Hey y'all. I mentioned in another thread that I was going to a day long zazenkai with the local Soto sangha in town, and a couple of the guys asked me to share how it went. So, here goes.
For some background, Athens Zen Group is affiliated with Atlanta Soto Zen Center. ASZC has something like ten smaller affiliate groups, mostly in the American South. I would assume this stems from the reality that cities are so far apart here. The two metropolitan areas closest in size to Atlanta are seven and ten hours drive. Athens is only twenty minutes from me, while Atlanta is two hours away.
We met at a neighborhood community center, which turned out to be very nice and well suited for the day. There were thirteen people sitting the entire day, with a few more joining at mid-day. I was quite surprised at the turnout.
I'd asked about bringing my rakusu in another thread. It didn't cause any problems, but as it turned out only a couple of senior (in terms of longevity) members of AZG had them. I was fairly certain that I was also the only person there from outside AZG. Nobody said anything one way or the other, although I did get some quizzical looks from some of the sitters.
Here is the schedule for the day:
8:30-8:35 Heart Sutra and Four Vows chant
8:35-9:05 zazen - sitting meditation
9:05-9:10 kinhin - walking meditation
11:00-12:00 dharma talk
12:00-12:20 open time to prepare lunch
12:20-1:20 mindful eating
1:20-1:30 cleanup, and break
2:00-3:00 outdoor silent walking meditation*
4:55-5:00 Heart Sutra chant
I was curious to hear the dharma talk, since there weren't any formal teachers in attendance. One of the sangha members, who is a therapist, gave a brief overview of Byron Katie's The Work. It was sincere, and he spoke from his experience, so I thought it went well.
The outdoor walking meditation I didn't understand. Maybe I wasn't supposed to understand it; I don't know. We set off into the woods in a line, and wound up walking at a moderate pace for a couple of miles. While it was decent exercise, I felt like it was a walk in the woods. This is something I do every now and again, and enjoy, but it felt out of sync with the rest of the day.
The yoga part was different. The stretching definitely helped, and wound up releasing a lot of the tension in my neck and back. On the other hand, the constant narration by the instructor (a sangha member) struck an odd counterpoint to the otherwise silent affair.
Beyond all that, it was highly motivating to sit with a group of folks in person. It's something I haven't done in years, but I will definitely do it again in the future. Spending the day with another sangha reinforced the idea that Treeleaf is my home. I came to this sangha out of necessity, but at this point I find myself humbled by the breadth of practice offered by our teachers and students. Thank you for the opportunity to sit, sew, and study with y'all every day.