer because we struggle to accept the realities of impermanence and change. Everything is always changing and there’s nothing to hold onto.

Our goal is to learn how to see, how to really see the world as it really is. Another goal is to learn how to be more real, more genuine and authentic in our lives. We’re trying to put down our delusions. We’re trying to turn our minds so that we can engage the world as our true selves. Our true nature is awakened and good. If we engage the world as our true selves, then we can see things as they really are. That’s when real change happens.

We don’t see reality as it is because we often come from a state of mind that I call I-Me-Mine. This state of mind mis-perceives the world because we don’t recognize that it’s all changing. We address all of this by turning our minds around. The way out is in.

The purpose of this path is to engage the world as our true selves and to see things as they really are.

The Chan Sect was created by two great historical figures; Bodhidharma and Huineng. Their teaching was essentially this: “Rid the mind of egotism! Free it of defiling thoughts!”

The path lies before us. We can awaken to our true selves.

Posted in meditation

Development and Acceptance

It’s a really good feeling sometimes when we think our meditation is working. If we’ve been struggling for a while and then we are suddenly able to stay with the breath or stay with our experience for several minutes, that can be a satisfying experience.

We spend so much time in the daydream, not being fully present that when we step into this moment it can be a shock to our system sometimes. And that can create it’s own problems. Once we have a moment of clarity, we might tend to cling to it. It can be very discouraging when some of our meditation sessions feel successful and others do not. It’s so hard to maintain a passive attitude sometimes.

What I want to encourage you to do is accept whatever your experience is in your meditation practice. This can be very challenging. We want to have feelings of satisfaction or frustration and just notice them, just be aware of them and be with them. If we attach a lot of significance to either experience, then our practice could suffer. We want to be with these feelings and not cling to the satisfaction but also not push away the frustration. The fact is that sometimes our sit will feel really successful and other times it will feel like a failure.

Your attention will improve over time. This is about training the mind. No one expects you to be great at this right away. No one is great at this right away. Our minds naturally wander and get lost. What we want to try to do is have a passive attitude so we aren’t really hard on ourselves when we get off track. We want to try to learn how to gently bring the mind back.

New meditators sometimes feel like their minds are just too crazy to meditate and that sort of misses the point. We’re not meditating because it’s easy to still the mind and be present. We’re meditating because it’s hard.

Hopefully with practice it gets a little easier to simply notice when our minds are wandering and to just bring them back to the present moment without getting caught up in it.

 

Posted in zen

Zen Center?

Once in a while I get this wild idea.

I start to think I should start a Zen Center.

Well, that’s not the start of it. The start of it is wishing Kansas City had a Zen Center. Then that goes into wondering why Kansas City doesn’t have one. Then, that goes into wondering if I could do something about it.

I don’t think about this because I have an abundance of free time that I want to commit to it. I don’t think about this because I think I’m enormously qualified to run a spiritual community. That level of responsibility would be scary to me.

The main reason I start to get that idea is because Kansas City doesn’t have one and I think that’s weird.

Smaller cities have Zen Centers.

St. Louis, Columbia, Lawrence, Omaha, and Des Moines all have Zen Centers. I’ve been to some of them and they’re nice.

But why in these smaller cities and not here?

There are a handful of (really small) zen groups here, but there’s no center.

(I’m not talking about a temple. The difference between a Zen temple and a Zen center is that a temple is designed to primarily serve monks and nuns and a center is designed to serve regular people like you and me.)

And I wonder why we don’t have one?

We’re a growing city with a (surprisingly) spiritually diverse population.

 

Kansas City deserves a Zen Center.

That’s what I’m trying to say.

Can someone start one please?

 

 

 

Posted in compassion

Handle With Care

“Gentleness indicates greater strength than harshness.”

-Han Shan Deqing

 I wonder if we can solve a lot of our problems by being nicer to each other.

 When I hear things like “People are too sensitive these days”

OR

“That guy got what he deserved” when someone experiences the consequences of bad decisions

 

I just wonder where the compassion is.

 Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone. All of us are facing many challenges throughout our lives. This can be a tough thing to remember. Suffering is the norm in human life. It’s fundamental. It’s not our fault we suffer. Some of our problems are self-inflicted, certainly. But many of them aren’t.

We judge each other harshly. We look down on people who have made different decisions than we made.

