I arrived at Tassajara about 6 months ago. I had never visited our sister temple and the mountains rolled over me like waves on the 14 mile road that ends at our temple gate. It was a slow ride over a rough road. It took at least an hour. Half way in there was only a 360 degree view of mountains.
The first five days were eyes cast down. We had about two hours to unpack and shower, and then orientations until zazen. The next day we would wake up for our first day of tangaryo. From four am to nine pm, we would just sit in a way I'd never had the privilege to do. It was uninterrupted by bells or talks and we only left to use the bathroom.
It was hot. Flies made nose dives into our eye balls, climbed up our nostrils, and played on our lips. I ate one. I was beyond frustrated. It didn't deter them. But besides the heat and flies, I loved tangaryo. It was a gift. I couldn't believe we don't do tangaryo more often. It was relaxed in the way anyone who had lived in a Zen temple might realize-you know, when bells are no longer symbols of peace but actually mean you need to move your ass or you'll be late. There was absolutely no where to go. I walked the same 300 feet from my cabin to the zendo and no where else. Meals were brought to us. I wouldn't say I injured my knees during tangaryo, but it's true my full bows will never be the same.
Lauren and I had separate cabins. This too was a gift. For a few years at Green Gulch housing has been tight, so we've shared small spaces most of the time. Tassajara in the winter has less people and more housing and this meets that 360 degree sea of green and granite and sandstone mountains and it's a great spacious feeling. Yawning steam into the cold mornings tucked into my sleeping bag became luxurious when I figured out how to make coffee in bed with a french press and a thermos.
For the first three months we studied The Lotus Sutra with my teacher. She granted me permission to start interviewing the abbots about my ordination as a priest. She was more available as her cabin was just next door, and I could hear the shuso run the wake up bell, stop, and yell, "Good Morning Hojo-san!" and her upbeat response, "Good Morning!" everyday at 3:50am.
On a good hike after a nine day sesshin, Lauren came into my cabin. Her friend had just sent word that she was pregnant. This was friend number three, I believe, and Lauren is thirty two. I knew what was coming, and I knew I had to run away to Taiwan or say yes. I said yes. So, we are planning on having a baby. We'll do this at Tassajara, as this is where we see ourselves for the next two years almost. This has been my biggest challenge. I'm scared. It's true, we're not real monks in Soto Zen, but we still don't have any money or much room too spare in our rooms. Or time for that matter. Like my dad said once or twice, if marines were supposed to have babies, they would have issued them one. It's similar- we can have children, but in some ways it's not ideal. But in other ways, like I found having a marine corps father, it's the best. We were surrounded by surrogate uncles and aunts and cousins, and our baby will be too, but actually, they'll be more like surrogate grandmas and grandpas. I'm scared, of course, but I'll do this. I'll roll up my sleeves and do my best.
Tenshin roshi once told me that sometimes a monk need ironing out, like a piece of oragami being folded. And sometimes a monk just needs to be pressed, like one finger on the crease of an oragami. Folded and pressed, folded and pressed.
Tassajara has folded me a few times.