Thursday, June 30, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

I was tempted just to put this sentence up yesterday: "Expressing with words and without words is like a wisteria vine entangled around a tree, herding a donkey and a horse, or penetrating water and cloud", but I feared it would be a little gnomic, even if I had added this from the end of the same fascicle ('King wants the Saindava', 'Osaku Sendaba'): "How terrible that the ancestral way is declining! Don't be negligent in your endeavor of the way. Receive and maintain the buddha ancestors' life vein".
Today, reading on to the first of the Eiheiji fascicles, 'Instructions on kitchen work', 'Ji Kuin Mon', some more accessible ideas to balance things out: "Regarding the method of serving meals to the community of monks, it is said [in the Guidelines for Zen Monasteries], 'Make respect the essence of this pure practice'".
Dogen goes on to detail the forms of language that should be used around kitchen practice - the honorific forms rather than informal phrases - and adds, "All the materials being prepared for the midday or morning meals should be referred to with respect in this way. Being disrespectful to materials causes disaster and brings forth no merit".

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Circle Of Gifts

I expect I have mentioned before that one of my favourite expressions in all the many things we chant is the line from the Full Moon Ceremony, 'to expound the dharma with this body is foremost'. I try to keep this as a guiding principle, not least because it de-emphasises the spoken or written word in favour of manifestation and action. I am also currently chewing on the third pure precept - I have taken to reciting these for myself at the end of morning service, in addition to the refuges at the beginning - 'I vow to live and be lived for the benefit of all beings'. There is something about the conjunction of active and passive verbs which is intriguing me.
Last night, after the Young Urban Zen meeting, one of my recent benefactors offered me another card, which offered kind words of support and encouragement. This person wrote of my 'greater intention of inviting everyone in, to share with others what has brought you great joy'. Noticing my response to what was written - happiness, relief, feeling energised - I wondered how much of it was just from having my ego being patted. My ego has certainly felt in need of such succour recently - and it has received it plentifully from many people. But I don't think that is the whole story here.  I have a mental picture of my ego struggling to find satisfaction in external things of late, such as spending time online trying to find something entertaining that would somehow be satisfying, knowing all the while that these are just dead ends. But the things in the past month which have been the most rewarding and fulfilling - the Young Urban Zen group, performing the wedding - have been occasions of just being present with people, where my ego isn't the driving force. It's me, but it's not really me, like I am turned inside out, just trying to recycle the joy I have got from practice for others. It can feel a little strange to think about it, and awkward to express, but since I keep connecting to that intention, and if others tell me it is of benefit, then I have the confidence and energy to keep doing it, and trust that the circle of gifts will continue.
A cursory search through old posts throws up this one on a similar topic, and coming from a similar place of suffering. Plus รงa change...

City Hall lights up the fog last night

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I was trying to figure out why exactly I hadn't participated in the Pride parade here before; in 2008 I would have been down at Tassajara before the fire, and then last year I was in London for Pride weekend - which I mainly remembered because Simon just passed on an Independent which had listings for this year's event. The friends I was staying with live right in the middle of town, so we walked down to Soho as crowds milled happily around the streets and everyone else drank a lot of beer at the end of a warm afternoon, before we went back to watch more of the World Cup.
After dark, this was the view from the living room:

On the rainbow theme, I like this picture better, which has been used a few times around Zen Center, and was on the flyer we were handing out today. I confess that when I took it, I was mainly thinking about the colour and light, and not of the apt shape of the window:

Tova gave the talk yesterday, and one of the things I took away from it was that it was great to be able to celebrate the progress that has been made in fighting oppression on various fronts on the last forty years. Taking part in the parade today, with a great contingent from all parts of Zen Center, I had the feeling that everyone was special - the spectators just as much as the participants - and it was wonderful just to be there for that feeling. In a way, it felt hardly any different from being at the Giants' parade at the end of last year.
There was a lot of waiting around before we got underway. We did a service with the Lovingkindness Meditation when we thought we were about to leave, which felt nice and solid, but then we were still sitting there a couple of hours later, parked between a troupe of Colombian dancers and a Rocky Horror Show float. Everyone roused themselves once we started, and just being able to walk along Market Street in the midst of the huge crowds was completely exhilarating.
I promised people I would get some pictures up, so here is the preliminary selection:

