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A little over a year ago, I worked at a Zen Buddhist center, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains in between Carmel Valley and Big Sur. Unlike some of the other jobs I’ve had, this job was unique in that it encompassed not only the work I performed but also the lifestyle I was expected to conform to while I worked and lived there. Every morning I woke at 5:00, before the sun had even rose and the cold air seeping in from the screened walls. I was required to attend morning meditation and service everyday; which began promptly at 5:50.  Work didn’t last more than 7 hours a day, usually consisting of various tasks such as chopping fruit, washing dishes, or working in the woodshop.

 

But after a week and a half of waking up at 5:00, spending 3 hours a day meditating and participating in Zen services, I grew restless. I had no internet, no cell phone service. Letters were my only connection to the outside world. Silence stretched from 8:00 at night to 8:00 in the morning, when we finally broke the silence by chanting unfamiliar words.  I felt squeezed by the rigidity of the rules and I longed to have the freedom I gave up to be there.  And then slowly, I grew accustomed to the way of life there. I began to explore the surrounding area on my brief breaks and the occasional day off, eventually doing an overnight hike to a beautiful ravine with some of my fellow coworkers/students that remains to this day one of my favorite experiences of all time.

 

Though it was difficult at time, living and working in a Zen community was incredibly rewarding and allowed me to be truly happy without having everything I was used to.

I left Tassajara with a backpack slung across my shoulders, two gallons of water  in my hands, relieved to be out of there but also sad that I may never return again.

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