Copy
A digest of news, reviews and musings from the StoneWater Zen Sangha
View this email in your browser

Issue 5 - July 2016


Sensei's Welcome

Dear Fellow Practitioners, 

Quite apart from our own fears, hopes, needs, and wishes, the outside world seems at this time to especially need kindness and understanding. Within our own culture, age-old prejudices and fixed ideas of separation and difference have come to the fore while our commonly shared human heritage has been forgotten. What can we do as sincere practitioners?
 
From a traditional Buddhist perspective a starting point is to realise that as long as me, mine, and 'I' is the driver of our thoughts and emotions, and thus actions, then both our inner and outer worlds will be experienced as one of struggle, limitation and separation.
 
How do we practically express this understanding and awareness in our daily lives with family, friends and sangha? A Zen approach is to practice clear awareness. To see the world just as it is, with a lively attention to your own direct experience. An experience, as best we can, that is fresh and uncoloured by the names, labels and grooved views that we can automatically bring to bear without close attention.
 
Being present to our lives and becoming more intimate with our unborn, undying, free and spontaneous nature is a personal response to finding a way forward in tough times. This, of course, is not to ignore other more worldly responses, culturally and socially.
 
On a lighter note, here is an extract from Living By Vow by S. Okumura:
 
“Dogen says that the point is play freely. Zen may look very austere but the heart is about finding our own freedom and playfulness............. Allow your mind field to play freely, in zazen as well as in engagement with your life.”
 
I hope you have a great summer and I look forward to seeing you in the Lakes for the month long Shuso retreat with Shinro, or at the Shuso Ceremony or at Crosby in October. Details on the web site www.stonewaterzen.org.
 
Love and good wishes,
 
Keizan Sensei
In this issue:
  1. Essence of this Edition
  2. Measuring the Benefits of Practice 
  3. News from Centres
  4. Readings Used in Local Groups
  5. Suggested by You
  6. Practice in Daily Life
  7. Trying to Find Order in Chaos.
  8. Zen and Gestalt Therapy
  9. StoneWater Flows
  10. Autumn Sesshin
  11. 'Retreatrants'
  12. Liverpool Bike Rides
  13. Postscript

Essence of this Edition

The essence of this issue is about the difference that practice makes. We posed two questions and are pleased to include the thoughts of sangha members on these. We'd be keen to hear other people's experiences. Let us know your thoughts via Facebook or the website.
- What motivated you to follow a spiritual life?
- How do you measure whether this practice is beneficial for you?  

Celia Bryan and Alan Kaishin Crawford share their thoughts on both questions

 
Celia Bryan- What motivated me to follow a spiritual life?
My mother….and Joanna Lumley. My mother has been my greatest inspiration and motivation…..because I don’t want to be like her. And in one of my most angry, cruel moments I told her so. She is a deeply troubled person and the suffering she has caused my father and her offspring is immeasurable. Realising that I have ‘inherited’ many aspects of her personality, I determined that I am not going to be the same. If, god-willing, I live to a ripe old age, I do not want the story of my life to be the same as hers. I want to overcome the emotional and behavioural patterns that can cause so much damage. Various ‘therapies’ did not do the trick, so I found myself looking for other ‘solutions’.READ MORE

How do I measure whether this practice is beneficial for me? 

I don’t. It’s an act of faith. Am I changing? Yes. For the better? Yes. Would this be happening without this practice? I don’t know. But it’s a bit like having a torch in a dark tunnel. Or a map on a long journey.  READ MORE

Alan Kaishin Crawford 
I was motivated to follow a spiritual practice, like many others, through the gate of suffering – through a sense of lack. My own suffering was nothing compared to what some others face, but it was enough to sow within me the seeds of a niggling doubt; a sense that there was more to life than this.

I was a precocious and serious child who asked a lot of questions. I was also an over-thinker, an over-analyser, as well as a loner and an introvert. I remember always feeling different, like I didn’t fit in, or belong; like I was on the outside looking in. I had this sense of lack, of the picture being incomplete somehow. As I became a teenager, the game of life began to seem increasingly surreal and inherently dissatisfying. I watched others seem to just get on with life, or play the game effortlessly. These people must be too stupid to see the absurdity of it all I felt, secretly envying their apparent freedom.

The Catholic faith I was brought up in did not provide me with satisfactory answers to my questions. I did not really, even as a young child, believe the fantastic stories about God creating the Universe in seven days, or Jesus walking on water and rising from the dead. However, I was drawn to something… the ritual and ceremony, the incense and bells, that somehow spoke of something inexplicably sacred. Something beyond the game of life I found so absurd. READ MORE
 

Measuring the Benefits of Practice

Below, sangha members share their reflection on this question.

