Decades

I haven’t really wrapped my head around the fact that the decade is turning over this time, or spent much time contemplating the passage of time. I do remember, as we celebrated the beginning of 1980, my mother asking me where I thought I would be at the end of the decade. I had no idea (does anyone ever know where they are likely to be in ten years, especially as life starts to bloom?)

I do know that I reminded her of that conversation when 1990 came round. Life was blooming: I was freshly living in London and had just joined the BBC. Where I was still for the turn of the Millennium: while many of my managers were staying overnight to ensure that broadcasts continued (it’s easy to forget how pervasive the Y2k fear was at the time), my shift that day finished in the early evening, and I remember the deep joy of riding my bike through the thousands of happy people thronging the streets of central London, which had all been closed to cars. I rode home to see in the Millennium with the person who got me to San Francisco – after offering a glass of champagne to my downstairs neighbour, who was in her eighties and newly widowed. I imagined she had not thought she would live long enough to see that day, any more than I had ever thought I would be moving to California.

Ten years ago I was the ino at City Center, and although I don’t have any clear memories of that year as opposed to the others when I was in the same seat, I would have been sitting in the zendo in the run up to midnight. That may have been the year when someone paused outside on the street, and we could hear him making an anguished phone call, at around 11:30, pleading with friends to come and celebrate with him – in vain, it seemed. The densho would have rung 108 times, and I worked really hard as ino to have the timing work so that the last of the hits coincided with our neighbours on Lily Alley giving their audible countdown to the fireworks going off all over the city on the stroke of midnight.

Since those years of late night sitting and subsequent bonfires, I have tended to go to bed early and get up early, to be able to ride out before others are out and about. This year end, I am cat-sitting out of the city, and hope to make it over to the Marshall Wall on New Year’s morning, which would be beyond my present range were I not an hour of riding closer to it.

I have not been a great one for resolutions over the years, but two years ago, I did resolve to monitor my self-talk. I intended to mention this in my lecture, but then skipped over it. I did bring it up in the question-and-answer session afterwards; I have found it one of my most helpful practices, and the person I suggested it to liked that I used the word ‘monitor’ rather than anything that pre-supposed an instant change. Sharon Salzberg writes about this in Real Love as well, just noticing the kinds of words and judgements you use for yourself, and seeing if you can start to change the tone over time. If you haven’t thought of a resolution for yourself, I offer this one to you; I think everyone could use it.

Happy twenties.

(I finished typing this, in an unfamilar room, and got up to find this picture on an archive hard drive. In the process I knocked over a lamp which I had brought closer, its cord stretching across my path. I chuckled at my lack of awareness rather than having any angry put-downs come to mind. This is the kind of thing I am talking about).

Fire ceremony Blanche.jpgThis photograph is not from 2010, but it is the one I think of when I think of our end of year fires at Zen Center – Blanche would supervise the cleaning of the Buddha Hall tatami mats during the great temple cleaning in the evening prior to sitting until midnight; she would also be up again, in her robes, for the early morning procession to all the altars around the building.

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