When I give zazen instruction, as I did last weekend at Wilbur, I always tell people to notice which leg they put in front (if they are sitting Burmese), or which foot feels easier to have on the thigh (if they are sitting half-lotus), and to switch out to see how it feels on the other side. In the Fukanzazengi, Dogen neglects to suggest this, but contemporary teachers tend to recommend it.
It is always interesting to see the preferences our bodies lean towards, and the asymmetries they can reveal. It doesn’t feel unrelated to me that many years ago I noticed I had a similar bias when I was running, in that I prefered running clockwise circuits (it was not the only reason I didn’t like track running, but it might not have helped). I first became aware of this on a fan-shaped route I used to take from my home in South London to Vauxhall, along the banks of the Thames to Bermondsey and then down to the south – this was in the late eighties and early nineties when the bankside path was not fully fleshed out in the way it is now, and there were some very dark and unused sections in those days, as well as places where you had to come up to the road level instead of being able to stay under the bridges. At first I thought it had to do with following the river downstream, which seemed to help my own flow, but then I noticed the preference come up in other places as well.
At Wilbur, one of my standard runs is up to the medicine wheel, and I did that on Saturday afternoon. Though I have run the route quite a few times now, I have always gone clockwise: up the fire road, and down the Smelter Trail, so this time I was determined to do it the other way. I knew there were a couple of places I would have to pay attention so as not to head the wrong way, but the trail was pretty clear at this time of year. I could also see the notch in the hill I was heading for, which made it easier. Being a trail, some parts of it were steeper than the road, and also, since it was ending up at the same elevation, some parts of it were flatter, so it was a different kind of workout to the more steady climb I am used to. The narrowness of the trail also gave me the illusion of greater speed, a phenomenon I am very aware of both for running and riding – being in a wide open space makes you feel discouraged at your seeming lack of progress. I felt pretty good at the top, and knew I could coast down and enjoy the return. Once thing I did not change though – I always pick up a rock on the way up, to leave at some part of the wheel, and I always circumambulate the wheel, as any sacred spot, clockwise (there is a whole other post I could write about that, and how there are different ideas of how to bow at the altars at Zen Center).
Friday night and morning had been close to freezing, the new moon allowing the stars to appear abundantly, but as the sun rose (and it was high enough above the hillside to shine on the yoga deck for the sitting, which did not happen in January), the temperatures rose to seventy degrees. Later on Saturday, and all the way through to Sunday evening, there was a strong north-westerly wind, much stronger than I am used to here. It even brought a few showers of hailstones on Sunday afternoon, which provided an unexpected soundtrack to the sitting.
After sitting I did my longer run, up to the ridge; since I am accompanying a friend on some of her marathon training runs, I feel I need to keep my own mileage up. Now that I have successfully completed the ridge route three or four times, it does not feel so daunting, but I knew I would also be running into the wind along the spine of the ridge; luckily the hail seemed to have sent the hunters home – we had heard sporadic gunfire as well while we were sitting, and I was poised to blow my whistle loudly if I heard any shots while I was out. This is one route I alternate without much preference – coming from the schoolhouse end, anti-clockwise, as I did on my last visit, the climb to the ridge is harder, but the various undulations on the ridge might be a little better spaced out; coming past the medicine wheel is easier, and after a flat section at the ridge the next slope is steep and fairly relentless. In either case, the views are outstanding; the sun was low, illuminating some slopes, clouds moving by.
There even some early blossoms – redbud on the sheltered side of the hill, and along the ridge, one little shooting star. A wonderful harbinger of spring, which may be further along on my next visit. I awoke early on Monday morning, and as I sat in the outdoor plunge, a celestial shooting star lit up the sky for a moment. Hard to say which is more beautiful.
The moon on Friday evening.
Early morning sun on Saturday