Dog years are a devastating phenomenon, if you have a dog you love. Seven years to our one, is the formula. That means my sweet little girl-puppy, nearing ten years old, is really almost seventy now. It also means that one day is, for Brooklyn, somehow seven. Yes, each day is a week, each week is near two months, each month is more than half a year. Oh, for time—for life—to move this quickly, galloping so relentlessly on.
We humans are not immune to this version of time. Indeed, that one year suddenly becomes seven: this is the nature of our lives, too, is it not? Certainly, it did not take 47 years for me to become 47. Time skips and lurches and falls away—great gulps of it are swallowed up—and then, impossibly, here you are.
As it’s soon to be Independence Day, I’ve been thinking about freedom, which is, of course, one of the goals of our practice. (Not thinking about it, that is, but enacting it.) The strange thing to me is that, by all standards, I am free—and yet of course I don’t always feel that way. To be sure, there are moments (rare ones, often unnoticed) in which this freedom is briefly realized—on the cushion or on the tennis court, dancing, writing, laughing—moments when I lose myself and find myself all at once, and there is ease there, and spaciousness, and yes, even joy. But then there’s the other 97% of my life, in which I feel inexplicably awkward and restricted, as if something is binding me.
As Maezumi Roshi notes, nothing is binding us. We are all innately free—we need only realize it—but that’s the trick, isn’t it? After all, if we don’t realize it, does it even matter if we’re free? And besides, just how exactly do you break free when nothing’s actually constraining you—when the feeling that you are bound is just a delusion?
These are the days the helicopter seeds come whirling and shimmering down. From a distance, it looks like the air has come to life—a flashing cloud of glint and wink. Pollen, too, has been creating this illusion, great gusts of it pushed from out of the trees, so that in the late afternoon light, you can see the wind filled with the vibrancy of things that one day will be—the great shining dust of existence. It is June, and all around us, everywhere, flower and leaf and weed—the lush wildness that is summer. To honor this explosion of new growth, the Bulletin is thrilled this month to run an excerpt from our own Marco Seiryu Wilkinson’s, Madder: A Memoir in Weeds—as well as a poem that explores the wilds of a community garden by editor-at-large, Nina Shuka Klippel.
We’re honored this month to share here in the Bulletin an excerpt from Neil Soten Theise’s new groundbreaking book, Notes on Complexity. In the first chapter, Soten reminds us that “complex” doesn’t necessarily mean “complicated”— but while the book focuses on complexity, I found my own thinking over the past few days veering helplessly to the topic of complication. After all, life can seem so complicated, sometimes, so overwhelming. Health, money, family, friendship, love, work, practice, suffering, desire, etc., etc. etc.—how is one to handle all this stuff on a day-to-day basis? My honest answer is: I don’t know. I realize this is part of practice—to simply live your everyday life as best you can, complications and all—but personally, I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed as of late. Which is, I guess, sometimes just how it goes.
Does spring come because we want it to? Do we will the grass to grow and the flowers to bloom? Or does all of life occur unbidden, as if completely aside from us?
It’s hard to accept sometimes that the universe has it covered, and doesn’t actually need our help. After all, as bodhisattvas, we want to make a difference, save all sentient beings (and while we’re at it, the universe, too). But if human history has shown anything, it’s that when people try to fix things (especially things that aren’t broken), we tend to muck them up. So, if we cannot act without mucking it all up, what are we to do?
Ah, March: a month of not-knowing. Is it spring, or winter? Will it snow, or be sunny and 70? And just who the hell am I, anyway?
Yes, it’s hard to know much of anything in March (not that it’s so easy to know stuff any other time)—but in March, the great mystery of it all is perhaps more apparent. And so it’s a good thing that this is the month we hold our Urban Sesshin—so that we can dive into the great unknown together, as a Sangha. (See below for a detailed description of upcoming Sesshin activities, as well as other upcoming practice opportunities.)
Happy Groundhog Day! It’s February, and just as in the Harold Ramis movie starring Bill Murray, there can sometimes be the feeling in these dreary middle months of winter that every day is pretty much the same. And while sure, one could get depressed about this, yearn for something different, something new, we Zen students (theoretically) know better. Because, yes, this is the only day we ever get—and how wonderful!
After all, consider what opportunity this day holds! Indeed, here at the Village Zendo, each day, no matter the day, practice-enlightenment opportunities abound: zazen in-person and online, Dharma Talks, book groups, sitting groups, inquiry circles, zazenkais, fusatsus (see the calendar below for a full list of all upcoming events). Each day, there is poetry (see below for poems from Shuka and Filip). Each day, in the Zendo, and in our own private spaces—life (see below for an intimate reflection on at-home practice by Ryusho).
I’d like to admit right off the bat that I am extremely adept at making New Year’s resolutions, and absolutely awful at keeping them. In fact, this gap between thought and action—between knowing what one should do and doing it—is a subject I’m trying to write a book on (yet another thing I want to accomplish but can’t seem to). Anyway, the fact I can’t manage to adhere to my resolutions apparently doesn’t stop me from making them, so I thought I’d share a few Zendo-related ones that made it onto the list this year.
In this holiday season, when the act of giving is on our minds and in our hearts, I am moved by Maezumi’s comment that the best thing to give is no-fear. (What about ugly Christmas sweaters, you ask? Well, those come in as a close second.) For me, this “no-fear” is in part a leap of faith—faith that we are already who we are meant to be, buddhas, bodhissatvas, each and every one of us. But the other (and perhaps most important) part of no-fear is that we show up. At the Zendo, on the cushion, for our family and friends, for the whole universe. Then, having summoned the courage to be ourselves, and to be truly present, we do what we can.
As many of you already know, the formal name of the Village Zendo is Dotokuji, which translates as True Expression Temple. I am reminded today, gathering together this Bulletin, of how many forms this expression—this true expression—can take. True expression manifests in action, like, for instance, when Sangha members come together to support a refugee, as Doshin reflects upon below. True expression happens in the clear, intentional ringing of a bell, as we’ll learn during the upcoming Rituals Workshop. True expression occurs in Dharma Dialogue, as Shuso Jeff Shugo Bergman has just proven—the natural spontaneity of response when it comes from a place of openness and presence. (Congratulations, Shuso!) And true expression reveals itself even in the fixed form of the printed word, as it does in Sal Gessho Randolph’s new book, The Uses of Art, which we are grateful to be able to excerpt below in our Reflections section.