Practices for PP Opening Sesshin

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Good morning. Well, we're preparing now for the spring six-week practice period, our annual six-week practice period, which will begin on May 5th and end with our five-day Sashin in June. So I want to talk a little bit about our attitude for practice period and what we can expect and how we can rejuvenate our practice. This six-week practice period, like all things in spring, is a great help for renewing our


practice, just like everything starts to energize, the earth energizes, plants energize, start to bloom. So how do we bloom as the ornaments of our practice? So, in our newsletter, I wrote about our attitude and I also wrote about some practices that we can do anytime, anyplace. So, I wrote, what are we endeavoring to accomplish during these six weeks of concentrated and


peaceful abiding? Ongo means peaceful abiding. How we can harmonize with each other and support each other and allow our practice to be fresh and inspirational and give us a tone for the rest of the year. Here's a little bit about what I said. A student asked Suzuki Roshi what he meant by a non-gaining mind. You know, when we study Suzuki Roshi's words, he talks about no-gaining mind. To which he replied, you are perfect just the way you are, but you could use some improvement.


So that's pretty good, you know. No-gaining means that everything you need, you already have, although I would say that the fundamental you is incomparable and it can't be diminished and it can't be improved. But there is help on the way. We practice with the bees and the birds, but everything has its rightful place. So the bees belong outside, the people belong inside. So there may be some value to self-improvement, that's true, but our true self is not subject


to gain or loss or improvement. So each one of us is unique and incomparable. You cannot compare yourself with someone else, even though we do all the time. That's called value. But our true self is called virtue. So value is how we compare one thing with another. We value one thing over another. There's a hierarchy of values and we're stuck there. But in our practice, we're not stuck there. Our practice is to free us from dependence on value and bring out the virtue, the incomparable virtue of each one of us. So no matter how good or bad you feel, you're great, big.


So practice period is the time to set aside, as best we can, our needy side, and to settle the self on the self, taking off the cover and allowing our bigger self to breathe easy, our magnanimous self, actually, to breathe easily. Usually we have a cover, a mind cover, an emotional cover, a needy cover, which blocks our true joy. So when that's removed, we spring to life without impediments. So there are minimum requirements, which I don't want to talk about.


I don't want to really talk about so much what we sign up for, but each one of us has to design our own amount of participation. So we kind of up the ante on our practice and we look at our life, we look at what are our responsibilities, what do we have to take care of at home? This is a basically lay-type practice with a monastic overtone. I guess I could call it that. And according to our home life, our work life, our study life, all of the activities that


we are involved with, we have to look at that and then decide, well, you know, I come to Zazen twice a week, but maybe I can do three times a week, or maybe I can do an afternoon and a morning, or something like that, to give our practice an edge. But at any rate, whether we can actually do that much or not, we don't have to feel obligated to stretch ourselves that much, but a little stretch is really good. Sometimes just adding one more period of Zazen is a stretch. So it gives vitality. Stretching gives vitality. When you stretch your practice, it becomes more vital.


But if you stretch it too much, you get discouraged. So practice is to know just how much to do. That's enlightened practice. I know just how much to do, but I'm going to stretch myself a bit. And I also advise you to stretch your body, which gives you vitality. So, our tendency, you know, over a year is to feel, we set some example for ourself for a year, and then we come to a place where things get kind of soggy, our life gets a little bit soggy. In a practice period, in a three-month practice period, like a monastic practice period, in the middle of the practice period, in the beginning, there's a lot of effort and energy. By the end of the, by the middle of the practice period, everybody's kind of a little tired


and struggling and so forth, and so we have to re-energize ourself. One way or another, make an effort to re-energize so that we can continue for the rest with energy and effort. So, that's what our practice period here is, to energize ourself, let go of our stodginess or where we're kind of lax or thinking, why am I doing this? So, to rethink what is my effort in practice, and then to follow that decision to stretch myself. As you get older, you know, we've been doing this for a long time, maybe 50 years, and


believe it or not, people get older even though they look the same. And so, as you get older, we tend to get more, you know, you sit down in a chair, and then you have to think twice before you get up again. It's a little harder to get up again. And if we don't stretch ourself, we stay in the chair. And then when we stay in the chair, we get smaller and smaller. You notice people, as they get really old, they get shorter. I know people who were my size, 5'7", now they're 5'5". I used to look at eye level with them, and now I look down at them.


