Dogen

‘To behold all beings with the eye of compassion, and to speak kindly to them, is the meaning of tenderness. If one would understand tenderness, one must speak to others whilst thinking that one loves all living things as if they were one’s own children. By praising those who exhibit virtue, and feeling sorry for those who do not, our enemies become our friends and they who are our friends have their friendship strengthened: this is all through the power of tenderness. Whenever one speaks kindly to another his face brightens and his heart is warmed; if a kind word be spoken in his absence the impression will be a deep one: tenderness can have a revolutionary impact upon the mind of man.’ (Shushogi)

I know real world application of admonitions like this can feel flawed, but we can try our best.

Norman Fischer

‘The human mind is a swirl of activity mostly centered around self-preservation and self-justification (which can, oddly, sometimes take the form of self-recrimination) and all sorts of scheming to get one’s own way. After some initial dismay, you realize this is normal. You are a mess, and so is everyone else. And when you don’t take the mess into account, when you insist on pretending that it doesn’t exist, that it is reasonable to take all the hurts and slights and confusion seriously and thrash around in them—you make things much worse. But appreciate the mess, know that it is a shared mess, and even have a sense of humor about it, and you can be much more forgiving and generous with yourself and others. So naturally, your thoughts, words, and deeds in relation to others will be more relaxed, generous, and kind.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

In Person

While I have been doing outdoor events since last summer, as vaccinations started to ease the dread before the variants came along, I have been doing very few indoor gatherings at all. And somehow, despite all the cases popping up – and I have several friends who have had recent unpleasant infections – this past week has brought a sequence of in-person gatherings.

We roamed on Saturday, which I count as the 27th roam since restartiing. It was not as warm as advertised, but we got to Marshall’s Beach without the fog that had been threatening, but with a fairly insistent wind. On Sunday, Bay-to-Breakers unleashed its usual mayhem. I had gone out on my bike early, so had the park almost to myself, but ended up battling damp fog and strong winds for most of the three hours I was out. And then I went along to a gallery on Gough for a relatively new offering for Within, that other teachers have been covering so far, and which may become a more regular fixture in my weekends.

On Monday, after the sit on Embarcadero, I took BART (since the Caltrain schedule had completely changed since I last checked it) to my student’s company, which since I last led a session in their offices, has moved from Mission Bay to South San Francisco and almost doubled the number of employees. There were some familiar faces from the old days, some people I had only seen onscreen, and one person who was on their first day.

It was again a little too cold and windy to be sitting outside (though we had done okay in the sun on the Embarcadero), so we sat in a generic meeting room. But the joy, for me, of feeling the group’s energy settling as we got into the session, was amazing, and a real reminder of what we have all missed.

Unexpectedly, I got home in time to join the Dogen study group at the beginning. The exchanges were fun and lively, but I did have in the back of my mind a renewed feeling of the hollowness of meeting on Zoom.

Tonight, my student group will be meeting in-person for the first time since March 2020. I look forward to making tea and offering biscuits, and I am sure the shared sense of pleasure will be there.

And If I end up coming down with COVID, it would not be much of a surprise…

Above Baker Beach on the roam on Saturday.
I went up to Kite Hill to watch the lunar eclipse on Sunday, which was just about visible, in the wind and clouds that evening.

Karen Maezen Miller

‘Sometimes the wall we face is a bare white wall, where we are looking at nothing. This wall is called a wall. At other times we turn around and face another kind of wall, where we are looking at everything. This wall is called the world. There always seems to be a wall of some kind or other in front of us; the question is whether or not we can face it.
Whatever the scenery, our practice is the same. Our practice is to face everything life is, and everything it isn’t. Everything we think and feel, and everything we don’t. Wall gazing is a very thorough practice in facing the fleetingness of things and not getting trapped in momentary apparitions. All apparitions, it turns out, are momentary. When your eyes are open and you are intimately engaged with what appears in front of you, it’s hard to stay bored because nothing stays one way for long. Even walls disappear.’

A repost, though I don’t have a note as to where I found it.

Menzan Zuiho

‘Searching for the subject that sees and hears is also useless. The harder you look for the subject, the more you will tire of wastefully struggling, since what is seeking and what is being sought cannot be separated. Understand that your eyes cannot see themselves. Arousing the mind to eliminate illusory thoughts is like pouring oil on a fire to extinguish it. The fire will blaze with increased strength.’ (Jijuyu Zanmai)

So how do we get there? How do we put out that fire?

