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Upaya 5th day: cooling off

OK, it’s my fifth day, and the toilet thing and the vacuuming thing and the dishwashing thing are getting a little tiresome. So far, it’s like Rebecca said: sit, eat, work, rest. The emphasis is on the work. One retreat finished today, and the next begins the day I leave. So maybe, for the next two days, I will get a different sense of what it is to be here. Roshi is here. I haven’t seen her, but they say she’s here. Wednesday, the day before I leave, she’s set to give a dharma talk. At the moment I can’t see how being here is any different from being a laborer at a fancy summer camp for rich adults. There are moments when my neurosis links with someone else’s neurosis and we have interesting developments.

Last night, for example, I was Rose’s assistant in the kitchen. I am a total idiot in a kitchen. Never have cooked much, don’t know how to hold a knife, how to clean a cucumber. She was cooking two kinds of pilaf (the main one and an alternate for onion-sensitive people), a huge and glorious arugula salad, and three kinds of smoothies. She’s a very careful person, and it came to me that it was hard for her to do her job and instruct me in mine. I felt bad about that. We were late getting the meal ready (I was clearly a drag as an assistant), we didn’t get our pots washed as we went along, and five minutes before she was supposed to ring the bell, right after we put the pilaf out onto a platter, got the pita bread out of the warming oven, and put the smoothies on the table, one of the retreatants came to say they would be twenty minutes late. Rose was clearly dismayed, but I suggested that pilaf is just as good cold, and we should leave it out; and with the extra time, we could wash dishes. Are you sitting on the edge of your computer chair? I know, this may seem long and drawn out, but the set-up is necessary. Finally the retreatants showed up, Rose rang the bell and led the little blessing, and then the retreatants started serving themselves. Normally someone in the kitchen explains about the alternatives (i.e. in this case the onion-free pilaf and the smoothie made with agave instead of honey), but Rose didn’t say anything. So I made the explanation and then went back to the dishes. Rose seemed irritable, but I chalked it off to tiredness. My back was aching, I had eaten a small lunch and was very hungry, and I was really TIRED. Then she said, “I was shocked a few minutes ago when you made the announcement. I just thought–pffft! What is she doing! Maybe this is my stuff, but I felt like you took the whole meal away from me. As if it was yours. I had planned that meal for days, and maybe it’s just my problem because I was identified with it, but I thought it was my place to make the announcement.”

I felt like a total asshole. Once again, old take-charge Kendall barged in and took over. And hurt Rose’s feelings. After she was incredibly patient and kind to teach me how to de-seed cucumbers, how to make decorative tomato slices, and how to make smoothies. Tears rose to my eyes. I said, “Oh, Rose, I’m SO sorry. I had no idea that it would matter to you.”

“Well, whoever is the cook in charge always makes the announcement.”

“I hadn’t noticed that. I never knew who the cook in charge was, so to me it looked random. I would never try to take your meal away from you.” But she had red rings around her eyes. Her voice was trembling. Clearly I had really hurt her. So I started crying, blaming myself, and I ran off to the Buddha garden to just be still and hold onto myself for a while. I looked at my failure to notice that the main cook makes the alternative food announcement. I looked at my tendency to barge in, my insensitivity, my impatience. I felt like shit. And I was hungry.

This was considered a major drama. It caused quite a bit of conversation after I left.

My stomach drove me back to the kitchen. The food was all gone. I had missed dinner. I had really wanted some of that arugula salad. I never can afford to buy it, and I love it. No go. A whole contingent of helpful people coalesced around Rose and me as I arrived in the dining room. I apologized again. She said it was good for us. We talked. I quit crying. And before I even went to bed I was asking myself what that was all about. But we worked through it. I saw my pattern of over-blaming myself (like I haven’t seen that before about a million and seventeen times!), and Rose and I are OK again, or so it seems. I’m OK. I hope Rose is. That’s the kind of thing that living in community is about. It seems small. Maybe it is small. But that’s what you do. You wait till stuff comes up. You work on it. And then it’s over.

But is it worth all these toilets and kitchens and dirty pots and back-breaking vacuuming and back-breaking sitting in silence? I’m not sure. I’m even not sure about the landscape. It’s cooler than Houston, and hilly, but the ground is full of ants and stinging nettles. You can either walk up hill or down hill, and either way you’re going to have to walk up hill before you get back. It’s rocky. There are cacti and thorns and gravel. I love waking up here, but I can’t befriend the landscape. I notice this and keep my peace.

Soham gave me the best moments of this day. This morning he was the bell-ringer at meditation. The bell-ringers are very serious. They have to ring at the right times, clap sticks at the right times, and ring the right number of times. It’s a whole elaborate thing. After meditation, we had to take all the cushions to a different place, because the retreat was ending and we (the residents) were returning to our base: the zendo. The place of meditation when retreatants aren’t renting it. So we hauled ass (and cushions) before breakfast, and as we were making our last trip, he said, “Did anybody get all the bells and whistles?” I loved him for that. As I was scrubbing the breakfast dishes with a hunk of steel wool, he came by and whispered, “Harder. Faster. You remember that. You’re not THAT old.” Cracked me up. At some point I mentioned all the bowing. “I don’t bow,” he said. Although sometimes he does. “Bunch of Japanese shit.” I love his pretence at toughness, his refusal to get too serious about any of this.

We had a short break after morning work, and I checked email and found a comment from Gallo that was balm to my spirit. I find I’m a little lonely among all these people. I’m never lonely in my own apartment, even if I don’t talk to anyone for days. I’m seldom lonely when I travel alone. But I feel lonely here, sometimes. Dawa and Hiumaya live off-campus and they drive home at the end of the day. Today they have a day off, so they weren’t around. All the other residents have their little groups, as people do. They go off at night, I don’t know where. They go for a glass of wine in Santa Fe, or for quesadillas, or to a gym, to work out. I’m often the only person in the whole place at night. At night I feel like the unpopular new kid. I have a good book to read, but I notice I feel lonely. So it was great to get that email.

Then this afternoon the housekeeping crew had to set up the zendo. Moving cushions, consulting the seating chart, getting the right number of places, the right amount of space between each cushion, etc. Toward the end of the process, he looked over at Saro (the 19-year-old) and said, as if he were a voice of doom, “She’s gone. Forget her.” We all laughed. He went on. “She’s dead.” Saro blushed. “No, she’s not dead. He’s fucking her right now.” We all howled with laughter. Indeed, these are exactly the kinds of thoughts we have as we meditate. I love Soham for his irreverence, for de-mystifying the process, for laughing about our neuroses, and for lightening everybody up.

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-8 responses to “Upaya 5th day: cooling off”

  1. Joanne Rineman says:

    Oh crap. Ouch!! Hilarious.
    The boy’s are fine. The furniture is gladly utilized.
    Perhaps you’ll remember me as Gallo’s furniture-receiving friend.
    My nickname is Mariposa.
    ‘Mari’ – for short.

    Hoping you find such welcoming souls as Soham throughout your journey.


  2. admin says:

    So glad you laughed, Mari. All has turned out beautifully at Upaya, and I’m grinning at my fool self. Thanks for going on the journey with me.

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