So, in order to maintain your size, your vitality, you have to stretch yourself. And the older you get, the more important it is to stretch yourself because you're not moving around in the same way that you did when you were younger. That kept you upright and the same size. So, I want to give you some… I wrote down off the top of my head some practices that you can do just all the time. Nothing special, but it's called enlightened activities. So, to cultivate patience. Patience here means to find your center and to settle on the present moment.


To actually settle on the present moment because we're always moving. Everything's moving. Everything around us is moving. Even the inanimate objects are moving. Inanimate objects. There's no such thing as inanimate objects. Everything is moving, and everything is moving together with myself. And we think of our life as continuous. One continuous moment, even though we divide it into moments. We divide one continuous motion into pieces, called various activities. But actually, we live moment to moment. Even though our life looks like continuity, each moment is a discrete moment that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but we don't recognize always the beginning, middle, and end of each moment. It's like a motion picture on film.


Each section of the film is a little bit different than the last one. And when all those discrete moments or pictures are put together in a certain rhythm, it looks like smooth continuity. But it's actually moment to moment. And patience means to be present on each one of those discrete moments. That's what I call patience. Not to get ahead and not to be behind, but to be right in time. We usually think of patience as… Well, actually, the Chinese character for patience is a person kneeling with a sword resting on the top of their head.


We don't necessarily think of our life like that. Some do. Sometimes that will happen to us. As a matter of fact, it happens a lot. When we're driving, if we don't have that kind of patience, sooner or later, bonk. Then they haul away your car. And you. So to be in each moment, to actually live that moment thoroughly is called patience. And it's also called enlightened activity. To live each moment thoroughly. Thoroughness. That's one of Dogen's most important teachings. It's called thoroughness. Thoroughness means to live each moment thoroughly and completely.


Otherwise, we miss our life. Our life just kind of goes by, but we haven't really lived it thoroughly. So that's our practice. That's one reason why we sit Zazen. We sit Zazen in order to live each moment thoroughly, moment by moment, without losing our patience. And another one is to complete one activity before going on to the next. And you pick something up, and you put it down. I used to, when my son was... When we used to live upstairs, over there, my son was three or four, five.


He would be watching Sesame Street during Sashin. He didn't come to Sashin. I did. And I'd go up during the break, and I'd look at Sesame Street, and it was wonderful. Because it was like, stand up, take a step, take another step, sit down, turn around. It was perfect, you know. It was like, walk back, walk around, one thing at a time, thoroughly. And that's the way kids do anyway. We did that once. Then we have to learn how to do it again. So we really have to learn how to live our life completely after we have kind of lost touch with it,


through our continuous activity. You know, it's like the embarrassing silence. A group of people are talking, shattering away, you know, and then suddenly nobody has anything to say. And it all stops. And it's the embarrassing silence. Who's the first person who's going to say something and break the silence? And everybody's sitting around not knowing what to do because of the stuck-in continuity. So the embarrassing silence is actually your true nature, expressing itself as simply this. But we miss it. So we have to sit thousand in order to realize that embarrassing silence.


You don't have to be embarrassed by it. People say, what do you do when you sit? I remember a long time ago, a long time, when I first started sitting, there was this musician that I knew. And I was starting to study the flute. And he said, what do you do there? Just sit there. You know, while you're doing that, you can take your flute. Anyway, so to always know where your center is. Always be aware of being centered so that you don't get thrown off by anything. We find our center when we breathe, if we breathe deeply.


You know, it's hard to be aware of breathing all the time. But if you do breathe deeply, if you understand how to breathe deeply, and you breathe deeply all the time, you're not aware of your breath when you're doing various activities. But when you stop doing one activity, you come back to your breath. If you really understand breathing, there's some part of you that is always aware of the breath. It may be semi-conscious, but it's always there. And what the problem so many people have is that they're never aware of their breath, unless they're frightened. Then the breath constricts in your chest. So I say this over and over again, and you probably get bored by hearing it,


but it's most vital in our practice to be aware of your breath in your lower abdomen. Of course, it's always in your lungs, but it feels like it's the center of your body. So we're always centered on the center of our body, no matter what we're doing. When you inhale, the breath expands. When you exhale, it contracts. Expansion, inhale, contraction. And I often ask people, where is your breath? And they're not sure. Most people are not sure. So this is a practice that we should be aware of all the time,


to renew our understanding or our awareness of where our breath is, all the time. This aids our vitality and calms our mind. And then there's engaging each activity wholeheartedly. Engaging each activity wholeheartedly is to let go of subject and object. When we are one, so to speak, with our activity, there's no separation. And then we try to figure out, well, what does that mean, no separation?


