Last Wednesday, we had a short sutra service, which Marika led. We added to the tradition Zen cannon this poem for the evening:
The Wolf God
By Anne Carson Like a painting we will be erased, no one can remain.
I saw my life as a wolf loping along the road
And I questioned the women of that place.
Some regard the wolf as immortal, they said.
Now you know this only happened in one case and that
Wolves die regularly of various causes--
Bears kill them, tigers hunt them,
They get epilepsy,
They get a salmon bone crosswise in their throat,
They run themselves to death no one knows why--
But perhaps you never heard
Of their ear trouble.
They have very good ears,
Can hear a cloud pass overhead.
And sometimes it happens
That a windblown seed will bury itself in the aural canal
They go mad trying to stand upright,
Nothing to link with.
Die of anger.
Only one we know learned to go along with it.
He took small steps at first.
Using the updrafts.
They call him Huizkol,
Looks Good in Spring.
Things are as hard as you make them.
This is a guest post from Toby Morris, who led the group at WiG in a Zen Game a few weeks ago:
I’ve been taking my practice “off the cushion” a lot these days. And maybe because I work in the field of nutrition, and just love food (and now that I’m pregnant I really love food), I think eating is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. Mindful eating is in the media spotlight these days, the subject of many books by authors such as Jan Chozen Bays and Thich Nhat Hanh, even garnering attention from Oprah.
At Wind in Grass a couple weeks ago, we decided to get in on the action. We tried a simple experiment: we payed attention to eating a raisin. Quietly, we held a single raisin in our fingers, we examined it, we smelled it, we even listened to it. We placed the raisin in our mouth and felt its peculiar texture. We bit into the raisin, chewing slowly, noticing its flavors. And then we swallowed the raisin, feeling it move down our throats and disappear into our stomachs. We did this with a second raisin and noticed how the experience was different that the first. We expanded our awareness beyond our physical selves to appreciate all that went into growing, harvesting, and preparing this raisin for us to eat. Finally, we were offered a choice to eat the third raisin or not; some of us did and some of us didn’t.
The group shared their thoughts:
Several people noted how different this was from how they normally eat raisins—by the handful.
A felt a flashback to childhood.
B was a little annoyed by having to eat so slowly and admitted he swallowed the raisin without thinking.
C liked the burst of the skin and flavor in her mouth.
D was shocked to notice the automaticity with which he wanted to eat the third raisin—is this how he always eats? In the same way he compulsively checks the baseball score when a challenging work task lingers.
For E, the raisin solidified the koan we’ve been working with around Buddha and the body.
Such amazing things from three little raisins!
[Thanks Toby- it was a great game and a great time]
One of Wind-in-Grass' 4 stated missions is to make San Francisco a kinder and better place. Ashley Callen volunteered to lead that charitable works group within our Sangha and has, over the last half year since she took over, done a marvelous job identifying opportunities for our Zen group to improve SF.
One of the projects that Ashley launched was habitat restoration. Recently we moved our focus to McKinely park in Potrero Hill. Every second Sunday of the month we meet and roll up sleeves and dig into the dirt doing weeding, and planting.
There is the group, on the hillside. As we work our way down, we are going to see if we can pull up some of those pesky red brick weeds. They keep cropping up.
Actually, the intent of the project is to restore, as closely as possible, the hillside to a natural SF habitat, before invasive foreign species took root. It will largely be serpentine grass, wildflowers and pines. You can see Marika and Ashley on the right and I think that is Angie on the far left trying to get out of the frame.
Yes, hello ladies.
Sometimes, when you cannot help yourself, the best thing is to help others. Especially when that other is tierra and cannot ask for help. It was a good day in the sun, and it will be on the regular WiG schedule, second Sundays 10-12.
Last night I spoke in Santa Rosa. John had invited some time ago, and It was an exhilerating and tranforming experience.
We will start at the point that Ellen showed me to my cushion on my arrival. In the front. And center. I nearly *&^% myself. That part of the evening had never occured to me and I was just taking a seat in the back. Frankly, I figured she must be mistaken, because teachers sit there. None the less, I was suprised, then amused by my suprise, to discover that it affected my zazen not at all. Though that said, there was a weird sense of community that was electric and immediate.
After we had sat and shared tea and welcomes, we rearranged the zendo somewhat to accomodate the presentation I had in mind. I introduced myself, thanked the sangha for having me, and explained the impetus behind the creation of Wind-in-Grass' zen games.
