For all my sarcasm, it actually was generous of them, since they didn't have to go to meditation, and could have slept another hour or two. And they stayed up just as late as us. It's been a few days and I can recognize that now. I can also see the helpfulness in the fact that the door to the meditation room is locked in the morning. The dorms are all in the Mansion, and usually you can walk down the grand stairway to the main room or Great Hall, turn right, and you're in the meditation room. In the morning that door is locked so you have to go outside and walk around in the snow to the other door. There is no hint of dawn that early in the morning and it is really, really cold. Ridiculously cold, and the dark makes it worse, a sort of alien, isolated feeling, lonely, though I was with a group of people. Your nose-hairs freeze, but you wake up and fast, and I believe that is the point.
That first morning, we all trouped in, all thirty of us, knocking snow off our boots and the bottoms of our pants and capes. We were all talking at once about it being too cold and too early and there wasn't any coffee, and there were maybe ten people who had gotten there ahead of us, senior students, there because they wanted to be, all sitting cross-legged or kneeling on the floor facing away from us and none of them turned to look at us but...it was like suddenly we all heard their silence and we all shut up. We must have sounded like a pile of children. The one person facing our way, the tall, severe-looking man who had been Master of Ceremonies at the Brigid assembly the night before, looked at us and calmly said "if you want coffee before you meditate, you can make it yourself, starting tomorrow."
He put the emphasis on "can." He was simply informing is of our options. I, for one,was feeling so overwhelmed I hadn't thought of taking any initiative about anything. I think we all felt like that. Then he taught us zazen meditation. It's pretty simple, but a lot harder than it sounded. My mind felt clean and clear for a few minutes afterwards, like how I used to feel after a hard workout, but then I went back to normal. I'm going to have to do this six days a week for a year.
At eight we went into the Dining Hall, which smelled of food and also, just a little, of apple cider vinegar. I think they clean with it. We all went in together, at the same time, and there was a moment of silence for prayer. Then, waiters brought around these big cauldrons of food. You passed your bowls over and they served you. I couldn't see what they were serving at first and had to ask; it turned out to be a choice between vegetarian miso soup and oatmeal. I picked oatmeal, and there were bowls of dried fruit and nuts and jars of honey and jam to put in it. There was a jug of sheep's milk, too, but Ollie warned me not to take more than a cup's worth until everyone else at the table had had a chance. There was a buffet bar, too, but there were rules about that--everything is rationed the same way the milk is. I've never been rationed before, and it's very strange, but except for the miso and the sheep's milk, all the food itself seems like normal American breakfast food. What's really unusual is the quality--everything is excellent--and the things that are missing. There is no grapefruit. There is no orange juice. There is no black tea, though there are herbal teas (all served loose; you need your own tea ball) and there is coffee. Nothing is instant or prepackaged, not even the ketchup. I think everything except the coffee is grown here on campus--it's the exact opposite of the way Harry Potter eats. At Hogwarts, the food just appears, magically. Nobody makes it and it comes from nowhere. Here, the work and the natural resources that make up the food is obvious.
Breakfast is the only meal everybody on campus eats together, and it is mandatory (unless you're sick or something). Ollie says if you are looking for someone, the best way to find them is to go to breakfast. They also have announcements after breakfast, so if you want to know what's going on, you have to be there.
Lunch is serve yourself, and it's available from noon to four. Dinner is served in the dorms, though the food comes from the Dining Hall kitchen, and it's optional. You can go into town to eat, if you want to, order a pizza delivered, whatever you want to do. Though, already pizza seems a bit...out of step? Classes haven't started yet, so we've been going to presentations between meals. It's a bit like an orientation after all.
I've been here a few days now, and I don't want to make it sound like we're hemmed in by weird rules. Except for the rationing (water and electricity are also rationed), there really aren't any rules. I mean, you can't smoke indoors, that sort of thing, but I don't smoke anyway. Life is strange here, but not because of rules. The differences are more structural. For example, there is no rule against throwing things out, there just aren't any trash cans. I'm serious! There are compost buckets, and you can put scrap paper in the tinder buckets by the wood stoves if you don't want to recycle it, but for anything else you have to take it down to the "re-use room" in the basement. I guess they sort it out from there every so often, but it makes wasting anything a giant pain in the neck. I guess that's part of the point.
Last night I had to go to group therapy. That's required for all "yearlings," too. Eventually, group therapy will be on Wednesdays for everybody, but the first few weeks the groups meet on different days so that the therapist can join us. Later, each group will only get him every fourth week. We've been divided into four groups, with as few people from the same dorm in each group as possible. Some of the senior students are in the groups, too, I guess it's optional for them.
The therapist is Allen, another of the professors here. I remember him from the assembly, too; he did a magic trick with one of the graduating students. He is a stage magician and a psychologist, and he has a habit of answering questions with more questions. It would be really annoying, except that I get the feeling that there are no wrong answers with him. He seems formal and reserved, even stiff, and his voice is dry and somewhat nasal. The school uniform doesn't look quite right on him; he looks like he should be wearing a collared shirt and tie. You'd think somebody like that would be uptight, afraid of their dignity getting ruffled, but I don't think Allen is like that. I think if anybody tried to ruffle him he'd be in on the joke.
So, yesterday was my therapy group's first meeting. Allen taught us group-bonding exercises, ice-breaking games, and the strict format we're supposed to use when he isn't there--and he cautioned us against trying to play therapist with each other. Someone asked, why not?
"Because you're crazy," he deadpanned.
"Am I crazy, too?" asked a girl called Raven. I think she just wanted attention. Alan gratified her by pronouncing her crazy, too.
"I'm crazy, you're crazy..." he added, and a hint of a smile played about one corner of his mouth, like he was waiting to see if someone would deliver the next line. I can recognize a Lewis Carrol paraphrase when I hear it, so did the honors and set him up.
"How do you know we're crazy?" I asked him.
"You must be, or you wouldn't have come here!" Alan replied, grinning like the Cheshire Cat himself. But then he sobered, and gave a real answer to the question about why we shouldn't practice therapy on each other.
"I'm your psychologist, an expert on the human mind--which is bull, of course, because I'm nuts. I have issues, hangups...but it works because my craziness isn't connected to yours. We're not really in each others' lives yet, so I can see things in you I could never have seen in myself, things I couldn't see in a friend. But implicit in our therapeutic relationship is the assumption that I know more about your minds than you do--which I don't. You know that, and I know it. But you'll make that assumption anyway if you come to trust me as your therapist. And for anyone who is actually in your lives, as you are in each others', with all the investments and conflicts of interest that implies, for anyone in your lives to encourage you to believe that they know more about your life and mind than you do is abusive. And I won't have you do that to each other."
See? I appear to be in good hands.
[Next post: Friday, February 8th: weekly schedule, getting to know dorm-mates, getting a job on campus]