Sitting: Part 1
(Carl Jerome)

By way of introduction...

Meditation is what charges our mindfulness battery, and mindfulness is the driving force of a clear, peaceful, calm, quiet and confident mind.

Peaceful Forest Tim Schorre

What do we just do? We just sit, still, without moving, and focus on our breath. No numbers, no words, no visualizations, no wondering about the breathing. Just noticing it go in and out: in the diaphragm, chest, or at the tip of the nostrils. When a thought, a sensation, a feeling, a sound, whatever, arises as a distraction and we notice that we are thinking or feeling or hearing, we let go of that distraction and mindfully return to observing our breath.

We don’t judge or evaluate our meditation. We just sit.

Meditation is about letting go, not attaining. How do we let go? We let go by focusing our attention on something else. For example, when we notice we are listening to a bird, we let go by simply (re)focusing on our breath.

Allow the breath to be natural. Don’t try to change it or control it. Simply breathe. Simply observe.

About Xianyang Carl Jerome

A Fox on the Fence
(Sharon Meloy)

Sarah Webb

So I’m learning to meditate, to become more mindful and aware of myself and the moments of my life. Doug and I are sitting in the backyard looking out over trees and yard stuff. We are not paying attention to the pretty sky or the breezy leaves because we are fizzing into an argument and I can feel my skin heat up and my eyeballs dry out. No, fire has not been known to escape my ears, but it sometimes feels like it could. I am not, at this point, capable of invoking the words of wisdom I so desperately want to learn. We are just hitting our high notes, when, very suddenly, a fox appears like a fur ball up on the fence. We are speechless and immediately quiet with wonder. A fox? What’s he doing, where’s he going, how long will he stay? The argument from seconds ago has evaporated; I still barely have a memory of it. Aw, shoot, now that I wrote that I remember the fight and I’m all sweaty again. I need that fox, where is he? That fox really had a way of snapping us out of it. Our attention turned to watching the fox as it navigated the fence line until it came to an old oak tree. It looked up into the branches and jumped. Wow. It jumped up into a tree house platform Doug had built years earlier. It sat there for the longest time observing its aerial view. Next time I’m frustrated I’m gonna call that fox to hurry up and come back to the tree house in my mind. Maybe it will help me snap out of it.

About Sharon Meloy

Is Buddhism Lots of Work?
(Kim Mosley)

He asked if Buddhism was lots of work. Much less than suffering was the answer.
About Kim Mosley

Scent of Sandalwood
(Elizabeth Stein)

Scent of sandalwood:
Does it linger on my scarf
Or are we now one?

I stare at the floor,
Seeing faces in the wood—
Rain, master sculptor!

Bright red hydrangeas
Flank the candle like guardsmen;
Where to when they die?

Robed men meditate
Until the gong calls softly:
“Time to play some golf.”

Backlit by dawn sun,
Her hair a halo of fire …
She rises to go.

About Elizabeth Stein

Fat Cat Stares at Tree
(Sharon Meloy)

Sarah Webb

It’s early in the morning. I just walked up a breath-stealing hill. I’m approaching the top and I see a portly but pretty gray and white cat. He is doing something that seems very uncatlike to me and so I stop. I am under a tree. The cat is on the ground facing the tree. His pink nose is only inches away from the bark. He is simply staring at the tree in front of him. Is he watching a bug? Waiting for the bark to grow? In time out? He has politely acknowledged me momentarily and then gone back to his business. I do believe this cat is a Zen cat. In my meditation group at the Zen Center, we face the wall to help diminish distraction. It does help, because if someone walks into the room late for instance, I watch them and who knows what I start thinking then. So this fat cat is setting an example for me. I’m huffing and puffing at the top of the hill and contemplating a quick sit on the ground to join this cat. It’s a bit of a lesson for me when I feel lazy about my practice. Just stop what you’re doing, stop and meditate, then continue on your way. Oh and you’ll be glad to know I didn’t really sit down then. No sense looking like the fool when half the time I already feel like one!

About Sharon Meloy

Sarah Webb

Meditation for Kids or Why I Sit?
(Kim Mosley)

Thursday I’m teaching meditation to a group of kids in a summer camp. I’m told that they are middle school kids, around 12–13 years old. So I wondered what I’d say to them about meditation and why someone might want to sit and face the wall as we do in the zendo.

Forty years ago I taught art to 6th graders. They were a pretty intimidating lot, being little adults, with attitudes about art that were impenetrable. I went back after that to focusing on younger kids (though I taught college kids at the same time who were always ready for adventure).

