Valle Con Dios

People say that practicing Zen is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in the cross-legged position, or to attain enlightenment. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our practice pure in its fundamental sense. The Zen school developed in many ways after it was established in China, but at the same time, it became more and more impure. But I do not want to talk about Chinese Zen or the history of Zen. I am interested in helping you keep your practice from becoming impure.
-Shunryu Suzuki, the first lines of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Hi all,

just a quick note to say that we’ve had our last (quite well attended) half-day and Sunday night sits of 2018. We plan to pick up back in 2019 at an unspecified date, to be announced. We’re all heading into the holidays, and I personally have a lot going on, as I know many of you do, too. It’s been over 4 1/2 years since starting the Valley Dragon experiment. I’ve missed only a handful of weeks in that time, essentially insuring this practice opportunity as a service to the community and a sign of personal commitment to zazen. We started with a great deal more formality, basically practicing in the “high church” Soto Zen style of San Francisco Zen Center. Piece by piece, I’ve felt inspired to question each element, pitching most of them as distractions from ordinary people’s access to simply just sitting – the only real point. There appears to be a pretty good consensus on what we’ve arrived at: a bow here and there, some bells, some sitting, some walking, some chatting. No more, no less.

I wouldn’t have begun without the assistance of co-founder Joe Galewsky, under the titular guidance of more senior practice leaders elsewhere – though between us Joe and I have well over a half century of dedicated Zen practice, and it really all just came down to us and the regulars who attended. As documented previously, I’ve subsequently felt the pressing need to separate myself and the practice here from larger affiliating organizations because I found that these groups became dominated by certain radical political ideologies and activities I wasn’t comfortable with, and that I consider pretty un-Zen. In part due to this developing distinction, we will be dropping the Valley Dragon appellation moving forward. I don’t have a new name in mind, and little desire to “rebrand”. I feel like the Valley Dragon experiment has developed sufficiently in a direction distinct from its genesis that in 2019 we will go by a different name, maybe one just related to where it is we practice, Dragonfly Yoga Studio. Also, the term “dragon” continues to have some negative baggage for a lot of folks. In Asia, dragons are lucky. Americans mostly have other associations. No need to swim upstream with this one, especially since the reason for using ‘dragon’ in the first place related to the group having associations with other temples that are no longer meaningful. Look for an email or stay tuned to this website for further news; it will remain in use for now.

Thanks to everyone who has attended our over 500 combined hours of shared zazen. I never sat alone, and our headcount has averaged about 12 over our 1/2 decade span. For a drop-in weekly zazen group, without anyone calling themselves master, guru, or teacher, I think these are actually quite impressive numbers! Also, thanks to everyone for cash donations, the last few months of which have just been given to Dragonfly in thanks for the use of the space, as we’ve tended to do about quarterly. Keep on sitting, friends, and seeking truth. Hope to see you next year!

If you’re looking for another Zen sitting group in the meantime, I recommend Mike Haederle’s northvalleyzen.org. I might see you there sometime. Don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of assistance. My personal email is titusobrien@gmail.com. Cheers!

Titus

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December 1/2 Day Sit, this Saturday, Dec. 8

Our next half day sit is this Saturday, December 8. Please join us!

The schedule is as follows:
1:00-1:35 zazen (sitting)
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods. Donations (for use of space and supplies) are welcome.

Please wear loose comfortable clothing, preferably in muted solid colors that cover knees and shoulders. Make sure cell phones are turned off – please check that vibration also is turned off. Please leave personal items, including purses, water bottles, phones, and watches, in non-practice spaces (entry or back room.)

As usual, we will be at Dragonfly Yoga. Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

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Image: Garo Antresian, untitled lithograph, collection of Albuquerque Museum. Garo passed away recently aged 95 or so. A great American artist.

Half Day Sat., Nov. 10; Sunday Nights

Valley Dragon continues to meet on Sunday nights at our usual time (zazen at 7:15 pm). After zazen, we are continuing our casual study of excerpts of zazen-pertinent texts from both Zen and other traditions, led by Titus and other sangha participants. I want to take this chance to encourage you, if sincerely interested in the practice of silent contemplation, to consider exerting a bit of extra effort toward attending Sunday nights regularly. While I accept the years that I felt inspired to devote to intensive daily and residential practice, today I really believe Shunryu Suzuki when he said that regular weekly practice with others may be quite efficacious for most of us. It feels so for me. Our numbers are varying widely, from 15 one week to 2 the next. That’s totally fine, good even, but maintaining a regular core group keeps the energy strong, and I believe attracts good new folks (we do not recruit). Steadiness and consistency are some of Zen’s core values and benefits. Augmented with our monthly half-day sits, I feel that if consistently taken advantage of, these opportunities will grant a quite sufficient feeling for authentic zazen practice.

Our next half day sit is this Saturday, November 10th. You know you could use it!

The schedule is as follows:
1:00-1:35 zazen (sitting)
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods. Donations (for use of space and supplies) are welcome.

