Saturday, December 23, 2006

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.


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