Today I took a break from work, and sat in the Bank of America plaza. Its my daily Zazen. I wear sunglasses so I don't look like the zen-weirdo I am. Actually, I doubt anyone would care. Perhaps its my overly uptight east coast affiliation. Whatever. Pinstripes and wingtips and sunglasses I sat.
I am sitting with "Abiding nowhere, let the mind come forth". And the sunlight got cut off behind St. Mary's hospital and the temperate dipped and I was glad I was wearing wool.
Anyway- a woman walked past. I could hear her heels clocking the hollow tiles that make up the plaza. I watched her and a thought rolled by "That woman just walked right past. She looks tired. I winder what she is thinking?" Then a sister thought came by, "I wonder what I know about this man? [meaning the one in the pinstripes on the bench doing corporate zazen], I wonder what he is thinking."
Then there was just uncertainty and fog and pinstripes. Which was a lot more honest.
Tonight was community night for Wind-in-Grass. All the cushions were taken (note to self- get more cushions), and as we settled in, I gave the group a choice. A messed up game, or a more messed up game. Actually, I clarified, a weird game, or an uncomfortable one. Maybe we need help because everyone went with uncomfortable.
So after we sat, I laid out the rules.
There were two spaces, the one inside the cushion and the one outside the cushion. A timer would run for 7 minutes. A bell would begin and end the time. You were free to move between the spaces, in and out, but if you were in, you had to hug. Hugs would go on as long as they had to. No talking. That was it. I asked people to notice what was going on. What they noticed in their body. What they noticed hugging. How they knew to hug. How they knew to stop. Where they felt tension, what stories came up.
[Aside- I thank the young dharma group for the idea, which I borrowed].
It felt good to take our practice and bring someone else into it, and to move up and take our meditation and awareness off the cushion. There were gingersnaps and tea, which probably also helped things along.
A: Noticed how there was almost a peer pressure that she felt was coming from the group, or a pressure that she felt to join in. She noticed how she waited until other people had begun hugging to get into the group.
B: Noticed that she approached the space awkwardly, but then felt safe and comfortable, and later melted into the hugs and noticed how much she needed them. She remembered working at Esalen, where there was almost madatory hugging, but that this seemed genuine and close and comforting.
C. Noticed that at first, she was reluctant to join in the hugging. That at first, the hugs were stiff. But that over time, they got better. She wondered how good hugs would be with the group in a few more months of hugging.
D: Noticed that his self consciousness, the story he hauled around that the monitor he was wearing would disturb people. He also expressed how special he thought our group was. Which is a good thing since D is a big part of this Sangha.
E: Felt the hugs in his heart. And in hearts talking to one another.
F: Thought it was interesting the timing of the game...that she had just been thinking that she needed to hug and be hugged more. That she didn't get enough human contact at work. She also mentioned that she remembered how much she liked hugging women. And how she had once dated a man, simply because he gave great hugs, but discovered that it did not carry over into other areas of his life.
G: Was surprised to find that though she thought of herself as a hugger, hugging clients, postmen, and everyone, she was not comfortable with the idea and it took her a while to open to it.
H: Was not so sure about the excersize. At first. She said it sounded weird, but that when she got into it, it was pleasant and that she was grateful for it.
I: noted his own experience with hugging in general. He told about growing up, in a country where no one hugs not family and not friends. He described coming to California and finding out about the hugging. He mentioned at first it was really uncomfortable, but that later it became second nature and that he really enjoyed it.
J: Noticed that he hugs in exactly the same way he practices zen. And does everything else. Initially enthusiasm, then after getting into it for a wile, losing focus. Also, how he hugged, but then wanted to adjust the hugging, but felt obligated to stick with the stance with which he began.
K: is an infant. She was hugged a lot, but generally slept through it. She couldn't talk about it because talking is many months away. She seemed to enjoy receiving hugs, and drooling on the hugger.
then we opened up discussion, and got past the initial impressions and into how hugging spoke to us. we talked about the truth in the wordlessness, that is like the buddha, and how it was clear communication. We talked about how, without words, we interacted differently and got to know, or become aware, of parts of those people that words failed to describe. We talked about how good it felt to be an animal and be held. We talked about how words could be so easily used to distance us, and how physical contact, and eye contact, was so much more intimate and close. We talked about whether one could lie with a hug, or whether the truth was always there in such an act. We covered some beautiful territory, but once we go around once, I turn off the mental tape recorder and just melt into it. I remember lauging a lot, and that when we were done talking, it was dark, but for the harvest moon coming in through the window and the candle on the altar.
