‘For years, because of my upbringing, I wanted others to see me as being perfect, so that’s the story I created. To myself, it’s not so pretty, as there’s no way to live up to personal expectations of perfectionism without inevitably being let down. In this way, Zen practice was triggering for my perfectionist tendencies. In Zen ritual, ceremonies, and general practice, things have to be just so. When they’re not perfect, you are told and corrected by multiple people. When they are perfect…silence. Rarely you receive positive feedback. My internal narrative reflected the judgments, opinions, preferences, and expectations I was experiencing. I kept suffering because of the monological feedback loop in my head that said, “You suck. You can’t do anything right. You’ll never be good enough,” and all of that fun banter. Eventually I realized that no one expected me to be perfect except for myself. And maybe ‘perfect’ is really just the way things are in all of their perceivedly flawed brilliance. So I slowly began to drop the expectation to be ‘perfect,’ and instead focused on doing things well and accepting things as they are.’ (from here)

This comes from a blog that popped up as a recommended read on my WordPress feed (the author doesn’t share her second name any place I could easily find), and I recommend it highly as a reflection on what a three-month monastic practice period is all about. There is less snow at Tassajara than up at Crestone, which I have yet to visit, though I would like to, but otherwise the details are remarkably similar. Which is not surprising as Richard Baker is the founding teacher there.

Gesshin Claire Greenwood

‘When I really looked into justice, when I really began examining how transformation of society is made possible, it became clear to me that love had to be a part of that transformation. Reading bell hooks helped. She was the first person I ever read who spoke about ending racial injustice and compassion in the same paragraph. She writes about the need for love to inform political change: “A culture of domination is anti-love. It requires violence to sustain itself. To choose love is to go against the prevailing values of the culture.”‘ (Bow First, Ask Questions Later)

I seem to be on a roll with this theme at the moment…

angel Kyodo williams

‘My work is to actually liberate myself from the ways in which I’m kept from my own heart. This is not a conversation about, “Oh, I should be liberated from that so that I don’t see you in a particular way because that’s bad for you.” This is a conversation about, “I want to be liberated from that because I recognize that that’s a limitation on my heart. That’s a limitation on my love. That’s a limitation on my compassion.” That you get the benefit is awesome, and that’s where we head into collective liberation, and it begins to expand that way.’ (from an interview with Emergence Magazine)

Echoing Kaira Jewel Lingo’s words from last week.

Jenny Odell

‘The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive to be productive.’ (How To Do Nothing)

It was interesting to start reading this book at Wilbur recently ( where I carry out my best regular attempts to be non-productive), alongside a New Yorker article by the ever-interesting Jia Tolentino, which had a corollary take on minimalism: suggesting that it has the potential to be not just streamlining, in order to be superior, aethetically pure, and more effective; but as a means to step aside from the constant demands of capitalism.

This reminded me of my occasional term for zazen – radical non-doing – and of the stories I have read about one of the earlies corporate meditation attempts, where Mirabai Bush went into Monsanto, and several of the employees ended up re-evaluating their desire to work for the company.

We need to do more than simply unplug.

Diane Eshin Rizzetto

‘This is what practice teaches us – always question, and never look for the answers. Just let them come forth and reveal themselves to us.’ (Deep Hope)

To which I would only add, don’t expect the answer to remain the same each time. I read in this excerpt a strong echo of something I have posted from another source. Or perhaps you think they are saying different things?

Karen Shoji Robbie

‘I learned this koan off by heart. Allowing it to seep into my skin and bones. Repeating the word ordinary like a mantra again and again. Asking the question, ‘What is it?’ again and again. Stopping and starting and not knowing what to do. The whole thing not doing anything. Not knowing anything but trusting that I didn’t know. Then beginning to experience ordinary. Everything ordinary. I kept going. And this ordinary got bigger and more spacious… Also at some point a fresh and unexpected word appeared. The word was love.’ (from the StoneWater zen site)

I was checking in with Alan about the upcoming weekend in London with Shohaku Okumura. It seems that the English sangha is coming en masse – from the Deshimaru groups, the Dogen Sangha, Throssel Hole and StoneWater Zen among others. I had not heard of the latter – they are a group in the Maezumi lineage, which I have spent more time amongst than some others. Having a quick look around their website, I enjoyed this commentary on the ‘Ordinary Mind Is The Way’ koan.


