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Mistr works on foresight


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My week in a monastery, continued.

 

My main concerns going in were that my knees would get too cranky and that I would be a grouchy zombie when sleep-deprived. Turned out only one of those was a problem.

 

The first full day was hell on my legs. They hurt all over, not just my knees. The zendo had small rectangular cushions instead of the big round cushions from the dojo or throw pillows I use at home. I stacked four little cushions to get the right height. The angle was wrong and it put pressure on my sciatic nerves. Ouch. On top of that my glutes were sore from running up and down the steps from the zendo to the main building. By the end of the day I didn't think I could take any more.

 

I talked with the Roshi and he pointed out that I was holding on to unreasonable expectations of what I could do. I had to acknowledge that I am no longer 25 and my body can't do what it used to. He said it was fine to sit in a chair for zazen. If I could, I should alternate between sitting on cushions and on a chair.

 

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This is the view from the dining room door of the main hall to the zendo below. This picture was taken last spring. The piles of brush are gone and the grass has been replaced by tall wild plants and garden beds.

 

The senior monk helped me with my seat set-up. I had the cushions stacked flat on top of each other. Wrong. They needed to be overlapping to make a fan shape (all the front edges touching the ground, back edges stacked). That puts the top cushion at an angle so that my weight was on the back of my glutes, not on the sit bones. It made a HUGE difference. My legs were still not thrilled about being in a compressed position for 30 minutes at a time, but it was bearable. I sat on a chair more than half the time. My back wasn't thrilled about the chair, so I had motivation to switch between positions. I got used to the stair workout after the first day.

 

The sleep deprivation was not as much of a problem as I expected. Roshi explained that this is done on purpose to help make the brain give up many normal habits. You get just too tired to do a lot of worrying. He told us that we would be tired, but to put energy into our practice and push through it. I felt tired, but not as much as I often do at work. I never got grouchy about it. My main problem was my brain trying to dream while I was sitting zazen. That got kinda trippy.

 

Overall it was a valuable experience. Difficult and rewarding. I'm glad I did it. I would not do it again anytime soon. I figured out that I was doing some things wrong and now I hope I am on the right track. Some of my new friends wished they could stay longer. Not me. I'm tremendously happy to be home with my family. I might have enjoyed a warrior-monk lifestyle when I was in my 20s. Now, not so much. I'll stick with lay practice.

 

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If you want to be a warrior monk, just lift weights and choke people! As far as we're concerned, you're quite able. :D

 

But seriously, that does sound like it was a rewarding time. Very difficult in a lot of ways that one wouldn't necessarily expect. It sounds like you learned a lot and got a lot that you can take with you, and hey. Being a lay person is a way harder challenge than sitting in a monastery all day anyway. Because now you gotta carry that zen with you in environments and circumstances that frankly discourage satori (or at least appear to).

 

Can't get over how cool it was that you did that! So cool!

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20 hours ago, Kishi said:

If you want to be a warrior monk, just lift weights and choke people! As far as we're concerned, you're quite able. :D

 

Yes.

 

Second that it sounds like quite the clarifying experience. The thing that would have broken me would have been lack of access to the bathroom. Obviously your access to food and drink was very scripted, but still the thought terrifies me lol.

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34 minutes ago, Urgan said:

Second that it sounds like quite the clarifying experience. The thing that would have broken me would have been lack of access to the bathroom. Obviously your access to food and drink was very scripted, but still the thought terrifies me lol.

 

I did sometimes make beverage choices based on how long I'd have to be in the zendo between bathroom breaks. I'm used to the proactive use of the bathroom before aikido because putting on a hakama makes a person need to pee. This felt similar. I found I never needed the bathroom break at 12:45, but I did need to go at 1:45, which worked just fine in the schedule. I hate having to go through getting out of my hakama and back into it just to use the bathroom. I envied the people wearing robes for that. There was never a time when I was sitting zen and wishing I could get up to pee.

