Sunday, August 29, 2010

Zazenkai Notes: My Zen Weekend

Sensei Sante Poromaa
Sensei Sante Poromaa, Helsinki, August 28, 2010

Looks the part, doesn't he?

I got a pretty solid dose of Zen this weekend. We had a sangha meeting on Thursday, open house on Friday night for the Night of the Arts, a near-impromptu zazenkai with Sante Sensei on Saturday, and a regularly scheduled zazenkai on Sunday. I missed the third block of sitting on Saturday, because we had some family and friends over for dinner, and I would've felt bad about leaving my wife to do the cooking while I'm busy pursuing my Spiritual Quest. So I had cooking practice, eating practice, and conversation practice instead, and that was quite OK too.

But it was a quite a lot of Zen, almost like a mini-retreat. Also, it kicked ass. This was the third time I've been able to get dokusan, and the first time that I didn't stress about it too much. I had actually been doing my practice instead of just fretting about what to say, and while I was a bit nervous, I wasn't completely frozen up like last time, and I got a lot out of it.
—My name is Petteri Sulonen, and my practice is breath.
—So, what's on your mind?
–Breath.
No, I wasn't being precious, although it was kinda funny when I thought about it afterwards. Anyway, I got some advice on my practice, and I applied it to the best of my ability, and boy-howdy, did I have a good zazenkai. I wasn't the least bit bored, I managed to keep the pain down to manageable levels, and I managed to practice – really practice, in a way I haven't managed before. Best zazenkai ever!

Friday night's open house was fun too. Helsinki has a Night of the Arts every year in late August. The idea is that artists, theatrical troupes, dance groups, bands, and what have you take art to the streets and bars and restaurants, and people can either follow a program to experience all kinds of cool stuff, or just sort of wander around and discover things. When they started maybe 25 years ago, it was better than it is now, because relatively quickly a large part of the population just turned it into another excuse to get shitfaced en masse. I've mostly been avoiding it lately, unless there really is something I want to check out.

Anyway, the Helsinki Zen Center has open doors on the Night of the Arts, with a lecture and mini-introductions with five-minute guided zazen for all comers. I showed up to help out a bit. I got to wear one of those cool Jedi robes, show people in, and eventually serve as interpreter for small groups of people who didn't speak Finnish. It was a big success, with well over a hundred people showing up. Eventually Ari, the instructor who ran the show, had to politely ask everybody to leave, so we could tidy up. The lecture was standing-room only, practically; normally the zendo fits about 30 people comfortably.

My knee held up fine, too; it's been acting up a bit in the past couple of weeks, but didn't seem to mind seiza. I tried going cross-legged for the dharma talk, but that wasn't such a great idea. Still, seiza gets the job done too, and if I pile up enough cushions I can manage it for a whole day.

So it was a very good Zen weekend, and I feel very good about it. Whoever knew that staring at the wall all day could be so much fun?

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