Beth Joshi Mulligan - Fall training period week 5
October 28, 2015 by David Blackwell
“Practice doesn’t have to look like anything.”
Last night as I was driving back to Yokoji, I saw a huge white barn owl flapping its enormous wings in the night sky. A few miles later, a young deer ran across the highway in front of my car. As I drove through the valley I got to see a spectacular moonrise, over the mountain. Albert Einstein said, “You can live as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle.” Having a quiet car and paying attention nourishes the ability to see what is arising right in front of us and appreciate it. I once heard a teacher say, “Enlightenment really is an accident, but meditation practice makes us more accident prone.”
Many times Tenshin Roshi will ask us, “what does practice look like?” and then often he will follow up with, “Practice doesn’t have to look like anything.” I have been reflecting on this as the last two weekends here at Yokoji have been busy hosting guest groups. One of many important functions of the center is providing a retreat venue for outside groups. It benefits the center and it serves people from all walks of life. Both groups have been coming here for many years, twice a year. This is a safe and sacred place for them and it is our job to make them comfortable, well, fed and housed.
So for the residents and volunteers our practice “looked like” a little less sitting, (although we still sat many periods and did services), chopping vegetables, cleaning bathrooms, bringing platters of food down and then lots of washing dishes! As I performed my particular tasks, I took great pleasure in watching these folks enjoy Yokoji and do what they came here to do. A lot of work has gone into protecting the buildings and walk ways since the fires and floods of 2013. And because of that people can come here and connect with themselves, each other and nature.
Since most people come from the city, just being here is an education, in that we function “off the grid”. They are invited to be judicious in their use of resources, like water, electricity and gas. This is a great awareness practice that one hopes, possibly, they will take home with them.
This past weekend we hosted a large university group who were learning about leadership as service, and getting a bit of Zen training. After lunch on Saturday, when the dishes were finished, I sat in on part of the post lunch session. It was the one meal over the weekend that they ate in silence. The teacher, Mark, told them about the global impact of raising one pound of beef and why they might want to consider the vegetarian diet they were experiencing here. He led the students in a mindful raisin eating exercise, asking them to track the “birth” of the raisin through all it’s many stages and all the various people and industries involved in having it in their mouths in that very moment. It was great to hear the student’s experiences and observations in bringing attention to something they usually take for granted. Mark asked, what was it like to eat one raisin knowing all that went into it being here? The first answer was, “Grateful.” Both groups participated in our meal chant before each meal and had a moment to reflect on the “innumerable labors” that brought it to them. Hearing all these voices together was really moving and inspiring.
And as for me and my practice, I found hovering in the dining hall to make sure there were enough teriyaki tofu, rice and salad; being ready to bring out the next tray at the right time, a great concentration practice! And while I didn’t sit down much, I felt joyful and deeply gratified. If these are not the fruits of practice, what are they? As long as practice doesn’t have to look like anything, then indeed everything can be a miracle.