The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures in the Zen tradition are a series of poems and images describing the steps of a seeker of truth. The sequence, in short, is searching for the ox, discovering the footprints, seeing the ox, catching it, taming it, riding it, freeing it, transcending it, reaching the source of you and ox. And then the final picture is returning to the marketplace with bliss-bestowing hands, mingling with the people of the world as an ordinary person who can make dead trees spring to life with your mere presence.
I can’t claim such lofty abilities, but I did descend from our annual retreat up to Mount Tamalpais and two days at the West Point Inn with a bit more happiness radiating from the body and ready to face the New Year with the full measure of my meager powers. Returning there for the 15th year with two other families, it’s the perfect blend of family, friends, evening games, great cooking, daily hikes, music (piano there and this year a banjo), reading, writing, astonishment at our longevity (before this were the snow trips with the same families, starting around 1986) and delight in the next generation of kids from 2 to 6. And then there’s waking up each morning to the astonishing view that has been my blog screensaver (this year’s version above) and then stepping out at night to look at the moon or the stars.
One family missed this year to be at the birth of their second granddaughter and another was missing their kids and grandkids gone to visit the other grandparents, but still we managed to fill the house. Some highlights of this trip were Zadie (granddaughter), Talia (daughter) and I putting on spontaneous plays at the Mountain Home Theater, playing horseshoes with Zadie and Malik (grandson) and then a real game with Ronnie (son-in-law), and my lifetime of reading and curiosity paying off as I conversed with seven different people around seven different themes—old movies, depth psychology, English poetry (reciting poems together), the history of racism, German culture and politics, education. Happy to have something to contribute to the conversation and happy to have something to learn.
Though we skipped it the last two years (last year partly because of my surprise attack of kidney stones!), I often ended the trip with my wife Karen and two friends walking down the mountain to Mill Valley, catching a bus to Sausalito, a ferry to San Francisco and a streetcar home, a five-hour undertaking of great delight making the transition back to busy city life slowly. This year did it with Karen and Talia and again that feeling of having caught sight of the ox, followed it, tamed it and ridden it a bit. But instead of the ox of Buddhist enlightenment achieved in solitary meditation, it was simply a taste of life as it’s meant to be lived in a small, dynamic group of some 15 to 20 people balancing companionship and solitude, games and conversations, hiking and relaxing, the little ones taken care of and enjoyed by the whole village, the surrounding beauty of pines and hummingbirds, hills and ocean and the City’s silhouette in the distance, above it all and also part of it all, no distracting machines or bright lights. A little piece of heaven 45 minutes away by car from our city home.
And so the year winds to its close and ready to take hold of the next, with bliss-bestowing hands.