A few months ago I went to a Zen Mountain retreat on somewhat of a whim. I had been disappointed in the lack of Buddhist temples or events in Philadelphia. The nearest temple was an hour and a half in Southern New Jersey. The nearest Buddhist events were in New York. After extensive researching I found a Zen Monastery in the Catskill mountains of New York. It was a full authentic monastery run by a Japanese Zen Master in full residence. From what I could tell it was the only one like it in the United States. On their website, they offered weekend ‘introduction to Zen’ workshops. Since the Monastery was only four hours away I decided to go.
The weekend was very interesting and actually changed my viewpoint on a few things. After returning my wife remarked how much calmer and happier I seemed to be. The natural next step appeared to be going for a full week.
I noticed that they had week long sessions call Sesshin. I assumed that this was a week long session where non-monks could join for a week and then go back. The weekend introduction, while somewhat taxing with four sitting sessions a day, was not a problem. So, I signed up.
The Monastery is situated in the mountains on a beautiful lake and the trees would be changing colors. As I packed books, music and snacks, I thought about how relaxing it would be.
I had NO idea.
Maybe I should have read this description
from the Wikipedia;
Some people unfamiliar with the process have reported becoming disoriented and fearful of incurring psychological damage during Sesshin. Some Zen centers do not allow novices to attend long Sesshins without much prior experience and screening by the practice leaders. Sesshin can lead to deep experiences of awakening that may at times be somewhat traumatic, akin to a spiritual emergency or kundalini symptoms. This potential for experiences of mental 'breakdown' is also suggested by the traditional Zen, which depict a journey of struggle with a wild and unruly and powerful 'force of nature' that must be tamed before it becomes helpful or pleasant.
If I had looked at other Zen centers, that provide a description of Sesshin, I might have been warned, but still not fully informed. American Zen centers have ‘Americanized’ Sesshins. Most have breaks with rest or work periods interspaced throughout the day. Many allowed sleep for more than 4 hours. However, at the Monastery, in the true Zen Sesshin, the initiate is not allowed any pause in the daily activities. There is not time alone, no talking, no stop in activity, no pause. It is a religious ‘right of passage’ that is often described as a ‘cleansing process’ or a ‘test of faith’. Most people work up to a Sesshin over years.
Day 1 (Saturday) 6:30 PM
I arrive at the front gates to the Monastery at
Stopped on my way up Beecher road to steal some rocks for my garden.
Upon arriving at the Monastery I am surprised to see one of the girls from my ‘Intro to Zen’ weekend open the door. She is bald, but seems quite happy in her choice.
I met Ellen about 4 months ago during a weekend introduction. Her father was a minister and wanted to expose his children to other religions in the world. After some researching he decided that this Zen center was the most authentic eastern Zen center in the United States.
I also see the girl from Germany. I am happy to see her but she does not acknowledge me at dinner. Later in the hall I say Hello.
I find out later that she has returned for another 100 days of meditation. I find this strange since she is a teacher and realize that she must have left her job to be here.
We sit in the mediation hall while we are given instructions. I find it impossible to sit for even 5 minutes. How will I do 1 hour? How will I do 12 a day. I wonder if I will get in trouble if I skip some times.
We are told not to talk during the week long Sesshin. This serves two purposes. People are here to concentrate so conversation would be distracting. We are here to experience Sesshin, not to meet others. Also, each experience is unique. Comparing notes or having certain expectations would distract each of us from what we are doing. I find this disappointing because I would really like to know what brought others here. Or, more importantly, what I can expect.
We are told that everything is to be done as quietly as possible. No discussions, no talking during dinner, as little noise as possible. Those that have been here longer are very adept at silence. I find that even my walking is loud compared to my peers.
For meals we are given a simple set of three bowls, chopsticks, a very small rag and a cloth about 10 inches on a side. They are arranged together with the three bowls nesting and the cloths covering the bowl. Preparing the bowls and putting them away is a minor ritual in itself. Placing the fingers just so allows you to separate the bowls or combine them without making a noise. Once they are unwrapped they are placed in front of you in a row, the largest bowl to the right.
