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Sesshin in the Monastery of Iron

Stepping from the brightly-tiled locker room clad only in the shorts of my monk garb I enter the natatorium. Striding across the pool deck towards the showers I drop my towel off in its usual spot and, turning the nob (it’s no matter how far I turn it as it is only one temperature), I’m blasted with freezing water–the shower zazen. It doesn’t matter that I do this at least four times weekly and have been for years, the coldness still startles me out of my post-meditation euphoria. This feeling doesn’t abate for long as I settle down into the warm waters of the spa and allow myself to drift away.

About ten minutes pass in this–the spa zazen. It’s time to begin the next step–the pool zazen. The pool is in between the temperature of the frigid shower and the spa and I float there, breathing out cold breaths and feeling a bit of a pressure on my lungs. Lifting up my legs, my bulk sinks me to the bottom of the pool in a near instant and I sit down there for but a minute before the next step of this big grand old kata commences–the sauna zazen. Here I let all the troubles of the day melt away and the velvet hands of nothingness caress my brain as the heat, with the slowness and persistence of someone sucking a thick milkshake through a straw, strips every bit of energy from my body. I’m left suspended there in scorching space-time until this forever-moment, too, passes.

“When you say ‘now,’ it’s already gone,” as Aitken used to say, and so this now and it’s ever-so-many zazens passed by just as the water on my chest evaporated away in a New York minute in that sauna, always fleeting.

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