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A quarterly newsletter from the StoneWater Zen Sangha
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Winter Edition - January 2017


Sensei's Welcome

Dear Fellow Practitioners, 
This introduction to this first edition of the SWZ newsletter in 2017 is a copy of an article I wrote some time ago, however, it fits so well into the theme for this edition that I thought it fine to use again. I hope you find it useful and enjoy the personal experiences on the same theme of our other contributors.

For most of us, work, family, relationships, friends and holidays are usually of primary importance in our lives with 'spiritual practice' low down on our list of priorities. I say this not as a judgement but as a pragmatic observation, however, I am interested in why this is the case. And then even if we do wish to engage with 'Zen practice' and bring it into our everyday lives, the question arises about how do we do this. For me these two questions and their answers may be linked.

For example, a common experience is that although we may be trying to integrate practice into our lives we feel we are not succeeding. Why is that? One source of this sense of failure that I see is that often our hope or belief is that 'real' practice will make our lives trouble free. It will be the complete solution to our doubts, fears and worries. However, practice in this sense is not a universal panacea nor is it designed to be so.  If we have the expectation that it is and then discover it is not working we may either lose faith in the point of practice or we think we have failed because we do not do enough (or sit hard enough, or train with the right teacher or right tradition etc.etc.). Neither approach is conducive to long term practice.

For me another perspective to take on the dilemma is to flip the usual questions of how do I prioritise practice and how do I bring practice into my everyday life. Instead ask the one question,  How do I bring my everyday life into my practice? From this perspective I now embrace the view that the life I am leading now with all its attendant problems and joys is in fact my real and authentic life, the life I have been looking for. Work, relationship etc. are my practice. Dedicated spiritual practice now becomes not something to 'improve' life but a way of appreciating its moment to moment sacredness. Zen then becomes a tool to help in fully engaging with our lives and developing the confidence to commit fully to all that life brings. Along the way we can also cultivate goodwill towards ourselves and others and develop a more panoramic, spacious view of life. All of which contribute to remaining sane and to having faith in the preciousness of each moment.

Practice now becomes intrinsic to my daily life and, just as importantly, life becomes intrinsic to my daily practice. From this perspective then everything that comes our way has value, everything is our practice and is teaching us. All has value.

I wish you well.

Keizan Sensei
In this issue:
  1. Welcome to the first issue
  2. Guidance for contributors
  3. Zen in my daily life / my daily life in Zen
  4. News from Centres
  5. Readings Used  in Local Groups
  6. Notes from a Tenzo
  7. Retreats
  8. Jukai
  9. Liverpool Bike Rides
  10. The Next Issue
Welcome to the First Issue of the StoneWater Zen Newsletter 
This began as the Digest - a simple bimonthly email summary of pieces from  the SWZ website and Facebook pages, and from other local groups.  It's proved to be popular and it has evolved.  It's clear that the Digest has become much more than a mere summary - it’s now quarterly, clearly themed, and reports on activities, gives news on forthcoming events and includes contributions from sangha members.  This greater breadth lies behind the change of name to the StoneWater Zen Newsletter.   

The plan is to produce the Newsletter as 4 seasonal issues with published dates and copy deadlines for each issue. The themes will chosen by Sensei and advance notice of the next theme will be given in each issue to enable us to write or think about this. Sarah will remain the editor and will commission and invite contributions.  The intention is also to archive the Newsletters - including all past issues of the Digest - in the Media section of the website.
 
Guidance for contributors for web posts and Newsletter pieces
We are looking for up to 1000 words and for articles to be written in the first person.  Sensei very much wants us to talk about our own personal experiences and to own our own stuff; he really does not like or want us to preach or teach. Your photos or pictures to illustrate articles are very welcome.  The intention is to include shorter pieces, including poetry, book reviews etc. only in the Newsletter and longer articles as web posts and as excerpts in the Newletter with a link to the web post.
 
We reserve the right to edit pieces for length, style and format.  If you want guidance on any of this ask the editors - for the Newsletter Sarah, for the website Andy.
 
