Friday, January 02, 2009


I just got back from ten days at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center deep in the Ventana Wilderness Area near Carmel Valley, California. Tassajara's annual schedule goes something like this:

Winter Practice Period
Spring Work Period
Summer Guest Season
Late Summer Work Period
Fall Practice Period

The two practice periods are zazen intensives -- pretty much straight wall-gazing from 4AM till 9PM with extra zazen thrown in during sesshins. Plus the first one you attend you gotta do 5 days of tangaryo practice, in which you're not just doing zazen all those hours, you get no breaks at all except to go potty. Oh, and you're not allowed to bathe for those 5 days. The practice periods are restricted to students only. You either pay a fee to attend these or else you work during the summer guest season to earn tuition.

The work periods are more-or-less free. You pay a $70 application fee and then you work as many days as you want (I think you have to put in at least 5). They provide you room and board. The work is not that hard and the hours are very good. You start early but you're finished by like 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. Zazen is available each morning and evening but is optional. There are no guests present at this time. Summer guest season works much the same way as work period, but paying guests are present and much of the work involves catering to them, so the hours are longer and the work is harder -- often lots harder. You get paid in room and board plus the chance to earn free practice periods.

After the Fall practice period there's an interim. This is neither a work period nor a practice period. But the place needs to be kept in something like running order. So former students and workers are invited to come down to the valley and keep Tassajara from falling to bits.

That's what I went up and did last week. It was cold. There's no source of heat in the cabins but wood stoves and I can't start a fire for sour beans. It was tough. Most of the basic survival stuff you have to do for yourself. It was lovely. Leilani and I spent a lot of time in the hot spring baths and a lot of time washing dishes.

The best part was New Year's Eve. There's no zazen schedule during interim, which is a damned shame. In San Francisco Zen Center's way of classifying stuff (Tassajara is part of SFZC), zazen is officially a kind of ceremony. Ceremonies don't happen on holidays. So there's no zazen during the winter break. Or on Sundays at their center in SF, for that matter. Screw that. Zazen is not a ceremony. I did it every day, morning and night. Sometimes alone. Saying zazen is a ceremony is like saying toothbrushing is a ceremony. Whoever came up with that classification should be smacked with a big kiyosaku. Which is not to badmouth SFZC in all aspects. I mostly like the place a whole lot. They just have a few bass-ackwards ideas. No doubt about it. But I digress.

I was talking about New Year's Eve. The one time there is scheduled zazen during interim is New Year's Eve. They sit from 7PM - 9PM and ring the bell outside the zendo 108 times to announce the new year to any local squirrels, deer, raccoons or mountain lions who might be listening. Then afterwards they have a bonfire in which you're supposed to burn something that represents a hindrance you hope to overcome in the coming year.

We mainly stood around singing bad 80s TV show theme songs and doing Mitch Hedburg routines. There were very few senior staff around, so it was mostly 20-somethings who'd arrived early for the Winter practice period. A fun group. I often wonder what drives a 25 year old way into the mountains to stare at walls all day. Though I shouldn't wonder too hard. I probably would've done it myself if Tassajara hadn't been several thousand miles away when I was that age. I'm sure it builds character and all that.

So anyway, that's what I did.

I'm still booking my 2009 book tour. The current tour dates are at this link, which is also conveniently over there on your left at the top of the links section.

In addition to these I have some tentative bookings in Austin, Chicago and Atlanta.

I am looking for more gigs in the NYC area or the East Coast in general in late March or early April.

I am also hoping something will come up for the following cities:

Dallas, TX
Portland, OR
Detroit, MI
Seattle, WA
Akron or Cleveland, OH
Vancouver, BC
Anywhere else in Canada

...or for that matter pretty much anywhere that anyone will have me.

Write me at if you have any means by which to make a gig happen.

Zazen will be as usual on Saturday Jan. 3, 2009 at Hill Street Center. Info on that is to your left. See you there!


Anonymous said...

welcome back

I guess one way you found to keep warm is to stay in hot water!

grisom said...

"Anywhere else in Canada", eh? Well, I personally would love it if you came to Edmonton, but I have absolutely no idea how to set these things up. :/

Rick said...

I hope to see you when you swing through Detroit.

Mysterion said...

Hmmm. I agree.

If Zazen is Ritual, then I am Mothra.

Mysterion said...

Sorry, I said ritual - the formal term for ceremony.

A ceremony is like flower viewing...

Ritual includes chanting and a lot of (empty) form with the (empty) substance.



Anonymous said...

don't know where I got the notion
but my understanding is that ceremony is prescribed: movements are known, predictable
but that ritual touches upon areas of unpredictability

weddings are ceremonies
burials are rituals

maybe someone has better explanation/examples of differences between the two...

Anonymous said...

I can't say it.

Noiret Sym Laden said...

Leilani? Leilani Monfort?

Osama van halen said...

Uku said...

Your trip sounds cool. Primitive conditions and coldness are excellent teachers. Thank you for your post.

With palms together,

Anonymous said...

What's life really like for an
LA writer/blogger?

Watch Showtime's "Californication".

David Duchovny stars and
Macaulay Culkin's ex-wife
plays the token SuicideGirl.

Anonymous said...

'Your trip sounds cool. Primitive conditions and coldness are excellent teachers.'

The first time I stayed at a zen center, a friend that traveled with me & I were assigned a room and given blankets. It got extremely cold and the blankets offered little warmth. Neither of us slept much. In the morning I remarked that this must be one of those zen teaching devices to see whether we were worthy.

Later, one of the monks asked if we were comfortable that night and I mentioned the cold, trying to sound as if it didn't really bother me. The monk was horrified. He had forgotten to start the heater for that building and profusely and repeatedly apologized to us.

Sean said...

If you come to Vancouver you can crash on my couch.

Anonymous said...





Anonymous said...

"My country is the world, and my
religion is to do good."
—- Thomas Paine

“I want to splinter the CIA into
a thousand pieces and scatter it
to the winds.”
—- John F. Kennedy

Anonymous said...


Is there any post by anyone anywhere you don't like?

any said...

umm.. It could be yours anon. Can't speak for Uku but I don't like it much.

Rich said...

Compared to this boring blog, practice is very exciting. Mike b. , please update us on your real action.

desotofloridaCIRCLE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
desotofloridaCIRCLE said...

happy new year brad :) -david

Jinzang said...

Mike b. , please update us on your real action.

Be careful what you ask for.

idssinfo said...

What exactly you're writing is a horrible mistake.