Monday, September 25, 2006

Meditation workshop

I just got back from going out to do a meditation workshop at a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility. This is not something we typically do, but the director of the program, who is new, was interested in the fact that two of the patients there include meditation as part of their recovery. She called and talked with me, and I figured, sure, I could even do this myself, if no one else wanted to go along.

As it happened, we had one of our regularly-scheduled meditation workshops here on Saturday, and the guy leading it (who is in charge of doing workshops) wasn't able to find an assistant. So he made a deal with me that he would go along with me tonight if I would assist him on Saturday. Of course I was happy to do so.

There were three people attending the workshop this evening -- the director, two patients, and of course Dosho and I. We typically do these workshops in two hours, but the director had specified one hour, because she felt that the folks wouldn't be able to sit and focus for longer than that. So we abbreviated our usual format a bit, but included the basics. In fact, I've done a basic introduction to meditation in 10 minutes for new people coming in the door so they can go and sit right away. So an hour wasn't too bad.

We spent the first 35 minutes talking -- checking in with them and who they were and what their background was, then talking about meditation, which included me demonstrating the various postures. We had brought along 4 mats and 6 cushions and one bench, and one person definitely wanted to sit on a chair rather than on the floor, so we had enough for everyone else to try out sitting on the floor. So finally, we had everyone sit and try out meditation for 7 minutes (in our usual workshops we sit for 20 minutes).

The room was noisy -- air conditioning and a pop machine, a little small, and cool because of the AC. That probably didn't help with trying to focus on listening and talking. But everyone conscientiously sat still for the 7 minutes in whatever posture they were able to find. Then we turned around to face each other and checked in with how that was. Oh, all three of them were really excited. This was wonderful, they all said, in different ways. The change in the two patients, especially, was quite remarkable. After doing it, they understood more of what we had been talking about, and they talked about their experiences with that 7 minutes in quite a nice way. Definitely a successful experiment for them.

So we then talked about practicing meditation regularly and some ways to do that and how it's important to do it whether you feel like it or not. It didn't feel like they were at the end of their patience at all -- in fact, they thanked us over and over and it seemed like they would have been happy to continue talking about the experience for a while longer, but we really try to keep to our schedule, and anyway Dosho wanted to get home, and he has a bit of a drive from here.
So I found it actually kind of fun. And, as Dosho says, you never know what will happen with this kind of thing. He told me about an experience way back when he first discovered meditation, where he learned it out of a book and started practicing it on his own. A friend of his expressed interest, and so Dosho taught him what he knew. Then he lost track of the guy. 20 years later a mutual friend told Dosho that this guy had talked about being taught meditation 20 years ago, and how he had continued meditating regularly as a result of that for 20 years.

If nothing else, I felt like we provided a nice break for three people (actually, for 5 of us, if it comes down to that -- Dosho and I also enjoyed that 7 minutes). And you never know, it may end up giving them some new tools for working with their lives. Either way, it was fun to share something that I know works with others who were able to receive it.

This last week has been busy. We're starting to gear up for getting back to our regular schedule. The phone is ringing more. We're trying to get things shipshape. Back into some sort of routine. And it's newsletter time, so I've been working on the calendar. We bought some new updated software, and I've been learning it by recreating the calendar with it. That took me much of last week, but it's done (that is, the first draft), and I'm pretty pleased with the new software. I think it will be a lot easier to use than the old package we were using, and will do everything we need it to do and more. So, that was fun, if also a fair bit of work.

The other thing I've been doing is becoming the lunch cook. I already do breakfasts pretty regularly. But with the reduced staff we have, the senior monk (Domyo) is pretty much doing most of the dinners, and she's asked me to do lunches. Well, okay. Often there are only three of us at lunch. But it still involves making sure we have something set out to eat at noon, and it has to include some protein, and it can't include dairy, because Kyogen can't have dairy. But at least it *can* include onions and garlic if we wish, because Gyokuko is out of town. So I'm trying a bit of this and a bit of that, sometimes doing my own old standbys and sometimes doing leftovers and sometimes actually trying a new recipe out of a book. Today (and last Monday), I actually also cooked brunch. We have a tradition of doing an eggy brunch on Mondays, which is day off, when everyone can check in with each other. So last Monday it was only Kyogen and me, and today it was the two of us plus Gyokuko's father, who has been joining us for brunches most weeks since last summer. Today I did pancakes, fried eggs, and vegetarian sausage. It was all quite good. Mind you, when Gyokuko cooks, or MrK, there is often a wonderful coffeecake or other scrumptious pastry (cinnamon rolls -- yum!). Not to mention often some sort of fancy addition to the eggs -- florentine, or omelets, or various such like things. But Kyogen said keep it simple, and that I was able to do.