All content in the newsletter or on the Stonewater Zen website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. We are happy for the resources to be used but not for profit and provided Stonewater Zen is acknowledged.
The theme of this edition

Various sangha members share their thoughts and experiences of "Zen in my daily life / My daily life in Zen". We'd be keen to hear other people's perspectives. Let us know your thoughts via Facebook  or the website.

"Zen in my daily life / My daily life in Zen" by Karen Shoji Robbie

Most days I walk my dog. He’s the one that sniffs, I’m the one that sees. I look at the same things every day, trees, sky, clouds, kites, mountains, moorland and sheep. I’ve become very close to nature since I moved to Wales. I live nine hundred feet up and it’s wild and empty in a liberating way.

I love this by Basho:
“Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine tree
to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo.” 

and this by Jane Hirshfield:
“Human beings are not the centre, but coexistent with the rest of being.”

Most days I write or edit. I go back to look at an object again and again. If I can be objective something fresh can emerge. Usually it’s in front of me. My garden is a good example. I see things in the garden that once I was indifferent to.

autumn garden 

awake
to your fragrant grass

shadows of light
on mountain ash

pyracantha in red bud
chestnut burning gold

I too tilt my head
toward the morning sun

winter garden 

final leaves
on garden grass

frozen flowers
dying gorse

chestnut in sticky bud
hawthorn lichen moss

space now to see beyond

Eager to write about spring, but I’ll have to wait.

spring gone
long wait
for the cuckoo’s song

"Zen in my daily life / My daily life in Zen" by Rhys


Zen practice came into my life in December 2015 when I nervously attended a beginners session at Stonewater run by Suigen. It then took me five months to get to the point where I had to take up sitting as a fully integrated part of my routine. I had no choice – there was no routine, and I was living no kind of life.

In May of this year, after a decade of a slowly unravelling and unmanageable madness, I finally hit rock bottom. I was at a point of defeat in my attempts to control the world, or my place and feelings within it.  I was crippled by an inner turmoil, the manifestations of which I could no longer even try to keep a lid on, let alone disguise, comprehend or understand.  My actions had caused terrible damage to a beautiful person I loved dearly and upon whom I had grown completely dependent for my emotional wellbeing.  She had no choice but to disappear and I was left totally bereft and broken. For years, I had been hurting everyone around me as a way of harming myself and expressing the pain, chaos and misery that lurked permanently in the shadows of my shattered small self.  By that point things had got so bad, that I was free to change absolutely everything about how I was living my life. I did not want to harm anyone I loved ever again, and had become willing to find any solution to make sure that I worked myself out and so would not have to.

The same week I came back to sit at Stonewater, I attended three meetings of 12-step fellowships, seeing that sobriety was vital to me getting some clarity towards what was happening in my life. I found I was instantly gifted the strength to quit my long-standing addictive dependency on cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol and drugs. My gigantic, self-destructive ego had been defeated enough to finally follow the advice of a kind and wise psychotherapist, and I sought help for my out-of-control approach to women, sex and relationships as a panacea for my ills. I resolved to discover what was happening beneath the mask I felt I had been forced to create just to exist in a world that I had been relentlessly shocked and terrified by. I admitted defeat and surrendered. READ MORE 

My life in Zen, Zen in my life – “Anything to keep you going” - Woo Tetsugen Young-Yang
 
Friday. 5.50 am. Alarm. A gigantic struggle in bed just to get up. A cup of tea, cooled rapidly with lots of cold milk. A banana. Tooth brush and shave. Cold air. A sluggish uphill bike ride for 30 minutes. A shower in the lab building. Change of clothes. 7 am. Darkness in the zendo before sunrise. Dong-Gatz-Dong of the bell. Verse of Atonement. Then - one hour of silence.
 
Many Sangha members talk about the ‘amazing and strong energy’ that comes from sitting together. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really feel this mysterious ‘energy’ as such. What I do notice – confirmed once again during the Rohatsu - is that sitting together makes sitting easier. Truly, this must be the very reason why we take refuge in the Sangha, one that I am increasingly grateful for. As long as I go over the initial hurdle of getting to the zazen in time, there is the promise that other people will sit with/for me for one hour. The rest is pretty much automatic, as I will be far too ashamed to walk away from the zafu mid-zazen, and I will be too far away from my warm bed to fall back asleep. Of course, there is the added advantage that, once I sit, I actually really like it.
 
