I left a gap in my schedule of posts, thinking I might say something about how Wednesday’s talk went. One thing I mentioned in the course of giving it was how I had managed to spend the week between Christmas and New Year doing just about everything on my to-do list except writing the talk. Many of those things involved end-of-year organising, sorting out papers, putting some clothes aside to go to goodwill, backing up all my drives.
I also looked through the various folders of photos I have saved this year and pulled out around a hundred as a ‘best-of’ selection, which I have on rotation on my laptop screen. There was a little nagging feeling, looking at them, of ‘is this really the best I’ve got?’ That usually happens when I put a talk together, looking at a draft and wondering if that is all I can offer.
In this case, I had established the theme some time ago, while I was reading Real Love in England, and had been amassing supporting quotes. What I failed to do until the night before the talk was put them into a decent sequence, and then, as I often struggle to do with my talks, flesh the quotes out with what I want to say about them in a coherent way. It took making a lot of notes as I read through the draft on my BART commute on Wednesday morning and evening to get it up to what I thought might be a reasonable length.
In the end, not long into the talk, I realised I had more than enough material. I usually don’t like to talk for more than thirty minutes, to give people a chance to ask questions, and also because people’s concentration inevitably flags, especially in the evening, when a lot of residents are already thinking about bed. I ended up talking for a full forty having dropped some of the quotes, but keeping, and managing to expand on, the more personal parts, since they are usually what engages people most; in previous talks I have sometimes found it hard to extemporise like that, so I was happy with how that went. Plus I felt the beginning and the end were both strong, and I walked out feeling pretty satisfied.
One of the residents gave me good feedback, not just saying she liked it, which most people tend to out of politeness, but why she liked it, which is much more helpful. There was also a touching moment where a young woman I didn’t know, but who had been near the front, nodding to points I made in a way that had felt very encouraging, came to introduce herself as the girlfriend of one of the men in the county jail who has come to a few of my recent sessions there, and with whom I have had some good involved conversations about practice.
In the realm of tidying, I enjoyed seeing this article in The Guardian on the practice benefits of cleaning, which any Zen Center resident would smile at. It brought to mind two of my articles , one I have shared before, and one that I just put up on my Patreon page, which incorporated a Shodo Harada quote I have posted before.