Unquestionably, there are more subtle and less exotic ways of sending one’s body and mind into a frenzy of pain and confusion known to the humans of today but at that moment it felt as the right thing to do: going on a sesshin once or twice a year is recommended for lay people and it was time for me to have the first hand experience. I was curious and nervous about the whole thing, excited about meeting a renowned Zen master and my co-meditators, wondered how the sesshin would influence my practice. The prospect of experiencing quite a bit of pain and sharing living and silence with a bunch of strangers for about a week on the island nobody seemed to be able to locate on the map did not scare me probably because I simply did not know what it would actually feel like.
Compared to a monastery sesshin where the first period of zazen could start at 4 am ours might seem like a picnic, at least to those who do not know the joys of sitting still 6 hours a day. We had the privilege of relatively late mornings and early evenings, shorter periods of zazen, plenty of delicious and nutricious food, a long lunch opening for the possibility of a short siesta and even some time for exercise in the preferred way (including the favorates: standing straight and still on one of the paths and staring into the space or sitting in a soft sofa in the common space in the villa up the hill, a cup of warm Yogi tea with some honey in hands, staring into the space).
Still I would be careful labeling it as a relaxing experience although some participants with no prior interest in Buddhism or Zen had relaxation as the primary goal for the retreat. I wonder if they got there, to the sweet land.
My day started at 5.15 with a morning yoga sequence to awaken the body stiff as a stick and to get the sensation of having limbs that I knew I would soon loose on the cushion to the limbs-falling-asleep-and-off syndrome, out on the veranda overlooking the rocks and pines and opening toward the sea. Those were pure moments of bliss.
Window Cleaning Yoga
They say that even if you go as far as the Stockholm archipelago karma will find you. This past spring I was certain about not engaging in window cleaning activity in the apartment. I was therefore not very surprised upon hearing on the first day that of all the available on the island chores together with other two women I was assigned to cleaning windows on the ground floor in the house I lived in. One of the few permanent residents on the island taking care of the paradise equipped us with everything a conscientious window cleaner might wish for and advised us to take it slow. The three of us worked at full speed though (with the adjustment implied by the term “working meditation”) and yet on the last day of our stay there one other hard working and methodical colleague meditator could not help breaking the silence and asked me gently if all this time we had been cleaning the same windows. I must admit that under the circumstances it sounded as a praise.
They say we can always improve and take to the next level whatever boring chore we have at hand. Never did I suspect that cleaning windows, especially French windows could turn into the feast for muscles that I could reclaim bit by bit, by gently and consciously
pushing and pulling and
spraying and rubbing and
ing and smiling and
Approaching the doors in the ways and at the angles they never had witnessed before I was exercising window cleaning yoga, inventing and embodying new variations of the asanas I knew and celebrating the moment of gentle window cleaning. As the reatreat advanced, the muscles got stiffer and stiffer and more and more grateful for every spot to be pulled toward, the mind became more and more settled on the at first unsettling sound of a shiet of old newspaper rubbed against the glass and the sound of the wind going through the tops of the trees and the subtle sensation of gently being cleaned by the windows, the sea, the trees and the rocks.
I do this chore
not just to get
it out of the way,
but as the way
to make real
kind connected mind
(Ed Brown, from the poem “Working on how I work”)
At this point I seriously consider to try those window cleaning asanas here, in the urban environment, in my own space.
May all beings be happy, healthy and free from suffering!
(to be continued)