In elementary school they would send me to the cloak room when I wasn’t behaving. That seemed to be often, and my record was twice in one day. Now I go to the cloak room (zendo) almost every day to sit and face the wall. What might have been construed as punishment has become somewhat of a necessity like eating, drinking, sleeping, or all the other sundry things we do to stay alive.

I eat because I’m hungry, though I’m realizing more and more that often I eat and I’m not hungry. I drink because I’m thirsty, though sometimes when I’m thirsty I don’t drink, and sometimes when I’m not thirsty I drink because that’s what you do in certain places (a coffee house, for example). I sleep when I’m tired, though sometimes it is because my wife says it is time to go to bed. The water is muddy, at best.

Kim Mosley

Why do I sit? Up to seven seconds before we make conscious (rational?) decisions we make unconscious decisions. Am I sitting because my unconscious is telling me to slow down and/or wake up?

We hear about cars going from 0–60 mph in a few seconds. Earlier today I was thinking about kids and how fast they are still going at “0.” Kids … no, all of us! We sit down on the couch and have the TV on, a conversation ensuing, a bag of potato chips being consumed, and multitudinous thoughts racing through our heads. That is what we call “laying back, zoning out, vegetating.” Maybe in reality we are going faster than ever. Maybe at 60 mph we are going slower than we are at 0 because we are trying to focus on the situation at hand in order to stay alive.

So what happens if we really slow down and simply focus on our breath? Is this “ground 0?” Is this an opportunity, in stillness, to start to notice that we may not really be hungry, tired, or thirsty? Is this an opportunity, in stillness, to notice that we may not be doing the best for ourselves or others?

Suzuki Roshi said that what is most important is to discover what is most important. I suspect that he knew what this was (to know who he was). It is a life journey. I suspect that it may be facilitated by a little“ quiet wakefulness."

That is why I sit.

About Kim Mosley

(Susan Longenecker)

Sitting fixes everything.
Sitting makes everything all right   especially me!
Sitting is a breeding ground for compassion and amazement.
Sitting sneaks up on you.
You turn around and find that something has gone
quietly left you when you were not paying attention.
Layers are coming off like the skins of onions
layers and layers of things you don't need
like the bags that go to Goodwill
and are forgotten.
Sitting fills you up with clear water
that has fermented with joy.
Sitting fills you up with hope.

About Susan Longenecker

Peaceful Forest Tim Schorre

A Dashing Kitty Cat
(Sharon Meloy)

A week later I am a week later into learning the wonders of meditating. I am still driving around baffled and delusional. I have not a clue how to quell these racecar thoughts of mine. At this particular moment I am coming home, going right and left through our narrow streets, and I’m in a rather negative, icky state. I’ve settled my mind on work and am having a replay of a conversation that did not go well for me. I am saying all the things I wish I had said, but of course then I would end up going to hell and who wants that. I’m on autopilot driving. Out of nowhere a white cat with orange spots zooms in front of my moving vehicle. Now this stuff happens to all of us, and it’s a big bummer. Especially for someone like me because I LOVE ANIMALS. I once stopped after hitting a frog and could barely look at the poor thing, but I laid it in the grass to die. But here’s the thing about the orange cat. It would have been flattened under my wheel if it had continued on its path to the other side of the street. I’m certain of it. What it does instead is to make a sharp left and continue its fleeing by running straight up the middle of the street, with me now tailing it. This was an uncanny sense of timing on the cat’s part. I had been braking since I saw the first blur of fur. By now, my truck had slowed enough that by trailing behind the cat I gave it the time it needed to once again, exit left and return to the side of the street. I’m sure it’s feline heart was going ninety to nothing. Mine, on the other hand, had soared from the baseline anxieties to the freaking out oh my god I almost hit a cat. Then wondrously I felt my heart rate slipping down to a calming pace, I was so happy and grateful to see the cat win. So next time I’m darting out onto the wrong path I hope to make like a tabby and exit at the right moment, the right time, the right place. Nothing wrong with going back to home plate sometimes and re-thinking things. Meow.

About Sharon Meloy

Sarah Webb

Doan [Zen Bell Ringer]
(Kim Mosley)

H=Her, M=Me

H: So you aren’t perfect. Is that a reason to burn yourself in effigy?

M: No, far from it. But it is a reason to reevaluate my career options.

H: So what do you do as doan (Japanese: 堂行) that is so difficult?

M: I time the sitting and then I ring the bells during the zen service.