Speaking too much degrades virtue,
No words are truly effective;
Even though the great ocean should change,
It can never be communicated to you.

The Growing Days

It was one of the people who came to volunteer in the Zen Center kitchen when I was tenzo who really got me to notice the asymmetric qualities of daylight after the winter solstice – and now I can’t unsee it. The afternoons get longer before the mornings do, although now that we are closer to the solstice than the equinox, things are really starting to ramp up. This week, going to the early morning sessions at Core Studio, for the first time there were glimmers of dawn as I rode down Market St, as well as Mars adjacent to the waning moon.

Even though I am only going over to the East Bay twice a week now, it is the time of year when I set off for home able to see the deep golden glow of the sunset behind San Francisco. I expect more rain will come – we certainly need it – but for now I am relishing the steady sunshine and midday warmth.

The roam last weekend took in not just the magnolias, which were certainly a draw in the Botanical Garden, but also camellias, and a whole scene of poppies by the Conservatory of Flowers. Blossoms are appearing on trees around the city, and the jasmine in our yard is flowering. Apart from scheduling the roam, I used the time that I was gifted from various things I had on my calendar not happening by taking on some spring cleaning and other tasks that made me feel productive and happy. With one eye on my trip to England next month, I feel deeply settled and flourishing in my life here, and that feels good.



IMG_2507.jpgBlooms in Golden Gate Park last weekend.

DSCF2300.jpgBlossoms in the city.

IMG_2543.jpgBlossoms under the freeway in Oakland.

IMG_2421.jpgLooking over towards the city as I catch the train home.

Sekkei Harada

‘When we don’t understand, we simply don’t understand. But we have been taught to think that there must be nothing that we don’t understand, so we make every effort to understand. To truly understand, however, is to really know for ourselves that not understanding is not understanding. Until we understand in this way, our understanding will always change. We will end up understanding, then not understanding, then understanding, then not understanding, and so on. To abide by a way of understanding that does not change, you must understand that not understanding is not understanding.’ (Unfathomable Depths)

Do you understand?

This Land Is Our Land/You And The Land Are One

I will leave this as another mash-up, as I find no conclusions coming to mind. Three articles from the New Yorker, three continents, three ways of looking at the land we all inhabit, and which we must continue to inhabit:

‘“How do we feed the nine billion?” Fiennes said. “We feed them through functioning ecosystems.”

“A forester is looking at trees, and he’s looking at income from trees,” Fiennes explained. “A woodman cares for the wood and maintains it, enhances it. . . . He knows the importance of the bats and the flora.”

“Nature is random, but it is wonderfully organized,” Fiennes said. “You start throwing any sort of regular management theme and it starts to react.” One of his greatest pleasures is to realign a field. Fiennes looks for wet patches, changes in soil, and corners where a combine harvester or a boom spray can’t reach—and turns the land over to plants that will benefit birds and insects. Raveningham’s fields came to contain triangles and rectangles of wildflowers where Fiennes ruled that crops would be unproductive. He did this by compulsive observation. “Why aren’t the cattle going here? And why is the crow sitting on that post but not that one? And the fox is walking up this path,” Fiennes said. “You can just feel how it is all working with one another.”’(all from here)

‘“Before you share your knowledge with people who don’t know how to read, and reinforce that you’re smarter or know more, the first thing is to get them to tell you about what they know, and what their experience is, and then you set up a relationship of exchanging, not dominance,” she explained. Once, she noticed that a farmer seemed to have extra oranges; she confidently instructed him to sell them at the local market. “If I have too many oranges, I give them to people who don’t have oranges. They’re a free gift from God,” he told her. This was a lesson for Bellini: she couldn’t just tell people how to fix their problems.’ (from here)

‘There are few happy meetings between black history and the romance of the American landscape. The Mississippi was slavery’s superhighway, Manifest Destiny was the original white flight, and the first recorded African-American to see the Pacific Ocean was William Clark’s slave, York. If the runaway endures, it might be as the first black citizen of our democratic sublime, seeker of a freedom that isn’t so much up North as somewhere within.’ (from here)