Originally WiG hadn't a regular teacher as we do today with David Weinstein guiding the group. I had no intention of anyone confusing me for a teacher, so it seemed to make sense to find create opportunities whereby the experience taught. Right away it made sense for me to just pay attention to questions that arose, or places a koan really stuck with me, isolate the questions it brought up, and then turn it into a game. (Game, I explained, was not what I named them, its just what they are called. I can give credit to JZ, who originally began calling them "Zen Games". Besides that, it has been my experience that human beings need play to grow. Not all animals play after all. Or, as Mark Twain might have said, need to.). The games then gave me the opportunity to hear what was going on for everyone else. And hearing those experiences has never failed to be the best teacher.
So I asked people to number off, then turn right and left and partner up. This was their zazen buddy. They would not reach awakening without this person. They were then asked to remove one of their two zabutons. They were asked, without speaking to accord themselves on the remaining zabuton in any manner that was comfortable. (People in chairs were asked to move the chairs until they were side by side). There would be physical contact. If this made anyone unfcomfortable, they were encouraged to notice that.
Then we sat for ten minutes. I encouraged people to notice the feel of the others' body, the rise and fall of their breath, how they shifted, how they felt, etc. The bell was rung and we gathered around. I asked the Santa Rosa group to observe the same rules that we do in SF...everyone puts something into the room- Extroverts have no monopoly on wisdom- and everyone is welcome to ask clarifying questions, but comments and responses will wait until we open up the discussion.
And around we went. Before I get into the details, I want to begin by giving my sincere gratitude to everyone who jumped in with both feet, and shared whole heartedly. It was a predictably unpredictable result.
There seemed to be some common experiences from the comments. Many people commented how much more energy they felt, how peacefully attuned. Others mentioned how quickly and quiet they mind became. Several described an increase in warmth and heat. Several other people described a feeling of peave and expansiveness that took up the entire spave. Here are my best recollections of the other comments. I cannot recall each one, but this is close:
A: told a lovely story about how the practice reminded her of hot summer nights with her husband when they were too hot to touch, so there toes would reach out and hold each other.
B: told about how calm and quiet her head got- a theme that would repeat itself in many people's experiences.
C: Noticed that she is always cold. Between having her hands held and a dog fall asleep on her lap, she said she felt warm enough for a whole week.
D: Noticed an energy in her sitting, instead of the usual evening drownsiness. An alertness. This also was a commonly experienced feeling
E: Said her Zazen felt sweet.
F: Said that she felt strong, like she was sitting with a goddess.
G: noted how time was distorted, and she could not feel it passing, then the bell rang.
H: noticed how the sounds, usually jarring, were "jarring in a good way", and how she could hear everything.
I: Noticed how he felt embraced in his sitting.
J: noticed how expensive he felt, open and warm.
H: Noticed how his instict was to move closer to the other person, and touch more. How he had instant negative feelings abouta game, but that he really liked this one.
J: Noticed his expectations were completely circumvented by his experience.
K: Said she was blown away. Just loved the game and felt the warm rush of awkening. She was just glowing.
L: Felt the warmth of the pther person pressed against him, and noticed how after a while that warmth was its own thing and he could not tell where he left off and other began. He also noticed how immediately docile and quiet his mind got.
M: noticed how his breathing began to unconsiousless sync with his neighbor.
N: Noticed only one question "who am I?"
O: Noticed the sensation of being lifted upward
P: Noticed how acute his hearing became. How he felt connected to everyone in the room.
I was asked which koan had inspired the game. I am working on the koan Ruiyan Calls Master:
The priest Ruiyan called “Master!” to himself every day and answered himself “Yes!”
Then he would say “Be aware!” and reply “Yes!”
“Don’t be deceived by others!”
It was this second to last line that lead me to ask, "What others?". And I think that is the point. At least it feels right. But, that said, if there is no other, why do we practice in a Sangha, and why does it feel right and important to practice that way?
I am also intrigued by the idea of shaking up Zena bit to see what happens. One constant about Zen is that our bodies are largely an after thought. PZI in general is excited about exploring our bodies in motion right now [see our earlier post about The Body of the Buddha one day meditation], but I noticed that even in motion, zen is atraditionally a solitary practice, at least within the confines of the cushion. What if Bodidharma had to share his cave with 20 or so others. What then?
In the end, I concluded with some thoughts. The game reminded me of a time I lived in NYC and was powerfully lonely. I found great comfort by taking the train into and out of the city during rush traffic, solely for the experience of being crushed in with people.
Most of us are familiar with the concept "no other", intellectually and by varying degrees by experience. But if there is no other, then being surrounded by a chair, a carpet and a table should offer the same power and support as practicing with a sangha of humans. But it doesn't.
