Friday, October 7, 2011

30 Day Vows: A New Start to New Starts

30 Day Vows: A New Start to New Starts
So I heard this really good TED Talk and I really liked the idea.

I recently started exercising after completing a 30 day vow to exercise for 30 mins a day and that vow has turned into a daily habit. So this talk got me thinking about the power of vow and the idea of trying something new every month.

So here is my vow. I figured since this is my first one I better do a few to really break myself in.

Vow 1: I vow for the next 30 days I'm going to and start a blog about making a vow and working with it.

Vow 2: I vow to post in this blog at least once a week ideally more.

Vow 3:I vow to work on my vow everyday unless I really truly can't aka no lame excuses. (For example I do a one week silent retreat every month so some vows won't be possible during that time)

This is the vow I will be working with for the month
Vow For Month 1:I vow to start a to do list of 10 items (I know I could have one that is longer) and I will look at this list once a day and work on one item each day with the goal of completing it that day.

So that is my intention and now you know about it. Let me know if you would like to join me in the vow for this month and I'll be happy to share your experience on the blog. Thanks very much for your support and I hope it might be helpful to read about working with vows for a month.

Samuel Gentoku McCree

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What is the purpose of my life?

A friend sent me an email posing this question this was my reply.

"Hey Sam,
How is life in Clatskanie? I will be done with my program very soon. In fact, I will be graduating in 9 days! So, yeah, very soon. I am trying to figure out what to do with my life post-graduation and am feeling a bit overwhelmed, though I am very excited to be done. Do you have any ideas or gems of wisdom to offer? What is going on with you? I miss you and hope that you are well. i would love to hear from you when you get a chance.

Hm germs of wisdom. I think the main thing that I have found useful in answering the question of what to do with my life has been one of scope. I always used to think in my life in terms of oh my life out there the thing I will be doing. Like I want to help people so I need to go out there somewhere and find some people who need help. I know that I am really drawn to service of others. For me is was a revolution to realize that this is a question I can and need to ask every moment. I do need to look at how I can be of service in the long haul but not if means neglecting service that presents itself in every moment.

For example once I started asking myself "How can I be of service in this moment?" I found all sorts of things. I would do wash up at the monastery. I would see someone feeling down and talk to them. I would straighten shoes that were out of place. I would pile my dishes in a neat stack to help out the server. Opportunities to be of service present themselves all the time. As I have done this I have been able to see areas where I am more skilled at serving and where I am drawn. For example I know I am drawn to working with kids. So I look for any opportunity to help kids around me even in small ways. I also know I am drawn to talking to people who are not seen so I look for opportunities to do that.

By framing the question "What is the purpose of my life?" as a moment to moment question it stops being this huge thing out there that I'm supposed to figure out, but something I strive to embody in every moment. After that I have just put my faith in the belief that if I embody my life's purpose the universe will respond with opportunities to serve. Thus far that has certainly been the case for me.

My second realization is that having some spiritual component to my life is essential to this question of purpose. Meditation helps me discern what my heart longs for and what I grasp at because of boredom or ego. I have no doubt that the practice of prayer and worship in other traditions functions in a similar way. Being a part of a community that supports people highest aspirations allows me to look deeply at what is truly satisfying. It also offers many different examples of people to admire and mentor with. Seeing other people finding creative solutions to these questions gives me hope and inspiration to keep going on my path.

Also meditation practice has been instrumental in helping me see the habit patterns I have developed. For a long time I just wanted a job that was cool, but through zazen I've been able to see that I need to do something that runs deeper than passion. Passion for anything will come and go, but if I know it speaks to a deeper part of myself that's enough for me to keep going through the dry times. Through zazen I have discerned a life vow to be of deep and fundamental service to others. This doesn't answer the specific questions of how that will manifest, but I have faith that if I just keep aligning myself with that vow, I will be able to live a life of service.

I have doubted many things in my life but I don't doubt this vow because it came from a place so deep in me. A place beyond the facts of my life. It answers a silent question that my heart has asked for as long as I can remember.

