Sunday, September 21, 2008

Update September 21, 2008

Let's see, chronological order.

The talent/no talent show (Saturday, Sept. 13) was fun, and none of us made complete fools of ourselves. Not bad on the talent end of things, in spite of it being done by amateurs. The Lonesome Dove play went better than some previous ones have (though last year's Wild Kingdom featuring Zen Buddhists in the Wild was hilarious). I think part of why I enjoyed it so much was that I wasn't in it. The two younger ordained people were both in it, wearing wigs (one was a hooker with long red hair and the other was an Indian with long black hair). And then Kyogen and I were singing. Prompting the MC to say that if you were monastics here you had to either wear a wig or sing a song in the talent show. Hmmm... come to think of it, though, Gyokuko got out of it altogether other than as an audience person.

All of our songs went pretty well, all things considered. The sound system worked well, though we did have to borrow mike stands. Still, when a local professional rock singer brought her high-end bass guitar amp on stage (though she did use our mike for her vocals), you could tell the difference between amateur and professional. Man, she was hot! They saved her to last, which I think was a good choice. The next day (Sunday) featured two meetings, and then I quickly packed to get out of town for my vacation. This is the first time I've used a Zipcar to do this, and I found out a few things. First, there's a 4-day limit on renting these cars, which I didn't know about before. I pleaded with someone in customer service to get a few extra hours to bring it back so I could stop in Corvallis and see the grandchildren after they got out of school. They graciously extended my reservation a few hours (which of course I paid for at an hourly rate), and that worked out beautifully.

I started out camping for two days in my traditional Beverly Beach campground near Newport. It was cold and foggy (very hot inland usually translates to cool and foggy at the coast), and it took me a little while to realize that I needed to be wearing wool socks, not going barefoot! I spent some time reading in my car overlooking the ocean rather than actually being out on the beach. Still, I did get a chance to gather wood, build a fire, cook my own dinner and breakfast, and generally "do camping" even for a couple of days, and I'm content with that for another year.

Then I went to visit sister Marilyn and her family (daughter Carrie and husband Don) in Cottage Grove. Had some nice conversation with them and some nice hang-out time before going to pick up Mother and heading to Phyllis's house in Eugene. Got to have dinner with Marilyn and Carrie, Josie and Nathaniel, Elizabeth and David, Phyllis and John, and of course, Mother. Stayed over with Aunt Phyllis, and got to visit with her the next morning for a while before she went off to her next project. Then I headed to Corvallis.

Got to visit with Nico and baby Brendan first because Alice was out picking up Matthew from school. Oh, my, that baby is cute -- smiley and happy all the time. He's about 10 months old at this point, and friendly as can be. When Alice and Matthew came in, I was surprised to see how tall he's become (is that a grandma comment or what!) -- he's easily going to be the tallest in the family, and a bit of a string bean, which is also not typical for that family. Then Alice went out again to pick up Christopher. Christopher was his usual sunny self as well, and the boys really enjoy their back yard. They also seem to enjoy being big brothers, both enjoying the baby and playing gently with him. I had a good visit, got my "baby fix," and headed back home.

And things have been busy here, of course, as we gear up for term starting next week. On Friday the abbots took a vacation day, and the phones kept ringing. They came back to several appointments for Saturday, and both of them spent hours yesterday talking with various students. One of the students was me -- I talked with Gyokuko to clarify where I am in terms of assistant tenzo. One thing I've determined is that I need to be signing up to assist at meal preps regularly, and put it on my calendar. If I leave it to when I feel like it, it doesn't happen. So I'm starting to do that.

Today I had a meeting after services about the budget (don't ask me how I got hooked into talking with people about the budget -- long story). It was interesting, and then I got talking with one of the board members, and finally we both decided we needed to go our respective ways. So I fixed myself some lunch and spent my traditional Sunday afternoon hour with the newspaper. It's raining here, and feels like fall for sure. I have more energy than I typically have on a Sunday afternoon, and I suspect it's because I've only put in a couple of work days this week. I really relaxed on my vacation, and that was good.

September 12 -- My head is spinning ...

... and term hasn't even started yet, officially at least. Since my last update (about the farm retreat), I've done several things that have been interesting, but haven't had a lot of time to report on them. Let's see if I can remember what they are.

Last weekend I was jisha (teacher's assistant, who carries the incense in ceremonies) for my first weekend retreat -- which involved my first time as jisha for full morning service and also for sanzen (formal interview with a teacher). The sanzen was challenging, especially since many of the people at the retreat were relatively new members who hadn't ever done it before. So lots of kind of pointing directions, making sure people got where they needed to go, etc. I would occasionally sit down, but usually had to get back up. I would stand, and then after a while when nothing happened, would sit back down, and of course then something would happen and I had to get up. I've heard jishas complain about sanzen during retreats for years, and now I have an idea of what they mean. But it was also kind of fun.

There were three of us in training positions during this retreat, and we had a nice chat afterwards celebrating all of our many mistakes. I have to say I'm getting better at making mistakes, easier about it. Just noticing that I did that wrong, and do it right next time, or ask questions if I'm not sure how it was supposed to go.

Today I met with my teacher and one of the things we talked about was the newsletter. The editor is stepping down, and I'm being named "managing editor" (my teacher is the "publisher" or "executive editor" or something like that). I've been doing a lot of work on the newsletter for quite some time (including putting it up on the website after it's complete), but have been holding back in favor of encouraging others to get involved. Last month I just kind of took over some things to get them done (since the previous editor was doing very little at that point), and it was a lot easier. It's almost time to gear up for the next newsletter, after I get back from vacation, and I'm not all that sure what we have, but hopefully things will begin to be clearer.

