Tag Archives: silence


22 Sep


(considering I couldn’t take photos at Tassajara imagine the picture above is me)


(best and worst all rolled into 1…such as life)


The 14 mile Drive

The last 14 miles of  my 7 hour trip had me questioning my sanity (and it was only day 1 into my adventure…way too early to be questioning one’s sanity). You see, Tassajara’s website makes it very clear that the last 14 miles descending into Tassajara is treacherous and they even offer a once a day shuttle for a small fee. But, like a fool I thought maybe they were exaggerating when I read this…

Driving Precautions
For the last 14 miles, Tassajara Road is a winding dirt road with sheer drop-offs and a steep, narrow descent over the last five miles. We urge you to observe the following precautions if you CHOOSE to drive this road:Make sure your car is in good working order, paying special attention to brakes, fuel, and cooling system. As you begin your descent over the last five miles, shift into the lowest possible gear and PUMP your brakes as needed. DO NOT apply steady pressure to your brakes or they will overheat. If your brakes begin to overheat or feel mushy, pull over immediately and allow them to cool for at least 20 minutes before continuing.

 First lesson about Buddhist…they aren’t dramatic people. They happened to be telling the truth…it was that bad. For future reference when I see “PUMP your brakes” I am going to opt out of the drive. Once I realized the road was not a joke I attempted to turn around but that was impossible considering I had nowhere to turn off other than off a cliff. I drove  5 miles an hour down that 14 mile road and still felt like I was on a rollercoaster. Oh and did I also mention I had no cell reception? I was off the grid at this point so if anything went wrong I was screwed. I did survive the experience but ended up spending a majority of my 6 days at Tassajara worrying about the drive back up.


I don’t have to talk to anyone? Awesome 

At Tassajra even during the allowed talking periods you don’t really have to talk to anyone unless you feel the need to and I am a HUGE fan of this. I am also a huge fan of not having my phone or computer and I also have to come clean on something…this includes not having to call my friends and family for 6 days. Sorry guys, I do feel bad admitting this but it’s true. I have never experienced such silence. It was a delight!!  I mean, how often does one get total silence from  everybody and everything and not have feel bad about it. I’m sorry but I can’t  talk…I am at a Buddhist monastery.  BEST EXCUSE EVER.


Meditaion & Service

Before Tassajara the most I have ever meditated was 15 minutes and it was usually following an hour-long relaxing yoga class. Tassajara was a tad different to say the least. Every morning at 5:20 a person would go running by all the cabins ringing a bell to beckon us to the Zendo (meditation hall) for morning Zenzo (meditation) and service. Having a person run by my window ringing a bell was a very odd way to be awakened from a deep sleep. There was something very fairy like about it. Actually, I kept imaging a little gnome doing it. As I dragged myself up the hill towards Zendo I would asked myself why oh why I sent myself to Buddhist Boot camp.

During meditation I had to sit on the floor facing a wall and not move for an hour. I always felt very peaceful the first few minutes into my zazen. But, after 20 minutes my back would start to hurt and my mind would start to wander. During this time I often heard crass rap music in my head- very odd. By the 30 minute mark I would start cursing the Buddhist monks for making me sit in such a painful position and cursing the fly that just landed on my face. After 40 minutes my mind and body would finally  just give up and I would just sit and sit and sit. The moments when I was just sitting with my mind blank were very peaceful. I went back to zazen twice a day for those fleeting moments because they made it all worth it,

A service followed meditation every day which I loved despite not knowing what was happening through most of it. The whole room would line up in rows facing the Buddha and would chant and bow in intervals. I just moved my lips and bowed with the others when they did. The first time I heard all the voices chanting together I was hooked because it was so pretty.


Bath Time

I heard that Tassajara had a Japanese style bath house but I had no idea what this meant. In retrospect I wish I had looked into it a bit more before departure because upon arrival I quickly learned  that it meant I had  to shower with all the females at Tassajara. It wasn’t a big deal until I got undressed for the first time and  noticed I was the odd one out. Probably the only time in my life I will be self-conscious because I HAD a bikini wax….Oh the stares I got! Though by day 3 I stopped caring and proudly walked my bikini waxed self  around that bath house with my head held high. It was actually pretty cool in there. There was a beautiful natural hot spring spa, a sauna and you could swim in the creek! I didn’t swim naked in the creek with the others because I am scared of bugs but for those who did it looked refreshing!


You want me to do what? Work as practice

I knew going in to this I would have to earn my spot as Tassajara by working. I simply had high hopes I would get garden or kitchen duty because both of those sound lovely and peaceful. But no, I got cabin duty…meaning I was a maid for Tassajara…meaning I had to clean toilets. I bitched and moaned through most of it (only in my head of course) but soon I started to get it…it was part of my practice and by the end all my big emotions were gone.

Tassajara says this about “work as practice”….

It is pretty typical to see work as only a means to an end, something that has to be done now in order to do the things we really want to do later. But Zen training takes work far beyond this small point of view. The founder of Tassajara, Suzuki Roshi, valued work so highly as to say, “First clean, then zazen.” When work is practice it is seen as part of our zazen (meditation) practice itself. It is an end in itself. Work and zazen go hand in hand. Both are necessary and without one, the other suffers. When work is practice, it is a Buddha doing what a Buddha does, how a Buddha does it.

So when our work is practice, it is less about what we are doing and more about how we are doing it. This particular how in Zen training refers to bringing our zazen, or Zen, Mind to our workplace. “Zen Mind” is a willingness to engage ourselves wholeheartedly in whatever we are doing in the present moment, whether it is making up a bed, cleaning a toilet, chopping a carrot, or serving a guest in the dining room. It is a radical willingness to go beyond our usual limited, small mind; the one that is ruled by its likes and dislikes, its prejudices, narrow points of view and fixed ways of seeing and doing things. The small mind is fueled by habit energy, which says “I don’t like that kind of work,” or “I know all about that.” When we bring our zazen practice into our work, we take a leap out of that conditioned small mind and into the freedom and generosity of the mind that is accepting, fresh, and full of possibility. This mind is the unfettered mind of a beginner; it is “Beginner’s Mind.”


