Saturday, August 4, 2012


As the days went by in the retreat, I appreciated the silence more and more; eventually the notes and requests slowed down some, and the after-breakfast schedule of sitting, study, and extended open sitting felt very settling to me. There was something about being able to flow right from one activity to the next that reminded me of being at Tassajara, and was deeply rewarding.
I was still struggling with my own suffering, and this meant that patience, kindness and compassion were in short supply. For anyone from the retreat who was on the receiving end of a sharp glare or a snappy response, I can only belatedly apologise.
Having long been a fan of the format, I had some time ago requested to be allowed to take off for the Genzo-e sesshin at Green Gulch; Teah was kind enough to encourage me to go, even though it would inevitably have an impact on the retreat, and Rosalie and Christina worked to make it happen. Djinn was brave enough to volunteer to sit in the ino's seat, which I will have to make up to her somehow. This meant I had to prepare everything for the City Center sesshin, happening simultaneously, a few days ahead of time before I left - of course there were people who I didn't have in any of my lists who I happened to hear from other sources were intending to come, so I had to do most of the logistics twice. The end of the week before last was filled with sorting out: all the Saturday sitting paperwork, Saturday lecture announcements for two weeks, a sound system guide, the sesshin admonitions, sesshin announcements, sesshin services, sesshin paperwork - schedules, jobs list, participant list, seating charts (some marked for meals), doanryo schedule - as well as full instructions for the other things that were going to be happening during the week: a leaving ceremony, memorial ceremonies, the full moon ceremony, the Suzuki Roshi Memorial ceremony, and not least, a day-by-day checklist of things that would need to be taken care of.
Which was more stressful than to be doing the sesshin myself. Nevertheless, on Saturday morning, for the first time since I came back from Tassajara four years ago, I stayed in my room and let the morning schedule go on without me, and at the end of the morning, rode over to Green Gulch. Once I got over the bridge, I could feel myself relaxing.
Now, I have only really sat at Green Gulch on Sunday mornings occasionally, and been to a few ceremonies, so I was bringing some beginner's mind with me. Carolyn, my counterpart there, was surprised to see me come for the zendo forms introduction, but I had no idea what the form for kinhin was like, or for leaving, and I had never seen a service or done oryoki there. Of course, it was mostly familiar and easily deduceable, but there were lots of little things just different enough to keep me on my toes.
Having spent two weeks getting close to silence, this was another smooth transition from one activity to another. There was just a little bit more sitting through the day, about as much as a regular winter day at Tassajara, which was no problem for my legs. And after two weeks' of study time and Teah's classes, I was already attuned to reading and thinking about Dogen. Now, Teah's style and Shohaku's could hardly be more different: in the city we screened a PBS show from The Fabric of the Universe that illustrated the illusory nature of time, to go with Uji, which we were studying there; Shohaku is more likely to pull out an old Chinese waka to demonstrate how two kanji made their way into a phrase by Dogen, and not by accident, and also give deep contextual meanings to the kanji themselves. Both were completely enlivening - when I was able to focus.
After I had got used to the novelty of sitting facing the wall again, I found myself very tired on the second and third days, and swamped with difficult thoughts again; it was less 'dropping off body and mind' than body and mind falling apart, and on the third day I felt barely functional. In the zendo I made myself focus on three things: the weight of my body on the cushion, the air filling my upper body, and my eyes resting on the richly coloured wood of the tan. A couple of days later, on the last full day, I was back in focus again; I told myself I was not defined by the thoughts, and they receded accordingly; I was fully absorbing the teaching, and feeling energised by it.
My work assignment was the farm; a group of us spent about forty minutes each afternoon variously weeding, hoeing and digging up potatoes, which was very refreshing to do; on Thursday, as I started to feel better, several of us noticed an owl in the trees above the field where we met for work.  Some crows were trying to shoo it away, but it remained unperturbed; horses and bicycles were also ignored. I was happy to keep looking up at it as we worked, and it kept its gaze on us, and the surroundings, right through the work period. That may have been the best moment of the sesshin, for being so unexpected.
This morning once again, back in the city, I heard the morning schedule going on around me, and kept a low profile so as not to be in the way of the sesshin's final hours, which gives me a longer weekend than usual. On Monday the plan is to start training Valorie as my replacement, which will go on through the month before that transition takes place, and that seems a little closer now.

Greens in the fields

Starts in the greenhouse

Lavender with many bees

Watchful owl

Jizo in the zendo


Amy said...

That owl seemed somehow cat-like in her supreme smugness and superiority. Unruffled, regal. Like everything taking place in the fields below was at her pleasure, and we were just barely worthy of notice. Beneath her, in more ways than one.

It was a pleasure to practice with you, in the zendo and in the fields. Thanks again for the blog!

Shundo said...

Thank you for your kind words, Amy, it was nice to be there with you as well. Regal is a great word for the owl.

Sandy's witterings said...

We often take routes through the New Town in Edinburgh - it's quieter and admire various bit of garden as we go along (though most have to settle for a selection of pots in that area). The one that caught our attention most last weekend was one that was mostly vegetable plot. There can be as much delight in seeing rows of neatly tended vegetable as there is in flowers.

Shundo said...

Definitely the same miracle of life...