February 14th, 2004, Serial No. 00979

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Good morning. It's all working. Great. I want to talk this morning about time, freedom and intimacy. I recently began taking an improvisational acting class, and it's the first acting class I've ever taken in my life. And I really find it to be extremely challenging, invigorating, and it totally doesn't fit with any view that I have of myself, which is partly why I did it. And I don't know if it's fortunate or unfortunate, but it's relatively easy for me to do things that don't jive with any view of myself,


because there's nothing quite there that I can hold on to, being this kind of Zen business guy, as people think of me around here. But just being a total beginner at anything, I find to be really useful, especially something as public and demanding as this improvisational acting, in which I find it's really easy for me to make a complete fool of myself. And usually I get to make a complete fool of myself in so many other places, like in the business world, or in the Zen world, or as a parent. And it's really refreshing to know how many places there are that I can just be a complete fool. It's strange that I find I'm searching them out. I went a few times to see this improv performance,


and I was really amazed to see people perform in front of an audience, relying on nothing but their imaginations. So everything you see today will be completely improvised. Pay no attention to the fact that it looks like I'm looking at notes or reading. Actually, it's not going to be improvised. I'm a long way from there. There's a practice that I learned in the first day of improv class that in many ways has changed my life, and that I've found to be really useful in many parts of my Zen practice, and particularly in the Zendo. And I'd like to teach it to you now and have us all do it together. It may be a stretch. You have to kind of give up your self-consciousness for a second. But let's try this together. It goes like this. Whenever you make a mistake,


whenever you do something that you feel was not quite right, you just throw your arms up in the air and you say, Woo-hoo! I did something really stupid. I messed up. And this is a practice that in improv, it's over and over. You learn that there's no such thing as making a mistake. You're not always afraid about making mistakes. So let's try it together. Let's just do it. Just try and do it. So when I say three, we're going to make that sound or some similar sound and throw up your arms and say, either I feel stupid, I messed up, I made a mistake, whatever works for you. One, two, three. Woo-hoo! Yeah. You guys are good. I actually used this, I guess I was here Thursday morning in the Zendo


when I bowed at the wrong time and I noticed I kind of stopped and I did a silent, Woo-hoo! And it was very refreshing. And most of us could do this all day long. I know I can. When I say something stupid, when I drop something, when I'm acting in some way that's less than spacious or generous or if I find I'm kind of feeling bad about myself, it's like it's just, I think it's a really good practice. Instead of tightening our faces or hiding or wanting to disappear, what if we celebrate our mistakes? What if we really look at, when we think we didn't do something that measured up to some idea, what if we celebrate it? I've noticed in improv class, and in some way there's no difference between improv class and my life,


that it's how I learn, it's how I learn to stretch myself. I mean, what if we see that, what if we learn from our mistakes and see it's how we learn to understand ourselves and part of the mystery, appreciating the mystery of being a human being. And I also learned... It's great how taking this one improv, this beginning improv class, it just so much completely applied, I thought, to Zen practice. And the world of improv is very much like Bodhisattva practice. You're instructed that when you're on stage, so when you're, you know, we're all on stage, your job is to essentially to shut up and just notice what's needed.


You only speak when there's a need to say something, and when you say something, it's all about making other people look good. It's all about responding in a way that helps others, that makes it easy for other people. And in a way what you're always doing is you're either receiving offers or you're making offers. And in improv there's a rule that says you accept all offers. Whatever comes your way, you just accept it. So, you know, if someone hands you an umbrella, even though it might not be raining, you just accept it. And you might find that then you can use that umbrella to open a window. You know, someone else might come along and see that offer and look and see the stars out the window that you've just opened with your umbrella. And in a way, our lives are like that. Our lives are one offering after another, completely accepting whatever comes our way,


