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March 2017: We Get Better at What We Practice

Wednesday, March 01, 2017 6:07 AM | Nomon Tim Burnett (Administrator)

   March at Red Cedar Zen Community

Dear Friends,

I've been thinking more and more about the profound implications of a simple idea: that what we practice we get better at. 

Like so many useful truths, it's a no-brainer. If we want to get better at something we do it again, and again; we learn more about it; we read a book, watch a video, take a seminar. All around us people are improving all kinds of skills from how to knit a hat to how to extinguish a structure fire. 

What's interesting, and important, to me is that we usually only apply this simple maxim to external things. To the things we do and make and create. To the problems we solve in the world.

We don't apply it to our inner selves nearly as consistently. We don't practice the things we want to improve about ourselves.

We all have wishes for improvement in our inner selves. 

We may want to be more reliable, or more patient, or kinder, or more generous. We may want to show up on time more consistently. We may want to listen to our kids more fully. 

Or maybe we don't have clear goals for our inner life and instead the mind goes to the things we don't like about ourselves. What is that for you? If you start the sentence "what I don't like about myself is..." and pause with that a moment. What comes up 

But here's the thing: if we just focus on what we don't have we are only reinforce a kind of internal impoverished mindset. If instead we can focus on what we would like to be better at we can take it out of the realm of frustration or wishful thinking and practice that trait we'd like to strengthen 

I've been thinking a lot lately about strengthening my ability to ask for help. I've always been a bit of a go-it-alone guy, and not only does that wear me out, sometimes it damages my relationships.  It's been so helpful to change that little by little.  Of course like all things human I know I have to be smart about this, feeling my way into whom to ask for what. But so many people in my life (all of our lives?) are so willing to help. And people not in my life yet, too.

In a political climate of mistrust and division, asking for help and the connection and trust that can foster feels especially important 

I was just remembering a moment of asking for help that happened last summer, and it inspires me to keep working with this.  Maybe you also have examples in your life of when you acted in a way that stretched you and inspires you to keep developing your best self?

We'd had some work down on our house. We had contractors here completing our half-finished stairs (it used to be a duplex and the stairs were taken out in the 1940s).  We had to move a window to make the stairs work right and the carpenters discovered the siding on the entire south side of the house was rotten.  So our other house work plans, and our a chunk of our budget, shifted and we had to redo the siding and exterior window trim on that side of the house. 

Our contactor got that taken care of, but I wanted to do at least some of the work myself, so I was working on painting the new window trim. Then I hit a problem: the upper window was too high for my 22' extension ladder. And darn it, I was in the middle of painting, the day was getting on, and wanted to get the whole job done.

It was Sunday at 6pm, and off I went to Home Depot to buy a longer ladder. But darn it: they were expensive, $280 for a 28' ladder! I stood there debating back and forth what to do. That impatient do-it-yourself voice within me was screaming "Oh just buy it, just get it done, you have a tall house so you need this ladder." So I put this enormous ladder on one of their big carts and wheeled it--tricky getting around corners!--to the check out. 

There were two people in front of me and the guy at the head of the line had some problem involving tricky customer service so we were standing there a while and then the person right in front of me turns out and says, "Hey, how much is that big ladder?"--almost $300 I admitted--"Darn" he said, "that's a lot. I have one just like it lying around at my place." 

At that point the "just buy it, just do it yourself" spell weakened a little. I could feel the tension in my forehead and the raggedness of my breathing relax a little. And then I surprised myself by asking this stranger if I could borrow his ladder. 

He response was immediate and relaxed. Like he has strangers asking him to borrow ladders all the time. "Sure," he said, "just follow me home and pick it up." A total stranger! And he was good for his word. Without needing anything from me he generously lent me his ladder. I finished my painting. 

As a way of thanking him, he asked nothing of me. I did do a repair to the rope and pulley that lifts the ladder extension. I realized even without arranging a payment or an exchange there is often a way to give right back. That helping engenders more helping.

Sometimes we can trust another. We can trust their generosity. We can trust the good hearts of people. I hope to keep practicing this inner skill of asking for help. 

What would you like to develop about your inner life?


Sangha Events for March

Friday, March 3: Public Dharma Talks: Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Nomon Tim Burnett, and Ryushin Kate McKenna

As part of the March Sesshin, the Dharma Talks on Friday and Saturday morning are open to visitors.

Sunday, March 5: Shuso's Dharma Inquiry Ceremony

Join us with a question from the heart to share with Shuso Ryushin Kate McKenna at the Hossinshiki ceremony.

Wednesday March 8: Practice Period Closing Circle

After the previous weekend festivities' with the Three Day Sesshin  and the important Hossinshiki ceremony, we will gather one last time on Wednesday evening to sit in circle and close the 2017 Winter Practice Period.

Friday, March 10: Calligraphy Practice Group 

Learn the  basics of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy in a relaxed environment. We'll explore a little about the history of Chinese ideographs, learn how to hold the brush and make the basic strokes and brush a few characters. 

Friday, March 19: Zazenkai: a morning of silent practice

Join us in this rare opportunity to spend the day doing nothing but zazen (sitting meditation), kinhin (walking meditation), and bowing. We will maintain silence throughout, with bells to mark meditation periods, and chanting the Refuges aloud when we end. ​

Saturday, April 1: Sangha Work Day

Samu - Zen work - is a key part of the Zen Buddhist practice tradition. Harmonizing body and mind we sweep, repair, and tend the temple. Please join the Red Cedar Zen Sangha for a joyful full morning of working together on many of the 1st Saturdays of the month. After our usual early morning meditation practice and potluck breakfast (6am - 9:00am) we'll begin work at 9am, continue until noon when we'll enjoy a potluck lunch together. Closing about 1:00pm

Upcoming Retreats:

May 20-21: Zen Studies Retreat with Nomon Tim Burnett: Appreciating Our Life (Zen Master Dogen's Instructions for the Cook). Details and registration available soon.

June 16-24Samish Island Sesshin 2017  update: registration to open on Monday, March 6th at 6:00pm PST.

Board Meeting minutes:

February 2017 Board Minutes

Community Offering: Contemplative Community House

Hello Everybody – are practice, meditation, and open-handed inquiry important in your daily life? How about expression, play, and community?

I am actively pursuing the creation of a Contemplative Community House, likely to rest on a non-dogmatic Buddhist foundation but potentially interfaith or secular – dependent on the inclinations and wherewithal of the members. A shared interest in daily practice and rich communal life will be at the heart of the house. Move-in date somewhere between May 1st and September 1st.

If you might be interested in exploring and shaping this together, please email (ed.wayt@gmail.com) or call me (360-441-7090). And please also pass the word along to others. Thank you!

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