Beth Joshi Mulligan - Fall training period week 3
October 15, 2015 by David Blackwell
We’re heading into week four of the fall training period at Yokoji Zen Mountain Center and every day sometimes every hour or moment there are new things to be learned. Last week I wrote about the way practicing forms is informing all areas of my life. This week I am aware of the importance of roles. In the early morning first period of Zazen, as we sit still, the world wakes up around us. The sky goes from dark to light, the ravens start talking to each other and we can sometimes hear Honey and Coco loudly slurping their water. I noticed Jokai Sensei going to turn off one of the lights, and I hopped up to turn off the one on the other side of the room. With a slight shake of his head and a smile, he indicated that I should not do this. In the Buddha hall, just like in all areas of life, people have specific jobs to do, and it can be helpful to have clarity around this. In this seemingly small instance, if everyone tried to help at any time, there could be chaos and loss of focus. It’s easier if it is just one person’s job.
I started paying attention to other areas where I was sometimes being asked to do something and sometimes not to. As head trainee, I have a certain role to play; knowing what that is, is really helpful. I don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring it out. Many people have done this before me, and it is reliable system that works.
During work practice, I’ve noticed it tends to go much better if I do what I was asked to do and don’t improvise too much. The person in charge has considered it and my role is to follow the instructions. All this being said, this isn’t a rigid system; these roles also need to be flexible. Sometimes it works to take initiative and anticipate a need or simply take care of something I see right in front of me. I don’t need to wait.
In order to have this kind of discernment, I have to be awake and aware of what is going on around me and how what I do affects the whole community. This is a practice that fosters less self referential living and thinking, it fosters interconnectedness. Just as the Buddhist path does.
I was speaking with one of the residents of the interesting, sometimes challenging practice of these periods when we can speak to each other. “When we’re in Sesshin, we’re in, silence. In a way that’s easier, you don’t have much to decide. Unless it is really urgent, we don’t talk. But during these periods we have to practice, wise speech. It’s up to us to decide if what we want to say is necessary, kind, and wise.”
One teacher I know likes the acronym ‘W.A.I.T.” Why Am I Talking?
Ten years ago when I was able to attend another full training period, I came directly from working in busy medical practice. On my very first day someone presented me with a medical problem and I went right into diagnosing and attempting to treat it. Since neither of us had a car and what I thought was the appropriate medication was at my house, I found myself creating quite the circus (in my mind) to solve this. Just a quick note here, no one , including the person with the illness asked me to do this. The office manager at the time, a wonderful woman about fifteen years my junior came to me and said very calmly and politely, “We’re going to handle this. Why don’t you move into your room?”
Instead of being offended, I had a moment of realization; I actually heard a little voice say, “You’re services are no longer required.” I was actually deeply relieved; part of the inspiration to do the training period was to take a break from medicine. I was more than a bit burned out, but boy was I ready to put on my role! Again this was not fixed. There were other times in the training period when my skills were needed and it was appropriate. I am always seeing opportunities to practice no “fixed self”, to pay attention and learn. What a wonderful container for this kind of learning Yokoji is.