paying attention, trusting our experience, and really using our imaginations and trusting our imaginations and playing off the imaginations of others. I also learned in this improv class that it requires a kind of radical mindfulness practice. If I were to say to you, try acting out your morning routine of getting out of bed in the morning and brushing your teeth. This was one of the things we were asked to do and I found I was so unaware of, you know... The teacher looked at me and said, when you brush your teeth you usually open your mouth. You know, because I... It was... And just every... All of those... If you start paying attention to those kinds of details in your movements, it's a really interesting practice, a lot like what we do in the zendo, right? When you're in the zendo, you enter in a certain way, you bow in a certain way, you turn clockwise,


you don't turn counterclockwise. There's a kind of detail in that, and yet you'll constantly be making mistakes, but now you have a tool, you know what to do if you make a mistake, it's OK. And... Actually, to really be there for someone, to help other people look good, as is instructed in this improv practice, and again, I'm using improv as a metaphor for our lives. What if we really pay attention and say things in a way that help, that make it easy for other people to respond to, to help other people look good. And this was one of the great lessons in the movie Groundhog Day, which I'm guessing people must have been talking about in this practice period. I know it's one of Michael's favourite movies. But Bill Murray, at first, he's really annoyed because the day keeps repeating over and over


and people keep doing the same things, but then he notices that people do do the same things, that there are patterns, and that by paying attention, he, instead of being annoyed, he can help people, he can find... There's a kind of intimacy that forms by deeply paying attention to other people. And I think, as many of you know, the theme of this practice period is the one who is not busy, and it's based on a Zen story about a teacher sweeping the temple grounds when a younger monk looks at him and says, Too busy. And the teacher replies, There is one here who is not too busy. And to me, this story, it's a story about getting out of your own way, about being completely present for what you're doing. When we stay out of our way and stop measuring and comparing, we have the opportunity to move into a fresh place.


Time can disappear, and we can move beyond our ideas of busy or not busy. Ultimately, I think this is a story about... This koan is a story about intimacy and the relationship between time, freedom, and intimacy. And so much of Zen stories are a kind of... They have that kind of improv quality, that quality about responding outside of our patterns, outside of what we might be used to, that there's a sense of surprise. I know it's really rare for me to have the opportunity to speak in a way where I'm surprised about what I'm going to say. And again, this improv is a great tool and teacher that forces us to do that. The brilliance of this koan is the way that it focuses in on this relationship of time and intimacy. And I looked up the definition of intimacy,


and what it means is pertaining to our inmost character, fundamental, resulting from careful study or investigation. There was a fabulous article in the New York Sunday Times, or maybe it wasn't, it was one of the New York Times a few weeks ago, about time. And it was written by this physics and math professor from Columbia, who said that the way that we currently think about time in our culture and on our planet is a lot like the way people thought about... 500 years ago, people thought that the Earth was flat and that you could go off it. Well, we have this same kind of level of confidence, level of sophistication in how we think about time, and that we have this idea of there being a past, present, and future.


And this scientist goes on to explain, and he explained it so well that I could almost understand it. And he had lots of little diagrams, and he gave this example that some of you might have heard. It's kind of a classic example of that if you are on Earth and you get into a vehicle, into a spaceship, that can go almost the speed of light. So I think the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. So, you know, pretty fast. But if you get into one of these vehicles and you travel for six months out and then you come back six months later, you will be one year older. And everyone else on Earth will be 7,000 years older. So it's totally... We live in a world where everything is... Things are slowed down, that we're able to be fooled into thinking


about this past, present, and future. But this scientist is pointing out that that's really not the way it is. And again, I think that's really what this... What these Zen teachers 1,500 years ago were teaching, that time is not the way we think it is. When I was thinking about time and intimacy, I was looking for examples in my own life that were expressions of, in a way, of this koan in my life. And one was being with my father when he was dying. And this was about 25 years ago. I was a new student living at Green Gulch, and I got a call from my mother saying that my father was ill, and I just got on a plane and flew to New Jersey. And I discovered that my father was tied to his bed