Please wear loose comfortable clothing, preferably in muted solid colors that cover knees and shoulders. Make sure cell phones are turned off – please check that vibration also is turned off. Please leave personal items, including purses, water bottles, phones, and watches, in non-practice spaces (entry or back room.)

As usual, we will be at Dragonfly Yoga. Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

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Josef Albers, “Homage to the Square”, ca. 1950s, lithograph on paper, collection of the Albuquerque Museum

temple rules (not really)

Having recently disaffiliated from a number of mainstream Soto organizations, in protest of what I guess might be considered political corruption (or at least a mass failure of vision), I find myself wanting to make sure that I am functioning along relatively impeccable personal guidelines as the practical facilitator of the Valley Dragon experiment. I am consciously looking to my fellow travelers in the group to arrive at the expression of shared motivations and guidelines, when, where, and if needed.

I practiced for many years in the Kwan Um School of Zen, which derives from Korean Buddhist traditions. Without getting into a narrative about why I changed to the Japanese Soto school, let’s just say I wanted more just sitting, less distracting psycho-cultural theatrics. There turned out to be plenty of that too in Soto (another topic), but still, my interest in just sitting endures. It’s the explicit purpose and mission of Valley Dragon, so I keep spelling this out and emphasizing it, at the risk of flogging a dead horse. There are many things from both the Korean and Japanese traditions that I continue to appreciate and practice. One thing I used to think was interesting was how at the start of every Korean-style retreat, a standardized set of ‘temple rules’ used throughout their centers were read aloud by the participants. Aren’t twelve-step meetings always started by reading some rules and guidelines, and resetting a direction?

Father Thomas Keating just died. I did not know him, though I feel like I’ve been aware of him for the 30-ish years of my adult life. I learned in an obituary that one of his associates started a center here in Albuquerque fostering “contemplative prayer” — Keating’s and others’ Catholic response to the desire by mainly young Boomers for contemplative practice, i.e. meditation. Their “8 Core Principles” inspired me to tweak and reframe them with what it is we do in mind. I am not actually proposing the adoption of these as fixed principles; something in me recoils at the risk of too much structure. However, I think they do indicate a general direction, and reflect my own core principles about what it is that might best be emphasized. I like that the language feels fresh and real, rather than recycled Buddhist phrases that in many cases seem to have been lately coopted and diminished in service to certain ideological agendas. Maybe these ‘precepts’ can serve as topics for further discussion and, well, contemplation.

10 Core Principles for Places of Just Sitting

  1. Zazen (silent contemplation) is our central reference point.
  2. We see that a contemplative attitude and practice helps us to live more fully and well.
  3. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Fixed opposition tends to foster needless conflict and stagnation.
  4. We recognize that creative solutions are often found at the bottom and the edges, rather than at the top or center of groups and institutions; and that responsible hierarchies, enduring ancestral wisdom, and legal custom must be kindly and accountably respected.
  5. Free congress and open dialogue are understood to be the mechanisms of personal and social sanity.
  6. We support true author-ity, recognizing every human’s intrinsic ability and driving need to author their own life, regardless of perceived or self-identified group affiliation, capacity, or will.
  7. Life is more a process of developing better questions, rather than adhering to fixed answers.
  8. Authentic spirituality leads to our embodying our truest selves, as false selves fall away.
  9. We see that anger and resentment are destructive diseases (born from trauma) to be healed from, not flames to be fanned.
  10. We do not just think or feel ourselves into a new mode of living, but faithfully live ourselves into new ways of being.
covenant
Frederick Hammersley, Covenant, 1963, screenprint on paper

Half Day reminder, 10/13/18

Valley Dragon continues to meet on Sunday nights at our usual time (zazen at 7:15 pm). After zazen, we are continuing our casual study of excerpts of zazen-pertinent texts from both Zen and other traditions, led by Titus and other sangha participants. Please join us!

Our next half day sit is this Saturday, October 13.. This is another rare chance to sit for a few periods in a row, and get a taste of the deeper settling that Zen can help support in our lives, in this often turbulent-seeming time.

The schedule is as follows:

1:00-1:35 zazen (sitting)
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods. Donations (for use of space and supplies) are welcome.

Please wear loose comfortable clothing, preferably in muted solid colors that cover knees and shoulders. Make sure cell phones are turned off – please check that vibration also is turned off. Please leave personal items, including water bottles, in non-practice spaces (entry or back room.)

As usual, we will be at Dragonfly Yoga. Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

(image: Richard Hogan, Costilla (detail), 1987, oil on canvas, Albuquerque Museum)

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The Path was Already Completed Before the First Step!

A Dzogchen person I follow posted this on Facebook. I couldn’t glean whether he wrote it, or it was a quote from an old master. Not sure it matters. Let’s talk about it Sunday.

The Seeking is Finally Finished! The Path was Already Completed Before the First Step!

Is it necessary to become aware of awareness? Is it necessary to notice what’s noticing?

Is it necessary to try to breath?

Awareness is already aware and requires no second act of trying to be aware of what is already aware.

Is noticing of experiences already occurring before an attempt to notice experiences?

Is breathing naturally occurring before one decides to breath?

Rigpa is your current awareness that is already aware.

Now was that really so difficult?”

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