‘The truly still mind, with which you were born, is the mind that moves freely. Without ignoring anything, it reacts wholeheartedly to everything it encounters, to everything on which it reflects. And yet, for all that, it is the mind that is never seized by anything, but is always ready to react on the spot to whatever it encounters next. The that is still is the mind that never forfeits its freedom.’ (Novice To Master)
It had seemed that California might have escaped the worst of the fires this year, but the Kincade fire put paid to that notion. Before I left for Wilbur on Friday, I took a ride up Twin Peaks, and could see the smoke drifting south, as predicted. On the way up, there was a long line of it over the hills to the west.
There have been some personnel changes at Wilbur and it seemed that my planned visit had fallen through the cracks; when I arrived, I discovered that it was a weekend for a yoga retreat, who were taking over the yoga deck where I would normally offer meditation. As it happened, I had been discussing for at least a year the idea of offering meditation hikes, and had decided with a previous calendar organiser at Wilbur that October would be the perfect time to do it. I had written a blurb for the newsletter – its non-appearance had alerted me that there might be some issues.
Quickly enough it was decided that I could offer the hikes as planned, instead of doing any sitting while the retreat was here. Then it also transpired that the retreat had planned a meditation hike, and would be delighted if I were able to lead it for them. So on Saturday, having taken a couple of people up to the medicine wheel earlier in the morning, I took a large group of retreatants up there – via the wishing tree – so that they could enjoy the view and enjoy a silent packed lunch. It was a lot of fun, and I am grateful to Katrina and Laura from Moxie Yoga for being open to it.
Hortensia in the office had warned that the wind was due to get up at eleven that night. I was woken at 11:30 by something sounding like a door banging repeatedly; the cabin shook several times in the ferocity of the gusts, and I was hoping that the power lines at the end of the valley had been turned off, as the thought of one of them falling and setting the valley grass on fire was not restful. So I did not sleep terribly well.
The wind also caused the temperature to drop a fair amount, from very pleasant days in the eighties. It barely reached the sixties, and felt colder whenever the wind blew. In the morning I took a mother and daughter – from a family who had initially cancelled their birthday celebration, but decided to come since they were liable to be evacuated from their home, having packed photo albums and passports – along the valley, to the wishing tree, the labyrnth and the wind chimes, which were making a rather spooky cacophony.
I was feeling rather uneasy all morning, and had serious thoughts about leaving. We were getting reports, initially second-hand, but then confirmed as a few of us gathered in the office, that highway 16 was closed, as was highway 80 in Vallejo. As Rebecca pointed out, with all the evacuations as well, it was not really a great day to be on the road, so I decided to stay put.
A part of the unease was discovering that my former rigged-up method for recording myself for the various apps no longer worked on my new laptop. Something I had planned to spend much of my free time on Sunday was now no longer possible, but instead would have to be added to the number of things to try and get done during the week. I could spend a little more time on the writing, but felt at a loose end, and noticed that I had absolutely no desire to go for a run to burn off the energy.
Having decided to stay though, the agitation disappeared, and the place quietened down as well, not just the wind, but most of the guests leaving after their weekend. I stayed out in the sun at the baths until it dipped behind the trees at four, and set up the yoga deck for an evening sitting. I think it was my first time sitting with the lights, and it also felt very powerful and grounding just to be sitting upright after all the movement. One person came, and she asked for the lights to be turned off, so we sat in the very last of the daylight; she did not have much experience sitting, but was raised as a sufi, and had many thoughts about meditation, trauma and healing, so we ended up talking far more than sitting, until I was ready to sleep.
Waking up terribly early on Monday, it soon occurred to me that I was unlikely to go back to sleep, as I would be turning over all the things I had to try to get done – not least of which was the fact that Zachary had said he wouldn’t be able to make the meditation on Monday, so I would have to collect the cushions, as well as dropping off my rental car by eleven, getting myself to and from the sitting, then back out to teach in the afternoon – with my student group in the evening. Rather than wait out the rush hour, or have to sit in it, I had the idea I could get ahead of it.
I had a bit of coffee and set off earlier than I have ever done before – though there was still a fair amount of traffic even for the ungodly hour. Indeed, at Vallejo, where the smoke was dense, the lines of traffic on the 80 at five in the morning stretched right through the city, as there was still a lane closed just by the bridge; and the half-hour it took to get through that meant that the Bay Bridge was starting to seriously back up as well. Nevertheless, I still got home before light.
Of course, once I had a signal, I discovered that Zachary would be able to make the sitting, and bring the cushions after all, so a large proportion of my fretting had, not unusually, been in vain. I thus had plenty of time to catch up on emails, news and football; I was just very tired during the various sittings, alleviated only by a sense of real meeting during my evening group, something that is always energising, and reminds me why I do all of this.
The thinnest of new moons visible before sunrise on Saturday.
Dawn colours at the bathhouse.
Bright sun on the smelter trail on the way up to the medicine wheel.
A year’s worth of wishes on the tree – they will all be burned at the end of the year.
The labyrinth oak.
Although some smoke was visible from higher up, the skies could not have been bluer.
‘If we can allow ourselves the space and acceptance to be multifaceted, we will experience life to its fullest. Being human means facing suffering. There is no light without dark, no joy without sadness. If we don’t experience all feelings, we have no basis for comparison. If we run from certain emotions by staying busy, expressing fake positivity, or abusing mood-altering substances, we are cutting away half our existence. When we stop and honor difficult emotions, we have the opportunity to live fully and integrate all parts of ourselves. These feelings will torment us until we stop running from them—and from the truth of who we are.’ (from Medium)
Most days I browse through Medium; sometimes I find entries in the self-help section laughably glib, but there are many wise words to be found. This paragraph reminded me of a woman who was in a small group at Young Urban Zen one time, who announced firmly that she did not allow negative emotions into her life. I looked at her and saw a base of fear, not groundedness.
