Excerpt from “Thunder and Lightning” by Natalie Goldberg:
“I never escaped being a monk! The morning gruel, the frost on the bell, bare feet on frigid floors, all have been mine. Except that my meditation position has been a bent body hovering over a notebook with only my right hand moving across a blank page for hours at a time.
I know no one wants to hear me say how hard writing is – quit while you can. In the Japanese monasteries they warn you not to come in. In fact, you have to prove your sincerity and mettle by sitting outside the gates day after day before you can be admitted.
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi once sent an energetic but uppity San Francisco Zen Center student to a monastery outside Kyoto. They had him sit for five days outside the wall, and then he was called in for an interview. The teacher handed him a paper and pencil: ‘Write your name.’ He did what he was told and handed it back. The teacher looked at the paper. ‘Please continue to sit.’
After five more days, he was called in again. ‘Write your name.’ He wrote his name and once more was sent outside.
The eleventh day, the twelfth day – the same. On the thirteenth day, the Zen teacher again asked the young American to write his name.
He picked up the pencil, put it to paper, paused, looked up, looked back down, looked up at the teacher. ‘I can’t. I don’t know how.’
‘Good. You’re ready to enter.’ ”