Wednesday, March 2, 2011

So Much Stuff: Post-retreat Thoughts from the Tenzo

Sunday I came back from the culmination of two weeks worth of effort for a five day retreat led by Tenshin Reb Anderson, Roshi.  This was different from Rohatsu Sesshin in that we were hosted by a another Zen Center in a rural area outside Houston.  They provided us with housing, a building to use as a zendo, and a wonderful kitchen.  We were just required to bring all the stuff necessary to make those facilities usable for our needs.

We basically brought everything from our own zendo that wasn't nailed down (with the exception of the altar and our statuary, using a wonderful Vairochana Buddha instead), nearly everything in our kitchen but the sink, as well as all of our personal stuff that we'd need throughout the five days.

Apparently it's official since everyone called me such and my place card in the zendo read "tenzo." I still don't quite feel I deserve the title tenzo, since I still had a great deal of help from both my teacher, Gaelyn, both before and during the retreat, as well as Dale Kent, co-author of Tassajara Dinners and Desserts, former tenzo himself with loads of experience in the kitchen at Tassajara.  Both were a tremendous help, but everyone was intent on giving me all of the credit.

So I mentioned two weeks worth of effort. The food at retreats doesn't just appear and a great deal of planning and purchasing happened before the retreat. 

A lot. 

One shopping list reads "38 large carrots, 40 onions, 7 doz eggs, 10# cornmeal.." going on for three pages and being just one of a couple lists.

As we were loading up the cars for the 45 minute drive will produce, dry and canned goods, and dairy along with pots, serving dishes, knives and utensils, it seemed overwhelming.  I would essentially be responsible for making sure that initially 26 and, as the weekend arrived, 45 people were fed three times a day for five days.  The sheer amount of stuff required for this task was daunting.

One thing Reb brought up a few times was how much stuff we brought with us to make this retreat happen and what a great feat this was, but as the week progressed, as tenzo I saw it as a metaphor.

We had brought with us a whole lot of stuff.  Essentially the only things we had were what we brought with us.  As the week progressed in the kitchen, as each meal came up, we examined the ingredients, processed them, then let them be with compassion, offering them to the community.  Slowly the piles of stuff got smaller and our burden was lessened. 

Yes we still had a lot of stuff in the form of implements and leftovers, but there was definitely less.  Upon returning there would be more stuff again, but we would remember what it was like to have so much and to let some of it go.

All of us at the retreat, brought with us a lot of emotional baggage.  Just like the food in the kitchen, as we sat, we examined our thoughts, processed them then let them be with compassion.  At the end of the week, there was still stuff floating around in our heads and hearts with lots more of it waiting for us upon returning, but we would know what it was like to let so much of it go and not only that it was possible, but how wonderful it could be.

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