Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Huber Cure

Here’s a saying everyone who has been to the Monastery is familiar with: “We have many guidelines but only one rule: We will use everything in our experience to see how we cause ourselves to suffer so we can drop that and end suffering.” The often overlooked piece of that is “We will use everything....”

Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate wants to be in charge of awareness practice, just as it wants to be in charge of every aspect of a human life. One of its most successful techniques for gaining and keeping that control is to highlight what works best for it while distracting a person from seeing what supports awakening and ending suffering. (Good to remember that “awakening and ending suffering” is synonymous with “getting out of the control of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.”)

With little if any conversation, the person is given to understand that there are some areas of life suitable for practicing awareness and others not in practice’s purview. Meditation is an acceptable place for practicing awareness—particularly acceptable as few people are allowed actually to do it. But “larger, more important” life content, such as work, money, children, and health, must be left in the domain of conditioned mind where they can be dealt with “thoughtfully and intelligently.” (As I’m fond of pointing out, there are very few people who will entrust really important matters in life to that old bungler God. “Oh, sure, I believe in God and will pray like crazy to get what I want, but I’m going to look to conditioned mind to make the big decisions.”)

With that arrangement in place, egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate can relax into assurance of a steady diet of human suffering. (Good to remember that “human suffering” is synonymous with “dissatisfaction.” The person looking to conditioned mind for direction is guaranteed to live in a world of “something wrong” and “not enough.”)

I want to set the stage with that perspective because, at first glance, it can be difficult to see just how “The Huber Cure" is awareness practice. But awareness practice it is, pure and simple. Here’s how.

For years I’ve been fine-tuning the awareness practice of “being sick.” Sick, like many other things in life, doesn’t seem to show up as often when we start scrutinizing it. Not a bad thing, certainly, but it does make it harder to practice with that particular content. Fortunately, just as many of the monks were recovering from various types of bugs, one found me. Let the games begin!

I will now go step-by-step through the process I hope each of you will follow should you “get sick.” After you have practiced in this way for a bit, please let me know what happened. Perhaps we can change lives throughout Sangha and beyond.

I woke up in the morning feeling fine. At about 2:00 p.m. I had the first inkling that I wasn’t feeling well. There was enough congestion in my sinuses that I thought I might be coming down with a cold. I DID NOT “WAIT TO SEE.” (Very important steps will be in caps.) I immediately took a hot shower, wrapped up in layers of clothes suitable for a tour in bed, and donned a hat. I got in bed, turned on the heating pad I keep for these situations, and prepared to sleep and sweat until the bug could no longer maintain lodgings in my person. This process usually takes about two days, as few as 24 hours is not uncommon, 3 days would not be unusual. That’s the physical part.

While resting I only rest. I don’t read, do email, talk to people, text, watch movies, etc. I remain as immobile as possible, and, yes, you may have guessed it, I do prone meditation. I have all sorts of attention-directing practices that I enjoy, and I rotate through them as I rest. ABOVE ALL, I DO NOT ENTERTAIN ANY VOICES. I don’t allow any conversation about work I should be doing, obligations I have, what a misery this is, why me, what did I do to bring this on. I welcome this as life’s gift to me—a complete time-out to give the body an (always) much-needed rest. I don’t take medications that will mask symptoms so I think I feel better than I do. If I can’t breathe I will take something to open a nasal passage, but that doesn’t alter the resting behavior.

Now, here’s the really, really difficult part. When a body is truly ill there’s very little ability or desire to do anything other than rest. THIS ENABLES THE SYSTEM TO USE EVERY BIT OF LIFE FORCE TO HEAL ITSELF. But when one starts to feel better, egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate slides in to siphon off any “extra” life force. For instance, if I felt a little better the voices might say, “You could do some email now; that wouldn’t be a big strain,” and conditioning would slip a foot in the door. Soon I’d realize I’m tired again, and if I’m not paying attention I won’t notice the healing energy is being skimmed off to feed egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. Now that the voices have an entry, they can start in with their, “you should, what about, oh no, it’s all your fault” torture. Know what I mean?

