…At Tassaara Zen Mountain Center in the Ventana Wilderness(@https://www.facebook.com/tassajarazen)
– which is on fire right now -hopefully Tassajara will be spared -was one of the most difficult experiences of my life.
“Following the schedule” as they call it there, was much more difficult than I had anticipated; for example, it is traditional to operate on very little sleep – 6 or 7 hours at most – and even “normal” people become exhausted from all the manual labor, which is also traditional. I had not realized just how these conditions would affect my behaviour and impulsivity.
It became clear a few months in that I REALLY do need more sleep and solitude than most people.
And daily physical exercise, so the labor part was fine with me. Especially since Zen chores are very regimented an done in a precise and unvarying fashion each time. With written instruction sheets. Many people do not like the strict forms of Zen practice, but I am in my element!
I had applied and was accepted as a kitchen apprentice and lasted 3 months before decomping rather dramatically and storming off screaming, “I quit!” and refusing to come out of my (single) dorm room where they had relocated me early on realizing I was better off alone instead of sharing as most newcomers do; the dorms are usually reserved for senior practioners and those with health problems, which I also had – my asthma was really bad there.
At this point, they really didn’t know what to do with me and I stayed in my room reading and twiddling and watching the bats swarm out at dusk, an outcast, a pariah.
Eventually, they assigned me my own work crew and I performed maintenance to protect the facility in the event of fire. I also helped train other students in basic wildland firefighting skills.
My crew was so popular they had to disband it and I wound up finishing the season in the garden.
I even put aside my self- consciousness of my voice and awkward body to read a piece I had written long ago for the end of season talent night – notice the bats flying by in this video:
Here is a still from that video:
I also sheared off my hair, partly tradition, but mostly because it was just so damn hot at Tassajara.
More about my time at Tassajara and other monasteries to come, so check in often!