Thursday, June 21, 2018

Late for the Train



Late for the Train, an essay on selfishness

by Patricia Ryan Madson

When a student called that morning to reschedule his appointment it offered me a window of time that I hadn't counted on.  Mentally running over my list of "What needs to be done today" I remembered that I had promised my husband that I would retrieve some IRS forms from the Federal Building downtown.  Normally I drive everywhere, but because of this gift of extra time I decided I would combine two purposes: pick up the forms and learn something about the public transportation system in our area.   We had just moved to a neighborhood with great access to public transport.  It made sense to learn how to get around on it.  I had picked up a tram schedule at the library but hadn't bothered to consult it before leaving the house.

I knew where the electric car stopped on a platform in the middle of Ocean Avenue.  As the street came in sight the "K" cable car was already approaching.  Several dozen passengers were waiting to board.  
"Only two blocks away.  I think I can make it," I thought.  I set off running fast.  I arrived at the sidewalk directly across from the stop just as the last passenger was boarding.  The driver saw me and knew I wanted to board, but the light changed and a stream of motor traffic now moved between us.  I motioned to the cable car driver to stop, but there was no break in the traffic.  Finally, the driver glided away leaving me standing on the sidewalk flushed and disappointed and angry.  Neither the automobile traffic nor the cable car driver had stopped for me.  "After I ran all that way it wasn't fair that the driver didn't wait!"  I grumbled to myself.

When it was safe I finally crossed to the median strip and stood there flush with all my "stuff" about this moment.  My hear pounded, lungs pumped from the run and the frustration.  A big deal.  Or was it?

After noticing this self righteous monologue I began to think of Constructive Living's three reflections on what I have received, what I have given, and what trouble and bother I have caused in these moments.  Immediately the third theme demanded attention.  I was the one causing trouble in this situation.  By being late for the tram and insisting on boarding anyway I had inconvenienced the driver.  Indeed, he had actually paused longer than required to give me a chance.  I had troubled automobile drivers as I pranced and waved trying to get them to stop so I could get across the street.  Furthermore, I had inconvenienced all the other passengers who had been on time and were already aboard.  This new perspective took the wind out of my sails.

I became sharply aware of the tenacious way in which I cling to the notion that whatever I am doing is proper and anything that impedes my progress is the problem.  Stopping to ask the Constructive Living questions borrowed from Naikan allows me to see that my personal needs and goals are just one part of a larger reality.  So viewed I become one of the supporting characters in Reality's play.  Without this view life is no more than an endless monologue titled "The World According to My Desires."  Constructive Living reflection helps me drop that adolescent and selfishly simple misconception.  Situations are complex and rich with others' desires as well as mine.

Taking a clear look at my ongoing selfishness is a bitter but instructive experience.  The truth is that I AM selfish.  Acknowledging that specific moment of my wanting ALL traffic to stop for ME and Everyone to wait for ME to board the bus is part of my practice of CL.  I have little expectation that I will ever extinguish my selfish impulses.  Perhaps with CL's Naikan reflection I shall see them more clearly and save myself time and energy repeating stories of how the world has troubled me.  This practice allows me more time to "smell the roses" and the pumpernickel bread and the exhaust fumes from the buses and cable cars that serve me every day.  Perhaps next time I'll check the tram schedule that the public library provided for me free.  Then I can arrive at the stop in time to notice the expressions on the drivers' faces and the colors of the passengers' clothing.

Written in 1999

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Penn State Walk

The Penn State Walk

My second university teaching job was at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. As an Assistant Professor in Theatre Arts I had a lot on my plate.  I remember one particular stressful day in the fall of my second-year teaching in 1976.  It was just after a fast lunch in the school cafeteria and I was walking at a rapid clip across the campus rushing to the Theatre Arts Building for my three oclock class.  I was in high gear.  My mind was racing with a growing sense of panic.  The inner monologue was something like this: And when I get to the office Id better photocopy the class exercise sheets, and then after the Voice class I have to go to rehearsal until 9:00 PM, and then I have to pick up the dry cleaning before it closes, and then I have to drop off the books at the library, and then I have to be sure to remember to call Ellen about tomorrows lecture, and then I have to get gas, and then...” My mind became a demon date book’ barking at me.  As my frustration mounted I tripped slightly on the path and all of sudden I heard a voice inside my head, speaking quite calmly, clearly and resonantly: Patricia, PATRICIA, did you know that all you have to do right now actually is walk to the Theatre Arts building? That is all you have to do.  So, why not just do that?   (My memory is that this was the voice of God speaking.)

