After the end of session one student complained that time for finishing her meal was always too short and she felt stressed eating in a hurry. Another student complained he has to wait so long after eating until everyone else finished and he can leave the dining hall. The third student said the time was just right for him to finish his meal in his usual speed. All three did not yet understand what it means to share a meal … like little children we want all things go our way, or we feel uncomfortable.
During a Sesshin we practice together for many hours a day, not just for ourselves the 20+ minutes periods on our cushion. Of course things don’t always go my way during this time, even when leading the Sesshin … I cannot select my students, whoever registers is welcome. I cannot select the room either, the administration of the seminar house plans where my seminar will take place. And I have to handle any kind of incidents … students leaving, students oversleeping and even craftsmen coming to fix a water leaking problem from the upper floor, suddenly making our preparation room unavailable while producing lots of noise and dirt.
Like the stones in a river-bed we rumble and tumble with and against each other, and this process of social learning in a special atmosphere, protected by some rules and a tight schedule, is an important part of the Zen-training. In Japanese it is called 切磋琢磨 (sessa takuma), the Chinese characters evoking exactly the image of polishing stones by continuous interaction. Things are never exactly going my way. They go some way, maybe our way, yet after sufficient Zen-training I am totally free to merge in. My big ego, My Way of conducting every day life does not hinder me any more. Getting up early? Fine! Sleeping long hours? Fine! Eating fast? Fine! Eating slow? Fine! A cosy and warm room for Zazen? Fine! No heating in the Japanese temple? Fine! … life can be so easy, even with other people around and some rules to follow, but in the beginning of our Zen training the whole world seems to carry out a plot against me. A very childish attitude, isn’t it? Let’s grow up!