Transcript - 9/3/2023

Mark Foote | Podcast - Follow Mark Foote's unique way-seeking mind story and thought. Delve into it at and at Zazen Notes on Facebook.

Mark, thank you for doing this transcript!

MF: Hey Dave.

DC: Hi Mark. How are you doing?

MF: Good, thanks. How are you?

DC: Okay, okay. That's all is well here. Where are you located?

MF: I'm in Lucerne, California, next to the lovely Clear Lake.

DC: No kidding? That's in Lake County?

MF: Yes, Lake County.

DC: Oh, huh.

MF: You know, it's called Clear Lake because the skies are mostly clear here, not because the lake is clear.

DC: Oh, is that right?

MF: Yeah.

DC: And is that true? Are the skies mostly clear?

MF: They were. The great Northern California fire-fighter, fire outbreaks.

DC: Oh, I see. Yeah.

MF: Kind of gave us some orange sunsets for a while.

DC: Oh.

MF: You know, there was a fire in Lake County in, let's see, it must have been 2018, that ran along the hills just to the east of me. It ran on the other side of the hills, up along my side of the lake. So that was pretty close.

DC: Didn't you used to be like in Petaluma or somewhere like that?

MF: I did. Yeah, I did. I lived in Petaluma and I lived in Forestville and I lived in Sonoma town and I lived in Sebastopol.

DC: Oh, yeah.

MF: Both sides of Petaluma.

DC: Have you and I met? I can't remember.

MF: We did--we did, we met at a coffee shop in Sebastopol.

MF: Did we meet each other?

MF: Yes.

DC: Were we there to be with each other?

MF: Yes, we were.

DC: I thought so. I needed reminding.

MF: At the close of the talk, you introduced me to your son who came by.

DC: Clay, my younger son.

MF: Yes, Clay. In fact, I think your former wife came by too.

DC: Elin. Yeah.

MF: Yeah. Something like that.

DC: Which coffee shop?

MF: That's a good question. I've been trying to recall--that must have been Coffee Catz, which is no longer called Coffee Catz.

DC: Oh, that was a great name.

MF: Yeah.

DC: Is it still there in Sebastopol?

MF: Yeah, it's still there. There's still a coffee shop at that location. It's just, I guess it changed ownership and they changed the name.

DC: To what?

MF: That's a good question.

DC: Oh, all right. That's enough of that. Well, that's interesting. So, how do you spend your time these days?

MF: Mostly in front of the computer.

DC: And what are you doing?

MF: Well, today I actually did some work for the people I work for, which is BeautifulPlaces. Company called BeautifulPlaces, all slammed together in camel case, which means capital B and a capital P in the "Places", but it's all run together--BeautifulPlaces.

DC: Wait a minute, capital B and P, BeautifulPlaces, yeah? What is it? What is it?

MF: They rent homes in the wine country primarily. in Sonoma. They'll rent places in Sonoma County and in the town of Sonoma for three nights, four nights, five nights, two nights. They'll rent houses in the Napa Valley, but those are 30-night minimum.

DC: Wow. My sister rented... We've rented homes, even though I've lived in there. We rented homes there for my mother's 90th. We rented one. Really nice. We had a giant family reunion. And my sister rented a place in Napa for her, I think her 70th birthday. And then her 80th birthday is going to be in September. And--I think she--she's not going to rent a home. They're just going to go have lunch somewhere. It's so expensive now.

MF: Right. Everything's expensive.

DC: Yeah. Well, that's interesting. Well, um, you and I, yeah, yeah.

MF: That was part of my day.

DC: Yeah.

MF: And the other part was writing on Dao Bums. I, um, I get in conversations on the website, "The Dao Bums", which is just a forum site with a lot of crazy people writing about religious and secular but spiritual topics.

DC: Now, what's the name of it again?

MF: The name of it is "The Dao Bums".

DC: Like D-A-O?

MF: D-A-O, yeah, D-A-O.

DC: The Dao Bums. (laughs) That's cool.

MF: They're crazy. So am I.

DC: Yeah. (laughs) And what are you writing about within the Dao Bums?

MF: Oh, the things I usually write about.

DC: Well, tell us about the things you usually write about.

MF: Well, let's see. Today, one of the Dao Bums was confused about what it means to have a ceasing of action that's a contact of freedom. You know, there's a line from the Pali sermons where Gautama says, "What is the ceasing of action?", and he says that would be the ceasing of action of speech, deed, and mind, such that there's a contact of freedom. So he starts out by saying, you know, that what he means by action is "determinant thought" in speech, body and mind --speech, body and thought. And then he says, what's the ceasing of action? It's the contact of, it's the ceasing by which you contact freedom in those three arenas. So, you know, he doesn't, he does not say a cessation of determinant thought, which is what he defined action with, but only that there's a ceasing by which you contact freedom. So, believe it or not, that's what I wrote about. I don't know that the guy I was writing, that I was corresponding to, will understand, but it's definitely the heart of the matter for me. So, that's where I was.

