A New Place To Sit

The first time I went to Ventura was about eighteen months ago. My friends Thomas and Leslie had started a sitting group at a local mattress-factory-turned-arts-centre, and asked if I would come and perform an opening ceremony. It was a lovely weekend, and they were very generous hosts. Since then they have moved house, and converted a part of their garage into a small zendo, so they invited me back to do it all over again and I was very happy to accept.
Last year I rented a car and drove down the inland route – not least because I was curious to see the southern half of the Los Padres National Forest (Tassajara lies in the northern section). It was a long drive, but very rewarding, especially the last stretch crossing the mountains from the Cuyama Valley towards Ojai.
This time I went by plane. Once I was done with transit to SFO, and through the security lines at the domestic terminal, it became a very relaxing experience. I haven’t taken such a short flight in a while (I remember hopping over the sea from Dublin to Bristol on one visit back home a few years ago), and Santa Barbara airport was small enough to be completely stress-free in both directions. I had the thought, as I did the one time my brother got me a first-class seat across the Atlantic with his air miles, that flying should always be like this.

On Saturday we got to participate in another short morning of sitting, with Kevin at the Vietnamese mission across town, housed in a sweet old church, with the original stained glass offering a contrast to the various statues and instruments more familiar in a zen temple setting. I was struck by the novelty, for me, of sitting in such a location, and in the discussion afterwards, spoke of how our zazen is informed by our surroundings, and also goes beyond them.

Being in the body was a theme for me over the weekend: after getting to relax with the flight, and the warm weather further south, I unwound further in Leslie and Thomas’ cosy back yard, surrounding by a handful of mostly friendly cats and a couple of lovable dogs. It has been a long time since I was in the company of animals to that extent. They appreciated kindness and expected only food. Speaking in the zendo on Sunday I wondered aloud why we think humans are any different.
Walking around the town and elsewhere over the weekend, as well as repeating a run I had done last time, I was noticing how much my body remembered the sensations of having been there before. Wearing robes, which I don’t do so often these days, was also a physical experience for me, noticing how I carry myself when fully dressed up, with bessu on my feet and carrying a kotsu.

We talked, as I often do these days, about how rationality tends to take up most of our attention, to the detriment of other ways of receiving and perceiving the world. It was interesting, then to read this in the New York Times on my return to the city after another painless flying experience. My abiding sense of well-being after the weekend had very little to do with the rational realm, and much to do with the kindness and generosity of my hosts, and the sweet sense of community we generated on Sunday.

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Leslie took this picture of their zendo while I was giving my little dharma talk after the opening ceremony.

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Most of the group after the sitting, with the new han built by Alan, who is not in this picture.

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