My First Day as a Buddhist Monk, 6

So, what started out as a week, has now turned into a month-long commitment.  Being that I am a lay-person (and the lay-est of the lay) the directors of training and I all agreed that it might be a good idea, upon my acceptance into the residency program, to begin with a week as a trial period, to see just how well I could navigate “the switch” over to a drastically more monastic way of living.  Probably all of the residents started out that way, a week to see how it works.  Well, a week is over and I can’t help feeling that I’ve only just gotten my feet wet in the experience.  Hell, a week was just long enough for me to figure out where the pots and pans go, let alone to settle into the pace and the groove of a new way of living.  A week into the experience I was still coasting on adrenaline, so I thought it might be worthwhile to stick around a bit longer, see what things look like once the dust has settled.  I mean, I literally moved directly into the temple from my old apartment.  I left two lovely roommates behind at the end of our lease, and the very next day I was up at dawn for Zazen.  A bit of a turnaround.

Anyhow, today, I stayed back from my day-job to do a little bit of “work practice” at the temple.  The grocery store isn’t giving me all of my shifts these days, so I make up the rent money by working for the temple on my days off.  Today was a blast (in all sincerity).  It seems like the longer I stay here, the more joy I’m beginning to find in the most mundane and simple tasks.  I chopped onions, broccoli ginger, peppers and mushrooms for a stir-fry lunch.  And I tidied up the incense ash receptacles (a job which, surprisingly, took 3 hours).  But I enjoyed every minute of it.

Well, it’s  time for bed now, but  – long story short – I think I might stay here for a while longer than I’d planned.  Christmas?  -BV

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My First Day as a Buddhist Monk, 5

I found myself in the park this evening.  I was riding by on my bicycle on the way to a party at a friends house, this must have been 9:00 at night.  And it’s October, so it was pretty dark at this point.  But, as I was riding by, I heard a guy playing a conga drum on a bench in the park.  The music hooked my ear (potentially because I’m a musician and I just finished an entire week in meditative silence at a Buddhist temple).  I couldn’t help but go and find him.  I was so relaxed from a long day of meditation, and  so starved to get into some music, so I walked right up to the guy, sat down next to him on the bench and started singing.  Now this was a little bit different than anything I’d ever done before, beyond the fact that I don’t normally sing with strangers in the park.  It was different, because he was a drummer, which means he wasn’t playing a melody.  So, I really had no idea what kind of song he was trying to play.  Was it major, minor, pentatonic, tribal?  I had no idea.  So to jump in with my own melody felt a bit like taking over.  What if the song that came out of me was nothing like the song that he had in his head?  What if I was “ruining” what he was trying to say? But, as I said, I didn’t have much choice but to join in.  I was starved for musical interaction and ready to sing with a bum if he had a good voice.  So, I started singing on top of his beat.  I came in carefully at first, listening for how he might react.  He stayed steady at first, just letting me sing.  It was a little nerve-wracking to have him sizing me up.  But it was the only way to begin the conversation.  We started to play off of each other a little. I did a riff, and he did a riff. He’d start build and I’d follow along. We’d both start to improvise, getting freer and freer until we were both saying, in our own way, just exactly what was on our hearts.  I never did make it to that party I was going to.

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My first Day as a Buddhist Monk, 4

I’ve spent basically all of my life engaged in some kind of creative outlet, be it musical theatre, piano, writing plays.  You name it.  But, when I went to college was the first time when I ever ran, face to face, into my ego.  Before college, I was praised and adored as a creative genius, without even lifting a finger to train or practice.  I was the undisputed kind of musical theatre, all throughout my high school days.  Even if I wasn’t right for a part, they gave it to me.  It didn’t matter, because I was the most talented.  Captain Von Trapp.  Sure.  Scarecrow, you bet ya.  My credentials go on and on.  But, the minute I stepped into college – into a bigger pond than I was used to – I fell into the depressing realization that there were other people better than me.  And not only that, but that maybe I wasn’t even that good.  My world was turned upside down.  Unable to cope with the conflict, and tired of trying to regain the glory of my childhood, I slowly I slowly let go of musical theatre, though it felt like killing something at the time.  But it was easier than the vicious ego battle that musical theatre auditions became.  But it’s funny because right about the time that musical theatre stopped, was about the same time that I ran into Zen meditation.  Now granted I still finished college, got a degree in musical theatre, and even moved to New York to try for the stage. My ego was just that tied up in it.  But, as musical theatre was dying a slow and paint.  But Zen seemed to give me something to do (which is ironic for a religion based on inactivity).  It gave me a sense of identity (again, ironic).  But, in any case, Zen was there for me in a very special way that filled a void.  But, it has never replaced creativity.  And part of me began to wonder exactly how creativity had been replaced by Zen meditation and why, at least for now, that was okay.  Is there a correlation?   So, needless to say, when the teacher  handed me a book called Zen and Creativity on my second day here at training, I was excited.  I think I may have found where my path continues.  A little thing I like to call integration!  I had been doing this thing, this meditation thing for three years and not really knowing why.  And now, here it is, a solid pillar of a practice that is here help me move forward in finding the very thing I’ve been looking for – my voice.  Everything happens for a reason?  I don’t know, but this is pretty cool.

