‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Many in England are fond of quoting that old LP Hartley line. What I like about it is that it reminds me that the past is not our plaything. The past has its own sovereignty and psychogeography, its own suffering, its own ideas about suffering’s alleviation. The people who lived and died in that strange land deserve, at the very least, our close attention and respect, both for what they went through and for how they themselves conceptualised it. When it comes to our interpretations of their lives, it is by now a truism to say that we usually go searching for what we wish to find. And perfect objectivity is, of course, impossible. But degrees of manipulation and distortion exist, and the aim is surely to mitigate against the most egregious forms of both. We want to know, to the best of our judgment, “what really happened”. We can never know for sure. All we have is evidence, documents, records, memories.
The past is not to be played with – but who can resist using it as a tool? We bend history to our will, for purposes as much personal as political. In 1999, for example, I wanted to know – for reasons of my own self-esteem – that the history of the African diaspora was not solely one of invisible, silent suffering. I wanted to hear about agency, heroism, revolt. I received all of that from Black England but also something that has proved far more important to me, over time, namely, a sense of the precariousness of “progress”. It does not move in one direction. Nor are we, in the present, perfected versions of the people of the past. It is very important that we understand the various hypocrisies and contradictions of the abolitionists. But the significance of this knowledge is not solely that we get to feel superior to them. As cathartic as it is to prosecute dead people, after the fact – in that popular courtroom called “The Right Side of History” – when we hold up a mirror to the past, what we should see most clearly is our own reflection. The judgment goes both ways. Why didn’t every man, woman and child in Georgian England drop everything and dedicate their lives to the abolishment of slavery? Good question. I like to imagine the students of the future asking similar questions about us. Why did we buy iPhones when we knew the cobalt inside them could have been mined by children for subsistence wages? Why did we love cheap clothes when we knew yet more children made them? Why did we buy plastic water bottles, every day, for decades, when we knew they were environmentally disastrous? Now, as it was then, a minority of people do indeed dedicate their lives – and risk their livelihoods – to confront these things “too big to be seen”. Whatever the ideological imperfections of such people, they are at least doing what the great majority of people don’t do, which is, something.’ (from the Guardian)
‘Sometimes change takes a long time. We’re not going to see immediate results, so we need to allow joy. We need a sense of community, so we don’t feel we’re struggling alone. There’s a lot of joy in community, as we feel supported in a common purpose.
And meditation is a tremendous tool. We can easily get exhausted and feel overwhelmed, but meditation is resilience training. We learn how to begin again and again in our efforts, and we discover inner strengths and a sense of connection to others.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘We would all prefer happiness to misery, paradise to hell, survival to immediate death. We are thus ever bifurcating Reality, dividing it into something good and something bad, something we like and something we don’t. Similarly, we discriminate between satori and delusion, and strive to attain satori.
But the reality of the universe is far beyond such an attitude of aversion and attachment. When our attitude is ‘whichever, whatever, whenever’, then we manifest the whole universe.’ (On Zazen)
Of course, that ‘whatever’ has a slightly different quality to the ‘whatever’ we can easily parody as arms being thrown up in the air in resignation and indifference.
‘If you push for samadhi as a goal, you may achieve a kind of emptiness, but it is not true emptiness because the person isn’t truly empty. If in your daily life you misuse other people, or manipulate them, or are interested in your own power, then the samadhi – which can be developed quite artificially- is not, as far as I am concerned, a true samadhi…
Almost everybody is attached to their samadhi! Samadhi is almost like an athletic ability, And people even learn to use it to avoid their own suffering… If you have artificial samadhi power, you may maintain it during the day, and it may look really good as long as there is no particular stress. But under stress such samadhi often proves to be quite fragile.’ (Meetings With Remarkable Women)
The unseasonal clouds and rain finally moved on. After spectacular skies on Sunday, which I wrote about more extensively on Patreon, there were banks of clouds for a couple of days, then a little sting of rain showers on Wednesday morning. I ended up doing most of my day in the opposite order to what I had anticipated, and by the time I went for a little ride in the afternoon, the skies were clear. Now it seems to be warming up as well, so perhaps we are moving towards our late summer, even as the sun rises later and sets earlier.