Thats true, I thought.  All I can do right now is walk to the building.  I cant actually do the photocopying or any of the other tasks I was listing in my litany of things I had to do.’  All I can do right now is walk.  Why not do that really well?  Just walk to class. 

It was as if I had woken up suddenly.  I slowed down and began looking around at the colorful fall maples which lined the path abundantly.  What lovely trees! As I walked I noticed the beauty of the campus, I felt the crisp fall air brush my cheeks, I noticed the other people on the path, all hurrying, too. All at once I was simply living that walk.  All I had to do at that moment was walk to my office.  That was forty-two years ago.  I can still remember the color of the leaves and the warmth of the sun on that walk.

The lesson here is to remind yourself to do just what is in front of you now.  Brian Lohmann, founder of Pulp Playhouse, told me once: "I try and slow down time when I come on stage."  It’s important to avoid the panicky, frenzied state that overtakes new improvisers in particular.  Instead of being in a hurry (to contribute something) the players should take on what appears to be a relaxed watchfulness.  From that alert state they are free to join in or wait, whatever is needed.  There is a quality to the attention that is very ordinary.  It is, of course, extraordinary, however, to call up this everyday mind in front of an audience.  William Hall, a master improviser and teacher, reminds us that a trade secret to successful stage improvisation is to breathe. And keep breathing.

I've noticed that everything around me seems to be speeding up these days.  But I can choose another way.  
Problem: Not enough time?
            Solution: There is.  Slow down. Breathe.  And just do the thing you are doing . . .well.

El Granada, CA
June 16, 2018

Monday, June 11, 2018

Was the Buddha an Improviser?

I think he was.  In fact, I’ll argue that Shakyamuni may have been the first improviser.  Not the first comedian (although by all reports he had a good sense of humor) but among the first humans who came to perfect attitudes and behaviors that are central to the practice of improvising.  

I’m not a Buddhist scholar. I’m more of a Buddhist dilettante, having sampled Zen, Pureland, and several Tibetan forms.  I never met a religion that I didn’t like, and I’ve been keen to explore both the philosophy and the practices of the many incarnations of the Buddha way.  I’ve chanted “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” andNamo Amitabha Bu,sat Naikan practice in a Japanese Zen temple in Kuwana, spent a week at a Vipassana retreat in rural Japan observing the sensations in my body; I’ve attempted the rigors of Zazen and have gotten lost in the intricacies of a Tibetan visualization in a monastery in Nepal.  Alas, I have not been faithful to any of these fine practices, although I went a step farther than simply reading about them.  It’s true, I lack credentials on things Buddhist.

What I do know something about is what it means to improvise and how improvisation works.  I wrote a book about it:  Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up.I came to this work/play out of desperation.  I was hired to lead the Acting Program in Stanford’s Department of Drama (during the Punic Wars or sometime in 1977).  My students were incredibly bright men and women who could produce on cue whatever the director demanded.  They were champs at “giving you the right answer.”  What they lacked was the ability or reflex to access their own voices.  “What do youthink/feel about your character?” often produced a deer-in-the-headlights look.  To help these students I needed strategies for entering the creative zone.

Enter improvisation.

During a tai chi workshop with Chungliang Al HuangI was introduced to Keith Johnstone, the Canadian “father” of modern improvisation theory and practice. His brilliant book, IMPRO, (and his teaching) hooked me.  I discovered that one could learnto improvise.  There were rules and guidelines.  When I followed these improv maxims I could bypass the natural habit of planning everything in advance or looking for the “right answer.”  Instead, improv training taught me to start where I am, look around and make sense out of the moment.  (Does that sound like mindfulness?)   “A good improviser is someone who is awake, not entirely self-focused, and moved by a desire to do something useful and give something back and who acts upon this impulse.” (p. 15 Improv Wisdom) Isn’t improvisation what we are doing most of the time?  Yes, likely we are, if we are really paying attention.    

Improvisation is founded on two principles that feature prominently in the Buddhist perspective: Impermanence and interdependence.  The fact of groundlessness and constant change is a given in improv.  Eternal instability: that is our playing field.  The improviser practices her art on her feet with others.  We learn that we aren’t in this alone.  We need and depend upon our fellow improvisers.  Only stand-up comics go it alone.  Improvisers look to their fellows for help, inspiration, ideas and fuel. Improv training is a form of meditation in action.   

