Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Reflections: Visiting Antaiji - Arriving in the Cold
The most obvious place for me to begin this post is the night prior to my arrival on March 26th when I and a 19 year old fellow, also headed for Antaiji, spent the night in the waiting room of the Hamasaka train station. We both arrived after midnight and the town was shut down for the night. I 'gave up' of my idea of a comfortable hotel room and even thought the situation humorous, given I was heading to the home of 'Homeless Kudo'. Instead I spent the night getting to know my compatriot, pacing to keep warm, examining the pictures decorating the station walls, reading, closing my eyes and trying to shut out the noise of the train on stand-by, and even got in a bit of zazen. We thought that at dawn we'd make our way down to the beach, but it was pouring rain and very chilly at dawn so we decided against it. By the time we boarded the bus that would take us to the mountain road leading to Antaiji, the rain had started to turn to snow...
We were saved from most of the cold wet hike up the mountain by a van that stopped and offered us a lift to Antaiji's doorstep. Once inside, we were treated to hot tea and a warm wood stove in the hiroma (dining room). Although I'd been unaware of it in my preparations for the trip, the rest of Antaiji is without heat, as is typical in Japan. I went to bed wearing my coat and, in spite of the previous sleepless night, had trouble sleeping because I was shivering intensely. [Hint: Be sure to pack for a winter camping trip if you're arriving in March.]
My battle with the cold continued the following day, a work day, beginning with zazen to which I wore all the long underwear, sweaters, and coats I'd brought along. With about 6 inches of snow on the ground, wind rattling the shutters and blowing through a number of openings in hondo, zazen consisted mostly of facing the fact that I was cold.
After breakfast, the four of us that represented the first arrivals of the season and Docho-san, hiked through snow and up the mountain to drain and clean out the muck, mainly mud and gravel, from the bottom of Antaiji's water reservior. I was thankful for the hike and work because the exercise warmed me up. At some point, I was taking a break from shoveling and rinsing the mud off of the rock walls and noted that I'd gotten soaked getting the water from the nearby waterfall. It wasn't long before I was freezing again. In less than 24 hrs I'd managed to 'use' and 'use up' all my warm clothes. In addition, during our absence, the wood stove in the hiroma had been dismantled in recognition of the start of the spring season. Luckily, Antaiji keeps a limited supply of clothes left behind by previous residents. [Hints: If you're cold, try working. Also, water resistant pants are an essential. The ones I had intended to bring had either been loaned out or misplaced...Pack a couple of days in advance so you have time to correct for unexpectedly missing gear.]
Needless to say, I spent the evening zazen period again facing my miserable state of being cold. I know, to some folks, it may sound like I'm a bit of a whimp as far as being cold is concerned, but from conversations I've had with other meditators or overheard, I think I'm about average. Or maybe I am a whimp having experienced hypothermia on a winter backpacking trip in the White Mountains many years ago. Either way, as I was leaving the hondo I recognized that, while the cold weather was indeed impermanent, it was going to be around for a few more days at the very least. I knew that if something didn't change, I wasn't going to make it even that long. Most times, when I've been cold, there's always been somewhere I could go to escape from the cold close by and in the near future. That wasn't the case here. So as I was leaving the hondo, I 'let go' of something -- my psychological reaction to being cold. In other words, I've continued to be cold -- in fact, tonight marks only the third night I've been here where I won't be wearing my coat to bed -- but I've stopped cringing in response to it. Was this a one time fix? Nope, I've had to flip that mental switch over and over, but it gets easier every time I do. And now, finally, almost two months since I arrived, the impermanence of being cold has been realized. It is spring and heading into summer.