My students, and my two colleagues spent two days in Kyoto last week, staying at Shunko-in, a temple cloister in Myoshin-ji, a large temple complex. We did some meditation training with the vice-abbot there, Rev. Taka Kawakami, but also visited with Thomas Yuho Kirchner, a Zen monk, at Tenryu-ji, a 14th century Zen training monastery (that is still active) set in a gorgeous garden.
Thomas gave us a tour of the old monastery (the training monastery has moved to a quieter spot on the grounds, there can be 20,000 visitors in a single day to the UNESCO World Heritage gardens next to the zen-do!) Monks in training lived, ate and meditated all in the same spot in the zen-do. Everything they needed — from bedding to rice bowl — was kept there. No dividers between the beds, you rolled up in your futon at night, next to your snoring neighbor. If the monastery was full, the most junior monks might not even have a full tatami to themselves.
It reminded me of my 30-day retreat, walking down the hallway of the (now torn down) building at Eastern Point at 3 am, listening to the snores of other retreatants, with just a drawer and a shelf and a few hangers in my room to store things. And yet, I had space for all I needed (and perhaps a bit more). Now I'm thinking about my study at home, where books and papers from projects completed and in progress are stacked on a table, and piled on the floor. The clutter is not just literal, but metaphorical, my days too stuffed right now with project to take a couple of days out and tidy.
Sitting in a monastic cell, mine or not, always leaves me reflecting about spaciousness in my life, time and space colliding.
To read more about my students' adventures: http://contemplative360.blogs.brynmawr.edu/2016/10/03/the-zen-of-sitting/