At the end of January, 28 people participated in the Mondo Zen retreat in California. Deep silence, deep connection under the redwoods at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center.
Chiso Catherine Hupp and Hozo Dean Henry took jukai.
Three priests were ordained: Choan Tim Cook, Engo Michael Jackson, and Bodhi William Prince.
Letting Go ... Until Gone
by Tozan Paco Verin
One aspect of this practice I greatly value is how directly it reveals that talk is indeed cheap. “Talk” could certainly mean “thoughts” or “opinions” or “wants” as well. “What is the quality and depth of my practice?” becomes a pointed question in my mind when all is not going as planned or desired.
I held great anticipation for this January’s Sonoma retreat. I had been friends with the three men ordaining and Catherine, taking jukai, since their first retreats.
To be jiki jitsu for these people near and dear to me was a gift and an honor.
Then came a conversation with Junpo about Sosan’s request to be in the role. In the spirit of sharing and being practical (I’ll be jiki in March), I let go of what I’d wanted in exchange for being one of the musicians for the ceremonies. “Wait and see, Grasshopper.”
I had also anticipated a strong retreat for myself and was delighted to find I’d dropped right in from day one. No mental struggle. No physical pain. A first! Woohoo!
Until... waking up Wednesday morning feeling drained and woozy. After the morning service mirror bow, I nearly did a face plant, so chose to lie down for a while. Lying in bed, just on the other side of the zendo wall, I could hear, albeit muffled, Junpo’s review of Mondo with the group.
“No, I want to feel well and participate.”
My mind was racing, regretting, bemoaning, trying to deny what was so I could rejoin the group. Fatigue took over, and I slept through lunch in to mid-afternoon.
Ug! My excellent practice gone in a flash. My delight in the approaching ceremonies turned in to a fight for enough energy to just show up physically.
“No, I want...”
Sickness arrived at this guest house and insisted on bluntly honest dokusan: “How present are you to what is? Even if you don’t like it. Even if it is physically miserable. Even if it means missing these once-in-a-lifetime events with your friends? Who are you, Mr. Buddha-bling-dharma-name Guy?”
I had regained enough energy to be Catherine’s jukai witness (dharma name Chi So) and was glad for her that I did. A struggle just to sit upright through dinner followed, then Bam! down for the count for the evening chanting and sits. Clearly, letting go and leaning in were the only sane choices left.
Slowly I realized there was no returning to the zendo that night. Slowly I accepted not getting what I’d wanted and that being present, fully present, with the discomfort of the head cold, was my practice at hand, and if honored and engaged in it, perhaps a gift. I put all my attention on the discomfort in my head, sinuses, and tired body. What is sickness? What?!!
I spent the entire Thursday morning practice in bed and rose to eat lunch and prepare for the priest ordinations. Lots of sangha love and generous sharing of immune boosters help enormously. During the ceremony preparation, a reminder of tradition, as well as pragmatics, took the inkin from my hands.
Let go again. Not what I want. What is. Let go. The ceremony was beautiful, graced by spontaneous presence of a baby Buddha, and the party that followed brought plenty of sacred laughter.
Following the retreat, I was among those who went to Harbin Hot Springs. It was a magical and rejuvenating time. Until the stomach virus claimed seven of us.
“Yes, let go. Lean in. What?”
All the thrill of Harbin gone in a flush. And back home, finally getting over the virus, Bam! sinusitus. Due to frequent use of antibiotics in recent years, I decided to go without this time. Oh, brave lad... skull-splitting pain, missing work and income, cancelling my first Sunday sangha sit and more became my koan practice. What kind of host shall I be in this guest house?
(continued next column)
by HoZo Dean Henry
I came to the mountain to acquire yet again.
This time silence and a new name.
I received the name,
Silence alluded me
beneath critical mind.
Retreat come and gone.
Half-empty early morning plane,
mountains and clouds pass below,
San Francisco to Minneapolis--
The still point...
Spacious and deep call: "HoZo"!
The name, the silence, here.
Heart breaks open,
universe gushes forth!
a very broad smile.