So, how is this awareness practice “pure and simple”? This way of approaching this particular life content is how we learn to approach all content in life. Each situation that arises in a person’s life is there as an opportunity to make a choice for suffering or for freedom. The body knows how to heal itself, but it needs support and cooperation. If we keep taking energy from the body and giving it to egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, the body will weaken and egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate will get stronger. If we give attention, awareness, energy, life force to what life is offering us in each moment—pure, undivided focus on WHAT IS, HERE/NOW—our experience will be freedom.

One other item for your consideration: Sugar and “upset” (read: negative voices) are the quickest way for egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate to “get” you. They each take a terrible toll on the immune system and leave a person vulnerable to any and all attacks.

Again, I’d love to hear your experience. Shall we take on children, money, and work as next conversations? By the way, that bug held on for just about 24 hours!

In gassho,

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Have You Seen Sangha Market?

I was writing an article for the inaugural edition of the Sangha newsletter, due out January 1st, when I received the email announcement from Living Compassion for the holiday gift-giving ideas with its focus on SanghaMarket. I opened it and was filled with, there’s no other word to describe it, pride. What a beautiful job people in this Sangha are doing!

Starting with the email class “Living Beyond Karma” and accelerating with each new “bump” in the world economy, I’ve been exploring ways to keep our practice viable, sustainable, and accessible. True, we need to keep our attention on the Monastery, the “mother ship,” because it’s such a tangible expression of practice in the world, but we also need to be sure practice reaches practitioners and that the path between the two is easily traversable. Some aspects of getting practice to practitioners has been made easier with technology, but the issue of getting practitioners to in-person practice opportunities, such as workshops and retreats, remains challenging.

For most of our Sangha the biggest obstacle to practicing in person is financial. There aren’t a lot of folks who can afford to attend as many retreats as they might wish to, usually because of the cost of the retreat, transportation to get to the retreat, or that much time off work. As the economic situation around the world remains unstable, the difficulties compound. What to do?

In “Living Beyond Karma” I offered people the challenge of paying $500.00 for the class with the understanding that during the course of the class they would learn how to generate that amount of money doing something they love that supports their practice. The vast majority of participants succeeded in meeting the challenge, and many exceeded it. Those who generated more than the cost of the class would use the extra income for something they wanted to do or have and could not otherwise have afforded.

It was those successes that inspired the vision for Sangha Market. Wouldn’t it be grand, we thought, to have a “market place” where Sangha could post items to sell, generating income for themselves and for the Zen Center/Living Compassion? Yes, that’s a grand idea! It was not, however, an idea without severe obstacles. But an intrepid group of Sangha stalwarts confronted and overcame each obstacle until, adjustment by adjustment, we had a working site. And, there, sadly, Sangha Market languished for many months as we focused attention on many necessary structural improvements in the organizations themselves.

Much effort is happening behind the scenes to make Keep It Simple more functional, the new communication/information strategies are coming together, the web site is getting ready for a major overhaul, and the time is right for Sangha Market to step into the spotlight and play a large role in helping Sangha and our beloved practice toward all the security we can manage in a reality of impermanence! When Nancy (long-time Sangha) stepped forward, offering to pick up this project and bring it to its full potential, we were all delighted.

So, this holiday season please consider becoming a buyer and a seller on Sangha Market. For help and support getting started, contact Nancy at

Give a gift to someone—remembering that you are someone—that will benefit us all. It’s fun, it’s supportive, and it’s definitely for a good cause…practice.

In gassho,

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sangha Market

Last week on Open Air* we had a great conversation on the Good News Update section about Sangha Market as a vehicle for focusing more attention on present moment activities that deepen practice, while providing products and services that support ourselves and Sangha. In addition, these products and services create much-needed financial stability for the Zen Monastery Peace Center and Living Compassion.

