Tuesday, October 17, 2006

2nd week of term - October 16, 2006

It's one year since I entered postulancy officially. I'm not thinking of that as much as just how busy things have gotten here. It's been another really great week, though tiring.

On Wednesday, we had a prisoner from Oregon State Penitentiary get out after 22 years in prison. Friends drove him up here to take the precepts from the teacher he worked with in prison -- one of our priests who makes that her work. I was the chant leader for the precepts ceremony, and was very impressed with the fact that this was the first thing he chose to do upon his release. He will actually live in Eugene, because there's a good transition program there and not much here in Portland for him. Maybe he will eventually work his way up here to be part of our Sangha, which would be pretty cool. He has a friend in our sangha who has also been working with him for several years in order to provide some supportive contact on the outside.

Thursday I got a visit from an e-mail pal, a Soto Zen priest from Ohio. She was in town for a conference to take minutes, and had a free afternoon, so I picked her up at her hotel and brought her here for a tour of our facilities and some "shop talk." It was great fun. She was very impressed by our temple and the house, and a little envious -- well, it's a difference between a temple that has been established for 25 years and her center which is just starting out, I gather. There were enough people around here to take up the slack for me taking off for an afternoon to spend time with her, and that was really nice.

That evening there was a lay teacher transmission ceremony that I was not involved with -- in fact, it was supposed to be a secret. Those who live here, however, and many others, all knew about it. I went across the street to ZCO's program, which was nice as always. When I came back and went to bed, there was a lot of thumping and bumping from the house's zendo right above my room, but I couldn't really hear voices, and only a hint of a gong now and then. I wasn't sure whether I could fall asleep or not, but after awhile I woke up to silence and darkness and figured I must have done so.

I don't remember that much about Friday, other than the fact that we did our first Friday evening sitting meditation for the term. I was tired, and struggled to stay awake most of the evening (I was timekeeping, so it's important to stay awake enough to ring the bells now and then).

Saturday after morning sitting and service we did Dharani chanting practice, which was fun. We're getting ready to chant these at our Segaki celebration on Sunday the 29th, something we do once a year. The dharanis are a bit of a challenge to get right, and so last year we practiced quite a bit ahead of time, and had only those people who have practiced do the chanting at the service. Those of us who learned it last year picked it up very quickly again this year, so new people joining us are getting it more easily. Plus we recorded it last year, so people can actually play the recording at home as they need to. The dharanies are transliterations of chants that were originally done in some language that no longer exists -- they are really ancient chants. There's some sense of what they are saying, but no actual translation. They've been transliterated through several languages at this point, so it's doubtful that the original speakers would even recognize them. But there is presumed to be some sort of energy in the sound of the chants themselves. These particular ones are inviting the hungry ghosts in for a day and at the same time invoking protection from the buddhas against their destructive powers. It's kind of like saying come in, but you have to obey some house rules. I always like Segaki, and am beginning to look forward to it. It's one of our four annual retreats, and even though it's only a weekend long, it tends to be fairly intense and sets us up on the road to Rohatsu (the week-long retreat in early December), which is almost always the most deeply experienced retreat of the year.

Saturday evening was the long-awaited talent show. I had managed to stay happily out of it until Domyo grabbed me a week before and told me it would be easy to join her little group. And it was. She had it entirely scripted, and we did it kind of reader theater style, so no having to improv or memorize lines. That left room for all of us to ham it up, which we did. We read through it once on Saturday morning briefly, and found that it didn't require a lot of work -- no choreography or anything. It was one of Domyo's great spoofs on Buddhist texts that she does so well. The picture shows Domyo (in pink sweater) and me (sitting at table). The fellow playing Shantideva was on the other side of the stage.

We weren't the only group doing spoofs on Buddhist stuff -- the Tiny Mind Theater did a takeoff on Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins stalking the wild Zen Buddhists, complete with tagging someone and capturing one of the young (who fought like a wildcat until he was tamed with a cookie). We also had bellydancing, beatboxing, juggling, baton twirling, poetry reading, singing, and a bunch of stuff. The whole thing was pretty fun. I took photos, as did my teacher, and I'll try to get some of the pix up on our website. We had disco dancing afterwards, which led nicely into cleanup, and many people pitched in to cleanup so it was largely done by 10:30pm, not too bad.