DC: Yeah, well that doesn't matter. All that matters is that you understand what you're writing.

MF: Well, you're right. I mean, I'm writing for myself. I'm aware of that. and it helps! It helps and it helps to keep it front of mind.

DC: Yeah.

MF: So, yeah, I am aware of that. At the same time, every now and then, somebody picks up on something. There's a guy--you know, I have a Facebook page called "Zazen Notes".

DC: "Zazen Notes", right.

MF: Yeah, "Zazen Notes", and all I put up there are links to my blog. So, the latest one, which I sent you a link to, is called "A Way of Living", and I got a comment on that one from a guy who said, "Enlightenment just happens." Which is interesting. So he was claiming that it's kind of a everyday, spontaneous occurrence, not a view held by many, but I had to agree with him in the sense that I think the cessation of determinant thought in inhalation and exhalation is an everyday occurrence, at least in falling asleep, other times as well. And I think that the final attainment, Gautama described as "a cessation of a determinant thought in feeling and perceiving". And I think that similarly comes about through an internal well-being and internal necessity. And so I think he's right. Enlightenment, the attainment associated with enlightenment may in fact happen spontaneously to all of us, the difference being that in Gautama's case, he came up with independent causation and the four truths, which is what really is associated with his enlightenment. So he had this attainment, he attained a state of concentration, and the insight that he had followed that attainment.

DC: Excuse me. Excuse me.

MF: Yes.

DC: What are you doing?

MF: Yes?

DC: What are you doing?

MF: I'm rocking on my chair. I have you on speakerphone. Is it not good?

DC: Yeah, it's, well, your rocking chair. I mean, it's not louder than your voice, so if you want to keep doing it, it's okay. (MF laughs) But it's like having some sort of clatter.

MF: I got percussion.

DC: Yeah, it's a type of percussion, sort of soft percussion. It's not like striking. Anyway, the mics pick up unless you have one like I've got, which is very expensive. Somebody bought me, same one Joe Rogan uses. Actually, not that expensive, when you think what Joe Rogan could afford. Anyway, they pick up background noise, of course.

MF: Yeah, I've heard about that.

DC: Yeah, it sort of sounds like a sort of scraping.

MF: Yep. Well, it's an old wooden chair.

DC: Yeah. Yeah, it does have a feeling like a drummer, a little bit like with the brushes.

MF: Maybe I was using it for that. I don't know.

DC: Yeah. Okay.

MF: But yeah. So that's the kind of thing I write about and think about. And especially lately, I think about dropping weight on... dropping the weight onto the ligaments. And uh…

DC: Explain what you mean by that.

MF: In Tai Chi, you know, they're very big on relaxing and sinking. It's called "sink". And my take is that I'm looking to find automatic movement, automatic activity, sort of like rocking on my chair and making terrible creaking noises, but more like stuff that I'm conscious of. I'm looking to find a way to drop my weight and drop my mind such that the activity of the body in inhalation and exhalation is automatic. There is no strain involved there. It's all coming off one point. So I look for that. I look to recover that. And I find that it's a lesson every day in terms of, you know, letting that activity, relaxing that activity and finding the stretch that goes along with it such that I'm not holding anything. You want to drop body and mind, you've gotta drop body and mind, so to speak. But there's a whole learning curve. For me, there's a whole learning curve. Some people are more talented than others. You? (laughs) I was listening to your podcast about how you can sit the lotus without a problem. I'm jealous.

DC: Well, I wouldn't say without a problem. I sit--when I sit in the mornings here, I always sit in half lotus. I stopped sitting full lotus in around 1978 or something. I sat full lotus constantly, you know, everything, through sesshins. But you know, I noticed people having knee problems and having operations and stuff

MF: Really.

DC: that were clearly caused by people religiously following Suzuki Roshi's admonition, "Don't move." Some people had like, would be having serious, serious pain and problems, and his solution would be to just keep sitting. Very much like Japanese sports. Very bad advice, I think, if you don't want to have a knee operation or something. Yeah, Japanese-like and... but I read a book about baseball. It's really good. called "You Gotta Have Wa". Yeah, he said, you know, a pitcher would be developing an elbow problem and they would just throw harder, throw more. And it's completely opposite of sports medicine elsewhere.

MF: Yeah.

DC: So as soon as I started feeling a pain in my knee when I sat full lotus, I thought, "Okay, I'm not going to sit full lotus." And I backed off right away.

MF: Good for you, good for you.

DC: Yeah, you can't, you know, it's idiot practice to do everything your teacher says without, you know you got to be responsible for yourself.

MF: Yeah.

DC: People are always blaming teachers for all this stuff that they went along with. And anyway.

