I packed a lot into seventeen days in England – a couple of train trips, twelve hundred miles of driving and thirteen hundred photographs, staying in six different places, catching up with all my immediate family and my closest friends – though I did not get to quite the place that Brad Warner is writing from. Somehow I managed to stay awake long enough on the day after I arrived to go to see his event in Wimbledon, which was a great start to the zen side of my trip.
A couple of evenings later, when I was visiting the sitting group in Brighton, Chris, the host, asked if, after the two periods of zazen, I would prefer to do a more formal talk upstairs in the zendo, or a less formal one downstairs with tea and biscuits. I was delighted that English zen included ‘tea ceremony’ as we know it, and opted for the latter, which was clearly a popular decision with the group.
For all the events with the local groups, I was buoyed by the enthusiasm of those who showed up, perhaps most notably in Wimbledon, where Alan and his cohort have created a thriving small sangha in a matter of months, and Hebden Bridge, where we had a great turn out for the evening event, and lots of good questions from practitioners both in the afternoon and the evening. It was wonderful to feel so welcomed by so many fine people, and I am especially grateful to Rebecca and Dave for their broad hospitality. At Glastonbury, there was a lot of experience in the room, which felt a little challenging to be teaching in, since some people present had more years of sitting practice than I have, but it made for a rich conversation, especially when we sat around after the day was over sharing our stories of different schools and lineages, and I got to hear more from Devin about what the next steps might look like for zen in England.
There was much to remind me how much England remains my home: the colours and shapes of old buildings, narrow streets, the flatness of the Thames Valley, seeing from the train country roads I used to cycle down on my way out of London, big varied skies, the folds of land up on the Pennines and crossing Dartmoor, shared memories with old friends, touching in with the history of my family as I wandered in Cornwall (I will write more about this in a couple of days). The weather, as I noted, was much kinder than it might have been, though I did get reminded of how pervasively cold it can get.
All of which made my return to San Francisco a little challenging. Having left during a serious heatwave, it was hard to come back to a thoroughly wet weekend; I was also a little flattened by jet-lag, and with no Roaming Zen, and another job cancelled, I was rather at a loose end, with a nagging feeling that I will have to start seriously thinking again about whether I should move back to England for good sometime soon, or just start visiting more regularly. Trying to ground myself back in my present home, none of a long run in a break in the rain on Sunday afternoon, a brief sortie on my bike on Monday morning, nor a walk to Rainbow on Monday afternoon, where I was surprised by the intensity of the light and the warmth of the clear skies, were enough to shift my mood fully. It was only sitting with my group of students on Monday evening, and starting to teach on the Fukanzazengi that the ‘dullness and distraction were struck aside.’
Walking the sea front at Brighton.
St Giles, which has just about survived the latest round of redevelopments in central London.
Visiting my uncle and aunt in Clare, Suffolk, for a picture-perfect Sunday pub lunch.
Atop the moor a few miles from Hebden Bridge.
By Cox’s Tor in Dartmoor, looking west into Cornwall, which feels most like home to me.
Changeable weather at the Hurlers on Bodmin Moor.