Tonight we played a game.
A zen game.
With the adults gone at Sesshin, the kids had run of the house, and we, in grand fashion, ran amok. Everyone was invited to take their left hand and stick it out, then turn it left. There. That person. That person to your left, tonight, you are going to do their zazen. Tonight, you are going to leave your practice, and do their practice for them. You are going to sit for them. And while you do, do so knowing that your zazen is being looked after by the person on your right. Trust that.
I invited people to notice how this changed their sitting practice.
While we sat, after about 10 minutes I asked: What do you notice? Where do you hold that person? In your heart, you head, somewhere else? What are you doing for them? How does it feel to have your intimate practice being done for you? Then we sat for another 15 minutes.
After zazen, we continued the experiment. As we lined for kinhin (walking meditation), I asked that each person reach out their right hand and place it on the shoulder of the person before them. Then, we were asked to walk for that person. We walked slowly, once around the zendo and took our seats.
What did we notice? Everyone was given the zen locust ( a rubber bug I got from a doctor's office after the kids had finished with them), and asked to share one thing about their experience, knowing that we would pass the token thrice. Yes, I said thrice. My Nana was British and I picked up bad habits like that. Thrice. Bite me.
What did we notice?
Let me say in advance, listening was somewhat akin to sticking your head out the window of a speeding car. Everything remained as it was before, but all of a sudden it was exhilarating, challenging, different and exciting. Maybe more like a waterslide, moving you side to side and changing how you know movement works, but doing it gently like a good joke or a massage. So thank you bodhisattvas, your comments were transforming.
Second aside- I am never going to do this justice. I asked that our sangha add their own comments to this, to try to capture this evening.
I noticed that I kept reaching out for the person to my left, trying to find them out there, then wondering if they might not be inside more. I noticed that I shut my eyes, which I don’t when I sit usually, and that I felt apologetic and sorry when I found myself thinking. I noticed that I was kinder and more attentive to doing J’s zazen than my own. I noticed that I was worried about thoughts until I decided that it was ok to let R have them for me. Then everything settled in.
T noticed that her mind kept trying to calibrate with what she thought she knew about J. She asked herself what J would want, and remembered that J had noticed that she wanted to be compassionate and less prone to anger and tried to sit compassionately for her. She also plumbed her memory for what she thought J would focus on, decided that was her breath, and breathed for her.
J noticed energy, from her left side, like tendrils reaching out to L. She noticed a sense of warmth and that she was being pulled, physically to her left. When she remembered that someone on her right was sitting for her, she noticed a balancing and a warmth from that side.
L expressed what she noticed in pictures. Walks on docks, playing in the sun, piano lessons, dogs, and gymnastics. Later she noticed rolling S up in her tongue and consuming her until that too felt in-genuine and then left her where she found her.
S noticed gratitude, and trying to get into R’s head and trying to do zazen that he would like. She wondered if it should have to do with computers, but then decided to settle into her body and just sit for him. She also noticed how nice it was not to have to worry about herself for a spell.
R noticed trying to feel what it was like to be in my head. He noticed that he tried to have nice thoughts for me to have.
J noticed that when we walked she just walked and did not feel anything different. I noticed a sense of my walking, but then…a feeling of “many feet”. Both. S noticed how she never knows what to do with walking meditation, but that it was oddly liberating for her to just lose herself in it.
These other observations are not attributed, because I notice that I can only recall the first thing a person says, then the rest becomes anonymous.
Someone noticed that everything became circular, the person who was sitting for them was being sat for was being sat for , was being sat for until it was them that was sitting for them again and all a big circular river and the divisions illusory.
Several people noticed that at first, they reached out with their consciousness, but later, just noticed what they were noticing, and that that seemed good enough.
Several people noted that they felt inside the other person, or felt their attributes. No one was sure if this was projection, or honest, but we agreed that there was something there common and it felt like home. Most people noticed that they quickly stopped trying to think what the other person was thinking and just settled into sitting.
Many people got to some place important that they found no words for.
People expressed a feeling of great security and comfort and gratitude that someone was caring for their practice, carrying their load.
Interestingly on the SECOND sit of the night, people wanted to sit for the next person again. I noticed that my sitting was oddly deep and sincere. R noticed that he felt himself swell up in size, and eventually felt like he was in the middle of the room. No one wanted to stop sitting. It was…bizarrely sure, and still and…I cannot say, but several people commented that they were really...present. For themselves, for the other person? I cannot say.
We closed the night bowing to the person to our right, with thanks for sitting for us so sincerely.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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