Monday, March 21, 2011

The Floating World: an Anchor Would Be Nice

... Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; ... refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world...
                                                     - Asai Ryōi, from Ukiyo monogatari   

I lifted this quote from wikipedia concerning the philosophical aesthetic of  the Ukiyo-e, which as a style, has long appealed to me.  It sounds so very Bohemian and so desirable, like an endless vacation.

Lacking the daily structure of a job for almost a year now, I can say it's not all it's cracked up to be.

The flip side of this carefree coin is one of constant unknown which is fine if you don't plan on being a productive member of society.  Sure you can benefit others if the opportunity arises, but living in the moment sometimes means making commitments and pre-planning.

Great Wave at Kanagawa*
Living in this floating world in reality, is being set adrift.  As a sailor, I can tell you that being adrift is about the slowest you can move and still be terrified that you're either unavoidably going to hit something or conversely never hit anything again.  Even when the helm responds, conditions may be such that that desire of direction is ineffectual in practice.

As I am currently seeking employment, I can't make future commitments and jot them down on a calender as I have no idea what my future holds.  At this time my role as tenzo has many requests for my services coming into view and as paying the bills rates higher on my priorities, I'm not able to make the commitment now even if I have the time when it is requested.

This is both frustrating and disappointing as I not only take my role and responsibility seriously, my pleasure and generosity associated with it come from a very deep and sincere place inside of me.  The sangha needs me and while things can happen without me, the greater burden placed on others will essentially be my fault if I'm not able to answer the call.

In my continuing exploration of non-duality, I see this relating to the polarity of form and emptiness.  I see lack of form, and thus a great deal of emptiness in my days.  I still get things done, even if it's not always what I should be doing, but moments come and go regardless.  To restore balance, I need more form as my current situation is unsettling, like tumbling in the dark, or to return to the above metaphor: floating adrift.

I see the need to recognize both form and emptiness as the world doesn't end if a form falls apart, but right now the world is difficult to start without forms.

Floating is nice, but it's good to have an anchor or two.

*This iconic Hokusai print, borrowed from Wikimedia Commons, is an ukiyo-e image depicting boats of fishermen struggling against the sea.  It shows a wonderful example of when it is appropriate to be flexible.  These fishermen are brave and skillful, as they must push through the breakers to reach their fishing grounds.  But there is a difference between being flexible and flaccid.  Without effort, they would capsize and be crushed.


  1. Good post. I feel like this every weekend. Unless I calender events, then I don't go. This is why I'm rarely there on Saturday mornings. I give myself the option of sleeping in, so I often do. If I didn't give myself that option I'd be there. I'm calendering all the Ango half days right now. I've heard Brad Warner might be at one or be leading the sesshin.

  2. I've heard that rumor, too but don't know how much stock to place in it. As it stands I'm hoping to have the reigns completely handed over to me by that sesshin. I think they're already in my hands, I just haven't realized I'm driving yet.

    My independence as tenzo has caused some confusion and hesitation recently as I'm still dealing with a sense of unworthiness for what I see as having walked in off the street and being handed the metaphorical tenzo hat after so short a time when it's constantly emphasized how the role of tenzo is reserved for advanced practitioners.

    Gaelyn's talk Saturday was essentially a commentary on the entire Tenzo Kyokun even though the theme was right action. It was mildly awkward for her to go on about it with me sitting right next to her as the whole sangha listened. I was glad to have re-read Uchiyama's How to Cook Your Life again earlier in the week though. I'm looking forward for it being posted online.

  3. I'm in a similar position in my sangha. As chair of the board of directors, and a member of the more "advanced students group" - whatever that means - I have struggled at times to balance service to the community with the fact that I, too, am unemployed and need to place more time/energy on either developing the next career or finding a new job.

    In fact, one step in this direction, the yoga teacher training I'm doing, has already created the need for me to cut down on zen center-based activities. And I'm sure when the job, or career development work manifests, there will be more shifting needed.

