Building felt full, zendo as well. Served tea with an entirely untrained crew and they were complete bodhisattvas, all concentrated and sincere. So inspiring. Zenkei gave the talk to a packed Buddha Hall and mentioned that we in the building sometimes take ourselves too seriously. Her topic was joy. Ended with dinner in the dining room, then an opening circle in the Buddha Hall where we offered bows, incense, and our intentions/something we want people to know about us. Zenkei told us how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren she has. Someone said they wanted us to know that they value humility. Another person said that they are devoting this year to charitable work, and they are starting with themselves by doing this practice period. The benji said he is "available" and true to his word he has volunteered to give the first way-seeking mind talk this week. Seven new residents and a total of 35 doing the practice period, although the line is always blurry with ongoing residents. First day ringing the wake-up bell, although the fukudo forgot she didn't have to do it, and we ended up doing it together. We both said "Ohayo gozaimas" to Zenkei as we ran by her room and heard her "Hai!"
Several people went to Grace Cathedral with Vicki to witness the Tibetan monks with their mandala, some went to the Folsom St. Fair, and others went to Japantown to pick up mochi and matcha and to drink sake. Lucy makes dinner with Blanche and Lou on Sunday nights, and I was invited to join in, along with Liping, freshly arrived from China. Delicious meal of egg drop soup and stir fry, not to mention very good company. Blanche shared stories with us about the man who created the stained glass depictions of Katagiri's and Suzuki's gasshos. She is reading the new book on Katagiri-roshi and is really enjoying the personal account of him by one of his students. Some of the stories kind of make SF Zen Center sound stuffy and over-inflated, which is not such a bad thing for us to keep an eye on.
Off and running. New residents introduced themselves at work meeting. We had the formal practice period opening ceremony in the morning, complete with procession to all the altars. We didn't follow the notes at all as to who was to present incense to whom at each of the 6 altars (zendo, kaisando, 2nd floor bathroom, kitchen, office and Buddha Hall); I think Zenkei wanted to improv a bit on that. Chanted the Heart Sutra back in the Buddha Hall. Lots of sickness going around - Director, Ino, Tanto all have a cold/flu. Much talk about hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes in the zendo. Everybody is taking up the practice together - even cleaning doorknobs regularly - so no one is getting singled out as a germ cop. The zendo for afternoon zazen was packed - wow, what a difference. We've added an evening zazen on Mondays 7:30-8:05 and 10 people showed up. We finished with the Pali refuges and I led the bows but went out with everybody and then said goodnight to each person at the shoe rack. There is a young man named Rory who comes by to help with dishes and sit with us. He squats in the abandoned UC Berkeley Extension building and was recently robbed, so we went to Goodwill together to get him some warm clothes. He also picked up a Zen 2008 calendar and a Calvin and Hobbes book. He loves Dogen.
Forgot to mention that I've begun doing a daily personal service for the well-being of the teachers and monks of the practice period. This form had been recommended by Akiba Roshi back in the late 90s at Tassajara, and Blanche mentioned it as a way for me to include Darlene. I offer it specifically to Zenkei Roshi as leader of the practice period, Kenpo Sensei as my heart teacher ( I hardly recognize that name as Darlene) and Shuun Sensei (Lou) at Blanche's gentle request - which I am so happy to do. I have all three of their photos on my altar. I offer incense, prostrations and chant the Shin Gyo and a special eko:
May the merit of chanting the Maka Hannya Haramita Shin Gyo awaken Buddha's compassion and luminous mirror wisdom,
May the good health of Zenkei Roshi continue,
May the healing of Kenpo Sensei continue,
May the good health of Shuun Sensei continue,
May the monks of this temple be peaceful and free from calamity,
And may we, together with all beings, realize Buddha's Way.
All Buddhas, ten directions, three times…
I do this service after ringing the wake-up bell; it completely changes my frame of mind as I walk down to the zendo.
Also, the Benji-to-be Mike Sullivan, the Jisha Barbara Machtinger and Zenkei and I had matcha and mochi on Monday morning in the Art Lounge after the breakfast chant. I made bowls of tea for everyone and we discussed how often realistically we could meet for a simple tea. In a dream world it would be every morning after the wake-up bell before zazen, but Blanche, thankfully, is committed to keeping it real with her limitations. We're going to try once a week - on Mondays after the wake-up bell. On that day I will do the personal service after breakfast. The benji will make the tea and have it all ready in Room 10 five minutes after the wake-up bell so I can change into robes. We'll have 10 minutes together before Blanche and Barbara begin the jundo.
Speaking of the benji, what a dreamboat he is. What I mean is he is completely plunging into this role. And while people keep telling him he seems happier than they've ever seen him to be, he also mentioned to me that he wants to flee Zen Center and the practice period and benji. He, like me, is working with his tendency to bolt. What great fortune I have to be given such a companion. He is really honest with himself and also with me. And he cuts hair...
Last night Diana Gerard pulled me aside to ask my view of Rory. She would like to bring him in as a guest student, but there is quite a bit of hesitation on the part of the director. Diana wanted to know if I felt he was sincere (I do), and whether he might be using drugs (I don't think so). I was so happy to hear of someone else keeping an eye out for him. We may come up with a little scholarship for him between the two of us, and serve as an advocate/ally/sponsor for him if this goes through. Clearly he's in a precarious living situation and has a strong feeling for practice and sanctuary.
Afternoon zazen continues to be very full, even with sickness making its way through the sangha. Lots of activity in the building after dinner: a sewing class, a class on the Ox-Herding Pictures and a class on Right Speech.
Began soji today with the benji - we take care of the main floor bathrooms. Noon service we chant the Sandokai alternating between English and Japanese. Lots of people and everyone is signing up for jiko, kokyo, doan and shoten. Excellent energy. I've begun transcribing Blanche's talks - I have a shoebox of indiscriminately selected lectures from this decade and the last, both at City Center and ZMC, classes and zendo/Buddha Hall talks, dining room talks, sesshin talks. My goal was to do one a day, but that may be unrealistic. I'd rather do them completely, if more slowly. Lou had a copy made for me of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his monks chanting at the sickbed of his friend Vaclav Havel. I sat here at my desk on the third floor overlooking the intersection of Oak and Laguna and watched the traffic negotiate itself as this deep, full sound surrounded me, penetrated me. Mysterious and natural at the same time. I want to learn how to accompany someone like that. We had our first practice period tea. We will meet every Wednesday afternoon at the time of zazen in the back of the dining room before breaking into four smaller groups of 7-8 people. Blanche, Jordan, Rosalie and I each lead a group. We served the tea and treat to each other in that semi-formal way in our group, then after chewing and drinking silently we each said something about appreciation. As it turned out, we also talked about non-appreciation, which I was very happy about. These opportunities to be with each other are precious. Connecting beyond the actual words we say. Jordan gave the lecture and talked about giving. Very beautiful and with quite a bit of impact. We have several non-residents in the practice period, and they came to both the tea and the lecture. Had dokusan with Paul in the morning, which was connecting. I enjoyed hearing him talk about his feelings about the phase Zen Center is in now, that the Capital Campaign may be a big failure, or a big success. We don't know. He leaves for Tassajara tomorrow.
First Way-Seeking Mind talk this morning, which happened to be given by the benji-to-be. Sat one long period of zazen with a 5-minute interval. Some people stood at their seats facing the wall, some changed positions, some continued in stillness. Some tried to high-tail it out of the zendo but the Ino stopped them. The tenzo noted that not as much coffee is drunk on Thursday mornings during practice period because there's no kinhin (aka coffee-drinking opportunity). I'm in very good company with this crowd - lots and lots of coffee drinkers. Rory was accepted as a guest student and spent his first night here. There he was in the zendo, and I'm so glad he was here for the student talk this morning. He said he was cold, so he put on his big parka. He's looking a little dazed, and when I caught him wandering around the hall after work meeting which he didn't make it to, the poor guy said "Where am I supposed to be?" I brought him to the Work Leader, and on the way mentioned the big transition for him, but his reply was that he needs the structure. Paul said goodbye at Work Meeting. He will be back every three weeks and said we could sign up for dokusan with him through Lucy. The benji and I helped make hot lunches with Rob, the Homeless Outreach volunteer, along with Elizabeth from the practice period and Jane, another volunteer who is also a student of Ed Brown. Elizabeth and I rode with Rob in his blue pick-up into the Tenderloin to distribute the stew, salad, juice and granola bars. Even though it was the first of the month (many people more interested in using their check to buy drugs or alcohol, apparently), we still got a huge response. Blanche and Jordan's first class on Zen Mind Beginner's Mind began - 7:30-9 in the dining room. About 35 people, which makes for a big crowd. We broke into small groups of four or five to discuss the Prologue together. My group had two brand-new students who'd never been to Zen Center, never sat zazen (didn't even know what it was) and never read ZMBM. What a delight! They heard about the class through a friend who has sat here. I was struck by how much Blanche resembled Suzuki-roshi - her face took on a different quality during class as she talked about his teaching. I liked watching her and Jordan interact. Much discussion afterward in the small kitchen; didn't make it to bed until 10.
