Yoga Horses

Attended a yoga class recently… felt the distance between where my body is, and where it might be, felt the strength we might enjoy enjoy together… the stature of posture that might carry daily life better… the wonderful ache of core muscles noticed and challenged.”I’ll never forget this again or let it go” I thought, even days after.

Weeks ago.

On the night of the class, the teacher led into the session with a simple shamatha meditation. This was the part I thought I had covered, certainly the part I have had more consistent experience with. And yet, I couldn’t sit right nor comfortably. Everything was wrong with my shoulders, my back. Tailbone hurt immediately. Nevermind the rest of class, which consisted of too much ‘downward dog’ for someone with minimal upper body power.

I had been away longer than I thought.

Although not fidgeting outwardly, I did experience significant confusion within when the teacher came from behind to make adjustments. It was embarrassing for no reason. Then, the embarrassment was embarrassing. After all, that’s why one works with a teacher and comes to a class: correction and accountability, even scrutiny! A yoga setting is one in which enhanced collective awareness is operating – where ‘group’ becomes another entity altogether: a network of whole-body eyes peering into each other below the surface, no matter how trendy your outfit. Privacy is subdued, so-called imperfections amplified.

However, this is the discomfort that makes the promise of change directly realizable.

I’ve been a meditator for a while by now. Depending on where one counts from, and whether more traditional prayer is included, it is either eight years or thirty. The problem is, I haven’t started practicing. Diligently, even obsessively, I have studied, read sutras and stories, built up and torn down sitting practices, dream yoga, tong len, mantras, deity visualizations, service. But I’ve done all that with a secret view of being, in Suzuki Roshi’s terms, a pretty good horse… not “the best horse” but far from the worst.

What I realized today is something I’ve realized before and quickly forgotten: I am the worst horse, because I think I am not so bad. Practice reveals.


“In the zazen posture, your mind and body have, great power to accept things as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable.
In our scriptures (Samyuktagama Sutra, volume 33), it is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones. The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver’s will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as the first one does, just before the whip reaches its skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn how to run!”  from Zen Mind Beginners Mind.


Compelling Patterns

“The fact and the particular character of a temporal series are entirely due to the view that is taken on Great Time. This does not exactly mean that time is a subjective phenomenon, because the ‘subject’ in a lower space is also a result of a particular ‘knowing’ of ‘Time’.

But certainly, the observer’s ego is conditioned by the restrictive view that is characteristic of lower spaces. Insofar as the ego is self-protective and reluctant to surrender itself to permit the expression of a wider focal setting, ordinary time conforms to the ego’s restrictions.”

This chapter is titled The Presence of Time — Liberating Potency and Compelling Patterns. I sat a while with the title, and the phrases inside of it… Presence of Time, Liberating Potency, Compelling Patterns. I played with them a little: Liberating Presence of Time, Compelling Potency, Potent Time.

This was fun… feeling the ideas… the glow and empowerment of them… reminders that floated up about life situations, ingrained patterns in my scope of self, family, that now seem small in retrospect. I asked myself, “What things are like that now?” And remembered times I didn’t think I was making life small but just seeing the way things were, and trying to accept or deal with that…. thought of all my seeming rescues… how many times someone or some stroke of luck came through, and how hard it was to then remember not having had room for that change, being afraid to consider it. Self-protections.

I read something recently and liked it, “You think you want what you want, but you don’t. You want what life wants. It bothered me intellectually and comforted me emotionally. Lots of things are like that.

I considered the feeling of intentional forgetting, like we do, or I do, when we drop… how it isn’t that any thoughts are bad, or any people are bad, or any ways of doing things are bad, but, sometimes if I can forget myself, particularly as myself, something or even someone I haven’t considered may appear. Often there is a new texture, a taste I hadn’t fathomed or remembered. Which reminds me of something Steven said when attending sessions, that dropping might just be holding in a new way.

Since the beginning of this book, no, since the beginning of PaB and WoK, I have mused with this way of describing ordinary mind/ordinary knowing, and I’ve asked myself what is meant by kinds of mind. When standing in DSW years ago and realizing that I wasn’t thinking, what was that mind? Was it ‘mine’ in some way?  To ‘see’ I wasn’t thinking could be called a thought, but way different from the worrying mind I didn’t realize I’d been as beset by, until relieved of it.

