Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May yatra

Sydney was experiencing cold windy weather, the week of the yatra. And so it was, on Saturday May 14. The wind was whipping through the carpark at Wentworth Falls, so we wanted to get going as soon as we could. My car had a little connniption in the battery department, but after we connected it via jumper leads to Jeremy’s car, all was well and we drove to the trackhead without incident. I had been anticipating traffic on the road from the North Face 100 km endurance race, but that didn’t manifest till the afternoon.
The track-head is about 600 metres above sea-level, and it was sheltered, so it was a relief to be out of the cold. Nevertheless the cold had penetrated my bones so I set a fairly cracking pace. We set off as a silent group of 8 walkers at 9:25 a.m.
We were walking along an out -of- the -way but well maintained fire trail. There were no other people on the track all day. I was looking out for the fungi which had been such a feature of the track a few weeks previously. But they were almost all shrivelled back into the earth from whence they came - fruit of the threadlike mycelium.
I feel passionately that students of the dharma do better if they use their bodies well, and if stretching and exercise is incorporated as a formal part of any programme. This is the case whether the main focus is sitting meditation or walking. Sitters get sore knees; walkers get sore backs, shoulders and feet. Consequently I led a short stretching session once we had walked for about 15 minutes and were warm. I had been to a retreat with Kit Laughlin and Patrick Kearney in April, so had a few novel stretches up my sleeve. Although the walk was an easy gradient, it was long, so I wanted us all to get the best out of our bodies and place each step with care and mindfulness.
We made a few stops along the way to pay attention to the forest with particular senses. Then at about 11: 30 a.m., we caught a glimpse of Burragorang dam, and McMahon’s point.
But only at the rock platform 15 minutes later could we also see the surrounding landmarks, and the upper reaches of the dam where it is clearly a river, the Cox’s, making it’s serpentine way between the hills. It was sad to have to report that this rock, which is a rather important Gundungurra site, had been damaged when a bulldozer drove straight across it some time before. The driver had not been told to avoid it by the relevant government authority - the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I had met the bulldozer driver previously on the road, and he seemed a really decent chap who would not want to damage heritage. I invited the group to remove their shoes and walk the way that Gundungurra did in country - with bare feet. The sandstone felt cold underfoot.

We each found possies out of the wind and to eat our lunch. While I looked out at the Wild Dogs way in the distance, and Mt. Mouin, I remembered that all of those peaks were named Meeouwin by early Gundungurra informants. But somehow that was corrupted to Mouin, and that name was only applied to the peak next to Medlow Gap, which is shaped a like a fedora and stands apart. Those who have the power, get to name the landscape.
We could not stop as long as I would have liked, because of the wind. To keep us warm I added an extra 30 minutes of walking - sorry Fran!
Along the ridge there are stretches of beautiful groves of angophoras.
The walk back is usually a fairly direct affair I find. When you’re riding a horse, and you’re going home, all it wants is to be back in its home paddock. We stopped for a sharing circle - and sat in the sunny spots created by the cleared area underneath the power-lines, to have afternoon tea. The lines buzzed in a strange way - it is almost an eerie sound that emanates from them ( does electro-magnetic radiation also emanate?) as though from another world, whereas in fact it is the sound made by the burning of coal and boiling of water. Natural - and not natural.
When we were nearly ‘home’ I showed the group what lycopodium looks like. They look like a kind of moss, and this is in fact their family. In the carboniferous period, these plants were as large as trees. They are from an ancient plant family, the club mosses.
Back at the cars, some expressed regret that the walk was over - some relief - some commented that, in silence, we formed a group rather than a number of individuals. Cath was deeply enamoured of the angophoras - and along the ridgetop there is one stretch where many dwarfs wiggle their way out of poor shallow soils.
We were back at Wentworth Falls before 5 pm, and in time to reward ourselves with hot chocolate and chips at a local café.

This walk was 17 km long. I’m encouraged to offer another yatra later in the year for a similar level of fitness, though I would also like, if there is enough interest, to run a yatra for those who could only manage a small easy walk. For unwell, unfit or elderly people, I would be happy to offer a short yatra, which might incorporate more standing and seated meditation . Please email me if this would be your style, and if there are enough people I’ll organise it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poetry reading on Friday night 20th May

I will be reading some poems along with Pip Griffin (verse novel "Ani Lin") at the Sydney Zen Centre on Friday 14th May, starting at 7:30 p.m. I'll be reading my "Tao -Jones Indexes" which was shortlisted in the Newcastle Poetry prize in 1999 and published in the anthology. Also some other things. Pip's verse novel is a beautiful narrative set in the southwest corner of China around the turn from the 19th into 20th century. Be there 7:20 pm for a 7:30 start - we will begin with a period of zazen ( meditation).
The zendo is in Annandale at 251 Young St, on the corner with Arguimbeau St. The SZC women's group will provide refreshments afterwards. No charge.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Autumn Rain

30th April dawned dry, but the week had been wet and the forecast was not promising. Undaunted, about seven or eight meditators converged on the Guide Hall at Lawson to begin the day. I felt quite nostalgic, as this was the venue for the zen group that I led a few years back. And there was the Queen above the door - appropriate given that the nuptials of her grandson were broadcast the night before.
At Ben Roberts café there were ten of us, enjoying their atmosphere and delights. As we sat there cosily drinking beverages and listening to Gary talk about the breath and writing, I noticed the rain gradually pull up its chair outside. When it came time for the ginko, two people elected to observe nature from the verandah of ‘Heatherbrae’, a grand old place which the Council intends to spruce up for community use. But the rest of headed out in rain garments of various sorts. We walked first along the commemorative walk of Honour Pde.

patches of sky

among soggy red leaves

 rain puddles

Brent Couper

I fairly quickly found that my pen wouldn’t work in the rain. So I had to follow my own advice about John Shaw Nielson, the poet jackaroo who would remember his poems and work on them in his head. I found it quite hard to do. Pre-literate peoples are very good at the act of remembering, but we have lost it. I love using my pen and the act of writing.

bright children’s toys
cupping endless rain...

Ruby Levy-Stephens

We walked on down to the creek, through a bush regeneration area. As leader I have to keep tabs on everyone, especially since there were a couple of roads and crossings to navigate.

Seven writers...
five writers...
the rain heavier.

We all turned back before I could take everyone onto the golf course and along the bush track. It was enough to have seen the stream, the trees, the rosellas and king parrots, listened to the drips on leaves and felt the squelch in the path.

Soft rain
hard asphalt -
drowned earthworms


After we'd consumed lovely hot drinks and juices back at Ben Roberts, we got to work on the hard part - which is, editing. Gary's idea was to put a haiku onto a whiteboard and allow everyone to ruminate on it. Verity and Margaret had done their writing on the verandah, and we began to look at one of Verity's poems to see whether there were too many words in it - how those words could be arranged - what order they came in - whether other words could be used. It was a fascinating exercise, and naturally the final version came down to the poet herself.

pink sock
vacant verandah

Verity Roberts

We workshopped a poem of Ruby's , about the parrots flying out of a tree. That haiku didn't come together - it was time to have lunch. Conversation around the table flew in all sorts of directions. We could now be as rowdy as other diners. I thoroughly enjoyed doing this work in Ben Roberts, with its art works everywhere, and the convivial style of meeting and eating. Thanks to Carolynne and her staff for their hospitality , great food, and especially to Carolynne for her enthusiastic encouragement of the idea.