Every morning this week (that is, Wednesday through Sunday), I've gotten up at 5am, and have made breakfast for everyone. I've put together lunches most days as well. Saturday night I also made dinner, because no one else was available to do it. Fortunately, there were only 4 of us, and I basically heated up leftovers and threw together a salad from greens brought down from the monastery on Thursday.

Sunday (yesterday) I was pretty tired, and by the end of our morning services and such was ready for a nap. But I never got a nap. I got keys for new house residents and did a tour, and then scrounged lunch (more yummy leftovers), and somehow got a second wind, taking care of this and that, running back and forth between the House and the Zendo. I wasn't at all sure I'd be able to stay awake for meditation with ZCO in the evening, but after struggling with sleepiness for the first period, I somehow settled into a very nice samadhi state -- something that is not all that common for me. It was quite refreshing.

Today has been more work than resting. I've had more energy than I would have expected after that busy week. My own personal projects haven't gotten much done -- no sewing, for example, which I was hoping to do. There's been a lot of work to do in the kitchen (cleaning and putting things away), and I've been working on temple laundry. One of my roommates left her alarm on unintentionally, and it went off at 5:45, so I had to get up to figure out how to turn it off. Tomorrow I may be able to sleep a little later. Still, after getting up at 5am all week, sleeping until 5:45 wasn't too bad.

My teacher Kyogen left today to go back to California to be with his father, who is still sorting out treatment options for a cancer diagnosis. The combination of that diagnosis plus his wife's death a couple of months ago has left him pretty shaky (oh, and he's 91 years old on top of all that), and he needs a lot of support. We were all sad to see Kyogen go, but also realize why he has to be there. So we will cope as best we can.

I suppose I could do some sort of summary of my first year as a postulant, but I'm not sure what I would say about it all. Let's see, I think one big change is that I'm less afraid of fear. Fear still comes up, but it doesn't freak me out as much as it used to. I've learned a lot about myself, and am feeling more comfortable being who I am rather than trying to please others all the time. I've gotten better at basic meditation. I still love being here doing what I'm doing, and still feel that this is my life's work. I expect that this year may be just as hard as last year was, but it doesn't worry me. Last year at this time I was terrified and not even sure what I was afraid of exactly. Now I have a sense that there is still fear to be faced and more to learn about myself, but it doesn't terrify me -- it's just there, just something to work with, and I have more confidence that I *can* work with it, and more trust that I will have the support here that I need. I still feel a lot of gratitude that I can be here full-time as I am.

I expect I will be ordained some time in the next couple of months, but it's all up in the air as my teacher has his family obligations to take care of, and they are not predictable. So I will simply continue my work, and it's all good.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Busy week

I'm not sure how long I can write or how coherent I can be. It's Sunday evening, and it's been a busy week. The busy-ness may be over in terms of my duties, but I'm not quite sure, and in any case, I can hardly believe it.

It's the first week of term, the full schedule. And it's just been very busy. I've had very little unscheduled time, even time that was "work" time that usually has some flexibility to it has been pretty full of things that just had to get done. And today ... well, I'm just tired. I have to say, though, that I've enjoyed the regular sitting meditation time -- it feels good overall to be back at it.

I've been up at 5am every day since Wednesday. I did take a little nap, I think it was Wednesday or Thursday, in the afternoon, but all other days I've just been going all day until 10pm or later. Tuesday evening I was suddenly leading a seminary class that I am taking, because the regular teacher was out of state (Gyokuko, in California with Kyogen's father), and the backup teacher called at 6pm to cancel (the class starts after 7pm sitting at about 7:45). It went fine, though I wasn't exactly prepared to actually teach, but I did some business, registration stuff first, did a little general discussion in the class about people's experiences in reading the first assignment, and then followed suggestions from the backup teacher, which mostly consisted of reading an introduction to the sutra out loud. We're studying the last chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra, also known as the Flower Ornament Scripture.

Wednesday evening we had our regular class, and I did the audio recording for it. Thursday evening I attended the sitting and talk with Zen Community Oregon (ZCO). Friday evening we had a special showing of "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's movie about global warming. There's a national organization called Interfaith Power and Light that got DVDs to about 5,000 congregations of various faiths across the country to show this week. We had about 50 people show up to see the movie, which is really good, very well done, and we also had a geophysicist who works with climate change come to introduce the movie and lead a discussion afterwards. It was really interesting. Cleaning up afterwards, though, took until about 10:30 or so.