Rory seems to be doing better. He's in the schedule groove now - sweeping during soji, and he introduced himself at work meeting. Kind of interesting to see how a self-described anarchist will respond to Zen forms and ceremonies. This is an urban temple and I am an urban shuso. Okay! Elizabeth MacDonald's youngest son has been hospitalized - what started as the flu has turned into pneumonia and now he's on a ventilator and the doctors say it doesn't look good. She has flown to Seattle to be with him. The benji-to-be came to ask me if I was free to replace him as jiko for afternoon zazen as he was elbow-deep in pizza dough. Dinner was just wonderful, by the way. The kitchen is really spoiling us; what a treat. Zohra Kalinkowitz opened her show of latest photographs from Japan. Just beautiful; one in particular I found deeply moving: a mother ape holding her baby gently as it nursed.
Blanche and I did a well-being ceremony for Elizabeth's son this morning in Room 10 after oryoki breakfast. Later, after nenju, we did another one in the Buddha Hall with participants in the practice period. Yvonne Rand gave today's lecture. She spoke clearly about compassion, using stories of her intimate encounters with Suzuki-roshi to describe kindness to oneself and to others, including the need for boundaries at times. Many stayed for her Q & A afterward. At one point she mentioned she "would never dream of chanting in Japanese before a lecture." She feels it's time for us to take up our own way of transmitting the dharma which is not so Japanese-fixated (my paraphrase). I thanked her for coming as she was going out the door, and she replied by saying she appreciated very much being asked, and it was all due to Blanche. Suzuki-roshi memorial this evening - densho started at 5:45. An impressive turnout of about 15 people. Jordan was the doshi and I was the kokyo. Blanche was attending the Soto Shu conference.
Part 2 of Suzuki-roshi memorial at 8am; densho at 7:45. Jordan was kokyo and Blanche was doshi. About 10 of us altogether - not bad for a Sunday morning. Approximately twenty kids came to help with bag lunch-making for homeless people this morning - part of Elizabeth Cleere's group from the French-American School. Alec, Mary and I walked over to the Castro Street Fair to help Hartford Street Zen Center collect donations and be a friendly, welcoming presence at the entrance to the fair. I came back to the building to find that Alec had loaded a 60-second video of me on YouTube "tagging" a San Francisco street with a rainbow. I'm developing a reputation - it's headlined something like "Zen Center Shuso Defaces Public Property." We used beautiful chalk in six colors, and Mary wrote WELCOME over it. Screening of The Mark of Cain at 6pm in the dining room, about the use of tattoos in Russia's prisons. Very hard-core, difficult to absorb. The filmmaker was there, as were many different kinds of people. Feels great to open up the building like this. We had some food donated by La Mediterranee and Trader Joe's. Lots of help from people in setting up, and cleaning up.
One of the guests who is here from Ohio with his partner for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival ran the wake-up bell with me. They are just loving being in the building with us, steeping in the temple life. Tea with the benji-to-be and Blanche this morning after the wake-up bell and before zazen. I thought it was lovely. I wouldn't mind doing it a couple days a week if Blanche is up to it. It's a nice start to the day, to have our bodies in that little circle for a few minutes, even if we don't say much. I made her matcha and Mike had a pot of green tea going for the rest of us. The jisha has tonsilitis so she is having to lay low. Sickness is a big practice around here. Shuso Entering Ceremony (which is tomorrow immediately after morning zazen) rehearsal with the staff and Blanche and me. I just cried and cried over my lines, especially "I have received Buddha's precepts and have entered this temple, and I deeply appreciate your teaching, but I am not yet ready to be shuso." Wow, those ancients knew what they were doing when they scripted this so long ago. New guest students from Italy and Colombia/ Gainesville. The benji-to-be cut my hair - pretty short but still a head of hair. Feels appropriate not only for tomorrow's ceremony, but also for the value of some body-to-body time with him. He's got a regular service going on down there in the laundry room; I think the most recent former shuso is next in line. Speaking of the MRFS, Bernd in his capacity as Shoki went through the jundo form, as well as the Buddha Hall form for lecture. I will be giving my way-seeking mind talk on Wednesday night, and apparently we use the same form as a usual lecture, complete with jiko and chanting. Memorial service at the time of afternoon zazen for a friend of the Ino's sister who died suddenly and unexpectedly. Evening zazen included five of us. Meditation in Recovery met upstairs as usual, a very large and established group.
Shuso Entering Ceremony this morning after the Robe Chant and Heart Sutra. Something about the mokugyo just opened me up and tears were just streaming throughout the chanting. During the ceremony, it was the line "May your good health continue" that packed a punch this time - just seeing Blanche there, eyes on me. At work meeting the Benji was introduced, and he let people know the sign-up has begun for shuso teas. The Shoki was also introduced by Blanche - Bernd - who is a senior shuso charged with training the new shuso. What a wonderful, sweet and very handsome support group...The director has let us know that it looks like Elizabeth's son has swine flu. She will be speaking with a doctor to find out if it would be better for Elizabeth to not return to practice period in order to protect the residents, although she mentioned we can't quarantine ourselves from it altogether. Blanche, Lou and I did a well-being ceremony after work meeting; we will continue this at that time every day. I was doshi for noon service for the first time, although both Jordan and Blanche were there. In the future, I will be on stand-by to fill in if neither of them can make it. Just before afternoon zazen Darlene called, which prompted my going downstairs to find a beautiful vase of fall-colored flowers - a yellow rose, some orange Gerber daisies and a whole assortment of gold and yellow flowers in there. What a lovely gesture! I was really touched and felt her desire to be close, which means the world to me. Sewing class in the evening: Alan Block is working on a priest rakusu, I believe. It was nice to see him again; last time I saw him was at Norman's group in Corte Madera in July. Darlene's student Julia was there working on her okesa and she let me make a few stitches. I was very tired at 8:30 when class ended, but I noticed Blanche was still in there at 9:00 with Alan. Long day!
First morning for the shuso/benji jundo. So far so good. Well, not really. There seems to be a structural flaw in the flow of things where the shuso is doomed to collide with the doshi. It's a set-up. How to meet this? Not walk through the gaitan? Run in the zendo? I'm hoping for a clue from the Tanto, who saw the whole thing. Continuation of well-being ceremony for James Sullivan, Elizabeth's son who in fact does have swine flu. I spoke with her this morning. She sounds good, is sitting with him in the hospital. The doctors say his condition should take a turn for the better soon - he's been sick for a week now and the flu just has to run its course. He is still in critical condition, however. Still on a ventilator. All his organs are healthy, it's just his lungs that are impacted. He is her youngest son. She wants to stay with him until he stabilizes, then return to the practice period. She doesn't think she will be infectious when she returns, but understands the concern of the director, particularly given that there are residents who have HIV and whose systems are particularly vulnerable. In the practice period tea, our small group had a lively discussion on zazen - is there such a thing as "bad" zazen? Is seiza legitimate? Is full lotus the only respectable position? Consensus was no, yes, no. The feeling was very supportive and encouraging of each other. I gave my way-seeking mind talk in the Buddha Hall. It's kind of a funny combination of official talk (with the chanting and the jiko) and personal story-telling. I suspect that there were several things I touched on that would be helpful for me to come back to in more detail and with careful consideration in my upcoming talks, like the priest/lay question, non-residential practice, the specifics of my suffering, class issues. I'm very glad to have more speaking opportunities. The room felt like a big hug. Very appreciative of the presence of Jana and Jeffrey, two old-timers for whom I felt a good deal of affection.
We have a solution for the morning jundo: the doshi will go to the Buddha Hall first, then the kitchen. The timing now is perfect. We started our shuso teas today. Doing one 4:30-5pm Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and also at 8-8:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's a lot, but it's nice to offer them one-on-one, and to open it up to residents and staff and the public. We're holding them in my room, which is quite cozy and inviting. Worked in the kitchen in the morning since the tenzo is away and they are a little short-staffed. Didn't get to any transcriptions today - constantly having to juggle other events that arise. I offered also to fill in at the front office so they can have some relief; the shika says they are taking on a lot of work. I will have to schedule in the transcription work and really stick to it. I've only done four or five to date. Class in the evening was just delightful. It's still a big group - even bigger with drop-ins - but it still feels intimate. Two people each time are discussing a section they are particularly interested in from Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. I enjoy hearing and watching Blanche talk about Suzuki-roshi's teaching. And Jordan is a wonderful watcher of the group to ensure that people are invited to join into the conversation. We spent a good portion of time discussing posture, and Blanche mentioned that she and Jordan, and I in training, will be adjusting posture during zazen. I am really looking forward to that, because I have some questions about my own posture and I think it will help to study what is happening with other people and how Blanche responds.
