[Tassajara monastery has no internet. I finished writing this letter, then I then sent it on a disk through the US postal service to my Mom, who emailed it out to a mailing list of friends]

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Yesterday, we finished our nine day sesshin (meditation intensive). I am been yet again amazed at how deep one can go with this practice.

My experience started with three days of sitting in the meditation hall with the full assembly of monks for the first couple hours in the morning and for the last forty minutes at night, but working in the kitchen in between. I found that, contrary to my expectations, I loved that practice. I cooked six gallons of rice each day, and also ripped chard, sorted beans, chopped vegetables, and washed, dried, a put away a truckload of dishes. We worked almost continuously in silence, and I found the time to be mentally deep – I was unusually aware of body sensations welling up and thought-clouds floating through, working patiently and consistently through feelings of boredom and agitation. I also found that I felt good about my service to the meditators up in the zendo, and that afterwards I more appreciated the practice of the regular kitchen monks (all seven of whom sat this entire sesshin).

I have worked in the kitchen various times during my four visits here, and have usually had an unpleasant experience with whoever is Fukuten (food preparation supervisor). This time, however, the two rotating Fukutens were both friends of mine, and I had a notably pleasant experience working under both of them. One afternoon later in the sesshin, after I had left the kitchen schedule and joined the regular meditation sitting but was back in the kitchen getting food with my meal serving crew, I asked one of the Fukutens (Ed Masters) a question about where something was. He scrunched up his eyes sternly, looked at me for a couple seconds, and said, “Why don’t you use your [smiling brightly] POWER of ZAZEN to find it!!” I laughed for a while.

Anyway, after the kitchen the six days in the zendo, following the intensive sitting schedule, were, well, intense for me. I was sleeping about five hours a night, lying there awake after the last period of the night and then waking up before the 3:50 am bell. I was however always alert and conscious during the day. My stomach was upset much of the time, as it often seems to be during intense spiritual transformations.

The last couple days of the sesshin were a little mundane for me, just digging the ditch, hard at work trying to keep my mind present and my body upright. But the middle days were full of altered states – at times, I was sad and crying, or wanting to put my first through the wall, or profoundly supernaturally bored, or profoundly supernaturally fidgety, or I looked around the room and never wanted to talk to anybody here again, and they could all go to Hell, the sooner the better. Other times, however, I was overwhelmed with an intense love for everyone else in the room, like they were all my newborn children, and I wanted to tell them how eye-wateringly beautiful they all are, and to do whatever I could to have them all be happy. I was often filled with great insights about my life. I sometimes felt alert and clear yet also placidly peacefully calm. Other times, I noticed that many of my bodily movements had a precision, certainty, and graceful smoothness to them that I am not used to. And still other times, I felt like, how do I put it well, like my blood had been replaced by ultra-pure nectar of the Gods that was as hot as the core of a star, and my flesh of body was aflame with heavenly fire, mammoth beams of wholesomeness shooting out of the core of my torso and off my skin and illuminating the farthest galaxies that hang over the edge of nothingness. That’s how it felt to me on the inside, at least – I did not get any objective external reports as to whether that state was similarly observable externally.

I felt a lot of love for the teacher, Abbess Linda-Ruth Cutts. I had an intense dokusan (one-on-one teaching discussion) with her where I talked about what holds me back in life (see sections below) and cried a lot. Her daily lectures were moving and inspiring, I intend to buy a taped copy of several of them. I don’t remember exactly what she talked about, however, because I am usually watching body sensations during lectures here so I end up hearing them on a different level than the remembering level. I guess some of it that I do remember was about not making micro-wiggles when in our meditation position so as to deepen our settling, and about how putting others before ourselves (as the Dalai Lama suggests we do) is not always about being nice and pleasant, and about how the only mind we have is our confused animal mind and yet how that is also the exact mind that is also the enlightened mind. Sometimes I would look at her while she lectured, and she was so beautiful to me, I was appreciating her sincerity and dedication.

I also found this sesshin, like my first one here, to often be burningly painful in my hips, knees, and ankles, but I suffered with it less. It occurred to me that this was probably because I was congested, feverish, and ill during the entire January sesshin, wonderfully conveniently starting on the first day, and equally conveniently ending on the last. This made me tired and achy, and meant that all I could muster was a cloudy sleep on the after-meal brakes (instead of doing yoga, which helps reduce pain during sitting, during those periods). Thus, being healthy this February sesshin, the pain was intense but less, and I suffered with what pain I did have less. I was also pleased to observe my leg pain and come to the conclusion that the main physical thing that is stopping me from sitting in half-lotus position for say eighteen hours a day in a some monastery in Asia some day is not my right knee, which is injured and will probably never be fully OK, but instead my left hip, which I have been and will continue to open more by yoga and stretching.