The serving bowls are passed down from the kitchen side of the room, with the most senior people being served first. Each bowl is placed on a cloth placemat. When the people up the table are done serving themselves, you and the person across from you, grab the edge of the placemat and pull the bowl in front of yourself. If you want what is in the bowl you clasp your hands in prayer. If you do not want any you bow slightly. Each person moving down from the flow of the food must watch the person up table of them so they know when to reach over and pull the mat. The last person at the table covers the food at the end.
Once everyone is served a small prayer is said, thanking for the food and vowing to do good things with the energy it provides. At the end of the prayer we begin eating.
The Tenzo, at the head of the second table, watches everyone’s progress. Once everyone (or most everyone) has finished, he claps two wooden blocks together to signal seconds. The bowls are uncovered and the whole process works in reverse. Movements are done identical to the first time except in reverse order. As soon as you are served you are allowed to eat.
Dinner is bland watery soup with mushrooms, tofu
and dikon. I eat little. Everyone eats so fast, I am the last one done anyway.
Meditation starts at 7:20. I don’t know if I can do it and am afraid.
Day 2 (Sunday) 12:30
Lunch finishes with a barely edible meal. After undressing in my room I grab one of the chocolate bars out of my closet that I brought up to the Monastery
I made a mistake and rose during zazen. I am very embarrassed over it.
I have been here 18 hours and it feels like forever. Only 12 hours awake. I am not used to the routine and a little confused.
I hear a Coyote or wolf howling far off. It reminds me of Tenzo and how much I miss him.
Explanations about procedures and locations fly by me fast. I have no reference to understand what they are talking about. The names of rooms baffle me.
Procedures use descriptions I do not understand.
I am sitting on a cushion trying to calm my mind. But my mind is mostly thinking about the pain. Something is cutting into my left leg. I tug on my robe ever so slightly trying to relieve the pressure point. I am not supposed to be moving so I try to pull on my robe with no one seeing the movement. Everyone is perfectly quiet and still. How do they do it? I feel like I am in a room of people who know what they are doing and a spotlight is on me if I make even the smallest movement.
A gong goes off in the next room and suddenly everyone jumps up, grabs a cushion and runs out of the room as fast as possible. I am completely confused, but without thinking I jump up and run with the group. Robes flying, trying to turn corners on my bare feet.
Everyone runs into a room with tatami mats. Jockeying for position, they form three lines. I run and sit down as close to the front as possible, as this seems to be the goal. I am somewhat proud of myself for making it into the middle of the line.
Everyone quickly settles in and sits on the cushion they grabbed. Sitting silently without moving. When I see the initiates sitting down on their cushion I realize, in horror, that I did not bring one. I sit down cross legged on the tatami mat.
Within a few minutes the bamboo grass fibers of the mat feel like they are cutting into my legs. It hurts and whatever small shuffles I make, I can not find a position that is not extremely painful. After a while, I try to catch the monk’s eye that is sitting at the front of the queue looking back at us. I finally do and then realize that I should not speak out loud. I point to my chest and then make walking movements with my fingers and point to the room I came from. I try it a second time. Trying to ask for permission to walk back to the mediation hall to get a cushion. Then the monk says in a deeply irritated voice; “What is wrong!?”.
I’m horrified. The voice comes out of a girl monk but it seems to be the scariest thing I have ever heard. I want to retract my actions, but know it is too late. I have to respond. I say; “I forgot my cushion, can I go get it?” in a pathetic voice. The monk tells me I can get one that is resting next to the door. I go up and get the cushion, realizing I have committed a grave mistake and feeling mental eyes on me as I go retrieve it. I go back to my spot and sit down on the cushion.