Zazen was very sparsely populated this morning. Victoria and I had breakfast together in the art lounge and she gave me her impressions of my talk. I so appreciated this time with her. She is an important, encouraging and grounding presence for me. Her yoga classes in the conference center begin on Monday. Any donations she receives from us will be used to buy yoga props for the residents. We are chanting well-being every morning after work meeting - Blanche, Lou, and sometimes the benji. This is a wonderful daily ritual. Nice walk with the benji to pick up some mochi. Tea with Daigan and Tova - a lovely threesome. Yesterday the afternoon tea was with the Italian guest student Jacopo and in the morning with Brian, a practice period resident from Austin. His parents will be visiting soon, at which time he will come out to them. He is only 22, and I am impressed by his maturity and sense of connectedness with others. The practice period in general feels like it is brimming with a kind of helpful energy - people just jump in to help with dishes and doan jobs. It's deeply enjoyable. A delicious Friday dinner of mushroom risotto and kale, with chocolate pudding for dessert. My oh my.
Oryoki and then Edward Brown's lecture and book signing. Very funny, good to have him in the building. Nenju in this temple is a little dubious - we open it to just anybody to come, and this creates a bit of confusion for practice period residents. The container kind of dissolves. Also, there is no apparent role for the shuso. The energy seems to falter a bit here, ending the week on somewhat of a whimper. I wonder if a conversation about this would be helpful? The decision has been made and announced that for the rest of the practice period at least we won't be chanting in japanese before and after lectures. Very interesting. No sooner was this done than I had lunch with a new student who said she came back to Zen Center for a second visit because she was so intrigued by all the chanting in Japanese. This is how these things seem to go. Visited Yoshi's in the afternoon for her second annual "Flip Side of Yoshi's" where she presents a whole day of Japanese culture - calligraphy, ikebana, kimono fashion show (with also a priest-wear fashion show featuring Akiba-roshi - what a good sport he is) and Yoshi dancing an improvised duet with another woman as well as a sweet little solo with her ballet slippers and scarf. She is really interesting to watch in action - committed to her own internal creative life, and sharing that joy with everybody, letting it move in and out of her "professional" life. It was fun to see the mix of jazz singers and musicians, traditional women in kimono, the Japanese business community, a handful of lay and priest Zen practitioners...they ended with a simple and powerful dance of about ten women in kimono with fans, accompanied by this Japanese jazz singer - a gorgeous woman with long dark hair and a sliver of a black dress - singing a traditional Japanese folk song in kind of a bluesy way. She told me later the song is called "Castle Moon" and it's about how no matter what kind of fighting is going on on the ground, there is always the moon, just there silently hanging in the sky. It was great to see Yoshi again, and Akiba-roshi as well.
This is a very, very hard day for many people. No structure, echoes of Sundays with family, lots of loneliness. Many people are taking up cooking dinner for themselves, not just heating up leftovers. Kind of a busy feeling in the kitchen. Dinner with Lucy, Lou and Blanche again. A wonderful egg drop soup for a cold, gray evening, and a nice stir fry. Some good hot tea and good company.
Big day. Tea before zazen with Blanche, jisha and benji. We had mochi as well, since I have a big box I really need to move through. We all got confectioner's sugar all over our robes. We began Vicky's yoga class over at the Conference Center at 7:30am. About 18 people were there. Went about 45 minutes and at the end she had us sit in zazen posture and boy what a difference. No more compacted spine; lots more space between the discs. Very helpful. Lou, Mike and I chanted well-being after work meeting; Blanche had dokusan. I was invited to the staff stand-up meeting; Anna is leaving for a five-day retreat at Spirit Rock and she wanted to check in with everybody before she goes. The kitchen is down a couple people so I will pitch in when I can this week, although I don't seem to have any time anymore. I still haven't gotten to another transcription. Mel's first class on the Transmission of Light - this promises to be good. Very intimate group of about 12 of us. Sonja stopped by my room for a bit of tea; she's on her way from Tassajara to Denver to be with her mother for a few months before she lands at Green Gulch for the practice period with Reb. Really good to see her and she seems to be doing better than ever, in my view. Tea with the benji and some discussion on how to meet these ceremonial roles where we are expected to be in the schedule all the time. He's feeling very tired and somewhat overwhelmed. The reality of what he's committed to is sinking in...I want to be there for him completely, whatever he needs. So we ate more mochi together and drank too much green tea. Then I had another tea with a student. These are very important, to have this one on one time so people can open up. How I am going to get through 2 1/2 months of all these sweets, however, is another question. The benji made a delicious cardamom, chocolate and orange cake, by the way. Evening zazen tonight at 7:30 had about eight of us ending the day with the Pali refuges. How lovely.
First time as morning service doshi. I was offered a kotsu by the Ino but declined since I haven't yet received the transmission from Blanche. On Tuesdays it's the well-being ceremony, beginning with Shin Gyo, Hymn to Prajna Paramita, Kichijo Dharani, then Metta Sutta and Kannon Gyo. Tea with Jerome and his crew of Avatamsaka Sutra readers in the Art Lounge. We celebrated his 18 years of continuous reading with some cardamom cake and coffee all around. First dokusan with Zenkei since practice period began. We are going to try this every Tuesday after work meeting. This is really important. A big issue that has come up is how to uphold ceremonial roles clearly, without falling into arrogance or coyness. I am going to make this a koan this practice period. It's emotional. And it involves a whole mix of cultural issues - Japanese, American, not to mention my own particular blend. We had a cross-cultural communication training in the afternoon with a Mohawk facilitator from Quebec. It is valuable to look at what we all bring into this community/temple - what are our assumptions and expectations. I would love to gather together regularly and pass the talking stick. Who are these people I practice with and what do they care about? What will come out of me as I hold that stick in a circle of my tribe? I am faltering a bit - sniffles and kind of feeling cold a lot. More settling in and finding my way. With these first big rains of the season, the bougainvillea cascaded from the brick wall into an enormous fuscia prostration across the courtyard. Flooding at Tassajara, we hear, but everybody is safe down there and meeting this fully, I imagine.
Yoga class over at the Conference Center 7:30-8:30 with about 13 of us. Very helpful, simple poses focusing on the lower back. Helped in the kitchen in the morning - two of their staff are out due to sickness and vacation. Very strong practice there visible in how people treat each other. Met with Bruce in the afternoon. He lived in the building and practiced at Tassajara in the 70s, and has been doing his Saturday night dinner prep shift every other week for the past 30 years. One of our stealth benefactors - low key and kind. We enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation about the old days and this new phase with the Capital Campaign as we watched John Lombardi lead a crew to hoist the bougainvillea back into place. They secured it to the brick wall with three heavy duty wires. Looks like it should withstand the next storm. Took a nice walk through the panhandle with the benji - first time out since Sunday. Big topic of conversation is how to meet the feeling of overwhelm we're both experiencing. It was helpful to talk about it together. Practice Period tea focused on a quote from To Shine One Corner of the World: a student asked Suzuki-roshi if he watches to see if his students are keeping the precepts, and Suzuki-roshi replied that he watches how the students treat each other. Our small group was thoughtful, deep, quiet and heartfelt around this question. I am continually impressed by the depth of sincerity and inquisitiveness here. Blanche lectured in the evening - a very enjoyable, satisfying and connecting talk about the dance we do with each other as we're helping each other. There was something about her self-acceptance and humor that was appealing and timely. She leaves early tomorrow morning to participate in her granddaughter's wedding in West Virginia.
