13 years ago, at a Zen monastery in Japan, I found out I was pregnant.
Makes a pretty good opening line to a story, doesn’t it? Haha!
I had been living and training there for nearly 5 years. It was the day after our monthly osesshin (7 day retreat). My period was late. I was guesthouse keeper at the time (we rotated temple job roles every 6 months), and there was a group of college girls visiting. I was hosting them in the guesthouse, so I figured my monthly cycle had synced up with theirs and that’s why my period was late.
I had the symptoms I usually got before menstruating, but it wasn’t happening yet.
On the free-day after the osesshin, I took the visiting group outside of the monastery walls and we biked over the mountain into the town’s library to check email and connect to the internet. I Googled pregnancy symptoms, and in my naiveté was surprised to find the symptoms listed there were the same ones I was experiencing, the same ones I would also experience pre-menstrually (Sore breasts, check. Slight cramping, check).
We left the library and, flustered from my new-found information and rushing thoughts, I fell and twisted my ankle while we were sprinting to catch a bus.
I knew this was the Universe telling me to stop rushing around and face myself.
I told the group to go on without me and I limped back to my bicycle and began to ride it back to the temple, pedaling with my newly sprained ankle.
I stopped at a store near the monastery called Happy Town where we would often escape to to buy chocolates, cookies, or the occasional beer. I found the pharmacy section and, dressed in my monastic work clothes (samugi) with my short buzzed hair, using my broken Japanese and miming while speaking simple English, I was able to sheepishly convey to the store clerks that I was looking for a pregnancy test.
I bought it and went across the street to a cafe where I ordered lunch and a pot of green tea. I sat quietly, ate my food and drank my tea, then gathered my curiosity, fear, and full bladder and went to the cafe bathroom. I peed on the test and watched as a strong dark pink line immediately appeared.
The moment was expansive and full, open and shocking. The walls began to crumble down. I felt simultaneously: Holy Shit and Yes, of course, This Is Happening.
I kept the information to myself, barely sleeping that night, until the next morning when the time zones finally lined up and I was able to call the States. I snuck out of the monastery gates in the dark after sanzen (interview with the teacher) and used the pay phone across the street to call Corey Ichigen in Washington State.
He had also been at the temple the past 5 years but had left a few weeks earlier since his 6-month job assignment was to be a caregiver at a hospice on Whidbey Island that is affiliated with the monastery. It was the night before he left, saying our good-byes, that this moment of new life began for us.
“I am pregnant,” I told him when I heard the familiar husk of his voice on the line.
He didn’t hesitate and later confessed to me that he already sensed this was the case when he was on a bus riding away from the monastery, feeling in his gut that he wouldn’t be coming back to train.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll figure this out. I always wanted this with you, to have kids and live this life with you.”
Ah, relief. Joy. It was happening!
After several years of a tumultuous on-again/off-again supposed-to-not-be-happening relationship/friendship, finding scraps of moments for conversation and connection, Corey and I were beginning a new life. Our spiritual practice was expanding. I didn’t know it then, but it was our beautiful Rose in my belly, making her way to meet us and change everything.
Although we didn’t marry until two years later, this was when our commitment was formed: me in an orange phone booth outside the temple in Japan, he in a hospice on Whidbey Island. We decided we were doing this life together.
And so it began. The next chapter. The deepening relationship. The growth of a family. The application of what was experienced in the depths of meditation to the reality of making a life flow outside of the monastery walls.
How to pay rent. What to make for dinner. Who is doing the dishes. What to do when your feelings get hurt. What to do when the baby won’t stop crying. How to engage in community. These were the new, practical, applicable koans of our lives.
And it continues: the blossoming, the expansion, the learning, the deepening. Bringing the essential nature of Who We Are into how we relate, how we parent, how we work, how we dance, how we breathe, how we listen, how we receive, how we give, and what we do.
There are no walls on the monastery now, no division between spiritual deepening and life itself.
We are grateful for our time there, years ago, a time of concentrated effort towards strengthening our roots, until the roots grew deep enough and strong enough that the walls cracked and fell down. Now we get to enjoy the full expression—roots, leaves, branches, flowers—all growing, all informing each other, in this exploration of life in which nothing is excluded.
It is a rich place to be.
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