 

The meal situation was actually very good. The cook (one of the monks) does great things with vegetarian food. In addition to the three main meals, he would set out muffins or other snacks that people could eat during breaks. Snacks were on the counter next to tea, coffee and water. In the evening people could eat left-overs from dinner at 10:15pm. I don't like to eat that late in the evening, but other people did. I felt like the amount, timing and quality of food were good. I was hungry before meals but not at other times. The portion sizes were smaller than typical American meals - probably typical for Japanese meals. I lost a couple pounds over the week without ever feeling deprived.

 

My main concern about the food was that it was higher in carbs and lower in protein than what I'm used to. There were beans and tofu and one day we had hard-boiled eggs. The veggies were fresh from the garden and tasty. I would have liked more veggies and less brown rice.

 

Apparently this monastery is much more relaxed on snacks than other Rinzai Zen monasteries. Two of the out of town people were comparing their experiences with sesshin at other locations. They were surprised that we had free access to tea and coffee and that we got brownies or cookies with our 10pm tea. Sweets are apparently highly restricted in the traditional practice.

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On 10/18/2019 at 9:52 AM, Mistr said:

I did sometimes make beverage choices based on how long I'd have to be in the zendo between bathroom breaks. I'm used to the proactive use of the bathroom before aikido because putting on a hakama makes a person need to pee. This felt similar. I found I never needed the bathroom break at 12:45, but I did need to go at 1:45, which worked just fine in the schedule. I hate having to go through getting out of my hakama and back into it just to use the bathroom. I envied the people wearing robes for that. There was never a time when I was sitting zen and wishing I could get up to pee.

 

I have heard of this condition of hakamas directly correlating with the immediate and intense need to use the bathroom. Bodies are great.

 

On 10/18/2019 at 9:52 AM, Mistr said:

The meal situation was actually very good. The cook (one of the monks) does great things with vegetarian food. In addition to the three main meals, he would set out muffins or other snacks that people could eat during breaks. Snacks were on the counter next to tea, coffee and water. In the evening people could eat left-overs from dinner at 10:15pm. I don't like to eat that late in the evening, but other people did. I felt like the amount, timing and quality of food were good. I was hungry before meals but not at other times. The portion sizes were smaller than typical American meals - probably typical for Japanese meals. I lost a couple pounds over the week without ever feeling deprived.

 

My main concern about the food was that it was higher in carbs and lower in protein than what I'm used to. There were beans and tofu and one day we had hard-boiled eggs. The veggies were fresh from the garden and tasty. I would have liked more veggies and less brown rice.

 

Apparently this monastery is much more relaxed on snacks than other Rinzai Zen monasteries. Two of the out of town people were comparing their experiences with sesshin at other locations. They were surprised that we had free access to tea and coffee and that we got brownies or cookies with our 10pm tea. Sweets are apparently highly restricted in the traditional practice.

 

Yeah I'm going out on a limb and figuring zen monastery life isn't exactly factoring in strength training with their culture. At least they did give you some carbs, which never hurts with keeping somewhat alert and not groggy/likely to bite someone's head off lol.

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On 10/21/2019 at 8:45 AM, Urgan said:

Yeah I'm going out on a limb and figuring zen monastery life isn't exactly factoring in strength training with their culture. At least they did give you some carbs, which never hurts with keeping somewhat alert and not groggy/likely to bite someone's head off lol.

 

Yep, I don't think they got the memo on bulking up. There was a lot of moving big rocks during the work periods though...

 

That first night when I bit into a brownie at tea time - it made my day. I felt like they cared about me and wanted to support me through doing something really difficult. I was prepared to  survive a week without chocolate, but was glad I didn't have to. Zen seems to be more about expanding your limits rather than depriving yourself, like the religion I grew up with.

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On 10/22/2019 at 1:05 PM, Mistr said:

Zen seems to be more about expanding your limits rather than depriving yourself, like the religion I grew up with.

I like this idea

I can't believe I didn't find your (last) challenge until now...

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