Just before noon service my phone rang. It was Elizabeth, who had left the practice period two weeks ago to be with her youngest son James. He had been hospitalized with what turned out to be swine flu, and now she was calling to let us know that he died earlier in the week. What a shock. We immediately changed noon service to a well-being ceremony for her. Jordan spoke with her later in the afternoon regarding her wish to return to practice period. She hopes to come back next week. Once she's able to get medical confirmation that she's not contagious, she will in fact return, it looks. She has indicated that this is what she would like to do, that it would be the most helpful to her right now in the face of the immensity of this event. The memorial service in Seattle is Saturday; we will offer one here upon Elizabeth's return. Blanche left just before morning zazen, and as she was offering her departing bows in the Buddha Hall, someone up there accompanied her on the big bell, which of course set off the fukudo's han into the second roll-down downstairs. A comic moment that had the fukudo, shuso, benji and tanto in a bit of a scramble. Blanche finally got off without further incident; Lucy drove her to the airport. The jisha and Diana, acting director, will pick Blanche up on Monday evening. Mike has begun dividing his time between benji activities and caring for Lou while Blanche is away. Brent is here to sleep in Lou's apartment and help with dressing and bathing, I presume. Mike will get Lou down the stairs for meals. The big thing is helping Lou into the electric chair at the top of the stairs because it can be quite dizzying without a spotter there. Mike, Lou and I did the well-being circle together after work meeting. Nice to have this time with Lou. Helped Rob with making and distributing hot lunches today to people on the streets. We got really pressed for time, so my tea with the guest student Stephanie turned into recruiting her to join us after she finished with the guest student tea (that would have been a lot of tea-drinking anyway for one person). It was really enjoyable to spend the time together in that way - doling out the lentil stew into Chinese take-out containers, putting in the little plastic spoon, loading all the granola bars and juices onto the truck and heading into the Tenderloin. Stephanie works in child welfare in Vancouver, but had never done this kind of on-the-street work. We walked back to the building together afterwards and she described her life to me. I am once again reminded that we never know where a person is coming from. They're guest students to us, but whole worlds are there...Class tonight - a very connecting discussion around breathing, from the section in Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. Particularly poignant given that Elizabeth's son was on a ventilator for his last days to help him breathe. Puts a whole other light on something easily taken for granted.
The official Shuso Book has resurfaced and is now in my hands. It dates from 1993 - first entry by Wendy Lewis. Second entry is Darlene's - I recognized the writing immediately. Very spotty entries - Bernd as most recent former shuso hasn't written anything yet but that may still come. Still, a wonderful thing to hold in my hands, to see the handwriting, to be in touch with what arose for each shuso. Not sure if I'll print this out and stick it in there at the end of this experience, or if I'll do a little handwritten page or two in summary. The initial intention for writing was to have contact with Darlene, to continue to be in relationship with her and also Tony on a nearly daily basis, but I also recognize the preciousness of keeping a record, upholding a lineage. Jordan and I met this morning to discuss three things: Elizabeth's return next week, Nenju, and my future relationship with Zen Center after the practice period. Regarding Nenju, it seems that this ceremony doesn't make much sense here in the city, at least the way it's been done. Tomorrow we may not do it, because Grace Schireson's book signing (new book on Zen Women) will probably consume people's attention right up until lunch. In the event we do continue with Nenju, the Tanto feels that the Shuso should stand between the practice period leader and the Tanto and receive bows during the jundo. Regarding my future relationship with ZC, this came up because a sort of mid-level administrative manager approached me with a job offer kind of on behalf of the president. This felt weird and inappropriate, and I began thinking that Zen Center culture has really changed and I'm just out of it. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I recall the days when this would be couched in some sort of practice language, and would be initiated by the Tanto or Abbot or Director. The institutional model is rapidly changing here and no one knows who's in charge or what the protocol is anymore. It was good to sort some of this out with Jordan, who is in the midst of drafting some of his own reactions to the Board, which is meeting this weekend at Tassajara (despite recent flooding). Big-time growing pains, and definitely the time for clarification.
We did Nenju after all. Jordan asked me to be doshi. Bernd was kokyo and I felt the joy in the room. Do we use the 24 hours or are we used by the 24 hours? Grace's lecture was provocative and engaging, and there was a lively and intimate discussion in the dining room afterwards. I think many copies of her book sold that day. I sat at the "Welcome Newcomers" table for lunch, and it filled quickly with a young man who had visited Green Gulch every year with his mother for Buddha's birthday, a woman guest who is from South Carolina and interested in finding sangha, another woman from BZC who had never been to City Center before, and a third woman who has been coming for a year but it was the first time she actually had spoken with anybody! Joining us were Bernd and McNeill who helped carry the conversation. Very enjoyable. In the evening, after a delicious dinner prepared by Jamie and her mother of spanakopita, the James-Meyerhoff clan (Keith's mother, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, Leslie, Jamie, Shogen and Sebastian) showed a movie in the dining room. Nice, warm feeling. They've been around all weekend, having a little vacation while the Board meets at Tassajara. They said the road was horrific coming out - particularly flooded just above the parking lot before the first switchback.
Since I got the heads up from Blanche that Lou likes fried potatoes, Mike and I made a tortilla espanola - eggs, potatoes and onions - with the help of Stephanie, the guest student from Victoria. The jisha joined us, and Ingen also. Curtis was able to connect us through Skype to the wedding in West Virgina, so we all gathered around his computer in the student lounge to watch Blanche conduct the ceremony for her granddaughter, and Lou got to participate after all and without the jet lag. What a blast to see him interact (or not) with his wife and two daughters. Blanche kept talking to him and waving, and Lou just sat there, with the rest of us waving around him, until finally Blanche said "Well, will you at least wave, Lou?" So he did. In the evening, Mike and I made pasta primavera for Lou and ourselves, and it turned into a a little party when Keith and Leslie, and his mother, brother and sister-in-law joined us. Yummy, too. Mike made a nice alfredo sauce, and we had some delicious carrots, red onions, zucchini and kale all mixed in there. Mice have made it up to the third floor now. The tanto reported one in his office on the 2nd floor a few days ago, and now Genine saw one go in under her door. I think I'll still keep my door open, but maybe only during daylight hours. Sure would be nice to get a temple cat. (I'll be sure to stand up on its behalf if the monks from the east and west halls get into an argument over it.) It appears that after I left the Residents Meeting yesterday to go down to zazen, everybody talked about the 3rd floor women's bathroom and how to care for it given that guests and guest students use it, and lo and behold two women have re-committed themselves to using it again (it had gotten so bad that 5-6 women on the third floor were using the 2nd floor bathroom). The remaining handful of women who have not given up on their bathroom now report feeling supported by the sangha and there's an emergence of energy and re-dedication. We'll do a weekly DAI SOJI on Wednesdays 4:30-5.
After the Tanto's jundo in the morning, he came over to me and asked if I would lead morning service. I said yes, then he presented me with the kotsu, so I received it. Oh boy. I had practiced with it last week at Blanche's recommendation after the Ino had invited me to choose one the last time I was doshi, but I had declined at that moment because I hadn't been trained yet. I consulted with Diana Gerard about it, because I remember she never used it as shuso. She replied that Reb didn't think it was appropriate until after the Shuso Ceremony. Everybody seems to have their own point of view about it. I was, however, happy and intrigued to work with it once it was offered. I remember Darlene saying something about how it's something to hold on to in the vastness...something like that occurred to me also right in the midst of service. I appreciated it very much, holding its curved smoothness as I stood face to face with Shakyamuni. Yoga class with Vicky - the numbers are dwindling, so this means we have more one-on-one attention, which I'm really grateful for. There were about eight of us, I'd say. The benji and I walked to Japantown after chanting well-being with Lou. We picked up a box of mochi so he could have a break from baking since he's been doing overtime caring for Lou (Blanche is due back this evening). Mel's second class on Keizan's Transmission of Light. Good to have him around and for new students to have contact with him - he stayed for lunch. In the afternoon quite a group of us traveled over to Emeryville in three separate cars to participate in the Cremation Witness Ceremony for Michael Steingraber, a sangha member who died last week after a long illness. Powerful experience, clearly helpful for so many (including Michael himself, who planned it with Greg over the last few months of his life). We chanted Metta Sutta and Dai Hi Shin Dharani, followed by the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo as we circumambulated his coffin and placed flowers in there with him. We continued chanting as his body was brought into the furnace room, and the Ino's eko (We live like a cloud in an endless sky...Gate, Gate, Paragate...Go, Michael, Go!) accompanied him right into the fire. Immediately after hearing the roar of all those flames, we came out to the sound of pouring rain - an absolute downpour. Arrived back to the building in time for tea with a student, then zazen (last minute doshi with the benji as last minute doan - I'm so grateful for Mike's vow of availability), then a delicious dinner and evening zazen with just three of us tenderly chanting the refuges in Pali together.
Blanche has returned intact. Had three teas today with a total of five people. Made five bowls of matcha. Maybe it's extravagant to offer matcha, but I certainly am enjoying whisking it, and also drinking it. I can practically feel the anti-oxidants kicking in; helpful with so many in the building getting sick. We are trying to scale back on the number of teas, but today was the day for accommodating people who can't make the usual tea times. Attended practice committee today for the first time. Continuing discussion about how to help Elizabeth re-enter the practice period with the community's full support. Tim Wicks has very graciously offered to fix the ties on my okesa; I can't seem to get to sewing class, and he's worried I'm going to end up with it around my ankles right in the middle of morning service. I have gratefully accepted his offer.