Here are highlights of what we talked about:
• Sherry, of Simply Celebrate, is producing an e-book of the many ways Sangha is using recording and listening to support awareness.
• Anna has turned her love of painting into a business, helping support her family and the kids in Kantolomba.
• Many of us enjoy Renee’s bracelets, with reminders such as “pay attention” “practice” “be here now” and “all is well.”
• Jen’s natural soap, the only soap I use now
• Sandy’s lotions, the only lotions I use now
• Soon I hope everyone with an ereader will be enjoying Nancy’s perfect little shoulder bags designed to hold them and their cords.
• Jen’s voice recorder holders made from Zambian chitenge. I haven’t misplaced my recorder or had it turn itself on in my backpack since receiving one.
• We have everything from greeting cards to superhero capes (a wonderful gift for little kids of all ages!), all created with love and attention from awareness practice for awareness practice.

I remain convinced that participating with Sangha Market can be one of our most powerful tools for withdrawing time and attention from egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate and returning it to the heart where it belongs. When I’m engaged in making something that requires my full attention, enthusiasm, creativity, passion, and love (for instance, writing a message such as this one), there’s nothing left over for conditioned mind to feed on. When I can hope what I’m doing will be helpful to another being, when there’s a possibility that my efforts will serve the awareness practice I so love… well, it is, as they say, as good as it gets.

I invite you to come play with us. If you have visited the Sangha Market website in the past and feel you know what it’s all about, please visit again. This message is aimed at encouraging lots and lots of sellers, which will in turn create lots and lots of buyers.

If you’ve visited and felt intimidated, help is here. Nancy, one of Sangha Market’s original participants as seller and buyer, is offering her expertise in all aspects of the site. She can assist you to post an item for sale, create a store, buy something, find your way around the site—whatever you need. You can email her at to set up an appointment to get all your questions answered.

The Sangha Market website does not yet reflect its future glory, but together we can help it reach its full potential. My hope is that by the end of the year Sangha Market will have played a large role in everyone’s holiday shopping and be in high gear to begin 2012 in style.

Don’t forget: Those voices arguing for not participating are the same ones that always try to talk you away from your heart and into a miserable relationship with egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. Grab your recorder, remind yourself what you know about choosing your heart over karmic conditioning’s hateful shenanigans, then “cruise or jet on the internet to”

In gassho,

*Archived at
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Real Magic

A friend told me about a movie she’d just seen. “Should I see it?” I asked after hearing the plot. “No,” she responded, “the message is much better than the delivery.”

Here’s the plot as I heard it. A little girl has an imaginary friend. He’s the perfect companion and they live in a wonderland of beauty, creativity, fun, and adventure. However, this idyllic life comes to an end when she reaches her tenth birthday, the age when imaginary friends must be left behind so that a child can join “the real world.” The girl grows up to be serious, competent, and responsible. She works at a serious, boring, dead-end job and becomes engaged to a “perfect” man who is handsome, successful, rich, self-absorbed, and completely oblivious to who she is. Everyone is happy for her because she’s made the perfect match and will now live happily ever after. Though she is not happy or fulfilled and doesn’t feel seen or loved, she is sure there is something wrong with her because she has, after all, the perfect life. Everyone and everything tells her that hers is the life all good people desire, the perfect life with all the perfect things, and she is clearly wrong not to be thrilled. The “right” person would be ecstatic.

She soldiers on, trying to be happy, until magically her imaginary friend, now grown-up as well, returns to show her what’s possible. He knows everything about her: favorite colors, books, art, and foods, what she wants, wishes for, dreams of. While she’s away he even decorates the apartment she’s never had time or energy to make into a home. The new world he creates for her perfectly captures and expresses her essence. She’s seen and understood, mirrored in a way that allows her to see the unique beauty of her being.

Just what we’re all wishing and hoping for, yes? Okay, maybe not the apartment decorating but certainly being seen, understood, and loved unconditionally.

Up to the return of the imaginary friend the heroine’s life is one we can all relate to, I suspect. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate on a world-wide scale gives non-stop information to every little child about how life is, what’s real and important, how a person should feel, what leads to happiness, and, in most cases, just what it means about a person if they don’t achieve the state of bliss and ease they should. For most children, the world presented in the media—and even through education—is just not going to be the world they live in. What we realize with awareness practice is even if all the “right” content falls into place—right job, right partner, right children, right home, etc.—those externals don’t guarantee happiness. Like the woman in the film, most of us reach that much-encouraged-by-society conclusion that not having the “right” feelings is proof that there really is something wrong with us.

