I don’t particularly hold to the idea that this day is any more appropriate than others to take time to reflect on changes that are always going on in our lives, but I will bow to tradition, since this past year has been quite momentous for me.
Mainly this has been my gentle transition out of Zen Center. At the beginning of the year, I was starting my third year as director of City Center, but had already indicated to those of higher authority my desire to leave. Desk jobs have never been my forte, and the prospect for me at Zen Center was more administrative responsibility; I was worried that I would continue to feel that I was not thriving, having previously thrived for many years in different positions at City Center and at Tassajara. After fifteen years of training, the past ten of them in continuous residential practice, I was curious to see what lay beyond the temple gates. Now I am just starting to find my feet in the marketplace, at a time of year, of course when very little happens; what I am noticing right now is that there are some anxieties and fears about making ends meet, but I have received an enormous amount of support and encouragement from people in all parts of the community, and their optimism nourishes my own.
Looking back, I realised that I have moved five times in the past year: I had been living in a very nice room at City Center, but the opportunity came up to share what has been called for many years ‘Blanche’s apartment’, when the advice we were getting was that it was not so safe for her to be navigating all her rooms without having someone within earshot. I was very conscious that prior to Blanche and Lou, it had been Suzuki Roshi’s quarters (and Okusan’s after he died); it felt like a real privilege to be there.
In the summer I left City Center to go to Tassajara, taking only a portion of my belongings with me, returning in September to a room in one of the Zen Center apartments up the block on Page St, finally vacating that room at the beginning of December so some work could be done on it, and camping out in a smaller room in the apartment for my last few days before moving out altogether.
The weekend I moved from Zen Center I was sick, and it was a time of torrential rain, so it was an exhausting process, and it took me quite a few days to have the energy to go through all my belongings – some of which I had not unpacked since leaving for the summer, and some of which had been in boxes since I was shuso at Tassajara in 2012. Slowly but surely I have organised everything, getting all my correspondence from the past fifteen years in one place, for example, and now feel pretty much on top of that. In each move I have discarded some things – I did the same with the older possessions I have in storage at my father’s house in England at the end of 2014 – and there is a sense of resilience from trusting that what I am still carrying around is important and relevant to some degree.
My time at Tassajara was a wonderful way to step aside from the levels of responsibilities I had been carrying, and to return to simple physical work, combined with opportunities to teach, yet even there I noticed that I did not feel as enthusiastic about getting up early every morning to follow the schedule.
Now I am free from a regular schedule, and finding out once again what it means to take care of myself outside of a community where food, housing and a regular stipend are provided. Cooking for myself has been entertaining thus far, although I am surprised at how many times I have needed to head to the shops to refill my supplies. Not having set meal times now, I am hewing closely to the old zen adage, ‘eat when hungry, sleep when tired.’
I can honestly say I have no idea how this next year is going to unfold for me, where I am going to be or what I am going to be doing in twelve months’ time. My wish for myself is that I have the confidence to follow through on my intention to bring practice to people who are unlikely to visit a zen temple, and to be of benefit to people who need help in this difficult world.
May you all have a nourishing start to 2016.
Fifteen years of letters and notes received, largely from the years at Tassajara where mail is the main form of communication.
Here are a couple of seasonal articles from the past week I have enjoyed: this one on the benefits of the quiet at the end of the year – though it may be more applicable to the UK than the US, and this one about simple ways to continue that benefit into the new year.