and heavily drugged, and fortunately I had some tremendous support system from people at Zen Center in being with my father while he was in this state. And I was able to immediately... I was told and I was able to play the role of being in charge, so I fired the doctors, I untied my father, I took him off drugs, and was able to meet him in a way that was... in a way that we had never met in our lives. And no one was telling him that he was quite ill and that he was dying of cancer. It was, again, that was the... In that place and in that time, it was thought cruel to tell the truth. And it was just so clear to me that I needed to tell my father the truth. And we were able to meet in a way that was very, very powerful. And my father, who had been quite somewhere


between angry and disappointed at me for dropping out of college and going to Zen Center, we connected in a way that was very intimate and very powerful. And he said to me that this was the first and only time that he said, I understand why you left school and why you're doing what you're doing. And he also... My father had been very kind of shy and had had a very difficult life and was very unexpressive and pretty depressed most of his life. But finding out that he didn't have much time to live, for me to give him that information that according to the doctors he might have days or weeks or at the most months to live, totally transformed who he was. Not only did he express his feeling of appreciation for me, but he picked up the telephone and started calling everyone that he knew,


expressing all this love and appreciation. It was an amazing, amazing lesson for me, very powerful. And it was... In a way, it was... I looked at it as kind of an awakening experience or an enlightenment experience that my father had. And what was equally powerful about it was to watch him drift back to the way he had been, that he didn't have any kind of... He didn't have a practice, he didn't have teachers, that even that jolt, that experience, wasn't enough for him to maintain that kind of intimacy, that kind of open-hearted place. And I was also thinking about a recent experience that I had teaching my 16-year-old daughter how to drive. And this, I have to say, is very advanced practice. I was with her, I took her on the highway, it was the first time ever that she was on the highway,


and my first thought was, I have not sat enough zazen in my life. And we were going 60 miles an hour, sitting next to my baby daughter behind the wheel, and she was having trouble staying in her lane. And I was really trying to remain calm. And she would kind of go outside the lane and you'd hear the bumping sound of the tires hitting the little markers between the lanes, and I would calmly say, the idea is to stay in the middle. And we then drove back, we went somewhere and we came back and it was night and it was raining, and it was an amazing experience in time and intimacy for me. And we pulled up in our driveway, having finished this expedition, and I said sincerely that she did really, really well,


that she really did well. We were still alive. And she said she appreciated how calm she thought I had stayed and that it was really helpful for her. And then I told her the truth. I said that I thought I had shortened my life by several years. And then it's interesting, shortly after that, my son, who's 20 years old, came back on a break from college and he doesn't know how to drive my car because I have a stick shift, which he doesn't learn to drive. But he's at that age when I can't do anything right. So he was so critical about my driving and I was looking at him and he seemed as nervous about my driving as I was about my daughter. So it was kind of amazing. And he's at that age when he's just, his own spiritual practice,


he's just beginning to start meditating and he's very excited about all this, this whole menu of spiritual practices that are available to him. And as we were driving, I think we were going to a grocery store and I was looking for a place to park and I noticed as I was looking for a place to park that there was a place, a space behind me and I stopped and started backing up. And he just started to lose it. And he said, this is too much for me. I have to meditate right now. Okay, I'm going to follow my breath. And I just burst out laughing and I said, this must be the definition of karma. That my son, who I just taught to drive, is now sitting there meditating because he's freaked out about my driving. Another experience I was thinking about


in terms of this, again, these are my examples about intimacy and time. And I thought of my experience many years ago when I was the Tassajara Baker in which it was, I don't know how it is now, but in those days, I was just thrown in. and told one day it was announced that I was the Tassajara Baker. And I had done a little bit of baking, but not very much. And the job was, summer guest season opened and the job was to make 100 loaves a day completely by hand, four different kinds of bread. And basically, I was given a book and said, here, here's how you do it. And it was, for the first half of the summer, it was one of the most difficult, demanding jobs I had ever had. I was working 12 and 15 hour days. And I was, from morning till night,


I was just kneading this bread and mixing and planning. And my muscles were completely sore and I was completely worn out. And in the middle of the summer, something happened. And it was as though, it was as though my body just learned how to do it. And my muscles all kind of lined up with how to make bread. And it just became, it became, it seemed like it went overnight from being the most difficult, strenuous job I had ever had to the easiest job I'd ever had. And I learned that the less that I did, the better the bread came out. And what had taken me an hour to mix a loaf of bread was now, I'm not even sure, it seemed like it was minutes. And it seemed like the second half of the summer, I spent most of my time sitting out in the coffee tea area, talking with friends and guests and looking at the creek and drinking tea. And people thought that I wasn't working, but I said, no, the bread, you know, the bread, it's all rising.


