Weddings, Family, and Friends

When I pulled out the binder I use for my wedding scripts last week, I was reminded that the last wedding I officiated was for my student back in December, up in Joaquin Miller park (if you were sent this post yesterday, my apologies – I accidentally hit the trash button rather than the copy link button, and then had to republish it).

So it felt fitting to be in the redwoods again last weekend for the first wedding of 2023. Apart from the gorgeous and serene surroundings, the ceremony was memorable for very honest and open words of love that were shared not just be the couple, but by their grown children from their respective first marriages. It all felt very real, and beautiful. As the bride said, she knew that she could have had any kind of ceremony she had wanted. And they they all were, outside in a circle, standing on the earth amid the trees.

With that part done, I got to relax and enjoy some time up in Sebastopol. Myles and Nancy, Zen Center friends, had moved up there last year; they threw a housewarming that I was unable to attend because that was the weekend I had Covid (and also had to miss officiating another nature-based wedding) and so this was my first time visiting. Nancy was away, but Zachary had come up and we all had bikes. So, pretty early on Sunday, as I had to get my rental car back to the city by lunchtime, we all headed west, mostly down a long descending fire road, to the coast right by the mouth of the Russian River, and after a bit of rolling along Highway 1, climbed back up into the hills. It was mostly foggy, with occasional bursts of sun, and was definitely the hardest ride I have done for months. Jumping right back into the car and driving for an hour and a half, followed by riding across town with my bag helped the fatigue. I spent the rest of the day catching up with the end of the Premier League, and was still pretty stiff the next day, when I took a gentle holiday morning ride. 

This week my sister and her husband arrived for a few days on their way to the Cook Islands and New Zealand; they are staying just down the street. We were able to have dinner locally on Wednesday, and with friends of theirs in the East Bay on Thursday. On Friday, an unusually sunny day, we walked around Crissy Field and the new Presidio open spaces – some of the best that San Francisco has to offer.

Heading to the wedding site on Saturday.
We rode down here on Sunday.
It was amazing to ride through the silent redwoods.
Crissy Field with Indian Paintbrush.

David Michie

‘One of the most important meditation in Buddhism is contemplating the certainty of death. When we do this regularly, it helps inform our priorities on how to live. For while material considerations are important in our daily life, we need to avoid assuming that they have any greater value than this.
A helpful view of our life of leisure and fortune is to think of it like a brief stay in a luxury hotel. It’s good to enjoy the view, to make the most of the facilities, to strike up cordial relations with our fellow guests. We may have a favorite seat in the dining room, or we may talk about “my” room, but we are constantly aware that the facilities are only very temporarily ours to use. Most of us don’t suffer from a midholiday crisis on day three, thinking how it’s all going to come to an end on day five – we’re more likely to book in the jet-ski activity or beach massage, or make other plans to extract the full value from our stay. And having been mindful all along that we’re only making a short visit, we’re unlikely to burst into tears in the lobby, overcome with remorse and regret while checking out.’ (Enlightenment To Go)

I happened across this post from a few years ago when doing a search on the blog, which also brought up some lovely memories of visits to England and Tassajara just before the pandemic. If you click all the links, you might be able to spot the search term that links them all, and the post that occasioned the search!

Easing Back In

The notion I have heard that it takes a day for each hour of time zone crossed to recover from jetlag felt about right this past week. After feeling pretty out of it for a few days, I allowed myself a fair amount of rest over the weekend – rest from chores and work that is; I was happy to get a few miles in on my bike and lead a roam in the sun. 

By Monday I was trying to get going on all fronts again, and felt pretty scattered until my lunchtime Within class on Wednesday. After time away, I wanted to get lots of things moving again, and it took half an hour of focusing on trying to relax to get me to a more grounded place. So I have accomplished quite a bit, and also remembered that I don’t need to clear my to-do list all at once. It also helped to visit the Zen Center bookstore, pick up a new book (which I will be excerpting soon) and to choose to spend much of an evening reading it.