So what are the principles that guide an improviser?  I’ll call them the Five A’s of Improv

1.    Attention
2.    Affirmation
3.    Acceptance
4.    Appreciation
5.    Action

In order to move forward without a plan we must first pay attention to what is actually going on. And isn’t this what meditation is all about?  Meditation always starts with attention.   You stay on your cushion and attend to the reality of your situation.  Sometimes there is an object of attention such as a mantra or the breath.  And as we try to keep our mind focused on this object we discover the tendency we all have to hop all over the place.  If we stay on the cushion we may find a way to return again and again to that object.  We discover how to outwit or coexist with our propensity to be distracted. 

When we step up to an improvisation our “job” is to notice everything that is going on: what our partner just said and did and the expression on her face as well as anything else that may be in our peripheral vision.  The immediate past is also part of the picture.  Then from this information we craft a story and place ourselves in it.  “What is needed now?” becomes my mantra.  The onstage player, pantomiming opening a newspaper, calls out:  “Honey!!!” and I come on stage as his wife, placing my hand on his shoulder, “Yes, dear?”   

If attention starts the ball rolling, then AFFIRMATION keeps it moving.  I need to say YES to whatever is going on in order to join it. Affirming does not necessarily mean liking or approving of the scene, but it does mean saying yes to the basic premise and building upon what is known. The universal law of improv is YES-AND.  This brings us to improv principle #3:  ACCEPTANCE.  I must accept the reality that is happening.  I must look realistically at the scene and join it, accepting all that is known.  It’s not my job to change this into something I’d prefer.  I can work, however, to move the known scene in an interesting direction. As I accept the situation my job is to add something useful to move the scene forward. The next player in turn must accept my offer . . . and so on.

The fourth A is APPRECIATION.  Improvisers know that the glass is never empty.  “There is always something in the box” is their credo. When I look around with the eye of appreciation I begin to see that there is a gas fireplace warming me now, that an Ikea chair is caressing my butt and supporting my back, a painted ceramic mug holds the dregs of my tea, sunlight is casting light on the keyboard, prescription glasses focus my vision and turn the blur into clear words. A word processor holds this writing and a Mac laptop stores this essay.  Appreciation warms my world.  I am able to see even disagreeable things as “offers” . . . something to work with.  

When we improvise we never take time to “come up with a good idea.” Life is too short.  Instead, we take whatever idea is in front of us (that something in the box above) and make something artful with it.  Everythingthat comes my way, that happens to me (pleasant or un . . ) is grist for the mill: an opportunity to advance the story of my life.  “What can I make of this?” becomes the operating question.  Notice the utility of this question as opposed to: “How do I like this?”  We simply turn off the LIKE button and don’t ask the question.  We don’t permit our preferences to push us around. 

Finally the fifth A is ACTION.  The improviser always starts before he is ready.  Ready, fire, aim.  Until we get going and have our bodies engaged in the flow of reality we simply don’t have enough to go on.  By stepping into the river we discover its temperature, the speed of the current, if and where there are rocks and who else is in the water.  The truth here is that we simply don’t have time for theoretical speculation.Deciding is not an option. After stepping we know exactly what the temperature is and so on.  NOW we are engaged in life and follow what needs to be done.  Cross the river?  Fish? Gather stones for a garden wall? Cool our toes from a humid day?  Take samples of the water for chemical analysis?  Notice how the action of stepping into the water (without a plan) produces a myriad of possibilities.  Improvisation teaches us the wisdom of action.  The Buddhist notion of Right Action comes to mind.  

The tenets of the Buddha way and the maxims of improvisation share similarities.  Both invite us to show up, stand up and engage with the world in a constructive manner.  Both involve waking up from the slumber of our preoccupation and getting involved with the everyday work of living.  Great improvisers are generous folks.  They listen, build upon what you are saying and always “make their partner look good.” 

In a recent NPR interview the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield mused about the rise of the collective community as leader over the hierarchical Guru system of the past. “Community is the new Buddha,” he said. Perhaps there is mistrust of a single person to embody the wisdom necessary to provide guidance to those studying the Buddha’s path.  Instead of a single teacher, the community may regulate, teach and inspire. Some suggest that the Sangha has replaced the need for an omniscient leader.  We see this in the way social media is functioning: giving advice, helping an individual to correct a view or a behavior.  If the collective whole of the Sangha is now the bedrock of sanity and wisdom, then advice which helps us cooperate and collaborate is important.  Improv can do this.