H: What can be hard about that?

M: Well, there are two bells … a big one and a small one.

H: Is that for big mind and little mind?

M: You’re learning, but I doubt it, but kind of because the big bell is for the priest and the little bell is for everyone else. And in a sense you could say that the priest might represent big mind just a little more than someone who is not a priest, though I suspect that any priest worth his robe would deny that.

H: What can be hard about hitting a bell?

M: Only two things. Hitting the bell correctly … and … at the right time.

H: Is that all?

M: No. Hitting the bell the same way, time after time. And hitting it so that it makes music, and hitting it so that you aren’t hitting it, but more dancing with it. And not day dreaming.

H: That’s five things.

M: And hitting it in the right patterns.

H: How hard can that be?

M: Well, some people learn quickly. Obviously they were reincarnated from ancient bell ringers.

H: And you?

M: I was reincarnated from … I don’t know. Something that didn’t play the bells. Maybe a monkey or ape. Something that jumped around a lot.

H: Don’t put yourself down. We don’t want any hari kari.

M: Must be my genes that cause the problem. I could blame my age … but I think I’m learning new stuff as slowly as I ever did.

H: How do you know what bell to ring?

M: There is a schedule. But the chant is in Japanese … and I lose my place as quickly as you can say Jack Rabbit.

H: And when do you hit the small bell?

M: At the beginning and end of zazen, to indicate that the sangha should get ready to bow, to indicate that they should bow, to indicate that the chant is coming to the end, to indicate that it really is coming to the end.

H: And what about the big bell?

M: Oh, that indicates that the chant will soon start, that it will start now, that it started, that the priest has bowed to the mat or to the altar.

H: Is that all?

M: Pretty much!

H: Do you know how … but clutch and do it wrong?

M: All the time … well, almost all the time. But that’s perfectly okay … I guess.

About Kim Mosley

A Flying Gecko
(Sharon Meloy)

Sarah Webb

I’m on the patio and I’m watering a fern which is dangling in front of me from the trellis. I’m wondering if I can forfeit my sitting practice for today and just spend time in the garden. Sometimes I think all this sitting in front of a wall is not very productive. Also, I’ve been meditating a WHOLE MONTH and I have more questions than ever before. I want to ask about things, but I feel shy and foolish. Like, is it okay to sit and just blissfully daydream for 30 minutes, or should I try and re-focus every nanosecond my mind wanders? And why do I feel more anxiety now than when I started my practice? But back to the fern. I’m staring into all the greenery when I suddenly realize I’m staring into two little shiny round eyes. The little gecko is looking right at me from a distance of only about a foot. He is as Irish green as a color changing lizard sitting in a lush green fern would be. His head tilts to one side, then the other. He is really checking me out. I talk sweetly to him and am getting a kick out of watching his funny little head dance, when, out of the blue, he jumps. Right across the abyss between the fern and me. He has landed on my shoulder and I have yelped in surprise. Then he runs off down the flagstone and away. Hmmm. What in the world was he thinking, jumping over to me like that? Did he just need a quick route down to the ground? It seemed like a friendly gesture actually, like he wanted to reach out to me somehow. Maybe he was trying to tell me, “go ahead and ask your questions, reach out and take a leap of faith.” Okay, I know this is an anthropomorphic stretch of the imagination, but heh, I’m such a novice here that I need these anecdotes to help me along. So I’ll take the visual of flying geckos and use it next time I hesitate to raise my hand in curiosity. I’ll try the leap of faith trick.

About Sharon Meloy

Herb Cain
(with reaction by Jamie MacLaggan)

Far beyond enjoying, sitting plugs one in to the “dial tone of the universe.”—Herb Cain, circa 1968

[what's a dial tone]

[one ringy dingy]

About Jamie MacLaggan

A Horse Lesson
(Sharon Meloy)

Sarah Webb

About a year ago I volunteered to work with kids who rode therapy horses. My job was to simply lead the horse around the ring while the child sat in the saddle. Now, I’m a good dog handler. I trained all the dogs in our family, entered little shows, taught them search and rescue stuff. I don’t know beans about horses, but I figured my knack with animals would make this horse naturally do exactly what I wanted. I found out this was wrong figuring. I tried to lead a horse around a ring that refused to be led around a ring. This went on for months, and my frustration level was pretty high. Everyone kept saying, “Don’t look at the horse. Just walk with confidence and the horse will follow.” Or, “Don’t pull on the reins, just hold them and lead.” They even gave me a stable full of different ponies, but they all reacted the same way. They just didn’t like me. Now, I gotta tell ya, I was heartbroken. Horses don’t like me? But I love horses! I just couldn’t accept the realization that I was out of my league. I wanted to be the horse whisperer therapy chick. It just wasn’t meant to be. It is what it is. Just like this morning’s dharma talk. Acceptance. It is what it is. One more time. Acceptance. It is what it is. At least I’ve got good horse sense.

