Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Into Great Silence

The first time I went back to London after I moved to San Francisco, I was staying with my best friend and his girlfriend, and hearing about their stressful, over-filled lives, and how that impacted their time together. With all the zeal of a new convert, I suggested to them, unlikely as they were to develop a meditation practice, that they try just sharing an evening in silence: cooking together, which they loved to do, eating, cleaning up, reading, just hanging out, without conversation, and no TV or radio as a constant backdrop, which was the norm there. They both looked at me like I was crazy.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the last three weeks, for me, was this extended shared silence. Many people here at City Center have commented on it, how widely it was upheld and how refreshing and relaxing it was to be immersed like that for that length of time. Green Gulch during sesshin was the same, with of course the added backdrop of the mostly silent grounds. Yesterday I was noticing how jarring it felt to be walking around City Center and hearing loud conversations everywhere.
There is a couple who have recently been showing up regularly to afternoon zazen, and I was happy to see them when they appeared. I know nothing about them; I have a story in my head that they might be Russian, just from appearances, but they used to come pretty often when I was first ino, and then I didn't see them for a long time. I have never talked to them, so I don't know why they stopped coming, but I was just glad that they were sitting again and that we have the opportunity to spend time in silence together. I have similar stories and feelings about other people who come in the afternoons, or on Saturdays, with whom I have also never exchanged more than smiles. As I have said before, when you live at Tassajara, and most of your time is spent together in silence, social bonds are formed in different ways, as energy and intention become your cues to other people.
Simon, Tim and I were having one of our regular chats about Young Urban Zen over lunch yesterday, and Tim said he wanted to try having the group end and leave in silence some time. The energy shifts during the meetings are always fun to observe - the crescendo of chat as people arrive (we had more than fifty again last night), the rapid settling into quiet as we sit together, and then the hum of conversations as we discuss the text we are studying. At the end, a more intimate but also louder arena of socialising - I had some lovely conversations myself last night during the 'after party'. The three of us could definitely also see the value in having a short sit at the end of the meeting to bring everyone back to that shared silent intimacy that we create during the period of zazen, and having everybody carry that out into the night by themselves.
I had to do more talking myself than usual yesterday, as I sat down with Valorie and started the transition process. The first stop was the computer, and we worked through the ino's storehouse of folders, the electronic version of which I am happy to say is more organised than the actual cupboards in the office. But it was also clear, in response to several questions, that there is also a lot of stuff that just resides in my head, which we will have to find ways to unearth and pass on.


Daigan said...

Does it ever really get passed on? I experience as a lived thing. Somethings you just can't know or learn until you are in the middle of it, and all hell is breaking loose and you find a way to just move through it with some grace.

Or maybe that's just my story today.

Shundo said...

What is passed on? Say quickly!

Hannah said...

I've been thinking about suggesting closing-zazen and a silent exit at Young Urban Zen for quite some time. I'd love to see what the effect would be- let's try it!

Shundo said...

And so what did you think last night?