The study of improvisation teaches us a way to be together, a method of cooperating in order to create the stories of our lives.  Improv guides us to set our personal preferences aside in favor of the greater good . . . the story that is emerging moment by moment on stage.  When Shakymuni stood up and took his first steps he was entering his first improvisation.  He said yes to life.  John Tarrant proclaimed: “Improv has become a wisdom tradition of its own.”  Hanging out with a gaggle of improvisers might be a good way to strengthen your practice.  I really do think that the Buddha was an improviser.  Wouldn’t you like to be on stage with him?



Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Changing what we notice


Turning Around the Crazies

This was the third call to the Stanford University IT Computer helpline.  Isabella, my technical rep this round had been on the phone with me for just under three hours.  The issue was Stanford’s new Encryption software that is required of all users who have a sunet ID for the University’s email server.  As the world continues to go mad the pressure to secure our cyber identities goes up.  Stanford tries to stay ahead of the curve in Security precautions and programs that protect us from any kind of cyber terror.  While I don’t spend much time worrying about my data being secure (perhaps I should) I do always obey commands to update software and security protocols.  For reasons unknown installing the new encryption program on my MacBook laptop had become a nightmare.  The rep who was helping me continued to try new things to make the process go successfully.  Both of us began to take long, deep breaths attempting to still the rising anger and frustration that only a dysfunctional Apple device can provoke.  “All morning, I’ve spent all morning trying to make this procedure work.”  Each time we would go around the circle of downloads, proffering of logins and 24 character passwords, followed by the same set of questions asked and answered.  Nothing was working.  My devices manager continued to read “Non Compliant” no matter what we tried.

I was fuming and felt ready to pop off expressing my most profound annoyance at this personal inconvenience.  You know that moment when your blood rises, and you just want to let expletives fly!  But something different happened: instead of giving in to that impulse to vent my mind did a 360 degree turn.  I changed what I was noticing, and I began thinking about the gift of our technology. I began reflecting about what was right about this moment while we were attempting to solve the security issue. So, changing my voice I exclaimed to Isabella:  “Despite this glitch, aren’t we lucky to have this amazing technology?  Isn’t the Internet a miracle?  Aren’t we blessed to have computers and the ability to connect and find the world’s bounty of information and knowledge?"  As I spoke I could sense immediately Isabella’s mood and voice change.  “Yes,” she declared cheerfully, “it is a miracle.  All that Stanford provides us with is such a great gift.”  We both clearly began to feel better and our former annoyance had been replaced by wonder.  Of course, the technical problem didn't disappear, but our relationship to it had made a dramatic shift.

I hope I can remember this “technique” if you can call it that.  When I feel ready to burst with anger and frustration instead of giving in to that useless emotion I should turn my mind to a catalogue of what I am receiving at that moment.  What are the everyday wonders and miracles that sustain us and console us and enrich our lives?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Improv Tips for Sales


One of the deep pleasures of having written a book (IMPROV WISDOM: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up) is that I am often invited into the living rooms of Podcasters.  Recently I was invited by Taylor Loht to join him in a conversation about improvising and sales.  Taylor is a lively host and I thoroughly enjoyed our talk.  An improv mindset can be applied to many topics.  I think we came up with some pretty good advice for anyone involved in sales.  Click on this link to have a listen:  Taylor Loht's Seven Figure Sales Podcast INTERVIEW with Patricia Ryan Madson


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Dancing Lesson

The Dancing Lesson
By Patricia Ryan Madson  1992
Published in Rainbow Rising From a Stream, edited by Dr. David K. Reynolds

On the dance floor Mrs. Tara, the curly-red-haired instructor, announced brightly, “Today, the waltz!” She smiled, pressing the button on the elaborate tape deck of the fine stereo system in the ballroom.  The strains of “The Emperor’s Waltz,” by Strauss, filled the room.  Martha sighed with pleasure.  More than anything she wanted to learn to dance with a partner, more than anything.

“You must learn two skills as you dance together,” explained Mrs. Tara.  “The first is attention to your footsteps and to those of your partner.  You must always continue to notice where you are stepping, carefully doing your best to avoid treading on your partner as you go.  Particularly while you are learning; this attention takes a great deal of effort.