Last night was a Lay Disciple dinner, and it was somewhat sparsely attended. But the discussion was incredible, probably actually easier with that smaller group (maybe 12-15 of us?). We are talking about the roles of priest, teacher, abbot, lay disciples, and considering a new category tentatively being called oblate, because that's an existing term from the Catholic Church, and it's somewhat analogous. We're talking about making some changes to the organization's structure, which is always a little scary and involves a lot of uncertainty, etc. But change is inevitable. The abbots are aging (they're a year older than me, but that's still something to reckon with), and the sangha is growing, and those two factors alone will dictate change. In addition, there are a number of lay members who want to get more involved and deepen their practice, but don't necessarily want to ordain as priests. So we're talking about how to empower and formalize some sort of recognition of that, some sort of vows that make sense for lay people. The discussion was lively and open, and I enjoyed it, but it did make it difficult for me to drift right off to sleep last night. Some of us continued the discussion a bit over breakfast this morning.

Getting ready for the regular Sunday morning just seemed to be more difficult and complicated this morning. The breakfast discussion went a bit longer than usual, so I was later than usual getting over to the Zendo. Then some visitors showed up really early, and I gave them some instruction and orientation (they're from George Fox, and doing a class assignment -- we get several of those from various colleges in the area because we're known as being accessible and willing to do this). The regular chant leader had evidently called in sick, so I took that on, which was fine. Had to help set up for the audio recording.

About an hour after we were done with regular Sunday morning stuff, we had our first meeting of the Gay Tea, a group that met now and again last year, maybe every 6 weeks or so. A different fellow and I (who were both involved in the group last year, but the main facilitator is no longer with the temple) decided we wanted things to be more structured and focused, and so we met to figure that out, and I facilitated the meeting today. It went really well. There were about 10 of us, I think, and we had a really nice meeting, with lots of laughter, and a lot of agreement of what we want to do this year, which is to focus on discussing issues or topics of our lives from the perspective of BuddhaDharma. I think it will be a really good group.

After that group, I had more cleanup to do than usual for a Sunday, and finally got over here to the house for a brief break about 4pm (though I also noticed cleanup things that needed to be done here [sigh]). About 5pm I checked messages and found a message from my teacher Kyogen who is en route returning from New York, asking whether someone could pick him up from the airport. I called him on his cell phone, which he answered, and have been facilitating getting that to happen -- another member will actually pick him up, which is a relief to me, because I'm really getting tired. I would have done it, but this way I can probably go ahead and head for bed. It will be nice to have Kyogen back at least for a few days. He will head back to California next week, as his father is really not doing well, we hear.

At 5:30 I went to the Sangha Council meeting, which is a committee with Zen Community of Oregon that I've gotten involved with. It's been an interesting group in terms of exploring directions that that organization wants to take and empowering and deepening lay practice within the group. I've served as a source of information for what Dharma Rain does, and also as a bit of a liaison between the two groups.

It's only 8pm as I write this, and I had already decided not to try to sit with ZCO this evening, because I was thinking I needed to be waiting for a phone call on the temple cell phone I was carrying. Now it looks like I don't have to do that, so it should be possible to head for bed. Heaven knows I'm tired enough. On the other hand, I would like to type up notes from today's Gay Tea discussion while they're fresh, and get an e-mail listserve set up for that group.

The other thing happening is that I'm getting a part-time roommate, or maybe two. I've had the women's dorm to myself for some months now, which has been nice. And now we have two women planning to live here part-time (one of whom lived here full-time for a while). It looks like they can both keep some of their stuff in the room and maybe if they are here different nights can even sort of share the space with me. I like them both a lot, so that will be fun. If they are here on the same night, one of them can sleep upstairs in the sitting room or library -- we have sleeping pads up there for just that purpose, and it's not unusual at all for people to stay overnight there. How they decide who is where is up to them -- they can arm wrestle for it, I suppose.

