Wake up when you get here

February 27th, 2008

There’s still time to dive into the story because it’s just starting.

By 9 p.m. she was back in her upstairs room, the first night done. She had followed everyone else’s moves, a half-beat off, corrections whispered by well-meaning strangers. The sitting was easy and quick. She shuffled off with the other newcomers early for a lesson in eating “oryoki” style, using monk’s bowls with chopsticks and chanting, all choreographed in unison like a mealtime ballet. Come breakfast she would be lost.

It was a strange night in a strange place and she didn’t sleep, which wasn’t strange at all. Where oh where have I ended up? She wrapped her head in a pillow to fend off the all-night noise from the street below, and gradually sunk into the wide-eyed defeat that accompanied nearly every night’s tossing. Hours evaporated. She heard a gentle rap at her door. It was Roshi, calling her name to wake up for the dawn sitting period. He said the r in her name like an l. The clock said 3:30. She washed her face and dressed, went downstairs and out back and sat in her spot on her cushion in the dim light of the zendo.

The room filled to stillness, and the timekeeper struck the bell three times to begin the sitting. Before long, Roshi and his attendant rose and walked out, turning down a side hall to what she had been shown the night before as the “dokusan” room, where the teacher saw each student in a private interview, sometimes several times a day. This was the real stuff of Zen, she knew. The eyeball to eyeball encounter that revealed all. And this was the tight spot she still hoped to opt out of, unready to defend her feeble motivations for being here.

The attendant returned to the zendo and announced that the dokusan line was open for those attending their first sesshin. No mistake. This meant her. Right now. Her legs responded and she stood, picked up her cushion, and watched her bare feet move in autopilot across the parquet floor. This was how she found herself kneeling in a shadowy hall waiting to show herself to a Zen master. Against her better judgment. She craned her ears to listen for the next cue recollected from last night’s hasty lesson. From inside the interview room , Roshi rang a tiny bell, signaling her to enter. She stood, walked, stopped, bowed, went inside and closed the door behind her, guessing at the moves.

All week, and all because of the Beginner’s Retreat coming up on March 16.


  1. This is a timely post for me, as I’m leaving Friday for my first retreat. And I’m quite nervous about what might come up.
    Lovely writing. Looking forward to reading more.

    Comment by MamaShift — February 27, 2008 @ 7:56 am

  2. Wow

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — February 27, 2008 @ 11:33 am

  3. Great story and great writing.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    Comment by RocketMom — February 27, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

  4. You have such an amazing way of announcing the truth through words, Karen.
    “unready to defend her feeble motivations for being here.” This is how I’m sure everyone feels when they are trying something new and foriegn to them. I know this is how I feel in most situations in life, sometimes even just talking to the neighbor.

    Comment by Shannon — February 27, 2008 @ 7:25 pm

  5. Still really liking it…

    Comment by Mika — February 28, 2008 @ 1:15 am

  6. I’m in awe … over every chosen word and ever action chosen.

    Comment by Shawn — March 1, 2008 @ 6:26 pm

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