It's either rising or baking. Everything's taking care of itself. And I've noticed that now in my role as, you know, as CEO of a company, that it's also true that the less that I'm there, the better things happen at my work. And I've noticed that and it's a little bit scary. There's an expression that says, if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person. And I assume you've all, is that a common enough experience saying, have you all heard that? You know, I think, I think it's true. I've noticed that, that if you want to get something done, usually you want to give it to someone who is fully engaged with what they're doing, that there's some sense of, there's something about, there's a kind of, there's a kind of intimacy


and a kind of difference in the quality of the way people work. Again, like this story of this, this, I'm kind of guessing that in part, this younger monk was quite, perhaps jealous of this older monk because not only was he sweeping, but that he was probably looking around and like the, all the grounds were, were, were completely, you know, meticulously, immaculately taken care of. And this person's monk just seemed to be kind of wandering around. There's, it's amazing how much it's possible to accomplish in a way when we're not trying to accomplish anything, when we're just getting out of our own way and allowing things to happen, but not, not wasting so much time and energy. You know, in, in Zen practice, there's a, there's a conventional way of looking at our meditation practice, at our Zazen practice,


of, of there being a, you know, beginning, middle, and advanced, or awakening, right? It's, it's, I think, it's difficult in a way not, our, our minds so much want to think that way, or to think that, right? And, and obviously our Zazen practice and our Zen practice is getting better. You know, we're improving. But that's, that's not what Zen practice, that's not what our teachers have told us. That's not what Zen practice is. It's, especially Dogen and Suzuki Roshi over and over say that Zen practice is not about improvement. That, that we shouldn't be, there's, you know, in a way we're always, we're always beginners, and we're always advanced practice. We're always in the middle. I was thinking more about this, this issue of intimacy, and thinking how, how difficult it is for most of us to,


to really be, to really be intimate with other people, to really be able to look at someone in the eye and say, I care about you, that I really care about you, that I'm there for you. There's, there's an expression, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about a, that in, in the Vietnamese language, that there's, that there's two words for intimacy, two words for love. One is tin, and the other is called nghia. And tin is the way that we often, usually think about intimacy, which is filled with passion, this kind of romantic, passionate love. But this other word, nghia, is calmer, more understanding and less passionate. And though, you know, often our, our relationships begin with passion, once we get to really know other people, there's a way that there,


our relationship can ripen and deepen. And it's powerful, again, in a way intimacy, real intimacy is outside of time, that there's a way that, there's a way that time can stop when you can really say to another person, or hear from another person, I'm, I'm really there for you. I, I had an experience that for me was quite notable. This was the day before, the day before Christmas. I, I stopped at a supermarket to buy some bagels to bring into my office that morning. I think, I think it was, it was Christmas Eve. It seemed like something that would be good to do. And of course I was late, and I was moving, I was moving pretty quickly, and I hurriedly ran into the supermarket. I, I went to the bagel bin, and, and I noticed that the bagels were, were a day old. I could tell, I could tell being an old baker. I, I knew that these


were not fresh bagels. So I decided that I would drive to the next town to buy some fresh bagels where I, I knew that I could. And as I was leaving the supermarket, I noticed that people who were working in the supermarket all seemed, they seemed really sad. I just could feel the sadness in them as they were working on Christmas, Christmas Day, Christmas morning. And I jumped into my car and closed the door, and I just, I just started laughing at myself. And I, I thought, what kind of priest am I ignoring these day old bagels? How, you know, how, how could I, it just, how could I do that? And I felt that in that moment that I could feel how spoiled I was, that, that I was, that I was not going to take these day old bagels, that I, that I wanted something better. And I just stopped in that moment and started looking around.


