Today I leave for England (and a few other places) for a little more than a month. These trips are always multi-faceted: a few occasions for teaching; time with family, and especially my ageing parents this time; and catching up with old friends. I might even get some quiet moments to myself – last year’s few days in Sagres reminded me of how restorative that can be. At the very least I am looking forward to some long runs on familiar soil. I spent some of my quieter hours of August prepping posts for the next few weeks (as well as stock-piling about 150 pictures on Tumblr and a dozen posts on my Patreon page), leaving a few gaps for me to update on my travels – if I can bear to type much on my iPad.
These trips back home inevitably act as a time to reflect on how my life in San Francisco looks from a distance. In recent months, especially in the retreat-like weekends at Wilbur, I have been getting a sense that I am on pilgrimage – one that does not depend on travel – as I figure out what my teaching is going to look like.
This takes many forms, mostly focused on the balance between formal practice and informal (I can imagine some people at Zen Center would be shocked that I lead meditation at Wilbur without a shirt on when it is very hot). I spend a lot of time contemplating the support and community of belonging to an organisation, and how that can also lend itself to difficulties, complacency, inertia, and perhaps most dangerous (as I already know for myself) power dynamics that can cause great harm.
I watch how mindfulness and its attractiveness get co-opted into the mainstream and the commercial world, and how hard it is to make a living as a teacher without a huge amount of compromise. Figures I get from Simple Habit suggest that more than a hundred thousand people have now listened to my voice and what I have to say on their app, which of course is many times greater than the number of people who read this blog or attend any of my events. I know that I can easily be accused of watering down the teachings (especially when I specifically take on a topic like mindfulness in the kitchen, which was a condensed version of the class I have taught on the Tenzokyokun). I decided to work for the app as they were starting up, looking at the list of teachers who were already contributing, and trusting the judgement of those people on the list that I knew. Mostly my approach to teaching is that anything that can get people oriented towards the dharma is worthwhile; perhaps only one person in a hundred, or a thousand, might go on to read Dogen, or to seriously shift their perspective and outlook on life, but perhaps a greater proportion will have some positive result from even a little exposure. And we need all the help we can get these days.