Tuesday, August 26, 2008


The retreat center where I stayed last week is an old Victorian house (much modernized) that overlooks a sloping field, edged by a forest of trees. The house has a big front porch where we would sit between meditation sessions.

On sesshin, reading or talking is discouraged. So rest periods were remarkably peaceful, as several of us sat together on the porch, watching deer and wild turkeys wandering around in the field. It was such an unusual feeling to sit for an hour or two with no agenda, not meditating or talking and not absorbing media into my brain. One afternoon I watched a hawk dive-bombing a turkey, which fought back successfully -- it was pretty amazing.

My family owns similar property in West Virginia -- an old farmhouse purchased in the 1950s by my grandparents, where grandfather would go on weekends to escape the urban confines of Washington, D.C. He ostensibly went there partly to hunt, but apparently didn't shoot much of anything. He mostly sat around and read dime-store paperbacks by the likes of Erle Stanley Gardner.

That house, in a community near Martinsburg called Sleepy Creek, sits above a sloping field bordered by trees. Grandfather often sat on the porch watching over that field. He was a stolid Presbyterian, but it occurred to me on my retreat that he was really having his own Zen moments there, leaving the pressure of city and family behind, living momentarily with only the creatures in the field. He and I were having the same experience, separated by hundreds of miles and several decades. An interesting parallel!

(Photo: Street art, Lower East Side, Aug. 2007)


  1. It is an interesting parallel. Humans are hard wired to sit and stare out at the beauty of this gorgeous planet. Beauty and terror, I should say (thinking of the hawk and turkey).

    How wonderful to feel that kind of kinship with your grandfather. You are so cool!

  2. It would be cool if you could repeat your grandfather's Zen experience on his property. That kind of setting just begs for stillness and quiet.

  3. It is important to get away from all things media. We try to get somewhere without TV, and it's amazing how just the piece left out calms everyone down. I like reading about this Zen mediation practice.

  4. sounds as if your family still has the property in wva - hope you have access to it!

    watching wildlife is very restorative....as was reading this peaceful post...

    have fun at hair!! hope the weather is wonderful!

  5. I watched Deer grazing from a mountaintop long enough to see them suddenly scatter....it was then I saw the pack of wolves that had been trting to edge close enough to attack.
    Cool sight for a city boy like me.

  6. Hi, Steve. I am new to this whole blogging business and apologize in advance if I am breaking any blogger etiquette rules by leaving this comment, but I think that your blog is fabulous.

    I went to WVa for the first time last month and quickly decided that it is the kind of place that can put a person in a trance in a hurry. All I could manage to do the whole time I was there was sit on the porch and watch/listen to the Cheat River. I had not recognized this as a "Zen moment" until I read your post. I wonder how many people out there have Zen moments and don't know it?

  7. Steve,
    I have been doing some light reading on quantum leaps and simultaneous time and how Einstein (and others) proved that time is not linear as most of us think. Events from the past are happening in the present or something like that. LOL. If this is the case you may not be so far removed from your grandfather after all. Perhaps that parallel was not as distant as you suspect. Perhaps.