- Mountains And Waters
Last Monday I returned from 10 days of Zen – first, teaching in Columbus, Ohio, where my student Don Brewer lives and practices. He and Marge hosted me magnificently, and a total of perhaps 40 people came to the events – a climate change workshop and an all-day sit being among them. Between times, mostly I rested, and socialized with a few people. I don’t know why I was so tired. But this teaching – it requires something, and I’m not accustomed to it. I’d found myself unable to plan. Friday evening, I was full of anxiety – having to create the workshop as we went along, even though I’d written an outline. I heard it was good, and then relaxed a little. And then it became clear what to say on Sunday, and that was easier. I liked that talk, and I’d like to retrieve it.
I’d like to retrieve many of my talks, now that I’m managing to record them on my phone. The “learning new technology” thing is a barrier. I’ve learned lots of technology, and you always have to learn another one. So I try to get the recordings onto my laptop, hoping some day for the energy or for help to process and share them.
And it would really be better to write things as I go. That was over a week ago, and it’s faded. I’ll try harder.
From Columbus, Don drove me to Terre Haute, Indiana, where I visited my old friend in prison. He’s been on Death Row for years, has exhausted all his appeals, and keeps thinking he’ll “get a date” some time soon. His life hangs on national politics and what the President cares about – and what Congress is willing to do. He renewed his promise to let me know, so I can try to be there.
Then the treat: a 5-day teaching retreat, called Genzo-e, with my teacher Shohaku Okumura and friends Taigen Leighton and Byakuren Judith Ragir. Judith was one of the first people I knew in Zen, and is ten years ahead of me. I always admired her, but now with my own stability in practice I listened and heard the depth and power of her teaching. The text was “Gyo-butsu Igi,” a writing by ancestor Dogen, about practice-buddhas, dignified conduct or (different translation) awesome presence. I don’t know what to say, but hopefully I’ll write something in “study group” later.
I pitched my tent on the grass behind the dorm, and learned how to get there on time. In support of me, they didn’t burn incense while I was there. But the windows were closed most of the time – cold, heat, rain, or outside noise during lecture – and I had to wear my mask nearly all the time. The first day I tried to cheat, and had a very bad evening – so I kept the mask on after that unless the air was completely clear. I hadn’t thought I could tolerate wearing it for five days, but, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, I did, and the zazen was supportive and the talks were brilliant, exciting, and nourishing. And it’s lovely to just be a student, with no responsibilities other than to keep the schedule and harmonize with the other practitioners. I left happy – and wondering whether it’s realistic to return. But I will, in the same way, because my teacher plans to retire in five years. I envy him a bit: at 70, he has a whole life work behind him. At 70, I’m just beginning mine. Probably started at 65, when I led the Compassionate Earth Walk, a life-changing experience. But Mountains and Waters, still in its very early phases, is my life work. Whatever it turns out to be – two years ago I went on a retreat in the mountains with David Loy and Johann Robinson, and everything turned upside down. Last year I spoke with some ancient characters carved on a hillside, and things moved again. This summer I’m taking a longer retreat, in the mountains again, to allow things to turn again, allow myself to be moved.
I ran a Facebook fundraiser for Mountains and Waters Alliance (MWA). I thought about $2000 would really be enough to pay for building the website and maybe operating it for a year or so. But FB says ask for small amounts so people will feel good. I set a goal of $1000. Then FB says “offer matching funds” so I offered to match the first $500. The bummer – $500 actually was donated, FB tells me to produce on my pledge so I donate $500 – and then FB says I’ve met my goal! Grrrr. I donate money to MWA all the time, they’re not supposed to count my donation. So I wrote a note and one more person has donated… But the $950 in unsolicited donations earlier this year will probably take care of the website.
I hate asking people for money, or any kind of self-promotion. I know too many people raising money $5 at a time for food, for gas, for bail money for front-line activism – or because they’re being bombed in Gaza. I feel guilty, then consider it and know that I’m doing what I think is most useful – So I went back to work, as a psychotherapist, which is both well-paid and something I enjoy. Well, I do enjoy it, but the money isn’t coming in the way I wanted, and the work is expanding way beyond the allotted two days per week. Because I have to keep learning, and because there’s administrative work even though the clinic does the billing. So I’m tired a lot and trying to figure out ways to cut back. When successful, my total (including Social Security) will be over $20,000 a year – comfortable to live on, but not enough to move forward with MWA or upgrading the farm.
I’ll post just a note in “Study Group” because I promised weekly. I don’t have time to write a proper blog post. I feel just fine about prioritizing in-person human contacts, but this other stuff gets lost. Wishing I had a “social media” person. Oh well. Spring is here and I’ll be outdoors with friends shortly.