Mondo Zen | Hollow Bones | Friends of Zen

December, 2012


Over 40 people attended the Rohatsu sesshin in Green Bay, Wisconsin, from November 24-December 1, 2012, celebrating the day of the Buddha's Enlightenment and our practice together.  This newsletter is filled with their reflections, poetry, and photos. 


Meru Doug Szper and Vimala John Nemick received Inka, dharma transmission, on Friday, November 30, 2012.

Shokan Mui Hanya Erich Moraine was ordained as a priest by Meru Doug Szper Roshi.


May all beings be happy.  May all beings be loved and well fed.  May all beings awaken to find their way.

Jazz Samadhi

“We’ve learned from traditions like Zen that asceticism means disciplining the senses so that you develop your capacity to experience every dimension of existence with heightened sensitivity.”

~ Brother David Steindl-Rast in Music of Silence

Joan, my wife of twenty years, is a great fan of jazz.  I have accompanied her to enough concerts and festivals that I have a broad understanding of jazz and have come to enjoy it, but I know that in some deeper way, I just don’t get it.  There is a conversation going on between the musicians that is supported by the music, but I can hardly make out what the tune is, much less what they are saying to each other.

Saturday evening after the end of Rohatsu and driving the eight hours from Green Bay to St Louis, Joan and I went to a small jazz club where a friend of hers and his three buddies were playing their first gig as a jazz quartet doing only the music of Thelonius Monk.  If you know jazz, you know that Monk is not easy.   

Maybe it was because we were sitting right up front.  Maybe it was because we were friends with one of the musicians.  Maybe it was because, even though this was their first gig as a quartet, they are each excellent musicians.  Or maybe it was the clarity of mind that comes from sitting very still and holding one pointed awareness for a week.  In any event, I got it.  

Joyous Samadhi.

 ~ Mark Lee Robinson                       

Why Is There No Calm Abiding?

by Monshin Kate Mitchell

Why can some people easily learn to meditate and for others it is impossible or “takes so long to wake up”?    An important aspect is how much trauma has existed in your life and how it inhibits your ability to sit down, shut up, while not feeling at the same time overwhelmed and/or terrified.

PTSD occurs when we are exposed to psychologically overwhelming circumstances that do not allow us to run away or flee in biologically adaptive ways.  We know now through the wonders of neuro-imaging (PET scan, functional magnetic resonance imaging, etc.) that our brain actually becomes physically altered by prolonged exposure to traumatizing stress.  Like the physical experience of a stroke, the brain we continue with does not have the same range as our brain pre-stroke, pre-trauma. Some brains are more inclined to “dissociate.” 

I think of psychological dissociation as the same kind of  manifestation that shock is to physical trauma ... both allow us to shut down our systems and disconnect until we are out of the traumatizing circumstances.  When someone is exposed to repeated episodes of unmediated trauma and tend to overuse adaptive mechanisms of rage or dissociating, their brain actually rewires to so that the pathways to reason, calm awareness, and self-soothing are significantly, neurologically impaired. 

Some brains are so affected that, under stress, they shift into a whole different personality to escape the despair of their working ego.  What starts as crisis intervention techniques become rewired brain pathways. 

We also know from neuro-imaging that the brain has coherence, meaning when one part of our brain is dominating, other parts are less active.  Important to this discussion is that when our amygdala is over-active with anxiety and hyper-vigilance (feeling everything IS an emergency and being defensively over-aroused) our frontal lobe, which calmly evaluates and plans, is underactive.  

Hence, that feeling we all know of being anxious and not being able to think or perform to our usual capacities.   While anger and fear may sharpen our senses, briefly, bathing in the prolonged adrenaline of anger and fear starts to burn out our nervous system. 

In our meditation practice, we strive to achieve a mind that can find calm in the face of any arousal.  In a brain that has been physically changed by devastating trauma, the switch to arousal is stuck in on; the fuse is burnt out in the calming centers of our brain.  This prolonged, chronic anxiety impairs concentration, leads to impulsivity, sleep disorders, depression, and impaired immune systems.

Young children, with very malleable brains, are most vulnerable to these brain changes.  Young children also have the least ability to get themselves out of traumatizing situations.   Those who from birth are more anxious and sensitive are more prone to feel the effects of trauma. 

Those who have at least one person who solidly supports them in their lives and validates the reality of what they are experiencing are slightly more resilient.  In Mondo we talk about the developing ego and the controller choosing what aspects of ourselves we will utilize. 

Whether we follow the reasoning of neuron-pathways or simply say our controller throws us into dissociation or hyper-vigilance in the face of any PERCEIVED threat, it is clear that traumatized individuals are more inclined to react before they can calmly assess situations.  Their reasoning feels less sure, and they can chronically obsess over information while not being able to make good decisions that reduce their stressors.  They “disappear” either physically, or into drugs, alcohol, obsessional behaviors, or activities that re-live their initial traumas. 

They overreact to many small things as if they were major events, and small events can trigger every association to trauma in their history.   The more neurologically altered your brain is, the less you are able to make those so-called choices to not slide down the neuro-pathway to reactivity.  

And then there is shame.  Most people that I know with significant PTSD live in a great deal of shame that they cannot fix themselves.  They read the same books, do the same practices as everyone else but are still ambushed by thoughts and behaviors that over take them before they can think. They know that they over-react and are greatly embarrassed by many of their behaviors.  They feel inadequate because they are not handling problems with the same grace that they perceive other people do and is their intention. 

Despite being keenly intelligent in many ways, they feel overwhelmed and immature in a pattern that is mystifying to them.  They usually do not understand the re-configured, traumatized brain.