There I was in, this was in Marin County. The hills were green. I was looking at, I was feeling the sadness of these people who were working that day, and yet I was working, and I thought, gee, the hardest task that I had in front of me that day was to hand out Christmas bonuses to my employee. And I just felt so, I felt so much gratitude that I just, I kind of burst, I burst out laughing, and then I also burst out crying at what, what an amazing life we have here living in this place. And I think, you know, I often, I often feel that in sitting here in this, in this Buddha Hall with this amazing sunlight coming through and this chandelier over us and these people around us who all very deeply care about each other. And I think this is, this is the feeling that I think our Zazen practice helps us with,


that in a way, Zazen, one way that I think about meditation practice is kind of a controlled crisis, that we choose to create, crisis may be too strong a word, but there's a kind of immediacy, and also we kind of, it's this wonderful kind of improv that we take our bodies and minds and sit them down on a cushion and we decide to just, to just stay there, not having any idea what will happen. We have no idea what will happen, it's just us, our bodies, our minds, our imaginations, as we, as we sit there making our effort to just be, to just be present for whatever comes up. And we're always, we're always improvising in our lives. If we take a close look, we can see we're always creating stories,


we're always teaching and learning, we're always creating these end stories in every moment in our life, if we look carefully. The most difficult role that we play in this life, in this life of improv, is to be ourselves. It's as though when we're born, we're thrust onto this stage, right, where suddenly we arrive onto this stage and we have parents and whether they're still alive or they are there, but we have parents, we have the props of a particular place and a particular time, but we know, we know and I think the feeling grows as we mature that who we really are has little to do with this time and this place or this role or these people, that there's something, there's something about


who we really are that is more than, that is beyond this sense of time, the sense of right and wrong, the sense of birth and death. Yet, these are the props, these are the things that we have to deal with, these are the problems that we have to work with and how can we, a way to describe practice is to really pay attention to these things, these props, because that's these people, that's what we have to work with, but how can we use those to access the part of us that knows that there's more to, that there's a much deeper, more powerful connection with something that's beyond what we can describe, beyond the way that we normally think about things and our Zazen practice, our meditation practice gives us access to this kind of understanding, this understanding without barriers. Zen practice provides us with tools and a structure to find out who we are


beyond our ideas, to see that we are actually creating Zen practice, there's no rules that we're trying to follow, we're not trying to be good Buddhists or good Zen students, the effort is about being ourselves, really being ourselves and seeing that we are creating Buddhism, we are creating Zen. And when we act and feel this experience, we can touch that part of us that's living outside of time and we can feel that part of us that has this intimacy that I think we're all really searching for. So I was thinking for me what this koan is about in very simple terms, it's about being yourself, opening your heart, acting as though you know what you're doing, forging ahead, making bread, sweeping,


celebrating failures, just learn from mistakes and to not settle for anything less than real intimacy in our lives. Excuse me. Which bagels did you buy? The bagel? I have to admit I went for the fresh bagels. But they would have been thrown away too if I didn't get them. Thank you Mark. I want to end with a poem by Rilke. Rilke I think is a German poet who I think he was in the early 1900s and wrote most of his poems when he was in his early 20s.


And I think this is a poem he wrote when he was like 22 or 23 years old. I have faith in all those things that are not yet said. I want to set free my most holy feelings. What no one has dared to want will be for me impossible to refuse. If that is presumption, then my God forgive me. However, I tell you this one thing. I want my best strength to be like a shoot just coming through the earth's surface with no anger and no timidity. Shall I read that again? Yes. Okay. I have faith in all those things that are not yet said. I want to set free my most holy feelings. What no one has dared to want


will be for me impossible to refuse. If that is presumption, then my God forgive me. However, I want to tell you this one thing. I want my best strength to be like a shoot just coming through the earth's surface with no anger and no timidity. Thank you very much.