Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Poem -- On Turning Two

On Turning Two (2nd anniversary of ordination January 7, 2009)

I Want
I Want NOW
I want it ALL
Right Now
I want to be wise

I want to Know
I want to know HOW
I want to know
how to do it ALL
Right Now
I want to understand
Dogen, Avatamsaka
To be able to talk about it all
wise, confident

I want to do everything
jisha, daimasho, doshi, ino, doan, chiden
all the ceremonies
all the positions
I want to move
with grace and assurance

I can't do it all
I fail
stumble, bumble
oblivious to cues
forget this, do that wrong
Get angry at myself
frustrated at failure
Plunge into despair
I'll never get it right
I don’t deserve to live

The heat of wanting
The cold of failure
Where is the place
where there is no hot or cold?

The teachers watch
with kindness
smile at my deadly serious efforts
encourage me to get back up
and try again
Kanzeon looks through their eyes

Beware, get ready
for the tantrums
of the
Terrible Twos

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some reflections on Rohatsu

It's been a busy week, but I wanted to record a little from Rohatsu (Dec 7-14).

As jisha (the one who carries the incense in ceremonies, and oversees sanzen [formal interview with teachers]), I had many opportunities to make mistakes, and of course I took full advantage of them. I did pull off the two special ceremonies at the end of the week without huge mistakes. Whenever teacher Gyokuko caught me (as I was catching myself, looking maybe sheepish and apologetic) in a mistake, she gave me a brilliant smile.

In the Shuso Hossen ceremony, the chief junior of the past year was examined by teachers and the rest of us to test her understanding of a verse she chose. My question to her was "what is mastery?" Her answer was bang-on, "falling down and getting back up again." I don't think she knew this is basically what my teacher wrote on the back of my rakusu when he ordained me, though she may know that this is an ongoing issue for me.

There is that in me that hates to make mistakes, to get it wrong, and that part of me is having a hard time as I see more and more clearly how I do get things wrong. I see that I don't get hard words for it or any threat of harm or punishment (except from myself, and I see what an obstacle that is), and it's almost more difficult that way. So I sit meditation, hunched over, barely able to breathe, a lump of misery, of failure, wondering if I will ever get it right, knowing I have to try anyway and get it wrong, trying not to disappear, to hide, to judge myself too harshly, trying to wait in patience and compassion for change to emerge from this misery. And often I just want to sleep. I've been sleeping more than usual this week.

The other thing I identified at Rohatsu was a developmental stage. I seem to be going through early childhood stages roughly corresponding to my ordination age. First I saw myself as a baby, babbling, unable to do much but cry. Then as a wobbler, taking first tentative steps, but pretty wobbly, falling down about as much as walking.

Now I'm coming up on 2 years old, and I remember these little kids in our family literacy program. How much they wanted to stand in front of the class and teach, grabbing pencils so they could write, reading books (holding them upside down), trying to ride trikes like the big kids. It looks like playing to adults, but for them it's serious. Part of the "terrible twos" is frustration, a huge wanting to do everything, often failing because they simply don't have the motor skills, the conceptual frameworks, etc., to accomplish it.

So here I am, more or less doomed to fail for a while and trying (sometimes desperately) to be okay with that. Sometimes I fail at failing. Sigh.

It's been a stressful week. At least two car accidents weather-related, a couple of other mishaps and near-misses of various sorts, getting a newsletter mailing out in spite of obstacles, lots of people in the Center. I hasten to add that I'm fine, and none of the accidents involved me (other than as a sympathetic and worried friend). Last night Getsushin and Kisei decided not to go to the prison, because the weather was just too dicey -- we knew we could get there, but weren't sure we could get back. Today it's snowing, a slow steady snow that looks like it will settle in for a while, probably 2 inches so far. I'm grateful to be in easy walking distance of everything I need, including work. I've been taking it somewhat easy, going to bed a bit early, etc.

I'm also playing catch-up, trying to get all of our stuff back from the retreat at the monastery and get some things we inadvertently brought back that are theirs back to them. With the weather as it has been, this is not as easy as usual. They are, after all, an hour-and-a-half drive in good weather, and sometimes it's not advisable to travel at all. Thursday the teachers came down, but in a car, not a van, because they couldn't get the van out of the parking lot. That meant that some of our bulkier items are still out there. Oh, well. We'll get it sorted out eventually.

Sounds of a Silent Sesshin - Rohatsu 2008

wake-up bell, hahn, densho
sanzen bells
coughing, sneezing, clearing throats
my teacher and I in stereo across the zendo
60 pairs of feet on the heated bamboo floor
first slow, then fast
toilets flushing
bodies bowing
60 pairs of knees hitting the floor
teacups clattering overturned
chant leader
mokugyo, gongs
sonorous chanting from 60 throats
swish of robes, flip-flop of footwear, processing in the hallway
meal gong
drum, clappers
meal chant
muffled clatter of oryoki bowls, chopsticks, spoons
being unwrapped and placed
the unmistakable sound of a chopstick hitting the floor
food bowls and condiments being passed
(food plentiful and delicious)
work practice
work assignments (cutting blackberries with Holly)
kitchen chopping
sewing machine
fluorescent lights hum
heating hiss
teachers in daily teisho
teachers in sanzen

comforting sounds
sounds of caring, sounds of home
weaving between, among, through, around

oceans and oceans vast and deep
of silence