I attended my second Zen meditation retreat with Zenways in December 2018 at a retreat centre in Penmaenmawr, North Wales. For those of you who haven’t read my previous post on these retreats, this is a three-days (64 hours) intensive retreat based on the ‘Group Sanzen’ format developed by Zen master Shinzan Roshi and the American teacher Charles Berner (for more information click here). Everyone works with a ‘koan’, being one of them ‘What is my true nature?’ and the one I worked on during this second retreat.
I am writing and publishing this now, almost six months after the retreat, because this is the time has taken me to assimilate and fully understand what I experienced on that retreat. I arrived there with a frame of mind of ‘I know it is going to be hard but I’ve been through this already’. Well, I couldn’t be more wrong.
I chose a different koan this time. Every time you work with a different koan is like digging from a different angle and so they work differently, something that I was just about to discover.
6pm – 11pm: The energy of the group is very thick, heavy. Completely different from last time. I wonder if it is due to being more males in this retreat (70% males / 30% females)… What is my true nature?... I feel easy, things come up easily, I say them to the person in front of me… Easy… I’ve been here… No embarrassment. No frustration. Easy…. I keep releasing… What is my true nature?...Stuff keep coming up… Releasing… No emotions. Seems effortless... What is my true nature?
6am – 2pm: What is my true nature? Stuff keep coming… I am amazed at how different this is compared with last time when nothing come up for 1 day and a half! Now I am releasing much more and earlier, but nothing else seems to happen… Am I doing this right? What is my true nature? Stuff come and I release it… What is my true nature? Stuff come and I release it… What is my true nature? Stuff come and I release it… Same, same, same… Oh gosh I’m starting to doubt this practice.
2pm – 11pm: More serious stuff start to come up. Strong emotions… I release them… I sob and sob… Suddenly I feel blessed, I can feel this unity with the energy of the group… I am in heaven again… Then I remember Daizan’s words explaining that we might feel sometimes as if we are a pink cloud and that we need to remember that we are not a pink cloud!! Great, I need to keep searching. What is my true nature? Pain in my chest… Where is this pain coming from? What is my true nature? Pain. Anxiety… Oh no… Waves of emotions… I release them. The pain is gone. I am in heaven again. Bliss. Union… What is my true nature? Pain in my chest. This time stronger. What is wrong with me? I was in heaven and now I am in pain. Stuff come up. Tears. Releasing. Heaven. Bliss…. Keep searching… Pain… This is very hard… I am worried… I am frustrated. I don’t understand what is happening. I have entered in a wheel. Up and down. Up and down. Every time I go down the pain is stronger. I am hating this koan. I should have chosen a different one.
6am – 11pm: This day was the hardest one. I spent the whole day in that wheel. I was amazed at how much stuff I was releasing and still I was not able to get out of that wheel. I had many moments of bliss when I thought ‘right, that’s it. I am here’ then the pain in my chest released just to came back even stronger than the previous time. I was so confused. Frustrated. I thought the process was not working. I was worried about the pain in my chest, about having an anxiety attack. It is very difficult to describe how hard it was. How much more do I need to release for this pain to go? What is my body trying to tell me? I want to know. Please! I remember being at bed that night crying out of frustration for not being able to understand what my body was trying to tell me.
6am – 1pm: The pain is almost gone. The energy of the group has changed completely. Softer. I witness quite a few people blooming. It is so beautiful to witness that. We are helping each other to bloom. Many of us are having the same experiences. As if the same energy is just showing up through many of us, one after another. Beautiful. I like Daizan’s example while explaining what happens on this retreats, our understanding of how things really are has a dirty window in front. In these retreats when you got that ‘shift’ is like cleaning one spot of that window and the light comes through. Even if that spot is small, it is still the same light. Once you have seen the light, even though through that tiny spot, you have seen the light and that experience will change you for ever. That was my experience during my first retreat. This time, at this point, I could feel that light being more intense. Much more intense.
I left the retreat with a sense of clarity and highness difficult to describe. I was flying. I guess in that ‘pink cloud’ that Daizan describes. Although that high state last for a month or so after the retreat and my moments of mindfulness multiplied during my daily activities and my meditation practice improved enormously as well, I was feeling very intimidated at how hard it had been. Not being quite sure if I really wanted to go through that again in a long time. It was that hard. And I didn’t understand why I had to go through that. What is the meaning of being in that tough wheel? In a circle all the time. How to get out of the circle? It is impossible. It is a circle!
It was not until I attended a course on the Bhagavad Gita with James Boag in Glasgow that I had one of those ‘aha’ moments: ‘The wheel is the practice! The wheel is the process and it is the frustration what takes you out of the wheel. The experience of opposites is normal in human beings. That is the way it is. Practice steadiness in those moments. Stay with it. Don’t allow fear and frustration to take you out of your path, of the process, of the practice, of the wheel! The bigger the light the bigger the shadows!’ BINGO!! Just like that, by listening to James I had one of those elevated moments where I suddenly digested that experience and the whole post came to me at once. I didn’t practice steadiness nor on the highs nor on the lows. I just wanted to get rid of the low moments to get high again without realizing that it is actually on the lows where the fire of purification and transformation resides. I didn’t stayed steady with the pain not because of the pain itself but out of fear and frustration. I was right in the middle of the process and the process was working.
I feel as if I have processed the experience. I am not scared anymore of going to another retreat and keep exploring this amazing journey of self-enquiry with the best master I have encountered so far, Zen Master Daizan Roshi.