Anyway I hope that is helpful in some sense. I'll be happy to talk to you about all of this at some time in the future if you would like. I do have one more thing to offer as a possibility. We have two free months here at the monastery every summer. July and August people can come and stay for free and participate in our training. I think that after all the work you've done it might be of benefit to take a break from all the hustle and bustle and really look deeply into these questions. If you have any interest I'll be happy to let you know what the process is. Being here has been a transformational experience for me. I used to never believe that I could change and now I see that change is possible and manifesting all the time. I don't have all the answers but I have some very good questions that I have no doubt will serve me well no matter what I do. No matter what you decide I hope that I can remain your friend and be helpful to you. May this message find you well, at ease, and happy.

Gassho and Namaste
Gentoku aka Sam

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bank and Trust

A memory welling up from childhood
I said once you can't trust anyone too much because you never know
when they might stab you in the back.

Where did this come from?
This cynical voice living in me from so young.
A slow call from some dark winged bird
resting on torn feathers in the bloody core of me.
and I can see how those gray shades have tinted everything
like a black ink blood spilling onto the ground around me.
a reverse Midas touch. Turning each scene into noir madness

These people that I walk around with
seem like they are playing in some alternate universe
and some bad actor is butchering my lines
yet I can't seem to control the fancy flesh puppet
the string suspended in a waxy oatmeal substance
like poorly referenced fog

they say it again and again I talk too loud
my voice heated and growing in volume yet I never notice
a partial curse of being able to project
and of not seeing its maturity
my voice is my kitten turned feral cat
that only my friend perceives after a hiatus of visitation

what cicatrix covers my heart
what an obstinate fool I so often become
it makes me wonder if I have ever let go of it
ever really let my heart in bare naked eternity
trust the beat of another
or if what I trust is some odd game of chess
with finite pieces on a infinite board

these head held in hand moments
these shaking to my center shudders
these at the brink of crying breaths
what do they say about it all

questions asked so far into the chasm
that even my sense of sensing and answer is overthrown
knowing that no words could cover the plunge
and yet even a curdled keen or broken cry
would be more from frustration than truth

pour me from this emptiness
into clean pure emptiness
lick the stained remnants from the bowl
and leave nothing of nothing behind

just the slender trail of cartoon smoke
a bended line the mere suggestion
of a smelled remnant

leave nothing more of me
than the idea
of scent

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Precept # 1: I Vow Not to kill, but to cherish all life.

So this will be a series of posts that I will do each week as I take each precept into body and mind. I hope to share my experience of working on the precepts towards the process of taking Jukai as a way to strengthen their meaning and to encourage others to look at the precepts as well.

Precept # 1: I Vow Not to kill, but to cherish all life.

Part A: Our Non-feathered Non Vertebrate Friends
So I started working on this last week during the Rohatsu sesshin at Great Vow Zen Monastery. The first way that this precept impacts me is the most obvious. I try whenever possible to directly respect all life which most often comes in the form of respecting insect life. Unless you work on a farm in some other type of business that deals largely with animals insect life is the most commonly encountered of non human life. Though there are birds at the monastery and I have owned pets my relation to insect life seems the most potent. For starters I can easily and with little thought kill most insects I encounter. They are fragile, small in size, and in most cases people think little of someone who kills insects with the exception of perhaps socially favored invertebrates like butterflies or lady bugs. For socially oppressed bugs like roaches and mosquitoes there are various reasons why people encourage their killing on an individual or mass basis. Because of this insects make a good testing ground for seeing if I truly cherish all life.

So this week I took into account how my relationship to my less back boned friends have changed since starting to internalize the precept of non-killing and cherishing all life. The first thing I noticed is that I will now go to fairly great lengths to save a bug. Including using a paper towel to fish one out of the urinals at the monastery. (The urinals here often turn into deadly bug traps.) I also am very careful when walking outside to try and avoid stepping on bugs that cross my path.

The main downside or other side I see to this is that often in my effort to 'save' a bug I accidentally cause it more harm than I might had I just left it alone. The best example of this is I once tried to save a spider (Spider A) by putting it outside, but I accidentally put it into another spiders (Spider B) web. Spider B then went over to attack Spider A. In an effort to break up the fight I instinctively knocked both spiders out of the web. I couldn't find either after that so I'm not sure about whether I helped or hurt them, but it interesting to see that even well meaning acts can go awry.