I'm also getting back into sewing, after having taken a bit of a break for a while. This morning I went across the street to inventory what fabric I have and to prioritize the projects I have fabric for and want to do. My goodness! I have fabric for 4 jackets and 3 pairs of pants, not to mention 2 kimonos and 2 or 3 juban. All of which I want to make, of course, but it will take a bit of time, and then I will have quite the wardrobe. At least I prioritized where I want to start. Part of why I needed to do an inventory was that my former roommate left me some black fabric when she left, and I needed to see what all was there. Oh, I also discovered enough fabric to make at least one, maybe two meditation robes, which I will do for others -- mine is still okay, though in need of some repairs. I want to make it last as long as possible, and there's this tradition of a "patch-robed monk" that kind of appeals to me.

I've started sewing again on my okesa, which is the primary thing that will mark me as a monk when I'm ordained. I've been kind of holding off, hoping that I can have sangha members do some of the stitching, which is traditional, but it feels weird to ask people to do that until I have a date. I'm starting to want to get it finished, though, so I'm just going ahead with it on my own. I want to have everything done whenever a date gets set. What's holding things up is the uncertainty with my teacher and his father's health. He's planning to go back down to California in a few weeks, and I'm reasonably certain it won't happen before then. No idea when he will return. Everything is still up in the air.

I did get added to the temple health insurance, which is good, because my other insurance under COBRA will end as of October 1. So that's good.

All in all, moving forward nicely, I think. I'm looking forward to getting back into regularly-scheduled sitting practice.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Seminary paper draft

I apologize in advance for what is probably a certain raw quality, and likely more words than I should use for this. I say this blog is about my journey in Zen, and I've said precious little about Zen this summer. Finally this morning I've found some words to put down on paper that summarize some of what I've been going through this last year. It's a pale shadow of the reality, but at least it looks sort of coherent, I think. Feedback is always welcome.

Background -- the Ratnaguna is known as the Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines. The version I'm using is Conze's translation. We studied it this last year in Seminary, and of course I'm very late in getting anything at all written up for it. Better late than never, right?


Beginnings of Ratnaguna paper

Wandering Freely Without a Home

Chapter II.v3. The Leader himself was not stationed in the realm which is free from conditions,
Nor in the things which are under conditions, but freely he wandered without a home.

When I first heard verse 3 of the second chapter of the Ratnaguna, I was struck by the phrase “freely he wandered without a home.” The concepts of wandering and homelessness were hugely appealing to me, even as I suspected that I was romanticizing the life of a mendicant monk. Perhaps the attraction lies in the word “freely” -- that sense of liberation from all attachments. Perhaps I was aware of feeling trapped by my life, and was longing for an escape, a different way to live. Perhaps the phrase tapped into a deeper longing for all-knowledge (see below).

I am currently engaged in an investigation of karma -- those conditions that have shaped my life in ways that I have been largely unaware of. This investigation began with acknowledging fear, a fear I couldn’t identify, but that was unmistakably there when I got quiet enough to see it. That fear contradicted what I believed of myself -- the calm, capable, confident woman who moves through her life always knowing what to do next. The fear was a crack in the façade, and continued practice has encouraged that crack to widen until I could begin to engage in a more thorough deconstruction of that carefully constructed self.

In the unaccustomed process of working with emotions and the body rather than with thoughts, I have also encountered thought-forms and am learning to recognize them. For me, one way they manifest is as sharp objects coming at me. So I’ll have an image of a knife, sword, machete, or even sickle, often cutting off my head, or an axe striking and embedding itself in my chest. What is that about? I struggle with the meaning, and have ideas about it, but gradually wonder whether it might be best just to recognize and acknowledge them as thought-forms and let them rise and fall, along with the thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that also come and go.

And so I am speaking of very basic Zen practice here, nothing so profound as the perfection of wisdom and all-knowledge. Right? And yet, “not stationed in the real which is free from conditions, nor in the things which are under conditions” -- what is that but basic practice? What is that but wandering freely without a home?

