I don’t have a lotus


but some of you know,I have this.  Yesterday I went to the Zen centre in Montreal.  It is located in the most northern part of the city.  You can see the back river from the street.  It is a long established centre for Zen study and meditation.  Yesterday they had an introductory workshop and, curious, I went to participate. The centre is an old house set back from the road with a second building in the large and lovely garden devoted to Zen meditation.  We started with some introductory remarks from the centre and author of many books on Zen, Alfred Low.  He is an elderly Englishman who speaks excellent French but who was happy to do the workshop in English.  After he had spoken to us and encouraged us to explore the reason we had come to learn more about Zen, another teacher came and gave us some very clear instructions on how we would carry out the sitting and walking meditation that would follow.  I was at a disadvantage because the condition of my right knee does not allow me to sit on my heels in what I think is,called the half lotus position.  There were quite a few  instructions about the use of a clapper and a bell to start and finish the meditations and how we were to position our hands.  I was a bit taken aback by the practice of the monitor coming and smacking the people meditating on the shoulders with a stick.  It was explained to us that the person mediating asked for,this with a hand posture in case he or she felt sleepy, or was having trouble concentrating.  Just the idea of someone coming behind me and giving me a bit of a crack with a stick was rather intimidating but we were urged to try it just to see.  I did, in fact, and it was quite alright.

I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.  So, after it had been explained to us that we would sit for 20 minutes, walk for 5 minutes and sit again for 20 minutes for our introductory session, we went upstairs to a low ceilinged room where long benches were arranged along the wall with cushions to help people,sit comfortably.  I had to settle for a folding chair with a very firm cushion.  I liked that no one made a fuss or asked me if I was OK.  I just settled myself.  We all faced the wall.  The clapper sounded, then three chimes and we counted breaths and looked at the wall with lowered gaze for 20 minutes.  During that time if we wanted we had the shoulder taps with he stick, and I decided t do that.  Then in a very prescribed way we got up and walked one behind the other for five minutes around the large room.  After that we had a second session of sitting.  I was surprised at how quickly the time went.  I rather assumed 20 minutes of looking at a wall would be an eternity.  It wasn’t at all.

We we came downstairs and Mr. Low allowed for questions from the group.  It was very interesting to see how some people wanted to control physical pain or anxiety.  There was one woman who really seemed quite upset and worried and she asked a very courageous question, I thought.  Mr. Lowe was quite matter of fact about the process and he told us we could continue our practice either at home or in the centre.

How interesting it was.  How austere and plain everything was!  There was something of he atmosphere of the nuns who taught me as I was growing up.  The clapper they used to have us sit or stand in church, the rules of silence and lowered eyes, the unpretentious acknowledgement of eternal questions.  I enoyed it very much and although I know I will not go on a regular basis…..ahhh when did I ever do things on a regular basis!  Anyway, it was a pleasant and interesting experience.