Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last day of 2006. In many ways it's just another day. I got up, took a walk, sat zazen and then did a bunch of bowing practice -- that's not typical. That is, the number of bows I did isn't typical. I sometimes do 18 bows by myself in the morning. Today I did double that -- 36. It being a day for many bows. There will be many more tonight, both at the Fusatsu ceremony, and afterwards to the Founders Shrine. My legs are slightly rubbery, which often means that they will be sore tomorrow.

It's cold and clear this morning, and dry -- no frost on my car this morning as there was yesterday. Temps are in the 20s. I noticed on my walk this morning that I wanted both gloves and hat, and almost got out the ear-warmer that I sometimes wear under the hat when it's really cold. I sat zazen in the big zendo, where the temperature is set to 58 degrees, and the heat came on while I sat. I wrapped a blanket around myself, even though I'm bundled up with sweater and wool samue jacket plus other cotton layers. Still, in the morning it's common for me to get cold.

Sitting meditation felt good today. I went into it a little unsettled. It seems that sitting still for 45 minutes or more, focusing on the present moment, on the breath, letting go of past and future, watching thoughts and feelings rise and fall, does allow the mind to calm down. I'm not sure exactly how it works, but I see that it does. There's just a different quality that I can access now that I couldn't see before sitting.

Not sure what I'm going to do next. I've had breakfast, checked my e-mail, and now I suppose I need to check my list of things to do. There are several things on the list, and obviously I won't get to all of them. I like having choices, though. I don't know that anything is more pressing than other things.

It's been a nice week "off." The Center has been closed, so there have been no scheduled meditations or services, and most of the time we've had the phones turned off (though we've checked messages regularly). Still, there's always work to do, and we've kept the post office busy this week with various fundraising letters. We're getting a good response to our end-of-year fundraising letter, and are continuing forward with a major push, having hired a professional to help us move to the next level. We still have to eat, and so I've sometimes cooked, sometimes helped with cooking, and always helped with cleanup.

I've done some sewing, and the kesa is almost finished. I've deliberately left a little bit to do so that people can add stitches tonight. It's a long tradition to have sangha members add stitches to the monk's robe as a way of representing their participation in and support of an ordination. While I was at it, I also did a little mending of my lay meditation robe, because I will still wear it sometimes. There are many more sewing projects, and I could spend all day just working on them, if I could stand to do so.

But likely I will do some other things. There are flyers I want to finish and copy. Yesterday I copied and folded 120 programs for this evening's service. I did some housekeeping across the street where we will have upwards of that many people doing a potluck dinner and other things on into the evening. I want to set up some sort of system for cleanup that doesn't have me standing at the sink for 2 hours, as happened last year. There's always a level of chaos, but I think some advance planning can help things go more smoothly.

Tomorrow morning we will have a brunch for residents and a few other people, including those who come down from the monastery to participate in the service this evening. I think last year we had something like 12 people, and this year promises to be at least that many. In the afternoon, I'm going to Molalla to spend a little time with a friend I haven't seen in quite a while. On Tuesday, we start back up with the regular schedule.

Sometimes I want to share things that are happening, but am too busy. Then when I get time to write, like today, nothing much is going on. So you get a snippet of an ordinary day. I try to remember some of those things that came into my mind to share, but the mind gets regularly emptied, so whatever those things were no longer seem important. It's all transient, I suppose. What really matters is the quality of light on the tree outside, the feel of the keyboard on my fingers, thinking of family and friends, and anticipation of a special evening coming up. And underneath all of that, an abiding peace and faith. And, yes, joy and gratitude.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Dream 12/24/06

I had a dream last night that two teachers (not sure which ones, but clearly teachers, priests) were in a bathroom, and so was I, allowed to assist. We were cleaning the toilet. When I woke up, I realized that's exactly what's happening, we're working to clean the toilet. Some of it is my own karma that needs to be cleaned up over and over again. And that's the work, just to clean and clean again, with all attention and a whole heart. Keep cleaning the kitchen, keep cleaning the bathrooms, keep sweeping the walkways, keep sitting and letting go of old habit patterns.

