Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Mississippi Triangle

It was long drive to Starksville on Friday night. I picked up my buddy from the temple and we flew over the causeway, into the forests, and conversation ensued.

A lot has transpired at the temple and I'm not sorry to have missed it. Sounds like the good old royal rumble is still going on. My friend is the new "first assistant" which is a vague term and it probably means he's responsible for everything and nothing. It will no doubt piss off the current first assistant, who acted as shusso when I was living there. Of course, being pissed off in a Zen temple looks a little different than it does in the streets of New Orleans, but it's still disruptive. When someone hits the han like they're cracking home runs or rattles the gong like some low-fi tape deck, you know a Zennie is pissed off.

I only know from first hand experience what it's like to have a cursing match with the shusso at 5 am about the air conditioner.

But sounds like it's still going on over there, despite our teacher's recent involvement. He moved in around July. I shouldn't say despite- he quite likes the rude stuff. Or doesn't dislike it.

I'm not sure how I feel or where my place is in judging the royal rumble. Or how close I can stand to it without going off the top rope.

But we were on our way to our teacher's one and only dharma heir, Tony. Five hour drive up north to a quiet neighborhood that I always experience as dense with growth-grass, ivy, pecan trees. And it's always very damp and cool. It wasn't different, and after getting lost, we arrived at 12am, wandered into the zendo, found our mats, and fell asleep. Not so comfortable. Mosquitoes, that damp carpet. Weird dreams. Early wake up bell, like I never fell asleep.

Intense rain pounded the roof, thunder and lighting rattling windows, and so samu was canceled. Tony added two more periods of zazen, for a total of 9 sitting periods before 5pm. He gave a short kusen (dharma talk during zazen) to announce what sesshin is about, and how sesshin is supported by interdependence. He also announced there would be no more kusen and no teisho- just zazen.

It had been a couple months since I last practiced formally. I hadn't chanted in about a month. I was frustrated with myself and determined to just sit- just let the temple go, just the let the idea of becoming a priest go, and think about (or not think about) what was important, which was practice. Sincere practice. And this small 5 person day of zen, in a residential neighborhood, was perfect. The rain was perfect. I sat and struggled. I didn't know what sincere was going to be, but I decided it was going to be still, that I wouldn't (as I have in other sesshins) let my little feet sneak around under my robe, sometimes letting my ankles fall from lotus to Burmese style. I wasn't going to "relax." Sincere was going to be simple. Stretch the backbone, knees press the earth, head presses the sky. Don't talk back to the mind as it rambles on. Just sit there as I sit there when someone is gossiping- let it run itself out.

Well, I did move on the 7th and 8th period of zazen. Let the feet slip. Loosened up. Never helps, that pain just relocates. On the 9th and last, I got through it. I heard the bell once, then heard the bell twice, and it could have been a minute or it could have been an hour. It didn't matter, because at this point in my practice, I know it's forever. I can't quit sitting, so it doesn't really matter.

Not sitting is as hard as sitting.


  1. A lovely description of sitting on retreat. Right now I am home, not at the retreat we went to every year for what? ten years. I am very aware of that going on without me. Sunday night at 915, I'd be just back in my chilly little room, getting ready for bed. This is the second year I haven't felt able to go. It's too hard on me. I am telling myself that if I need a teacher and a sangha, they will emerge. Meanwhile, like you, I am stuck with Zen.

  2. Where do you like to practice? I really like Green Gulch Zen Farm. In fact, I plan to spend much of my summer there.