Sitting “Alone” in the Zendo…

Reflection by David Mushin Keeber:

Occasionally, I will open the zendo for a regularly scheduled sitting period and no one will show up to sit. As usual, when I come home my wife Joy will ask home many showed up and the reports on those days always elicit her comment that, “That’s a shame.” But, truthfully, I never feel that way.

Having opened and managed the zendo for 7+ years, this has happened quite a number of times. Sometimes I have sat with one other person, but that is different than sitting “alone.”  The space of the RRZC zendo is a real blessing (if we have such things as blessings in Zen!) for the fact that it is a dedicated space used solely for our practice. That is very different from having a space at home, especially during the years when children were still in my home and there was the necessity to push toys and other detritus aside to sit. A space that is purely dedicated to practice requires no rearranging and is, in my opinion, laden with intention otherwise not found in a home space. For this simple fact, I am extremely grateful to our teacher and property owner, Deirdre Eisho Peterson for having provided this gift to the Sedona sangha.

But, sitting with no one else in the zendo with me is never perceived as sitting alone. Given that we have had a lengthy parade of individuals sitting in that space, some long term, some just passing through, I feel their presence still there sitting with me.

Further, I always feel that I am sitting with innumerable others down through the 2,600 years since Shakyamuni Gautama, the Buddha, first showed us that sitting zazen was the path to enlightenment. Actually, Eihei Dogen tells us that sitting IS enlightenment.  Whether the storied masters portrayed in the koans and histories, or the thousands (millions?) in that time whose names are forgotten but who filled our lineages with their own intentions, they all seem to be there with me when I sit.

I do sense their presence and intention with I am not sitting alone, but it seems that when no one else is there in person, I tend to sense our ancestors more easily.

Ghosts? Not really, but the presence of those who have also walked/sat this practice. For me, I never really feel alone when I sit. Dharma brothers and sisters sit beside me every time.

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One Response to Sitting “Alone” in the Zendo…

  1. Eisho says:

    Mushin, I appreciated your posting on Sitting Alone. It’s very true that we can feel the presence of others “throughout space and time” when we are sitting. Although there is a 3-hour time difference between NY and AZ, I like to sit at the end of the evening on Tuesdays in NY and know that I am sitting with all of you in the Quail Run zendo.

    And …. I am planning to be in Sedona next month and look forward to sitting together in person very soon.
    -Eisho

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