At Year’s End

I tend to keep a lot of notebooks where I scribble down thoughts, ideas and quotes that resonate – though these days I am equally likely to do that on Apple Notes, especially on my commute, where I jot down page numbers from the book I am reading, as part of my practice to find material for this blog.

Recently I unearthed a little notebook from ten years ago, about the time I was back at Tassajara after a painful couple of years of upheaval and uncertainty, during which one of things I cleaved most closely to was my intention to ordain as a priest. I had received permission to sew my okesa, and was investigating what that meant for my life. I had a notion that it made most sense to continue monastic practice at Tassajara, which was not easy to do given what was going on in my life at the time – hence the pain and upheaval. Some of the pages are filled with notes from talking with Norman Fischer and reading articles by Mel Weitsman, as well as more traditional zen sources. I was amused to read a little aside under the title ‘priest – monk’: ‘giving up the world – helping the world. How can I embody the practice in the outside world?’

Fast forward ten years, and here I am, still trying to see how that works. Almost exactly a year after leaving the temple and settling in the marketplace, I notice how my preoccupations of those first few weeks (then, as now, a time of rain, and feeling that things were on hold for the duration of the holidays) have resurfaced: Am I going to be able to pay my rent? What does my practice look like? The rent issue has been particularly pressing this past month or so, and I watched myself move from anxiety to acceptance, with a trust that it would somehow work out (I think it more or less will for January). I know that I will be doing more work at Zen Center next year than I did this, having made an effort to establish some independence, and there are other ideas in the pipeline. Alongside Roaming Zen, my dharma brother Zachary and I are plotting to launch Sidewalk Zen (unless we decide to change the name soon), which will be just what it says on the tin, a chance to do zazen out in the city – we have been chewing over the idea of a pop-up zendo truck, and then I saw that perhaps the truck was not necessary.

Another dharma brother has been wrestling with the idea of giving up his livelihood and spending time at Tassajara. I encouraged him to read some Dogen, with this kind of passage in mind, and I have been holding these notions close as well as I move forward:

‘When one thinks about it, everyone has their allotted share of food and clothing while they are alive. It does not come from thinking about it; nor does one fail to get it because one does not seek for it. Laypeople leave such matters to fate, while they concern themselves with loyalty and develop their filial piety. How much less then should monks be governed by worldly concerns! Sakyamuni left the remaining portion of his life to his descendants, and the many devas give food and clothing in offering. Each person naturally receives their allotted share in their life. They need not think of it, they need not search for it; the allotted portion is there. Even if you rush about in search of riches, what happens when death suddenly comes? Students should clear their minds of these non-essential things and concentrate on studying the Way.’ (Shobogenzo Zuimonki 2,6)

Thanks for reading, and if you are on the same calendar, happy new year.

On the subway - one moment of calm
I have been wondering about a picture to use for publicising Sidewalk Zen – this isn’t quite right, and it was taken in New York, but it has some of the qualities I am thinking about.

On a recent rainy morning, I was going through my picture archive for some representation of me from ten years ago. This is one of me doing what I love, playing with rocks.

Crossing the creek at Tassajara – perhaps this is a good visual for what I talk about above.

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