Showing posts with label Ama Samy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ama Samy. Show all posts

Friday, October 4, 2013

This is Your Life

There's anxiety, and there's pain; then there's anxiety about pain, which more than doubles the pain.  By 9:00 last night the pain in my back and neck had gone up through my TMJ until the left side of my face hurt, and I had to do hot compresses.  Dammit.  Part of it was just too much sitting upright, the rest was the irrational anxiety about what the MRI will show and what comes next for this back injury. pain has been worse since the MRI of my upper back and neck Monday night.  And I am waiting, waiting for a call from the neurologist who ordered the test, and who will, I hope, suggest some way to cut back on the pain, which seems to be made worse by walking.  Now it's Friday, which means if I don't hear today I'll have to go through the weekend trying not to imagine the worst, which is, for me, being in a hospital.  After that dreadful night last December - and that was in one of our better hospitals - my tolerance of the constant abuses there has turned to something quite negative.  Like hate.

Furthermore, the fact that my fall in May was caused by Seroquel has amplified my distrust of the whole American medical system and led me to notice that there have been a lot of lawsuits about these drugs, and the movement disorder they cause that never goes away.  (It is called tardive dyskinesia.)

I don't like to be anxious or angry.  Don't Want! any of this.

Well, this kind of adversity is a common enough feature in the landscape of old age, but I like to think it isn't necessary to melt down over it.  My formal Zen study led me to find a post from a blog by Ben Howard that happens to help just a bit my perspective. The author refers to a passage in Dogen's Instructions to the Cook, which I decided to format as if it were a poem:

Do not get carried away,
by the sounds of spring, 
nor become heavy-hearted 
upon seeing the colors of fall. 
View the changes of the seasons as a whole, 
and weigh the relativeness of light and heavy 
from a broad perspective.

My first teacher, Ama Samy, said to me, at least once, "Experience everything, but don't get carried away."  He has a rich Hindi accent, so it sounded like "Don't get caddied away."  This is good advice for anyone with moodswings, or who golfs.  

More from Howard's blog:  "Commenting on this passage, the Soto master Kosho Uchiyama urges us “to be resolved that whatever we meet is our life,” and to “see the four seasons of favorable circumstances, adversity, despair, and exaltation all as the scenery of [our lives].” Oh yes. The default scenery, in fact, that the Buddha warned us about. Life is not that fabled isle of bliss they promised . . .
but more like this at times:

Heavy.  And that's just the way it is.  Everything broken, including the medical system and, maybe, the doctor's phone.

This is making me think it's time to publish a poem I wrote years ago after being forgotten in an exam room. Really.  (A nod of thanks to Ken Vail, who drove me to that doctor and waited patiently.)

or, Jean-Paul Sartre in the Examining Room           
Here in a windowless room–this dying body–
naked beneath a paper towel,
waiting, waiting for Doctor to come and ask,
How are you?  Where do you hurt?
How long have you felt this way?
Doctor is busy, invisible accountants
issue denials of benefits,
nurses in running shoes flash smiles.

Doctor is here I think he is running late,
this will explain our policies.
You are responsible sorry
I know these rooms are cold
but Doctor wears a suit under his lab coat
we keep it comfortable for him
here, here is a paper blanket
sorry we have no tea, the pot is broken
no one has time, time . . .

Are you still here?
sorry the office is closed
the computer is down please call
tomorrow for an appointment we are
automated for your inconvenience
please hold please remain
on the line, your call is important to us
your call will be received in the order 
in which you enter your patient account number
date of birth and death, social
followed by the pound   invalid   invalid

Sorry, Doctor has no more appointments
this year.  Doctor is at a convention
and does not answer his page
will try to get back to you
in the order your call
was tomorrow

Wait—we have just been informed
Doctor is no longer with us. 
Doctor is dead.
You are condemned to be free.
p.s.  Put in one more call to the doctor just now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sick, and Tired of it, With Comments on the Spiritual Path

I was reminded this morning of what took me from trying out all kinds of Buddhist practice to focusing on Zen - I met a Teacher.  Then I met another one.