Maybe I'll type up Gay Tea notes tomorrow. By the time I get this posted tonight, it will be time to head for bed. At least I don't have to set an alarm tomorrow morning -- day off, yay! Come to think of it, last Monday, I *did* set an alarm in order to take Kyogen to the airport early in the morning. So it will be nice to be able to sleep in, and I have the room to myself tonight, which will make that even easier. Of course, I've been getting up at 5am every day this week, so I suspect I will wake up then tomorrow as well. But maybe I won't have to *get* up right away.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Term Opening

Wow, here it is October already. Happy Birthday, brother Dave! Sorry I completely forgot about that one. It's officially fall, but I did have to go out to water this morning. We had some good rain about a week and a half ago, but it's been dry since then. It's not as hot as it was, so I don't have to water every three days, but have spaced it out to about five days. We still have tomatoes ripening (though not so fast) in the garden, and nice-looking collard greens. Still some sunflowers, though the stems and leaves are beginning to turn brown. And still some roses coming -- I think going out and deadheading a few weeks ago has stimulated some new growth. It looks like it will be a lovely day today, though not hot at all -- I think the forecast is in the low-to-mid-60s.

I got up early to take my teacher to the airport this morning. As we were driving along the freeway about 6am, I remarked that it was a lot of traffic for a Saturday morning. He said, it's Monday morning. Well, that's true -- our days off here are Mondays, and I've gotten to thinking of them as Saturdays. The traffic did make sense for 6am on Monday morning. Not bad yet, but definitely there.

Anyway, he's off to the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) National Conference in New York for a week. His wife (Gyokuko, the other teacher here) is still in southern California with his father, who is not doing all that well. Having lost his wife a few months back, he has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, and is having a hard time coping with all the medical ins and outs on top of the emotional hit. He's almost 91, and kind of in a difficult state. Gyokuko was scheduled to go to SZBA and facilitate a discussion, but now won't attend. She's taking charge of steering him through the medical process -- getting tests, diagnosis, treatment options and getting all that set up. The two teachers will switch places in California after the Conference, and so she will be here while he goes back down south. Hopefully they will have at least a few days together first. A crazy year for them (and, to a lesser extent, for us). The teachers are trying to empower the lay teachers in the sangha and other senior members to take over some things, and I think that is working. They've been moving in that direction for a while, but this situation kind of accelerates that process a bit.

We had term opening this weekend. For me, that meant Term Student retreat on Saturday most of the day, and Term Opening service yesterday morning instead of our usual service. At the Term Student opening retreat we share our stories with each other, kind of talk about our spiritual history and what led us here. People do all sorts of different things with that assignment, and it's always interesting. I talked about how this last year has gone and what I've learned from it. Then we shared our term vows with each other. Part of Term Opening service is that we all go around and share our vows with each other. There were probably about 50 people attending, so it needed to be brief, and not everyone shared something (some people were visiting, and some just don't want to participate in this, which is okay), but most people did.

The idea is to state an intention in some area of your practice that you wish to pay attention to for the next 4 months, the length of our term. A very common one is to increase the time of doing sitting meditation, and we encourage something very specific -- i.e., I will sit at least 4 mornings a week, and aim for 6 mornings a week. Some people go for a principle -- staying present, working on a particular precept or part of the Eightfold Noble Path or just even something like cultivating compassion for all beings, especially those who bug me. My vow is to be here, to work with acceptance, trust, compassion and gratitude, and to take care of this place as I take care of my life.

This morning, after getting up early to take my teacher to the airport, I found that there were more dishes to do -- several still left over from Dharma School yesterday. So I did those up. I've worked some on laundry, but there's still more to do. Last night we had the two teachers from Great Vow Zen Monastery stay overnight, because one of them also left very early this morning to go to the airport to attend the SZBA Conference. So I made up beds for them in the sitting room (we have sleeping pads for that purpose, and bedding as well), and now those sheets need to be washed and the rest of the bedding put away. Then there's the living room that needs vacuuming. And never forget the cat, who is getting old and frail, who needs feeding and loving at regular intervals. In the absence of her "parents," who are now both gone again, the responsibility falls again on me. After breakfast, I took a nap (with the cat also taking a nap on my tummy).

Today I want to spend some time on sewing projects. I inventoried my fabric last week, and discovered that I had stuff for about 8-10 projects, and so I prioritized those. However, I didn't include a project that I was trying to get done for yesterday (curtains). I figured those would be easy to stitch up and put up, but that proved not to be true. I ran into various problems. First, the fabric wasn't nearly as opaque as I had thought, so then it needed to be lined. As it happened, I had some cotton muslin in my box of fabric that is actually intended for lining things like that, and I had enough to line the curtains. But it added a layer of complexity and more work that I hadn't anticipated. I was still hoping to get them done for yesterday morning, but it didn't happen. I ran out of steam on Saturday night, so the curtains are still sitting in the sewing room across the street waiting to get finished.

