Last night was community night. We have community night each fourth Wednesday of the month. The format includes a little more beginning instruction, a looser ritual, and a user friendly game. Then, after our vows, we all head to the Connecticut Yankee for dinner and drinks.
Its been a big success and a lot of fun. People have brought SOs, husbands and wives, children and even a dog.
Last night, the autumnal equinox, was also a full moon. We sat a period, then walked, and then enjoyed tea and the end of the ginger snaps, which have improved I think with age.
The game was, well, a stretch. Was it Zen? Perhaps. It was based on my interest in movement and practice. Often when I sit on my surf board, between waves, I try to sit zazen. My hope is to blur completely the line between sitting on a cushion and living my life. So this grows out of that interest.
I used to practice Alexander technique. I won't go into a lengthy description here, mainly because I have a rule 11 motion to draft and an MSJ to look over, but the idea is that the mind affects the body and the body the mind, and that all the insults delivered on either, is stored in both, and to unlock them, you can head through the mind, or the body. My hope was just to help people notice how the stories we tell ourselves when we sit on the cushion about who we are and what is supposed to be happening, are not just in our minds, but in our bodies. It also seemed fun and appropriate for first time practitioners joining our Sangha.
We started with lie-downs, the basic starting point of Alexander. In it, we find a completely nuetral position on the floor, on on our backs, with knees drawn up and hands on our rib cage. In this position, absolutley no muscul0-skeltal energy is necessary to maintain posture. It gave us a chance to notice the tensions in our bodies because in that position, none we needed, thus each was optional- a long stored stress or a story about what we needed to do to move around that we carry with us.
From thre we moved gently into a standing posture. Many of us have forgotten how to stand. It is a simple act of balancing on our ankles, but we push and pull our bodies, much as we feel compelled to push and pull our minds in zazen, as if they are incapable of balancing on their own.
From there, we walked. We walked in a place of total balance, by practicing every so often taking a few steps backwards to remind ourselves that from a neutral place, without unduly exerting ourselves toward some perceived end, we can move gently and easily in any direction. Like zazen and koans, it was intended to show people the total freedom they have to move toward anything that interests them effortlessly, when they let go of the tensions and suffering in their bodies.
As people walked, I told them I would ask them to stop, that when I did, I did not want them to stop and that they were to continue walking. After a while I loudly commanded "STOP!". Despite the freedom not to, most people did. Others noticed their bodies startling into familiar patterns seen at work and when they were under stress.
For the final experiment, we juggled. People were paired off and given two tennis balls (our hearty thanks to Mr. T, A's dog, who shared his tennis balls with the group). One person juggled two tennis balls until one dropped. When one did, they were encouraged to not retrieve it, not to surge after it, but just watch it dropp, notice is bouncing and let their partner retrieve the ball. Like zazen, to notice their thoughts and reactions, but to suspend the reaction of following them of acting on them. Their partner scooped up the errant tennis balls and returned them to the juggler who kept juggling.
Look, frankly, I have no idea if people liked the games or not. My hope was simply to demonstrate that we stand, walk, and juggle the same way we do zazen, with preoccupations, with stories, with tensions, with mind and with freedom. You never know how these things unfold and it was great to check it out.
We had some brief comments from the group afterwards. People noticed that it was much easier to help a juggler than to receive help; they noticed how they startled exactly like they end up at the end of a work day; one person noticed for the first time how his shoulder rides up during zazen the same way it does at work, and when he walks; people noticed how the absence of tension was frightening and vulnerable feeling.
After the vows, we bullied K into joining us at the Yankee despite her 6am wake up. I think she made a good decision.
Tonight we had grief practice. There was no discussion, so I will simply relate the ceremony.
Before we sat, we were reminded that tonight was a special night to hold intimately our losses and hurts and grief. They didn't need to be losses we suffered ourselves, but someone we knew, for suffering in general, for loss in its course. We were invited to sit for our friends and sangha mates who had recently suffered losses.
On the altar a candle was lit for a sangha member who could not be there, but who we held in our hearts. Each member of the sangha took their cushion. Before them was an empty tea cup and unlit candle. I recited "the Five Remembrances", to begin the evening. Its not part of the PZI liturgy, and I am not sure its even credited to Zen, but it was something we recited at Boundless Way in Boston, and it has always stuck with me and tonight, it seemed appropriate:
I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. I am the beneficiary of my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.