Like a hug.
Everyone who came, headed down the hill for community night. We took a table outside. We ate, we talked, we drank, we bounced babies, we lit cigarettes, we ate sundays. It was a good night, with a wonderful community.
Tonight, WiG member Mich Lorusso displayed selected pieces from his upcoming show, "Essence of Light/Essence of Life", during meditation. Mick was kind enough to bring in his art, and to be part of WiG ongoing interest of bringing our lives into our practice. Because, if practice stops on the cushion, what good is it?
Mick is an artist, so his art is both self expression and work. Just like my job as an attorney, or yours as a whatever pays your bills. Tonight we sat with Mick's practice in the following manner.
We sat for 25 minutes. During that time I invited people to think of themselves, as their "I", as a frame, framing a group of actions. I asked them to notice what actions they considered "I". Notice how that changed and what flowed in and what left the frame. To notice how the frame itself changed shape and took in more and less. I asked them to sit with the koan: "Save a Ghost".
We rang the bell, and stood of walking meditation. We walked in a more Soto style, one steo being half the length of the foot before it. Slowly we walked by Mick's paintings. Everyone was invited to interact with those paintings as was natural. We returned to our seats, had tea, and started the game.
An untitled piece of Mick's was placed next to the altar. Weebly blog format doesn't let me insert images, so due to technical suckage, it will be at the bottom. Its the one with the eyes.
We went around, each narrating real time what was going on for that person as they looked at the painting. People we invited to use verbs, rather than nouns.
A: Eyes looking. Noticing the judgment, then a sense of observation, of kindness. Noticed feelings of guardianship, then dark holes, whether peering, or reflecting out, not clear.
B: Saw eyes, but kind. Without judgment. The flow of the color like water, soothing, peaceful, watchful.
C: Saw objects. Edges. Things. Was emotionally flat on the piece, and noticed his joy in rediscovering it through others.
D: Noticed his questions. Noticed the dark and welcoming colors.
E: Noticed how one set of the "eyes" stood out to her from all the rest when she stopped trying to look at the painting and just let the painting be. That the dark color was like night. And that there was a sense of community that took her.
F: Also noticed a judgment from the eyes, a sense of foreboding. A flight of wings.
We went around again and each mentioned what part of Mick's work stood out for us. It really ran the gambit. Three were ponderings as to inspiration. People noted the theme of a world tearing open to reveal another larger one. There were openings in recognizing oneself in the works. There were owls, and ants, and trees and eyes.
It was a great night, one that I took the liberty of enjoying and sinking into instead of memorizing for the blog. I hope that you get a chance to see Mick's work. I am posting some images of some of the works below for our members who could not make it.
[Weebly also doesn't let me reorient the pictures. So, good to know, but I hope you can turn your head. the 2nd image is supposed to be oriented the other way...and its not clear from the picture because it works this way also]
The following a a guest post by Jesse Cardin. Jesse is a member of PZI and the practice leader of Living Room Zen, in Santa Barbara CA. This was originally posted on the prodigious PZI talk mailing list which is available to PZI members. I liked it so much I asked Jesse if we could post it here. Enjoy, and if you are in Santa Barbara, stop by to sit with Jesse's group.
It turns out that I don't have to like someone to enjoy eating lunch
with them. I don't even have to like someone to be their friend. It
might be a very satisfying relationship, even if everything they say
or do seems wrong.
It reminds me of a pattern that I noticed a long time ago, that there
is a connection between how I treat myself and how I treat others. As
long as I can remember (which is not far, maybe 10 years), I have not
been my own biggest fan -- certainly my biggest critic by a long shot.