Yoga in the morning. I realize Vicky is giving us very precise instruction; really feels like mindfulness training. Made a couple of calls to doctor friends - Andrea Thach and Keith Wiley - to find out incubation time for swine flu (less than a week) and their suggestions for proceeding with Elizabeth's return. Attended Staff meeting for the first time. Anna is doing a great job as director taking care of the feeling of these meetings - a flip chart with agenda items and time allotted for each; an appreciation at the beginning, and a check-in at the end to hear how people felt the meeting went. Felt like caring for one body with its many expressions. First DAI SOJI in the 3rd floor women's bathroom. What a great feeling in there now. We emptied out the shelves of abandoned items, cleared out the bathtub area, clarified who will do what. Very strong, connecting experience. Feels like a re-commitment not just to the bathroom but to each other. Practice period tea small groups were to discuss a quote from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, but our group ended up discussing the practice (the feelings, the experience) of being sick. This felt really important, especially given that everybody in my small group was sick or had recently recovered from being sick. I am somewhat reminded of the giardia practice period at Tassajara - the feeling that everybody is just falling one by one. How to cultivate stability without confusing it with denial. As someone said, they felt better after talking about it together. I'm learning so much, and everybody else is, too. The benji made chocolate chip/pecan cookies this evening after the dharma talk. He's working hard.
Watching myself respond to all the sickness by manic activity - helping in the kitchen for a half hour, rushing off to the lobby bathrooms which the benji and I hadn't been able to clean for three days and had run out of toilet paper. Within this feeling that everything is falling apart, trying to do it all. This is old habit energy. However, I did find it energizing to take care of things and people and I promise I will take a nap if I get really tired. Gargling with Listerine, cleaning out my nostrils with Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap and warm water, washing, washing, washing the hands, drinking water. Student talk this morning and Blanche taught the class in the evening (Jordan at Green's with Paul Haller and others - much intrigue throughout the building). Three volunteers showed up to help Rob with hot lunches for homeless people, so I visited the sick people at 368 - Nadia and Steven. Bernd has been bringing food to lots of people; we're clarifying how the residents' reps can help and who else needs to step in (like me) given that so many people are down. Lovely teas in the morning with Konin and Tanya - so womanly! - and in the afternoon with Charlie. Wow, these teas times are so important. So much gets expressed. Diana had asked me to be at the evening zazen right at 7:30 because she would be arriving a few minutes late from her prison outreach meeting, but I saw Carol Benjamin on the way and she agreed to take my place so I could be on time for class with Blanche. There is a lot going on around here. Beneficial activity, endless opportunities to say "yes, I will do this; no I am not available to do that."
Another shift in energy. People are coming out of sickness. We're now turning our focus toward the mice in the building. Met with Roland from the Russian River Zendo to help him prepare for being doan for their upcoming three-day sesshin. Got the Ino okay to play with bells and forms in the zendo. Wonderful dokusan with Darlene; right in the middle of it all, to be able to sit across from her was comforting and stimulating. Tea with a student - more lively conversation and I am still struck by the level of maturity in practice here. Just listening and encouraging continued practice. Orientation in the evening for tomorrow's one day sit - a group of 8 students, all women, who are brand new to a one-day. One woman asked for clarification on how to enter the Buddha Hall; this can be a very intimidating thing - I remember it well. I used to hang out in the lobby and watch everybody else before I dared to come in. So scared to be the first one, no idea which row to stand in or when to bow. We did a little zazen instruction to address particular issues - arthritic knees (seiza bench) and legs that fall asleep (higher zafu).
One-day sitting began at 5am and ended at 9pm with Pali refuges. Oryoki breakfast and lunch; medicine bowl dinner in dining room. Tea in zendo. Left a card and flowers in Elizabeth's room; she is expected back tomorrow.
Took the benji out for brunch today to the new Nigerian restaurant down the hill. Very good to walk together and talk extensively about practice issues.
Mon - Wed 10/26-28
Tea before zazen with Blanche, the jisha, benji in Room 10. Restorative yoga after zazen. Mel's class on Transmission of Light. Helped with lunch dishes - covering for someone who is sick. Then around mid-afternoon I started feeling it hit me. Incessant sneezing, energy starting to drop. Went to bed and basically stayed there for the next couple of days, with a few intermittent appearances. I've gone to noon service, which is good since Jordan is also down. Blanche still seems to be holding steady. Did the wake-up bell and jundo, but then headed straight back to bed. Sleeping lots, trying to stay warm. Feverish, headache, congestion, sore throat. Residents' Reps are complaining that we need a new system for bringing food to sick people. General agreement that sick people should stay out of the kitchen and confined to their room as much as possible. I don't like the thought of possibly infecting Blanche in the zendo, so I've erred on the side of caution. Really have to feel this out. Rejoined the schedule at evening zazen time, which was a rehearsal for Sejiki. Maybe I let some of my demons out making all that noise, but I felt better and attended the lecture in the evening of Acarya Arawana Hayashi. Wow - what a treat she is. Student of Trungpa Rinpoche, dancer, she was for me the embodiment of womanly uprightness. I just steeped in her presence. Her talk was on compassion and bravery in everyday life. The encouragement is to go into the mess of it all, to trust the deeper process. To talk less and be more, as she said Trungpa used to say. It was very enjoyable to consider Suzuki-roshi from her side. She didn't meet him, but said that she felt Trungpa Rinpoche to be less lonely after having met Suzuki-roshi.
Up and at 'em. Energy much better, but still a little shaky. Can't go back into mania, definitely not. Sat through morning schedule, which was glorious. Student talk by Charlie was deeply moving and personal with lots of wonderful, heart-opening questions from the sangha. Brought food to the benji, who slept right through the wake-up bell, poor guy. Made an appeal at work meeting with the outreach coordinator (jeffrey) for hosts for our wee trick-or-treaters tomorrow night. He provides the candy, they just need to be in their rooms for 10 minutes at the appointed hour. And they get to keep the candy. City Center is all decked out in spooky, provocative ghouls - I especially like the priest looking in the mirror, seeing a devil: "Takes One To Know One." Only a priest together with a devil. Some talk at the breakfast table about how to fully acknowledge the sickness running through the sangha - should we call a 3-day interim? Staff apparently brought this up yesterday in their meeting. I think it's more about those who are still standing (while there are still some standing) encouraging those who are not to stay put, to just be completely sick. If we're well, our responsibility to the sangha is to be in the zendo. If we're sick, our responsibility to the sangha is to be in bed. The kitchen is taking up lots of excellent precautions, like using cloths soaked in hydrogen peroxide to clean tables. There's hand sanitizer everywhere.
The building is looking fantastic. The work leader has decked out the Buddha Hall, lobby and main hallway with all kinds of ghoulish creatures. The Shika and crew have fabulously decorated the dining room in preparation for tonight's dinner. Renee dressed up as Betty Boop and I as a gaucha cow girl, and we accompanied Jeffrey down to Clara House where he let the kids paint his face before we painted theirs. A group of about 10 kids and their adult companions walked up with us to dinner and then trick-or-treating at 300, 368 and 340. We ended with interactive storytelling at Mary Watson's - she dressed as a witch and surrounded by candles. Lots of spirited activity.
Paul gave the talk today on this Halloween day. It was great to see him and hear him speak about hungry ghosts and other demons who need our attention and care. He joined our Nenju circle right in the middle. I was happy to remember to stand up in the midst of the jundo and bow to him - a little curve ball. We both had a big smile on our faces. This city practice really keeps us all on our toes. The Newcomers table filled up quickly; this time Gretchen joined me to help with conversation. Marie came with me to the East Bay where we each had a Feldenkrais session with Marjorie Moore. On the way back we stopped above the Golden Gate Bridge so she could get some pictures. (The Bay Bridge is still closed.) In the evening a large contingent got dressed up and headed out to hear jazz. I sent them off in the lobby while my bath water was running upstairs. Was in bed by 9 and happily drifted off soon thereafter.
Began actively preparing for Wednesday's talk. Many thoughts and feelings have been percolating, but today's the day I began writing things down. I really don't know how this will go. I feel completely humbled by the practice, the practice period, the practitioners. Walked with the benji to the panhandle and for some chicken soup at a Thai restaurant on Divisadero. It's so nice to have this kind of time together. Ben, one of the new residents here for the practice period, asked to talk with me in the morning and it turns out he feels he needs to leave to take care of his personal life. He and Blanche had a good conversation in which she asked him to continue the work to save all beings, which he recounted to me with a big smile on his face. He will say goodbye at work meeting tomorrow and meet with the director. He plans to continue to sit in the afternoons with us, and possibly attend the Wed tea small groups. How to be there fully for people as our lives just keep careening along. What is true support and encouragement?