Both these men, Daniel Terragno and Ama Samy, come to Grailville in Ohio once a year from far places to hold retreats, and snagged me on my very first retreats.  I've also met another Zen Teacher, James Ford, a unique Unitarian minister, and corresponded with a few others.  Now I am gratefully undertaking to practice "distantly" with Dosho Port of Wild Fox Zen, who is extending himself to work with us solitary and destitute types via internet methods. 

Every single one of these people has treated me with the attention you would give to the most important person on earth.  Their attitude is not just about the calmness and general slowing-down that we gradually learn through zazen.  It's about the practice of open-heartedness.  You can think of it as treating everything and every little yellow buttercup as sacred.  Or you can think of it as kindness.

I thought about this watching one of Dosho Roshi's videos this morning, in which he explains the above.  It is not at all abstract to me.  I have been so ill for so long here (see previous posts), and it is frustrating to wait for phone calls from the nurse, the doctor, home health.  It is easy to get resentful of friends who are too busy to offer some homemade soup (see cartoon above).  It is easy to feel entitled to inflict on others the occasional crankiness natural to this situation.
That crankiness comes from animal nature, perhaps, but the Eight-fold Path asks me to refrain from expressing it in harmful ways.  And it reminds me that I am actually not the center of other people's universe.  Jeez.  That I am no more sacred than everyone else.  That we are all seeking happiness.  Even poor Tardar Sauce (above), the cat who looked grumpy from birth.  And maybe was and is, I don't know.  I love him (her?) anyway.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Zen and Bipolar: What to do When You're Going High, Part 1

This morning I'm having fun with a three-month-old list I made titled 100 Cool and Stupid Things to Do.  It is gratifying to see that though I closed that file and forgot about it, I got a lot of those things done.  (And am reminded to do others.)

One thing on that list was the suggestion to write this post, as part of a larger project about Zen for Bipolars.  I'm neither low nor high today, just in that nice balanced space between waves, so I'll take advantage of that and begin.

Starting up on a manic moodswing is similar to being pleasantly excited for a normie (I don't like that word, we're not abnormal, but what else can I call people-who-don't-have-moodswings?  Maybe "ordinary people"?)  But it includes the allure of a mental shapness and confidence.  And it will not naturally subside.  That's my experience, and I was just ordinary until I was 33, so I know the difference.  This difference highlights the crucial fact that bipolar is a neurochemical dis-order.  That's why chemicals are often useful in the treatment.

Science is telling us these days about brain plasticity, that is, how we can change our brains even into old age.  There's a lot of further research on the specific effects of meditation on the brain. My own experience is that nothing will calm you down better when you're too excited than meditation, which has been briefly described like this: 
Sit down.
Shut up.
Teachers of young children call this a time-out.  It works.  Even little ones can follow those directions for a few minutes.  For kids with temper or panic attacks, a one-minute meditation of three deep breaths, exhaling all the way, can work magic.

But the little ones have an advantage over us; someone is making them do it.  (Most elementary school is a formidable training in doing what an authority tells you to do.)  As a grown-up, you have to exert this control over yourself, unless a manic episode gets so bad that you are hospitalized.  Then you will be medicated.  If  you are really bothering people, you will sometimes be shut in a 'quiet room" for a time.  Interestingly, a quiet room is rather like a Zen meditation hall:  empty, clean, quiet.  No screens, no one to talk to, no stimulation, nothing but a mattress on the floor. But we can actually arrange our own quiet times.
They can have the same calming effect as contemplating nature.  That doesn't mean hiking, climbing, caving, making a big effort to accomplish something.  Contemplation is simply walking or wandering alone in a park or woods, just for the sake of experiencing nature.  I love doing that on retreat.  (Caution: it is  stimulating to be exposed to sun, heat, and light.)

To the left is a photo I took at Grailville in 2010, a month before my scheduled transplant, when I was very sick and very frightened.  It was a good retreat for me, given that. Perhaps you can see how calming it was.

