Zen: a Japanese form of Buddhism that concentrates on learning through meditation and intuition.
About 2 months ago my fun friend Justin informed me of a Zen Meditation 101 workshop that was coming up and I thought Perfect. That's just what I need. Seriously. God (or Buddha) knows I could use a little Zen in my life. So the plans were mad and we were on our quest for Zen.
The day had finally arrived, I was crazy busy at work on Saturday with all things Doctor Noize and that damn song Dragons, Dragons, Dragons Licking Lollipops was in my head. I thought if nothing could get that song out of my head, the highly anticipated workshop could. I couldn't wait. Glancing down at my watch (still on Hawaii time - can't figure the darn thing out so I had to do the math) I informed Sean that I had to split:
me: Oh, gotta run. I have a meditation workshop to get to.
Sean: Why, are you Buddhist?
me: No, Catholic.
Sean: What did you give up for Lent?
me: Nothing, I'm non-practicing Catholic.
A can of worms. To be or not to be... If I typed and debated with me, we'd all falla sleep. Where to begin with my hard-core-Catholic-with-a-touch-of-Krishna-and-a-splash-of-Presbyterian upbringing? I'll save it for a rainy day post. Sticking to the mission at hand I got to The Zen Center just in time. I arrived at a dilapidated old 2-story house with broken windows on the top floor. Humble. Basic. This must be the place, I thought. As I type I search my soul in an attempt to give proper credence to the afternoon spent in that place.
Hello, my name is (_________) and I'm here because I (___________).
Justin and I were greeted by an old bearded man with a self-proclaimed 'hearing disease'. In the next 4 hours we would learn that he'd also had a kidney transplant 25 years ago, had a distended stomach, a bum hip, was on Cortisone and then crushed his vertebrae last year in a motorcycle accident. We'll call him John, and John pointed the way upstairs. We joined a group of 9 others in a small, retro-furnished sitting room. I got a floor seat.
The next 2 hours were spent listening to a lecture on the history of Zen Buddhism. Normally a subject like this would hold my attention but it wasn't in the cards that day. Between all my mini naps, which I swear I tried to hide in every fidget-making head-propping neck-stretching way, I noted that John was reading his lecture from a thick stack of pages fresh off the internet. Slightly worn and rolled. He took the world's longest pauses every second sentence and then would ask for input which he could never hear and thus ignored. I got lost amidst the Eightfold Path, the five precepts and aggregates, four noble truths, three marks of existence and partridge in a pear tree. I was not prepared for the rhetoric spree. So while I was giving myself whiplash with all the nodding off, Justin was busy assigning Lost characters to each of the surrounding strangers in the room. He gave me the run-down later over margaritas and I gotta say his comparisons were impressively spot on. Things started looking up when John started to talk about the dharma and dharma teachers. He was a dharma teacher. By the time he mentioned the 108 prostrations my eyes were wide open (let your Lost geek flag fly here) and I began to entertain the idea that we were being recruited by the Dharma Initiative. Cool.
At half time JT and I escaped to the kitchen and scarfed down half of my smuggled pb&j sandwich and compared quick notes. Where the hell were we and what was going on? The second half of the afternoon was spent in the temple room where we did a lot of bowing - er, prostrating - and tried coordinating the prostrations with the chanting. I was still awaiting my meditation. We all grimaced in unison as John spent agonizing minutes demonstrating the proper prostrating techniques, rolling dangerously close to over a number of times, each of us bracing for his fall. I again got lost in the chants, bows, half-bows, full rises and half rises. It was oddly reminiscent of the ritual of Catholic Mass. It's easy to get lost in unless you've been doing it most your life. My meditation finally came in the last 2 minutes (literally) of the workshop. And I fell asleep.
John closed with letting us know the schedule of the services and the different levels of membership. Chores are done on Sundays - 15 minutes per person - and vegetarian meals served on Mondays. I left there both amused and frustrated. Amused by what all had unfolded over the past four hours, and frustrated by the same and not having found my 'Zen'. Don't get me wrong, there are many aspects of Buddhist principles that I can relate to. I took my world religions classes as electives in college and Buddhism was one of my favorite topics. One thing reinforced that afternoon was the fact that there is no expectation for one to abandon their own faith - or unfaith - in order to participate in the rituals of the Buddhist one. Even the Dalai Lama says to stick with what you know. They just hope that we are able to take what we need and apply it to our everyday lives in order to become better people. Be present. Be mindful. Join our Zen Center.
This morning I attended a 2 hour intensive yoga class, taught by my friend Eric. It was just what I needed and my head hummed for hours afterward. I felt balanced, calm and open. My quest for better meditation is not yet over, but at least I know where to go to find some Zen.