The point in the movie at which reality becomes magic is the very point at which in “real life” magic becomes reality. Each of us does have, and has always had, an “imaginary friend” who is more real than all the bogus information we were force-fed growing up. We have direct, immediate, 24-7 access to the wisdom, love, and compassion that animates this world of ours via the Mentor. Each of us has an expression of conscious, compassionate awareness that is exclusively in relationship with us. We have a kind, clear guiding wisdom that knows us completely, understands us perfectly, supports us unconditionally, and will show us the path that does lead to the happiness we’ve always known was possible for us to have.

Karmic conditioning about what’s real and what’s imaginary is strong. We’re meant to live an entire life believing, following, and trying to please the inconsistent, confusing, cruel conversation of conditioned mind that has been yammering at us since before we can remember. That conversation was always at odds with what our heart knew and gently attempted to return us to, a world of kindness and compassion. But the pressure to believe the voices comes from every corner of our conditioned world, and it can feel impossible to get free of it. HOWEVER (and this is the biggest however ever), as soon as you hear the voice of the Mentor telling you what you’ve always known in your heart to be true, you can never be fooled again about what’s imaginary, what’s real, and what’s magic.

In gassho,


Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Second Letter


Here is the second letter I promised:

“Dear Cheri,
I was in the TTFG [It’s Time to Feel Good] online class, and I learned a lot. I admit to dragging my mind/feet about getting the small recorder from Radio Shack, but I did it and regularly recorded and listened. It changed everything. I had no idea that the ‘voices’ in my head were not me, but either a young sub, or from a source that didn’t ‘wish me well.’ I knew the little recorder had worked for me in guiding me on a new path, but I had no way of knowing how it could literally put me on the right path, and save my life.

I have been taking road trips with my dog the last couple of years. To have a vacation together was the first priority, but what started to occur became uncomfortable. I found that traveling alone to unknown places, I started to experience fear. Fear at highway interchanges, fear at large city rush hour traffic. I recognized the young sub that experienced my mother running out of gas. I still find myself filling up when the gauge is halfway. But all the planning failed me two weeks ago.

I had printed out directions, but was trying to hold the shaking paper and read and remember them before each turn. It was almost impossible not to mention dangerous, as I would sometimes swerve. I missed a couple of vital exits, and found myself over a hundred miles out of the way before I found out, not to mention low on gas. I felt intense panic at being lost on the road when I was supposed to have already arrived at my hotel. I was afraid to drive at night and night was approaching. My heart pounded as I pulled over to the side of the road. I scrounged through my accessories. I had packed that little recorder! I was sweating, and I recorded the fear stories, and then waited for my mentors reply and listened. And then my mentor gave me an idea. Slowly, track by track, I read the directions into the recorder… each road I needed to take, each turn I need to make. I took a couple of deep breaths, played the first new track and started to drive. I could play it over and over again to remember. Once accomplished I would hit the arrow again and my voice guided me to the next exit, the next turn. I felt my little sub start to relax as she heard my voice calmly giving directions, as if there was a passenger sitting in my car. I finally pulled into the hotel parking lot two hours later, and cried tears of triumph. My mentors voice, my voice had guided me in just as surely as if it had been an air traffic controller for an inexperienced pilot. This little device saved my life in several ways.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘Do a little something every day that scares you.’ I think she knew what happens: when you don’t run from fear, you grow. Fear’s rawness is still within me each time I leave home, the ‘what-if-this-happens’ thoughts. But this time my mentor was my road companion, and I am truly grateful! Thank you again for the class, the insistence about the recorder and the guidance!”

This intrepid practitioner has captured practice beautifully, wouldn’t you say? I’m most grateful for this message of courage and triumph. Thought you might enjoy it as well.

In gassho,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The First of Two Letters


While going through the stacks that have accumulated on my desk during these busy retreat times, I came across two extremely helpful letters. The first has helped my practice as an example of how I commit each day to working hard not to be, and the second has added to the reservoir of inspiration that fuels my determination.

