We are still experiencing the New Year boost in attendance; not so much for early morning zazen, but definitely in the afternoons.
I was thinking during this afternoon's period, when I wasn't falling asleep on the cushion, of the tell-tale signs of a new person in the zendo. This is not at all meant to be disparaging, because as I have said before, most of our forms are not self-evident, so there is no reason for people to know them unless they have been shown beforehand. Now, we always encourage people to start with the Saturday morning zazen instruction, so that they are shown beforehand, but of course everyone is free to come whenever they want to and try it out. Maybe this can be a little cut-out-and-keep guide for newer people, and you can check off each one you have successfully mastered.
So the first sign of a new person is if I can hear whispering in the gaitan - this usually means that someone is checking in with the doorwatch about what they should do, and that's a good sign because at least they are concerned about getting it right.
Next is the one that is always the most in my face, bearing in mind where I sit - someone entering the zendo on the right-hand side of the curtain. Again, this is a matter of convention more than anything else, and if you follow the natural line offered by the zabutons in the gaitan, you end up on the right anyway.
Then there is the bow - which should be two steps forward and then a gassho bow to the room. People bow before the threshold, at the threshold, towards the altar - someone even bowed to me today, which was embarrassing. A surprising number of people, even those I think have been around long enough to know better, do a shashu bow instead. Some do not even bow at all.
Hand position is the next clue - the perfect zen student always has their hands in shashu inside the zendo, not in their pockets or swinging at their sides.
Number five, the one that seems to upset most people, the person takes a left turn and walks across in front of the altar. The upset is definitely a conditioned response - if you know it is wrong to do it, it looks bad when someone does. If you don't know, there is no reason why you would worry about it. I have learned to be relaxed about this, though I notice the lurching feeling, which sometimes comes from the doan wanting to run over and grab the person to prevent them from committing this heinous act. I usually grab the doan first, hopefully before they have leapt from their seat.
The one that I do cringe at is the ascent of the tan. New people may or may not do the correct gassho bow to the cushion, a clockwise 180 degree turn and a gassho bow to the room. But instead of sitting back down on the zafu which they have previously pulled towards them so that it is perfectly placed to receive their backside, some people go head on, climb on the tan - feet on the mealboard for good measure, because there is no way to guess what purpose that strip of wood serves, and stand up on the zabuton before sitting back down . This one always looks bad to me, just because the person is towering over everyone else.
Once seated, of course, everyone is swimming in the same ocean of enlightenment...