When the alarm rings at 3:25 am, I put my hand on my heart and take my first three grateful breaths of a day filled with breathing. I dress in the dark and exit the women’s dorm making every effort not to waken anyone. Once in the hallway, I don my lavender ugg slippers with the sturdy rubber sole to begin my circuitous morning rounds.
Wending my way through the byzantine halls of Great Vow Zen Monastery, I unlock doors en route to my most important responsibility of the day, starting the coffee. Tenzo ensures that there is a sufficient supply of beans and the tea table attendant sets up the pot, so that all I have to do is press “Brew” on my way past the table laden with bundled oryoki bowls.
The wake up bell rings at 3:50 in the residence and I use the loudest of the three school bells for this task. I have stashed a small envelope with earplugs nearby, so that I am neither deafened, nor are sleepers likely to miss the din. Kansei is an early bird, so I pause while he passes me and then continue clanging through two laps around the dorm.
On my way to return the bell to the cafeteria, I take the outdoor route. It’s autumn and the weather has cooled. Orion winks good morning in the dark southwestern sky and I reply, “Nice belt.”
Once back inside, I keep my gaze down amid a small avid crowd of fellow coffee-seekers. Jikai passes me the half and half because we all know each others’ habits, just as we all know well one another’s footfalls. The coffee consumers linger in the cafeteria, maintaining noble silence and gathering themselves for the following few hours of zazen and chanting.
At 4:15, I head through the Guest Area toward the zendo. Here I have to navigate the morning yoga and qi gong thicket to go prop open the doors so that the han is audible there. On my way to the dorm door, I stop and bow to Jizo and see that a fellow resident, an early morning bodhisattva, has already propped the door for me! I whisper a thank you and turn back toward the han.
(…to be continued)