MF: Kobun was more generous about it. I mean, I remember hearing him say, "Take your time with the lotus." So that's an admonition to learn to sit the lotus, which I took seriously for, you know, 40 years, but really, past 35 minutes, at my best, not so good--past 35 minutes. And I could tell.

DC: Yeah, yeah.

MF: But even Kobun, I mean, the last time I saw Kobun, he was sitting a one week sesshin, and I showed up for the last couple of days, being a slacker, and he was sitting his third one week sesshin in a row. And he confessed that now--he'd never had pain in the lotus, but now he maybe had like crescent-moons worth of pain in his knees at, you know, three consecutive seven-day sesshins. I guess it happens to the best of us, and I've been sitting nothing but half lotus for the last five years, and Burmese some of the time.

DC: - Burmese, yeah. In the Vipassana retreats-- there was only one Vipassana retreat leader here. They're from Myanmar except one from Indonesia, a woman, a renegade woman. But anyway, they recommended Burmese, which means, just ah, instead of putting the top foot on your thigh, just put it in front of your other foot. Right?

MF: Right.

DC: So you know, if I'm in a Vipassana retreat, sitting all day, I would tend to sit Burmese, but I'd also sit, like, taylor. I didn't have the new student enthusiasm that I'd had when I was younger. I would also bring one of these sitting benches. And I would use it for the lectures and for, let's say, one time in the afternoon, one time in the morning. Just made it easier.

MF: I think you're doing good, and even so, Dave. I really do. I had 40 in the middle of the night, a couple of nights ago. It's the first time I've done that in a while. But doing 25 and sloppy half lotus, you know, the ankle is on the other calf, not up on the thigh. So nevertheless...

DC: yeah.

MF: ... it's good for me. I mean, I feel like things are coming around, something's coming around, I'm happy with what's going on.

DC: Yeah, well, you're lucky and I'm lucky because a lot of people can't do this. When I'm working, all the places where I work, I can pull my legs up. I don't sit in chairs much, just a little for a variety. Everywhere I work, I basically work with my legs up in an easy posture, not in half lotus, Not in Burmese, really, just with my legs up. I can sit like that pretty much all day and I don't get any pain. And also, I want to say one thing about the pain. The pain that I quit sitting full lotus for was a different type of pain. I went, hah, that's not good. Because of course I had pain when I sat, Even one period, I'd start feeling pain after 30 minutes or something, but not that much. And say, sesshins sometimes, you know, of course it would be just having to, not grin and bear it. But I could tell those weren't dangerous types of pain. At some point, it gets to be dangerous. And my feeling, there was some of these old-fashioned Japanese teachers with their no-pain, no-gain trip and grin and bear it, no, "not grin" and bear it, that they gave very bad advice in terms of whether you were, you know, of knee health. But I don't know, everybody's different on that. You know, one thing that's interesting to me is Richard Baker came to Zen Center, He could not get into a lotus posture, and it took him, he was one of those people that just took forever and he finally got into it. But in his adult life now, I see him sitting, even now, well, I don't know about right now, but I was with him a few years ago. I was a jisha at Tassajara, in the city and at Green Gulch. He would sit at a desk, you know, like me, but he'd have a floor desk where he could— I always have places where I can put my feet down to rest 'em and then pull them back up. He got to where he could sit through sessions and sit working. I thought that was an unusual history of sitting because a lot of times people that have a really hard time getting started continue to have a hard time. But there's all sorts of different stories about sitting and posture.

MF: I think there is a lot to be said for, you know, striking a point in the posture that makes the activity automatic. You know, if you can--it's like finding your center of gravity, but it's a little more than that because it requires presence of mind to continue in a place that makes the activity automatic. But I think for a lot of the Japanese teachers, they found their way to that early. And their experience was that they could do impossible things that way. And so when they would say things like, you know, "More zazen!"--I remember getting that advice. It's probably good for you, if you can strike a balance, and the activity in the posture and in the breath becomes automatic, to where you're keeping a presence with a point--at a point, and that's your concern. That's what it's about. For me, you know, I can do that. But there're lessons in my anatomy. There're lessons in the stretch and activity that's involved. You know, I had a nerd posture, I grew up with a nerd posture, you know, head forward. I mean, a briefcase full of books, you know, full of my thoughts. I'm still full of my thoughts. (DC laughs). Obviously. So, easier for some than others, and especially I think in Japan, where some of that postural stuff, some of that, you know, physical gesture is kind of baked into the culture in a way.

DC: That's right. Well, you know, a big difference, not only in Japan, but in Asia, in more primitive cultures, people grow up sitting on the floor. And that just makes all the difference in the world. You know, I don't know if the sort of advice of, you know, if you've got, like, pain in your legs, just keep sitting. Maybe it's not that big a... Maybe it's the right advice for somebody who grew up sitting on the floor. You know, Shodo Hirada, Hirada Roshi, who I studied with in Okayama, Japan, he thought sitting on the floor and having the hara as the center of gravity was the basis of Japanese culture, and as they lose it, he says, the whole culture will fall apart, and he just saw chaos in the streets as a result of not having hara as the center of, not only your body but the whole culture.

