- Mountains And Waters
“To settle the self upon the self, and let the flower of your life-force bloom.”
In the old tradition, we remember Buddha’s enlightenment by sitting facing the wall for seven days. Together. It’s called Rohatsu sesshin.
We sat Rohatsu here at the farm. Mostly I sat; two people had planned to come and then weren’t able. One person joined me for the last evening, and somehow that made all the difference. Sitting alone can be hard. I move too often, and spend too much time taking care of things like meals – or just avoiding. This time, though, I sat 8-9 hours per day, with energy. I supported the intention by reading a little – first Francis Cook’s Sounds of Valley Streams, then Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva. I needed to hear the teaching in unfamiliar words; both of these helped.
There’s a place in me that’s deeply fed by sitting zazen. That place was hungry; I’ve missed too many retreats these past months, and one hour per day isn’t enough to satisfy. So I began, restless, and it took a few days to settle down.
I found myself studying anger. It goes like this: you sit down in a comfortable posture, take a few breaths, and invite the mind to settle down. During this process, thoughts come up – usually memories or hopes. They say, let them go, don’t dwell on them. Easy enough to say. They come back. And again. This week, a particular object would arise, of anger or complaint. It would keep coming back. I began to notice that I was holding to fixed opinions about the people involved. I began to notice the experience of anger in my body, a tightening here and there. I sat with that experience. It wasn’t generally pleasant.
Looking back, it seems to me that I invited the anger to come forward, to present itself. I noticed its temptation and how it made me unhappy, and how I didn’t like it. For days. I felt aversion toward my judgmental thoughts, toward my envy and resentment, toward the way I sometimes explode or criticize people. And, staying with it, something actually did settle down. My body became more calm. I liked it – this is called attraction.
Sometimes I strayed into hopes – visions of this or that about my life, it doesn’t really matter what. Or appreciation of things as they are right now. The opportunities for diversion are endless. I kept coming back, and the noise settled down gradually.
At the end of each day I did three prostrations, a small ceremony that is part of this big ceremony of remembrance. Sitting sesshin, sitting zazen, these are ceremonies, done for their own sake, not to achieve anything. I suspect that they shape the structure of the universe. I know that, as Katagiri Roshi wrote above, there is a settling down, and a dropping of the structures of habit that interfere with our lives.
That’s all the words I have today.
The next sesshin here will be February 22-24, and the next one March 22-24.
I’ll be teaching in Atlanta in January: a one-day retreat January 5 at Red Clay, a discussion January 6 at Red Clay, and a one-day retreat January 12 at Midtown Atlanta Zen.
February 1, 7 pm, at Clouds in Water in St. Paul there will be a book reading with authors from Zen Teachings in Challenging Times. March 10 I will offer the Sunday morning dharma talk at Clouds.