We each wait in turn to see the Zen master for our personal instruction. When Roshi is finished with the person he is interviewing he rings a bell. At that point the interview is over. Upon hearing the bell in the waiting room, the next person in line strikes a bell twice, signaling that they are coming. On the way there you pass quickly and silently by the person returning.
The interviews go quickly. In about a half hour it is my turn to see the Roshi. I bow, bang the bell twice, bow to the senior monk and race down the hall as quickly and silently as possible. I see the person returning and look toward them, but they do not look up and we quickly pass each other.
The door to the Dokuson room is slightly ajar. I know this is the correct room since there is a simple sign in the upper third of the door that says; “Dokuson Room”.
I enter the room, trying to remember the correct etiquette. This is the first time I see the Zen Master and I want to do it correctly. I step inside sideways, facing Roshi and close the door. I bow once, move to my end of a mat, bow again, step onto the mat, bow and prostrate myself, then rise into a sitting position. I appear to have performed correctly as there is no look of displeasure on his face. I notice a large stick used to hit students and am relieved that he sits still.
The room is filled with an incense haze. It is lit only with candles. The Roshi sits in his robes looking at me through half closed almond eyes.
Roshi asked me why I had chosen to come. I explained that initially I had looked up the Zendo while seeking Buddhist locations near Philadelphia. I had also looked into the history of another Buddhist minister that had quite an influence on me. It turned out that both of them had studied under Roshi Suzuki and I thought seeking Zen Buddhism with someone who studied with someone I like, d might be a good idea. Upon hearing this he got as excited (excited for him) that I was a pupil of his best friend. It turns out they had studied together and each took a slightly different path. He told me it was Karma. That strong Karma had brought me to this Zen Monastery and it was no coincidence I was there. I thought that it wasn’t Karma but a decision by me to seek out like influences. But I didn’t see the point in arguing. He seemed very happy about it and who was I to try and correct him?
After that he gave me a task. To count my
breaths. Count to 10 and start over. Then suddenly he rang his bell and I
realized the interview was over. I was surprised by the abruptness of the
ending. I stood, bowed, moved sideways to the door, bowed, exited and closed the
door. Oops. I suddenly realized that the door had been ajar when I arrived and
that was the way to leave it. I opened the door, stuck my head in and said;
“Sorry” and left the door ajar. Then I realized I had broken etiquette by
sticking my head in the door and speaking after the end. I spun around to
apologize again. Stopped myself. Faced away and froze in confusion. Then I heard
the sound of the next person running down the hall to the room and snapped out
of my frozen state. I went down the hall, still somewhat confused, passing the
Day 3 (Monday) 12:40
I was too tired to write last night.
Tired and hungry.
Heard a cougar or mountain lion in the woods
The cougar seemed like a warning against me leaving, keeping me from sneaking out in the middle of the night.
My knees hurt in the morning. Now my knees and
thighs. I am sitting wrong but my hemorrhoids hurt if I try to sit correctly.
I try sitting on two separate pillows, on under each cheek with a space in the middle. This works for a while but then the pain returns is my legs. I try to raise myself slightly by using my thigh muscles to take the weight off my rear. This works for about 2 minutes, then my thighs start shaking from the strain. Very slowly I move the hand farthest from the head monk behind me. Being as quiet as possible I pull my butt up off the cushion using my thigh muscles, move the cushion and sit back down. I look around with my eyes only. No one is looking at me and I am relieved.
Later my leg goes numb in the same spot. I don’t understand since I was Very careful about arranging my robes so that there would be no creases to cut into my leg. When the 45 minutes are over and it comes time for walking meditation, I limp horribly. I ball up my fist and chop at my thigh, trying to get the circulation back in so I can walk. As I do this I see others rocking, stretching and trying to get the circulation back into their legs to walk. I am somewhat comforted that I am not the only one that is having difficulty.
I don’t know if I am falling asleep and having quick dreams or hallucinating. Often I dream I a somewhere else.
Wanted to quit this morning.
I think I have walked into something that I am not prepared for.
