Jenny Odell

‘One thing I have learned about attention is that certain forms of it are contagious. When you spend enough time with someone who pays close attention to something (if you were hanging out with me, it would be birds), you inevitably start to pay attention to some of the same things. I’ve also learned that patterns of attention – what we choose to notice and what we don’t – are how we render reality for ourselves, and thus have a direct bearing on what we feel is possible at any given time. These aspects, taken together, suggest to me the revolutionary potential of taking back our attention. To capitalist logic, which thrives on myopia and dissatisfaction, there may indeed be something dangerous about something as pedestrian as doing nothing: escaping laterally toward each other, we might just find that everything we wanted is already here.’ (How To Do Nothing)

This is the radical premise of this book – that we can take back the power of our way of negotiating with the world, first by being conscious of what and how it actually is at any moment. I cannot help but invoke the passage by Joanna Macy alongside this.

Sitting And Breathing

The rain passed through the city over the weekend, as it did a couple of weekends ago, as the slowdown was starting. That, of course, seems a long time ago.

Most days, I feel like I end up spending too much time sitting down. I am sure this was true of my life hitherto, but it seems more evident when we are not moving from place to place during the day. I remember the man who used to walk up and down Oxford Street decades ago, with his placard urging less sitting (along with less protein); and of the quote I stored from Hui-neng: ‘sitting all the time constricts the body.’

And so I try to go out – riding or walking. Doing so, I found that any strong effort brought about a recurrence of the feeling of congestion and weakness in my lungs, something that has been lingering through the month. Happily, a long sleep on Saturday, and a gentle ride on Sunday once the rain had moved on left me feeling a little better, though I am still wary – and things being how they are, do not expect to be able to find out what it is that I have.

Still, sitting and breathing is what we do. This week I will be offering much the same as before in terms of teaching and encouragement, in the continued hope that it helps people:

Zachary and I will be hosting a sitting on Zoom, Monday lunchtime – details are here.

I will be live on Instagram with Core Studio on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, 8am. It is open to everyone, you don’t need the Core trainer, but, should you be tempted, you can get one with a discount using the code SITWITHSHUNDO, which as these things do, benefits you, me and them.

And if you want to take to the streets in a socially responsible way, I have now posted routes for three roams, which you can find here, here, and here.

The best article I have read in recent days was another piece in the New Yorker on the traits of the virus. Definitely not fake news. And I finished the Hilary Mantel, so am now trying to decide what to occupy myself reading next.

60695602151__DC0EBA71-FC2B-404B-9811-ADDEC3C3929D.jpgDark clouds appeared on Thursday afternoon.

IMG_3173.jpgOut to get food as the rain headed north on Saturday afternoon.

IMG_3179.jpgIt’s that ship again – still moored in the Bay. Seen from Heron’s Head on Sunday after the rain had gone.

IMG_3186.jpgIslais Creek as it re-emerges before flowing into the bay; Twin Peaks and the Sutro tower behind the freeways.

Fu Hsi

From a single thought arise
Deeds wrought by delusion,
Sixty-two mistaken views
Nine hundred crazy ins and outs
But then what ends is endless
And what begins is beginningless
When you see like this
Truth and falsehood are the same

I don’t usually comment on the poems I post, but this one does need the added proviso that this view does not give anyone licence to behave like the current US president.

Reb Anderson

‘We can learn to welcome everything, including our own failures. When we learn to welcome everything wholeheartedly, we become fearless, and that helps others to become fearless also.’ (Entering The Mind Of Buddha)

This is the heart of bodhisattva activity. The transformation that allows us to welcome our own failures and to drop away some of our self-protective fears seems to me these days to be the key to living a happy life.

What We Lean Towards

This might have become part of a talk I had been planning to give in England, to the Hebden Bridge group, this evening – though I allow myself longer words and fuller sentences in this written version:

Memories of London sometimes permeate my thinking, and in those memories, the depths of the city’s past make themselves more fully known perhaps than when I lived there. Reading Hilary Mantel‘s evocations of Tudor London helped bring all this to the fore.

For a short while, I used to teach English to a Japanese businessman in a tall building at Moorgate. I thought of Moorgate primarily as a tube station, and one with a grisly history, as there had been a fatal crash there when I was young.

