The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Ask a person “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word, ‘Zen?'” Most people will respond with ideas about an imperturbable state of calm. However, if you ask them about the second thing, they may reply,” Isn’t it the sound of one hand clapping or something?” This person is remembering part of a Zen koan. Furthermore, they’re actually probably a little closer to the heart of Zen with this answer. This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are working with koans. These tools can grant us a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. But what exactly are koans? And how can they help us?
Empty Your Cup
A famous master, Lao-tzu, once said, “Understanding only goes as far as that which it can understand.” Put another way “Ya don’t know what ya don’t know.” As soon as we think we know something, then we become rigid and unresponsive. You know the famous phrase: “For the beginner, there are many possibilities, but for the expert, there are few.” Maintaining a mind of “not knowing” allows us to respond to situations with openness, freshness, and joy. This is where koans come in. Koans – sometimes called spiritual puzzles – pose questions or situations we can’t answer or understand using logic, and thus force us to go beyond the mind. Koans can be stories, poems or phrases. They convey a direct feeling rather than an intellectual idea.
Working With Koans
In practice, a student is assigned a koan by a teacher or master. The teacher will ask, “What is the color of wind?” or “What is your original face before you were born?” The student is then expected to “live with” and meditate upon the question for some time before returning with the “answer.” If these questions sound like nonsense to you, you’re partially right. Remember, koans work to push us beyond logic toward a realm of feeling and intuition. William Blake was working with koans when he wrote about the Sick Rose, as was Denis Johnson in his stories about fringe characters in the Midwest. This week, we are assigning koans to our clients and seeing what they come up with. The beauty of this technique is that the interpretations are endless and we are ready to uncover truth around every corner.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or just plain overwhelmed, please consider giving us a call. Our admissions specialists are standing by to offer a free consultation. Learn to love life again.
“The Mind Is the Most Capricious of Insects…”
Hopefully after reading last week’s blog about hard work and making your way in the world, all of you were inspired to arise, take up thy beds, and walk. I figure this is the perfect time to talk about a phenomenon the Japanese call 三日坊主, or mikka bouzu. Mikka bouzu translates to “three-day monk” and it’s something we have all been guilty of at some point in our lives. For example, if you go to just about any gym in the country on January 2nd, you’ll find that it’s filled with three-day monks. Twelve-step meetings are also often full of three-day monks, as are recovery centers. Sometimes, three-day monks haven’t even reached puberty yet. Ballet and karate schools make serious bank off the parents of these young ascetics. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
What Is a Three-Day Monk?
A three-day monk is someone who becomes intensely interested in something and goes hard in the paint for a few days (or weeks), but soon leaves it by the wayside and forgets all about it. Sound familiar? Don’t worry…we’ve all done it and that includes yours truly (ask me about my career as a cellist sometime.) We find a new toy, fall in love with it, wear it out, and watch it collect dust on our shelves or in the corner of the garage until our significant other finally tells us to throw it away. However, today is a new day and we don’t have to live that way anymore. I have a few concrete and manageable tips to keep your saffron robes looking fresh long after their 72-hour expiration date.
Set Some Manageable Goals
You want to learn Chinese. That’s awesome. It’s also a huge undertaking that you’re likely to get frustrated with quickly. That makes it very easy to give up. Instead of doing that, though, how about breaking the Herculean task of learning a new and difficult language into achievable sections. Download a language app and commit to completing one lesson a day. Sound too small? Don’t worry about that right now. Besides, you’ll learn a whole lot more Chinese if you get through a year of doing one lesson a day than if you do a hundred lessons in three days and give up.
Make It a Habit, Then Step It Up
You’ve completed that first lesson and I’m proud of you. But we’re going to sustain it this time. Try to set aside five minutes at the same time every day so you’re less likely to forget. It makes it even easier when you tie it in with an existing part of your routine, like right after brushing your teeth or eating dinner. What you’re trying to do is make it a habit. After you’ve gotten a week or two under your belt without missing days, start pushing yourself a little bit. You were doing one lesson a day – now make it two. Repeat the process.
