The Yoga teacher says we are all unique,
like snowflakes, each its own composition of frozen water,
complex bodies made up of elements necessary for sustaining life:
oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus,
potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine & magnesium.
If we focus on our breath, our control shifts from the brain
stem to the cerebral cortex & the mind quiets.
Eyes closed, resting on our backs, out of generosity, kindness,
our teacher sometimes places her two hands beside the back
of our head & elongates the neck to give the body
more room to heal what is broken.
The Yoga teacher says we are all unique,
‘Bowing is an ancient form for showing reverence and respect. In our culture we have the handshake. Maybe it is more intimate than a bow because we touch one another, warm hand to warm hand. But they say that the origin of the handshake is suspicion and wariness. The handshake is a gesture of peace and harmlessness because it demonstrates that we aren’t holding a weapon in our hands. Our hands are empty of aggression and we show this by offering our hand and taking the hand of another. So the handshake is more intimate than the bow, but the intimacy is predicated on the possibility of aggression. In contrast, by bowing we are acknowledging a friendliness and respect, but also a distance. A bow expresses our love and respect, but the space between us when we bow also expresses that we understand our aloneness, and that we can never assume we understand one another. We meet in the empty space between us. A space charged with openness, silence, and mystery.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
I chose this as a passage to use before the pandemic came quite so close; these days I hear that the handshake is going to fall into desuetude. Bowing is a good alternative.
‘In the study hall, do not keep things such as bows and arrows, spears and clubs, swords, or helmets and armor. Generally do not keep any military equipment. If someone stores short swords and the like, they must be expelled from the temple right away. Implements that violate prohibitions should never be brought into the study hall.’ (Eihei Shingi)
It is always fun to open Dogen’s Pure Standards at a random page to see what comes up. This is a salutary reminder that, while some aspects of monastic practice have not changed over the course of eight hundred years, I don’t recall there being any danger of this regulation being invoked at Tassajara…
‘Our hearts and minds have grown accustomed to a paradigm in which one human being has control over another. This is our default, and it has infected all parts of our psyche.
In Buddhism, through meditation and other transformative practices, we aspire to know states of heart–mind that Buddha (the human being) embodied. These states of heart–mind bring us close to reality as it is. When we see the absolute reality as it is, there is no individual human being, no separate entity. There is only interdependent co-arising: I am you; you are me. I am a monarch butterfly that is going extinct, the Black woman whose five generations of family were lynched, and also Hitler and present-day fascists. All is me. Richest and poorest, we inter-are.
It is important to note that while Buddhism has devised many skillful practices to deal with the myth of separation in the consciousness of an individual practitioner, it has only just begun to grapple with systems of oppression. An individual cannot beat a system. To beat one system, it will require another system. Systems of oppression or separation must be replaced by systems of nonseparation or nonduality. The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, where women are more powerful than men, but rather it is one of deep equality and solidarity. We are so used to systems of oppression that we have forgotten how to live in a way that is not separate.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
I found this to be a powerful article, that goes on to pose us a series of challenging questions about what we are willing to do ourselves to help these systems of non-separation come into being. And can we devise a way to bring a more equitable system to life?
‘From the vast fundamental wholeness of everything, we are each endowed with the capacity to meet life as it is.’ (Deep Hope)
And, often we doubt our own capacity to do this, but the past months have shown how we can – in this case, we didn’t have much choice.
The other day, I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I got in a car – certainly not since we started sheltering-in-place. I often say, when I am at Tassajara or Wilbur, that slowing down to human speed is deeply restful. And my body seems to have settled into that pace.
That said, I went out on my bike on four consecutive days over the long weekend – two hours on Friday afternoon and Monday morning, three hours on Saturday and four on Sunday. The weather was just too good not to. I still haven’t crossed the bridge for a couple months, but I have been happy heading out on local roads, hills and waterside, long highways and car-free stretches, extending my mental map of good roads to choose down the peninsula.
This is often the most beautiful time of year in San Francisco, and we are getting the benefit of it right now; clear skies, warm air, and often very little wind. I have been glad to get out very early on my morning rides, not just enjoying the light traffic, which allows me to take busy roads I avoid at other hours, and the general quiet, but also not to be constantly hot and worrying about dehydration.
The roads have been getting steadily busier in the last couple of weeks, after the relative tranquility of March and April, and now there is just the hope that the increase in bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets will remain in force.
I have continued connecting with the Hebden Bridge sangha, the consistency of which allows for a wonderful ongoing conversation, and a strong sense of sharing honestly and openly. And, on Friday (before I got on my bike) I officiated a Zoom wedding. This was a real treat: the couple were international, and had friends and families all over the world – New Zealand, Singapore, Estonia, Miami, Sheffield. I had the chance to put my robes on (I don’t remember the last time I did that, either, seeing as the April ceremonies I would have attended did not take place). I didn’t get to sign the marriage licence this time, so they will have to have another ceremony with City Hall, but it was certainly a celebratory occasion. And we do all need that in our lives as well.
After the main part of the ceremony, I stayed online to hear the congratulations from all over the globe.
Part of a city ride on Friday afternoon, the new bike path in Mission Bay.
On Saturday I went over to Pacifica, and up to Sweeney Ridge. That is Mount Diablo across the bay.
Diablo was also visible from the high ground on Sunday morning, around Hillsdale.
And from the top of San Bruno Mountain on Monday morning.
‘To give zazen instruction, we often say, “straighten your back,” “keep your eyes half-open, half-closed” to regulate the body, “make your out- breath long,” “do abdominal breathing” to regulate breath, and “do not think anything,” “focus your attention on your breath” to regulate the mind. I think there is a big problem here. Zazen should not be something forcefully built up by imposing a ready-made mold onto our body-mind from outside. It should be what is naturally and freely generated from inside as a result of non-fabrication. There is a danger that a rote way of giving instruction is leading us to change zazen into shuzen.
In zazen, the spine should elongate by itself instead of our lengthening it by effort. I would like to briefly touch upon the topic of “outer” and “inner” muscles. When we try to lengthen our spine consciously, we use the “outer muscles” – the volitional muscles. These are designed for purposeful movement. When the spine elongates by itself, the body is using the autonomously-controlled “inner muscles.” These are the muscles of “being” – the non-volitional muscles – designed as a system of supportive movement.’
I love how Issho frames zazen as very different to other kinds of meditation, as I have posted before – he name-checks the Alexander technique in this passage.
The continuous flow of thoughts in the mind does not stop, what can you do about it?
True boundless awareness can be said to resemble It.
Beyond name and form, people cannot realize It.
After splitting a hair, hone the sword at once!
‘By keeping mindful of the matter of birth and death, your mental technique is already correct. Once the mental technique is correct, then you won’t need to use effort to clear your mind as you respond to circumstances in your daily activities. When you don’t actively try to clear out your mind, then you won’t go wrong; since you don’t go wrong, correct mindfulness stands out alone. When correct mindfulness stands out alone, inner truth adapts to phenomena; when inner truth adapts to events and things, events and things come to fuse with their inner truth. When phenomena fuse with their inner truth, you save power; when you feel the saving, this is the empowerment of studying the Path. In gaining power you save unlimited power; in saving power you gain unlimited power.’ (Swampland Flowers)
I managed to be a little bit productive during the ongoing lockdown, and sort through a couple of accordian files full of papers; things that I knew I had on a disc somewhere, I sent off to recycling. As I sifted through old talks, classes and handouts, I found some quotes I wanted to bring to the fore again, including this one, which I have published before.
‘The entire great earth is the gate of liberation, but people are not willing to enter.’
You have to wonder why.