Rainfall

I’ve had a hard time sleeping through overnight rain for quite a few years now. I first remember it in my third winter at Tassajara, when I would wake up well before the wake-up bell. A few times, knowing I would not go back to sleep, I got up and helped the jikido, whose job in those days was to get up before everyone else, and light the kerosene lamps along the paths up and down Tassajara. It was a hard job at the best of times, but when it was wet it could be almost impossible to light the lanterns, unless the firewatch the night before had gathered them all indoors, when they blew them out after people had gone to bed. And even then, with lamps lit in the dry, they had to be distributed to their posts in the dark. The jikidos were always grateful for help.

On Friday morning, about an hour before my usual early waking time, we had a heavy rain shower passing through, so I woke up, and once awake, I just got up and made myself coffee. It left me feeling a little tired – mainly just sore around the eyes – for the talk I was due to give to the sangha at Hebden Bridge as a group of them start a year of studying the precepts, but of course the energy of the occasion saw me through. It seemed to be well received; you can find it on the audio page if you would like to listen to it.

Thankfully I didn’t have much else on my schedule. After my other main commitment in the afternoon, I took a ride down to Ocean Beach, and even with winter rain gear on, got very cold and damp in the faint drizzle. When I got home, I could not bring myself to put on my robes and go down the street to sit in the zendo, where the windows are understandably kept open. I turned the heating on and put on my cosiest clothes.

I have a roam scheduled for this afternoon, to see the magnolias, which are already out, although one of my forecasts shows light rain through the afternoon. Hopefully it will be worth the effort.

The jikido’s can of matches, struck on sandpaper, as the did the rounds to light the lanterns for the evening. It was harder work in the early morning, and when it was wet.

Katagiri Roshi

‘Whatever you do, wherever you may be, you are doing it in the Buddha’s world. Buddha’s world means the universe. The universe is nothing but the total manifestation of the truth by which all sentient beings are supported, upheld, naturally, if we open our hearts. If we don’t open our hearts, it’s a little bit difficult. Difficult means it takes a long time. But, basically, the universe and truth are very compassionate and kind toward all sentient beings. Constantly the compassionate universe is helping, just like the rain. Rain is accepted by many kinds of beings; some of the plants that are rained on grow, but some of them do not. If we don’t open our hearts it’s pretty hard to grow, it really takes time. But still, the rain is just the rain. Rain continues to fall to support all sentient beings.’ (Returning to Silence)

I am giving a talk on the precepts to the Hebden Bridge group today, as they start a year of study on the matter. As I prepared my talk, I dug out notes from a precepts class I took at Zen Center about a year after I arrived – I have kept a fair number of old notes like this – and saw that a section of this book was referenced in the bibliography. I know that I had trouble following Katagiri’s thinking at the time, but it sounds wonderful now.

You Do Not Call Winter The Beginning Of Spring

The rains finally let up, and clear skies moved in – with a north wind, so it was extremely clear, but cold around the edges. It warmed up nicely for a couple of days, and is now cooling off again. But, January or not, blossoms and buds have started to show. The buckeye in my yard is budding out all over; on Sunday’s roam we saw cherry blossoms, magnolias and poppies on the sunny side of Potrero Hill. 

In my student group check-in this week, several people spoke about how their internal weather had improved along with the external changes. There have been times for sure when I have felt relaxed and joyful just feeling warmed by the sun. The slow dawns and sunsets, with the new year’s new moon hanging low, have held promise of fine days.

I have tried to get some bike riding in on as many days as possible; since the usual strong afternoon winds are absent, it has been fun riding back to the ferry on the way home. In gaps between commitments, I go out for an hour around the city. But it is many months since I rode the kind of distances that I used to think of as my standard. Part of that has been circumstantial, and part of it is probably just age catching up with me.

Last weekend I had intended to do a longer ride on Saturday, since I had the roam on Sunday, but this plan was scuppered by my neighbours having a backyard party with a DJ and sound system on Friday night, that interrupted my sleep past midnight. I did ride, but was not feeling energetic enough to go too far or too hard. 