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Near the beginning of sesshin, one early morning as sat on my cushion in the zendo I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I approach my meditation practice and teach my meditation class constantly aiming that I (and others) can and will get a benefit from sitting. The question is, will training in being present, letting go of the compulsion to think, and releasing all grasping and pushing away of experience that stand in the way of a pure untangled relationship with my internal energies get me good things in life? Will it help me to be on time, to be disciplined about to letting go of distractions and instead do the most important things in my life, to naturally behave in a manner that I later feel morally clear about, and to get and keep a good job? Will it provide me with unusual and deep insights into myself in specific and the human condition in general, give me a mystical social and sexual charisma, and give me clear direction in life? Will it bring me feelings of stability, joy, clarity, warmth, love, ability, peace, strength, and wholeness?

I can think of ways in which meditation practice could and should and actual times in which it has brought all of those good things to the lives of myself and others. But my Zen teachers (and some authors from other Buddhist lineages) repeatedly say that such benefits are not the goal, and it sometimes seems to me that meditating with those benefits as goals tends to subtly throw off my meditation, “defile it” a little, as they say. I do think that ending the meditator’s personal suffering is a main goal of the path, and getting the bling bling listed above is part of that. I also think that what draws one to a spiritual practice is in the end irrelevant as long as one practices sincerely once there. But I also can see how the idea of “just sitting, with no gaining idea” is something that I do only after I have been on the cushion for a while, it is not what draws me there.

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Mostly during this last sesshin, I did two different practices. One was an old stalwart, jumping my awareness around to different body sensations, and noting (saying words inside my head) to describe where in the body it travels, and fully feeling the sensation there. The other practice was noting subtle and clear levels of mental imagery and talk, as I described in my last letter. With this thought-watching practice, I used the respiration as an anchor (i.e. I rested my awareness on my nostrils and my belly, and sat and watched my breath come in and out and be in-between breaths during the times when no thoughts were present). During thinking meditation, I also have taken to echoing my clear internal talk, which means repeating the words back inside my head, slowly and gently, syllable by syllable. While doing this, I try to listen to the words as pure sound rather than as meaning, and I try to listen for the empty silence that each syllable emerges from and departs back into.

A couple periods I also did mantra practice, where I internally repeated the phrase “Everything will eventually change, everything will eventually end” to myself over and over. Whatever the thought of something came to mind, whatever feeling I felt in the body, I would bathe it thoroughly in the fact that it would change and end. Traditionally in Buddhism, meditation on impermanence (which is kind of what that was) is something that one does when feeling attached. I accordingly did mostly do this mantra practice at times when I was feeling attached and clingy and wanting something besides sitting there in the zendo. It helped.

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I also created a whole new meditation for myself. To give a long explanation for it : a big thing (if not the biggest thing) in Buddhism is lessening suffering by loosening a solidified sense of self. This means, I think, eventually experiencing oneself and all other things as interconnected events rather than as separate and individually existing things (or as non-existent illusions, as some pastel colored New Age-type folks do). And I noticed during this sesshin that I would often have a loosened sense of self during the sitting periods, a solid and bulky “Adam Coutts, 33 years old, white, male, 5’8″, notably good looking, etc.” would dissolve into an always-changing stream of body sensations, thoughts, sounds, sights, and, occasionally, after my neighbor’s furtive cigarette breaks, smells. But then when a sitting period ended and it was time for (silent) social interactions, at the line of people putting on their shoes outside the zendo, during serving the meals or being served, or passing each other along the paths between sitting periods, there would be my solid sense of self again, very solid, usually with a sense of worth – it was usually a “good self” or a “bad self”. This reminded me of something that I have heard before – that a sense of self is most often created and manifested in social settings. I have read that all primates have social hierarchies, and combining that scientific finding with Buddhism, I believe that much of our human suffering comes from creating a solidified sense of self that fits in somewhere in an internally held-hierarchy of value and worth. The Chinese Zen Master Linji (“Rinzai” in Japanese) used to use the phrase “The True Person of No Rank” as a synonym for “Enlightened Person”.

So I began observing the rise and fall of my social self. When I was aware of other’s eyes on me, of times when I believed myself to be being evaluated, I would make a internal note. And when I looked at others, I noted how I was perceiving them. There were three different ways that I felt like people were seeing me or that I was evaluating them:

(1) Contemptible, vulnerable, low status, unworthy, incompetent, will not get good things in life because of a lack of a winner’s worth talent endowment or effort, needy, not worth attention or respect, not liked or valued, patsy, fool, chump, jumpy, unclean, people only nice to our of toleration or pity, exposed, scum, have to give self away just not to be ostracized, inferior, clumsy

(2) Takes more than their share, inconsiderate, takes but does not give, asshole, needs to be taken down a notch, a danger and a menace, tension creating, arrogant, offensive, thoughtless, ought to apologize, creep, presumptuous, social climber, overconfident, rude, too into their own point of view, asks too much, do it their own way when they should listen to others, judgmental, pretentious, unapproachable, a show-off, unkind, invading other’s space, defensive, aggressive, controlling

(3) Likable, cool, powerful, beautiful, esteemed, deserving, admirable, worthy, accepted, warm, in control, approved of, in the family, healthy, sexy, OK, in the flow, pleasing, talented, worthy of good things, lovable, good, high status, comfortable, successful, competent, calm, desirable, honorable, impressive, a winner, comfortable, relaxed and relaxing, just, sane, graceful and beautiful, a friend, trustworthy, appropriate

Besides these three numbers (“1”, “2”, and “3”), I would also use the note “s” for “self” and “o” for “other”. So, if I noticed that I was looking at someone like they were a chump and I felt guilty for thinking that, I would internally say “s2o1”. If I noticed myself feeling warmly with someone, like we were buddies, and comfortable with that feeling, I would internally say “s3o3”. If I walked in front of someone and tripped a little and felt foolish, I would say “s1”. I did this for hours, noticing the rise and fall of a solidified sense of myself as a social animal, and making these notes inside my head, until the solidity loosened up and my experience of selfhood was more fluid. Those words seem goofy to me, but, y’know, it’s difficult to find words for these things.

I found the social meditation that I came up with to be so valuable that I am thinking of introducing it as a homework for my meditation class, even though it is not a traditional Buddhist meditation. I will recommend to students that they do it a social situation where they are not talking to other people and can safely go inside and watch themselves, like when riding a bus, when first arriving at a party, or in a class. You reading this shouldn’t ever try it, however, this all has nothing to do with your life.

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On the subject of this meditation : in the Mahayana family of Buddhism (of which Zen is a school), we take the vow to “Save All Beings”. I have never known what that means, exactly – that I am single-handedly going to create a charitable foundation that will make sure that everyone on Earth has a little house with enough to eat and a shelf full of Dharma books, and that no bugs get squashed in the construction of all of these houses? That seems like it could take some time. But I do have my own meaning for the “Save All Beings” vow, which is that I aim to not want to cast any beings out of my world, to not wish that they would disappear out of this universe, to accept and be at peace that they all exist. In my normal mind, that wish to get rid of is the way I feel about many people (you know, the bad people). When I was doing this 1,2,3/s-o meditation, however, it helped me to chill with the whole game, able to internally accept that all the folks exist in my universe.

I had a similar experience eating the last day of sesshin, but with food instead of people. The third bowl served at breakfast was a cooked carrot mush, and the server seemed to miss my hand signal indicating a desire for a small amount. So, as I began digging into the little pile of putrid vegetable, and found myself starting to do my usual way of eating food that I detest, scrunching up my face and trying to swallow it chewing as little as possible. But then I suddenly realized that although cooked carrots were a childhood nemesis, they actually wouldn’t kill me. So, I slowed down, relaxed, chewed thoroughly, and just felt the waves of displeasure and revulsion wash through me with much less resistance. It ended up being peaceful and pleasant. Not like I am going to give up sushi and only eat cooked carrot mush when I get back to the city or anything, but sometimes unpleasant and unavoidable things do come one’s way in life (if you haven’t noticed yet ..).

In fact, Tibetan Buddhists apparently have a phrase “one taste”, which they use to connote impartiality, equanimity, and non-reactivity. The idea is, whether something subjectively tastes good or bad, if one fully experiences tastes it with full awareness and with no internal pushing or pulling on the experience, it all tastes the same, it’s all fine, it’s all one (meta-pleasant) taste. Not to say that I am ready to be ordained a high lama or anything, but, for one minute at least, “rank-ass-cooked-carrot-taste” became “one taste” for me.

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During the night between day five and six of the sesshin, at about one am, I had a dream that I was in a home owned by Aaron and Anitra, having pleasant conversation with them in a large, bright, largely empty room. The home was mature, with ornate moldings and a dignified feel. Kendra was through an open door in front of us, in their slightly spooky entranceway hallway, softly singing to and playing with their two-year old. The hallway was also large and also bright but had whiter, less-warm light, and many doors off of it.

All of a sudden, there was a slight air of menace. Kendra put the child down and moved towards the front door, looking concerned, and asking “Who’s there?” All of a sudden, she was horrified, and turned to run towards the door to where we were, dragging the dumfounded child behind her. We soon saw what she had just seen – a slowly moving pulsing ball of black energy, emanating pure evil, death, and malevolence. As Kendra ran, the center of ball metamorphosed into a corpse-grey long-taloned demonic-looking humanoid that started to move inhumanly fast and follow her. We tried to pull her and the child into the room and slam the door shut but it was too late. The evil engulfed her, lifted her off her feet, and started torturing her/draining her soul. We knew was about to do the same to us.

I woke in a cold sweat, muscles clenched, heart beating like a jackhammer. I began doing what I usually do when I have nightmares – I tried to re-enter the dream and consciously set things right. I re-visualized the room, the people, and the demon. I tried to set my heart aflame with white flaming energy of goodness, so that I could shine the white love-flame through the room and purge the demon of its badness and set Kendra back to normal. But my heart barely lit at all, and the love-flame soon flickered out. The demon smiled menacingly and advanced.

I then returned to awake reality, disappointed. It was then that I looked out my window. There, in the moonlight, about five feet from my pillow-level window, I saw a malevolent specter, sort of half-demon, half-grim reaper, and all evil, slowly walking towards me. I turned and looked and saw another creature, more hulking and animalistic, shambling from the shadows just beyond my cabin’s bathroom door. I could sense that ghostly long-nailed hands of more corpse-grey demons were reaching through the walls, right above my head, about to grab me. I knew that I was wide awake and that none of this could possibly be happening, and it was all as real and tangible as things get, as real as the computer I am typing this on.

I tried to do some practices which have helped before. I tried to visualize the Buddha, with his hands in the “don’t worry” mudra (hand position). The Buddha beamed into the room, told me that now was actually a very good time to worry, and popped back out. I tried to relax and deeply feel my emotional body sensations, but found that the instant I tried that I snapped back immediately – it was not safe to go inside and drop my terrified tightly-clenched vigilance. I asked the creatures, out loud, to leave, and they did, but they were soon back. I cannot remember having ever been more frightened as an adult. In fact, I don’t know if I am physically capable of being any more frightened.

I lay there frozen and tightened up for an unknown period of time, always about to be dragged to hell but with it never actually happening. I thought of waking someone here up or walking the thousand feet to the payphone and calling someone in the city, but nobody seemed like the right person to reach out to. Finally, I moved through the terror, and lit my room lamp. That kept the evils back a bit. I then climbed out of bed, got out my diskman, and started listening to a Dalai Lama talk about compassion. That might seem like a normal thing for me to do – hey, Buddhist monastery and all – but I’ve actually never been much of a fan of His Holiness.

Nonetheless, I knew that I needed to hear his voice, the voice of an actual Saint – and none of the other Buddhist teachers I had MP3 audio disks felt like they would have done. And so it was. As I listened to him talk about resolution and forgiveness, even when he was speaking in Tibetan, my muscles gradually relaxed and my heartbeat slowed.

After half an hour, I turned my player off. I was ready to try a little tenderness. I lay back asked the first demon, the one from the dream, to approach. He did, not as vivid as in the earlier apparitions but still tangible. He still had corpse-grey skin and a tautly muscled form, but for some reason now had eyes of rapidly rotating California rolls, dizzyingly spinning one way, then the other. With genuine kind, open curiosity, I calmly asked him, “What do you want?” He grinned a wicked, fanged grin, took two steps forward, and, jumping in, merged himself into my body.

I was suddenly terrified again as he jumped in, uncertain if it was a horrible mistake to let him. But, after he already had, it felt right and appropriate. The unholy evil was part of me the whole time – it had been me the whole time, I just hadn’t been willing to acknowledge it.

After the merging, I felt tingly and alive, whole and energized. My muscles felt like they should look like the comic-book superhero Thor, super rocked-out. The shadowy figures were still out in there in the shadowy darkness, but they kept a respectful distance – they knew that I was as bad-ass as them. I smiled, and drifted off to a satisfying sleep.

The next day, I leaped out of bed at 3:50 am, and my heart beat like a jackhammer all morning. At morning service, I chanted with more vigor than I have brought in years. Even after four-and-a-half hours of sleep combined over two nights, I was awake and alert and sharp the whole day. As Nietzsche once wrote, “I am not a human being. I am a lit stick of dynamite.” And I had insights all that day about much of my behavior had been during the last eight months. Suddenly, I was dramatically less defensive to admitting to myself where I have been a demon.

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I realized more thoroughly then ever during the sesshin that I lost hope last May. That’s when, after years of generous loans, my parents saw the way the computer industry was going and didn’t want to loan me still more money to take more Java programming classes. I lost the main focus my life had, as pointless as taking more Java classes was. I was on a generally downward slope in the eight months after that, until the day I came here. I lacked a focus or solid goal, and often felt hopeless, sitting their waiting for the unemployment check to arrive, and this lack of backbone showed up in all areas of my life. Doing a ten-day Vipassana retreat and then creating and teaching my meditation course after that was the best thing during those eight months, and my meditative sitting at home and friendships were great also. But without a daily job or much of any other regular structure, my life became a souffl of staying up all night with computer games, web surfing, music downloading, and porn, with a delicate garnish of interpersonal problems.

During the sesshin, I saw clearly the vital importance of living a more developed way, of dropping addictions, acting kindly, making tremendous effort in life, and of constant self-improvement. But I know that I have also seen all of that with similar crystal-clear clarity many times before, and that I have spent years living relatively fully, and yet I still dropped into a big hole and lived the way I did in late 2002. I am a great, deep, helpful, and successful person, and I am lazy, lost, and accusatory – both are the same me, depending on whether I am actually practicing and moving forward, or am not.

I looked at my pre-Tassajara to-do list (that I brought with me from home) the day after sesshin, and just about all the tasks on it seemed great. They were all things that I could fully endorse as worthwhile from that hyper-clear, hyper-alive state – create more materials for my meditation course, get back into martial arts, communicate with friends, get a full-time or part-time job. The only problem was that I was just not actually doing much of them before I left. It seems clear to me that I need structure when I return – job, commitments, and such things that lock me in to taking action and working on things each day.

My number one Zen Center teacher, Ryoshin Paul Haller, just came down here for a twenty-four hour visit in honor of his having stepped up to co-abbotship (along with Linda-Ruth). I had an interview with him, and he suggested that even getting a shitty job that I don’t keep for long, or anything else that structured my daily time, would be a step in the right direction. I realized that I’ve been waiting for a job that I will be happy doing and will pay me enough to let me pay off my debt rapidly and save money to buy a house and support Kendra to go to school and that will impress everybody when I tell them about it. But it looks like a job that merely provides structure to my day may come first.

In light of all this, I am appreciating the structure we have here at good ol’ Zen Mountain Center. Like the sitting upright and not wiggling that we do in the zendo, all of the rules and structures and scheduled activities hold us up close and intimate with ourselves, forcing us to illuminate one dark corner of the room after another. When I left the city to come here, many of my friends said “Good luck”, and besides appreciating their love and support, I sometimes also thought, “well, I’m the one who will have a staff of nosy people and a 2,500-year-old tradition supporting me in facing what’s up in my life this Spring, maybe I should actually be wishing you luck.” And I find that I am happier and more chill the longer I am here. This could merely be because I am creating friendships with the folks here, more figuring out how things work, and generally (as in my past visits) finding a place here, but I think that at least some of it is that the structure supports me in actually working stuff out.

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Besides general structure and effort, I also had a confrontation with lateness while sitting the sesshin. I have been chronically late since high school. I want and need to deal with it and start being on time at this time in my life.

As I said, Mahayana Buddhism often talks about “saving all beings”, or “acting for the benefit of all beings”. I have encountered those sayings for years now, and I do not know what they mean. I do know however, I’ve seen it in my own life and in other’s, that addictions are a profoundly selfish practice, and that dropping an addiction makes a person much more of benefit to the beings around them, more caring, more healthy, more open, more committed. My Zen teacher Reb says, “if you can drop your [self-absorbed] trip, you help beings”. During sesshin, Linda-Ruth taught that the way to put other’s needs before our own, as the Dalai Lama recommends, in a way that is not merely codependency, according to ancient texts, is let go of compulsive attachments. I invite anyone reading this to consider what addictions they could give up so as to be more helpful to all beings. As for myself, chronic lateness is an addiction and attachment that I want to let go of so as to act more to benefit all beings (myself being the biggest one of them).

In twelve-step programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous), the biggest part of the First Step is to admit that all one’s complicated effort at controlling and managing an addiction have not, in the end, worked. But another big part, as I understand it, is being honest with oneself about the negative impact that the addiction has had. And, honestly, my addiction to being late has had a large negative impact on my life. Here goes : my meditation course and Kendra are the two most important things in my life right now (along with writing my book), and the biggest negative feedback in both of those areas has been lateness. I was fired from my last office job, in trouble in another, and often frightened of being in trouble in two others, for arriving late. I often have gotten to stores five minutes after they close, having driven all that way for a big shitty nothing. Similarly, I have sometimes arrived at parties after much of the party had already happened and/or many of my friends have left, having driven all that way for less fun than the driving would warrant (I am thinking of missing the ceremony at Joseph and Eliza’s wedding, and arriving at the 2002 RS campout at Willits after more than half the party was over). Arriving at the Gratitude Lovefest party with chill-room sound equipment five hours later than I said I would made me the focus of some negative attention on the Community email list that was not a Lovefest. My best friend from 2000-2002 one day suddenly said to me that he didn’t want to hang out anymore because he was tired of waiting for me – and so we didn’t. I have done worse than I could have on some academic tests because I arrived late. I had tension for years with a friend’s wife because I returned to her a car that we co-owned eight hours late one day. Some people seem to take me less seriously than I deserve because they have seen me be late. My mom lectures me in a most unpleasant way about my lateness whenever she perceives it. I have often been late for personal growth groups, which has gotten me some negative attention. When my last girlfriend before Kendra broke up with me, she said that lateness was a big part of why. I have sometimes thought to myself, as my heart pounded and I wove through traffic at breakneck speed one more fucking time, “I would be late for my own head if it weren’t screwed on.”

It seems to me that I do have a good sense of when I need to leave to get places on time, my estimates of how much time I needed often seem accurate after I arrive. I think that my lateness has come however from having often been unmotivated, undisciplined, and overwhelmed when I have many hours of free, unscheduled time. Accordingly, when it has been time to go somewhere, I have often not gotten as much done as I wanted or needed to. But then I have often been at my most productive, I have done that important shit that I’ve been putting off, when I have stuck around trying to get just a little bit more done after it was already time to leave to be on time (a state that has often lasted for hours).

I am ready to change that behavior. I want to drop what I am doing and go when it is time to leave. I want be ready to go, packed and with things closed up, when it is time to go. I want to be sitting there five minutes early for when I say I will meet people. I want to be in my seat before classes, groups, meetings, or work days start. I want to get to parties while other guests are still arriving. I want to drive places at a normal pace, and with enough time that the unforeseen can happen and I can still be on time. Most importantly, I want to get important things done when I do have hours of open time in which to do them. I want to make the difficult phone calls at two pm and not at five pm if I am meeting someone at 5:30. I want to pack the day before the flight. I aim and want to be and will be that person. In fact, I am going to start packing for that flight right now.

Lateness is not an issue for me here at the monastery, I’m pretty much early or on time for everything. I think that it’s because I am in the habit of dealing with things that I don’t want to do and letting go of things that I do want to do to while here. So, when I have time, I handle what I need to, no matter how unpleasant it is. And, when it’s time to go to the next event, I generally drop what I am doing and go. Also, here I have a whole community of people who have their eye on me, and will gently but unflinchingly give me feedback whenever I am late.

Back in the city, my meditation practice has helped once I have been already late, to calm down by just watching disaster-based thinking and my racing heart rather than being gripped by them. However, I think that meditation can be even more helpful before I am late, to help me to be conscious and clear and not lost in the fog that I sometimes have gotten in in the whole cycle. I also think that doing Landmark Education courses has helped me to get in the habit of being on time no matter what. But, basically, I am looking for resources. If you know of any books, websites, groups, or therapist/coaches that deal with overcoming chronic lateness and procrastination, I would like to hear about it. Also, as my friends, please know that being on time is my goal, please hold me to it and support me in to be so.

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Right after sesshin, on our personal day, I had great talks with the people around me here. I told people that I loved them, talked and cleared things up with the student that I resented, and generally went deeper with many people than I ever had before. I then sat down and started writing this letter for several hours (finding time in the tight schedule to write these letters has been extremely difficult). I felt a little fucked up by the end of that day, however, so many written and spoken words after nine days of silence.

And while the love was flowing and all the connections were more intense, there were no minor upsets either (everything little thing was a really big fucking deal). I had a massive upset with the abbess for her sharp answers to me during a shosan ceremony (where the monks each step up in front of the assembly and ask the teacher a personal question and a back-and-forth ensues) on the last day of sesshin. I sought her out and we talked about it, however, and I felt a lot better, returning to appreciating her. I even now find value in what she told me during the ceremony (it had to do with considering asking permission first if I plan to knowingly break the regulations here).

I had another volcanic-eruption upset when a more junior student was chosen to be the attendant for my number one teacher Ryoshin Paul Haller when Paul visited. After talking with both Paul, the student, and others about it, however, and realizing that this student has a lot less access to Paul (who lives in San Francisco) than I do, I felt only mudita (sympathetic-joy, happiness for another’s good fortune).

And there was one other upset, with a woman on my serving crew, that was so convoluted and strange that I am not going to try to discuss it. In such an open state as I was in after sesshin, however, all of these incidents were really intense, maybe more so than they would have been usually.

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Five days after sesshin ended, on the 28th, we had the traditional mid-practice period skit night. I sang a bluegrass song called “Zen Gospel Singing” – Kendra had done an internet search and then read me the lyrics over the phone the night before. I also accompanied myself by fingerpicking my friend’s guitar. Every skit night people sure do seem to produce a lot of musical instruments, for a monastery that tells people not to bring any.

I also wrote and acted in a skit with an African-American student, Brian, in which he was a new student who was simply asking where he could find his cabin, and also wanted to talk about Zen. I was a (white) student wouldn’t answer his question but kept trying to talk funky-fresh-dope-fly to him and tell him how much I admired Martin Luther King and quote Malcomb X and how much I liked Reggae music. I was frightened to do it, and even ran it by Leslie the acting director a couple of days before to make sure that she thought it was OK. Afterwards, lots of people seemed to give us good feedback about the skit. The abbess herself told me that she thought it was “really great”.

The funniest skit, I thought, was by the doans. Doans are people who have been here for a while and who officiate our services – ringing the bells, hitting the drums, announce sutras to chant, cleaning out incense ash afterwards, etc. Anyway, four of them came out, and got all cuddly as they started talking about “swapping around” and “trying something new”. The two that were more ready to go and were trying to talk the other two into it said, “don’t you get bored with the same old thing, don’t you want to try something new?” Finally, they stated unzipping their clothes and took their zagus (priest’s ornately hand-sewn bowing cloths) out from the zippers, swapped them around, and got ready to bow on each other’s cloths.

Then, Laura (the one doan this practice period who isn’t a priest, but who is the girlfriend of one of the doans who had just swapped zagus) and Kendra’s friend Melissa (also not a priest, but as Ino (head of zendo discipline) supervises all the doans) burst in on the sordid scene, and acted all shocked and outraged. After they chased the four ashamed would-be swingers away, telling them “the abbess will be most outraged!!!”, Laura and Melissa folded down the various priest bowing cloths themselves, and said, “Cool! I’ve always wanted to try this!”, and started to do funny bows on them.

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Before I got here, Kendra and I discussed that my being here alone for three months, with her staying in the city, would help me to “go deep”. However, being apart from her has sometimes been my biggest distraction and challenge among many here. I am remembering why I promised myself years ago that I would not ever do a long-distance relationship again. There being eight couples here, all somewhat sequestered and almost all of them living together, does not help. Also – if you were to replace the monks here with fifty-five of my closest female and male friends (or even fifty-five of my closest male and female friends just from Zen Center), I think that being here un-coupled would be much less of an issue. But, like the first time I was here, being apart from a relationship, being apart from all my normal friends, and being surrounded by a random bunch of basically strangers happened all at once.

Anyway, in Zen they say that one should “practice as if your head is on fire”, and being here alone has at times provided me with intense practice. It’s not like I am going to be bored or fall asleep in terms of why I am here, and that’s a good thing.

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When I moved out of the City Center campus of the SF Zen Center, at the very end of 1997, I felt certain that I wanted to keep my sitting practice strong as I moved into in my new secular household on Mission Street. So, I bought myself a brand-new zafu (round Japanese meditation cushion), tightly stuffed like I like them. Since that day, I have sat on that cushion now for three of these ninety-day trips to Tassajara (over a thousand hours of sitting on my cushion total), for about a hundred days of other all-day sittings, and for about over a thousand individual sittings at home. My zafu is still as ass-cheek-cramping tightly stuffed as ever, but has faded from its dark-as-an-unlit-coalmine infancy to a more mature blue-black. It has a name : I call it “The Leopard Seat”, in honor of the dark-colored strip of deep-shag leopard-print fabric that I sewed to its handle to identify it as mine the first time I checked myself in here at Tassajara. The name is also, obviously, in relation to me, DJ Snow Leopard, with my snow leopard tattoo. Anyway, I feel happy and encouraged whenever I lay my eyes on my cushion, it is always ready for me to get busy, and it always reminds me of my deepest experiences and potentials. My teacher Reb has talked about trusting and loving your zafu, but I need absolutely no extra encouragement to do so with mine.

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Years ago, I listened to a radio show on which a psychologist differentiated between “visual” people, “feeling” (body sensation) people, and “sound” people. He asked, do you “see” what some one is saying, “feel” that what they are saying has merit, or do you “hear them”? As I listened, it became unambiguously clear to me that I am a sound person. This helps explain to me why I like to make funny nicknames for people, and love to say funny words like “mustachioed” and “defibulator” – I enjoy playing with the sound-ness of words. It also explains why music (listening, playing instruments, DJing) has always been my thang. In my civilian life, I pump up the jam pump it up pump pump it up at ill-advised volume all-day, pretty much every day, and have for twenty years. And now that I have a 120-GB USB-enabled portable drive at home, with a couple thousand of my favorite MP3-encoded songs on it, I will be able to rock out in a full regal style next time I have an office job.

