Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Chance to Practice Letting Go of Perfection

Tomorrow I will be doan (time keeper/bell ringer) and kokyo (chant leader) at a one-day sit at Russian River Zendo. Tony Patchell, my teacher, will be acting as priest. Darlene Cohen will be out of town - so this is the first time Tony has led a one-day sit on his own. And it is my first time to be doan.

We are also going to do an oryoki meal, using the traditional set of three Zen bowls. I received an oryoki set from my wife a while ago, but have yet to use it. So tomorrow, that will be another first.

There are so many things that could go wrong! I have not yet mastered striking the bell - when I had to sit in briefly as doan at the December sesshin, I struck it so softly during kinhin (walking meditation) that only the people closest to me heard it and began walking faster, according to the signal. Those further away didn't pick up the pace, because they missed the sound. So people started running into each other. I struck the bell again, and because of feeling so flustered, I hit it too hard, with a huge, resounding, "GONG!" Our silent meditation briefly disintegrated into a chorus of giggles by everyone present. Thinking of all the possible ways I could screw up tomorrow with my bell is making me crazy.

Last week, on Saturday at Russian River Zendo and on Tuesday at the Healdsburg group, I was kokyo. I have been having a low-grade cold with a throat tickle. And both times, part way through the chanting, my voice disappeared and I had to cough. I was completely embarrassed, and had a heck of a time recovering my voice enough to do the eko (chant response), where I'm the only one chanting. Tomorrow I am just praying that my throat behaves itself.

And then there's the oryoki. Using oryoki is very ritualistic; every fold of the cloth, wipe of the napkin, turn of the bowl, is part of a traditional ceremony. I have seen it done, but never done it myself. I asked Tony if I could sit next to him, so I can follow his movements. He told me he wasn't sure of all of them himself, but said we'd manage to muddle through.

The group tomorrow will be quite small, between ten and twelve people. Because of that, there will be fewer people available to do service. At this point, there is no eno (person in charge of the zendo and the whole day), so Tony and I will be covering for that role, too.

Given all of this, over the past week I have come to the realization that we will have to do the best we can, but not expect perfection. And worrying about it won't help a bit - I know, because I worried for days, and nothing got resolved. I have to be okay with a mistaken hit of the bell, a cracking voice, a badly folded oryoki cloth, and having my legs fall asleep. It will be perfect practice for my perfectionist self.

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