Jenny Odell

‘Even if you get better at having your time be protected, that doesn’t answer the question of what you want to use your time for and what your values are. There’s also this irony where, in situations in the past, I felt like I needed to protect my time more so that I could do things that I wanted, and it obscured the fact that what I wanted was a sense of connection and meaning, and in order to get that I would have to do something that looked like giving my time away. Since you mentioned kids: A couple of weeks ago, I was hanging out with a friend who has a 3-year-old, and it took us half an hour to walk two blocks. There is a way in which, as you were saying, you could view that experience as potentially boring, but you could also see that the reason we were walking slowly is that kids are looking at stuff in a weird way! It’s a way I appreciate trying to imagine. For time spent like that, the whole question of “What are you getting out of this?” would be absurd…

For me, there’s the question of why you do anything. That can lead into difficult territory like, What do you want your life to be? Ideally your answers to that question are what guide your decisions about how to spend your time. You would hope that you are spending less time on things that you don’t want to be doing so you can do things that you’ve decided are meaningful to you, and I think that there’s something about that culture of making everything more efficient that risks avoiding that question of why. A life of total efficiency and convenience? Well, why? What is left if you were to make everything superconvenient? It is helpful to make certain things more efficient, but that can tip over into becoming its own end, which moves the focus away from that larger question of why.’ (from the New York Times)

Several comments to this article pointed out the privileged nature of even being able to pose these kinds of questions, but I think there is great value in not losing ight of why we do anything in life. After leaving Zen Center I have been pretty explicitly allowing myself more time, even though it means I have less money.

Shodo Harada

‘These vows are not something we promise just when we’re sitting in the zendo or after we choose to be ordained. Maintaining them in our daily interactions in society is the most important thing we can do with our lives.

The Buddha lived humbly, not caught on fashion, wearing rags and eating sparingly, giving anything extra to others in need. Only a small handful can live an ordained life, but whether we’re ordained or not, we can vow to live humbly for all people. This is our true way of living our repentance.’ (Not One Single Thing)

Lama Rod Owens

My natural habitat is silence. However, it was not always easy. In the beginning I remember being terrified by silence. In my training to become a teacher, I spent more than 3 years in a small group retreat, much of it alone and in silence.

The terror emerged from the reality that the silence would be for years. When silence is intentionally used to understand ourselves, then it will reveal many secrets to us. I found myself paralyzed by the promise that silence would be brutally honest with me, and I felt I wasn’t ready for that.

Through practice, I began to understand that silence allowed space to hold everything that was happening in the moment. Silence can offer us the support to notice the space in and around us.

And silence tells me the truth and calls me to do the work of holding the space for that truth, which is the work of spiritual transformation. Now, silence is a homecoming that I can rely on. (from Instagram)

Shundo Aoyama

‘It is because of such things as sadness, suffering, and the impasse in life, that our antennae are raised, and we try to seek the Way. First of all, the antenna is raised by the suffering [you experience], and then you encounter the teachings. As the Buddha first taught about in the Four Noble Truths, “suffering is the path to enlightenment.” So we should be aware of suffering, be guided by suffering, have our antennae go up, encounter the teachings, and through being guided by the teachings, we will awaken to the true way of life. That is how it is. At first, we are never grateful for the suffering caused by sorrow and pain. I think it is better to receive sorrow and suffering as a gift of mercy from the Buddha, who says, “Raise your antenna.” There are many kinds of sorrows, such as illness and failure, but I think we should receive them as a compassionate gift from the Buddha, who says, “Raise your antenna.”’ (from the Soto Shu Journal)


Speaking too much degrades virtue,
No words are truly effective;
Even though the great ocean should change,
It can never be communicated to you.

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.

Soko Morinaga

‘I have gone on at great length about life in a Zen monastery, a subject that may seem totally unrelated to your own lives. Yet all people, regardless of how their lives are structured, hold themselves dear. Everyone wants to be happy. And enlightenment is the starting point of happiness. We can use the words “true self-confidence” in place of “enlightenment.” True self-confidence means confidence in the true self, and confidence in the true self is a necessary requisite to happiness.
The power in which you can come to believe in yourself is not gained through training. It is the great power that transcends the self, that gives life to the self. The purpose of Zen practice is to awaken to the original power of which you have lost sight, not to gain some sort of new power. When you have sought and sought and finally exhausted all seeking, you become aware of that with which you have been, from the beginning – before ever beginning to search – abudantly blessed. After you have ceaselessly knocked and knocked, you realize, as I have said, that the door was standing wide open even before you ever started pounding away. That is what practice is all about.’ (Novice To Master)

Shohaku Okumura

‘It seems to me that in Dogen’s writings there are three kinds of time:

1. time that flows, as we 20 commonly think, from the past to the future through the present moment, and this present moment is “one time.” (1).

2. “Zero time” (0), time that is zero, because when we take a closer look at this one moment, it disappears; there is no such moment.

3. “Eternal time” ( ) that we find when we see this moment is zero.

In zero time, time doesn’t flow and is the eternity that has existed as one seamless moment from the big bang until now. Time flows because we measure it. We measure time using units such as seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, years, centuries and so on. Because we measure time, it seems it is flowing. But if time were not measured, for example if all human beings were erased from this universe, there would simply be one moment; there would be no such segments in time such as one second or one hour. From a human point of view, it seems time exists objectively –one hour or one week– and we follow a schedule or the calendar believing this, but if human beings entirely disappeared from this universe, there would be no such thing as flowing time. All of time since the Big Bang to this moment would be one moment, having no segments. This time doesn’t flow. I call it “eternity,” time beyond time.’ (from the Soto Shu Journal)

bell hooks

‘How do we start to love? We’re in such a climate of hate right now. We’re seeing diminishing acts of kindness and love because fear of the stranger has been so deeply cultivated in us. Breaking down that us-and-them binary is part of the work of love. We need to challenge all the binaries we face and try to see where to find a relationship with the “other”—the one we fear—so that we can enact compassion.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Suzuki Roshi

‘I think most of you have wrong idea, you know, about freedom or things-as-they-are [laughs]. When you say “freedom” or “things-as-they-are,” is not what I mean, at least. You are not, you know, seeing things-as-they-are, because you have some special glasses, and through them you are seeing things. And each person has different glasses, so your opinion will not meet, you know [laughs]. So the more you has to, you know, manage our group, the more you will be get in confusion [laughs], because you stick to your own, you know, eyes, your own understanding. And if, you know, you see things without glasses, things– if the picture you have is things-as-they-are, then, you know, naturally everyone will agree with what you see, and you have to agree with some other person’s understanding. But even so– even you cannot agree, you know, because you have on your glasses, you know, even though you cannot agree, sometime, you know, you should take off your glasses. “Oh!” [Laughs.] “But I need this glasses,” you know. “As a teacher, I must have this one.” [Laughs.] So excuse me. I must wear this. Maybe what you said is right. If you, you know, realize what kind of glasses you wear, then you can easily agree, you know. Without knowing that you have special glasses– as a student, as a teacher, as a officers, as a rokuchiji [laughs], so, you know, it is– things become very difficult. So when, you know, with this understanding, many good virtue will result, you know: humbleness, soft mind, or clear understanding, or sometime sharp judgment, you know.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)