A friend of mine who has had Covid twice this year said that, after feeling depleted, she just woke up one day feeling normal. I know other people who have taken a long time to get back to full health, or are still slowly recovering after many symptoms, so I do feel lucky and glad that I am starting to find a more typical level of energy inside myself. And I am not taking it for granted, and continuing to make time for rest between activities. But after riding a little longer over the weekend than I had previously, I didn’t feel tired afterwards, and I tried some hills on Wednesday, which seems to have gone okay.
Nevertheless, I still feel like I haven’t caught up with all the things I put to one side while I was sick, and then conserving energy, so I hope that some space over the weekend will help with that.
‘I realized the main thing preventing a more intimate connection to the natural world was concept — the mysterious filters our mind lodges between us and the world, at every turn, at every second, in just about every interaction. Concepts can be good: We get the concept of “mortal danger” when a car is hurtling toward us. But concepts, also a form of assumption, can neuter experience because pure sensations become impure when we judge them. Concepts are what we deploy when we ask what we can get out of a walk, rather than the opposite.
Researchers who study our brain activity while we walk use the term “automaticity” to describe how our body behaves on a stroll. Automaticity is defined as “the ability of the nervous system to successfully coordinate movement with minimal use of attention-demanding executive control resources.”
We should leverage the gift of walking to stop thinking and start doing, apparently, what walking is asking us to do — pay attention to the stuff of place, the place itself. To arrive at that point takes time, and discipline, but when it does, delight bubbles up, a “praising of the mysterious and tender touching we are so often in the midst of,” according to Ross Gay, poet and author of “The Book of Delights.” Place comes to life, any place, from the life we gave it, from attentiveness.’ (from the New York Times)
This was a nice article about the power of attention and walking, which obviously I am a huge fan of. I could not resist a little wry smile at the fact that the author, having discovered this, felt compelled to write a book about it.
‘One time mountains are flowing, another time they are not flowing. If you do not fully understand this, you do not understand the true dharma wheel of the Tathagata.
An ancient buddha said, “If you do not wish to incur the cause for Unceasing Hell, do not slander the true dharma wheel of the Tathagata.” Carve these words on your skin, flesh, bones, and marrow; on your body, mind, and environs; on emptiness and on form. They are already carved on trees and rocks, on fields and villages.’ (Shobogenzo Sansuikyo)
This holding of two seemingly contradictory views – flowing and not flowing – are at the heart of Buddhist understanding. As Dogen points out, everything else is comfortable with this view, so we can become intimate with it too.
‘When we come to a practice such as this, we can sit down with our emotions and feel them without holding on. Being awake on the level of emotion means no longer deriving a solid sense of self from how and what we feel. Usually our sense of self is enmeshed in what we feel. We say to ourselves, “I feel angry. I am angry!” Looking deeply into this, we can see that what we are really saying in that moment is my sense of self is fused with my anger. If we look even more deeply, we see we actually cannot be defined by an emotion that runs through the body. The fusion is an illusion.
Seeing this is awakening through the heart. We discover what we feel, period—and what we feel doesn’t need to be avoided, nor does it define us. The more we shut out the body and our feelings, the more we retreat to thinking, which tends toward disembodying. The intensity of our compulsive thinking is in direct proportion to the extent to which we are not willing to experience our emotional body and therefore disassociate from it.
When we are no longer defining self on the level of emotion, our sense of self is liberated from our conflicted feelings. But we cannot get to this point by bypassing our emotions in the hopes of arriving at some exalted state. We cannot avoid what we feel.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
This was a commentary on yesterday’s quote from Hongzhi.
‘Emptiness is without characteristics. Illumination has no emotional afflictions. With piercing, quietly profound radiance, it mysteriously eliminates all disgrace. Thus one can know oneself; thus the self is completed. We all have the clear, wondrously bright field from the beginning. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come only from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation. With boundless wisdom journey beyond this, forgetting accomplishments. Straightforwardly abandon stratagems and take on responsibility. Having turned yourself around, accepting your situation, if you set foot on the path, spiritual energy will marvelously transport you. Contact phenomena with total sincerity, not a single atom of dust outside yourself.’ (Cultivating the Empty Field)