“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell”




16 Sep


-What Inspired me this week?-

Being on the open road by myself



The Hsin Hsin Ming mantra

French classes start this weekend!

The hint of fall in the air

-What am I grateful for this week?-

My experience at Tassajara


Car navigation systems

-What Surprised me this week?-

How liberating it felt to be off the grid

How hard it is to sit quietly for an hour

The fact that I cleaned other people’s toilets

My beautiful welcome home flowers from Brian

How much joy there is to be found in quiet


“The world is it’s own magic”

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi


8 Sep


The time has come for me to pack my bags and drive into the wilderness, to begin my buddhist adventure. I leave for Tassajara tomorrow morning at 5 and will be off the grid for a week. While there I will have no access to my cell phone or to a computer so I will not be able to blog! This will be very hard for me! But, I guess the whole point of the retreat is to be quiet so I am going to have to embrace it.  I went back and forth about having guest bloggers for the days I am absent but in the end I decided the blog should remain silent for 7 days if I am doing so.

I am very excited about going but I am not going to lie I am a little nervous as well. I simply have no idea what to expect! But, that’s part of the adventure right?! Questions in my head….Will I be able to find the place or will I get lost? Will I make it by noon like they requested? What will my work duties be? Will I be able to meditate all those hours? Will I be able to fall asleep there? Will my clothing choices be Tassajara appropriate? Will I lose my mind there? Will I have a huge epiphany about my life?

I can’t wait to share all my stories and thoughts with you guys when I return! I will be back in 7 days! Wish me luck!


“A jug fills drop by drop.”




11 Aug


When I got home last night I opened the door to find a letter from Tassajara! I ripped it open with excitement and out dropped a pamphlet titled “Pure Standards ( guidelines of Conduct ) for Zen Training”

Here are some highlights…



• Please make a commitment to completely follow the zendo (meditation hall) schedule at 5:20 am & 8:50 pm. This means attending morning and evening zazen, morning and evening service, soji (pre-breakfast temple cleaning), lectures, and all special ceremonies.

• Muffle sounds such as coughing, sneezing, blowing the nose, yawning, or clearing the throat.

• Wear clean clothes to the zendo and be sure that your face, hands and feet are clean. Appropriate zendo clothing is neutral and subdued in color, and extends beyond the shoulders and below the knees.

• If you have long hair, tie it back and wear it off the neck.

• Refrain from wearing scented lotions or perfume, jewelry, watches, or mala beads in the zendo.


• Observe silence from evening zazen through the breakfast silent period the following day.

• Observe the period of silence at breakfast and lunch after the meal chant, ending at the double hit of the clackers.

• Observe silence in and around the zendo, in the bathhouse during residents’ silent bathing time  (4:30 – 5:45 p.m.), and at the back door snack area in the kitchen.

• Refrain from singing, humming, or whistling within Tassajara; do not call to others from a distance.


• Stop and bow in gassho (with palms joined) when passing other practitioners outside (not in the courtyard, the bathhouse, on the zendo walkway, or in other enclosed spaces).

• Stop and bow to the toilet altar when entering and leaving toilets.


Sweet baby Jesus! 3 hours a day meditating! Oy is all I have to say…oy. I’m barely up to 5 minutes and it’s infrequent…like once a week and for 5 minutes, not to mention I spend a lot of time thinking about what I need at the grocery store. I think I am going to need to up my game a bit this next month to prepare. So tonight my mother and I will be going to a meditation workshop. You would move fast  too if this was a month away.

The other part of the pamphlet that stood out to me was this whole “bowing to the toilet altar” thing. I am definitely going to need more information on that one


“If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts.”

 Alan Cohen


10 Aug


So now that I have been accepted to the work program at Tassajara I am filled with emotions. Surprise, surprise right?!  I would classify this emotional cocktail mix as excitement vs anxiety. When I got the call Saturday morning that I was accepted, the woman made sure to clarify that this was work and not a vacation. She was worried I wasn’t aware of how much manual labor it involved. I assured her I was totally aware and prepared.

After the conversation ended I hung up and thought…”Oh Shit, Kate…what did you get yourself into?” It made me think back to when I was applying for the program and I read my mother the list of possible responsibilities. They include…








Cabin preparation

and general maintenance work for the  community.

To which she said…”I don’t hear anything that you can do?”

Clearly, my own mother thinks I am screwed.


“Don’t wait for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel, stride down there and light the bloody thing yourself.”
Sara Henderson



6 Aug


I got accepted to the Tassajara work program! I was starting to get a little worried because I sent my application in ages ago and still hadn’t heard anything. But, I got a call this morning that I was in! Yeah! I can’t believe I am actually doing it. I can feel a silly little joyful grin start to move across my face again…

My Tassajara schedule

5:00am Informal Zazen

5:20 Wake-up Bell

5:50 Zazen (with 5 min. interval)

6:50 Morning Service

7:15 Soji (Temple Cleaning)

7:30 Breakfast

8:30 Work meeting

11:50 Noon Service – optional

11:55 End work

12:00pm Lunch

1:00 Work meeting

4:30 End work

4:30-5:45 Silent Student Bath Time

5:00 Informal Zazen

5:50 Evening Service

6:00 Dinner

7:45 Informal Zazen

8:40 Zazen

9:20 Three Refuges

10:30 Firewatch


“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”