02 May 2008


I found a one-day sitting for beginners in a beautiful Zen Buddhist center a day's drive from Los Angeles and decided to go. It began before dawn so I arrived the afternoon before, shortly after spilling a full cup of coffee on one of the two pairs of pants I brought to wear.

If you go to a Zen retreat, here's a tip: although the email may say go to the office when you arrive, most likely, no one will meet you. After I stood around trying to figure out where to go, I finally interrupted someone in the kitchen to ask for help. Turns out everything you need to know is posted on pages right outside the front door: where you sleep, where you sit in the zendo, the schedule, the rules etc. I guess everything's set up to eliminate as much talking as possible. Next problem: finding a place to wash my pants so they'd have some chance of drying before morning.

The showers and toilets were in building of their own. There was a place for shoes outside and, just inside, there was a sign saying it was a "silent area" and another that said, "No Trace."

I have never in my life see a cleaner bathroom. There were three stainless steel sinks which looked like they had never been used, a spotless floor, empty trash cans, and polished wood. Even the rubber sink stoppers for each sink were placed in exactly the same position on the rim of each sink. And I would let my children eat off the floors in the bathroom stalls. I was scared to even use it.

Does "no trace" mean no trash? I had very little time before dinner and, I'm sorry, but washing your pants in the sink leaves a trace no matter what you do. My "traces" were paper towels used to wipe up the sink and the water dripped on the floor. I just had enough time to hang up the pants just outside the cabin before dinner.

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