Oh, and this coming Saturday [tomorrow!!] is our talent/no talent show, and I'm going to be in it, in spite of my best efforts to stay quiet and not be noticed. My teacher asked me and another fella to help him sing some of the old chestnuts from an act he has done with various people over the years called "Karmic Relief." In fact, I think that may have been one of the first events I came to DRZC for way back when, a concert, before I became a member. It's kind of fun, but involves my playing guitar and singing, which is a little stressful, since my guitar playing isn't exactly what I'd call proficient. Fortunately, the other fella is good on the guitar, so I am pretty much backup. Still, one of the songs has a fairly challenging chord structure, so we'll see.

My teacher informs me that it's now Friday (yikes! somehow I was thinking it was still Thursday) and we're supposed to rehearse in a half-hour, and I was going to set up the sound system. So I'd better go do that. If anyone in the Portland area wants to come by tomorrow night about 7pm at SE 25th and Madison, admission is by donation, and it should be a hoot. We have a group putting on a play based on "Lonesome Dove" (I think they may be calling it something like "Solitary Pigeon"). And other stuff. Maybe I'll get a chance to let you all know how it goes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Farm Retreat -- Written August 29, 2008

Well, it's officially called the Mountains & Waters Zendo-Raising Retreat, but Farm Retreat is easier to say. We actually came back a day early, i.e., yesterday rather than today. That was because we were all so efficient with our carpooling that the couple of people who needed to come back yesterday meant that half of the retreat participants were leaving. We decided that the other three of us from Portland would also leave, hence we are back early.

It was a really wonderful retreat. My first as Tenzo (chief cook). It was a ridiculously easy tenzo experience in many ways (which didn't necessarily make it easy for me, as I find the whole thing difficult). First, Seido, who was hostess, shuso (the one who actually runs the retreat and makes sure everything happens as it's supposed to), and head of construction for the Zendo-raising, also did all the menu planning and shopping. She has an outdoor kitchen she sets up for retreats out there in the Empty Field Hermitage. We tented out near there as well. The kitchen had propane stoves, tubs for wash water, a faucet, a cooler, dry storage bin, and pots, pans, serving bowls, plates and utensils. For some things I did have to go to the house and/or the packout cooler, which was a little bit of a walk through the fields. I realized last night, though, walking to the Sangha House from the Dharma House, that the distance was fairly equivalent to that walk I make here at least twice a day, and often more.

I had a clipboard, and an expanded menu with lots of room for me to make lists on. "Shopping" lists of things to get either from the house or from the packout cooler -- this is a working organic farm, and they work Tuesday Market, Thursday Market, and Saturday Market. This is a busy time of year, of course, harvesting things, getting them ready for sale in the packout area, washing and labeling them, etc. Seido met with me every morning, and we checked in usually a couple of times during the day to make sure I had what I needed to prepare the next meal or two.

Breakfasts were simplified by not cooking oatmeal, but having granola instead. Fruit was mostly strawberries (picked daily by my faithful assistant Adam) and sometimes blackberries. And then tea, which it took a couple of mornings to get down exactly right. I usually missed part of morning zazen to get breakfast together, which we then ate together in silence in the zendo, oryoki style. Lunches were usually sandwich-y (tofu pate, egg salad, one day grilled tempeh to make "BLTs") with often a salad. These we ate informally in chairs around the kitchen. Dinners were also somewhat informal, but at that point we entered into silence which lasted through evening zazen, morning zazen, and through next morning's breakfast. Dinners usually involved some real cooking, grilling or some sort of melange of flavors in sauce to put over pasta, rice, or quinoa.

All of it came out really well, and I even did pretty well at estimating quantities -- I guess I have been absorbing something during the kitchen work I've been forcing myself to do so far. It also helped that we had 2 three-hour work periods every day. This is not typical of retreats, let me tell you, and it helped me immensely to have that much time, especially early in the week when I was still pretty intimidated by the whole thing and trying to figure out where to start, what needed to be done next, where to find whatever it was I needed, etc. I eventually discovered that I needed to take my breaks during work periods, since break times for the rest of the crew were often when I needed to be intensively involved in the kitchen fixing dinner.

Also, of course, I was working with incredibly good food -- all this beautiful fresh produce, much of it picked that very day. We had sweet corn twice, once grilled and the second time steamed. Tomatoes -- many of the tomatoes that weren't considered perfect enough to go to market, made it into our consumption. I discovered the first day or so that I was grabbing cherry tomatoes and carrots for snacks out of the colander handy on the counter, and decided to put those on the snack/beverage table for the work crew. They began disappearing at a good clip. The carrots were, you know, crooked and otherwise "imperfect," but were incredibly delicious. We had sliced tomatoes with almost every lunch. And herbs -- oh, my, what a luxury to go outside and pick thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, mint ... I made marinades for tofu and tempeh, threw herbs into pasta primavera and curry sauce -- well, who can go wrong with all of this to work with?

The work crew actually got the engawa pretty much done. This is like a deck all around the outside of the building, which will eventually be used to do kinhin (walking meditation), which I gather is traditional in Japanese temples. There is still finish work to do on it, but they got it substantially in place. After lunch yesterday we did a little ceremony where we circumambulated the building three times chanting in order to dedicate or bless it. That was pretty cool. It felt good, solid. A job well done.

I did take a bunch of pictures, and will try to get them up here if possible.