I like the subtle colors and shadows in the photo, which is of the hedge that separates Grailville from a meadow; if you look, you might be able to make out the wire fence in the late-morning shadows.  I took photos that year for the first time; it became a contemplative activity for me, and neither the teacher nor anyone else chastised me.  Ama Samy's retreats are relaxed and kind in the way I understand retreats are at Springwater Center, founded by Toni Packer.

[If you know someone who is bipolar, or close to a bipolar, feel free to share this post on Facebook or elsewhere.  You can use the little icons below.]

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I Wish You'd Meditate

This today via AMA Samy, from Mysticism in Religion - Three Ways to View the Sunset by Fr. Richard Rohr -
Consciously or not, far too much organized religion has a vested interest in keeping you . . .  where all can be put into proper  language and deemed certain. This keeps you coming back to church, and it keeps us clergy in business.  This is not usually the result of ill will on anybody's part; it's just that you can lead people only as far as you yourself have gone. Transformed people transform people.
It got me thinking about the many bad "therapists" I've touched down on, and the world's worst psychiatrists, all of whom I've surely seen, the really bad doctors, and ministers, yes.  It is exactly true that people whose level of enlightenment or transformation is low will deal with you from their own interests. 

These days meditation is often sold and sought for personal gain of the most superficial and immediate sort:  I feel so peaceful afterward.  But what we mean to do in Zen is much more than you can get from a good massage - loosen the bonds of our conditioned self, be less driven by its egocentric project.  Awakening means knowing what we're doing, and thus being able to avoid doing harm.

Tired tonight, often I don't post things like this that feel abstract, but I think I will.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Following the Schedule

Some people love a schedule - it eases the anxiety of making decisions.  Some people hate it - it puts boundaries on spontaneity.  I am squarely in both camps. My ideal is to follow the schedule I have decided to follow, and within that framework, always play.  Now that I'm old and retired, I never have to follow someone else's schedule unless I decide to.

You can play by being easy.  There is a story told by one of a Suzuki Roshi's students about moving rocks.  Big rocks, I suppose this was at Green Gulch.  They did a lot of this, and Suzuki liked to do it with them.  The young students would be tired and sweaty, and there he was, a small man moving big rocks and enjoying it.  When someone asked him how that could be, why he didn't have to stop and rest, he said, "Because when I am working I am always resting."

So that's one way to work, and by extension, to do the things you have to do to maintain this body.  There are many of them.  In this body, for instance, it is much the best for me to put on my elastic sleeve first thing in the morning.  Otherwise my lymphedemic right arm swells.  Since the transplant, I also need to put on my Futuro elastic support stockings, or my ankles swell more, and then hurt. Guess what?  Sometimes I don't feel like it, like this morning.  I have to laugh at myself, the resistance, the desire to be free. Sixty-eight years old and still fighting it.

Is it my parents' fault?  To some degree, yes and no.  They didn't set boundaries on any of us.  On the other hand, not their fault, they didn't know how.  Nobody parented them, as we understand that today.  Karma.My fault?  Well, caught in my karma, too.  Darn it, I don't like that.

Where was I?  You can rest while you work - and sometimes I do think about what Suzuki meant by that. What is it you rest in?  To me, it's the bottom of the exhalation; exhale, relax all the way, and don't be in a hurry to inhale. To me, it's golden.

Or you can actively play at your work. At best, your work is what you most like to do, so play is easy, though sometimes picking up your toys doesn't come naturally (that part is Work).  Once I asked AMA Samy how I could make myself write the book I was sure I ought to write.  He didn't delve into the psychology of being so sure you ought to write a certain book you didn't want to write.  He just shrugged and said, "Your work is your work."  (One of his languages is German, and he pronounced the w's like v's, which charmed me.)  So, you just do it.  It's inevitable. Like growing old.  Like scraping the catbox.  Washing the dishes. Putting on your elastic sox for God's sake.  I don't know why I bother resisting.  Sometimes you have to laugh at yourself.

Though he spent seven years training in Japan, AMA Samy is not a stickler for the retreat schedule the way too many American Zen Masters are.  At least not when he comes to America.  He understands that the way that can be named is not the eternal Way (first lines of the Tao te Ching). On his retreats I've felt increasingly free to develop practices that ground and center me.  Photography.  Gathering the many wildflowers that grow at Grailville.  Walking to see the piglets at the adjoining farm (this leads to laughter yoga), finding the hidden pond.  And here it is, the haiku I wrote when I found it -
great blue heron
sails down, settles
   —hidden pond!

