Monday, February 26, 2007

Day Off

Oh, I've had such a nice day off. My friend Kevin is staying with us for a few days, at a room in the Sangha House. His partner is off on a business trip in Las Vegas, and so we get Kevin. Aside from being a fun person to be with, Kevin also spent several hours this afternoon on temple laundry (which I've been primarily responsible for, and it's a big relief to have someone else beginning to take it over), and he took me and another friend (the other person who lives at the Sangha House) out to dinner. We had Italian food -- pasta -- and this incredible chocolate cake dessert, split three ways, which was just about right. I mean, I could have eaten the whole thing myself, but I'm not sure that would have been a good idea.

So at this moment, my tummy feels very good. I'm working on my own laundry, which always feels good as well. And I took a nap this afternoon while Kevin was ironing away. I just crashed after brunch somehow, and sacked out on the couch in the sitting room. I guess I was pretty tired. I think I will still sleep well tonight, even with the nap, but that should take me into tomorrow in good shape with good energy.

This morning I drove Kevin out to Fabric Depot, one of my favorite places to spend some time. I helped him pick out fabric, and managed to get out of there spending less than $10 on two little pieces of fabric to make more bags with (which I haven't been doing, but I just couldn't resist these pieces). I have a large box full of fabric with several projects in mind, and have been spending very little time on them.

After brunch, I went to the airport to pick up the Domyo, the other monk, who was coming back from presenting a workshop at a conference in Chicago. She was supposed to come back yesterday, but her flight was cancelled because of that big storm in the midwest. But today she came back with no problems.

This weekend has seen a lot of comings and goings to/from the airport. Domyo left on Friday morning to go to Chicago (I drove her out there). Gyokuko came back from Nebraska on Friday evening. She had been there for a week to support the abbot who was very sick. She got to spend time with that small center and help the people there through this difficult time. She reported that the abbot was doing well -- she could see a lot of improvement in the week she was there.

Kyogen left early Sunday morning to go to California for an abbot installation and a Soto Zen Buddhist Association board meeting. He's due back tomorrow, I think.

Me, I've been staying here. I feel like I'm settling in to being an ordained monk, and things seem a little more sane again. I'm beginining to catch up with some things I've gotten behind on. Of course, we're now gearing up for Jukai sesshin, a silent retreat that will be held her in town March 12-18. I'm in charge of registrations again, and also need to make sure we have chant leading covered. Not sure what else they will put me in charge of for that. I've done the flyers for it, and put registration forms up on to our website, so it's not like I've not done anything at all so far.

There's always plenty of work to do here. I'm finding that I'm savoring my days off, especially the mornings spent at the Sangha House, often by myself. Tomorrow morning I won't be alone, because Kevin will be there. He's promised to cook pancakes for us for breakfast. Some time after that I will take a nice long soaking bath (we have a lovely clawfooted tub there) and shave my head. I do that twice a week now, and it seems to be working out okay.

So my laundry should be ready for the next step, which involves putting one more load into the dryer, and after that I think I will take myself off to bed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Getting caught up...

... with the blog, that is. I haven't managed a coherent update for a few weeks, I think. Since ordination, the pace of my life has stepped up significantly.

First I moved, and am now pretty much settled. Other than moving all my stuff, which took a while, the move has made little difference in my daily routine. I still spend almost all my time at the Dharma House, going to the Sangha House only to sleep, bathe and shave (which is what I do now instead of washing my hair), and sometimes puttering a little bit on my days off. I keep my robes here at the Dharma House, and what I need to get work done in the office and such, and generally don't need to spend time up there at the Sangha House much. I'm here more or less from 6am to 10pm most days other than Monday. Sunday evening I may or may not go "home" early, depending on whether I do ZCO's program or not (and I don't think I've done that for the last few weeks at all), and Monday and Tuesday mornings I don't have to be here early. All other mornings I'm making breakfast, and need to be here by 6:15am at the latest.

Even though it's my day off today, I'm here at the Dharma House. For one thing, we traditionally have brunch here on Mondays at noon, typically some sort of eggy dish (today it was omelets) and some sort of coffeecake, often a yeasted rolled thing with some sort of fruit. For the second thing, the laundry facilities here are better than they are up there, and I find that bringing my laundry down here makes sense to me -- I have a nice little shopping cart that I got in Boston that I used to use for laundry (and groceries too, of course), and that's what I use now for the laundry. Today there's a lot of extra temple laundry to do as well, but I'll get to that in the moment. Third, this is where the computers are. 'Nuff said.

