I noticed something recently, especially after giving attention to how I felt being the guy with the keys to the Zendo: Contrary to what I had believed would be the case when I started sitting in Boston, after 5 years of practice, Zen seems like the least special thing in the world. The most ordinary. I admit that the idea of Zen carried with it the idea of transcending ordinary life, standing on a big huge mountain top of contentment and wisdom with, I dont know, billowing robes of bliss or some crap like that. Now, I notice how ordinary it feels. I feel less special and more ordinary with every day. And, strangely, that feels great. Strangely, that feels like the right idea.
I read somewhere recently, "Zen is the least exclusive group in the world, it is open to anyone" (ok- I am badly quoting from Barry Magid's "Ending the Pursuit of Happiness"). I read that and thought, well, sh*&, the thing is kills me is that I got to the club house to discovery that everyone I know is already practicing. All we zen students are doing seems to be realizing that. Sometimes these days I get the feeling that zen practitioners are actually the remedial group, who have to stay behind after class until they figure out that they were already doing was the right thing and that they just need to stop trying to fix it. Kind of pointlessly clapping erasers when the door is open and the teacher has gone home.
So there is it. Picking up my shoes outside the zendo, noticing the dirt stuck in the thin soles and thinking "well that dirt is, in many ways, more amazing than everything I just did on the cushion". Then knocking the dirt out and went home.
With Halloween approaching it made sense, at least at one point, to let the group chew over the gristle around demons, fears and masks. It shouldn't, but does, amaze me what bubbles up when nothing is planned. the conversation settled into discussions of our use of masks, what they cover, what they set free, what they mean, what the prevent. A smoldering altar jack-o-lantern seemed to laugh at us all. There was also a rubber bug. That was a last minute inspiration, but strangely compelling. Thanks to everyone who came and put skin in the game, talking about their fears, their demons, the inevitable battles, the inevitable losses.
Chris Wilson lead the small group Koan practice, an adventure in Hot and Cold, death and investment banking. My lovely take away was noticing how reluctant I have been to open up to the fear in certain endeavors. That is cheating me slightly of the complexity of the experience in the false hopes of avoiding the pain.
In other news, the fall joined us through the (literally) open door to the zendo. We were chilled but not cold.
Last time I noticed that my favorite moment was taking down the Zendo. I am also noticing the difference between leading and following in the Zendo. It takes the mind interesting places. I think of it most during kinhin, when I feel responsible and somewhat exposed for the pace. Its strange, and maybe paranoid, but I feel the responsibility of the weight of the people behind me.
Dunno how this blog thing is going, but you dont need to read it and I can always stop.
Thank you all both for reading my somewhat self indulgent meanderings and for helping the Wind-in-Grass sangha open its doors for the first time.
There was a beautiful ceremony hidden in the middle of practice: David Weinstein scattered salt and beatitudes over the building and the sangha. The doors were open and cushions and hearts full.
I was regrettably, unable to attend sesshin recently. While at home, I carried the sesshin with me everywhere. I sat more than usual too.
One of the things I found myself doing was re-reading Novice to Master, a book by Soko Morinaga that Josh Bartok gave me some time ago. In it, this Rinsai Monk describes his life in the temple and out of it (which frankly sounded severe). In a later chapter, he describes a lecture he once gave, and an old man who appraoched him after his talk with the request that he summarize his talk into a single sentence because the old man had forgotten everything. The author says that he asked the man "For whom do you light you incense at home?", and the man replies "for my ancestors", and the author then recommends "Tonight, light the incense for your own corpse".
I get so caught up in things, and feel like there are only one or two ways out, or that success is a very fine line. But I guess when you live life prapring for your own death, you are reminded that even your darkest hours are bright and beautiful. In that sense, I was able to stop feeling like I was "missing" sesshin, even though I continued to miss everyone.
Tonight David will teach us at the inagural night of the Potrero Hill Zendo. There is much to do. Most of my anxiety has nothing to do with screwing something up, but just the fact that I have not even thought about what there is to screw up. For years, I bow when its time, sit when the bell chimes, and stand when everyone else stands. Now its like that first time I went driving without my mom in the car, and I realized, I had no idea how to get anywhere. For all those years I had just been cheauffered, but now, there was a big open road for me to pay attention to. Buckle up people. It could be rough at first.
Wow. This blog has all the makings of a really bad idea. I am not a teacher or a master or really very good at Zen. My thought here is to keep typing until someone stops me or reprimands me. Until then, I am waiting for the footsteps. There is no other goal really except maybe to demonstrate that by being aggressively wrong, sometimes you stumble into being right. And sometimes you just stumble.
With the encouragement and support of David Weinstein, the teacher at PZI Oakland, I founded this Wind-in-Grass Sangha. By founding, I mean talking to the Potrero Hill Neighboorhood House and getting a space and then asking "is that ok?". Really, like a lot of Zen, I thought there would be more to it. Like a ceremony in which I might have to hack off an appendage. Or at least a certification with a piece of paper with lots of imcomprehensible writing on it. That would have given the permission adequate gravitas to me. Made me feel more worthy. Frankly, thats what I hate about Zen. I want specail hats, or robes, or maybe a badge, yes Badges, that indicate how worthy I am. Even if it says worm. Frankly, its maddening to have so few boundaries.
I keep asking people what to do. I asked David "what goes on a zen altar?" (actually, I typed "alter" which is somewhat interesitng in its own right). He asked me "What is on your altar at home?" Well, lets be straight here, I dont have an altar at home. That would be weird. That would be bell ringing/head-shaving weird. What I have at home is a special place with a Buddha, an incense pot, a bamboo plant, and a candle. Not an altar at all. No siree. Thats for pinko communists.
So, interesting how we instinctively know how to honor a space isnt it?
The dedication ceremony for WiG (I am concerned Apple is going to file suit against me for unauthorized use of the lower case "i"), went well; I think. Like David's altar instruction, it just kind of perfectly unfolded. The three of us burned white sage in smude pots in the four cornder of the Potrero Hill Zendo. We swept the rough wood floors. Then we set the cushions, struggled through some bowing, beat a bell, sat for a period of zazen, walked the Zendo thrice (see, I said "thrice" to indicate that I went to college), and then said some words.
When it was my turn to speak, I had deliberately prepared nothing. I went to brush off the dust from the cushion an realized that was the thing to say. When I practice, I have this notion of a clean perfect black cushion. In that fantasy, there is silence and symmetry and cleanliness. When I began to practice zen, I was tireless in trying to clean the cushion of my mind. However, the reality is that we track dust onto our cushions and that dust is our lives, following us wherever we go. It IS our zazen, and our cushion. WiG welcomes you and your dust. Bring it all into the Zendo, into your practice, onto your cushions. Is it three bells or two to end zazen? Er...well, lets explore. Did I file my taxes this week or are they still on my desk? er...explore. Dust on the cushions. See you next week.
“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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