Wow. What fun.
It was Wind-in-Grass's first community night. And I think it went smashingly. wow, do people under 70 say that? Whatever. It was a blast. We had a couple community members bring their loved ones, and the Potrero Hill neighborhood house donated local farm vegetables.
We sat, in the main hall again, under a stunning SF sunset, watching downtown burn in the light off the skyscrapers, and I spoke into the room:
Every day is a good day.
C, my daughter, who joined us tonight, was so relaxed that she needed a rather emergency diaper change. [N would later note that it was not unlike being in an iawaska [sp]]. She and I went to the men's room, but practice never broke. But that seemed...well, good too. After we sat, and walked, I asked the group to take one minute to put themselves at work. At their desk. In front of a computer, a patient, a canvas, a phone.
Then I asked, simply, for each person to describe a moment of connect at work, where work and practice seemed the same thing to them. Where they felt a moment of connection.
A: Mentioned breastfeeding
B: B is an artist. He noted that people often insinuate that being an artist must be fun every day. That it is easy. He said, "lately, art has been like laying bricks for me", but went on to note, that when his art is working, its immediate and his attention follows every curve.
C: Cited Dogen: "Overwhelming overwhelms overwhelming". I looked up the full quotation just now. Its lovely.
The time-being is like this. Arriving is overwhelmed by arriving, but not by not-arriving. Not-arriving is overwhelmed by not-arriving, but not by arriving. Mind overwhelms mind and sees mind, words overwhelm words and see words. Overwhelming overwhelms overwhelming and sees overwhelming. Overwhelming is nothing but overwhelming. This is time. As overwhelming is caused by you, there is no overwhelming that is separate from you. Thus you go out and meet someone. Someone meets someone. You meet yourself. Going out meets going out. If these are not the actualization of time, they cannot be thus
D: described working with patients, how she just disappears into the conversation, into their needs, into her care for them.
E: described the ten seconds in an elevator just prior to beginning the day in the office. The ten seconds of total calm and peace.
F: Described her work as a massage therapist, feeling the person at the end and their needs.
H: Described reading a transcript of a talk from John Tarrant, where he described love as attention, then turning back to the document he was drafting and noticing that while the anxiety and circular review was still there as usual, it didn't cause distress and in the end, he felt the same as when sitting zazen, just noticing and interested.
Then the game continued. This time people were asked to notice moments where they felt like they lost their practice.
A: mentioned how she could tell that something was making her uncomfortable and that she was turning away from it because she started to make a joke of it. In her head, with others.
B: writing papers. Just no groove there at all. Anguish.
C: Moments of breathlessness, with a short airsupply while things and events over take.
D: She never noticed it happening, but often realized that her fingers where chewed on. Something nervous when things felt out of control.
E: Shit. I cannot remember.
F: Studying. Feeling disconnected in the books and finding herself spoiling for distraction.
G: Facebook. She knew just how tedious asset reviews were when she found herself on facebook, trolling for distraction. So much so, she deleted her account.
H: Sending email. Right before pushing send. That moment where he knew something in the client email was misspelled or incorrect, but cross eyes from looking for it and just ready to slam Send. Mind distracted and revving up. Looking for anything to break the tension.
Chris Wilson folded the evening together. I hope he will write what he presented, because it was really touching. He came back to the themse of Sunryu Suzuki's impending death and talk on every day being a good day, and how, when Suzuki Roshi was asked how, he answered "pine is good, redwood is good". Chris pointed out that any day where you can feel intimate with the life before you, with pain, sadness, joy, boredom or contentment- just look it straight in the eye and be there, was a good day.
We sang the vows, then packed up the hall, and drove down to Connecticut Yankee for drinks and dinner together. Everyone came down the hill. We got an odd mix of MMA and baseball on TV, but an amazing mix of people and friends and conversation. And thanks to J for ordering the onion rings. C came, and was pretty well entertained, though it might be the first time an infant was swaddled at the bar. I hope at any rate.
Thanks to all and I am looking forward to community night again next month. And next time, I will remember the cookies.
