Winds of Change

This morning I awoke early after a poor nights sleep – 60mph wind-gusts shook the house all evening. Fitting, I thought, for the first evening in my new place in Boulder.  I stepped outside this morning in the warm, still dark air of 5 in the morning on my way to the Zendo, slipping my sunglasses on to avoid the flying dust and stepping over the recycling littering the neighborhood from the fallen garbage bins.

Yes, I’m back in Boulder. The yellow-house with the white picket fence in Denver did not work out.

Yesterday, I packed up possessions, yet again, filling a small van with about 20 rubber bins and boxes. I did this time what I should have done two years ago when I left for my year abroad. That is, I sold off all of my large items on craigslist, putting the remainder on the curb for the lucky scavengers. While I cringed watching my favorite chair, memory filled kitchen table and practically brand-new mattress walk out the door, there was simultaneously a relief of simply not having to manage or move these things anymore. Ultimately I decided, except for my skis and bicycle, if it did not fit into a storage bin, it had to go.

A good friend of mine and his girlfriend have graciously taken me in, allowing me to sleep and store my things in their furnished basement. I am humbled by their generosity in this very trying time in my life. I am now sitting on their sofa with Sherman the dog, looking out the front window at the Flatirons. Right now, the past two months feel a little like a dream.

In some respects, I feel like I did when I first started this blog two years ago and was packing up for Asia.  Here I am again, ticket in hand to Thailand for the end of April, a couple weeks away from sesshin and with no major plan for the future.  It is in fact these plans, that ultimately cause the suffering and heartache that I’m going through now.  I thought my life was clearly headed down a certain path, maybe not a path defined in great detail, but one with a direction, a set of ideas of what the next few years would look like. The lake that boat was sailing in just ran out of water. As I sit in my boat in the middle of a dry lake I’m aware that am going to need to start walking.

Zen Sesshin

The very next day after returning from Mexico I headed to Crestone, Colorado to spend a week at the Zen Mountain Center participating in a Buddhist Sesshin, a silent meditation retreat. Sesshin literally translates to “gathering the mind”, which is exactly why I went.  I’m undergoing a major transition in life and before I move forward into the next phase I want to ensure I am centered and acting from a place of truth and self awareness.

This retreat was the most difficult thing I have every done psychologically, probably the second most difficult physically (hiking the 500 mile Colorado trail IMG_0790in 2005 was #1).  The schedule each day consisted of waking at 3:30am, sitting zazen (meditation) for 10-12 hours, walking meditation, work and lectures interspersed throughout the day. I didn’t get to sleep until 10 each night and the breaks were designed to not give you enough time for a nap!  We ate all meals in the Zendo Oryoki style, meaning “just enough”, which synchronizes the mind in body by bringing mindfulness to how we eat.  On the first evening the head Monk told us all: “give yourself over to the schedule”, meaning do not let your ego drive your thinking about what you do or don’t want to do.  I likened it to the practice of choiceless awareness which is characterized by being aware of whatever is present without choice or preference. There was no bathing or distractions such as books, television, food or exercise. You simply had to be where you were. “No other location” is how Roshi Richard Baker spun the original expression, “be here now”.

This was an extremely personal experience for me, many things I do not feel comfortable sharing on a blog, but too simplify (if I may take the liberty!), the week was an exercise in remaining present.  It took about 2-3 days for me to get past the physical pain and mental chatter to a place where I could be deeply contemplative and aware. You would gasho (bow) to everyone you passed, walk slowly, when working focus directly on the task at hand. When eating, just eat. When sleeping, sleep. When walking, walk.  You get the picture.IMG_0812

In addition to the Roshi’s afternoon teisho (lecture) and evening koans, we had the opportunity to meet privately with him in a formal interview called dokusan, where one could ask questions and seek guidance. I found this very helpful as sometimes the mind would get stuck in a ‘loop’ and having the insight of a teacher to change my perspective or focus allowed me to deepen my practice. I could go on and on about the details of the week, but will spare those that aren’t interested… I’d be more than happy to talk in much greater detail for anyone truly interested!

I am now back in Boulder, attempting to find my posture, something the Roshi told me to focus on when I asked him for practical advice about returning home to a world that will be exactly the same yet vastly different after such an experience. Finding one’s posture is a powerful metaphor as it translates to both my daily living and my sitting practice. We are always squirming, feeling uncomfortable and before one can truly deepen in practice, whether in mediation or daily living, one has to sit like a mountain, finding that posture.  If you see some guy trying to be a mountain, say hi. 🙂