A Day of Sunshine and Quiet

The one-day sit at Russian River Zendo on Sunday was a window sneaking a peek into spring – sunlight filtered through the redwoods, and mustard graced many of the vineyards in the valley. It was still cold, chilly enough that the zendo’s heater chugged throughout the day, never quite taking the nip out of the air. I was thankful for the extra-thick socks that I had worn, a cushion of warmth against the cool bamboo floor when we were walking kinhin. I was also grateful that I had opted for my usual over-dressing; the two long-sleeve shirts under a sweatshirt kept me comfortable, but not so warm that I was in danger of dozing by afternoon.

The sit was small and intimate, with only ten people in attendance. We went through the day, from zazen to kinhin to dharma talk to service to silent lunch, back to zazen and kinhin, a short hike down to the river, a break for tea, then zazen once more before chanting the Metta Sutta to close the meditation.

The dharma talk by Tony Patchell focused us on this moment. Tony said we’re always fighting the last war — a reference to the fact that relying on experience as our only teacher leaves us woefully unprepared for the present reality. He said, “Experience serves its purpose, but this moment is brand new, right now.” He urged us to set aside what we have learned, all that knowing, and to be ready and open to be met in this new place, the now. Before the thought arises, the labeling, the classifying, the “what did I do or see or think last time?” habit — make yourself fresh and receptive, ready to be just here. It is only through this practice of “don’t know mind” that we free ourselves from suffering, demons and karma. It is only through this lens that we can really see the tree, the person in front of us, ourselves.

So it was not a time to say, “How did this one-day sit compare to the last one I did?” Instead, just sit, for one day, as if I have never sat before. It is not my task to ask, “Will I be able to hit the bell correctly?” Instead, I am to hold the bell in one hand, the mallet in the other, and see and feel only the bell, only this strike, this one pure sound. It is not relevant to wonder whether it will rain on the drive home. Instead, look up into the trees and feel the sun on my face. When it rains, I will feel rain. Right now, feel sun.

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