My apologies for the couple week hiatus. I went on a work/leisure trip to California with the intention to write, but alas, here I am after missing a few regular entries. To get things started off again, I’m introducing a new theme this week: the “Guest Writer Series.” Volume I comes from my long-time friend, Ashley Welton (of Hawaii and now Long Beach, CA), during a trip to Argentina some years ago. She runs an awesome travel website and blog, filled with great tips, tools and stories from the road. Thank her for writing this week by checking out her site: http://miniskirtninja.com/
A Day at the Dojo by Ashley Welton Guest Writer Series – Volume I
My first morning in Capilla del Monte I meet the girl who shares my room at the hostel. Her name, Ainara – quite common in Spain – but it takes me nearly a week to remember. She speaks no English, and has a speech impediment. I consider it an opportunity to sharpen my language skills and increase my arm gesticulations by a factor of ten.
Across the breakfast table, she tells me about a Zen Temple 6 km outside of town that offers a unique experience to visitors. On Saturdays and Sundays they open their doors to the public, and for 30 pesos you can participate in their morning meditation, yoga, home cooked lunch, and a tour of the grounds. What an incredible opportunity; I absolutely want to go!
Saturday morning arrives. Ainara, myself, and a couple Frenchies I had recruited the night before pile into a car. The cab driver takes us down a long dirt road, past the thermal hot springs that have been closed 10 years for renovations, and drops us at the top of a hill. His directions consist of pointing down an overgrown path, and mumbling “You’ll see it.”
The foliage here has changed from the desert scrub to lush greenery that clearly has access to more water. We hustle down the path, filled with excitement and curiosity, and walk through the gate where Alejandro is eating his breakfast on a picnic bench under the trees. He has a shaved head, weathered skin, earth colored robes, and is dutifully smoking a Marlboro Red. He is quietly energetic, serious, and, upon smiling, exposes a couple of missing teeth.
When he looks up I whisper, “We’re here for the day?” I feel kind of silly, but he nods
unsurprised, disappears inside the house and about 5 minutes later, walks out, says “Vamos”, and exits the gate 20 feet in front of us. Apparently, we are to follow. Tailing a monk and his dog down a dirt path to I don’t know where, surrounded by trees and creeks in the middle of Argentina is a new experience – I can’t help but giggle.
The monk turns down the hill and enters through a small wooden gate that I hadn’t noticed on our way to the main house. We cross a bridge under a canopy of leafy trees and head up a dirt path. A large gong hanging from a four-post roofed structure sitting on a stone platform, and a dojo off to the right welcome us.
Meditation time! Well, meditation technique time, and then meditation practice time –
everything in its proper order. First we must remove our shoes and face them away from the building. We enter the foyer where the Zafus are waiting selection. After choosing a meditation pillow and mat, we are instructed how to enter the dojo.
The entrance is marked by a behemoth tree branch laid over the ground. Crossing the threshold left foot first, we bow to the Buddha situated on the idol block at the center of the room. The building has a corrugated metal roof, raw wood trusses, windows all around and a concrete floor that is cold to our bare feet. The dojo feels alive and constantly makes sounds, as though it is talking when we can’t.
The next 45 minutes are spent on meditation instruction in the Zazen style. We learn how to sit our Zafus, where to put our hands, how to focus our eyes and finally the warrior walk, which is a slow shuffle weight exchange while fixing your overlapped fists on the center of your solar plexus – I’m utterly confused as to how we will use this warrior walk, but all things reveal themselves in good time.
We have been prepped like a thanksgiving turkey and now the real meditation practice can
commence. We exchange a few panicked looks, Roman thought that was the practice, but ahead of us we have another hour to hour and a half of piercing pain, sleeping limbs, steady breath and calm minds – at least that’s the goal.
Martin the monk, and our future yoga instructor join us. To begin, we face the walls and arrange ourselves on our Zafus. After what feels like forever of seated meditation, and it should be re-named fire breathing pain posture with a side of peace, Alejandro rings the bell. We must now stand.
I shake out my legs but am utterly terrified to place weight on them because I’m not sure they’ll hold weight. After drawing myself to a vertical position, we begin the warrior walk. What a useful technique! My legs restore themselves with less discomfort than expected.
However, the party’s not over, round two of seated pain posture pain and warrior walk is about to begin. We rearrange ourselves on the other side of the dojo for the chanting bowing series. Alejandro’s voice is otherworldly. It’s deep and vibrating like a didgeridoo. He rings the bell for the last time and our meditation experience has come to a close.
Yoga is more like a stretch class and less like a yoga practice. All authenticity seems to have
been used up in the meditation and a baby yoga class is required to even out the intensity. Even so, it reminds me what weeks of trekking and sleeping on hard beds has done to my body. I make a mental note – stretch more.
We float back to the main house and I notice things I hadn’t noticed that morning – the double amber picnic tables set for lunch, a platform over the stream, an ancillary building with earth toned paintings of Kokopeli, butterflies and lizards, and green Adirondack chairs set by the river. Lunch is a satiating home cooked lasagna casserole, with fresh salad, olive oil, wine and conversation. I haven’t spoken English for three weeks; in fact, the last native speakers I encountered left a month ago. We discuss politics, Argentina, and the rising consciousness of the world. Two people break away to go for a walk around the grounds, one heads back to the hostel, one takes a nap in the sun, and I prepare mate, sit by the river, and write this account before we must journey away from the bubble of serenity.