Tea with the jisha, Blanche and benji before zazen. I'm so glad we take this time together, even if it's just once a week. It's really a great way to start the week, just quietly sitting together and seeing what comes out of our mouths for the 6 minutes we have. Zendo felt much fuller than it has in recent days. People may be on the upswing. Maybe all those demons did get released over the weekend and we can have a fresh start. Yoga with Vicky. Met with Robert Thomas after work meeting in the art lounge for about an hour and a half. Linda Galijan was also there - this is about their interest in my taking up the Tass Rez director position. It was a really good, connecting conversation, covering a lot of terrain. I felt I could express my feelings and thoughts and questions completely. We centered much of the discussion on how we treat each other, how we take each other into consideration (or don't) in the midst of all the activity of caring for this temple/community/corporation. I think we all agree on the importance of coming back to zazen, and ourselves as practitioners, taking care of the practice and each other. The bigness of Zen Center isn't a problem in itself; it's just will we keep our priorities straight? And do we agree on what they are? I think so, but I also think we need to build into our daily life more time for check-ins like this. Mel's class at 11, shuso tea with Jay, one of the new practice period residents. He is brand new to practice, and was very curious about how it is for me at Zen Center. He wonders how I can sustain happiness when others around are so gloomy...this was very provocative, particularly given the conversation earlier in the day. It's got me thinking about whether I'm conning everybody. I do believe myself to be happy, although I experience all kinds of stuff, clearly. But am I relentlessly sunny and driving everyone nuts around me at ZC? I'll have to check in with Blanche about this. Zazen in the evening with 6 of us, most from practice period. How wonderful to chant the refuges together.
Zendo feels good again. Doshi for morning service - have to rise slowly, in stages with bows because dizziness is still happening with all the congestion. But I really enjoy standing in front of that image of Buddha. Today I was noticing the folds of flesh in his neck. Jordan is down, and according to Anna it seems he has swine flu. Practice committee did quick check-in after work meeting. Followed up on Ben. He and Anna spoke yesterday; it seems the nature of their conversation was more about now what will he do - a job, place to live...I was curious to ask if she spoke with him regarding what she seemed to bring up with me on Sunday - the impact of his leaving on the mandala of practice period. No, it seems. I guess what made it complex was that it all came down on a Sunday. At any rate, it seems he was held gently through this decision, and that's a good thing. Mike, Blanche and I chanted well-being, then I had dokusan. It was great to be able to speak at length (probably too long) with Blanche about all the things swirling around in me, particularly on the eve of giving a talk. Sandra from Development came over for tea. She lives at the Tibetan house up the street, and had all kinds of questions and thoughts on emptiness and the self. Boy, that was a shot of energy. Between the conversation and Mike's lemon bars plus Tova's Joseph Schmidt chocolates, I was flying around the zendo during zazen. Suzuki-roshi memorial up in the kaisando and it's particularly sweet with Hoitsu and Chitose-san here. Lucy did a great job as kokyo. Worked on the talk in the evening.
Suzuki-roshi memorial with Hoitsu as doshi. I just loved watching him up close - the way he holds the kotsu, how he bows, how he handles the offerings, the way he offers incense. This naturalness, a genuine presence. He sees me and says "Ah, shuso!" How utterly charming and invigorating. I stand up taller when he's around. Ingen will begin offering chi classes on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings when there is no yoga, so we'll get a daily dose of bodywork around here. Staff meeting was really nice - people bring food, Anna has the agenda all laid out, there was a quiet, connecting, playful feeling. Practice period tea in the afternoon - not many people around. Sickness, work schedules. One resident forgot and went to zazen. We talked about the most important thing in terms of how we came to practice. My small group regularly meets in the Buddha Hall, and it was a kind of comforting and familiarizing experience knowing that I was going to give the talk that night. I so deeply appreciate the shining-eyed tenderness of practitioners here. Speaking later on, I once again felt carried by the practice even as I kind of just lobbed out half-formed thoughts and feelings...it seems this is how I will become more acquainted with me, with this person, by doing these kinds of things. I am so grateful for everyone's patience and generosity and all the space I'm getting. I am achingly aware of my limitations, with my lack of intimacy with myself, and how Lou and Darlene and Blanche and everyone in their own way, whether they realize it or not, are helping me to come closer to my own life.
Curve balls everywhere! I had consulted with Blanche, and we decided that I would take off my okesa after the shuso jundo since Hoitsu is sitting there without his. Blanche said she'd be going directly to dokusan, not sitting in the zendo, so the seating seemed to be fine. But when I got in to the zendo, I failed to notice that Robert had moved us all down one - I guess he knew Rosalie wasn't coming - and he had to quietly gesture to me as I began to place my zagu at my usual seat. Well, then he was surprised when I got down into chokei to remove my okesa...I thought it all was very intimate and kind of sweet. We're attempting to pay attention. Jonathan leaves again today for LA where he is going down to be with his father. His mother believes this will be the last few weeks of his life. I gave him my phone number in case he wants to talk and told him we'd keep including him in well-being chanting. Ingen begin his tai chi-chi gong-aikido-kung fu in the Buddha Hall this morning. Three of us from practice period joined him. Such beneficial activity. Dokusan with Darlene leading right up to noon service for which she joined us and I was so happy about that. It's great to do these ceremonies with her; feels like she's coming closer in to the practice period, something I can share with her. I'm turning to the shuso ceremony invitations - they really should go out tomorrow. I'll do my best. Working with Shundo on some photos maybe I could use. Want to keep it simple, and stay close to the theme of practice period. Tea in the afternoon with Ingen. I appreciate so much his signing up. We had a surprise visit in the middle of it from Blanche letting me know she wouldn't be at afternoon zazen. I liked seeing her there in my doorway. It made me feel like we're in this village together, always available to each other. Class in the evening - Jordan still on the mend - was somewhat quiet. I feel people are kind of tired; I know I was. Still a feeling of discovering Suzuki-roshi's way together. Straight to bed after class.
Hoitsu and Chitose-san said good-bye at work circle. He's a delight right up through his exit. Wonderful energetic presence. Heading into a very busy weekend with Laura Burges' workshop on forgiveness, the funeral and ashes ceremonies for Michael Steingraber and the Volunteer Appreciation event at Greens. Met with Luisa, a woman from Clara House who had told me at Halloween she was interested in volunteering. We had tea in the dining room, then I gave her a little tour of the Buddha Hall and zendo, and we finished at the bookstore where she bought some rose incense. She is planning to come on Tuesdays for noon service, lunch, help with lunch clean-up and maybe work in the bookstore until 4:00. Had two student teas, and also went to Judith Keenan's art opening - what a great crowd. Many people I knew from Tassajara work periods. By 9pm it was down to a group of about 6 of us - all women - just giggling and telling stories in the art lounge, surrounded by Judith's wonderful portraits, many of Tassajara practitioners and workers. What enjoyment to have dinner with Darlene and Blanche and Lou.
Steve Stucky gave a wonderful talk suffused with his warmth and strong, good energy. Newcomers table at lunch was packed; even though it's nice to sit at a round table, maybe we should move to a larger rectangular table. Laura Burges's Forgiveness workshop in the afternoon in the Buddha Hall. Rehearsal for tomorrow's funeral right after that. I was glad to be in bed by 8:00.
Funeral in the morning for Michael Steingraber in the Buddha Hall. Beautiful and spacious feeling. I loved seeing the two little dogs Chica and Koko running about. Ashes ceremony in Golden Gate Park in the afternoon. Volunteer Appreciation party at Greens in the evening - what an important event. It feels good to acknowledge the maha sangha and how they also create Zen Center. The reason we can say that we feed homeless people is due to one volunteer's efforts - Rob Bullen. There weren't a whole lot of people there, but still, there was a very positive feeling and Green's was just great. Nice food, lovely wine and very friendly staff. Susan O'Connell spoke for City Center, Sukey for Green Gulch, Leslie for Tassajara. Steve Stucky was there, in all his warm-heartedness, leading us in chanting the Metta Sutta. (It's such a good thing we have this chant available to us, even though it's not from our lineage. There must be something from our lineage we can use on such occasions...but what is it?) It was a really good, energizing walk there from City Center; Blanche told me later that Lou used to walk there every day to wash dishes at Greens - when he was about 70.
Some people irritated this morning - very busy weekend and it's always hard on residents when there's so much going on in the building. I also feel a little rough around the edges. Will need a nap, but the shuso invite needs to go out today. Thaddeus has committed to help me pull it together, and Shundo has e-mailed me the photo I want to use - the stained glass of Suzuki-roshi's perfect gassho with the crooked fingers. Dai soji this morning to re-arrange the Buddha Hall after yesterday's funeral - that gave Mike and me the opportunity to thoroughly clean the main floor rest rooms. Mel's class - a very intimate little group discussing Bashashita and Funyomitta. I was running around bringing food and ginger tea to Marie, who was the last hold-out of those falling sick (along with Anna again), then shuso tea with Elizabeth (very important time to be together and hear how she's meeting the enormity of her son's death), zazen, dinner and straight to the zendo for evening zazen. When I got back to my room, Thaddeus was on his way out to Kinko's to print out the invitations. Bless him.
