Traveling with my dharma sister G, we drove north of Harrisburg along the Susquehanna river in the early evening, enjoying the gorgeous river views, with all the emerald green forest surrounding us on ancient, worn down mountains.
This part of Pennsylvania really is quite isolated and wild, with wide open farm land sprinkled here and there, bravely holding the forest at bay, but it wouldn't take long for the forest to simply win out, creeping over fields and filling in the empty spaces!
We reached the stone house of the monastery by 7:30, took a brief walk, then settled into an evening meditation with Dai-En Bennage, the abbess of the Zendo and her assistant teacher, Daishin McCabe.
We faced the wall as the sun retreated, and I watched my shadow fade into darkness. Outside the window, birds sang final songs and then all became silent as the evening descended. Eventually the only sound came from the intermittent hum of a refrigerator in the next room...Silence!
We finished up with chanting, then G and I headed for our sleeping room, a wide open space on the 1st floor that also doubled as an occasional meditation space. Aside from our 2 futons on the floor, there was nothing in the room but an enormous sandlewood Buddha, serene and awake!
I rubbed his smooth shoulder and wondered, Oh, how to get here!
But then I thought, But I am here! And laughed.... I pulled my futon into a small alcove created by 3 huge windows and settled in for the night.
But I don't sleep well the first night in any new place, and the allure of the mood rising through the trees, the fire flies lifting into the sky like tiny lanterns and the occasional flutter of heavy wings just outside the window kept me captivated and sleepless. At one point, perhaps I slept, but it didn't seem as if that happened until after 3 a.m. when I got up to pull on sweatshirt and pants for added warmth...the evening had cooled off so dramatically, it was as if I was camping out!
Back on the mat at 6:25, awake!
We sat meditation to a crescendo of fresh birdsong and refrigerator hum, then chanted the Heart Sutra and a dhirani, as well as a love letter to the waters, salt and fresh, surrounding the crippled Fukushima Power Plant of Japan.
We are thinking of you with deep love and wishes for healing....
We ate a simple breakfast, had a period of samu (pulling weeds for me!), then settled in for the Day of Mindfulness, surrounded by new faces, as well as our dharma sister A who had arrived for the day!
Periods of sitting, dharma discourse and kinhin through the labyrinth of the surrounding woods took up most of the day, with a silent Mindful lunch in between. By 3 p.m. we were gathered in a circle for tea and cookies and simply a chance for each of us to share impressions, comments or questions.
I found myself feeling quite emotional when my turn came to talk, and I had to make it brief, because a wave of tears and quavery voice rose up so quickly and unhindered, a part of me stood aside, thinking, where is this coming from?
Well I knew. Several of us had spoke about maintaining a practice along with job, marriage, family, etc. And that really resonated with me, especially the thing about marriage.
That's been a real practice for me and D, a dance of give and take, compromise and joy and occasional deep, staggering bewilderment--but always with the intention of non harming, though that hasn't always been possible. Even with the best intentions, we sometimes harm those we are in relationship with, and we simply need to be open to making amends, to finding balance once again, to making accord.
And so, the marriage practice!
D an I just celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary a few days ago, and though neither of us is prone to sentimentality and constant "how are we doing?" scrutiny, we both feel incredibly lucky to have made it this far. We've known one another for 23 years!
Even I am impressed with those numbers! So I was feeling a little emotional about it all, obviously lurking just beneath my surface awareness!
The ride home was simple, but I felt as if I was leaving behind another world where I wanted to linger and discover deeper experiences. When we hit Harrisburg, it felt as if we had traveled long and far, perhaps even across centuries, and here we were, back in the ordinary world, 2011....But that's not really how it is and the ordinary world is just as sacred as the sacred world and as soon as I create the dichotomy, I've set up a place for delusion and suffering.
I'll go back there soon, but here or there, the practice remains solid and clear like a diamond!
In deep gratitude to Dai-En and Dai-shin, Gassho!