Zen Meditation

Last weekend I went on Zen Meditation Retreat at the Dharma Centre in Robertson near Cape Town. During Lockdown I began to truly crave a sense of sangha. I blogged about it here

We brave few

It would seem that I am destined to be the eternal romantic. The website and communications hadn't been specific about the schedule so in my imagination it would require some blissful meditations and tea ceremonies. Instead, this is what was required of us: 

Yes, that's 5am. And while the seated meditations are never longer than 30 minutes, unlike the hour long sessions on Vipassana, you'll notice that sessions of sit/walk (which mean seated for half an hour followed by 10minute walking meditation within the dharma hall) could last for almost 2 hours. 

I love meditation, but I had forgotten that prolonged sits cause substantial physical pain. I would go so far as to call it agony. My job was cleaning the beautiful dharma hall where I had ample opportunity to gaze upon the golden visage of the Buddha in eternal equanimity and bliss. 

I always imagine that that's how I'll spend my time on serious meditation retreat, when in fact it's a lot more like the other crazy eyed fellows. A LOT comes to the surface. Fortunately this time I was spared the tremendous mental and emotional anguish I have certainly wrangled with in the past. But this dear body. What a teacher! How humbling! And what sweet relief when it quietens down. Though I've also realised that suffering really calls us to attention. When we're comfortable we tend to get a bit flaccid in our attention. 

A blank mind is not the goal of meditation. 

Our Teachers Rodney & Heila Downey (with her birthday cake)

Our wonderful hosts and teachers, Heila and Rodney, are nearing 80 and are honestly very worthy of emulation. In my interview with Rodney he asked the Zen questions: "Who am I?" I heard the sounds of their beautiful garden and replied "Trickling water." Truly when we rest in the expanse our suffering dissolves. When we contract into ego identity there is no end to the struggle. He said, "Not bad, but how about: Don't know!" He said it so emphatically and it resounded powerfully through my being and all existence. I belly laughed, which is always needed. 


I really admire the Downey's commitment. Rodney explained that they had run the centre as a monastery for years, providing the structure and refuge for many parolees. What a noble endeavour. He said that for almost 10 years he and Heila had practiced meditation for 4 hours daily. That's what it takes! I have absolute respect for them and their devoted sangha, some of whom served us on this retreat. 

It was wonderful to be held by the ancient rituals. The sound of the moktak calling us to our next session. The meditation robes. All there to support us as we practiced, as people have done for thousands of years. And what a rigorous practice. In meditation you sit facing the wall, hands in Buddha mudra. In walking the fingers are interlaced, thumbs touching on the belly button. All is silence. We didn't do the ritual four bowl for meals this retreat which I had been disappointed about till they explained that that would have entailed even more time seated in meditation. So perhaps I'll count myself blessed!

I found great solace in their beautiful Zen Garden and even more so in their veggie garden. It is incredible to watch yourself become more "zen." Slowly the Now takes precedence over all other concerns. The mind stops its prattling. The nervous system calms. Watching the birds became an all consuming delight as they played in the spray of the irrigation at dawn. One of the most sublime moments of my life.


Was it difficult? Yes. 

Was it worth it? Absolutely. 

It's been a busy week and yet somehow I'm still centred and filled with deep gratitude. The more you meditate, the more you want to meditate. Even my dear husband, who is naturally more zen shall we say, is enthused.

They meet at the Sufi Temple in Newlands on a Monday evening and I'll be joining them for their Sunday morning practice on the 18th of April 8:30-12:30. 

See you there.

And remember... Don't Know! 

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