In the afternoon I had two commitments: a jukai at Zen Center, which one of the ordinands had hoped I would attend, and an event in the park where I had volunteered to take photographs for the Bicycle Coalition. Both were lovely, though I would have stayed and mingled at the first longer if I hadn’t had to get to the second.

(In case you aren’t familiar with the title of the post, it comes from the Genjo Koan, but Dogen obviously never spent the early months of the year in San Francisco).

Perhaps my favourite shot from the jukai, just for the subtle light.
Preceptors and ordinees.
The City Center maple, still bare.
Folks gathering at the Light Up The Night event.
After being twice postponed due to rain, the chosen day offered an amazing sunset.
January blossoms.
Buckeye buds enjoying the sun.

Dale S. Wright

‘The meditative cultivation of mindfulness opens us to see situations in a way that is attentive to the sensitivities and needs of everyone involved. It instills in us a perceptual capacity that most people lack, the ability to perceive nuances in every day life that signifies something important, but that typically eludes our attention. In this sense, meditation opens a space of receptivity within that attunes our minds to what is going on right now, all around us. Occasionally, and painfully, it shows us the harm that we have been causing, but could not see. As meditation proceeds, it awakens us to opportunities for sensitive and just treatment of others that were previously closed to our attention. In the meditative space of “no-self,” we become capable of “disinterested” action, that is, action that is not predicated primarily on what is good for us. This is a condition of moral freedom from a tendency is to become bound up within ourselves, inattentive to the world of others around us.’ (The Six Perfections)

We pondered this paragraph in my student group this week. We agreed about the possilities of opening to perception of nuances, and I was very struck on the notion of ‘moral freedom’ that is proposed as an outcome.

Dogen

‘Hearing the term “buddha nature,” many students mistakenly regard it as the self explained by Shrenika, a teacher outside the way. They think this because they have not met a true person, the true self, a true teacher, They mistakenly regard the conscious mind, which is caused by the movement of air and fire, as the awareness and understanding of buddha nature. But who says that buddha nature has awareness or understanding? Even though those who are aware or understand are buddhas, buddha nature is neither awareness nor understanding.

Furthermore, the buddhas awareness, of which they speak, is not the same awareness they mistakenly regard as awareness. The movement of air and fire is not the cause of buddha’s awareness. It is just that the awareness is one or two buddha faces, ancestor faces.

A number of ancient masters and early sages went to India and returned to China to guide humans and devas. They have been as common as rice, flax, bamboo, and reeds from the time of the Han and Tang dynasties until the time of the present Song Dynasty. Many of them regard the movement of air and fire as the awareness of buddha nature.

What a pity! They make this kind of mistake because their study of the way is coarse.’ (Shobogenzo Bussho)

We were studying this passage in the Dogen study group this week. There was much talk of the elemental understanding of ‘air and fire’ at that time and in that culture (and I regrettably misquoted its appearance in the Gyojikihan, the Standard Observances). I was also thinking of the passage in the Mountains and Waters Sutra, which, equally regrettably, I do not seem to have posted here, where Dogen lists different ways you can consider a mountain, before concluding along the lines of “it is not just this.” This is how Dogen encourages continual investigation, and the ability to reside peacefully in the awareness that things are always beyond our conceptual boxes and our wish to put everything in a conceptual box. As he says elsewhere, it’s not that this is wrong, but it is not the only story.

Saturation

At a certain point, I lost track of just how many rain storms have passed through San Francisco in recent weeks. Certainly I was tracking the forecast much more regularly than usual, to see when the rain would come next, and still finding that it was not completely accurate. I was lucky ahead of the rain on a couple of my commutes; I could see the clouds coming, and having arrived could hear the rain lashing outside – even hail and thunder at one stage, which is very unusual for this area. Other times I gave upon the idea of riding or going out for more than food shopping when it rained all day.

Thankfully, the rain does seem to have moved on, and we can start clearing up the damage and hope that the floods begin to subside. Once again. San Francisco is not the epicentre of all of this, but we see it happening all around us. A friend who had to head into Tassajara – slightly delayed from having caught Covid – was being asked to walk four miles of the road due to various landslides. They have not reappeared in the city, so I assume they made it in safely. I felt safe to schedule a hike, somewhat less gruelling than that, for Sunday, hoping for clear skies still.