Woo-Young Tetsugen Yang

Measurements are important. Some scientists even suggest that, at least in science, if something is not measured it is as good as non-existent. Likewise, in any endeavour, measuring the progress enables one to reassess the efficacy and the direction of one’s efforts in trying to achieve the goal. However, in a tradition riddled with paradoxes, herein lies yet another one: although Buddhism and Zen emphasise the importance of non-attachment and not clinging, measuring the benefit of the Zen practice inevitably creates another form of attachment and clinging i.e. “I want to get benefits from Zen.”

Just like many other people, it was my garden-variety suffering that motivated me to follow the path of Zen. My primary goal therefore has been achieving some degree of peace and calm. The secondary goal has been to accomplish a workable level of competence in zazen, so that it can be utilized to achieve the primary goal. Naturally, achievement of these goals is how benefits are measured in my practice. Have I succeeded? On some level, yes – I can now sit for up to an hour without too much pain. On good days, I can even maintain focus on my breathing without stray thoughts or just sit in peace for ‘reasonable’ stretches of time during zazen. However, I am not sure if this means that I have succeeded in achieving my primary goal, too.

After some time of relative peace and calm, I have recently been under quite a lot of stress. As the stress level mounted, I found that it became more and more difficult to just sit. Even when I did manage to eventually put my arse on the cushion, the quality of zazen became chaotic and not at all peaceful. Concentration became more and more difficult. Precisely in times like this, my sense of achievement regarding the primary and secondary goals raises its head and whispers, “Your zazen is not working any more! You have lost it! You are not doing it properly!” In ‘measurement’ terms, the score takes a nosedive.
 READ MORE
 
Alan Bell                            
More recently, I know neuroscientists are able to measure the positive impact that meditation has on different parts of the brain which correlate to increases in well-being etc. However, as I am not a neuroscientist I just wanted to briefly share what I feel have been the positive benefits of a daily meditation practice in my own life.

Greater emotional stability – I find that I am able to stay more centred if I am experiencing a difficult emotion such as anger or fear. Instead of reacting in a habitual way which may lead to an undesirable outcome – I find I am able to pause and ‘respond’ in a more appropriate way to a given situation.

Greater clarity – overall I feel a greater sense of clarity through feeling more spacious on a regular basis, than I did before I had a regular meditation practice. That is not to say that I don’t experience times of feeling disconnected and small. However, I am at least able to recognise this and through greater clarity and awareness I am able to see things as ‘they actually are’ without my ego unconsciously adding a layer of conditioned fog!
Sarah Kokai Thwaites
It seems that any question can have many ways of looking at it and many possible answers. Here’s one that presents itself to me at the moment – how different my life feels. A recent short but interesting return how life used to feel before practice that has been the most powerful indication of the benefits of practice and of living life from a more open perspective.

For many years I probably looked like I functioned in day-to-day life. Most of this though was only possible by burying, at least during work hours, how anxious and insecure I felt and adopting a persona of a ‘work me’ who was far more confident and capable than I really felt. Outside of work, where that persona didn’t apply, I built walls to protect myself and my family from what seemed like a hostile and scary world. I didn’t socialise much and when I did my head was so full of storylines that I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself.

It has been some years now since I have lived like that and I have really enjoyed discovering life with fewer of those stories and self-imposed barriers in place.  Recently  though I found myself briefly with my head full of all the old insecurities and saw what an unpleasant way to live it was. READ MORE
Mark Kogen Shawcross

How do you measure whether this practice is beneficial for you?
For myself how I measure this practice has a few elements. Firstly, how much I can let go of what I think others think about me. Secondly, to be more fluid with who I am. This to me means I don't have to be like I was yesterday or last year. Thirdly, to be present when things don't go my way (trying not to blame others or the cosmos.) Very difficult to do but stops me missing half my life. Lastly, to be open to other people and be kind. And to be able to smile at the fact that all my endeavours to practice harder get forgotten by lunch time and to try again.

Is this practice beneficial?
I think so. As this practice has enabled me to accept myself wholeheartedly, it has given me the space to forget myself and I have met some great people who also have no idea why they exist or what's going on but have been determined to take a closer look. It has got to be beneficial even if it just stops me watching TV for an hour. On a more practical level seeing myself more clearly and then seeing how my passions and aversions create all kind of difficulties allows me to see how that's the same for everyone. This has allowed me to be more forgiving. When all said and done, I feel this practice has allowed me to meet the world as it is and be less of a baby about it. 

News From Centres

Liverpool


The last sitting before the August closure is on Saturday, 30th July when there will be the usual Zazenkai followed by an introduction for beginners, 1.30 to 3.30pm.