Fixing up the banner
Daigan dresses the Buddha
Blanche on the truck - she sat for a very long time
Issho waits

Down Market St
Behind the banner
Dancing Devas at the head of the procession

Friday, June 24, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

'Practice Period', 'Ango', reads more like the Gyoji Kihan than most of the Shobogenzo, and I read it wishing that we would incorporate some part of the ceremonies outlined into the beginning and closing of Tassajara practice periods.
"If we are fortunate enough to practice a summer practice period before our dewlike life drops down, whether in the realm of humans or devas, we will surely replace our skin, flesh, bones, and marrow with the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of buddha ancestors. During every practice period it is the buddha ancestors who come to practice with everyone, and everyone who participates in the practice period practices as a buddha ancestor".

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Inevitably The Fog Rolls In Again

As you can imagine, I have heard a lot of dharma talks over the years, and I know that my response to them is less dictated by the quality of the talk itself and more by the quality of my attention. I had many strong experiences sitting at talks at Tassajara, where I was barely even taking in what was being said, but was completely focused on the experience of having the speaker in front of me, and conversely, sat through plenty of talks unable to keep my eyes open regardless of the fine dharma being presented.
Last night Vicki gave a talk; it was not the talk she planned to give, as she said she had not been able to find her notes. Speaking to me earlier she thought she might just invite questions from the assembly, but instead she spoke eloquently and movingly, and recounted some family history from the time of the Second World War.
Towards the end she talked about names, and how the dharma names of everyone who was wearing robes in the room mean something very deep about their intention.
I was not having a great day yesterday, waking up feeling fragile, and having a long and intense dokusan with Paul where a number of emotions came pouring out. He encouraged me to look at what this situation was teaching me, but I came away feeling unresolved - I still feel too enmeshed to see new lessons, though I see and feel only too clearly that a lot of old deep stuff has been re-activated.
When Vicki talked about names though, I connected again with a feeling that I had had during my trip, about my intention in life, which, as I mentioned to someone the other day, I recognised as being closely related to the second part of my dharma name, understood to be the aspirational side of one's character. In 2004 I was given Kennin as the second half of my name, and it was translated for me as 'building human-heartedness', with other renditions being 'benevolence' or 'the highest virtue'. Paul changed it to Gennin for my tokudo, 'manifesting virtue', and the way I have been relating to this recently, as I have expressed here, has been around the idea of trying to be able, and available, to meet everyone with love. I know I am not doing so well at that right now, but the feeling I had during the talk was of connecting with that as my deep intention, and having faith that, because it will remain deep inside me, it will continue to manifest .

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

'Once, Lecturer Liang of Mount Xi, Hong Region, studied with Mazu, who said, "Which sutra do you teach?"
Liang said, "The Heart Sutra."
Mazu said, "How do you teach it?"
Liang said, "I teach it with the heart."
Mazu said, "The heart is like a main actor. The will is like a supporting actor. The six types of consciousness are like their company. How do they understand your teaching of the sutra?"
Liang said, "If the heart doesn't understand it, does emptiness understand it?"
Mazu said, "Yes it does."
Liang flipped his sleeves and started to walk away.
Mazu called, "Lecturer."
Liang turned his head around.
Mazu said, "Just this, from birth till death."
At this moment, Liang had great realization. He hid himself at Mount Xi, and no one heard about him any longer.' ('Space', 'Koku').

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


2011 has not been a great year for fine weather in San Francisco thus far. I can think of a couple of spells of continued warm sunshine - not only during this last sesshin, but also the one before... but otherwise there has been a lot of grey, cooler weather with more prolonged rain than usual. So it is nice to be able to trot out that lovely English cliche, on this longest day of the year (though it is often applied to things other than the weather): 'phew, what a scorcher!'
This was the view before I went down to zazen at five this morning.

It was a lovely morning in the zendo; I had left several windows open, so there were breezes wafting in, and the birdsong almost drowned out the garbage trucks as it got lighter.
Last year at this time I was in England, and while I don't think I was up early enough on that occasion, I love that it starts getting light before four, and I was certainly appreciating the evening light that lingered until around ten.