Sharon Salzberg

‘The tendency for most of us each day is to focus on life’s problems. More often than not, we find ourselves lamenting the prickly patch of our long-term relationship rather than stopping to appreciate its strengths; the moments of incredible boredom at work seem to outweigh the interesting aspects. We’re wired with what’s called negativity bias — an evolutionary instinct to look out for threats so that we can escape them unharmed.

But we can learn to work with negativity bias. That doesn’t mean that I think that we can all just flip the gratitude switch on. For better or worse, that’s not how life works — and in fact, gratitude is definitely not automatic for me. To this day, even speaking as someone who encourages the practice, I have found myself thinking at times that gratitude can seem like a glorified form of denial, a way of papering over problems by posting inspirational quotes to social media, by labeling everything in life “a blessing.”

But each time that dismissive instinct kicks in, I encourage myself to remember that being grateful doesn’t mean I have to keep a gratitude jar that counts my blessings. It just means I can reset my thoughts, just like in meditation, and choose instead to gently settle my attention on something positive. We don’t erase the pain — it’s still there — but we can broaden our perspective by opening to our pain and also opening to things other than the suffering we feel.’ (from Instagram)

There are two thoughts here that I often try to reflect in my teaching: how evolution has set us up to be the way we are, and how usually a sense of broadening rather than choosing is a way to liberation, as in the recent bell hooks post.

Incrementally

I was only gone for a couple of weeks, but I noticed changes when I got back. The big buckeye in my yard had burst into flower, and most of the flowers were already shedding on the deck. The morning sun arrives in different places in my kitchen, and in the middle of the day, the sun seems higher in the sky than when I last noticed it. The sun feels warm, but there has been a constant and cool wind that have kept the temperatures much lower than I was expecting. The moon is filling, and I am planning to walk up the hill to see the moonrise and eclipse on Sunday evening. 

As sometimes happens, it took me a couple of days to fully unpack my bags and put things away. I felt a lack of motivation as I got back to city speed, and on several consecutive days I slept until it was already light – though of course that is earlier than it was a fortnight ago. After a mostly quiet weekend, sitting on the Embarcadero was a pleasure, and later in the afternoon, the debut of the Dogen study group was very energising. Many of the participants were familiar faces, and the conversation and questions were lively. I am looking forward to this continuing to unfold.

After the weeks away from my bike, I have been taking it gently, but have had some lovely outings already. Apart from taking a trip on Saturday to see the mayor signing the legislation to make JFK permanently car-free, I went out early on Wednesday morning to stretch my legs. I had an idea to go to Fort Point, and then took a little detour to check out the new Battery Bluffs open space in the Presidio, discovering that it included a beautifully smooth bike trail. I will be adding this to my repertoire of low-stress routes, as well as taking a roam through there in the coming weeks.

Rev David Myles films the mayor in Golden Gate Park – this is the San Francisco I love, twenty-two years after arriving..
My first time seeing the buckeye in flower
The new bike trail in the Presidio
The Upper Great Highway was naturally car-free over the weekend.

bell hooks

‘A form of wisdom that I strive for is the ability to know what is needed at a given moment in time. When do I need to reside in that location of stillness and contemplation, and when do I need to get up off my ass and do whatever is needed to be done in terms of physical work, or engagement with others, or confrontation with others? I’m not interested in ranking one type of action over the other.’ (from Tricycle Magazine).

The very essence of skilful means. When we read this passage in my student group, the last line caused much reflection,

Issho Fujita

‘The whole of zazen is far vaster and deeper than perception. For example, “the flowing movement of fluid in the cerebrospinal cord system” that I mentioned in an earlier article, in itself is not directly an object of perception. It is only something indirectly perceived by passing through the minute movements of each part of the body. This cerebrospinal cord fluid completely unperceived by the human consciousness continues to flow as long as a person is living and makes possible the biological function we call perception. In the condition we call “zazen,” there is a tendency to shift the center of balance towards paying attention only to what we are able to perceive. However, in the same way as the flowing movement of cerebrospinal fluid, the world [that supports perception and certainly exists even though by means of perception it can never be caught objectively] spreads infinitely, outside (behind?) perception. Not to think about this would be as foolish the Japanese proverb of “trying to see the ceiling through a hollow reed.”’ (Polishing A Tile)