We could all soften our tone with each other. We can all be gentle and in this way make our world a slightly better place.

 When someone is terminally ill, you often see a manifestation of kindness. We are generally pretty nice when we know someone is about to die. We respond to them with gentleness and compassion.

 Can we try to apply that the rest of the time?

The world needs more kindness, more compassion, more love.

Can we handle people with care?

I’m interested in trying. Are you?

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Posted in meditation

Timing and Meditation

Sometimes when people first come to meditation they’re in a hurry. People want to start seeing results from their practice right away. Of course, that’s not how any of this works but sometimes it is something people tend to expect.

This is like that old adage “A watched pot never boils.” If we spend a lot of time thinking about how results aren’t coming fast enough, we will never be satisfied.

Any amount of meditation is better than none. The goal should be to try to build up to regular meditation. I suggest 20 minutes per session, but that’s not something I adhere to strictly. We just need to ask ourselves questions about how much of our sit is devoted to getting settled. That can vary widely. Some people can sit and go straight into meditation, but for others it takes a few minutes.

I don’t really suggest sitting for hours and hours. I think a short meditation with some regularity is better than a rare 2 hour meditation. Ideally we should start with a short meditation and gradually increase the length to whatever we feel we have time for. I think 30-40 minutes is a really good length. We don’t want to be counterproductive, however. If scheduling longer meditations leads to making excuses and not meditating at all, that’s a problem. It would be better to have a very short meditation instead.

There’s not really a perfect time to meditate. When I first started I liked to do it early in the morning. Now I do it in the evening, shortly before bed. I think it varies for everyone, so you’ll need to find the time that works best for you.

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Posted in meditation

Is Meditation Boring?

Meditation tends to be a struggle for a lot of people. People come to the path with a lot of expectations.

The practice I teach is called Silent Illumination. It’s a bare bones and simple practice. Well, that’s not true. There’s a lot to it. But the instructions are very simple. We are sitting very still, being very quiet, and doing nothing.

We’re not trying to focus on anything. We aren’t trying to stop thinking (good luck) or trying to redirect our thoughts toward some weird picture or something. We are just sitting very still and being very quiet.

“The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection.” -Hongzhi

It sounds like we’re doing nothing. I’ve had people say, “is that it?” more than once when I present the practice. It sounds like nothing, but what we’re doing is settling into the present moment. When the body is still the mind becomes still of it’s own accord. We’re not forcing anything because we don’t have to.

We may tell ourselves while we’re practicing that nothing is happening…but that’s not really true. There’s never a point where nothing is happening. Things are happening all the time. Wonderful, painful, scary things. There’s never a moment when nothing is going on and life is never really boring. If we really come into our experience we can see that.

 But the truth is that only boring people get bored. What we’re doing with this practice is really learning to pay attention. When we train in attention, we can start to see how not-boring everything is. The world is transformed by our attention.

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Upcoming Events:

5/18/19: 11am-Noon

Fountain City Meditation: Meditation on the Nelson Lawn

Nelson Atkins Museum – South Lawn

4525 Oak Street

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating on the lawn of the Nelson Museum, just south of “The Thinker” statue. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

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if you love my work and want to support it, you can click here to make a donation:

donate

Posted in fountain city meditation, meditation

Meditation is Not a Victory March

People often come to meditation with some preconceived ideas.

I can’t count how many people have said to me some version of:

“I just can’t get my mind to settle down enough to meditate. When I try it doesn’t work.”

I think a lot of people try meditation just a couple times (or never try) because they have certain expectations. They want to feel relaxed, or blissed out, or…at the very least…not bored. In the modern era we sort of have this idea that we should be entertained all the time. And we definitely want immediate results.

People also tend to think they are unique in their struggle. “I wish I could meditate, but I just can’t get my mind to settle down.” When people say things like that I think they’re making the assumption that it’s hard for them, but for other people it’s easier.

I want to suggest that we can see the path in a different way. The path is not a victory march. We are not in a situation where baring down and focusing really hard will help us. Focusing really hard on goals here will lead to disappointment. The path is not a victory march. One of the most important things we can bring to our meditation practice is a passive attitude. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s a struggle sometimes. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s a struggle every time. Just accept that it’s hard and do it anyway.

