Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Report on Rohatsu Sesshin -- written December 12, 2007

On December 2 we went out to the Zen monastery near Clatskanie for Rohatsu sesshin, which is an annual silent retreat held around the world to celebrate the Buddha's enlightenment, traditionally set for December 8. Those in the Pacific northwest know what's coming -- on Monday, the first full day of sesshin, we had flooding. What I didn't know was that they had already had a flood in another part of the monastery that I didn't go into early in the morning. But as we were gathering for work circle in the cafeteria we began to see water coming in on the floor. We went ahead and did our work chant and work assignments, and then just began to push water out the door. A bucket brigade worked over near the other part, but at some point I got enlisted to help dig a drainage ditch to divert the water from coming into the building where we were.

The area we had to dig the ditch already had rock in it, so digging was not easy. There were probably 10-15 of us, though, and someone finally figured out that picks would work better than shovels, and so we used both and finally got the ditch dug and the water diverted, and it could stop going into the building. Water was literally pouring out of the ground, like welling up from gopher holes or who knows what, coming down the hill toward the building. I came in from that task completely drenched, hung up my sodden jacket, changed many of my clothes, because they were pretty wet as well in spite of gore-tex (when rain comes down inside your jacket and your waterproof boots it doesn't matter how waterproof they are), and hoped that I wouldn't have to go back out into the rain, because of course I was limited in what I had in the way of clothing.

We did have a couple of brief power outages. The one that was kind of comical was during lunch. Okay, we're eating, it's daylight, and we barely miss a beat. No one said anything, or even stopped eating. (I'm serious when I say it was a silent retreat.) We just kept on going. That is our practice after all, meet what is in front of us and deal with the reality of the situation. In many ways, it was fortunate that the flood happened during this sesshin, because the monastery then had about 40 people to help deal with the situation rather than only the 8-10 people who live there.

I found the whole week valuable. I'm learning, I think, how to get what I need from this practice, and I had some significant breakthroughs and shifts in my way of looking at my life. Of course, I had to cry for two days to get there, but I've learned how to do that silently and still follow all the forms -- stand up and bow when the bell rings, put on robes, take off robes and put on work clothes, go to bed, get up, eat formally, process with the others, etc. It all feels familiar and it all supports my practice. The crying was actually liberating in this case, and when it gradually receded, I found that I knew more than I had known before. I'm finding the practice incredibly valuable, and am settling into this monk role, which includes staying very open and flexible. Still don't do everything perfectly, but that's part of it too -- learning how to make mistakes and be okay with all of that.

Now I'm back trying to catch up with all the work. It was nice to go and it's nice to be home. And I'm finding increasingly that "home" is everywhere.


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