Here in Fukuoka in my black robes I’m putting down my brush for good Having brought only trouble and shame on myself As a result of all my scribbling.
‘Anyone who has insisted on liberation so that they may know joy and love represents for the rest of us the possibility, the promise that the dharma puts before us and says, yes, liberation is possible even for you. Liberation is possible even for you.’ (from her website)
To which I will add that if you are a person of colour, reading this early enough on Saturday, Rev angel is offering ‘the Black SIT‘ for Juneteenth.
‘It’s so important, in our own lives, to enjoy the freedom of emptiness, but never to ignore the consequences of form. There is no death, and we all die. There is no male or female, and only women can give birth to a child. Living an awakened life is not so complicated. We get up in the morning, go to the bathroom, get dressed, and do our work. There is nothing special. And in this “nothing special,” everything shines with its own light.’ (from The Hidden Lamp)
This is a repost from a couple of years ago, but as so often, if I take a look in the archives here, I find a lot of good stuff that I had forgotten all about, which is worth bringing to the foreground again (not to mention I have been pretty busy of late…)
Somehow, almost imperceptibly, we have arrived at mid-summer, with the temperature having crept up a few degrees over the past week. The humidity did as well, but right now we are in the middle of a San Francisco-style heatwave (perhaps the third such week this year), and we can enjoy early morning and late evening sun in our north-facing bedroom, with all the windows wide open.
It was, naturally, much warmer when I drove down the Peninsula to officiate a wedding in Los Altos on Saturday. I was wearing my robes, and was glad the ceremony was in the late afternoon, and the open air location was shaded. This was the biggest wedding I have done in at least a year and a half, and the first time I have stayed for dinner since that time. I left before the dancing, and drove back with the sun setting behind the fog bank west of the 280.
Officially California has re-opened, though I will still be wearing masks indoors for the foreseeable future. I did feel emboldened enough to schedule a roam, for this Saturday. There seems to be some pent-up demand in the Meetup group, which has grown significantly in size since lockdown started, and now I have a waitlist, with several of the people on it having also snagged places on the next roam. I was also asked if I would lead a roam for Zen Center as part of the delayed Zen-a-thon, and last I heard, that had reached a number that I would consider full capacity.
And then things start to happen with the re-opening as well: one evening this week, almost at monk’s bedtime, I had a text from a friend I have more or less fallen out of touch with over the course of the pandemic, suggesting we should meet up soon; close on the heels of that, a text from Nancy the tanto inviting me to give the talk at Zen Center next Wednesday. My dance card is definitely filling up.
‘When I started to sit regularly, once a week, I experienced deep emotions each time. Sometimes I wept, while sitting, tears rolling down my cheeks and dropping off my chin. At times I would have an emotional insight while sitting. Later, [Suzuki] Roshi would talk about a subject directly related to my insights and feelings, seeming to read my mind. I felt as if he were lecturing just to me. In dokusan, and individual interview, I asked him about this. Roshi answered, “Nothing special. Nothing special. That’s the way it seems when you begin to get the idea of Zen practice.”‘ (from the Jikoji archives)
I have heard many practitioners over the years echoing some or all of these sentiments.
‘A monk asked, “I’ve heard the ancients had a saying, ‘When feelings arise, wisdom is blocked; when thoughts change, the substance is isolated.’ How about when feelings have not yet arisen?” The Master said, “Blocked.”’
So where did the monk go wrong? I would suggest he doesn’t need to trouble his mind about things that haven’t happened, because it will get in the way of meeting what is actually arising.
‘I’ve come to consider embodiment to be one of the primary benefits of my time in retreat – and perhaps it is the radical revolutionary practice of our time. Though I would say that I am not 100 percent at home in my body. I am further along the path of coming home to my body than I have ever been. My body and mind are beginning to partner; I try to bring both of them together into every interaction and situation. This definitely slows me down, but it also keeps me grounded and healthy. I now listen to my body as much as to my mind, because my body has its own wisdom, which is just as important as that of my mind.’ (Love and Rage)
I heartily concur with these notions – sitting sesshin allowed me to be in touch with my body and its wisdom (as well as the temporary pain of so much sitting), though I feel lucky that I have never in my life felt distant from my body, or that I only lived in my head.
Friends of my childhood
Are all well known now.
They discuss philosophy;
They write essays and criticisms.
I am getting old;
I am good for nothing.
This evening the rain is my only companion.
I burn incense and lay myself in its fragrance;
I hear the wind passing the bamboo screen at my window.
Last weekend, I attended this year’s virtual iteration of the Gen X teachers’ conference. While four hours on Zoom is a lot, it was wonderful to be back in the company of this peer group of teachers. There were about fifty people on the call, and I knew at least forty of them, either through Zen Center or from previous conferences.
I think Buddhist teachers tend to be pretty good at attuning to current realities, and the main theme of the conversations was how we had all been dealing with teaching through the pandemic, and strange demands of the interface of video and sangha. Prompted by one powerful presentation, there was discussion on finding what I noted as ‘models of vulnerability’: how to be honest about our own struggles; does this set up an expectation for our students to be taking on emotional labour of supporting us; or does it increase authenticity and intimacy in the group.
As always, these remained open questions, to be navigated with compassion and curiosity. What I aspire to is the constancy of being able to meet people, as outlined in the post by Joe Moran the other day, and in these words by the ever-illuminating Corey Ichigen Hess:
‘Being with people, caring about people, lifting them up, listening to them, appreciating them, showing them that they are beautiful and that they are connected to life. Life is not against them. Being yourself, loving life, welcoming them into your joy. Not forcing them to see the light. Letting it be contagious. Most of my work has been covert operations to spread joy and unity. Connecting with them and with this great life energy always there, it feeds everyone, everyone is lifted.’
‘I feel what’s so powerful about Thay’s [Thich Nhat Hanh’s] teachings is the invitation and the possibility of coming home to ourselves. That has a special meaning for BIPOC folks who have often been kidnapped, and stolen from their homes. Who have been denied the right to establish a home. Who’ve been kicked out of their homes. Who’ve been redlined out of being able to purchase or live in certain places. There’s been a lot of removing BIPOC people from their homes, from their ancestral lands.
So a teaching that helps people to find our true home inside of us is very powerful. This teaching is the teaching of liberation; it’s about getting free, and that has been the deepest thirst for so many “communities of culture” as Resmaa Menakem names it. So the practice of meditation and mindfulness offers a path to liberation in terms of freedom from our suffering, hatred, and internalized violence.
It also can help us to deal with really painful emotions, and not just our own, but our ancestral inheritance that has both incredible beauty and resilience but also traumatic retention and deep suffering. So, [there is] the [Plum Village] practice of Touching the Earth, for example, very powerful practices of transforming ancestral suffering, of taking refuge in the earth. Of letting ourselves be held in something bigger than ourselves as we heal our own and our ancestral trauma, from our family, spiritual lineage and our land ancestors.’ (from an interview with Parallax Press)