MF: Yeah. I've lately quite taken to a quote that Omori Sogen offers in his "Introduction to Zen Training". He quotes, I think it's Hida Haramitsu, who says that one should keep an equilibrium between the hara and the koshi. koshi, I didn't even know there was a word "koshi".

DC: Koshi's like your back, your lower back or something?

MF: Right, behind the sacrum and the lower back.

DC: Yeah.

MF: Especially the sacrum. Behind the pelvis.

DC: Yeah, koshi kaeru is one way to say to sit.

MF: Right, so what Hida advised was keep an equilibrium between the hara and the koshi, and he said you wanna bring the center of gravity over the center of the triangle of the lower body, essentially. Now, what exactly he's saying there, not quite clear to me, but by bringing the balance slightly forward, I find that does somehow precipitate the activity, which, if I can relax and calm the stretch that's going on, ah, it's a good way to find a switch to a point where the activity becomes automatic. I talk in my latest write about Feldenkrais's recipe, you know, for, ah, side to side, forward and back, and around in a circle with the upper body. And I say it is the object of those exercises to allow the weight to rest in the ligaments of the lower body, especially the ones between the sacrum and the pelvis. And the idea, he says, the idea is if you bring the weight forward, bring the center of gravity forward, when you're sitting in a chair, the action of standing will be automatic. The legs will stand without any conscious effort. So I think Hida Haramitsu is talking about the same thing. If you keep an equilibrium between the hara and the koshi, let the center of gravity come forward a bit, like, there's a way there to discover the automatic, an automatic activity in the movement of breath, a single point where there's automatic activity. So I'm excited about that in my practice because it seems like there's crossover there, in posture, and my posture is still bad, but I think what is being recommended there is a good way for me to find the correction that both makes the posture more effortless and syncs me with, in my breathing, so to speak, which is really, you know, when I sit, I'm looking for that. I'm not looking for enlightenment. I'm looking to sync my body and my breathing somehow.

DC: Yeah.

MF: That is useful to me. That I think can change my life. That's the direction I can...

DC: Yeah, well, it's--you're dealing with something that's real.

MF: Exactly.

DC: At least, it's apparently real. It seems to be real. You've got some proof of it.

MF: It's real when I feel it. I know it when I feel it, and I know what it means for me. It takes me out of myself. And that's an important part of it.

DC: Yeah. Oh, one thing, now. When I sit half-lotus, I alternate right and left.

MF: Yeah.

DC: I mean, this morning I sat, well, on Sundays, you know what I do on Sundays? Come to think of it, I sit like, in a chair because I think it's all these people doing that, I should do that. And Sundays, I don't have any particular amount of time. It's the only day I don't do yoga, and it's the only day I don't--I walk. I still walk.

MF: There you go.

DC: I've got to walk. But right lotus is more natural. It's easier.

MF: Right.

DC: And ah, left lotus--see, I swing back and forth, but I not only swing back and forth, I go as far as I can. More like a yoga thing. And in half lotus, it wants to start off with me leaning to the side. After a while, it straightens up. At the end, I can push further.

MF: Yeah, I know what you're talking about.

DC: One thing in terms of the hara, and that being the center of gravity. Now, in zazen, all the teachers that I've known emphasized putting your focus on your hara. Suzuki Roshi would say the tummy, which was a little irritating to me because it goes back. My parents stopped using the word "tummy" at an appropriate time before I started getting embarrassed. I had friends whose parents and teachers would keep using the word "tummy." And of course, I associate it with being like a toddler. So I had a negative feeling about the word "tummy." And I never got over that with Suzuki using the word "tummy". There'd be something in me going, "Hey, that's a word for little tiny kids-- I'm not a little kid anymore." Anyway, he would say hara and tanden some, which are the same thing.

MF: Yeah, and you know what I think is important on that left side. One of the things I've been working on is, you know, trying to-- actually, three points I try to keep in mind, and one of them is the tailbone. Another one is the lower abdominals, the abdominals in the area of the lower abdomen. And the last one is, you know, the breath that's moving in and out of my skull, behind my nose, believe it or not. So somehow, if I try to bring forward a mindfulness of my spine at the tailbone, that's not really part of the spine, but at the tailbone, and then I look to relax the muscles in the lower abdomen, it's like sitting on the left side oftentimes is about activity and stretch in that area. So putting my mind there is an introduction to, especially relaxing the lower abdominals-- the part about leaning to one side, I oftentimes, sitting the left after 10, 15 minutes or something, it's like I'm not thinking about tailbone and lower abdomen, I'm thinking about somewhere up underneath the ribs in the lower spine and the abdominals up there toward the upper part of the abdomen. So I'm looking for, you know, relaxing activity that is in the abdominals and becoming aware of stretch in the ligaments as kind of the source of that activity. So I look to the ligaments as the source of the activity, then I can keep going on. Whereas--but I can't find the ligaments without appropriate relaxation in the abdominals. So it's kind of a catch-22 that way. And all of it goes away, you know, it all goes away if I can't return to the one point, you know, the singular point. But I don't think it's helpful to emphasize the tantian because...

