The hardest thing is to leave
Updated: May 18
It took that unsuspecting shadow of me on a bike several miles away, before I realized that the moment had arrived.
We had fixed the departure at 11 am under the Dragon Gate.
After giving me a Rakusu (5-band Kesa) with a Ryokan poem written on it for the occasion, my father arrived with Kankyo for the good wind ceremony.
The residents at the monastery had been waiting there for a few minutes.
If the Sangha (the community) teaches us a lot about ourselves - and sometimes in a relentless way, it knows how to be the comforting fire in the middle of a cold night.
With all our hearts, we sang the Maka Hannya Haramita Shingyo (Heart Sutra). Then, a few words from the abbot whose simplicity touched me particularly: "In moments of doubt as in moments of difficulty, come back to the present moment.
I remember a mondo (a moment of question and answer with the master, in front of the assembly). A man had asked him if Zen was the most important thing in his life. He immediately replied, "No. Zen is not the most important thing in life. Zen is not the most important thing in life. The present moment is the most important thing.
Filled with this brotherly warmth - an invaluable gift - I left.
For several days, I walked along the canal from the Marne to the Rhine, for several days I became aware of the mediocrity with which I handle the art of bivouac. Barda badly embedded in the saddlebags, gas bottle not adapted to my stove, empty lighter, too short string, jammed knife, ... It took a few days to rethink everything in its context.
From Lorraine to the outskirts of Paris, a road wanders from one desolate village to another. One crosses there some inextirpable spectres of a long, very long daily life.
And when the bicycle stroller that I am passes in front of their house, I sometimes perceive eyes so round with curiosity that I stop. Their distrust is only for a moment. It quickly turns into generosity, elixir of my survival for this trip.
It is then with a devoted complacency that they offer me water, goose eggs laid the same morning, a double squeezed through the window of a first floor, a piece of bread, a rest of pate, a box of beans.
I continue on my way: a tile factory in its rust, kilometers of fields of colza with a heady smell, gargotes with closed shutters, sometimes even nailed to the walls.
These places give off a kind of quietude that gives time its quintessential flavor. The whole affair is there, in the affinities that I will weave with him.
After Nancy, an industrial zone as noisy as it is photogenic. With each passing car, I am blown away by the wind on this dangerous road with worm-eaten curbs.
I am afraid.
It is the setting up of a cog, the establishment of rituals which made this first stage (Weiterswiller-Bagnolet) a rather successful experience.
In the morning, zazen (on my sleeping bag wrapped around itself). Then still on a still wet floor: three prostrations in the direction of the Ryumonji. And in this concentration of zazen, methodical tidying up, logical nesting.
I ride the bicycle which still has no name and in this morning aplomb, I sing a sutra. During the day, I soliloquize. First signs of a precious solitude.
Seven days on the road at an average of 70 km per day to arrive in Bagnolet (93) at the home of my friends Colombe and Benjamin and their two charming daughters Brume and Louve, the last of whom is my goddaughter.
Five days of happiness with them. Louve did me the honor of inviting me to her class (CM1) to talk about my trip in front of her classmates who welcomed me with mischievous and kind faces.
Colombe and Benjamin work both in the cinema sets. He is a chief painter, she is a set designer. I spend the day with him in the studios of Bry-sur-Marne. With brushes and patina, his team is working on the realism of a disused mill for Albert Dupontel's next film.
Tomorrow I will fly to New York. My friend Dinaw Mengestu, American novelist and professor at Bard College, will pick me up at the airport. And about 2 hours north of Manhattan, in the Hudson Valley, he will welcome me at his home on campus, where he lives with his wife Anne-Emmanuelle Robicquet (whose photographic work is very inspiring) and their two French-American children, Gabriel and Louis-Sélassié.
To be continued...