Currently Browsing: Times of the year

Wind and the chimes

It was early summer and cold. The window of the Tea House was opened just a crack and the wind was fierce and strong. It kept blowing the wind chimes that hung outside from the eve of the roof.

They were loud and harsh, not like their usual soft, tonal chiming. It was distracting. I wanted the peaceful silence, the bird song, the sound of squirrels jumping on the roof.

Then I realized that I could use that distraction to come back to my breath. It seems so obvious now. It’s something we always practice in zazen. Come back to the breath. Count from one to ten, then back again.

Even though I’ve been practicing this for over thirty years – it was new. I realized that everything could be a reminder to come back to the present, even things that are difficult. At once, I felt grateful for everything. I felt that everything supported my life: the discordant bells, the birds, the sound of the train, traffic from the road, the laughter of kids playing next door.

Zazen is always new and full of surprises – to be more accurate, this life is always new and full of surprises.

The great Zen master Hakuin had a similar experience.  He was sitting in a place like the Tea House. He had been sitting for five days for sesshin. His mind was lucid and quiet. It was an early dawn morning, the light was dim, and he heard the crows outside waking up. When the temple bell rang he realized, “That ringing. That ringing! That is me ringing! That is me ringing!

His still and clear mind had been pierced through by the bell’s sound, and that and every moment was full of deep wonder.

Things that are better at night

Sei Shonagon has a list for “Things that are better at night: The glow of deep purple softened silk. Flossed silk. The sound of a waterfall.”

Here are a few of our dark nights in which to delight…

The road home from a solstice party


Celebrating Christmas with a fire



Things that just keep passing by

Sei Shonagon lists “Things that just keep passing by: A boat with its sail up. People’s age. Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter.”

This autumn there are some very cool days and one thinks about changing clothes to wools and long sleeved flannel shirts. But then the very next day the temperature soars into the 70s and there is renewed hope that the summer will linger forever though signs in the garden tell us winter is quickly approaching.

Sunsets and sunrises are lavish with color. Pale pinks and oranges flood the sky. Trees and shrubs wear a brocade of woven hue: reds, oranges, pale green, and brown. Ferns and grasses spell the end of the year, dahlias and salvias throw out the best of the season. It is truly a splendid time.


The color of the mountains

This is one of my favorite scrolls. The words in English:

The color
of the mountains
the pure body

These words have been a favorite of mine for a long time. I remember a ten-day Vipassana retreat in the desert of Joshua Tree in southern California: it was spring, the mountains far in the distance were framed by the blue endless sky. I walked for hours outside  in meditation Рthese words in mind with new blooming flowers carpeting the desert floor under my feet.

These words are with me now as they were then, but I usually associate them with spring or fall and hang this scroll in the tea room when the Catskill mountains across the river show different hues of color depending on the changing seasons.

I never thought about these words for winter until yesterday when I saw the mountains dusted with the first snow. What could be more pure than white? The snow, the early blooming narcissus, the white paper to hold the black ink?

Sei Shonagon has a list titled “Things worth seeing.” Indeed. But how about a list “Things worth being?”


Full moon – Rohatsu

Moon  orbit to the left. Neighbor's orbit to the right

Moon orbit to the left. Neighbor’s orbit to the right

It’s freezing cold and I ran outside to take this photograph with my hand held camera. It’s out of focus but no matter. It’s Rohatsu. December 8.

Buddhists around the world are sitting in meditation/zazen tonight, all night until dawn to acknowledge and join in the Buddha’s actual experience of sitting through the night until he saw the morning star and attained enlightenment.

I’m seeing the full moon and my neighbor’s Christmas lights.

What was it that he realized?

It was revolutionary…for us all to discover and actualize every day, every moment of our lives.


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