The whole point of this exercise is that there is no point…I mutter this mantra to myself. And then I try not to try, to let that mutter gently dissolve into the empty chaos of my mind. I was having a pretty good zazen, all told. And then all hell broke loose.
Maria Rinzan, Upaya’s groundskeeping sprite, was the designated jikido (timekeeper) for the session. She had grabbed me at the door to the zendo and asked if I would fill in as a monitor for the sit. The duty of the monitor is mostly to stand inside the door as people file in, and if they look lost, to guide them to a cushion. Not too hard.”Sure thing,” I responded, feeling pretty cocky about my novice monitoring skills.
I had never worked a monitor gig for evening zazen before â€“ I had only done it for the midday one. Evening zazen is a little more complicated: 25 min. of sitting meditation, followed by 10 min. of optional kinhinÂ (walking meditation), then 25 more minutes of sitting. But I gamely took my place by the door until everyone had entered, bowed to Maria, bowed to my cushion, sat myself down, and dug in. No problem. When the bell rang for kinhin I was into my groove so I decided to stay seated through the ten minute interval. Most of the others stood up to walk. Maria sounded the clacker: the signal to begin walking. Nobody moved. Teiko beckoned to me from across the room but I was in the zone and didn’t notice. Maria darted over to me and whispered, “you have to lead the kinhin!”
I lurched to my feet with as much grace as I could muster on the fly, and bowed (why not?). “That way!” Maria hissed, and off I went across the floor, foot up/breathe in/foot down/breathe out…trailed by a line of slowly marching penguins. Slow it down, I told myself, buy some time. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and in the dim light all I could see were shadowy forms. The walking route through the zendo is a geometric zigzag, and I had no idea where to go. Eyes front, hands tucked, elbows out, stay Zen goddammit. As I approached the opposite side of the room I broke into a sweat. Right? Left? Out the back door and down the street to the Tea House? I gave it up to the Universe. The tail of the snake was crossing in front of me and I recognized tall Eric’s silhouette. “Which way?” I whispered. He pointed to the left. I turned left, with the meditators following close behind. And then suddenly I got it, I saw the pattern. Kept walking, kissing the earth with my feet, until the clacker sounded. Bowed. And then hup hup hup around the room final lap and back to my cushion, with the meditators following my lead.Â Turned, bowed, sank down, and oh, so gratefully, cameÂ home to my breath.