After Claude AnShin Thomas visited Abhaya Yoga Center to give a talk on his book, At Hell’s Gate, those in attendance were invited to the local offices of The Magnolia Zen Center. I have never meditated at a Buddhist Center and found myself intimidated, only a wee little bit.
Once I arrive, once it is effectively too late to change my mind, it occurs to me to wonder how long we’re actually going to meditate. I’m good for about thirty minutes. Sad fact is, my legs are good for exactly twenty-five minutes, but I rarely let this stop me. For all I know, these professionals are going to be sitting Zazen for, like, hours.
It is eight o’clock on Saturday morning and I might be in quite the pickle.
It’s fortunate that there is a lady there to help me. Her name is KenShin and she makes sure I know all appropriate bowing options and available sitting positions. She takes me into the beautifully crafted meditation area before everyone else files in, so she can demonstrate such things as cushion fluffing and mind wrangling.
One would think with all that business of yoga teacher training I’d have meditation, if not down to a science, then at least down to a well-formed hobby. Yes and no, because these are two slightly different traditions and when in Rome, as it were, I want to be somewhat Roman. So here I am, learning how to do it with Buddhist flair.
Once everyone, myself included, officially files into the zendo, with its wood floors as clear and shining as I hope my mind might one day be, I’m more collected knowing it’s going to be a thirty minute sit. I can handle this. I sit on my pre-fluffed cushion and fold my legs much like I do prior to a yoga class meditation. I lengthen my spine, creating space somewhere between my hip bones and low ribs. I relax the back of my neck. Claude AnShin, the officiator, enters the space with a bow. A low resounding bell is allowed to sing through KenShin’s hand. It’s all very beautiful and ceremonious and simple.
There is something about golden sunshine spilling in through a low window. There is something about sunshine warming my left thigh while I sit in meditation at a Buddhist zendo at eight o’clock in the morning. There is just something about me being anywhere at eight o’clock in the morning. Thirty minutes creeps quickly by with minimal pin pricks pinching my legs. Then KenShin invites us into the house for tea.
I love tea.
I love tea in this house because it reminds me of my great-grandmother’s home. It’s an opportunity to go back to that place, or at least that space, and enjoy a deep and comforting peace. The company therein helps. KenShin makes my tea one time, and ever after remembers how I like it. Before I leave after tea, Claude AnShin takes the time to show me how to bow properly in Buddhist tradition.
When I leave I feel like I’m taking something special and practical with me. I don’t bow to everyone I meet, but there is something about bowing to anyone that opens a potentially deep reverence for everything inside me.
As I am invited back to the zendo for meditation Saturdays, KenShin and I develop a friendship. Her personality is fun and reverent and mostly playful. After a Saturday tea at my great-grandmother’s house, I invite her to one of my yoga classes in Fort Walton Beach. She has, after all, focused attention on my budding meditation career. I’d like to offer something in return.
She actually comes to one of my yoga classes. It’s very exciting to see my friend sitting in the yoga lounge when I arrive. We hug and talk before the two of us and another soul who has arrived for my class walk into the sanctuary. As mats are unfurled and blocks, straps and other regalia of yoga is collected for practice, I find myself a little intimidated to teach. It feels like my English teacher has arrived to participate in a creative writing workshop I’m running. I wonder what I have to offer this lady who has taught me so much.
For all I’ve learned at the Buddhist zendo, I learned the most by my friend KenShin coming to my yoga class. Teaching is more a matter of sharing. Sometimes I share a yoga class with a girlfriend who places her mat beside mine. We practice together, we share space. Sometimes, a friend and I will share a book, each reading and discussing the contents. Colleen and I do this all the time. Sometimes, new people and I share a workshop and leave as friends. And sometimes I share meditation with another person, perhaps they are on a cushion right beside me.
But, KenShin shared her practice with me by giving what she has to offer; patience, presence, instruction. She introduced me to a particular type of practice with which I had little experience. By coming to my yoga class, I had the opportunity to share the marvelous instruction I received in my year-long teacher training because others shared with me. It’s a giving of oneself without losing anything, but really being ever more filled by the experience of being in the presence of someone receptive.
As a new teacher, sometimes I wonder what I have to offer, mostly because there are so many people out there with experience I just don’t have yet. When another teacher is in my class, at first I feel intimidated. Even though KenShin isn’t a yoga teacher, she certainly knows her way around a zendo and opening my yoga class with a meditation made me pause. But in the space of that pause, it occurred to me that it doesn’t matter whether I know the nuances of meditation – who ever does really? It mattered that we were all there.
I shared my love of yoga and that was enough. My instructor Laura always says, “Teach what you know.” I know about love and that’s what I want to offer in my class. That’s how I went about sharing my practice. KenShin teaches what she knows. That’s how she goes about sharing her practice. As more people share what they know, even if it is just space on the floor with a friend in the same class, everyone is lifted up. Maybe when students leave, they take something special and practical with them. When they leave, there remains a teacher enriched by their presence. I think this is the soul of practice.
For more on Claude AnShin Thomas and the Zaltho Foundation, please visit http://zaltho.org/