Before me was a large room, perhaps 60' by 30', with two parallel rows of people, women to the left, men to the right, with empty floor space between them. Each sat on square, black cushions with their backs facing each other. There were perhaps 35 or 40 people in that room and not one of them was making a sound. It scared the crap out of me.
Looking back, I imagine any first-time link-up is spooky. What if I fucked it up? But, looking back on that first-time entry into the zendo, I also wonder if some deeply-ingrained demand/understanding wasn't being challenged.
(Wo)man is a social beast, a mingler, a club member, and yet the people in that room were not buying in to the social interaction my DNA told me was true. Not conferring or arguing or hugging or whispering or smiling or ... or... or. It was the question everyone -- Zen students too -- asks in one way or another: If I am so social, how come I feel so alone? Who am I when I am alone ... even with others? With others, I find my footing and definition by being social. Alone, what happens to the footing and definition?
These are not questions only Zen students ask. Everyone asks them in different ways and in different circumstances. If my footing relies on others, how reliable can that footing be? Sometimes the question comes as a whisper. Sometimes it comes as a cri de coeur.
Gotta straighten that one out. That's what scared me back then. Maybe that was a piece of the fear that gripped me on that first entry into the zendo.