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The featured image above shows construction well under way for the creation of a mall next to the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island. The Richmond County Courthouse, built in 1919,  on Richmond Terrace, is visible in the middle of the construction cacophony, a proud building in the neoclassical style at odds with the construction scene in front of it.

Writing March 2017

Hallucinations while meditating


In order to become a student of the Mountains and Rivers Order I had to sit tangario for a day. It meant meditating from dawn until dusk with someone from the Order to sit with me, to watch me. I went up to the monastery a day early to prepare. Most of the preparations were mental – getting my mind prepared for eleven hours of meditation. In my mind, it was like having to climb a mountain alone and having to reach the top. Tangario is not an either/or thing. It is one thing only. Long-term meditation as a test of whether you are going to be admitted to the Order as a student.

I hadn’t slept the night before, but when I was called to breakfast at 4:30 in the morning I felt calm and well-rested. Teikyo, an experienced meditator and very kind person, was my watcher. She met me after breakfast and we went to the activity center to a room on the second floor. It was a large room with a chair facing a wall that was about two feet away, for me, and a zafu and zabuton in the opposite corner of the room for Teikyo. There were cut flowers as well, incense, and a statue of Avalokiteshvara. I’m highly allergic to flowers but for the many hours I sat in the room with them, these flowers did not bother me.

I bowed to Teikyo, to Avalokiteshvara, and I bowed to my seat. A clock was set up so we would not go overtime. It was 5:00 when I sat down. My mind was calm. Unusually so. I cleared my mind easily and quickly. My eyes remained open and for the next seven hours I sat there, with only two breaks for using the toilet. During that time, I saw things. The room changed dramatically, the space opened up. I had power that I refrained from using because if I used it I would fail the test.

First of all, the wall in front of me and the two adjacent walls slowly and quietly fell away, flattening out. As they did so, they let in more light and the room became bright with sunlight. The wall in front of me, now flat like a floor, led directly to a large rectangular pool that was filled with blue water and surrounded by what looked like a concrete or stone walkway. To the right of the pool was a house, low, modern, white concrete and glass, with large picture windows and a sliding door that led out to the pool. The sky was bright blue.  Beyond the pool was land. It looked like high desert with scrubby plants. In the distance, there was a mountain range.

As I sat there, my feet were very close to the flattened-out wall that lead directly to the pool. I knew I would be able to walk to the pool. I knew I would be able to walk on the water. I knew that if I walked to the pool, in Teikyo’s perception, I would be walking up the wall. The temptation to do so persisted for two hours and twenty minutes. Then I got up and walked out and down the hall to the toilet. When I came back, the walls flattened out, letting in light, and the pool and the house were in front of me once again. The temptation to leave my seat and walk up the walls to the pool was strong.

Two hours and twenty minutes later I got up again and went to the toilet. This time, as I noticed the clock, I realized that I had divided the seven hours in my head into three equal periods of time, each two hours and twenty minutes long. If I were asked to do that at another time, it would have taken me a few minutes to figure out. But while I was sitting tangario I did it absolutely without effort.

When I came back to my seat, the scene opened up in front of me again. I knew I would not go to the place that was being offered. I thought I would go there another time, however. It was warm, bright, fresh. It was contemporary, too. I didn’t know what was in the house, but I imagined it would be whatever I wanted. High desert, for example, is one of my favorite types of place to be.

I was meditating in the zendo at the Fire Lotus Temple, wearing my grey student’s robe. I was looking downward; my eyes were unfocused and the grey of the robe was in my field of vision. The robe became a rock. I was the rock. I had the feeling of being seated not on the chair but on the ground, having a broad base and a different center of gravity from my own human one. I felt the life of the rock. I noticed the various minerals in the rock, grey, white, black, flecks of different color deep inside the rock. They were not still but were moving constantly. The rock was full of mineral activity. The rock was changing all the time. It was full of activity. The rock was happy.

I was at the Fire Lotus Temple, meditating. It was a day of meditation – 7 or 8 hours of sitting beginning early in the morning, with oryoki at noon. The abbot was officiating. Throughout the day, he held dokusan, where students ask questions or ask for advice in private. Students are invited to dokusan An attendant calls out for students sitting in the north or south sides of the zendo, for example, and based on where they are sitting, they leave their seats, form a line outside the dokusan room, and sit again in meditation while waiting for their turn to speak with the abbot.

As I sat there, however, the walls of the zendo came very close to me and pinned me in. It was like sitting in a closet. The walls moved towards me every time my practice became deeper and I was able to stop thinking. I felt the pressure of being trapped by the walls. I could not leave my seat because there was no way out. The truth is, I didn’t want to talk to the abbot. I did not like the way he exercised power and did not like his cult-like status in the Order. It is always difficult for me to be a follower, to be a disciple, and the walls of the zendo moved in just in time, preventing me from doing what I did not want to do.

[images & text by Cecilia Dougherty]