Taken at around nine pm on this day last year
Of course solstice is another time we mark with a ceremony here at Zen Center. My new head chiden just resigned to be better able to take care of other apsects of her life, so I had to bring things together for the ceremony during the afternoon. I don't often get to sweep the courtyard these days, as I don't line up for a soji job in the morning any more, but I always used to enjoy that, and as someone seemed to have cleared off one of the upper balconies into the courtyard directly in front of the door, it seemed called for.
I set up everything during zazen, trying to make sure there was the requisite amount of symmetry, and afterwards I took it all down again - unusually all the residents disappeared to dinner without offering to help, and only the somewhat captive non-resident doanryo, Karissa and Roger, pitched in. Happily Gretchen has consented to resuming her former position - I look forward to seeing an update, and to having her help.

Roger and Karissa after the ceremony
The ceremony itself was pretty lovely, with a harmonious chanting of the Heart Sutra; we had words from Peru, China, Iran and India, as well as haiku, some Tennyson courtesy of Blanche, and some singing in the round. I realised that I am starting my sixth season as ino, having had the spring equinox as one of my first ceremonies last year - as well as one of the earliest, and sparsest, looking back at it now, blog entries.

And as no day would be complete at the moment without some chocolate making its way into my life, David, who was the kokyo this evening, brought along a package from Chris and Vivian, replete with a sumptuous box of chocolates which I am going to attempt not to finish tonight...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Coffee And Chocolate

When I first worked at the BBC, we had a shift pattern that I greatly enjoyed, which was spread out over eight days. Every couple of months, you would end up working on a Friday from 1pm to 10pm, on Saturday from 3pm until 11pm, and then on Sunday you would work over night from around 11pm up to 7am. For me, the consolation of not having a regular weekend was always riding my bike home on a Monday morning just as everyone else was starting their working week, knowing that I had three days off coming up (a sleep day, and then two 'weekend' days). It felt a little like that this morning, as I set off on a leisurely bike ride to the Bovine for coffee just as the roads, and the bridge, were fully laden with commuters heading into town.
Call me superficial, but I do find it easier to feel attuned to the abundant energy of the universe when the sun is shining and it is over seventy degrees; it was such a day today, and I was definitely making up for any potential vitamin D deficiency I may have suffered from not really getting outside for several days.

After all those moon shots - the sun at breakfast time in the courtyard
 Although, as you can surmise, we had something of a day off here today - which is thanks to Anna, while she was still the director - a few of us got up to make sure the zendo was open for business as usual (Tanya and Renee, superstars as usual), though I had to wake up the night-watch to get the door alarms turned off.
And I found another bar of the same chocolate on my desk this morning. I don't think I have to scratch my head for too long this time to know who to thank. It has to be said that our man stuck it out the whole way through, which is no small feat.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Breathing Out

I've lost count of how many sesshins I have sat now; the last number I had in my head was somewhere in the thirties, and while I could probably still go back and count them up over the years, I don't know if I will. I do remember thinking that I had probably sat in sesshin for at least six months, which makes it seem a lot. Anyway, my reaction to this one was mostly on the lines of 'oh, it's only three days', whereas for most of the participants, who are relatively or completely new to the experience, it would be more like 'oh my god, I have to sit for three whole days'; my expectation was that it was mainly going to be tough on the logistical level, as outlined before. I wasn't thinking it would be long enough really to push my body too hard or crack my heart open, especially these days, and I was mostly right about that.
The first day got off to a good start when I found a bar of self-described 'supreme dark' chocolate at my desk at five in the morning. There was no note with it, so I wondered if it was someone who remembered my comment after the last sesshin - which upset one person here after they read about me breaking the shingi - or if it was another kind gift of support.
The second day was bedlam as I expected, what with squeezing another thirty people into the zendo for the one-day sitting part of things, and also having the public coming in and wanting to have a place to sit, on top of all the variables that inevitably occur. During the afternoon, though, I got to slow down nicely, and this continued today as we returned to being a much smaller group. Indeed, there was a certain amount of attrition over the three days, and even among the residents who sat yesterday, not all of them lasted the whole day. Blanche on the other hand, having said at the outset that we shouldn't count on her being there much, pretty much sat through the entire schedule, and anchored the zendo with her presence.
We ended with a shosan, in a very intimate group, where Jordan  got to be at his big-hearted best on the dharma seat, and we got to share some words of the intimacy that has been woven these past few days.

