In several recent posts, I've been complaining about life and politics here in Atlanta and noting my "I've -got-to-get-out-of-here" reaction. But on the other hand, realizing I will probably be leaving soon also makes me appreciate what I've got here. The house looks show-room ready now - the best shape it's been in since I moved here. This weekend I did some touch-up paint on the master-bath cabinets and planted some impatiens in the garden and various flowerpots around the yard. But in addition to a nice house, I'm also fortunate to have a very accommodating Zen Center a short five-mile drive from my house.
To be honest, all of the time spent on the road recently has been bad for my meditation practice. Staying in hotel rooms in Portland, Houston, and Alexandria without a zafu (meditation cushion) or any other good means of support has caused me to put my sitting off until "tomorrow," but "tomorrow" becomes "the day after tomorrow," becomes "next week," and so on. To be sure, while in Portland, I did visit the Dharma Rain Zen Center there and got an hour or so of meditation in on Sunday mornings, but one hour on Sunday mornings hardly constitutes a lifestyle practice.
Since I've been back in Atlanta, I've started to settle back into my old routine, and ever since I've gotten rid of the floating pink linguini I've been devoting more time to my home meditation practice. Which is appropriate, because we've now started our summer ango at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center.
Ango, literally "dwelling in peace" in Japanese, is defined by the Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, a handy reference book, as "a three-month period of intensified spiritual training in a Zen monastery during the rainy season in summer (hence also ge-ango, 'summer ango'; or u-ango, 'rain ango')."
We're a lay center, not a monastery, so our approach to ango might be different from other Zen centers. Ango is not like sesshin, wherein one spends most of the day in meditation, breaking only for meals and occasional lessons, but it's more a matter of increasing the intensity of our daily practice as we continue in our home life. If we normally sit for a half-hour a day, we try for an hour a day. If we typically go to the zendo twice a week, we try making it daily.
So, after sitting for 50 minutes on Sunday and doing my usual Monday-night service, last week I devoted 50 minutes to meditation on each of Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and went to the Zen Center on Thursday night for the official start of our ango period. On Friday, there was no activity at the center, so I sat at home (50 minutes), but did go to the center Saturday for the morning service.
This morning, I woke up a little later, and yet still a little more tired, than I had expected, and I decided that I didn't really need to go to the center after all - I could sleep a little longer and then do my practice at home on my own time. But at the last possible minute, I bound out of bed, washed some coffee down my throat, and drove over to the center in time for the morning service. After all, it's ango, and I intend to put a little more oomph in my practice. How much longer will I still have a Zen Center 15 minutes away?
In the Gengo-Koan, Zen Master Dogen famously warned that "Driving ourselves to practice and experience the myriad dharmas is delusion." It's easy to use that line as an excuse to lighten up on our practice - why strive so hard?, after all, Dogen said that's delusion. But Dogen wasn't discouraging practice - in the next line, he says that the state of realization is when the myriad dharmas actively practice and experience ourselves. It's a matter of perspective - in realization, it's not the willful self that bounds out of bed to go to the center, but it's commitment to practice that pulls you out of bed and drags your ass to a zafu at the center. "You" just get dragged along for the ride.
Our summer ango (ge-ango) is for three months. We'll see how things go.