I'm here and it's there, right? But our surroundings are integral with who we are. So there's the chair and the pillar and the floor, and we look at them as objects. I am here and the object is there. But when we're walking, we say, I am walking on the ground, or I am walking on the floor. But actually, the floor is also walking me. We always look at everything from the point of view of ourself. We are the center of everything. We are the center of the universe. But actually, the center of the universe is everywhere. There's no special center, even though there is a center.


We can point it out. This is the center of this, this is the center of that. Nevertheless, whatever we are engaged with, whatever so-called inanimate objects where our engagements are a part of ourself. So we treat everything. Soto Zen practice is to treat everything very carefully and with respect. Because everything is a part of ourself. But we don't think everything is a part of ourself because of our self-centeredness. So to let go of our self-centeredness is to allow everything to, allow us to engage with everything as ourself. I know, John, you want to say something. That's okay. What is it?


When you said our activity, that we're one with our activity, then you say our self, and it seems to drop away. Something about the self leaves behind the activity that you were saying is not separate from our self. So when you say, oh, the book is our self, and all these things are our self, how do we retain? Don't retain. Or how do we understand the presence of the unity, retain the understanding of the unity of our activity? By leaving everything, by leaving everything behind. There's only the activity that is our self. There's only the activity of this moment. That's all there is. Past, future. Future is an idea. Past is gone. There's only this moment, which includes the past and includes the future, which is only an idea.


That's all there is. So to live that way in each moment. We're supported by everything. There's no such thing as our self in actual fact. But we have to create one in order to integrate with our surroundings. But we forget that our surroundings plus myself is myself. If the surroundings are gone, so am I. I can't exist without the surroundings. So they have an objective reality, but they're really not separate. So when we treat everything, recognize and take care of our surroundings, we're actually taking care of our self. Because inanimate objects, there's no such thing. They're only inanimate from the point of view of myself as animate.


And they do have a quiet existence. There's a tree. We cut down the tree and then we saw it into wood. We call it wood. So it's no longer a tree. Everything is like that. It's wood. We have an animal. Kill the animal and cut it up and eat it. And it's no longer animal. It's food. It's something else. That's the way things exist. So everything we work with is changing, including our self. But we see our self as unchanging and everything else is changing. I mean, we don't see that exactly, but that's the mode. So we are moving with everything, changing with everything. So subject and object are, we can think in terms of subject and object, but actually, truly,


when we treat everything with respect and use it, instead of using stuff, we relate to it. Not as, respect it for what it is and not for what its use to us is. That's the point. I respect a cat for being a cat, but not for what it does for me. So, I will say, I take the dog, I have a dog so that it will help me when I, it takes me out of the house and makes me walk. That's the use, but it's not respecting the dog. I respect the dog for itself or the cat for itself. And then we cooperate because we're both in the movement business.


Anyway, I want, you know, I ran a, oh, during the practice period, we're going to be studying this book by Dogen called Tenzo Gyokun. Dogen's suggestions to the Tenzo of how to work in the kitchen, make the kitchen work, how to be one with the kitchen, which is exactly what we're talking about. All these aspects of our persona, of our person, is expressed in this study. So that's why this study is great for practice period, because it's about how we actually practice with stuff, with objects, which are, and how we don't treat them as objects. And we don't treat each other as objects. So I'm going to read you a few little passages, one little passage from this Tenzo Gyokun.


So Dogen says, in all the many monasteries located in the various mountains I have visited in Song, China, this is when he went to China, a young man. The monks holding the respective offices worked in their capacity for one year at a time, yet they always maintained and exhibited the same attitude as the head of the community. In other words, they used the head of the community as an example. And the three aspects of this attitude are to see that working for the benefit of others benefits oneself. To understand that through making every effort for the prosperity of the community, one revitalizes one's own character. And to know that endeavoring to succeed and to surpass the patriarchs of the ancestors of past generations means to learn from their lives and to value their examples.