This morning it occurred to me that one feeling that has come up during this postulancy year has been that of being lost. It’s a part of the fear -- the fear of not knowing, of having lost something, of being disconnected from -- what? A good question. The whole idea of having lost something and being disconnected from something presupposes an attachment to that something. It suggests that there is something missing, something other, that it is somewhere else to get to, and then the wandering starts to take on a frantic quality. Being lost and wandering may look like wandering freely, but there’s a profound difference, and I suspect that difference is what so appealed to me when I heard the phrase for the first time.

The Buddha’s All-Knowledge

Many people ask how long does the training to become a priest take, and how are my “studies” going. I've been at a loss to describe for people what this training consists of. When I look at v. 7, I find a bit of a description of what education looks like under this system, or maybe more accurately what it doesn't look like.

Chapter II.v7. In the Buddha-dharma alone he trains for the sake of all-knowledge.
No training is his training, and no one is trained in this training.
Increase or decrease of forms is not the aim of this training,
Nor does he set out to acquire various dharmas.
All-knowledge alone he can hope to acquire by this training.
To that he goes forth when he trains in this training, and delights in its virtues.

My understanding of "all-knowledge" here doesn't mean that you know everything, but that you are open to whatever comes your way. It's a profound acceptance of all that is, and a way of seeing that everything is connected to everything else, and more that is difficult to put into words.

I've thought about trying to explore the differences between the kind of education that we practice in the Western academy and the kind of training I'm getting as a monk, but so far all I've been able to manage is just doing the training, without analyzing it too much. It's very different from what I’ve done in the past, as the passage above implies.

One thing that has been helpful to me in this past year is that I've taken a substantial break from teaching. I love teaching, but I think there are times when it's useful to step back and look at things differently. For me, it has been a time of integrating what I learned in the master's program I finished last year and working on making connections with what I'm doing now. It's an ongoing process, of course, and interesting. As I gradually begin to pick up some teacherly duties and activities, the practice will hopefully ground me in staying true to the dharma and in wandering freely without a home.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day

Goodness, it's September already! I've been extremely busy the last couple of weeks. The weekend before Labor Day (last weekend) we had our biannual Whole Nine Yards Sale, where members donate stuff, and we sell it. Raised about $2500 total, though $800 of that was from a donated pop-up tent trailer sold on Craig's List. The sale was a lot of work, both the setup and the cleanup. Running the sale itself, cashiering and such, is a lot of work, but in many ways the most fun part.

Right before that, my teacher returned from California, and it's awfully nice to have him around. I haven't done formal check-in with him yet, but just having him here is somehow a relief.

Sometime during this last week, it was a good day's work to get the current newsletter up on the website finally. I've cooked a bunch of meals this week because with Gyokuko gone, there are not so many of us to cook. We had the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) Board meeting here last Thursday and Friday, and I took minutes on Thursday and cooked meals for it on Friday. Saturday I needed to make cookies for Sunday morning and then work on getting the Zendo ready both for Sunday services (a lot of blowing vegetation had come in through the windows and it needed vacuuming) and for a wedding to happen in the afternoon.

So yesterday, Sunday, was a long full day. I got up at 5am to take a walk and sweep off the front porch of the Zendo building (more of that blowing vegetation, plus blue strings from a tarp that had maybe blown off the roof?), and then make breakfast for the community. Then services, talking with folks, closing up afterward, and a very brief break to get lunch before opening the building for the wedding folks (not sangha members, a rental -- I handle Zendo rentals these days, and wanted to make sure they had everything they need). One nice thing that happened was that after services we had had temple cleanup, so I had a couple of people assigned to me to clean out the zendo in preparation for the wedding. Moving 50-60 zabutons and zafus is a big chore for one person, but not bad at all for 3. So it all got vacuumed out thoroughly, altar moved back, precentor station stuff moved and protected with a screen, and all prepared. So that was one step eliminated for the afternoon.

The wedding ended up being a fairly elaborate affair, with great musicians (I'd heard them before) with their "light" sound system (2 acoustic guitars, a sitar, drums, various electronic things I couldn't identify, speakers on tall stands, microphones, etc.). It took them a while to load in and set up, and I stuck around for a while to make sure they could find what they needed, show them the bathrooms where they could change, etc. They figured the wedding would go from 3-4, and suggested I come over at 4 to help them put things back where they belonged.

