Recently I undertook a Samu weekend at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, a Zen Buddhist monastery in the Catskill mountains of New York state. It was one of the most interesting, challenging and enlightening experiences of my life. There were many challenging moments (the ritual of the formal meals; samu means WORK: cleaning spider webs, dusting screens, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping and oiling the hardwood floors) and many moments so beautiful they took my breath away (the sound of the rain at night in the forest, a flute being played in the distance during samu, the soft light on the altar illuminating the dark night, the sun peeking through the trees during early morning kinhin – walking meditation).
Sitting zazen in the zendo was the embodiment of peace and stillness while also opening the senses to being present in the moment. I took these notes one night:
It is a paradox: I feel moved by the stillness and reverence in the zendo during zazen. There is the sound of many birds outside. The gentle rustle of the canopy of leaves as a breeze graces the air. That moving air tickles the senses as it flows past the trees outside and tiptoes through the meditation hall. Moving from one end of the room to the other, the breeze reminds us that we are no different than the trees, the birds. What touches them touches us the same way. The connectedness of life is so beautifully illustrated by the breeze passing through the zendo. For all it knows, the beings sitting upright and still are just more trees, more living creatures glazed by the fingertips of the wind on a summer morning still damp and purple as the sun wakes up.