Sunday, July 17, 2011

Go Sit in the Hall

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lesions from God"

- Kurt Vonnegut

So, there I was Thursday at work, killing some time reading the Ino's Blog and I notice that there's a one-day sitting on Saturday. Well, I was planning on going for the early sit and service before the lecture anyway so why not make a day of it? Registration deadline was Wednesday, but I figured it was worth a quick call to the office to see if they had space, and I lucked out.

I Suck at Soji

I had the day off work Friday for a couple of appointments, so I got up at first bell and drove down to City Center for the Full Moon Ceremony. It was my first and I'm going to write up a longer article with some details but I got there just before the ceremony, sat for a few minutes in the Gaitan, which is the hallway leading into the Zendo where you sit if you arrive after the Zendo is closed or if you have to leave a sitting early, so your coming and going won't interrupt the meditation in progress.

After Service there's Soji, temple cleaning, I lucked out and got to help setup the Zendo for the sit the next day. We had to take some straw mats and zabutans from the Ino's Closet (I always wondered what was in there…) and lay out the temporarily middle row of seats for a busy Saturday. But my head wasn't in it and I made a few mistakes: walking out the priest's entrance to the zendo, in only my socks into a 'shoes on' zone to get cushions and when i came back i walked right past the altar without even thinking about it. I've done the altar thing once before when returning a zafu but nobody saw me that time.

Defining Dokusan

Turns out that there's two types of teacher interview at Zen Center; you can have practice discussion with any number of senior sanga members, many of whom have received transmission or you can have a formal Dokusan with an Abbot or Senior Dharma Teacher, who I believe were all Abbots at one time. The forms for getting in and out of the room differ a bit, but they're different between Green Gulch and City Center in the first place: there's a full bow before the Abbot before and after the interview instead of the standing gassho bow for a practice discussion.

As I said in my last article, the contents of Dokusan are private, but I will share that I felt like I totally failed the interview. Paul kept asking one simple question: How is your Zazen today? For the life of me I simply couldn't answer, I was so caught up in various anxieties and memories that there really wasn't any Zazen for me that day, I just sat on the cushion and let my run away while I waited for the next service or work period so that I could get off that damn cushion and go do something.

Sitting and doing nothing wasn't happening, no backwards step, no clear mind, I couldn't even sit still. My legs ached all day long and I was constantly adjusting my position. It was by far the hardest day in the Zendo so far, and it was shorter than several days I've put in the the past.

Last Sit

Sitting was so hard, and I was so fidgety that after the kinhin break and before settling into the last sitting session of the day one of my neighbors leaned over and whispered "excuse me", I don't remember exactly how he phrased it but the message was pretty clear: You're being disruptive, go sit in the Gaitan for this session.

So, I grabbed my cushion and headed out of the Zendo the bell, sat seza on my cushion and just started crying and kept going for basically the entire last sitting period. I felt like I'd failed at being a good student, that I wasn't good at anything, a lot of stuff came out, and a lot of it ended up on my sleeve. It was sort of the exact opposite of my Oryoki Incident from last month, instead of having an ecstatic emotional release I was dropped into the ocean of suffering and had to just tread water until the bell for the last service.

The last service was hard, there were still tears streaming down my face, my nose was congested and a couple of times I felt like falling over or fainting when getting back up from a bow, my voice was rough in the chanting and I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to dinner afterwards or just go home and feel sorry for myself.

I ended up staying for dinner, and had a nice chat with a relative newcomer who had come over from a Rinzai temple, I told her about my experience and she related the form at her pervious temple: they yell "Second Zendo" at you in front of everyone and you have to leave. That's after they've hit you with the Keisaku. I'm really not sure which would have been more painful.

Update: Please read the follow-up if you make it all the way down here.