The first letter was unsigned and arrived with no return address. It stated:

“I feel compelled to make some comments on the food at my recent stay. The quality of food is not what it once was. This makes it difficult for me to refer friends to go there. One concern is the amount of soy products. Over the years I have read about the many concerns about soy some mainly in the processing. Of course we do not really know what to believe in the media and what is really best for us to eat so I just want to share these links. [This was followed by three links with titles that included “dangers of soy.”]
I would prefer cows milk, rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk over soy and did not feel I had a choice. While there were cows milk products (cottage cheese, cheese, yogurt) not sure why you cannot offer milk.
I rarely eat processed/white flour (pasta, rice, bread) and would have liked to have whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice)
There was very little variety and actually few vegetables. Even the soups had few vegetables in them and the salad was mainly lettuce with few vegetables either. There was not much variety in fruit either. Gassho”

Oh, my, where to begin? The oddity is that our menu (the one this person is complaining about) contains almost no soy. We had re-done all the recipes when we discovered Quorn products, a near-perfect protein source containing no soy. But, for me, a conversation about the menu, the diet, would miss the point completely.

The Buddha—the Buddha—took a bowl out one time a day each day of his life and begged the scraps of food he would eat. According to the information that has come down to us, he died from eating rotten mushrooms some poor person had put in his bowl. (He blessed and thanked that person before he died for helping him on his journey!)

How have we come so far from the essential point of awareness practice—waking up and ending suffering—that we won’t spend 8 days eating meals that are not meeting our culinary standards without feeling the need to complain? When did a spiritual retreat become something we wouldn’t “refer our friends to” because the plentiful, mostly organic vegetarian food didn’t fit our dietary preferences?

A huge percentage of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night. Countless children are dying of starvation around the planet as I write this and as you read this. The food we throw away in this rich and privileged culture of ours would keep them happily alive.

Does this mean we should feel bad and guilty? Of course not. But I think it does mean we should be grateful in every moment for all we have. We should live in a constant, resounding, heart-felt “thank you!” (Yep, I’m using the word “should” intentionally here.) We should.

I know that no one reading this needs the lesson contained herein. I know that. And, as it has served as such an excellent reminder to me to keep my attention where I choose for it to be, on unconditional love and gratitude, I thought you might enjoy the reminder too.

Tomorrow I will post a very different story of awareness practice.

In gassho,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Participation Game

Tuesday night on Open Air, Jen, our Africa coordinator, with the help of that intrepid reporter-monk Dave, launched the 2011 fundraising campaign for the Africa Vulnerable Children Project. This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our commitment to assist in poverty alleviation in Africa and enter our 6th year in Kantolomba.

If you’ve been involved in this practice for any time at all you know what a very big deal “participation” is for us. Ours is a practice. There’s nothing philosophical or theoretical about what we do. It’s a “bringing conscious, compassionate awareness to how you are and how you do what you do in each moment” way of living. One is either practicing, or one is not practicing. Understanding, knowing, learning, and figuring out don’t have a place in this every-moment, paying-attention practice of ours. With that orientation the folks behind the fundraising campaign have come up with a way we can all participate in this decade celebration by practicing our every-moment awareness via what they’re calling the Participation Game.

Now, I confess this sort of thing has never been my idea of a good time. I don’t enjoy games. Most of the games on offer when I was growing up were competitive, and I never liked seeing anyone lose. I just couldn’t understand the fun in something that resulted in one person or group being wildly happy while another was miserable. Oh, sure, I heard all the “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” messages, but I didn’t see anyone buying it. When I realized I was cheating so my cousins could win, I quit altogether.

So, when I heard the word “game,” I watched my fundraising enthusiasm start down hill. “Can I please just hold a bake sale?” (Anyone who knows me well knows how much I must dislike games to have a thought like that!) However, I’m a student of Zen so that response was pretty quickly replaced by, “Okay, I’m willing. What do I do?”