We passed a candle lit from the altar candle from one person to the next. Each person took the candle and lit the one before them. When the candles were all lit, the dark meditation hall glowed and the bell tolled four times to begin sitting. The wind howled outside, pulling at the rood and shaking the rafters a little from time to time. We kept the zendo lights off. As we sat, we, one at a time, stood, approached the altar and offered incense for the object of our practice tonight. Everyone lingered at the altar, so I suppose everyone had something personal and important for whom to light the incense and dedicate the merits of their practice.
We stood silently, and walked the hall in kinhin. Then we took our seats, tea was served and we drank in silence. When cups were empty, the bell rang again and we sat a second time. At the end of the sitting period, we dedicated our practice:
Buddha nature pervades the whole universe,existing right here now.The wind blows, waves fall on the shore,and Guanyin finds us in the dark and broken roads.We give thanks to all the ancestors of meditationin the still halls,the unknown women, centuries of enlightened women,ants and sticks and grizzly bears. Let wisdom go to every corner of the house,let people have joy in each other’s joy.All (sung)All buddhas throughout space and time,all awakened beings, great beings,the Heart of Perfect Wisdom. We closed with the four vows.
Lately I have been noticing something interesting and somewhat paradoxical to the rational mind...that the way to fall into something, is generally to try and avoid it, or to get out. And the way out, is to turn into the falling. This is no surprise to anyone who has sat even with one of the most basic koans, 'cause how are you ever going to stop the bell without it, but its interesting to see how it confounds people. A good friend of mine is making large downward spirals into her own depression by doing anything but going right into the heart of her depression and...ah, actually being depressed and seeing how that goes. She is so afraid of her depression, that it seems to me like she is just getting more and more depressed. Its been my experience that its at least a lot more interesting to see what is going on. And Lord knows I have tried everything else in my life. Er...like blogging when I should be logging purchase agreements.
Chris Wilson lead us last night in playing with the koan:
"Idiots! Trying to escape Samsara! Where will you go?"
First of all, it was 90 degrees and we decided to sit outside in the sunset, so there was precious little reason to be suffering, but thank god that we are human, with infinite abilities to suffer, even on a balmy SF night.
Second, for those of you not fluent in bhuddha-speak, Samsara, traditionally, meant the wheel of life, death, and rebirth, but more conventionally, it refers to suffering. Its like saying mammals have hair. Humans suffer. Yet, in Chris's talk, he focused not on the causes of suffering, but on our fantasies about what a life would be like without the suffering. He told of the day his mother died, how that could be and was, a good day. Not a happy day, but not a day of suffering either.
I felt like this koan was really interesting. First of all, interesting that through the centuries (this koan is attributed to Lingi who lived in the 800s.), no one cut out the "Idiots!" part. Why would that be? Yet when I look at it, it seems intentional, and really kind.
Somehow it seems that many of the traps in my practice were set by thinking I might know what I was doing. once I accepted and even embraced my own idiocy, things got easier.
Idiots don't have to worry about being wrong. Only wise people need fear mistakes . So let's be idiots, lets make mistakes. Maybe one of those mistakes will be forgetting important things, like that we are supposed to suffer when our mother dies, or that we are uncomfortable when we look into our hearts. Maybe if we are foolish, we will stumble into wisdom, and trip over the boundaries of our delusions.
Where will we go? Where is there but here?
I remember as a kid at St. Isodore's, going to mass, and zoning in and out on the Good Word, and missing that one needed to die to go to Heaven or Hell, so growing up thinking that the Bible had meant that each of us, every moment, can decide if we are in heaven or hell. That the suffering was our choice and that God was wicked smart so we probably weren't going to get the whole plan of it so we might as well just enjoy (I did not do well in religion class if I remember). Heck, maybe that is the point, and if that's the case, seems like the same thing Lingi was saying.
What would that place look like.
Oh, well, there would be peace all the time. And I would never get upset. And I would always know what to do, and I would sleep deeply everynight. Also, my heart would never get old or weak and my hair would always be brown. I would be compassionate to everyone and everything boundlessly.
So there you go, thats my fantasy. And if I am honest and pay attention to feeling like I have made mistakes, and get caught up in forgetting what a good idiot I am, I know that fantasy of escaping samsara is still there for more. reckon for everyone.
What is yours?
BTW- if you like koans, or are interested in studying them for a relaxing day in October, please consider joining us for Wind-in-Grass' Second Meditation and Koan Seminar, October 23rd 10-3:30 in SF. If you know you want to come, you can register here.