Of course Moorgate was one of the gates in the wall around the old city; there is even an adjacent street named London Wall to reinforce the point. I seem to remember a space around there called the Tenter Grounds – or maybe there was just a sign commemorating those, as I don’t find any such modern map reference in that location (there are Tenter Streets between Aldgate and the Tower of London).

I remember how pleased I was back then to connect for myself this etymology with tenterhooks – and even plain old tents. It took Jenny Odell’s book to add attention to that family of words.

All of which is an elaborate way to introduce these two passages. Both speak to the processes spelled out in the Heart Sutra (form – sensation – percepton – formation -consciousness) – spelled out in the sense of being negated, as none of them is self-existent. Attention is one of the cornerstones of our practice, and many people who have sat an extended sesshin or retreat will recognise the deep level of looking and attention-giving described here:

‘Battered, blue, durable, unprepossessing – already obsolete some might say. Square on the bottom with a rounded top and a squeaky pull-down handle that needs a certain decisiveness to open and close, it was something I’ve often used but had never at any time given the kind of close examingation that it in fact – what? needed, deserved, wanted? Wanted – that seemed as close to it as anything. I was at the moment wide-awake in a way that reached out in all directions. Awareness and attention had been intensified, reorganised, redeployed, and I was abruptly eager to know more.

That was one thing. Yet, inanimate as it remained, it seemed in the same moment almost as if the mailbox, too, were reaching out in my direction, that it was broadcasting on a wavelength I wasn’t normally tuned to, and that when I listened as well as looked, if that was the right way of putting it, let me understand that it was as eager as I was, and pleased to have its role and purpose and its previously overlooked impressiveness better known and securely remembered. But there was more than one role or function involved, as I could already make out. On the one hand, it was just a few cubic feet of public space set aside and protected – from the elements, from any marauders – so that out-going mail could accumulate for several hours. On the other hand, it was the near end of a global force, and energy stream in constant motion and powered by millions of workers in all countries that can redistribute envelopes and packages to any spot in the world.’ (In Motion – Tony Hiss)

‘It’s a commonplace that we only see what we’re looking for, but this idea of information that makes it into our brains without being admitted into our consciousness seemed to explain the eeriness of suddenly seeing something that has been there all along. For instance, the many times I had walked down Grove Street after a symphony performance, noises has presumably been making it into my ears and were being processed; after all, I wasn’t physiologically hard of hearing. It was the performance of the John Cage piece, or rather its attunement of my attention, that provided the “key” for those sounds to pass through the “gate” toward conscious perception.’ (How To Do Nothing – Jenny Odell)

Kaira Jewel Lingo

‘In those moments when it feels like there’s no way to keep going, that whatever is happening is too much, how do we touch into that sense of space? If we can breathe in and out, putting our mind on our breathing, we create space. We slow things down and let our nervous systems recalibrate and center. The external situation may not change, but we have changed in relationship to our external situation. And—this may sound weird—we can also create more time. This feeling of pressure, of stress, of not having enough time—it’s partly mind-made. It’s our way of looking, our way of being, that creates this. We get in a rush, we feel pressured, and by simply stopping or pausing we can create some spaciousness. Time becomes fuller. When we meditate, focusing on the present moment, we touch into a place that’s only accessible in the present moment, which is not constrained by our ideas of time.

We can shift our experience of things by this basic practice of being with what is here and now. So much of the stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed comes from all that we are projecting onto the future, all the fear. But in this moment, right here, there is the ability to recognize fear, to be with fear, and to not be swallowed by it. There is non-fear, and we can touch that. But if we’re running, then it’s fear that’s running the show. If we can stop, we have the chance to touch into something deeper than being overwhelmed.’ (from Lion’s Roar)


‘I should dispel the suffering of others because it is suffering like my own suffering. I should help others too because of their nature as beings, which is like my own being.’ (Shantideva)

I had a whole month’s worth of posts lined up to cover the time I was due to be in England. Now I comb through them to see which ones still feel helpful during this time. Some of the harder-edged, or more abstract stuff does not feel to me to speak to what I imagine we need to hear.

