I arrived earlier than I expected. Luckily, Kevin was there to open the door when I rang the bell. "You must be Dan," he said. I was expecting Joan, the woman I met once before when I visited last summer, who I had contacted a week before I showed up with my backpack and walking stick. She owns and lives in the Marblehead Zen Center (located in Beverly, MA); a lovely home located one street over from the Atlantic Ocean. I told her I was attempting to walk across the country and was hoping I could spend my first night at the center. Her response in the email was, "absolutely!"
Kevin invited me in and said I could put my things in the library. He had so many questions about my trip but said he couldn't think of any now that I was there. I told him to ask me anything when he remembered. It was just before 5:00 in the afternoon. After I changed out of my sweaty travel clothes, Jacqueline and Kevin were talking and laughing in the kitchen. Jacqueline comes to the zen center a few days a week to do a yoga session for anyone interested; I was just in time. Joan arrived shortly after and met us in the zendo for yoga.
The next few hours were a blur. Yoga lead right into meditation when we were joined by three others; one had been there before, the other two were newcomers to the center. Joan spoke about the Zen meditation method, what the point of staring at the wall is. "It's about leaving everything outside of the zendo; in here we have no roles, we are just conscious bodies being present, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable while being as unmoving as the wall."
8:30 came around so quickly and I hadn't eaten dinner yet, I don't know how I was still standing. Everyone was gone by this point except Kevin and me. He has been living at the Zen center for a few months now and in a few months he'll be flying to California to stay in a monastery for an "indefinite amount of time". He ate his vegetables and rice and I had a couple peanut butter sandwiches (he offered me his delicious food but I was content with the meal I will probably eating once or twice a day for the rest of the year) and we talked about the surreal situation we were both sitting in: staying in a house owned by an incredibly kind and caring woman, both of us just trying to figure out a way to live life that's different from the usual full-time job and starting a family and all the other distractions that don't appeal to either of us, both of us about to give in to some hefty commitments with no real plans for afterward. Neither of us had roles, we were both just being present, almost like speaking to the wall and hearing the same words being echoed back.
Sleep never came so easily. I wish I could've looked at some of the books in the library but, I couldn't keep my eyes open longer than I had to. In the morning after meditation, Joan and Kevin and Mark (another member of the center) sent me off by chanting the Jizo Dharani, a sort of mantra recited to grant extra protection to travelers. What more could you possibly want from your hosts? Breakfast? Well, they took care of that too after the chanting; oatmeal, apple sauce, toast and tea filled me up before heading out into the sunshine.
Upon stepping out through the back door and onto the porch I was confronted by this sign: 'great is the matter / of birth and death / life is fleeting, gone GONE / awake, awake each one! / do not waste this life'. Just like life, my stay at the zendo was brief and fleeting and I am gone, off to make something out of life!