Yesterday I stepped out the front door of the ZCNYC for the first time since last Thursday into brilliant sunshine. Somehow, in three days, trees had begun to flower and the whole world looked very alive and blooming. Perhaps the only way to really appreciate the loveliness of that moment was to have spent the previous three days in silence, not making eye contact, and sitting still for extended periods of time.
Sesshin felt like a plunge into cold lake water at the end of a long, sticky hot day. Despite the physical discomforts of all that sitting, my feeling is overwhelmingly of being refreshed and re-oriented in the right direction. Actually, I thought I held up pretty well, physically. All that yoga paid off - my knees, although creaky, were not burning with searing pain by the end. It probably also helped that my job during sesshin was to be a server during oryoki meals (breakfast and lunch). This job involved running up and down two flights of stairs from the zendo to the kitchen many, many times in order to fetch the food and then return it after everyone was served. Admittedly, the fire in my step was flagging a bit by the end of lunch, it did offer a nice relief from all the sitting.
One thing that really struck me this time was how amazing it is that it even exists in this world. Here we were, all getting ourselves up at 3:50 am and eagerly running down to the zendo. Eagerly! Everyone was working sincerely and very hard to make it all happen - keeping the place clean and cooking meals together. Despite the silence and lack of eye contact, there was such a strong feeling of being supported by the strength of everyone else's practice. It made those moments of doubt and fear and exhaustion feel not just bearable but perfectly ok. Zen talks a lot about intimacy, not intimacy in the romantic way, but a true kind of intimacy of knowing one's own mind and between the teacher and student, and between the people in the sangha. I really felt it this weekend.
So here I am, all back together again at home. Nothing to be done but keep moving forward.