Someone in the Zen Center Regensburg is presently trying to stick her finger in my rectum. I shit you not. So I am, at this moment, hiding for a while in a storage room where she cannot find me. There are a few important Zen Center projects which require my attention before submitting to this slightly medieval experience that she wishes for me: I cannot have her finger in my butt just yet. So, I am hiding here a wee bit from her gloved-love dharma.
You see, recently I had a minor medical procedure which should have solved the years-long re-appearance of painful hemorrhoids whenever I sit these long hours of meditation during the traditional 90-day retreats (Kyol Che, or ango), in which we are engaged until February 22. Today, I woke up to find that the situation “down under” had taken a very bad turn for the worse -– I cannot even sit on my butt long enough to eat lunch with everybody! (Well, unless I balance completely on just one butt cheek.) It looks now like surgery will be unavoidable, and I am waiting to get a doctor’s appointment to face the music like a Man. But it is now Sunday night, and the soonest appointment I could get is in 2 to 3 days. I need to soldier through this, while leading an intensive retreat for which people will have travelled from as far away as Atlanta, Texas, and even Oregon. So, what to do?
One of our residents, who also endured a hemorrhoid operation over ten years ago, is insisting that, until I get real medical attention, I must try a regimen of what seem to be oiled-finger rectal massages. Apparently, some traditional healing methodology involving the direct application of a special homemade “arnica tincture” at the site of swelling can reduce some of the extraordinary bulging and sharp, itchy pain. It might even allow me to stuff this foetus-hand-sized lump of blood and nerves back into the Holland Tunnel whence it came. My student here received very strong training in this “art” several years ago from her gynecologist in Munich, and insisted before the Zen Center family todaythat I must follow this regimen. Therefore, she announced to the group at the conclusion of lunch that she needs to stick her finger up my ass. And seems unnaturally happy about the prospect of doing so.
Why would one see fit to post publicly about such a matter? For Zen practitioners, it’s a matter of our peculiar temple culture. Let me explain:
The Chinese character for “hemorrhoid” is actually a compound character of two radicals, which means it is the combination of two separate radicals (“words”) which give a new meaning than their separate meanings. The compound character for “hemorrhoid” is:
As anyone who has spent any time in Northeast Asia will recognize, at the heart of this Chinese character for “hemorrhoid,” is the character that is used for “temple” — Buddhist temple:
And the radical which surrounds the word for “temple” — like a house — is the radical for “illness,” or “ailment.”
So, the Chinese word for “hemorrhoid” means “temple ailment.” Too much meditation with legs crossed causes stagnation of the blood, much less lots and lots and lots of venous pressure. Our asses were not evolved to handle this much unmoving sitting, sometimes for up to 10 hours per day, carried out over 90 straight days without a day off. (And I seldom mention this, but I have done the 90-day intensive retreat at least 50 times over 30 years of mad meditation.)
So, cause and effect are very clear: Hemorrhoids are an ailment of life in the (Zen) temple. I already saw lots of that stuff, but thought it was people with bad living habits on top of all the sitting. Maybe too much white rice and fermented veggies. Since I do a vigorous Ashtanga training most days of the week, and eat so much fiber, and even live by constant intermittent fasting, it could not possibly happen to me, right?
I sat a retreat in 2006 at Jeong Hae Sah temple with a monk who was known for his fierce determination to sit in meditation. He even sat meditation during the rest periods, when the rest of the guys were lying down in their rooms or hiking in the mountains. One day, when he stood up from a round of sitting to do the walking meditation together, there was a huge red blotch on his meditation cushion. It looked as if someone had spilled a large glass of burgundy right smack in the center of his cushion! (And this happened during the winter Kyol Che, which means that in order to manifest so clearly on his meditation cushion, the blood had passed through not only his panties, but also through his thick long-underwear, and also his heavy winter padded monk’s pants!) Several of the other monks, seeing his blood-soaked cushion — and there was a LOT! — began joking to him later in the tea room, “Hey, how did they let a nun into this retreat?” “Yo, didn’t the other nuns teach you that you can take a few days off during ‘that time of the month’? Ha ha ha ha!” The poor monk ended up having to leave the retreat to have a difficult bit of surgery. I was involved with the monk’s after-care, so I got to learn lots of the dirty details about the process of this. Not something I would even wish performed on Slobodan Milosevic (though maybe).
Which is what I face now. Which is why there is a woman in my Zen Center now who is trying to find me so that she can slather some arnica tincture into the walls of my rectum. I have protested loudly, in the open kitchen, in front of everyone washing the dishes, that I could just do this tincture-massaging by myself. But she has argued with me that I could risk puncturing the engorged blood vessels and creating a serious risk of infection (E. coli delivered fresh, daily!), if I do not have the procedure done by someone who was once trained by a professional.
Which is why I am hiding in the storage room right now.
For those of you who follow our twice-daily YouTube of our daily meditation here: if you do not see me on the meditation cushion, when everyone else is practicing, well, now you know why. You’re welcome.