Friday, July 6, 2012

Don't think of a mountain!

It's great when a promising adventure can be found just down the road— no ferries, no shuttling around to pick everyone up and no need to even gas up the car.

Peter Levitt, SSI Zen Circle
A few weekends ago, the Salt Spring Island Zen Circle hosted a free Sunday morning silent retreat a few blocks from my house. I've been interested in Buddhism and intrigued by Zen ever since I picked up a neat little book called Zen Comics at a second-hand bookstore as a teenager. For several years, I dreamed of joining a monastery in Sri Lanka (orange robes) India (red robes) or Japan (black robes).

Sri Lankan monks wait for the bus
As I was trying to figure out which colour I liked best, I met the woman I'd eventually marry, got a real job and bought a house. The trappings of suffering may confine, but they're also quite comfortable. It's an unfortunate irony the busy people in life, who arguably have the most to learn from meditation, are often the ones who can't find time to "just sit".
When I spotted the event's simple black-and white photocopied flyer posted to a local sign board and realized I had no plans for that day, I figured my chance to get a sense of Zen life had finally arrived. Zen had finally tracked me down.

Despite a number of last-minute speed bumps ( my mom's fear I'd get hypnotized,  a late Saturday night with friends and enough yard work to occupy my mind for an eternity), I made it to the Ango Retreat a few minutes early for some Zen Meditation 101.

Ango Retreat, Salt Spring Island, B.C.
My Buddhist life had always been a private affair that I'd read about in books, practiced on especially challenging hikes or during lengthy public transit rides. During a trip to Daramshala in 2000, I was enlightened to learn I was most attracted to the philosophy's recurring themes of quest and escape, association with remote and often rugged landscapes, and Tibetan cuisine. I was nervous and afraid to join the group since it was only on a rare occasion that I'd ever speak about Buddhism, religion and spirituality with others, including Buddhist friends. As if being a spiritual fraud wasn't unsettling enough, I was unsure what I'd discover in the recesses of my own mind and certainly wasn't prepared to encounter whatever circumstances motivated others to join the group.

At about 7:45 a.m., a very friendly woman offered me a few tips on how to sit, breathe, clear my mind and handle the inevitable distractions that arise when sitting with one's eyes closed for 25 minutes. I was soon fluffing up my cushion at the edge of the yurt and the session began.

Finally, it was time to just sit.

Zen Comics

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