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Sangha Reflections
By Val Szymanski

Green Gulch Sitting
May 10 - 12, 2002

At 6:40am May 10 I arrived at the yurt at Green Gulch Farm and was greeted by the hoot of the Great Horned Owl and twilling of the red-winged blackbird. Since I was the first to arrive, I was afforded the opportunity to unload my car of zabutons and zafus to the singing birds starting their day in the swamp.
The morning's peacefulness put my mind at ease as I stepped into retreat mode, slowing down the breathing, inhaling the chilled air, letting go of workday thoughts.

This was the first 3 day sitting sponsored by Mountain Source Sangha so the experience was new for many members. The schedule was posted, 30-40 minute sittings sprinkled with walking meditation (kinhin) in-between. The morning dharma talk and afternoon tea talk given by Taigen on the theme of "suchness" provided material for dokusan (face-to-face formal meetings with the teacher) and sitting meditation.

"Just this is it. Now you have it, preserve it well."

The Sangha members took their meals in the Green Gulch dining room. For the formal work period, Mountain Source Sangha members were the dishwashing crew after lunch or breakfast each day. Patty led the cleanup crew, demonstrating the tasks of rinse/scrub/tray loading and dishwasher management. We all welcomed the chance to experience the "guts" of the Green Gulch kitchen.

It seemed Sangha members disappeared into the large grounds of Green Gulch when rest periods were scheduled after meals. I found myself haulin' down to the ocean on Saturday and Sunday hoping to catch the ocean breeze, trek through the sand and wiggle my toes in the water. On both occasions I passed on getting wet (too cold, too little time). No loss. The wildflowers along the trail delighted me; lizards peppered the path and haulted me in my tracks. The horses came to say hello as I rounded the end of their pasture.

Some of us camped in the yurt and a few adventurous folk slept outdoors on the deck. I welcomed the warmth of the evening fire on Saturday night but enjoyed the early rising at 4:40am to head down to the bath house to take a shower. I liked walking in the dark along singular paths.

Sesshins have a way of bringing up changes in our thinking, seeing and experiencing life differently. During one of the tea talks, Sandra recalled her experience of earlier in the day, "I look in the mirror and see someone I hardly know." For Stephen Colgan the bird sounds formed a haiku:

I sit quietly
Penetrated by bird songs
My heart sings along.

For me, walks in the Green Gulch garden brought up intense awareness of life's suffering that I could hardly contain my crying. It wasn't personal suffering I was experiencing, or the suffering of change, but rather the suffering of our conditioned existence - so pervasive in all of life.

As it happens, Sunday afternoon arrived and our sesshin concluded with an open discussion and service. Our last meal was enjoyed in the intimacy of the side dining room, sharing laughter and conversation grounded in the inner stillness of the one who is not busy.


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