“The second skill is the development of an attitude of cheerful tolerance when your partner steps on your toes.  You must be understanding and compassionate toward your partner’s mistakes.  If he knows that you can accept his mistakes without jeopardizing the dance, he can dance with greater freedom.  Of course you realize that no matter how sincerely you practice you will step on one another.  Stepping on each other unintentionally is in the nature of dancing.  You cannot learn to dance without doing so.  It is useful to adopt the viewpoint that your partner is doing the best he can.

“Again, if you want to dance you must accept the inevitability of being stepped on occasionally—it is in the nature of the experience of moving closely together. So, shall we begin?”

Martha took a deep breath, smiled, and lifted her arms to Harold, her class partner.  Off they glided, or rather bumped, onto the floor.  One, two, three: one, two three; one, two three—  “Oops, oh, excuse me,” sputtered Harold as he crunched the tip of Martha’s patent leather pump.

“That’s all right,” said Martha soothingly, really meaning it.  One, two, three, one, two, three . . . and on they moved, fumbled, smiled, stumbled, laughed, apologized.  And sometimes they even really, really danced.

COMMENTARY by David K. Reynolds

Whenever human beings become partners, it is natural that some conflict occurs.  It is unrealistic to imagine that partners should move smoothly and perfectly without incident.  Mrs. Tara’s advice was sound. Knowing that this jostling is likely to happen prepares partners to develop a healthy, charitable attitude toward having their toes stepped on.  If your purpose is to build a strong and loving partnership, it would be wise to attend to your own and your partner’s footsteps as they fall.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Naikan at Senkobo 1987



Naikan at Senkobo
PATRICIA RYAN

Patricia Ryan lives in San Francisco and teaches drama at Stanford University.  She is certified to practice Morita guidance.