Write. It. Out.
I can’t overstate the value of this one. We all have busy schedules and we all have things in life we’d like to accomplish. To help stay organized and on top of things, write your tasks down on paper and check them off as you go. Everything looks manageable when it’s on a page and there’s a small but very powerful feeling of accomplishment to be had every time you cross an item off. It’s also a great way to track your progress. This is why I recommend a small notebook instead of the Notes app on your phone.
Show Up and Remember to Have Fun
The two simplest rules are, of course, the most important. Whether it’s five minutes a day to learn a language, an hour a day at the piano, three hours a week at the gym…those sweet plans you worked out for yourself aren’t going to matter if you don’t show up and put in the effort. And a way to keep yourself showing up is to remember that you’re doing this because you want to. If your Chinese lessons are getting a little dry and boring, switch it up and watch an old Shaw Brothers movie (36th Chamber of Shaolin and Five Deadly Venoms are two excellent choices.) Turn the subtitles off and see how many words you can pick out. Remind yourself that this is fun!
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. And we don’t merely treat mental health issues – we remind our clients that life is fun and show them how to find that spark of joy again. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, or just life in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Give us a call today and love life again!
A Common Mistake
Gong Fu or Kung Fu (功夫) literally means “energy/hard work, time/patience.” It is commonly misunderstood to mean a particular style of martial art, but it actually refers to anything that takes a large amount of time, patience, and energy to accomplish. For example, if someone is learning to play the piano that is their kung fu because it will require a lot of time and energy to become proficient in that art. The concept of kung fu applies to the martial arts as well, but in the West, we tend to assume it is exclusively a martial arts term or a particular style of martial arts and it is not.
“That’s really interesting, Mathew, but what’s the point? What are you trying to tell us?” you’re probably saying right about now. And I’m glad you asked.
The World Is But A Canvas…
What I’m trying to say is, “Make your way.” Please notice how I did not say discover your way or find your way or seek your way. I said: make your way. Make it. Create it. This world seems to take equal parts pleasure in creating and destroying. For something new to emerge, something else needs to evaporate. Appearing and disappearing. So to create this new path in which you will travel with contentment and satisfaction you must first dismantle your old way of living. Only makes sense. We can’t walk two paths at the same time. Time, as most of us perceive it, is moving constantly in a singular direction. Living a life walking two different paths would necessitate 2 of you. Psychologically this happens in the form of a mental split. The psyche either stands at the crossroads unwilling to choose a course or it desires to choose both courses at the same time. Both choices usher in a litany of material impossibilities. However, from a thinking perspective, we are literally stuck – out of synch.
Contentment In All Of This
This is the important part. Either path is the same. The path makes no difference nor cares to label itself one way or the other. By my choice and my willingness to move forward singularly and assuredly, that path is mine alone and it is ever-evolving and growing grander and richer and more satisfying with each step we move forward. Every path is filled with pain and pleasure and ups and downs and there is contentment in all of this when enlightenment strikes you. It seems to favor decisively moving singular targets that walk decisively singular paths. Blah blah blah. So what does that mean or prove?
The Flutter Of A Butterfly’s Wing
Understanding what was just explained is not enough. Believing it to be true is not enough either. Although it does shorten the process slightly. Practicing as if it were true seems to be the action that gets the wheels turning. In other words, behaving as if it were true. It is empowering to practice as if you could dramatically alter the course of your life with a mere one step in a particular direction. Any direction. You can live any life you can imagine, or at higher levels, I suspect, live an unimaginable life. No need to plan out each step. Just keep moving forward.
The World Moves Either Way
A Chinese sifu once said that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. The idea that you can stand static still and neither move up or down is really a slower version of moving backward. Getting stuck mentally or emotionally in the past whilst your physical body moves uncompromisingly forward in time causes an existential paradox. Do you realize how much mental strain and internal resources it takes to keep you running counter to the flow of the entire universe? Either you choose one or not choose one. Either way, you made a choice. Decisions made by indecision are still, guess what, decisions. Good and bad are only labels we apply to things based on our preferences, agendas and points of interest. The words themselves mean nothing. They are a choice you decide to apply to situations, people, places or things that you believe do you harm or at the very least, not in line with your preference.
