Archive for the ‘Zen & Dharma’ Category

Give up meditating

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Why would a person spend hours and hours staring at a white wall? I ask myself this question a lot.

On a spring Saturday sixty of us rise at 5am and hustle to the basement for the monthly one-day sit. We hunker down for another big day in the zendo—sitting, slow-walking, sweeping, eating brown rice from little bowls. At break time I dash across the road to Koshland Park, to greedily watch hummingbirds and dog-walkers in the San Francisco sunshine. Then the bell calls and it’s back to the zendo. Back to staring down the wall.

People have this idea about meditation that when we do this we float off on a little lotus blossom of bliss, leaving the cares and pains of daily existence behind. In fact it’s exactly the opposite. It is a masochistic endeavor. The cares and pains aggregate like mosquitos, buzzing and whining and sometimes landing to draw blood. The stings fester and itch. Memories. Ad jingles. Aches and pains. Shopping lists. Conversations with my lover, endlessly revolving, never resolved. Sleepiness, the head nodding then whiplashing back. Worries. What to do with my life. What to do with my hair.

Meditating sucks. It’s not fun and most of the time it doesn’t feel especially good. But then, sometimes after awhile, my mind just tires itself out and I give up. When I give up, stuff happens.

I learned this in my last sesshin at Loon Lake in November, in yaza — night sitting. I tried to sit through the night, trying, trying, to do this THING called meditation. Waiting with forced patience for the big breakthrough, while at the same time, sneaking peeks at my inner clock to gauge whether i’d done enough to pass and whether it would be ok to go to bed now. Finally, after some time that seemed far too long and yet not long enough, my mind moved from self-fascination through boredom and finally into resignation, and I said, fuck it. The hell with this meditation business. I give up. I’m not meditating any more. Check this out: I am sitting under a basketball hoop in a camp gymnasium, with several other weirdos in pajamas. There are painted stripes on the door. There’s an interesting hum in the electrical wires. Here I am. I am safe. It’s OK.

It isn’t easy to get to the place of giving up, but when I get there, stuff happens. Nothing stops or goes away. The memories and arguments and ad jingles are still there, but they float by like airplanes pulling banners through the sky. My breath is still here, and the birdsong, and the sirens and those irritating smudges on the white zendo walls—all flying by on banners behind airplanes. These too arise and fade away, along with the “I” that identifies them. For moments—sometimes whole strings of them laid end-to-end—there is nothing but animated space. And that, my friends, is as good as it gets.

At the end of a full day of sitting I am tender, peeled, a little bit shy. So what is the outcome, where’s the benefit? asks my nagging inner mother. Where is all this sitting going to get you? What, exactly, have you accomplished by all this staring at a wall? Nothing, I say. Nada. I don’t know. I give up.

Zen time is gold

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

I want to say that the reason why I haven’t posted anything in the six weeks since I landed at San Francisco Zen Center is because I haven’t had time to write, but that would be untrue. The fact is there are  24 hours in every single day, with 60 minutes crammed into each hour and every minute packed full of moments. That’s as much time as there’s ever been and all the time I will ever have. I’ve got all the time in the world, and really, it’s enough.

If there is one overriding lesson to be learned by living in a Zen center it is that time is gold. Every second between every hit of the wooden han as it calls me to zazen—the hits increase in frequency but not in urgency. They all matter equally. From the 5am ringer (more…)

Dreaming of a small world

Monday, November 7th, 2016

I dream of a world where people live small. It’s happening. It’s a meme.ben-chuns-friends-tiny-house

Small houses, small gardens, small vehicles, small pleasures. Small incomes. Small needs.

My path is to live and to model that life. Enrich my networks. Take care of what I have and get rid of what I don’t need. Place myself in situations of humility and of trust: monasteries, communities, neighbourhoods, islands. You can’t be small in isolation. Living small means asking for help, accepting it, giving it back.

My caution is to resist letting my needs mushroom mindlessly. The goal is to simply stay small.


Carmen getting hitched

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

dc-collage-signed-smDig this: Carmen is getting married. Yes you heard that right: CARMEN is getting MARRIED.

I’ve been super skittish about outing myself on this because frankly, it is about the scariest thing i’ve ever done in my life (and i’ve done some pretty scary things).

What is most scary about it I realize – what is actually flipping my stomach over and keeping me awake nights – is not that i don’t want to do it, or that i think it is a bad idea. I’m into it. What is scaring the living shit out of me is that getting married totally messes with the carefully constructed edifice of identity that i have spent 53 years building up. I swore I would never do this, and ha ha, the gods laughed. (The gods on their mountain snicker into their sleeves when they hear the words ‘never’ and ‘forever’.) (more…)

Mountains and molars sesshin

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

View-from-the-Lookout-at-SSRC-AfternoonI sat this sesshin with my best buddy, the angry Molar.

The Zen retreat was at a small Tibetan Buddhist center at the foot of Black Tusk, in the forest near Squamish. I got a ride up to the retreat with Kaye, an RN specializing in mental health care. She counselled me to take Ibuprofen at regular intervals, and if my face puffed up,  to get myself to the hospital pronto. She also divulged my job assignment for the sesshin: I was to be Ino. The Ino’s job is practice coordinator, aka, mother hen. My job was to care for everyone else’s pain. (more…)


Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Dai_Bosatsu_Zendo_Kongo-Ji_2Silent in the zendo face to the wall, Sangha surrounds me. Conventional wisdom says that the reason we gather is to support our practice, but I wonder again whether really the practice is just reason for sangha. Stripped down to essence of presence we don’t even pretend to drink coffee or walk or even talk. We just sit. Together. That’s enough.

I am thinking about Sangha:community. About why we need other people, and the ways we have of satisfying that need. I call up a friend to have coffee, play Scrabble, walk in the park, go to a show. (more…)

A twig in my teeth

Monday, March 14th, 2016

danger-sign-cliffA daydreaming monk falls off a cliff. As the monk is plunging downward he sees a twig sticking out from the side of the sheer cliff, and he manages to grab the twig with his teeth (yeah!). He is hanging by his teeth, above certain death, when a student arrives on the beach far below. The student calls up to the monk: “Oh wise monk, why did Bodhidharma come from the west?!” Obliged to deliver the dharma, the monk knows that if he opens his mouth he will fall to his death.

The power of the question is lost in the answer. (more…)

A little pink notebook

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am having an identity crisis in the fancy-ass stationery store on Granville Island. A little pink notebook is messing with my head.

You see, I am the Kind of Person who carries a notebook all the time. It is the repository and record of my life, from to-do lists to major epiphanies. I get twitchy when I don’t have a notebook (and working pen) within reach. It is what people see when they see me. The notebook is me, it defines who I am. I am the Kind of Person whose notebook is black—serious, beat-poet, anarchist black. (more…)

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