Monday, April 16, 2012

pause, and return

Our Zen sangha had our fall retreat (sesshin in Japanese, which means "gathering the mind") this past weekend: 2 days of sitting, with short walking breaks. Anna couldn't come, sadly: the scheduling forced it to be on a Kid Weekend.

I have mixed feelings about sesshin, as I think most people do, and rightly so. It's acutely uncomfortable, but navigating our internal experience of that discomfort is part of what sesshin gives us. We come together to do, as a group, something which almost none of us are able to do separately. Your body gets sore, your mind gets twitchy. It's never been a huge deal for me. When the end comes, I recognize that I actually need a longer retreat, but I'm not at all sad that it's over.

That said, I did jump a bit too fast back into everyday life after this one. That's okay, too. Nothing is ever wasted.

Last week I agreed to lead a second team. It was a team of two people, and the lead left the company, leaving the one guy and a partly-done roadmap. Anna thinks I'm insane, given my energy level and my ongoing ambivalence about how much I enjoy managing. She may be right. Today I found out that on Wednesday, along with every other team lead, I'll be presenting my two teams' design, testing, and deployment strategies to a group of very senior engineers from a very large Japanese customer with whom we have a very strained relationship: one hour, with translation. Of course I don't know a whole lot about Team #2 yet: I can't even draw the system on the whiteboard. That will change by 5pm Wednesday. This is why I'm useful.

Team #1 is cruising merrily along. Phase 1 of our system rebuild is almost done, and as predicted we got a more than 100x improvement in the thing we were trying to improve. That broke a bunch of other stuff, as is the way of things, so the team is fixing that. Oh, and now there's a hurry to build some content encryption, which has been waiting in the wings to rise up and interrupt our work. So Phase 2 of the rebuild has to wait a couple of weeks.

J was overjoyed to see me, which is always gratifying. Besides the neurotypical giant grin (which isn't super common), he has his weird, J-specific ways of showing it: taking my hands and moving around with something intended as dancing, and then just walking over and leaning on me. He's weird, but truly marvelous in ways other kids aren't: smart and sensitive, and when he's not freaking out about nothing in particular, he has an acute intuition about what's going on in the world, about how other people think and feel and react. When he remembers not to be pre-emptively judgemental, he's patient and kind and open.

It's hard to describe his differences to someone who hasn't met him. I've found people trying to dissuade me from the idea that he's somewhere on the autism spectrum: "Kids are like that" is a common response. Maybe they're concerned that I'm some sort of over-worried parent, going out of my way to find something wrong. Usually they settle down when I point out that actual medical professionals made an actual diagnosis. No, trust me. I was a weird, weird kid (did I mention weird?). J is in a whole other league.

Sometimes we spend sesshin letting our minds run their course. My teacher says she once spent an entire 7-day sesshin remodeling her house in her head. Usually by the end of the two days, I've just started to settle. I don't mind at all spending two days on a cushion watching thoughts go by about my life. It's all pretty awesome.

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