However, despite the peace, happiness and serenity that zazen gives me, daily sitting does not always happen easily. READ MORE
Art as practice in daily life - Emma Graham

At Rohatsu Sarah and I were discussing how I'm dyslexic and I don't like writing. So she suggested I write a piece for the website… erm...Thanks Sarah! She suggested the title and promised me there could be lots of pictures...
 
My art actually has quite a lot of similarity to my zaxen practice. Noticeably epic bursts of activity followed by long gaps where I do nothing at all! Also there is my inability to do it at home.... None of the pieces in this article were made at home. I took up art in about May this year, so all this is done since then. Previously I did a bit at school but that was all.
Some of my work is pretty psychological. The first picture (right) didn't start off as a self portrait but I think it might have ended up as one. I'm not sure what the lack of detail represents.
The one second (left) was something that came from Zen and zazen - love your demons!  Mara threw torments at Shakyamuni yet they turned into flowers. It's made of cut up CDs and it took days to do.  It also turned out rather Scottish looking with the colours which was not planned but psychologically it makes sense. READ MORE
 
My Practice - Stuart Gendai Hollyoak

When I bow to the zendo altar, to the Buddha that will sit on my cushion, or to the Buddhas sitting opposite and beside me, I notice, for the time being, that each bow is incomplete. Somewhere along the way self-consciousness splits the experience in two and a small measure of disappointment arises. As I understand it, and that understanding will always be indefinite, my main practice is to label thoughts and feelings which separate me from direct experience.
 
When I’m reading on the bus and a group of children and their mothers are sitting beside me singing ‘Jingle Bells’, I notice my anger. When I’m working on the tills on a Friday and watch the queues increase and the next customer plant another full basket on my counter, I notice my weariness. When it’s 5 minutes to go before the end of my shift, I notice my relief.
 
A couple of years ago, while I was practising in the Tibetan tradition I decided to recite ‘The Practice of Vajrasattva in the Context of the Four Opponent Powers’ on the floor of my brother’s bedroom. I learnt two things: I’m not a visual person, and Tibetans really like their nectar.
 
I’m a pragmatic guy. What use is chanting mantras such as ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ or reciting an invocation to purify my karma if I have a frustrated young mother snap at me at the tills and I don’t know what to do? I need a practice that can work with life on a ground level. Mantras and invocations are supplementary. 
 
I don’t need to know where my practice is going because it doesn’t need to go anywhere. It can’t go anywhere because my life can’t be anywhere else than right here and now, no matter how much I think. My practice is like gravity which grounds me in the stream of present moments though I slip away from that ground by varying degrees from time to time.

 
Zen in Daily Life - Jez Yushin Lovekin
I have been reading Genpo Roshi’s latest literary offering “Spitting out the Bones.” Whilst this is not a plug or a review, it is a fascinating and irritating experience. And for this Brit, proof that the cultural divide still remains as strong as ever. There was always something epic about Roshi and although personally, I loved and feared him, I never felt we really connected and we spoke as foreigners. And this is an epic journey from Billy Graham to Billy No-Mates on a Hollywood scale and nobody but Genpo could have done it. 

He always spoke about moving Zen from East to West and in this volume he certainly has achieved that. A considerable portion of the book is given over to his long, hard fall from grace and his subsequent work over the last five years in coming to understand his problems. No-one can deny he has been through a tough time and there is a lesson in there for all of us. Charisma and good looks can be toxic, luckily I never had that problem. READ MORE

 
Confessions of an obsessive sitter - Sarah Kokai Thwaites

My name is Sarah and I’m an obsessive sitter. It feels that this piece almost needs to start with that sort of confession. I sit a lot. A tally on a web community that I’m part of keeps track and allows me to see that I’ve sat for almost 1700 hours since the day when I suddenly found myself sitting seriously. I’ve sat at least twice a day since that day 3 years ago.