I recal my introduction to practice. It came through biofeedback that I was doing to manage pain in my 20s. Over the years it migrated from lying down, and listening to tapes, to sitting up and, well, just sitting there. My girl friend asked me how long I had been meditating, to which I replied "I don't meditate". Meditaiton is, as we all know, for hippies and weirdos. Then she suggested that I find some people to sit with. I told her that it was a solitary practice, so it didn't matter, but the second I said it, I realized I was wrong, and so I followed her suggestion to find a group with which to meditate.
I ended up finding Boundless Way, in Boston, and on entering the zendo I knew, like you know your shower is hot enough, that sangha was a great treasure and somehow necessary to my awakening.
The ticket, if there is one, lies in the fact that while tables chairs and carpets are themselves perfect buddhas, all of us the same perfect buddha, their awakening relies on their chairness, tableness, and carpetness. Maybe their awakening requires being walked on, sat on or being polished. But my awakening comes by being human, and being human, it means intereacting with others. It means relationships and feelings and emotions, and only through those will I ever reach awakening.
So there I was, driving (ok speeding), up to Santa Rosa, when I was struck with total gratitude for the small office tensions, for the heartbreak of lost love, for the monotony of waiting, for the anger of betrayal, for the joy of love, for the companionship of friends, for the uncertainty not knowing what to say in the face of tragedy, for my mom who I never fail to offend or dissapoint, and all the tiny failings and relationships that teach me about being human. It seems like its because of them, and not inspite of them, than any of us are waking up to our true nature.
This quote, from Marika, quoting Dean Young, a letter to his nephew:
"There will be nights crossing bridges you don't know the name of when some unspeakable beauty envelopes you. There will be nights looking from windows upon the staggered lights of some town when some unspeakable sadness envelopes you. There will be people you love who you can no longer find your way to. There will be new discoveries, new clouds that resemble strange and terrible things, tangerines and hangovers, and long, long telephone calls made of almost entirely silence. There will be enormous pains and small pains that are almost pleasurable. There will be haiku that suddenly make sense, and the feeling that something has been taken from you, and songs, always songs. So don't worry about missing life, it's like missing the sky, you can't, you'll always be under it and in it and sometimes high in it, but often just on the ground, moving from thing to do to, needing, crying, making people laugh, although it's hard to tell what they're laughing about because it seems you were just talking about how terrible life is."
Camera! Why do I always forget it.
What a day today. We met at 12 at the Wind-in-Grass meditation hall on Carolina St. It was sunny, and warm and we kept the windows open until a gardener across the street decided it would be a good day to chainsaw down a tree. Even then it was the fumes, not the noise, that changed our minds.
But that is all another thing. We welcomed the group- 20 of us- and breifly introduced the program. It was a day of meditation, and movement. David made some opening remarks about Zen and movement. How Zen had traditionally ignored the body and its moving. His initial instruction, as he recalled it was "sit still and shut up". But not today. Today we would move through seated, yoga and somatic therapy meditations, and notice how each was a reflection of the other and yet calling in different voices. We then all sat, while David introduced the koan:
"In the middle of heaven and earth, in the midst of the cosmos, there is one treasure, hidden in the body. It carries a lamp into the meditation hall. It places the three story gate on the lamp."
After we sat with this koan, we discussed what we had noticed. David asked us to introduce ourselves, then encouraged us "now, what did you notice? And when you answer, answer knowing you are merely saying your name. Your response is as special and unique to you as your name." So we noticed the chainsaw, and our anger at its disruption, and the warmth and hope of possibility that this body was a treasure and the simplicity of the acceptance that something as mundane as carrying the lamp was right and true and at the center of the universe. We noticed the breath, and the stillness, and the fire beneath the gate. The transformation of body spirit and mind in the triple gate.
We took a short break, had tea, then piled the cushions and lay out our yoga mats. Blair Bodie, an SF yoga instructor, lead us through a routine. I don't routinely do yoga, so I cannot tell you what we were doing. I can tell you she was lovely and gentle and urged us to follow at our own pace, though she set a tough course. We breathed together and creaked and moved. I loved it being a community practice, with grey hair and brown, limber legs and stiff, novices and masters all moving together. After we moved for an house, we lay still, and enjoyed the silence. In the silnece, David recited again the koan.
We pulled the cushions in and discussed what had happened. Where is the koan?
Everyone was glowing. Some with warmth, some with youth, some with the tingle of breathing wholeness. Some noticed how the glow the the lamp filled the whole universe, and some how the yoga had moved them out of their head. Some noticed how their yoga was like their zazen- filed with avoidance and discomfort and a desire to get to a clear open place.
We talked for a while. I cannot do justice to the heartfelt admissions and observations, so I will not try. We served lunch. Sara G had made us kale with pumpkin seeds, rice and squash soup with goat cheese. Leah had brought fruit and cheese and bread and nuts and there was tea and water and dessert. We ate together and it got loud and friendly.
