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A story from my first day here, circa 3:30. I'm standing around in the kitchen with the other students; Lisa and Teresa, two American women in their mid-20s; and a Japanese man whose name eludes me at the moment. The other students and I are busy being no help at all, standing in the middle of all the vital spaces of the kitchen, and the Japanese man sideswipes my back as he walks by. I turn around, thinking the hand I felt on my ass was intentional, and he looks back at me, absent-minded and slightly abashed. "Gomen," he apologizes, and walks out of the room.

"Don't mind him," Teresa tells me as he leaves. "He has no sense of where he is in space. He bumps into me all the time."

"Have you heard his story?" Lisa asks us. "It's kinda weird. He's 62 years old, and he used to be a taxi driver here in Okayama. I guess he just decided to become a monk a year ago, and he's been here ever since."

"Wow," Jazz says. "Doesn't he have a family or anything?"

Teresa shrugs. "I guess he goes over to his wife's and hangs out sometimes. I don't know."

"Well," I say, thinking of Teresa's comment about his lack of spatial orientation, "I guess it's a good thing he's not a taxi driver anymore."

"No kidding," says Lisa.
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I have a big blister on my right hand between my thumb and my index finger from sweeping the paths for three hours this morning. I take this as a sign that this work is good for me, and it's high time that this bourgeois bitch who's never done an honest day of work in her life went out there and got things done. Not that I actually got things done, mind you-- most of my work consisted of sweeping clean pavement and dirt paths, which is an exercise in futility-- but I guess the point isn't that I get things clean; it's more work as a form of meditation. I feel really invigorated, actually.

It surprises me, how well I'm adjusting to the temple schedule. Getting up at 3:40 this morning was, surprisingly, not hard at all. Of course, that might be because I went to bed at 10 last night and took a nap yesterday afternoon, but hey, if it works...

Had a tea break sometime around 10 this morning; an American man named Dōan (from Milwaukee; this amuses me for some reason) asked me what my sign was. When I asked him why he wanted to know, he said, "Because I like that." It took me a second to figure out that he meant he liked horoscopes in general, not just me/my sign. I thought I was being hit on by a monk, and I didn't know how to handle that.
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I shaved my head today. The thing that struck me the most about the whole thing was how sensitive my scalp is, having been exposed to the elements for the first time since I was a baby. Just the sensations of feeling water drops on your head, pulling on a shirt, pulling blankets over your head... it's like experiencing them for the first time. They mean something because you can feel them. That was more of a meditation for me than the four excruciating hours I spent in the zendo1 last night.

We arrived at Sogenji Temple yesterday at 2, and they were on the tail end of a kosesshin, which meant we ended up meditating in the zendo for four hours. God, do I need to exercise. My knees and my left hip kept aching, and I had to try and rustle as quietly as possible while I switched to more comfortable positions. Bodhi, the head monk, was scary last night. Every so often, two monks walk around the zendo with wooden sticks and strike (gently, Jazz tells me) people who are falling asleep. When he finished walking through the zendo, he wouldn't just set his stick down, he'd whip it. And when he did hit people, it just sounded painful. I was always sure to appear exceptionally vigilant when he walked by.

I'm not sure what I meant to get from this temple experience. I don't really buy all of the talk in what sutras I understand about finding my truest nature and liberating all sentient beings from the cycle of life and death which can only bring suffering. I'm too enamored of postmodernism to believe in any a priori self behind one's daily "illusions" (God, I'm pretentious; I'm going to read this years from now and hate myself for writing that), and of course, I don't think life and death are nothing but suffering. I also wonder about the gender dynamics of all this-- do they still believe that women have impediments that keep them from salvation, and do any of the sutras I'm chanting allude to that? Still, all this meditation will probably do me some good. It will force me to sit down with myself and just be quiet and make me confront why it is that I am not comfortable unless I am constantly reading or processing or analyzing or intellectualizing something. It's high time I just calmed the fuck down, and even if zen isn't my path, maybe I can get some insight into what exactly my path is, and how I want to follow it.

Anyway, the people here are incredible. Greg (Gi-san) used to be part of the Japan Study program, and he reminds me a little of Nate2, except he's more chill. My favorite person here is Chi-san. She strikes me as an ex-hippie type, and she speaks incredible Japanese. She's very maternal, and was very encouraging last night and today as we stumbled through zazen (meditation) and meals. She also wears a "No War" button, which to me is very cool because I had this stereotype of monks as wanting to shut out the world, whereas it's obvious that to her being a monk (nun?) reinforces her commitment to social issues. I really want to talk to her more, to find out what her past is, and how she came to live in the temple.

I also find it mildly disturbing that I find so many women attractive here, when this is so clearly not the place for that kind of thing. There are these two girls, Lisa and Teresa, who are so sweet and funny and hot. Teresa especially-- she went to Sarah Lawrence and Whitman, which a)makes her very cool in my book; b)makes me think we might have a lot in common. I get a strong dyke vibe from her, but that's probably just because of the short hair, which is not a reliable gauge of dykedom anywhere, but especially not in a Buddhist temple. Besides, those designations probably don't mean anything in this context.

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May 2010

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