I finally got to the Zen monastery today. But, as things are always different than what you expect, my experience was surprising. I drove two hours through fast food towns and construction to enjoy the last fifteen minutes of beautiful scenery before arriving at the monastery.
Upon arriving, I was greeted by chickens roaming freely and the starkest, simplest structures I’ve ever seen. Outside each unit was a car seat ripped from some ancient car to act as outdoor seating. A very friendly woman showed me the hot springs and where I could change into my bathing suit to use them. I wondered if it was too cold, so I dipped my toes into the water. It was burning hot! A man came into the springs and we chatted as he gently eased himself in. I spent a half hour trying to dip my feet in, but after they were red and tingling, I decided to try a meditation room.
I found myself in a chanting room. It was a large, dark room with black cushions neatly placed next to each other and a few simple prayer alters. I sat on one cushion to meditate and started to fall asleep. Why fight it? I laid down on the floor. As I started to doze off, I thought that the floor mats smelled of feet. That was my last thought before I fell into a deep sleep and woke up refreshed and ready to get out of there and move on. As I was walking to my car, I bumped into the same man who insisted on showing me the meditation room, which was serene and peaceful, but smelled stale to me. He explained all of their styles of meditating and how they knew when to move from one to another, where they stood, where they walked, and where they sat. It was lovely of him, but I was anxious to start my two hour drive home. There were only three people staying at the monastery. How did I manage to run into the chattiest one twice?
As I left the monastery, I stopped at the local cafe for lunch. The owner was closing, but offered to give me a sample of three of his chilis. He was proud of the high hotness rating, and said that he had been up since 4 am cooking. Now my mouth was burning as well as my feet. After I thanked him for his kind and delicious offering, I headed home along a different route. Rich scarlet cliffs, vast caldera (volcano crater) valleys, and snow covered pine barrens were spectacular.
I was happy to get out of the car. After thirty minutes to wash up and change, I went to a newcomers club dinner where I had a salad, tender roast, key lime tart, and met friendly people. They helped me find my car that (after a long day) seemed to fade into the streets that all looked the same. What a day!