Recently, I was invited to spend a week at the Zendo to teach daily yoga, and immerse myself in the Harvest Session Zazen practice. The Zen Buddhist Practice is Zazen (sitting in meditation with the focus on the outbreath/exhalation). The days begin at 4am and go till 10pm with daily Samu (Cleaning assignments), up to 6 hours of daily Zazen Sitting, Teshio/Dharma talks by Shinge Roshi or Shokan Osho, Three amazing Vegetarian meals in Silence served in three bowls. Everything is systematic and organized. The only time we speak is while in Dokusan with the Roshi, Shinge Roshi. We literally sit in silence for more than half the day, and I had never even taken an intro course, totally dived in the deep end.
While the Catskill surroundings of the Zendo, with a magnificent lake, and the amazing architecture are magical, I learned the actual magic happens in the practice of Zazen sitting. Ironically, we who practice yoga, practice for the purpose of “Sitting” in meditation with God (Samadhi).
The first day was a snowstorm, and the Zendo was illuminated by Candle light and freezing cold. After two days my knees were burning during our marathon hour long sitting periods, the 51-degree temperature room was giving me chills, and random memories of recent extremely negative experiences that I had to endure would silently creep into my mind. I played with propping myself up on Zafu cushions, and adjusting my sitting position when we were aloud to move. I was disappointed that these thoughts were creeping in my mind, as I thought I had accepted the situations as lessons learned.
I sat counting my breath as I was told to do, and when I told Shinge Roshi during Dokusan that I lost count, she laughed and explained to come back to #1, the purpose is to count the exhalation till we become one with the breath. I later gravitated to unconsciously counting my blessings, allowing every breath to celebrate all the good stuff, in effort to alleviate the physical pain on my knees, and it worked. When I shared this with Shinge Roshi, she actually shared it in her Teshio Talk. Her Teshio talks were absolutely brilliant, weaving Buddhist Koan's with her own words of wisdom to inspire us all. The next Day, Shokan Osho spoke of the most powerful prayer being “Thank You”.
Back for more endless hours of sitting, and I realize the subtle body connection of Bladder, Kidney, Liver Meridians running through the legs, all related to letting go. And Louise Hay’s Book “ You Can Heal Your Life,” stating that issues with the legs is our reluctance to move forward. Also, our exhalation is “letting go”.
As I sat in silence with my breath, I realized these “recent” negative situations and past experiences with people who every so often invading my meditation time, are representations of patterns that stem from an experience that I suppressed. I prayed and begged to JC (Jesus, my personal Savior) to help me to forgive, sending them love & light. Sometimes, these patterns are ones we unconsciously repeat from watching our parents. I decided to break the cycle and dive right in.
In my hours of silence I realized, I enabled a pattern, allowing people to take advantage because unconsciously I did not believe I was worth more, and all this stemmed back from experiences long ago that I suppressed. Making excuses for behavior done to me that was egregious and actually unlawful. WOW! No wonder I felt like certain aspects of my life and health were like a revolving door. Once my forgiveness went to a place of compassion, understanding and love for those who clearly disrespected me, and most importantly for myself for enabling this…my heart chakra finally felt liberated. My legs felt illuminated, strong, like a kid on the carpet in Kindergarten, and I thought I could sit forever, all pain ceased.
Was this easy? Of course not, we all spend a lifetime with our unconscious thoughts, repeating patterns, justifying our patterns, and revisiting injuries/illness etc. Just because we go through the motions of “moving on” our subconscious mind carries the scars of pain we endured, which later manifests in illness, injury, scattered thoughts, apathy, anger, repeated patterns in relationships, and many other ways that are far from liberation and peace, with deep roots in our childhood experiences. If you ever catch yourself saying to yourself, this always happens to me....I challenge you to sit, till you are so united with your breath only peace remains.
Up until the 3rd day, a family of deer would frolic outside my window, and after that day I did not see them. The deer is the animal related to the heart chakra. I was healed. The next day I sat in silence and a stream of tears poured from my eyes, purification tears, no sounds, sniffles just and hour of Liberation.
We live in a society with distractions all around, excuses all around, and fingers to point as to why we cannot be at peace. Mainstream media uses all forms of entertainment to hypnotize us to mask our real issues. We create ways to be busy to avoid stillness, even people who do yoga. Trust me, I spent 2 years teaching every day, taking Master level classes, so I know how easy it is to stay busy instead of being still.
For me, I had no choice but to sit in stillness for the entire week, nothing to do but face my own “issues”, and I wanted to. I even had quartz and rose quartz crystals all over me (Amplifying stones) to fully surrender to the healing process.
Call it Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, Shiva, Love…whatever you want to call it, it is a Source of Unconditional love, where no memory lives, no pain exists, only understanding, and love. Challenge yourself to sit in SILENCE, focusing on your breath and observe where your mind wanders. We are our thoughts.
Like the lotus that silently blooms, growing through the murkiest waters, striving for the light, we too are meant to bloom without a drop of dirt that reminds us of the murky waters from where we came. Only beauty.
Finally, when I said that the memory would surface about negative situations & I forgave them....does this mean that if a person stalks/harasses you, or an establishment refrains from paying you for nearly 70 hours of services rendered, or plagiarizes your work (hypothetically speaking)...that that behavior is ok? NOT AT ALL. When someone wrongs us, they have a Karmic Debt to pay, and while we cannot control the actions of others, we have the ability to control our reactions which is POWER. Peace is Power.
This was the most Yogic experience I could have ever experienced, and I am profoundly grateful. Thank you Shinge Roshi, Shokan, Jodo, Joshi, Jo Kei (the most amazing chef EVER), Yu Sen, Andrew, Matthew, Cynthia, E Kyo, Yoko, Yuko, Bill, Gen No, Carlos, Kimpu, Kaity, Larry, and Dai Bo Satsu Zendo for sharing in one of the most profund experiences of my life. While doing yoga with you daily was awesome, the Buddhist chants was amazing, the daily Vegetarian Meals were the best I have ever had, it was actually the practice of Sitting that changed my life!!! Thank you to my friend and fellow Ohashiatsu Alumni, Mark, for driving me to and from the Zendo, and for making this new relationship with Zendo possible! I now sit everyday with so much peace.
I returned to NYC, to teach yoga the next morning and a Chakra Workshop the night. Since I was in a week of silence, thank you Joseph for handling the organizing and inviting for that amazing event in my absence and helping make the workshop magical!
For those interested in experiencing Zen Buddhist Practice of Zazen please visit the link below:
For those interested in Zoga Yoga Retreats and 200 Hr Teacher Trainings that incorporate the experiences of Zazen and the breathtaking location of the Zendo please visit:
Photos: Shinge Roshi & I, Myself in my monks Robe & the Lovely Deer that played outside my window.