I found myself remembering my bowing practice of the night before, when I put on all my robes except the kesa, and did some bowing and some sitting, just to get used to the robes a little bit. I found myself this morning suddenly feeling like I am becoming a priest, that the robes somehow -- I can't explain it really, because it isn't quite that the robes make me a priest, but that they lead me into taking that role and I just go through it. Joan Halifax one time talked about the robes sitting, and eventually just sitting is sitting. And Chozen last year in response to a Shosan question about whether the robes were a strategy she had adopted to do her work in the world, said it wasn't quite like that, that maybe she was a strategy that the robes had adopted to do this work. I get that, somehow. There's a feeling that I am joining in to a particular company that is doing particular work, and the work somehow makes sense to me. And the robes make it real in some odd way that I can't really explain.

As I end my postulancy, I am more convinced than ever that this is my path, that I am in exactly the right place, that somehow this work is the work I took birth to do. At times it's difficult, but somehow when you are doing what you are meant to do it all works and doesn't seem too hard -- ultimately it energizes me rather than making me tired.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What's up today (e-mail to a friend written 12/22/06)

I asked Gyokuko to help me this afternoon to measure where to put the patches on the kesa, and she got a big smile on her face. "Exciting," I think is the word she used. She expressed delight at having a "new baby."

I'm really glad that we're getting to a time where we can completely take it easy, now that the schedule is relaxed. I'm still feeling basically okay (maybe a little dizzy), but I'm not interested in going out to do anything very ambitious. I'll probably help Gyokuko with Christmas dinner tomorrow, no Sunday, assuming that I'm still not sick by then. And I'm finishing up a few things on the website. I'm beginning to work on flyers for Kanzeon Festival, Kanzeon in the Kitchen, and Jukai, but none of those is particularly pressing, so they come under the category of fun at this point.

And it's time to think about lunch. You know, yesterday I cooked lunch and dinner, and didn't stress too much about either of them. Part of the trick with lunch was that I started soon enough that I had plenty of time to think about what to do and when to do it. And dinner of course was Gyokuko's brainchild, but again we started early enough that we were able to be ready with no problem. Once I got clear on what to do and when, it was easy enough. Today I'm not sure what to do -- there's soup stock from last night (Gyokuko threw the ends of the celery and asparagus into a pot with some water and boiled them for a while), so soup would be the logical choice, probably just a basic tofu and vegetable soup. I can do that, but need to get on it. We used almost all of the bread yesterday, so maybe I'll just put out crackers. I don't think there's time to make apple muffins. Maybe tomorrow.

Back from Rohatsu, originally written 12/11/06

I'm back from my week away at Rohatsu Sesshin, a 7-day silent retreat out at the monastery near Clatskanie, and am just now getting caught up with the e-mail from the week. I did three loads of laundry and have a pile of ironing to do, and several items (silk, cashmere, and wool) drying in various places in my room. Most of us are moving rather slowly today, and that certainly includes me.

I had a great sesshin. I was timekeeper, which meant that I had duties, quite a lot to do, with some of it being unfamiliar. Because it's a blended sesshin bringing together 3 different Zen groups, we blend forms. The parts that we do Dharma Rain style I am very familiar with, and can practically do in my sleep. The parts that are ZCO style that differ significantly from our forms I had more trouble with. Some of it was pretty easy, because I do participate in ZCO services here. But they do their dharma talks very differently from ours -- requiring different chants and instruments, and it was difficult for me to get the sequence and timing down. In addition, there were 4 different teachers giving talks on the various days, and each of them did things a bit differently. And on top of all that, I couldn't see the teachers (in the back of the zendo where they were sitting and giving talks) from my seat (in the front of the zendo) because there were people in between me and them. But I enlisted the Head of Zendo to give me cues when to start, and we got along okay.

