Monday, November 1, 2010

My second Zen retreat

End of October
End of October, Pernaja, October 30, 2010

I spent last weekend doing nothing, as well as I was able. There were about 35 of us, all doing nothing together. It was rather wonderful.

To make it more interesting, the place we were doing nothing in had a water shortage. It's not connected to the municipal water supply. Instead, it has two wells, which were running dry, because there hasn't been all that much rain this autumn. So, as Timo, one of the two zendo leaders put it, we had the rare privilege of practicing mindfulness in not wasting a single drop. We were rather smelly come Sunday, but there was some water left for a sauna. That was nice.

A retreat starts with the death of the zendo. We take its body apart and pack it on a bus. Then the bus driver drives us there. We clear out a big conference room of the chairs and tables and whiteboards and TV and what not, sweep it clean, and then we put the things there, and the zendo is reborn. We get organized. Someone rings the first ten-minute bell, and it's on.

A Zen retreat isn't a service with a program that you go and attend. It's something that you make happen. Everybody has a role to play, even if it's a very minor one like carrying some furniture or stuffing some zafus. The program runs like clockwork, seemingly on its own weight, and magically everyone knows what they have to do, without words. The ones responsible for ringing bells, ring bells. The ones in the kitchen, cook. The ones who clean, clean. The ones who stuff zafus, stuff zafus. Those who have been on many retreats get the more difficult jobs. And we sit, and walk kinhin, and receive dokusan, and eat, and work, and rest, and chant, and sit some more.

Then the last bell rings, someone says "So, that was it, then," and there's a lot of laughter and talk and chatter and some ice cream and a sauna and then we kill and dismember the zendo again, and the bus driver drives it back with us, and then we put it together again, and it is reborn where it was.

"It was very short," said the sensei, and while that is very much a matter of perspective—there were breaths on Saturday that didn't feel short at all—yeah, it did feel almost short, on Sunday afternoon.

But today at work, when I had to describe what I had been working on last Friday in our daily scrum, I could barely remember, it felt so long ago.

This retreat was physically a good deal less grueling than the one from last March, and while there was an emotional roller-coaster ride like last time, that wasn't as extreme either. On Sunday, I felt like I could've maybe kept going for a bit. Perhaps I will go for one of those sesshin things some time next year; we'll see.

I'm still feeling a bit starry-eyed about it. I have a hard time getting my head around the sheer incredible privilege of being able to be a part of something like that, with such unique and wonderful people.

Thank you.

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