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premature departure (day 6 @ the monastery)

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4:01 — The building takes a deep breath between wake-up (when a novice runs down hallways ringing the brass bell inherited when we came to this former elementary school nine years ago) and the rhythmic thunder of the han (a thick plank suspended by rope and hit with a wooden mallet) that calls us to the hall (zendo) for two hours of pre-dawn meditating and chanting.

4:40 — Back in bed and horizontal, accepting that vertigo remains my companion. Half an hour ago I’d jumped out of bed, bowed to my packed bag, and headed to the zendo. Two rounds of kinhin (walking meditation) later, my body signalled that it wasn’t as steady as my mind thought it might be. A friend wrote to speculate that this vertigo may well have a viral cause.

4:56 — Everyone here is exceptionally attentive to my needs, but a Zen monastery with its 4 am to 10 pm schedule is not a good place for a sick person. Soon someone will give me a ride to the airport; ETA in Canada by mid-afternoon. A member of the Fernwood Zendo will meet me.

5:02 — I’m disappointed that I could stay for only a week and shall miss the six-day silent retreat that begins in a few days. I’m even more grateful for having had this week at all — and bow to the sincerity and kindness of my monastic friends. As the handwritten note says on the bathroom air fresheners, A little is a lot. May you be blessed with a little kindness, received and given.

5:51 — Lying-down meditation can be as good as sitting-up meditation, as long as I don’t slip under the covers and fool the body into thinking of this as nap-time. Settling into the hara, the centre of energy and gravity deep in the belly, the focus shifts away from spinning head.

6:31 — The ringing of two kinds of bell, one hand-held and brassy crisp, the other suspended in mid-air sounding church-like full, announce the morning chant service. Lying here, I recall fragments of past services: incense, bowing, chanting the 80+ names in the lineage from Shakyamuni Buddha all the way to our teacher’s teacher, calling out names of people who’re sick and those recently departed, and more bowing. Again and again, here and now: this breath and this breath. Oh!

Photo of han from


9 responses »

  1. Welcome home Peter… may your balance restore itself with ease and grace.

  2. Interesting comment from your friend regarding the viral origins of your vertigo. This was my experience too. fMay you travel home in comfort.

  3. Steady as you go about, Peter.
    And a fair wind home.

  4. Sounds like you’ve have an interesting experience. Way to hang with it as best as you could. May you continue to find the right balance.

  5. dear friends,

    sitting at PDX (portland airport), waiting for a flight to seattle and then victoria, i bathe in the kindness of your comments. all too often i underestimate the beneficial properties of a simple “hey, i’m reading your post and wish you well.”

    i feel connected to you (and others kindred hearts) across time and space. peter

  6. peter – rest… be kind to yourself… some lines from T S Eliot for you…

    At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
    Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
    But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
    Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
    Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
    There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

  7. Hi Peter,
    I hope you have (had) a good flight, and that you feel better soon.

  8. hi peter
    i too hope you’ll feel better soon…i’m sure the monastery is always in your heart

  9. thoughts are with you dear p… be slow and steady, shall be in touch again when i get home

    may you be solid on the ground…


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