My goal was to be pretty much unnoticed, so that the schedule would move forward unobtrusively and people could rest into it without having to worry about it. We have wake-up bells, and end-of-work-period bells, and a wooden hahn to strike ten minutes before service, as well as various bells inside the zendo to signal moving to the next thing. It all helps to minimize talking and verbal activity. We like people not to be paying attention to watches or clocks, but just to go with the schedule. For the most part, I succeeded in this -- several people actually did come up to me afterwards and said I made that part of it easy for them. Of course, I was acutely conscious of when I messed up slightly. But the mistakes were few and small, and didn't really hurt anything. And part of what I was practicing with was to let go of self-consciousness and worry about all of it while still maintaining mindful attention to the task. In the end, it felt like I did that pretty well.

The dharma talks and sanzen (formal interview with a teacher) sessions I had were all first-rate, and I got a lot out of them all. I went to sanzen with each of the teachers, and found a new one (from Eugene) who I had never been to before, who I really liked a lot. In past sesshins, I've found it important to focus on either only my own teacher or at least to see those who I've been working with most steadily. This time I was in a different space, and anyway my teacher was not doing sanzen (he didn't arrive until Friday evening). So I felt much freer to sample the various teachers, and felt enriched thereby.

The sesshin ended with an ordination for a new novice monk out there at the monastery on Sunday morning. Sometime during the morning Gyokuko came up and put her arm around me and said, "you're next." She got out her calendar and asked if I had any date conflicts coming up. They are finally getting ready to schedule my ordination date. She told me that Hogen (who is a ZCO teacher) had specifically asked that it be scheduled when he could come. I was touched by that. Yes, I've been doing sanzen with him during Sunday evening services, so we do have a relationship. Still, I found it sweet that he would make it a point to come to my ordination. I'm going to try to schedule informal sanzen with my teacher here tomorrow so I can hopefully get a date nailed down soon to let everyone know when it will be. We'll see how it goes.

Both teachers are finally back here, and for the first time in years they won't be going to California to visit with Kyogen's father, since he died almost a month ago now. Kyogen's attention to his father's situation is what's been holding up the setting of a date. Kyogen got back here the Thursday before Rohatsu, and he stayed here during much of it because there were so many things here to catch up on (like the end-of-year fundraising letter). But now I think I can schedule sanzen with him, and check in to see where we're at.

One of the great things about my experience at sesshin this time was that I wasn't sick! The last two week-long sesshins I've been to out there I've been sick, and that certainly increases the stress. In addition, my body seemed to do quite well in sitting on a cushion on the floor for 8 hours a day for 7 days. At some point I began to be aware of some sciatic-like twinges, and realized that I needed to do more walking and less sitting on a chair (sitting on the floor doesn't seem to cause any problems at all). There's not a lot of walking outside that one is tempted to do in December, but I made a couple of extra loops around the parking lot and around the monastery during breaks, and also made it a point to do things during work practice each day (sewing, and I was work leader for the three of us) that wouldn't require my sitting in a chair. Of course, when using a sewing machine one has to sit in a chair, but I was able to stand to cut out fabric and organize things, and at some point when I needed to sit down to pin things, I went into the nearby sitting area and sat on the carpet by the coffee table. Soon I was joined by two abbots -- the one from Eugene, and one from the monastery -- similarly sitting and doing sewing projects in silence. After I made these two changes (adding a little walking and reducing chair-sitting), and also did a bit more stretching, the sciatic stuff went away. I did notice that my knees were a little sore yesterday, but today they seem fine.

The first item of business tomorrow will be back to completing the newsletter to get it printed and mailed out and then updated on the web. It's the first we've done with the new software, and it was really nice to work with. I also need to get cracking on finishing my okesa, which is mostly done, but not quite. It's nice to be on a reduced schedule, after the intensely scheduled past week, and I'm happy to be on a bit of a break.

Ordination Date, originally written December 12

Okay, we set the date and time. Sunday, January 7 at 4pm. That will allow both ZCO people and Dharma Rain people to come, and I'd love to see any of you come as well. The place is the Portland Dharma Center, 2517 SE Madison (for information and directions, go to ). One of my best friends here will be out of town, but you can't accommodate everyone. I think there will still be lots of people coming.