[image: Morning mist at Grailville]

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's the little foxes that spoil the vine

Last night I had a stress break.  Hit Friday with two big things, no, three - the appt. with the transplant surgeon to assess whether and when my native kidneys have to come out, that appt. pushed back three weeks.  I don't see how I can have that surgery and get to the retreat in late September.  The one time a year when my Teacher, Ama Samy, comes to the US. But how can I not have that surgery ASAP, and risk a fatal infection?  Long story, many infections since the transplant, I've blogged before about all that.

This schedule change, more delay, I learned about late in the afternoon after talking to Joanie, my transplant nurse, who was leaving on vacation for a week.  She is my lifeline, she is the only person on top of my medical problems, which include frightening blood pressure right now.

My shoulder hurts.

But worse, Tom and I had a long talk with sister Diane, who lives far away and visited the folks recently.  Lots and lots of scary things there - they are very old and no longer able to take care of themselves, but will not leave their crumbling cluttered mansion.  House. This is a very bad situation, and it worries me, saddens me that my mother-in-law, whom I care deeply about, is trudging through hell with her very sick and mentally incompetent husband, and the kids don't do anything to help.  The whole situation is profoundly karmic. I know you can't undo someone else's twisted karma. I work on turning my over-responsibility into simple kindness, not trying to fix things.  But it blossoms up now and then.

Other little things - T and I had a playdate Sat. a.m. at one of those nice huge stores called Market District where you can buy cool things. But very soon his wheelchair ran low on energy and he had to go back to the van while I continued the shopping alone. Shouldn't have. This is a new chronic problem, him letting the wheelchair run down. I don't want to be responsible for that.  My shoulder hurts.  Tashi has diarrhea from the worming, though, thank God, she always uses her litterbox.

Yesterday morning after church got to talking to an old acquaintance, listening, rather. She detests her mother, always has.  Mother is in a home in the next state, has dementia.  My friend calls her every night and hates that her mother doesn't seem to know who she is, has nothing to say (I said, has dementia). Friend has a real rigid sense of the obligations a Perfect Daughter will meet.  I used to call the two of us Eldest Daughters. It is a song, the term repeated over and over in a simple bass line.  A mantra. Being an oldest daughter is a syndrome you don't want.  It involves a sense of responsibility that can make you end up totalling your car. i.e. being unable to do anything. That's where I am this morning. Totaled.

My shoulder hurts.

So I had bought a pork roast, been wanting to do that since I read that the USDA has lowered the standard for doneness of pork to 145 degrees, so you don't have to cook it to death anymore.  So felt that last night I had to go thru with the plan to cook it, tho I didn't feel real well - confused depression.  It turned out to be laborious to figure out how to do it, it's been so many years that I was too sick to really cook. Hot in the kitchen, though we have central air. I could have just stuck the damn thing in the freezer, but had this Plan.  It didn't turn out very good, and was cold by the time I had a stress break yelled at the poor cat for getting on the table, got mad at T who was supposed to watch her so that didn't happen, because I could die from an infection borne by cats, long story, I've probably written a lot about the various dangers of being immunosuppressed. Being aware of these very real dangers and careful and accepting that I could die any moment, well my enlightenment doesn't quite cover that yet. And my shoulder hurts. I'd really like to buy some colorful annuals to complete the front garden, but I can't plant them (bad back, dirt is dangerous) would have to call Karen, just don't feel up to it.  My shoulder hurts.

All the mother stuff tugged at my now ancient memories of the nightmare of dealing with my alcoholic mother and alcoholic siblings as she slid into dementia.  Her basic conversation was about Your Brother, whom she always adored to the exclusion of my sister and me, and how she loved this young bartender who she kissed on the mouth when we all went out to dinner at his restaurant.  The tragedy and ugliness of all this is mostly laid to rest right now, but sometimes when the moon is full the ghost rises from the grave.  Don't anyone dare tell me to get therapy on it - I did years of it.  Years of practice, too. It's memory, I remind myself - it's in my brain and cells, but not real anymore.  A torn rotator cuff is real.  My shoulder hurts.  I must have slept too hard on it.

