January 23, 2009

Keeping Touch with the Solitary in Us

When I give talks and show slides at various places, as I did last Wednesday at Panorama City, people are forever interested in Gogo-an.  Gogo-an is the name of the meditation hut where Ryokan, a Japanese hermit priest/poet of the 18/19th Century, lived for more than two decades.  The Gogo-an at Olympia Zen Center is a replica built in the spirit of Ryokan for solitary retreats for members or visitors for any duration of time. 

Perhaps it's the architecture that interests people, the thatched roof calling us back to nature, to the primal simplicity, and the compelling silence that seems to surround the hut.  The 12 x 12 building dedicated for solitary use is unusual to find in this age of hugeness.  We tend toward the comfortable with heat and hot water, full bathroom, hot food.  None of that, of course, is found at Gogo-an.

Last year, a man did a retreat at Gogo-an for the entire month of January.  He did not use heat, but he did use the Zendo kitchen for hot water each day and for some cooking.  He layered his clothing and slept in a good sleeping bag and said that the hot tea made the difference for him.  By the end of the month, the man's face was totally pure, filled with energy, smiling, contented, empowered.  He knew he was capable of not just surviving, but finding the way to live in the natural world again without amenities that can make us spiritually lazy.  Too much comfort can distance us from self-examination, exploration, and empathy.

Just to rest our eyes on Gogo-an is a reminder in the deep heart's core of that solitary place in us that cares for a truth in our being longing to be cared for and expressed.  It's a reminder to keep the balance of the solitary in us and restore the Dharma Treasure.