A new pattern of minding arose that was indeed liberating, potent, that seemed connected to insight that hadn’t been available before. Like colors on a spectrum? Maybe. But also no. For me, to leave open the possibility for ‘quite different’, perhaps it would have been a mistake to leave the option of looking for something similar to anything known. I had to forget that worrying mind and everything tied to it, shift, and only then bring it back up with the brightness to examine, see through it/the content, once loose/liberated.


I have another Zennish story, one that I’ve heard many times but which came up last week anew:

“When you become yourself then Zen becomes Zen,” may be adapted from Shobogenzo Koyko, The Ancient (or Eternal) Mirror. Dogen brings up the story of polishing a tile to make a mirror:

Nangaku (Ch. Nanyue) asks, “What are you doing these days?”
Baso (Ch. Mazu) says, “These days Dōitsu just sits.”
Nangaku says, “What is the aim of sitting in zazen?”
Baso says, “The aim of sitting in zazen is to become buddha.”
Nangaku promptly fetches a tile and polishes it on a rock near Baso’s
Baso, on seeing this, asks, “What is the master doing?”
Nangaku says, “Polishing a tile.”
Baso says, “What is the use of polishing a tile?”
Nangaku says, “I am polishing it into a mirror.”
Baso says, “How can polishing a tile make it into a mirror?”
Nangaku says, “How can sitting in zazen make you into a buddha?”

Dogen’s comments include: “Clearly, in truth, when polishing a tile becomes a mirror, Baso becomes buddha. When Baso becomes buddha, Baso immediately becomes Baso. When Baso becomes Baso, zazen immediately becomes zazen.” (from Shobogenzo Vol 1., translated by Nishijima and Cross) – See more at:….wPZ8b9e6.dpuf

People tend to interpret this as meaning ‘keep practicing’ or ‘Keep polishing and you’ll get there’ but it can also be heard as saying “A tile cannot become a mirror.”

Past and Future Projections

Exercise 18

I began exercise 18 looking at the way I approached exercise 17: going ‘back’ into memories, but not exactly. Held in appreciation is not a former glow, although the mechanics of the encounter seem to be ‘situated’ in a far away space and time. A subtle dialog of wishing to be ‘there’ ‘again’, tugs me ‘there’ ‘again’ – but there is none. Something of the glow is not ‘there’ or ‘here’ however. Just is.



Object and Glow

Disclaimer: This post picks up mid-reading of the book Time, Space, and Knowledge. So some context may not be available here.

Exercise 17

Although as a friend noted, phosphorescent cactus blossoms may be illusive, Spring is a good time for this exploration. Even in Miami, where Spring is a lot like Summer, there are trees that are expressive and blossoming only for these few weeks. Nonetheless, my schedule has been full lately, so this is taking place mostly in my ‘mind palace’ and memories, where there is no shortage of material but where a few ‘objects’ do stand out as distinct.

Until retreating in Nova Scotia, I’d had experience with the smaller purple water lily blooms more common to our gardens here, which are indeed glowy and beautiful. These lotuses however, seemed to take on magical proportions, and this photo was my reward for balancing precariously at the edge of a pond in the middle of overgrowth.

On the right, is a photo of my first encounter with a giant lotus in Kyoto, which, until that point I’d believed was the stuff of myths and fairy tales. When we came upon this bloom, it was through a crack in the gateway of a smallish, I think, temple (there are so many that it can be hard to know which structures are still operating as temples). In the photo the scale isn’t sufficient to capture the awe, but suffice it to say that tales of deities born from lotuses made much more sense to me upon this exchange.


And then there is this one, which friends on Facebook will recognize because I can only go a few months before highlighting it again. It speaks wonderful things to me, still, with its contrasts, rough and subtle. My great grandmother was particularly fond of ferns.

Although these blooms are ‘no more’ – and even if they endure, do so in a place far from where I am today in a new, shiny library – the glow imparted, that we share, does not fade. 

Some say the following story is the origin of and even ‘contains’ Zen. This is the simplest version I found to share, although in the last bit it gets a bit specialized in its wording.

“Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching.

But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water.

The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbolized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching.

When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak.

“I have experienced the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma Gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.”  (