    I see a few fellow dharma brothers/sister trying to do it all - be major parts of the sangha leadership/service team - and also work full time, and also either take care of families, or try and maintain other significant relationships. From what I see for them, and also from my own past not too long ago, it tends to be too much.

    This is where I sometimes think trying to uphold many of the traditional zen forms in lay sanghas is really hard. Maybe worth it, but maybe also not. I don't know. The roles are such great practice vehicles, but if you're struggling to keep them filled, or if the people doing them are exhausted, then what?

    We have 150 members in our community, and yet only about 20 of us are trained to do the traditional roles and other major leadership positions. Lots of transient or casual members on board for us.

    Anyway, I'm sure you've given tenzo your all.

  4. I get what you're saying, and it may apply to me some day. Fortunately, it doesn't now.

    My issue now is more that my future is in so much flux that I can't commit in advance.

    I'm exploring the... theme, or maybe context?.. in which members exist in their interdependent roles of the sangha right now to hopefully write about soon.

    I never saw "mandala" as an appropriate term to use for this phenomena, but recently it has great appeal.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. "My issue now is more that my future is in so much flux that I can't commit in advance."

    This, perhaps, will be me at some point in the near future.

  6. Dear Kevin,

    I happen to visit your blog coincidentally and I stopped my feet at your door (just a joke). Your writing is beautiful and well described. I thank you very much for this space that you have encouraged each visitor to share something with you. I would feel you are a humble and kind person. Thank you.

    Yes it would be nice to enjoy the luxuries of moon viewing or drinking wine or composing poems. Well who dont? But in reality, look at today's world and the competition facing each person.... how many individuals would afford the time to truly enjoy his/her personal space? I would say not many. People who can afford to go leisure travelling, or birds watching or moon viewing are usually retired people or people who are very rich. They have taken care of the major financial part of their life and they can afford the time and money in hobbies making. I am not sure about people in ancient japan. Perhaps those are court ladies who do not need to work (compared to today's women) and they can engage themselves in calligraphy and moon viewing.

    Let me share a little joke. Most times when I am viewing or staring at the moon is when I am facing obstacles in my life and I am trying to come out with a solution under a clear moon sky.

    You belong to your sangha for a lifetime. Even if you could not offer any commitment of your services to this community at this moment, but your heart and soul is with this organisation and that is what matters most. I belonged to my religion sangha too, but also...due to my work hours, I would not offer my services frequently. I only offer my services once every quarter of the year. But I do not feel sad, because I know in my heart, the sangha is like my secondth family with my brothers and sisters there.

    You mentioned you are looking for employment. I wish you the best of good fortune to find a career that you truly enjoy working with a company of compassionate people.

    Lastly, reading your blog is inspiring and refleshing. Thank you for sharing....


  7. Thanks for your comments.

    With as many pageviews as I get, it's nice to have a wanderer leave a trace, and a positive one at that.

    In gratitude, I'm going to write my next post about your comment as it has inspired me to maybe back up a little for those less familiar with some of the perspectives a lot of us who are take for granted.

  8. Greetings Kevin,

    Thank you for your kind words. I do not keep a blog myself but I do admire people who shares their everyday thoughts and livings in fine writings. People who writes blogs tend to be very disciplined in their nature. In your life, you create this perfect place to add something about your life and at the same time, you give another space to someone for whom it was meant to be. Some readers might stay with you forever, some might go as you send or give them away to other bloggers. But overall, you spread this route for friendship and leisure.

    Cheers n keep up all the good inspirations....


  9. Kevin


    Just a little note to say all your writings are beautiful and lighthearted and I am sure you will invite more people to visit here more often.

    I am still in the midst of reading all your quotidian experiences which you have shared in your this year and last year blogs. I have not finished reading them yet. I have also expressed some of my little thoughts on your post "Cooking" and "It is what it is and because it is what it isnt?"

    Just hope what I have commented in your blog will not caused any offend to you if my thoughts might be on a different way (just kidding).

    Cheers :)