DC: To emphasize what?

MF: The tantian, you know, the tanden, the...

DC: Oh.

MF: that... below and behind the navel, or to emphasize the mind in the hara, because I find it much more useful to think that my attention, my mind, can fall anywhere in my body. And in fact, I need to keep the whole body open to the presence of mind. I have to have that going on or I can't coordinate relaxing my abdominals and calming the stretch of ligaments. So there's a kind of rhythm there.

DC: Yeah, well, that's really interesting. You have, you know, I know of no one who has as, what would you say, has an approach like yours that is so--you have a discipline, you know?

MF: Only 'cause I have to!

DC: You have a unique discipline and I've been getting stuff from you about it for decades. And it's pretty impressive. What are your sources for this? I mean, most people, like, you know who Charlotte Selver was, probably?

MF: No?

DC: Charlotte Selver was one of the founding teachers, founding in the Human Potential Movement, a body awareness, sensory awareness. She was like the best known sensory awareness teacher. I've taken classes with her and she was German and she and her husband Charles. You know who Norman Fisher is? They left their home to Norman. They were original landowners, go way back in Muir Beach, I guess Charles was or something. It's like way up on top. It's the highest place. It's really neat. Anyway, Charlotte had--and she did workshops with Suzuki Roshi-- she had a lineage, you know, of where her teaching came from. And do you have a lineage?

MF: No, not per se. What I have is some research in India on pigs, where they established that the ligaments between the sacrum and the pelvis, in particular the sacroiliac ligaments, you know, the sacrum doesn't really have a joint with the pelvis, it's just held by ligaments between the wings of the pelvis. So they did some research on pigs in India in, I don't know, 2015, 2019.

DC: uh-huh.

MF: They established that the stretch in those ligaments has an effect on the muscles, on the muscle activity in the lower back and around the gluts. And of course, I've been going for some time on the assumption that stretching the ligaments could precipitate activity in various muscle groups. But... they're very careful when they talk about the effect of the stretch of ligaments on the muscle groups. And what they really are willing to extend is that the stretch of ligaments affects something called reciprocal innervation, which is like when you walk. Reciprocal innervation means that when the muscles on one side of the body are active, the nervous system works in such a way that the muscles on the other side of the body are inhibited so that you get a pace. So when they talk about the stretch of ligaments and when they talk about ligaments at the sacrum affecting the gluts and the lower back muscles, they're not willing to say that it precipitates activity, but they're willing to say that it has an effect.

DC: Who is "they"?

MF: Scientists. You know, you go looking at the research on activity out of a stretch of ligaments or action associated with a stretch of ligaments, and the research on the pigs in India is the biggest and most recent piece. But apart from that, there's some very interesting research that was done by a guy named Bartelink in the 50s. Bartelink was trying to figure out why the annuluses is in the lower spine didn't just pop when an Olympic weightlifter picks up a huge weight because they've done studies and they, at that point, they recognized that the annuluses could not take that kind of pressure, so the assumption was something was going on with the abdominals. And what Bartlelink did was put a rubber ball surgically into the abdomens of weightlifters and measure the pressure there.

DC: Oh my god.