As some of the details of the game were announced I found myself getting a little bit excited about it. The first thing we heard, on Open Air, was an invitation to send an email to with “participation” in the subject line. All very mysterious. I determined to send mine in as soon as the show was over and promptly forgot. Fortunately, we had another chance the next week and I got mine in. More details were revealed. I saw some emails go back and forth as the strategy was being finalized, but didn’t really take in the details. (I don’t like games, you know.)

Then, on Tuesday night, again on the Good News portion of Open Air, all was made clear! I raced to the website and could not believe my eyes. It’s gorgeous, clear, easy to follow—fun. And, best of all, it’s a game in which everyone wins!

I cruised around making my pledge and signing up here and there (I thought I might win one of those guidance appointments), and generally had a very good time playing. I highly recommend it!

As I was playing, I recalled something that happened a couple of weeks ago at the Monastery. We were all racing around getting the place ready for a retreat, each of us with a long list of chores and tasks, attempting to get as much done as we could before the meeting time of 4 o’clock in the garden. Earlier in the day two of the monks had prepared 3 beds for transplanting tomato plants from the greenhouse to the great out of doors. It was a big job to get all those little ones into their new homes and important to do while the sun was lower in the sky, giving them the best chance to avoid the shock of a painful transition.

Everyone gathered and set to the task in typical attentive, mindful, kind, monk fashion. I was completing a task on another part of the grounds at the time, but heard glowing reports later that evening during group about how much fun it was to do something like that together. The feeling of everyone focusing their attention and energy in one direction to accomplish a compassionate outcome is as good as it gets. The consensus was that doing anything with Sangha is fun.

I confess to having felt a little twinge of disappointment that I missed the great tomato extravaganza because I know from years of experience that it’s true—being with Sangha makes everything fun. Given that, you can imagine how delighted I am to get to participate in the Participation Game.

I invite you to join the fun.

In Gassho,

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Vision for Practice


I find that when I’m engaged in an email class I have little inspiration—not to mention time—for writing a blog. I love email classes. I love the back-and-forth, getting to watch what arises in me in response to what someone writes about their practice. I love the feeling of Sangha, all of us practicing together. I feel the same way about Open Air and even the tweets, though tweets don’t have that groovy two-way communication. I can just imagine everyone out there reading and seeing and smiling.

The recording and listening email classes—named “It’s Time to Feel Good” and based on our newest book What You Practice Is What You Have—began in November and, with a short break during February and March, will continue until the end of April. Somewhere out in the middle of the last one, and continuing through this one, I began working with our new “business coach” on a retreat that will be made available only to those who have completed a recording/listening email class.

I just had a birthday* and birthdays are often an opportunity to consider mortality—especially at my age! It has occurred to me that it might be of some assistance for me to articulate my vision for practice, given all these new features in our practice.

I still see the foundation of our practice as the Not What But How work. Having a sense of how a human operates via learning to direct the attention, meditation, and the five processes (beliefs and assumptions, aspects of the personality, projection, centering, and disidentification) is core work, so much so that I still teach that retreat once a year at the Zen Monastery Peace Center. The There Is Nothing Wrong With You retreat, the follow-up to Not What But How, brings clarity—and usually profound transformation—as the role of self-hate in a person’s life is dissected.

The next huge piece of practice is recording and listening. As many of you have heard me state, I’ve never in 30+ years of offering this practice seen anything bring the level of transformation that recording and listening is providing. The unique and astonishing piece of it is that people are able, usually for the first time, to experience that 1) they are not egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, and 2) they can have immediate, direct access to the wisdom, love, and compassion that animates us. Not “get that,” or “understand it,” but have a direct experience of. That is truly life changing.

However, I’ve not found that people can reach that depth of experience either by reading the book and following the directions, or even by doing a day-long workshop. The resistance from egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate is simply to big and too virulent for most people to move through unsupported. So, until we figure out another way, doing an email class to gain the support for getting to that direct experience seems our only avenue. I commit to offering the It’s Time to Feel Good email classes until we come up with that alternative teaching/supporting method.

