My newest article for Suicide Girls is up now. It's about non-attachment. I wanted to put one up about Great Sky. But I rightly figured I'd be in no shape to write an article in the 24 hours between my arrival back in Santa Monica and the article's due date. So you get this one instead.
And speaking of the Great Sky sesshin (which we were yesterday), here's a photo the likes of which you won't often see — me in Buddhist robes with bunches of Buddhist priests and such. I've labeled the teachers for the sesshin. Rosan Yoshida, who also taught, isn't in this shot because he took the photo (and sent it to me, thanks!). You'll have to click on the photo to get it to open up bigger so you can read the labels. On my right (left side of the photo) is Greg Fain, treasurer of the San Francisco Zen Center and over on the far right of the photo next to Dokai is Tojun Cobb of the Milwaukee Zen Center who acted as jisha, the person who takes care of the teachers. In my case, he coached me through all the moves needed for ceremonies. Just for the record, and in case you can't tell cuz of the blurry JPEG photo, Dharma names and shaven heads, Zuiko, Tonen and Myoyu are women. The other teachers were men. This gave the sesshin an even balance of male and female teachers, which I thought was pretty neat and very unique. In fact, it's quite unique for a sesshin to have more than one teacher. I imagine Great Sky isn't the only sesshin that's ever done that. But it's a rare thing.
I was thinking about the post I put up yesterday. I hope I didn't give the impression that the only thing that happens at a sesshin is that the theme song from I Dream Of Jeannie plays over and over and over in your head. It's not.
I mean, I could go on about the profound stillness and silence, the sight of a blue footed heron crossing before the full moon, the sky full of bazillions of stars, the cold mornings in the zendo, the stately meal services, the deep chanting, and all the rest. But you can find all that in every other book, magazine article or webpage that's ever published an account of someone's experience at a sesshin. All true. All beautiful. But somebody's gotta talk about bad TV show themes and the way every time we got to the part in chanting Dogen's Fukanzazengi where it says "who could take delight in the spark from a flintsone" I just kept wanting to add, "... meet the Flintstones they're a modern stone age fa-mi-leeeeee!" Balance, baby, balance.
There's a depth to practice you cannot possibly get any other way than by attending a sesshin. I don't care how profound you think your meditating by yourself in your fluffy armchair in the living room with Dark Side of the Moon playing on the headphones and a lid of primo sensie gets, it cannot touch a single period of zazen at even the lamest sesshin. Not a chance. Sorry.
A week in sesshin feels like a month and a half spent doing anything else. Zazen expands time like nothing you can name. A minute in zazen is equal to three hours bullshitting with your buddies. In that sense, zazen can lengthen your life. You might say, "Well, only subjectively speaking!" To which I'd say, "No shit. And no difference either." It literally makes you live longer even if you drop dead the minute the bell rings to end the sitting.
You find out stuff about yourself a decade in therapy couldn't uncover. It changes your entire outlook on everything. On the way back to L.A. I was stuck in a cattle car class plane seat in front of two toddlers who could not stop screaming, kicking my chair and pooping their pants the entire way back. The stench of baby turds was as profound as anything I encountered at the sesshin. Yet I couldn't even find the space in myself to get annoyed.
There's a way a group of dedicated people combine their energies and there's a way the focus on practice come together that no other activity can ever match. I lived a year in Toyama Prefecture in Japan, essentially isolated with a small group of English speaking people, sort of like being stranded on a deserted island with the survivors of a plane crash ala Lost. To me, that was the only experience that's ever come close to what even a short sesshin can reveal. Talk about your Dharma Initiatives!
So I don't want to trivialize the experience. But, at the same time, it's nigh on impossible to write about it coherently. I've tried and failed so many times. It always ends up sounding like the cliches you find in the magazines at your local New Age bookstore. The world has enough of those.
So, what's your point, Brad?
I dunno. Anyway, here's a photo from the sesshin. Enjoy.