Posted in zen

Zen Failure?

I ran a Zen sitting group at the Rime Buddhist Center for two years. At least I think it lasted two years…

Anyway, it started right after my divorce. I was a wreck and I asked for the opportunity.

The main reason I did this was so I’d have something to do Monday nights.

I love this old Zen story:

STUDENT: Master, I am feeling discouraged, what should I do?
MASTER: Encourage others.

I was feeling very discouraged.

But also I wanted to see if people in this Tibetan Buddhist community would be interested in something different. As it turned out, not very many of them were interested, but that’s okay.

I want to write now about my mistakes, about how I’d do things differently if I ran a sitting group now.

I’m not going to go into detail about what our practice was, except to say that there was some sitting, some walking, and just a little bit of chanting. And also, bells and banging the wooden fish. You know, regular Zen stuff.

But, what’s significant to me now is what I didn’t do. I led this practice for two years and I didn’t give any talks. I didn’t give any talks and I didn’t open up for questions. I just handed out instructions and introduced myself and we just did the practice and went home. Now it feels like I didn’t even really try.

And that is my regret. I could have been giving talks, sharpening my teaching skills and engaging people.

So why didn’t I?
It starts with confidence. Back then I didn’t have it. I didn’t know, in spite of all my training, if I was good enough. I didn’t know if I was capable. I didn’t have nearly the level of experience that I have now.  Now I’ve given over 100 talks. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

But there’s more, of course.

Two of the people that came to my sitting group are students of a Zen Priest that they travel to go retreat with. And I was glad to have them. They helped me design aspects of the practice and lead chants. They were so very helpful. And at some level I thought it wouldn’t be okay for me to be giving talks because they already had a teacher and it wasn’t me.

Sometimes our minds really lead us down weird paths and when try to follow what we were thinking it’s hard to understand.

Looking back it’s so weird to me that I felt that way because I think they would have liked seeing me give talks. I was just…well, timid, I guess.

And, of course, once I spent a few weeks not giving talks…well, inertia took over. It was too late to change what I was doing. Or at least it felt that way.

Anyway, people would come and not come back. Some of that is, of course, curiosity. But I often wonder if some of those one-time visitors might have come back if they had been able to hear a talk or I had been better in some other way.

Ultimately the group didn’t really grow. There were even some nights where I sat alone. Attendance was not good and it kept getting worse.

And really it’s because I was afraid to teach. I didn’t have the confidence that I have now.

 

So it feels like those two years were wasted. But maybe they helped me prepare in some way.


 

I’m not leading a sitting group anywhere now.

But if you want to see me, please look at my Events Page

 


and if you want me to come give a talk at your event or your temple…please, let me know.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

My Life

Do you know that my life exploded last year?

People reading this probably know I spend a lot of time at the local Buddhist temple these days. People reading this might also be aware that my life changed a lot last year. What you may not realize is that these things are connected.

I fell apart last year. By the end of the summer my life had exploded and everything was destined to be different. I could have made a few different choices, of course. We can always make different choices.

I don’t want to go into too much detail because I think it is too soon and it would be, at the very least, very rude. I just want to let you know that I was married and I’m not anymore.

It didn’t explode like a roman candle. It was more of a slow burn like one of those snake fireworks that just spreads out over the ground burning a slow silent death.

What I learned is that a loveless marriage can breed madness. People stay in loveless marriages every day, I think. And loveless relationships too, really. Even when it’s really easy to leave people sometimes don’t. But when it’s hard, it’s really hard. It’s easy to say, “unhappy people should leave,” but of course life is rarely that simple.

Looking back, I am so incredibly different now. I made plenty of decisions that make me think “why did I do that?”

I feel like I died and I was reborn.

Then I had to grow again.

I struggled a great deal in those first few weeks. I did things I shouldn’t have done. I made plenty of mistakes. My entire life was different and I didn’t have a clue what to do. If not for my two wonderful children I might have given up. I might have become an alcoholic or something worse.

I started working out and that’s done a lot for me. My body feels better than it ever has and I have plenty of energy. I don’t want to gloss over that because it is important. There’s a free gym in my office and I make use of it. Physical fitness was never important to me before but it is now.

Mental and spiritual fitness are important too.

I also threw myself into spirituality. I’ve always been a dedicated Buddhist, as anyone reading this knows. I spend an inordinate amount of time writing about it and reading about it too. Not a lot of things inspire me. I don’t just practice Buddhism and study it.

I love it.

 

Historically most of my Buddhist practice has been done on my own.

After my life exploded that changed.

I was just a casual visitor to the Rime Center before, as many are. I would go once in a while, but that was it. (although I did lead the children’s group for a while).

After my life exploded I became a regular. I became one of those people that goes all the time. I’m like those people who go to church twice a week and have bible study.

I go to the Rime Center three times a week, every week. And even more every time I can.

I’ve spent countless hours writing about Buddhism (as everyone reading this knows) but actually putting it into practice, especially with other people, is something different. I’m so happy to have a supportive spiritual community. Being able to go there, to add visits to the Rime Center to my regular routine really helped my put myself back together.

My community saved me. I had to put myself back together and I used the programs at the Rime Center to do it.

Now I’ve found ways to give back.

I’m leading a Zen practice group every Monday night. We’re sitting in the traditional Soto Zen style, which is completely unavailable in Kansas City. Which is weird. There are Soto Zen temples in Wichita and Omaha and Cedar Rapids, but we don’t have one.

And I’ve been given the title ‘Gegan’ which means teacher. I’m teaching classes too. I’m going to teach a class on the Diamond Sutra (the best Sutra ever) in the Spring and then more classes going forward. I’m really excited to share the teachings.

Dogen said, “The life of a Zen Master is one continuous mistake.”

I won’t go around calling myself a Zen Master. But I think I know what he meant. My life has been one continuous mistake.

But I’m getting better.