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Now and Zen

Meditation group lives in the moment breath by breath

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Tucked among the golden hills in a serene wood building off See Canyon Road near Avila Beach, Crow’s End Retreat Center is a place to shed distraction, a place to quiet the mind.  Except for bird songs, there is profound silence, merely the sound of the world itself. Bamboo outside the windows gently filters the twilight as the Thursday evening meditation commences.

BEING THERE NOW :  Mark Bloodgood leads students from distraction. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • BEING THERE NOW : Mark Bloodgood leads students from distraction.

Mark Bloodgood, who leads the sessions, meets newcomers an hour beforehand to explain the process. The protocol includes such simple rituals as bowing, to establish orderliness and mindfulness.  When entering the Zendo (the building) one bows with hands placed palm-to-palm, fingertips almost touching the nose. Three strikes on a gong begin the first 25-minute sitting. Students sit facing the wall along the room perimeter on cushions, small kneeling benches, and chairs for those whose joints are not so flexible. Once everyone settles into position, the room becomes silent and deeply calm as each devotes attention only to breathing; concentrating on each inhalation and exhalation to the exclusion of every thing. 

The gong rings again to signal the end of the sitting meditation, then everyone stands in a circle facing each other. Ten minutes of walking meditation—kinhin—follow, as students softly move in procession on stocking feet to achieve awareness as a group. After a second 25-minute sitting, there is a discussion, which might involve reading aloud passages from such books as The Way of the Bodhisattva  and Opening the Hand of Thought. 

People have been drawn to the group for diverse reasons. One student who meditated independently for the past 10 years looked for support. “When you’re alone, it is too easy to run away and get up from your seat,” he said. Another sought solace from his fear of death.  He explained calmly, “My death is part of the comings and goings of life.  I learned to see myself not as anything special.” Yet another was drawn to the Zazen sessions from a strong yoga practice.  She mixes disciplines including Vipassana meditation, and visits the Tassajara Mountain Center above Big Sur twice a year. They agree meditating clears their minds and encourages better understanding of self. 

Bloodgood emphasizes meditation is not all bliss:  “When you sit, all your crap comes up; everything including your demons and shadows you have to face.  Sometimes everything falls apart and this is necessary in the spiritual path before you can rebound. It is quite a journey.”  Bloodgood’s own journey began in the late ‘60s when he read Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, spurring a passion for Eastern philosophy.  Describing himself as a “closet intellectual Buddhist,” Bloodgood found a Zen teacher at the age of 50. 

The San Luis Obispo Zazen Group has been together more than seven years.  Affiliated with the Zen Center of Los Angeles where Bloodgood trains, Crow’s End is owned by Mary Renard. To sit with the group, wear comfortable garments. Call the center at 595-2413 to let them know you’re coming; it’s located at 6430 Squire Court.

FAST FACTS

Volunteers are needed for “One Day, One Dollar” on Thursday, June 3.  This Hunger Awareness Day will help the Food Bank Coalition to raise money to distribute food to 200 nonprofit groups that feed hungry clients. Call Allix Valentine at 238-4664 and visit slofoodbank.org for more information.

Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream has introduced dog-friendly ice cream made from soy and tofu, with a bacon flavor. Burnstein’s will premier those Doggie Discs at a Puppy Party at Woods Humane Society (875 Oklahoma Ave. in SLO) at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 28. Ten percent of profits will benefit Woods. For more info, call Jennifer at 801-2508 …

The Wineman Hotel building will be 80 years old this Thursday, May 27 and is holding an open house. Visit 849 Higuera Street during the SLO Farmers Market and ask Matt Mallon for a tour of the apartments for rent in the renovated building. For more information, call 783-2708.

Intern Alycia Kiley wrote Strokes&Plugs this week.  Send your business and nonprofit news to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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