And my footnote here is, we do it not for ourselves or for others. We don't practice for ourselves, and we don't practice for others. We just practice for the sake of practice. And then practice takes care of myself and takes care of others. Just doing something for myself is not our practice. Just doing something for others is not our practice. Just practicing for the sake of practice is practice for myself and is practice for others. Practicing for myself is selfish. Practicing for others is also selfish. You may not think so. You may say, I do everything for the sake of others. That's a little bit egotistical. Believe it or not, you just practice to make things work.


Just do something to make it work. So when you do something, when you cook the meal, you may think, I'm doing this for others, and I'm satisfied for myself. But actually, you just make the meal the best you can. Then everyone benefits without self-centeredness. So we take care of Buddha. If we take care of Buddha, Buddha will take care of the rest. To be very clear about this, he says, a fool sees oneself as other, but a wise man sees herself as himself. That's non-dualistic talk. But a wise man sees others as herself.


Then he says that the Tenzo should cultivate three minds. Joyful mind, light-hearted and joyful. Parental mind, taking care of everyone as your sibling. And magnanimous mind, forgetting yourself and taking care of the universe. So those are some of Dogen's basic attitudes. And then I run across something that I really like, which I will end with. Six practices which are not Zen. Six practices that are not Zen. So number one is called Jikoka, Jijoka, something.


It was called the Zen of Hell. This is those who are practicing for the sake of position or are forced into it by family pressures or political pressures. So in Japan, because the practice is so well established, the family might pressure someone to practice. Or because someone is married to somebody, they may feel pressured to practice. This is the practice of Hell. Sometimes people commit, young men commit suicide because they're forced to go to Eheichi. You know. And they can't take the rigor. Those who do it are pressured by friends or spouse or forced to do it for some outside reason. They don't want to do it. I mean, I can see that that's the practice of Hell.


Who wants to sit at sashimi when they don't want to? Looking, I call it, looking in the wrong place for nourishment. So then there's Gaki Zen, hungry ghosts Zen. Lusting after enlightenment. Working for a prize so they can be powerful, show off, or be admired. Their practice is in the realm of desire, not way-seeking mind. And then there's Chikusho Zen, domestic animal. Looking for a comfortable place to spend their time. They like to practice for all the peripheral reasons and do just enough to be able to hang out.


They like their food, and they like the social aspect. And then there's the Shina Zen, which is competitive, Macho Zen. They compete to gain Satori. Who's going to get Satori first? And who's going to get positions first? Compete to gain position. Compete to gain recognition. Vying for dominance. Breaking the kiyosaku, or the stick, to prove your manhood. Macho Zen, competing to see whose practice is the most severe. Who can be the most ascetic and wanting control or manipulation. And then there's Ningen Zen of gaining.


Zen for utilitarian purposes. To make you stronger. To get their heads straightened out. Or for good health. Or stamina. To preserve their youth. To gain something. The art of Zen. Suzuki-ryoshi should talk about the art of Zen. You go to Japan to get Zen, and you meet some shining Zen master. But it's all the art of Zen. If you can recognize it as Zen, it's probably not. Zen and the art of. Or to get something in return. What's the payoff? And then there's Tenjo Zen, which is called hobby Zen.


Or dilettante Zen. I like hobby Zen better. Setting up your own practice in seclusion. In other words, I can get it by sitting at home. I don't have to go to the Zen Dojo or be part of the Sangha or learn anything. I can do this myself. Sitting around talking about Zen and drinking tea. Feeling no need to practice with others. They never find the right teacher, no matter how hard they look. Of course. Don't like to submit to any authority. Think they know better than any teacher. Sit Zen a few times and go off to impress people in it with this superior knowledge.


So, going to various people with their superior knowledge. Going to various teachers seeking acknowledgement. Like, I had this enlightened experience and I want to check it out with you. So, they tell you the experience. So, the teacher says, well, congratulations. Now what? Well, they don't know what. So, there are actually three types. I don't want to type people, but there are so-called three types of people. One is of Zen students. Actually, there are four types. One type is the student who goes because they like the teacher, the Buddha.