Day 3 (Monday) 5:50
After dinner and a shower I feel much better. Men get the shower on even days.
At 6:20 we go back to four straight hours of meditation.
This is the worst group. There is a 1 hour no movement zazen. Your muscles shake and pain is great. You want to cry out.
(I think I can make it, my hemorrhoids have subsided.)
25 minute rest until we go. I will most likely not rest.
At 6:20 I go back into the meditation room. I enter with about 5 minutes to spare. Enough time to fiddle with my pillows, fix my robe and settle in, but not enough time that I will be sitting a minute longer than required.
I stand at the entrance to the Zendo, bow, slide to the right then continue down the line of cushions. Being the newest one to the Monastery, I am closest to the door. Furthest away from the senior monk and closest to the door for the sudden run to Dokusan. As I walk down the rows I realize that the most respect is at the front of the alter, but I prefer to be in a spot as inconspicuous as possible. I settle in next to a woman who’s sign simply says ‘Pat’. It’s funny. I have never spoken to Pat, but I feel a comfort every time I sit next to her. I settle in moving everything to my liking, checking for robe creases and sit silently.
Day 4 (Tuesday) 8:10
I woke up this morning with hurting and hot knees.
Slept poorly also.
I went to the lesson with the idea of quitting. He offered me a chair to sit on. I was disappointed I did not get to go home
I am embarrassed by the chair, but it feels sooooo good to sit with back support and no pressure on my knees and legs. I wish I could do the rest of the Sesshin on the chair.
I am hiding during cleaning, my legs hurt. I do not feel anymore tired than before. With only 3.5 hours of sleep, I thought I would be very very tired.
I even feel full after a breakfast of 2 cups of OJ, 1 pear, half an apple and 2 oz. of rice gruel.
The breakfasts are simple affairs and I am most comfortable at them. No mystery tofu or bland tasking vegetables. The orange juice tastes good and I can recognize the sweet apples and pairs. The rice gruel tastes slightly salty. Each day I try to eat some to balance my diet.
Day 4 (Tuesday) 12:30
The high of the day seems to be after lunch. Spirits are higher and I feel full as I snack on ½ of my chocolate bar.
I still question if the correct path is Zen, with pain such an integral part of the practice.
My knees are still swollen and hurt horribly. It is tempting to use the chair for the next four days. I intend to ice them down after dinner and attempt sitting on the floor again.
It is cold outside and reminds me of the weather when I got engaged to my wife.
I’m wearing the same sweatshirt and am in pain except when I lay down. The scenery is great. Both were looked forward to and both are turning out to be an endurance.
My favorite season is the fall.
Day 4 (Tuesday) 5:30
After every journal entry I put my head down and go to sleep. Why can’t I do this at night?
My left knee now hurts more than the right. Opposite of this morning. Using the chair has made a great difference.
I also found the location for the snacks after dinner. They mentioned this before but I did not understand which room they were referring to. They are very sugary and taste good. I am still surprised that I am not hungry. The body must be adapting to the decreased demand.
I find myself resenting the Zendo hall. We sit in the hall to be free from distractions and concentrate. Yet I have trouble concentrating. The place now represents pain to me. It reeks of years of incense. It is dark. Everyone else seems to know what to do but the room feels full of traps for me.
Outside is nature. A nice lake and beautiful fall foliage. Outside seems so calm to me, inside is full of stress.
Day 4 (Wednesday) 12:42
Still not sure what the purpose of Sesshin is. Today’s talk mentioned atoning for the past misdeeds. Sesshin cleans your Karma for the next life. Personally, I would rather it taught me how to sit comfortably for an hour in this one.
During Zazen, I try to do the best, but my mind plays with me. Like a bird grabbing a morsel, it flits around in my mind. Sometimes saying my chant back to me in mocking tones, fast speech, etc.
The pain has stopped. I do not look forward to Dokosan. I have made no progress. Time to go.
