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.
“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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