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Putting Away the Stick, Part 1

Photo of Norman Fischer

I remember my first time inside a zendo [meditation hall]. I loved the feeling. The atmosphere — profoundly quiet, but supercharged with energy. The way everyone sat absolutely straight and motionless, dressed in black, in the very precise, dim room. The ambiance was much enhanced by the use of the “encouragement stick” that was carried during almost every period of zazen [meditation sessions].

A long, thin, flat hardwood stick, the kyosaku was marched up and down the aisles with great ceremony by the experienced students. If anyone fell asleep during the zazn (as happened more than occasionally), the monitor would pounce: Whack! . . . whack! One good hit on each shoulder and the wary offender was awake. The sound repeated unexpectedly but regularly throughout the period, made the feeling in the zendo electric. 

Norman Fischer
from When You Greet Me, I Bow

To be continued . . .