This rain moved into the Golden Gate as I was leaving the city on the ferry.
Fifteen minutes later, it looked like this.
Between storms, beautiful sunsets.

Stormy Weather

I remember a couple of the winters I lived at Tassajara where we had back-to-back storms bringing many inches of rain. This past week has been the equal of those in the Bay Area, and once again we have local forecasts suggesting it will rain for the next ten days.

On New Year’s Eve, thankfully I didn’t have to be anywhere all day; we had five inches of rain, more than had been predicted, with plenty of damage around the area. I was motivated to undertake a complete clean of my place, in the way that we do at Zen Center, to start the year with everything fresh and clean; I ended up even rearranging the furniture to match the way I had envisioned before I moved in, but which I had thought might be impractical. So far it seems to work.

And the next day was clear and sunny! I rode out to catch the first sunrise of the year on the Embarcadero once again, and set off around the city with no particular ambition, though once I had seen some of the aftermath of the storm, I did go to check that the trail to Marshall’s Beach was open, which it was. We had a lovely roam that same afternoon, marred only by ridiculously heavy traffic heading towards the bridge on every available street, which made it hard for some people to get to the meeting point.

Slowly I have been landing back in my regular routine, although I did have a few commitments in the week between Christmas and New Year as rain moved through and the wind blew hard. As always I try to plan for time outside, but right now it seems like I will just be able to snatch some short rides between showers on the days I am free. And I welcome the earlier morning light: I remember being surprised to learn a few years ago that sunrise and sunset did not shorten and lengthen symmetrically, and it is their combined rate of change that gives us the shortest day on the 21st. The latest sunrises are right now, while the afternoons get incrementally longer. Certainly it was a little lighter when I went down to Zen Center for a peaceful sit on Friday afternoon.

Looming rain on the morning of the 27th.
Twin Peaks, morning of the 28th.
I did not really get outside on the 31st.
Arriving at the Embarcadero on the morning of the 1st.
More signs of the previous day’s storm.
Heading down to Marshall’s Beach on the afternoon of the 1st.
Sunset on the 3rd.
Morning rain on the 5th.
Sunset on the 5th.
Under the bridge about fifteen minutes later.
Oyster Point, morning of the 6th.

Time To Rest

Towards the end of last week I started feeling really run down, to the extent that I went out and bought some Covid tests (while I await my next free set to come in the mail) just to make sure I wasn’t going to infect anyone on Saturday’s roam. I didn’t have any symptoms beyond tiredness, and the test was negative, so I went ahead, and, after a couple of days more rest, I felt fine again. I have heard from several friends who either managed to travel during the rather apocalyptic weather across the US, or who had to postpone their trips, that they were also feeling very low energy if not symptomatic of anything. Since I have a number of days off, I am reminding myself to take it easy, and the wet forecast is obviously helping with that. In any case, here is an old passage from the Ino’s Blog that might help if you are feeling the same way:

I remember at Tassajara, when I was on the  kitchen crew, I found myself really struggling with tiredness, from the combination of the tough schedule and the physical activity. I talked with Reb about it, and he asked what I was doing during break times. When it’s time to rest, he recommended, you should rest. I have tried to abide by this guideline ever since; the ino’s schedule can be pretty strenuous, and if I rest when I can, it makes it easier to have the energy to get through the remainder of it. This is one thing I always notice when I am feeling ill – I appreciate, from the lack of it, how much energy it takes to get through a normal day. I also find something comforting in feeling the effort my body is making to fight off the virus: I enjoy a good sweat, especially when it ends up breaking the fever. So can we appreciate being sick? Can we say, when it’s time to be sick, just be sick? Perhaps, if we can take it as a message from our bodies to slow down and take care of ourselves, pause from our usual activities – if we are able to do so – and also be thankful for people’s offers of medicine and help: I received a thermos full of delicious fresh ginger tea with lemon and honey, which Blanche brews up for people who are suffering, and which, along with the good wishes, was a great tonic.

