Monday, March 22, 2010
Notes from Upaya
I'm housed in a room called 'Tatami," which is a wide space over the offices. To enter, you need to express humility by ducking through a low door, then do a Quasimoto-like lurch beneath the 5 foot ceiling. The very first night, I smash my head into the metal latch that hangs down from the center of the door frame. It takes over an hour for the blood to clot.
One night in zazen, I'm obsessing on my desire for popcorn. Just after we finish sitting, I go over to the Querencia kitchen to find that one of the priests has just freshly popped some. (Cue The Police.)
Throughout the month, I'm enchanted by the colorful birds, mostly hues I'd rarely seen in Japan. They are a living palate against the monochromatic winter desert landscape. One afternoon I go sit above the snow-obscured stream to watch them. Time, and the afternoon, soon disappears. At night I'm serenaded by coyote song, their yip yip yips awakening me. I aurally track their progress along the stream below. Some nights they are echoed by the barks of dogs, apparent frustration at a cruel twist of DNA.
One silent lunch period, I find myself staring down into my bowl of quinoa. The cooking directions say that they are ready when the white DNA ring is visible. But caught up as I am in the concentration of the retreat, I'm hypnotized by the sight of the atomic element on display before me, momentarily having penetrating into the heart of reality.
One afternoon, there is a wedding. The bride is in a beautiful, though unorthodox, white dress. Like a geisha's, her dress was dipping in the back, but it didn't stop at the upper shoulders. Instead it hung all the way down to the small of her back. Traditionally in Japan,the back of the neck is considered the most sensuous part of a woman's body. In seeing all the way from nape to waist, I felt like I was exposed to secrets I wasn't privy to, the dark mole set against white skin, the knobs of vertebra leading downward to softer, rounder, fleshier bits.
The energy rushing up my spine, swirling around my heart, softening flesh that has been like protective leather for so long. Healing.
At breakfast, I smear what I think is green chili on my eggs, then, while expecting the usual blast of huevos rancheros, my taste buds instead are numbed by the taste of tahini.
All month, sitting eyeball to eyeball with Green Tara's dog (which I later learn is named Dominga, and belongs to Roshi). On my cushion in front of the painting, every day I'd find my attention drawn deeply into a different detail. Like the mind. Like life.
When I first started sitting zazen at temples in Japan, I loved all the accompanying ritual. Here I find resistance to it, especially the English chants. The Japanese use the phonetically (Sino-ized) Sansrkit. Why can't the Yanks?
As the snow continues to build up, I'm beginning to get worn down by the lack of color. The sudden glimpse of a blue shovel leaning against a fence is the most colorful thing in the world.
Watching guests do their training brings to mind how attached we are to habits. One guy does zazen in his jeans, cell phone still strapped to hip. A women does outdoor walking meditation with sunglasses on. Another woman in expensive designer wear looks terribly uncomfortable pushing a mop. But who am I to judge? Most of these people have a stronger meditation practice than my own. (Where the dharma sideswipes my bad habits would fill an entire blog.)
During the silent retreats, I find myself doing zazen everywhere, eyes pointed down in that 50 yard stare, following a breath coming with ease.
Getting vibed by a few women after Eve Ensler's talk. It reminds me of how teen boys, after seeing a kung fu film, leave the theater jumping around and kicking stuff.
Outdoor kinhin, like a samba line of awareness.
During a meditation exercise, the difficulty I had in connecting with a childhood memory. The way my back softened when I looked into my partner's eyes. How hard it was to hold it.
Natalie Goldberg's comment: "Why would you write a memoir if you have no regrets?"
How anger can be fuel for powerful meditations.
The final day, a thunderstorm comes over violently. We keep to our cushions, sitting strongly, holding the space, the silence. I feel a connection with everyone then, and my eyes fill, feeling the love.
On the turntable: Midlake, "The Trials of Van Occupanther"