Got the shuso ceremony invites into the mail - what a relief. Thaddeus really came through and I will be taking him out for brunch on Sunday. I'm looking forward to spending some time with him; I think he has an interesting story. He's not ready to give his way-seeking mind talk yet - he wants to run it by a few people privately first. He will be staying on as a resident after practice period. Practice Committee - brief discussion about the tai chi and yoga classes on weekday mornings and how that impacts the feel of breakfast in the dining room. The tenzo wanted this brought up. I thought he was making a good point. It's a tough call, because the body practices are so helpful for zazen people and that time before breakfast is the best time for doing this kind of activity. Vicki mentioned she'd been trying to get yoga happening at City Center as part of the schedule for 25 years. We decided to continue with yoga and tai chi classes for the practice period, and those of us in the classes will commit to eating together in the dining room afterwards. We also discussed a memorial service for the mice in the building who will be eating the poison we're putting in the courtyard in the next few days. The problem has been growing over the past few months - there were four mice running around the small kitchen, on top of the stove, last night while I was in there with a guest. We'll do the ceremony in the zendo on Thursday morning before the student talk; there should be plenty of residents there - that's after all who we're doing the ceremony for, I think. It's one of those difficult situations where you feel kind of stuck. Wonderful tea with Gretchen - she has a PhD in Engineering, and she's working tenderly with What Is My Question? This is so great - definitely not in the realm of the intellect. Sewing class in the evening, where the good thing about being shushed was that I finally got done sewing my sections of Darlene's ceremonial robe...Went to bed all trembly and recommitting to accepting this self - "perfect just as you are" - while looking at my impact - where I can "use a little improvement." I love that gassho of Suzuki-roshi...
Staff meeting in the morning; Anna is still down and probably will be recovering for the rest of the week. Noon service was dedicated to veterans - we chanted Loving Kindness Meditation (there it is again). Very nice eko; spot-on in terms of the effects of war and aggression. A good, brisk walk with the benji in the afternoon - got some more matcha, genmaicha, and also some fresh mochi for the remaining teas this week. Practice period tea felt fuller. My small group talked about the mice infestation of the building and the staff's decision to bring in an exterminator (the same company who helped us with the bed bugs a couple of years ago). Thoughtful, kind discussion. Martine Batchelor spoke in the evening and just wowed us with her fresh sense of humor and directness. She just launched right into a description of the precepts as she's practiced them in Korea. Her husband Stephen was there as well; they both ate dinner with us. I had a kind of moving conversation at dinner with one of the guest students, a man in his sixties who is here with his 30-year old son. He is from Lodi, where he works as a packer for General Mills. He is three years from retirement and has come to Zen by way of Ed Brown's movie How To Cook Your Life. He first saw it on PBS, then proceeded to watch it seven more times. It inspired him to bake bread for the first time in his life - which he's done several times now - and to also start sitting, which he began with us for the first time this week. Pretty cool. I think Suzuki-roshi would be pleased!
Morning service in the zendo. We chanted Dai Hi Shin Dharani for the mice, which surprised me. I thought that was just for humans. I'm glad we didn't put a card for them on the altar. Still, it was important to acknowledge this act of ours, especially since Martine last night, coincidentally, talked about the Korean Buddhist practice of viewing the precept of not-killing very literally, of taking all creatures - not matter how small - into deep consideration. I cringed at least a couple of times, but I felt, when she responded to a question about our complicity in war even though we're not actively killing someone, that she helped me understand a little bit more about the difficulty of working with this. We do our best, and we acknowledge our mistakes and also the complexity of some situations. Hot lunch preparation for homeless people in the afternoon - Rob and I were joined by a former guest student named Marin and Elizabeth. I'm so glad Zen Center continues to support this program; I personally find it really helpful to just do something concrete - feed hungry people - and not just think, feel or talk about it. Once again, a deeply connecting tea with a student; this person has a very interesting story (vogue performer on the NY nightclub scene for five years at the Sound Factory!). I am so glad we're able to welcome in so many different kinds of people. We're big enough that we can absorb a lot, and I find this richness and (yes) diversity so deeply satisfying. Class in the evening with Jordan. It made a big difference when he asked everyone to move in closer, to all be on the rug together. It was immediately noticeable that people interacted more readily.
Mini zazen check-in with three of the guest students in the Buddha Hall this morning during their break. How inspiring - they are full of inquisitiveness and right effort - just naturally occurring. Blanche has let me accompany her as she goes around the zendo checking posture, and has encouraged me to do it on my own. It's a wonderful thing to offer. It also feels like more training in considering other people, taking them into consideration. It really kind of re-orients zazen for me - I'm not just sitting there for myself. I also remember how helpful it was to have Blanche, Teah and Barbara Kohn give me some life-changing words and touches - just a little bit to make a big difference - while I was sitting there in the zendo. Tea with Jim Fitton, who used to live at City Center in the 80s and is back now as a resident. Another low-profile, long-term practitioner who I kind of marvel at. In the evening after dinner we had a book reading by Joe Loya, who wrote the recently published "The Man Who Outgrew His Cell." He spent two years in solitary confinement for a murder he didn't commit, although he was guilty of a series of bank heists. His honesty and self-reflection were powerful and tenderizing. I felt emptied out afterward. We ended with five minutes of silence/stillness.
One-day sit ending with shosan with Blanche and dinner in the dining room. Steve Weintraub gave the talk: his parents felt that Suzuki-roshi "could have worked in a luncheonette" - meaning, he didn't let "Zen" get in the way of warm-heartedness, of meeting someone. Took Vicki Tran to see Where the Wild Things Are for her birthday. We ate cookies and malted milk balls and she had a Mexican Coca-Cola. I'm looking forward to our Thanksgiving dinner at Zen Center; the sign-up sheets are out and I'm glad we're extending the invitation to non-resident practitioners. This is a nice place for people to come, to be together and all pitch in to have a delicious and nutritious meal in good company.
Thaddeus and I had a delicious brunch and a good walk in the Mission. Very relaxing day filled with good conversation in the student lounge, courtyard and dining room with various residents. Vicki Austin won't be able to come to the shuso ceremony because she'll be with her mother in New York, but she says she will give someone her question to ask of me. My stomach is lurching at the thought...she also gave me some very helpful words of encouragement - to meet each question as if someone were coming to my door, and to not fall into the "nervousness I had sometimes at Tassajara." Okay! There's a really warm feeling in the building on Sunday evenings these days; lots of different people cooking, Myoki making kombucha to share with everybody, Chris Stillson making his various torts (caramelized onion is my favorite), and Lucy cooking for Blanche and Lou (I missed it last night - they're starting a little earlier now - but I had some delicious leftover hot and sour soup).
Tea this morning with Blanche, Barbara, Mike in Room 10. Blanche shared some mochi with us that Chitose-san had given her during their recent visit. We'll have tea again this week on Friday. Our well-being chanting this morning included young people affected by homophobia and fear and ignorance - Daigan had received a request from the father of a high school girl whose friend had committed suicide over the weekend. Apparently the young man, openly gay, had been driven to despair due to the behavior of a group of his classmates toward him. Residents are signing the card for Jonathan, who is due back Tuesday or Wednesday from his father's funeral in LA. Mel's class led right up to service, which featured Mike's debut as kokyo. There are many opportunities to step beyond so-called comfort zones and stretch; I'm inspired by his doing so. A walk through the Panhandle in the afternoon with Marie, followed by two teas back-to-back (we're doing two a day now in these final days of practice period) with Alec and Piper. Shining practice bodhisattvas, each and every one. Zazen in the evening - six of us taking refuge together before dispersing into the night.
Dokusan this morning. At Practice Committee we talked about Rohatsu, specifically chanting Repentence before morning service, and chanting Genjo Koan, Self-Fulfilling Samadhi, Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon and/or Jewel Mirror Samadhi as part of liturgy. It looks like we'll do an exercise period, with maybe Anna leading some chi gong exercises. It was fun to hear the enthusiasm in the room as we discussed sesshin; it's something we all agree on, as Vicki pointed out. Tea with Doug, who used to live in the building and now comes to be doan for Tuesday evening zazen and to meet with Michael. He's working out his relationship with Zen Center, an excellent thing for all of us to continually do. He has offered me a shiatsu as kind of a shuso gift, which really charmed me. I probably won't be able to take advantage of it until after practice period because things are really speeding up, but it will certainly be something to look forward to. After dinner I went straight to bed and slept soundly until 4 the next morning. Very refreshing.