MF: What he said was, the pressure in the fluid ball of the abdomen goes up in proportion to the weight that's lifted. Right? So, the significance of this to him was that it was, he did some electrical measurements as well and determined it was the abdominals, not the rectus that that were inducing the pressure in the abdominal cavity. The assumption was that that pressure in the abdominal cavity was supporting the annuluses of the lower spine. And there's more research from some people in the '80s, from Farfan, Gracovetsky and LeMay. And what they did was mathematical modeling. They didn't actually do physical experiments. But what they did, they were studying the same thing, which is how can the weightlifter pick up that much weight? The pressure from the abdominals didn't seem to be enough. So what they did was a lot of mathematics and they figured out that given the flattening of the lower back and pressure from the abdominals, pressure in the abdominal cavity, I should say, so fluid pressure pressing backward against the fascia, thoracolumbar fascia behind the spine, that pressure can actually move the thoracolumbar fascia like a millimeter or something, a ridiculously small amount, backward away from the spine, and that acts like a suspension bridge to pass the stress over the annuluses of the spine. So--Farfan also made note that there's one place in the body where muscles can have an effect by a push, not a pull. Muscles contract, right? So anyway, he said the muscles behind the sacrum are enclosed on three sides by bone. When they contract, the mass of the muscles there increases. The bulk of the muscles increases. And because it's enclosed on three sides, it's only got one way to go, which is to press backwards against that very same thoracolumbar fascia, right? So all of this to me rings exactly like descriptions in the Tai Chi literature and in some of the literature of India about the chi transiting--you know, the chi accumulates at the tantien and then, overflows to the tailbone, shoots up the spine to the top of the head. So I'm thinking, this sounds like, it's really a mechanism of facial support. And when I sit, I find that that kind of image, that visualization of what's going on in the stretch of ligaments and the activity of the body is pretty useful to me. It keeps the stress out of my knees. I'm able to sit now more with the left side, you know, the left leg up, even if I'm only sitting 25. I can sit that way and not wreck my knees. I can still walk the next day. For a while there, what I was doing was not good on the left knee, and I didn't sit with the left side up as much. But now I think it's going better. So yeah, no, I don't have a lineage of body work like Rolfing or Feldenkrais or anything, or even Alexander Technique, that's a really interesting one. But at the same time, I think there's stuff out there that matches up pretty well with, especially the literature of Tai Chi, or at least that classic literature that's reported by Cheng Man-Ch'ing in his 13 chapters. It's a pretty good match, and it's helpful to me, but I don't know. I mean, most people never have to think about any of this stuff, and it's anathema to most people, so I apologize to your listeners.

DC: Well, "don't have to" and "anathema," I would just say it never occurred to them. And, you know, I feel like, you know, when I read your stuff, I feel like, well, I'm just taking baby steps. You know, I come from a very simple system that focuses on the hara. Incidentally, a lot of people don't realize that, because, you know, like Suzuki wouldn't say it that much, but it was central. I mean, he'd say it now and then, but a lot of times he'd say, follow your breath or sit, or something. One thing I've found interesting-- if you look at Buddha's, ah, and you probably know more about this than I do, because I've just sort of glanced at it and read over it, but Buddha's original teaching on meditation, there's a number of different versions. But one of them is just, "Now I'm taking a short breath. Now I'm taking a long, just breathing a long breath." And then you'll see vipassana, a lot of it is, early vipassana, noting, maybe more like in your system, noting all sorts of movements of the body, feelings in the body, thoughts, impulses and stuff. But then there's the type that focuses on the breath going in and out of the nose. But every Theravadin teacher, every Vipassana teacher I have been with here, they do what they call the Mahasa method, which is just like zazen, lower abdomen.

MF: Yeah.

DC: So it's totally compatible with what I heard. And if they were doing something else, I wouldn't pay any attention to it. I'd still just do the hara.

MF: That's an interesting thing, that Gautama does not go into any physical detail.

DC: No.

MF: Other than to say, sit down, cross-legged, holding the body erect. And you're right, that instruction about the long and short, that's the second of the 16 elements in the mindfulness that he said was his own way of living. But you know, Rujing contradicted him. Dogen, I think, reported that Rujing said something like, "The breath arrives at and enters the tantian, the inhalation arrives at and enters the tantian from nowhere, and therefore there's no long or short. The breath exits the tantian to nowhere, and therefore there's no long or short of the exhalation."

DC: Well, I wouldn't say that's a contradiction. That's just looking at it from a different point of view.

MF: That's right. You're right. It's interesting that he was aware of that instruction.

DC: Yeah, that's a, that's more from an emptiness, or that's from a higher level. To me, what the Buddha's teaching there is very simple and fundamental.

MF: Yeah.

DC: Also, another thing, I know some people who had just gotten into Zen and they were familiar with more, like, traditional Buddhist stuff. They'd say, "Oh, we have to sit full lotus with the left foot on top of the thigh. Only Buddha sits with the right foot on top of the thigh." Well, I never paid attention to that, 'cause I thought, you know, I wanted to do both ways. One thing, it was like giving a vacation to the other way a little bit.

MF: My judo teacher, when I was in high school, insisted that his students learn the throws left side and right side. And the Japanese judoka were known for executing their winning techniques on the left side.

DC: Oh, really?

MF: The Europeans did their techniques on the right side. And in many cases, their techniques consisted of a takedown and they would win their matches on the mat as opposed to the Japanese that would win standing.

DC: Oh, oh.

MF: Yeah, they're that. And yeah, in "Three Pillars of Zen", I think, you've got to sit with the left leg on top.

DC: One thing in a lot of civilized cultures is that they haven't paid attention to the, what percent, five percent or something that are left-handed and try to force them to do. My father was forced to write with his right hand, which was very hard. And I'm just talking to somebody who, they tied his left arm to his, the nuns in the school, tied his left arm to his body and told him, "The devil is left-handed," and he had to write with his right hand. And then his mother heard that and went and talked to the priest and chewed him out, and the priest chewed the nuns out, and he could write left-handed after that. But I just wonder if there's that sort of problem. Like in Japan, they definitely had problems with that because everybody has to do the same. It was like redheads. Japan has redheads and they'd have to dye their hair black to be like the others. I don't think these days they have to. But how much has that left handedness...