It's also easy for me to use this as the token example of cherishing life. I can sometimes find myself saying oh well I cherish all life after all I fish bugs out of the urinal. This is the equivalent to saying I'm not a racist because I have friends of color! When I was working with this precept this was at first focus that came into my head, but I knew I had to look at the question more deeply.

Part B: The life of inanimate objects.

Though this perspective of looking at precept had occurred to me before it impacted me in an interesting way this past week. Though some people might argue that inanimate objects don't have life or sentience I still feel that this precept applies to them. Sometimes the first precept is worded by saying all sentient life, but no matter the wording I think that inanimate objects still hold weight with this precept. For man made objects, to respect them is the respect the effort and work that went into creating and maintaining that object. To treat someones craft poorly is to treat them poorly. As for naturally occurring objects whether or not you believe that have a form of sentience that are a resource and part of the network of all life. Lichen need rocks to grow on, dead wood is often home for many animals, and even things like sand or sludge provide the basis for many forms of life. There really isn't anything that exists that I can see doesn't effect life. To cherish these objects or materials is to cherish the ground from which all life springs.

The way this was brought home to me this week had to do with my sandals. We recently got a new shelf to put all our shoes on at the monastery and my shelf is 3 or 4 from the bottom somewhere between stomach or chest height for me. I noticed that early on in the week as I would head to the Zendo for practice or after changing out my work shoes I was dropping my sandals on the ground to put them on. Normally this is something that I would consider quite natural, but I noticed a certain discomfort in my body about this action. As I investigated what it was I noticed that it had something to do with the first precept. My action was not cherishing the life of my sandals. I was literally feeling the disrespect in my body each time I did this. So I began to gently set down my sandals whenever possible, if I forgot my body got that same feeling again. To me this demonstrated that animate inanimate or indeterminate to cherish life is to cherish all aspects of it and a respect for objects as well as individuals grows freely from the ground of this precept.

Part C Everything Is The Life I Cherish
This leads me nicely into the last discovery I made about the first precept. This is that the life I need to respect and cherish the most is my own. All things that I encounter are a reflection of my own life. If I am critical of myself I will be critical of others. If I wish to harm myself I will wish to harm others. To cherish all life is centered in the concept of cherishing my own life. I can't after all cherish anyone's or anything's life for them, but by appreciating that all things flow into and out of my life I can learn to treat all things with the respect my life deserves. Everything I see, hear, taste, touch, smell, or think is part of my life. To cherish every part of it is to be truly present within this blessed gift of a life. By not being present or seeking for things to be other than they are means to kill or devalue this life.

This first precept contains so much within it. It holds both the gross cherishing of life like protecting bugs and animals, but also the subtle cherishing in which all things are a part of my life. I will continue to investigating this precept further and I vow to try to learn to cherish life in a more wholehearted and subtle ways. I vow not to kill, but the cherish all the life that I am blessed with.

Thank you For Reading
Next Week:
I Vow Not Steal, But To Respect The Things Of Others.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Excellent Post On Grief by Mark Pechovnik

This is an excellent post on grief by a wise friend of mine. I highly recommend him and his blog.The link to the actual blog is below.

Mindfulness and Grief
from Portland, Oregon Therapy & Counseling by Mark Pechovnik

Grief is too often regarded as something gone wrong, something to be gotten rid of, something that is too painful to bear up under and should either be avoided or processed through as quickly and thoroughly as possible– and preferably under an anesthetic!

But in a life where everything is constantly changing and everything is bound to, at some point, go away, grief is inevitable.

So we are left with the choice of either rejecting the truth of loss, engaging in thoughts and behaviors that help us avoid the feeling of loss or of accepting loss and honoring it for what it is telling us about ourselves and about life itself.