Rehearsals for the Shuso Hossen ceremony will then take place on Friday 26th August and during the morning of Saturday 27th. The ceremony itself will take place during the Saturday afternoon.

The normal schedule at the Centre will resume on the morning of Wednesday, 31st August.

Bromley


StoneWater Zen Bromley is also closed for August and restarts on Saturday 3rd September.
Alasdair conducting the service

   Northampton

    StoneWater Zen Northampton held their first     
    Zazenkai recently.  the Saturday after the Brexit
    vote. They were too busy to take a picture so    
    here is a drawing of the venue.
As Alasdair Taisen Gordon-Finlayson.describes "It was held in a village hall just outside of Northampton, and seemed to be well received. Lots of sitting, noble silence, a talk (on the speech precepts, inspired by the awfulness of the Brexit campaigning...), interviews, samu, service, communal lunch. For quite a few people it was their first chance to spend a day on practice and it's always great to see people getting properly stuck in. Didn't hurt that we rounded out the day with a drink in the village pub and finally got to chat to one another!"

There is no summer closure scheduled for Northampton.
Zen Mind Beginners mind cover
Readings used in local groups

Zazenkai at StoneWater Zen Liverpool has included readings from the following:
  • Charlotte Joko Beck "Everyday Zen"
  • Ken Jones "Beyond Mindfulness: Living Life Through Everyday Zen"
  • Shokaku Okamura "Realising Genjokoan"

StoneWater Zen Derbyshire  have been following their sitting with reading Dogen's Genjokoan, reading several different commentaries on this.
 
Zen Mind Beginners mind cover

Suggested by you...


Sheila Hoare: "I recommend "Zen and the Psychology of Transformation - The Supreme Doctrine" by Hubert Benoit.  A very practical book about Zen - what we can and can't do to realise Satori.  I've been reading it every day for about 6 years now and there's always more to understand.  Joko Beck called it the best book on Zen ever written.  The best one I've read so far."
Zen Mind Beginners mind cover
Keith Shingo Parr: "I recommend 'The Faith to Doubt' by Stephen Batchelor which I have found useful. The simple act of raising doubt and questioning can be a very valuable meditative tool. Stephen Batchelor says, "No amount of calculating thought can solve the paradoxical cases of the Zen tradition. These public cases call for an alternative approach. They astonish and perplex: they point to a mystery, not a problem."

The way he writes about doubt as a 'keyhole to the mysterious' I find interesting, something that can be used at any point in our lives; simply by asking the question 'What is this?' we can bring some focus to our everyday awareness and challenge ourselves to awaken to our life just as it is.
 


Here Ed Howard relates how even a muddy festival field can be practice....
Zen in the Mud

 


Resistance

I'm a 43 year old man who has had desk jobs in London for the last 12 years. Nice clean, shiny jobs, with glass and steel and marble floors. 
I am not the outdoors type.  I haven't been camping since the early 90's, because I could think of little worse. I don't like big crowds, as I’ve got older, they make me genuinely anxious. I don't like getting dirty, falling over, the sensation or smell of wet wipes. I like having clean hands. Clean hands and warm showers. And bed. I love a bed.  
 
This year somehow, in a moment of weakness, I'd allowed myself this year to get talked into tickets for Glastonbury festival. I've always been pretty obsessed with pop music. There were loads of our friends going. We'd do it in style said my wife, a festival veteran; you can do that comfortable camping. Glamping. With a real bed and showers and stuff. It'd be great. They sold out within seconds. To other people. Oh god. READ MORE
 

'Only fools try to find order in chaos' 

The recent referendum and the uncertainty that has followed seems to have had many of us scratching our heads and wondering how we reconcile our reactions with our practice. Here Maurice Shokatsu George offers his thoughts, with a warning that it contains "some non-Buddhist content".

For some time I’ve been arguing that the U.K.’s political system is so totally corrupt and unrepresentative that the only option is to turn the system upside-down. At the moment all the power is concentrated at the ‘top’ in Westminster and its discredited party structure. Instead, we should focus power on the grass roots, meaning ordinary people with ordinary concerns. This is what ‘Engaged Buddhism’ is all about.
I’m now beginning to realise that my own focus may have been unduly distorted by my cultural inclinations rather than the political reality as reflected in the results of the referendum. This is our mathematical way of determining democratic decisions. I should accept the outcome even if it shakes my political ‘certainties’ to the core. The political system has been well and truly turned upside-down so adapt to the new circumstances. Isn’t this what I wanted? READ MORE

What do Zen and Gestalt Therapy have in common? (Part 1)

The paradoxical theory of change by Jutta Keijo Pieper

It has been on my mind for a while to write something about what Zen and Gestalt Therapy have in common. I often tell people that they have but what exactly is it I mean by that?