This last weekend, Saturday to be exact, we had our biannual huge fundraising dinner called Kanzeon in the Kitchen (Kanzeon being the bodhisattva of compassion, the same as Kwan Yin in China). I helped out at it two years ago, running up and down stairs helping with serving, and ended up with really sore legs. This time the legs are fine -- I guess I run up and down stairs all the time now anyway, and am more or less immune to problems with that. The rest of me is still pretty tired. I did push myself as hard as I could, until I finally realized I had to stop carrying things and go home to bed. Yesterday was a recovery day, and I was feeling much better by last night. Today I'm kind of tired again, so I'm trying to take it easy.

However, as mentioned above, there is a ton of extra temple laundry -- all the linens on the tables plus the kitchen stuff -- aprons, towels, wiping cloths, and the like. The dishes weren't as much of an issue -- we actually were loaned dishes from a local caterer where a Sangha member works, and they charged only a handling fee to wash them. So we rinsed them off and loaded them back into crates and they got taken back yesterday. There were still cooking and serving dishes to wash, of course. And there are still some of those to be put away. But we got things cleaned up remarkably well.

This time I ended up being wait captain, that is, in charge of all the wait staff. Plus registration, making place cards, arranging for linens and tables to be set up, etc. What I know about working in a restaurant is minimal at best, but fortunately, I had lots of help materializing when I really needed it to. We had awesome food, and I stayed pretty much out of the kitchen, because I knew that someone needed to be focused on the front end of things, and that needed to be me. The dinner went off fine, though there were fewer people than two years ago. I don't know yet whether we made money or not, because I don't know how the expenses were. I'm reasonably sure we covered costs, but it was supposed to be a fundraiser and it remains to be seen how much we actually netted. It was fun for people -- everyone had fun, we had really great musical entertainment, and it was worth doing for that (did I mention that the food was outstanding?), but in terms of making money, it may not be worth it. And the cooks all were stressed, not having quite enough help, though they managed to get everything done.

And plenty of other stuff as well, but I'm going to let go of all that for today. One thing I managed to do last Monday was to write and finish my seminary paper for this past term, on the Avatamsaka Sutra, or the Flower Ornament Scripture. This is a huge tome (something like 1300 pages), and we only did the last chapter (Ch39) called The Entry into the Realm of Reality. That is "only" 400 pages. It's very flowery language, written in India several centuries ago, and was interesting to get through. It treats a journey by Sudhana, who goes around from teacher to teacher trying to learn how to become an enlightening being, how to teach others, and in the process runs into a lot of people and also celestial beings who specialize in lots of different kinds of enlightening activities. So one possible assignment, which is the one I chose, was to write a section with ourselves as the one Sudhana is visiting, and tell him what we specialize in. I became the monk Genko who has attained the meditation of cleaning kitchens, striking gongs, and staying on schedule. It was fun to write, and ended up much funnier than I expected it to. Gyokuko, who taught the class, read the paper and laughed (I referred to her in the paper as a tenzo [chief cook] who habitually messes up the kitchen when cooking [which she does, and knows she does]), asked me a couple of questions, and told me I passed.

This is pretty significant, because I've been taking seminary classes for quite a while, and frequently don't manage to write papers for them. Last year I could barely put words on paper, and couldn't deal with the classes on the level of words at all. Obviously I'm in a different space this year. In general, I feel better. I went through a lot of emotional upheaval last year, dealing with old karma, and it was something I really needed to do. But it wasn't what I'd call fun. In a way, it kind of took me apart, deconstructed the self. Now I'm able to be in a better space, to let feelings rise and fall and not get so attached to them and not push them away either. I'm finding some sort of balance here.

The seminary program is designed to take three years, but it's obviously taking me longer than that, because I've been interrupted with it more than once. I've actually sat in on the History and Texts class twice and have yet to write a paper for it. So when it comes around again, I'll probably sit in on it again and this time will write a paper -- in fact, I already have an idea for part of one of the papers.

Well, I could blather on more, but suffice it to say that I'm busy and doing fine. Haven't yet caught any of the bad colds or other bugs I'm hearing about, and hope that I will escape most of that this year. Quite the contrast to last year, when I was sick a lot. Hope everyone else is having a healthy winter.

