I could have been very content in a monastery, locked away from the world up on a mountain top, but my love of being out in the hustle and bustle, the messy interaction of people, and the glitz and glam trumped that card.
I chose the monastery of life, which did, in fact, include the formal study of meditation with personal mentors in several esoteric schools. I did that for 21 years and my dedication to personal transformation will forever remain alive.
The mystical, magical side of things has always fascinated me. My life has been full of synchronicities, perfect timing and help from above. I don’t construct “signs from the Universe” or take warning if the stars are not aligned. However, I am keyed in and notice how things are connected.
I do look for the Sacred in all that I do. Even my rocket espresso machine is a vessel of gratitude for me each morning.
Early on, I started spontaneously “meditating” on my own, contacting Guides, Ascended Masters, and Angels. I needed all the help I could get, but from the looks of my life, that wasn’t really working.
When I found my first spiritual school, living in Paris as a daring twenty something, I wandered into it somewhat haphazardly. I was looking for a yoga class that had been recommended to me by my ex boyfriend’s girlfriend whose father was a Buddhist monk in Le Havre. We had been at a wild party when she spoke of a Zen Dojo hidden in the heart of the 9th arrondissement.
I needed relief from the anxiety and stress of being an esteemed student of classical music at the Conservatoire. I needed to try something wholesome in contrast to the drinking and drugging that was pulling me further and further down, with no relief from the pressure, the competition, or the fear of failure.
I decided to attend said yoga class which unbeknownst to me was followed by a Zen meditation that would change my life forever.
First of all, the teacher, Raymond Kotai Lambert, was cross eyed, and practically blind from being tortured by the Nazis as a prisoner. He was sought out and captured because of a letter he had written to his father, dissing the Germans and their maneuvers in France. He was not a Jew, a gypsy or a threat.
I would come to find out that subsequently he had studied Hatha Yoga extensively in India for years, Irano-Egyptian Yoga in the Middle East and was a chosen student of the Zen lineage of Taisen Deshimaru Roshi of which I also would be initiated. He had been a circus acrobat in his early years in France, and his sense of humor was truly profound.
That evening I did my first formal meditation where there was a “holder of the energy”, a real Zen Master or Roshi, and I must admit, I was extremely curious.
I had no idea about the meditation part until some of the members changed to black robes after the yoga class, and lined up outside of the room . I was herded into place sans black robe, nervous, and barely comprehending the new French vocabulary being whispered back and forth about what to do.
Lined up, we entered in a walking meditation (kinhin), something I would come to use as a powerful tool of transformation. Each step required a conscious inhale and exhale. We took our places seated in a “square circle” facing the wall, but not before there were bows, followed by seated cantilever swaying from larger to smaller arcs then various other machinations of which I had no idea what, how or why. Of course, I simply copied the best I could, all the while thinking that this was a bunch of ritualistic hootenanny of which I wanted no part.
What the hell had I gotten myself into now?
The ritual started with utter silence, painful, squirmy, silence that resounded so loudly in my ears, I almost jumped up, screamed and ran out of the door to the nearest chic Parisian bar. The thoughts were rushing in at a speed with which I could barely keep up. Why do people do this? What was I doing here? How could I have trapped myself as a prisoner like this? I am nowhere near the door! All this ritual just reminded me of the hypocrisy of church. Maybe I should have never come here. I am a fish out of water. I can’t breath. I am starting to panic. I can’t do this….
Just when I could stand it no longer, the bells and chanting began. Thank God!!!! Something so beautiful I thought I had died and gone to heaven. At this point, I could have considered a moaning sick cow music to my ears. It broke the horrible suffering of the unbearable “silence” and gave me something to wonder about, something on which to focus.
Over the next 6 years, this would become my time of deepest reverent prayer.
Oh no….more silence and this time the agitation was so great within me that I started counting specks on the wall from the new fangled swirly paint job. My legs were throbbing, I longed to move but I didn’t for fear of what someone might think. Everyone else appeared perfectly still, peaceful and unified with an unknown force of which I was not a part. Any movement would not go unnoticed.
How long could this last???
Suddenly, I heard the whack of a paddle. What the hell? I slowly turned my head to glance down the line and saw the teacher with a long paddle (*kaisaku) graciously doling out the torture when each student relented in submission, hands together; head bowed. They then leaned their head right, whack, head left, whack and bowed again in gratitude.
This was the last straw. I would not be the victim of some sadistic cult leader. I began to get very hot, my heart was pounding in fear, and that buzzing started to roar in my ears. Surely I was going to faint. My mind began to scheme of how to get out of there before he got to me and then I figured out that if I didn’t bow down and ask for it, he would pass me by.
My heart was pounding so hard that I was sure the Roshi could see it as he arrived looming large behind me. When I didn’t do anything, he himself leaned my head right, thwack, then leaned my head left, bigger thwack, and gently pushed my head into a bow that greeted my hands which had somehow miraculously come together without my knowing. His hand remained on my head in a kind of transmitted reassurance.
It was ritual I could not understand.
It was ritual against which I wanted to rebel.
It was so foreign to my experience that I judged it up and down as abuse, unnecessary submission, and ridiculous beyond measure.
But in that moment, tears began to stream down my face. These were not tears of pain from a paddle which actually didn’t hurt at all. They were tears of release, tears of letting go, tears of relief from the incessant disturbance in which I had been drowning not only seconds before, but a whole lifetime.
All went quiet for a fleeting moment in which every worry, judgement and criticism melted in a pool before me.
I knew that I was on my way home.
Have a great week.
Excerpt from Molly Knight Forde’s up and coming book.
*The word “keisaku” may be translated as “warning stick”, or “awakening stick”, and is wielded by the jikijitsu. “Encouragement stick” is a common translation for “kyōsaku”. In Soto Zen, the kyōsaku is always administered at the request of the meditator, by way of bowing one’s head and putting the palms together ingassho, and then exposing each shoulder to be struck in turn. In Rinzai Zen, the stick is requested in the same manner, but may also be used at the discretion of the Ino, the one in charge of the meditation hall. Even in such cases, it is not considered a punishment, but a compassionate means to reinvigorate and awaken the meditator who may be tired from many sessions of zazen, or under stress, the “monkey mind” (overwhelmed with thoughts).