The rest – as I described the final week of my trip last time, which again was not so much a physical rest but a mental one – seems to have done my body some good. A few of the strains and tight spots I had been feeling this year have eased, and as I start to ride again after a month away, I am trying to focus on not causing those to come back again.

This weekend I have been invited to three birthday parties, and will make it to at least some of two of them. I guess this combination happened last year as well, but I only remember two of them… I remember my oldest friends’ birthdays very clearly, but newer ones never seem to stick. Now all we need is the sun to come out; as the picture below demonstrates, we have had a string of grey and dull mornings.

The timing was not good for me to volunteer this year for Bike To Wherever Day, but I went by the local station to meet up with the Bike Bus taking kids along Slow Page St to school, which was quite the occasion,


‘Now let us attend to the verse Nagarjuna uttered. It says “Body manifesting a round moon shape, Expressing thereby the body of the Buddhas.” Because the manifesting body is, as such, expressing thereby all Buddha-bodies, it is the shape of the round moon. Hence, all sizes – longs and shorts – and all forms – round and square – are to be studied in his manifesting body. To be unaware of [the nondualistic relation of] body and manifesting is not only to be ignorant of the shape of the round moon; it is not the body of Buddhas either. The ignorant think, “He is temporarily manifesting a Transformation body – that is what is meant by a round moon shape.” But that is an illusory notion, held by those who have not received authentic transmission of the Buddha Way. Where, and when, could you manifest another body not your own? 

You should know without any doubt that at that very time Nagarjuna was just sitting there on the high seat. The form in which he manifested his body was no different from the form of any one of us sitting here right now. Right now our own bodies are manifesting a round moon shape. The “manifesting body” is not square or round, is not existing or nonexisting, is not revealed or concealed, is not a compound of 84,000 skandhas – it is just a body manifesting itself.  As for the round moon shape, “Where do you think you are, speaking of the fineness or roughness of the moon?” 

Since self and ego are from the first excluded from this manifested body, the manifesting body is not Nagarjuna; it is the body of all Buddhas. Since it is expressing thereby, it breaks through beyond all Buddha-bodies. Because of that, it is completely free of Buddhahood. Although clearly and distinctly embodying the form of the full moon/Buddha-nature, it is not a round moon shape set out on display. Much less is there any sight or sound in the preaching it expounds. The manifesting body is not form or mind. It is not a skandha, base, or field.’ (Shobogenzo Bussho)

It was lovely to get back to the Dogen study group this week, and come face-to-face with this. There is a lot in here, but my sense of what he is saying here is that the present moment manifestation explodes any sense of trying to contain it or name it. The question, “Where do you think you are…” was, according to the scholarly notes we refer to, a common expression in Chinese culture in the golden age of Zen. A thousand years later, it is still just as true – can you keep the self and ego out of the way here?

Upon Returning

There was an illustration of how elastic time felt when I was away: on the last night of my trip, back in London with my friends Derrick and Caroline, she asked if I wanted to see the second half of the Prince Andrew documentary, the first half of which I had watched with them when I had stayed before going to Amsterdam. Did you record it, I asked. No, came the response, part one was just a week ago, now it’s time for part two.

I did pack a lot in during that week: a couple of nights in Amsterdam, a night in Brussels and two in Paris. Having very little agenda for that time beyond the Vermeer exhibition and having dinner with my brother and his wife, my nephew and his girlfriend in Belgium, I spend a lot of those days walking. 

Although I couldn’t remember much about Amsterdam from my previous visit, I lived in both Brussels (for a few months) and Paris (where I taught for a year while I was in college), and  traveled to them many times apart from that, so in those cities I was more inclined to revisit places that felt meaningful and that I wanted to see again: a few favourite museums in Paris (I had thought to go to the Musée d’Orsay on Sunday morning, but the crowds outside were ridiculous); particular squares or streets, quiet green spaces, a few old buildings. While there had still been some bare trees in England, generally the colours of spring were alive across the Channel; it also warmed up a bit in the last few days, so I was glad I had packed some shorts.

