It is the open day after the osesshin here at Sogenji - the intensive retreat that happens one week a month, and I'm enjoying resting up, doing laundry, and visiting with some of the amazing people in training here. There is even internet here now, for these days when the schedule is loosened up a bit. It was pretty rugged having to dive right into osesshin coming straight off the jet, but on the other hand it was a good way to really get here. The osesshin schedule is more intensive that at Tahoma, sitting basically from 4:00 AM to 10:30 PM, with a few short breaks. It is also cold in a way you can't escape here. There is no central heating in these three hundred year old building, so it is just as cold inside as outside. Temperatures near freezing in the early morning, then more mild into the afternoon. It feels a little like winter camping, but I'm getting used to sitting bundled up, and winter is starting to loosen its grip now. The temple grounds and buildings are drop-dead beautiful, and that beauty helps ease the cold. Now that osesshin is over, the schedule for the rest of my time here will be a bit less rigorous.
The intensity of the quiet, with so much scope given to that silence, penetrates even more deeply than the cold. It is hard to describe, because this scale of silence is so utterly absent from my ordinary life, even as a mindfulness teacher. A training environment like this is very hard find in the culture of distraction that is so rampant in America.
Mostly a younger group of people in training here these days - from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Great Britain and the U.S., as well as a few now from Japan. I am feeling my age for sure. But so far I have been able to find my place in the mix of things where I can work hard without trying to be as macho as the younger ones. The atmosphere in a Rinzai Zen monastery is very competitive by design, so it takes some gumption to let go of that competitive urge. Mostly for me that means sitting some of the time with my feet down in the zendo - chair-like -, or standing, rather than sitting with my legs crossed on the cushion for hours at a spell.
I have been able also to let go of expectations about why I am here, to forget about trying to accomplish anything, and just put myself into the training as best I can. Relaxing and letting go continuously, rather than getting tight and judging myself for being so flawed, as I have always been so good at doing in the past. I can feel the grip of that old habit really starting to let go. What a relief! As challenging as this is, there is also an ease and comfort that comes with being carried along by such a strong and ancient current, having the benefit of a powerful practicing community, and of an intimate routine that I know well from years of practice. The flow of rituals that are the same each day offer a lot of solace.
I have no illusions that this is anything but a short dip into intensive training. Most people have to commit to a full year of training in order to be allowed to come here. But as one of Harada's students from Tahoma, I can come for a shorter visit, to taste the strong brew of traditional Japanese training. So far I'm glad I followed my hunch to come. It was time. After three and a half decades of dharma practice, I am only beginning to understand – and to feel – how this practice is moving into the marrow of my everyday life. A deep dive like this from time to time can really help to anchor that understanding. Nothing feels more important to me at this point in my life, and at this pivotal time in our shared life on earth.