One of the beautiful, functional aspects of meditation is that as I
sit with myself for extended periods of time, I am able to stand being
around myself for extended periods of time. I consider this
compassion for myself. Isn't that nice? And as I grow to allow myself
to be itself without judging it, I can allow others to be themselves
without judging them. And when I do not judge others...well, I find
it much easier to be kind. And the less I am judging, the less I am
And it seems to work the other way as well. Even if I am judging
myself and others rather harshly (and suffering!), if I can find a
little compassion for someone else it somehow translates into
compassion for myself as well. Maybe it's some crazy universal energy
thing, or maybe it's just noticing, "oh, well...if I can be nice to
someone even though I'm unhappy, maybe I'm not such a lout after all.
Maybe there's hope for me."
I'm not sure how this all ties in with my little thesis statement at
the top, but as for that...in 1914, during World War I, there was a
strange happening that no doubt you've heard of: The Christmas Truce.
On Christmas Day, 1914, German, French and British troops in the
trenches of the Western front stopped being German, French and British
troops for a day. Instead of trying to kill each other, they played
soccer. Instead of trading bullets, they traded cigars and liquor.
It's really neat when I forget that I dislike someone, when all those
tired old justifications that I hold so dear drop away. It works like
that toward myself, too.
Isn't that nice?
For those of you who don't know me, surfing is an important part of my life. And in the water, the Great White shark is the absolute symbolic apogee of the dangers of the water. Besides that, it is a perfect and deadly hunter- one of the few that will eat a man. Wait, let me put it more directly: GREAT WHITE SHARK. I think we all know what that means.
In this article however, a surfer, seeing a beached great white, risked his own life to save the shark. That is compassion on a level that touches something deep in me. That shark will never thank him. Yet somewhere in the mass of primal instincts that were no doubt telling him to leave the shark and get far away, was another, more compelling, impulse to save a dying being. It reminds me of David's story of the Buddha as elephant and lion saving the cargo of beached men from the serpent at their own peril.
I don't think more words are going to illustrate my response any better than just asking you to read for yourself.
Chris Wilson, tonight, led us in a discussion of the following koan:
Asked where he had been walking in the hills, Zen master Changsha said, "I went out in pursuit of the fragrant grasses, I came back following the falling flowers"
Wow. What a weekend last.
The SF Zendo, Wind-in-Grass, hosted its first ever mediation and koan seminar. I could not have been more pleased. Of course, I am given to pleased-ness, and frankly, I was heavily invested in being pleased, but come on...it was amazing. If you were there, let me hear an amen.
Thank you, each and everyone who attended. You made it a success with your sincerity, your practice and your jumping in both feet.
We had all kinds of people. People who had never sat before, people who sit devotedly in other traditions, Zen greybeards and zen no-beards. Dogs, children, babies. People from out of town and in. Hungover and well rested. Young and old and even a misguided babysitter who decided to take a cushion. And what a privilege to sit with them all and hear their perspectives and their experiences as David Weinstein wound us through two "Vacation" koans:
BY moving toward the Way, you move away from it/you create obstacles.
Vast emptiness, nothing holy.
Of course, nothing beats David's story telling, and you really had to be there, but so many of you were. 25 in all. Not including one baby, one child and one dog.
My favorite point of the afternoon was when David noted that Zen requires attention to the self, careful awareness, because, like a map, if we don't know where we are, how can we tell where we are going? So many people contributed to the conversation, but I am going to make a mash of it if I try to capture it. I would be grateful if you would take the time to add in the comment section your take aways and impressions of the day.
My special thanks to David Weinstein for his wisdom, guidance, and lentil soup. To Ashley for the Raspberry Cake (yes, cake. See, don't you wish you made it now?). to Chris for the coffee. To Ishara Hudson, Dan Kaplan, Glen Collins and DPR for helping set up. To George, Jenna, Alex, Alex, Ben, Toby, Angie, Katy, Mike, Leah, Erin, Adam, Hantain, Chris, Weezie, and Nick for their dharma companionship. And to the thousand hands that cleaned and repaired the Zendo to its normal art room status in just minutes.
On the back of the success that YOU made last weekend, we plan to offer the second Meditation retreat in September. Check in for more details, or contact Michael Kallus at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list.
“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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