I've been taking a Non-Violent Communication Class in the afternoons (this was the 2nd of 3) from 3:30-5:30, and figured I'd just have to leave it early. In the mean time, I got a bit of a break, and was able to read some of the paper before the class started. Only then I remembered the class was going to meet at the Dharma House (instead of the Zendo building because of the wedding), which meant that I needed to set up a room for them (us) to meet in. Okay, fold up tables and put them away, put out chairs. Oh, the rug needs to be vacuumed, so I get the vacuum. I remember that last week most people opted for cushions on the floor rather than chairs, so I raid the little house zendo for zabutons and zafus, and put some of them around too. (Sure enough, no one ended up sitting in chairs.) Also, need to put signs on the doors across the street and here so people can find the place.

Then came the class, which was really interesting. At some point, the facilitator paused and looked at her watch, deciding what to do next. I looked at my watch and it was 5:00! Oh, my gosh, I say, I was supposed to leave a long time ago. So I dash across the street, to discover that the wedding just ending -- to the sound of drums and lots of woo-hooing and applause. Oh, good, perfect timing. I supervise putting back all the zabutons and chairs, and decide to wait for the precentor station stuff (our gongs, drum, etc.) because all the sound equipment is in that area. The musicians want to go over to the reception for just a little bit (it's across the street at a neighbor's house), and I agree to wait inside the building to watch their stuff.

Of course, "just a little bit" turns into an hour and a half. Okay, not a problem. I do a few things to clean up and putter around, and then decide to sit zazen while I wait. The windows are open, because it's a hot day, so I can hear frivolity across the street. It's actually quite pleasant to sit in the quiet zendo and hear the sounds of laughter and celebration as well as the usual street noises.

By the time the musicians came back to load out their stuff, it was getting close to time for the evening program folks (Zen Community of Oregon, ZCO) to come in. Once people were back in the building, I hightailed it across the street back to my house to grab a bite of dinner and check in with a friend. Then back to help ZCO set up for the Zendo, finish putting the precentor station back together, and then do their evening program with them, sitting zazen and also doing Sanzen (brief formal interview) with their teacher, which I've been doing for a couple of years now. Afterwards helped clean up and close up and talked a bit with more folks, and finally got home after 10am. A long day, even more full than usual (though next Sunday looks to be just about as full).

So this morning I'm pretty tired. I figure today will be about getting things together and packing up for my camping trip. But now I read some e-mails and Plan B seems to be in effect. To wit: driving to Mom's tomorrow to help with getting her moved. We've been having some discussions about what's the best plan for Mom, and Marilyn has most of the logistics worked out (I hope) for getting her into a "retirement"-type home in Junction City, which all of us agree is the best option. I have been pretty worried about having her live alone (and so is Aunt Phyllis). We are also working on getting her to stop driving. She had evidently agreed to do so, and mostly doesn't drive much any more, but then maybe forgets and wants to drive. So, I need find out a little more, but it looks like at least some of my "camping trip" will have to go by the wayside. I'll probably pack stuff into my car, just in case, but won't get my hopes up too high. If we can get things more or less wrapped up by, say, Thursday, I could still drove over to the coast and stay one night somewhere maybe. Or not. (sigh)

Anyway, that's how things look this morning. It's day off again, and we'll have a fair number of people here for brunch at noon (I'm *not* cooking -- yay!), and then I'll be sorting and packing. If the storage place is open, I'll go over there, and if not, it will have to wait until tomorrow morning. All my camping stuff is in there, so it's a mandatory trip. Plus, I had taken a bunch of stuff out of there for the yard sale, and there's a fair amount of stuff strewn over my bedroom floor (I don't have a roommate at the moment, but that will change -- it always does). So I have to take a bunch of stuff back (and maybe some stuff to Goodwill??? I hope so).

Beings as it's September, there is starting to be a sense of things starting back up again. Even though we aren't back on our fall schedule until the end of the month, there are preparations happening and such, and there's just kind of that feeling. There will be last-minute trips -- in addition to my scheduled "camping" trip, Domyo (senior monk) is scheduled to go out next week, and the teachers the following week (somewhat contingent on issues with *their* parents). Then we'll be back into it all. I'm both dreading it and looking forward to it. I think mostly looking forward to it.