I can’t explain this other than sitting happens and needs to happen. It doesn’t take will power so it really isn’t about me being disciplined and it’s nothing I take credit for.  It’s not a compulsion or done out of a fear that if I don’t sit something bad will happen - there really is no thinking involved in putting myself on the cushion, I just do it. I can’t even explain it as a habit because habits arise over time and this just appeared. It’s actually stronger than a habit too – I have a lifetime habit of brushing my teeth everyday but, given my tendency to rush around at full tilt and to be forgetful, there have been a couple of times when I have gone out having forgotten to brush my teeth. I even have a toothbrush and toothpaste at work ready for such eventualities but I have never once forgotten to sit. One night, getting in very late, I did climb sleepily straight into bed ready for sleep only to jump up seconds later and plonk myself on my cushion wide awake. Not sitting it seems wasn’t an option. Even in periods when I’ve known that I’d be sitting with very difficult stuff, dealing with floods of tears or waves of panic, I’ve still sat. In those periods I sit longer because I need it more.  READ MORE
Zen Mind Beginners mind cover
Zen in Daily Life: Everything Changes - Tim Zenki Steel

Take a Japanese calligraphy brush.
Dip it in black ink.
Start in one of the corners.
Draw with the brush a perfect square, but don't join up one of the four sides!

Everything changes so I try to enjoy and to appreciate the now just as it is. I've learned to appreciate the differences as things change.
 
Below two sangha members consider other aspects of daily life and zen  - progress in practice and suffering.
‘The View’ - Colin Shinjo Salmon

I have heard and read a lot recently about the analogy of practice as climbing a mountain.  At a discussion on a Thursday night someone mentioned that, whilst the summit may seem elusive, they can appreciate how far they have come by looking back at the view behind.  This idea of taking stock of how far my practice has come by looking back to where I started from caused me to reflect on another kind of experience.

I can relate to that sense of enjoying the view.  If I’m asked what has changed for the better over the course of my life I can find examples.  There are situations, experiences and thoughts which used to disturb me but which now pass without comment.  Sometimes though, when I turn around to enjoy what I assume will be a good view, it is not there.  When I look down the slope to appreciate how far I have come, I discover that I am actually standing in the car park where I first started.  This can be deeply frustrating.  It can lead to giving up and wandering off elsewhere, albeit with the nagging thought of something that has yet to be resolved.  It can feel unfair.  How, after all the time, effort and sacrifice, is it possible that I am standing in this dull, foggy patch of concrete with nothing but a little kiosk selling bovril and a dirty public toilet?  What about the view that I deserve after putting in all those miles?  Despondency, a sense of failure and anger are all things that can kick in.  And then, at some point, I look around and I’m on the track again.  I chalk it up to a bad day and carry on.

As the experience becomes more frequent, though, it warrants further investigation.  READ MORE

‘Suffering’ by Jez Yushin Lovekin

I am a big fan of suffering. Not just because it is useful for developing insights but also without suffering it is more difficult to develop any compassion. How can we feel and experience other people’s suffering unless we have some actual experience ourselves?

I was talking with a woman who was born into an upper middle class community of high achievers. She, along with all her family, friends, neighbours etc, had been born with high intelligence and a drive to succeed that meant that a place at Oxford/ Cambridge and a job as a lawyer, consultant, surgeon, banker etc. was the norm and expected at the very least as an entering qualification for their elite society.

Unfortunately she had contracted a crippling disease when very young and had spent many years battling the results rather than following the usual path to privilege. This meant that although she shared their keen intelligence she was viewed as a failure by her community and treated as a failure, given menial work such as cooking and cleaning and generally looked down upon. Quite often she would receive nothing but criticism and complaints and if you think this sounds like a character from a children’s story you are absolutely right. READ MORE

News from Centres 

Liverpool

Beginners Sessions
Beginners sessions are going well - we like the new format of monthly afternoon sessions.  It keeps the morning zazenkais freer and less pressured and enables us to offer interviews for regulars. The afternoons also keep us on our toes; often a dozen or more will come but often we may have up to 20 people booked and the numbers and names of those who do come can bear no relation to those who booked.  We are still working now on how best to brief those who come back on the form and procedures of sitting with the group, including bows and chants; this is still work in progress.  We are also considering producing a beginners booklet.

A Time to Talk
The group continues to meet once a month. If you think you might be interested in an opportunity to talk with other Sangha members, in confidence and in mutual support, about any issues you may be confronting, you’d be very welcome to come.  In 2017, we’ll be meeting on the third Sunday of the month.

