My favorite priest is leading the practice period at Green Gulch this spring so I've signed up for both one day sittings and the Sesshin at the beginning of April which marks the end of the period. I've found myself lamenting the fact that I won't be able to do a full Practice Period for more than ten years, since I have a seven year old and taking three months off from being a dad is basically unthinkable. So, I'll have to make do as a Zen Reservist: one weekend a month, two weeks a year.
I had a deadline Friday night at midnight, some work had to be completed and submitted. I also had an aunt visiting from out of town, a doctors appointment and a meeting which I needed to be prepared for. Busy day, lots going on, while I was getting packed for the one day I put my Oryoki set next to the door so I wouldn't forget it.
Around 10PM I finished up and finished getting ready, double checking my reservation I noticed that there wasn't the usual note about the guest house stay. Considering this for a second I packed up a small tent and brought it along, after doing some laundry I finally left the house around 11 PM. Guess what I forgot?
There wasn't an note on the door with my name on it, and I didn't want to bust in at 11:30 and see if there was a room unoccupied I could use for the night and settle up with the office in the morning, besides I hadn't slept out for a while, so I headed down to the beach. Walking through the farm at night with just a crescent moon and the glow of the city over the hills is an experience of sounds and smells (the compost heap is a particularly fragrant spot), the creek babbling along with you on it's way to the ocean, the wind rusting the trees and grasses, the howling of coyote up in the hills, the breath and chewing of the horses outside the bottom gate, the scurrying in the bushes on the path to the beach.
The tent I brought is a bivvy shelter, I can pack it with the mattress and sleeping bag already in and roll them up into a compact bundle that sets up in less than five minutes. The hike down to the beach is about fifteen minutes, so right around midnight I was tucked into bed on Muir Beach, with a great view of the sky and the surf in my ears. Despite that I didn't sleep much, and the first sitting is at five, I had to get up, break camp, hike back and get changed then stash everything back in the car. There was just enough time for coffee.
There is a lot of talk about wholehearted practice around here, reminding us that the Way of Zen (and I think any other serious religious practice) demands complete dedication. It's like a marriage, unless you commit to working through the hard times together it's very difficult to make real progress. We see an aspect of this in the Christian tradition of Nuns becoming figuratively married to Christ and wearing bands on their hands.
When we sit on the cushion with the intent of giving ourselves wholly to our own Buddha nature for a day we give up our everyday thinking and engage in examining ourselves so that we can provide support for all brings. It seems like selfish navel gazing but everyone in the zendo is working as hard as they can to improve themselves and help the people around then. Sitting silent and still with that intention is both an welcome break from our daily accumulation of karma and an opportunity to discover how to keep from reacting without first considering the outcomes, which tends to improve the quality of the karma that we do create.
Confession and Repentance
I wasn't very wholehearted in sitting, especially not at Oryoki, which was a bit of a disaster, I neglected to ask the Ino for guest bowls, thinking that the form would the the same as the Saturday morning Oryoki breakfasts at City Center, so there wasn't a tray for whoever came in after me, since I took theirs. I didn't find out about that until after breakfast, which I felt pretty bad about.
There's no setsu, just a paper napkin; a metal spoon, which can be loud against the bowls if you aren't very, very careful; and the chopsticks are very polished lacquer and round, which makes them roll around on the tray and there was no way I could pick up the almonds with them. When we got to the wash cycle I tried to use the paper napkin on the end of the spook as a setsu, which almost works. When it came time to drink the ambrosia I was amused to find that it tasted a lot like paper napkin.
The services felt good to do twice in a day, but I was completely relieved when i was on the morning dish shift. Lunch in the Zendo went better than breakfast, I figured out how to clean with the napkin so that it doesn't end up disintegrating into the cleaning water, made a nice stack of bowls and dropped them off in the kitchen. Took a walk down the farm road for a bit then back for a coffee or two before the afternoon sits started.
After tea, there is a short break, I stopped by the office and signed up for the sesshin at the end of the practice period and at that point, already in my jacket, with my car key in my hand, that I knew it was time to go home. My legs were complaining louder and louder as the day progressed, my lack of sleep catching up with me, I pulled a sheet of paper out of my pocket and penciled in a quick note to the Ino, who wasn't at her post in Cloud Hall, stopped to tell the Doshi's Jika just to make sure and got in the car.
I drove across the bridge and into the city, not to my house but directly to Macy's. I needed to buy some sheets and new pillows for the house, having thrown out the old ones the night before. After taking them home and putting them in the washer I called up a friend who had been wanting to talk and went out to dinner. So, in the end, I skipped out on the last three sittings to go shopping, eat fancy food and have drinks with a buddy.
Looks like I'm going to need a little more practice.