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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A place to sit

The summer has been a crowded one, not so much in terms of projects as lots of good company. We're equipped to handle the traffic nowadays, and we enjoy seeing the people we love, from near and far. Yet Beloved and I are essentially loners, and so we have to recharge a lot when we've been visiting for hours or days on end.

She recharges by working on correspondence in her office, changing out the duck ponds' water, or walking in a nearby park.

I putz around in the potting shed, or lie down with the laptop and post evidence of doom to fb and Twitter, or head out to the zendo.

The "zendo" isn't what you might think; our offspring had a plywood playhouse that I built them at our last place, in the late 80s, and so when we moved here I built them a bigger one, post-and-beam, 8'X10', using dimensional lumber from scrapped wooden fences. It never really caught on like the old one, perhaps because there is a lot of glass (large scavenged windows) and they were big on stick fighting. 

Occupying a quiet corner of Stony Run, on the edge of the pasture across the creek, the empty building beckoned to me after the kids grew up. I moved some furniture in and wrote seven books there. So its name, until recently, was the Scriptorium.


By and by, as I became aware of the level of destruction we've already wreaked on our biosphere, and began to despair of doing much to reverse the trend, I began to need to recharge more often and more deeply, and decided to try a couple of fb friends' advice to try some meditation. 

It's something I did a lot of at one time, but it had fallen off the calendar during the last couple of busy decades. What I was familiar with was the Soto Zen Buddhist practice of "just sitting" -- a little more than theoretically, but being terribly shy, I had almost never actually practiced with others.

Just as I began to wonder about doing so, an old acquaintance turned up in our area after a long stint in California, who had become a Zen priest in the meanwhile, and took a house in the woods and turned it into a zendo. We reconnected, and I found myself attending monthly zazenkai -- daylong intensive retreats. These I felt to be so helpful at this stage of my life that I began sitting more and more at home. But, as I said, lots of folks are in and out, so the urge to settle down to practice alone often clashes with the need to be present as a friend and hostess.

I told Beloved it had occurred to me to clean out the Scriptorium, which was becoming disused and cobwebby, and find times to "recharge" there.

"Are you going to go out there and sit?"

"Yes, and read Dogen and stuff. Maybe have a few quiet meals, too."

"Okay, so, it's not really the Scriptorium anymore. Can we call it the zendo?"

"Yes. let's do that. But not capitalize it or anything. It doesn't want to be pretentious."

"You bet."

I sit in the seiza posture, using a bench that I've been given, because I'm too stiff for that cross-legged stuff and because chair sitting doesn't seem as beneficial. 


I don't have a zabuton because they tend to put my feet to sleep; the ugly discarded deep pile carpet that I installed twenty years ago seems really adequate.

Toto, my late mom and dad's terrier, who is living with us in his retirement, generally sits with me and rests his head against my knee. So I give up the traditional Dhyana mudra and rest my hand on his head, until he sighs and falls asleep. It's all very informal here.

In one corner of the little room I've set up a "kitchen" on an old crate. It supports longer stays than the half hour sittings that I've been doing. There's an old rice steamer, some pre-seasoned rice and millet, and usually some vegs and fruit, water and solar tea on hand. The "seasoning" is dehydrated vegetable leaves, herbs and tomatoes all grown here at Stony Run, and really the meals can be quite sustaining.



The point of zazen, according to Kosho Uchiyama, is to remove false distinctions between self and other and to lose that discomfort which we tend to have when contemplating the eventuality of our demise. If you lack dualism you will lack anger and you will lack fear.
Behind a temple there was a field where there were many squashes growing on a vine. One day a fight broke out among them, and the squashes split up into two groups, making a big racket shouting at one another. The head priest heard the uproar and, stepping outside to see what was going on, found the squashes quarreling. The priest scolded them in a booming voice. “Hey, you squashes! What are you doing out there fighting? Everyone do zazen.” The priest taught them how to do zazen. “Fold your legs like this, sit up, and straighten your back and neck.” While the squashes were sitting zazen in the way the priest had taught them, their anger subsided and they settled down. Then the priest said quietly, “Everyone put your hand on top of your head.” When the squashes felt the top of their heads, they found some weird thing attached there. It turned out to be the vine that connected them all together. “This is really strange. Here we’ve been arguing when actually we’re all tied together and living just one life." After that, the squashes all got along with each other quite well.
From Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama




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