In the mid nineties I wasn’t well. I was suffering from panic attacks and often felt overwhelmingly anxious. I was also anxious around taking medication so that was not a route I could follow. Looking for a remedy, or at least something that could give me a bit of relief, I made contact with Zen as well as Gestalt Therapy. By that time I wasn’t aware that Gestalt Therapy had been influenced quite a bit by Eastern philosophies especially Zen.

I am not the first person undertaking this task and there are at least two books I have heard about that deal with just this topic. I haven’t read them. I’m interested in them but I don’t want to be too much influenced by what others have to say so I start off from the place of ‘not knowing’ which catapults me right into the first commonality of Zen and Gestalt. The truth is that even though we try to make our lives as predictable and safe as possible (though some people might prefer the opposite attitude) we have not the slightest clue what will happen the very next moment. READ MORE

 

The Art of Dying

Here are a compilation of poems written and performed on the final day of the 'Art of Dying' retreat which Jez Yushin Lovekin led in May. 

Life and Death

“Like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.”

An image floats before me; a two headed Janus

A coin spinning, like a life lived,

A precarious balance of cause and effect.

Returning as it must, to the Great Reality, to eventually stop.

Coming to rest in the eternal flow of all things.


Death

Ever present, I know you well,

Do you know me?

Of course you’ve taken from my life so far

And given in equal amounts

With faceless visitations

With no vexation nor malice

Without you what would be prized or of value?

Instead a meaningless sequence of perpetual happenings….

 

Death Metaphor

I am a library book

Nearing the end of my chapter

Soon I will be returned to the library

Put back on the shelf

Waiting to be borrowed again and re-read.

 

No Time

On the clock or with the breath

“The spiritual being with the physical presence”

Has gone.

 

No 2

I know where I’m going

Who’s coming with me is up to them

Out of love, duty or desire

To Buckland Beacon in a jar

A John Leach one I hope

To be scattered blown or washed away

Back to the elements with Dad, Gran and Granddad

But not yet Mum.

 

In the zendo

Evening zazen

Wrapped in birdsong

all is still

We all leave

 

On my last walk

Passing white flowers

And sheep bones

I meet the empty swing

 

When I cycle

Off that cliff

Upon my banjo

Play a riff.

Retreats

Autumn Zen Sesshin with Keizan Scott Sensei

Bookings are now open for the autumn retreat to be held at Crosby 23rd - 29th October 2016  Full details of the retreat are available on the website. The Crosby retreats are always special and represent both a chance to intensify and reinvigorate our practice as well as celebrate our sangha. If you are planning on attending please book early by contacting Jez on jezlovekin@btinternet.com or 01974 282686 email: jezlovekin@btinternet.com.

With this year's Training period in the Lakes soon to commence, Stuart Hollywood offers his thoughts on his time on retreat there last year, his first retreat. 

‘Retreatants’ by Stuart Gendai Hollyoak

In August 2015 I spent 5 days in Keizan Sensei’s home in the Lake District for the annual lakes retreat. I went simply because I wished to go. I brought no expectations of satori or kensho as I thought it would take years before I’d even catch a sliver of either, if at all. But, that first sesshin was significant in its insignificance. READ MORE

StoneWater Zen Liverpool Bike Rides 



Perfect cycling weather on Saturday 1st May for a ferry ride and cycle along the Wirral coast and down the Wirral Way to Hooton including a stop off for ice cream at Parkgate. 

 
Saturday 4th June saw another beautiful day for the bike ride, this time 5 cyclists and a 35.5 mile route from Chester, out along the River Dee, over Burton marshes to Neston then along the Wirral Way to West Kirby and then finally right along the coastal path for a ferry back to Liverpool.
 
On Saturday 2nd July 5 sangha members were relieved when heavy rain and ominous clouds were blown away by strong winds to give a fine blue sky for most of their 26 miles cycle from Liverpool to Southport via Maghull. 
The next bike ride on Saturday 6th August will be into Lancashire countryside from Prescot station. Then we have a change to our routine and instead of a ride on our normal September date, it is being moved forward for one time only to the previous Sunday (28th August) when we'll be attempting a 50 mile ride. Anyone tempted to join us contact thwaites.sarah@btinternet.com.
The next issue

Our question for you for the next issue is: "What poet, writer, singer song writer, painter etc. best captures for you the flavour of the spiritual and / or Zen life and why?"

Contributions on this or other subjects are much appreciated. Please pass them to Sarah at thwaites.sarah@btinternet.com
 

Postscript 


How could I have known
When all's said and done
That meeting you lot
Could be so much fun.


Jez Yushin Lovekin
Copyright © 2016 StoneWater Zen Sangha, All rights reserved.
Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp