Last week my husband went to a Zen meditation session at a Korean temple he'd never been to before. The abbot in charge had just had foot surgery and had only gotten out of the hospital an hour earlier (they kept him in an extra few days because they knew he wouldn't hold still and rest when they sent him home). Ordinarily the abbot cooks the evening meal while participants are in the meditation session, but last week of course he didn't feel up to it. He had arranged for a Vietnamese group to bring in food, but for various reasons they didn't arrive. So the abbot, ever practical, ordered in Pizza Pizza, which I thought was charming.
This week I attended with my husband, and the group was welcoming and kind. I felt I'd known some of them for ages. The abbot, true to form, kept leaving his wheelchair to hobble about. A smiling, chuckling Korean monk, he made you feel like laughing for no reason, and as I watched the others as they knelt to listen to his dharma talk, I could see real love in their faces. He cooked the meal while we meditated, an interesting and yummy cold broth (with ice cubes floating in it) over a dense tangle of noodles, sliced cucumbers, and bamboo. And he didn't sit down once while we ate, but continued to bustle about on his bandaged foot. The man doesn't rest. It felt wrong to sit and eat while this obviously unwell man worked in the kitchen, but I was told this is how he wants to serve. He never sits to eat with the others.
When we left, the abbot was out watering the garden. There was a woman there last night who didn't participate in the session but stayed instead out in the garden, sitting on a bench. I assume she has cancer, as she was bald and extremely thin and frail. She looked to be in some distress, holding her head and fighting tears, and my first impulse was to go to her. But the abbot calmly moved around the garden, watering the plants with the hose, giving the woman space but always in the vicinity. Just letting her know he was present but not intruding. And I thought I understood why the woman came. It is an accepting, warm, and peaceful place. He may not be able to heal her body, but you could sense she felt he and the temple could soothe her spirit. There's something nourishing about them.
The abbot told us with a laugh that he has kidney failure and has to go back to Nuclear Medicine at the hospital twice this week. I told him he has to be healthy, because I only just found him and have things to learn from him.
My husband and I are contemplating joining the group for a three-day meditation retreat in September. It depends on whether I can find a dog sitter, and whether I think my body is up to three days of the half-lotus position, which right now sounds scary. But I've been wanting more inner contentment, and it sounds like a good way to kick-start the journey.