Written January 13, 2007

Well, I don't know whether there's really time for this, but I figured I'd give it a try. It's been a very busy week.

I have several changes I'm dealing with, as you might imagine, since ordination. First, there's the matter of the robes. Fortunately, I'm able to deal with those a little at a time, due to various circumstances. This week, I've been learning how to put on, tie, and take off the kesa (this is the outer robe that is roughly square and ties over the left shoulder). I haven't had to do any bowing because as the chant leader, I'm ringing the bells signalling everyone else to bow, and I'm sitting down while I do that. I bow sitting down, but don't have to spread out my bowing mat and deal with lifting up the kesa, etc. I think tomorrow (Sunday), I will have to deal with the whole megillah -- big robes, kesa, bowing mat, the works. That will be fun (maybe). But it's all practice. If I mess up, people will all be kind, and eventually I will get it.

Second, there's shaving. Oh, boy, there's a whole thing about shaving, and when it's the head, well ... Here, everyone swears by double-edged razors as opposed to the disposable multi-blade jobbies out there. I've tried both this week, and the verdict is still out. I think my skill with the double-edged razor lacks something, so I will again continue to practice and persist. Then there's the business about what soap, shampoo, shaving cream, lotion afterwards, etc., to use. When I went to a cutlery store to buy the double-edged razor (I tried Freddy's first, what a laugh!), the guy said that head hair tends to be tougher than facial or leg hair. In my case, there's also more of it -- that is, my hair is pretty thick and fine, and it also grows fast. I get stubbly much faster than I would like to. Right now I'm thinking I'd like to shave every other day, but I may revise that as time goes on.

Third, I'm going to move next week. That is, I will move from the Dharma House, where I've been for a year and a half, to the Sangha House, 3 blocks away. I will have my own room there. It's somewhat small, but will be adequate. However, it has no heat -- I'll need to get a heater, maybe. I will continue to spend most of my time here at the Dharma House, as this is where work and meals and services and such happen, but my stuff and where I sleep will move. The house is beautiful, and at the moment there's only one person actually living there. There's a wonderful garden and yard and deck. The house gets regularly used every other week for Dharma School, and once a month for the high school overnights. Board meetings are there every other month, and women's group meetings are there once a month. But basically, it's a residence for those who have "graduated" from the Dharma House. We also have it as extra housing for visiting teachers or sangha members who stay temporarily. My address remains the same, as all mail comes here, and I still have a mailbox here.

Fourth, new duties. My teacher has asked me to take over checking the staff e-mail and to begin scheduling his appointments and generally assisting him in various administrative ways. I'm happy about that, really, as part of what I really want to do is to take some of the stuff that he's been doing adminsitratively off his shoulders so he can concentrate on teaching and fundraising and organizational development, which only he can really do. I've managed to take the website off of him, and for the most part, also the newsletter. I regard this new "position," such as it is, as an opportunity to serve in ways that I believe I can serve well, and so that's very satisfying.

Today started for me with getting up early to shave (my first attempt with the double-edged razor). Then I showered and dressed, and made breakfast for 10 people. Then we had our regular Saturday sitting and service, followed by monthly women's group meeting (there's a men's group meeting at the same time). Then lunch, during which time we heard that one of our sangha members had what appeared to be a stroke in Eugene (while giving a workshop at the Eugene Zendo). Fortunately, there were several health care practitioners there, and they got her to the hospital right away and then carried on with the workshop. We have had regular updates all afternoon, and she's still in the hospital, and they have moved her to ICU, though mostly because they are concerned about her high blood pressure. She's watching a football game.

After lunch, we started in on our new Sangha Project work practice time, when several people were here to help with a 2-hr work period on a couple of defined projects. The one I participated in was getting out ballots for the Board election. The other was cleaning out the garage. We had enough people that both projects were a huge success, and got a lot done in a relatively short period of time. This is a new idea for us, and the brainchild of Domyo, I gather. What we are doing is having two regularly-scheduled times each week (Thursday mornings and Saturday afternoons) for people to come and work on specific projects for a specified period of time. This is the first week we've tried it, and it was a great success. On Thursday morning, we had a crew over at the Sangha House (which will be my new home after next week) doing deep cleaning. One woman went to town on the living room and dining room, sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, washing woodwork and windows, etc., and it looks great. A guy scrubbed out the shower, washed the shower curtain, and generally cleaned the main floor bathroom. He also knew how to turn on the self-cleaning oven for the stove (which needed cleaning badly). I focused on the kitchen, cleaning the other two ovens (toaster and microwave) and some of the woodwork, etc. Domyo spent the time working on taking stuff out of her room, which is the same one I will move into next week.