Then, I realized I had enough of a particular kind of black fabric that I could make one or maybe two lay meditation robes. A friend really wants a new robe, so I offered to make one for her. She was delighted, and even offered to pay me for it (which I will gladly accept). So now that's another project I need to get going. I have taken measurements and calculated how to cut it out, and hope to get it cut out today at least. Then I need to make another robe to have on hand for guests. We discourage things like shorts or loud prints in the Zendo, so sometimes encourage guests to wear a robe if they aren't dressed quite right. It's nice to have one or two on hand for that purpose. Several of us wear robes routinely, so no one stands out when they are wearing a robe; in fact, they blend in better.

One thing about the white cotton muslin -- I got it for the purpose of making a kimono (underrobe) and also some summer-weight juban (kind of like undershirts, but Japanese style, and more or less required for us to wear under robes and jackets). I made up one juban, and it is great when the weather is hot, and I will need one or two more for next year, and a super-lightweight kimono will be great for next summer. Not a priority right now (I'm thinking more of a flannel juban for fall/winter first). But at some point, I will want to replace that cotton muslin, I suspect.

I talked with my teacher about an ordination date. He's up for it, but it's hard to schedule around the uncertainties with his father's situation. So we're looking at late November or sometime in December. We have a major retreat the first week of December, and it would be good to have it done before that, but he pointed out that it might be easier to schedule afterwards. So, possibly mid-December. We'll see how it goes. In some ways, I'm not in a particular hurry, and it doesn't really matter a lot. The primary change it will make in my life is that I will no longer pay room and board, and my head will be completely shaved bald, and I will wear different robes some of the time. The work I'm doing will be pretty much the same, with a gradual addition of a little more responsibility and leadership, primarily in the areas of workshop leading and outside speaking. That's already happening, which is fine. I think the other thing is that I will no longer have to ask permission every time I leave the campus, though of course I will let people know where I'm going, etc. And my days off I think will be more my own in terms of where I go and what I do. I don't anticipate going wild about it, because I really love being here. My days off are a lot like today -- some resting, laundry, catching up on cleaning, etc. Not that different from how my Saturdays used to be.

On Tuesday (tomorrow!) we will be full-tilt-boogie into our regular term schedule. That means a full evening on Tuesday. This week there is seminary class (which I still have reading to do for). Every other week there is sitting meditation and then class, and on the off weeks, it is just sitting meditation and Vespers (which I usually time-keep and lead singing for). Then Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings we sit over here at the House at 6:30-8am (which I will also time-keep and lead chanting for) and then have formal breakfast (which I will cook for). Saturday and Sunday mornings we have formal breakfast (ditto cooking) at 7am and then sitting and service from 8:30 to 10 (which I may or may not time-keep and chant-lead for, depending on who else is there). In addition, there is the usual Wednesday evening schedule from 7-9 and Friday evening sitting meditation from 7-9. You can usually see what I am doing by looking at our calendar, which is on the website at www.dharma-rain.org under the Events page.

This week I will also be doing some more work on the Nov/Dec calendar, I imagine, trying to get it finalized for the newsletter. I'm not sure how or when the newsletter will get to the printer this time. It will have to wait for one of the teachers to return, I think. We have typically gotten it done at CostCo, but I'm not a member there, so I'm not even supposed to go into the store -- last time I got hasseled for going in to pick up the newsletter when it was done, even though the printing department is right inside the front door. We do have a resident here who is a CostCo member, and she may be able to take it in. We'll see how it goes.

Getting the calendar on the web will be different, since I'm using the new software for it. I'd like to see if I can get it up in html format, so I can add links to the calendar items. I've been just putting it up as a graphic, and can still do that if that's all I can do. Still a bit of research to do on that one. But not today.

This is long enough, for sure. I recently got an update from a friend who has moved to China for a year, and found it interesting. He's been added to the list of folks who get these updates. I'm always interested in hearing from you about what you're up to these days, but whether I hear from you or not, I wish you well.