Last night at Russian River Zendo, we finished off 2009 with three hours of sitting, our first full moon ceremony, ringing the densho (bell) 108 times up to the stroke of midnight, and then hearing a neighbor play "Auld Lang Syne" on his trombone. The new decade started upstairs at Tony and Darlene's house, with champagne, hot sake, a varied potluck spread that contained everything from cabbage rolls to sushi to mini-quiches, and lots and lots of chocolate.
It has been quite a year for me as a Zen practitioner. 2009 is the year that I decided to plunge in completely, to give myself to this practice and open my heart to my sangha.
After two years of rather erratic attendance, last January I made the commitment to attend my Tuesday night sangha every week - a commitment that, with a few rare exceptions, I was able to keep. Regular attendance meant that I began to feel part of the group, and gradually took on responsibilities, and now I miss it terribly when a scheduling conflict keeps me away.
I also began attending a study class at Russian River Zendo one Saturday a month, and in April, started participating in the monthly Precepts class as well. That led to fairly regular attendance at Saturday morning sits and service at RRZ, allowing me to expand still further my Zen family contacts, as I grew close to people in that context.
Before this year, I had only done one all-day sit. This year, I participated in two all-day sits at RRZ, one at Berkeley Zen Center, plus a three-day sit and a five-day sit with RRZ at Black Mountain Center. The one day sits were fairly tortuous, and I thought I would never survive a longer sit. The three-day one was difficult - but the most recent, the Rohatsu Sesshin, although the longest at five days, was the easiest so far. I fell so completely into the rhythm of the experience, that I believe I could have continued for a couple of weeks. What a surprise! It has made me eager for more sesshin days.
This past summer, I made the decision to pursue jukai (lay ordination). With a group of my other sangha members, I have been studying the Precepts, and since October, we have been sewing our rakusu together. The sewing has been challenging but also unexpectedly pleasant, considering the fact that I had very little faith at the outset that I was going to be able to do it.
I also broadened my Zen world byvisiting other places. I went to services at the Berkeley Zen Center and the Santa Cruz Zen Center this year, as well as a small zendo in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The trip to Tassajara made me become enchanted with the forms and rituals of Zen, and so I was thrilled to be able to be part of two classes with Joan Amaral on the forms, and have brought that knowledge into my role as kokyo (chant leader) at the Tuesday night group. I have become so enamored of chanting, that I have added it to my home sitting routine as well. I just can't get enough.
Along with others, I made a ceramic jizo for the new temple grounds at RRZ, which was so much fun that I went back to artist Susan Spencer's house to make a second for my own garden.
At the urgings of Tony, Darlene and Joan, I started a blog for Russian River Zendo during the last days in September, and have now posted over 90 entries in the past three months. This "practice" has proven to be both challenging and rewarding, and has led me to many new insights and richer understandings of everything else I am learning.
And, as a culmination of all of these things, I asked Tony to be my teacher, and am in the process of beginning what I hope will be a long relationship of guidance and tutelage.
So, all in all, it has been one amazing year of deepening practice and Zen discovery. Thank you to all of you for being part of it.