The Still Point of the Turning World

Revolve. She says. The heavens, the earth, our seasons, even our lives – circle. Let the body circle, spin, whirl, rotate – move in ways perhaps you have never moved before – we are being guided into the dance by Martha Boesing who co-leads a women’s retreat at the monastery leading up to the New Year – with her partner Sandy Boucher.

What does it mean to be a circle? How can one locate themselves, separate – in space time? We are Inter-being with each other – Sandy says – the bodies of our circles, interconnecting, overlapping, embracing, so intimately woven together.

We sit in circles sharing songs, sharing the tender stories of our lives in transition, sharing insights, fears. We enact and sculpt our collective delusions and then our awakenings. We learn and practice together how to create more space in our habitual reactions – how to respond with love. Our circles hold grief, hold fear, hold shame, hold celebration, hold everything and nothing at all. We learn from the collective wisdom of the circle, where each position is equal – yet unique – held together by intention, presence and love.

The circle of the heart – where is its center? What are its bounds?

Sitting as the still point. The stories, sufferings, insights of our one particular life revolve – as the stars in the night sky. Taking positions, making constellations, forming the archetypes of a particular drama, that spins into something else, before vanishing in the light of the sun.

How presence and patience, can help us see this constant and consistent demonstration of the immediacy of impermanence. All things are in motion, in change, revolving – evolving – even who we think we are.

Yet it is a practice and it takes work – to surrender to this flow. To be the still point. To allow the dance, and more to participate in it, without the fixed beliefs that it needs to look, feel or be a certain way. That we even need to understand it.

And yet, there are major life transitions, there are landmark years, there are times of monumental growth and change, and years come to a close, and seasons change. And here we find ourselves, at the cusp of this changing year – which is always a time of great transition and movement within our monastic container. Reconvening after some weeks of holiday and vacations, to a smaller, much more intimate community – and a more spacious schedule.

In the Zen tradition, work is a big part of daily practice – and this is true of monastic life as well. Maintaining the buildings and grounds, nourishing the community and tending all the administrative details that have kept us financially sound and able to offer such diverse opportunities for practice. Many of us will be taking on new responsibilities and work practice positions for this training year. Some of us will continue serving the monastery in the same roles as before.

The work positions allow a resident to step into a place of responsibility within the community. It requires deep commitment on the part of the resident, as they learn to manage work crews and juggle complex tasks, while maintaining their practice of presence and open-heartedness. Sometimes you receive a position that feels as if it fits your skills and personality and sometimes you receive a job, that asks you to expand your fixed idea of who you are and what you can or cannot do. No matter what the position when serving for a year or more, we all encounter challenges, and it is through these challenges that we grow and appreciate more what this practice and training is all about.

This year’s training positions:

Assistant Abbot and Training Director – Jogen Sensei
Administrator – Bansho Patrick Green
Shuso (Retreat Coordinator and Head of the Meditation Hall) and Bookkeeper – Kennyo
Tenzo (Head Cook) – Onshin
Work Leader and Music Master – Soten
Communications Chair (Website, Newsletter and Blog) – Kisei
Zen Works Store Manager and Chozen’s Attendant – Shinei
Registrar – Renyo
Head Gardner and Benji (Shuso Assistant) – Myoyu
Head of Grounds – Janet
Assistant Workleader, Groundskeeper and Hogen’s Attendant – Seicho
Head of Housekeeping – Miguel
Videographer – Camille

And of course many residents are hard at work daily, working in the garden, grounds, cooking, cleaning and sewing; learning the morning service positions and timekeeping.