The other type is they come because they like the Dharma. And the other type is because they like the Sangha. But they only choose one of them. So, the person who comes because they like to have dokusan or they like to just talk to the teacher and all that. But they don't care about the Sangha or they don't care about the Dharma study. And then there's the kind who likes the Dharma. They like to study. But they don't particularly care for the teacher or the Sangha. And then there's the kind of intellectual. And then there's the Sangha type who likes to talk to people and hang out with people and go to parties and stuff like that. But they don't particularly like to… the teacher doesn't mean much and the study doesn't mean much.


And then there are combinations, of course, of all these three. But the kind of student who is a true student pays attention to the teacher, studies the Dharma and practices with the Sangha. That's called complete practice. So, it's nice to be a complete practitioner. So that you receive, you know, it's like a pot with three legs. If one of the legs is missing, the pot tips over, right? If two of the legs are missing, the pot tips over even more. And with three of the legs missing, the pot just rolls away. So, I suggest a three-legged pot which really holds the meat, that holds the missionary.


And then he gets cooked by the natives. So, I encourage you to sign up for the practice period and we can all have fun practicing with each other. It should be fun, you know. It's serious fun. Which is the best kind? I think. I could be wrong. Actually, when we're all engaged, you know, it really feels good. The Dharma comes alive through all of us. And when we're all holding up the container, we're all in the pot together. We appreciate that vitality.


Yes, Ken. A few days ago, Alan sent out an email with a link to this film about the Heiji Monastery in Japan. It's a 40-minute film which supposedly is only going to be there until May 2nd. I don't know if I have it correct at that time. But you can see this film and I thought it was very well done. But what I want to ask you in relation to the practice period is, what this film is doing is showing the practice at Heiji, which is a very strict monastic practice. Similar to what you have at Tatsubara or what you do at Sesshins. But even more so, I mean, you'll see that this is... So I was wondering, in a way, I found this inspiring.


Because it actually showed people during a shuso ceremony, during a shoson, and also how they did the serving, the oriyoki stuff. And in each case, we would find it very familiar. But definitely, this is more rigorous. And I thought, well, this is like the shuso thing. There's a question and the shuso is just like... Oh, thank you! Very rapid. So in a way, it might be seeing... Okay, I understand that there is that aspect. But you could look at that and say, that's how a shuso thing should be. So it could be inspiring, like, boy, look at how this guy is into it, or whatever.


But also, I thought it could be problematic. I'm thinking as we go into this, like, oh, we're not doing it like that. We're hanging loose. How would you see something like that in terms of inspiration or not getting into comparison? Not getting into comparison. That's how I see it. Because you have young boys, it's kind of like a college fraternity, and they're using the stick, which we used to do. Our practice is a little more vivacious in that way. Because we're always using the stick and walking up and down the aisles when people are sitting outside and hitting them with the stick. We used to do that. We have, in the first place, everybody's living at home, which makes a big difference. In the monastery, all the men, young men, are in this narrow practice.


In other words, their self is being squeezed out of them. They come out as shining cherubs. But you can't do that practice. I think our practice is pretty vigorous compared to all the other practices in America. No, our practice is geared toward the people who are here that are practicing. And we don't need that kind of practice. It would be nice to have that experience. As a matter of fact, that's what that is. It's boot camp. And the young men go in for anywhere from one to three years and then go home and relax and drink beer and smoke cigarettes. Whereas our practice is continuous. We're very different.


Nobody does this practice in Japan. This practice is really strict. This practice is really strong because we do it forever. They do that for a certain period of time. So, you don't have to compare these things. That's a certain kind of practice. It has a Japanese kind of strictness, which is beneficial. But if you say beneficial, that's a kind of gaining mind. But it's a hothouse for a certain period of time. And Tassajara is pretty strict. It also doesn't have that edge.


But if you really practice sincerely and throw yourself into the practice of Tassajara, it comes out about the same. I think our practice is very good and very sincere. And I think that it's for a lay and priest combination of practice and daily practice, as our practice is set up, to take away some of the useful energy. It comes out about the same.


