Monday, August 30, 2010

Back from retreats

Yes, retreats plural. I went for a week-long retreat out at Great Vow Zen Monastery, the Grasses, Trees, and Great Earth sesshin. That was wonderful. I went a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed it. Enjoyed it this time, too. They added daily sessions working with clay, and I really got into that. The last three nights we sat out in the woods in the dark after zazen, and I found that simply delightful. There's nothing like the forest at night.

My work practice was in the kitchen, and that, combined with the amount of sitting we did, definitely affected my back. I did okay, though. I worry a little about our week-long retreat in December, as there isn't as much latitude in the way of lying down or other activity than sitting zazen. I may have to ask for some lying-down stations in the back of the zendo -- that worked well in our May retreat this year. If I can lie down for one or two 25-minute periods during the day, I can generally get through okay.

I came back from that retreat and had a couple of days to get our latest newsletter up on the web site. Then, this last weekend, Thursday through Sunday, I went to the farm retreat, Cultivating the Way, at the Empty Field Zendo on Seido's farm. That was also wonderful. There's nothing like fresh organic food -- freshly-picked blackberries and strawberries, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, all sorts of things picked minutes or hours before serving. This was the first all silent retreat I've done out there, and it was powerful.

The zendo is literally out in an empty field, in a mountain valley, and temperatures in the mornings varied quite a bit. Friday morning was probably around 45 degrees, and felt pretty cold. I was okay, as I had been there before, and was prepared with my wool robe, turtleneck, cashmere vest, wool socks, scarf, and alpaca shawl. Saturday morning was more like 55 degrees, and felt almost balmy by comparison. Sunday morning, though, it was more like 35 degrees, and we were all bundled up as best we could, and just sat through it all. We all survived in great shape, even doing oryoki (formal meal) breakfast in the cold.

My work practice was cleaning the zendo and sewing, and I had one assistant for that. I always enjoy sewing in daylight, and cleaning is something I also enjoy. I was also co-shuso -- that is, Seido and one other person and I shared duties of oversight. The other person took care of most of the outside things, including assigning work practice and ringing bells, and Seido took care of a lot of general oversight. I was primarily in charge of things like arranging (and rearranging as people came and went) the zendo seating and overseeing ceremony forms, chanting, and such like. We all shared communicating with and orienting people who came in late, taking care of special needs that came up, etc. Each of us got to be doshi (celebrant during a ceremony) at least once during the weekend.

It was really a lovely time. I'm hoping to remember and keep in mind and body some of the insights I found there. I did find my sitting zazen this morning on my own to be quite rewarding.