Home isn’t always a place…is it?
— Charley Mackesy
15R – 20L – 5R, the magic combination that unlocks the gate to the Zen Monastery Peace Center. Passing through the gate is to cross a sacred threshold beyond which is a deep silence broken only by the wind rustling through the ancient trees. The path beckons invitingly, gently winding down between banks of wild flowers, manzanita and oak. A monarch butterfly flits by, silky perfection forged in the crucible of metamorphosis, a sign of what awaits if we follow this path. And we do follow the path, down, past the fallen pines and the profusion of poison oak, past wood shed and garden tank, past the old bell ringed by pink crepe myrtle, until we stop to make a left at the sign announcing Meditation, this way. Then we walk up past the towering guardian pine tree, over the stream where water lilies bloom and dragonflies dance, through the burnished redwood archway. We pause to sit on the friendly wooden bench to remove our footwear and place them neatly on the worn brown shelves before soundlessly opening the door to the Meditation Hall. We bow to the Awareness within, mindfully making our way to the plumped perfection of a cushion, to which we bow again before sitting down, swiveling clockwise to face the shimmering ivory walls. After auditing our posture, we take a deep breath and wait. As the breath slows, the awareness expands to include the merry stream tumbling across polished stones, the chatter of a squirrel, the trill of birdsong. As attention turns to the breath, one notices the heart beating in resonance with the vast stillness of a place of peace. Cradled in the embrace of a land that mirrors the bliss of Being, one lets go, dissolving into the liminal emptiness of thisherenow. The bell rings, signaling the beginning of the sit, and a chorus of voices swell into the daily recollection: “The blessings of love and respect we offer to all….”
This particular path to meditation is not ours to walk any more. And yet, each time we sit down to meditate, wherever we might be, we make that metaphorical journey through the ancient pines and the beautiful courtyard into the inner Meditation Hall of Awareness. Each time we turn attention inward, we return to this Center of Peace, again and yet again, touching into the beating Heart that is always home.
The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
— Maya Angelou
The illusion of the world of opposites is a harsh and cruel space. From within that perspective, it is impossible to see ourselves as we are. To see True Nature as it is requires us to encounter it as it is—kind, compassionate, patient, generous, unconditionally loving. All practice structures facilitate repeated encounters with Authenticity. Practice as embodied by the Monastery is Conscious Compassionate Awareness, the uncompromising structure within which we are lovingly held as we awaken to our True Nature. In the loving chrysalis of its exquisite beauty, we were guided, supported and held through the difficult and joyful process of transformation. In immersing ourselves in this physical manifestation of Unconditional Acceptance, we learned to trust the process that is seeking itself, to recognize that this exterior landscape of lovingkindness is reflecting an interiority of intrinsic purity. The training to recognize Being as who and what we are will ever be the gift of this incarnation of the Monastery.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
— Mary Oliver
One of the monks recently alluded to the Monastery as a process, rather than a place, a perspective which liberates it from a specific this to a living here, always available now. That which is, All that is, That Thou Art is hard to comprehend, but on those magnificent 320 acres it is a living Reality. And this Reality is everywhere, ever present. As practitioners of awareness, we are called to recognize it as home, heart, what is us in every moment. And so until the Zen Monastery Peace Center materializes once more into a perfection of Form, which it will one day soon, we have the opportunity to practice encountering Authenticity in the Monastery of the Heart as the “Blessed Knowledge of Emptiness.”
Home isn’t always a place…is it?