The instructions were clear: The sentinel at the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village acts to protect the silence of the zendo during meditation periods by asking people not to make noise nearby, not to walk on the gravel outside, and not to enter before the appropriate time. But I was not clear. Being my usual groggy morning self, I reverted to sixth grade traffic crossing police behavior, pointing and telling people what not to do. Several ignored me. I began to long for bright yellow crossing guard straps to show my official authority. The next person I approached even more directly, "You can't walk on the gravel. You can't go in the zendo yet." She stared fiercely at me, said, "Leave me alone," and strode in. Not only was I failing at my job, I was making people angry. Yet the next thought (and I cringe to reveal this) was a wish for a stick or a gun to back up my authority. Looking back, I'm stunned. At the time, it seemed a natural, somewhat humorous extension of the job.
Luckily, my cross Dharma sister and I agreed to meet to talk about this. She explained that she reacted strongly because I had been so violent in my expression—no bow, no smile, strong orders—her first morning contact. I cried that I had hurt her, but in a way was glad this had happened. We were both learning new ways to be peace. She requested the meeting; I admitted my wrongdoing. I recommitted myself to the practice of mindfulness in all my activities, including that of sentinel—settling into my breath, bringing my full awareness to the scene, smiling, and bowing as I asked people to respect the silence. I still wasn't 100% successful at preserving the silence, but what a different feeling we all had about the process!
Carson City, Nevada