The link here gives more of an explanation and background. Dates and practical details are below.

‘A Time to Talk’ is open to all Stonewater Sangha members and will take place once per month on a Sunday afternoon. Regular attendance is ideal, as it allows trust to build in the group, but you are also welcome to come to the group just when you can. However, please contact Miranda in advance to confirm your attendance at each individual session so that we can monitor group numbers and let you know of any changes to the time/date or venue.

The structure is as follows:

  • Arrive at 2:50 pm for a 3:00 pm start
  • Offer incense and sit a short period of zazen (20 minutes)
  • Group Session (90 minutes)
  • Optional social time to share tea and biscuits and chat more informally (20-30 minutes)

The next group dates will be 15 January, 19 February and 19 March 2017. If you’d like to come, please email Miranda at: mforward61@gmail.com

Sitting at Miranda's
Miranda, a long time sangha member and ordained monk, cannot for the time being, manage the stair climb into the Liverpool zendo. As a support for mutual practice Miranda, with Sensei's support, invites sangha members to sit zazen at her home the first Sunday in each month from 2 pm - 4 pm. The next dates are 5th February, 5th March and 2nd April. If you’d like to be there, please email Miranda at: mforward61@gmail.com.


Derbyshire
The Derbyshire group is meeting formally on the first Thursday of every month in Assembly Halls, Hill Top, Bolsover, Derbyshire and then sit in the home of Mark Shawcroft (the group convenor) inbetween until the group builds in size. 
Zen Mind Beginners mind cover
Readings used in local groups

Zazenkai at StoneWater Zen Liverpool has included excerpts from the following:

Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist - Hee-Jin Kim
 
The Living Mountain - Nan Shepherd

'Two High Backed Chairs' from Stone Leeks - Ken Jones

Nothing Special - Charlotte Joko Beck
Notes from a Tenzo - Jenny Shoshin Best
In response to a recent request for recipes from retreats these are two from the recent Retreat to the City.  Enjoy.
 
Irish Soup 1 (V, Vg, GF)


For 4 
 
Ingredients
2 leeks chopped about 1 cm thick
250 g carrots diced
400 g potatoes diced
1 parsnip diced
1tbsp olive oil
2 vegan stock cubes
1 litre of water
bunch of parsley chopped up finely
 
Method
  1. Prepare all the vegetables and soften in the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the vegetables, water and stock cubes to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer until cooked, checking especially the dried peas.
  3. Blend approx half the soup to create a creamy texture but leaving chunky vegetables
  4. Stir in the chopped parsley, check the seasoning and serve. 
  5. If you do not need this soup to be dairy free, stir in a knob of butter before serving.
   
Irish Soup 2 (V, Vg)
 
This is a more substantial, thicker version using soup mix but it is not gluten free due to the barley in the mix. Red lentils could be substituted.
For 4
 
Ingredients
125 g soup mix (a blend of pearl barley, dried red lentils and dried peas)
1 leek chopped about 1 cm thick
200 g carrots diced
300 g potatoes diced
1 parsnip diced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 vegan stock cubes
1.5 litres of water

bunch of parsley chopped up finely
 
Method
  1. Soak soup mix for 12 hours or overnight.
  2. Empty the soup mix into a saucepan, cover with water and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, then simmer for 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. Prepare the vegetables and soften in the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the vegetables, soup mixture, water and stock cubes to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer until cooked, checking especially the dried peas.
  5. Stir in the chopped parsley, check the seasoning and serve. 
  6. If you do not need this soup to be dairy free, stir in a knob of butter before serving.
 Buckwheat and spiced root salad (V, GF)  
 
for 6-8
Ingredients
1 large sweet potato or 1 butternut squash (or a mixture of both) peeled and cubed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cumin seeds
250 g buckwheat
140 g dried cranberries
200 g pomegranate seeds
1 tin chick peas
small pack parsley finely chopped
1 large red onion
200 g feta cheese - optional
 
Dressing
zest and juice of 1 large unwaxed orange
4 tbsp clear honey
4 tbsp wine vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
 
Method
  1. Heat the oven to 220℃, 200℃ fan, gas mark 7
  2. Roast the squash / sweet potato in the olive oil and cumin seeds for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the chick peas and roast for a further 15 minutes, then cool.
  4. Cook the buckwheat according to instructions, then cool.
  5. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.
  6. Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients and pour over the salad.
  7. Crumb the feta on top and serve.

