‘So even though you sit, you know, and watching something like sunflower [laughs]– someone was looking, you know, in front of sunflower– watching the sunflower in hot sun, and I tried. It was wonderful, you know. I feel whole universe in the sunflower. That is my, you know, experience, but I don’t know how someone [else] experienced sunflower meditation. [Laughs.] Whole universe is there in– in the sunflower. It is not so simple [laughs]– very, you know, wonderful, wonderful complicated feeling. You can see whole universe in a small flower. If you say, “Oh, this is sunflower which doesn’t really exist” [laughing], that is not our zazen practice.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
‘We are constantly shoveling into our minds more things to react to; more things to think, worry, and obsess about; and more things to remember, as if our own daily lives did not produce enough on their own. The ultimate irony is that we do it to get some respite from our own concerns an preoccupations, to take our mind off our troubles, to entertain ourselves, to carry us away, to help us relax.’ (Full Catastrophe Living)
I remember that while I was living at Tassajara, I did not look at a newspaper for four months (let alone watch television or go to the cinema). When I finally did pick one up, it seemed that the same stories were still playing themselves out. I had certainly not wanted for entertainment in the mean time.
Everyone takes the subway, and you can look up,
And look at all the people, and each one is different,
And they look different, and each one has a story, and suddenly,
You are awake and want to know each story, only you can’t,
Don’t have time, they don’t, don’t want to maybe.
But some you do, you glean, you approximate yourself to something
Like the beautiful, chestnut-skinned woman, who, leaning,
Listened to the announcer before getting in, and, confused,
because the 2 was called a 5,
Asked advice, and three people responded,
Explaining in their different ways, some of them silent,
Eyes met with approval, warmth only subway-known,
Among equals, fellow travelers, denizens;
She sat and smiled, and looking at an infant,
Smiled more, her hair was a flag of self-joy too,
She was real, at ease among people.
The rule is: to speak.
Make contact, and you will find more people than you thought.
But back to our bubble. It is everywhere around us.
Everywhere, walking in the city, you are seeing people,
All different kinds, shapes, sizes, the best education
You can give a child is to bring them up inside this
Beautiful bubble. I complain, but I’ll never leave.
I feed off the looks, the stories, the hungering here.
I’m aware, we’re all aware, what goes on outside the bubble.
We’re not stupid. We just thought people outside the bubble wanted
the same thing:
To live as variously as possible.
Or, put another way: I am the least difficult of men.
All I want is boundless love.
It took us sixty years or so to understand
What the word “boundless” meant.
And now we know.
A few years ago, a friend subscribed me to Knopf’s Poetry Month daily emails, so each April, I get poems in my inbox. As with the New Yorker, while not being a huge fan of poetry, I look to see if there are any which seem to fit a practice theme, and this, perhaps especially the line ‘make contact, and you will find more people than you thought’ seemed to fit the bill.
Following my urges from last week, I saw a bike that totally fitted the bill for what I was after. The person who was selling it was obviously a bike person, and had built it up for himself, only to find he wasn’t using it as much as some of his other rides. I allowed the weekend as a cooling-off period for myself, and then stumped up the cash (the Venmo, really) on Monday as we arrived for the Embarcadero sit.
I was trying to think how many bikes I have bought as an adult: there was a very cheap city bike, which soon got upgraded once I realised I had money for a better one and a great desire to ride a better one for longer. Then the road bike, which I bought twenty-five years ago this month, and which lasted through thousands of miles in all terrains and weathers, not to mention flights across Europe and the Atlantic, and to the east coast and back, until it was damaged at the end of last year. Another city bike in London, which is still at my father’s house, but hard to ride these days – it survived a garage fire, but not unscathed. I entertain thoughts of having both of those bikes repaired and built up for when I am over there, as Cornwall was the scene of most of my favourite riding all those years ago.
There is my sturdy fixed gear which has been getting me round San Francisco and environs since I moved here almost twenty years ago. I was pleased at still being able to get it over the hill to Green Gulch last weekend, but the warm weather had been enticing me with thoughts of riding up Tam or Diablo, which is certainly beyond its range, and mine.
So I guess this new one makes six, and with countless hours on the two I have had in San Francisco over the past two decades, I am bringing some beginner’s mind to its handling and characteristics: while it is light and nimble, with good gears and brakes, the bars are distinctly wider than those I am used to – since I have been struggling with back and shoulder issues, I will see if the width offers comfort there. The cranks also feel longer, and I should look up to see what effect that has on my pedalling. On Monday afternoon, which was balmy and windless, I enjoyed getting to ride in low gears, and took it up to Twin Peaks to see how it felt. Pretty good so far.