In the midst of the disruptions and the lack of mobility, I notice how much I try to find ways to be useful, to be able to connect, or find words to offer people. And of course I need them myself. Leading the Core meditations on Instagram – words I never thought I would type –  I find myself relaxing (though knocking over a full water bottle right before I was due to go live on Monday did not help me start the session relaxed). I have felt supported by, and connected to, the invisible audience there; and just as much when I follow the other teachers leading their sessions. Sitting with Zachary on Zoom, joined by new and regular people on this new forum; meeting with my student group on the same screens – these are the connections we have now, not as nourishing as real, face-to-face interactions, but better than isolation. I offer up routes for roams in the hope that people will enjoy a solitary hike, as I appreciate the value of being immersed in nature.

My daily rides ended on Sunday: I rode up to Crystal Springs, and down to San Bruno; since I found myself so close, I took to the Bay Trail again, in the opposite direction. But once home, I felt tired. On Monday, after we sat, I set off for Rainbow, but seeing the lines, decided against waiting out in the cold wind. A headache developed, and during the night my body and my dreams suggested that my temperature might be rising slightly, again. I rested for much of Tuesday – apart from leading the morning meditation, and then going to Rainbow after the rain broke for a while. The line was forty minutes or so, but inside was quiet with the low number of shoppers inside. One roll of toilet paper was allowed per person, so I took my share. Then it started raining again on the way home.

I try not to spend all day looking for updates online; most of what I read is not uplifting, and there is the sense that we really don’t know how long we are going to be going through this unusual phase of our lives. A few articles have stood out, though: one on the perils of social isolation, such as we contemplate now, one on the benefits of connection with nature, and one from a pregnant nurse, a bodhisattva in action. And, just in time, once of my favourite distractions, not least for the soundscapes it offers, has come to life again: the osprey cam from Scotland. That cycle continues, unabated.

IMG_3042.jpgUpper Crystal Springs Reservoir from the trail on Sunday.

IMG_3047.jpgIt was warmer down by the bay  – the fishermen were not sheltering in place, but they were keeping good distances.

Norman Fischer

‘Each of the six perfections is suffused with the perfection of understanding, which sees the truth of the empty nature of all things. Naturally our discussion of simple ethical conduct would end with mystery and emptiness. Just as there is in reality no giver, no gift, and no recipient, so also there is no hurting, no one to hurt, no one to be hurt. There is no ethical conduct.

Saying this may sound scary, as if anything goes and, once we appreciate emptiness, we can go ahead and commit as many sins as we want. But this isn’t the case. Seeing that there are no actual persons, that being is the flow of love, makes us much more passionate about doing good and not doing harm. We’re not trying to be righteous, we’re not acting out of fear; we simply act in accord with the way things are. There’s no other way.’ (The World Could Be Otherwise)

It’s easy to type this, or read this, and say, yes it is so, but as the title of the book suggests, it does not play out in the world this way. And yet, we all have the capacity to understand reality in this way, and to behave in accord with that understanding. And all we can do is try it for ourselves to the best of our ability.

Lama Willa Miller

‘The Buddha emphasized that if there is something that can absolutely be counted on, it is that nothing can be counted on. Life has always been so.

But I forget, most every moment of every day. Lulled by the predictability of my days, I believe that tomorrow will be just like today. Today just like yesterday. The toilet paper will be there.

Driving home, I found myself silently praying. I prayed to Medicine Buddha. I prayed that sick bodies might heal from their illnesses. I prayed that my own small acts of compliance might be meaningful.  Beyond that, I prayed that the world would not devolve into narratives of fear.

I think of the gifts.

Fear is an invitation. It is not an invitation to weigh risks or to adjust the externals. It is an invitation to look deeply within and befriend the animal in oneself.

We are sitting with the unknown. The unknown is exactly what pulls back the veil. It offers a glimpse the truth that nothing has ever been certain. This world with all its beauty and all its vibrancy is just so because it is not fixed, because everything is contingent. Life’s natural cousin is uncertainty.

The final gift, the one that I keep returning to in these shadowy days, is kindness. A pandemic is a common (pan) experience. We are in this together. We can face it together and we can help one another get through it. Ironically the “social distancing” we are asked to practice is a call to care. It is not a request made for oneself; it is an act of public good.’ (from Lion’s Roar)


Study the way as if boring wood to make fire.
Seeing the smoke you should not stop.
Immediately the golden star appears.
Within this world is the primary destination.


Dogen’s response to Longya.