So, I was going to write that we had the Zen Beginner here with us, and since I made a point of telling him 'no blogging' just before I read the admonitions on Thursday, I thought it would be very remiss of me to be breaking that one myself. And, as I click on his page to get the link, I find not only did he go and break it himself, but he was the person who left the chocolate. Did I eat the chocolate? You'll have to ask me...
Changing the subject rapidly, and just to continue the pictoral theme from before:

The moon on Thursday
The moon on Friday

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Waiting For The Moon

Thwarted by the weather last month, I was more determined this time round to have the Full Moon Ceremony on the roof. There was a bit of grumbling and resistance from various people, and it was agreed that we would only do it if there was no fog or wind. Happily, the weather has been fine this week, which has been rare this year, and while it was pretty gusty when I started setting things up yesterday around five o'clock, after dinner conditions were perfect.
Of course being outside changes the dynamic of the ceremony greatly - it is very hard on the kokyo as voices just dissipate into the air, and the bells don't resonate as they do in the Buddha Hall, but there were many compensating elements, and I found myself taking in details as the ceremony unfolded: the last rays of the sun on the tall buildings around us; a slight chilling as the sun finally disappeared; the sounds of traffic and crows; the wide blue sky transected by the white of a gliding seagull or the red underbelly of a plane banking out of Oakland.
I had a weather eye out to the south east, where I was waiting for the moon to rise over Potrero Hill, but there was no moon until five minutes after the ceremony had ended, when suddenly a jagged-edged orange curve rose above the faint hills over in the east bay. A group of a dozen of us had stayed behind to watch, and everyone drew breath to exclaim at the sharp ascension and the vividness of the colour.

Full Moon Ceremony altar

Paul at the altar

The moon on Monday

The moon on Tuesday

The moon on Wednesday
I remember sitting in the hot plunge at Tassajara once, and eagerly waiting for the moon to appear from behind Flag Rock until I told myself that the moment was perfect just as it was, and the idea of waiting was just taking away from it. Similarly, the ceremony was wonderful just as it was - and there was a lot of positive energy last night and this morning to bear that out - the non-appearance of the moon did not change that.

Today I have to shift gears and get ready for our three-day sesshin, which begins tonight. There are a lot of logistics involved as we insert a one-day sitting into the middle of it, so I have three separate schedules and two seating charts and job lists to draw up today. Even though a part of me would like to spend all day soaking up the welcome sunshine.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Meeting People

I didn't get round to counting how many people were in the room for the Young Urban Zen group last night, but it was probably close to twenty-five again, and it was another rewarding time - at least from where I was sitting.
Since I have not been shuso yet - and that won't happen for a few years - I do not get to give dharma talks or practice discussions, but I do love to meet with groups and to try to express the dharma. This first happened for me giving Stone Office talks at Tassajara during the summer, which are completely free form, and can sometimes just consist of a resident telling the story of the place and how it is to live there in the summer and in the winter. I was occasionally mischievous enough to try to confound people's ideas and expectations of what they thought practice was all about, but mostly I just enjoyed meeting people.
Here in the city, I have got to do this with the Saturday Sangha a few times, at the Thursday evening sitting group, at the newcomers' table on Saturdays, at guest student teas, and now with the Young Urban Zen group.
We sat for just about half an hour, which people seemed to manage pretty well, and then read again the passage from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind which I had selected last week. Someone immediately came up with the question of how we are supposed to practice with no goals, as Suzuki Roshi emphasised in that talk, when the first teaching of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, was explicitly about the goal of ending suffering. It took me half an hour of allowing the conversation to flow around the circle before I could even attempt to come up with an answer to that, and it may not have been worth the effort in the end anyway, but I noticed how much I was enjoying being present for people during the exchanges - and I think everyone in the circle got to articulate something - and meeting them with something of the dharma. This felt especially nice as I have been noticing how reluctant I have been to really be open enough to meet people for much of the last two weeks as I get caught up in my own emotions and ideas. And that was a part of the discussion, as we looked at how limiting your activity comes up against the world of multi-tasking, and there seemed to be an agreement that not getting stuck with your ideas about anything is a key part to making it happen. Or, as Dogen puts it in the Genjo Koan, "When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualising the fundamental point".

