Shinzen's Final Dharma Talk

Shin’s Mins (Minions) untangle and free him after his final nightly Dharma talk, commending us all on Work well done.

Shin’s Mins (Minions) untangle and free him after his final nightly Dharma talk, commending us all on Work well done.

When the Buddha wished to praise someone, he had a saying: Kuta Karta Niem – they did what needed to be done. Kuta Karta Niem. They did the work. And so I say to all of you: Kuta Kara Niem (bow). You have all the reason in the world to feel very good about yourselves. Upon leaving retreat there are a lot of things you need to know – especially if you’ve never done or left a retreat before. Big Picture-wise, after a retreat, exactly one of four things happens: (why does this not surprise us) you either get afterglow, aftershock, both, or none/neither. Afterglow -  tranquility, energy, cascading insights, pleasant emotions… more and more that becomes the predictable result of a retreat. However, at the beginning, not necessarily so – there are other possibilities. You could have sort of the opposite of that – aftershock. Vulnerability, disorientation, all sorts of… stuff, bubbling up from the inside because it’s no longer held down by concrete. You become porous in respect to what’s inside and you become porous in respect to what’s outside. My standard remark, only because I have so many times experienced what I’m about to describe myself upon leaving a retreat, I’m shocked to discover the that entire population of North America has become… Insane. I walk into a 7-11, I’m driving down the 405 freeway and one has stop think: they all went crazy, completely berserk, since I was away on retreat? There can be that sense of vulnerability to the outside world. 

In the afterglow and aftershock discussion, there’s only two things you need to know: why it’s happening and what to do about it. Why it’s happening is not because you did something wrong. In fact, it’s a consequence of doing something right. I say this at the end of every retreat, and for many people it’s just words, but at some point you’ll say to yourself, “My goodness, I know now why he says that after every retreat”. First of all, we are in this for the long haul as far as I’m concerned. It’s a life-long endeavor, but doable by a householder. The spiritual path is a sequence – not one, not two, not three, not four, but dozens and dozens and dozens of acclimitizations over the period of a lifetime, to a state that is less fixated and progresslively more attenuated. That is the very meaning of Spirit. Spirit in English from the Latin Spiritus from the Greek Pneuma from the Hebrew Ruach And it means Wind! The wind is powerful, but it’s unfixated and attenuated. It is There. But it is not there. 

The LITERAL spiritual path is different from the content spiritual path which is, “I have spiritual images I have spiritual self-talk I have spiritual feelings, in the physicality of in my body.” But the spiritual SUBSTANCE isquite a different thing. And those are the two sides of the spiritual path and of course they both have their validity. But the substance of enlightenment – which is what we’re really interested in, in which the practitioner becomes less and less fixated and more and more attenuated – that takes acclimatization. My Father was in the Navy during World War II and he relayed the saying to me “Getting your sea legs”. When someone is first on a ship, it’s unfixated right? They’re holding on to the railing, they have difficulty walking, and then at some point they acclimatize to the fact that there’s no solid ground underneath them. And then they’ve got their sea legs. This is a little bit like that but even more so. The ground will be ripped away from under you moment by moment, and your being will be scattered to fill the Universe moment by moment. And that takes some getting used to. 

The old coping mechanism which sorta works is to tighten up and turn away. The new coping mechanism is the diametric opposite - open up and turn toward. It’s rather difficult then to avoid the awkward, intermediate steps, and not just once and not just twice. What happens though eventually is that you get so used to it that it’s a non-issue. So if one experiences after-shock, it’s simply of result of that process - the old armor is no longer sufficient to ward off the stings and bites of the material world. But the new coping mechanism - which is that you’re so open and porous   things pass right through – takes a bit to establish itself. What to do about it? Just keep up your four pillars of practice – and you know what they are – organized retreat practice, organized daily life practice, get support and give support. Regarding aftershock and afterglow then – enjoy the pleasant part and you know what to do about the other side. And then the neither. You don’t have to have dramatic things occur on this path to be making progress. Actually, a lot of times, people don’t quite realize how far they’ve gone because they’re acclimatized to that, and then something comes up and they realize, “I really, really have changed.” More killer articles from Shin’s talks and teachings to come, as well as some new stories from the road. For now, Chao tam biet.

Happy Holidays & New Year '19


Happy Christmas and Chanukah, Merry New Year, hope the Holidays are treating you well. “There’s a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy… when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie…”. So goes the song as well as the theory, considering so many of us hold the Holidays as a challenging rather than heart-warming time. Here, we ended the year with a great early December retreat weekend, enjoyed a little Holiday gathering where I did my best to serve a traditional feast (challenging!) and finally appreciated a sunny and warm Winter Solstice. We’re excited about the upcoming 2019 season beginning with another great Winter Count Workshop the last weekend in February. And between now and then, I’ll be off renewing mind and practice at a year-end/beginning retreat with my teacher Shinzen Young. 

On retreat, Shinzen gives nightly dharma talks touching on his own practice and life experiences. He recounts semi-torturous, humorous happenings from what he dubs his Samurai Bootcamp days, living in Zen Temples and meditating in Japanese monasteries. At an old-school traditional Rinzai Zen sesshin (literally “touching the heart-mind”), the monks devote themselves almost exclusively to zazen (sitting) practice that includes much discomfort and little sleep. In the middle of the night, a voice once cried out from an accompanying bunk bed, “Why are we doing this!?” cutting the crew’s measly shut-eye time from three hours to one.