Day 5 (Wednesday) 12:42
I know the day by my pill container. Each night I take a night’s pills. I still wonder what Sesshin is and keep wondering who the people around me are. One lady has a beautiful voice and reads often, but she looks like a loon when she eats.
Pat has been my neighbor throughout. She seems like a nice friend. There are no overweight people here. I wonder why?
Eido Roshi asked me to describe who I am. “I am a fool looking for answers without questions.” I sure feel like one. It’s like everyone here has a purpose except me. I came here by accident.
Day 5 (Wednesday) 10:40
I was just thinking how this Sesshin reminded me of summer camp with the tacky special effects. Then Roshi walks in with a paper lantern, closely looking at everyone’s face with it.
Do summer camps need pomp and circumstance like religion? Is religion just summer camp for adults?
Rinzai Zen. Zen with pain. “No pain, no gain”
Yet Shin Buddhism teaches that we will all reach enlightenment with almost no sacrifice. How do the two work together?
10:47, lights out for me. Have to get up at 4. Ugh, 5 hours sleep. How do I continue on it?
Day 5 (Thursday) 8:08
Mornings are always the hardest. My knees swelled up again. I have to use the chair. It’s embarrassing but I can not do sitting without it.
I am very tired today and can not stay awake. Yesterday I did not nap every time I had 15 minutes. I will go back to that today.
More and more I question Zen. I think it exists only for itself.
Day 5 (Thursday) 12:35
Something interesting happened today. I will
have to think about it before I write.
Why is pain necessary?
The only interesting experience I have had so far is when I was in a chair. I want to put up the chair to try it again. All I get from pain is sharpened acuity, mostly of pain. The most interesting experience was without it.
I think Zen would be easier on a massage chair overlooking the lake.
I understand the bonding that happens during a painful experience. But I’m not looking to bond. Why do the two go together.
I figured today would be a lousy day. Not close to the end, not near the beginning. A day not to look forward to. The day shares my feeling. Yesterday it was bright and sunny and warm. Today it is cloudy and cold. Most of the people around me appear to be catching cold.
We had a guest lecturer yesterday. He told a Koan / Question.
Q: Does a newborn child have all it senses and
A: A ball being thrown by the rapids.
Then he goes on about how the answer was not the answer to the question. He describes it as a mental jujitsu. Then he talked about being an alert observer or some such bullshit. After the lecture, every one agreed, his lecture was Bullshit.
To me the answer was simple. Yes a baby does have all of it’s senses. But it does not know how to use them, they are a jumble of random movement from sense to sense with no patterns or purpose. Like a ball thrown about in the rapids.
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”
O.K. some people say Zen is bullshit. I think if I ever write a Zen book, I will call it;
“Zen is Bullshit”
Roshi is regarded as a Zen master. Is he regarded that way because he is a Zen master. Or, is he a Zen master because he is regarded that way?
I think if Roshi went down to the pond jumped around an went ‘ribbit’ for 30 years, he would be regarded as a frog.
The guy across from me at the dining table is sick and too thin. On the coldest days he wears a T-shirt under his robe. He sits through zazen without a cushion. I fear that he is trying to ‘correct; his Karma from past digressions. I question his sanity. Is he so involved in his Zen that he can’t see himself?
Improve your Karma! Atone for past life
He sits selfishly atoning, not even caring for himself. Does he want to atone? What is the purpose of atoning if your heart is now pure? Why must you endure pain to wipe away the past? If he feels a need to atone he should go out and do things for people of the earth. Wallowing in self pity and self hate is no atonement. Stop sucking up space and food and do something if you want to atone.
Again I have my doubts. Doubts that grow stronger. Zen is self absorbed bullshit. To be mindful of yourself and your deeds is the true path. Not being self absorbed.
Tonight I will try another attempt at “Who am I”. My latest answer; “Others see you according to your actions.” Therefore, you are yourself according to your thought. “I am my thoughts.”
We will see how Roshi likes that tonight.
I am a grain of sand being rushed down the river, who, instead of wondering where he is going, seeks to change the flow of the river.