Monday, June 13, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

"In this way, you let go of yourself for the sake of dharma without knowing how many thousands of times you do so. You seek dharma for the sake of yourself without knowing in how many billions of eons you do so. This is the vital activity of following a teacher. This is the activity of practicing yourself and following yourself...
To speak of dharma and practice for others is to hear dharma, to clarify dharma, and to realize dharma, birth after birth. If you have a sincere heart in speaking of dharma to others in this birth, your attaining dharma is easy. Or, if you assist and support others hearing dharma, your study of dharma receives a wholesome effect. You receive the effect in your body and in your mind...
This being so, if you hear a phrase from someone in a far-eastern region, speak it for another in a far-western region. Endeavor in hearing and speaking equally with a single self. Practice and realize an east self and a west self.
Rejoice, hope for, and have the aspiration for bringing buddha ancestors' dharma, the ancestral way, closer to your body and mind. Extend this practice from one hour to one day, then to one year and to one lifetime. Make buddha ancestors' dharma the essential spirit and play with it. This is to live your life meaningfully". Uplift from 'Self-Realization Samadhi' ('Jisho Zammai').

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ice Cream Social

One of the great things about Zen Center is that you don't have to go far for either sustenance or entertainment. What does an off-duty ino do on a Saturday night? Well, typically for a San Francisco summer evening it is too cold for ice cream, and I am not feeling especially social, but Caren was hosting a farewell ice cream social in the dining room  - she didn't get to sit tangaryo, so she didn't get a leaving ceremony in the zendo, but this was a viable alternative. It was the place to be: there were about twenty-five of us, from Blanche to one of this week's guest students, getting sugared up; Renee and Daigan were dancing expertly to Louis Prima, Kathryn singing along to seventies radio classics. Everyone knows everyone else, so it was very relaxed. When I left, Genine was setting up for a movie showing later, but I opt for an early start on the bike tomorrow.

Friday, June 10, 2011

June Bride

Early adopters of this blog, as well as those who have joined more recently, but have ploughed through older posts, will recall that Greg was even more enthusiastic than usual on the subject of officiating weddings.  More of you might remember last summer's lovely do with Djinn and Richard, in which I got to play a couple of roles; well today I got to officiate my first wedding, and I can totally see what Greg means. The happy couple - and I should say an infectiously lovely couple they are too - Chris and Vivian, are friends of David from the Saturday Sangha, and while this was a totally non-denominational wedding, they were happy to have me on board. I had met with them last month to go over the ceremony, as they managed to get their honeymoon in Europe in before the wedding; they only got back last night, so by four o'clock this afternoon, the adrenaline was definitely being held in check by the jet-lag.
So there were no precepts, no incense, no robes, and we weren't in the Buddha Hall. In fact we were in the spectacular rotunda at the Palace of Fine Arts, which is a glorious setting for such a thing. The sun was even shining, though the wind was also racing through the columns.
I had been worried about my voice getting lost in the wind, but when I went to check it out beforehand, the two musicians who were off to the side were able to hear me. During the ceremony itself I made sure to keep reading slowly and to project - a few times I could hear my voice bouncing back from the high roof, so I figured I was doing alright for volume.
I had no problem remembering to smile at them. It was a very lovely and moving event, and I was really happy to have had the opportunity. I managed to sneak in a few photos as well, before and after, and most importantly, remembered to bring my pen to sign the marriage certificate. And while I was not in my okesa, I was quite snappily dressed courtesy of Jim - I took the only suit I had here back to Europe for my brother's wedding last year, and since I hadn't had occasion to wear it since 2002, I left it there. Jim's suit was much classier anyway, and it was nice to get to dress up in a different way for once - people didn't recognise me when I came back into the building...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blogs and bees

Whatever else may be happening, nature continues to provide us with abundance.
 Since the demise of the ino blogroll some months ago, I haven't had so many blogs to recommend; now there are two to highlight, first from Zack, and then from the Beginner - I know who it is, but I won't blow his cover - which deliver views from different ends of the practice experience spectrum.