Retreats

Forthcoming retreat date - Crosby Retreat, Sunday 9th to Friday 14th April 2017

This 2017 annual retreat is Tenshin Roshi’s last planned visit to the UK to co-lead this retreat.  Demand for places will be high and early booking is strongly advised.  Places are limited and priority will be given to those attending the whole sesshin.

Suitable for beginners and experienced practitioners, this is a great opportunity to begin or renew training in an authentic and traditional Zen lineage.  This will be a traditional Zen training with sitting and walking meditation, private interviews and Dharma talks.

The venue is the CHET centre in the grounds of a Crosby Hall in the countryside near Liverpool. The owner has kindly given permission to walk in the grounds.  Meals will be vegetarian. Arrival & registration from 2pm Sunday 9th April.

Cost: £300 Concessions £215 (limited places).

To book: A non refundable deposit of £100 is required in advance to secure your place.

Please send a cheque payable to Mountain Zen. Details on how to get there and what to bring can be emailed on request or send a stamped addressed envelope to:  Jez Lovekin, Llwyndrain, Pontrhydygroes, Ystrad Meurig, Ceredigion SY25 6DP.

01974 282686 or email jezlovekin@btinternet.com

Recent retreats - October 2016

This retreat was attended by about 40 folks and saw some changes. Several people are learning new positions and John ran daily masterclasses so that folk could learn these jobs gradually and discover what suited. The panel seems to work well and the spontaneous feedback instead of closing remarks worked a treat. Part of the final evening was spent chanting and making an offering which was very powerful and moving.  A great way to finish off!! - Jez Yushin Lovekin

Here we have Woo's account of his attempt to sit through the night whilst on the Crosby retreat, preparation for his full night sitting on the later Rohatsu retreat.

Night Sitting by Woo Tetsugen Young-Yang

The Fourth Night

‘This is it! Tonight is the night!

On the fourth and penultimate night of the autumn sesshin, I was going to undertake an all-night sitting as per the practice of meditation retreats in many Buddhist monastic cultures. I had been slowly building up the number of hours that I sat in zazen so that I would be up to the task for this night. I drank a mug full of strong coffee, ate a couple of chocolate biscuits for fuel, and resolutely walked towards the zendo.

The zendo at night has a magical atmosphere. As the lights go out, there is only minimum light that shines through from the corridor, and everything is bathed in darkness – a mixture of black and grey without any discrimination. There is no coming and going of people going to their interviews, no birdsong, no sound of airplanes, and above all, no one around you, with rows of empty zafus. (Except Paul, my night sitting friend, who eventually retired at midnight that night.) You are completely and utterly alone, far removed from your familiar home environment that might lure you away from your determination. In this near-perfect manifestation of emptiness*, the only thing to do is to sit in zazen.

Jez, our jikido, hit the han to announce bed time at 10 pm, and so my sitting began. READ MORE

Rohatsu retreat 

7th - 10th December saw the Rohatsu retreat along with its customary through the night sitting and was followed by a jukai ceremony for Paul and Clive.

Night sitting  - Sarah Kokai Thwaites

The Rohatsu Retreat to the City included an optional through the night sitting to mark Rohatsu itself.  I didn’t sit the whole night (the champion sitters were Woo who sat from 10 pm – 8 am and Kev who sat from 10 pm – 6 am). As the timekeeper for the 2 am - 4 am slot and having slept little up to that point on the retreat I thought it would be wise for me to try to get some sleep before 2 am. The timekeeper dozing off and people missing their much needed kinhin leg stretching opportunity would not have been appreciated.

