New Year’s volunteering: 01-01-2014

New Year’s Day.  The big event at the shrine, and we were ready.  We started early, did misogi, Chouhai, and then opened the gates.  The floodgates, even.

I got up at a reasonable hour – especially compared to some of the others, who were at the shrine and working at 6:00am.  I wasn’t there till 7:30am.  I’d eaten and dressed in my winter clothes.  I also, unusually, brought a towel.

The towel was for misogi.  It was a pretty large group – 12 or 13? – and we went into the shrine’s dressing room and changed into our minimal outfits.  Then we went into the main shrine and read the oharai, the chant or prayer.  That’s pretty straightforward, and thankfully short, as it’s done kneeling and my knees are no good at that.  Then, outside into the cold (40F-ish) morning air, and down the path to the bank of the river.  Once there, Rev. Barrish performs some more of the ritual, purification of us to prepare us to enter the river for final purification.  Parts of that involve the group, who go through some energetic motions, and shout together.  Then into the river we go, to crouch down and  say another oharai.  Once done, it’s out of the water, and back to the dressing room to dry off and get dressed.

It sounds like a crazy thing to do, but it is astonishingly energizing.  Not just the cold of the air or water, but the ritual as a whole.  The oharai and preparation seem to rattle something loose inside you, and the shouting and actions on the shore intensify that.  Then the river surrounds you and you feel the current against you.  The current in the Pilchuck where we were is mild, but inexorable, the water effortlessly pushing past you.  The feeling of losing all the bad things, and being filled with the subtle energy of the water is impossible to ignore.

Not all the volunteers participated in misogi.  We went up to the shrine’s reception room and had hot tea.  Everyone collected there, and we went over the assignments for the day.  There was laughter and canaradarie and tasks were handed out.  I was, as I thought, with Jim-san in the parking lot.

We parked cars from 9:30am until 5:00pm.  We filled the hundred or so spaces, and kept them full.  People got backed up onto Crooked Mile Road.  At one point, we had more than thirty cars backed up.  We had a few last year but nothing like this.  We had someone asking each car if they were for the shrine, and making sure to get locals out of the tangle.  It helped.

As we parked people, I greeted them.  When they’d had to wait, I apologized for the delay.  Everyone I spoke to was so positive and so nice.  No one complained; I was completely impressed at the friendliness and kind things all our visitors said.

Like last year, I saw all sorts of people.  Individuals, mostly groups of two or three, and whole families showed up.  Some were clearly several generations.  They all trooped down the hill to the shrine and hiked back up.  They came up smiling and happy, and we waved goodbye.  Our energy and positivity affected them, and their energy and happiness helped us be positive to the next people who arrived.

Despite long lines, walkie-talkie problems, and unexpected challenges like trying to find a plug for the Nissan Leaf who needed to recharge (they’d written ahead and made arrangements, which never made it to us!), we managed.

According to the folks at the Shrine, 700 people attended the ceremony, and we estimate over 2,000 visited.  It was a hugely busy day.  The shrine shop ran out of things.  The vendor ran out of red bean soup.  We ran out of parking for hours.  Despite this, everyone who came seemed happy, and all our hurdles were handled as well as they could be.

We closed the gate on time, and reset the shrine to open it tomorrow.

Sensei ordered a big pile of pizzas and fed everyone.  Food arrived, and we talked and ate a little.  Wasn’t long because we were all wiped out from a long day.  Some of the crew left at the end of the evening, but most of us stayed.

I was in bed, sleeping like a log, by 9:00pm.  I slept well; we all did.  It was a quiet and restful night.

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