Shuso Ceremony

I sat for two and a half hours in seiza and didn’t feel any pain. I cried so much during sections of the ceremony that I was perplexed as to why I only brought one kleenex in my sleeve.

This ceremony reminded me that I have a heart that can really reach people and be reached by people. That the delta between daily life and the contentedness of the shuso ceremony is much greater than it needs to be.

I felt loved and supported. I was greatly encouraged.

Going into this ceremony, I didn’t really worry about the Q & A logistics at all; wasn’t nervous. I have done plenty of that sort of thing in my life and giving a spontaneous answer(s) in a public setting is something I am well trained in. What I was most focused on was the heart. Could I meet people on a heart level? Could I hear them? Could I be vulnerable? In my personal life, with those closest to me, this hasn’t been an issue – it certainly hasn’t been perfect either but not a place that is hard to get to. However, with those who are not in my closest circle, I do tend to stay at the “head” level.

This ceremony was an opening for me. It made me realize that if I just stop, take the time and pour myself into what is happening with the person in front of me, it can be quite connected. That I can hear, reach and be with in a powerful way.

I walked out of the ceremony encouraged, humbled and ready to listen.

Running the Wake Up Bell

Each day I sleep as long as possible. Recently, I completed a sleep study at UCSF, and sleep had been going great just before the start of the practice period. I was a little worried what it would mean to disrupt this pattern, even a little.

It seems that the bell should be rung starting at 4:54AM if it is to be finished at the correct time. This means that I sleep until 4:42AM in my apartment at 340 Page Street.

I get up, put on robes and take a drink of water. Then, head out to the 300 Page St building via the Lily Alley doors. I typically get there at 4:52AM.

Walking around the quiet dark zendo with a bell is eerie. I am waking up the energy stored here. I am not exactly sure what I am doing but it is ancient and loosely tied to some Shinto house cleansing exercise. It seem like something Marie Kondo would do each morning.

Upon waking up the zendo, I hit the han and start my run up the back stairs and through the kitchen. Usually, this is before the breakfast cook has arrived so this is a quiet space as well that I feel that I am invading/waking with a loud bell.

All along my path, I come across sangha members in various states of awakeness. I am pained to run by some who look as though they just barely pried themselves out of bed and are now overly sensitive to any light or noise. Some cover their ears and turn away. Some newer folks just walk right on by and wave; most stop and hold a gassho bow. I am not certain which is most skillful.

I stop at the top floor to with our Abbot, Ed Sattizahn good morning, to which he replies with a hearty “Gooood Morning!”.

The descent is nice as I am winded by this time. However, not being able to get to the gym every day due to all the shuso duties, this might be the only good cardio I get on any given day, so I try to push it a little and enjoy being out of breath.

When I am done with the last hit on the han, I go back to my place to stretch and do push-ups – why not? my heart is already racing.

Each day as I walk away from the han on the last hit, I think of all the former shusos who ran through these halls over the last 50 years. I have a feeling that this is not the last mile I will run with them.

Dharma Talk

The day of the shuso entering ceremony (1/30), I was asked to give the dharma talk in the evening at City Center. This is the traditional talk that the shuso gives about their life, centered on the events that led them to practice. It is called the “Way Seeking Mind Talk.”

Let me start with the after-effect which is, connected yet bittersweet. It is the only talk during the practice period that is typically not posted online – and due to the personal content contained therein – and I asked for it to follow the usual protocol. So that means that all of the people in the online practice period or who were not there that evening, would not be able to hear it. The only thing similar is the way seeking mind talks that we do a shortened version of in the OPP small groups where we share about our path to practice for 3-4 minutes.

I was asked by the Benji (attendant to the shuso) Kodo, if I still got nervous before a talk. I told him that usually not, after years of public speaking I typically am able to focus on the subject matter and bringing it out rather than the worry about the mechanics. However, I told him that this was going to be a little different; a little harder not to think about he audience and the setting because it was the first time for me to speak – after 10 years at SFZC – in front of my teacher Ryushin (Paul), the Abbot (Rinso Ed) and several of the other senior teachers that I had known for years.

But it went well. I mainly focused on a few main points: being very ill as a child; my eventual focus on the Christian church and the lessons and blessings and tragedies that were contained within that culture; my falling out with and disillusion with the church I was brought up in; a corporate career and eventually coming into Buddhist practice in 2007 and my relationship with my teacher Paul Haller – who helped me rekindle some of my original conviction and desire to be of service as a priest. He himself had had a falling out with the Catholic church and for year taught an interfaith workshop with Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl Rast at Tassajara. This helped me rekindle some of the love and lessons I had been given earlier in life, not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Primarily, this was a chance to connect to the sangha; to share my story as I see it – or live it daily – so as to give people a view into my personal koan.

I am sure that if anyone else in my family or friends circle gave a talk on their version of how I came to practice, it would be different and possibly contradictory in some ways. But that is the beauty of giving something like that to others: you live it as though it is capital “T” truth as your moment by moment experience, but you and most anyone around you knows it is much more your personal view than an affixed truth.

I feel I put it out there sincerely and the sangha got to see me and my struggle a little more personally.


Day 1 as a shuso

In a ceremony yesterday (1/30) morning in the City Center zendo, Ryushin Paul Haller asked me to consider the offer to be shuso. He did this three times and each time, it was scripted that I was to turn away and reject the offer, only to accept on the third time. From an outside view, this might seem pretentious or at the least, overly self deprecating. However, this process brought forward two things for me that I had not considered before.

Firstly, that the very act of saying and doing something resonates even if it is scripted. There are habits in my life and tones that I use in my head, to respond to stimulus in my life. It is so predictable that it even feels scripted. And yet, those reactions have an affect on me – both on the surface and in depths that I don’t realize so readily. So, why not intentionally try on clothes that I haven’t chosen specifically, and go through those motions. In doing the enactment of this play, something seemed to be alive and I was touched that this was a responsibility I was not only being asked to share but that no ones life is actually ready to be under the spotlight, with their practice to be viewed by a sangha – unless they have already turned into a pure beam of light.

And secondly, it isn’t self deprecation. It is absurd for someone to have their practice reviewed at such a level as though it has arrived somewhere. The shuso is only being asked to be courageous and make themselves open for service to the sangha, and as a figure-head for scrutiny as though some bar of reference was needed to bounce things off of.

I have folded my zagu (bowing cloth) a few thousand times in the past. And on this day, in front of my teacher, I folded it backwards and put it on my arm upside down. Something was churning at level I barely understand.