Monday, February 17, 2014

Orff Sesshin


For those not familiar with the term, a sesshin is a Zen meditation retreat, often seven days of intensive practice.  I attended many back in the 1970’s, a few scattered throughout the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and much to my shame as an allegedly practicing Buddhist, very little in the past 15 years. But the point here is not self-deprecation, but acknowledgement of the power of concentrated practice. In anything. When it came to zazen (Zen meditation), I tended to hit my stride somewhere around the 5th day and the quality of the 7th day compared to the 1st was geometrical. People training for marathons or musicians
practicing for concerts know what I’m talking about. There’s a rhythm that accumulates and by eliminating all other distractions for a finite period of time, the practice reaches new depths and heights.

And so having finished my 11th straight days of Orff workshops without a break, I’m in that zone. The forces of serendipity have gathered around me in remarkable ways. Little things like beginning a little music/ dance/ drama with a Chinese folk song about fishing and two minutes into it, noticing a pile of baskets in the corner perfect for miming nets, sitting in to row the fishing boat, carrying on the head or at the hip to sell the fish. At the end, I thought they might do a celebration dance holding the basket over their face like a mask and lo and behold! the baskets had paper cut-out eyes and smiling mouths!

Then today, one of my hosts gave me a tin of cookies and I was worried that I didn’t have room in my suitcase. By mid-morning, I began my planned activity of the Cookie Jar game and Bingo! why not have a contest and give the cookies to the winner? And so I did, to a very happy student (who did her best to beat me as well, but we all know how that turned out! J ). Then I had some mild regret that I hadn’t tried some of the cookies, both out of gratitude for the gift and for my own sweet tooth. So what did I do? You guessed it— stole some of the cookies from the cookie jar!

I taught each day from 9:00 to 6:15 and at the end of each day, felt wholly energized and ready to keep going. It’s really quite extraordinary how some work depletes and some energizes and when you find the latter, hold on to that thread! And in addition to the lovely teachers playing like joyful children with both hilarious and sublime moments, I got to teach kids every day! Fell in love with a four-year old, drew forth some remarkable xylophone improvisations with 5 and 6 year olds witnessed by 60 admiring adults, watched 10 first graders enter the room while the adults were frolicking with Grandma Moses, their eyes wide with wonder that adults were playing, singing and dancing like this! And then how happily they joined in to learn Head and Shoulders Baby and make up their own verses!

We closed the class with some profound reflections and questions that I’ll save for another posting and a spirited Wind-Up the Bunkin. And if I wasn’t already convinced before that some forces are gathered to support me in this work, there was one more sign from the heavens to seal the deal. The last notes sung, the last photos taken, I walked out of the school and —drum roll, please— the sun was shining! Literally the first time I’ve seen in it in 11 days straight! The air was warmer and the world was just a touch more vibrant and alive.

And now I write this from my new hotel in Manila, the Philippines, ready for another two-day round of workshops, talks and consultations, going for my 13-days- straight record! Grateful that such a life can be!

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