And, by pretty tenuous connection, there was an inaugural honey harvest today from our recently arrived bees. Luckily I was alerted in time to get up there with my camera:

Rose, Justin, Alan and Marcia with the honey

I think we will be getting this tomorrow night with our dinner

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

A little more from 'Thirty-Seven Wings of Enlightenment' ('Sanjushichi Hon Bodai Bumpo'):
"The power of trust is to be fooled by the self and have nowhere to escape. It is to be called by someone else and turn your head around. It is to be just here from birth to old age". This feels especially close at the moment.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Awesome Power Of Active Buddhas

As I told somebody after dinner yesterday, with the state of mind I have been in the past week, helping to steer the inaugural meeting of the Young Urban Zen group was pretty much the last thing I felt like doing. But, as I know so well, the important thing is to show up, and by showing up, something happens. It may not be what you expect to happen, or what you want to happen, but it will be something.
Those of us who have been putting our heads together to get this group off the ground over the past five months have had no idea what the response would be when we finally opened the doors. I have to say, we surpassed our expectations. There were twenty-five people in the Conference Center last night - we had too many people to fit in the cosy back room, where we thought we would be; we filled out the large front room and just about ran out of cushions.
We did a bit of zazen instruction, and sat for another fifteen minutes after that. Everyone introduced themselves and said a few words about why they were here, and then we broke into smaller groups for people to express what they wanted the group to offer. Happily, most of the suggestions that came up were in line with the brainstorming we had previously done - some study of texts to help people in their lives, maybe some basic instructions about zen, some yoga, some social action, some socialising.
What felt best for me was the way that people expressed how this group really met a need they felt in their lives to be practising together with people of the same age. There were people who were new to the city, people who were new to practice, people who had been practising alone, people who had been coming to Zen Center but were keen to be a part of this new format. Hopefully that enthusiasm will be sustained in the weeks to come.
If you thought about coming but didn't make it last night, the next meeting is next Monday, 13th June at 7:30. The dharma is offered.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Study Hall - Shobogenzo

I need to be a little more settled than I am right now to really drink in Dogen properly, and although I started 'Thirty-Seven Wings of Enlightenment' ('Sanjushichi Hon Bodai Bumpo') this morning, it takes him twenty pages to get through all thirty-seven wings, and I didn't make it to the end.
Phrases that resonated from the first half:
"The supernormal power of desire is the intention of body-mind to become a buddha, to sleep well, to be the self, and to bow to you". That would be nice.
"Know that the root of trust is not self, not others. It is not forced by the self, nor is it created by the self or led by others. Because it is not established by the self, it has been intimately entrusted throughout east and west".

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturday Shenanigans

There seems to be something unsettled in the air, above and beyond my own emotional turmoils. Maybe the unseasonal rain is part of it, the weather positively English in its cussedness at the moment. In the building, at a time in the middle of practice period when things usually feel pretty stable, there are comings and goings. We added a departing ceremony to the morning schedule at the last minute, as it was the only time that would work for the departing student. The fact that I was leading Dana around on her jundo was quite poignant to me, as she has been ino here in the past, but also, when I was first living in the building, she was one of the people whose generosity and kindness as a more senior practitioner really gave me the confidence that I was in the right place.
It added a little to the busyness of the morning, as we already had the Suzuki Roshi Memorial on the slate. I was thinking back to the last time we combined this with a different ceremony, and to my surprise it was exactly a year ago. Plus it was an oryoki morning, but somehow we managed to get through things on time. I had a few other things to take care of - our usual kokyo is on vacation, so I had to take attendance and find someone to be kokyo for the memorial as I was in the kaisando on food offering duty (at least that part went very smoothly today, though it somehow came upon me almost as a surprise, I was so pre-occupied with other thoughts); on the serving crew, the head server had gone away, happily finding her own substitute, one of the servers had gone away without finding a sub, another had done night-watch so had switched with someone from next week's crew who would be away next week... I was kokyo for breakfast, and then doshi for the next period of zazen; this was when I was most glad we weren't running late, as I had a chance to sit and drink coffee before someone from the Saturday sangha came and asked for help filling all the jobs as not many people had shown up today. I gave posture adjustments during zazen, feeling at least grounded enough to do that, with mixed results as usual.
Lecture started badly for me, as one of the power switches for the equipment had been turned off, so there was no sound for a few moments while I traced the source of the problem. I am still getting accustomed to the set-up, and to sitting at the back of the Buddha Hall. Paul sounded pretty quiet to me, but there was very little room to manoeuvre between audibility and feedback, and I was constantly tweaking different levels to try to find a combination that worked better. - again, mixed results. I didn't really take in much of the talk, but was glad to hear him bring in Rilke, Naomi Shihab Nye (as I said later to Laura who was running the Livestream chat next to me, in the future, you will be supplied with these links ahead of time so you can add them to the chat box as they come up), and a story he had mentioned to me yesterday when we talked, of the person who decided they didn't want to date someone, but who, it transpired, had nonetheless sent the undesired person three hundred emails...
Finally, someone Joan is working with wanted pictures of the sangha here, so I took a couple of pictures at the morning work circle in the lobby before breakfast. They are a bit scruffy, and they are not the posed shots, but they also capture something of the spirit of the moment:

