Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sitting Together

After sesshin was over, and I had cleaned up and eaten dinner, I went for a brief walk outside. The fog had set in, muting everything, and I was happy to slip down the streets, taking in everything, noticing again how, whatever the stresses and strains of the sitting - and in this position they are always many and varied - invariably there is a residue of settled sharp awareness. I think this is noticeable to others as well; this morning, instead of having a talk, we had all gone out for an equally leisurely walk in the warm sunshine. I walked at the back of the thirty-strong group, some of us in robes with our flowing sleeves, watched how passers-by reacted to us, and held up for myself to examine as well this unusually public identity of 'zen priest'. As we filed by a furniture store, a young man talking to a couple of others bowed to us. He turned to me and asked if we were Buddhists. Yes, I replied simply. I love you guys he smiled, and I smiled back.
We ended the sitting this afternoon with a chosan (not to be confused with a shosan - check the labels for the various iterations of each). It was a fitting way to bring the small group together for a finale, and the feeling was sweet and relaxed. Overall my reaction to this three-day sesshin was not so different to the reaction I had last year: it's only three days, it's gone before you know it, but I enjoyed hearing how much it meant for others.
The brevity does not mean it is easy to prepare for - since we drop a one-day sitting in the middle of it, basically I had to set up two complete job lists and seating charts, and of course, there were twice as many variables to come and trip me up. I started earlier than I would ordinarily for a sesshin, and felt I was ahead of the curve right through to Thursday night, even with all the expected unexpecteds: people not on my list, people going sick, people who didn't think they were going to be able to make it and did, and vice versa, people sitting two days, or part of all three days, or some other combination.
I also had distractions in terms of conversations I hadn't anticipated about my next steps here at Zen Center. As I have been telling people recently, and as my experience has been, until I am actually sitting on an actual seat or behind a particular desk, there is no point saying anything about it, and another aspect of this weekend illustrates this: until Thursday, I was not completely sure I was going to be sitting the sesshin at all. Three months or so ago, I decided to schedule a Young Urban Zen retreat at Green Gulch for this weekend. I remember having the sense when I did it that I was tempting fate, but it seemed to be the most suitable time, and since there had already been some talk about me transitioning out of the ino position, I told myself that either I would not be ino in June, or that somebody would be able to replace me. It turned out that neither of those guesses were accurate, and while I might have had more expansive fun with YUZ at Green Gulch these past few days, and would have almost certainly made more of the good weather, while being more suitably attired for it, it was abundantly clear that I had, as I sometimes say, cooked myself a breakfast that I couldn't eat *. The situation being entirely of my making, I had no problem settling down to do what I was supposed to be doing rather than what I might wish to be doing. And that, for all that I look forward to a bike ride tomorrow, just as I used to look forward to running after sesshins at Tassajara, is what sesshin is all about.

Warm, but also windy yesterday
 * A friend of mine at school, intending to study philosophy, went for an interview at Oxford. Afterwards he told me the question was put to him, "Can God cook himself a breakfast he cannot eat?" I always liked this question, though I wouldn't dream of trying to answer it; it is the kind of thing that has kept me well away from western philosophy. Quite often the phrase came to mind while I was building walls at Tassajara when, having laid out a satisfyingly beautiful combination of rocks, I would realise that it was impossible to put anything on top of them to continue the construction.


Mr. Propter said...

Thanks for all your work on this one, David.

Shundo said...

My pleasure.