I was a bit worried about the prospect of a two-hour session of sitting and walking meditation. I have gotten used to doing twenty or thirty minutes easily, and I sometimes do some chanting that could bring it up to an hour or so. Actually, I am not that interested in timing my sessions, but still, a two-hour session was an unknown. Looking around the internets, I have seen stories about people who freaked out after suddenly jumping into intensive meditation sessions.
Fortunately, the situation at the once-monthly two-hour sessions at the temple Enyuji is very user-friendly--you can come in or go out freely during the session. The priest, Rev Oka, said that the time would pass 'before you know it' or in Japanese 'a to iu ma ni.' He was right. He didn't do any howa, and we chanted some very short prayers and the Heart Sutra. The 700-year-old Hall of Shakyamuni was dark except for candles on the altar. We were sitting in two concentric three-sided squares facing the center of the square space. For the walking, we would bow while sitting, then stand and bow again, then walk in a square the same as the sitting layout, holding one hand in a fist in front of the chest, and the other hand around it. The sitting meditation, as explained by Rev Oka, is basically sitting in half-lotus, on a zafu, with hands in the traditional Buddhist meditation mudra, with eyes half-closed.
Also, Rev Oka recommends a counting system--one to ten, and just start over if you get distracted. So we settled in for four cycles, each with 25 minutes of meditation and five minutes of walking. The first sitting cycle was okay, my mind not too out-of-control. Standing up afterwards was a bit tricky. I was using a blanket, so I had to hustle to get my blanket out of the way where people wouldn't step on it. After sitting, just navigating as I walked was a bit tricky in the darkened temple. Also, the tatami mats have lots of dips and waves, so it required close attention. Also, there are some wooden frames that are part of the structure of the temple. You are not supposed to step on these, in traditional Japanese etiquette. So that was another factor to track. Also, I was in the outer ring so we passed between the altar and the sutra table. The first time around, I banged my leg into the sutra table. So that was another thing to pay attention to. However, the five minutes were over very quickly. In the second sitting, my leg fell asleep seriously. I couldn't get up and I thought I would let need to let some people behind me go past, but I recovered quickly enough to jump into my original place in line without too much delay. The last two sitting sessions were not difficult--maybe even a bit blissy. I began to get used to the tricky walking as well. I cheated a bit, starting to move my legs around a bit during the little delay as everyone prepares to transition from sitting to standing. After the fourth sitting, we did some small-scale stretching exercises and left the temple without further ado.
We were invited to the rest pavilion in the garden for tea and snacks. For once, there were some questions! Plus lots of pure social gab, but very mellow and pleasant. I think people are in a special frame of mind after meditation. That mood continued for me as I walked back home--20 or 25 minutes. So I will definitely go again. I think it is better than the shorter session, which has a short howa sermon, a bit longer prayer ceremony (also with the Heart Sutra), just one sitting and no walking. These sessions are just once a month, and there will not be any sessions during December--probably because December is the busiest month for everyone due to year-end obligations. But I feel very encouraged about this experience. (The pic above is the Hall of Shakyamuni at the temple Enyuji.)