After lunch, we rejoined and spread wide our circle of cushions. Ariel Howland, who works in a local somatic therapy clinic, explained briefly the background to authentic movement. It was an expression of the subconscious, made conscious. We were invited to notice how we thought we wanted to move, and how we actually moved. Half the group stood with their eyes closed. They were invited to move, to follow that closest instinct and find the movement that it called for. The other half witnessed, watching and making sure that they didn't collide with anything. The group moved, they walked, and crawled and hunched, and rolled, and meowed and wallowed and turned and tapped and stomped. After 15 minutes we were invited to write, or draw, what had come up, then we shared. Then the groups reversed and the witnesses moved and the movers watched. And we talked.
After a short break, we all sat again with the koan. Then discussed. Everyone had opened, and settled. We talked openly about the day, about how movement.
It was a wonderful day. It was one of those days when your space in the middle of the cosmos was self evident and all the rest was play and safe and interesting.
Thank you everyone who came and poured yourself into the movement and the meditation. Thank you David, Blair, Ariel, Sara and Dan.
Yesterday's game was a focus on awareness.
Sometime ago, one of our members asked a teacher, jokingly, "I want to learn to levitate. Can you teach me that?" The teacher replied "Sure, but the more difficult thing is figuring out, who is doing the flying".
Zen, maybe meditation, is followed by stories of somewhat extraordinary abilities. The ability to go without sleep, drying blankets by increasing body heat, reading minds. My personal take is, yes, neat, but so what? They are lovely fireworks, but I don't see that they are anything really more than phenomena like hunger pains or goose bumps.
That said, one noted common affect of meditation is an improved memory. Why is that?
I think its because we are being more aware of what is going on inside and around us. We are more open adn curious and spend more time with the thing or feeling in an appreciative relationship. Memory is a fucntion of awareness. When people say they forgot something, its because they really never remembered in the first place. Our minds are built to filter out the banal, the ordinary and the common.
With meditation, fewer moments or things are ordinary. They become notable, special and worthy of our attention. We remember better, because we are aware of things, our feelings, the curve in a hillside, the sound of wind in grass, perhaps for the first time.
We played a game with those memories.
First, I gave a list of 10 random objects. I asked if anyone could repeat them. Then I did. I showed them how, by relating them to one another, you could recall them. We went around the room. Once they had heard my relational stories, they could recall 6 or more. We discussed how by relating objects to one another you could recall them.
So then I rang the bell. We sat and I slowly spoke out 12 traits, abstract characteristics, not objects, and asked everyone to create their own framework for remembering them. The stories people created were wonderful. Waiters becoming priest and swimming across lakes. Frog courtiers, and queens and pearls spilling over floors. Tall clipper ships and days at sea and in the sun.
So that was that. The closing talk was asking the group to notice how the game demonstrates how the human mind works. By creatice a lattice out of a story, we can hold information together and recall it. We use these stories as tools. They help is remember and navigate. But the game also showed how they are just stories. Before they were knitted together, they did not exist, but after we spun them, we accorded meaning to them. Days after, I can still remember the stories and plots. And in that way, the fantastic story telling machine that is the human mind, that allows us to track animals, or prepare for storm seasons, can create stories that we cannot let go of. The information, after all, is not really related. It just is. But our stories are powerful things.
So, lately I have been interested in the concept of getting lost. It all started when a friend of mine and I were skyping and I was lecturing her on having no direction in her life. She said that some people just wander, and I responded that she was not wandering, she was steering away. Then I got this idea, that she was only lost because she thought there was somewhere to be. Do any of us really know where we are going?
Zen seems to me like a path with no goal, but the path. You can only be lost by thinking you know where you are going. Life I guess is like that too.
My second deepest fear growing up, was, and is, getting lost. This plays out in dreams where I cannot get home, or anyplace familiar. It plays out in the rage born of fear in getting misplaced in my car. It gnaws like a hungry animal at my insides when I am disoriented in life. And yet, when I look at it all, the found I want to be is a complete mirage. I want to believe that there is a better place to be, and that I need to get there. That there is a right and a wrong and a good and bad, and that I know them and can steer to them. I want to hope there is a right job for me, and a dream girl/soul mate, and that the decisions I make are correct and I am steering toward something of virtue and superiority, even if only by my standards.
But as we? Aren't we happier if we acknowledge that we are lost, and there is no getting found, accept to find ourselves in this moment. There is no path, no direction, but walking in the dark and accepting the stumbles, wet and stones. I don't know. That sounds good, but how does it feel?
Maybe I will make a game about that. Because I want to know how it feels to be lost and to let go and fall into lost. And frankly, after all these years, its terrifying.