You know, recently I have been struggling a lot with my practice, wondering: Am I doing something, or NOT doing something? Is there something wrong with effort? Does it mean rejecting things the way they are? Do I strive, or do I peer into what is here? What if I try to still my mind? Is that ok, or does enlightenment require accepting the unstillness and leaving it messy as it is?
Someone tonight at the Young Dharma group that meets in SF, summed up our evening's discussion by referencing a story of a monk throwing aside his monks robes in frustrations being counseled that practice was like tuning a guitar, too slack and it makes no sound, too tight and the strings break.
Andre Segovia, to the day he died, had to tune his guitar. Playing it causes it to need tuning, as does not playing it. Why shouldn't then my practice be constantly adjusting? Sitting makes our practice need adjustment. Not sitting makes our practice need adjustment. Its a measured tautness, maybe, and always changing.
Saturday, July 31, from 10-3:30, Wind-in-Grass is hosting a full day koan seminar in San Fransisco. The website has more information, but here is a little more. We realllllllllyyyy hope you can come. This things are sort of viral and the more the merrier. In the You Tube way, not the tuberculosis way.
Saturday July 31, 2010: Full Day Koan Seminar in San Fransisco
Koans are short stories, phrases, observations, or statements that stimulate awareness and awakening and free the mind. At a koan seminar, we sit with a koan, and explore, live, how we are working with that koan, how it is expanding our consciousness and what walls it is breaking down. Hearing how other people work with a koan can be revelatory and transforming.
No experience is needed at all. Koan seminars are extremely user friendly. They are a great way to try mediation of koan practice for the first time, or to deepen your own practice. For those of you new to Pacific Zen Institute, we are limited in the traditional formalities of Zen practice, translating it into modern San Francisco context, and making it approachable and welcoming to new practitioners. That said, we are dedicated to our practice, and to freeing our minds from suffering.
The theme for this koan seminar is vacations. How we vacation. What we vacate. How we set aside the rest of our life. How we balance work and life.
David Weinstein Roshi David Weinstein is a Zen teacher for the Pacific Zen institute. He is the senior teacher at Wind-in-Grass in San Francisco, as well as leading the Oakland and San Jose Pacific Zen Institute zen groups. He is a gentle and progressive zen teacher, pushing the boundaries of traditional koan practice, and opening Zen up to a wider audience in the United States.
If you want a sample, here are some of David's previous talks given at Wind-in-Grass and in Oakland.
Program: 10-10:15: A welcome to the retreat, followed by an introduction to seated meditation and koan practice.
10:15:-12:00: Koan practice. Intervals of 25 minute periods of seated meditation, followed by group discussion of the koan.
12:00-1:00: A vegetarian lunch and a chance to get to know each other better and enjoy the Potrero Hill sunshine.
1:00-1:30- Tai Chi
1:30-3:30: Koan practice and discussion.
Signing up is easy. Just follow this link to the PZI main site to register there. In the alternative, send an email to Michael Kallus at firstname.lastname@example.org and express your interest. Even if you cannot commit 100%, just knowing you are thinking about it will allow us to prepare for the lunch and know approximately how many cushions to put out.
There are scholarships available, both from PZI and from Wind-in-Grass. Interest, not money, is the only limitation you should face- so just drop a note and we will make sure you can attend.
Keeping with the July theme at Wind-in-Grass, tonight's game involved taking a vacation.
After we had sat for 25 minutes, we rose, moved one cushion to the right, and went on vacation- sitting for another 5 minutes. I informed the sangha "You are on vacation. Notice what you left behind. Notice what you kept. Notice how your sitting differs, how it is the same. Ask...what did I vacate?"
A noticed that he went to Hawaii in his mind, his one no fail place of refuge.
B noticed that fresh back from sesshin, she felt like her practice didn't shift much. She said she felt permeable, with thoughts coming and going without hindrance and her mein above it just noticing without attachment. She did recollect though that after long work days, that sitting was harder, more tense, and that it required some letting go. And she did note that it was refreshing changing seats and moving cushions.
C noticed how his practice was still, but that he felt an less urging and let it come to him.
