On New Year's Eve we went to a special NYE meditation session at the Zen Center for Contemplative Care, in Chelsea. It was pretty great! And packed, but there were enough zafus/zabutons/chairs to go around.
It was a pretty unique format too. It started out with a brief sit, followed by a dharma talk (on the Three Treasures) given by two monks (definitely a gay married couple, haha, that was also a first for me), followed by a much longer sit that lasted the duration of 108 strikes of a large keisu.
After that, every person in attendance (there were dozens of people) went up to ring the bell while thinking about a vow they'd like to make for the new year. Then the liturgy finished with some words from the monks and a standard chanting of the four bodhisattva vows.
It was a lot more than I expected, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the dharma talk, as well. It's strange, going to a new place (though really, I've only ever gone to two other Zen centers regularly -- the Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn, and the Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington, Indiana), because everything fits together with familiarity and comfort despite being in a completely different place.
Is it just the nature of the practice? Of Zen practitioners themselves? I wonder if Zen centers in other countries feel different, and these instances of American Zen that I've been to are what Zen in America has developed into over the past few decades.
There are a couple other places in NYC that I didn't know existed and that I'd like to see sometime this year.
Note: This was two months ago, and I actually can't remember the exact vow I made when I went up to hit the keisu. /facepalm I remember thinking a lot about hitting the keisu, and how I would walk up to it and away from it, but not much about the actual vow I was supposed to make. It was a variation of vowing to be present, I think, especially in the context of being present for others.