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My First Day as a Buddhist Monk, 3

I’ve likened this experience several times throughout the week to a new relationship.  There’s a couple of weeks where you’re totally infatuated with your lover and all of his flaws are totally airbrushed by this sort of enchantment that new love can bring.  But at the same time, if the relationship is any good, there’s something deeper that has drawn the two of your together, something you might not have even realized at first.  Sure you like the way his hair blows in the breeze for these first two weeks.  But, after a little while, when the sexual tension dies down a bit, you might realize that you’re holding hands with a life-long puzzle.  And do you have the love and the energy to dig in and unravel it?

That’s the way I feel about my new temple life.  I feel infatuated with the trappings of the experience.  I love all the bells and whistles of the liturgy.  I love the feeling of belonging to this secret society of deep-dwelling people.  And I love to go to work and think about how cool it makes me that I live in a Buddhist temple.  But, that will all wear off, and after a bit of time, I might find out exactly why I’m here.  And I hope I have the strength to deal with it.

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My First Day as a Buddhist Monk, 2

Well, another day at the temple.  Hope your day was pleasant.  It’s almost bedtime, so I suppose I ought to be brief.  It seems that given the rigors of this particular training schedule, I don’t have time to do much of anything except sleep, eat, go to my day-job, and meditate.  I guess that’s probably the point of the schedule here, to provide a seamless flow of activity so there’s essentially no time to get caught up in personal problems, but it’s exhausting!  I really must be intentional tomorrow about finding time to A. Take a shower, B. Call my mother, and C. by some hand-wipes for after a messy bike ride.  See, I mentioned everything being sort of seamless here, well for me I think that’s particularly true, considering I ride my bicycle to work directly after morning meditation, then ride back, in a big hurry to be back in time for the evening round.  A bicycle is the fast means of transportation to and from work, and the trek takes me 20 minutes.  The time I have to make the journey home before they ring the first bell to begin: a half an hour.  So that means there can’t be any mistakes or mess-ups (or traffic, God forbid) getting in my way.  What this does essentially,  is make me plan out everything very precisely – to the second (which, ask anybody, is very abnormal for me) about where I lock my bike up, which pocket my keys are in, where the pants are that I’ll need to change into once I get back.  It’s all very new, and I’m sure there’ll be ups and downs, but for now – I’m soldiering on. -BV

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My first day as a Buddhist Monk

Well, very recently I moved into a Buddhist temple. I guess for reasons of propriety/anonymity, I should probably keep from saying where exactly. And, in the future, if I end up talking about specific people, I’ll probably have to make up names for them. Shirley and Barney for example – names no one really uses any more. (Was there ever any real person named Barney). Anyhow, I’m not really a monk, as the title of this post would indicate. Monks, technically live apart from the city in monasteries – cloistered communities, generally somewhere up in the mountains, or really anywhere remote, I suppose. But, my story’s a little bit different. I am now living in a Zen Buddhist TEMPLE, which is different in function than a monastery in that it is a place of worship/practice (more on that distinction later) that is open to the surrounding community and generally very accessible to laymen and women. And this particular temple also happens to have a residential facet for those members of the congregation interested in a more intensive, live-in zen experience. That’s where I come in. A few days ago, I moved into the temple to begin a sort of formalized training in the way of the Buddha (Zen Buddhism to be precise). And for whatever reason, the most natural thing in the world for me was to blog about it. Not sure why. I’ve never blogged about anything before. Maybe it comes from some deeply fixed attachment to the “outside world,”and a need to “stay connected.” Or maybe it’s a display of some weird, egotistical drive to show my life off to someone who might find it interesting. You are all strangers, by the way. But, for some reason, you seem the most natural audience in the world. Funny how that works. Well, anyhow, I hope I’m not offending any truly austere Buddhist practitioners, those who would undoubtedly never dream of entering the blogoshpere for reasons of modesty, simplicity, etc. But, then, I suppose you won’t be reading this anyhow. Well, I hope to keep you updated on a daily basis, though it may dwindle down to blips and blurbs as the days get busier. We’ll see how things go. Well, I wish you all very well. Very pleasant dreams. – BV

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