And now, having interrupted my writing of this to get out and run some errands between showers, I am going to going and find Caren who wants to interview me for her blog before she leaves. I will try not to say anything too provocative.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Young Urban Zen

I am going to put in a shameless plug for a new Zen Center program, that I did mention briefly before, but which is scheduled to start this Monday evening. We have details on the website, of course, and Facebook, including the somewhat haphazard scheduling, which is due to other groups already having booked the Conference Center space on some Monday evenings, which the steering group had determined to be the most useful day. So, if you are in the target demographic, and in easy reach of Zen Center on Monday, you will be most welcome to come and help inaugurate this group. And, yes, I am older than the specified age range, but I am sneaking in as an ordained person to help ensure that everyone is at least sitting upright.

This picture is called 'One of these is the moon'

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Taking Refuge

When I came down for afternoon zazen yesterday, I found a card on my desk, written by someone who doesn't live here and is quite new to practice. It said:
"After reading your blogpost this morning, I wished I weren't practicing buddhism so that I could say things like: all things happen for a reason (rephrasing), or, this too shall pass (avoidance), but I know better than to say things like that to the Ino. Then I thought I'd give you the advice you would give: take refuge in the sangha, but I wonder if the source of your suffering may be the very sangha in which you are supposed to take refuge. So I'm going for what (I hope) is the sure thing for you: chocolate. I hope it brings you some ease".
I haven't eaten the chocolate yet, as the whole package, and the words, were enough (this person guessed right, though). As the day went on yesterday, I articulated my feelings to people as best I could, and felt better for doing so; it is a great treasure of living here that it feels fine to say, when people ask you how you are, I'm having a really crappy time, because people will meet you with that, and in the course of a conversation, do their best to support you. Other readers of the blog guessed at the source of my distress, which saved me having to tell the story again. I felt held and cared for by many people over the course of the day.
I felt again yesterday as well, what a wonderful and radical act it is to sit upright with the chest open, when a part of you wants to curl up and protect yourself. The day ended with the dharma talk, and Kathryn, speaking mainly about her experiences as a hospital chaplain, spoke of how the essential thing is to be able to look people in the eye, when they are suffering or dying, and meet them with love, and that resonated with exactly how I have been articulating and feeling my practice at the moment, which goes beyond temporary emotional suffering and allows a deep peace and joy to be present, even as the suffering still lingers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Back On Seat

I had been looking forward to that part of the vacation where you pick up your regular responsibilities and routine afterwards, and see how it feels. Unfortunately when I got back into town yesterday, I received some unwanted and upsetting news, which completely took the wind out of my sails. So now I am looking at how to pick up my responsibilities when I feel like I have no motivation or energy and am trying to function on about three hours' sleep. Everyone else, meanwhile, naturally wants to welcome me back and ask how the trip went, and I am not feeling particularly able to meet them.
It was comforting to be back in the zendo this morning; sitting felt good, even if my mind was far from settled, and I felt very emotional doing the first prostrations of service. And I was pleasantly surprised that there were only forty-four emails in my inbox and four messages on the phone; that felt pretty manageable.
At times like these it is helpful to see how other people are doing, and I enjoyed Gretchen's latest blog entry as I deal with my own mental itchiness.