My journey began at Kyoto station on the morning of July 8, 1987 as I boarded a sleek air-conditioned bus and watched the Japanese countryside fly by on my pilgrimage to Kuwana.  I changed from the bus to the national railroad train at Nagoya and finished my journey with a taxi across rice fields which took me to Senkobo, a rare combination of Zen and Shinshu temple set inconspicuously in a farming area.  The head of Senkobo is Reverend Shue Usami.  He recently completed koan training and is qualified to practice both Shinshu and Zen Buddhism.
As the taxi pulled into the courtyard of the monastery Mrs. Usami, the priest’s wife, appeared full of smiles to greet us.  A forty-eight-year-old retired American surgeon accompanied me to do the practice of Naikan.  I proffered a kilo of bananas as a small offering.  Our bags were taken from us and brought along.
We entered the monastery compound via wooden sliding doors.  Over the entrance were crossed a Japanese and an American flag.  I was moved by this thoughtful welcome.  We were led into a reception room where a second set of flags was hung to greet us.  Okabe San, our young translator, sat down with us on the tatami and pulled out a large white pad of paper.  It would be used to write our questions and comments to assure that we were clear in our communications.  This system of writing was used throughout the week for all communications except the mensetsu, or formal interview itself.  We were never asked to write down our Naikan reflections.
Mrs. Usami appeared with a tray of tea cakes made from red adzuki beans and two bowls of the thick frothy green tea used in the Tea Ceremony.  There was a refreshing cube of ice in each bowl.
The mood gently shifted to one of business.  We were given some instructions handwritten in English.  Our passports and valuables were collected for safekeeping.  A rule sheet read: “Manners: There are two very important rules during Naikan.  Never talk to others and don’t get up or walk around unless there is a specific purpose.  Please keep these two rules.” We were further instructed that we would be told daily when to come to meals, when to bathe and when to go to bed.
We next considered the way to practice Naikan.  Naikan is a form of self-reflection, a system designed to look at reality from a unique vantage point: that of our indebtedness.  By the practice of systematically recalling the past from a new purview we may come to a less egocentric and more complete perspective on our lives.
After the tea and instructions I expected to be shown to my sleeping place and allowed to unpack and relax after our long journey.  Instead we were taken directly to our meditation cubicles bounded by byobu screens and instructed to begin our Naikan practice immediately.  My first assignment was to reflect on my relationship to my mother from my birth until age six.  This reflection was to take the following form: I should contemplate specific examples of 1. What I received from her. 2. What I returned to her and 3. What trouble and bother I caused her during that period of my past.  I was told that the mensetsu or formal interview in which I would report on my reflection would be held in one and a half to two hours.  I was given a small thin square pillow and left alone.
It was somehow like the thunderous sound of a cell gate being closed and locked.  At this instant I knew that I was in both heaven and hell.  There was no going back on the path that I had chosen.  The knowledge which I was about to receive would change me profoundly.  I experienced a deep sense of grief over the notion that in this practice I was somehow dying to my old picture of myself.  I would never again be able to crawl inside the simple self-centered view of myself in relation to my parents or to anyone else in the world.
My personal environment was stark.  I occupied a small defined space in a large shrine hall before a low window facing out onto the side courtyard of the monastery.  Directly below my window was a basin.  Occasionally I would see other Naikansha (those doing the practice of Naikan) washing their hair or doing laundry during their brief personal time.  When I faced out from the wall I was looking toward the open floor of the shrine hall with its fifty or sixty tatami mats (each three feet by five feet). To my left was the central altar with a large statue of the Buddha, flanked by two minor dieties.  The altar contained numerous offerings, including my small gift of inexpensive chocolates.  This meager gift sat proudly on the altar all week to remind me of how little I was giving back to those who were devoting their lives to assisting me in this practice.
The perimeter of this large shrine room housed the Naikansha.  Each participant had his or her own space.  These were demarcated by vertical cardboard screens placed at six foot intervals.  There were eight cubicles overall in this space.  Elsewhere in the monastery was a large dormitory-type room that was used for Naikan practice.  Indeed, few spaces went unused.  Naikansha were placed along the walkways outside the building, as well.  They were awaiting their chance to be admitted to the temple to do formal Naikan.
At Senkobo Naikan practice runs parallel with Zen practice.  An assistant directs the practice periods and administers the calls for zazen and kinhinZazen is the sitting meditation form practiced in Zen, and kinhin is the walking meditation form.  The assistant, Takano San, was a small Japanese man of indeterminate age, perhaps thirty-five years old, who customarily sat in the cubicle opposite mine doing zazen. When not sitting he did various routine jobs such as clapping blocks to announce walking practice.  He announced the time of formal mensetsu each evening, and he sat at the head of the table during the brief ritualized meals, leading the recitation of sutras.  His attention, efficiency and implacable face were noteworthy.  He lived the quality of alertness associated with sincere Zen practitioners.
Alone in my tiny empty space, I began Naikan.  The shock of actually being there gave way to a wave of fears and doubts about my ability to go through with this endeavor.  I was committed to a week of fifteen hours a day sitting and reflecting on my own selfishness.