I don’t often get to take real time off like that, so I made the most of it, and felt very relaxed by the time I was done. The train trips were all smooth and comfortable as I watched the landscapes slide by at high speed, something that I always find restful (I idly wondered to myself if I had managed to total up a whole day on trains). Mostly I ate well, and was happy not to be concerned about the cost of meals, or regular coffees and pastries. Even the flight home was free of hindrances – at least until I got to the passport check at SFO, which seemed terribly understaffed.

Naturally I have been going to bed and waking up even earlier than usual. I had a terrible headache my first day back, and I am glad I have been able to ease myself back into regular activities. The sun is trying to come out in the city, but it still seems caught in the ghosts of winter. I hope that today’s roam will be a warm one.

Reflections from the last morning in Amsterdam.
The view from my room in Paris – I am posting a larger selection of trip photos on my Patreon page.

Traveling On

After taking care of my mother (insofar as she accepted care) and walking the familiar paths around Hereford, I set off on the journey through Manchester to Hebden Bridge that I am now quite used to.

It was, though, my first visit to Hebden without Rebecca being in attendance, though she still generously let me stay at her house. Other members of the sangha stepped up to take care of all the details for the talk on Friday evening and the sitting on Saturday.

We had more than a dozen people at each event, which was great; many were people I knew from previous years. After we were done, there was the traditional visit to the Hare and Hounds for a pie and a pint.

The next morning I added a new leg to my teaching journey, as I went up to York for an afternoon with the new group there, which Jake has been organising.

We had a sit, a talk and discussion, and a promise from me to meet with them regularly over Zoom, as well as visiting in person again when I am next over.

There was a little time for me to see the beautiful historic city as well, before getting the train back to London.

This final week of my time away is my holiday time. I am writing this in Amsterdam, where I arrived on Tuesday. On the train over from London I realised I was passing through four countries in a matter of hours, as I had done on a previous trip, only this time there were fewer modes of transport and changes; nor did I have to teach after arriving, just find my hotel, seven minutes walk from the station (or, I was pleased to note, a fifteen minute drive).

I have only been in Amsterdam once before, in my Interrail days between school and college. I prided myself – as I still do – on my sense of direction, but I got terribly lost in the various concentric rings of canals. So I took care in my evening wanderings.

On Wednesday, I had a timed ticket for the Vermeer exhibition in the morning. I found my way to the Rijksmuseum without difficulty, the only issue being finding a cafe that was open on the way.

It was an incredible experience; this was what I had planned this trip around, having bought the tickets back in December (I had bought two in case one of my friends wanted to come as well; in the end, a woman from Melbourne waiting by the queue to get in was more than grateful to take it off me).

I ended up going around it twice, and bought the catalogue, though it will add to the weight of my bag as I come through Brussels and Paris (I left my robes back in London).

Other than that, I have been following my nose around the city, wandering in the touristy quarters and also finding some beautiful and quieter spots.

Three Elms path in Hereford.
From the train to Manchester.
Hebden Bridge in evening sun.
Nutclough woods and the mill race.
The attendees at Hebden
… and at York.
Typical scenes in Amsterdam.
Morning at the flower market.
I came across herons in the afternoon.

Land and People

Although it wasn’t why I planned my trip for this time, once the sangha in England knew I was coming, I was asked if I could assist Ingen (who was shuso at my first Tassajara practice period, and who now has his own place in Ireland) with a shukke tokudo for Devin, who I knew from previous times in Glastonbury. It was an honour to be able to help, even if it meant bringing my robes over (being still determined to travel with just my carry-on back pack, I packed fewer other clothes; since it has been chilly so far, I have been wearing one of my two combinations of warm layers all at the same time).

Saturday was as grey as Friday, with more passing rain as I headed down to Gaia House. The major roads soon turned into narrow lanes lined with tall hedges, which I am familiar with from Cornwall, but haven’t tried to drive along for a few years. Thankfully the only people I came across were on foot, just by the driveway to Gaia House.

I had been taken there for a visit on one of my early teaching trips to Totnes, so just about knew what to expect. That the first person I saw inside was Chris, who I knew from Tassajara, was unexpected; he and Kathleen were helping keep things ticking along, having just moved there a week ago.

