PZI Teacher Archives

Fall Sesshin 2021: Freely I Watch the Tracks of the Flying Birds


As recorded on October 22, at PZI Fall Sesshin 2021. Bird tracks and a crane story from long ago in China. Four vows are sung and played by Amaryllis Fletcher & Jordan McConnell. Allison Atwill gives a closing poem.


KOAN: Freely I watch the tracks of the flying birds.

—from Xuedou’s verse in Blue Cliff Record Case 6 (Yunmen’s Good Day koan)

“Freely” is not how someone else does it. Freedom can feel far from us if we’re locked inside—only thinking of what we want, how we appear to others, or what others think.

Freely I go to the DMV.
Freely I deal with my email.
Freely I do my work.

There is no situation in which you cannot be present. It comes out of your own heart, you can’t stop the happiness.

When it rains, it rains through you. It shows you how to participate in it. Geese in the open sky. Pelicans skimming the surf. You feel the wings at your shoulders, the cry in your throat.

Yellow Crane Tavern on the Yangtze River: The story of a painting of a Sandhill Crane that comes to life and carries off the artist. Longing to fly off with the yellow crane.

Li Bai’s poem: Goodbye to a friend at Yellow Crane Tavern. Writing a poem about the yellow cranes is freely watching the tracks of the flying birds.

Zazen is not a place of private refuge; there is violence and tragedy in the world. When we carry through the tracks of the flying birds, there is spaciousness. That is what zazen is for, that we find a path through the world, and then maybe we can help others.

Slowly I cross the stream and extinguish the sound. My footsteps and the tree and you are all mixed up. Dying won’t be a problem: I’ll just freely watch the tracks of the flying birds. “Turn yourself into the night sky…”

Jordan McConnell talks about taking the position of host while playing the open strings on his guitar. Not having anything to do.

For Evening Words, Allison Atwill performs a poem piece about a moth.

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