October at Red Cedar Zen
I'm just back from the annual sesshin with Seattle Soto Zen at Camp Indianola on the Kitsap Peninsula. It's similar to the retreat we offer every year at Samish Island in some ways - a lovely church camp on the water. The sesshin was peaceful and deep and I had the pleasure of co-teaching with both Jeff Kelley of Seattle Soto Zen and visiting teacher Valorie Beer from San Francisco Zen Center.
The theme that emerged in the retreat was paying attention to what the Buddha called the "marks of existence." In Pali these are termed: aniccā, dukkhā, and anattā: tranciency, suffering & liberation, and non-self. The Buddha was trying to point out that a deep source of our discontent and suffering is we take it all the wrong way - that the actual character of reality is that everything, absolutely everything, is transient and changing, that our mapping of some experiences as our self doesn't help us much, and that we're drop into an endless cycle of grasping and resistant if we're not careful.
The good news is that we can work with this, It's workable. We can turn our attention towards the process of each moment unfolding, especially with the periodic help of lots of zazen, and through that process change our whole relationship to the unfolding stream of reality. The very same situation we experience can be a source of resistance and pain, or a source of challenge and growth.
I ended up coming up with the phrase "take it seriously but don't take it personally" as a helpful shorthand for this process of being in our lives with depth and intention and wisdom. Here's a little excerpt of one of my Dharma Talks at Indianola:
What does taking it personally actually mean? It seems to mean making something that happens into a part of your identity or part of your person a part of yourself.
Someone insults you and you become an insulted person. And you hate being an insulted person right? So you have to fix that. A lot of work and stress and both. The opposite of letting go.
And of course how do we even know that someone has insulted us? We assume it based on our perception. And our perception is always a little slanted by what we've taking personally in the past. We are all filtering our experiences through this tangle of history and assumptions and personality that we call "me."
And yet the challenge, and occasional deep pain, of being a "me", a person - a being who has taken so much personally - is what brings us to practice, isn't it? It is our undoing in a way and it is our vehicle to awakening at the same time.
And we learn how unsatisfactory the whole deal can be. We learn that just trying to get what we want: the right job, partner, consumer objects, whatever, doesn't seem to lead to lasting happiness.
Either what you think you want is unobtainable or, even worse, you get what you thought you wanted and you find it doesn't provide lasting happiness anyway!
And that's the tangible stuff.
Then consider the underlying desires and subtle emotional needs: like I want everyone to like me all the time. No matter what. And this isn't even touching on trying to avoid what you don't want!
But it's not so simple as just turning that pattern around, is it? There's something self-defeating about trying to STOP trying to get what you want or avoid what you don't want. That's a kind of forced acceptance. An aggression towards yourself. Maybe you've tried that approach too, and found that it work either.
There seems to be some kind of strange dance here where it really does matter that we take good care of ourselves while at the same time holding our perceived needs and desires with more than a little curiosity. A healthy dose of skepticism. Do I really need that thing I think I want? Or is that just a desire that has me in it's grip. And what is "me" anyway. It's confusing!
So I was already musing a little about the role of the self in all of this. Can we take this practice seriously with a lot of good energy without taking it so personally. Without all of our conditioned hooks hanging out there waiting to be snagged on something, or someone.
Can we take this all seriously, this big, challenging, rich life, can we take it all very seriously without taking it so personally?
Responding to the world and situation we find ourselves in with curiosity with not-knowing, with as much skill as we can must and as much patience as we can.
And taking it seriously doesn't mean we loose our sense of humor either! It's a funny business being a person, that's for sure.
Wishing you all well as we turn to Fall. Let's do what we can this Autumn to take care of ourselves and our world with true care and deep wisdom. We need that, the world needs that. Let's take that seriously.but not so personally!
Sangha Events for October
Saturday, October 1: Understanding Consciousness: A Zen Studies Retreat with Nomon Tim Burnett
Saturday, October 8: Closing the Mountains Hike
Thursday, October 13: Cultivating the Seven Factors of Enlightenment
Sunday, October 15: Sangha Work Day New to the schedule.
Sunday, October 16: Sunday Simple Sit with Chris Burkhart
Saturday, October 29: Jukai Day Retreat and Ceremony
Wednesday, November 20 to December 4, 2016: Rohatsu 2016 - Buddha's Enlightenment retreat
October Events in the Community
Saturday, October 22: Sitting Meditation in Troubled Times a workshop with Kathie Fischer hosted by Seattle Soto Zen
Saturday, October 22: Intersangha Service Outing, an opportunity to serve our larger community by cleaning up Squalicum Creek Park
Kagan Village Project After hearing Tim's stories of his trip to Kenya (talk 1 and talk 2 are on the website) and the tremendous needs there, as well as Tim's growing personal connections in the village of Kagan in Western Kenya a person-to-person support project has emerged from the sangha if you would like to help you can read all about it on this webpage and find the donation box and printed information at the Dharma Hall. Questions to Connie Martin, Tim Burnett, or Tuli Candella.
Student Discussion Forum A new interactive web page forum has been created where sangha members can post notes about their studies and thoughts about practice.
Note: You must be logged in to the website to make additions to the forum. Your login is the email address you used for membership. If you don't know your password or haven't made one yet, use the password reset feature - it's quick and easy. Or contact Terry Thompson or Talus Latona for support logging in.
Let Love Be Our Legacy Red Cedar Zen is joining an interdenominational project to address divisiveness and prejudice - meeting it with love and understanding. There are project buttons available in the lobby and soon a large banner will go up on the building. Projects to open the Dharma Hall for meditation for the community or to other member denominations are in the works. Contact Andrea Thach at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or listen to her talk.
Board of Directors News
Please see the minutes to keep in touch with the business of the sangha: June minutes: Board Minutes 2016-06, August minutes: Board Minutes 2016-08. September minutes: Board Minutes 2016.09.
Recent Dharma Talks
Ryūshin Andrea Thach spoke about Everything We Do is About Love on August 17th.
Nogen Connie Martin offered these reflections in her student talk entitled Revival on August 24th.
Nomon Tim Burnett offered his reflections on this trip to Kenya in these two talks: talk 1 and talk 2.
And sangha members Hannah, Bob, and John describe their moving Zen pilgrimage to Japan.
About this newsletter: Red Cedar Zen Center will send out a monthly newsletter to highlight upcoming Sangha activities, member news, and other noteworthy events. If you would like to feature something in an upcoming newsletter, please email Johnathan Riopelle ten days prior to end of the month for submission.