The silence was comforting, as were the grounds. After breakfast on Sunday, not having got up to sit, I walked around in the low sun, with a chorus of doves, nesting crows, blackbirds and who knows what else chirping away. Blossoms were out, the majestic old trees glowed in the light, and everything felt alive.

One of the things I had been asked to do was shave Devin’s head, which is never the easiest thing – the only other time I did this, at Zen Center, the combination of thick hair, albeit already buzzed, and a disposable razor, meant that I had felt I was inflicting misery on my dharma brother. Thankfully Devin sat still and didn’t seem to mind as I got to work this time.

Ingen held the space for the ceremony beautifully; apart from some recalcitrant charcoal, everything went smoothly, with many people having helped gather all the necessary elements. I had panicked a little as I couldn’t remember the exact path for the jundo I was leading Devin around before he joined the ceremony, but he was able to steer me right. My other responsibility was to help him put on his okesa, which went without mishap.

Once we had taken all the photos at the end, I took off my robes and followed another car to Devin and Nickie’s house in the next village for cake and sandwiches. And then I bade my farewells and drove over the moor, on a road I had taken once before, when I had been heading from Totnes to my dad’s house.

It was as beautiful as ever, with flowering gorse, sheep and ponies wandering freely, and the late sun illuminating the hills and valleys. The hotel I had booked was old and quaint, with a surprisingly tasty dinner – I ate more than I should have considering the earlier party food – and a four-poster bed in my room.

In the morning I set off for a hike I had planned, alongside the Dart, to Wistman’s Wood, then up to the tors, and back along the crown of the hills. It felt magical to be out in land that was familiar (even if I hadn’t spent time in this particular stretch of moorland), with no-one else in sight, taking in the infinite nuances of light, the rocks and trees, and the long views (I will post more photos on my Patreon page).

Reluctantly I got back in the car to drive back to Bristol, along the road I used to ride when I went to visit my dad, cautiously through the narrow villages, and finally back on the major roads, passing through a heavy rain storm on the M5. It’s all trains for the rest of my trip, which is way more relaxing, though I had a couple of cold waits on platforms on my way up to Hereford to spend a few days with my declining mother.

Gaia House.
I handed my camera to someone else for the ceremony.
The assembly.
The moorland hotel.
Shifting morning light on the moor.
I feel very at home in this landscape.

Off On A Trip

I noticed I was sighing a lot at the end of each thing that got done before I left: after the last commuting day; after the last class; after the two roams. None of these things were hard or unpleasant, but having got them out the way, I was one step closer to being able to get everything else done for my trip. My usual thing with stress of not having too many things, but having many things before the thing I think I should be concentrating on.

We managed to wrap up the Dogen well enough, though I didn’t get through all my material – people contributed a lot to the discussion with observations and questions, and I was just about staying afloat of notions of time and space. After a sweet roam from Mountain Lake to the Mission on the Friday, there was a good loop of Glen Canyon and Diamond Heights on Saturday afternoon, with abundant wildflowers, and views to the distance in the clear spring light, for all that the wind was cold.

I felt motivated to keep my climbing legs in good shape until I left and had an idea to go up both San Bruno mountain and Sweeney Ridge on my bike before I went to Europe. I managed to do both and it was very satisfying – perhaps not as satisfying as getting up Mount Diablo a year ago, but still very pleasant, even with chilly winds, onshore winds both times.

A dear friend also passed through town on Sunday night, so I borrowed a car to pick her up from the airport, and take her back the next morning before a solid few hours of sitting, study, and teaching. But since I had nothing scheduled on Tuesday, I worked my way through everything on my to-do list, and still had time to clean and tidy before heading off to the airport.

Unusually, I managed to sleep – or at least rest – for much of the overnight flight, which left me feeling perkier than usual once I had arrived in London. Getting to my friend’s house was very smooth; we chatted through the evening, and then I slept very deeply for a few hours.

Then the next journey began, taking the train on a bright spring day to Bristol, through the very familiar countryside that I grew up in, to pick up a car and drive to my sister’s. The roads were busy and narrow, so it was a little nerve wracking, but I arrived in one piece, and got to relax for the rest of the day.

