On Saturday, Pony and I went to explore downtown Santa Fe. As we arrived and found parking for our car, the bells of the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral began to ring. There were a handful of bells that, once they got going, created quite a din that filled the downtown plaza with their sound.
At some point, I was reminded of those bells as I sat in the meditation hall of the Upaya Zen Center, in Santa Fe. Upaya is located in a quiet, unassuming little neighborhood in the eastern part of Santa Fe. I read about it in one of my zen Buddhist books, and decided to pay it a visit (up to now, I had never visited any Buddhist temple of any sort, zen or otherwise, despite the fact that I have been meditating for almost 40 years and have identified myself as a Buddhist for over a decade).
It is a lovely community. Pony and I did not get any formal tour as such, but we wandered about a bit until we found the building that seems to serve as kitchen, dining hall, and office. There I met a gentleman named Michael who had all the appearances of being a monk (shaved head, black blouse and trousers, sandals). He led us to the meditation hall. Pony begged off going in for the meditation session, as she had a headache coming on. Michael suggested she might walk the gardens (including a labyrinth), while I removed my shoes and entered the meditation hall, and took a seat at a spot indicated for me.
The hall is reasonably spacious; about the size of a small chapel, perhaps, with seating arranged around the perimeter. There are cushions on the floor, as well as a few stools and chairs for those who wished to sit in the manner Westerners are more accustomed to.
It was an hour of meditation, starting with 25 minutes of seated meditation, then about ten minutes of walking meditation, followed by another 25 minutes of sitting (there is sort of a joke among zen Buddhists, found on t-shirts and bumper stickers, that says, “Don’t just do something…Sit there!”).
I sat down to meditate, and the monkey mind kicked into full gear. Thoughts careened and raced and bumped and clashed within the walls of my mind. As I said, I was reminded of the clangor of the cathedral bells, and I really was afraid that my thoughts would be loud enough to disturb the others seated around me. It didn’t help that I had forgot to leave my cellphone in the car. It chimed twice (to inform me friends of mine had taken their turns in Words With Friends matches) before I found the volume control and turned it down to zero.
Still, there was some stillness. And there was a moment where I felt like the front of my head was one big hole of endless “no-thing-ness”. There is a zen koan that asks, “What is your face before you are born?” And I found my self wondering, “Is this THAT?”
I came out of the meditation session feeling incredibly calm and energized, and with a quiet, deep abiding sense of joy, or perhaps bliss. All of this, despite the frantic mischief of the monkey mind. I have had other moments of meditation where I have experienced profound stillness of the mind. I am sure I can and will do so again. In the meantime, I look forward to visiting Upaya at least one more time before we head on to Phoenix.