D noticed that her practice opened up completely. She thought of how she vacationed, what made her happy, and then her practice opened into a smile.
E noticed that his practice was not entirely different, but that his practice is often a vacation, a time to let go of the noise and energy of the day and to sit and let things drift in and out and quiet down.
F noticed that he felt entitled to let the urging of thoughts and to-do lists ring on unanswered. He noticed that he felt a slight pressure to take advantage of the time. He also noticed a body hesitation to let go of the buzz of distraction.
Then we opened up the discussion. How did we know when to vacation? Proscriptively, when things mounted up. After everything was done...which was never, or just in between jobs. Constantly, climbing, sunning, reading. When vacation days mounted up. Interesting that few of us went to vacation, that it needed, often, to be imposed upon us. Was practice vacation or work? Vacation- it allowed us to suspend judgements, to watch and laugh as we saw our mind judging our actions, even our thoughts. It was freedom to trust that we are in the right place doing the right thing. Work- it was an activity to which we applied effort. It was sometimes striving, seldom restful. It was revealing, challenging, questioning.
If it was work, how much was important? Would there be confirmation that we are headed in the right direction? I view from a hill that revealed the golden temple in the distance? Or would we strive in sit without encouragement? When enlightenment came, would it last? Would there be a flash and a bang, or would it be gradual?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Thank you all. A, B, C, D, E and all your other letters. What a great vacation.
[*** Shameless plug. The SF Zendo hosts its first Koan Seminar, 10-3:30pm July 31st at 842b Carolina St, SF CA 94017. Details on the calendar page. Bring friends, bring family, bring yourself, bring your practice, bring your frustration, bring your hopes, and dreams and backaches***]
Finally, I read these this week. They seemed right on with the vacation theme:
Borrowed time: The sad reality that, more often than not, it is the people around you who are really in charge of your schedule. Therefore, if you want any time for yourself—to go to the gym, say, or spend your lunch hour at your desk shopping online—you need to “borrow” the time from someone who thinks they have a more important claim to it. This sad reality has led to countless magazine articles in which experts advise you to “schedule me-time” or “put fun on your calendar,” which, if nothing else, at least give you a chuckle.
—Kristin van Ogtrop, from Just Let me Lie Down
I know how addictive busyness and mania are. But I ask [my students] whether, if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement…will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life?
If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way? …
Will they give me one hour of housecleaning in exchange for the poetry reading? … No? I understand. But at 80, will they be proud that they spent their lives keeping their houses cleaner than anyone else…? Or worked their fingers to the bone providing a high quality of life, but maybe accidentally forgot to be deeply and truly present for their kids, and now their grandchildren? …
I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour. I promise you, it is there. Fight tooth and nail to find time to make it. It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.
—Anne Lamott, from the April 2010 issue of Sunset magazine
Your comments, as always, sustain us.
So there I was today, sitting- ok kneeling to be specific (you try to sit in a lotus position after 4 years of college water polo. I am lucky I can cross my ankles)- with the koan, "Save a Ghost", when this question kind of bubbled up...
Where is the koan? Or where is a koan?
Seriously, try to find it. I thought it might be in my thinking mind, but when I stopped thinking, and my mind lay still and serene, the koan was still there, resonating, burning, tweaking, bending. So I tried to find it in my body, maybe in my "gut" or "heart". Sure, I could feel it there, but when I noticed where it was coming from, there was no source. It gets trickier when I acknowledged that it wasn't there, or wasn't just there, and starting trying to locate it elsewhere. When looking for it outside of me, it was there too, but then the mind-twisting reality that I wasn't in any of those places or really I at all. So there is that. But in trying to find the koan, all of a sudden I felt like the koan was trying to find me, and neither of us was making any headway. So I took a break and just saved a ghost.
Quick aside...I have never done acid or any other fun qualifying hallucinogenic (more because of lack of opportunity and upside rather than morals, of which I have but a few....but I digress), but I would imagine it to be a let down after koan study. New Buddhist tag line..."Zen...its cheaper than drugs". No, that's probably not the message I think I am going for. It would probably change the sangha make up though.
So there is your homework...just try to find your koan.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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