MF: I think there's something to it. I think it may be easier to bring the body, to bring the body-mind to the point and initiate that kind of automatic activity of the whole body ah, with the left side, what would you say, in dominance. That may, you know, I think they say that left-handers are more right-brain dominant. And I think there's definitely a left and a right-brain-ism in zazen. You know, there's the particular, which I have in spades, and then there's the perception of the whole, and maybe sitting left-handed is conducive to right hemisphere dominance or something like that. Totally guessing.

DC: Wow. You know, I have a question here. Where were you born?

MF: I was born in Wisconsin. But the family left there after one year.

DC: Oh, don't run into that a lot. The guy whose arm was tied is from Wisconsin. He's a neighbor of mine here.

MF: Well, I did so enjoy hearing about your upbringing in Texas. I was kind of surprised that your parents were so liberal.

DC: Yeah, open-minded. Very fortunate, you know, that the "New Thought" Christianity, ah, is a tradition, which I call the precursor to the New Age. But all right, you came from there. What year were you born?

MF: '50.

DC: 1950?

MF: Yeah, I'm younger than you by six years.

DC: Ah, well, I'm 45.

MF: Ah!

DC: What month?

MF: in June.

DC: Oh, hey, you got a birthday coming up. So you're, you're younger than me by five and a half months, something like that. Or almost five and a... March, April, May, June, actually one, Five and a third months. No, five and a third years. All right. So what, what's your way-seeking path story?

MF: You know, I was just unhappy with my mind when I was like 15. Really, though, I think I got my start when I was in sixth grade. I read "Battle for the Mind" by Sargant, which was his account of what's really going on, what was really going on with Korean brainwashing, North Korean brainwashing and religious possession. He saw a commonality there. And essentially what he said was, it doesn't matter how strong your will is. There are techniques and they were employed in North Korea and they're employed in some religious settings, where you stress an individual out, put them under enough strain, maybe they get a little sick, maybe they haven't been eating right, and one day they wake up and their whole belief structure has changed to whatever it was that you suggested would relieve the stress for them. So in the case of North Korean brainwashing, They woke up believing in communism one day. And in the case of religious conversion, they wind up believing in whatever the tenants of the faith are. He said it's a fundamental underlying survival mechanism of the human brain, has nothin' to do with willpower. So I read that in sixth grade. I think I picked it up at Kepler's books in Menlo Park. And that was the start of things. So by the time I was in high school, I was very unhappy with my brain. And I went chasing the various substances that were available in the Bay Area to try to alter my consciousness and find God. And that actually did not really change my relationship to my mind. I was still pretty unhappy with just, the way I was, the way my thoughts ran. Anyway, a friend of mine took me down-- A friend gave me "Three Pillars of Zen", so I started trying to sit and I could barely sit five minutes taylor when I started out. And then by the time I was in college, I was a little better--a friend took me down to hear Kobun speak 'cause I was in Santa Cruz at that point. And he was so impressive to me. And he said some great things like, "Take your time with the lotus." So... I never became a student of any teacher, but I did keep sitting, all kinds of years. And in San Francisco one day in '75, I was sitting in my room, which was a little room under a staircase in the panhandle, and sitting on a chair and my body got up and walked to the door. And I didn't will my body to get up and walk to the door. What I was trying to do that day was just be aware of every breath in and every breath out. And suddenly my body got up and walked to the door. And from then on, you know, I wanted to do that. I wanted to act from that place all the time in everything, but I couldn't, you know--come and it'd go. And so I learned that I, you know, if I stood at the door and my body went through the door at work, then I would put that aside and I would do my work and not think about it and assume I should be there. But, you know, sometimes I would walk across town and meet people that I didn't know were there. It was a very powerful experience. In the 80s, I went to hear Kobun speak at the S. F. Zen Center. At the close of the lecture, he said, "You know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around." I knew what he was talking about, but it didn't make sitting in the lotus any easier for me, which surprised the hell out of me. It took me until the '80s before I started to study. I went to the UCSF library. That's where I learned about Farfan, and Bartelink, and Grachovetsky, Farfan, and LeMay. I ordered up a copy of the Pali sermons from the Pali Text Society, started reading those. And all the time I was trying to write, to explain to myself and other people what the experience was that I'd had and what its significance should be in my life. So--I think it turns out that Gautama would set up that experience every day when he would sit. And he could summon it up again. He would arrive at where the one point of attention placed by the movement of breath could move anywhere in the body. He would arrive at that point with the action of breath being automatic from that one point, and then he would take the sign of the concentration, which is the shape of the body, what the body was like at that moment. He would use that during the day as he needed, to summon up, to recover one-pointedness in mind and automatic activity. But for the most part he would go on with thought applied and sustained, but he would, he would stick with one point. He had one point going on most of the time, especially in the rainy season. That was his way of life, not the concentrations that would take him to the attainment associated with his enlightenment. He didn't do that every day. What he did every day was arrive at the movement of breath being automatic activity through a one pointedness, through allowing the breath to place attention and through a presence of mind that allowed the placement of attention to shift involuntarily. So this is important to me. I mean, this tells me what is the role of that experience I had in '75 in my life. Why did it take me 50 years, you know, to satisfy myself? I don't know. (laughs) Can you hear the cat?