I wish I could talk to the practitioners about their experience. Even the monks
I have so many questions but the knowledge is doled out through Roshi in w minute interviews or longer speeches. I find it irritating and limiting.
A man commits a terrible crime. Robs two strangers, kills them then scatters the ashes.
Bad Karma, what should he do with his life?
1) Go alone, beat self every day
2) Give away all possessions and wander to find himself
3) Have a family and bring up good kids
4) Have a prosperous life, give to others
Great. The girl from Germany, Stephanie just
went ‘Cracker Jack’ Nuts!
About 6 minutes after seeing Roshi, she waited until he was alone and went running down the hall toward his room. At the last minute she screamed and ran up the stairs to her room. The place seems like a dime novel murder mystery. About one half hour before, a raging storm came in with lots of rain and wind. No thunder or lightening though. Are we to high at 3,200 feet?
For the first time I locked my room door at night. They tell me that at her Spring Sesshin she sat on the floor by herself and made strange noises. I wonder if she will try to hurt herself tonight?
I could not meditate after the incident and made no attempt to pretend that I was. I wonder what the Hell is going on. I seriously consider leaving tonight. But it is too late 11:08 and I could not drive that late anyway. I will think about it tomorrow.
Wish this was ending sooner.
Day 6 (Friday) 5:25
What a great way to start. I am allergic to the incense they are burning. This has happened twice before in Roshi’s Dokuson office. I had to close my eyes as it burned like tear gas. I was uncomfortable until I stumbled out.
I just took an allergy drug and am sitting in my room for 15 minutes. The allergic reaction seems to have woken me out of my morning stupor.
Stephanie was not at the morning service, which is unusual for her. Perhaps they have her in a canvas kimono.
The actions of the night before seem less urgent now. Although Stephanie was not in the chanting hall, I could not see who else was missing due to my watery eyes.
I wait for the allergy meds to kick in…………..
Day 6 (Friday) 12:50
Isn’t today interesting?
I was sent to cover for Stephanie’s tasks, washing dishes and found her already there. I assume she was not washing knives.
I was delayed in getting to the morning Zazen. I was late because my hemorrhoids were acting up. There is actually blood on the inside of my pants. It started before I got there. So I sat outside the door as I was supposed to. Then I realized that no one was coming out, that no one would see if I was there or not. I could go take a nap, snack or sit somewhere comfortable. I decided to wait, thinking I could always get up later. I found a ridiculous sitting position that would not be allowed in the Zendo. It allowed me to sit without putting pressure on my hemorrhoids.
I sat and listened to the chanting and then silence. I didn’t practice my breathing or mantras and just relaxed. 5 minutes later they rang the end of the zazen bell. At least it seemed like 5 minutes. It had to be at least a half hour, most likely 45 minutes. I had accidentally slipped into the meditative state that I had found so impossible to achieve.
I think all the rules, segregation and regulation are so others can relax and not have to worry what to do or social nuances. For me, the foreign rules make me uncomfortable. Am I moving too much, sitting wrong, holding my hands wrong, etc. I always feel like I am about to make a mistake, it makes me terribly tense.
After achieving a good meditative state I was relaxed through lunch. Roshi was wearing dark green and with his half closed eyes and bald head, he looked very much like a frog. It reminded me of my earlier thoughts that if he jumped around in a pond and croaked for 30 years, people would regard him as a frog.
Eido From? Roshi Frog?
The thought makes me smile pleasantly for the rest of the meal. Some one told me today that he thought I was not going to make it this far. I told him that I tried to leave on the second day. He said that he thinks about leaving every morning. It has been a while since I have thought about leaving in the morning. I wonder why? He is a lawyer from Marin California. He told me I was a ‘tough little guy’. His statement made me proud. I wonder why his opinion mattered to me.
Actually only 1.5 days more of crushing my hemmeriods in the dark stinky Dharma hall.
