45 calender days is a really long time. We had Fridays off, but most days started at 5:15 am with an officer's meeting and didn't end until 9 pm with chanting the Three Refuges. Half day sits changed the schedule for Saturday and the last five days finished it all off with a sesshin, but every other day was spent in zazen, kinhin, soji, oryoki, services, dharma talks, study, and class. Just about a tenth of the year, and it was interesting.
A lot happened over those six weeks that didn't really sink in until it was almost over and I didn't get a chance to write about hardly any of it.
I received the precepts the second weekend, which was a huge event on its own but it was quickly lost in the blur of the following weeks. We had two priests ordained by my teacher come visit for a while back to back, the second of whose ordination I attended late last year. I sat down with him for an hour and we chatted around the theme of ceremony which I'll get to writing about later. We also hosted Brad Warner for a Dharma Punx organized retreat which was fun to attend and cook for. I also got to go out for breakfast with him with two other people one day, so that was cool. Rereading Hardcore Zen after so long was interesting. It's a chicken-or-egg type deal but the book really matches my current attitudes and I read it at an influential time in developing my practice. I had thought all these views were my own but now I'm not so sure. It doesn't matter, they are mine and I don't have them because someone said that I should.
We had two other guests that same weekend so the buildup was something else. The second is the founder of the Dallas Meditation Center and practices in Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing. His style was quite different but I intend to get to know him better since his center is down the street from where my parents live in Dallas. (He was out of town when I was there for Father's Day)
As tenzo, my first practice period (and only third sesshin) had its own special challenges. Three meals were served nearly every day; oryoki breakfast and lunch with an informal dinner. During the week we ranged 6 to 10 participants with around 20 for Saturday breakfast.
I started out really organized, planning a week's worth of meals at a time with my own spreadsheet displaying which day, meal, and bowl's food, condiments, number of diners, and who would be preparing/helping prepare the meal. I made two shopping trips a week, one on our off day, Friday. Two dinners a week I was able to let someone else plan and prepare to give me a break.
All this time, I'd been re-reading sections of the Tenzo Kyokun for inspiration and insight and came across something funny. One part I'd always read without too much care is the section where Dogen outlines the day's activities for the tenzo. With my professional training and guidance from within the sangha it never really matched up with Dogen's instruction. As I settled into how I thought things should be done, I realized I was actually doing it the way Dogen suggests. Setting up and soaking the rice for breakfast at night, preparing lunch while breakfast cooks... it was nice.
Before my term in charge, meals were prepared a day in advance and the recipes were overly complicated. With my menu and experience I didn't have to do this. It made storage much easier and I had a greater degree of flexibility if something unexpected came up. Because of this the third week was almost entirely improvised off leftovers.
There were a couple points where the whole thing was getting old and I was ready for it all to be over with, but that's all part of practice. It's not all that different from sitting; once you're in it you have to see it though.
One thing that I really enjoyed about the practice period was it's intermediate nature between daily life and sesshin. Daily life (for me, especially while unemployed) is very dynamic with almost no structure. Sesshin is completely regimented with nearly every moment planned out. During Ango, each piece of the day was optional and we could come and go as our outside life needed. This allowed a daily blending of “lay” and “monastic” life whereas the two extremes usually exist pretty independently. Sesshin is also really short so as soon as you're really settled it's over. But as I said 6 weeks is a long time.
All of this makes for a powerful reminder that practice is all the time. The practice period really helps establish practice as a daily habit and six weeks provides a good amount of momentum.
I really enjoyed participating and intend to go into some more detail about some aspects of it soon.