About Sharon Meloy

(Kim Mosley)

About Kim Mosley

Road Trip
(Glen Snyder)

I first learned how to sit zazen in the back seat of a 1959 Chevy Bellaire in the summer of 1964 while crossing America. It was sky-blue, with tail fins and chrome trim just like the one on the back cover of “Coney Island of the Mind” but without the spraypaint. It was on a journey that took us from Michigan through the Corn Belt and the Prairielands then winding through the desert Wastelands of the American West until we finally arrived at the Pacific coast.

Somewhere along the highway that cuts through oblivion, an identical Chevy Bellaire emerges from a distant billowing dust cloud. Its car horn wails: wwwwwhhhhaaaAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHhhhhoooooowwwwwwwwww
as it speeds by, careening back and forth with eastcoast-bound Jack at the wheel, and Albert up front, and Phil sitting full lotus in the back seat and everyone laughing and joking about every haiku they had made up thus far throughout this entire great journey: about the cactuses and the windmills, about the crows and the corn silos, about small Midwestern towns, skinny dogs and fruit stands, and about the myriad other things, both animate and inanimate, that have arisen and blown away behind them somewhere.

Or maybe all of that happened in some parallel universe of the vehicular realm. I don’t know. I was just five at the time and if I was looking out the car window with my eyes wide open it was just to see if there were cowboys and Indians yet. My backseat companion was my sister Cher who was only two, so she doesn’t remember any of it. All I know for sure about happenings going on in the rest of the world was that Kennedy was definitely dead. When that happened, I was on the swingsets behind the apartments and Mom came out crying that they had shot the President and then we saw LBJ get sworn in on our black-and-white in the basement. We sat right in front of the TV for that. This was different because usually I hid behind the laundry hamper with my plastic cap gun so that when stuff got out of hand on Gunsmoke I’d be able to dodge the bullets. When Kennedy died I didn’t squint my eyes at all, but when things got too scary on Gunsmoke, I would squint my eyes almost completely closed so that I could barely see through my eyelashes and that way the people on the TV could barely see me either. That was my way of being invisible. Usually Mom would look up from her ironing or whatever she was doing and say, $#8220;Why are you making that face again?” The day before the trip, Mom gave me a dime and I went to the truck on the corner with my next-door girlfriend Michelle to get a two-stick fudge-sickle and we split it and both our moms tried to explain that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for a long long time.

All of this was after a Saturday leading up to the road trip, when I had been in the front seat with Dad and we went to a gas station and then we went to do errands. As Dad would later say, it was the fault of the gas station attendant who must have not latched the hood after checking the oil. So that when we got back on the highway, a gust of wind snapped back the hood, cracking the front windshield and blocking our view of the road. Dad slammed on the breaks and the hood slammed back down. It was before seatbelts and so I flew forward and smacked my head on the metal dash. I must have fallen on the mat below the glove compartment after that. Dad went out to put down the hood and probably to cuss because back then it was a bad thing to cuss in front of kids. He came back in and said, “Are you okay?” “I’m okay,” I replied, crying a bit. We went home and got ice for the bump on my head. Then we went to a junkyard. There were lots of wrecked cars piled up and next to each other. After some walking, we found a blue Chevy Bellaire just like ours but with the door on the driver’s side all bashed in. There was some dried blood on the car seat. The junkyard man came and marked on the windshield. Then another one came and they took the windshield out of the wrecked car. They glued the windshield into our car and our car was as good as new.

Early before sunrise, Dad packed Cher and me into the Chevy like half-awake luggage. There was a small U-Haul hitched to the back that I secretly watched through barely-open eye, squinting secretly to watch as I pretended that I was invisible. We rolled out of Midland, Michigan, passing by the glowing lights and smokestacks of Dow Chemical Company and then past miles and miles of cornfields shrouded in darkness and we didn’t turn back. We were off for the Rancho Palos Verdes where my Dad and the rest of us had been transferred so that California and the rest of the world would become better places with more plastics and pesticides and napalm and so-forth. But that is another story. After about 4 hours of this journey, it was light out and Cher was carsick, crying and throwing up, and I quickly exhausted all of the games of counting license plates, cows, roadsigns and roadkill until I finally just leaned out the open window enough to watch the highway lines whip by until I felt like barfing also.