The ceremony usually takes about an hour, and involves lots of bowing on my part, taking the precepts, my teacher shaving off the last little bit of hair, someone putting new robes on me, they give me a bowl and a bowing mat, and various vows.

I hardly know what to think or how to feel. In some ways it's a big deal and in other ways it won't change all that much, other than I will have to wear my new fancy clothes in the zendo, and my head will be actually shaved for the next five years. I feel ready for this.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Nov 28 - 9 quarts and 5 pints

That's how much applesauce I canned this morning. Even though it was technically still time off, I really wanted to get the rest of those apples taken care of. Last week I sorted through the several coolers and buckets of apples we still had from our apple-picking expedition (a month ago? something like that). Some were totally rotten, and those went into the compost bin. Some had bruises, soft spots, and rotten areas on them, and those went into a bucket (or two). Most looked like they were still just fine. Those went back into two coolers and a bucket. The ones with spots are the ones I worked with, because they really do need to be done by hand (as opposed to the nifty peeler/corer/slicer deal which will only work on intact apples). I got through all of those this morning.

Last Thursday I did the sorting and made a big batch of applesauce. I wasn't sure it was enough for a canning batch, though, so today I finished off the soft ones and did another batch of applesauce. The total turned out to be enough for 9 quarts and 5 pints, and all are cooling on the kitchen counter now. It looks so far like all of them sealed just fine, which would make me happy (though if one doesn't come through that way, we just have to eat it, and there are certainly worse things in life LOL). Gyokuko did up a batch a couple of weeks ago, some pints and some quarts, I can't remember, so we have a good stash of applesauce now. Doesn't mean we won't can some more -- we certainly have a lot of apples. There are also ziplock bags of apples chunked for pies in the freezer.

Yesterday I fixed brunch for the 4 of us who were around, and fried up potatoes with veggies and eggs, and served applesauce on the side. Both were yummy. Another thing I spent some time on yesterday was the upcoming newsletter. I worked with our layout person on the new software (Adobe InDesign), and we were both just delighted with it. We've been working with an old version of Calamus, which was a good program in its day, but has some serious deficits when it comes to working in a Windows environment. I've learned a lot of new programs in my time, so it felt familiar to be working on a job with new software and figuring out how to use it as we go along. Our layout person has similar proclivities, and so we were both just having a great time helping each other through this, laughing when we discovered that the program would do this or that -- look, it has an "Undo" button! you can drag-and-drop photos! you can delete a page and it just moves the next to the next page! -- and we would shriek and do little dances of delight. Okay, I know, weird, but if you had wrestled with that old program as much as we have, you'd be a little silly too.

Our teachers are scheduled to return tomorrow or maybe Thursday. They are driving up from southern California, and may encounter weather issues between here and there. So far it's great here. We had a faint dusting of snow this morning, which is now all gone. We've had hail, wind and rain. Outlying and higher elevation areas have had snow, but right here in inner-southeast Portland, not enough even to mention. Right now the sky is mostly clear and blue. It's warming up a bit -- it was supposed to get down to 25 degrees this morning, but after today there are no more freezing temps forecast. Rain and snow mixed forecast for Thursday, but still temps from 35 to 45.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the teachers come back, and I know the cat (who I've been taking care of) misses them a lot as well. And of course they will be happy to be together here where they belong once again. It's been a long haul -- 6 months since Kyogen's step-mother went on hospice, and then her death, and then his father's diagnosis of bladder cancer, and his decline and finally death two weeks ago. I suspect they will be tired and ready to rest a bit.

Sunday we are all scheduled to head out to the monastery for Rohatsu sesshin, which is an annual 7-day silent retreat to commemorate the Buddha's enlightenment. I'm actually looking forward to it, though it sounds like I will be "working" it again as chant leader and maybe some time-keeping stuff as well. Last year I was sick practically the whole time. Hope that doesn't happen this year.

And so much of this week will involve preparation for that retreat, along with trying to get the newsletter as close to complete as possible (maybe even sent to the printers?) and whatever day-to-day stuff comes up.