Monday, September 7, 2009

Vipassana Retreat, Installment 2

During my last retreat, I had commuted from home every day; I’d held myself aloof, not really taking part in things or meeting anybody. This time I was going whole hog, and rooming at the center. I want to have a deeper experience, and try to participate in every way possible.  “Participation is the key to Harmony”, as they say in the Al-Anon program.
My roommate is Ray, a trim, and militaristic-looking guy in his late 50’ s/early 60’s.  He introduced me to his wife, Rene, while we were getting coffee in the kitchenette located between the check-in table and the Zendo. I’m curious as to why they’re not rooming together, but didn’t ask. I find him sort of intimidating.
Participants in this retreat undertake a vow of noble silence, which starts after lunch today and ends before lunch on Sunday. This means we can’t talk for the entire 7 days, except during group training session and individual interviews between students and teachers.  Communications could be done through written notes posted on the bulletin board next to the sign-in table, but that should be kept to a minimum. I asked Choshin, the woman who seems to be running things, if I could call out on my cell phone once a day. She said that was up to me; she suggested I go to the parking lot to be out of earshot of the retreat.

Choshin also suggested I set up my meditation station in the Zendo, which is a large, circular room where all the meditation sits are held. I went to my room, got my meditation cushion and yoga mat, and hurried to the Zendo. I found a large, circular room with floor to ceiling windows along one side, looking out onto a bucolic back courtyard. The Sit Leader’s dais was on the opposite side of the room, with the entrance half way between. Students had already filled much of the intervening floor space with their meditation pamphernalia. I set my cushion in remaining empty spots, in front one of the stackable chairs arranged in concentric rows facing the Sit Leader’s Dais in concentric rings, about 2/3rds towards the “rear” of the room. This would be my turf for the rest of the retreat.

The Zendo is almost the same diameter as the large circular courtyard in the center of the complex of buildings. The Zendo has a circular ceiling installation bifurcated by a straight incision, as does the circular courtyard. In fact the straight incision in the Zendo ceiling is about as wide as the courtyard’s path. I wonder if the courtyard and the Zendo have the same diameter, and if it has some symbolic meaning.

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