Sunday, December 04, 2005

A walk in the snow

Top: George Washington Bridge pedestrian path. Middle: Looking north up the Hudson from the GWB. Bottom: Tunnel leading to the Hudson path on the New York side of the river, around 170th Street in Manhattan.

I awoke this morning to the first measureable snowfall of the season -- about 2 inches here in my part of northern New Jersey.
After putzing around my apartment waiting for Mother Nature to cease the light drizzle that ended the storm, I decided to take a long walk, something I hadn't done in a couple of weeks. The cold weather would be just right for a brisk, sweat-free pace. The cloudy sky would provide just the right level of brightness and contrast to view the beautiful blanket of white covering Manhattan.
I love to walk. I live to walk.
I've walked halfway around Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands, on a Buddhist temple-visiting pilgrimage. I hope to complete the pilgrimage in 2006.
I love walking from North Jersey to Brooklyn, the City of Churches, seeing some of the same sights and walking some of the same ground as that most poetic of inveterate walkers, Walt Whitman.

I got off to a late start today because I indulged my other passion: drinking cup after cup of good, strong tea. If China and Japan had given us nothing else, tea would have been enough.
It was 1:45 by the time I set out. I had wanted to walk to Brooklyn, but there wouldn't be enough daylight to get there and part of the way back home before darkness fell.
So, I walked as far as I could in the time I had.
It was a sublime pleasure having the footpath of the George Washington Bridge, which spans the mighty Hudson, to myself. Once across the bridge, the foot/bicycle path that hugs the Hudson southward to the tip of Manhattan Island appeared nearly untrodden this day, with just a few footprints in the fresh snow to indicate anyone had passed this way. I think I ran into six people the whole time.

When the weather is nice, it seems all of humanity is on this path. You have to be constantly vigilant for hotshot cyclists in their designer attire, some of whom come justthisclose to knocking you on your ass and who seem genuinely bitter at having to share the road.
And then there are the novice inline skaters who, with arms flailing and shouts of "Coming through!," threaten to knock down those walkers who the cyclists miss.
But today, I was nearly alone, and it was paradise.

I got as far as 100th Street and the Hudson River before calling a friend to meet for -- what else? -- tea at a popular Columbia University student hangout at 110th and Broadway.

So, my epic jaunt became a five-mile stroll. But it felt so good to have that path to myself. The chill in the air made me keenly aware of my pace and my surroundings.
It was five miles geographically, but 10,000 leagues spiritually.


LBseahag said...

I stumbled across your blog by clicking next...
it was a very emotional read...your passion for life will proud...

and I love NJ :)

Phats said...

Hi there, I am a friend of Seahag's she suggested I give your blog a read and well here I am :) I too enjoy a nice walk it's calming and puts me at peace. You hang in there you can overcome anything you put your mind too!

By the way liked the pictures

Michael said...

Many thanks, Phats, for your visit and for your kind words!

greenbean said...

Dear Michael, Thank you for sharing your experiences with parathyroid ca. I'm learning a lot from you and also learning from you how to cope with life's curved ball and God's dart. Thank you and with deep bows.

anu said...

I am so inspired to start walking :)after reading your blog Michael.

Something really calmning about your blog. Your writings are so simplistic and so easy

Keep walking:)

Michael said...

Hello Anu,

Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such a beautiful comment!
I have to confess that when you said my blog is calming, I laughed to myself. I'm one of the most uptight, tightly wound people I know, truth to tell.
I'm discovering, though, that many of life's circumstances will be just what they are whether I shake my fist in God's face or accept them calmly.
So, I'm trying to be a calmer person, a less angry one. If my writing reflects that, then maybe my soul will follow.
Ahhh, so much work to do, so little time...
Thanks again, and enjoy your walks!

Mike Cross said...

Hi Michael,
I have really appreciated your comments on the Dogen Sangha Blog, and was surprised to find a link to my Blog when I re-visited yours just now. I shall try and reciprocate but tried and failed earlier on to create a link to Pierre Turlur's blog.