So, a stress break.  I used to call this kind of thing A Nervous Breakthrough, but this morning it doesn't seem funny. Somehow the cat getting on the table (she walks in the litterbox with those paws), table I had cleaned with Clorox, Tom not watching her, all the hard work of trying to make a decent meal which didn't turn out very good - frustration overload.  I have to ease up, stop cooking, stop shouldering (note shoulder metaphor) responsibilities. There is so much to do taking care of myself, I don't have much space for anything else.

Last night 108 Zen Books posted about Joko Beck being in hospice.  Here is a sane, sober person, which is how you hope to be with enough practice and hard work, here is someone who accepts sickness and dying as natural, who is having a good death and not stressing out her kids with craziness.  It is like another planet from what I have had to deal with in my own parents and Tom's. It made me sad.

So what's a little stress, what's a big stress, WTF is stress?  

Anyway. By the time you read this I'll feel different. Things change.

About the little foxes:  the meaning of the verse from the Christian Bible is this: mature foxes eat the grapes.  That's an annoyance, a problem.  But the little foxes can't reach the grapes.  They nibble on the vines instead.  That can kill the vines.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Following the pathless path

Jizo in the snow, photo by Tom Tucker
This morning I read Open Buddha's review of Footprints in the Snow, an autobiography I also like, and noted that Sheng Yen wrote a book on the Chan form of koan work.  My first response to this news was, I'd like to get that.  Next, I remembered that I have mostly lost interest in formal koan study, which was very good for me when done with Ama Samy, whose method is unique, and good for me in altogether a different way when I worked with Daniel Terragno, whose traditional method was guaranteed to arouse my striving and thus my frustration.  There's a book in that sentence.

Koan work appealed to that in me that longed for mystical, intuitive engagement with the truth.  In fact, the beginning of my work was in a dream after I got home from my first retreat with Ama Samy, one of whose books is titled after the koan, Why did Bodhidharma Come from the West?  I dreamed a deeply felt answer, woke up briefly to write it down that night, and the next day wrote to him about it.  This was in 1999.  He wrote back to me with another koan, "Who is that one?," and I carry that koan to this day, realizing more all the time that this one is compiled of a thousand thousand bits that shift constantly - the truth of no fixed limited self.

During the years that I worked with Ama Samy while on retreats, I also worked with the first book in the Japanese tradition, The Gateless Barrier.  I worked with three copies of it, in fact, by three teachers, studying each koan hard, thinking about nuances.  I embraced this study gladly, finding it much more fulfilling than the graduate studies in literary theory I had recently completed.

It made its way into Zen-flavored humor written by Sherlock, my cat, which I intended to collect as The Sound of One Paw until I got felled by one real-life koan after another.  I also read and reread John Tarrant's marvelous collection, Bring me the Rhinoceros.  In all this, each koan worked its way into my mind.  It's something Tom and I share in that intimate way of the long-married, casual references to something we both did and that we understand.

Well, this is a shorthand description of a few years of journey.  My interest in koans tapered off - I couldn't say when.  At the time, I felt like I was failing.  But now I notice that I carry all those koans, and they often pop up in response to some event.  My practice has become more flexible, is changing all the time.  I'm about to pick back up yin yoga, taking advantage of Lulu Bandha's online site, recommended by the best and most generous yoga teacher I've ever known, Kit Spahr.  I am again interested in poetry, writing my own, reading others'.  On retreat, I was very moved by the visible world, and took photographs, including a sequence of a sunrise and one of a sunset that I'd like to turn into mini-slideshows and publish.  And, well, going to the health club - I have never been attracted to exercise - is a way of recognizing the basic principle of cause and effect we call karma.  Practice is all over the place, if you think about it.

