Monday, November 3, 2008

" Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream" The Beatles

It is not dying, it is not dying,
Lay down all thought surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
That you may see the meaning of within,
It is speaking, it is speaking,
That love is all and love is evryone,
It is knowing, it is knowing.

The Beatles

I just returned from sitting Zazen all day at the Mount Baldy Zen Center. Driving through the rain and clouds, dodging the rocks tumbling from the hairpin turns on the mountain road, I truly left behind the illusion of my civilized life, to enter the mind stopping realm of Zen. The real world of what Leonard Cohen has called the marines of consciousness.

Within moments of arriving, I was silently sitting in the Zendo, legs crossed, for most of the next 4 hours, punctuated with some silent walking in circles.

3  identical bowls, dish towel and cloth napkins, and 1 cup were the instruments of our semi-formal ritualized silent lunch. When finished the filling meal of home made bread, salad, soup and tea all was cleansed with the boiling water poured from the old kettle passed up and down the table, and neatly stored for the next meal. When I stayed for a week a dozen years ago, I used the same 3 bowls for the week. And they never saw a kitchen sink. All cleaned up at the end of each meal. Minimalist, perfect, simple: Zen. Then silent sitting and walking Zazen for another 3 hours. Formal tea, casual vegan pizza (the rest of the gang enjoyed a beer) and at last a chance to talk and catch up. Then I was on my way down the mountain.

The chattering brain of mine hates the silence. My knees and inner thighs scream to move. But you can't move. You can't even scratch the powerful itch that began 2 seconds after the bell rings to begin the meditation. You sit still like a rock until the clapper sounds and you can wiggle for a minute or two until the stillness begins again.

It is not relaxing. It has no purpose. None. It will not heal me. Does not increase immune surveillance or aid in the engraftment.  

Maybe it gives me a broader perspective. I am not sure. To paraphrase Tom Robbins you don't meditate with any goal in mind. 

So why bother? 

May I please answer with an old Zen joke? You will find it published under my name (Dr. Koffman, the comic) in Joke Stew and other anthologies.

I went to a Buddhist retreat and it was a big success. I learnt nothing.

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Blogger Judy Cleri said...

HUM......I guess the question of the day is "Did you relax your mind body and soul?" The tought of sitting in one place for any length of time speaks wonders for you commitment. You definately have more wisdom and strength than I, as I can't sit still for 2 seconds let alone 4 hours.

Well, tonight will be interesting -My Ducks against your Kings....who will win???? Guess we will know in just a few hours. Any wagers?

Take care Dr. K, we miss you and are praying for you.

Have a blessed day.......


November 4, 2008 at 7:33 AM  
Blogger Darline said...

Hi Dr. Koffman,
I don't know if you remember me, but I am a patient of Dr. Starr's. My name is Darline Wilson but my maiden name is Sacquety. I saw you many times while I was growing up (I am now 30 and have been a patient of Dr. Starr's almost since birth.) I think my biggest memory of you was about a decade ago; I was in the exam room waiting to see you and I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at the time. You commented about the book, telling me you had read it many years before. Well, I just now happened to read your blog about the Mt. Baldy Zen Center and I am very interested in attending a session. I have been to Mt. Baldy several times (my husband and I like to take our dogs to play in the snow) but I had no idea there was a zen center there. I went to their website and found out more, thank you for writing about your experience there. I find it interesting that I happened to finally read your blog today. I was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer in Feb. 2008 and Dr. Starr had told me about your treatments for leukemia. He later told my mom about your blog which she reads quite often. I finished chemo and radiation in June and thought the cancer was gone but a PetScan last week showed some spots so I will be having surgery soon and possibly more chemo if the spots are indeed cancer. I became a vegetarian 3 months ago and am very interested to know how you have made it through your cancer journey as a vegetarian (or are you vegan?) I worry about not getting enough protein (especially with my upcoming surgery) and would love to hear any of your thoughts about proper vegetarian nutrition while dealing with cancer. I would also love to know if you have a zen center closer to home where you study. I have some meditation CDs and CDs of Buddhist chants from my Taiwanese friend but I am a very novice student of zen and would like to learn more. Thank you again for sharing your blog with everyone, your writing is wonderful and your journey is an inspiration. I wish you well with your treatments and look forward to a time when we are both cancer free! If you are able, I'd love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me any time at 714.785.9251 or

November 4, 2008 at 8:49 AM  
Blogger Susan C said...

Great description of the experience and a suprise ending.

I'd love to give this retreat a try.

November 4, 2008 at 8:25 PM  

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