March 02, 2013 by Yugen
The melting snow running off the roof tops
The podcast that I posted this month was from a talk last Sunday. Roshi spoke on Master Dogen's "The Time Being", a fascicle from the Shobogenzo. I've always liked this writing and even though it's loftiness puts me off a little, I feel like it is something I can come back to time and again. Not that I do that much—I am a terribly uncommitted reader when it comes to anything around Zen. I can spend hours each day reading about technology and web design and my appetite never gets sated, but for whatever reason, I have very little interest in the writings around Zen and Buddhism. With Master Dogen, most of my exposure to it is hearing Tenshin Roshi talk, and although I've heard him talk on some of the fascicles—such as Genjo koan—many times now, I still like to hear more. Master Dogen's writing seems impossibly rich.
What really struck me this time though, was the sense that everything is time-being. It seems similar to when Master Dogen talks about "practice realization" as a single thing, not as two distinct occurances. Everything has this aspect of time, and the creeping feeling that came up for me during the talk, is that I don't always respect it.
I value efficiency and productivity. I love doing stuff: making stuff, reading stuff, watching stuff, learning about stuff. I find that I cram a lot into my waking hours. The schedule at Yokoji is full, but I like to use the free time to work on projects—either personal, for the Center or for my business (a web design business I run with my partner, Melissa.) The positive side to this is I do get a lot done. The shadow side is that I feel like I don't always give my full attention to what is directly in front of me. Going to the bathroom or grabbing a glass of water is a disruption. I barely pay attention to the faucet as I turn it, the sound of the water filling the glass is lost: my mind is full of plans and schemes. What about the time-being of the tap? Or of the fresh, cool water that has trickled down, filtered through the rocks of the valley and through our wells to instantly flow out into my glass on demand? These things have their own life, their own beauty. Do I really want to miss that?
I feel like I am being disrespectful when I go through my life without paying attention to the details. For me, appreciation is often a side effect of paying attention. And when I say that, I don't mean fixedly concentrating on each thing in turn with grim determination, but being open to the fullness of the world as it continually turns.
Tomorrow is the start of the Spring Training Period and we have to declare our intentions as part of the opening ceremony. My intention for this training period is to slow down and enjoy the scenery. It seems like a crazy intention for someone that has spent the last five years living in a Zen center. When the word zen is used (notice the lowercase here), it usually implies a certain coolness, a relaxed way of being. "That's not very zen!", people say. Well, in truth, I'm not very zen. Of course, the popular definition of zen doesn't have a whole lot to do with Zen practice. Zen Practice, as Roshi says, doesn't have to look like anything. My life is much bigger than a state of mind, a certain chilled demeanor. How could Zen practice look just like this? But still, my Zen might look a bit more zen over the next three months. I like to use training periods as a time to experiment. A three month period is a good length of time for this. One training period I experimented with sitting cross-legged, thinking that duration and repetition may be the keys to relaxing my leg and hip muscles. They weren't. And now I know. I want to try slowing down in my actions for the next three months—who knows, maybe I'll even learn something from it.
Tenshin Roshi says on occasion "mindfulness has no particular speed". When I first heard this, it was a revolutionary idea, but it jived with my own experience. I spent the last year before moving to the Zen Center working in a cafe as a cook. It was a small kitchen and from opening in the mornings to the end of my shift at 4pm it was non-stop. I'd get in and put the coffee on, prep the breakfasts, fire up the ovens, then open the doors and do a run of short-order cooking: full english breakfasts (of the vegetarian variety), pancakes, fried or scrambled eggs on toast and the round-the-clock favorite, cheese on toast. After the breakfasts died down and the other staff were in, we'd start prepping the salads and entrees for the day. At lunch time, we would take turns to cover the counter or dish duty as one person ate lunch. Then in the afternoon there would be more entrees and cakes and other baked goods to get ready. When I was working, I was always moving, trying to find quicker and more efficient ways to cut vegetables, to prepare dishes, shaving seconds off of repeated tasks. This was mindful work. The whole world was full. Going slow would not have helped my primary goal of doing as good a job as I possibly could.
Any great statement can fall into cliche. I have found that I now take the "mindfulness has no speed" as a cliche, a way to not have to think about the choices I make and how I get things done. It is inappropriate to wash the dishes very slowly at lunch time at the Center as we work as a group and it slows everyone down if someone gets all "mindful" at the sink. However, when I engage in other activities, I can take my foot off the gas a little. When I type, I spend at least half of my time correcting typos. I try and write so fast that my hit/miss ratio for the correct key is often not favorable. This becomes habitual. I'm trying to slow down my typing, right now in fact, so I make less mistakes. Less haste, more speed. I feel my shoulders unclench a little as I do this and my awareness opens up a little. But, I have to keep reminding myself to do it. Practice. Practice. Practice.
I love what I do and where I live and who I am in the biggest sense of the word. But there's always more to do, different approaches to try, and most importantly, an unending amount to learn. Zen practice for me is being open to learning. I used to feel daunted by all the knowledge in the world and how it seemed so unattainable, so impossible a task to undertake the learning of even a fraction of it. Now, I have learned to appreciate learning for its own sake. Most things I learn I'll forget, but knowing how to learn is something that is truly valuable. Zen practice has re-defined and refined what knowing is for me. Knowing with the body, with the whole mind, with the bones. The entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica can't compare with really knowing something for myself.
Please join us for the upcoming training period in whatever way you can. Come tomorrow at 9:15am for the opening ceremony and sign a training petition stating your intention for the next three months. Take this time to refine something in your life, to open up to learning. I'll see you there!