On Saturday mornings I feel like I am on duty for six hours straight, from morning zazen through to the end of lunch; even more so when we have nenju during Practice Period.There are three events most Saturdays that tend to bring about the 'on duty' feeling, since the early period of zazen and service are usually more like straightforward weekday mornings, but after these we go on to oryoki, followed by the 9:25 period of zazen, and then the talk.
This weekend we have around fifteen people taking part in a three-day Recovery retreat, bringing their energy to the building, and I think all of them came to oryoki this morning, making it a little busier than usual. Oryoki is a very ceremonial and ritualised activity, and I know that it can cause great anxiety to some people (this is also true for those who serve - I know people who are probably executives with any number of people reporting to them and no end of responsibilities, who seem to quake in their boots at the idea of serving hot cereal to the assembly). I always enjoy watching people who are new to eating oryoki working their way through it; some of it is instinctual, and some of it definitely isn't, but I like to see people paying attention to what is going on around them, and figuring out some of the forms and signals. In the end, everyone usually gets fed and their bowls washed one way or another.
On a good Saturday, like today, I just have time for some coffee before going back to zendo for the 9:25 sitting.
I have come to recognise a number of the regulars at this sitting, often people who only come for this period. I don't know many of their names, but I am always happy to see them, especially as I know they can thread their way through the formality without my needing to help. We often have brand new people who come at this time as well; again, not everybody necessarily knows the forms, the bows on entering, which way to go, which seats are reserved, and I keep an eye on unfamiliar people as they progress to a seat. As I think I have written before, I try not to jump up and intervene, even if someone wanders across the altar, which we do not usually do, because I don't want them to feel weighed down by having done something wrong before they have even sat down....there is a fine line I continue to investigate between making people feel comfortable and welcomed by helping them, and by allowing them to find their own way. I used a passage from Suzuki Roshi's 'Not Always So' for a discussion at last weekend's Beginners' Sitting, partly to absolve myself of the responsibility of having to give too much instruction: "Rules are only needed when we don't have much time, or when we cannot help others more closely in a kind way. To say 'this is the rule, so you should do it' is easy, but actually that is not our way. For the beginner, maybe, instruction is necessary, but for advanced students we don't give much instruction, and they try out various ways. If possible, we give instruction to people one by one. Because that is difficult, we give group instruction or a lecture like this. But don't stick to the lecture. Think about what I really mean".