I’m not sure if we had any money back then, or if it was just one of my Dad‣s lessons in frugality, but in any case, to save money on hotels, Dad, being a chemical engineer and such, cut a sheet of plywood to fit in the back seat with two two-by-four legs on door-hinges to support it so that there was a flat surface running all the way from the crack in the back seat to the back of the front seat. Then he cut a sheet of 3-inch foam rubber to fit the whole thing and wrapped it in bed-sheets. It was a good idea in principle, he just didn’t account for the fact that the trip was a week long and the port-a-bed that he had fashioned had no place where we could put our feet down. So, Mom and Dad took turns driving and sleeping in front. In the back, Cher and I had to either lie down or sit cross-legged the whole way. And I couldn’t lie down without being on her half of the seat and she couldn’t lie down without being on my half of the seat. I kept whining that Cher was touching me with her foot until Dad, not even slowing the car, just reached back with his right hand and whacked me hard. After that there was just a lot of sitting involved. The car was hot ’ the closest thing to air conditioning was that little triangular window in the front door that would create a wind current when opened. After a couple of days Cher had a fever and would sit in Mom’s lap up front while Mom would wipe her face with a damp washcloth.

We ate sack lunches for the first couple of days, and Mom and Dad would take turns driving. They were kept in a Styrofoam cooler with ice in the front seat underneath Mom’s legs. The sack lunches consisted of butter and strawberry jam sandwiches which were somewhat soggy-red from the jam and kind of wadded up from being in the grocery bag for so long. There were also carrot sticks which tasted a bit like earth and a bit like wood. Also, there were Fig Newtons which were slightly bent and crumbly which were the only thing sweet we had, because Dad didn’t allow us to eat sugar because sugar rots your teeth out, but somehow Fig Newtons were okay in his book. And finally all of that food ran out, and I was jumping up and down happy when we pulled into a real McDonalds, arches and all. I ordered a hamburger there along with french-fries and a milkshake. Dad asked for an extra paper cup, guzzled off the top part of my shake then poured half of the remainder into the extra cup for my sister. Next he ripped my hamburger in half and gave half of the squashed bun and ketchup-and-mustard-bleeding-burger to Mom to help Cher eat. Mom and Dad got their own burgers but I didn’t say anything about my burger. I was just grateful, I think, that I got all of the pickle slice. I do remember thinking, though, that my vanilla shake would have tasted better if it didn’t have Dad’s saliva in it.

Once we reached a railroad crossing where the big wooden arms painted like candy canes came down between our car and the passing freight train. I counted the cars as high as I could count, and finally waved to the engineer who waved back from the yellow caboose. After that, there was some kind of malfunction that made the red lights stay on and the arms stay down. Soon there were many cars lined up behind ours. Cher sat in Mom’s lap as the car got hotter and hotter. I sat in the back seat and we waited for the crossing arms to move for multiple five-year-old-kalpas of time. I’ve learned subsequently that sometimes families in similar situations do strange things like sing Broadway Musicals, play word games, share riddles and such. Not us. When the car was moving, Mom might say something like, “sit still and be very quiet, your Dad is busy driving.” But, in this case, we weren’t moving at all. We just sat there with our mouths closed, breathing hot summer asphalt-air through our nostrils. Suddenly the gate started going ding-ding-ding. It raised up, clearing our way. We continued on in tired silence.

The great promise that Mom made to me was that after a few days we would be in the desert and would be able to see cactuses with arms on them, and tumbleweeds, and real cowboys and Indians. At one point I thought that if I was really lucky, the Indians would block the road with their horses, and after a brief shootout, they would snatch me from out of the car window, and carry me off on horseback to their camp where they would raise me on beef jerky and fishheads and other food left over from feeding their pet coyotes. Unfortunately, things didn’t go that well. There were some little cactuses and blue sky and lots of dust and it was mostly just really boring.

