In just under two hours, I will begin the six-day silent retreat that concludes my month of residency here at the monastery. The month has been intense--both intensely joyful and, at times, intensely and quietly difficult--and revelatory from start to finish. To get day after day in which I have the task of focusing my mind clearly on exactly the thing that I'm doing, over and over and over, has been the blessing of my year. To have many of the people around me turn out to be in their late 20s and early 30s has been an unexpected benefit. To have gotten to make one bona fide professional contact, to have begun the process of converting a new carpenter friend to George Eliot fandom, to have made some sort of progress on some of the central questions (both short- and long-term) of my life, to have gotten to test-shoot the camera I covet (now more than ever)--these have all been yet more unintended consequences. I have no idea how this last retreat will play out; each sesshin is so different from the last, simply because being left alone with one's own mind for hours on end provokes the uprising of what one least expects, when one least expects it. And goodness knows last week took an unexpected turn when that heatwave blasted in and held us sweltering and steaming in our ankle-length grey cotton/poly robes; I don't think that I've ever been so very hot, and I've certainly never been that hot and had to stay that still.
When I woke up this morning--at 6 a.m., late to my new normal of 4:15--my plan was to come down the mountain from my cabin, have a cup of coffee, and sit zazen for an hour or so. Instead, I came down the mountain the long way, taking a pause at the monastery's cemetery, and after reading for a few minutes ended up in a clarifying and thought-provoking conversation with the woman who's our out-going chef. More surprises followed: a friend was borrowing the old chef's car for a quick trip to Woodstock, which gave me a chance to bum a ride to an area with cell service and thus the chance to try to call my parents (whom, alas, I was for another week's running unable to reach). And for the last couple of hours, I've been processing the photographs that have accumulated on my cameras over the month.
As I wrote this post and uploaded these pictures, the abbot went out into the rain to chop down, at first on his own, the recently dead pear tree in front of the building. We all prepare for sesshin in our own ways.