Illustration by Penelope Dullaghan In the back of your mind, you know it’s not right to speed through yellow lights on your way to a Zen meditation, but sometimes a person wants peace in a hurry.
Bright and early Sunday morning — about half an hour earlier than I was thinking — the Indianapolis Zen Center, a little south of 38th Street on Washington Boulevard, I opened the door to a nice old house with a nice old study that’s part-way through the process of becoming a dharma room. A transparent plastic sheet drapes over the wall where the robes hang, protecting them from the dusty process of repairing plaster. A modest altar occupies the opposite wall — guiding teacher Linc Rhodes, JDPSN, will soon be constructing a new altar made from exotic woods he’s collected over the years, but for now the most exotic surface you’ll find is the old hardwood floor.
On that floor sit a couple dozen mats with cushions on them, arranged in a square around an open space in front of the altar. Members entering the dharma room bow in the direction of the altar, and we tried to follow suit, but it came out looking more like we’d tripped over the entryway. No matter.
Bruce Wiseman welcomed us inside, greeting us with a handshake and showing us where we could leave our shoes. He patiently went over the ceremonies we’d be observing, explaining in practical terms why Zen practitioners move and sit the way they do. (My suspicion was confirmed: The full lotus position does tend to put your leg to sleep.) He then patiently explained all this to another pair of newcomers, as we took a moment to meet some other members.
While neither of us knew quite what to expect, physical exertion was a particular surprise. After orientation, the group participated in a practice called “108 Prostrations,” which is sort of like a spiritual squat thrust: from a standing position behind your mat, you kneel down, then bow your head between your hands and touch the floor, then resume a standing position — all in a swift, rhythmic motion in unison with the rest of the group. Then you do that 107 more times.
Bruce assured us that if we got tired, or felt like sitting out any of the repetitions, a simple standing bow would suffice. This came in handy when I developed a crippling charley horse in my right thigh about three-fourths of the way through.
The 108 Bows were followed by the morning bell, and some group chanting, both of which were pretty startling after the long period of quiet preceding. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay, so we didn’t get to see what dharma talk is like, or enjoy any tea and cookies. But we did get a memorable experience, and plenty to think and talk about, plus a fairly decent workout.
The Zen Center is doing a lot to help people be introduced to Zen practice, through monthly open houses, bi-monthly classes and two orientations per week, held on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. Upcoming: “Orientation to Zen Practice,” Jan. 29, 8:30-9 a.m.; “Open House,” Feb. 1, 6-7 p.m.; book discussion of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Jan. 31, 7-8 p.m. If you think you might be interested in attending, call 317-921-9902 or visit www.indyzen.org.