Why can’t we do the Tibetan meditation where we lay on our backs for 5 hours staring at the sky, pretending that our spirits are soaring?
I stopped wearing my glasses about 2 days ago. I can see fine for what I need to do.
I also stopped using deodorant. With the
vegetarian diet and lack of heavy physical activity there is no body smell. Or
perhaps it is that the temperature has not gone above 60 more than once. Or is
it the overpowering smell of incense that permeates the whole monastery?
Day 6 (Friday) 6:00
I always feel revived after a hot shower.
Although I’m not sure who has left. They have been rearranging the seats in the meditation hall as people have disappeared. During the start of the week I ate at the second table. From watching the woman across the table I learned my table manners. Half way through they switched me to the first table for dinner only, to even out the out the tables. I immediately noticed how poor their manners were compared to the other table. Besides missing some bowing etiquette, they do unsanitary things such as blowing their nose at the tables and touching the eating end of their chopsticks with their dirty fingers. Also, the fill their bowls over the serving bowls so that any over run fell back into the serving bowls. A cold had started catching in the monastery and it was not surprising to see almost every one at this table with a cold.
The difference between the two tables is profound. Most of the people at the first table have colds, are tired and their eyes are half open looking sleep deprived. At the second table (my original table) everyone looks tired but alert. How can there be such a difference just at dining tables?
My legs have gained amazing flexibility, through a lot of pain. I can outlast most people. If it were not only for the hemeriod pain. I try sitting with a pillow under each butt cheek. This relieves the hemeriod pain but is uncomfortable in it’s own way.
Roshi has asked me to continue chanting. Wrongfully I do not. I continue to court the new meditation feeling. I play with it like a dog with a new bone. I will avoid Dokuson tonight as nothing has changed. Most likely because nothing I have done has changed.
29 hours of pain left. 42 until I go home and see my family. I will have been gone 8 days.
Had a vision of my own death.
I was thinking 3 things when meditating;
1) Rinzai Zen monks are selfish and not reducing
their Karmic debt, only increasing it.
2) Maybe I can use some of these techniques to improve life with my wife. Tell her why things bother me, not just that they do. Tell her my doubts, etc.
3) Stephanie is bug house nuts.
I was thinking these things when I had a vision. I was laying reclined in a comfortable bed with white sheets. I was comfortable in many ways, I was well off, but I knew I was dying.
The view was up close so that you could only see the sheets with about a foot of sheet at the time. There was no view of my hands or face, so I didn’t know my age.
There was a smaller, ethereal me, perhaps my
conscious, comforting the larger, in bed me, when dying.
Large me was bemoaning all the things left undine in my life. Small me mentioned, yes, many things undone but so many things done. (My mind filled with all the acts of kindness in my life so far.)
Large me said; Yes, but in the large scheme of things they meant nothing.
Then I remembered a poem;
What matters most is;
How you lived
How you loved
How much you let go.
I wanted to jump up. To yell. To run out. Instead I cried and shook for 15 minutes.
While I was waiting Stephanie came back and sat
at the cushion next to me. I whispered; “Welcome back.” And rubbed her back in
affection. She smiled and said; “Thank you.” I
Day 7 (Saturday) 12:42
I have been pushing myself on meditation because it is the last day. I’m not sure that was a good idea as my left knee feels about to give out.
I have been meditating, but I try to hard and it will not come. Best I can get is dreamlike sequences where I talk to people or am given something. I think through three ideas; Freely Giving, Roshi Frog and another…..
Day ? (Saturday 4:13
I tried to tough it out and totally blew out my knee. I have a heat patch and some lidocain prescription patches. If I use the patches, my leg will be unusable so I am applying heat. I’m ditching Yoga. I hope I can make it to the end. So close…..
The patch is on and it feels good. The pain of walking down the stairs woke me up also. I don’t want to take any drugs or I may up all night.
I even get a shower. The hot water helps and I know they make me feel better. The schedule says; “Same until 7:45.” Does that mean we are done at 7:45 or that something new will happen then?