When a person has completed all those elements of practice, they will be ready for the new 8-day retreat that, to me, reveals egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate in a way that is stark and unforgettable. I predict this retreat will be as transformative as There Is Nothing Wrong With You and, as such, requires a participant to be well-steeped in every aspect of practice. This stage is for the very committed practitioner.

Then, the people who have these practices under their belt will be invited to participate in a project that I, cock-eyed optimist that I am, think is going to change at least our society, if not the world. The reason I’m hopeful about that is that when There Is Nothing Wrong With You came out—nearly 20 years ago now!—the concept of self-hatred really didn’t exist in society. “Voices” were something the “mentally ill” heard. Now there are few therapists who don’t use clarity about the role of voices and self-hatred in their practices, and those notions have even slipped into most spiritual practices.

However, it’s not changing society that is my ambition, it’s maintaining support for Sangha. We all know that if practice isn’t right in front of us, it’s easy for egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate to begin its stealth slither back into our lives. How do we stay connected, focused, supported? I think Project Next is all that and more. Stayed tuned, please.

*This from the Zen Monastery Peace Center Guestmaster:
Cheri recently had a birthday and one of the monks gave her the gift of the commitment to hold ZERO tolerance for self-hate the entire day. Both Cheri and the monk were pretty excited about it, and Cheri asked us to pass along to the whole Sangha that she is open to late birthday presence (couldn't resist!). If you would like to join in, choose a day and commit, midnight to midnight, no matter what happens, no matter what the voices say, no matter what "unskillful" things occur, to NO SELF-HATE! You can do it--it's actually fun! If you would like to let us know how it goes, post a comment on Cheri’s Practice Blog.
In Gassho,

PS Remember that deciding “no self-hate” does not mean there will not be any. It will likely be even louder than usual. It means you are not going to participate with, talk to, resist, or in any way engage with it.

Thanks to each of you who take our monk up on that invitation—eager to hear how it goes. And, for a little inspiration before you start your no self-hate day, take a look at the youtube video of Bob Newhart on MadTV doing a routine called, “Stop It.” (Choose the long version.) So Zen!

In Gassho,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

From Mystery to Predictability

A retreatant sent this to me after the 2010 Santa Sabina retreat. --Cheri

From Mystery to Predictability

Karma can seem to be something of a mystery. What is it? How did I get “mine”? What actually is “my” karma? I remember an exercise on a retreat with you many years ago. You asked us a number of questions designed to help us get a picture of our own essential karma. I remember that my answers to the questions painted a very familiar picture of life as “me”; then what I saw in that sort of drifted away from conscious awareness. If you had asked what my karma was and how it operates in my life, I probably would have given a very vague answer… “It’s a mystery,” to quote one of my favorite lines from the movie Shakespeare in Love.

The recording process has clearly revealed the mystery around my own particular brand of karma, with more showing up every week. The road map of suffering is revealed! The broad brush strokes are clear; the subtleties are emerging daily.

After recording my “stories” and identifications for just a very few months, it is hard to remain clueless about exactly what those stories are. Almost every other entry among hours of entries is a version of two, or at the most three, stories. I listen and think “wow, that one again; that’s the same one as this morning and yesterday, too!” No more mystery for me about what the stories are that send me down the familiar hole of suffering, complete with the same package of sensations and conversations.

And, as the stories continue to repeat and be recorded, I begin to see what is behind them. What are the beliefs and assumptions that make these so real? Who is it that always falls for them? What does she believe about herself? What survival strategies arise to defend her from these stories?

So, for me, mystery has been replaced by a considerable amount of predictability. 98% of the stories are a version of 1) there is something horribly wrong with my body, physically, and I am going to be very sick and die “young” (kind of funny when you know how old I am), and 2) I am a bad/wrong person and they hate me. Both of them are directly tied to shame; for either, “I should be ashamed of myself.” The words I can most often hear in my mother’s voice are “shame on you.” The response, historically, to the stories and that sense of shame and failure is also not a mystery: the classic fight or flight. Either stand my ground and argue my case, or say, “it’s too hard, I can’t, I quit” and leave.