Staff meeting in the morning. Kate, the Capital Campaign manager, came over to talk with staff at Anna's request. This was a really good thing. It was great to get to know Kate more and for her to hear from staff. I enjoyed having lunch with her and walking together a bit in the afternoon. Shuso tea this afternoon with Silvia, which I enjoyed very much. She is the girlfriend of Shundo and began practicing about a year and a half ago. She is starting to study with Reb. I'm reminded of first coming to practice and how my relationship with Terry was helpful in easing me into community life. She also talked about some difficulties connecting with people. It takes time. The topic of practice period tea was a quote or two from Suzuki-roshi. In particular, we really got into his saying that the only thing he trusts is his zafu and his two feet. Ed Sattizahn gave the talk in the evening, with two marvelous SR stories. Ed's aspect is humble and sincere, and I imagine he was really happy to not be identifed with the Capital Campaign for at least that period of time.
Met with Tim Wicks at a cafe nearby. I wanted to express my thanks for his help with the ties on my okesa. He has been a steady presence in the sewing room and at the Monday night sangha and recovery meetings for many years. Now he is embarking on the priest training path with Michael and I am very glad for him. He says he's watching all of us priests closely. Good to know and good for him. Back to back teas with students in the afternoon. General feeling of things speeding up, need to claim time for preparing for Wednesday's talk. There was an accident right on Lily Alley just as the han for afternoon zazen was beginning. I walked into the zendo to this weird red light circling about as people sat in stillness right there in the midst of it. Never experienced that before. Last class with Blanche and Jordan on Compassionate Teaching of Suzuki-roshi.
Arrived at Room 10 this morning after the wake-up bell, with a thermos of hot water and a bag of green tea in hand for our tea, but no one was there. I debated knocking on Mike's door but couldn't bring myself to do it. I decided to just let it go, that it seemed like there wasn't energy for it, that people maybe needed to sleep more. Rohatsu is looming up ahead and I don't feel like pushing anything or anyone. Met with Robert Thomas and Linda Galijan across the street to further look at the Reservations position and its relationship with the Capital Campaign. Very provocative, engaging discussion. I appreciate Robert's sense of adventure, and that's where I can meet him. I told him I was ready to dive in. Looks like the job will start first week of January. Oh boy. May we continue to foster good communication, and may I continue to develop skillful means in expressing myself fully. Anna spoke with me about City Center's new Prius, which was just purchased and should be arriving next week. She wants me to help people learn how to handle it appropriately, which I appreciate very much having been in relationship with one. It requires intelligent and sensitive drivers! Two more teas back to back with three people - stretching from 2:15 to 5:15. I was tired at the end of that. Happy to sit in silence in the zendo, have a nice dinner, help with dishes, then head straight to bed.
Residents' Meeting - excellent attendance, and more importantly, deep listening and expressing. I mentioned the day after Thanksgiving hike up Mount Tam. I would love to walk up the mountain with a group of practice period students; I hope people sign up, we get cars and the weather is good! Yoga for Sitters in the afternoon with Vicki in the Buddha Hall. Eleven of us were there, about half of us from practice period. The timing of this is perfect; for me, it's about developing confidence in my zazen body just before Rohatsu - a physical check-in to see if I'm doing anything unproductive or even harmful in my posture, particularly if I'm going to be doing a lot of it day in and day out. Vicki is really a master at this and we are so fortunate to have her expertise close at hand. It would be great if a dedicated yoga space could be part of the Capital Campaign for City Center. There is a lot of interest in yoga and its relationship with zazen, and I know it would draw people for urban retreats. What a great way to increase earned income. Worked more on talk in the evening - committing to the Sandokai, and although it feels daunting, I think it's relevant since we've been chanting it everyday and no one has addressed why or what it is. To bed by 9:00.
Very relaxing day with a much-need walk out at the ocean. There is some movement in the building; one of the couples has separated and they each will be moving out. She has already left and he is in the process of packing his things. Lots of boxes in the hallway. Another person is moving by the end of December and is actively looking for a place nearby. She wants to keep practicing here, just not residentially. This is not an easy life, between following the schedule and honoring work expectations for temple upkeep (kitchen, bathroom, zendo and house jobs), not to mention having a demanding job in the marketplace. It makes sense to me that she's ready to make a change, and that doing so would actually support her practice of zazen given the circumstances of her life. It just feels like a time of some upheaval. In the evening I quietly continued to work on Wednesday's talk, and by giving it energy and focus I was able to find some calm around it.
Last tea with Blanche, Barbara and Mike before zazen. (We're going into a week of lasts, since sesshin begins next week.) Last regular yoga class of the practice period. Vicki will be offering a "zazen clinic" in the Buddha Hall on Wednesday for pre-Rohatsu tune-up. She will continue teaching yoga on the same days for next practice period. Walk with the benji in the afternoon, Shuso tea, and zazen in the evening. I think this is a wonderful way to start the work week - evening zazen, ending with Pali refuges. I hope we will continue it next practice period, or even before. I think it will catch on if it's publicized.
Dokusan in the morning - very reassuring, even as Blanche basically said there's nothing she can say or should say to calm my nerves. This was great! Dropping pretense as much as I can, understanding that the ceremony calls for me to be me, to find something out about who me is. She told me a little story about being on Mount Tam with Suzuki-roshi and a group of Zen students, and how he marveled at California's green grass in winter and brown grass in summer, opposite of Japan. Very strange, he said. I liked hearing about this because we're planning our hike up that mountain for the day after Thanksgiving. More than ten people have signed up, but I think a few will change their minds at the last minute and the two cars we've secured (City Center's and Blanche's - bless her) will be ample. We're having blue-skied days this week, which I hope will continue. Last of the Shuso teas today - one with Quang and one with MacNeill. No more cookies for a while, mercifully. What a wonderful tradition that is for the Shuso. I am really grateful for all those who were willing to sign up, show up and open up.
Vicki's zazen clinic was helpful in building confidence before going into sesshin that I'm actually paying attention and taking care of my body. Staff meeting focus on Thanksgiving, Rohatsu, the new Prius and the recent and upcoming departures of residents and how that impacts life at City Center. The population of the building is low right now and shrinking, which means that those who stay will have more responsibilities. Took Nadia out in the new car - Anna has asked me to begin orienting ZC drivers to the particularities of a Prius. Very nice - it's a great development for City Center. Gave the talk in the evening, focusing on the Sandokai.
[this last section written post-practice period, post-sesshin, post-shuso ceremony, on 12/9]
We went careening into Thanksgiving, day after Thanksgiving hike on Mount Tamalpais (two carloads of us) and on into Rohatsu that Saturday night. Sesshin was action-packed: chanting Repentance every morning at the beginning of service, Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon before lecture and Pali refuges at night. We tried chanting Fukanzazengi during the last period of zazen but the lighting was too low and not enough people were familiar enough with it, so Blanche, Jordan, Rosalie and I offered encouraging words during that period instead and Blanche suggested everybody keep their copy of Fukanzazengi in their room to read it throughout sesshin. At City Center Rohatsu is chock-full of ceremonies: full moon, Buddha's Enlightenment, annual Suzuki-Roshi Memorial, and the Shuso ceremony which is the final event. The sitting was very strong; the eight or nine people sitting sesshin for the very first time were impressive! It was hard, no doubt, but boy did people keep coming back at it. Even though the zendo was still, the kyosaku was brought out. Interesting to notice that people seemed to fidget more AFTER the stick was used. I'm convinced...the kyosaku is a relic from the macho age of Zen and it's time to shake it off. Big distraction. Many bodhisattvas appeared during sesshin: residents who weren't sitting served breakfast and helped in the kitchen, and many sesshin participants multi-tasked - the benji in particular was holding many jobs and just kept showing up over and over. On the last day, he buzzed both Blanche and me right down to the scalp, and he also ironed another white kimono for me since the one he had already ironed last week was too short after all. I was delighted to be able to take him out to brunch the next day, and although the restaurant was noisy and we had to practically shout across the table to each other, still, it was nice to have that time with him and express my deep appreciation of him. The ceremony was sobering and very, very interesting. Even before entering the Buddha Hall, just walking in the procession down the hallway, seeing through the courtyard windows all those robed figures standing silently, I got it: Time to take your life seriously, Joan. To honor the immeasurable gift I've been given - the gift of practice, the gift of this very life. The teachings, the teachers, the community of practitioners. This ceremony is the kind of event that will produce ripples throughout this lifetime. Dinner with Blanche, Lou, Darlene, Tony, Jordan, Bernd, Barbara, Chris...the jiko Jim and Anna were also supposed to be there but other people wanted to sit down at the table too so we just went with that. Delicious cheese and onion pie, baguettes, salad and some German chocolate cake. The kitchen, the kitchen...what an offering. All of it an inconceivable offering. The only way to re-pay my debt is to keep practicing, commit to learning and growing and sharing practice. Forever.