I do not miss listening to music here, however. I have a MP3-enabled diskman here with me, but did not tempt myself to break the rules, and brought only Buddhist lectures, no music with me. Perhaps it is because I needed the purification and austerity practice here so much. Perhaps it is also because the music that I hear in my head is so vivid, when it starts (which is all the time) it is often as it I was hearing the real thing. When I am watching thoughts, I stop music playing in my head, and note that I am internally talking (my main meditation teacher Shinzen Young told me that music should be categorized as “talk”, which I just accept without necessarily understanding or agreeing). But I have also taken to a new practice – when I am watching my breath or my body sensations, I just let the music play on. Sometimes it goes on for minutes, and sometimes it gets unbelievably intense, meditating while internal music plays.

If some of you want to hear how some parts of my sesshin were for me, go to www.mp3.com, search on “heaven piano company”. When you get ’em, find the song “Tatum O’Neil”, and (1) download and play or (2) direct play it as loud as your ears can stand. Try to be in your body, feeling the rise and fall of respiration, and all other sensations elsewhere, as you listen. The last sixty seconds or so, with the guitars rising and the drums crashing, well that’s how it was, that’s what I was often hearing inside my head.

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— By my count, there are fifteen different ceremonial bells and drums played here. Sometimes when I lie in the bed in my cabin, I imagine that I hear bells or drums in the sound of the creek flowing by, mostly the sharp clack-clack-clack of the han which calls us to zazen, the deep baaaaaawng of the zendo bowing bell, or the grating clangaclangaclangaclanga of the morning wake up bell. Sometimes, especially when I am in the zendo, the dribbling and rushing water of the creek sounds to me like cars whizzing by on a freeway. It most especially sounds to me like the Bronx River Parkway, which lay across a leafy river valley from the rear of the suburban New York house I grew up in.

— I am hypoglycemic and avoid sugar, for example cake cookies donuts and ice cream, and have avoided it for fourteen years. I have noticed however that the current tenzo (head of all kitchen workers and recipes) here puts more sugar in the food than past tenzos have. It’s a simple thing for me to avoid things like cookies, marmalade, and ketchup. But sugar also seems to sneak into salad dressing, yogurt, and soy sauce marinades. I sometimes have found that I have eaten more sugar than I think I have, and it sometimes fucks with my metabolism. I requested that the tenzo mellow out with all the sweetness, but he was not too receptive.

— I feel grateful for the three fleeces and silk shirt that my parents and Kendra gave me for Christmas.

— The last couple days on the garden crew we have been spreading chicken manure on some lawns. I won’t say that the jokes along the lines of “you did a chickenshit job” were endless, because they did eventually end, but they did have a good run for a while. And we are also starting to plant in the beds, as the days warm up.

— One thing that I have noticed that is difficult for me here is how often I have to say exactly what I mean, with one simple clear meaning, to people who I don’t know well here. With people I am comfortable with, in contrast, I more often say things with no meaning at all except to play with words, or things with two or more meanings. In fact, I have found the perfect calling/explanation/rationalization for how I am with people in a book that I am reading, as follows : “There are “crazy wisdom” schools where teachers say the most outrageous things. By saying outrageous things, teachers confront students with all their assumptions and expectations and the students just hit a wall and the mind that tries to keep its territory through reason and grasping is simply shattered or runs away.” – Rob Nairn, “Diamond Mind”, p. 50

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To Kendra, Nacho, Maria, Jenn, Erum, Kevin & Sandhya, David (Silva), Jack Space, Jane (mom), Hilary, Shanti, Tien, T.K. Rossiter, Mike W., Gunther, Wanda, Ian, and Lura, thanks for writing, it has meant a lot to me. To the rest of my friends, I will be here another month, and there is no time like the present to get off your lazy asses (Adam Coutts, care of Zen Mountain Center, 39171 Tassajara Road, Carmel Valley, CA, 93924)

Also, my thirty-fourth birthday is on March 31st, and Kendra will be throwing a big party for me on Saturday April 12th. Please attend if you can. I also want all my Bay Area friends to take my course and pay me money to learn about Buddhism and how to meditate (www.intromeditation.com).

I love you all.

Adam

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Here is a poem that the abbess read us during sesshin:

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent — what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses you life.

It does this not in forgiveness —
between you, there is nothing to forgive —
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is now a thing only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.

— Jane Hirshfield

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