So it was at 2 am, already 4 hours into the night’s sitting that I joined the sitters. I lit incense in memory of Ken Jones and sat down. As I did, the strains of an extended electro remix of Michael Jackson’s Beat It flooded the zendo and pulsating neon lights of various colours rained in through the windows. There was no way of ignoring the sounds and sights, no chance of focussing on the breath or my koan to the exclusion of what was happening around me. Without an alternative I relaxed and let them be and they became part of the sit. I found myself suddenly aware that this was a unique moment, that I’d never again be likely to be in that combination of circumstances, that sitting at any other time and place really wouldn’t be quite the same.
With that came a huge wave of respect and even pride for my fellow sitters, sitting resolutely despite their retreat aches and pains, and appreciation for life including the neon lights and the graduation partygoers opposite who presumably were dancing the night away as we sat. I then found myself doing a strange sort of internal dance with the breath, the koan and the energy generated by a lot of sitting all moving in time to the music. The grin I frequently sit with turned into a nearly silent guffaw.

At some point the music stopped and the usual not-quite silence reigned until another incense lighting was met by a very slurred warbling of “Jerusalem” from outside. Various lines from the lyrics then joined in my sit and I found myself welcoming them too. When the same reveller walked back down the street later wailing God Save the Queen, that was a bit less welcome however. The reveller, perhaps exhausted by their revelling, departed soon enough, leaving us in relative peace for the remainder of a uniquely Liverpool Rohatsu night sitting.

Jukai - 10th December 

Clive Lindley-Jones and Paul Riley both received jukai on 10th December. Below they offer some words on what receiving the precepts means to them.


Paul Ryushin Riley
Anger has been coming up for me recently. Receiving the precepts does not mean that I will not break them. It gives me a way of working with suffering as I experience it. This small poem is a response to the experience:

Anger flares without warning.

It is intoxicating.

Breathe it in. Breathe it out.

­­Reflections on Rohatsu and Jukai - Clive Tenryu Lindley-Jones
 
Early on in George Eliot’s seminal novel, Middlemarch, Dorothea says to her would-be husband, the dried-up scholar Mr. Casaubon: 
“I have longed for some great purpose in my life that would give it shape and meaning.”
 
Looking at the sad struggles of our world and reflecting on this desire to have meaning in our lives, to devote ourselves to some great cause, it could seem that the Buddhist precepts are, at one and the same time, both too small to fit this great youthful vision and too great. In fact, of course, being human such vows are impossible for us to ever fully achieve.
 
The other day I watched that movie classic Groundhog Day. This, along with A Christmas Carol,  It’s a Wonderful Life, and even the flawed Richard Curtis film, About Time, all tell much the same story of redemption, as the characters are able to see themselves in new light and get a chance to re-live their lives in richer and better ways, once they can see the frailty and error of their old self.
 
Allowing for our youthful and understandable desire like Dorothea to devote our life to some great romantic cause, in the words of Buddhist writer Susan Moon, “the precepts are an organizing principle of our life”.
 
Perhaps the universe will give us all the great causes to hurl ourselves at, but hopefully we will be lucky enough to avoid such major, heroic external challenges. Whatever happens to our life, whoever and wherever we find ourselves, we cannot shake off our own, in part illusory, but persistent, self that seems to follow us like a shadow.
 
For my own part, I have too often chastised myself for not changing the world, but overlooked the ever-present challenge of changing myself. READ MORE

 

StoneWater Zen Liverpool Bike Rides 

A glorious autumn day for November's sangha bike ride. Blue skies, vivid autumn colours and a route which took us meandering around picturesque villages that felt much more distant from Liverpool than they actually are.
December's sangha bike ride saw 5 riders do a 25 mile circuit from the Pier Head along the canal to Aintree then back via the Loop Line. A fine ride on a cold clear day. They are pictured here at the compulsory 'coffee n cake' stop at Jenny and Andy's. Special mentions for Woo and Rhys for this their inaugural ride with the group.
The next bike ride will be on Saturday 4th February. The route is likely to be around 25 miles in the Parbold area. If interested ask Sarah for more details (thwaites.sarah@btinternet.com) or to be added to the Sangha bike ride email list. 


Our question for you for the next issue is: How does  your use or otherwise of social media (Facebook etc) and digital media (web sites, blogs, internet generally) impact on your Zen practice, good and bad?

Contributions on this or other subjects are much appreciated. Please pass them to Sarah at thwaites.sarah@btinternet.com and Andy at andyscott21@gmail.com by 17th March or earlier if possible
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