Saturday, May 16, 2009
Beginner's mind retreat
We held a 3-day zazen retreat last week at Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka, Japan. I was leading a retreat for the first time, so I was a bit nervous about how it was going to turn out. Thankfully, things worked out better than I expected. 18 people came, and there was a nice mix of different nationalities.
A lot of people who came were doing a zazen retreat for the first time. One or two people were even trying zazen for the first time. I thought that some of the zazen periods might be a bit hard for some people, but everyone seemed to get through them okay. There was a nice atmosphere at the retreat too. It may have been because a lot of people were doing a retreat for the first time and concentrating on the basics, including me in some ways. One person who was trying zazen for the first time told me she decided to come to the retreat when she heard about it from her friend. She didn't really know anything about zazen or Buddhism, but wanted to check it out anyway. At the end of the retreat she told me she figured having no particular ideas or expectations about what the retreat was going to be like was probably the best way for her. She said she could just accept it all as it was.
I learned a lot by "leading" the retreat. I'd seen Gudo Nishijima hold retreats there before and give talks and so on, but I never really knew how much it involved from his side. He used to put a lot of effort into his talks and into answering people's questions and the other things he did there. Going back on the train to Tokyo with him after some of his retreats I used to notice how exhausted he was. I can understand where he was coming from a bit better now. It was nice to lead the retreat and I enjoyed giving the talks, but I realized it requires plenty of energy too.
On the last day we had a general discussion about the retreat in which everyone gave their impressions or some feedback about the retreat. Most people seemed happy enough with the way it went. One or two people mentioned it might be good to incorporate some stretching exercises into the retreat. That's a fair point, and is something for me to work on for next time. I also got a few emails with some feedback after the retreat. Here's part of an email from someone who was doing a zazen retreat for the first time :
...The discussion on the last day about full and half lotus also reminded me of my tendency to sometimes think "if only..." in regard to my sitting. When I first started sitting at home I used to sit on a pile of sweatshirts. If I was having problems settling I would sometimes think things would be different if only I had a zafu. So I made a zafu. And to be honest, it's a bit more convenient but that's about it. So I started thinking about the fantastic balance I would have if only I could sit full lotus... and so it goes on :-)
So it was good to be reminded that I shouldn't get frustrated chasing some imagined perfect state that only exists in my imagination. Just sit without expectation and accept that my legs are a bit wonky sometimes.
Thanks again to everyone who came to the retreat, and to the people who inquired but didn't make it this time. Hope we can do it again next year.