In this emerging science of neuro-psychology, we also learned many hopeful things.  We know from stroke victims that whole parts of brain functioning can be physically destroyed, but with the right training, some parts of the brain can rewire to teach other brain areas to perform the same task.  We are starting to understand how meditation, alpha-training, and neuro feedback can rewire the responses of the brain.  

Historically, we have thought information produced insight, insight led to change.  Hence, the self-help book market:  if I just get the right information, I’ll get it (or the right dharma, take your pick).  While right thoughts are important, it is actually repetition that changes the brain. 

Meditating 3 months for 20 minutes each day with an uplifting mantra produces brain changes for some.  While this might help the traumatized brain, it most likely will not be as uplifting and relieving as for the person who is just strengthening what already functionally exists.  The traumatized brain is trying to rebuild the foundation.

We have not discovered the most effective ways to heal the traumatized brain, but we see most improvement from those strategies that actually stimulate the wiring that has withered.  Neuro-brain training, the Alpha-Stim, EMDR treatment, and various other emerging strategies go directly for that alternate pathway. 

(continued next column)

Spring Mondo Zen Retreat

March 23-29, 2013, a Mondo Zen sesshin on the East Coast will be led by Doshin Michael Nelson Roshi.

This will be our second sesshin at the beautiful Pendle Hill Center near Philadelphia. Register now.  Join Doshin and sangha for a week of Mondo.

Sacred Silence in Sonoma: March, 2013

From March 14-17, 2013, Hollow Bones will hold its first sesshin planned and led by five of the seven female priests. This sesshin is 3.5 days, for those who don't feel ready for a 7-day commitment or who don't have time to commit to a week long sesshin.

Seasoned practitioners will appreciate the form of sacred silence, as well as the usual morning services, and rigorous daily format including daisan and dharma talks.

Reishin, Kevala, Ma Dhyana, Vicara and Daju are organizing and leading. This is a perfect opportunity to taste Zen practice and experience sacred silence in a shorter form. We expect this retreat to fill since it is over half full already so register soon.


January 19-25, 2013 - 6-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, California.  This retreat is full.  Contact Kevala at to be placed on the waiting list.

March 11-17, 2013 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin in Amsterdam.  Click here for more information and to register.  For information via email, contact

March 14-17, 2013 - 3-Day Silent Retreat at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center  in California led by Hollow Bones women priests.

March 23-29, 2013- 6-day Mondo Zen Sesshin at Pendle Hill in Pennsylvania led by Doshin Roshi.

May 11-18, 2013 - 7-day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO.

June 15-22, 2013 - 7-day specially designed Mondo Zen Sesshin at Dai Bosatsu in New York State led by Jun Po Roshi.  This retreat is full.  Contact Kevala at to be placed on the waiting list.

July 15-21, 2013 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Sesshin led by Jun Po Roshi in Griswold, Iowa.

September 14-20 - 6-Day Silent Sesshin led by Doshin Roshi at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center in California.

September 28-October 5 - 7-Day Mondo Zen Teacher Training in Loveland, C, led by Jun Po Roshi. 
Pre-requisite:  You are required to have attended a regular Mondo retreat. See the website regarding exceptions.

Visit the Retreat Calendar on the website for more information.

The Junpo Roku 

Authored by Daju Suzanne Friedman, The Junpo Roku is a record of the early teachings of Roshi Junpo Denis Kelly.

This book captures Junpo Roshi's depth, humor, and wisdom while presenting his dharma talks and various lively Zen exchanges between him and his students.  

This roku, or official record, addresses such topics as Zen meditation, the nature of mind, the ego, koan practice, form and ritual, sutras, everyday dharma, and the Zen Buddhist approach to thoughts and emotions.

The roku is available now through CreateSpace and also for Kindle.

Jun Po's Biography

A Heart Blown Open: The Life & Practice of Zen Master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi by Keith Martin-Smith is available on Amazon.    

Listen to Ken Wilber interview Jun Po about his biography (courtesy of Integral Life).

... Abiding (cont.)

Knowing your body well so that you can work with your nervous system before it hijacks your cognitive processes adds to the process. Listen to your body to guide when your mind is overwhelmed.  Breath work in any form and practice educates your nervous system.  Avoid recreations that invite hyper-arousal and disconnecting. 

This is hard work; you need to be as clear-headed as possible.  Be compassionately patient and gentle with yourself.  Surround yourself only with people who understand that your path is longer and rougher. You cannot heal while living in a continuously abusive relationship, undoing what you are trying to rebuild.  

Meditate with the wisdom of what your brain is trying to achieve.  Be creative with this information.  Devise a meditation practice that isn’t just struggle or checking out. 

Find a good therapist if you need a coach.  Again, this is hard work.  Ideally, find a therapist who supports your Zen practice.  As important, find a therapist who is very knowledgeable about trauma and has actual skills to teach you, not just chat. 

Only work with someone who respects your wisdom and process.  Try to avoid therapists who are knee-deep in their own traumatic healing.

As a community, we need to be well aware that we do not all come to this practice the same.  This practice is a refuge from many things, but not the complexity of the social world.  For periods of time, we live together very intimately. 

Our physical differences may be obvious, but what happens when we retreat to our own minds is much more private.  Always, everyone is doing the best that they can at any moment.  What we emit is what we evoke in others. 

Always practice kindness. 

And I am One and
I am Many only

And I am one, in
Many forgetful moments, ever
Unborn, uncreated, unknown
Even to myself.

When knowing comes in heart
The pieces of myself sound
Here and there
And I am many only.

~ N Darlene Tataryn

Mondo Zen's Mission from our Sutra Book

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