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Green Gulch Day 3: Dishes, garden, sitting

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.

I was lucky to sit with a young man from Sweden at dinner. He’s been here a year and a half, after completing a university degree in Human Ecology in Sweden. Now he’s working on the farm, gaining hands-on experience of farming before he finds a job working with an organization in India or Africa. He says the farm doesn’t make much money. Most of the money to support the place comes from guests–retreatants, people who come for services or meals and make donations. I told him it didn’t seem to me that it was a New Age hotel, and he laughed, “There’s a team for that,” but most people come here to work in the flower garden or on the farm.

I spent my work hours today washing dishes and then weeding in the flower garden. That’s another enterprise: they sell plants in small black pots. My job today was to dump the ones that had died, save the soil that is usable, and weed under the tables that hold the plants that are for sale. I was amazed: you reach in, tug near the base of the weed, and it comes right up! The soil here is loose and damp, so different from the hard stuff around Houston. Nonetheless, the sun pierced through the clouds and burned me. My muscles are screaming, both from the prostrations and the bending and lifting and hauling and pulling. If I were to come here to live, I would spend my first year or two washing dishes and doing hard physical work for seven or eight hours a day. I don’t think I can face it. I am the oldest “guest student” here, by far. There is one Italian woman in her forties. The rest are all young things. Well, I couldn’t know what it was like till I tried it out. Now I know.

Got the first migraine of the trip today. I suspect it was from too much sun in the garden (it did warm up, alleluia!), or maybe from a lack of protein. The diet here is very simple: miso soup and rice gruel for breakfast, with fruits available; a starch (brown rice, cous-cous), a bean stew and a salad for lunch; and various grilled or steamed vegetables (directly from the farm) for dinner. Tea. I wasn’t able to work this afternoon because of the headache, so I asked my supervisor about the protein problem. She said there are always boiled eggs available in the fridge for those who need more protein, and people who stay here long-term sometimes provide protein powder for themselves.

Met some interesting guests. Anna and Peter are social workers and psychotherapists in San Francisco. He spent ten years in a Russian Orthodox monastery before leaving, finding Anna, and falling into his bliss. Now they live together and enjoy having no car, meditating with the San Francisco sitting group, and engaging in various kinds of social activism. We chatted at dinner last night, and then Anna and I pulled weeds together today. Although we weren’t supposed to engage in personal talk, we did. I’m not lonely here, perhaps because solitude is the way of life of all those around me, even in community. No one seems to be doing much, other than work and sitting. People are very quiet, each into his or her own self. Everyone goes to bed by 9 p.m. We’re quite far from the city, and most people don’t seem to go anywhere in the evenings.

I look around and admire the simplicity of the buildings, the simplicity of the food, the simplicity of the schedule and the way of life. The people who have been here a long time have their friendships and their activities that seem to nourish and sustain them. They are not eager to engage with those of us who are just passing through. Apparently they have plenty of healthy young bodies to do the heavy work, and there is a kind of ease among the residents. They seem comfortable with their system. It’s in balance, though it is closed to outsiders. We are not invited to their meetings. They don’t talk with us about their lives. They don’t try to persuade us to join them. I’m sure that if I stayed longer and looked more deeply than I have been privileged to see in these days, I would find more. But it is interesting to me that at least on the surface, to a person who has been here for three days, all is calm and equanimous.

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-537 responses to “Green Gulch Day 3: Dishes, garden, sitting”

  1. Jade says:

    If it gets too difficult, I suggest you explore other streams of Zen to which you can be more responsive, and which in turn is more responsive to you. That is Zen. Nonetheless, as you said, you tried it and now you know. Your body is screaming and yet you do it. That too is Zen.

    Being Asian but with a Western-trained mind, I see some of my struggles echoed in your experience. I won’t burden you by telling you about them and leave you to discover the beauty of working through yours. I will say though, just keep on sitting and do find the true and able teacher for you.

  2. admin says:

    Thank you, Jade. I am still working and sitting, and I suspect the teacher I need to find is inside me. She has been studying these many years (I’ve been studying and practicing since I was 13, and I’m 62). See today’s blog entry for where I’m heading with this.

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