‘So here’s what I learned about bells. You always have the option of being a monk, all you need to do is decide that the world is your monastery. There are bells constantly ringing around you and it’s up to you to decide which ones you are going to align yourself with. Each bell has something deep to teach you that is only revealed when you commit yourself to it. The deepest teachings of Zen are hidden in a meditation bell and many of the secrets to a long life are intrinsically intertwined within a traffic light. You just need to make it your practice to shift when they ask you to.’ (from the Pop Up Zendo blog)
Joseph and I trained at Tassajara together for a while, and I enjoyed his company. I haven’t seen him so much in recent years, but I am happy to get updates of what he is doing at Jikoji – and also very glad of all the work he and Judy Cosgrove did to get the Kobun Chino book out into the world. Along with this long meditation on bells, Joseph has created a sleek meditation timer app, which I promptly downloaded to my phone; I would encourage you to do the same, even if you have one already, as I did – and no, I am not getting any affiliate payments for this endorsement!
The wind is still in the great thousands of worlds.
Birds sing and mountain peaks are profoundly quiet.
The roads in all four directions brighten with dawn.
The six doorways are chill with autumn.
Sharing the seat on the ground beyond doubt,
A reflection of a bow floats in the wine cup.
(from the Extensive Record)
‘If the mind dwells in nirvana, this is not the abode of bodhisattvas. Not dwelling in nirvana, not dwelling on phenomena, not dwelling anywhere at all – this is the abode of bodhisattvas.’ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know of my preference for warmth and sunshine. I sometimes wonder if this is entirely shallow of me, while suspecting that it may actually be a source of deep nourishment.
This week has been a case in point, with the temperatures rising steadily in the city, and last week’s onset of chill rather forgotten about. The last couple of days have even been balmy before sunrise, and shimmeringly warm after dark. Heading up to Wilbur today, I expect even warmer during next couple of days, though I know the nights will be much colder.
I was working alone in the East Bay this week, which allowed me to start earlier than usual (I know that is not normally the way it goes, but it suits my schedule better). I got off the BART early, at West Oakland, each day, and rode for twenty mintues down the mostly quiet streets into the low morning sun. On Tuesday evening my attempts to get home early were scuppered: after a stop-start BART ride through Oakland, we were told that the Transbay tunnel was completely closed (it transpired there had been a debris fire), and that no trains were going through to San Francisco. People jumped off at West Oakland; I tried to picture a scenario where getting my bike on a bus going over the undoubtedly packed Bay Bridge would be worth the effort, and then had the idea of checking the ferry schedule. It worked out nicely – I rode over joined the line, which doubled in length by the time we all got on board. I hadn’t taken this particular ferry in years (in early days at Zen Center, it was an occasional treat to rumble down Market on the F train, and catch the ferry over to Oakland to attend a relaxed Sunday jazz matinee at Yoshi’s before a similarly relaxed journey on the way home), and others seemed to be trying it for the first time; there was a feeling of camaraderie and adventure, and conditions as the sun set could not have been more gorgeous. The only thing that prevented me from completely relaxing into the experience was knowing I would have to ride up Market with no lights, which I don’t like to do – though mostly I was immersed in the commuter crowd of bikes, and felt very safe. A journey that usually takes forty-five minutes had taken two and a half hours…
Two weeks on from returning from England, I still don’t feel entirely caught up; last weekend was mostly taken up with a wedding. This one was the opposite of the one the previous weekend. Then I had ridden my bike down to the beach, and managed to get all the participants in one photo. This one involved driving up to San Rafael (in the middle of Friday rush hour, though since I was giving one bridesmaid and two musicians a ride in my rental car, at least we qualified as a car-pool) for the rehearsal, and on to Novato for the rehearsal dinner, then back to San Rafael at lunch-time on Saturday. Both days ended up as late nights for me, and there was a lot of socialising happening, with more than 150 people in attendance, so I was wiped out on Monday. But it was all very sweet and romantic, as my former house-mate and her beau were both tying the knot for the first time, to the seeming relief and delight of the many old friends in attendance.
A huge spread for the wedding in San Rafael, for which conditions were perfect.
The ceremony timing allowed for photographs in the last of the sunlight.
There were petals everywhere – these around the wedding cake.
Leaving Oakland on the ferry on Tuesday evening.
Crossing under the Bay Bridge.
And heading towards San Francisco as the sun went down.
‘Even if you say that mind and objects are not two, this is not a discussion of reality. If you say that nothing changes [or that everything changes], this is not truth. If you say that words cannot be uttered or that the principle cannot be revealed, this still does not penetrate reality. If you say that essential nature is real, or that mind is the absolute, what sort of discussion is this?’ (Denkoroku)
Keizan is not leaving much wiggle room here, is he? How would you express it then?
‘There is no ‘right way’ of standing upright. To stand right is to let life go constantly in the direction of uprightness, honesty. Moment after moment.’ (from Wind Bell lectures)
‘Wholehearted effort is about fully engaged living. It encourages us to question our beliefs about what we think our life should be and to turn our effort towards full presence of how it is. But even though this is simple, it’s not always so easy. For one thing, being fully present means being fully present to everything, and that takes effort and perserverance.’ (Deep Hope)