In The Thick Of It

Being able to offer the teachings in various venues is one of the main comforts of lockdown life for me; the other principles ones were also in plentiful supply over the past last week, namely warm, sunny weather and being able to get out on my bike.

I think I worked the bike metaphor hard enough last time around; another week on, we are all still in this flow of unknowing, much as we would like to know how it will all turn out. One of the participants in my student group mentioned how he felt enraged at those who were trying to ‘liberate’ themselves from the lockdown, but how he also felt vulnerable. I suggested that these people also felt vulnerable, but only felt able to express the rage. Another, who was clear about her desire to observe all the restrictions, said she had felt entertained by her bitterness at those who were not. Again, the ability to find that space, and not merely be consumed by the bitterness, is how practice can offer us moments of grace.

For all its imperfections – and there was a piece in the New York Times by Kate Murphy, who I have quoted recently, explaining well how it limits our necessary tendencies to mirror emotions of those we are interacting with, which is the kind of material I used in last year’s talks – there is a wonderful intimacy of the sharing I have been a part of on Zoom these past few days.

Apart from the many sweet observations from my students on Tuesday evening, I participated in the weekly Hebden Bridge sitting on Wednesday – their evening, my lunch-time. Catherine Gammon was offering the dharma talk this time; I know her from Tassajara almost fifteen years ago, and in the years following at Zen Center. She has visited England to teach many times, and reminisced fondly about working in the kitchen on retreat with several of the people in attendance this time. There were also other familiar faces from around the UK who had tuned in this time, and it was lovely to see them as well.

Since I am giving the talk next week, I wanted to hear what Catherine had to say, to be able to stay in the flow of the conversation. She in turn had listened to the recording of the talk I gave last week, so in that sense the flow was ongoing. I found myself nodding to the points she brought up, and to many of the responses that people had. I could probably build a talk just on notes I took of people’s observations this time around, though hopefully I will find something new and helpful to add for these times.

I also offered the zazen instruction for Zen Center on Saturday morning, something I have done many times, but never from my own bedroom, using my own cushions and chairs as props. Normally I get to see the effect of the suggestions I am giving on the people attending, and also get to gauge the energy level in the room, but that was not possible with everybody on Zoom, many of whom had turned their video feed off; I trust that something got communicated. It was sweet that the first question came from someone who was joining from Turkey – a very smart question about samadhi that I struggled to answer coherently. As with other events I have participated in on Zoom, we can be grateful that we have the opportunity to join the practice from anywhere in the world, and be intimately connected that way.

IMG_3872.jpgOne of the bright days last week – looking south east from Twin Peaks.

IMG_3929.jpgThe warmest day was Friday – this is the car-free approach to the foot of the bridge.

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