Archive for the ‘Upaya Zen Center’ Category

The giving muscle

Monday, April 30th, 2012

There’s this old Zen chestnut where the monk asks, why does the Bodhisattva of Compassion have so many eyes? The master replies: it is like a hand reaching for a pillow in the night.

I love that image, of compassion or generosity as an autonomic nervous response, as natural as breathing. Every cell like an eye, that sees a need and responds to remedy the situation. We see with any one of our thousand eyes and respond with any one of our thousand hands, in maybe the smallest of gestures, to activate comfort—not only for epic wide-screen suffering but also for the most subtle and personal pain, which is equally deserving of attention and care.

I know I wasn’t born with a thousand eyes. Or if I was, then every eye is wearing dark glasses. (more…)

Lessons of Chaco Canyon

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Early this morning I sat wrapped in a blanket on the frosty back patio of Querencia. The sun rose over Pikacho Peak. Ravens and chickadees chattered, dogs barked, coyotes scattered, footsteps crunched on snow. The highway woke up then too, commuters zooming through the valley to Santa Fe. Each engine momentarily obliterating the birdsong and the silence.

I saw in the sun’s rays an image of Chaco Canyon, the ruins of a proud civilization that thrived and peaked 800 years past. It took 300 years to build it, twelve generations, each individual life dedicated to constructing just that wall, that doorway, that kiva. Four-lane highways to nowhere. Two hundred thousand massive timbers hand hauled from distant forests. All to build a vast monument to hubris and the illusion of permanence. All in the end, burned, abandoned and collapsed.

And I took comfort in the truth that this too shall pass. One day this highway will crumble to silence. The sun will still rise and the birds will keep singing, and the coyotes will leave footprints in the snow.

New Year’s Renunciations

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Renunciation! Now there is one scary word. Joyless ascetics giving up all worldly pleasures. Shaven-headed cave-dwellers. Celibacy. Ugh.

Well I am thinking, never mind the resolutions that stem from feelings of failure and inadequacy. New Years is a great time for renunciation, and so I renounce all the hindrances that hold me back from shining fearless as the sun: greed, anger, pride, envy, and the mother of them all—delusion.

I renounce my own bullshit. I renounce “not good enough”, “too old”, “what would people think?” and “can’t afford it.” I will go to New York. I will get my teeth fixed. I will get a new bike.

I renounce all the things that no longer serve me. The old projects, old identities, old relationships long outgrown. I renounce my resumé; I am not that. (more…)

Zen in a napkin: how oryoki kicked my ass

Saturday, December 17th, 2011


My first Zen sesshin  introduced me to oryoki: the Japanese ritual of extreme table manners.

For the full week of sesshin we sit zazen meditation for upwards of five hours a day, plus walking meditation and dharma talks. We eat all our meals in the zendo, oryoki style—seated on the floor on our round black cushions. As you might expect after all those hours of staring at a white wall and slow-mo shuffling, a meal is a major event.

Each meal opens with a thundrous drumroll. The head server enters to the beat of the drum, bearing  an ornate offering tray which the bodhisattva Manjushri receives with sword raised high. The head server is trailed by a procession of servers who bring in each dish, bowing at the door with each heavy pot extended at eye level. Then every server makes their round, bowing and dropping to the knees in turn before each of the 70 cross-legged participants to ladle out the food. The serving climaxes with the presentation of the gomasio: ground sesame seeds with salt; the holy condiment of Zen.We receive the food into our oryoki picnic sets, eat our meal, and then (more…)

Rohatsu morning

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Cracked open.

Wrung out.



Going offline

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

The first snowstorm of the year came yesterday, high howling winds, blowing snow, and a power outage. It was no big deal, Upaya stayed warm, and thanks to the gas stoves lunch was served on time. But something very different did happen. For the first time in my three months here, residents drifted into the living room. Draped themselves over chairs. And lazily, cozily, conversed in shared space.

Normally everyone would have been off rapping away, alone with our little white boxes. But no power means, no Internet. (more…)

Albuquerque Amtrak blues

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

I rode the Rail Runner from Santa Fe to Albuquerque (with bike), then Amtrak to Gallup, New Mexico. To visit Ruth-Claire on the Navajo rez, just over the state line in Ft. Defiance, Arizona. In Albuquerque I pedalled the sturdy Diamondback over a long red bicycle bridge spanning the wide Rio Grande, spectacular in fall colours with the Sandia mountains rising up behind. Before I left Santa Fe someone told me the place was “an armpit” – and such is the view, of most any place, from behind the wheel of the cage. Albuquerque is really a rad town, as only a town explored by bike can be.

And the train through the desert, well!—isn’t that just the way. No billboards or strip malls or gas stations, no interstate monotony. Just me in my glass spaceship gliding along the rails, fully exposed to the horizonless mesalands and the intimate backsides of cities and towns. Children waving, dogs barking, horses and graffiti and laundry flapping on lines. Blues guitar soundtrack with low trainwhistle and steel wheels soft chunkachunk. Flying free.

The lady in the chemo hat

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

I am the jikido (timekeeper) for evening zazen meditation. This duty involves sparking up the candles and incense in the zendo, guiding lost visitors to a cushion, and keeping the time.

I strike the heavy temple bell to begin the sessions and signal the breaks. At the hour’s end I chime the chubby brass handbell called the inkin with a little brass stick, two times—ting! ting! Everybody bobs down and back up to the tings like a flock of waterglass drinky birds and then they solemnly file out to dinner. Usually during the mid-zazen break there is kinhin (walking meditation), and then I get to sound the wood clackers to signal when to bow and walk. The clackers and inkin are easy, but the big bell is tough. Hitting it with the padded striker just exactly in the sweet spot, so it doesn’t jangle but resonates cleanly — neither too loud nor too quiet, even intervals with uniform volume—is a bitch. Sometimes I get it right but more often it is, well, it’s a bit of a gong show. The things my mama never taught me. (more…)

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