Anyway, that was Thursday. Today, after work practice time, I did some dishes and general cleanup in the kitchen, where Gyokuko was already working on dinner, and finally was able to come up here and check e-mail. There you have it -- my day and a smattering of my week. I'm still happy, still enjoying everything I'm doing.

Ordination, January 7, 2007

Well, it's done. Wow, what an amazing day.

Much of this week has been pretty normal, with plenty of work to do. And today was no exception, until about 2pm or so. Then my teacher had me step into the bathroom to get shaved. We do it pretty informally here, as opposed to a much more formal activity at the monastery.

First, he used clippers to get as close as possible (leaving the little tuft of hair called the "shura" to be shaved during the actual ordination ceremony). Then he used a razor and shampoo to shave as much as possible. And finally he ran the razor lightly over the entire head against the grain. The result was a very close smooth shave, and a very bald head. After shaving, I took a shower, and then my teacher put his own blend of lotions on my head to make it smooth and also to soothe it a bit.

I love being bald. I love how it looks, and I'm getting used to how it feels. A friend took pictures, and I'll photoshop them tomorrow and try to post at least one on my blog.

After a while, I took my kimono and slip and obi across the street, and changed there. About 15 minutes before the ceremony I went upstairs to the hall and stood in my designated spot to wait. I saw several friends come in to watch, along with several people from the two sanghas (Dharma Rain and Zen Community of Oregon). No family, though.

The ceremony went off without any serious hitches. One minor glitch was that on one of the bows I did at the ordination altar (which is a low table that we all kneel at) I hit my head coming back up. "Ow," I whispered, but just kept going on to the next thing. After that I paid more attention to where that table was and made sure there was room when I came back up. And of course I'm totally not used to my new robes, and had to do a lot of bows in them, so struggled a bit with them. My kesa is too loose -- I need to re-do one of the patches and ties and move it over a couple of inches.

At this point, I still don't know how to put on my own kesa. In the ceremony the jisha puts the koromo and kesa on me. So I decided not to try to do the ZCO program this evening. I have to learn a few things before I can do all that.

In any case, I had no problems with all the bows, and was able to do the entire ceremony strongly. I'm very happy, and several people said I was glowing. The pictures show me looking confident and happy, which is an accurate picture of how I feel today. I got hugs from everyone afterwards, and there were wonderful cookies and fudge to eat after the ceremony for everyone.

I came back over here to eat dinner, which Gyokuko cooked up for something like 22 people -- residents here, monastery people who would need to have something to eat before doing their evening program, and a few other visiting teachers. One of the teachers told me to sit still and not help with cleanup. I went upstairs to the office to look at pictures. And then I went to my room to open presents and cards.

I'm overwhelmed by everyone's kindness. There were some amazing presents and lovely cards, and I find myself really touched. There's a beautiful mala from a new monk at the monastery. There are two books, one of poetry and another of photographs. There's a set of monk's bowls from the teachers at the monastery. And other things. Many wonderful cards and messages from people.

I've had many thoughts, especially this last week, about what it all means to me, but I don't think I can articulate it all very well. I had a dream/nightmare I think Thursday morning, and that was interesting. One thing I've found is that I'm not as overwhelmed by feelings and thoughts that come up. So there is still fear, but I don't have to avoid it and I don't have to be ruled by it. I can simply sit with it, and it eventually passes. I'm not as afraid of the fear any more. It's quite nice. I think the dream had some things to say to me, and I'm still processing them.

I started writing about all of this in some sort of attempt to explain or document my process. And I find that I can't really do that very well. Most of the important things that happen are impossible to articulate, because putting them into words just doesn't work. I mean, you can say things about them, but it's a little like speaking in code. You can only hint at it, and then not all that well. Unless someone already knows what you are talking about, it's impossible to explain adequately.

Nevertheless, I will no doubt continue to try to find ways to say something about what's going on with me. Today marks a significant transition. What it signifies is hard to say. But I feel it.