Sunday, May 20, 2012

Retreat at the Break of Summer

Looping Landscape

I just got back from a weekend Zen retreat. We held it at a pretty idyllic spot; a log house by a lake near Vihti. The gods of the seasons treated us kindly, too—Saturday was the first perfect early summer night of the year. I stood a while by the perfectly still lakeside, with the bright, fresh green of the just-budded birch leaves, birds singing their hearts out, a cuckoo in the distance, the pale blue evening sky, and even two guys in a canoe, fishing.

Yeah, sometimes it really is like that.

This retreat was physically easier than the previous ones. Pain never got bad enough to stop me from practicing (although other, more mundane things did, as is their wont). My knee has slowly gotten better and now I was able to sit a few rounds cross-legged, which helped no end—I sit just fine on my knees, but on a retreat my legs do get increasingly achy. I think the knee problem is more in my mind now than my knee, actually; I often sit in quarter-lotus at home and it goes perfectly well. It's just that if I don't know I can change my position at any time, I start waiting for it to start hurting, and then, sure enough, it usually does. Quarter-lotus also makes my legs go numb which is a little annoying because it's often a little tricky to make enough time to get them un-numbed when standing up to the bells.

Also I already kinda screwed it up once by trying to twist it into half-lotus faster than I should have, so I am going to go easy on it.

I got to do kitchen duty. It was a very interesting experience. Everything's choreographed to the last detail. My job was to wash and slice 10 zucchinis, and on the other two work periods, to prepare a salad from 2 1/2 heads of lettuce, 10 tomatoes, and 2 1/2 cucumbers, with some bell peppers sliced on another plate. Everybody else had their jobs, and it all seemed to work pretty smoothly, small mishaps aside. There was plenty of food in any case, and it was good.

Saturday's zazen wasn't all that great, mostly. I had slept very badly the previous night, and was mostly just drifting off or nodding off. Saw lots of interesting pictures in the woodwork of my wall, including but not limited to Santa Claus, complete with sled and reindeer, a hooded figure in white, skulls, a giraffe which morphed into a horse and from that into Thoth, the Egyptian ibis-headed god, and lots and lots of shifting colors. Taking dokusan helped, as it usually does, and I started to find some kind of groove towards the evening; and today's four rounds went really smoothly—in fact, I got a gigantic wallop of sheer bliss out of one of them, which was cool. I could've done a few rounds more, even.

There was also a new chant that I'm sure would offend the traditionalists. I liked it a lot though. I do like chanting in general, even, perhaps especially the "nonsense" ones like the So Shai Myo Kichijyo Dharani. It's funny how much better it goes on retreat than in the city; there's more air and more power to it.
No Mo Sam Man Da Moto Nan Oha Ra
Chi Koto Sha Sono Nan To Ji To En
Gya Gya Gya Ki Gya Ki
Un Nun Shifu Ra Shifu Ra
Hara Shifu Ra Hara Shifu Ra
Chishu Sa Chishu Sa Chishu Ri Chishu Ri
Soha Ja Soha Ja Sen Chi Gya Shiri Ei
Somo Ko
So, good party. A bit on the quiet side until the end, but there you are. Other highlights included a mouse joining in the zazen, and two excellent teishos by Sante sensei. Plus a sauna and a dip in that lake afterwards.

And also hanging out with some really good people. Thank you again everyone for my part. It's a real privilege to be able to be a part of this sort of thing.

The photo has nothing to do with Vihti, or this retreat. It just fit the atmosphere. The season is more or less the same though.

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