This blog is a place where I talk about a book I wrote, called My Christian Journey with Zen, and other meditation related topics. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment sections below.
2016Posted by Gustav 07 Jul, 2016 23:50 Hello! It's been a while. All is well with the family, and the days (and nights) are full of wonderful, beautiful and challenging family stuff. Edvard is ten weeks now, August one and a half year, and Alfred is almost seven. It's a constant struggle to get enough sleep and I'm not always my best self, but I'm so grateful and I love them beyond words.
Here is a blog post with some random thoughts and updates...
First of all, I'd like to mention that I'm having an interesting exchange with Mike Cross, who translated the Shobogenzo together with Nishijima Roshi. I'm thrilled that Mike is taking the time to look at my book and I'm looking forward to see if he has any comments, although I already know that he's critical towards some of its central themes. However, I have respect and gratitude for Mike's work and insights, and I appreciate his uncensored directness. Perhaps, with his permission, I can post more of our conversation here later on.
I also want to take the opportunity to say that I'm happy for having been invited to lead a one week sesshin (meditation retreat) near Helsinki in Finland in the summer of 2018. I've been invited by Zen teacher Karen Terzano of the Ordinary Mind Zen organization, and the theme of the retreat will be the meeting of Christianity and Zen Buddhism. It's two years ahead, but I'm already looking forward to it. If you have any thoughts on what should be included in the sesshin, please share. And I hope to see you there!
As I wrote in a previous post, I have the opportunity to go to Upaya Zen Center in May 2017 for their Being with Dying training program. Now the financial matters are settled, thanks to a generous scholarship from the Swedish Hospital Church, so I don't have to worry about that, which is nice. Lately I've been exploring more of the contemplative care field of thought and practice, and I feel deeply inspired and impressed. Among many good things, I'd like to mention the Zencare podcast and a new book called Awake at the Bedside. Please let me know if you have suggestions for further exploration.
Oh, and above is a photo of a little frog that is sitting in our small garden. She is sitting there day and night, in all different kinds of weather and through all seasons. And right now it's summer, the grass is green and it never gets really dark outside. Photo taken close to midnight. Goodnight!
2016Posted by Gustav 15 Jun, 2016 23:59 This action movie of the left side of my back was shot by my friend Lillemor at today's meditation for peace in the Umeå city square, three days after the horrific mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, USA. In this blog post, I would like to take the opportunity to translate something I wrote in Swedish on my Facebook wall, the day after the terrorist attack on the LBGT community:
"I am a religious person and I have even become a priest. At the same time, I feel a kind of love-hate relationship to religion, and on a day like this it really gnaws at me. I may be wrong, but in my eyes it seems that throughout history and even today, it is primarily religious ideas that nourish and carry hatred and violence against LBGT people. I remain in the Church because I believe in her wounded goodness. But whether we are Christians, Muslims, atheists or cyclists, we need to stand up together in order not to let violence and hatred engulf all of us in this world. Within our respective contexts, we need to stand up against the ideas that discriminate and devalue LBGT people. The world needs our compassion, yours and mine, all that we can summon up. Now."
Just a short report from today's meditation for peace in the city square. It was a rainy day and about 10 degrees Celcius. A large truck had parked right where we usually sit, so we sat down in a different place in the square. From there, we could not see the big clock on the city hall, and I found it quite nice not to be able to see the time. Letting go of the minutes and just being with breathing, raindrops, thoughts, wet concrete, so many feet and legs walking by in the periphery of my lowered gaze, some stopping and looking at us, the cold slowly finding its way through my clothes and skin, and two signs with the word "peace". We were four people today, and I like what we do. It's perhaps silly and naive in some ways, but I believe in what we do. And afterwards, two of us had a nice lunch together. But what does it mean for peace in this burning world? Maybe nothing? Perhaps something.
Sorry for the silence. It's been a few weeks since I posted here.
On the 20th of April, this little fellow was born to our family. Our third child. His name is Edvard, and his mother is a hero. We are very happy and all is well.
At the same time, with his two older brothers (one and six years old, respectively), it's perhaps the most intense time of my life.
Let me tell you about my sitting meditation yesterday. In the evening, after dinner, I sat down on my zafu in our living room and relaxed into the posture. Twenty seconds later, my wife asked me to go get some milk for our one year-old, so I did. I gave him the bottle, and sat down again. Folded my legs and relaxed into the stable and upright posture.
I could hear that the TV was on. Our six year-old, Alfred, was watching cartoons. Our one year-old, August, climbed onto my folded legs. Twenty seconds later, a familiar smell, and I had to go change his diaper.
That was my sitting meditation yesterday. And it meant a lot to me.