The warm patch and lack of pain makes me sleepy.
I set the alarm the alarm and will be up before 5:00 dinner
I ate at the first table again. The person across from me and the two next down look like zombies. The glossy eyes focused on nothing. Their hair and clothing is a mess. As they food came down they coughed without covering their mouths. Looking to tired and anemic to even make the attempt. I did not eat any dinner. I saw food for tonight going out for snacks. I also have a chocolate bar in my room.
12 people. Three complete zombies, three others hobbled by all the zazen and one person a little wigged out. Makes the odds of completing somewhat uncomfortable. Emily, my 18 year old bald friend from the introduction meeting, actually seems to be getting stronger on it.
In my last meeting with Roshi I told him how I tried to leave on Monday and that his people helped me through it. I would have left then and never looked at zazen again. Perhaps I will be happy that I stayed later. Now I am tired and counting down the four and a half hours. I dress up for the final session….
No celebration. Just an announcement of conclusion.
As I thank some of the people who helped me they all say the same thing. They did not think I was going to make it. Looking back at some of my entries I can see why. They are very self centered. But it’s written through my eyes, my center.
Seven and a half hours sleep. What will I do with it all?
I am cleaning up my room now, getting ready to leave.
Turns out I missed a lot of what went on. Although Stephanie went nuts for a while someone else had to be restrained and put in a cabin on the hill. I wonder if it is locked from the outside?
As we are cleaning, I talk to others. Almost all of us had hallucinations during our stay. One I remember is sitting across a table from some guy having a discussion. He was saying something negative about the center. Suddenly I realized that O did not know him. That he was not part of the retreat. I waved my hand through him and he was gone like a cloud of smoke.
Right now, a very small part of me will miss this place. Most of me wants to go home and crawl into bed with my wife and dog and cuddle.
I’ll have dreams about this place for a very long time. Dreams in my nice warm bed, cozy house and loving family.
Sunday 12:00 – Lunch
For the first time I am able to talk to all the people around me. Many surprise me with strange accents. The large muscular guy is from Norway. The dwarf is from Eastern Europe. How strange. Although I was willing to attribute foreign nationalities to the other attendees, I never once thought the diminutive lady was from outside the United States. Stephanie, from Germany is there and many people from across the nation.
As we talk, the subject of those missing comes up. There is an Asian man who is still in the cabin in the woods. He has been up there for 3 or 5 days. I’m not sure. People identify at least three others who started but through the week have left. I remember them changing out the seating places to eliminate the holes.
I talked to the monk who had offered me a folding chair on the morning that I could take it no longer. I asked him if he knew I was coming to him to quit. Surprisingly he said it did not cross his mind, that it is not an uncommon request. (Later, I look back at this and realize that perhaps I was expecting too much from myself.) The most common way for people to leave is for them to just do it. Often without a goodbye, sometimes in the middle of the night.
I go retrieve my car back to the Monastery. Loading my copious luggage I feel somewhat empty. There is no celebration of being done. There is no certificate, no closure. It feels empty to leave with no smiling monks waving out the window. I climb in my car and drive away in silence.
On the way back I am amazed at how bright the
world around me is. Trees past buy in vivid fall color. Ten miles later I enter
a paved road and am surprised just how brightly yellow the road lines are. My
first thought is that they must have painted them when I was on retreat. After
driving for quite a while I realize how silly this is. They could not have
repainted all of New York in a week. I realize that I am more attuned to what is
around me. My elation of my new acuity is suddenly dampened by the thought that
this is something I can not share with anyone else. I can explain it, but no one
else will see what I see.
It’s been three months since the Sesshin in
the mountains of New York. I have had three operations to fix the injuries from
sitting improperly. I regret that I have not been able to follow up on my
meditation, lacking the ability to sit. However, some changes are permanent. I
have felt a much deeper empathy for my wife. I am a little more at peace and
most strange of all, my vision has been permanently changed for the better.