Monday, October 10, 2011

Prostrations on Concrete

Was locked out of the Zen center this morning. I had lent my key to Michael, one of our regulars, yesterday. A little before 6:00 AM, I showed up at the Zen center for morning practice hoping that Howard would come and let us in (he has his own key). Clearly we need a couple more spare keys.

At 6:00 AM, with no sign of Howard, it was time to begin. So practice took place in the parking lot.

In a way, that seemed like the obvious choice. It was practice time. Howard could arrive at any moment. Someone else might come, and it would be terrible for some newcomer to show up for morning practice and find the door locked, lights out, no one around. So the obvious to do was hold practice. So I said the four vows and began the 108 bows just as scheduled, facing Spruce Street.

While it may seem a natural choice from that perspective, I did look around a bit first. The U.S. is not like some countries, where people chant, pray, or even prostrate themselves in the midst of everyday hustle and bustle on streets, town squares, marketplaces, or anywhere. Here, doing some kind of formal practice out in public is likely to be regarded as very strange, and there is some chance it will become a spectacle, a kind of performance art.

This is not necessarily a terrible thing. In 2003, I partnered up with a teacher from the Shambhala Center in Los Angeles to give meditation instruction on the Santa Monica beach. It was part of a large anti-war demonstration in anticipation of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. To our surprise, seven hundred people showed up. We all made mounds of sand to serve as cushions and after a few words we sat by the ocean. This was our demonstration. It was not a vigil, and not even a protest. It was an act of peace.

On the other hand, there was another moment on that same beach. I went there all by myself, piled up some sand, and sat facing the ocean on my own. Some time went by and I felt a person approach me. I then heard a camera clicking. Raising my head to peer beneath the brim of my sun hat, I discovered that a tourist was taking my picture with his friend standing next to me.

Going home was an option this morning, but the purpose of parking lot practice was to fulfill the Zen center's promise to the community.

Spruce Street was pretty quiet at 6:00 AM. Dark. Cold. The ghostly sound of the freight train passing through town, the sound bouncing off the nearby buildings making it sound like the train was down on Maple Street instead of alongside the freeway.

Prostrations on the concrete are kind of tough and I didn't do too many of them, switching to standing bows, taking time with each one. I'm really not into macho Zen. Learning how to live with yourself is macho enough.


Mandy_Fish said...

Macho Zen. You should copyright that. ;-)

Nathan said...

Even though I've gotten fairly comfortable with meditating, bowing, and doing yoga postures in public, I still wonder sometimes what people are thinking.

Lorianne said...

"Learning how to live with yourself is macho enough."

Amen, brother.