On Friday morning, I was listening to Suzuki Roshi’s Calmness talk, ahead of this morning’s third class in the series. Even though I have listened to it quite a few times already, once again, I heard it fresh (and kind of wished that I could re-write some of the accompanying article I posted for that talk).
‘When you sit you do not feel anything; you just sit. You are in the complete calmness of your mind. But in everyday life, you will find you will be encouraged by the calmness of the zazen — sitting. So actually the value of — you will find the value of Zen in everyday life, rather then when you sit.’
I used this notion for a meditation session I had during the morning. It’s something I talk about often, that meditation can be like having training wheels on a bike, learning to deal, in a safe space, with things that are usually not consequential. During the session, I could hear some music filtering up from my downstairs neighbour, a typical minor irritant, where we can pay close attention to how we respond to the situation in the moment, mentally, physically, or emotionally. And then we go out in the world and try to handle things with the same sense of equanimity and equilibrium; it takes a while to remember that we can do this, but as we continue our practice, we do start to embody that kind of response a little more regularly and consistently.
In my radio days, once you got over the initial adrenaline-fuelled thrill of doing live transmissions, they could often be quite hum-drum. I always say that the job was a good preparation for practice: it was always in the moment; you had to keep paying attention; and once it was done, it was done – there was no taking work home afterwards. When something went wrong, though, that’s when your training came into play, and your ability to focus. I used to tell people I was training, ‘Try to just make one mistake.’ I would see people (including myself), make a slip of some kind, like playing the wrong tape, and then compound it by being flustered. I would try to move on from the first mistake, and get things back to normal as soon as I could.
I have always presumed that flying a plane was rather similar, though as we would say in radio after some catastrophe in the studio, ‘well, no-one died.’ Most of the time, the pilots can maintain a relaxed awareness, and then, when things go awry, they have to call on all their training.
I got an object lesson similar this on Thursday morning. After enjoying a number of spectacular sunsets and gorgeous skyscapes on recent journeys, this time the fog was dense. The ferry was, unusually, running late. Once we were underway I could really see why. Passing under the Bay Bridge, it was barely visible. We made confident progress across the bay, even though there are once again a large number of huge container ships moored here and there. Once we approached the entrance to the Seaplane Lagoon in Alameda though, the boat slowed to crawl. There are several seawalls, with an entry gap that is not huge – and presumably a fairly narrow deep-water channel. In clear day, the approach must be relatively simple for an experienced captain, but when we couldn’t see it even from a few yards away, I appreciated how professional the skipper was being. I hope they were feeling equanimous too.