Sometimes I give beginners, who want to establish a daily practice routine, the advice to just let the butt touch the meditation cushion once every day. That low level of ambition has been helpful to me. And when my butt is on the cushion, it's easier to stay there for a while. But if it's just for one second, that's no failure, but great practice.
So, yesterday I did zazen for two periods of twenty seconds. At the same time, I have the feeling that I'm practicing a lot right now. Perhaps more than ever.
When some of the disciples asked Jesus stupid questions, like "Who is the greatest in Heaven?", he asked them to look at the children.
2016Posted by Gustav 07 Apr, 2016 23:46 After having been interested for years in their training program called Being with Dying, I finally wrote an email to Joan Halifax Roshi at Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico, USA. She is currently in Japan, but she kindly replied within minutes that I was welcome to apply. I have my eyes set on the course that will be given in May 2017, and now begins the process of trying to find funding. I hope the Swedish Hospital Church will support me with a part of the costs. The whole contemplative care movement seems very interesting to me, and I'm looking forward to hopefully do the training course next year. If possible, perhaps also visit the Zen Hospice Project in San Fransisco and the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. I believe this would be a good way to deepen my practice and service as a hospital priest. Here's a link to the Upaya program, and below is an excellent TED talk given by Dr BJ Miller at the Zen Hospice Project.
2016Posted by Gustav 30 Mar, 2016 23:05 Today we had our monthly meditation for peace in the crowded city square. It was warmer and more comfortable than in January and February. As usual, we sat for an hour, and, again, I was amazed by how much more I hear of the sounds and voices around me when I sit silent and still.
Some voices sound interested in what we are doing, others more annoyed. Some feet are moving quickly, and others more slowly. And then an old man came walking by. I think he was about 80 or 85 years old. He had difficulties walking, and he had someone with him who helped him. Perhaps he didn't see us sitting there at first, because he walked by very close to us, and when he was right in front of us he said: "Look! They are looking into their souls."
I don't mean to get into a discussion about the concept of a soul, but I was surprised and touched by the old man's comment. Actually, my friend sitting next to me heard him say "themselves", and not "their souls". I don't know who's right, but either way, it sounded to me that the old man saw something, he appreciated something, and I think it was a beautiful thing to say.
2016Posted by Gustav 15 Mar, 2016 00:10 Just a short post today with some reflections on family life. I'm currently on parental leave, and we're very happy to be expecting our third child in April. A few days ago, a friend of mine said that he was so grateful to his children because, he said, "they have raised me." I'm not sure if that translates well from Swedish into English, but the point is that we usually think that grown-ups raise kids, right? But my friend added the perspective that, in many ways, he had been raised by them. He and I grew up together, dreaming about monastic life, spiritual life, perhaps as Buddhist monks somewhere in Asia. We went to Taizé and Plum Village in France together, and we have spent many hours on meditation cushions in the same room. Then we went off on our own, to different meditation centers in Asia. I'm truly grateful for all of it, but also, at the same time, as my friend put it, "it was the ultimate ego trip." Now we are both married with children, and we both became priests in the Lutheran Church of Sweden. Kind of funny how things turn out sometimes... When we talked the other day, we both agreed that in several ways, the lives we are living now are actually close to the lives we sought when we were in our teens and early twenties. The days, and sometimes nights, are full of quite strict discipline and routines. Just like at Zen retreats, I need to harbour my energy to find a flow that works, and enjoy when there is a little bit of free space, perhaps for some exercise, siting meditation or maybe just watching TV or calling a friend. There are loads of daily challenges to my patience and emotional balance, and I get to see sides of myself that I'm not very proud of. I have to be completely focused in the present moment, as others' lives depend on it, while also planning ahead. I need to put my ego aside and be there for someone else, while in order to do that well, I also need to take good care of my own very basic needs. Much of it is about the body - food and changing diapers - while it's also connection in the deepest, most soulful sense. To me, family life is a fantastic practice to see through my selfishness, to see the roots and branches of both happiness and suffering in myself, and to be pushed to continue practicing every day. And in that sense, our kids have truly raised me, too. Tonight, after dinner, when I saw our children play, my eyes filled with tears because it was so beautiful to me. It's absolutely attachment, yes, but not really the "owning" or "gaining" kind. I think there are different kinds, somehow. And this attachment, I think, is best described as love. Difficult, yes, sometimes more difficult than I can handle. And beautiful beyond words. Ok, this post turned out longer than I first thought. Now everyone is asleep and there is a little space for sitting meditation and a short evening prayer. Then sleep. May peace be with you, right where you are. Amen.
Hello! My name is Gustav and I'm a Christian practitioner of Zen meditation. I'm like a restless frog training to be still. My late Japanese Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima Roshi, inspired me to start the Anzenkai meditation group and network in my hometown Umeå, in northern Sweden. I'm married with three wonderful kids, and I work as a Lutheran hospital priest at the University Hospital of Umeå.