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A perfect day at Muir Beach

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Today I have breathed in long, cool draughts of what I want most: time. I walked so slowly through the gardens, so slowly that the local doe and her two fawns didn’t even lift their heads or bat their long lashes as I passed by them, so slowly that the tribe of quail continued pecking at the ground, did not flutter away as I moved among them. There is so much to see, smell, and touch. [read on]

Two options down, one to go.

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

When I finished the dishwashing for today, at about 3 p.m., I staggered to my room and had a good cry. All I could do was huddle down in my sleeping bag (it’s freezing cold again) and sob. This was my summer vacation? No. It was my research project: I wanted to see what these Zen centers were like. Now I know. I wonder if Zen is like water–if it takes the shape of its container–and if these Zen centers in the USA have absorbed the puritan work ethic and the headlong drive toward productivity that is the USA. At its worst. [read on]

Everybody is a hoe

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Up at 4:30 a.m., meditation for forty minutes, and then the whole place–managers, gray heads, newbies, everybody–heads for the fields on Wednesday mornings, to work from 6 a.m till 7 a.m. I guess the idea is to keep everyone connected with the original mission of the place. Today the job was hoeing. Everybody got a hoe, and we chopped the rows, weeding and aerating the soil around the baby lettuces. The chunk! chunk! chunk! of the hoes was rhythmic in the dawn as the birds began to sing and fifty people fanned out in the field. Flaming queens in their hats and scarves; old dykes with faces like leather and painter’s pants with farm implements hanging from the belts; young and buff people, old and stiff people, couples and singles, everyone working in silence. Then breakfast. Then I had dishwashing for two and a half hours, cleaning toilets and guest rooms till lunch, then more dishwashing till nearly 3 p.m. I’m absolutely worn out, but the best part of the day was the hoeing. [read on]

The Pacific!

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

I went charging down through the gardens and out to the ocean “as if my hair were on fire.” Beautiful, beautiful! And still more beautiful. There are rocks and waves and sea gulls, as one might expect. There is sea weed and that sharp sea smell, and there is that quality of air that has brought me back to life many times when I thought I was about to slip into something less than life. I watched three blonde children digging in the sand, and as they dug, completely engrossed in the hole they were making, a young sea lion surfaced, not 20 yards away from them, peering at them, curious and incautious (in very shallow waters). The sea lion appeared to be wondering if they could be playmates. Or dinner perhaps. Its eyes met mine. It saw me looking at it, looking at them. And then it dove and disappeared, taking a piece of me into the ocean.

GG Day 4: she loses her faith

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Buddhism is not, of course, a “faith.” It’s a way of life, a set of principles, ethics, and stars to steer by. I have not lost any of that. But I have definitely lost a dream. For many years, I thought, “If I can just get through this, eventually I’m going to become a Buddhist nun, and then I will be fully who I am.” Hah. It was a romantic fantasy I had, that in my old age I would blossom into a saint, or something like that, in flowing and graceful robes, with a shaved head and a smile of bliss on my face. (I haven’t read Queneau’s La Dimanche de la Vie four times for nothing.) The truth is, I have have spent my life becoming fully who I am. The idea that living in Buddhist community would be a kind of glorious finale for my life is a delusion, like so many that have come before. It is always wonderful to be freed of another delusion. I felt more fully alive and more connected with the universe in Portugal, sitting on the miradouro in Melgaco, than I have felt at either of these Zen centers. That is not to say anything negative about the Zen centers. They are wonderful in their way, and they offer nourishment for many people. But not a way of life for me. [read on]

Green Gulch Day 3: Dishes, garden, sitting

Monday, August 6th, 2007

The first gong rings at 4:25 a.m., and we are to be in the large, silent, unheated Zendo by 4:52 a.m. We sit for forty minutes, walk for ten minutes, sit for forty minutes again. During the first forty-minute sit, there are frequent bells and gongs, no doubt to help us stay awake, and then after the second forty-minute sit, we have a “service” of chanting, gongs, drums, bowing, incense, bells. I am surrounded by people who may be very interesting, but I don’t get to know them. We work in silence, and the only time we can engage in social talk is at meals. People tend to sit with their own groups at meal times. There are about 50 residents. I would guess two-thirds are men, most of them under 35 or around 60. The women seem older on average: mostly 40 or over, with a sprinkle of strong young things. Of the 50 or so residents, nearly half are in robes, suggesting they’ve made strong commitments. According to the literature, this place was established in 1972, but I know I heard of it in 1969. I think at that time a group of Buddhists from San Francisco were going “back to the land” and starting a farm. Maybe it only became an actual institution in 1972. [read on]

Freezing my ass at Green Gulch

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

Good God, it’s cold. The weather report says it is 61 degrees F (16 C), but the wind is blowing, and there is heavy mist in the blowing wind. The wet wind seeps into my old bones and makes me creak. The electricity was out for hours today, and the only way I could get warm enough to stop shivering was to plunge my hands in scalding dishwater up to the elbows. Fortunately, there was a need for dishwashing, so I spent several hours that way today. But for all I could see, I might as well have been in Cleveland in the winter. I’ve been indoors all day. I tried to get out and take a walk, but I turned back after about fifty feet of walking against the wind and what the people here call “mist”–slanting sheets of ice cold water in the air. I always thought that was rain, but whatever. This community is much more “religious” than any I’ve ever been in. That has its pros and cons. [read on]

Arriving at Green Gulch

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

I’m just back from a walk to the Pacific, and I have been filling up with tears at just about every turn in the path. I first heard of Green Gulch in 1969, and I have wanted to reach here ever since; so it’s now a place out of legend for me. I dreamed of coming here when, after my marriage to Christopher’s father ended, the two of them disappeared; but I had no money. I dreamed of coming here with Seth, but you can’t raise a child here. I dreamed of coming here when I decided to leave Smith, but I wanted to go to Africa first. So here I am. Here are the gardens, laid out in the sun; here is the trail to the beach; here are California dreamers in a cool wind, next to an icy Pacific. Some are in bikinis; some are in heavy fleece jackets and long pants. I rolled my pants up and stepped into the water and looked around me. I’m here. In California. That place of dream. Today I have free time till 6 p.m., and there are two computers available for residents who are not working. I don’t know how easy it will be to get to a computer as the week goes on and I begin my labor. But here’s where I am now. [read on]