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Full Circle

Day 37: Tokyo to Fukuyama

Fukuyama, Japan 
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In the Zendo. Palin gets the warning stick.
Michael Palin - Full CircleI surprise myself not only by finding a comfortable position, but also by feeling the immediate benefits of the dim light, the deep, regular breathing and the silence. The sounds of insects and birds and a stream running somewhere nearby become clear and loud but never noisy, and a soothing mind-cleansing tranquillity descends upon me. Just as I am slipping towards a blissfully raised state of awareness I hear a strange sound, a sharp crack as though something is being struck. I raise one eyelid cautiously and see that something is indeed being struck. It is the man next to me.

Perhaps it's just as well that no one had bothered to tell me about the keisaku - the warning stick. It is applied, with the full approval of the participant, to stop you slipping off to sleep during meditation. And I am to be treated just like anyone else.

With infinite care the shika - the head monk - arranges my body; arms crossed, hands on shoulders, head bent forward. Incredibly gently he feels for a spot on my upper back then brings the stick down straight and sharp. Before I can feel anything he gives me another light tap, followed by three enormous whacks, leaving a sting and a burn like the aftermath of a school caning. By now I've forgotten all about counting up to ten on the out breath, and am about to utter some good old Anglo-Saxon expletive when I become aware of my inflicter standing before me, presenting the stick and bowing low before me. I bow back with as much gratefulness as I can muster.

He must like me because twenty minutes later he comes back and does it all over again.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 37
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Fukuyama
  • Book page no: 63

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