But I think this is a vital practice. People come and sit every day, twice a day. You can sit twice a day. You can have as much. The thing is, those guys are forced. They're forced to do that. Our practice is voluntary. And that's a big difference. But it doesn't mean that the forced practice is better. When I say forced, I mean they just do what they're told. You like that? You couldn't survive there. No, I'm sorry. No, I was not posing the question which is better or something. I mean, if anything, if we're going to do that, I would say, I would go for this. But the edge, I want it a little more like,


as I say, when I saw this, obviously I see those problems that you're talking about, but it was still inspirational. Yes. Even if it's scripted, when you see this show doing this, and the people are doing this, wow! It's just like if you're a tennis player, and then you see Roger Federer or somebody playing, it affects you. You go out and you play tennis better because you've kind of gotten in, you've absorbed some sort of energy or something like that. And so I'm still, the fact of just seeing on the screen something, of course, is when we move, it's not like doing it. But if it's presented in a certain way,


I still think that this could be, you know, have a good impact. How would you say, just going into practice period, just because it has these other issues you're talking about, like we don't want to be modeling on this other thing. It's inspirational. That's good. That's good. It's inspirational. But that doesn't mean, you know, that it's the right thing to do for you. I mean, you could come to Zazen every morning at the Zindo. And every evening. And every Saturday. And cook meals for us. Yes? As Kim was talking,


I remember being at AAG and really being moved, not so much by the monks, but by the lay people who would come, who didn't dig, and they could come in their steady practice. So in that spirit, what you were just saying, could you say something about how that kind of commitment during the practice period connects to, like we did today in the Bodhisattva ceremony, our renewal of vows? Well, it's renewal of your practice. I guess what I mean is, how do you experience that in terms of waking up together with all beings? Because sometimes for me, it's easier to make the commitment, even when I have a lot of resistance, if I know people are counting on me, but if I get into a mindset like, oh, well, you know, it doesn't really matter if I come or I don't.


It's so easy to do amidst people, places, and things. Well, that's... Okay, I get that. People sometimes come to the Zen Do, and they say, oh, here are these people doing this thing, and I can join that practice. But actually, when you come, you create the practice. Every one of us, the practice doesn't exist without each one of us creating it. And when you come, you make a difference. You may think, it doesn't make a difference if I come or if I don't come. They'll still be doing this, right? Life still goes on even though I'm not living it. We think that. But actually, life doesn't go on unless we're living it. The practice doesn't go on until you are the most important person. Each one of us is the most important person doing this practice


when you're doing it. When you... We are. Each one of us is totally equal and drives the practice. So the more energy we have, the more energy is present. The more we contribute our energy, that's the main thing, is contributing your energy, your effort. And that's what inspires everybody else. The beginner's mind, someone who is just beginning and they don't know what they're doing, but they're searching around and reaching around. And that practice is the most inspiring. The beginner's practice is the most inspiring because you don't know what you're doing and you're stumbling around and you're guessing and you're asking questions and that's the vitality. So, when we have vitality that induces vitality, we say,


well, where are all the young people and all that? Well, if you just practice with vitality, vitality attracts vitality. Water attracts water. So when you say, why aren't they here? Why aren't you here? Why am I not here? Where am I? So you can have as vital a practice as you want. And people come here and they say, this is inspiring. When I walk through the gate, it's inspiring. People tell me that all the time. But when your own practice is dead, you see everything else is dead. Penelope, did you want to say something? You're just waving your hands. Is that Anne back there?


Yes. So we have the desire to practice. So desire is very good when it's directed in the right place. So the desire to practice, if you have very strong desire, that very strong desire can be turned into strong desire to practice. So we say big desire, big Buddha. Usually, we think of desire as bad in Buddhism, but that's not true. Desire in practice is very important. And it just depends on where you apply it. So you apply it to way-seeking mind and it becomes virtue instead of vice. Edward.


Edward. Sorry. Yes. You regroup. Yeah. Yes, I can see, you know, and then and then I just let go and come back to breath. And, you know, nothing is important. Problem is we think whatever we think or want is important. And at some point, we have to let go of what we think is important and just be. Yes.


That's why our practice is to take care of our family members or take care of the situation in which our family members can thrive. That's our practice. Heiji, your family members, are your fellow practitioners. It's a different story. So we practice just as hard as they do, but the circumstances are not the same. When they go home, when they leave the monastery after three years, then they have to practice in the temple. The young boys go from the temples to the monastery and practice in the boot camp. And then they leave and they go back to their temples and take over from their fathers and whatever. And it's just like this,


sort of, except that nobody goes to Zazen. It's different. Jake, is it time? It is. Thank you, Jake. Jake is getting impatient.