There will be days we feel like our meditation is “successful” (whatever that means) but there will also be days where we feel like our meditation is a total failure, when we think we’re doing nothing but being distracted and waiting for the signal that meditation is over. Both kinds of meditation are good. Trying to meditate and feeling like a failure….that counts as meditation. The only way to fail at meditation is to not do it.

 

So, let’s meditate together.

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want to come meditate with me? You can here:

Upcoming Events

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Posted in fountain city meditation, podcast

On Community

I didn’t intend to start a community and I’m not sure if I have.

I created Fountain City Meditation as a project because I was inspired to serve others by providing meditation instruction and encouragement. People need a lot of encouragement in meditation practice, I think. And if I can reach people that aren’t being reached right now, that’s even better. I think many meditation communities might not be as focused on encouragement as they could be. People need a support system for their practice and to me THAT is the central role of a meditation/spiritual community.

I was teaching in a Buddhist community here in Kansas City for a while and then one day I wasn’t anymore. That’s not something to get into here except to say that my inspiration to help and encourage others didn’t just go away, so I spent time thinking about what I can do.

I have considered asking some of the other wonderful communities here in town if they’d be willing to bring me on as a teacher, to work together. But so far I haven’t asked. I have a fear of rejection, I think. Teaching in an established community would be pretty great though. Insecurity is a weird thing.

I recorded an episode of my podcast Scharpening the Mind with my friend Daniel Symes on the subject of community because I think it’s an interesting subject. You can listen to that podcast here:

Spiritual Community, with guest Daniel Symes

Is Fountain City Meditation a community?

I tried to create a situation where people come meditate with a minimum of baggage. We’re outside, so some of the intimidation of entering a new place isn’t there. Some people just come once, and some people come over and over. Some people come alone and some people bring friends. Many of the people that come just do the sitting practice and leave, without talking to anyone. I think that’s really great because I’m happy to welcome the most introverted among us. I think a lot of really shy people stay away from spiritual communities because they’re nervous about meeting new people. I know that when I first became interested in meditation practice, I had some issues around being reluctant to go meet people.

You don’t have to meet anyone to come to Fountain City Meditation.

Also, there’s no religion or ritual attached to what we’re doing.

I call it meditation without baggage. My hope is that people who are devoutly religious (of whatever kind) and people who don’t like religion could be equally comfortable coming to one of these events. I’m hoping that by doing outdoor events I can attract people who, for various reasons, don’t really want to go to temples or yoga studios or other traditional settings. Going inside an unfamiliar place can intimidate people too.

There’s no membership, I’m not trying to sell anything and I don’t even ask for donations. The great thing about meeting in a public outdoor space is that it doesn’t cost me anything (there are downsides too, of course) so I don’t need to take donations. All I’m spending is my time.

That might not seem like a big deal, but I know some people stay away from communities because they feel guilty when donations are being accepted. I want to reach people that feel weird when they hear the word “donation”.

I wanted to create a situation where all the things that scare people off or make people reluctant aren’t present.

I’m not sure if I’m achieving that, but I do think there are people that are interested in meditation that aren’t being reached by traditional efforts.

 

If we’re a community, we’re a community full of non-joiners.

Non-joiners could use some encouragement too.

Is Fountain City Meditation a community? I think that’s not up to me.

It’s up to you. What do you think?

weird

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want to come meditate with me? You can here:

Upcoming Events

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A while back I wrote an article for Patheos on the subject of Buddhist communities. You can see it here:

Close Knit Sanghas? | Patheos.com

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I created an all new website for Fountain City Meditation.

If it’s going to grow and be a community, it deserves it’s own website. This is still very much a work in progress, but have a look:

https://fountaincitymeditation.com/

and click here for my newsletter:

Newsletter

Posted in videos

Faith, Determination, Doubt | Video

Great Faith, Great Determination, Great Doubt. These are called the Three Essentials of Practice. So Sahn said that a practice that is missing any of these is like a table missing a leg.

 

The text I reference in the video is “Mirror of Zen”. You can get my commentary on this wonderful text by clicking here:

Mirror of Zen

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UPCOMING EVENTS

4/20/19: 11am-Noon

Fountain City Meditation: Meditate For Our Lives at Unity Southeast

Unity Southeast KC

3421 East Meyer Boulevard

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating outside of a church. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

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