So my half day at Upaya Zen center began yesterday. Really it began months ago when on a grey morning, not the weather but me because I was grey having the color rung out, I decided to come here. It was a decision made on a whim and also with careful consideration. I knew I needed to do something radical. I did not know exactly what but having been attracted to Buddhist beliefs and also knowing the power of meditation it seemed like a plausible idea. It was also a whim because I had never been here before and knew nothing more about it than the flyer on line.
Getting to Upaya turned into a series of stops and starts and airport delays until finally I stepped out of the shuttle bus and into a tiled and wooden office to the face of a young woman sitting at a small wooden desk; “Julie? Oh yes, welcome.” In her twenties with a small nose ring she had heard I was coming but had not received instruction about where I might stay. She rushed off to find out. I was deposited at the priests office before she dashed off to sort me out. He was kindly yet firm and his sentences were direct and brief. Meantime the young woman had found a room with wide windows letting in the famed Santa Fe light in all directions, scrubbed tile floors and an inset fireplace. Against the wall a small bed with room for one. A white blanket and pillow. One closet. A small shelf for personal items. Nothing more. Perfection, yet confusion. I packed for three months, three suitcases full. What do I do? I shoved the bags in the closet self aware that for this environment I had over packed. First balloon popped. I thought I had done well in simplicity. Yes, a work in progress, I am reminded yet again.
The priest whom I briefly spoke with showed me to my room. He appeared to be young but it’s hard to say for certain his age, nothing about him easy to pin down. He is white, tall, very thin and wears a blue robe. His head is shaved to a shiny baldness and his ears jut out from the sides in explosive funnels as if to point out he hears everything. He is wearing tan, wool socks and he looks absolutely at home. He smiles easily and speaks casually about life at Upaya. He reassures me I’ll be alright. Throughout the afternoon many break their silence long enough to let me know this. I am lost. There’s no hiding it. I continue through the day not knowing where to be or how to be and since I arrived in “winter practice” there is not a lot of discussion. Noble Silence is practiced at this time with just necessary talk. Loneliness and isolation can add to the sense of being lost and confused. I tell myself this is part of the process and I know that it is. When no one speaks it feels as if maybe they’re angry at me, walking by without saying hi or my room mate who sorts her things this morning noisily but still not speaking sends twinges of insecurity. It’s important to allow this stage and I know it but even that is not exactly a comfort. Frankly, I’m not sure if talking to you now is okay or not. I saw my room mate on her cell phone and also the shared computer so I get the sense it’s accepted, I’ll find out more later today when the priest has time to break it down for me. He’ll be explaining Zendo (that’s the temple or church here) etiquette, walking meditation, (which I tried last night and felt utterly confused as we circled the temple in small steps for some time before returning to sit) and what my job will be on “campus”. The campus itself is a handful of adobes, almost a Santa Fe cliche’ for which I am grateful, with Terra Cotta tile, dark wood and deeply set windows surrounded by rounded, built in stucco, the ceilings are beamed and alcoves are everywhere. The stars are as bright as I suspected and the cold more bitter. I’m glad all of that panned out.
I am without direction and have no idea what I will be giving or receiving here yet. I just now it will be some things which I need. Over time I’m hoping to lose the discussion of me so much. That may be why “Noble Silence” is noble. Perhaps that’s my answer about talking to you–am I doing it for me? Am i shifting out of my loneliness with a reach across the wires? Should I be?
Soon, in minutes now, I will be in the Zendo sitting. Perhaps answers will come or perhaps they will not. Whatever the case I will be in a blanket of silence under a Santa Fe moon seeking, still seeking and kindness will come in whispers and insight. Faith is still present in all manner of belief. It is what we share across cultures and time.