It’s been a very busy two weeks at work since I returned from sesshin. Today, I spent a good chunk of the day in the office, getting a first draft of a manual ready to go out for review. It’s been good and challenging and fun, which has led me to a few conclusions:

  • I really am a geek, not just a geek wanna-be. For some reason, I still have lingering doubts about my own abilities. Not so much today. For example, I don’t use Word, I *code* my documents using LaTeX (which I’m having a blast learning). I’m writing documentation for ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits)–those black square things that live on circuit boards inside cell phones and computers and electronic-type stuff. I’m beginning to understand a fair bit of the document that I’m authoring.
  • I’m proud of myself. I have been “drinking from the fire hose” for these past two weeks: learning about the chip, learning LaTeX, brushing up on my Visio drawing skills, interpreting text and diagrams written and drawn by people with PhDs in engineering. I r00l!
  • I like my job. I like what I do, I like the people (mostly) that I do it with. I love the challenge, I love the geekiness, I love going above and beyond the call of duty (occasionally) to meet a challenging deadline and turning out the best damn document I possibly can.

The last thing I’ve learned is more personal and kind of fundamental. I like myself much better after sesshin. Apparently, so does my spouse. Life is good.

Oh yeah, I also polished up a brochure for the local Green Party and edited a press release for the Ontario Green Party. And I got hold of a list of all the childcare centres in Markham for a coworker who is having trouble finding daycare for his little girl. I managed to cook dinner a few times in there as well, though tomorrow is going to be my big cooking day.

I’m feeling good. Bryan took me out for a belated Valentine’s dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant, which was a complete bonus after he had a dozen red roses delivered to me at the office on Wednesday.

Interestingly, what I’m feeling the most of right this moment is gratitude. I’m grateful to be where I am and doing what I’m doing.

And now, I shall treat myself to a good night’s sleep, just to cap it all off. Woo!

Aurora’s Arctic Adventure

We were supposed to meet Connie, Kyla, Cole, Stephanie, and Hailey at one of Aurora’s parks Saturday morning to participate in Aurora’s Arctic Adventure. Of course, we got there late (about 1/2 hour) and couldn’t find them to save our lives.

The event looked  rather sparse at first glance, but we had a surprisingly good time. We went on a horse-drawn sleigh ride, I tried out some snowshoes (which I really enjoyed!), and Bri and I went on the dog sled, which was very cool! Older children might have been bored–this event simply does not compare to something like Wonderland–but it was perfect for the 4-5 year-old range. We drank plenty of hot chocolate; Bri kept asking for it but wouldn’t drink it (I think she just wanted to eat all the marshmallows out of the cup), so Bryan and I got our fill of chocolate and caffeine. The park has a great sledding hill and a very large outdoor ice rink, nicely maintained by the zamboni that lives across the street in the recreation centre.

There was also a fire pit where people warmed up, demonstrations of ice scuplture carving (mmm, chainsaws), and, surprisingly to me, lots of fun on the slides and swings, in spite of the below zero temperatures. I think the high that day was -5 C.

I forgot to bring my camera and we both forgot to bring the sleds, yet we still had to carry Brianna to the car while she screamed “I don’t want to go home! I don’t want to go home!”. Oh yeah, we did catch up with Connie, Stephanie et al. around noon, shortly before it was time to go.

It was a fun day and I certainly felt better doing that than sitting at home watching Treehouse(tm) TV and surfing the Web on the laptop, which is all too often our typical Saturday routine.

I think an hour of sledding is called for this coming weekend. Woo hoo!

A quote to ponder

I have argued that every human being is born with an innate drive to experience altered states of consciousness periodically — in particular to learn how to get away from ordinary ego-centered consciousness. I have also explained my intuition that this drive is a most important factor in our evolution, both as individuals and as a species. Nonordinary experiences are vital to us because they are expressions of our unconscious minds, and the integration of conscious and unconscious experience is the key to life, health, and spiritual development, and fullest use of our nervous systems.
—Andrew Weil, M.D.


On Saturday (Feb 3), I sat tangaryo to became a formal student of Myotai Sensei and enter Hermitage Heart. Tangaryo is an old tradition in Zen practice. Back in Japan, if you wanted to join the monastery and become a monk you sat for a period of time, anywhere from one to five days, to show your earnest desire to study the Dharma. There was no schedule of sitting periods or walking meditation, just sitting for the day or days.

I set my alarm for 4:15 am—tangaryo began at 5. No one comes to get you, there’s no push to practice. Tangaryo is when it’s all “on you”. Of course, I was nervous. Okay, I was scared. My practice has been far from rigorous and the prospect of all day sitting was daunting.

I went into the lounge to get a cup of coffee before beginning the day. Moonlight streamed through the window from the full moon, dancing off of the newly fallen snow. I sat in the darkness sipping my coffee letting the moonlight wash over me. Hoan, the monitor for the day, came into the lounge for her morning tea. She flicked the lights on and got her tea then off they went again and together we silently drank in the glorious moonlight.

By 5, Hoan, Chuck and I began sitting. Here is where words fail. How to describe the particular letting go that tangaryo requires? The fear and anxiety disappeared like snow on water, the image from Rengetsu’s poem that Sensei had asked us to look at that sesshin. There was breath, and the ache of legs not used to sitting for long periods. When needed, there was movement: a change of position, a slow kinhin walk down the hall and back again, a bathroom break when necessary.

No bells mark the time. It is the raw experience of a day free from the constraints of schedule. Truly, there is nothing to do but sit, nowhere to go but in.

It wasn’t over before I knew it. It was a long day with moments joyous and deeply painful. And through it all ran a current of amazing peace drawn from a deep well. I realized things about myself. I forgave myself. I breathed. I felt the floor rise up to meet my feet as I walked. I felt the sunlight through the window hot on my body. I felt the quiet deep practice of the other people in the room. I was.

I sat for eight hours in a room with two other people. I breathed and cried and, in the end, felt profoundly grateful for the priviledge. Something changed in me that day. Somewhere in that time I met myself without judgement.

Afterwards, we all went and shared a cup of tea with Myotai Sensei. We received certificates saying that we were now students. We received bowls so that we could practice our home hermitages. We talked and laughed.

To experience tangaryo is a gift beyond measure. It is an invitation to find the place of practice that is outside of forms and schedules. It is a call to put one’s heart on the line and one’s ass on the cushion. It is the gift of time.

Later that evening, I bowed to the sangha, I bowed to my seat in the zendo, and I bowed nine times to my new teacher. And then I sat down and did zazen. And it was right and good and it wasn’t the struggle that zazen usually is for me. I sat late in the zendo that night, not because I felt that subtle pressure to push myself, to be a “Zen hero”, but because zazen and joy were not two separate things.

Thank you Myotai Sensei, for making Hermitage Heart happen, for taking on the irritating absurdity of teaching zen, for giving me the opportunity to have a perfect day. I cannot express the profound gratitude that pulses in my chest, even now.