Sunday, February 10, 2013

The mousetrap

Yesterday we decided to do some cleaning.  We at Wind in Grass have been talking about this for some time, and now we've finally gotten around to it.

We meet every week in a space owned by the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House.  The main building, designed by Julia Morgan, has several different rooms which always seem to be in use and which get a corresponding amount of upkeep.

The space we use is a kind of annex to the main building, except that it's actually entirely separate, and you can't get to one from the other.  It also fronts onto a different street, so to get to us from the main building you have to walk around the corner and the down some steps.

That will get you onto Carolina, a street which plunges sharply downwards.  From the top you get a marvelous view of the skyscrapers downtown and the Bay Bridge and the flashing Coca-Cola sign.  To find us you have to break your downward plunge and take a sharp left into a little entranceway.

I love everything about our location, even though the first couple of times I tried to find the group I walked right by it.  During one-days you can take food outside and eat it on the street and look out over the city like you were sitting on the grassy slope of a mountain.  A few times I've gotten a lift downhill on Michael's scooter -  a moment of pure experience if there ever was one.

I also love the space itself.  It is down to earth, unpretentious, simple.  It is basically a large rectangular room with four pillars near the center.   In one corner there is a bathroom and on the far side there is a small antechamber leading to a slightly larger storage area.  We have dokusan in the antechamber.  It's good to practice with humility and simplicity, and easy to do so in a place like this.

On the other hand, those wooden floorboards are pretty rough, and it's not uncommon for people to get splinters in their feet while doing walking meditation.  I like it to think it keeps us awake, but it's probably not the best introduction to kinhin for newcomers.  The place looks generally dilapidated.

So we've finally decided to try to renovate it a little.  Yesterday was the first scheduled day of work practice.  We spent most of it clearing out the storage area.  Apparently nobody had done any kind of sorting of the stuff in there since the 1970s.  The result was a sort of archaeology.

The top layer was our stuff: a few large crates containing stuff for the tea, stuff for the altar, and two big piles of mats and cushions.  The next layer down contained pictures and magazines and children's art projects from the 90s and 80s.  The next two layers, Vietnam War posters and JFK campaign material.

After that things started to get ugly.  At the lowest level the stacks of magazines started to dissolve into amorphous lumps of pulp.  If you tried to pick a pile up half of it would come away in your hands.  By this point you could see the ancient mouse-traps and the scatter of rat-droppings on the floor.

We pulled everything out and placed it into three piles: keep, throw, maybe.  Miscellanea in the throw category included: a set of leather-bound volumes of the complete works of classic authors; a series of large plates for stamping pre-computer spreadsheets into being; milk cartons swilling mysterious liquids.  

The keep pile included an old notebook in which someone had copied hundreds of passages of poetry and philosophy.  I was going to throw it when Marika saved it for our liturgy.  The maybe pile is still there: it is how objects that are too awkward to be carted to the dump have so far avoided destruction.  There are also some pictures nobody wants but were too nicely framed to throw away.

It was all much worse than I had thought.  Every month I've gone into the antechamber to meet with David, who sits right in front of the door to the storage area, blithely unaware of the rat-droppings carpeting the room behind him.

And every week we've sat in the main room practicing mindfulness, completely ignorant of the piles of rotting newsprint festering on the other side of the wall.  There was all this trash right there, just beyond a space we felt so sure of.  The hidden stuff was going to make itself felt at some point, so it's a good thing we dealt with it sooner rather than later.

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