I suspect all serious practitioners think deeply at times of throwing over the householder's life and entering residence, spending more time on formal practices like meditation and calligraphy.  I don't, anymore.  I'm too bonded to Tom, my neighborhood, my home, my church.  Besides, I'd drive them crazy.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Turning Around

Morning Mist at Grailville
On my first retreat, I just hoped, fervently, to get through it, to endure.  On my second retreat I tasted the joy of dropping my busy life and abiding in emptiness, and I began to hope to attain enlightenment, which I conceived of as always abiding in emptiness.  This fall, many retreats later, I was back to hoping to get through it without getting exhausted and sick. Before the retreat began I told Ama Samy that I might not be able to make all the sits.  He understood - I had been sick the last time I came to retreat, in 2007, so sick that I felt discouraged about coming back.

I had an aspiration coming in - that I would accept whatever happens with my coming kidney transplant. The response was somewhat different than I thought it would be.  I find I am now at ease with the transplant.  My mind has been stripped of the parade of fears and symbolizing, both forms of delusion.  Now I see that transplant is a medical treatment; the OSU team does about 200 kidney transplants a year.  Every transplant center's numbers are posted online - short- and long-term survival of both "the graft" and the donor - and their numbers are good.  There is so much oversight of transplants that you might stand a better chance with this kind of surgery than any other.

How did this change happen?  I was not aware of any blinding insight as I sat day after day, and I didn't notice this new me until I was talking with a friend about it yesterday.  If I named one crucial moment, it must be the healing blessing given to me on Sunday, after the Eucharist (Ama Samy is also a Jesuit priest), when people can ask for prayers for those in need.  Ama Samy surprised me into tears by calling me forward and asking everyone to lay hands on me, and pray for my good health, and he did himself. 

The energy of this long moment of love from so many hands filled the center of my body, my heart, I guess it is, and for the next day or two I was deeply relaxed and tired - or perhaps I knew how very tired I was, and stopped trying.  I rested, joining only some of the sits, hardly able to walk to the dining hall, too tired to get up and walk kinhin or go to dokusan (individual brief meetings with the Teacher). 

Then I was fine, feeling better than I had for years.  I made it to almost every sit, going to dokusan even when I had nothing much to say except to express gratitude.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The koan of your life

I’ve always liked the opening to “I’ve grown accustomed to her face” in My Fair Lady. Rex Harrison put a wide range of feeling into the repetition of one word:
    Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!
Discovery, frustration, wonder, emphasis.  And in the next line, acceptance.  There it is - something has interfered with his life plan.

I know how that feels.  Just now a torn fingernail on my right thumb stopped my loftier purposes cold.  Unhappily, it tore into the nail bed a little and raised blood.  This is the arm that has had a dangerous skin infection called cellulitis (means “dangerous skin infection”) from just this sort of little injury.  To make a loooong story short, I did bring an antibiotic and two alcohol pads.  I recall standing at the linen closet drawer looking at a box of bandages and deciding not to take them.  Why not? I was taking everything else I owned, except lightweight socks and robe and a writing pad.

Here’s why Tom and I make such a good couple - he had a pocket First Aid kit.  I am creamed and bandaged without driving into town for drugstore supplies.  And as for my crazed packing, in a while I will stop at the van and dig out my emergency medications bag and take a Levaquin, for luck.  The rest of this healing is up to me, stay rested and unstressed, keep the hand clean and dry.

I digress, in a way, but in a way I don’t.  This little intrusion of the body’s imperative needs is also reality, is what we have to deal with constantly in our lives.  So this event is related on a deep level to what Ama Samy calls “the koan of your life.”  I’ve been sitting with mine - how to best use my gift [cautious word choice there] for writing.  As I thought about this during the morning’s early sits, I realized that not only do I have to choose what to work on - roughly, there is creating and finishing and getting the work out - I have a whole lazy life to deal with.  I need a schedule such as we have here, and three good meals a day, which I have to fix.  I run the domestic-aesthetic part of our home.

