An Ancient Said

Two-thirds of a lifetime has swiftly gone.
On the spiritual foundation not a single speck has been polished.
While indulging, life randomly passes day after day.
If you are called but do not turn around, what can be done?

This poem is found towards the end of the Tenzokyokun, and Dogen does not attribute it beyond the three words I used for the title. It has always been a striking poem for me, speaking of the urgency of the great matter.
Earlier in the week it occurred to me that today was the anniversary of my first arrival in San Francisco, eighteen years ago now, on my way from New York, heading towards Sydney; here just a week, not imagining I would return, let alone spend a portion of my life here. That portion has now amounted to a third of my life (the other two-thirds can be evenly divided into my childhood-and-school years, and my college-and-London years). As I dwelt on that, I had the further thought that it would be plausible to estimate that I am currently two-thirds of the way through my life. Swiftly gone indeed.

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Kathryn Schulz

I continue to derive much intellectual stimulation from reading the New Yorker. Often there are articles I might struggle to begin, but which pull me in through the quality of writing as much as for the subject matter. This was one recent such example; by the line ‘unicorns, aside from some healing properties in their horns, akin to the antibiotics in frog skin, only attract virgins—which, power-wise, puts them at the same level as boy bands’, I was quite hooked.

The ending struck me as a longer version of Suzuki Roshi’s thought the other day (as well as many other posts scattered through the blog):

‘In the end, what’s most remarkable is not that our fantasies contain so much reality; it is that our reality contains so much fantasy. Most of us understand that our perceptual systems, far from passively reflecting the world around us, actively sort, select, distort, ignore, and alter a huge amount of information in order to construct reality as we experience it. But reality as we experience it also departs from actual reality in deeper ways. In actual reality, space and time are inseparable, and neither one behaves anything like the way we perceive it; nor does light, and nor does gravity, and, in all likelihood, nor does consciousness.’

Sharon Salzberg

‘Real love allows for failure and suffering. All of us have made mistakes, and some of those mistakes were consequential, but you can find a way to relate to them with kindness. No matter what troubles have befallen you or what difficulties you have caused yourself or others, with love for yourself you can change, grow, make amends, and learn. Real love is not about letting yourself off the hook. Real love does not encourage you to ignore your problems or deny your mistakes and imperfections. You see them clearly and still opt to love.’ (Real Love)


Blanche Hartman

‘We can be disparaging with just a look. We don’t have to say a word and people will feel it, and they will be hurt by it. We must be careful how we treat one another. Remember, each of you – not only are you buddha, so is your neighbor; so are the people that you live and work with. We are trying to cultivate buddha wherever we go, and so when you find yourself making a snap judgment about somebody or putting somebody down, preferably you will notice this before you open your mouth, but if it’s after you open your mouth and say something disparaging, please try to have the courage to apologize.’ (Seeds For A Boundless Life)

I can only add that Blanche was very good at thinking before she spoke, and I can’t recall many times when she said something that she might need to apologise for.

The Weather Changes, The Clocks Change

It was ninety degrees the day I left San Francisco at the end of September, and ninety degrees the day I after I returned a couple of  weeks ago. My body had already navigated from the pleasant weather of Portugal to the storm-force winds of my last weekend in England, and then across eight time zones, but I could not have asked for better conditions to come back to.

As part of cranking myself back to fitness, the day after I got back I took myself off for a gentle ride down to Ocean Beach, just to remind my legs about pedalling, and to enjoy sweltering; on the Friday morning I took a spin around the Headlands, and found the bridge sitting on a bed of iridescent fog in the low-angled sun. Photographers were having a field day, and I enjoyed the contrasts between the warm slopes and the fresh valley bottoms, where the mist lingered before the sun rose high enough to burn it off.

And since typical weather systems in San Francisco tend to last five days, it was not a surprise when temperatures dropped at the end of that week, something else for my body to adapt to. On the Saturday I ran up to Mount Sutro, and found the usual divide between sun on the lee side of the hills, and dense fog in the woods on the ocean side. On the Sunday morning I intended to ride around the city, but the fog was so damp and pervasive I couldn’t bring myself to do it – remembering that it was exactly a week since I had put off running due to the challenging wind – and instead spent the morning finishing the editing of the thousand or so pictures from Europe. I made up for it last Monday morning, though navigating the rush hour is never completely stress-free, and I had a terse interaction with a driver about speeding through Golden Gate Park, when I would rather have been watching a coyote disappearing into the bushes with a raccoon in its mouth.

The forecast for this past weekend was not promising enough to schedule a roam, much to my disappointment; in the end, there was not so much rain about. I took a run over the southern folds of the city to Diamond Heights and back through the bare slopes of Glen Canyon on Saturday, and headed south on my bike to San Bruno Mountain on Sunday morning, under clear skies both times, the low sun warm, the autumnal breezes fresh.

When I went to join Zachary for the lunch-time sitting last Monday, I found the shadows under the olive tree had got much longer, and for the first time, rather wished I had been sitting in the sun, as the wind was a little fresh (not enough to actually move to a different cushion though). The shadows will be an hour further along when we are sitting today, and hopefully the sun will feel pleasant. If you are local, you are welcome to come and join us, and every dry Monday over the winter.

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