My body started to rebel.  Even with some training in seiza, the formal sitting posture in Japan, I was certain that a backrest would be necessary in time.  Indeed, the entire question of the possibility of physical comfort began to dominate my thinking. During the next week I would learn a great deal about the myriad ways the mind would attempt to divert itself from this practice.
Over and over again I brought my mind back to the questions: what I had received from my mother from birth to age six.  Of course, I owed her by birth. My birth…my birth…what could I remember of my birth? I had been told that I was born in a blackout during the war and that my mother first saw me by flashlight.  And then I recalled that my mother had a Caesarean section to give me birth.  She had been cut open just to give me life.  To this day she carries a scar on her body which was caused by my birth.  When this memory burst upon me I began to sob.
I remembered also being washed in a kitchen sink and looking at a rainbow, crawling on the floor in the kitchen while my mother stood cooking at a stove.  Other memories surfaced.  Mrs. Usami came to receive my first collection of memories.  As I recounted my list to her I was unable to hold back my own tears.  She listened with empathy while making small noises of understanding.  We finished our session with formal bows and she gave me the next assignment: to continue this practice on my mother for the next three years.  She left and I faced my thoughts again.  Night fell, a three-quarter moon appeared behind the glass of the window in my cubicle.  I squirmed.  I was angry at sitting so long.  My legs and back hurt.  I overheard the sound of those doing the walking meditation practice behind me.  At about forty-five-minute intervals the assistant rang a bell.  Then he and a few others would do kinhin for several  minutes.  The room was dark now.
The dinner bell rang and the other Naikansha shuffled to get in line for the meal.  The entire meal period form took no more than five minutes.  We recited a meal chant in Japanese (we had been provided with a phonetic translation), ate our food rapidly and silently, cleaned our bowls with a pickle, passed the dishes up to the head of the table, recited a closing chant and went back immediately to our cubicles.  We were instructed to continue Naikan at all times, even when eating or going to the bathroom.
I continued my reflections.  Around 8:30 p.m. the last mensetsu of the day was to be given to the Rev. Usami himself in his study.  Giving Naikan to Rev. Usami was somewhat frightening.  He sat in his black robes like a stern-faced Buddha.  On hearing my confession he responded in clear and measured English: “Please continue Naikan on your mother for the next three years…Do you have any questions?” I had none.
I was directed to a small room that was used normally as an infirmary.  There was a table and several acupuncture charts along the walls. To my delight an aging air conditioner hummed proudly from a transom.  I was very grateful for this kindness.  July in Japan can be brutally hot.
The second day began at 4:30 a.m. I was permitted to delay my first session in order to get physical exercise.  After rising I washed my face and dressed. I went outside and took a wonderful forty-minute walk along paths by the rice paddies.  On returning to my room I did yoga stretches and wrote a few lines in my journal.
At 6:00 a.m. I was seated in my cubicle thinking about my mother. At midmorning there was a forty-five-minute worship service led by Rev. Usami.  We assembled into rows sitting seiza. The assistant hit several resonant wooden gongs to signal our attention.  We recited a sutra and then turned our attention to the daily sermon.  After speaking briefly in Japanese Rev. Usami turned on a small tape recorder and we all listened to a five-minute dharma talk in English.  The first talk was a well-known Zen story about a learned teacher who guides his new student into receptivity by filling his teacup to overflowing.  When the student protests this action the teacher points out that one must be like the empty cup in order to be ready to receive knowledge.
Immediately following the service we returned to our cushions to continue Naikan.  The first day was interminable.  My brief notes at the end of this day began: “Everything hurts.” My lower back was aching, and I experienced a bone tiredness.  I wondered if I would ever survive the week.
Day three began with a long early-morning walk.  At 6:30 a.m. I was on my cushion reflecting on what I had received from my mother from age twenty-two to twenty-four.  This day was surprisingly different.  A deep calm and peacefulness fell over me as I sat focusing on the face of my mother.  It was as if the struggle of the second day had been resolved.  Something within had accepted the reality of doing this practice.  I was no longer tortured with thoughts of resistance.  Indeed, there began a feeling of pleasure at the simplicity of this world.  My memory seemed to improve.  The initial sense that I couldn’t remember anything about this period disappeared.  I felt myself walking down corridors of the mind and opening doors long closed from memory.  Because the mind had been instructed to look only for that which I had received from my parents, the memories were often drenched in happiness.  I found myself crying from joy and gratitude several times each day.  The sounds of muffled sobs of those in nearby cubicles could be heard.
At Senkobo Naikansha wore a folded scarf tied around the forehead, the scarf was often pulled down to cover the eyes partially or completely.  On the fourth day I tied a cotton bandana around my own forehead to see if this emblem had any practical significance.  My Naikan became “deeper” in that I was able to concentrate more consistently and access memories in grater detail while wearing the blindfold.  It was also a badge, identifying me with the group.
Each day revealed a unique schedule.  There was never any certainty about the exact times of eating, bathing or the interviews.  On the evening of the day I arrived, dinner was at 6:00 p.m. On subsequent days the dinner bell rang as late as 7:50 p.m. This “never knowing” occupied my thoughts.  It intensified the sense that time was important and that we must never waste it.  The third day’s dharmatalk concerned the previous nature of time.  Each day and each instant counts.