DC: No.

MF: She's purring.

DC: No.

MF: I'm petting the cat. She's keeping me calm here.

DC: Ah. Ah. Well. Yeah.

MF: Story of my life. There, you've got the whole...

DC: That's good. That's good. It's unique. You have a unique story. You have a unique practice. And you have a unique message. If someone wants to follow you, your blog is?

MF: Z-E-N-M-U-D-R-A dot com.

DC: Yeah, and your Facebook is Zen Notes.

MF: "Zazen Notes", right. And the blog is there on the website as well. Everything on the Facebook page is just a link to That's the subdirectory that's the blog. But you can get to that if you get to, then you can click on the navigation for Zazen Notes. And really, I think my best set o' words so far is right there in the current post on the site. My past writings, what I think are the best of those past writings since 2005, when I've had the website, Those are on and you can go from one to the next through the whole thing. The kinesiology is at the end. The actual 16 elements of Gautama's way of living, his mindfulness, are there in the appendix as well. So it's up there. And recently, you know, I redid the whole website, had occasion to read all 216 posts, I think, since 2005, that I had up there. And some of them I thought, well, that one's borderline, but I kept all of 'em. And there is, it's amazing to me, but the place I'm writing from has been reasonably consistent.

DC: um, um.

MF: Yeah, it's up there if anybody's interested. My email is up there, somewhere.


MF: Yeah.

DC: Yeah.

MF: Yeah. Thanks, David.

DC: Yeah. Well, hey, Mark, it's been really good talking with you. Like I say, you have a unique practice there and a unique message.

MF: Thanks! It's nice to talk to you as well, David.

DC: We will continue being in touch until everything falls apart. Let me just ask you, what do you think about climate change?

MF: Well, I think it's real. And, you know, there are a few catastrophes in our face right now. Who would imagine, you know, so many years after Silent Spring that really nothing has changed in terms of the chemicals in our environment. Now we have plastics in our environment. And now we have climate change, which may be the most immediate of all. You know, I continue to feel like all I can do is try to be the change, as it were, and hope that what I have to do for myself can perhaps be useful to a broader community, to the broader community. We'll see. You know Facebook gives you the opportunity to boost my posts. So, the link to my latest post there, has something like 170 likes now and 11 shares. So, I'm happy about that, you know, that at least there are some eyes on my work, if I can call it that. They don't charge very much and they show it to a lot of people. Somebody put a can of spam, a rotating can of spam in the comments. Sorry about that. But for the most part, people are pretty open. People take it in a variety of ways. I think some people just look at the picture on the post and the paragraph that I put to introduce it and they like it at that and go on. But, you know, there's something like, I don't know, I forget how many people have clicked through now to the actual website, but it's probably more than 40. And I feel great about that. I'm happy that Facebook gives me that opportunity because I don't see that I'm going to publish anytime soon. Even though, you know, what amazes me is how few people have really read the Pali sermons, especially people in Zen. They had more interest in what the original guy said, but it's almost like a code what the original guy said. You know, you have to have the key to decipher it, and the keys are hidden in volume one of the Numbered Sayings, whereas the other part of the key is hidden in the Gathered Sayings in volume five. Something like that, you know? So it took me a long time, but I'm still, it amazes me that people aren't delving into the history and delving into the medical science, you know, the descriptions in Tai Chi and descriptions in Kundalini Yoga, those have been out there. Nobody seems to be interested in pinning down exactly what is going on there. I don't know. Maybe it's because it's so hard to gather it up and make sense of it. It sure has been for me. But I keep thinking people will be more interested than they have been so far, but I keep hoping. I keep hoping... (laughs)

DC: Well, yeah, I understand. What you're doing and what you put out will actually reach to the furthest reaches of the universe.

MF: There we go!

DC: So, you're just looking at the wrong numbers.

MF: There is hope. ... I just have to pray that that's the way it works. Certainly, we have teachers who have given their lives on the basis of that belief, and we bow to them.

DC: Well, okay, Mark. Very good. Very good.

MF: Nice to talk to you, David. (laughs)

DC: Yeah, good to talk with you. And until we meet again.

MF: 'til we meet again, take care.

DC: Yeah, you too. Bye bye.

MF: 'Bye.