Solstice

I’m not sure what happened to all that forecast rain, but what we got instead was a spell of cold weather. Knowing that much of the US was feeling it more, and that the UK just got a big hit of snow, I always feel I have to add that ‘cold’ is by Bay Area standards: I was out on my bike in places with frost on the ground, having dug out my neoprene glove and booties, as well as a warm skull cap; at home, though I like to open windows in the middle of the day to air the place out, the heating was on morning, afternoon and evening.

The clear skies did mean I could schedule some roams – I did back-to-back ones, visiting Telegraph Hill, North Beach and Russian Hill on Friday, Tank Hill and Mount Sutro on Saturday. I was very glad to be out in the sunny weather, and to be a little more active; my legs felt a little heavy after both days. 

The World Cup came to an amazing climax, which I got to watch with friends on Sunday morning. The next day felt quite empty, not least because it was a grey day which did not warm up at all. With Zachary away, we decided to sit indoors at a space open to the public, and that was definitely a good idea.

The run-up to Christmas and the New Year seems to have been going on for a while, and I have been making plans for things I want to get done in the various free days I have over the holiday period. As usual, it mostly involves getting outside, hiking, or riding on the days when other people won’t be out and about, but also taking care of some things I have been rather neglecting this month, between the football and my urge to be lazy and to rest as much as I can – which I think is a natural response to this darkest time of the year.

Sunrise at Bayshore, with a little tule fog in the valley, where it was several degrees colder.
The always lovely view from Ina Coolbrith park on Friday’s roam.
Sitting at the summit of Mount Sutro on Saturday afternoon.

Changeable Weekend

At one stage on Saturday, the forecast for the week ahead looked like this:

This was a little alarming. It was chucking it down at the time, but I had spent the morning happily indoors and watching the World Cup (yes, England got knocked out, but they played well and almost beat the best team at the tournament, so no complaints from me).

Thankfully, the rain blew over by the time I had put on my robes and walked down to Zen Center for my second shuso ceremony of the week. Eli was taking no prisoners with his early answers, and I had already thought to ask him to show some tenderness to the block he hit with the staff at the end of each exchange. The block split in two a few questions ahead of my turn, so I asked instead if he could make it one again…

It was nice to get to stay for dinner, and to catch up both with current residents, and a former one sitting their first sesshin in more than ten years.

I was asked to get a picture of everyone after the ceremony, which usually doesn’t happen in the city.
Eli with assorted venerables, and, more importantly, his family.

On Sunday morning, there was a break in the rain long enough for me to get a brief ride in (I think back to last fall and winter, where I was just building up the hours of riding week after week, whereas this year I have only had a couple of what I would think of as long rides since about June), and then it actually stayed dry until mid-afternoon. You would not have guessed that from the skies around Ocean Beach when I went out:

It seemed that the rain passed mainly to the south of the city on this occasion.
Sunshine on Mount Tam from Great Highway.

The forecast had caused one of my students and his partner to postpone their intended wedding ceremony from Sunday until Monday morning. They had already been abroad and had ceremonies with friends, but they needed to be legal in California, so this was a small affair. I was glad to have enough space on Monday morning to be able to go up with them and one friend/photographer/witness for an intimate sit and ceremony among the redwoods in Joaquin Miller park.

I had hoped to find an auspicious spot where I had performed a wedding a few years ago (which I don’t seem to have written about here); we didn’t find that one, but there was another little grove that was perfect for the occasion. It was a little challenging changing in and out of robes in the damp conditions – the rain was still dripping off the trees and evaporating where the morning sun was hitting it and the ground was soaked- but the occasion was lovely. It has been an honour to officiate at two of my students’ weddings now, and we were joking that I should chivvy along the other two regulars from the group.

I made it back over to the city in time for the lunchtime sit, which was quite chilly despite the sun. The forecast now says there will be no rain this week, so I have scheduled a couple of roams, on Friday and Saturday afternoon – reserving Sunday for the World Cup Final. And while the rain is always welcome and necessary, I am starting to hope there will be some dry weather over the last couple of weeks of the year so I can get more rides and roams in over the holidays.