 Why are we doing this? Why do we go on retreat? Why do people take the time to still themselves in practice in a simplified environment for a few hours, a few days, even a few weeks? A clear response should be provided to people who inquire what in the world this endeavor is all about. The quick and dirty in Shin parlance is a simple, deep and bold answer: it’s a component of practice that leads TO BEING OPTIMALLY HAPPY IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. Shinzen of course can riff on happiness along with any other subject vis-à-vis mindfulness and mind-training. His five dimensions of Complete Happiness are 1) Reduced Perceived Suffering 2) Elevated Sensual Fulfillment 3) Understanding yourself at all levels 4) Making positive behavior changes 5) Cultivating/discovering a spirit of love and service toward others. What’s the relationship between developing attentional skills and gaining these abilities? A coherent description that explains what we do -  mainly working to develop core attentional skills of concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity - why we do it, and its relevance to human happiness is quite a valuable teaching. 

Much to be said about that connection, and you can google or check YouTube for more on Shinzen’s talks and unbounded ideas on the subject. Or check The Higher Haven’s 2019 schedule and come out for a retreat or private lesson. Ask Shinny himself and you’ll find his best recommendation for getting support and elevating your practice is to work with a personal mindfulness coach on a regular basis. What might this add to your life? How might this help save our dying world? Come visit or shout me out and you’ll be surprised.

Last night’s storytelling ended on Shinzen’s imaginative take on what one day might become of our species. “Anger, fear sadness, embarrassment, impatience, interest, joy, love, gratitude, humor, smile, something pleasant, something unpleasant, some…thing. These are the forces that mold the human world, from the intra-psychic to the interpersonal to the international. It’s not rage, terror, grief and shame that causes the most destruction and ethnic cleansing. If we don’t make it on this planet and thousands of years from now some other advanced beings wants to honor and lament homo sapiens, my fantasy is that on our collective tombstone or memorial as a species will read: ‘Subtle Emotional Body Sensations Did Them In”. These are the reason things work on this planet and in the lives of its inhabitants or they don’t. These sensations rule.” Come out this year and learn techniques to put you in better command of these forces, allowing them to motivate, direct and elevate your human make-up for an even Happier New Year 2019.

Little Hollow Bones

CAGA MATO WANBLI Grandfather Eagle Beer aka Chief Fools Crow

CAGA MATO WANBLI Grandfather Eagle Beer aka Chief Fools Crow

Little Hollow Bones is the term that Frank Fools Crow - Ceremonial Chief of the Teton Sioux, an Oglala Lakota and Old Lord of the Holy Men as he’s known - gave to healers of his Native American tradition. “We [Black Elk and he] agreed that the Higher Powers had taught us this same thing. We are just holes. But as I have used hollow bones for curing, I have decided that it is better to think of medicine people as little hollow bones… [ hollow bones that Wakan Tanka, Tunkshila and the Helpers work through]…. the power comes to us first to make us what we should be, then flows through us and out to others.” Fools Crow speaks of Harmony, Mind Screens, Lights of Wisdom, Talking Stones, Freedom from Fear, A Big Lift and The End and The Beginning, all chapter titles. When I read his quote: “Anyone who is willing to live the life I have led can do the things I do,” it was like a sharpened arrowhead tip to the heart, inspiring the creation of a Workshop. Winter Count employs Fools Crow’s mind-training techniques while viewing modern day Mindfulness from an ancient shamanic perspective, set to the brisk backdrop of a frozen-white Midwest landscape. Reading that Fools Crow and Black Elk — maybe the most well-known known Lakota visionary — were convinced that the Supreme Being they worshipped was the One True God of the Bible gave me all the more reason, as we honor all traditions and all people here, knowing that in time our work will erase all lines of division and separation between a unified clan that includes all humanity. We don’t just give lip service to Oneness here. We experience it deeply.

That’s the taste of Purification, the enlightened glimpse we acquire and enjoy when we apply concentration, relaxation, and equanimity in practice for an extended period during our weekend overnight retreats. Our Winter Count Workshop took us from Saturday at lunch to Sunday breakfast, with a ritual Ceremony in between that was a key element in the harmonious life ways of leaders like Fools Crow and other guides of the indigenous people of the Americas. I always, always, every time am amazed at the consistency of the healing balm that comes over my mind in Ceremony. But the words of recent attendees perhaps better explain: “It’s been a long while since I felt such stillness. Nothing to plan, no one to impress. From the beautiful guest house with its roaring fireplace, to the powerful meditations, songs, and Ceremony… the entire retreat I felt safe, open, and able to process and receive healing…”. “The Higher Haven is a perfect place to process whatever it is you are dealing with… it’s a magical Haven for healing no matter what stage you are on in your journey… I felt supported and comfortable, and we all received what we needed this weekend, even though we went there not knowing what it was ourselves. If you are being called there, I encourage you to go experience it for yourself.”

Experiencing it for your self is as easy as registering for our February Winter Count, the first retreat in the new year 2019, an awakening brush with nature during the serene season and opening to non-duality that brings a close to our Winter Break. Just prior, I’ll be teaching a Workshop on similar techniques at Yoga Life in St. Joseph, Michigan on Sunday February 10th at 3:30 pm, registration link to come. And then In March, we’ll offer a pair of Workshops on the stories and healing power of the Lakota Heyoka, classes not for the faint of heart, but for those looking to turn things around, shed serious skin in the new year, and make permanent, empowered transformations in their lives, April and May Yoga getaways will soon be posted, with expanded, more comprehensive weekends that include the grand arrival of the Wizard himself, my teacher John Ashbrook, the weekend of June 29-30th. It’s Inward and Upward from there People. Looking forward to seeing and celebrating with you. Matakuye O’yasin.