Label of image
Inevitably our trusty Chevy Bellaire started to overheat from towing the U-Haul across the desert. So my Dad pulled off at a gas station. I got out of the car with him, standing by as he opened the hood of the car and found a red oily rag for removing the cap from the radiator. Somehow I too was equipped with a rag in my hand to help out. As he turned the cap, a blast of steam and blackened water sprayed out. I was hit with the scalding steam in my eyes and on my face. Things went blurry, and I remember Dad, being trained in industrial accidents and such, calmly and resolutely grabbed me, wiped my stinging face with his oily rag, grabbed a hose and held my head down to run cold water over my eyes. “Are you okay,” he said. “Yeah,” I whimpered. Once back inside the car, Mom found me a clean tee-shirt and wrapped a wet towel around my head. She gave me a few half-melted ice cubes from the cooler to hold on my face. We continued down the road. After several hours I took the towel off. Things were okay, kind of.

On the final day of our trip we got out of the car at a rest stop. It was a barren place in the middle of nowhere and I was standing by a barbed-wire fence waiting while Mom changed Cher’s diapers, when I realized there was a giant bird staring at me. I called Dad who looked at it and told me it was a peacock that must have gotten loose from a peacock farm. It looked kind of gray and scraggly, with no tail feathers left to speak of. Mom and Dad chased it down and put it in a pillow case. For the final afternoon and evening of our journey, I rode sitting cross-legged with a peacock in a pillowcase in my lap. It was really too big for the pillow case, so I kept the pillowcase over its head. Mom said to hold it that way so that it would think that it was night time. Every once and awhile it would move around and peck at my hand through the pillowcase. I was thinking that perhaps around the next turn, we would come to a sudden stop with Marshal Dillon aiming his rifle straight at me. “Get out of that car with your hands up,” he would shout, mounted on his horse squarely planted in the middle of the road. I would then be arrested, hog-tied, and lashed to a saddle, to be carried off to one of those wild-west jails for the crime of peacock-rustling. This would not be the last time in my childhood that I would worry about getting arrested for something Dad had just done.

It was dark, and late at night, when we got to our new house in Rancho Palos Verdes. The movers had already arrived, and there were boxes everywhere. We let the peacock out on the porch and slept on mattresses on the floor. On our first morning in California, we ate cereal for breakfast. A high-school-age boy from next door came to our house and said hello. He wanted to know if the noisy peacock on their rooftop that woke them up at sunrise might belong to us. After that Dad went off to work. Cher slept in her bed. My bed wasn’t set up yet but I had a room and this was California now and I just sat on my mattress in my room and the mattress still moved gently beneath me like there were wheels underneath rolling over a long highway.

Somewhere along the highway that cuts through oblivion, an identical Chevy Bellaire emerges from a distant billowing dust cloud.
“Phil. Hey,Phil. Wake up,” Albert says, leaning back from the front passenger seat.
“What?...What time is it? What is this? Ohh, looks like Ohio or something” says Phil, yawning.
“Look, up in front of us,” says Albert.
“What are the chances,” says Jack as he hits the gas. “Not even in a million kotis of kalpas.”
As the car accelerates, he suddenly lays on the horn:
The twin Chevy Bellaires rocket towards each other on the empty highway. For an instant panicked faces glance through tempered glass windows, and then suddenly they are no longer driving towards each other but are driving in opposite directions, and they are growing smaller and smaller to each other until each car is no longer perceptible to the other.
“Why’d you do that?” Albert says.
“Sorry, just got kind of carried away. Thought maybe it was us in that car and if I got our attention, we would look up and see that it was us and then we would see ourselves as we are.”
“It wasn’t us, though,” says Phil. “You see that kid hanging out the window. You scared him to death.”
“Nahh,” says Albert. “I saw his face. Hardly noticed. His mind was somewhere else.”
“We are all someplace else in our minds,” says Jack behind the wheel. “ If we were really awake we would see that our present abiding place is right here in this golden sublime realm of cornfield garlands: our vehicle, the adamintine Chevrolet Bellaire color of lapis lazuli, that has transported us all this way moving on the wings of four hundred garudas through all the six realms and ten directions, its chrome trim and majestic tail fins have cut through delusion like thunderbolt vajras, its wheels and hubcaps are the true wheels of dharma, continually spinning and yet instantaneously motionless, the very wind that blows off the very Mount Meru wafts in though its rolled-down windows, its engine hums the song of retinues of lute-strumming gandharvas vocalizing the songs of as many universes as there are grains of corn pollen blowing about in this Midwestern moment of crisp morning air. ”
“Please, I need a coffee,” says Phil. “Let’s stop somewhere. And I can drive a bit, after that.”