The Brink of Upheaval
Have you ever been in a situation faced with an important challenge that felt insurmountable by your usual methods of coping and problem solving? Into every life flows crisis. Every breath rides on the brink of upheaval. Every human beat of a heart holds within it a turning point, a crossroads. A time, when the “old way” or the “comfortable way” or even maybe the “only way” we know, is threatened. Threatened and challenged and possibly found to be unusable. What once was our key to our future has become a useless artifact of a past once perfectly fitted.
Who Holds the Key?
They can take so many forms: You catch your husband cheating on you or you make a vow to stay with someone through thick and thin. You have a week to live or you’re gonna be a new daddy. Or maybe you got fired or ran out of money. What you thought was true is not. What you thought was not, is. These are cataclysmic crisis situations. At these crossroads, we must make a choice. Continue to use old ways and methods that are no longer working? Or, I shudder to speak it, change…our…ways. Ouch, no thanks. Most times I would rather blame outside forces who are conspiring against me than admit that I myself may need a course correction. Hubris will get you every damn time. However, these are sacred, life-altering times these so-called incipient moments of crisis.
Crisis As Opportunity
This week we will crack open our moments of crisis. We will train ourselves to view these moments as opportunities to find new paths we never saw before. Most know about the Chinese word for crisis and how some people say it means “danger” plus “opportunity.” Here are my 2 cents: Wei (危) means “danger.” Ji (机) means “a point of juncture. Danger is easy to grasp. Danger means something that is potentially harmful, risky or not preferred. It is mysterious and requires your full undivided attention if you wish to go unscathed. A juncture is where two things join and generally seems to be risky business. So much can go wrong…or right. Any union can be challenging and fraught with difficulties. When two become one and that one is, at the same time, a product of what came before, and yet, at the same time, new and altogether itself!
Welcome the New
What two things are coming together in the Chinese idea of crisis? That’s right, you and your new way of dealing with your life! You and a new way of thinking. You and a revised method of living. Loving your life again and in new ways never fathomed before. This is a crisis on a monumental level. Your olds ways have admittedly failed. But not all of you has failed. Just certain ideas and behaviors have betrayed our true futures. A new method can be learned and applied. It will be dangerous and difficult. However, if we “refuse to let a good crisis go to waste” as Winston Churchill quipped once, we will reap the inevitable boons. We may even learn, like an ancient master, to (dare I say?) welcome crisis. Welcoming crisis? Audacity! Yes. Believe this. Points of juncture are inherently dangerous. They are also inherently rewarding.
Crisis Is a Blessing
There is an image in Zen Buddhism involving yanas. A yana is a vehicle. A way to get from one place of understanding to another place of understanding. You find yourself on an unhappy shore in a land of confusion and sorrow. You see across the water, a new land! A land of clarity and joy. You must get there. But how? You construct a yana. In this case, a boat. With tremendous effort, you row yourself to the other shore and find yourself on the beaches of your desired goal. Clarity and joy abound. You walk off into this new world…carrying your boat on your back. Food for thought: Crisis is derived from a Greek word which is spelled krisis. It means “decision.” That is what a crisis forces, a choice. Crisis is a blessing. It opens your mind up to new understandings and new possibilities to explore.
There are too many good quotes about truth to share in a timely fashion. However, two of my favorites are:
“There are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth.” – Robert Evans, filmmaker
“Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth.” – usually attributed to the Buddha in a paraphrased version
The sort of “truth” we will be exploring this week will pertain to inner truth. The truth about who you are and how you shape your reality based on this inner truth. The Greek word for “truth” is aletheia. This word means literally to “un-hide” or “hiding nothing.” It conveys the thought that truth is always there, always open and available for all to see, with nothing being hidden or obscured.
