Both feet

February 26th, 2008

From a story that seems like it began yesterday:

She followed her guide out the back door and into a shaded garden, where she could now see that this place, a collection of houses and apartment buildings painted pale yellow with blue trim, covered perhaps half a block. They walked across the yard to the far house, which she took to be the teacher’s.

They paused inside the door to remove their shoes and padded through the downstairs in stocking feet. In the living room the woman pulled up and did a little bow. There in a nubby upholstered armchair sat a little Japanese man, bald-headed and smiling. She fumbled at the bows and nods, invisibly, she hoped.

Hers was a large guest room with three twin beds. She was too early, and where she thought there would surely be something, something important to do, there was nothing to do but quiver and wait. Wait first for supper, then the first sitting period beginning at 7. This was what Zen Buddhists called a “sesshin,” or a meditation retreat. Four periods of seated meditation a day, two hours each, divided into 30-minute periods with walking meditation in between. Meals, services, work and rest in all the other hours. Starting at 4 in the morning and ending at 9 at night. She’d been warned that, even though this was a beginner’s retreat of only three days, it would be the hardest thing she’d ever done. These days, everything was hard for her. Eating was hard, sleeping was hard, speaking and making sense was hard. She laid down on one twin and listened to the street noise barge through the open windows: cars, buses, horns, shouting, the forlorn refrain of an ice cream truck. She was too afraid to cry.

Shortly before 7, she put on her loose black pants and t-shirt and went downstairs to walk over to the zendo, the meditation room. It wasn’t like a lecture hall. With just over 40 people sitting along the walls, she wouldn’t be overlooked, but she could still be inconspicuous, she thought.

Just outside the backdoor, she found Roshi, now in his black robes, standing with his attendant. They looked at her and smiled.

“Are you ready for me to torture you?,” Roshi kidded, the words softened by his accent and his laugh.

“I do that well enough myself already,” she joked, flush with the narrowness of her escape.

To be continued all this week or until I find out how the story ends.


  1. Am I repeating myself I wonder? I love this series. I wish I could make your meditation retreat but I’ll be visiting my family for Easter. Next time fo’ sho’.
    But you’ve inspired me so much. I adore your book. I love your blog. I’m gushing because for the first time this morning I sat down and meditated. Beautiful. Dark. Deep. Oceans of gratitude leaked through my eyelashes. Thanks.

    Comment by spielbee — February 26, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  2. If this is what you have to say I wonder if you could repeat yourself more often?

    Comment by Karen — February 26, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  3. I like this

    Comment by Mika — February 26, 2008 @ 7:09 pm

  4. It’s so strange to feel like you are telling a story I’ve been to, even though I haven’t. Maybe it was the “making sense was hard” part. That’s a familiar condition.
    I had a good giggle over the “she lay down on one twin” part. That has a whole different meaning in my house.

    Comment by Shannon — February 26, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

  5. As always, I look forward to the next…

    Comment by Shelli — February 26, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  6. Shannon, I can see why you laugh. Of course I meant “She laid down on the OTHER twin.”

    Comment by Karen — February 26, 2008 @ 8:18 pm

  7. I am on the edge of my seat. Maybe I should scoot back a few inches and stay here.

    Comment by Jena Strong — February 27, 2008 @ 3:02 am

  8. Jena,
    Sit up straight and stay here.

    Comment by Karen — February 27, 2008 @ 3:54 am

  9. <"I do that well enough myself already," she joked, flush with the narrowness of her escape.>

    Ha! Precisely! Cheri Huber’s book on self-hatred was written for me!

    Comment by MamaShift — February 27, 2008 @ 9:47 am

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