I found myself angry about the emphasis on using time well.  This eternal diligence seemed too much to bear.  I wanted some rest and recreation from my labors at Naikan.  Instantly I recognized the old habit of selfishness rising to the surface.  Three days of Naikan had sensitized me to my own egocentricity.
The fourth day dawned muggy and rainy, too wet for my walk.  I enjoyed a period of lying down, resting.  From the third day I joined the walking meditation with the students.  When the assistant rang a small bell a few of us rose from our cubicles, bowed together and then joined him in the slow walking practice.  The practice lasted only three or four minutes, but it was very valuable.
At the conclusion of the first pass over my life with respect to my mother and father I was assigned the theme of “lies and stealing” beginning with first memories and continuing in three year periods throughout my life.  Lies and stealing were to include those occasions in which there was any disparity between thought and deed: for example, times when I might have been saying prayers but thinking of something else.
Dreading this assignment, I undertook it, finding in every three year period instances of my own immorality.  I came to look at the Patricia Ryan who is greedy, selfish and deceitful.  It was not a pleasant picture, but it was instructive.  As I lifted each moving picture of myself as troublemaker from the archives of memory I found another process ongoing.  I was able to take in these truths and accept them.  Further, at some level I felt myself forgiving myself for these actions.  Notice I wrote “forgiving” not “absolving.”  The quality of forgiveness was simple acceptance.  I swallowed and owned this information, and felt more human for doing so.  Painful honesty heals.
On the fifty day of Naikan I completed the reflections on lying and stealing.  At approximately each hour-and-a-half interval someone came to hear my recollections.  Often it was the tireless Mrs. Usami.  Sometimes former Naikansha volunteered their time to come and receive my reflections. I was causing them considerable trouble by speaking English.  I was touched by the fact that some volunteers came great distances after a long work day just to sit and listen to my Naikan.  I was told that they did it in gratitude for their own Naikan experiences.
On the fifth day I was permitted to select significant others in my past on whom to reflect.  I chose two beloved friends who had been like adopted parents to me.  It gave me great joy to enumerate the gifts and kindness that had come to me from them.  Doing Naikan began to feel like a great privilege, albeit hard work.  I could see how a longer course of practice would provide benefit.  Some people apparently do brief Naikan daily for the rest of their lives.
After the final Naikan interview of the day we were summoned for a small celebration.  The flags of Japan and the United States were the centerpiece.  There was a tray of gifts, including the small box of candy that I had brought on my arrival.  Mrs. Usami brought refreshments.  We opened our presents.  Mine included a beautiful cloisonné pencil tray.  I felt overwhelmed and embarrassed that after a week of receiving everything: meals, lodging, laundry service and the hourly gift of receiving my Naikan I was once again receiving gifts from Senkobo.  This outpouring of gifts and kindness mirrored the discoveries that had surfaced in Naikan.  I knew without question or qualification that I continue to be loved and cared for with a bounty that is incalculable.
On the sixth day at Senkobo I was up at 5:30. I took one last morning walk to stretch my legs and say goodbye to the large lotus pond in the neighborhood.  Even though I would be leaving in a taxi at 9:00 a.m. I was required to go to my cushion at 6:30 to continue my Naikan reflections.  At around 8:00 a.m. Okabe San came to receive my last formal mensetsu.  After the final bows he instructed me to continue doing Naikan throughout my life.
We were served a special breakfast in a dining room separate from the other Naikansha, and our baggage magically appeared at the front door.  Our passports and wallets were returned.  A taxi waited in the courtyard.  At this moment I assumed that we would be saying our farewells, but to my surprise Rev. and Mrs. Usami and Okabe San all jumped in the taxi with us.  Further they not only accompanied us all the way to Nagoya where we were to catch the “bullet” train to Tokyo for our flights home, but insisted on paying for our taxi, local and express train tickets!
This final generosity was overwhelming.  I had planned on making a donation to Senkobo and had set aside money which I placed in a gift envelope and offered to the Reverend just as I was boarding the train.  He flatly refused the gift, putting the envelope back into my handbag, saying quite emphatically: “Foreigners do not pay for Naikan at Senkobo.” We shook hands (the Japanese farewell) and hugged awkwardly but sincerely (the California farewell) and boarded the train to take our reserved seats.  As the train pulled out we all waved furiously.  Tears of gratitude filled my eyes.
Sitting on the train, a young Japanese woman in the next seat handed me a tissue.  Again and again the world was giving to me. Malcolm, who was writing in his journal, leaned over to ask if I knew how to spell “Buddha.”
I wrote in my journal as we neared Tokyo: “I have learned at Senkobo that there is no resting on this path, and that the gifts of life are endless and abundant.  Even in the midst of suffering there is a kind of joy that comes from the sure knowledge of this treasury.  At the very least we can do our part by recognizing these unparalleled gifts and their givers.  How wonderful it is to be alive and to have the chance to give something back to the world.  Today is the day to start.”
There is no question that the experience of doing Naikan at Senkobo fundamentally changed my way of looking at the world. I came to see my own selfishness as a kind of giant iceberg. Naikan was the flamethrower that began the melting.
The flame also cast a sharp light on my greed, gluttony, lust, envy, sloth and indifference.  It was more powerful because no one but I passed judgment on these findings.  No one set for me definitions of what I had received or what I had stolen.  I left Senkobo with a deep desire to begin to repay the world.  The ledger showed my unmistakable debt.  There was a great deal that needed to be done.  I could hardly wait to begin.