Friday was also not very busy, though we drove west to meet my step-sister and -brother. I have known them since I was seven or eight, and have seen Jane a few times in recent years, but John and I didn’t think we had met in twenty-five years. It was nice to catch up, and we had a very relaxed lunch in a village pub with two resident French bulldogs begging for food in a most appealing way. We walked around the village and it started raining some just as we got back to the pub.

This weekend will be more ceremonial, and I will write about that next time.

A sunny first morning in London.
Sunset the same day at my sister’s.
Somebody really wanted my chips.

More Spring Winds

Easter weekend seemed like it was the cue for the weather to warm up. The skies were more or less free of clouds, but it was nice to be out during the day, and I was glad that, apart from my Dogen class, I had kept the weekend unscheduled, so was able to meet friends for coffee and wanders. I even wore shorts to the Monday sitting. After that, however, we had a ‘dry storm,’ with some pretty stiff winds bringing cold air – and the first wave of afternoon fog falling over the hills, as if spring immediately turned to summer.

As the days tick down to my departure for Europe, my sense of juggling everything that I needed to get done had me waking up early many days this week. The upside was that I managed to get a lot of things done, and as the days have passed, I feel more relaxed about what is still left to do.

It helped that after a lot of preparation for the first Dogen class, I haven’t felt it as necessary to do as much for the second and third. I have chosen the passages, which are largely the same as when I offered the class before, and it’s not as if I have to find new understandings of them. Listening to the recordings of each class has highlighted what I managed to get across (though who knows exactly how it has been absorbed by the participants), and how to move through the rest of the material. It’s been a lot of fun.

Most of the next month’s posts haev been pre-loaded. I am not planning to take my laptop to Europe – since I am taking my robes, I suspect my bag will be full enough without it, so there may not be many words from my travels. Hopefully some nice pictures.

Morning mist and high clouds on Tuesday.
Bright and clear, with a cold wind, on top of San Bruno Mountain on Wednesday morning.
I took part in a ride advocating protected bike lanes after a rider was killed in the Presidio last week. Which made an interaction with a cop on Market Street on Thursday morning even more galling.

Spring Winds

Last weekend was packed, mostly with pretty fun stuff. On Saturday morning I had the first of the three Dogen classes, with a full screen of folks following in – at least I hope they were following. I felt like I talked a lot, but when I listened back to the recording later, I was glad that I had covered most of what I intended to, and also went off on what I hope were helpful tangents. I feel good about the next one, and hopefully we will be in a place to dive whole-heartedly into the more expansive material in the third class.

It was a lovely day, almost warm (it has been notably colder than it should be since about January when we had the warm spell that encouraged the blossoms to come out), and I would have gone for a little ride, but I was still pretty tired from riding Tam – and waking up early in anticipation of the class. So I sat on my deck watching football until it was time to put on my robes and go down to Zen Center.

Dan has been a great shuso, and when I saw that he looked a little nervous at the beginning of the ceremony (as everyone is) I almost wanted to lean over and whisper to him that he would do fine, which he did. As always, after the ceremony there was a chance to catch up with people, especially those who were visiting for the sesshin and who I wasn’t necessarily expecting to see.

On Sunday, with my legs still tired, I had a medium-sized ride over to Pacifica, then over Skyline and across to the Bay, which felt just right. On the way back I went to a gathering of folks who are campaigning for a better Valencia Street for everyone – a reminder that this is my other community – and after a brief rest, set off for the afternoon roam.

We had a nice group, as always, and even though this was a little more urban than most, around Ocean View, Ingleside and Merced Heights, the places we got to stop were charming, with great views. The wind was still cold though. At the end of all that, I definitely subsided in a heap with my usual post-roam pizza and beer. I still felt the effects of all that on Monday, as I tried to catch up with little things, then went out to sit, onto South San Francisco to teach, battling the wind all the way back to BART, and back for the Dogen study group.

The shuso with the dignitaries.
A favourite rocky outcrop on the roam.