You are the first person from Dogen Sangha to show an openness to what I have been struggling to say about the relevance of Alexander's discoveries. I really appreciate it. Some good stuff has been written by Alexander teachers on the subject of walking. I remember in particular an article by a man called, if I remember rightly, Willard White. I think it is in a book called Curiosity Recaptured.

If you are familiar with Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, as I guess you might be, you should know that for Master Dogen "Buddhist scholar" is one of the lowest forms of insult. "Zen fraudster," "Zen bastard," -- anything, please, other than "Buddhist scholar." I never had a ceremony to become a priest in the Soto Sect, but I have shaved my head for 19 years, and I consider myself a monk. I asked Nishijima Roshi about it, and he affirmed that if I have the mind to be a monk, I am a monk, regardless of the lack of ceremony.

The person who first shaved my head, back in 1986, was David Essoyan. Have you heard of him? He lives in your neck of the woods. I think that he is a 6th Dan now in Okinawan Goju-Ryu. When I first went to Japan in 1982 it was with a view to seeking Zen enlightenment in the martial arts. David was my sempai at Yoyogi Dojo, and he took me under his wing. We remain friends.

I also am fond of the music of Hank Williams Snr.... Hear that lonesome whipporwill, He sounds too blue to fly. The midnight train is whining low.... Reminds me of very lonely days in Japan, when I working on Shobogenzo, before I met my wife. I gave up a lot for that translation. Jules has no idea what he or she is writing about. If people knew what really happened, they might forgive me a little bitterness.

Onward and upward.

Michael said...

Hi Mike,

Many thanks for your comments! I'll edit the description of the link to your blog accordingly.
I'm not familiar with David Essoyan, but I'll try to find out more about him.
So, you studied Goju-ryu as well? It's a small world. Do you still train?
I started out in Shotokan karate and continued my study of it for part of the time I lived in Japan. The dojo was in Inage-ku in Chiba City. When I returned to the U.S., I couldn't find a good Shotokan dojo near my apartment, but I discovered Goju-ryu and have loved it these past two and a half years.
Speaking of Japan, I think you and I met at Nishijima-sensei's zendojo.
I was a sporadic attendee in the mid-to-late Nineties. I remember Taijun fairly well, and saw her during a visit to the zendojo last year when I was in the Tokyo area.
I also remember a zendojo resident named Victor who used to give me no end of grief because I was in Japan under the auspices of the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program, and he hated everything (and maybe everyone) who had anything to do with it. It seems he had a bad experience while on the program himself.
Anyway, thanks again!

Mike Cross said...

(Not sure the best place to post this comment so will let you choose)

Hi Michael,

I also live in fear of losing my life the whole time--though sometimes I am more aware of it than others. We are in the same boat. It looks like yours is going to arrive at the far shore before mine--but there again, who knows?

Thanks for your response to my comment. No, I haven't really trained now for about 15 years--although I still remember elements from the old Goju-Ryu warm-up, and I still regard Morio Higaonna Sensei as a very great influence. Above all, he taught me to revere Kata. Zazen became for me an extensiono of the Goju-Ryu kata. Higaonna Sensei called Sanchin kata "kihon no naka no kihon" (what is basic within basics). I came to think of Zazen as "kihon no naka no kihon no naka no kihon." And then as I have begun to understand Alexander thinking, I have come to regard that as "kihon no naka no kihon no naka no kihon no naka no kihon"!! Maybe there is still further to go. Who knows?

I don't remember meeting you at the Zazen dojo. I was one of the first residents there when it opened in 1987. I was kind of in charge of the place in Nishijima Roshi's absence. But I didn't get on with some of the other residents and in the end I left. It was from that time on that I really threw myself into the Shobogenzo translation. I felt it was a job that I could do autonomously, which would be no bad thing given my manifest poor ability to harmonize with others.

I basically did not return to the Zazen dojo after that, although I stayed for a couple of weeks in 1998. Maybe we met then, but I don't remember it.

Thanks again to you too.

mrsbeach said...

Great pictures!!

Michael said...

Thanks, everyone!