So I am now broke again, at least for the next week or so, but I think of it as a solid investment in joy.
You can’t beat the view down Market Street from Twin Peaks on a clear day, especially when you have got to the top under your own steam. Diablo beckons in the distance!
‘Quietly think over whether life and all things that arise together with life are inseparable or not. There is neither a moment nor a thing that is apart from life. There is neither an object nor a mind that is apart from life.’ (Shobogenzo Zenki)
‘The mind ground can go into the ordinary, into the holy, into the pure, into the defiled, into the real, into the conventional; but it is not your “real” or “conventional,” “ordinary” or “holy.” It can put labels on all the real and conventional, the ordinary and holy, but the real and conventional, the ordinary and holy, cannot put labels on someone in the mind ground. If you can get it, use it, without putting any more labels on it.’ (Quoted in Zen Essence)
‘When will you ever stop competing? Before you realize, the scenery of spring had turned to autumn. The leaves fall, the geese migrate, the frost gradually grows colder. Clothed and shod, what more do you seek?’ (Quoted in Zen Essence)
My enthusiasm for the Zen-a-thon ride was tempered slightly as it approached, once I had seen the forecast for the day, which was for strong winds. The night before, I had been woken up by noisy gusts outside, and I had a sense of trepidation as they continued through the early morning. I gave myself permission to turn around at the bridge if I didn’t feel comfortable riding in the conditions.
For this fourth year of riding, the group was the smallest yet; that at least simplified the logistics – fewer people to watch over, fewer bathroom breaks or requests for coffee stops, and an easier time maintaining a pace that was comfortable to all. It was a lovely group too, Bryan – with whom I got to catch up about his talk, running, and other things – Helen, long-time friend of Zen Center, and now board chair, and Norma, a new practitioner who was good company.
It was cool and a little damp when we were getting ready to leave, but we hit the bridge as the sun was breaking through – probably the best time of the day to be there, as I think the balance of temperatures over the water and inland helps keep the wind down a little. My strategy was to sit right behind another rider and just stare at their back wheel so I didn’t start looking at the whitecaps on the ocean, or how far there was to the second tower, or anything else that could induce panicky thoughts. And that worked very well; I actually relaxed once we got past the half-way point of the bridge, since the wind was steady and not gusting, and then, once we were over the other side, really began to enjoy the ride. It was warmer on the sheltered side of the hills, in Sausalito and Mill Valley, and after being glad of my clothing choices originally, I now felt over-dressed. We took the long climb at a nice steady pace everyone could keep, and arrived in Green Gulch around 11:15 – definitely the quickest ride yet.
Since it was Norma’s first time at Green Gulch, I had an excuse to take a tour of the garden and fields, all the way down to the beach, while we waited for lunch. As expected, things looked beautiful in the spring sunshine; apple blossoms, poppies, lupins and colourful starts in rows. There were two herons stalking about; one looked intent on something, and didn’t move during the time it took us to walk to the beach and back – we heard that they were likely on the lookout for gophers to skewer and eat…
After happily catching up with a number of people over lunch, I took Jody’s yoga class, which was probably just what my body needed before the ride back over the hill (I just discovered that Jody is on the board too!). I had arranged to stay in Marin, so I was somewhat glad not to have to think about crossing the bridge again – as the wind was still quite stiff – and not to have to deal with whatever craziness might be happening in the park at the end of the 4:20 afternoon.
The high point of the ride, above Four Corners on the Panoramic, with Tam visible behind.
One of the herons in the fields at Green Gulch.
I am finding the iPhone does alright in decent light, with a little tweaking of the results.
Myles rings the bonsho for the end of the day, having been up early making delicious blueberry scones for everybody.
‘Even though our day-to-day activity is incomplete, without it there’s no Buddha’s mind, no Buddha’s enlightenment. If we don’t practice, Buddha’s enlightenment ended twenty-five hundred years ago. Because of our incomplete practice, right here at this Dharma position, Buddha’s enlightenment is here. Otherwise Buddha’s enlightenment is only recorded in the sutras.’ (The Mountains and Waters Sutra)
Let the elders knit their brows as they will;
For the moment, let the state be established.
Where are the wise statesmen, the veteran generals?
The cool breeze blows; I nod to myself.
(Blue Cliff Record, case 61: Fuketsu said to the assembled monks, “If one particle of dust is raised, the state will come into being; if no particle of dust is raised, the state will perish.”)