People who choose to try to avoid grief usually do so unconsciously. They don’t want to hurt so they refuse talk or to even think about who or what has been lost. They will muffle their feelings with drugs or alcohol, compulsive sex, television, non-stop work, or any number of avoidant behaviors that, in turn, shut them off from life and those around them and cause all kinds of personal and interpersonal problems.

Choosing to honor grief requires that we slow down, look inward, note the blockages inside ourselves, and mindfully untangle the knot of emotions surrounding a loss. It requires courage, patience, kindness and resolve.

Most of all, however, it requires love.

We do not grieve what we did not love.

Indeed, when we deeply investigate the feeling of grief that sits inside us, inside our bodies, often in a well just below the heart, we learn that grief is bittersweet. At its core, is a love that knows no bounds and is wounded and maybe even outraged for having come against this irrevocable end.

Grief, in a sense, is the full expression of being human, of knowing what it is to deeply love and to just as deeply know that everything is impermanent.

Impermanence requires grief, and as life is impermanent, we cannot but grieve. However, while grief may hurt, it does not need to cause suffering if we are courageous enough to feel the love that is inside of the grief. (See my post “Pain vs. Suffernig (+pain!))

Mindfully, we watch our emotions, thoughts and behaviors. We notice sorrow, hurt, disappointment, longing … all part of the human experience that cannot be changed.

Next we then turn to our thoughts. We notice our interpretations. We may be telling ourselves, “I’ll never be happy again.” “This is so wrong.” “Unfair!” “It shouldn’t have happened this way.” We ask ourselves if these thoughts increase or decrease our suffering. Consider encouraging thoughts that are less judgmental and more factual, such as, “I miss him.” “I’m so sad and lonely.” “I remember all the good times and I worry about the bad times.” More temperate thoughts will create more space for letting the grief flow.

We then consider how we’re living our lives. We look at our behaviors. Are we engaged in wholesome activities that support our appreciation of life and love of others (the core of our grief, remember) or are we isolating and blaming others and looking to get even with the universe?

What behaviors create more space? What behaviors support us most? If we are courageous, we can reach out to others for support. We talk it over, share our emotions, let ourselves cry, take a mental health day, and let grief process at its own pace.

Just as Autumn can’t be rushed but every leaf turns at its time, so too grief will run its course according to its own need if left unhindered.

In letting grief takes its own pace, we don’t get rid of it sooner, but we increase in capacity and are better able to be more fully engaged in life.

A client once told me that, though her grief didn’t feel good, it felt real … and in feeling real, there was virtue.

Finally, just as life is impermanent, so too is grief. I promise you that, though you may continue to feel pangs of grief over any particular loss for the rest of your life, you will not feel grief all the time. When left unhindered, grief comes and goes just like all things.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Short thought

Happy thanksgiving everyone. Years ago pilgrims and native americans sat down for a dinner together afterwards we stole their land and pushed them onto small land dwellings. So remember be thankful for what you have there is no telling when impermanence or a race of space pilgrims will take it away.

SPACE PILGRIMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Videos Of Weird Buddhist Ritual That will shiver your Spine!!!!

Not really this is a cool ceremony to call in the dark energies of the world and ourselves to acknowledge them and feed them and then to let them go. There is a short intro I edited together at the begging The drum at the beginning are very cool and though this is a pretty esoteric Buddhist ceremony it's interesting to watch. Enjoy!

Segaki Ceremony At Great Vow Zen Monastery. This is a ceremony that ends a month of calling in the hungry ghosts or darker parts of our own nature. He talks about the need to integrate all of ourselves into life and to know the shadow parts of ourselves so we can help ourselves and others.

"The segaki (施餓鬼?, "feeding the hungry ghosts") is a ritual of Japanese Buddhism, traditionally performed to stop the suffering of the gaki, ghosts tormented by insatiable hunger. Today, the ceremony also gives participants an opportunity to remember those who have died and to symbolically sever ties with past sins.

According to legend, the segaki began as a way for Moggallana (Maudgalyayna), on instruction of his master, the Buddha Sakyamuni, to free his mother from gaki-do, the realm of the gaki." -Wikipedia

Segaki Part 1
Segaki Part 2
Dharma Talk Abour Segaki