A Meditation While Sitting at the Airport Waiting to Fly Home After a Zen Retreat

Seattle zenkai 3

As I write this I am sitting at the SeaTac airport awaiting my flight home to Long Beach after a weekend Zen retreat and other things in Woodinville and Seattle.

It is also my sixty-ninth birthday.

So, perhaps naturally I find my heart and mind wandering over the events of these past few days and with that the larger arc of my life.

At the heart of it this weekend was the retreat. Some twenty-three people gathered for a non-residential Zen retreat. It was a bit looser gathering than I am used to for multiple day Zen retreats. It was first of all “coming and going,” with only a dozen or so doing everything. Also, it was open to anyone interested. One person noticed us while surfing the web. Three had never sat with a Zen group, two had never done any form of meditation. Oh, and for the first time in my memory I sat a multi day Zen meditation retreat where the vast majority of people used chairs.

However, thanks to the diligent planning of our practice leader, Janine Larsen, we were able to both accommodate the very beginner mind reality of the retreat and those of us who expected an invitation into the deep in a more contained and traditional Zen way. Mostly. Enough.

kinhin in Seattle

We began Thursday evening with me giving a talk at the Woodinville Unitarian Universalist church. The sangha Janine guides has two locations, the older of those two here at this exurban congregation. There was a good crowd. Many unable to attend the serious sitting part, but who felt the project important.

I also felt deeply reminded of the current of Unitarian Universalism, that broad and generous expression of our Western spirituality that has so marked me over the years. For me for several, but two in particular are the focus. First on making the hierarchical part as flat as possible, while accepting that within our equality there are in fact different gifts and expertise matters. And the other reminding that the way into the non dual that is the healing invitation at the heart of the authentic way has many expressions. And one important one is manifesting into the world in actions of many different sorts.

Seattle zenkai 2

The next day we moved to University Unitarian in Seattle. They are a large campus and were able to accommodate us and generously did. Our registration was twenty-four. I believe twenty-three were the most there at one time. We were given a large room for a zendo, another for interviews, the use of a kitchenette, and two rooms to eat in.

And we did sit. While we were open to all as we were, we scheduled a pretty traditional run from nine (okay a pretty late start for regular Zen retreats), but running on to nine in the evening. We had the conventional breaks in formal sitting (our Boundless Way twenty-five minute periods) with kinhin (walking meditation), liturgy, and talks. And, lunch and dinner, although without oryoki. Two full days nine to nine.

Here I recalled how deeply the practice of sitting has permeated my heart and mind, how important it is for me. And, how much I want to share the practice with everyone, and with everyone from the place they are.

Janine receiving precepts

On Sunday we offered another hour and a half of sitting. I then changed into my UU minister robes and took the pulpit. Another reminder of how much I love the UU community, and more, how much it is my people.

And right from there changing into my Zen robes and officiating at a precepts ceremony, the official reception of the two groups now named Bright Cloud Zen into our west coast branch of Boundless Way Zen, BoWZ West. I also received Janine as a postulant for ordination into the Soto Zen priesthood. I was deeply moved that Genjo Marinello, Osho, abbot of the Das Bo Zen Ji Rinzai temple in Seattle, and Sendo Howells an unsui from the temple represented our larger Zen community in the ceremonies.

For me there was the cascade of feelings where I thought about what I do, what I would like to do, what I’ve failed to do, and with that awareness of my age and what is left to me. It was sweet, tinged with an edge of the bittersweet.

James giving talk Seattle zenkai

I found myself thinking of my teachers, all of them. I particularly thought of their great gifts and the flaws, sometimes terribly deep, that came together to make them the people that I came to for guidance. And, back to me, with some gifts, and some terrible flaws and what I bring to this project.

I thought of how much I owe those with whom I’ve worked to create Boundless Way Zen in those precious and amazingly fruitful years in New England. I found myself thinking of Myozen Blacker, Osho, David Rynick, Osho, and Josh Bartok, Osho. And all the rest, so many, who threw themselves into this project and let me be a central part of it, while challenging and supporting. Making it all something true.

And, how they generously allow me the freedom in this new western expression to make those shifts of focus that I feel might be best for my work here – very much still Boundless Way, but hopefully enriched. And with that the people who I am collaborating with out here. Gesshin Greenwood, Osho, bringing her fierce Japanese training into the project. The counsel of Dosho Port, Osho, and Desmond Gilna, Osho, each with a richness of more traditional Soto training challenging and encouraging me.

And, now in Seattle Janine Larsen, our practice leader, and her collaborator and assistant, Janet Putnam, and those who have bounded together with them all throwing their lot into the project. And back home. I think of Chris Hoff and Tom Bowman and the others who are giving so much of themselves to help in shaping this western manifestation of BoWZ.

And, most of all, I think of Jan Seymour-Ford, who disdains the idea of any titles, but has been forced to accept “senior dharma teacher” from the Boundless Way Zen guiding teacher’s council and who shoulders so much of the burden of making our sangha. And, her love, and her care, and her putting up with me for all these years.

Seattle zenkai

So, here I am, sixty-nine years old. My back hurts more than it used to out of a sit like this. I noticed the sleep deprivation, while less than in a “conventional” sesshin, nonetheless, is wearing a bit more than it did in years past.

I find what I want is changing even as who I am is. Now, I find myself ever more caught up in the mystery of this life, and how ultimately life is the teacher. A lovely and terrible teacher. One who loves us right into death.

And this way the mystery has opened for me as me twining the beauty of our Western religious traditions held more than lightly and the tight disciplines of the Zen way, my dreams and my living, all of it, all of it, encompassed.

Strange. Wondrous. Sad. Lovely.

seattle1