Chung Fu: Three Images of Inner Truth
In Chinese philosophy “Chung Fu” or Inner Truth relates to three different images or ideas. One is the wind blowing over the lake stirring the surface. When the wind disrupts the surface of the water, we see ripples. These ripples are a physical manifestation of the wind’s effect on the water. This unsettled water expresses the visible effects of the invisible. Inner truth is like the wind in this example. What we feel to be our truth will manifest itself in the “agreed upon” real world.
Over-Brooding and Under-Brooding
The second image is of a baby bird being held down by its mother’s foot. This expresses the idea of brooding. Brooding in this sense means how a mother bird cares over her young. Some mama birds over-brood their babies and the hatchling grows too large for the nest and falls out before learning to fly. On the other hand, under-brood and you miss the hints and clues. Correct brooding means actively listening to what another person is expressing. In fact, paying close attention to something or someone is how one broods. The baby chick will give the signals, while the mother only needs to have the desire to be aware. In order to care for the flightless hatchling, the mother listens closely and reads the signs honestly.
Opening Your Heart
The third idea is listening to others. This last image offers clear instructions on how to practice inner truth. Receiving what others say and do with an open heart. Attacking people with YOUR preconceived plans and opinions is never the path to inner truth. Only by paying close attention to the stirrings of others can you find open-heartedness. An open heart allows inner truth to penetrate just like light and heat warm an egg and “quickens” it into a living thing. That empty space in the egg is key. Inner truth is also an empty space in you that fills with interest and compassion in others. Furthermore, the source of a person’s strength lies not in herself but in her relation of that self to other people.
The Fragrance of Orchids
Remember the three sides to every story quote? “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Well, there is more to that quote that always gets left out for some reason. The next two sentences read, “And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”
Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.
– Ta Chuan
Don’t Let Your Farmer Become a Garbage Collector
There is a person you will never meet in this very present moment. Though you feel their nearness always and you may even catch a whiff here and there of their scent, or even a fleeting glimpse, they and you will never meet eyes. You will always be intimate strangers. In fact, he will be the sum of all your nowness. It’s hard to show kindness and respect when the object of your kindness and respect is your future self. Your future self is like the friendly farmer who harvests all the experiences (seeds) you set into motion in the present. Sorry future friendly-farmer-self. There are no apples to harvest because I planted oranges instead. Or, I planted nothing. All I did was make your farm empty and overgrown with regrets and missed opportunities. Then your future farmer has no time to farm because he has to deal with the garbage you left for him everywhere. Your farmer is now a garbage collector. Are you satisfied?
Taking Care of Our Future Selves
This week we are going to practice showing love and respect for our future selves. By doing small things, itty-bitty routines, and tiny baby step advances, we gain momentum. Momentum that will carry and propel us into the realm of our future selves. Of course, when we arrive at our future it will no longer be the future. It will be now, but this isn’t a sci-fi movie and we don’t have time to goof around. Know this, our future selves will cheer us and write songs about us and look back fondly at the “past-you-self” that has made all this future contentedness happen.
Start Small, But Start Now
Start small. What would you like to have happen in the future? What small things can I do now to work toward that vision of the future?
Sample Student: Well, Matt, I would like very much to not go to jail when I go home.
Matt: Super idea. Jail is depressing. Have you alerted your PO that you have left the state but are receiving mental health treatment and look forward to rehabilitating yourself?
Sample Student: No, I have not done that.
Matt: Then your future self is a garbage collector. How does that make you feel?
Sample Student: Poorly.
Matt: Yes, your future self also feels poorly. Let me help you call your PO and get things rolling in the right direction.
Sample Student: Gee whiz, that’d be swell!
We Are Worth It
The ability to connect to the present moment and shape it in a way that makes a future version of yourself grateful, is asking a lot. It depends on you loving yourself enough to do something about it. This week we will learn that our future selves are worth it and what we can do in the present to ensure that our future selves will be grateful for our sacrifices.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. We specialize in mild to moderately severe mental illness, co-occurring disorders and addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some help refocusing, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today.