About Glen Snyder

The Sidewalk Dog
(Sharon Mcloy)

Sarah Webb

I like to walk the hood. I like it a lot. I try to walk fast to get the benefit of exercise, but a lot of time I end up lollygagging. I live in a cool old West Austin neighborhood with an eclectic mix of architecture and personality. But today I’m walking at a real stride and my thoughts are flying like kites in the wind. Easy breezy. It’s really very nice to have a mind that behaves well. Wish I could bottle that formula. Oh that’s right, the Buddha already did. Anyway, I have the sidewalk all to myself until BAM I walk smack dab into a sweet yellow lab sunning himself out in front of his house. I’ve seen him before, a bit of an elderly four legger, yet aaaalllllll lab. He scoots up into a stance and, I swear, we have a normal conversation about what a nice day it is and, yes, my mind is beautifully vacant right now too. I pet him and he wags his tail and I’m on my way. It makes me think about what life was like before you had words to describe things. You were just a baby babbling. You just had visuals and feelings and a sense of something. Next time I meditate I’ll try not to name anything, to forget I know language. I’ll be like a yellow lab and just be.

About Sharon Meloy

Waiting to Sit
(Kim Mosley)

It struck me funny all the things "sitting" enthusiasts do to sit … like rushing somewhere to sit (a contradiction?). Or better yet, to arrive early and then to wait to sit … where waiting is a skill that the Buddha acquired.

About Kim Mosley

Awareness Practice
(Rev. Joseph W. Hall)


In zazen, we seek to become develop our sense of awareness of the world around us, to open our senses to every detail, and to discover the hidden impact of our slightest actions. We do this by sitting in front of a wall and staring at it. Sometimes this works, of course, and the boundaries between ourselves and the room seem not so hard anymore. Sounds drift in from outside, and we allow them to intermingle and intertwine with our mind as they pass. As the practice period continues, this deepening awareness allows us to see, on the large scale, our connection to the earth and our role in global warming. On a smaller scale, as attendance has grown over the last several months, our practice has also deepened our ability to hear every #*%& sound in the zendo.

Since we are a lay sangha and highly mobile people in a complex world, we face the particular challenge of having to constantly shift gears, most importantly to downshift when approaching the quiet zone that is AZC.

Here's a few ideas about that. You don't have to do this but it might make practice more engaging …

The next time the ending bell rings, make a special note of what you have done, the way you can hear things now that you didn't notice 35 minutes ago. Marvel a bit at how even silence itself has a texture. Please find a sense of wonder here, because you will need this later. Then, the next time you return to zendo, keep this in mind as you approach the zazen zone. If you haven't already, shift into Zen mode before the car door slams shut. As you approach the front door, be aware that if there is no wind blowing or AC running, the people seated on the Zafus inside will hear your conversation on the porch more clearly than you can. As you reach for the doorknob, bear in mind that whatever way you open the door will be part of someone's meditation. You are not just entering a building—you are creating a sacred space and we are all connected now.

(On a personal note, the Ino smiles inwardly when he hears the soft click of the door latch. It means that if you came in late, he will not have to get up and close the door when the breeze blows it open.)

About Peaceful Forest Tim Schorre
Can you set your shoes down without making a sound today? Try that and then walk like an Indian—instead of striking the floor with your heels and telegraphing your arrival, allow the ball of your foot to find the floor first and step quietly into the Zendo.

As you pass through the arch, remember that you are stepping into other people's minds. Every sound you make is part of zazen now. Walk quietly and very slowly in the zendo. Perhaps it a little distracting to worry so much about disturbing others and this is definitely a little stressful and definitely no fun at all. So don't worry about that. We're buddists, so intentions are the thing that counts. You are fearless. You are stalking the dharma. Approach your Zafa, and your true nature, just like you would any other wild animal. Try not to make sudden movements. You don't want to scare it off and have to chase it through the brush of your mind.

As you settle into zazen, remember this, the methods of being silent only go so far. The best way to reach quiet is simply to listen, as intimately as you possibly can.

Do this and you've really arrived at your cushion in true form. But there is one more final thing and it happens as the next person arrives and, despite all your hard work, slams the door front door, tromps across the floor, and decides to sit (and breathe in a very erratic manner) right next to you. This is exactly the moment to remember that the sacred space we make was never about being silent, it was about being real. This is the only real way to learn what happens when we don't like something—how our irritation immediately gets involved and amplifies whatever sound we don't like. It turns out that our mind makes most of the noise anyway. We are an urban sangha sitting amidst the sound of planes, trains, automobiles, and whatever kind of day people bring in the door. Suddenly one sound that we don't like drowns out an entire city. This is the time to remember that silence always surrounds us, it is the white space that allows us to separate the noise into a kaleidoscope of small sounds. Have we yet heard the sound, or are we still just hearing how our reaction reverberates?