A couple of days ago, story #2 got started, complete with all the emotions associated with rejection and inadequacy. I grabbed the recorder like a lifeline, told it exactly what was going on, what I was feeling, and asked the mentor for help. Even through all of my emotion, the mentor was right there. First of all with reassurance for the little one getting the beating: “I know; it’s hard. I can understand why you feel that way.” And then as the guide for the adult me: “We don’t have to respond that way any more. You are an adult and can act as one. What would you like to do to take care of this situation? I’m right here to help you.” And that was that. The little one felt heard, and she disappeared. The adult was there and she knew what to do. All sensation and story gone in less than five minutes and on to a new moment.

So, not only is the karma now predictable, the way to handle it is, too! And all because of a little device made of metal and plastic that is able to digitize my voice and play it back. And all because of the willingness to use the recorder, to do the practice, to show up for me and for all beings.

Not only is there relief for me and all the internal little ones in this, there is the social relief as well. No one has to deal with that unfortunately identified version of me! And, best of all, a gift of the greater predictability of karma is the ability to be present to the mystery that is life.

Thank you, Cheri, for this practice – all forms of it – and for the invitation to reflect on what I have seen about karma and its evolution from mystery to predictability.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Giant Watermelon of Presence

I’ve noticed that while conducting a labor intensive email class I have little energy or even willingness for blog writing. The demands of emails, phone calls, and texts occupy the rest of the time that could go to such a pursuit. Now that the email class is over, energy and willingness have turned to creating the retreats for the participants from that class, and I notice that with extra time and space, insight on broader topics is returning. I suppose that’s how it always works; resources are consumed by whatever the attention is focused on. I just hadn’t realized insight was so “subject driven.” While it is my experience that there are snippets of insight triggered by doing email classes and planning retreats, I don’t tend to have the big “AH YES,” fleshed-out, full-blown, general-purpose, this-is-how-it-works insights that are available in less content-focused times.

Something else I’ve noticed about insight: Insights seem to grow, in much the same way a plant grows from a seed. A seed looks very different from the plant it grows into. In fact, it’s a matter of faith for me that that is what really happens. I hold this tiny thing in my hand and require myself to get it that with time and care it will grow into a giant, sprawling creature that we call a watermelon!

With the same faith, I pursue awareness practice. I sit. I’m silent. I focus attention. I breathe with conscious awareness. I let go. I accept. I have faith. I trust that this will grow into insight, clarity, compassion, wisdom, freedom, and joy. It doesn’t seem as if just sitting down will lead to all that; it’s hard even to imagine such a possibility. But sit I do, and silent I am.

In the beginning the insights are tiny and seem huge. Do you remember those days? The “ah ha” moments were magical, mystical. The world changed from frightening and overwhelming to exciting. It felt like falling in love or a return to the happy days of the best of childhood. Then, over time it got harder, right? Practice went from effortless to work. I no longer wanted to sit in meditation; meditating was no longer a thrilling adventure into awareness. It became something I had to do, against tremendous resistance.

Still the insights appeared. Egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate, the source of all that resistance showing up as a conversation from conditioned mind, fought against the insights. “Oh, brilliant. You just saw what everybody has been talking about forever.” Or, “You had that insight a dozen times before and it didn’t do you any good.” Or, “You let go of that years ago and here it is again. You’re a failure!”

See, though, if this is also your experience of insight: There’s only one. The only insight we ever have is, “This is it!” Every “ah ha,” every moment of sparkling clarity, shows us the same thing: this is it, here we are, there’s nothing wrong, all is well, relax, say yes, say thank you, enjoy.

What you may not be noticing however—what egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate desperately wants you not to notice—is that insight, incrementally, is occupying more and more of your attention and awareness. Insight is expanding into a larger experience of presence in life.

That tiny seed of conscious awareness is growing into a giant watermelon of presence! (Just couldn’t help myself—had to say it!)

What is our part at this point? We must keep tending, keep taking care. In the garden, once the initial preparations have been made, tending translates into providing the right amount of water and watching out for dangerous critters. In life, in awareness practice, tending is a matter of paying supported attention—in the forms of sitting, workshops, retreats, everything that brings us to here/now—and watching out for dangerous critters—in the form of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.