Sharon Salzberg

‘In the Buddhist tradition we tend to be a little skeptical of hope, or perhaps it’s better to say we hold hope lightly. That doesn’t mean we are into hopelessness, quite the opposite in fact. But the opposite of hopelessness would be considered love, or connection, in contrast to trying to wrest control over life’s changes, which doesn’t do much for us. One cause of suffering is desire. When you get obsessed by or fixated on something specific that you want you may view yourself and the world around you from a deficit: Life would be perfect only if you could get that thing, person, experience. One can get lost in this craving, which only increases separation from the world as it is.

We try to see the world as it is with equanimity instead of craving and fixation. Equanimity — the balance that is born of wisdom — reminds us that what is happening in front of us is not the end of the story, it is just what we can see. Instead of being frightened of change, with equanimity, we can see its benefits and put our daily existence in a broader context. The hope resides in the certainty of relief not in specific outcomes, like getting exactly what we want; the hope comes from the way things actually are in this universe: This too shall pass.’ (from Instagram)


‘Baizhang said, “I want someone to go and tell something to Xitang.”

Wufeng said, “I’ll go.”

Baizhang said, “How will you speak to him?”

Wufeng said, “I’ll wait until I see Xitang, then I’ll speak.”

Baizhang said, “What will you say?”

Wufeng said, “When I come back, I’ll tell you.” (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

I think Wufeng acquited himself quite well there, though he probably said too much at the end.

Zachary and I have scheduled a Zen Center class on the classic story of Baizhang and the fox, and I have started my reading around it. This is a dialogue I don’t remember reading before.

Yosa Buson

This is happiness
crossing the stream in summer
carrying my straw sandals.

I thought of this picture for this repost, a scene from Tassajara summer a few years ago.

Shodo Harada

‘Rarely do we reside in no place. We think about what day of the week this; upon hearing a bird sing, we think about its name; upon seeing a flower we think about how nice it looks. Instead of residing in no place, we reside in a small self. This is necessary for functioning in the workd, but it is not the actual truth. Only when abiding in no place can we experience the direct truth. When we hear the birds chirp from no place, our mind is freshly born in every moment. Because we seek comfort, we feel we have to reside somewhere. Because we are part of society, we feel we have to refer to others by judging them. But that’s not how our mind works when it is functioning at its clearest.’ (Not One Single Thing)

This is a deep and subtle point. We might think that our appreciation of a bird or a flower is exactly what mindfulness looks like, but, as I usually frame it, if we are just trying to put it in a box, whether that box is labeled ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant’, we do not allow it, or ourselves, the freedom of full expression in the moment.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘True interrelationship means to recognize our interdependence with other beings. There are always others present in the field of life, whether we care to look or not. The word “true” indicates that the interrelationship we are speaking of is not just about being of the same species or about what we “do” for each other, such as grow food, build houses, provide services, or share material possessions. “Interrelationship” does not mean the cliché, “we all have a part in making the world go round.” It refers to the unseen life force that is an expression of nature. It is ever present between forms of nature, between us. What makes our interrelationship “true” is the unseen  life force that exists between and sustains us. It is a collective experience of life that moves in us and between us like the breath we breathe.’ (The Way of Tenderness)

A commentary on yesterday’s post, perhaps.

Lisa Feldman Barrett and Karen S. Quigley

‘Right now, as you read this text, it may seem like your eyes are simply detecting words out there in the world. But you’re not detecting—you’re constructing. In every moment, outside of your awareness, your brain constructs a model of the outside world, transforming light waves, pressure changes, and chemicals into sights, sounds, touches, smells, and tastes. Your brain continually anticipates what will happen next around you, checks its predictions against sense data streaming in from your eyes, ears, and other sensory surfaces of your body, updates the model as needed, and in doing so creates your experience of the world. This covert construction of your senses is called exteroception.

Your brain also models the events occurring inside your body. In much the same way that your brain sees sights, feels things that touch your skin, and hears sounds, it also produces your body’s inner sensations, such as a gurgling stomach, a tightness in your chest, and even the beating of your heart. Your brain also models other sensations from movements that you cannot feel, such as your liver cleaning your blood. The construction of all your inner sensations is called interoception and, like exteroception, it proceeds completely outside your awareness.

For a long time, scientists treated interoception and exteroception as completely separate domains of sensation, bounded by your skin. But recent research has revealed that the two might not be as separate as they seem, and their boundary is fuzzy.’ (from the Dana Foundation website)

As part of my work as a meditation teacher, I try to keep up with the kinds of research being done. Along with recent articles on ‘soft fascination‘ and the benefits of nature on the mind, interoception has started cropping up in my reading. Again, the research may just be telling us things that we understand or instinctively know already, just with a quantative spin; the article goes on to posit that the brain does not necessarily recognise the skin as the boundary of the self. But as I always say, if it takes data to convince someone to try meditation, I am not going to say no, even if it just repeats and confirms the Buddha’s understanding from 2500 years ago.