About Betty Gross
A Japanese zen teacher once said that zen mind is being able to let the eye wander a tree with one red leaf on it and not get stopped by the one that seems different. Big Mind, in his words, is to learn to see all the leaves, all the time. So the best response is to continue your quiet practice and demonstrate the value of it for the benefit of others. Keep trying to hear the white space, to find silence in noise. If that fails, ask the Ino to send out a note. He does this from time to time.

Perhaps this might be useful to remember ...
1. Everything is connected.
2. The connections clank, vibrate, and thud and otherwise make a surprising amount of noise.
3. You have the power to create beauty in the minds of others.
4. In the zen world, the ability to travel the connections in silence is considered a sign of virtuosity.
5. We are learning this together.

See you on the mat.

A Bow,

About Rev. Joseph W. Hall

Contributors to this Issue

Betty Gross studied Yoga in India, France, and Greece and has taught yoga for fourteen years in Austin. Her Buddhist study started with Chogam Trunpa Rimpoche, and she has studied Buddhism in Nepal and Tibet. She has been a member of AZC for many years.

Rev. Joseph W. Hall is a resident priest at the Austin Zen Center. He attends Shogaku Zen Seminary as part of the Shogaku Priest Ongoing Training program. His energy is enthusiastically focused on the nexus between Lay Practice and the Monastic world, and he is fascinated the ways in which we interpret the world and the means by which physical motion trains the mind. He blogs at .

Xianyang Carl Jerome studied under Zenshin Philip Whalen Roshi at the Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco and is now a student of Master Ji Ru of the Mid-America Buddhist Association in Chicago. He teaches at the North Shore Meditation and Dharma Center in Highland Park, IL.  He is a friend of Kim Mosley.

Susan Longenecker says, “I've lived in Austin since about 1993; worked in Florida before that as a marine biologist … I've been married about 15 years, been coming to the Zen Center for six years … have no children … my hobbies are painting and reading and I plan to take up taiko drumming … and I'm involved in the prison outreach program with the Zen Center … ”

Jamie MacLaggan writes “My true path started in 1975, San Francisco Bay area, when I read Frithjof Capra’s Tao Of Physics, and was led to Mu Soeng Sunim’s Heart Sutra: Ancient Buddhist Wisdom in the Light of Quantum Reality. With these tools, it was a short step to Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and I began to sit as he instructed; of course, that was the most powerful tool in the kit! I continued to sit when I moved to Austin in 1978. I have lived in the same house with the same spouse for 28 years, raised a family—I’m a grandpa—and I’m still awed by the whole dance … ”

Sharon Meloy says, I started going to AZC last spring after moving here from Colorado. I'm a cardiac nurse but was once a professional photographer and I'm starting to get back my creative energy. I've never written anything for other people to read. I think coming to the zendo has given me a newfound freedom of expression without having to judge myself. I really love the community spirit of AZC!

Kim Mosley, a co-editor of Just This, was born in Chicago in 1946. He taught at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Bradley University, Southern Methodist University, Lindenwood University and St. Louis Community College (where he was also Dean of Liberal Arts). His work is in collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. His blog, Diaristic Notations, has over 1300 posts of writing and art.

Peaceful Forest Tim Schorre is a student of Setsuan Gaelyn Godwin and serves as Tanto at Houston Zen Center. He also practices architecture as a partner in Morningside Architects in Houston and practices drawing a lot, as well as photography and video.  His visual work may be seen at .

Glen Snyder grew up in Washington state and in Michigan. He lived in Costa Rica for 14 years, first as a Peace Corps volunteer, then as a high school teacher. At present, he lives in Houston and works at Rice University as a geochemist. His research travels have taken him to many places, including Japan, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, New Zealand, China, and Antarctica. Zen Practitioner and student of Setsuan Gaelyn Godwin, he is currently the Ino at the Houston Zen Center. Glen’s work page is:

Elizabeth Stein is a member of the Houston Zen Center. Her short screenplay, Leaving Death Row, will be published in 2012 in a collection, Demands of the Dead, by the University of Iowa Press.

Sarah Webb, a co-editor for Just This, is an English professor retired from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, where she is the editor of poetry and fiction for the interdisciplinary magazine Crosstimbers. Her teacher is Albert Low of the Montreal Zen Centre. She spends her winters tutoring ESL and writing and her summers traveling the West in her VW bus.