This year I am not resisting the schedule, at last, but experiencing the sense of freedom within not constantly making choices.  I had a lot to get over there, and maybe I needed years of indulging my creativity before I could fence it in a bit.  Before that there were decades in which my expectations and beliefs had me fenced in, unable to tap the creative well at all. You look back and say, Well, that was my path.  I have another path today - or no path in a way, just this openness.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Two Sunflowers
First report from Grailville, where our retreat starts tomorrow.  Since I am almost surely not going to be able to do all the sits, I have brought amusements - books, a manuscript, the netbook, colored pencils and drawing paper and erasers and little sharpener, very compact art supplies.  Right away I was sorry I didn't bring water colors.  Extra batteries for the camera, and the above picture of our front porch tested whether I could download pictures. Miracle - the wireless internet is not only in the coffee shop, but in our rooms!  Until I set up and found that out, I felt oddly lonely, though Tom and I can still talk, and are in adjoining rooms.  But we won't talk after first sit tomorrow evening.

I brought every conceivable garment for cold weather down to heavy socks and scarves, and wouldn't you know it was 86 degrees today. 

For my Zen friends, this is an easy retreat.  Sit about 8 hours spaced through the day, and you don't have to go to all the sits - no one will come after you.  It is odd in that many participants will not be students of
Zen, yet; Ama Samy is also a Jesuit priest, and attracts many Catholics from the area. . . For my non-Zen friends it is an unthinkable ordeal.  Added to all that sitting is the silence, which is pretty well observed.  Wbat, not talk for a week?!  At more formal Zen retreats, not talking usually supposes not reading or writing, which is a lot of effort, though I enjoy the silence.  I might continue to blog. It could be interesting to chronicle the inner weather.  Or I might just post the day's photo.

And oh yes - we learned on ther way down (by cell) that my transplant surgery is scheduled for Oct. 12.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Forced Retreat

No pix again. I am on computer 21 at the library, thinking as I stood in line to sign up that many people are standing in line in Texas for drinking water or something to eat. Here, we eat computer access; four days now without power. We all got in a bad mood last night when the rumor that our power would be back on by dark proved false.

If I had the skills to pull up a picture, it would be of Grailville, where we have gone on retreat for ten years now. When the hurricane hit, I was already depressed, having realized that I am just too handicapped now to go on retreat. Even the packing and two-hour drive is hard on me, and I get sick. I can't sleep. I ache all over.

And Ama Samy's annual Zen retreat is easy, only 7 or 8 hours a day of meditation, doesn't start till 6:00 a.m., you have freedom to wander in contemplation of nature, or not attend a sit at all. Other retreats are much harder. The only kind of retreat I could go on now would be in a luxury convention center, with a good bed. If there are retreats like that, I can't afford them. So, I thought, my retreat days are over. That led me to decide that I am done growing spiritually. God help us.

Now this; forced retreat. Despite the morning New York Times and the battery-powered radio, this is more boring and uncomfortable than any retreat. And you have to come up with your own meals. And no schedule to sustain you.

The picture I would post today would be a rendering of Napoleon's army struggling back from the Russian campaign, a military debacle I happen to know about. Everyone is showing stress, even the telephone solicitors. Nice people talk bitterly about the "A-holes" who speed through the intersections where the traffic lights are still not working. People are dying for an iced drink, the 6:30 news, dying to do a load of wash.

I wondered today, what is it that makes this so bad (once you get used to the shocking sense of vulnerability)? At first it drove you crazy, every minute you discovered something you couldn't do. But in just four days I have grown so used to it that I don't even try to turn the light on when I enter a room. In fact, it's so quiet, there's so little to do, that I find myself up by candle light resolving ancient issues, just as if it were Thursday on retreat.

Waiting an hour for my computer, I picked up a new book by Alexander McCall Smith. My daughter Cassie likes these lovely, contemplative novels. Here is a bit that struck me: "Missing names, missing persons---how remarkable it was, [Mma Ramotswe] thought, that we managed to anchor ourselves at all in this world . . . "

We took our lunch to Walnut Grove cemetery today. The dead were as peaceful as ever, undisturbed by the little piles of tree limbs, the occasional broken monument. I wondered why in the world I am ever afraid of death.

Debility, now, sickness, pain--I don't like those. I'm working on my attitude, though not working too hard. The lawn guy agrees, thinking positive just doesn't cut it.