angel Kyodo williams

‘Something got stolen from all of us. So you have to have compassion for the voice of the heart that has been lost or obscured, whether in others or in yourself. People need spaces of their own in which they can find those stories, reclaim them. No one escaped—no one. So if you think you don’t have a story because you’re privileged, that just means you’re completely in the dark. It is only when you find your story—when you realize the way you think and how you are has been utterly conditioned—that you will understand that even if on the surface you get to do all kinds of things, in truth, you have absolutely no choices at all. You have no choice at all other than to abide in this location and uphold it and be complicit in it for fear that to disrupt it will destroy who you are. You have a right to reclaim yourself, but you have to do the work of finding out how it is that who you truly are has been obscured…

When dharma teachers try to tell me that this work is not the dharma, I say they’re confusing the true dharma with the dharma they’ve made small. Even the notion that the dharma is somehow limited to the historical Buddha’s teachings says a lot about the work they’ve been doing and their understanding of what this is. The dharma—understanding, peering into the nature of reality—is not specific to Buddhism. The dharma is truth. And the only choice we really have is whether to try to be in relationship with the truth or to live in ignorance. There are no other choices. You have to actively engage. How did I come to be? How do I think of myself? How did I get what I have? (I don’t mean your degrees.) Where did I come from? What land are we on? If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. All of us, in some way, have profited from our wrong knowing.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

I have quoted from this talk before, and, having been steered back to it by reverend angel’s newsletter, I will be sharing another part of it soon.

New Places, New Habits

Camille, who I have known through Zen Center since my earliest days there, had a lovely piece about Roaming Zen published in the Bold Italic (a publication I have known about for about a decade). There was a spike in the readership on here afterwards – welcome if you are new and sticking around. It didn’t, though, boost the attendance for Sunday’s roam, but we had a nice small group, and we got very lucky with a warm sunny afternoon. Pine Lake was a wonderfully serene spot to sit and watch the herons, the cormorants, and the many dogs being walked to and fro. I could have stayed for much longer, but felt responsible to get people back to the starting point on time.

Pine Lake in the sun.

The fog has been quite insistent recently. I have only seen a couple of sunrises from the east-facing kitchen window at my new place, and these were tinged with red – my thought was ‘oh, here we are again.’ And then on Thursday, smoke of a different kind when I arrived for the morning ferry. I was chatting with the regular fellow passenger I see almost every week, and she pointed to a plume rising from the Bay Bridge. It turned out that a roofing truck had caught fire, though we couldn’t tell that exactly from where we were; we could see a few figures standing back, and heard little booms as propane tanks exploded. That was quite a start to the day, though I was feeling great relief that I was not in a vehicle stuck behind the fire on the bridge.

The colours of Tuesday morning.
The truck fire on the Bay Bridge from the ferry on Thursday morning.

Even though the move to my new place happened on the 13th, there was still a lot to do to feel settled. My training came into play in a couple of ways: I spent Wednesday morning deep cleaning the old place so that I could hand back the keys at the walkthrough on Friday. I was motivated by wanting to get the deposit back, of course, but also by the practice of being on cabin crew at Tassajara, wanting everything to look impeccable – much more than one does when still living there. At the new place, I try to keep everything in its place, mostly out of sight, returning to the minimal look of my old Zen Center rooms. It took some time figuring out where those places would be for everything, but during the week all the decisions got made, even if I still don’t yet automatically turn to the right drawer or cupboard to find what I am looking for. 

This place has some quirks as well: cupboard doors that need a little lift to latch, a drawer that brushes against a door frame when it is opened. I bought a new shower curtain as the stand-alone tub needed two, but did not take into account the tall ceilings and the rail hung high, which left my standard-length curtains dangling a few inches above the rim of the tub. I had to go back to get a pair of long shower liners before I could enjoy the shower at all.

As lovely as my new place is, I felt sadness arising when I handed back the keys to the last flat. My mood has not been great on the whole; I attribute it in small part to the dreary weather, in a slightly greater part to the chronically slow internet I have currently, which makes many of the things I have to do more of a frustrating chore (and which alarmed me when I came back just before my Within class after the morning of cleaning, and the network was completely dormant for several minutes). Mostly, though, it is missing the warmth and companionship of Caitlin and Collin; no amount of tidiness compensates for the lovely, lived-in nest we shared.

Joshua Rothman

‘In everyday life, the biggest obstacle to metacognition is what psychologists call the “illusion of fluency.” As we perform increasingly familiar tasks, we monitor our performance less rigorously; this happens when we drive, or fold laundry, and also when we think thoughts we’ve thought many times before. Studying for a test by reviewing your notes, [neuroscientist Stephen] Fleming writes, is a bad idea, because it’s the mental equivalent of driving a familiar route. “Experiments have repeatedly shown that testing ourselves—forcing ourselves to practice exam questions, or writing out what we know—is more effective,” he writes. The trick is to break the illusion of fluency, and to encourage an “awareness of ignorance.”’(from the New Yorker)

This was a very typical New Yorker article, on the subject of rationality, which I enjoyed reading, even though I find an emphasis on rationality generally rather infuriating – or perhaps it’s just the people who claim to be rational that irritate me. This paragraph struck me as not just true, but a great advertisement for beginner’s mind.