April 21, 2009

The Zendo at Felsentor

As I mentioned in an earlier email, the Zendo at Felsentor was designed and built by Paul Discoe and Vanya Palmers, Kobun Roshi's Dharma Heir.

Great care has been taken with every detail and there is a Swiss/Japanese flair to it although it is built on Japanese design.  The clean lines of the interior, the stairways, the entry, the bathroom, are all Japanese in ambiance yet at the same time modern, uncluttered Swiss.  
At the conference, we began the day at 6:00 a.m. with Zazen and morning ceremony.  There are no mechanical sounds that interrupt the bird song since the retreat center is built on a shelf of land overlooking Lake Luzern on a hiking trail which curves around past the main buildings.  The center runs a small cafe in the summer so that hikers can stop at the sightseeing spot for a coffee and sandwich or a glass of wine.  The Rigi Mountain is famous for hiking and mountain visitors.

We went back and forth from the dining room to the Zendo as we followed the course of the day which included periods of meditation intermixed with lecture, creative activities, discussion, and solitary time for personal work in the afternoons.  This particular group which happened to be all women were rich with humor and wisdom and we laughed heartily at the talking meals and shared important aspects of our lives as women, mothers, single women, professionals.  We all had enough experience to know grief, suffering, triumphs, accomplishments.  We had no hesitation to be open and honest together.  I value the qualities these women brought to the group.

A Catholic nun also lives at Felsentor with the managers and residents.  Sister Teresia comes from a convent in, I think, Austria.  She had had medical issues with her heart and Vanya offered her the opportunity to recover at Felsentor.  Teresia came and has been there for many years.  She is the main caregiver to the animals which takes considerable time.  Vanya Palmers keeps the practice of animal rescue and brings animals to the center when they are destined for the slaughterhouse.  It's the practice for farm families to give a couple a large pig when they are getting married.  This is to give the newlyweds the start of food for the winter.  Some couples do not want to slaughter the animals and they are given to Vanya for rescue at Felsentor.  The pig population has grown and the other dear animals now also include goats, and chickens.  Sr. Teresia loves these animals dearly and has named them all.  She spends much of her time with the animals along with supporting the retreats with work in the kitchen.  She is a remarkable nun who adds a human dimension to Felsentor.  She also wears rakusu and sat Zazen with us every chance she got.

By the way, my camera remains broken.  These photos were taken with a borrowed camera, but now I go forward hoping I'll find another camera as I go.  The weather continues to be wonderful in Zurich.  The city celebrated a big holiday on Monday called Secheslauten (spelling?) which means "six o'clock beginning" and is also known in English as the Day of the Booger.  Thousands of people gather in the town square to see an ice/snow man, the Booger, built atop a huge pyre which is lighted at exactly 6 p.m.  A clock then begins to tick and depending on how long it takes to melt the Booger,  will tell whether it will be a good summer or not.  Firecrackers are set inside the figure and explode as the figure melts.  Men and women on horseback in traditional costumes ride in a circle around the figure at a gallop until the burning is completed.  This tradition is held only in Zurich.  It was wonderful to witness and this year the Booger burned twice as fast as last year.  Get out your swim suits!